Behind the Picture: The Liberation of Buchenwald, April 1945

TIME

[Note: This gallery contains graphic images.]

Some photographs are so much of their time that, as years pass, they acquire an air of genuine authority—about an event, a person, a place—and even, perhaps, an air of inevitability. This is what it was like, these pictures seem to say. This is what happened. This is the moment. This is what we remember.

Of the many indispensable photos made during the Second World War, Margaret Bourke-White’s portrait of survivors at Buchenwald in April 1945—”staring out at their Allied rescuers,” as LIFE magazine put it, “like so many living corpses”—remains among the most haunting. The faces of the men, young and old, staring from behind the wire, “barely able to believe that they would be delivered from a Nazi camp where the only deliverance had been death,” attest with an awful eloquence to the depths of human depravity and, perhaps even more…

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