Evacuated by the ss with the approach of the Allies, the camp had been abandoned for over two months by the time the French First Army found it, soon followed by the American Eighth Army.
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The reactions of a New York Times reporter and of two senior officers from the American Sixth Army Group were the same, despite being shown gas chambers, dissection tables, piles of human, female hair, and burial urns, and despite listening to Free French accounts of the killing of 4, prisoners: suspicion and disbelief.
In this sense they were typical of many American officers in France who. The first theme is the role of accident in discovering many of the camps. The second theme is that of continued disbelief, even if, after Natzwiller, the subsequent sites were full of the dead and the dying, of railroad freight wagons stuffed with emaciated bodies and, along the roads of Germany, wandering bands of dps, deportees on the run, piles of dead prisoners lying in the open where they had been dispatched, charred remains of prisoner bodies in barns burned alive by the retreating ss, and on and on, in the trail of death that greeted Allied troops the further east they advanced, and that did not cease with the official end of the war in the West on 8 May.
Stand up. And some would fall back down.
Abzug cites a hair-raising and at the time secret report to shaef hq that describes a surreal scene during the liberation of Buchenwald: On the sight of an American uniform a horde of gnomes and trolls seems to appear like magic, pouring out of doorways. Some hop on crutches. Some hobble on stumps of feet. Some run with angular movements.
Some glide like Oriental genies. Almost all wear striped convict-suits. The universal covering is a little black skull-cap. They doff these ceremoniously to the visitors. It gave you a lost, sick feeling. I mean, who are they? What nationality are they? What is their religious faith? Why were they there?
Within two days of the liberation of Mauthausen, U. Here the Americans responded in much the same way their fellow soldiers had in other camps. There seemed to be no limit to how bad conditions could get. Shaved heads and sunken cheeks. There is no way, it is hard to even see them as human.
Under the circumstances you try to avoid seeing them too much. It is too hard to do. If they got a piece of something to eat, they grabbed it and ran away in a corner and fought off anyone who came near. Bergen-Belsen was liberated on 15 April by advance elements of the th Oxfordshire Yeomanry Battery along with members of the 63rd Anti-Tank Regiment.
The camp itself had been surrendered to the British three days earlier as part of a local cease-fire. This time it was a German colonel who informed British troops of the existence of the camp. However, as there are important variants in medical liberation efforts, stemming in part from the differing Occupation policies of the Allies, we will come back to British efforts shortly.
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A February study concerning French prisoners liberated by Soviet authorites establishes the general organizational schema to be set up. The latter would consist of evacuation hospitals, as well as regional repatriation centers to organize the means of transport back to France, by boat, train, or airplane. So much for the overall planning. Actual evacuation of concentration camps got underway in early April , depending on the camp.
Archives de France File contains assorted reports of daily life in various camps before Liberation, accounts of body disposal, prisoner nationality lists, and various testimonial accounts. As an example of the latter, a statement by M.
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It noted that at Camp No. Other notes attempted to decrypt the system of tattooing deportees: at Neuengamme, for example, that 82, men were numbered 1 to 86, French records, after the Liberation of Paris 18 August , revealed the discovery of French police arrest records of Jews and Resistants, as well 39 C a dav e r l a n d 40 as witness accounts trickling in from various parts of France Lyon, Cannes recounting arrests.
A statistical list in af f9 file gave the numbers of French deportees from Drancy, the main transit camp in the Paris suburb from which Jews were deported from to 14 August The list was drawn up by a M. One hundred new Renault trucks had been requisitioned, plus another four hundred received from the Allies. Organized in columns of between four and fifteen vehicles, loaded with food, medical supplies, and medical personnel, the convoys, painted white as protection from Allied bombs but also because they were acting under Red Cross authorization, entered German territory at about the same time as the Allied advance troops.
Negotiations with Himmler, begun at the end of January, secured the release of many French women deportees against that of a few hundred female Wehrmacht auxiliairies. The French military corps of repatriation now numbered ten thousand. Missions had been set up, or planned, to travel to all the countries where French prisoners might be found: the ussr, Sweden, Denmark, Hungary, Italy, Austria, and of course Germany. At a date that Frenay does not recall probably early April , the first truck convoy of the repatriated arrived at the triage center at Longuyon on the Franco-German border.
