SEEN WITH MY OWN EYES:
STORIES BY AMERICAN LIBERATORS
An American soldier, in a letter from Germany in April 1945, writes: “It was so horrible that had I not seen it, I wouldn't have believed it.” Another soldier, upon viewing all the death and destruction, says, “That day we knew why we were fighting this war.” And a nurse at Gusen, upon hearing of Holocaust deniers, concludes, “I knew I finally had to speak.” These words summarize the shocked reactions of all liberators who saw the forced marches, the concentration and forced labor camps at the end of the war.
The stories in this section visualize telling, somehow typical events. Heartrending scenes are drawn for us: a dead prisoner lying at the side of a road, clutching a photograph of his family; a U.S. tank column halted by rows of “twisted, disfigured, starved, naked, charred, dead male bodies” sprawled across a road; haggard and filthy women freed from a slave labor camp, sobbing and clinging to their liberators. Detailed accounts of liberators' arrivals at two concentration camps are contained in “A Letter from Dachau” and “I Saw Buchenwald.” At Dachau, we are shown not just dead bodies but barracks, crematory, and gallows, instruments of mass murder “more gruesome than any fiction writer could imagine.” The writer at Buchenwald takes us along with him on “an eerie Tour of Horror.” His tour, conducted by a camp internee, relates details of the prisoners' lives and shows us the physical plant: torture weapons, crematorium and other death houses, barracks, the laboratory where human beings were used for medical experiments, the sports arena where prisoners “played” games with SS troops who were armed with clubs.
These stories don't merely put the lie to those who would deny the facts or the importance of the Holocaust. They reaffirm and deepen the pathos of the stories written by survivors throughout this book. In fact, the liberators if anything describe the horrors in more awful, more graphic terms than our writers were able to bring themselves to use. The details that come out force readers to accept, even while we cannot imagine, the immensity of Nazi crimes in World War II.