Strike and Hold:
A Memoir of the 82d Airborne in World War II
by T. Moffat
After being ripped to
pieces by bullets at Anzio and Nijmegen, we thought we were prepared
for everything, immune to shock, and inured by horror. But these
experiences, as grim as they were, didn't prepare us for what we found
at Wobbelin, Germany. We were forewarned because, as we approached the
town, we were all but overcome by the stench that hung over the
buildings like a perpetual cloud and drifted out on the summer air
into the surrounding fields. Several of the men gagged.
As we moved into the town, we looked for Germans to capture or kill.
What we found instead was a gruesome and sickening sight -- the
remains of a concentration camp for Jews and other political
prisoners. These people had been transferred from Auschwitz just
before Poland was overrun by the Russians, and their German captors
had abandoned them as we moved into town.
I had never seen human beings look so tortured and grotesque. They
were skeletons, people with absolutely no flesh. Their bodies were no
more than skin stretched over knobby bones that threatened to break
through with the slightest movement. Their eyes were huge sunken
pits in their skulls. Their teeth had rotted to yellow stumps, and
most of their hair had fallen out.
We found them in squalid buildings. Many were too weak to walk or
talk. I found one who spoke English, and he said that they had not
eaten in days.
One building, about 30 feet by 60 feet, was stacked three deep with
unburied bodies. An area adjacent to the building was bisected by a
trench about 10 feet wide, 8 feet deep, and 100 feet long. The trench
was half full of dead bodies. An abandoned bulldozer stood nearby.
Apparently, it had been used to shovel the bodies into the ditch and
cover them up, some of them still alive.
We immediately loaded the survivors into trucks and ambulances for
delivery to the nearest hospital. Unfortunately, many of them never
The city of Ludwigslust was just a few miles from the camp. We rounded
up all of the town's citizens, along with the German POWs that we had
captured, and ordered them to go to the camp, dig up the bodies, and
bury them in individual graves in the town square.
One Jewish soldier recently assigned to my company had escaped from
Austria after the German occupation. He had made his way to the United
States, enlisted in the Army, and joined the paratroopers -- with the
single mission of finding his family and rescuing them. He had
information that his mother, father, sister, and brother had been
placed in a concentration camp at the time he escaped.
He found a Catholic priest in the Wobbelin camp and learned, to his
horror, that his family had been imprisoned in this very camp. Only a
week earlier, the priest said, his parents and his sister and brother
had been thrown into the furnace and burned alive.
No one could fully comprehend the bitter sorrow of this young man. I
guess I felt some part of it, however, when I held him in my arms and
cried with him.
Burriss, T. Moffatt.Strike
and Hold: A Memoir of the 82d Airborne in World War II.
Washington, DC: Brassey's, 2000. 183-185. [Permission
granted by the author.]