Ralph Cole: Ohrdruf-North Stalag III
The Forgotten Death Camp
On April 4, 1945, the Fourth Armored Division and the 355th Infantry Regiment of the
89th Infantry Division, part of General George Patton's famed Third U.S. Army, liberated the first death
camp, Ohrdruf or North Stalag III, a sub camp of Buchenwald, located near Weimar.
Having moved through France and Luxemburg, and after heavy fighting across the Moselle
and the Rhine Rivers, the 89th Infantry Division was at last on German soil. It was there that we fought
and took Ohrdruf.
One of the first sights to greet our troops were the bodies of approximately twenty emaciated persons
who had just been shot prior to the flight of their Nazi captors. Included in this group was a young American
aviator, still dressed in his flight gear. The crematorium was filled with the partially consumed bodies of
many people, some still smoldering and smoking. In addition, the Germans had placed iron railroad tracks,
interlaced with ties, and had stacked countless corpses on this funeral pyre. Nearby in a warehouse were
piles of bodies covered with lye, awaiting cremation. In one locale, a body was still on a roasting type
campfire, treated as you might roast a pig. There were almost no survivors, as the Nazis had killed as
many prisoners as possible to prevent anyone from telling what had happened.
Ohrdruf was subsequently visited by Generals Eisenhower, Bradley, and Patton.
General Eisenhower stated:
"I have never been able to describe my emotional reaction when I came face to face
with indisputable evidence of Nazi brutality and ruthless disregard to every shred
of decency. I visited every nook and cranny of the camp because I felt it my duty to be
in a position from then on to testify at first hand about the things in case there ever grew
up at home the belief or assumption that the stories of Nazi brutality were just
propaganda. I want every American unit not actually in the front line to see this place.
We are told that the American solider does not know what he is fighting for. Now at least he
will know what he is fighting against"
General Patton said:
"This is one of the most appalling sights I have ever seen. Honestly, words are
inadequate to express the horror of these institutions. The scenes witnessed here are beyond
the normal mind to believe. No race except a people dominated by an ideology of sadism
could have committed such gruesome crimes. Inmates, all in a bad state of starvation, even
those who live, in my opinion, will never recover mentally."
General Bradley commented:
"The smell of death overwhelmed us even before we passed through the stockade.
More than 3,200 naked emaciated bodies had been flung into shallow graves. Others lay in
the streets where they had fallen. Lice crawled over the yellow skin of their sharp, bony frames.
A guard showed us how the blood had congealed in course black scabs where the starving prisoners
had torn out the entrails of the dead for food I was too revolted to speak, for here death had been
so fouled by degradation that it both stunned and numbed us."
Having witnessed that holocaust, as long as we live, my comrades and I can so testify! After inspecting
Ohrdruf, the generals flew on to inspect captured artwork and bullion, which had been looted by the
Nazis. Although their visit had been recorded by the press, that night, April 12 1945, they were notified
that President Franklin D. Roosevelt had just died. With that significant news event, Ohrdruf received
Ohrdruf remains ever imbedded in the minds of the men of the 4th Armored Division and the 89th Infantry
Division. Let us hope that others will learn and remember...
There are times that we must fight for what is right, and in order to accomplish what is right, such
as destroying those who caused the Holocaust or who may cause another, we must be strong!
With strength, we may further peace!