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Antisemitism is the Forerunner of Fascism: Edward R. Murrow’s Broadcast from Buchenwald
The Holocaust was not an Anomaly
Dear Substack Readers and Friends,
We live in an age of rising Holocaust denial and increasing Neo-Nazi antisemitic beliefs. To think that Americans, including people who call themselves Christians are leaders in this movement, and that they occupy places of influence with former President Donald Trump, Governor Rick DeSantis, and many influential Senators, Congressmen, and State legislators is troubling to me, and it should be to you as well. If it is not, that worries me.
The Weimar and Nazi periods of German history have been a major source of study for me since my undergraduate and first graduate studies at California State University at Northridge, where I studied under Dr. Helmut Haeussler, who served as a translator and interrogator at the major Nuremberg trial and the subsequent American trials of Nazi War criminals. Since then I maintained my study and in our frequent visits to Germany I have visited the concentration camps at Bergen-Belsen, Dachau, Flossenburg, and Buchenwald. Likewise, I have visited the T-4 Euthanasia center at Hadamar, and numerous other sites in Germany, including the Palace of Justice and International War Crimes Museum in Nuremberg, the Wannsee House in Berlin, the Sophie Scholl Museum and the National Socialist Documentation Center in Munich, and the Bendlerblock, where the German military resistance attempted to kill Hitler. I leave each with a renewed commitment to fight antisemitism and racism, and at the same time I know the truth written by Yehuda Bauer:
“The horror of the Holocaust is not that it deviated from human norms; the horror is that it didn’t. What happened may happen again, to others not necessarily Jews, perpetrated by others, not necessarily Germans. We are all possible victims, possible perpetrators, possible bystanders.”
Chaplain Roland Gittlesohn, the Rabbi assigned to the 5th Marine Division on Iwo Jima wrote of the significance of antisemitism for everyone towards the end of his World War II memoirs as he discussed the antisemitism that he saw and heard from Marines and Christian Navy Chaplains before, during and after the battle:
“Anyone with eyes and a mind knows, however, that anti-Semitism is the forerunner, the first symptom, and advance scout of fascism that, if left to grow, will be followed by the full fruits of the fascist seed. To fight anti-Semitism, therefore, to resist it with all the power at one’s command, is at the same time to oppose fascism and to uphold democracy.” (Gittlesohn, R. 2021, Pacifist to Padre).
You may download a free PDF or Audio book of Pacifist to Padre here:
His words are important, but we must also listen to the witnesses of what happens what antisemitism and Fascism gain control of a society and government.
One of them was the great American journalistic pioneer, Edward R. Murrow. He was at the Buchenwald Concentration Camp when it was liberated by the American 3rd Army, commanded by George S. Patton.
There surged around me an evil-smelling stink, men and boys reached out to touch me. They were in rags and the remnants of uniforms. Death already had marked many of them, but they were smiling with their eyes. I looked out over the mass of men to the green fields beyond, where well-fed Germans were ploughing….
[I] asked to see one of the barracks. It happened to be occupied by Czechoslovaks. When I entered, men crowded around, tried to lift me to their shoulders. They were too weak. Many of them could not get out of bed. I was told that this building had once stabled 80 horses. There were 1200 men in it, five to a bunk. The stink was beyond all description.
They called the doctor. We inspected his records. There were only names in the little black book — nothing more — nothing about who had been where, what he had done or hoped. Behind the names of those who had died, there was a cross. I counted them. They totaled 242 — 242 out of 1200, in one month.
As we walked out into the courtyard, a man fell dead. Two others, they must have been over 60, were crawling toward the latrine. I saw it, but will not describe it.
In another part of the camp they showed me the children, hundreds of them. Some were only 6 years old. One rolled up his sleeves, showed me his number. It was tattooed on his arm. B-6030, it was. The others showed me their numbers. They will carry them till they die. An elderly man standing beside me said: “The children — enemies of the state!” I could see their ribs through their thin shirts….
We went to the hospital. It was full. The doctor told me that 200 had died the day before. I asked the cause of death. He shrugged and said: “tuberculosis, starvation, fatigue and there are many who have no desire to live. It is very difficult.” He pulled back the blanket from a man’s feet to show me how swollen they were. The man was dead. Most of the patients could not move.
I asked to see the kitchen. It was clean. The German in charge….showed me the daily ration. One piece of brown bread about as thick as your thumb, on top of it a piece of margarine as big as three sticks of chewing gum. That, and a little stew, was what they received every 24 hours. He had a chart on the wall. Very complicated it was. There were little red tabs scattered through it. He said that was to indicate each 10 men who died. He had to account for the rations and he added: “We’re very efficient here.”
We proceeded to the small courtyard. The wall adjoined what had been a stable or garage. We entered. It was floored with concrete. 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.
I arrived at the conclusion that all that was mortal of more than 500 men and boys lay there in two neat piles. There was a German trailer, which must have contained another 50, 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 12 years. Thursday, I was told that there were more than 20,000 in the camp. There had been as many as 60,000. Where are they now?
I pray you to believe what I have said about Buchenwald. I reported what I saw and heard, but only part of it. For most of it, I have no words.
If I have offended you by this rather mild account of Buchenwald, I’m not in the least sorry….
General Dwight Eisenhower decided that the scenes had to be recorded and wrote of his experience:
“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 through 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.”
Here is the story of what he preserved:
If anyone thinks that something like the Holocaust cannot happen here, remember Yehuda Bauer’s words as well of historian Timothy Snyder from his book On Tyranny:
“The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.”
So with that I wish you a reflective time after reading and viewing these words and images, and to echo Murrow’s words, if I offended anyone, I am not in the least bit sorry.
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