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Ohrdruf Concentration Camp: GI's Remember

by David Cohen

David Cohen, a New York City native, went overseas with the 4th Armored Division as a radio operator. He first saw action in France about a month after the Normandy invasion, and fought through Belgium and into Germany. His unit came upon the Ohrdruf Concentration Camp in April, 1945. He is now a retired social studies teacher who has been lecturing on his experiences as a liberator to help keep the memory alive.

"As we got there, we saw 30-40 bodies just lying around. And you could see the bullet holes in their backs. In fact, I think there was one American soldier among them. He was in GI uniform. We never did find out what he was doing there.

There were no German soldiers left ... they all escaped. The survivors told us the people who had just been shot in the back were coming to meet us. Rather than let them live, the SS machine gunned them. They also put about 2,000 inmates on railroad cars and took them east. So there weren't many people left, except the dead.

I saw many buildings with bodies stacked in them. The first time I went in and walked out. I couldn't take it; I was sick; I felt like throwing up. I walked in three times; each time I became ill. I wanted to take pictures, but I couldn't. One of my buddies pushed me back inside to take the pictures.

When I went into the building the fourth time, General Eisenhower was there. He looked at me; he was green. He said to me: 'God, Sergeant, you have to have a strong stomach to take this.' We went out and no one said much. Finally General Patton got up on his jeep and started screaming in his high pitched voice: 'See what these sons of bitches did, see what these bastards did. I don't want you to take a prisoner.' He said this right in front of Generals Eisenhower and Bradley.

I felt good as a Jew to see these officers and men had the same feeling I did.... The Catholic chaplain was crying.... He said the Kaddish in Hebrew.... There was a camaraderie in our division that didn't know from Jew or Christian. This moved me very much ......"

Source: GIs Remember, (Washington, D.C.: National Museum of American Jewish Military History, 1994).