Widow Clements was a Planter of Berrien County, GA

Nancy Patten Clements (1822-1887)

Nancy Patten Clements was the wife of John Franklin Clements, and mother of his ten children. For 23 years after his death, she was the head of household on the Clements farm. She led her family through the Reconstruction period in the South. She acted as a strong and capable matriarch of her family, under whose management the farm and family prospered.

Born Nancy Patten, she was a daughter of James M. Patten and Elizabeth Lee, and sister of Jehu Patten.  Her paternal grandfather, William Patten of Camden District, S.C., was a Revolutionary Soldier.  Her maternal grandfather, Joshua Lee, was a veteran of the War of 1812. About 1830, her grandfather Joshua built an earthen berm across the northern outflow of Grand Bay, and constructed a grist mill at Allapaha, GA (now Lakeland), the first in the area to serve the original settlers of Ray City, GA. This mill run later became the site of Banks Mill.

Nancy Patten was born October 7, 1822. According to Folks Huxford, her parents married about 1819 and were among the first settlers of this area in what was then Irwin County, GA. They settled on Land Lot 400, in the 10th district of old Irwin County. Lot 400 was situated on Big Creek, about four miles above the community then known as Allapaha, now Lakeland, GA.  (The James M. Patten home-place was cut out of Irwin into Lowndes county,1825; from Lowndes into Berrien, 1856; and from Berrien into Lanier in 1920.) In 1825, Nancy’s parents, Elizabeth and James Patten, and maternal grandparents, Martha and Joshua Lee, along with William A. Knight, Sarah Knight, Jonathan Knight, Elizabeth Knight, Mary Knight, Josiah Sirmans, and Matthew Albritton constituted the primitive baptist Union Church, on the banks of the Alapaha River.

In the latter half of 1840, Nancy Sirmans married John F. Clements in Lowndes County. Records of the marriage were lost when the Lowndes County courthouse burned in 1858.  Upon her marriage Nancy was about 18 years old; John F. Clements was 30.  His household in the enumeration of 1840 included another white  male, age 40-something, a young slave woman and a slave girl, but as yet, the Lowndes County tax records did not show that he was a land owner.  His neighbors included John Lee, John Roberts, Benjamin Sirmans and John Knight.

At the time of the wedding, the Indian War (Second Seminole War) was under way.  In this conflict John served as a private in Captain Levi J. Knight’s Independent Company of  volunteer militia. This unit saw action in 1836 in the skirmish at William Parker’s place, actions along Warrior Creek, and the skirmish at Cow Creek.

Children of John Franklin Clements and Nancy Patten:

  1.     Rhoda C Clements (1843–1920) married William J. Lee
  2.     Martha Elizabeth Clements (1844–1926) married W. M. Adams
  3.     William Clements (1846– )
  4.     Nancy R Clements (1849–  ) married Levi W. Sirmans
  5.     Mary Mollie Clements (1851–1932)
  6.     Missouri Clements (1854–1928) married Thomas J. Futch
  7.     Sara Amanda Clements (1855–1931) married Moses C. Lee
  8.     Winnie Annie Clements (1855–1893) married William H. Studstill
  9.     David C Clements (1857–1902) married Martha Baskin
  10.     John Miles Clements (1859–1937)

By 1844, Nancy’s husband John F. Clements had acquired 245 acres in the 10th  District of Lowndes County.

By 1850, the Clements’ land had increased to 980 acres in Lowndes County, 50 of which were improved. The cash value of the farm was assessed at $500, and John Clements owned another $50 in equipment and machinery. The livestock included 4 horses, 37 milch cows, 87 other cattle, 21 sheep, and 100 swine, valued at $1000 taken all together. They had on hand 300 bushels of Indian corn, 40 bushels of wheat, 1 bale of cotton at 400 pounds, 20 bushels of sweet potatoes, 50 lbs of butter, and $125 worth of meat. Their neighbors were the families of Aaron Knight, Aden Boyd, Henry Tison and William Giddings.

In 1856, the Clements and their neighbors were cut out of Lowndes county and into the newly created Berrien County.

On September 23, 1864 Nancy’s husband John F. Clements died at age 54. She buried him at Union Church, the church her parents had helped to found at Milltown (now Lakeland, GA).

