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Eisenhower, Congress, congressmen, press, Ohrdruf, Buchenwald, concentration camp, delegation
In late 1944 and early 1945, as Allied troops defeated the German army and moved across Europe into Germany, they encountered tens of thousands of concentration camp prisoners.
Soviet forces were the first to approach a major Nazi camp, reaching Majdanek near Lublin, Poland, in July 1944. Later, the Soviets liberated Auschwitz, the largest killing center and concentration camp, in January 1945. In the following months, the Soviets liberated additional camps in the Baltic states, Poland, and eventually in Germany itself. In April and May 1945, the British liberated Nazi camps in northern Germany, including Bergen-Belsen and Neuengamme.
The first Nazi camp liberated by US forces was Ohrdruf, a subcamp of Buchenwald (the main camp would be liberated one week later). The 4th Armored Division and the 89th Infantry of the Third US Army entered Ohrdruf on April 4, 1945. When soldiers of the 4th Armored Division entered the camp, they discovered piles of bodies, some covered with lime, and others partially incinerated on pyres. The ghastly nature of their discovery led General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, to visit the camp on April 12, with Generals George S. Patton and Omar Bradley. After his visit, Eisenhower cabled General George C. Marshall, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, describing his trip to Ohrdruf:
The things I saw beggar description. … The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were so overpowering as to leave me a bit sick ... . I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to “propaganda.”
Seeing the Nazi crimes committed at Ohrdruf made a powerful impact on Eisenhower, and he wanted the world to know what happened in the concentration camps. On April 19, 1945, he again cabled Marshall with a request to bring members of Congress and journalists to the newly liberated camps so that they could convey the horrible truth about Nazi atrocities to the American public. Within days, congressmen and journalists began arriving to bear witness to Nazi crimes in the camps.
The discovery of the Ohrdruf camp, and the subsequent liberation of Dora-Mittelbau (April 11), Flossenbürg (April 23), Dachau (April 29), and Mauthausen (May 5) opened the eyes of many US soldiers and the American public to the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis during the Holocaust.
Dates to Check
Typically, daily newspapers reported news the morning after it occurred. However, some papers were printed in multiple editions, including evening news. If you are using an evening paper, begin your search on the same day as the event being researched.
April 20 - 27, 1945 News about General Eisenhower's invitation to members of Congress and the press.
April 20, 1945 - May 31, 1945 News, editorials, opinion pieces, letters to the editor, and political cartoons reporting on Congressional delgations and journalists visiting the liberated camps.
April 5, 1945 - May 15, 1945 News about American liberation of concentration camps (e.g., Buchenwald, Dachau, Flossenbürg, Mauthausen).
April 1945 - June 1945 Editorials, opinion pieces, letters to the editor, and political cartoons responding to the liberation of concentration camps.
Abzug, Robert H. GIs Remember: Liberating the Concentration Camps. Washington, DC: National Museum of American Jewish History, 1994.
Abzug, Robert H. Inside the Vicious Heart: Americans and the Liberation of Nazi Concentration Camps. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.
Bridgman, Jon. End of the Holocaust: The Liberation of the Camps. Portland, OR: Areopagitica Press, 1990.
Chamberlin, Brewster S., and Marcia Feldman, editors. The Liberation of the Nazi Concentration Camps 1945: Eyewitness Accounts of the Liberators. Washington, DC: United States Holocaust Memorial Council, 1987.
Goodell, Stephen, and Kevin Mahoney. 1945: The Year of Liberation. Washington, DC: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 1995.
Goodell, Stephen, and Susan D. Bachrach. Liberation 1945. Washington, DC: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 1995.