Academic journal article Military Review

Hell before Their Very Eyes: American Soldiers Liberate Concentration Camps in Germany, April 1945

Academic journal article Military Review

Hell before Their Very Eyes: American Soldiers Liberate Concentration Camps in Germany, April 1945

Article excerpt

HELL BEFORE THEIR VERY EYES

American Soldiers Liberate Concentration

Camps in Germany, April 1945

John C. McManus, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland, 2015, 189 pages

It has been seventy years since the Allies liberated some of the most notorious Nazi concentration camps during the latter months of World War II, yet that experience had a deep and lasting impact on those who took part. While much has been written about the victims and perpetrators of the Third Reich's Konzentrationslager system, a new book by military historian John McManus hones in on the unique perspective of the liberators, in this case American forces, as they encountered Ohrdruf, Buchenwald, and Dachau in Germany during April 1945.

Relying on personal testimony diaries, unit histories, and other primary resources, McManus effectively describes, compares, and contrasts the liberation of these notorious camps in a concise, well-researched, and highly readable work. Hell Before Their Very Eyes is a valuable entry in Johns Hopkins's Witness to History series, focusing on (as the title suggests) first-person accounts of seminal events in American history.

McManus is at his best by letting the soldiers' words speak for themselves, showing that even battle-hardened veterans experienced emotions ranging from shock, revulsion, and disbelief to shame, anger, and guilt-upon seeing the camps for the first time. Almost to a man, liberators recall that their strongest memory of the experience was the collective stench of the camps, including the dead, the dying, and the living. Perhaps tellingly, many soldiers were guilt-ridden for not having arrived earlier, or for being unable to do more for camp survivors. …

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