Ohrdruf, a Nazi labor camp, was a established as a satellite camp of Buchenwald near the German towns of Gotha and Ohrdruf in late 1944. As many as 10,000 men provided slave labor digging caverns for Nazi underground headquarters and transportation facilities in the nearby towns.

Ohrdruf camp was discovered by accident on April 5, 1945 by members of the 4th Armored Division of the Third Army who discovered the gate to the camp over a small hill while exploring after the capture of the towns. Liberator Bruce Nickols, a member of the 89th Infantry Division of the Third Army, describes the camp thus: "From the outside, the camp was unremarkable. It was surrounded by a high barbed wire fence and had a wooden sign which read, "Arbeit Macht Frei." The swinging gate was open, and a young soldier, probably an SS guard, lay dead diagonally across the entrance."

Just before its liberation, SS guards marched prisoners away to other camps or killed them. Robert H. Abzug, in his book Inside the Vicious Heart: Americans and the Liberation of Nazi Concentration Camps, described what the 4th Armored Division saw: "a pile of dead prisoners, all in striped uniforms. The corpses were fleshless, and at the back of each skull a bullet hole." Inside the camp, next to the parade ground, was a shed with corpses stacked like lumber. On the edge of the camp was a large pit where bodies were burned.

Ohrdruf was the first camp in Germany liberated by Western allies. It was also the first camp where corpses and living prisoners, who had hidden from the SS during the last days of the camp, were first discovered in one place.


On April 12, 1945, Ohrdruf was visited by Generals Eisenhower, Bradley and Patton. The Generals viewed piles of bodies, implements of torture, and a butcher's block used to smash gold fillings from teeth, among other sights. Patton became ill and reportedly refused to visit the punishment shed. As the tour progressed, Eisenhower's mood turned increasingly grim. As recounted by Abzug, Patton's aide Charles Codman described an encounter between Eisenhower and a G.I., when the soldier accidentally bumped into a Nazi ex-guard and giggled nervously: "General Eisenhower fixed him with a cold eye, and when he spoke, each word was like the drop off an icicle. 'Still having trouble hating them,' he said."

After the visit, Eisenhower ordered every nearby unit not on the front lines to visit Ohrdruf, saying, "We are told the American soldier does not know what he is fighting for. Now, at least, he will know what he is fighting against."