The 63rd 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 63rd Infantry Division, have been recognized as liberating units.
The 63rd Infantry Division was created in 1943 and landed in southern France in December 1944, some six months after the massive Allied invasion of western Europe on D-Day (June 6). The "Blood and Fire" division advanced northward and eventually crossed the Saar River into Germany in early February 1945. At the end of the following month, on March 30, the unit took the town of Heidelberg, advanced southward into Bavaria, and crossed the Danube River.
As the 63rd advanced farther into the Bavarian countryside, on April 29–30, 1945, it liberated several Nazi subcamps attached to the Kaufering camp complex in the Landsberg region. One battalion of the division was ordered to search for and secure all the concentration camps in the area. Seven camps and hundreds of dead prisoners were discovered. The army reported that the camps were
full of starving and dying political prisoners. These people, many of them recently moved from DACHAU, many of them from the Ghettos of Poland, were found in advanced stages of malnutrition, typhus, diarrhea, skin diseases, boils, and abscesses, and mental and emotional illness. The torture and starvation to which they had been subjected were visible on many persons; they walked like puppets—if they could walk; or lay on bare boards too weak to do more than motion feebly to their mouths. Some of them could not speak; others cried like children.
Although the SS had attempted to evacuate the prisoners on death marches to the south, US Army units discovered hundreds of sick, starving, and weakened inmates who had been left behind to die.
The army reported finding in one of the Kaufering camps about 900 prisoners living in earthen huts. In describing the living conditions, one document stated that
In the barracks the pointed roof touches the ground, and the inner room is dug in about 3 foot, so that only in the center of a barracks can a man stand upright. The inmates were crowded 60 to a barracks of 15' x 50' and had only wooden shelves for sleeping, sitting, and eating accommodations. All of these people were in very bad physical and emotional condition.
Soon after liberation, the army began organizing emergency medical treatment for the prisoners.
The 63rd 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 2000.
Casualty figures for the 63rd Infantry Division, European theater of operations:
- Total battle casualties: 4,504
- Total deaths in battle: 980
The 63rd Infantry Division was nicknamed the "Blood and Fire" division soon after its formation in the spring of 1943. The nickname commemorates British prime minister Winston Churchill's statement at the Casablanca Conference in January 1943 that "the enemy would bleed and burn in expiation of their crimes against humanity." The divisional insignia illustrates the nickname.
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?