The Liberation of Nazi Camps and the Aftermath of the Holocaust

  • Published
  • By Capt. Jennifer Schoffstall
  • Company Grade of Officer Council
 The United States Congress established the Days of Remembrance as our nation's annual commemoration of the Holocaust. The 2008 Days of Remembrance are April 27 - May 4, and Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) is May 2. Expounding on the two previous articles about the Holocaust, this article will focus on the liberation of Nazi Camps and the aftermath of the Holocaust.

When did the liberation of Nazi camps begin, and what countries were involved in the liberation? As Allied troops moved across Europe in a series of offensives on Germany, they began to encounter and liberate concentration camp prisoners, many of whom had survived death marches into the interior of Germany. Soviet forces were the first to approach a major Nazi camp, reaching the Majdanek camp near Lublin, Poland, in July 1944. Surprised by the rapid Soviet advance, the Germans attempted to demolish the camp in an effort to hide the evidence of mass murder. The Soviets also liberated major Nazi camps at Auschwitz, Stutthof, Sachsenhausen, and Ravensbrueck. U.S. forces liberated the Buchenwald, Dora-Mittelbau, Flossenbuerg, Dachau and Mauthausen camps. British forces liberated camps in northern Germany, including Neuengamme and Bergen-Belsen.

What conditions did liberators confront in the Nazi camps? Liberators confronted unspeakable conditions in the Nazi camps, where piles of corpses lay unburied. Only after the liberation of these camps was the full scope of Nazi horrors exposed to the world. The small percentage of inmates who survived resembled skeletons because of the demands of forced labor and the lack of food, compounded by months and years of maltreatment. Many were so weak that they could hardly move. Disease remained an ever-present danger, and many of the camps had to be burned down to prevent the spread of epidemics. Survivors of the camps faced a long and difficult road to recovery.

What happened in the aftermath of Holocaust? The leaders of the Third Reich, who were caught by the Allies, were tried by the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg from Nov. 20, 1945 to Oct. 1, 1946. Afterward, the Allied occupation authorities continued to try Nazis, with the most significant trials held in the American zone (the Subsequent Nuremberg Proceedings). In total, 5,025 Nazi criminals were convicted between 1945-1949 in the American, British and French zones; in addition to an unspecified number of people who were tried in the Soviet zone.

After liberation, many Jewish survivors feared to return to their former homes because of the anti-Semitism that persisted in parts of Europe and the trauma they had suffered. Some who returned home feared for their lives. With few possibilities for emigrations, tens of thousands of homeless Holocaust survivors migrated westward to other European territories liberated by the western Allies to live in refugee centers and displaced persons camps. Some Jewish refugees formed organizations to provide food, clothing and vocational training to other displaced persons, while laboring for the establishment of an independent Jewish state in Palestine.

(Information from The Museum of Tolerance of the Simon Wiesenthal Center; The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and The Danish Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, This story is the third in a series on Holocaust Remembrance.)

Special guest speaker, Leo Hymas, a U.S. Army Liberator, will speak at the base Holocaust Remembrance Ceremony May 2, 9 a.m., at the theater. Mr. Hymas was assigned to General Patton's Third Army and was part of the American military team that liberated the Nazi concentration camp Buchenwald near Weimar in April 1945.