South Carolina Council on the Holocaust

“The work that the SC Council on the Holocaust does is so important for our students in South Carolina. Having a chance to discuss and reflect on the past gives students the tools to be better citizens for our future.”

--Molly Spearman, State Superintendent of Education

The Liberators -- A Virtual Library

Excerpt from:
Strike and Hold: A Memoir of the 82d Airborne in World War II
by T. Moffat Burriss

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 made it.

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.]

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