THE MUSEUM OF FAMILY HISTORY presents
Liberation of the Concentration
AN EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT FROM A G. I. WHO WAS THERE
Every day that he served overseas, for fifteen months, (with a very few days exception due to conditions and movements in the Battle of the Bulge), Carl Henry used the office typewriter from his desk job as Warrant Officer Junior Grade and then Chief Warrant Officer to write to his wife - one, two, three or four pages a day. The letters are preserved in books assembled by his wife Edith, one book for every month of his service overseas.
These letters are typed on onion-skin paper and with very few excisions from the censors, since he knew how to censor himself, contain detailed, sometimes intimate, record of the experiences, sights, and feelings of a literate and affectionate man. His somewhat obsessive personality serves to increase the detail of the description, both about war-shattered Europe and his own feelings and those of his buddies. From “Somewhere in England” to “Somewhere in Germany”, here then is an enthralling document of the Third Army’s liberation of Europe. Here is a letter of interest:
Somewhere in Germany -- Wednesday, April 11, 1945 -
No mail to-day for the 4th straight day. Back to 11 letters missing from you, including January 30, March 16, 26, 28, and forward. I'll be leaving for Paris tomorrow before the mail comes in, which means no mail for me from you now for almost two weeks. That all but completely wipes out any pleasure for me in this trip. I'll go nuts before I get back and get some mail from you. I feel like a rat in a trap. I've tried to figure out some way of getting some of this mail while in Paris, but I can't do it. Worked fairly hard to-day trying to get everything in shape for the trip. Things are setting pretty well. Weather has been perfect again this week, and I am feeling very well. But not getting any mail for 4 days has pretty well wrecked my morale. Had supper tonight at the battalion -- the Colonel was there, Lt E, etc., and we all ate together. The Colonel told me he thought I had already left for Paris, and so I suppose that he won't mind my going tomorrow to arrive there by Sunday. Transportation difficulties leave me no other choice, but some times the other fellow does not look at it in the same way that you do. The colonel was very friendly -- we discussed the war in the Far East, and a general atmosphere of pessimism reigned regarding the duration of that war, the casualties, and the chances of our being excused from attending. Came home right after supper to continue my work.
All day to-day there have been convoys from our
division to visit a nearby concentration camp. Other divisions located
in the area have been likewise having their men visit the camp. One
armored division sent every officer and non-commissioned officer to
visit the place. I sent all my men to see it. It is the finest bit of
education the army has afforded us into the meaning of fascism and the
true nature of the German people. This was a camp for all types of
prisoners, except military. Here were gathered political prisoners from
Germany, France, and all other civilian types from Russia, Belgium,
Poland, etc. It must have been one of the smaller of Germany's prison
camps, and I believe we shall see larger and more horrible installations
as we move along. The capacity of this one was about 5000 men and women
at a time. It is located about 7 miles from this town and directly on
the outskirts of a small village. It is high on a hill, the hill located
in the bowl of one of those heartrendingly beautiful valleys of which
Germany has so many. Here amidst the peace and serenity of nature's
beauty all the vileness and bestiality of Nazism rose to the surface.
The camp is ringed with a double row of barbed wire, with about three
feet between the two rows. Accommodations are one-story wooden barracks,
with the barest furnishings within. The prisoners were brought here in
rains and trucks, and the camp had a quota of 1500 a month to execute.
As we entered the main gate, in a clearing between the main buildings
lay approximately 30 bodies, in contorted and grotesque poses, prisoners
who had been too weak to march when the Nazis evacuated this camp and
were accordingly shot through the throat or chest. This was April 3.
Their bodies are so emaciated that very little decay has taken place,
and the stench is rather mild. Their bodies have shrunk to about
one-half the normal size. I had never seen the body of a slain human
before, and this was not a pretty introduction (I mean, never before at
such a close range -- not whizzing by in a truck or jeep). Our guides
were a very intelligent English-speaking Frenchman, a German political
prisoner, and a Pole, all of whom had been inmates in this camp up to a
few days ago. The Frenchman was a political prisoner, told me he had
been arrested by Patain's police and had seen 4 of Germany's
concentration camps. He had escaped during the evacuation of this camp
by dropping out of the marching column of prisoners at night and eluding
the SS troops patrolling the line of march. The German had been a
prisoner for 11 years of the Nazi. Right beyond the central clearing we
saw a small shed where naked, emaciated bodies of about 100 prisoners
were stacked to the ceiling, just as they were awaiting burning when the
camp was evacuated. This sight was completely nauseating. In the
interior of one of the barracks, on one of the straw pallets, lay a live
human being, distinguishable from the dead only by the blinking of his
-- page two -- April 11, 1945 -- 10 P.M.
This creature had hidden beneath a mattress and eluded the SS when they came through the barracks on their final check. He is too ill to be moved. The Nazis evacuated this camp on April 3. Next we were shown the gallows in the main yard, where the prisoners who tried to escape were summarily hung. As we walked out of the main gate there lay the stiff body of one of the hated SS gaolers of this place. Yesterday morning he was discovered in the vicinity of the camp by one of the survivors, turned over to the Americans, who riddled him with holes and permitted the Russian prisoner who had identified him to fire a few shots. This SS man in addition to all his previous crimes was attempting to snipe on the camp. He had been one of the worst of the gaolers and had been there about two years. He lays uncovered and untouched just as he fell. Then we walked about half a mile to the cremation area of this camp. Here we saw vast pits scooped in he earth where incompletely burned bodies were tossed and immersed in lime to complete their destruction. At the edge of the pits were vast pyre sites. Here on some railroad tracks which had been piled high with logs and human bodies we saw the charred remains of a number of bodies which had been incompletely incinerated. The ashes beneath the logs were thick with portions of bone and fragments of skull unburnt. Villagers have confessed to our troops that for two years without interruption this fire has been burning, and so you can calculate well the number who have passed through here. Close by was a huge poker with which the firemen stirred the bodies to complete their consumption. The Frenchman told me that this was one of the more insignificant of Germany's concentration camps. He had been at Dachau and Buchenwald, where they really did things in a big way. He told me that 7,000,000 Jews were cremated in Poland. In this camp that we saw there had been Americans as well as European nationals. The place was swarming to-day with war correspondents, high Army officials, and thousands of soldiers. I'll send you some interesting clippings shortly from S&S on the place, when censorship permits. I asked the Frenchman what kind of men the SS were, whether or not they were criminally insane, psychopaths, or what. He said simply -- "they were average Germans" -- "they are all the same." He told me that, at Buchenwald, they had SS families living right on the post. 3 and 4-year old children of the SS had already learned to stone the prisoners at their daily work and to laugh at them. There's all the difference in the world between seeing something like this and reading about it and how millions of Americans will know, through these boys, that all we heard about the Nazis was not propaganda.
So much for the day. I've made a copy of this letter
for the folks and will send it to them, and so you do not have to
forward your copy. My next letter to you will be from Luxembourg or
Paris. There will be no chance to write tomorrow night, but the
following day or night should permit. Best to all at home. Tenderly and
devotedly and, as always, your husband --
lonesome for you, babee -- millions of kisses + hugs --
Copyright © 2001 Diana Mara Henry
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