When German Civilians Toured Nazi Camps After The War

“The Nazis are not the exclusive possessors of warped minds. I will never tolerate the anti-Semite or the fascist. He is dangerous and a potential torturer.” —Albert Gaynes, in a letter to his wife after visiting Ohrdruf

In A Nutshell

In April 1945, the Allied Forces began to liberate concentration camps. Determined to show the world just how heinous the Nazis were, General Dwight Eisenhower opened the camps up for tours, which were given to journalists, soldiers, politicians, and local Germans. After seeing the horrors of the Ohrdruf concentration camp, the mayor of nearby Gotha, Germany committed suicide.

The Whole Bushel

To say that governments, on the whole, have a poor record of maintaining transparency with their citizens is probably the greatest sociopolitical understatement of all time. This likely goes double for fascist dictatorships. During the Nazi regime, the German people were certainly aware that selected minorities were being shipped off, but few realized what terrible fates waited at the destination of those train cars.

In 1945, Allied Forces rolled over continental Europe. Smelling defeat, the Nazis attempted to hide the proof of the horrifying human rights violations that went on in their concentration camps. Their efforts were futile. On April 4 (about four weeks before Adolf Hitler would commit suicide), the Allies liberated their first concentration camp—Ohrdruf in southwestern Germany, a subcamp of Buchenwald. While they had some advanced knowledge of the large-scale genocide that was going on under the Third Reich, they had no way of preparing themselves for the horrors they would encounter.

The SS had evacuated most of the camp’s estimated 11,700 living prisoners prior to the arrival of the 4th Armored Division, leaving behind a charnel house of bodies. Those too weak to make the journey were murdered on the spot. They’d hastily attempted to remove the evidence, burning hundreds of corpses in a pyre and dousing others in lime. The few prisoners left behind were little more than walking skeletons. The camp featured a butcher block used to crush teeth with gold fillings and a “punishment shed,” where unfathomable atrocities were carried out.

When General George Patton (whose nickname was “Old Blood and Guts” and who didn’t tend to swoon easily) visited the camp, he was chilled to the bone, later writing the place was “one of the most appalling sights that I have ever seen.” When describing Ohrdruf, Supreme Commander for the Allied Forces in Europe Dwight Eisenhower wrote “The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty, and bestiality were so overpowering as to leave me a bit sick.”

Eisenhower was determined to expose the carnage to the world. He requested permission to allow journalists and members of Congress to tour the grounds and ordered that every soldier not active on the front lines see what had gone on in the Buchenwald compound, stating “We are told the American soldier does not know what he is fighting for. Now, at least, he will know what he is fighting against.” Eisenhower would go on to order all the able-bodied citizens of nearby Gotha, Germany to go to Ohrdruf and dig graves for the hundreds of bodies left behind. After witnessing this scene firsthand, the mayor of Gotha and his wife hanged themselves.

Show Me The Proof

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: Holocaust Encyclopedia—Ohrdruf
Featured image via The Ohrdruf Photos
Georgia Tech Library: Ohrdruf

  • Lisa 39

    That is so horrible, if it affected old blood and guts that bad then you know it was gut and heart wrenching, and for the mayor and his wife to hang themselves because of this it had to be an absolutely appalling sight. Nice article mike.

    • ElBandito

      I think there’s an Alec Baldwin movie of the Nuremberg Trials. It’s pretty heavy with the drama, but if I remember correctly they actually did show real footage of the camp survivors just after their liberation. There are also amazing history books that are more like photographic albums of the extent of the horrors of the camp (one that stuck to my mind was this one storage room for baby clothes. The Nazis would take the clothes taken from any infants that went into the death camps, cleaned them up, and send them to German families (kinda like how’d you give a baby starter kit in maternity clinics). By the time the Russians liberated that camp, they were killing off so many babies they could hardly keep up with sending the clothes off as soon as possible. The room they used to store them was filled up from the floor to the ceiling.)

      It’s disheartening how despite all of the efforts–there are still holocaust deniers out there.

      • Lisa 39

        Aw jeez elbandito, i didn’t know about the baby clothes, that is deplorable and heart breaking on so many levels.

        My personal opinion about the deniers, they just can’t grasp the enormity of the holocaust, to accept that humans could treat other humans worse than animals is accepting the fact that we all have the potential to be mindless, emotionless murderers, i think some people can’t handle that much reality. Sometimes elbandito, ignorance really is bliss.

        • Christina Winker

          Always not sometimes. Whats up in Guantanemo atm I wonder?

          • Lisa 39

            Hi christina, i disagree that ignorance is always bliss, if your significant other is cheating and gives you an std for example, that’s need to know stuff, history on the other hand is easy to wear denial blinders for or even wars on foreign lands that don’t affect you directly, those are the kind of things that you can put your hands over your ears and chant “i’m not listening”, denial at its finest 🙂

            As for guantanemo bay, i don’t think that’s comparable to the holocaust at all, the holocaust was about wiping out millions of innocent people deemed unworthy by a madman, guantanemo is about stopping terrorists, i’m sure that innocent people have been imprisoned based on suspicions but those people are there for the safety of others.

          • Jaz

            Safety of others? Terrorists? If the prisoners in Guantanamo are such a national threat, why aren’t we allowed information being the general public of america? I’m sure its heartwarming to believe that Guantanamo stands to keep us safe, but personally I believe that their is a shit load of personal interest in the inprisoning of whoever is imprisoned in guantanamo.