Levi J. Knight assisted the widow Nancy Clements with the administration of the estate. The usual notice was published in the Milledgeville Confederate Union.

Milledgeville Confederate Union
January 3, 1865

    And whereas, Levi J. Knight and Nancy Clements applies to me for letters of administration on the estate of John F. Clements, deceased.
These are therefore to cite and admonish all persons interested to be and appear in my office within the time prescribed by law, and file objections if they have any why said letters should not be granted.
Witness my hand officially, November 7, 1864 [pd$3025 5t.] W.E. CONNELL Ord’y

At the time of John’s death, the Clements farm place was on six hundred and six acres of land situated on parts of Lots of Land No. 381, 356, and 335 in the 10th District of Berrien. There, the Clements family had raised corn, oats, sweet potatoes, and other food crops, and livestock including milk cows, beef cattle, sheep and hogs, and of course, cotton.  Nancy Clements was left to run the farm, provide for the six of their children who were still at home, and care for her aged mother.  According to the 1866 map of Berrien County, GA, Lot 356 is situated square on the confluence of Allapacoochee Creek (now Ten Mile Creek) and Camp Creek (now Five Mile Creek), which combine to form Big Creek. To the north, Lot 335 straddles Camp Creek; to the south, Lot 381 lies between Big Creek and the pocosin that formed the headwaters of Beaverdam Creek. This wetland was impounded with an earthen dam by Thomas M. Ray and Levi J. Knight in 1863, who constructed a grist mill at the outflow which became known as Ray’s Mill.

Under prevailing law, Nancy Clements had to apply to the courts for appointment to see to the affairs of her own children.

Milledgeville Federal Union
December 4, 1866

    And whereas, Nancy Clements applies to me for letters of guardianship on the persons and property of the minor heirs of John F. Clements, deceased.
These are therefore to cite and admonish all persons interested to be and appear in my office within the time prescribed by law, and file objections if they have any why said letters should not be granted.
Witness my hand officially, November 5, 1866
15 5c                              W.E. CONNELL Ord’y

The estate of John Franklin Clements was finally liquidated in 1867.

Milledgeville Federal Union, April 2, 1867 — page 4
GEORGIA, Berrien County.

Two months after date, application will be made to the Court of Ordinary, for leave to sell the lands belonging to the estate of John F. Clements, deceased.
LEVI J. KNIGHT, Adm’r.
NANCY CLEMENTS, Adm’rx

January 18th, 1867   (w.e.c.) 26 9

 Milledgeville Federal Union, July 16, 1867 — page 4
Administrator’s Sale.
Will be sold at the Court House door in the town of Nashville, Berrien county, Ga on the first Tuesday in SEPTEMBER next, within legal hours of sale, six hundred and six acres of land being parts of Lots of Land No. 381, 356, and 335 in the 10th District of said county. Two improvements on the land. Sold as the property of John F. Clements, deceased. Sold for distribution. Terms twelve months credit, small notes and approved security.
LEVI J. KNIGHT. Adm’r
NANCY CLEMENTS, Admr’x
July 2, 1867.     W E C    49 tds

John’s widow, Nancy Patten Clements, continued to reside in Berrien County. She was assessed for taxes in the 1144th Georgia Militia District of Berrien County in 1867 as the administratrix of the estate of J.F. Clements and and the Guarantor for John’s eldest son, William W. Clements. There were 303 acres of land under her name on Land Lots 356 and 381, 10th Land District. Under the name of William W. Clements there were 677 acres on parts of Lots 356, 381, and 335. Her neighbor on Lot 335 was Jasper Cook.

In the census of 1870 her homeplace was enumerated in the 1144 Georgia Militia District, the Ray’s Mill District, with her children Martha E. Clements, Missouri Clements, Winnie Ann Clements, David C. Clements, John Miley Clements, and Amanda Clements. Nancy’s 78-year-old mother, Elizabeth Patten Thornton, was living with them; after the death of Nancy’s father in 1846, her mother had re-married to William Thornton of Ware County. Also in Nancy’s household was nine-month old William L. Clements . Nancy’s boys helped with the farming while the girls kept house.

