American soldiers discovered the barn where prisoners were burned to death soldiers of the 102nd Infantry Division and the 180th Engineer Bn. of the U.S. Ninth Army were horrified when they came upon the ghastly scene, shown in the photograph above, the day after 1016 prisoners had been murdered by the Nazis on the evening of 13 April 1945. Approximately 1050 to 1100 men had been herded inside a grain barn, piled knee-high withstraw which had been doused with gasoline and then set on fire, according to the survivors. Prisoners who tried to escape were shot by the German guards. Most of the bodies had been hastily buried in mass graves near the barn, but survivors led the Americans to the scene and showed them the evidence of one of the most diabolical war crimes of World War II.
Barn was made of brick and stucco with two wooden sliding
doors, in front and back.
An eye-witness account by an American Soldier, David Campbell, the company commander of the 180th Engineer Bn, According to Campbell the 180th Engineer Bn was traveling toward the Elbe river north of Magdeburg. On the way, they had come across Fallersleben, a slave labor camp for the Volkswagen factory which was producing military vehicles. The day before the Americans arrived, the German guards fled leaving the workers to rampage through the camp and into the town. A number of
the prisoners took tommy guns from the camp arsenal and marauded the countryside, setting fire to a number of houses and killing German civilians, including one mayor. A military government officer, whose job was to establish order, asked if Campbell and his men would help disarm the prisoners. It took all night. After Fallersleben, Campbell was ordered northeast to Ousterberg, a town not far from the Elbe. On the way, he and his men noticed a large fire and much machine-gun and tank action. They investigated and found, near the town of Gardelegen, a sight more somber than that of drunken and rampaging liberated prisoners. They came upon the ruins of a barn, and the remains of
hundreds of charred bodies. An SS unit transporting prisoners from the East had found itself caught in the American advance. Instead of surrendering, the SS herded the evacuees into the barn, poured gasoline over the structure and set it afire. Outside they waited with machine guns. Many prisoners were burned alive as they pressed the doors; others lay in the open air, caught in SS machine-gun fire. Some were killed as they emerged from underneath the side walls, having dug themselves out of the burning barn. When American troops came on the scene, the first thing they noticed were the heads of these dead prisoners peering from underneath the wall. Close to forty years
later the memory of it still bothered Campbell, That kind of stuff you never get used to.
Photo shows American troops at the Gardelegen barn after it burned
Bonde Gaza, a Hungarian prisoner, shows American soldiers how he escaped from the barn