What did the world find in 1945?

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Soon after liberation, surviving children of Auschwitz walk out of their barracks, January 1945.

Think!

The Allies had received reports of atrocities carried out by the Nazis against the Jews.

However, they were not prepared for the scenes and events they were to witness as they came across the camps.

  • What issues would the Allied soldiers on the ground have had to deal with?
  • How might the prisoners have reacted to their liberators?
  • What might have been the initial reactions of the liberating soldiers?

In the days and weeks after liberation of the camps what kind of plans and actions would the Allies have had to make?

Unable to cope

As the Allies fought their way across Europe, they discovered the concentration and death camps. 

The conditions in the camps had always been terrible. However, by late 1944 and early 1945 the whole camp system was collapsing. The prisoners in the East were subjected to the death marches at the height of winter. The transportation to camps in Germany and Austria led to terrible overcrowding, resulting in many thousands of deaths. The Germans were unable to cope with the numbers within the camps. They could not house or feed the prisoners. This led to widespread starvation and disease.

Unprepared

As they liberated the camps the Allies discovered thousands of victims on the verge of death. In many camps they discovered piles of corpses.

In Bergen-Belsen during March 1945 around 18,000 prisoners of the camp died of disease or starvation. On 15 April 1945 the British army liberated the camp. 

They found 60,000 prisoners. Many were dying and thousands of bodies lay unburied. The liberators were unprepared for the situation, but tried to help the survivors. Despite this 14,000 people died in the first weeks of liberation. Many died from disease. Some died because after prolonged starvation their stomachs and bodies just could not take normal food.

No possessions

When Dachau was liberated on 29 April 1945, it held approximately 67,000 prisoners. Around one third of them were Jews. After liberation, around 250 survivors a day died in Dachau. Survivors of the camp had no possessions. In the beginning they still had to wear their prison uniforms as they had no clothes to wear.

Refused help

In February 1945 Red Cross representatives had arrived at Sachsenhausen and offered to take control of the camp. The Nazis refused, and instead sent most of the camp's prisoners on a death march through Germany. When Soviet troops liberated the camp on 27 April 1945, they found just 3,000 prisoners left alive.