Of the indispensable photographs taken during the Second World War, Margaret Bourke-White’s image 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, maybe even more powerfully, to the measureless lineaments of human endurance.
On the anniversary of the liberation of Buchenwald by Patton’s Third Army, LIFE.com looks at the story — and at other, harrowing photographs — behind one of the indispensable images from World War II.
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(Margaret Bourke-White—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)