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July 07, 2003

Unseen History: Schwarzenfeld

Seven days after American soldiers first stumbled on to the massacre at Ohrdruf, they liberated twenty thousand concentration camp internees at Buchenwald. Five days after that the British freed forty thousand prisoners from Bergen-Belsen.

Those two events overshadowed some of the other atrocities uncovered by Allied soldiers in the days afterwards. In one, over a thousand men were burned to death in Gardelegen, Germany on April 13th, two day before troops from the 102nd Infantry moved into that town.

A similar incident took place in Schwarzenfeld, Germany on April 21st, again just before that town was captured by American soldiers. In any other war, at any other time, the discovery of hundreds of executed prisoners, including prisoners-of-war in a freshly dug mass grave would have been front page news. In the Germany of 1945, it was just more of the same. What notice there was of the Gardelegen and Schwarzenfeld atrocities quickly evaporated.

For the victims of Gardelegen, there is at least some remembrance. It's a different matter entirely when it comes to those murdered at Schwarzenfeld There's nothing on the Net about the Schwarzenfeld graves, and the Holocaust survivor memoirs I've found mentioning the town only do so in passing.

The Ohrdruf pictures posted earlier may have been unseen for sixty years, but they at least depicted scenes that were known from other photographs, scenes that anyone with interest and a browser could have found.

No such pictures exist on the Net of the Schwarzenfeld killings, or of the camp at Schwabmunchen, the subject of the next post in this series. The mere mention of either is almost as scarce.

Which is the whole point of these posts. In the years to come, information not on the Net might was well not exist. There may be more information about the deaths at Schwarzenfeld available offline, though I haven't found it in any of the libraries at UNC, and if it was important to anyone, it would have been posted long ago.

A few hundred dead in one small German town is just a drop in the ocean of millions that died in World War II, but their deaths deserve what memory we can give them nonetheless.


As they form something of a rough narrative, I'm posting all five of the Schwarzenfeld photos.

"Original Print
Must be returned to
Office of War Information
Picture Division Library
224 West 57th Street
New York, N.Y."

is stamped on red ink on the backs of each photograph. Some of the original information on the backs of the photos has been lost to the years. Any text appearing in parentheses is my best guess as to what should appear there.

All have the following as the general explanation of the photographic context:

When U.S. troops of the 26th Infantry Division, Third U.S. Army, captured Schwarzenfeld, Germany April 22, 1945, another story of Nazi murder and atrocity was revealed. The Americans discovered that many hundreds of helpless persons, including Allied prisoners-of-war and Polish Jewish slave laborers, had been shot in cold blood by Nazi SS troops, and their bodies thrown into a mass grave. The executions took place one day before the American forces captured the town. After making official record of the circumstances, U.S. Military Government officers ordered local German civilians to exhume the bodies and provide coffins and a civilized burial for the victims. Schwarzenfeld is 47 miles east of Nuremburg and 28 miles west of the Czechoslovakian border.


Uncovering The Graves

Click on picture for a larger version.

BIPPA EA 84389

THIS PHOTO SHOWS: This is one of the victims of the Nazi SS troopers after being exhumed for proper burial.
U.S. Signal Corps Photo ETO-HQ-45-34034

Notes: The number 14133 is stamped in the back of the photo in blue ink.

To my eyes, this looks like the body of a boy, maybe 11 or 12 years old, though the malnutrition endemic in the slave labor population would have kept him small for his age were he older. His right knee appears scraped raw, as if he had stumbled many times on the march to his death.

Allied Soldiers Watch As German Civilians Carry In A Coffin

Click on picture for a larger version.
BIPPA EA 64395

THIS PHOTO SHOWS: Four German civilians carry a casket containing the body of one of the atrocity victims past rows of other victims awaiting burial.
U.S. Signal Corps Photo ETO-HQ-45-34024

Notes: The number 14141 is stamped in the back of the photo in blue ink.

Digging The Graves

Click on picture for a larger version.

BIPPA EA 64391

THIS PHOTO SHOWS: German civilians dig graves for the victims under supervision of U.S. Military Government officers. Stacked at the right are some of the newly made coffins.
U.S. Signal Corps Photo ETO-HQ-45-34029

Notes: The number 14144 is stamped in the back of the photo in blue ink.

I'm not sure how many graves could fit into this area. If there were several hundreds killed, as the description of events above states, then this may have been just one of the areas where the bodies were re-interred.

Re-burying The Dead

Click on picture for a larger version.

BIPPA EA 64388

THIS PHOTO SHOWS: Approximately 500 German civilians and a group of Third Army soldiers attend burial services for the victims. The German pastor conducting the services said local residents (were) unaware of the atrocity.
U.S. Sig(nal Corps Photo) ETO-HQ-45-34035

Notes: The number 14147 is stamped in the back of the photo in blue ink.

Notice how, in this picture and the ones above, how well fed the Germans appear in comparison to the dead?


Click on picture for a larger version.

