The 36th Infantry Division
As Allied troops fought their way toward Berlin, they found tens of thousands of concentration camp prisoners. Malnutrition and disease were rampant, and corpses lay unburied. Soldiers reacted in shock and disbelief. In addition to burying the dead, Allied forces attempted to help and comfort survivors with food, clothing, and medical assistance. Among the liberating units was the 36th Infantry.
Formed in July 1917, just a few months after the United States entered World War I, the 36th Infantry Division first saw combat in France in 1918. The "Texas" or "Lone Star" division was reactivated in 1940 and landed in North Africa in April 1943 as part of the Allied campaign to drive German and Italian forces from the continent.
In September 1943, the unit advanced into Italy, where it took part in the fighting at Monte Cassino and entered Rome in June 1944. The 36th was subsequently redeployed to southern France and moved northeast to the region of Alsace. During the German offensive in December (the Battle of the Bulge), the "Texas" held its defensive position and by the end of the month was counterattacking enemy forces. In 1945, the division advanced into the Rhineland and, by war's end, had reached the Bavarian Alps.
During the 36th's drive into Bavaria, the division overran some of the Kaufering subcamps of the Dachau concentration camp on April 30, 1945. One of its attached battalions had been ordered to locate and secure all concentration camps in the area around Hurlach, near Landsberg.
The 36th 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 1995.
Casualty figures for the 36th Infantry Division, European theater of operations:
- Total battle casualties: 7,914
- Total deaths in battle: 1,933
The 36th Infantry Division, the "Texas" division, was raised from National Guard units from Texas and Oklahoma during World War I. The "T" in the division's insignia represents Texas, the arrowhead Oklahoma. The division was also sometimes called the "Lone Star" division, again symbolizing its Texas roots.
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?