Carroll E. Peterson was born on January 4, 1926, at Lily, South Dakota. Raised
as a Lutheran, Carroll was drafted into the service during his
junior year of high school at Webster, South Dakota. Carroll entered
the service on August 28, 1944. The following is his story, told in
his own words.
Service Record: I entered the service in August of 1944 at Ft. Snelling,
Minnesota, and was sent to Camp Blanding Infantry Replacement
Training Camp near Jacksonville, Florida. I spent 11 weeks training
and was shipped overseas to the European Theater of Operations. I
joined the 80th Division in Eastern Europe and stayed on the front
lines in combat as a machine gunner until the end of the war: May 8,
1945. Then I was transferred to the 1st Infantry Division and then
to the 102nd Infantry Division until my points came up for my return
to the states which was in June of 1946.
Camp Encounter: As I recall we came to the city of Weimar, Germany, on the
morning of April 12, 1945. We stopped short of the town along a
railroad embankment and we were told to wait before attacking the
city. They had sent word ahead with German burgomaster to give the
Germans an ultimatum of surrender. Word was sent back that the
Germans had already left the city and we moved in.
After we got in the city we saw DP's roaming around. We soon found
out that a concentration camp was just outside of the city; it was
named Buchenwald. So as usual a couple of us had to see what it was
like. Our top brass had already sent word back to the rear to get
UNRRA or something like that; its branch of the Red Cross which came
up to take care of the prisoners who were dying, sick, or starved.
Anyway we approached the camp which was in a barbed wire enclosed
area with wooden buildings and there were hundreds of people, all in
very poor health and starved conditions. Some were laying on the
ground, some could only sit and look and make feeble motions that
they wanted something to eat. Some could walk around but everyone
was in terrible condition. Some could speak and only in their
language. We did hear one or two who could speak English.
Joseph Schleifstein, a four- year-old survivor of Buchenwald, sits
on the running board of
an UNRRA truck soon after the liberation of the camp; photo courtesy
A group of American troops moving among the barracks in the
Buchenwald concentration camp after liberation; photo courtesy of
We inspected the wooden barracks in this camp and one had what I
call a marble table the size of a pool table and it also had six
pockets which drained the blood as these starved-to-death people
were dissected and skinned and the remains were put on another slab
which led to the cremation furnace. We later found out that all
parts of their insides were inspected. The skin in some cases was
used to make lamp shades. I later actually saw one. In this barracks
the room next to the operating room they kept the dead corpses,
piled like cordwood from the floor to the ceiling.
An exhibit of human remains and artifacts retrieved by the
American Army from a pathology laboratory run by the SS in
Buchenwald; photo courtesy of USHMM
People call these concentration camp inmates the living dead.
That's exactly what they looked like.
As we went through this camp, we had to sort of push these people
away who could move around fairly well. We kept them away from us
the best we could; as you might know they were overjoyed and hungry.
They wanted to express their gratitude to us.
Our stay in the compound was not too long; we may have spent an
hour or so, but one look told us most of the story. We could not
imagine how much the human body can stand. After seeing a living
person and be able to actually count the bones, it was like looking
at a skeleton that was alive.
An American captain with survivors in the Buchenwald concentration
camp; photo courtesy of USHMM
An emaciated survivor drinking from a metal bowl in front of a
barracks in Buchenwald; photo
courtesy of USHMM
We rejoined the rest of our unit and went on to Jena,
Germany, the following day, Company H, 2nd Batt., 319th Inf.
Regiment of the 80th Division. Later around May 4th or 5th, we were
around Lamback, Bad Hall, and Steyr, Austria, when we were stopped
to police in one of these towns because of concentration camp
prisoners had gotten out and we had to maintain law and order until
other units could be brought up to take care of these people. I
called them DP camps--meaning Displaced Persons. These concentration
camps were people from different countries--Polish, Hungarians,
Russians, etc. I don't recall Jewish people in any of the
concentration camps I saw; there could have been some.
The saying at Buchenwald was "You come in the gates and go
out the chimney." Prisoners' conditions at Ebensee did not seem
quite as bad. Although when we were told we had to stop here in one
of these towns, they said the kitchen units would be brought up from
the rear and we again got a taste of hot meals. It was then that
problems started with the DP's who had gotten out of the compound.
The 80th Division history book said there were about 20,000
prisoners at Buchenwald. I'm not sure about the numbers at Ebensee.
Top: Three Ebensee survivors, too weak to eat solid food, suck on
sugar cubes to give them strength. Bottom: Starved survivors in
Ebensee; photos courtesy of USHMM
I received three campaign stars -- the Ardennes, Rhineland, and
Central Europe Campaigns. I was awarded two bronze stars, the Combat
Infantry Badge with wreath, Good Conduct Medal, Occupation Medal,
ETO Medal, Victory Medal, and American Defense Campaign WW II Medal
for the Battle of the Bulge.