Today is a very important day and requires special attention in today’s fraught interpersonal climate. In order to do justice to the memory of those victims of the Holocaust I want to share another personal anecdote shared with me by a veteran of WW2.
My older friend, whose name I will withhold for the sake of his family’s privacy, was a scout for the 6th Armored Division of Patton’s 3rd Army. Being a scout meant he was often far from the front lines and was thereby the first to see many things which we know about now. One such thing was the concentration camp of Buchenwald. Now for those who may not know Buchenwald was one of the few places where the prisoners, hearing about the end of the war nearing and seeing the increased cruelty and efforts at extermination, managed to seize control. It was this scene of violence, deprivation, and horror that my friend was the first American soldier to witness.
Discussing his time in the army with him over the course of several unofficial interviews only once was he able to bring himself to talk about what he found or the impact it had on him. One thing that sticks out so sharply to me is the total lack of preparation he and his crew had for this discovery. While upper echelons of the military had at the very least heard rumors of work and death camps, especially as the Soviets had already liberated Auschwitz by this point, the rank and file servicemen were left in the dark. It was this that lead to the total shock experienced upon the discovery and the inability of many first responders to render appropriate aid.
Now while meeting a man who was one of the first American soldiers to see these horrors first hand is amazing enough his story does not end there. Those of you who may have read Night by Elie Weisel (if you haven’t I highly recommend it as a brilliant and unblinking account of the jewish experience in camps during the holocaust) know that the book finishes with the arrival of American tanks at the fences of Buchenwald the same day the prisoners overthrew the SS. It is, in fact, my friend and his crew who are mentioned.
Many years later my friend went to a reading by Elie Weisel, by then a celebrity and also a target for those who would continue to blame the Jewish people for WW2. After the reading he attempted to go and speak with Mr. Weisel and was stopped by security; however, Weisel recognized him, even after the span of roughly 30 years, and told his security that this man was welcome anywhere he was because of the lives he saved, his own among them.
I find myself immensely privileged to have known such a man who had such a lasting impact on the world. Whether he was just doing his duty as he frequently asserted or if he had a higher calling to humanity I will always call him a hero and a true witness to events which must never be forgotten. So, on this day, I want to call attention to the millions of victims, both alive and dead, of one of the greatest tragedies to befall humankind and to those who fought, and still fight tirelessly, against those who would seek to recreate history.
Thank you for reading and remembering.