Skip to comments.60 years on, survivors recall Nazi camp's liberation
Posted on 04/11/2005 1:26:23 AM PDT by M. Espinola
WEIMAR, Germany - Elderly survivors of the Buchenwald concentration camp laid flowers and observed a moment of silence for victims of the Nazis, 60 years after U.S. troops liberated the camp.
Flags from some 30 nations hung in the cold drizzle on Sunday, representing the nations from which the camp's 240,000 prisoners came between 1937 and 1945. About 56,000 died - either worked to death, shot or killed in medical experiments.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and U.S. veterans came to the camp memorial outside Weimar for the commemoration, which kindled vivid memories for the survivors, most of them in their 70s and 80s.
Georg Sterner, a Hungarian Jew, recalled looking out from Barracks No. 37 when the first U.S. tank crashed through the barbed-wire perimeter fence on the morning of April 11, 1945.
"We were hanging out of the windows," said Sterner, who was 17 then. "It came slowly, slowly. It stopped between the trees. It revved the engine ... made a lunge, and broke through."
Inside, shocked soldiers from the U.S. 3rd Army found some 21,000 starving survivors and piles of corpses, some only partially burned in the crematorium ovens as the Nazi SS and their helpers fled the camp.
"It was so incredible - stacks of bodies, the smell, the total shock and confusion, people walking around by the thousands," said Jerry Hontas, who arrived the next day as a 21-year-old Army medic.
"We were so shocked we couldn't talk to each other for days," said Hontas, of Boca Raton, Florida. "We had no concept of this kind of insane cruelty."
On Sunday, some survivors came in wheelchairs. Others wore replicas of their striped inmate's uniforms and their old prisoner numbers.
Schroeder recalled that Weimar stands for Germany's classical cultural heritage - Johann Wolfgang Goethe, the most revered German author and playwright, had his home there - and said the Nazis had turned it into "coldness and cruelty."
"I bow before you, the victims and their families," he said at Weimar National Theater, addressing Buchenwald survivors in the audience.
Though Buchenwald was not expressly built for mass killing as Auschwitz was, the camp was just as much part of the Nazis' effort to wipe out anyone deemed un-German.
Sunday's ceremony was meant as a remembrance of victims of Nazi camps in Germany, which were successively freed as Allied troops advanced before the Nazi surrender in World War II in May 1945.
Thuringia, the state where Weimar is located, was a Nazi Party bastion even before Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933 and he often visited the city.
With an eye on recent electoral successes by Germany's extreme-right fringe, Schroeder said Germany must remain vigilant against racism and anti-Semitism.
"We remember what happened, and we remind others of it, because we must not forget," Thuringia governor Dieter Althaus said at the theater. "Because if we forget, we risk that it will repeat itself."
Buchenwald was part of the Nazi Holocaust in which 6 million European Jews died. But there also were many non-Jewish victims - political prisoners from Germany and other European countries, Soviet prisoners of war and Jehovah's Witnesses.
As Nazi control dissolved in April 1945, Buchenwald inmates rose up and took revenge on their captors just before the Americans came.
"One of the first things I saw was bodies hanging in the trees, because the inmates had captured some of the guards," said Jack Garwood, now a retired engineer in Naples, Florida, who was among the first soldiers to arrive.
The Americans brought Weimar residents to the site to see what happened just eight kilometers (five miles) from their town.
"They were very stoic, very unemotional," Hontas recalled. "I remember only one woman dabbing her eyes."
After the war, the site came under Soviet control. The Soviets imprisoned suspected Nazis and others under appalling conditions that claimed some 7,000 lives - a fact Schroeder noted on Sunday.
I visited Dachau, near Munich, in 1977. I couldn't stop crying; it changed my life forever.
Also helped prepare me for my life on Free Republic.
It's very difficult to understand how the Nazi's slept at night knowing the kind of evil they participated in.
My stepdad, God rest his soul, was a member of the 296th Combat Engineers, and assisted in liberating the Buchenwald camp. His unit compelled the citizens of Bad Berka, Germany, to witness the atrocities at the camp. It was very difficult for him to talk about it.
Ask the Florida Courts. Plaudible deniability fuels murder from Nazi Germany to Greer's Florida.
Anyone know how to access the names of those in the 3rd army who freed these poor souls? I think my father might have been one of them. I know he was part of a group who freed Jewish prisoners from a camp near the end of the war but I can't remember the name of the camp. Sadly, there were many of them.
All the U.S. troops broke down, became very sick, others attempted to care for those barely alive, while other sickened & enraged GI's began to hunt down the Nazi butchers responsible for "Hell on earth".
My friend stated he too was never the same. In later years he became a man many would visit to seek wisdom. Only if asked would he discuss the demonic horrors of Dachau and when he did, people could still see he had been greatly effected by the unimaginable evil he witnessed.
Abram Sachar gave this account of the surrender of the concentration camp in his book entitled "The Redemption of the Unwanted" published in 1983:
"Soon the advance scouts (of the 45th Division) were joined by other Allied soldiers and one of the German guards came forward to surrender with what he believed would be the usual military protocol. He emerged in full regalia, wearing all his decorations. He had only recently been billeted to Dachau from the Russian front. He saluted and barked "Heil Hitler". An American officer looked down and around at mounds of rotting corpses, at thousands of prisoners shrouded in their own filth. He hesitated only a moment, then spat in the Nazi's face, snapping "Schweinehund," before ordering him taken away. Moments later a shot rang out and the American officer was informed that there was no further need for protocol."
An American Lt. Walsh stated the following:
"There's a big gate, and this German guy comes out of there. He must have been about six-four or six-five, and he's got beautiful blond hair. He's a handsome-looking bastard and he's got more Goddam Red Cross shields on and white flags....My first reaction is, "You son of a bitch, where in the hell were you five minutes ago before we got here, taking care of all these people? ....Well, everybody was very upset. Every guy in that company, including myself, was very upset over this thing, and then seeing this big, handsome, son of a bitch coming out with all this Red Cross shit on him."
I will be back later on this evening following up on all questions & comments.
We need to keep putting this stuff out there because 40 years from now, when all the vets and victims are gone, the revisionist will try again to say it did not happen.
Now if we can jsut see tha Stalin and Mao camps we could understand how 100 million people died in the last century.
WW 11-Buchenwald Bump for later.
Many liberators have already passed on, thus it is our job to remind the public of both the victims & their liberators, while countering those which state, 'it never happened'.