GERMANY IN 1944 — (EDITOR’S NOTE: The following an article written by the late Arch Baumgartner who was owner and publisher of The Papers Inc. The article appeared in the Warsaw Times in 1945.
Baumgartner was a first lieutenant at the time, assigned to XIX Tactical Air Command at headquarters under Major General O. P. Weyland. Under Weyland, Baumgartner’s command unit gained fame for its classic air support of General George Patton’s 3rd Army in the successful movement across France in the spring of 1945.
The article was written from somewhere in Germany under the date of April 16, and sends an interesting description of Baumgartner’s visit to the Nazi horror camp at Buchenwald in 1945.It is being printed in honor of the 75th anniversary of D-Day and the Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944.
Baumgartner was inducted into the U. S. Air Force in 1942 and in 1945 he and two other officers jeeped through Germany.)
Lt. Arch E. Baumgartner, of Milford, from somewhere in Germany, under date of April 16, sends us the following interesting description of his visit to a Nazi horror camp:
“In Germany, April 16, 1945.
“I saw something the day before yesterday I can’t quite seem to get out of my mind. I thought I’d communicate it on to you for whatever value it might have.
“I drove into Weimar, Germany, city of culture, day before yesterday, only three days after the armored columns of units of Patton’s Third army had cleared it out. Army intelligence had told us about Buchenwald (or Bukenwald) concentration camps, second most notorious civilian prison camp in the Reich, located about 10 kilometers outside of that city. Naturally that was one of the first places I visited since news of its horrors — crematorium and all — had filtered back to us.
“As we approached the concentration camp in our little jeep we saw ‘trusties,’ the new American supervisors of Buchenwald had found worthy of letting out for strolls into a nearby village. All the inmates as we saw at that first glance, wore badly-tattered clothing and shoes that were of little or no use to anyone but themselves. On the back of each person was a cross or some other hieroglyphic to denote his nationality.
Prisoners Salute Yanks
“It wasn’t hard to tell these men had long been Nazi prisoners and were thankful for the Yank liberation — liberation in its greatest sense. As we drove past them, these prisoners of from one to five years for causes they had long since ceased to remember — ranging from petty distrust to suspicion, to outspoken opposition of national socialism — stopped to look at us. Some took off their hats and held them over their chests and bowed their heads to us; others feigned a salute, feeble and not quite sure they would not be reprimanded for manifesting their thanks for liberation. I heard a faint ‘Vive l’Amerique.’
“It is a paradox to think that Buchenwald, even the name of which has become to mean something of horror to everyone in Europe, should be situated in Weimar, the cultural center of Europe and the home of the Weimar constitution and republic. More than that, this dreaded camp is located in a clearing about a mile square in a beautiful forest. Even the grand concrete road leading to the camp is beautiful — and misleading.
21,000 In Camp
“But 30 seconds, yes, two steps, inside the fence of Buchenwald tells a decidedly different story. Major Chambliss, Lt. Berlin, our driver and I entered the gates together and immediately found dozens of inmates who wanted to show us around. It was clear to us from the first that many of them were mentally deranged. But in many cases even that was hard to tell, for these men were overcome with joy and knew no restraint.
“On the day we entered the camp there were an estimated 21,000 prisoners held there, according to a Red Cross guard who managed to salvage some of the records. To me the camp looked crowded to the very brim. But, he told us, the camp usually had 80,000 inmates. Thoe who would be transported rapidly and were considered by Nazis to be their most dangerous enemies, were rushed off to camps deeper in the Reich ahead of the anticipated Yank onslaught.
150 Die In A Day
“How many thousands of civil enemies of the Nazis died in this one concentration camp alone perhaps will never be known. To say many thousands would be leaving yourself on solid ground. Within a 24-hour period after officers of the American military government took charge of the camp more than 150 prisoners died of malnutrition and a variety of diseases. Within the next six hours another 30 died. Hundreds of inmates are so far gone that no care, however special, will avail to save their lives, not to mention restoring their health.
“There was little effort made to separate patients according to their disease or stage of illness. We entered one of the barracks, where the inmates has dysentery, typhus and pneumonia. The sloth and stench in this dank housing was almost too much for the nostrils. The cold concrete floor was damp and slimy and there was a constant drone of moaning from the sufferers. Many were so weak from lack of food and the effects of dysentery that they hesitated to speak, for even talking took energy; most all of them spoke in a low, brow-beaten tone.
Prisoners Skin And Bones
“In the hospital ward we visited, which had the drab outward appearance of any one-story army barracks, there was no heat. The patients had only their one suit of clothes which consisted of a suit comparable to the U.S. army fatigue suit. All these clothes were dirty, smelly and worn out. All the prisoners were thin beyond human comprehension, their bodies being no more than a skeleton covered with skin. The eerie sight of these men made me chill.
“Here’s a brief account of this hospital barracks. Inside are two rows of four-tier shelves with central gangway between. These four-story shelves are divided at five one-half intervals by upright partitions. It gives the effect of a couple hundred cubby holes on each side of the aisle. Into each hole which is about 18 inches high, are from one to six men thrust feet first. From the aisle one sees four rows of heads on either side. Three prisoners in a cubby hole can lie comfortably on their backs. More than that — and there usually are more — have to lie on their sides.
Sleep On Bare Wood
“There are no mattresses. Inmates have to lie on the bare wood, or if they are fortunate, can wrap themselves in a single blanket. There were blankets for about one-half of the men throughout the winter months. Many hundreds died from the cold, we were informed.
