This Day In History: April 13

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On April 13, 1945, as the Allies cross the Rhine river and push into German territory, a contingent of German soldiers, Hitler Youth and local police chase 5,000 to 6,000 Jewish prisoners from the Dora-Mittelbau concentration camp and its satellite camps into a large barn into the area of Gardelegen and set it on fire. They hoped to conceal the evidence of their monstrous war crimes as the end of the Reich quickly became a reality.

In Gardelegen, as the Jewish victims attempted to burrow their way out of the blazing barn, Germans surrounding the conflagration shot them. “Several thousand people were burned alive,” reported one survivor.

The Germans planned to incinerate the victims' remains to eliminate evidence of the crime, but American troops arrived before that took place. One U.S. soldier famously commented, "I never was so sure before of exactly what I was fighting for. Before this you would have said those stories were propaganda, but now you know they weren't. There are the bodies and all those guys are dead."

The tragic irony is that President Franklin Roosevelt, had he lived, intended to give an address at the annual Jefferson Day dinner in Washington, D.C., on that very day, proclaiming his desire for “an end to the beginnings of all wars—yes, an end to this brutal, inhuman, and thoroughly impractical method of settling the differences between governments.”

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