          • Lisa 39

            How old are you sweetheart and what college do you attend? Let me tell you how things are old school.

            There are things that governments do that we shouldn’t know about and yes, its for your own safety, if our government told us about it then they’d be announcing it to the whole world, do you honestly think that we’re the only country with secrets? Am i happy about this? Nope, but shit is how shit is, sure there’s personal interest in who ever is at gb, that’s how it works, everywhere.

          • Jaz

            Ur condescedence isn’t needed

          • Lisa 39

            I was in no way trying to be condescending and i apologize if it came off that way, i just see a lot of younger people, usually college age with big ideals about the government and the secrets that they keep and how we should be informed about everything, but we shouldn’t, i’m not saying be blind to it, but we have to accept the fact that all governments have secrets, some are good and some are not.

          • GerbilActs17

            Cuban-American relations are ironic.

          • dracolder

            Lisa 39, i don’t know if you ever will see this message but let me ask you to translate your paragraph into german and you will probably have an idea on how the nazis managed to hide and justify their atrocities.

          • Lisa 39

            Hi dracolder, i’ll take a pass on the translating, german seems so difficult to me, well most foreign languages do, you’re right about the nazis tho, i know they used their language to their advantage, the rooms of baby clothes makes me sick.

          • dracolder

            Hi Lisa, what i meant is that if you justify your government’s wrongdoings you are not too far from turning your face from greater atrocities just because some things should be kept hidden, what are the laws for?

          • Lisa 39

            Oooh, oops, i don’t try to justify, i just know that all governments have secrets, covert undercover, under the radar type stuff, i know its not all on the up and up, but each country is supposed to have its citizens safety and best interest at heart.
            Christina brought up guantanamo bay on an article about the holocaust, there’s absolutely no comparing the two.

  • goog yubari

    War is hideous. Everyone has his fair share of atrocities, but the losers’ would stink the most.

  • Nathaniel A.

    “… verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty, and bestiality…”

    Bestiality? The article kind of glossed over that. Or perhaps Eisenhower misspoke?

    • Robert Downey

      Some times words have multiple meaning but the same spelling and pronouciation, these are known as Homonyms. I believe this is the cause of your confusion. Patton was saying bestiality meaning brutish or beastly character or behavior, not sexual relations between a person and an animal.

      • Nathaniel A.

        Ah, I see. Thanks.

  • Adeola Oluwapelumi Orekoya

    ‘all is fair in love and WAR’

  • Iconstarchild

    Bestiality also means to act like an animal. The correct term for having sex with an animal is actually Zoophilia.

    • edzyl blane

      Better than Necrophilia though

      • GerbilActs17

        necrophiliac Zoophilia?

        • edzyl blane

          Thats just disgusting..

    • Tata Adong

      Both are correct, one is technical, another is colloquial.

  • Christina Winker

    This would be like us being forced to tour Abu Ghraib bc how “could we possibly not be aware of the atrocities our government commits.” Its their fault so far as apathy begets monsters. Thats our legacy too kids…

    • Evin

      It would be absolutely nothing like that.

      • Bagheera

        Without said tour, I would not bet my life on that.

        • Lisa 39

          I would bagheera, places like gb were designed to detain and interrogate, i am not aware that it is a proven fact that torture occurs but i’m not stupid, concentration camps were designed specifically for mass murder of innocent defenseless people, mass graves for children and babies is something you won’t find at places like gb, that information is still making me sick to my stomach.

  • Sweet-Sativa

    Has there ever been a fair, transparent government in mans history? I’d say no.

  • TheMadHatter

    Why were Jews so smart? They went to concentration camps.

    I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

    • shmabai

      Im conflicted…… I want to laugh, but I probably shouldnt . So, im chuckling. 😉

      • Lisa 39

        I giggled a bit also 🙂

      • edzyl blane

        I’m choking

      • SuperWeapons

        Its kind of bad. I never agree with what is said in this kind of joke, but I always find them funny.

    • Lisa 39

      Sometimes hatter, jokes are a coping mechanism, your joke wasn’t horrible, i think you’re ok 🙂

      • TheMadHatter

        It’s the fact that it’s not my first holocaust joke that’s worrisome.

        • Lisa 39

          You’re still ok 🙂

    • Jone_of_Snark

      Oh, I am soooooo going to h3ll for laughing …

  • Redboy.apbt

    The American empire will take over the world soon my oldest brother was killed in Afghanistan a year ago a few months after my release he always told me “America is the only nation that matters when you out there dont see those things as people just take out as many as you can before they get to you” and even now as a civilian if i should come across a muslim well.. GOD BLESS AMERICA

    • daathsurfer

      The American Empire already took over the world. Allah Bless America.

  • Topaz

    This so soooo terrible. Hurts my heart so terribly…

    -repent, believe in the death for our sins & resurrection of Jesus and your soul will be saved

  • edzyl blane

    I was swayed until he mentioned bestiality

    • daathsurfer

      (archaic) A mark, trait, or emblem of a beast.
      “What’s your bestiality?” (What’s your mark?)- wiktionary. I’d like to hear that in a casual conversation.

  • schadenfreude. The Germans were right after all. Look at what Wall Street and the Zionist powers behind the Republicans and Democrats stealing from the man in the street and giving themselves massive tax breaks. The Germans have the last laugh.