Knocking the Lock Off the Gate at the Flossenbürg Concentration Camp; April 23, 1945

The documented first arrival of American soldiers at Flossenbürg Concentration Camp was of the 90th Infantry Division at 10:30 A.M. on April 23, 1945. There is no documentation of the arrival of soldiers from the 97th Infantry Division, but there are several items that taken together indicate very strongly that various personnel of the 97th Infantry Division also were at the camp on April 23rd and probably were the first to arrive. There is anecdotal evidence of nine (9) individuals of the 97th that were there and with five (5) of them specifically identified. (This information was put together by Bob Hacker during several 97th M. P. Platoon reunions in the late 1990’s and from several telephone calls.)

• From a copy of the log of the 2nd Battalion, 303rd Infantry Regiment, 97th Infantry Division there is an entry for 1800, 22 April, that states that they moved into position to relieve elements of the 2nd Cavalry and that the position was within the borders of Czechoslovakia. This information was received from Harold Brown, the Commanding Officer. The concentration camp was on the German side of the border, so this placed the Division forward of the camp.

• Ray Bartolo was one of a three member wire crew of the 365th Field Artillery Battalion, 97th Infantry Division. He specifically remembers being at Flossenbürg on 23 April. He has very specific memories of the camp and of talks with some of the former prisoners. Ray remembers the group at the gate was knocking off the gate lock when he and his group arrived.

• Fred Huber, a squad sergeant of the Military Police Platoon of the 97th Infantry Division, was at the camp with three jeeps; six people. Other M.P. members of the party were Russell Smith, Huber’s driver; Leonard Furnare; Allen Fink; and two others that are not identified. Huber and his squad were detailed to the 303rd Infantry Regiment for traffic control and other Military Police duties.

• Furnare remembers helping to knock off the lock on the camp gate. He also remembers the delousing building.

• Fred Huber remembers a colonel with a command car. After the gate was opened, some of the prisoners rushed out. The colonel had Huber and the others round them up so they could be deloused, be given medical care, and fed. This colonel was probably from the 90th Division and was the one who reported the "liberation" of Flossenbürg. The 97th had just completed their move from Soligen in the Ruhr area near Dusseldorf. For most moves division patches and identification of vehicles were removed to hinder German intelligence from identifying new units in their area. Without identification, most individuals would believe that everyone was from their division.

The above anecdotes indicate that the Huber party was probably the first American Army unit to arrive at the Flossenbürg Concentration Camp with the wire crew arriving a few minutes later. This was a casual encounter and not reported up either chain of command. The significance of the incident was not realized for almost 50 years. The 97th Division performed many duties at the camp. They treated the sick and dying; buried the dead; interviewed former prisoners and gathered evidence for trials of former camp officers and guards; etc. Brig. General Halsey, the commanding officer of the 97th Division inspected the camp as did General Hasbrouck, the commanding officer of the division artillery. Bob Hacker was at the camp with Sergeant Hrychewicz (Herky) who spoke Polish and Joe Tretter who spoke German plus probably some other members of Herky’s squad. They were probably there on April 24th or April 25th. Julian Noga, a survivor of the Flossenbürg Concentration Camp, designed a bronze plaque that expressed his gratitude to the 97th Infantry Division. He gave and dedicated the plaque on behalf of himself and all other survivors of the camp at the 50th Anniversary of the camp’s liberation on April 23, 1995.

50th Anniversary of Liberation