The 89th Infantry Division during World War II
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.
89th Infantry Division Campaigns during World War II
Formed in 1917, shortly after the United States entered World War I, the 89th Infantry Division participated in several major military battles. In World War II, the "Rolling W" division landed in France in January 1945 and quickly advanced to the German front. In March 1945, it joined the Third Army's assault on the Rhineland, crossing the Sauer, Moselle, and Rhine rivers that same month. On April 8, the 89th captured the town of Eisenach and subsequently advanced farther into Thuringia and into neighboring Saxony, where it took the city of Zwickau on April 18, 1945.
The 89th Infantry Division and the Liberation of Ohrdruf
On April 4, 1945, the 89th overran Ohrdruf, a subcamp of the Buchenwald concentration camp. Ohrdruf was the first Nazi concentration camp liberated by US troops in Germany. A week later, on April 12, Generals Dwight D. Eisenhower, George S. Patton, and Omar Bradley visited Ohrdruf to see, firsthand, evidence of Nazi atrocities against concentration camp prisoners.
Recognition as a Liberating Unit
The 89th 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 1988.
89th Infantry Casualty Figures
Casualty figures for the 89th Infantry Division, European theater of operations:
- Total battle casualties: 1,029
- Total deaths in battle: 325
89th Infantry Division Nickname
The 89th Infantry Division's nickname, the "Rolling W," is based on the division's insignia. Created during World War I, this insignia utilized a letter "M" inside a wheel. When the wheel turns, the "M" becomes a "W." The letters "MW" signify the Midwest origin of the troops who formed the 89th during World War I. The division was also known as the "Middle West" division, another variation on its origin.
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?