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USF Libraries Exhibits

The Liberation of Sachsenhausen

Thomas Buergenthal, Holocaust Survivor

The camp -- the Germans lost the war before I was released from the hospital; or rather, they had to leave the camp. Again, this camp was to be liquidated, and people were lined up to march out of the camp. We really couldn't walk, and the people in the hospital ward were left behind, and we assumed that they would come in and shoot everybody in our beds. And it was extremely -- I remember the day when the people lined up, and then it became extremely quiet and I couldn't hear anything. You're only -- and we waited, basically on the assumption that any minute now they would come in. Nothing happened.

And out of all of the people in the barracks, I probably could move better: by then I had a crutch, and I could move on one leg. And finally I went out to look, because of the silence, and the machine gun on the gate of the -- overlooking the sort of plaza in the camp was empty for the first time and the Germans had left. By then you could hear already the rumbling of artillery in the background. And there wasn't a soul to be seen. Nothing happened for a while, except that we realized that maybe we were going to live.

The shooting came closer. Eventually the gates swung open and the Russian troops came in, and they began ringing the camp bell to say that we were free. There was -- that was freedom. And the first thing, of course, that happened then is that anybody who could move stormed into the German -- where the Germans kept provisions, and tried to grab as much food as possible. I had eaten so little at that time that I couldn't eat.

I remember the only thing that I took was a pickle. I found a pickle and I ate it, and maybe that's what saved me, actually, because people died by simply eating too much and not having eaten for long time and being used to the food. As a matter of fact, to come back to that later, I couldn't eat anything very much for weeks after my liberation. I could barely eat anything more than a piece of dried bread. But a lot of people ate and got extremely sick.

The Russians did nothing, really. There was no -- unlike what I hear about camps that were liberated by the British or American troops or French troops, there was no doctors sent in, no first aid, no supplies, nothing. We were just simply told we were free and we could go, and the direction we should go was away from Berlin because Berlin was still not captured. This was about April 20 or so, 1945. And so, whoever could move went.