DEFEAT OF THE THIRD REICH
LATE APRIL 1945
The city of Nuremberg was a symbol of the Nazi regime. It was the scene of massive rallies, torchlight parades, Hitler Youth jamborees, and reviews of the Wehrmacht. Nuremberg fell to the U.S. Third Army on April 20, 1945, Hitler’s birthday.
“Nuremberg—This was once the city of toys, probably the most delightful place in the world fur children during the Christmas holidays. With its twelfth-century walls surrounding the old part of the town, its castle on a hilltop, its towers and its spires, its crooked little streets, it looked like something Walt Disney might have created...it now looks as though some angry story-book giant had strode through it...a crumpled tower here. a row of buildings in the dust there.”
—Yank Magazine, June 8, 1945
COLLAPSE OF THE WEHRMACHT
As the Allies entered Germany in the spring of 1945, German soldiers began surrendering by the thousands, although stubborn and fanatical resistance was encountered until the last. More than two million Germans were taken prisoner by the western Allies in Europe between June 1944 and May 1945.
“Night was coming on, the POWs had to be guarded, security patrols had to be organized in case some SS troops decided to stage a rescue. Seargeant Williams started to appoint security patrols when one of the men noticed a German soldier on a nearby hill. More troubles. Leaving three men to guard the prisoners, Williams took off with the other men through dense woods, surrounded another group of Germans and came marching back to town with a lieutenant colonel and thirty-five men.”
—76th Infantry Division
“May 8, 1945: VE day found us busy covering convoys of the 6th German Panzer Army who were surrendering.”
—167th Signal Photographic Company, Unit 123
THE END OF THE WAR
LIBERATION OF FORCED/SLAVE LABORERS
FALL 1944-SUMMER 1945
To fill labor shortages during the war, the Nazi regime “leased” several million persons of many nationalities as forced laborers to German industry and agriculture. When the war ended, hundreds of thousands became “Displaced Persons,” crisscrossing Europe to return home.
“They were drawn from every non-Axis country in Europe, these tired, abused people who gathered to warm themselves around fires the GI’s built to heat C-rations...Poles, Russians, French, Czechs, toothless grannies in old world shawls, bent, old and middle-aged men, women...And the very young like Edvard Kowalis...nothing to show for his years of labor and his ruined childhood except the physical ravages of excessive toil and the ragged clothes he wore.”
—76th Infantry Division
“April 20, 1945—I have found what I believe to be the worst crimes of the Nazis. That is taking old Poles, Russians...from their homes and bringing them into Germany to work in the factories to turn out ammunition and guns to use against their own people...We came upon a couple who were eating a piece of stale rye bread. They must have been at least sixty or sixty-five years of age. We asked them if they wanted to go back to their country. Their answer is typical of the answers received from any of their age. They said, ‘We are too old. We have no home left in Poland...’”
LIBERATION OF POLISH POWS
After Poland’s defeat in September 1939, the Germans placed hundreds of thousands of Polish POWs in camps throughout Germany. The 167th arrived with combat troops and photographed camp conditions.
“I peered out of the windows of our barracks and could not see any guards. The watchtowers were empty. No one knew what to do. Was it a trick to get us to break out so we could be killed? Slowly we opened the barracks doors and ventured out just a few feet. One prisoner climbed up a watchtower and verified that it had been abandoned. The news spread like wildfire. Men screamed and yelled. Then a jeep raced ahead of the tank column carrying an American flag.”
“Nazi Prison Camp taken in recent First US Army advances in Germany. The Camp housed about 3,000 prisoners, most of whom were Poles. These prisoners have been here for the past five years, and are now being evacuated at the rate of about 600 per day. With hidden knives and tools, many of the prisoners made articles such as these...”
—JM Heslop, US Army Signal Corps, April 7, 1945