The 30th 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 30th Infantry Division, have been recognized as liberating units.
Formed in 1917, shortly after the United States entered World War I, the 30th Infantry Division was composed of National Guard units from the Carolinas and Tennessee. As part of the American Expeditionary Forces, it fought with valor against the German army in France in 1918. When World War I ended, the 30th Infantry Division was deactivated and returned to its prewar status as National Guard units.
In 1940, one year after Nazi Germany invaded Poland to trigger World War II, the War Department reactivated the 30th Infantry Division. In 1944, it was deployed to Great Britain to participate in the planned Allied landing on the European continent. In June 1944, units of the 30th stormed the Normandy beaches following the D-Day invasion. Later that year, the unit fought in the Battle of the Bulge and helped to repulse the German attack. In March 1945, the 30th Infantry Division crossed the Rhine River and quickly advanced to Madgeburg by April 17th.
As the 30th Infantry Division moved eastward into Germany, it liberated Weferlingen, a subcamp of the Buchenwald concentration camp, on April 12, 1945. The soldiers found 421 prisoners in poor physical condition due to malnutrition and who were in dire need of medical attention. Representatives of the unit arranged for the German mayors of the neighboring towns to immediately furnish food for the starving inmates.
The following day, members of the 30th encountered about 200 starving and ill Jewish concentration camp prisoners who had escaped from a transport nearby. The American soldiers then sent out 2 tanks to find the train with the remaining inmates. The unit's “after action” report indicated that:
There were 12 German military guards including the train commander who gave up without a fight when they saw our tanks. There 2500 pitable [sic], oppressed people from all over Europe, starved, beaten, ill, some dying, but all of whom were wildly happy and grateful to their “liberators.” The tank crews passed out what food and cigarettes they could to help the sufferers. These people, mostly Jewish political prisoners, had been until recently kept at a concentration camp near Hanover.
The prisoners had been transported in about 50 rail cars from the overcrowded and typhus-ridden Bergen-Belsen concentration camp shortly before. Most of the SS troops guarding them fled into the countryside when the transport was halted and placed on a railroad siding. To protect the prisoners from returning SS guards, the American soldiers stationed a tank, set up civilian patrols, and requisitioned food from nearby German farms and homes. The 30th Infantry Division then initiated efforts to find shelter for the former prisoners so that they “could be moved away from the filthy, jammed, evil-smelling railroad cars.”
The 30th 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 2012.
30th Division nickname: Old Hickory, named after President Andrew Jackson.
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?