Nancy’s farm was described in the 1870 Non-population Agricultural census as 400 acres, with 60 acres improved and 340 acres woodlands. The farm was valued at $300,  equipment and machinery worth an additional $50, and livestock valued at $821. She had 3 horses, 1 mule, 10 milch cows, 2 oxen, 45 other cattle, 30 sheep, and 35 hogs. Her stores included 120 bushels of Indian Corn, 180 bushels of oats, 1 bale of cotton at 450 lbs, 75 lbs of wool, 1 bushel of peas and beans, 4 bushels of Irish potatoes, 150 bushels sweet potatoes, $6 dollars worth of “orchard products”, 120 gallons of molasses, $30  dollars worth of “house manufactures”, and $170 dollars of meat production. Nancy’s total real estate was valued at $500 and her personal estate was valued at $1442. Among her neighbors were Jesse Lee, John Lee, and John W. Peeples.

The 1872 Berrien County tax digest shows Nancy had acquired an additional 200 acres of land on Lots 356 and 381. By 1877 she had acquired 700 acres additional land on Lots 380 and 426, bringing her total acreage up to 1300 acres

The 1880 agricultural census show Nancy Clements’ land holdings at 1040 acres with 40 acres under cultivation and 1000 acres in woodlands and forest. Her farm was valued at $1000, with $10 in implements and machinery.  She spent $5 on building and repairing fences, but no money on fertilizer. Her costs for board and wages for farm labor was $48.  Her $241 in livestock included 1 horse, 13 milch cows, and 27 other cattle. There were 8 calves dropped on her farm in 1879; two cattle were slaughtered, and four more were lost to disease, stolen or strayed. She had 8 sheep on hand; seven lambs were dropped, seven sheep were sold, and one died of disease.  Eight fleeces were sheared, for 19 pounds of wool. She had 10 hogs and 9 barnyard chickens. Her total farm production was estimated at $500.

Berrien County tax digests show that between 1880 and 1887 Nancy Clements executed a number of additional land deals with her children and others of the Clements family connections. She eventually consolidating her personal holdings to all 490 acres of Lot 380, situated on the east side of Ray’s Mill Pond, and disposed of all of her livestock.  Her neighbors included John Lee on parts of Lot 356; George W. Knight on parts of Lots 357 and 358; and her son, John M. Clements on parts of Lots 381 and 356.

Nancy Patten Clements died on October 30, 1887. She was buried at Union Church Cemetery, Lakeland, GA.

Grave of Nancy Patten Clements, wife of John Franklin Clements. Union Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA.

Grave of Nancy Patten Clements, wife of John Franklin Clements. Union Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA. Image source: Randy Merkel

 

Thelma Wood Marries Jack Herlihy

On May 20, 1946 Thelma Wood, of Ray City, GA married  WWII veteran John Joseph “Jack” Herlihy, of New York She was born in Chatham County, GA on August 10, 1918,  a daughter of George Washington Wood (1884 – 1960) and his second wife, Fannie Lou Taylor Wood (1896 – 1981), of  Ray City.

The wedding was announced in Southern Cross, the Catholic newspaper of Savannah, GA.

Southern Cross, June 29, 1946. Thelma Wood, of Ray City, GA marries John Herlihy

Southern Cross, June 29, 1946. Thelma Wood, of Ray City, GA marries John Herlihy

Southern Cross
June 29, 194

Herlihy-Wood

Savannah, Ga. – Miss Thelma Wood, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. G. W. Wood, of Ray City, and Mr. John J. Herlihy, of New York City, were married in the Chapel of Our Lady at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, on May 20, Monsignor T. James McNamara officiating.

Thelma and Jack were married 46 years, until Jack’s death in 1992.  Thelma died in 2007.  She was buried at Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA.

Valdosta Daily Times
Obituaries for Friday, June 15, 2007

STAMPING GROUND, KY.

Thelma Herlihy

Thelma Herlihy, 88, of Stamping Ground, Ky. passed away Monday June 11, 2007 in Georgetown, Ky.

She was born on Aug. 10, 1918 in Chatham Co., Ga. to the late George Washington and Fannie Lou Taylor Wood. She was a homemaker and retired corporate secretary with Nabisco and was a member of Peekskill Baptist Church in Peekskill, N.Y. She was the widow of John Joseph Herlihy.

