Who liberated the Nazi concentration camps and extermination centers?

Crematoria in Majdanek death camp. (Post-Liberation) (1944). Photo credit:
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Panstwowe Muzeum na Majdanku

In the east, the camps were liberated by the [Red Army]: it liberated Majdanek in July 1944, Auschwitz on 27 January, 1945, and the concentration camps of Gross-Rosen, Sachsenhausen, Ravensbrück, Stutthoff, and Theresienstadt in the ensuing months.

In the West, American troops liberated Buchenwald, Dachau, Dora-Mittelbau, Flossenbürg, and Mauthausen, among other camps. When British forces entered Bergen-Belsen on 15 April, 1945, they found some 60,000 inmates, many of whom were in critical condition from severe malnutrition and a raging typhus epidemic, surrounded by thousands of unburied corpses. The broadcasts from the liberated camps by BBC correspondent Richard Dimbleby and CBS’s Ed Murrow had huge impact on their listeners, as did film footage in newsreels.

On 12 April, 1945, together with US Generals George S. Patton and Omar Bradley, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, visited the site of Ohrdruf concentration camp. Afterward, Eisenhower cabled General George C. Marshall, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, D.C., writing that “The things I saw beggar description. . . . 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.’”

[Red Army: the army and air force of the Soviet Union. Eventually decisive in World War II, the Red Army initially struggled to respond adequately to the German invasion: weakened by the purges of the officer corps in the 1930s and hampered by Stalin’s early refusal to take the advice of his generals. After a bitter struggle in 1942, the Red Army began to have successes following the defeat of German forces at Stalingrad in January 1943. With the help of American aid, Soviet forces pushed the German forces back into the Reich, finally taking Berlin in April-May 1945. Historians estimate that the Red Army lost approximately 8.7 million dead and a further 4.6 million missing during World War II.]  

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