Finally, on 11 April, shaef changed its mind concerning its previous refusal to supply aircraft for the French repatriation effort, claiming military priorities, and F i g u r e 1 T h e R e a l announced that the planes would be landing at the Paris airports within forty-eight hours, causing further logistical headaches, as those airports were also feeding the Allied military and materials effort for the war. The ministry was now expecting 15, daily arrivals of repatriated by train alone.
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Paris was already overcrowded, and Frenay had been ordered to keep the returnees away from the capital. Still, with the Ministry working night and day, by the end of April, , prisoners had been brought home. By the first of June, that number reached one million, to enormous fanfare, and although the repatriation effort continued, after that magic number, the public already had lost interest in this triumph of logistics. Charles Richet ; and 4 those deportees with sufficient remaining strength to get themselves home by means of their own personal efforts, on foot, hitching rides with passing troops, or by other means Wieviorka , 81— As Wieviorka singles out Dachau and Mauthausen, liberated by American troops, and Bergen-Belsen by the British, we turn to these camps respectively.
The eventual entry of the troops into the camp was followed by now-familiar scenes: ashen-faced troops, some throwing up, veteran soldiers weeping openly; corpses everywhere; others neatly stacked like cordwood outside the crematorium. Typhus was rampant and the mortality rate in the first week of liberation was deaths. Still, the daily release of prisoners was between and Many prisoners refused, or had to be forced, to submit to ddt delousing, of which there were insufficient quantities anyway. Other prisoners evaded vaccination.
In the intense heat of the first weeks of May, they were still drinking water from the Isar River, contaminated by dead bodies and insufficient filtering, as a result of which the number of typhus cases kept rising.
Within eight days of Liberation, at times even earlier, French authorities had begun to bombard American authorities with reports about the slowness of medical treatment and the lack of attention given to French prisoners in particular. From within the camp, French Resistance groups were also submitting protests; among the signatories of one such letter was survivor Joseph Rovan, later to play a key diplomatic role in normalizing Franco-German relations. Another report, dated 9 May and forwarded on 12 May to American authorities by the Frenay Ministry, provided many of the details on current camp conditions referred to above.
It mentioned a plan to establish a 10,bed hospital in the former ss barracks, on which progress had been delayed, as well as an effort by a Major Blount to establish a French hospital. However, the report could not document any concrete results. Why French medical teams were not used is not clear. The main issue at Dachau seems to have concerned the continued high levels of typhus cases.
In mid-May, Col. Worms, the personal doctor of French general De Lattre, attempted to negotiate better quarantine conditions for the French typhus cases. The same day, Gen. Leclerc obtained the agreement of the U. Seventh Army Group for the transfer of non-typhoid cases to the French section of the Vatican Mission. Typhoid cases, however, remained under American care Wieviorka , There was no mention here of Dachau, although it reported that most of the French sick had left Belsen, with about one hundred cases still scattered in various hospitals.
All subsequent quotations in this section are from this memorandum. The American commander, Lt.
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Franz Zieries, was captured and severely wounded while resisting arrest, but lived long enough to be interrogated for forty hours. Army doctors arrived at the camp within two days of its uncovery, and immediately opened the ss infirmary. The th U. A number of operations are performed to treat old sores and wounds that were never properly disinfected. Residents are still dying at the rate of 5 to 15 persons per day; this is in favourable contrast to several hundred per day when the camp was first uncovered 4, emphases added.
They undoubtedly will remain a serious problem for their own governments after repatriation 4, all emphases added. The principal problems at Mauthausen now remained the repatriation of the remaining residents and how to provide long-erm care for those hospitalized. The report noted on its final page that the Soviet lines were only three kilometers from the camp, and recounted the tragic attempt to repatriate on foot 2, able- bodied Russians within the first week of Liberation. Proudfoot, Lt. However, another item in the same nara file group , item 7.
There was no medical personnel on-hand; the one British doctor on site was there only to evacuate the most sick of the prisoners to a nearby hospital. The effort of organizing food relief from nearby villages, extra clothing, and so on, fell to the deportees themselves, assisted by pows from Stalag xib close by, not the Liberators, she writes Just a week or so earlier, the camp, or more exactly the three to five compounds that made up Belsen, contained 40, prisoners, and of these only 1, were French, male and female; whether or not they were Jewish was not mentioned.
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In Camp III, between 8, and 10, were women packed into some twenty barracks. With such overcrowding, typhus continued to spread rapidly; the British imposed an even more rigorous quarantine. Of the 1, French prisoners, close to simply disappeared: About 30 managed to escape, the remainder died anonymously, their bodies dumped into a mass grave.
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