She is survived by one daughter Laura Herlihy of Eatonton; two sons, Dr. Jack Herlihy, Stamping Ground, Ky., Richard Herlihy, Hopewell Junction, N.Y.; five grandchildren, Shannon Shay, Little Jack, Colin, Christian and Corey; and one brother, Glenn Wood of Savannah.

Funeral service will be held at 10 a.m. Monday, June 18, 2007 in the Chapel of Lovein Funeral Home with the Rev. Mike Gibbs officiating. Interment will be held in Beaver Dam Cemetery in Ray City. Visitation will be held from 7-9 p.m. Sunday. — Lovein Funeral Home, Nashville

 

Grave of Thelma Wood Hurlihy, Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA

Grave of Thelma Wood Hurlihy, Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA

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Garth Webb, Jr. at Georgia Southern College

Garth Webb, Jr. at Georgia Southern College

Garth Webb, Jr. was a contestant in the 1950 baby contest at Ray City, GA. He was a brother of Betty Jo Webb. His mother was a teacher at the Ray City School, and  his father, Garth Webb, Sr., was the Ray City Postmaster.

In the 1950s the Webb family moved to Nashville, GA.

By 1966 the young man was a student at Georgia Southern College in Statesboro, GA.

Garth Webb, Jr., at Georgia Southern College, 1966.

Garth Webb, Jr., of Nashville, GA, at Georgia Southern College, 1966.

Among Berrien County students at Georgia Southern in 1966 were sophomore Patsy Partin, of Nashville, GA, and freshmen Ricky Partin and Carol Rowan, also of Nashville, GA.  Carol Bradham and James Roger Lewis, of Alapaha, GA were seniors and Carleen Chambless was a freshman. Jimmy Abney, of Enigma, GA was a junior.

Ray City students at Georgia Southern College in 1966 were seniors Eugene C. Phillips and William Ralph Bradham.

In Nashville, Garth Webb, Sr. served as Chief of Police, and Mrs. Webb taught at Nashville Elementary School.  Garth Webb, Jr. attended school at Nashville High School and played for the baseball team.  His Ray City classmate at Georgia Southern, William Ralph Bradham, had also been an athlete at Nashville High School.

Garth Webb, Jr., 1964 Nashville High School baseball team. Image courtesy of www.berriencountyga.com

Garth Webb, Jr., 1964 Nashville High School baseball team. Image courtesy of http://www.berriencountyga.com

SAVE THE DATE!

  • August 13, 2016  Opening of the Hometown Teams Exhibit at the Nashville Community Center
  • September 10, 2016 Sports Recognition Night at the Old Ray City School Auditorium

Many interesting sports stories are coming to light as the Berrien County Historical Foundation prepares for an exhibit on  Hometown Teams, A Smithsonian Exhibit. The Hometown Teams Exhibit opens August 13 – September 24, 2016, at the Nashville Community Center, Nashville, GA.

berrien-hometown-teams-b

On the 10th of September, as part of the Smithsonian events, there will be a Sports Recognition Night at the Old Ray City School Auditorium which will honor all athletes and supporters from all Berrien County communities. Buck Swindle of Ray City will be the speaker and Master of Ceremonies, and there will be a grand reunion of players, coaches, and fans to reminisce about their experiences in their “Hometown Team.”  The public is invited and more details will follow.

 

 

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Arthur Shaw and Shaw’s Still

In 1908, the opening of the Georgia & Florida Railroad gave Ray City, GA residents a transportation access to the world, and a convenient connection to towns on the G & F route. Among those with a Ray City – Willacoochee connection was Arthur Shaw, son of Francis Marion Shaw and Rachel Moore Allen Shaw, of Ray City, GA.  Arthur Shaw, a native of Ray City, spent most of his life at Willacoochee, GA.

