The Story of the First Concentration Camp to Be Liberated
The first concentration camp to be liberated was Ohrdruf, in April of 1945. It was a "work camp." Or so the locals in the town of Ohrdruf told themselves. An American company discovered the horrifying reality. The first thing the company saw inside the camp's gates were thirty bodies, still wet: prisoners that the German soldiers had shot before driving off in trucks. As the GIs crept forward, the surviving prisoners who could still walk (about half of the 500 who were there) “cautiously” came out of the barracks. They told how the German soldiers had made a hasty attempt to cover up the almost 2000 slave laborers that Ohrdruf had killed. Half had been exhumed from a mass grave, and half had been stacked in several buildings awaiting incineration.
No one had seen anything like this before. While spies and even escapees had been telling of the concentration camps, their reports were not widely known or believed. The American GIs left all the bodies where they were, and notified the division commanders. They shared their rations with the survivors and waited. At noon the division commanders arrived, and Patton himself came at 3:30 pm. General Eisenhower flew in from Belgium early the next morning. The highest commander of the Allied forces had to see this, and decide what was to be done.
When Eisenhower left, Patton brought the mayor of Ohrdruf and his wife to the camp to see for themselves what they had been telling themselves they did not know. German guards came to Ohrdruf off-duty, spending their pay on drinks and women, and undoubtedly telling stories of what the place they worked. Then Patton ordered the mayor, his wife and all the other able-bodied townsfolk to come back the next day and dig individual graves for the dead prisoners. They completed 80% of the graves, and promised to come back the next day and finish the burials. The mayor and his wife were found dead of suicide the next morning. Their suicide note said simply, “We didn’t know! – but we knew.”
Florentines rescuing a painting, as David watches over the Piazza della Signoria.
Over the night of November 4th to 5th, 1966, Florence flooded. The river Arno rose as high as 6.7 meters (about 22 feet) in some places, over 100 people were killed, and many paintings and documents were destroyed by the floodwaters. Young people, arriving from across the Continent, immediately began showing up to help. They became known to the Florentines as ‘gli angeli del fango,’ or ‘the Mud Angels’. The Mud Angels were not recruited, and they were not organized, but over the winter they cleaned mud out of the Basilica di Santa Croce, carried priceless paintings out of the Uffizi galleries and brought food and fresh water to the elderly Florentines trapped in their upper-floor apartments.
This snapshot captures a dynamic moment. The lady, ready to swing. The policeman, ready to duck. The year is 1942 and Mrs. Edna Egbert wants to die. In the past year her son, Fred, had gotten married, joined the army, and had not written to his mother in New York City since. As a mother she was distraught. If you're thinking that jumping from the second floor of her apartment building doesn't look particularly lethal, to either side of Ms. Egbert was a spiky iron fence that could have easily impaled her.
While a crowd gathered on the street, one patrolman talked to Mrs. Egbert from the street while others rigged a net. As officers Ed Murphy and George Munday tried to persuade her to come back in to the building, she brandished a mirror and started swinging it at them. The police grabbed her arms and she proceeded to sit on the ledge. That is when they quickly pushed her into the net. The estimated 600 onlookers quickly dispersed and Mrs. Egbert was taken to Bellevue for observation. What became of Ms. Egbert, and her unfilial son, is unknown.
"Ludwig Boltzmann, who spent much of his life studying statistical mechanics, died in 1906, by his own hand. Paul Ehrenfest, carrying on the work, died similarly in 1933. Now it is our turn to study statistical mechanics. Perhaps it will be wise to approach the subject cautiously."
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By Lillian Audette
This blog is a collection of the interesting, the weird, and sometimes the need-to-know about history, culled from around the internet. It has pictures, it has quotes, it occasionally has my own opinions on things. If you want to know more about anything posted, follow the link at the "source" on the bottom of each post. And if you really like my work, buy me a coffee or become a patron!