At the military training ground near the German town of Ohrdruf, a forced-labor camp was established in November 1944. Due to Germany’s rapid collapse at that time, the camp never had a chance of developing any proper infrastructure. Therefore, living conditions were atrocious, death rates catastrophic. As U.S. troops approached, the camp was evacuated to the nearby Buchenwald Camp. Many inmates unable to keep up were allegedly shot along the way.

Most famous in this regard is a set of photographs showing General Dwight D. Eisenhower with other generals inspecting a small pyre with the remains of incompletely burned bodies.

Ohrdruf Camp, cremation pyre inspected by Dwight D. Eisenhower
Dwight D. Eisenhower inspecting a small cremation pyre at the Ohrdruf Camp with remains of incompletely burned victims of Germany’s calamitous collapse.

The Ohrdruf training ground is furthermore the location of a suspected first attempt of German forces to test a nuclear bomb. The device is said to have been successfully tested in March of 1945. However, since the intensity of the blast had been severely underestimated, most military observers and the experimenters were killed in the process, together with many inmates in the nearby Ohrdruf Camp.

The Americans probably got wind of this disaster, and tried using it during the International Military Tribunal to their advantage. Evidently for the sake of military secrecy, they rebranded and relocated the event, thus making it difficult to recognize what it really referred to. They accused the Germans of having used an atomic bomb, not in Ohrdruf but near Auschwitz, and not as a test with hundreds or thousands of accidental victims among forced laborers, but as a means of instant extermination of 20,000 Jews. Here are the words of U.S. Chief Prosecutor Jackson when cross-examining Albert Speer, the Third Reich’s Minister of Armament, who must have known about the German atom bomb (IMT, Vol. 16, pp. 529f.):

“And certain experiments were also conducted and certain researches conducted in atomic energy, were they not? […] Now, I have certain information, which was placed in my hands, of an experiment which was carried out near Auschwitz […]. The purpose of the experiment was to find a quick and complete way of destroying people without the delay and trouble of shooting and gassing and burning, as it had been carried out […]. A village, a small village was provisionally erected, with temporary structures, and in it approximately 20,000 Jews were put. By means of this newly invented weapon of destruction [atomic bomb], these 20,000 people were eradicated almost instantaneously, and in such a way that there was no trace left of them;”

Speer lied and pleaded ignorance of any such weapon being developed by Germany. (For more on the disastrous German atom-bomb test, see Karlsch 2005; Karlsch/Petermann 2007.)

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