Freeing the death camps: sixty years after the end of World War II, JS recalls the liberation of the concentration camps.
By the summer of 1944, the last phase of World War II had begun. Troops of the Allied powers Allied Powers
Nations allied in opposition to the Central Powers in World War I or to the Axis Powers in World War II. The original Allies in World War I—the British Empire, France, and the Russian Empire—were later joined by many started to fight their way on two fronts across Europe. As they neared Nazi Germany, they encountered evidence of a mind-boggling crime against humanity In international law a crime against humanity is an act of persecution or any large scale atrocities against a body of people, and is the highest level of criminal offense. . But few could have been prepared for the full horror of the concentration and extermination extermination
mass killing of animals or other pests. Implies complete destruction of the species or other group. (systematic killing) camps of the Nazi regime.
World War II (1939-1945) had many causes. But it also had a prime mover prime mover: see energy, sources of.
The component of a power plant that transforms energy from the thermal or the pressure form to the mechanical form. : Adolf Hitler, Nazi Party Nazi Party
German political party of National Socialism. Founded in 1919 as the German Workers' Party, it changed its name to the National Socialist German Workers' Party when Adolf Hitler became leader (1920–21). leader and Chancellor of Germany
The head of government of Germany is called Chancellor (German: Kanzler). . When Hitler came to power in 1933, Germans were bitterly resentful over losing World War I (1914-1918). As their Fuhrer füh·rer also fueh·rer
A leader, especially one exercising the powers of a tyrant.
[German, from Middle High German vüerer, from vüeren, to lead, from Old High German (leader) set out to conquer Europe, he also blamed certain groups for endangering the racial purity and superiority of the German people. Chief among those were the Jews of Europe. Hitler vowed a "final solution" to the "Jewish question The phrase Jewish question originally referred to the question of the ability of Jews to integrate within Western Europe. Now, it usually refers to questions about the essential nature of Jews, often in reference to the nature of their relationship to non-Jews. ."
The first concentration camps were built in 1933 to imprison im·pris·on
tr.v. im·pris·oned, im·pris·on·ing, im·pris·ons
To put in or as if in prison; confine.
[Middle English emprisonen, from Old French emprisoner : en- Hitler's political enemies. Later, the "final solution" gave birth to camps that existed solely for the slaughter of human beings. In the end, an estimated 6 million Jews and 5 million other minorities died during World War II, a majority of them in the camps. (Your teacher has a map showing the location of many of the camps.)
Pushing from the east through Poland, soldiers of the Soviet Union's Red Army were the first to see and liberate (free) the camps. On January 27, 1945, they entered the most notorious camp of all--Auschwitz (OUSH-wits).
The Nazis had fled as the Soviets approached, driving nearly 60,000 prisoners with them in a forced march that killed more than 15,000. What was left behind was almost beyond comprehension. There were more than 7,000 sick and starving prisoners, and gas chambers and crematoriums (furnaces) used for mass murder and the disposal of bodies. The Soviets also found 35 storehouses full of clothes, eyeglasses eyeglasses or spectacles, instrument or device for aiding and correcting defective sight. Eyeglasses usually consist of a pair of lenses mounted in a frame to hold them in position before the eyes. , false teeth, and more than 14,000 pounds of human hair taken from the dead. Historians believe that as many as 1.5 million Jews, 75,000 Poles, 18,000 Gypsies, and 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war prisoners of war, in international law, persons captured by a belligerent while fighting in the military. International law includes rules on the treatment of prisoners of war but extends protection only to combatants. were murdered at Auschwitz and its camp system.
On April 4, 1945, soldiers from the U.S. Third Army freed a camp in the town of Ohrdruf, in central Germany. Tech. Sgt. Eugene Luciano later wrote about the experience:
"Many prisoners laid in their bunks too weak to move, but raised their arms in thanks. Bodies were piled high on the ground; others were in pits covered with lime. There were rows of ditches filled with buried bodies with an occasional leg or arm protruding pro·trude
v. pro·trud·ed, pro·trud·ing, pro·trudes
To push or thrust outward.
To jut out; project. See Synonyms at bulge. [sticking up] out of the ground. The stench was intolerable."
Ohrdruf turned out to be a subcamp of Buchenwald (BOO-kuhn-vahlt), one of the Nazis' largest camps. On April 11, after most of the Germans had fled, a group of starving prisoners who had been left behind seized control of the camp. Later that day, U.S. forces liberated Buchenwald and its 20,000 inmates.
Symbols of Evil
On April 29, near the German city of Munich, soldiers of the U.S. Seventh Army liberated Dachau (DAH-kow). The first concentration camp established, Dachau was a center for cruel medical experiments that killed or crippled thousands of people.
As U.S. soldiers approached the town, they found more than 30 railroad cars filled with bodies. The camp itself held about 32,000 prisoners, barely alive, and 10,000 bodies. "[T]hey opened the compound, and I seen thousands of people crowding out that looked like skeletons with skin stretched on them," said James Rose of the 42nd Infantry. "[J]ust one look at them, some of them half dead, something happened that we realized what this war was all about."
