THE END OF THE WAR
LIBERATION OF ALLIED POWS
As the war drew to a close, the Germans moved concentration camp inmates and prisoners of war away from the advancing Allied troops. In April 1945, the Germans ordered prisoners in Stalag XVII-B to make a two-week forced march to a small encampment near the town of Braunau, Austria. On May 3, 1945, the U.S. 13th Armored and 80th Infantry Divisions encountered and freed the prisoners.
“The biggest thrill is being the first American to greet a recaptured U.S. prisoner...One day a full colonel came up and kissed me, so overjoyed because the Krauts had condemned him to death, and his days on earth were numbered. There are many other experiences too numerous and almost too fantastic to write about.”
—Arnold Samuelson, May 1, 1945
“These are the conditions American prisoners of the Germans were living under when they were liberated by the 80th Infantry Division, 3rd US Army, near Braunau, Austria...This prisoner area was located in a dense forest, shelters and lean-to’s made up the living quarters for the men. Food was a problem as they had very little. Water was obtained from springs not far from the area. Some of the prisoners had crystal sets and listened to the news. When they were freed, many rushed out and brought back loads of meat, eggs, milk, and etc...”
“Braunau, Austria—Sergeant John L. Anderson, Waltham, Massachusetts, 95th Bomber Group, listens to a crystal set he constructed during the 21 months he had been a prisoner. Now liberated by units of the 80th Infantry Division, 3rd US Army, the biggest thing on his mind is, ‘How soon will I get home?’”
—JM Heslop, US Army Signal Corps, May 4, 1945
LENZING CONCENTRATION CAMP
In the fall of 1944, the Germans established the Lenzing concentration camp near the town of Vöcklabruck, Austria. Around May 4, 1945, the 80th Infantry Division liberated Lenzing and its 500 women forced laborers.
[Woman prisoner #T-917] “Now began a frightful time of waiting and uncertainty. We were locked in the camp without food or contact to the outside world. I was myself so weakened at the time that I experienced everything as if asleep...My sister wakened me out of this state. She reported that on the other side of the wall in front of the camp entrance were two young men...They told us that they would get help as quickly as possible—from the American soldiers who were nearby but presumably had no idea that our camp was there...It took a few hours until the Americans arrived. It was General Patton’s 3rd Army. The soldiers broke open the entrance gate. It must have been a shock for the soldiers and officers when they saw us, emaciated or swollen, pale and dirty creatures. They first provided us with their food rations and soap...”
EBENSEE CONCENTRATION CAMP
The Germans built Ebensee, located in northern Austria, in late 1943. At its peak, the camp held more than 18,000 prisoners, and an estimated 8,500 inmates died there. The 80th Infantry Division liberated Ebensee on May 4 and 5, 1945. Unit 123 documented the horror the liberating GIs encountered.
Units of the 80th Division, 3rd US Army, overran and liberated the large and brutal prison camp in Ebensee, Austria. The camp contained about 60,000 prisoners of 25 different nationalities, all in various stages of starvation. Conditions were very brutal, and the men were forced to sleep four in a bunk, in crowded barracks.
“...yesterday’s picture shooting was not so pleasant; another one of those horrible Nazi concentration camps, where the prisoners were dying by the hundreds daily from hunger and mistreatment. You no doubt saw the pictures of Buchenwald and Dachau. Well, this was even worse. The camp was reputedly used for ‘scientific’ experiments. The picture shows a cart loaded with the dead bodies from the Hospital ready for the incinerator. This is the cremator with several rooms of dead bodies in the Nazi concentration camp at Ebensee, Austria. This was one of the largest camps the Nazis had. The camp was liberated by the 80th Division, 3rd US Army.”
—Arnold Samuelson, US Army Signal Corps, May 7, 1945
“Medical care and nourishing food are being given them, and when they are stronger, they will be evacuated.”
—JM Heslop, US Army Signal Corps, May 8, 1945
THE WAR ENDS/ALLIES REUNION
On May 11, 1945, three days after the German surrender, Soviet and American troops met near the town of Liezen, Austria. Beside the Enns River, near Linz, the Allied units held a formal ceremony to celebrate the end of the war.
“The Russian XX Guards Infantry Budapest Corps was to meet the American XX Corps on the bridge over the Enns River...The Commanding Generals of the two forces followed by their staffs marched toward the center of the bridge where all halted. Generals Walker and Birokoff saluted each other and shook hands. An unexpected kiss on each cheek was received by General Walker.”
—The XX Corps
This project honors the U.S. Army Divisions in World War II that liberated concentration camps.