The Liberation of the Dora Mittelbau Concentration Camp

image

The following article commemorates the history of the 104th Infantry Division, as they saw firsthand the horrors of the Holocaust on April 11th, 1945, the 104th Infantry Division, along with the 3rd Armored Division, were tasked to occupy the Nazi stronghold in Nordhausen, Thuringia, Germany.

The Timberwolves saw Nordhausen as another objective in the ongoing fight against Nazi Germany. Having fought in engagements steadily since 1943, they thought they had seen the worst of what war could throw at them. To their shock and horror, they were wrong. Nothing prepared the Timberwolves for what they would find in Nordhausen.

Within Nordhausen was the Dora Mittlebau Concentration Camp. Dora Mittelbau was a weapons factory that produced V1 and V2 missiles for the German Army. At the camp, the Nazis employed forced labor consisting of Jews, political dissidents, prisoners of war, and other ethnic and minority groups. The groups included Poles, Soviets, Romani, Slavs, LGBTQ persons, and others.

The prisoners worked in cruel and inhumane conditions, often forced to sleep in the very caves they were digging or in unsanitary bunks or hangers. The Nazis used beatings, summary executions, torture, and deliberate starvation against the prisoners. Estimates suggest as many as 20,000 prisoners died in the camp.

When the Timberwolves entered the camp, they found a gruesome sight. Sgt. Ragne Farris, a 104th Infantry Division medic, described the shock of their discovery, “We were battle-tired and combat-wise medics, and we thought there was nothing left in the books we didn’t know. Yet in a short period of two days, I and many others of the Division saw and lived a story we shall never forget.” The Timberwolves came across over 5,000 corpses lying about in various stages of decay.

The few survivors of the camp were of very ill health. French resistance fighter Michel Depierre, who was captured and sent to the camp, was one of the survivors. He stated about his encounter with the Timberwolves, “They distribute some food. It was so good since we were dying of hunger for the last nine months. Only skin was left on our bones.”

The Timberwolves were stunned at the sight of what they had encountered. Cpl. Fred Bohm, a Jewish Soldier with the 104th, recounted, “To see photographs is one thing, but to go in and smell and be exposed to this horror, you cannot really be ready for that.” Indeed, they were not.

The Timberwolves found most of the survivors lying among the dead. Unlike other camps, the Nazis left the prisoners to starve in place and decay rather than throw them into ovens like in other camps. The Timberwolves tried hard to provide as much medical care to the survivors as possible. Despite these efforts, many of the survivors died under their care due to their deteriorated condition.

Many of the prisoners also died during the Allied bombing of the town. Their captors refused to move them from the hangers that the bombers targeted. When the hangers were set ablaze, the SS guards refused to allow the prisoners to evacuate. The U.S. Army Air Corps bombers were unaware the prisoners were there.

Many war correspondents documented what was found at Dora Mittelbau. Their footage was viewed worldwide in exposing the Nazi’s crimes. Prosecutors used much of the footage in the trials of various Nazi war criminals. Nineteen individuals were put on trial directly for the crimes committed at Dora Mittelbau, where 15 were convicted of war crimes.

The history of the 104th is forever intertwined with the history of the Holocaust. It is important to reflect on our unit lineage and the Holocaust. Our predecessors saw firsthand the unspeakable evil that fell upon the world due to the crimes of the Nazis.

“Having seen the barbaric ravages of hatred and the parallel need of love of mankind cannot our closing prayer be a fervent plea to Almighty God that our actions be a dedication and an accepted responsibility of ever seeking out avenues of peace among all nations, and in such pursuits may we be God’s willing and effective instruments. May God strengthen our resolve to work diligently to remove any likelihood of another genocide, the tragic consequence of the failure of man.” – Chaplain (Major) Edward P. Doyle, Chaplain, 104th Infantry Division.

References Ben Zion, Ilan. 2016. When my great-uncle liberated a Nazi concentration camp. May 30. Accessed Mar 30, 2021. https:// www.timesofisrael.com/when-my-great-uncle-liberated-a-nazi-concentration-camp/. Doyle, Edward P. 1981. I Was There. Accessed Mar 30, 2021. https://www.104infdiv.org/TESTIMON.HTM. National Timberwolf Association. 2010. Mittelbau Dora Concentration Camp. Oct 6. Accessed March 31, 2021. https://www.104infdiv.org/ concamp.htm. Neufeld, Michael J. 2009. Mittelbau Main Camp: In Depth. Accessed Mar 30, 2021. https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/ mittelbau-main-camp-in-depth. United States Holocaust Museum. 2021. The 104th Infantry Division During World War II. Accessed Mar 31, 2021. https:// encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/the-104th-infantry-division.

Search

Contact Us

Name*
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.