Saturday, April 11, 2020

Quote of the Day (Edward R. Murrow, on the Allied Discovery of the German Death Camp Buchenwald)

"[In a small courtyard in the German concentration camp of Buchenwald] there were two rows of bodies stacked up like cordwood. They were thin and very white. Some of the bodies were terribly bruised, though there seemed to be little flesh to bruise. Some had been shot through the head, but they bled but little. Some had been shot through the head, but they bled but little. All except two were naked. I tried to count them as best I could and arrived at the conclusion that all that was mortal of more than  five  hundred  men  and  boys  lay  there  in  two  neat  piles. 

“There was a German trailer, which must have contained another fifty, but it wasn't possible to count them. The clothing was piled in a heap against the wall. It appeared that  most  of  the  men  and  boys  had  died  of  starvation; they  had  not  been  executed. But the manner of death seemed unimportant. Murder had been done at Buchenwald.  God  alone  knows  how  many  men  and  boys  have  died  there  during  the  last  twelve  years.  Thursday I was  told  that  there  were  more  than  twenty  thousand  in  the  camp. There had been as many as sixty thousand. Where are they now?"—American journalist Edward R. Murrow (1908-1965), “For Most of It I Have No Words” (CBS Radio broadcast, Apr. 15, 1945), in Reporting World War II: American Journalism 1944–1946 (1995)

Seventy-five years ago today, Allied forces came upon the ghastly scene described by Murrow. The carnage at this first of the Nazi concentration camps to be liberated was far beyond what he or anyone else could have anticipated beforehand. 

From its 1937 opening to its 1945 liberation, this site—constructed in woods a mere five miles from one of the pillars of German culture, Weimar—held some 250,000 prisoners under the thumb of the SS. The best if uncertain estimate for the death total is 56,000 male prisoners, some 11,000 of them Jews, according to an account by the U.S. Holocaust Museum.

Astonishingly, Buchenwald was the best concentration camp in Germany, according to five of the “evil-smelling horde” of prisoners encountered by Murrow. It was just one of 44,000 incarceration sites erected by the Nazis and its allies in World War II. 

Within them, a previously unimaginable horror show took place: medical experimentation on prisoners; forced labor; detention of those deemed unfit to live by reason of ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or mental condition; and mass murder. 

The cry continues to ring out over the years: Never forget. But we cannot only forget the statistics and scenes that occurred here and elsewhere under the sway of Hitler’s regime, but also what preceded it: economic dislocation that uprooted millions of Europeans from the best parts of their civilization and their most generous instincts and left them prey to the counsels of fear, prejudice and unreason. 

Don’t think it can’t happen again. Stay alert to the signs around you, and beware.

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