Francis Arthur Shaw (1866-1933), son of Francis Marion Shaw, Sr., was born and raised near Ray's Mill (now Ray City), GA. Husband of Victoria Giddens Knight (first wife) and Gertrude Albritton (second wife) Turpentine still operator. Though a native of Berrien county, and some of his turpentine operations were in Berrien county, he resided in Willacoochee most of his adult life. Was a mayor of Willacoochee. Courtesy of http://berriencountyga.com/

Francis Arthur Shaw (1866-1933), son of Francis Marion Shaw, Sr., was born and raised near Ray’s Mill (now Ray City), GA. Husband of Victoria Giddens Knight (first wife) and Gertrude Albritton (second wife). Turpentine still operator. Though a native of Berrien county, and some of his turpentine operations were in Berrien county, he resided in Willacoochee most of his adult life. Was a mayor of Willacoochee. Courtesy of http://berriencountyga.com/

Bryan Shaw, of the Berrien County Historical Society, contributes the following:

Arthur Shaw, of Willacoochee, was business partners in the turpentine operations with his brothers, Chester and Lacy Shaw, and brother-in-law, William Clements.

The commissary at  Shaw’s Still was operated by Lacy Shaw. Lacy later ended his partnership with Arthur and farmed near the home place of his parents, Francis Marion Shaw and Rachel Moore Allen Shaw, in Lois, GA just off Possum Branch Road. About 1917 he sold his home to Pleamon Sirmans and moved into Ray City and operated a hardware store there before moving to Valdosta about 1927 or so.

The location of the turpentine operation was actually about a mile or so south of Springhead Methodist Church in Atkinson County. The terminus of the Pinebloom railroad which ran through Willacoochee was at Shaws Still which is shown on the early 1900 railroad maps. The intent at one time was for the Pinebloom to terminus at DuPont, however the extension was determined to be financially unsound and it was given up. Very little is visible of the old Pinebloom railroad bed between Willacoochee and Shaws Still. The terminus of the railroad was about where the Henderson Lumber Company had its operation, near today’s Henderson Road and Springhead Church Road. The still site is no longer visible and is on a  private hunting preserve now.
—Bryan Shaw

 

The Ocilla, Pinebloom & Valdosta Railroad, originally called the Fitzgerald, Pinebloom & Valdosta, was a logging road and occasional common carrier owned by the Gray Lumber Company. 

[Benjamin B. Gray, a principal of the Gray Lumber Company and the OP & V,  was a brother-in-law of the notorious outlaw Ben Furlong.  Furlong committed his first murder while employed at Gray’s sawmill at Pinebloom, and thereafter wreaked mayhem up and down the line of the Brunswick & Western Railroad.]

The 52-mile Lax-Pinebloom-Nashville line was completed in 1901-03.

In 1906, the FP&V sold the section south of Pinebloom to the Douglas, Augusta, & Gulf Railway (which was controlled by the Georgia & Florida).  The FP&V continued to operate the tracks north of Pinebloom. (Pinebloom was a flag station on the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad a mile east of Willacoochee with a 1896 population of about 200. The Gray Brothers saw mill was its largest enterprise.)

The line was renamed the Ocilla, Pinebloom & Valdosta Railroad in 1910, and in 1915 the Henderson Lumber Company gained control.

The 1918 Report of the Georgia Railroad Commission listed the OP&V as a 27-mile line between Gladys, a point on the Ocilla Southern Railroad, and Shaw’s Still, which was about nine miles southeast of Willacoochee. Two years later the Commission indicated that the OP&V had been dismantled and listed its successor road, the Willacoochee & DuPont, as a 9.5-mile line between Willacoochee and Shaws Still.

In 1915, when the Henderson Lumber Company acquired the Ocilla, Pinebloom, & Valdosta Railway, it ran from Gladys to Shaw’s Still. In 1918, the Willacoochee & DuPont Railroad purchased the line and reportedly abandoned the tracks between Gladys and Willacoochee the following year (or used them only for logging or hauling naval stores and turpentine). It continued to operate the eastern and southern section of track from Willacoochee to Shaws Still, but apparently was not able to extend the line past Shaws Still to DuPont, a town on the Atlantic Coast Line in Clinch County. In 1922, this track too was abandoned.
Source: http://www.RailGa.com

The Shaw Family Newsletter: FRANCIS ARTHUR SHAW 1866–1933, by Bryan Shaw, relates the story of Arthur Shaw’s life, loves, and business dealings:

Shaw Family Newsletter: FRANCIS ARTHUR SHAW 1866–1933

Shaw Family Newsletter: FRANCIS ARTHUR SHAW 1866–1933

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Ludwigslust and Wöbbelin: Ray City Boy Describes German Prisoner Camp

Today, May 5, 2016 is  Yom Hashoah, the Holocaust Remembrance Day.