In a few days, the war was over. Hitler killed himself on April 30 as Soviet troops closed in on his bunker in Berlin. German commanders had already been arranging for a surrender and, on May 8, it was official.
Historians debate how much the U.S. government knew about the camps before April 1945, and whether something could have been done to liberate them sooner. Today, 60 years later, their names alone convey an almost incomprehensible evil: Auschwitz, Birkenau, Treblinka, Buchenwald, Dachau, and others. They are among the most powerful symbols of the horror we call the Holocaust.
Words to Know
* Allied powers: forces of the Allies--led by the United States, Britain, Canada, and the Soviet Union--who opposed the Axis countries of Germany, Italy, and Japan.
* concentration camp: an area or group of buildings where civilians, political prisoners, and sometimes prisoners of war are confined, usually under harsh conditions.
Students should understand
* Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime built a system of prison camps to hold prisoners and systematically kill the Jews of Europe.
* April 2005 marks the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps
Prior to and during World War II, Nazi Germany maintained concentration camps (Konzentrationslager, abbreviated KZ or KL) throughout the territories it controlled. ; May 8 is V-E Day (Victory in Europe Day For the end of the war in Japan and the Pacific Theater, see .
Victory in Europe Day (V-E Day or VE Day) was May 7 and May 8, 1945, the dates when the World War II Allies formally accepted the unconditional surrender of the armed forces of Nazi Germany and the ) marking the end of World War II in Europe The final battles of the European Theatre of World War II as well as the German surrender took place in late April and early May 1945. Surrender timeline
Soviet and American troops met at the River Elbe .
* WORD TO KNOW
notorious: widely and unfavorably known
* TEACHING STRATEGY
Ask students: "What does the name Auschwitz mean to you? What happened there?"
How did Adolph Hitler and the Nazi hierarchy plan to actually solve "the Jewish question" that so enraged en·rage
tr.v. en·raged, en·rag·ing, en·rag·es
To put into a rage; infuriate.
[Middle English *enragen, from Old French enrager : en-, causative pref. them? On January 20, 1942, senior Nazis met at Wannsee, a suburb of Berlin, to work out their "final solution." It was at the Wannsee Conference that the organization and implementation of rounding up the Jews of Europe and their "evacuation to the east" was worked out. Everyone present knew this meant shipment to concentration camps and the systematic murder we call the Holocaust.
* CRITICAL THINKING
NOTING DETAILS: What grisly items were found in storehouses at Auschwitz? (clothes, false teeth, and more than 14,000 pounds of hair)
COMPREHENSION: What attitude of the German people helped lead to World War II? (Germans resented losing World War I. In Hitler's hands, the manner of appeasing this resentment grew to include the attempt to conquer Europe and even the final solution.)
LEARN MORE: There are many first-person stories of Holocaust survivors in books and on the Web. Have students (or small groups of students) find one such person's story and present it to the class.
SOCIAL STUDIES, GRADES 5-8
* Individuals, groups, and institutions: How the rise of the Nazi Party led to the creation of concentration and death camps, with devastating dev·as·tate
tr.v. dev·as·tat·ed, dev·as·tat·ing, dev·as·tates
1. To lay waste; destroy.
2. To overwhelm; confound; stun: was devastated by the rude remark. results for millions of Jews and other minorities.
* Global connections: How political changes in Germany affected the lives of millions of people throughout Europe and beyond.
* Rubin, Susan Goldman, Fireflies in the Dark: The Story of Freidl Dicker-Brandeis and the Children of Terezin (Holiday House, 2001). Grades 5-8.
* Warren, Andrea, Surviving Hitler: A Boyin the Nazi Death Camps (HarperCollins, 2002). Grades 5-7
* Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State pbs.org/auschwitz (for companion DVD DVD: see digital versatile disc.
in full digital video disc or digital versatile disc
Type of optical disc. The DVD represents the second generation of compact-disc (CD) technology. : shoppbs.org; enter Auschwitz in search panel)
* Use a word or phrase from this list to correctly complete each sentence.
Allied powers, Auschwitz, Axis powers, the Battle of the Bulge Battle of the Bulge, popular name in World War II for the German counterattack in the Ardennes, Dec., 1944–Jan., 1945. It is also known as the Battle of the Ardennes. On Dec. , camps plan, final solution, Fuhrer, Nazi Party, Ohrdruf, perfect answer, Soviet Union's Red Army, U.S. Third Army, World War I, World War II
21. When Adolf Hitler came to power, Germans were resentful over losing--.
22. 'Germany, Italy, and Japan were known as the--.
23. In World War II, Britain, Canada, the Soviet Union, the U.S., and some other nations were known as the--.
24. Adolf Hitler's policy for dealing with the "Jewish question" is known as the--.
25. The first soldiers to see and liberate Nazi concentration camps belonged to the--.
21. World War I
22. Axis powers
23. Allied powers
24. final solution
25. Soviet Union's Red Army