“The barracks at Dachau, like those at Buchenwald, had the stench of death and sickness. But at Dachau there were six barracks like the infamous No. 61 at Buchenwald, where the starving and dying lay virtually on top of each other in quarters where 1,200 men occupied a space intended for 200. The dead—300 died of sickness yesterday—lay on concrete walks outside the quarters and others were carried out as the reporters went through.
“The mark of starvation was on all the emaciated corpses. Many of the living were so frail it seemed impossible they could still be holding on to life.”— Marguerite Higgins, “33,000 Dachua Captives Freed by 7th Army,” New York Herald Tribune, May 1, 1945, in Reporting World War II: American Journalism 1938-1946 (1995)
Nearly 30 years ago, driving with a couple on my only trip to date to Germany, we were only about a half hour’s drive from Munich, on a lovely, tree-lined road, when I saw a sign on the right side of the highway whose six letters might have been the ugliest I have ever read: DACHAU.
Dachau concentration camp had been set up in March 1933, within only two months after Adolf Hitler came to power—and fulfilling a threat he had made, as early as 1921, to put Jews in these camps. In the 12 years of its horrifying existence, over 200,000 prisoners from all over Europe were kept here. More than 41,000 never made it out alive.
Though Marguerite Higgins filed her dispatch on April 29, 1945, the day of the grisly discovery at Dachau, it was delayed and not printed until May 1.
Only accredited as an official war correspondent earlier that year, the 24-year-old Higgins was the first to inform prisoners of the Dachau concentration camp that they were free. During the Korean War, she became the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for international reporting. Her account of Dachau, read in its entirety, bears powerful contemporary witness to atrocities that must never be repeated.
In choosing this admittedly grisly image to accompany this post, I was guided by these considerations:
*it needed to evoke something like the sense of shock and horror experienced by Higgins and the 7th Army when they came upon it;
*it had to help readers recognize, instantly, the nature of evil, the essence of an entire system that could support this;
*it had to wipe away, at once, a phrase, “concentration camp,” that is, in one sense, a euphemism for the real essence of this site: a death camp;
*it needed to end the great lie, perpetrated by Holocaust deniers to this day, that nothing happened during the war; or, if it did, it wasn’t as awful as has been made out; or, if it was, Hitler somehow wasn’t responsible; and
*it needed to convey the thought, “All you see here did happen. And it could once again.”