The Role the 82d & 101st Airborne Divisions Played During the Holocaust

As Allied troops moved across Europe in a series of offensives against Nazi Germany, they found tens of thousands of concentration camp prisoners in deplorable conditions. The 82d and 101st Airborne Divisions actually liberated two of these camps, and are officially recognized as liberating units by the US Army’s Center of Military History and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Continue reading to learn more.

The “All Americans” of the 82d Airborne Division Liberate Wöbbelin

The Wöbbelin camp, near the city of Ludwigslust, was a subcamp of the Neuengamme concentration camp. The SS had established Wöbbelin in early February 1945 to house concentration camp prisoners whom the SS had evacuated from other camps to prevent their liberation by the Allies. At its height, Wöbbelin held approximately 5,000 inmates, many of whom were suffering from ill-treatment, starvation and disease.

On May 2, 1945, the US Army’s 8th Infantry Division and the 82d Airborne Division came upon Wöbbelin. Living conditions in the camp when the liberators arrived were wretched. There was little food or water, forcing some prisoners to resort to cannibalism. When the units arrived, they found roughly 1,000 prisoners dead in the camp. In the aftermath, in accordance with a policy mandated by General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the US Army in Ludwigslust ordered “all atrocity victims to be buried in a public place” by the inhabitants of the town. Crosses were to be placed at the graves of Christians and Stars of David at the graves of Jews, along with a stone monument to memorialize the dead.

82d Airborne Chaplain helping a survivor.
Photo source: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

On May 7th, the 82d Airborne Division conducted funeral services for 200 prisoners in the town of Ludwigslust. Attending the ceremony were citizens of Ludwigslust, captured German officers, and several hundred Soldiers of the 82d Airborne Division. You can see footage of the burial here.

The burial of Wöbbelin victims. Photo source: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The “Screaming Eagles” of the 101st Airborne Division Liberate Kaufering IV

In April 1945, during the 101st Airborne Division’s drive south into Germany’s Rhineland, the “Screaming Eagles,” as the unit was known, uncovered Kaufering IV, one of 11 concentration camps in the Kaufering complex in the Landsberg region.

At its height, the camp held more than 3,600 prisoners, but in the days before the 101st arrived, the SS had evacuated many of the prisoners on a death march south in the direction of Dachau. Hundreds of inmates were too ill or weak to make the trek, so the SS guards set fire to the barracks at Kaufering IV to prevent their liberation by U.S. troops.

When the US Army’s 12th Armored Division and 101st Airborne Division arrived at Kaufering IV on April 27th and 28th, in that order, the Soldiers discovered some 500 dead prisoners. In the days that followed, the U.S. Army units ordered the local population to bury the dead.

U.S. troops viewing the bodies of victims of Kaufering IV, April 30, 1945.
Photo source: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Today, we remember all of the souls that were lost during this evil and senseless time. For more information regarding the Holocaust, click here.