The 26th Infantry Division
In 1985, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the US Army's Center of Military History began a program to honor US Army divisions that took part in the liberation of Nazi camps. To date, 36 divisions, including the 26th Infantry Division, have been recognized as liberating units.
Formed in the summer of 1917, a few months after the United States entered World War I, the 26th Infantry Division participated in several battles in France. In September 1944, the "Yankee" division landed in Normandy at several locations including Utah Beach. The 26th moved quickly through northern France and crossed the Saar River into Germany in early December. During the Battle of the Bulge, it was diverted to Luxembourg to thwart the German offensive.
In late March 1945, the 26th crossed the Rhine River, eventually advancing to Thuringia before turning south toward Austria. On May 4, 1945, the division participated in the capture of the city of Linz, Austria. At war's end, the 26th had moved eastward to Czechoslovakia.
On May 5, 1945, the "Yankee" division overran Gusen concentration camp. SS authorities had established Gusen as a separate concentration camp in May 1940 to better exploit the nearby stone quarries with forced laborers. As Allied bombing raids on Germany increased in intensity, the Nazi leadership decided to move industrial war production underground, using concentration camp prisoners for labor. At Gusen, the SS deployed inmates to excavate out of nearby mountains an elaborate system of tunnels that connected to mammoth subterranean installations for aircraft production. In 1944, Gusen had become a subcamp of the Mauthausen concentration camp. In May 1945, as US troops neared the camp complex, some SS and Nazi Party planned to demolish the tunnels with the prisoners inside. The advance of the 26th Infantry and 11th Armored Divisions ensured that such plans would not be carried out.
The 26th 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 2002.
Casualty figures for the 26th Infantry Division, European theater of operations:
- Total battle casualties: 10,701
- Total deaths in battle: 2,136
The 26th Infantry Division, the "Yankee" division, was so nicknamed to recognize the six New England states from whose National Guard units the division was raised during World War I.
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?