Gardelegen Massacre, 13 April 1945
Text of Memorial Site pamphlet
The full text of the English translation of the pamphlet handed out at the documentation center at the Memorial Site in May 2002 is as follows:
Just before the end of the world war II with the arriving of the allied troops, early in April 1945 the prisoners of the concentration camp Dora near Nordhausen - they were forced to work in the underground V-weapon production - from here and the neighbor-camps Rottleberode, Wieda and Ilfeld they were removed. They should not fall into the hands of the allied troops as "secret holders." There to came prisoners from the concentration camps Hamburg-Neuengamme and Hanover-Stöcken. Five of these transports in overloaded railway-wagons finished after destruction of the railway-lines by bombers in the district of Gardelegen - in Bergfriede, Mieste and Letzlingen. From these spots began the death march of half starved, exhausted prisoners on the 9th and 11th April 1945 towards Gardelegen. A great number of the prisoners had been slayed, shot or died by exhaustion on the way. Only a few could flee.
On the 12th April over 1000 prisoners were collected in the stables of the Remonte school-Garrison in Gardelegen. By the highest order of the Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler, the NSDAP Kreisleiter Thiele gave the order that the prisoners had to be killed.
On the 13th April about 19 p.m. all the prisoners were directed to a barn on the estate Isenschnibbe. Sick persons were transported with cars of the estate. The barn was filled with gasoline damped straw. The straw was set in fire by an SS-watchman. Upon every prisoner, who tried to flee from the flames, was directly shot by marksmen, who were placed around the barn. 1016 people from Belgium, France, Poland, Soviet Union, Italy, Yugoslavia, Mexico, Holland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, there among also Jews, burnt alive or they were shot dead.
In the morning hours of the 14th April the coaled corpses were thrown into mass graves by the SS, SA, Volkssturm and Hitlerjugend. But this crime could not be hidden, because already in the afternoon the American troops of the 102nd Infantry Division occupied the town.
General Frank A. Keating ordered: for every dead prisoner a grave has to be made. Men of Gardelegen and surroundings had to bed over the dead persons out of the mass graves.
The first cemetery for 1016 victims was laid out under the guide of Lieutenant-colonel William R. Douglas. He also let the first Commemoration table be erected 1945 on the field of graves.
In the course of the decades of years the cemetery was shaped to the present state as Admonition and Memorial site Gardelegen which is nursed and cultivated by the town of Gardelegen.
In early April 1945, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, who was the head of all the concentration camps, was negotiating with the British to voluntarily surrender the Bergen-Belsen camp to the British Army. A day or two before the British took over the Bergen-Belsen camp on April 15th, there were 30,000 prisoners evacuated from the Dora-Nordhausen camp and brought to Bergen-Belsen. The camp was already horribly overcrowded, and most of them had to be housed at the nearby German Army Training Camp.
Before the Gardelegen massacre, which took place in the second week of April 1945, American troops had discovered other concentration camps in Germany. First, the Ohrdruf forced labor camp, a sub-camp of Buchenwald, was found on April 4th; it had been abandoned with only a few sick prisoners left behind after the Nazis had evacuated the rest of the inmates to the main camp at Buchenwald. In the next few days, an attempt was made to evacuate all the prisoners from Buchenwald, but the Communist inmates took control of the camp and prevented a full evacuation, insuring that 20,000 inmates would be rescued by the American Third Army on April 11, 1945.
Yet, in spite of all these evacuations and negotiations with the Allies, Himmler had allegedly contacted Gerhard Thiele, the highest ranking Nazi civilian official in the district of Gardelegen, and had ordered that the prisoners who were housed at the riding school in Gardelegen must be killed, according to the Memorial Site pamphlet.
In his book entitled "Innocent at Dachau," Joseph Halow points out that the order from Himmler was allegedly sent by cable but no record of it has ever been found. Himmler was in charge of all the concentration camps and, as Halow points out, he would have had to have cabled at least 1,000 orders to the various commanders of all the concentration camps, but none of these cables have ever been found. Himmler's cable was allegedly sent to the Kreisleiter of Gardelegen, Gerhard Thiele, who was a civilian Nazi official, not a person in authority in the concentration camp system. Halow wrote that it would have been unusual for Himmler to have cabled an order, to kill concentration camp prisoners, to someone who was not connected to the concentration camp system.
The pamphlet that was given to visitors at the Gardelegen Memorial Site in May 2002 had a picture on the cover which showed only one Star of David in a sea of Christian crosses. Although the photograph on the cover of the pamphlet shows the graves planted with flowers, today there are only a few that have green plants and there were no flowers in bloom when I visited. No wreaths or bouquets of flowers had been left by visitors. The Jewish memorial stone at the rear of the cemetery had plastic flowers in front of it, but no fresh flowers or mementos had been left by visitors.
The military cemetery was a sad and neglected sight with the white paint on the crosses faded to a weathered gray. Only the Jewish Stars of David had been recently repainted. When I visited the military cemetery on May 30, 2002, the traditional memorial day for Americans, I was the only person there.
This page was last updated on December 26, 2007