U.S. Service Person, Liberator
Ohrdruf Concentration Camp, Germany
Dr. Nathan Segel graduated from medical school in 1939. He heard about Hitler and was terrified, although he didn’t know many details.
Dr. Segel joined the ROTC, finished his internship and volunteered for service and specifically requested to be sent overseas. He then joined the army as a division psychiatrist, assigned to the 89th Infantry Division.
He landed in Europe during the Battle of the Bulge and was sent to France, in open trucks, over snow covered fields.
He was sent back to the United Statesfor cancer treatment, but came back to Patton’s 3rd Army and crossed into Germany, moving towards Ohrdruf Concentration Camp, which was liberated by the 4th Armored Division and his 89th Infantry Division.
Prior to going into combat as a unit, Dr. Segel had lectured on how to handle fear and not feel shame or guilt. Before entering the camp, he smelled the stench and saw thousands of human bodies. The living skeletons were skin and bones, had shaved heads. The dead must have suffered intense degradation before they died of starvation or killed. There were huge shallow pits with bullets on the back of their heads. He assumed they were on their knees in front of the large pits when killed. This camp was the first to be liberated by the United States troops.
Ohrdruf was the first concentration camp liberated by American troops. Dr. Segel presented photographs from the camp. His pictures showing decaying bodies were not clear (he said “thankfully”). He also showed pictures of Generals Eisenhower, Patton and Bradley as witnesses to the atrocities. Ike, wearing his famous jacket, was shown looking at the gallows were bodies were hung.
In his general impression, nine thousand prisoners were killed here. There were one hundred thousand in auxiliary camps in the area.
Dr. Segel saw wooden crude buildings, bunks with no mattresses and the stench was verwhelming. Because General Patton was so fast in his move, the Germans didn’t have time to cover up all their crimes.
Dr. Segel took care of the living prisoners and helped burying bodies. He saw that the survivors were dehumanized and was told that the survivors ate the noses and ears of the dead in order to survive. Many lost the will to live, yet some continued to have survival instinct.
He was told about the rabbi in Buchenwald in his early thirties who was forced to watch his wife and children be executed. His hair turned white overnight. His survival instinct remained strong and he asked the American staff officers if he could have bricks to build a mikvah for ritual baths.
More and more German prisoners kept arriving, all feigning complete ignorance and innocence. The Mayor and all of its officials and many Ohrdruf residents were forced to come and witness the remaining bodies. It was heard later that the mayor and his wife committed suicide, probably due to guilt.
Dr. Segel’s first task was to provide medical attention. Some survivors were sent to DP Camps, some to Israel and some to the United States, but the United States insisted on sponsors before they could come.
***The interviewer asked Dr. Segel, “How could the camp guards forget their compassion and about being sympathetic in order to behave in a sadistic manner?” Dr. Segel said it was many years of a long German brainwashing campaign: making Jews lower than human beings and national propaganda, showing the Jew as a vicious animal. He said that human beings can torture for a cause, especially using minorities as scapegoats. He said “We, the Jews, have been the selected “kapura (sacrifice)” ones over all these years.”
***The interviewer asked Dr. Segel, as a psychiatrist, “What should society do in order to avoid falling into such terrible behavior?” Dr. Segal said all of us have the capacity to love and also to hate. Periodically an eruption of aggression and hatred surfaces. Experiences, deprivation of all kinds rage on. When children are most young, try to provide the kind of environment least likely to produce hatred and rage that which will erupt in various hostile ways.
Date: June 3, 1998
Interviewer: Dorothy Medalie
Length: 36 minutes
Format: Video Recording