The 103rd Infantry Division
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. Malnutrition and disease were rampant, and corpses lay unburied. The soldiers reacted in shock and disbelief to the evidence of Nazi atrocities. In addition to burying the dead, the Allied forces attempted to help and comfort the survivors with food, clothing, and medical assistance.
Established in 1942, the 103rd Infantry Division landed in southern France in late October 1944, a few months after the Allied invasion of western Europe on D-Day (June 6, 1944). From the port of Marseille, the "Cactus" division advanced northward, eventually crossing into Germany in December 1944. The swift German offensive into the Ardennes during the Battle of the Bulge that month forced the unit to take up defensive positions in the area of Alsace-Lorraine. In March 1945, the 103rd advanced into the Rhineland, then moved southward into Bavaria. On May 3, 1945, the division captured the city of Innsbruck in Austria.
As the 103rd moved into Bavaria, its troops uncovered one of the Nazi subcamps attached to the Kaufering camp complex in the Landsberg area.
The 103rd Infantry Division was recognized as a liberating unit by the US Army's Center of Military History and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1985.
Casualty figures for the 103rd Infantry Division, European theater of operations:
- Total battle casualties: 4,558
- Total deaths in battle: 834
The 103rd Infantry Division, the "Cactus" division, is so called after the 103rd's shoulder patch, a cactus in a gold circle. The cactus is representative of the states whose troops formed the unit in the early 1920s: Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico.
Critical Thinking Questions
- What challenges did Allied forces face when they encountered the camps and sites of other atrocities?
- What challenges faced survivors of the Holocaust upon liberation?