Special Feature:
Liberation of the Nazi Camps

Warning, images on this website may contain graphic material that could be disturbing to some people.

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The Liberation of Major Nazi Camps 1944-1945 - Map is provided courtesy of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM).

As Allied military forces drove deep into occupied Europe and Germany in the spring of 1945, U.S. Army soldiers were shocked by the evidence of Nazi depravity they witnessed first-hand. During World War II more than six million Jews and millions of other people were executed, with millions more tortured, imprisoned or forced into slave labor by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. In addition to crimes against humanity committed throughout Europe, those done in the concentration camps were particularly heinous. In what General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower termed "horror camps," names like Buchenwald and Dachau became synonymous with the mass slaughter and unspeakable cruelty that characterized the Holocaust. The scenes they witnessed on liberating many of the camps gave tangible evidence to U.S. Army soldiers that their sacrifices had been for a just cause-a great crusade against evil. All Army soldiers who fought in World War II, whether in combat or support units, or medical personnel of field hospitals who kept victims alive after liberation, deserve credit for ending the horror of the Holocaust. The liberation of the camps demonstrated the character and compassion of the American soldier in the performance of his or her duty. The liberation of people held in the Nazi concentration camp system is an achievement of which the U.S. Army will always be proud. Defeating Nazi Germany and freeing Europe from fascist tyranny in all its forms was consistent with the U.S. Army's mission and its soldiers' role as liberators. We honor the 11 million American Soldiers who defended freedom and defeated fascism and tyranny 75 years ago. We commemorate the events of WWII and the Holocaust to educate the public about the Army's proud history as a way to inspire men and women to serve today and in the future.

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Army Museum Enterprise (AME) Artifacts and Exhibits

Paintings from the Army Art Collection

Artifacts from The Noncommissioned Officer Heritage & Education Center at Fort Bliss

Link to museum website

The theme of the Fort Bliss exhibit pictured above highlights the role that NCOs played in the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps. The exhibit case includes unit patches from divisions that participated in the liberation, a medic’s jacket to honor those soldiers who provided first aid to the survivors of the camps, and some K-rations that the U.S. soldiers would have given to the starving prisoners.

Among the items in the display cabinet is a symbol chart that showed the different categories of prisoners in the Nazi camps.

3d Cavalry and Ebensee

Link to museum website

Watch that belonged to 1LT Carl I. Delau of Troop E, 3d Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron. Not long after the Ebensee concentration camp was liberated, Delau was at the site to provide administrative support when a former prisoner approached him and thanked him for his liberation. The man explained that he had been a jeweler in Holland and offered to engrave something for the lieutenant. Delau gave his watch to the man, who used a set of tools he had in his pocket to engrave Delau's initials on the back.

82d Airborne Division Museum

Link to museum website

Chemical Corps Museum

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A short wooden-handled whip recovered at the Buchenwald Concentration Camp by 1SG Dean H. Gilbert, HQ Company, 86th Chemical Mortar Battalion, who donated it to the Army Chemical Corps Museum in 1986.

"Human bones were stacked in piles as high as this building,’ he remembered. ‘We went into this lab there and found lampshades made from human skin, and a lamp made from the chest of a man. I was told not to give any of the [surviving] people any food, because they had only had soup made from grass and water. Any solid food could have killed them, they were so thin. We found 40 people sleeping on four small bunks. The ovens were still warm. Sometimes, I can still smell the stench of burning flesh."

- 1SG Dean H. Gilbert

Photographs taken at Gardelegen by PFC Sylvester Hainley, Charlie Company, 89th Chemical Mortar Battalion, donated to the Chemical Corps Museum in 2015 by his son.

"Today is one day that any of us will have a hard time forgetting for a darn long time. Arrangements were made so that all who wished could visit Gardelegen to see one of the many German atrocities which have been discovered lately. It was an average size wooden barn filled with the charred, burned bodies of about 1100 German political prisoners. I’ve never seen such a horrible mess in all my life, believe me! The Military Authorities were making proven Nazis from Gardelegen come out there and dig separate graves for each one of those bodies and give each one a separate burial. This graveyard will be taken care of by the people in Gardelegen from this date on so that they won’t forget about it. If every man who saw this mess would write back to his friends, I’m sure the people back home would get a much better outlook concerning the type of people we are fighting.”

- Journal of SSG William O. Towns, Charlie Company, 89th Chemical Mortar Battalion, 23 April 1945

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Historical Photos

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Additional Reading

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External Links

  • U.S. Propaganda Films
    The Following Videos May Contain Graphic Content

    Death Mills (Die Todesmühlen)
    (Holocaust Museum) A 1945 War Department information film directed by Billy Wilder. The film was intended for audiences in occupied Germany and Austria to educate them about the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime. For the German version, Die Todesmühlen, Hanus Burger is credited as the writer and director, while Wilder supervised the editing. Wilder is credited with directing the English-language version. The film is a much-abbreviated version of German Concentration Camps Factual Survey, a 1945 British government documentary that was not completed until nearly seven decades later. The German-language version of the film was shown in the US sector of West Germany in January 1946.
  • Your Job in Germany
    (NARA YouTube) A short film made for the United States War Department in 1945 just before VE-Day. It was shown to US soldiers about to go on occupation duty in Germany. The film was made by the military film unit commanded by Frank Capra and was written by Theodor Geisel, better known by his pen name Dr. Seuss.
  • Here Is Germany
    (NARA YouTube) A 1945 American propaganda documentary film directed by Frank Capra and written by William L. Shirer, Gottfried Reinhardt, Ernst Lubitsch, Georg Ziomer and Anthony Veiller. Like its companion film, Know Your Enemy: Japan, the film is a full-length exploration of why one of the two major Axis countries started World War II and what had to be done to keep them from "doing it again".
  • Seeds of Destiny
    (NARA YouTube) Produced by the U.S. Army War Department to keep the world's attention focused on the suffering of displaced and orphaned refugee children in transit and displaced persons camps in Europe and to champion the work of UNRRA. It was the winner of the Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject in 1946. It was directed by accomplished short film — and later feature film — director David Miller.
  • Two Down, One to Go!
    (NARA YouTube) A short propaganda film produced in 1945; its overall message was that the first two Axis powers, Italy and Germany, had been defeated, but that one, Japan, still had to be dealt with.