Sunday, November 9, 2014

Remembering our Veterans... Letter home, April 26, 1945

Letter home from my dad, member of the 65th Infantry Division, US Army ... I've made the most interesting part in bold, if you want to skip the small talk.  Links and scans of the original letter follow.

65th Div., 720th FABn, Battery C

Thurs. 26th, 1945

Dear Mother, Dad, Joan and Gwen,

Well, I didn't think it would be this long before I would get a chance to write, but here I am again, this time on a shovel.

Up until now, we have been on the move, as usual.  We are up to the Danube, and by the time you get this, you will probably have read of us in the papers. ~~~~~~~~~~~

Back again, and now I am writing on my mess kit. I was interrupted by a shower.  The weather has been nice, except for a couple days of wind, rain, and sleet.

Well, yesterday we sewed our old division patch back on our shoulder: "the 65th". ~~~~~~~~~~

Interrupted again by a fire mission.  You asked about my job. Well, I am the executive's assistant telephone operator.  The regular operator and I change off, so we don't do too badly for sleep, in fact, we do very well.

Our mail comes in bunches.  We didn't get any mail for about two weeks, and then we got a whole slew of it.  Your latest of April 11.  You asked about my gold star.  That is for major battles.  Oh yes, thanks for the paper.  I owe so many letters, I really wonder if I will ever get caught up.  I believe I told you I had a line from Aunt Ada (?).

A couple of weeks ago we went through a concentration camp where Russian and Polish prisoners had been starved, and when they were too weak to work, they had been shot.  Some of the bodies had been salted down with lime, and thousands of others had been burned on crude incinerators.  Even after seeing it, it was hard to believe.

We came across a British Non Commissioned Officer camp where we freed three or four thousand British and Scotch prisoners.  We talked to them for several hours, and what they told us was very interesting.  How they traded Red Cross cigarettes for food, how they bribed the guards with cigarettes for wireless parts and got messages out.  They also told how they got on the sick list and hid under their barracks when the other prisoners were marched away before our advancing army.  Some of these fellows had been prisoners for five years.  They were sure happy to see us, and it wasn't long before they brought us a pot of tea.  They said that they would never have gotten along if it were not for the Red Cross parcels that they got.  The boys looked quite well, but the fact that they were NCO's and didn't have to work had a lot to do with that.

Well, it is getting dark, so I will have to cut this short.  I am feeling fine, getting lots of C and K rations and plenty of sleep.  Oh yes, this is also quite a scenic trip.

As ever,

P.S. I will mail this tomorrow if the mail goes out.

 From another 65th soldier, leading me to believe Dad was referring to Stalag 383 at Hohenfels
"Prior to our departure from Ulmansdorf, rumors were circulating to the effect that there was an American prison camp in the district and we went about our wood flushing seriously determined to liberate our less-fortunate comrades-in-arms. We were to board artillery trucks at 0900 but as usual we entrucked at 1400 and after considerable confusion and uncalled-for delay we arrived at Hohenfels and for the first time saw the expression of joy on the faces of English, Australians and New Zealanders captured on Crete." 

He also briefly mentions touring a concentration camp, likely the same one Dad did:
 "Some of us visited the concentration camp at Ohrdruf and saw for ourselves the height of Nazi bestiality. We left Ohrdruf a little more conscious of what we were up against and with at least a partial answer to the oft-asked question
-- -- -- 'Why we fight'."

 Liberated NCO camp Stalag 383
More details from a POW
"The Yanks are Coming" and "Hiding and Hoping" from more POW's
 Photo at time of liberation, 22 April, 1945 Additional photos (see 2nd page for liberation)

Warning, graphic photos in this link, taken at Ohdruf Concentration Camp

"Ohrdruf was liberated on April 4, 1945, by the 4th Armored Division and the 89th Infantry Division. It was the first Nazi concentration camp liberated by the U.S. Army.[7][8]
When the 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:[1]
... the most interesting—although horrible—sight that I encountered during the trip was a visit to a German internment camp near Gotha. The things I saw beggar description. While I was touring the camp I encountered three men who had been inmates and by one ruse or another had made their escape. I interviewed them through an interpreter. The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were so overpowering as to leave me a bit sick. In one room, where they were piled up twenty or thirty naked men, killed by starvation, George Patton would not even enter. He said that he would get sick if he did so. 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 bring the horrible truth about German Nazi atrocities to the American public. That same day, Marshall received permission from the Secretary of War, Henry Lewis Stimson, and President Harry S. Truman for these delegations to visit the liberated camps.[1]
Ohrdruf made a powerful impression on General George S. Patton as well. He described it as "one of the most appalling sights that I have ever seen." He recounted in his diary that:[1]
In a shed ... was a pile of about 40 completely naked human bodies in the last stages of emaciation. These bodies were lightly sprinkled with lime, not for the purposes of destroying them, but for the purpose of removing the stench.
When the shed was full—I presume its capacity to be about 200, the bodies were taken to a pit a mile from the camp where they were buried. The inmates claimed that 3,000 men, who had been either shot in the head or who had died of starvation, had been so buried since the 1st of January.
When we began to approach with our troops, the Germans thought it expedient to remove the evidence of their crime. Therefore, they had some of the slaves exhume the bodies and place them on a mammoth griddle composed of 60-centimeter railway tracks laid on brick foundations. They poured pitch on the bodies and then built a fire of pinewood and coal under them. They were not very successful in their operations because there was a pile of human bones, skulls, charred torsos on or under the griddle which must have accounted for many hundreds."

Scans of Dad's letter:

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