The 99th Infantry Division
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.e 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.
The 99th Infantry Division was formed in 1942 and deployed overseas in 1944. The "Checkerboard" or "Battle Babies" division landed at the French port of Le Havre and proceeded northeast to Belgium. During the heavy fighting in the Battle of the Bulge, the unit suffered many casualties, yet tenaciously held its defensive position. In March 1945, the 99th advanced into the Rhineland, crossing the Rhine River at Remagen on March 11. After fighting in the Ruhr area, the unit moved southward into Bavaria, where it was located at the end of the war.
On May 3–4, 1945, as the 99th moved deeper into Bavaria, it liberated one of a number of Dachau subcamps near the town of Mühldorf. The unit reported on May 4, that it had "liberated 3 labor camps and 1 concentration camp." The concentration camp was one of the "forest camps" (Waldlager) tied to the Mühldorf camp complex. The 99th Infantry's report stated that 1,500 Jews were "living under terrible conditions and approximately 600 required hospitalization due to starvation and disease."
The 99th 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 1992.
Casualty figures for the 99th Infantry Division, European theater of operations:
- Total battle casualties: 6,553
- Total deaths in battle: 1,168
The 99th Infantry Division, the "Checkerboard" division, gained its nickname from the division's insignia. The insignia was devised upon the 99th's formation in 1942, when the division was headquartered in the city of Pittsburgh. The blue and white checkerboard in the division's insignia is taken from the coat of arms of William Pitt, for whom Pittsburgh is named. The division was also known as the "Battle Babies" during 1945, a sobriquet coined by a United Press correspondent when the division was first mentioned in press reports during the Battle of the Bulge.
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?