Academic journal article Afterimage

Lager Nordhausen: A Soldier's Point of View

Academic journal article Afterimage

Lager Nordhausen: A Soldier's Point of View

Article excerpt

April 12, 1945, the day that Roosevelt died, was the day when these images were made, not by a "war photographer", but by an regular American soldier, not assigned to photograph the carnage, but assigned instead to deal with it, to clean it up, to make it go away. Before he could do that, however, he felt a need to document what was. The images were made on a German camera taken from a German civilian on German film. The photographer, whose name could not be identified, served in the 612th Engineers Light Equipment Company, which followed the 1st, 9th and 104th Infantry Divisions and 3rd Armored Division as they pressed east towards Berlin, three weeks before V-Day on 5/8/1945. A soldier by the name of Orville Birkner had the negatives. Whether he is the photographer has not been confirmed. Prints were given to fellow soldier, Everett M. Phillips, then Army Corporal Phillips, Technician, 5th Grade, also present that day. It is through Mr. Phillips, now 85, that our attention was drawn to these photographs, which have never been published, and only rarely seen, as they remain a private testimony to the experience of that day.

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Interviewed on 4/20/04, Mr. Phillips recalled vividly that moment. He and his company had been pushing on towards Berlin, and came upon Lager Nordhausen Concentration Camp, home to a mixed, but non-Jewish population of war prisoners and "enemies of the state"--Belgian, Czech, Romanian, French and even German prisoners, detained as slave labor. Unfortunately, this episode was not the worst that he had witnessed since landing in Normandy on June 9th, 1944, 3 days after D-Day, but it was the magnitude of it that he felt was most horrific: over 6,000 emaciated corpses laid out in rows. …

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