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July 06, 2003

Unseen History: Ohrdruf 5

Note: This post will be at the top of the site for most of the day, then revert to its original publishing time at midnight. New content will appear below. An up-to-date list of all the Unseen History posts can be seen here, and will eventually be mirrored here.

For those of you happening upon these pictures for the first time, an explanation of how they came to appear on this site, as well as more information on the Ohrdruf work camp can be found in the first post in this series.

Andrew Rosner was evacuted by the Germans from Ohrdruf the day before it was liberated.

At the age of 23 I was barely alive as we began the death march eastward. All around me I heard the sound of thunder - really the sound of heavy artillery and machinery. I looked for any opportunity to drop out of the march. But, any man who fell behind or to the side was shot instantly by the Nazis. So, I marched on in my delirium and as night fell I threw myself off into the side of the road and into a clump of trees. I lay there -- waiting -- and waiting -- and suddenly nothing! No more Nazis shouting orders. No more marching feet. No more people. Alone. All alone and alive -- although barely.

I moved farther into the woods when I realized I was not really left behind. I slept for awhile as the darkness of night shielded me from the eyes of men. But, as the light of dawn broke, I heard shooting all around me. I played dead as men ran over me, stumbling over me as they went. I lay there as bullets passed by me and Nazis fell all around me. Then all was quiet. The battle was over. I waited for hours before I dared to move. I got up and saw dead German soldiers laying everywhere. I made my way back toward the road and started walking in the direction of a small village, which I could see in the distance. As I approached the village two Germans appeared. One raised his gun toward me and asked what I was doing there. I told him I was lost from the evacuation march. He told me that I must have escaped and I knew he was about to shoot me when the other German told him to let me be. It would not serve them well to harm me now. They allowed me to walk away and as I did, I said a final prayer knowing that a bullet in the back would now find me for sure. It never did!

In the small village I was told to go farther down the road to the town of Ohrdruf from where I had come three days before. There, I would find the Americans. And so I did.

As I entered the outskirts of the town of Ohrdruf two American soldiers met me and escorted me into town. I was immediately surrounded by Americans and as their officers questioned where I had been and what had happened to me, GIs were showering me with food and chocolate and other treats that I had not known for almost five years.

You were all so kind and so compassionate. But, my years in the camps, my weakened state of health, the forced death march, and my escape to freedom was more than a human body could bear any longer and I collapsed into the arms of you, my rescuing angels.

I awoke in a hospital. As soon as I opened my eyes the nurse ran to get the waiting American officers and their press corps. I was taken back to the Concentration Camp Ohrdruf by jeep in a convoy headed by Generals Eisenhower and Bradley themselves. Several survivors and myself gave General Eisenhower and his men a personal tour of the horrors, which you had discovered at Ohrdruf. I never forgot how General Eisenhower kept rubbing his hands together as we spoke of the horrors inflicted upon us and the piles of our dead comrades. He insisted on seeing it all, hearing it all, learning it all. He knew!! General Eisenhower knew. He wanted to have it recorded and filmed for the future. He said that sometime in the future there may come a time when people will say it never happened that way -- it's an exaggeration, it's propaganda, it was just the end results of war. Well, the time is now, only 50 years later. There are those who would tell you WWII of the 89th Division that what you saw at Ohrdruf and at other camps never happened the way you said it did. The atrocities never happened. The tortures. The hangings. The starvation. The brutality. It never happened and YOU NEVER SAW IT!! They would take your fight for goodness and freedom and call it futile, worthless. Your sacrifices would have no meaning if all that you fought for were nothing more than a tale of someone's imaginings! But, we were there. I, the victim. You, the liberators. I, the survivor. You, the witnesses. And together we must, in our golden years on this earth, again do battle with the forces of man's worst evil so that what I and you lived through 50 years ago, what we say, will not be tossed aside as insignificant in the annals of man's history. It must be made so important that no one can ever say it didn't happen that way and therefore they could be allowed to repeat it.

What you, my liberators, did in 1945 represented all that was good and kind in the world. Had it not been for your goodness and kindness and compassion I would have died. I would have died. A world would have died."

