Bearing Witness to the Holocaust: Salon Asks Barack Obama’s Great Uncle About His Role in the Liberation of Ohrdruf Camp During World War II

Salon recently interviewed Barack Obama’s 84 year old great uncle, Charles Payne. Obama’s uncle, a veteran of World War II, helped to liberate Ohrdruf, a subcamp of Buchenwald. Here’s the part of the interview in which he describes what he witnessed at Ohrdruf:

Do you remember the day when you discovered the Ohrdruf camp?

Ohrdruf was in that string of towns going across, south of Gotha and Erfurt. Our division was the first one in there. When we arrived there were no German soldiers anywhere around that I knew about. There was no fighting with the Germans, no camp guards. The whole area was overrun by people from the camp dressed in the most pitiful rags, and most of them were in a bad state of starvation. The first thing I saw was a dead body lying square in the middle of the front gate.

A camp inmate?

It turns out that it was a Polish or Russian camp inmate, who had gone over and become a guard for the Nazis. So he was guarding and helping starve the other people. Then when the Americans came, he tried to blend in with the regular inmates. But they recognized him and beat his head in with a tire iron.

What else did you see?

Inside the gate was an area where a bunch of the camp inmates had been machine gunned and were all lying on the ground. Each one had their tin cup in their hand or lying next to them.

Salon’s full interview with Obama’s great uncle is here.

And here are some images of Ohrdruf from the U.S. Holocaust Museum archives:

U.S soldiers, April 1945, looking at gallows erected between barracks at Ohrdruf. . . .

And here are the bodies of some of the victims at Ohrdruf, April 6, 1945. . . .

And here are still more bodies (photo taken April 4, 1945). . . .

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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5 Responses to Bearing Witness to the Holocaust: Salon Asks Barack Obama’s Great Uncle About His Role in the Liberation of Ohrdruf Camp During World War II

  1. Scarlet Letter says:

    My first reaction to the headline, “Salon Asks Barack Obama’s Great Uncle About His Role in the Liberation of Ohrdruf Camp During World War II.” is why? After reading the article, I get the feeling Charles Payne is asking himself the same question.
    Salon and Obama tried to exploit Charles Payne; they didn’t succeed. Charles Payne’s honesty is refreshing: “This is a trip that he chose, not because of me I’m sure, but for political reasons.” He is not star struck: He (Barack) encompasses so much: self-assuredness, competency, leadership and the great good luck that he had. Finally he had the good luck, if you will, of the financial crisis that got him elected, but now he also has to deal with it.

  2. joanne allen says:

    thank you for having us know more and real—when will it all stop all over the world ? why ?

  3. sila says:

    my dad was there as an inmate

  4. Antony S. says:

    Do you Americans also show the heaps of corpses of children and women, brutally murdered in the Dresden-Holocaust?

    And what about the 1.7 Million corpses of German POW’s and children, murdered in Eisenhower’s concentration camps? (Rheinwiesen) They looked exactly the same like the Jews – they were brutally starved to death by the so-called “liberators”.

    Under Allied occupation Law in Germany it is illegal to dig for bones in the area of the Rheinwiesen near Koblenz/Rhine, where US-General Eisenhower murdered millions in American death camps. Guess why.

  5. Antony S. says:

    Google: Dresden Holocaust

    (and click “images”)

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