I had meant to write something lengthy and thoughtful in recognition of the day, but once I started reviewing the imagery and anecdotes, my anger and horror at the scale of the extermination became overwhelming. Similar reactions occurred over a half-century ago when Allied commanders toured the Ohrduf forced labour camp, a sub-camp of the more famous Buchenwald facility.
The generals [Omar Bradley, George Patton, and Dwight Eisenhower], though used to carnage in many forms, were shocked. “The smell of death overwhelmed us even before we passed through the stockade,” Bradley remembered five years later. “More than 3,200 naked, emaciated bodies had been flung into shallow graves. Others lay in the streets where they had fallen. Lice crawled over the yellowed skin of their sharp, bony frames.” Bradley recalled that Eisenhower turned pale and silent, but insisted on seeing the whole camp. And that they saw, from the shed piled to the ceiling with bodies, to various torture devices, to a butcher’s block used for smashing gold fillings from the mouths of the dead (some of which no doubt had ended up in the Merkers mine). Patton retired behind a barracks and became physically ill…
Soon after seeing Ohrdruf, Eisenhower ordered every unit near by that was not in the front lines to tour Ohrdruf: “We are told that the American soldier does not know what he is fighting for. Now, at least, he will know what he is fighting against.'” Eisenhower felt it was essential not only for his troops to see for themselves, but for the world to know about conditions at Ohrdruf and other camps. From Third Army headquarters, he cabled London and Washington, urging delegations of officials and newsmen to be eye-witnesses to the camps. The message to Washington read: ‘We are constantly finding German camps in which they have placed political prisoners where unspeakable conditions exist. From my own personal observation, I can state unequivocally that all written statements up to now do not paint the full horrors.”
— Abzug, Robert H. (1985). Inside the Vicious Heart: Americans and the Liberation of Nazi Concentration Camps. New York: Oxford University Press, USA. p.27-30.
I visited every nook and cranny of the camp because I felt it my duty to be in a position from then on to testify at first hand about these things in case there ever grew up at home the belief or assumption that “the stories of Nazi brutality were just propaganda.” Some members of the visiting party were unable to go through with the ordeal. I not only did so but as soon as I returned to Patton’s headquarters that evening I sent communications to both Washington and London, urging the two governments to send instantly to Germany a random group of newspaper editors and representative groups from the national legislatures. I felt that the evidence should be immediately placed before the American and British publics in a fashion that would leave no room for cynical doubt.
— Eisenhower, Dwight D. (1948). Crusade in Europe. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company. p.409.
Oh that our leaders would be blessed with such insight into human nature today. Twenty-first century cynicism now runs so deep that a significant number of people cannot accept even the positive events within living memory, like landing men on the moon. Even as they sit typing on a technological marvel whose raw computational power is a hundred thousand times greater than those that guided men from Cape Canaveral to the lunar surface. Small wonder that some now cannot be moved by words and images of an incomprehensible horror, now several generations distant.
Not one of the high-throughput extermination camps, Buchenwald was reported to have “only” a 24% date rate (or 56,545 persons) amongst the 238,380 prisoners who passed through its gates. It would continue to maintain that rate of attrition under its new Soviet masters, who rechristened it “Special Camp No. 2” and continued to operate it until 1950. From 1945 to 1950, a further 7,113 individuals (of the 28,455 held there) perished during Soviet internment. Remember that the next time you see some moral defective wandering about with communist iconography on his shirt.
So do not be lulled into complacency by thinking that the defeat of Nazi Germany means a permanent retreat from the worst depths of human barbarism. Human evil always finds a way of perpetuating (and even outdoing) itself. Now that many nations have much more destructive nuclear, biological and chemical tools at their disposal, and a significant concentration of Jews continues to abide in their ancient homeland, the temptation for Jew-haters to strike will only and ever increase.
Regrettably, the gulf between saying “never again” and acting to prevent another “again” is widening by the day. Today’s Jewry face opponents who will not be ashamed of the killing; indeed, they revel in the thought. A man who is on record calling for the extermination of the Jewish homeland on numerous occasions is on the threshold of developing mankind’s most destructive weapon. Meanwhile, an enormous international military coalition works and lives next door, but no one orders them across the line.
Thankfully, I do not believe that anyone will ever succeed in removing Jews or Israel from this planet. But I do believe we will see them try, within my lifetime. And the attempt will be much more gruesome, devastating and all-encompassing than the last one.