Monday, April 11, 2011
...As we prepare to start the official sesquicentennial of the American Civil War, let's not forget another important historical event that occurred on April 11th, 1945, the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp by the 6th Armored Division of the U.S. 3rd Army. Buchenwald is said to rank 2nd only to Auschwitz in overall brutality to those imprisoned there. Thus, it is a milestone event in a very gruesome story.
Pvt. Harry J. Herber, Jr. claims to be the first American soldier to tear down the barbed wire and enter the camp, though many believe this is pure embellishment on his part. The camp had been overtaken by prisoners a few days earlier.
As word of the advancing Americans reached nearby Gestapo headquarters, the guards at Buchenwald were sent and order by the Gestapo to blow up the camp to destroy any evidence of its existence, but the garrison in the camp had already fled. A prisoner answered the phone when the Gestapo called, and informed them that the camp had already been blown up, so it was not necessary to send explosives. Of course, this was a well-crafted lie.
Pfc. James Hoyt was the driver the M8 Greyhound armored car that brought Capt. Frederic Keffer, Tech. Sgt. Herbert Gottschalk and Sgt. Harry Ward into the camp. He parked the vehicle outside the fence, and Capt. Keffer and Sgt. Gottschalk entered through a hole in the barbed wire that the prisoners made.
Thousand of prisoners were held in Buchenwald. Though it was not an extermination camp, with no crematoria or gas chambers, several thousand prisoners died in Buchenwald. They were used as slave laborers, and lived in horrid conditions. Starvation and disease killed hundreds daily. Buchenwald prisoners also were used in several horrific medical experiments, such the testing of viral infections and vaccines.
Ilse Koch, the wife of the cammp commandant, was one of the most brutal tormentors in Buchenwald. She often unmercillesly beat prisoners for no reason with her riding crop, and had a collection of lampshades, book covers and gloves made from the skin of deceased inmates.
One thing worthy of note is that, as time progressed, the communist inmates who were freed from Buchenwald hunted down and captured 76 of their former guards. Their fate, as can be expected, was not pleasant.
One of the freed Buchenwald inmates was Elie Wiesel, who was the Nobel Prize winner in 1986.
Though the sesquicentennial Civil War commemoration is monumental in scope in the USA, let's remember all the brutalities, all the struggles, all the deaths, and all the sacrifice from all the wars. It is because of this history that the World today is as we know it, and that, all gripes aside, we still live in the greatest country in the history of this awesome planet.