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Bruce Nickols: Report from the Ohrdruf Liberation

1998

  Fifty years have passed since this daybut I recall my first impression of the camp called Ohrdruf which I foundlater was associated administratively with the camp called Buchenwald.Ohrdruf was named after the town of the same name, apparently locallyfamous for its history of being the place where Johann Sebastian Bachcomposed some of his works..

  

April 4, 1945

REPORT ON SURRENDER OF THE GERMAN CONCENTRATION CAMP ATOHRDRUF:

   The date was April 4, 1945 and I was on a patrol as a member of the I &R platoon attached to the Headquarters company of 354th InfantryRegiment, of the 89th Infantry Division, 3rd Army U.S.A.

  As I recall itwas a beautiful spring morning marred by the fact that we were undermortar attack. I remember very well my surprise when I observedBrigadier General Robertson strolling upright down the road. He was anelderly avunular gentleman who thought nonchalance under firecharacterized the general officer's role model.

  I was impressed butremained prone in the drainage ditch until the atttack ceased. Shortlythereafter, an acquaintance let it be known that a camp had beenliberated further up the hill.

  Fifty years have passed since this daybut I recall my first impression of the camp called Ohrdruf which I foundlater was associated administratively with the camp called Buchenwald.Ohrdruf was named after the town of the same name, apparently locallyfamous for its history of being the place where Johann Sebastian Bachcomposed some of his works.

  From the outside, the camp was unremarkable. It was surrounded by ahigh barbed wire fence and had a wooden sign which read, "Arbeit MachtFrei." The swinging gate was open, and a young soldier, probably an SSguard, lay dead diagonally across the entrance. The camp was located inthe forest and was surrounded by a thick grove of pine and otherconifers. The inside of the camp was composed of a large 100 yardssquare central area which was surrounded by one story barracks paintedgreen which appeared to house 60-100 inmates.

  As we stepped into thecompound one was greeted by an overpowering odor of quick-lime, dirtyclothing, feces, and urine. Laying in the center of the square were60-70 dead prisoners clad in striped clothing and in disarray. They hadreportedly been machine gunned the day before because they were too weakto march to another camp. The idea was for the SS and the prisoners toavoid the approaching U.S. Army and the Russians.

   Adjacent to the"parade ground" was a small shed which was open on one side. Inside,were bodies stacked in alternate directions as one would stack cordwood, and each layer was covered with a sprinkling of quick-lime. I didnot see him, but someone told me that there had been a body of a deadAmerican aviator in the shed. This place reportedly had been used forpunishment, and the inmates were beaten on their back and heads with a shovel. Myunderstanding is that all died following this abuse.

  I visited some ofthe surrounding barracks and found live inmates who had hidden duringthe massacre. They were astounded and appeared to be struggling tounderstand what was happening. Some were in their 5 tier bunks and somewere wandering about.

  This was the first camp to be "liberated" by the Allied armies in Germany.Orhdruf was visited by Generals Eisenhower, Patton and Bradley and thereare photographs of them observing the bodies of the machine gunnedinmates. According to Eisenhower, Patton had refused to visit thepunishment shed as he feared he would become ill. He did vomit at a later time.

  Further into the camp was evidence of an attempt to exhume and burnlarge numbers of bodies. There was a gallows, although I really cannotremember whether I saw it or not. I don't remember leaving the camp. Irecall being numb after seeing the camp. I had just turned 20 years oldand I had read the biographical "Out of the Night." It was a pale andinadequate picture of a German concentration camp by a refugee Germanauthor.

  I recall becoming very upset when we got back to our quarters, but thewhole experience was far beyond my understanding. I wrote a letter tomy parents describing the experience which was read at a local gatheringof business men. It was widely disbelieved.

Bruce Nickols


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