One witness to the Holocaust was J. I. Clements, Jr., of Ray City, GA.

J.I.Clements  grew up in Ray City, GA. After graduating with the RCHS class of 1938, he completed two years of college at Norman Junior College, Norman Park, GA. Two days after D-Day, he joined the Army for service in WWII ‘for the duration of the War or other emergency, plus six months, subject to the discretion of the President or otherwise according to law.”   He enlisted  at Fort McPherson, Atlanta, GA on June 8, 1944. Other Ray City men trained at Fort McPherson include Leland E. Langford, St. Elmo Lee, Billy Clements, Charles Otis Ray,  and William Crawford Webb.

J. I. Clements served on the faculty and coached at Georgia Teachers College ,now Georgia Southern University, in 1952.

J. I. Clements served on the faculty and coached at Georgia Teachers College ,now Georgia Southern University, in 1952.

After training, J.I. Clements, Jr. was sent to serve with American forces in the liberation of eastern Europe and  in Germany. By early May of 1945, he was among the Armerican troops detailed to the newly discovered Wöbbelin concentration camp at Ludwigslust, Germany, about 90 miles northwest of Berlin. Clements witnessed first hand the horrific condition of the survivors and the dead at Wöbbelin, and wrote home about what he saw at the  concentration camp on May 7, 1945. Germany surrendered the following day, May 8, 1945.

After the liberation of the Wöbbelin concentration camp, the US Army ordered the local townspeople to bury the corpses of prisoners killed in the camp. This photograph shows troops observing a moment of silence at a mass funeral for victims of the Wöbbelin camp. Germany, May 7, 1945. J. I. Clements, Jr. , of Ray City, GA was among the soldiers present on that day.

Wöbbelin, Germany, May 7, 1945.
American troops observing a moment of silence at a mass funeral for victims of the Wöbbelin concentration camp.  J. I. Clements, Jr. , of Ray City, GA was among the soldiers present at Wöbbelin on that day. After the liberation of the Wöbbelin camp, the US Army ordered the local townspeople to bury the corpses of prisoners killed in the camp. The prisoners of Wöbbelin, approximately 25 percent of whom were Jews, came from Belgium, Holland, Poland, Czechoslovakia, France, the Balkans, and Russia.

Clements’ letter was later published in the Nashville Herald:

The Nashville Herald
June 28, 1945

Ray City Boy Describes German Prisoner Camp

(Editor’s Note: The below article was received this week, written by J.I. Clements Jr., a Ray City boy, now with American forces in Germany. The letter was dated May 7, 1945.)

      Just a few lines about an experience I had today. I got a chance to go and see one of Germany’s Concentration camps located at Luduigslust. The people in America don’t know how to appreciate what they have until they see such as this because I did not while in the states. I did not know that such things could be carried on by any human being, but the Germans aren’t human after this. The Germans are treated like kings in America compared to the way the people were treated here.
       The beds were made of crude logs with barb wire strung across for springs, with a few limbs on top. Inside some of the buildings I found raw Irish potatoes and turnip roots for the people to eat, but that was thrown in before the Americans arrived to try to create an impression. Really they had a bowl of bean soup, two potatoes and a slice of bread per day. At first when the prisoners would die they were thrown over the fence in a pile and buried but were later buried in large pits in stacks of ten to fifteen.            In uncovering some of the graves so as to have services it looked like some had been buried alive because they had their elbows over their faces for protection. The German prisoners were made to dig up the graves and the civilians carried them to town in wagons where the people in town had been made to dig graves for the burial ceremony. They were buried in the parks and on the square to remind the Germans of what they did.
      I later talked with one of the prisoners and was told how they ate the grass that was two feet high, when they were first brought to this camp, for food. Also, of the men that cut meat off their own thigh and fried it so they might have something to eat. I walked into one of the buildings and found men stacked up in a pile and they were nothing but bones with skin over to hold them together.
This was the most horrible thing I have ever seen or hope to see. Well, I will close but hope you have an idea of the things that all of us are seeing over in this uncivilized country.

