Voices of Veterans

Lloyd Kalugin, Rutgers Graduate School of Education '75, U.S. Army, World War II

-On being a part of an Army unit that liberated Ohrdruf concentration camp during World War II:
After we captured Wiesbaden, we were mounted on tanks and ... chasing the fleeing Germans. At some point, one of our objectives was to capture the ... V-2 underground rocket factories ... that were producing the rockets that were bombing England. ... I guess we knew pretty well where they were, and it was just a question of finding them. I was on a patrol with the Fourth Armored Division. It was their tanks and ... we supplied the infantry support, and we mounted the tanks that morning, and we were going off to where we felt the factories were.

We reached the top of the hill and started to smell something burning. We still didn't know what it was, and as we went further up the hill, we were able to look down. We saw smoke and the odor was overwhelming. We saw a camp and we felt we had to look at this camp. So, the tankers took off, with us on them. ... And, as we approached the camp, we started to see fires. ... The lead tank, I was on the second tank, ... broke through the gate and we all dismounted and went in right after the tank.

... We saw bodies burning on ... wooden railroad tracks and dead bodies were all over the place. One of the barracks was burning, and the lead tank sheared off the front of the building, to allow us to try to help the people out. ... We went into the building and there must have been, maybe, what I heard [and] found out later, ... seventy-five or a hundred people left still alive. Most of them were in very bad physical shape. ... We were able to put the fire out and we tried to help many of the people as much as we could.

I asked one person, who was Jewish, I asked him in Yiddish, "What happened?" ... He said, "As soon as the Germans heard that the Americans were coming, they killed as many prisoners as they could." ... I found out later that this was orders from Hitler, so that there would be no evidence. But, they couldn't do it fast enough, so they locked the rest of the people in the barracks and set the barracks on fire. … We got there in time at least to save ... those people.

And, it's interesting that this was not our objective. ... We didn't know it was there. I don't know if the high command knew it was. …[It was] very shocking, because we were all in a state of shock. I mean, ... this big sergeant, that I was friendly with, started to cry. He said, "How could people be so cruel?" ... We were all wandering around, you know, "How could this happen?" I was in a state of shock for fifty years.