BIPPA EA 64393

THIS PHOTO SHOWS: These three Polish Jews escaped the fate of many of their comrades. They hid in a cellar of a nearby home during an American ai(r) attack on the area and remained there unt(il the) arrival of Third Army Troops.
U.S. (Signal Corps Photo) ETO-HQ-45-34027

Notes: The number 14143 is stamped in the back of the photo in blue ink.

I have no idea what the names of these men are. I wish I did.

The seventh post in this series can be seen here.

Posted by Bigwig at July 7, 2003 01:04 AM | TrackBack
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I read with interest your posting and thought that perhaps I could offer some additional information. I also have pictures and newspaper articles that I could email to you if you would like. You see, the "German pastor" in the picture was my great-uncle, a third-generation American of German desent. His name was Fr. Victor Koch, and he was a Roman Catholic missionary priest that was stationed at Schwarzenfeld, Germany because he was able to speak German. Fr. Victor had been in Germany many years when the war began. The Nazis began an organized campaign against the church and religious orders. Foreign priests were forbidden to minister and many of them left the country, but not Fr. Victor. Fr. Victor and two other priest stayed to oppose the Nazi assault on religion and continued to minister to the townspeople of Schwarzenfeld. One of the priests died, and the other was arrested by the Nazis, leaving the 70 year old Fr. Victor to minister to the townspeople alone. His church was taken from him and he was forced underground - hiding out in a cave. The townspeople of Schwarzenfeld brought him food. They cared for his physical needs as he took care of their spiritual needs.

When the American troops entered the town of Scharzenfeld and found the murdered bodies of the Jewish prisoners, they ordered the people to evacuate the town intent on destroying Schwarzenfeld in retaliation for the slaughter. The people ran for Fr. Victor to rescue them.

Fr Victor convinced the American officer that the townspeople were not responsible for the slaughter of the concentration camp prisoners; that the townspeople were good God-fearing people. In fact, the prisoners were really from Flossenburg Concentration Camp and just happened to be shot on the outskirts of Schwarzenfeld. So, these people really were not responsible. And if the tank division leveled the town, they'd actually be punishing innocent people. The American officer was shocked to hear Fr. Victor speak fluent English and was told by Fr. Victor that he was, in fact, an American missionary priest who was stationed in Germany.

The officer then told Fr. Victor that he would give the townspeople just 48 hours to give the dead a proper burial. If they failed, the town would be destroyed. Under Fr. Victor's leadership, the people of Schwarzenfeld, men, women and children dug up the bodies, cleaned them, dressed them in donated clothes, built coffins for them and buried them with a proper funeral service. It was an extremely difficult task.

To the people of Schwarzenfeld, Fr. Victor Koch was a hero. He only came back to America once after the war, to raise funds for his missionary work in Germany and to see his relatives. He died there in Schwarzenfeld and that is where he is buried. The town has a placque in his honor commemorating his heroism.

This is a truly inspiring, but relatively unknown, story of World War II. As a relative of Fr. Victor Koch, I just wanted to set the record straight.

Posted by: Carol Koch at September 5, 2003 08:49 PM

Hello this Pictures above would be made all in Schwarzenfeld in the week from April 23rd till 27th 1945.
What happened too this death people was following :

The Train in wich these People was comes from the Concentration Camp Flossenbuerg. It was a few Days on the way when it arrives in Schwarzenfeld it was April 18th the next railroad stations was all bombed and Schwarzenfeld was the last intact one. The Railway station attendantdon't let the Train come into the station. His replacement in the night let the train in.
It was about 11:00 on Thursday April 19th 1945
Some Allied Low Attack Fighter discevered the Train and because the Train dont got any Signs on it they start an Attack on this Train.
Some of the Prosoner in this train try to use this Situation and flee but the guards of the Train killed the most of them just a group of prisoners got it into an Warehouse. But the Guards see them. after the Attack was over they tried to get into the warehouse but it was closed and the man how got the key dont want to give the key out and try to continue his Break. The Guards threaten him and in this case he give them the key. They go into the warehouse and find some Prisoners inside, just 4 or 5 prisoners was undetectet, all of the other was killed on the Railroad Station. Then the sorting the people all they not able to walk was also killed.
With the Rest they continued the journey to the East.
When the District Administrator of the Nabburg District hear about it he annouce per telephone call to put all death in this massgrave on a place called "Gänsanger".
Schwarzenfeld was taken by Americans (11th Armored Division, Combat Command B)on Sunday April 22nd 1945. Early next day they left Schwarzenfeld and would be replaced by the 26th Infantry Division.
A People from Schwarzenfeld give them the Information of the massgrave including a big lie about the role of the local People.
After the Americans found the massgrave thy want to practice pay-off, but Father Victor Koch, a amercan priest who already was about 10 years in Germany, go to discuss with the american soldiers about this lie.
The Americans give the people of Schwarzenfeld 48hours to exhume the bodies, wash them, put into other clothes and Coffins and bring them onto the graveyard of Schwarzenfeld.
Ten Years later they also was exhumed and put into the Graveyard of Flossenbürg.

Markus Glaser

Posted by: Markus Glaser at December 1, 2003 03:20 PM
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