“While we were standing in the hospital ward two inmates came in with a stretcher and pulled a body out of one of the cubby holes, put it on the stretcher and carried the unfortunate soul out to the pile of human bodies beside the barracks. He died sometime during the day. To most inmates it meant nothing and they didn’t as much as turn their heads in recognition. To the barracks guard it meant only another red cross in his barracks ledger.
Suspicious Of Help
“Most of the heads peered up from their cubby hole-homes as we entered all the barracks. There were many feeble smiles, many more grimaces which could only be construed as meaning suspicion. These men had become suspicious of help, suspicious of liberation, suspicious of goodliness, and even suspicious of God, I should imagine. There were ghosts in those barracks in mid-afternoon, eyes that peered, lips that mumbled and minds that were not coherent in the least.
“Some minds were unbelievably agile and clear, however, after years in this hell on earth. One Frenchman called me to come over and feel his biceps. I was hesitant, for I knew I would act like a dainty lady reaching for a pinch of salt. His arm was only bone, but his mind was unshaken.
“‘I was once pretty heavy,’ he told me in very poor English. ‘But when you don’t eat you can’t stay fat.’
“He couldn’t remember what he did that occasioned his three years in Buchenwald.
All Nationalities Represented
“I immediately found out that all nationalities of Europe were represented at Buchenwald — Poland, France, Belgium, Russia, Czechoslovakia, Greece, etc. The oldest prisoners were Poles. The Nazis were no respectors of age, either. I talked with a Polish boy (through a Frenchman who spoke English) who was 15 years of age and had been in this dread black hole for five years. Any number of inmates were under 10 years of age and as many were over 60.
“On the pile of dead beside the hospital barracks, I estimated about 100 bodies. They were stripped of their shoes and what clothing even these thread-bare men would salvage. Many were naked. American officials thought these bodies were waiting for the next day’s operation of the crematorium, but the speed of the Yank advance left them for us to view.
Bodies Near Crematorium
“The pile of corpses were only a short distance haul to the giant six-burner crematorium. This is the old Nazi practice of disposing of their dead. Burial as we practice it in the States and in other civilized countries of the world is too troublesome and bulky for the Nazis. To my knowledge, no incidents have come out of burning prisoners alive at Buchenwald.
“The only means for human disposal I found around the camp was a hole several feet square dug into the ground beside each barracks building. This left the prisoners no privacy, but what was privacy in a place where everything tended to tear down vanity, pride, self-respect, and even hope?
Face Constant Hunger
“How many of the men were hungry day in and day out I could not tell. I saw one aged gentleman kneeling over a small fire about the size of your two fists. Over four sticks he had propped up was an already burned piece of bread on which was some oleo. The old man was trying to heat his bread. Coming on him from behind and noticing the precaution he exercised, I felt sure he had a valuable ration. Perhaps he did.
“I met Alvin Steinkopf, war correspondent for Associated Press, who had viewed Buchenwald just ahead of me. He told me he had been assigned to Berlin some time ago and knew the language and the people well. He assured me these acts of inhumanity and bestial cruelty were typically Nazi. He met a man at Buchenwald whom he knew in Berlin years ago. He said his friend’s mind was clear and thus he got many inside angles not immediately available to a total stranger.
No Women In Camp
“I understand there were several Americans in this camp, men who were German by birth and were caught in Germany and failed to make their escape to America. I didn’t see their record on any of the books I examined, however.
“There were no women in Buchenwald from what I could gather. Another Frenchman I talked to (and his mind seemed clear, too) told me they had a brothel in a small building on the edge of the camp, still within the camp’s confines, for the pleasure of the inmates who turned out a good day’s work and had enough money, from whatever source, at their command. Besides floggings, such were the means of getting their prisoners to work. The women, of course, were prisoners too.
Citizens Deny Knowledge
“Upon questioning, civilians of Weimar showed they had no knowledge of the goings-on inside Buchenwald. Knowing the incredibility with which outside information found its way to these news-starved prisoners, it is unlikely that civilians of nearby Weimar could have been totally oblivious to those ghastly happenings.
“A day after my visit to Buchenwald American military police marched a column of Weimar citizens, about a mile long, all the way to the camp and made them pass through the barracks and witness first-hand the atrocities the government they supported visited on anyone who dared speak in opposition to them. One prisoner fell over dead while these reluctant visitors were passing through a barracks.
Forced To Do War Work
“A number of things were produced and assembled at the concentration camp, all in line with the German war effort. A part of the jet robomb was in production here, I was told.
“A number of prisoners I sought information from also ‘cornered’ me to get information from the outside world. They had lost all contact, except for their well-organized grapevine, which was inadequate for outside information of world importance. They heard of the death of President Roosevelt with the coming of the Yanks. In his honor they flew a black cloth — a flag — at half-mast.
“These men did not lack organization. Each barracks was organized, usually according to nationality. Over that there was inter-barracks organization, but beyond maintaining undying hope there was little they could do.
Used Loud-Speaker System
“There was a loud-speaker system in the yard over which the Nazi over-lords shouted their commands. Now the system is used to give the inmates bits of news and such instructions to carry on the necessary administration of the camp’s routine matters. The instrument is no longer feared by these beaten men.
“Soon these men will be going home again. It is hard for them to believe. I saw one old man grab a Yank corporal, throw his arms around him and hysterically sob. ‘When can I go home, when can I go home.’ The corporal, taken aback, assured him it wouldn’t be long anymore.
“Meanwhile, military government officials are doing what they can to better conditions at Buchenwald. They have added to the rations and have enriched their contents. All of these hapless souls are thankful, but for many it is coming too late. Those who will recover and live to reach their homes again will bear true and living witness to their own nation and to all the peoples of the world, what being ruled by Nazism is actually like.”