Commemorating the 70th Anniversary of Liberation
Silent film footage of Auschwitz after liberation. National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland
Liberation of Buchenwald in Color Close
Narrated film footage of Buchenwald liberation. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, gift of Beth Krasna
American Ambulance Drivers at Bergen-Belsen after LiberationClose
Silent film footage of Bergen-Belsen liberation. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of the Archives of the American Field Service
Death Trains at Dachau and Liberated PrisonersClose
Narrated footage of liberation of Dachau and trains with corpses of prisoners evacuated from Buchenwald. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, gift of Jamie B. Russell
Survivors at DachauClose
Narrated film footage of newly liberated survivors and long shots of the Dachau camp. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, gift of Steven Zabin
Liberation of DachauClose
Narrated film footage of American soldiers inspecting the Dachau camp. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, gift of Pam S. Manix
US Troops Discover NordhausenClose
Narrated film footage of victims of the Nordhausen camp and refugees. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Christopher J. Minovich
This jacket, cap, and canvas bag belonged to J. George Mitnick, a Jewish American captain in the US Army who helped liberate Ohrdruf. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, gift of Ronne Mitnick Hess, photo by Lisa Masson
An Austrian-Jewish survivor talks with high-ranking US Army officers in the newly liberated Ohrdruf concentration camp. Among those pictured are General Dwight D. Eisenhower (left) and General George Patton (right) US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Felice Grad
American medical personnel evacuate Langenstein survivors to a hospital. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Bernard Metrick
Members of a US Congressional committee investigating Nazi atrocities walk through a prisoner barracks in the newly liberated Buchenwald concentration camp US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of David Wherry
After the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, British soldiers forced German mayors from nearby towns to view mass graves. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, gift of Hadassah Bimko Rosensaft
This armband belonged to Anthony Acevedo, a Mexican American Army medic who was a German prisoner of war in the Berga an der Elster slave labor camp from December 1944 to April 1945. He asked other prisoners to sign it after they were liberated by US forces. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, gift of Anthony Acevedo
This camera equipment belonged to Walter Hunkler, a sergeant assigned to a medical detachment of the 160th Field Artillery Battalion, which entered Dachau on April 29, 1945 US Holocaust Memorial Museum, gift of Roberta Hunkler
A group of emaciated survivors sit outside a barracks in the newly liberated Dachau concentration camp. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Kathleen Quinn
US Army medical personnel with the 10th Armored Division distribute food to two survivors liberated from a concentration camp. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Norman Raye
Survivors count the corpses of prisoners killed in the Mauthausen concentration camp. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Pauline Bower
On January 27, 2015, delegations from around the world, including some 100 former prisoners, traveled to Auschwitz-Birkenau to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the most infamous Nazi killing center by Soviet troops. They honored the memory of the more than 1.1 million people, primarily Jews, but also Poles, Roma (Gypsies), Soviet prisoners of war, and others, who were killed there from 1940 to 1945.
Throughout the spring of 1945, American and Allied forces liberated numerous concentration camps as they closed in on Berlin. The battle-hardened Allied soldiers were shocked at what they discovered.
As we remember these victims, we also honor the survivors, soldiers, reporters, and others who bore witness to Nazi crimes and reflect on the challenges we face 70 years after liberation.
“The World Must Know”
In the months prior to the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, an elderly French inmate urged Jewish prisoner Olga Lengyel to observe everything that transpired, telling her, “When the war is over the world must know about this. It must know the truth.” Auschwitz prisoner Seweryna Szmaglewska recalled yet another powerful impulse to speak out: the eyes of her expiring comrades, “the last testament of the dying.” Like Lengyel, she penned her memoirs in the years immediately following the war to give voice to those who could no longer speak.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe, also understood the need to witness. In a cable to General George Marshall in Washington, he wrote about his experiences at the recently liberated Nazi camp of Ohrdruf:
The things I saw beggar description. . . . The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were . . . overpowering. . . . I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in [a] position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to “propaganda.”
Following up on his visit, Eisenhower urged Washington to send Congressional delegations and prominent journalists to these newly discovered scenes of Nazi crimes. US Army Signal Corps cameramen rushed to the camps to document the atrocities for the public and for war crimes trials. Allied military commanders also forced German civilians to become witnesses, albeit reluctant ones, by ordering them to visit the liberated camps and to bury the thousands of dead prisoners. The experience was disturbing and eye-opening.
Norman Chandler, the editor and publisher of the Los Angeles Times, recalled that during their flight across the Atlantic the group wondered “if the atrocity stories had been exaggerated.” They quickly discovered that the “actual sights in such political prison camps were worse than any account we had read.”
For those who witnessed first-hand the evidence of Nazi crimes at the camps, seeing was believing. Yet they had to contend with a skeptical public that balked at fully accepting stories of Nazi mass murder. Ben Hibbs, the editor of the popular Saturday Evening Post, indicated that even after his visits to Buchenwald and Dachau and the wide publicity given to the liberation of the Nazi camps, “many people” asked “if the concentration camps were as bad as the newspapers have been saying.” To this, Hibbs responded they were “worse.”
“The war correspondents did a good job of factual reporting,” he wrote, “but there is a limit to what can be said in words and pictures. You have to walk into one of those places and smell the unspeakable stench, not only of the dead but of the living.”
All who encountered the Nazi camps emerged asking how to ensure that it will never happen again.
The Responsibility of Bearing Witness
On the 70th anniversary of liberation, with the last eyewitnesses in their twilight years, the responsibility of witness falls to us. We who have had the privilege of hearing directly from survivors and liberators must now ensure that future generations learn of this watershed moment in human history. Our responsibility assumes an increased urgency as Holocaust denial and distortion rise around the world, including in the lands where Jews were targeted for genocide.
The Holocaust teaches us the dangers that unchecked hatred can pose for society—dangers that we must continue to guard against if we are to fulfill the survivors’ vision of “Never Again.”
Listen as survivors and veterans share their memories of liberation.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is constantly adding to its collection of original documents, photographs, and artifacts relating to the events of the Holocaust and the experiences of individuals whose lives were directly impacted by those events, including survivors, rescuers, and liberators. If you or your family members have such materials and would be interested in speaking with our curators about a possible artifact donation, please fill out the online form, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, call 202.488.2649, or print and mail this form (PDF). Read more about common donations and questions from donors.