The Polish underground had made known the existence of Nazi extermination camps as early as 1942. Although the genocide was reported in the New York Times and forcefully denounced by the United Nations, those early accounts were largely ignored by the American public. But in June 1944,  the Russian army discovered the Majdanek concentration camp at Lublin, Poland abandoned by retreating Germans. In the following weeks, Soviet troops liberated the abandoned extermination camps of Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka where hundreds of thousands of people were murdered as part of the “final solution”.  The liberation of more “horror camps” followed.  In January 1945, the Russians liberated Auschwitz.  The first concentration camp encountered by U.S. troops was Ohrdruf, liberated in April, 1945.  As the Nazis were forced to retreat from these camps, they attempted to destroy the evidence of their existence and purpose. Prisoners from the abandoned concentration camps were forced on death marches deeper into German-held territory to prevent their liberation by the Allies. Those who were too ill to move were executed; thousands more died on the death marches. The Nazis attempted to burn the bodies they left behind, and to burn the camps themselves.  Incredibly, documenting the extent of “the many camps, ghettos, and other sites of detention, persecution, forced labor, and murder the Nazis and their allies ran” continues to this day, the number of such places exceeding a staggering count of more than 42,000 cataloged sites.

According to the US Holocaust Museum, the Wöbbelin camp J.I. Clements visited “was a subcamp of the Neuengamme concentration camp. The SS had established Wöbbelin in early February 1945 to house concentration camp prisoners whom the SS had evacuated from other camps to prevent their liberation by the Allies. At its height, Wöbbelin held some 5,000 inmates, many of whom were suffering from starvation and disease…When the Allied units arrived there, they found about 1,000 inmates dead in the camp. ”

German civilians from Ludwigslust file past the corpses and graves of 200 prisoners from the nearby concentration camp of Wöbbelin. Image source: U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

German civilians were forced by the American commanders to gather the dead from the Wöbbelin concentration camp and bring them to nearby Ludwigslust for burial on the palace grounds of the Archduke of Mecklenburg (now known as Schloss Ludwigslust). In this photo, the residents of Ludwiglust file past the corpses and graves of 200 prisoners from Wöbbelin prior to the burial ceremony conducted by U.S. Army chaplains. Image source: U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

The notes of the U.S. Signal Corps, which documented, photographed, and filmed the conditions at Wöbbelin, provide the following description:

NEW NAZI HORROR CAMP DISCOVERED.

One of the worst Nazi concentration camps uncovered by Allied troops was liberated at Wobbelin, Germany, a small town five miles north of Ludwigslust and 90 miles northwest of Berlin. Soldiers of three Allied units — the 82nd U.S. Airborne Division, the Eighth Infantry Division of the Ninth U.S. Army and airborne troops of the Second British Army — entered the camp and found sick, starving inmates barely surviving under indescribable conditions of filth and squalor. They found hundreds of dead prisoners in one of the buildings while outside, in a yard, hundreds more were found hastily buried in huge pits. One mass grave contained 300 emaciated, disfigured corpses. The dead included Poles, Russians, Frenchmen, Belgians, Dutchmen and Germans, all of whom had been working as slave laborers for the Nazis. It is estimated that at least 150 of the original 4,000 prisoners succumbed daily, mostly from starvation and savage treatment at the hands of Nazi SS troops who operated the camp. Some of the bodies found were burned almost beyond recognition and systematic torture of the inmates was revealed by the physical condition of most of the survivors. Military Government officers immediately ordered leading citizens of nearby Ludwigslust and other towns to march through the camp and witness the atrocities committed by representatives of the German Government. Most of the civilians disclaimed any knowledge of the camp’s existence despite the fact that many of the prisoners worked in the area. The local residents later were made to exhume the bodies from the mass graves at the camp and provide decent, respectable interment of all dead prisoners. Two hundred were buried in the public square of Ludwigslust May 7, 1945, and an equal number were buried in the garden of the highest Nazi official of Hagenow. Eighty more were laid to rest in the town of Schwerin.