For the men below, the world did die.

Click on picture for a larger version.

THIS PHOTO SHOWS: Soldiers of the Fourth Armored Division survey the scene of death and desolation on the ground of the prison camp. Associated Press Photo 277134.
The word "Duplicate" stamped in red ink, is very faintly visible under the "Original Print. Must Be returned to Office of War Information" notice

Notes: Just behind the officer on the right is a body lying on a stretcher. I don't know if the presence of the stretcher means that the G.I.s had started to move the bodies before it was decided to make the German civilians bury them, or if the man on the stretcher was still alive when the camp was liberated. If so, then he had been lying beside the bodies of his co-prisoners, slowly dying, since the day before, when the SS guards machine gunned the group before fleeing.

One of the bodies, the second from the bottom, left, appears to be wearing a blindfold, though none of the other victims do. Why? Did the rest of the prisoners make a break for it when they realized what the blindfold meant, or was he led out by them, perhaps so injured or weak that he could not abide the light of day?

Many of the bodies are half clothed. Were they looted after being executed?

The "THIS PHOTO SHOWS" information also appears in the picture below. Note the upside-down number stamped in blue ink at the bottom, 15406.

Click on picture for a larger version.

The blue ink numbers are sequential. The two outside shots of the Ohrdruf camp are numbered 11095 and 11096. The top photo in the first Unseen History post is numbered 11097.

I've got nine photos of the Ohrdruf camp. I've found maybe 100 others on the net, which is stretching the number quite a bit. Most of the other sites dealing with Ohrdruf tend to pull from the same pool of photos. That leaves over 4200 pictures of the Ohrdruf camp unpublished on the Net, and I sincerely doubt that even 500 of those have been published in non-electronic media or can be seen in the Holocaust museums.

As the photo above shows, there were at least two photographers at Ohrdruf. In fact, there were at least five and probably many more. I have prints from the U.S. Signal Corps, British-Combine-Acme, and the Associated Press, and know of two other photgraphers who were at the camp , Eric Scwab, who took pictures for the Oversees News Agency, and Merrill Blanchard, a member of the 261st Medical Detachment. Ohrdruf was liberated on April 4th. Eisenhower toured the camp 8 days later. Thousands of photographs could easily have been taken in that time.

So where are they? Assume that half of the 4200 picutures in the Ohrdruf series are duplicates, as two of the ones in my possession are. That still leaves a couple thousand Ohrdruf photographs unaccounted for.

Many are probably in filing cabinets and boxes, or somewhere in the National Archives, if they still exist. Certainly running across them by accident is a not an experience unique to my family, as Tom noted in the comments on the first post in this series

I suspect there are many more photos still buried in files elsewhere. Several years ago I was asked to retrieve some photos from the Army archives of the 45th Division, and while digging through the folders found several images taken at the time of the liberation of Dachau... one of them showed the initial reactions on the former camp guards faces in response to the tables being turned, while former inmates (in striped uniforms) pointed out various German officers to American soldiers. Situation looked very tense, as if the American GI's might even open fire.

As far as unseen history goes, the 20 odd photos my father found in the bottom of that filing cabinet are only a drop in the ocean.

Update: I've looked at the other photos, and there are several numbered in the fourteen thousands that deal with camps other than Ohrdruf. The numbering system may then be a reflection of when the film was printed, rather than the location it was shot at.

The sixth post in this series may be seen here.

Posted by Bigwig at July 6, 2003 01:28 AM | TrackBack
First time visitor to House Hraka? Wondering if everything we produce could possibly be as brilliant/stupid/evil/pedantic/insipid/inspired as the post you just read? Check out the Hraka Essentials, the (mostly) reader-selected guide to Hraka's best posts, and decide for yourself.

I am mirroring you as you do your entries.

Re: numbering. I used to do photography. The numbers aren't big enough to reflect many of the details that you'd want, i.e. photographer and roll number and print number, or date, etc. I believe that they may reflect a numbering as in an exhibit. Perhaps for a trial or for a museum display.

Posted by: Chuck at July 7, 2003 12:52 PM
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