January 27th, 2014
On January 27, 1945, the largest Nazi death camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, was liberated by Soviet troops. In 2005, that date was declared to be International Holocaust Remembrance Day by the United Nations General Assembly, to memorialize the victims of Nazi-led genocide during World War II. Other concentration camps were liberated before and after Auschwitz, as Allied troops advanced into Nazi-held territory. The first major camp to be liberated, Majdanek or KL Lublin, was discovered by the advancing Soviets on July 23, 1944; Theresienstadt was not officially liberated until May 8, 1945. The West Virginia and Regional History Center preserves pieces of Holocaust and post-war history. (Please note, this post includes an image of the dead.)
Photographs loaned to the WVRHC by Harry Smith, thru Professor John Jacobson of WVU’s Political Science Department, depict the people and conditions of liberated Buchenwald. There are 26 images of Buchenwald in this collection, which can be viewed online at West Virginia History OnView. Buchenwald was liberated by American troops on April 11, 1945.
Raymond M. Young (1924-1986) of Oak Hill, West Virginia, was a combat photographer who served United States armed forces in Europe during and after World War II, and later in Vietnam. His collection of papers at the WVRHC includes black and white photographs of various scenes from World War II, such as war destruction and city ruins, soldiers, civilians, concentration camp dead at Dachau (see below), etc. Some of these can be viewed online at WVHOV. On April 29, 1945, the Dachau concentration camp was officially liberated by U.S. Army troops.
Dead Prisoners in Dachau Concentration Camp, Dachau, Germany
A&M 2541, papers and printed materials collected by Lawrence Nuce, shed light on the post-war denazification program in Germany. Nuce was a combat sergeant during the war, and served as a commissioned officer in charge of supervising schools in Bavaria during the occupation. His collection includes many issues of the Stars and Stripes, an American newspaper that reports on matters affecting members of the U.S. Armed Forces. The front page of the May 3rd, 1945 Germany edition announces a turning point in the war. This and other issues of the paper show us what soldiers thought was worth reporting and reading about at the time.
Total surrender by the Germans occurred on May 8, 1945. Once the war was over in the European Theater and the concentration camps were liberated, Allied forces occupied Germany and conducted denazification and post-war “industrial disarmament” programs. Buchenwald, Dachau, and other former concentration camps were turned into internment camps by the occupying forces.
Nuce’s papers also give us a glimpse of the influences on American soldiers in post-war Europe. The pages below are from a booklet titled “Occupation,” written for U.S. soldiers who wondered what to expect as occupiers of Germany after the war. Soldiers would have read the following passage, urging them to “guard your sympathies” against the German people:
Central heating is typical of Germany, but so was Buchenwald. German cleanliness is typical – so much so that they tried to make soap out of human bodies. German medicine is so highly developed that it learned to use human beings as experimental guinea pigs.
On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the UN urges every member state to honor the victims of the Nazi era and to instill the memory of the tragedy in future generations to prevent genocide from occurring again. The West Virginia and Regional History Center does its part by preserving a small part of the historical record of this tragedy, to keep alive the memories of the past that they might live on in the present and continue teaching us well into the future.
Blog post by Jane Metters, Assistant Curator, WVRHC.