BIPPA EA 66641

THIS PHOTO SHOWS: German soldiers stand bareheaded at the graves of these victims of German cruelty. In the background, soldiers of the 82nd U.S. Airborne Division witness the burial proceedings at Ludwigslust. U.S. Signal Corps Photo ETC-H-45-46088. SERVICED BY LONDON OWI TO LIST B CERTIFIED AS PASSED BY SHAEF CENSOR

THIS PHOTO SHOWS: German soldiers stand bareheaded at the graves of these victims of German cruelty. In the background, soldiers of the 82nd U.S. Airborne Division witness the burial proceedings at Ludwigslust. U.S. Signal Corps Photo ETC-H-45-46088 [and caption].
SERVICED BY LONDON OWI TO LIST B
CERTIFIED AS PASSED BY SHAEF CENSOR

On May 7, 1945,  the date J.I. Clements, Jr wrote his letter from Ludwigslust, a memorial service was held by the Americans. Chaplain Major George B. Woods of the 82nd Airborne Division, spoke to the assembled townspeople. Standing beside the two hundred grave-sites, the GIs, the German officers and civilians, Major Woods gave this eulogy:

We are assembled here today before God and in sight of man to give proper and reverent burial to the victims of atrocities committed by armed forces in the name of and by order of the German Government. These 200 bodies were found by the American army in a concentration camp 4 miles north of the city of Ludwigslust.

The crimes here committed in the name of the German people and by their acquiescence were minor compared to those to be found in concentration camps elsewhere in Germany. Here there were no gas chambers, no crematoria; these men of Holland, Russia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and France were simply allowed to starve to death. Within four miles of your comfortable homes 4,000 men were forced to live like animals, deprived even of the food you would give to your dogs. In three weeks 1,000 of these men were starved to death; 800 of them were buried in pits in the nearby woods. These 200 who lie before us in these graves were found piled four and five feet high in one building and lying with the sick and dying in other buildings.

The world has long been horrified at the crimes of the German nation: these crimes were never clearly brought to light until the armies of the United Nations overran Germany. This is not war conducted by the international rules of warfare. This is murder such as is not even known among savages.

Though you claim no knowledge of these acts, you are still individually and collectively responsible for these atrocities, for they were committed by a government elected to office by yourselves in 1933 and continued in office by your indifference to organized brutality. It should be the first resolve of the German people that never again should any leader or party bring them such moral degradation as is exhibited here.

It is the custom of the United States Army through its Chaplain’s Corps to insure a proper and decent burial to any deceased person whether he be civilian, or soldier, friend, or foe, according to religious preference. The Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces has ordered that all atrocity victims be buried in a public place, and that the cemetery be given the same perpetual care that is given to all military cemeteries. Crosses will be placed at the heads of the graves; a stone monument will be set up in memory of these deceased. Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish prayers will be said by Chaplains Wood, Hannan and Wall of the 82nd Airborne Division for these victims as we lay them to rest and commit the into the hands of our Heavenly Father in the hope that the world will not again be faced with such barbarity.

holocaust-graves-at-Schwerin

Under orders from officers of the US 8th Infantry division, German civilians from Schwerin attend funeral services for 80 prisoners killed at the Wöbbelin concentration camp. The townspeople were ordered to bury the prisoners’ corpses in the town square. Germany, May 8, 1945.  U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Epilogue

In 2001 WWII veteran Manny Steinfeld, who participated in the liberation of Wöbbelin, went back to Germany to film a documentary.

“He returned to Ludwigslust, but found almost no trace of the Wobbelin cemetery.

Over the years, some of the wooden markers had rotted away, while the local population had used other markers to aid them during a fuel shortage.

Steinfeld approached local authorities for an explanation. They informed him that communism had taken its toll on the cemetery, the grounds of which were located in East Germany until the reunification of the country in 1992. The only noticeable remnant of the cemetery, according to Steinfeld, was a small sign stating that 200 victims of fascism were buried there, which made no distinction between the Jewish and non-Jewish victims.

Appalled, Steinfeld offered to put up more than half the funds to rededicate and recreate the cemetery for the victims. The United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad and veterans from the 82nd Division paid additional funds to make the refurbished cemetery possible. This time, the grave markers were made thicker and heavier 120 pounds each preventing neo-Nazis and skinheads from harming them.

More than 1,000 people attended the rededication ceremony in front of the Ludwigslust castle. They included the following: officials from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, and the American Consulate General in Hamburg in addition to local Ludwigslust citizens, plus 100 Holocaust survivors.
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