Inside the Vicious Heart: Americans and the Liberation of Nazi Concentration Camps

Inside the Vicious Heart: Americans and the Liberation of Nazi Concentration Camps

Inside the Vicious Heart: Americans and the Liberation of Nazi Concentration Camps

Inside the Vicious Heart: Americans and the Liberation of Nazi Concentration Camps

Synopsis

Forty years ago Allied soldiers liberated Buchenwald, Dachau, Belsen, and other concentration camps, and came face to face with the human ruins of the Nazi system of slave labor and genocide. What they saw transformed the definition of evil in the Western mind. Inside the Vicious Heart captures the shock of that discovery by telling the story of the camp liberations as experienced by American GIs and other eyewitnesses, including Eisenhower, Patton, Joseph Pulitzer, and Margaret Bourke-White. Through their diaries, letters, and photographs we see how those Americans finally made the world believe what until then had only been rumored.

Excerpt

When we think of the major events of World War II, we instinctively turn to the great battles and calamities, the turning points of the conflict: Pearl Harbor, Bataan, Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, El Alemein, D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge, Stalingrad, and countless others. By comparison in military terms at least the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps in the Spring of 1945 meant little. All the camps were taken easily or with no resistance at all, and none of the liberations hastened what was already an assured victory. In the story of World War II told as the clash of great armies, Dachau, Buchenwald, Nordhausen, Bergen-Belsen, and Mauthausen have no place.

Yet we know these names and the realities they represent. They sit in our consciousness as half-repressed photographs and newsreels, the first images and always present reminders of what is now called the Holocaust: a pile of leathered corpses stacked neatly, as it was said, "like cordwood," or heaped randomly into an anarchy of arms, legs, and heads; close-ups of half-smashed skulls, a last shriek of pain frozen on the faces; the dying, still and vacant, on the ground or on the shelves that passed for beds, beyond the reach of food or medicine; the survivors, eyes dark and deep-set, with wavering skeletons for bodies; bulldozers tumbling limp corpses by the thousands into mass graves.

Most of these scenes were recorded by Allied cameramen at the liberations, and their dissemination in April and May of 1945 marked a turning point in Western consciousness. A visceral tremor . . .

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