The liberators America's witnesses to the Holocaust

Michael Hirsh, 1943-

Book - 2010

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New York : Bantam Books c2010.
Main Author
Michael Hirsh, 1943- (-)
1st ed
Physical Description
xvii, 356 p. : ill., map, ports. ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • Introduction: How Do You Prepare to See That?
  • 1. The Beginning of the End
  • 2. Life and Death in Berga
  • 3. Incomprehensible
  • 4. Springtime for Hitler
  • 5. Little Boys Became Men
  • 6. Mere Death Was Not Bad Enough for the Nazis
  • 7. Ike Knew This Would Be Denied
  • 8. Buchenwald: This Ain't No Place I Wanna Be
  • 9. Gardelegen: Even the Good Germans Had Blood on Their Hands
  • 10. Bergen-Belsen: A Monstrous Spectacle Set to Music
  • 11. I Start Crying and I Can't Talk Anymore
  • 12. Landsberg: The Kaufering Camps
  • 13. Dachau: Shock Beyond Belief
  • 14. They're Killing Jews-Who Cares?
  • 15. Gusen-Mauthausen: How Sadistic Can You Be?
  • 16. You Are Still Individually and Collectively Responsible
  • 17. After the War, and Long After the War
  • Acknowledgments
  • List of Interviewees
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Illustration Credits
Review by Booklist Review

Over the past five decades, newsreels and army films showing the stacked bodies, gas chambers, crematoriums, and skeletal survivors have been viewed by millions, so graphic images of the horrors of the death and slave labor camps are not new. What makes this account so valuable is its effort to convey the sheer shock of those American, British, and Canadian soldiers who encountered these camps, often by accident, on their way to another military objective.This moving but unsettling book is the fruit of more than 150 interviews the author conducted with soldiers who liberated these camps in the closing weeks of the war. Some of these men seem curiously detached in their recollections, but Hirsh points out that these were battle-hardened men who had already been exposed to the brutalities of war. But other witnesses, years after the war, stlll express their disgust and outrage and even their thirst for revenge upon the perpetrators of these monstrosities. An excellent addition to Holocaust literature.--Freeman, Jay Copyright 2010 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

Veterans tell their stories of liberating Nazi death camps in the closing months of World War II. Journalist Hirsh (None Braver: U.S. Air Force Pararescuemen in the War on Terrorism, 2003, etc.) interviewed more than 150 veteran U.S. soldiers who discovered death camps in Germany and Austria. In 1945, the first to be uncovered by American troops was Ohrdruf, a subcamp of the soon-to-be-notorious Buchenwald. The horrors there were unlike any that even battle-hardened soldiers had seen before. Piles of corpses littered the ground, some covered in lime or partially incinerated. The death-camp survivors were emaciated and barely alive. Some 50 years later, many veterans repeat very similar details. Many describe the bodies as being "stacked up like cordwood," the smells of the filth and decay are noted by nearly everyone and many note how German civilians from surrounding towns yelled "Nicht Nazi" in an effort to distance themselves from responsibility for the camps. Despite the repetition, each veteran comes across as a distinct individual, and each story adds shocking and/or poignant details. For example, one tells of discovering baskets of what he thought were pebbles, but that turned out to be teeth. The soldiers' reactions to the horrors variedsome didn't talk about what they saw for years, or even decades, while others made it their mission to tell as many people as possible. Hirsh should be commended for the diversity of his interview subjects, which include former GI and Ohrdruf liberator Charles T. Payne, President Obama's great-uncle, who gained fame during the 2008 presidential campaign. Overall, the book is a worthy tribute to these soldiers and a valuable historical document. A necessary history about some of the worst atrocities of World War II. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Introduction HOW DO YOU PREPARE TO SEE THAT? In the final months of World War II, as American soldiers pushed the German army east toward the advancing Russians, the GIs began to discover--and to liberate--dozens upon dozens of camps large and small filled with the multitudes imprisoned by the Nazis. Some had been shipped to the camps to serve as slaves, to dig tunnels into mountains, there to build war machines for the Reich. Others had been shipped from camp to camp for one purpose only: to keep them from falling into the hands of the advancing Allied forces. The prisoners who are the focus of this book had been liberated by the Americans, British, and Canadians. (The Russians liberated the notorious camps in Poland.) They had been consigned to death; the manner was, for all practical purposes, irrelevant. They were marched to death, worked to death, starved to death, dehydrated to death, frozen to death, sickened to death, gassed to death, and sometimes shot to death--although this was not a preferred method, but only because bullets were not cost- effective. It also wasn't enough that the victims of the Nazis died; they were always humiliated and usually dehumanized and tormented before death came. The deaths occurred not just in a handful of concentration camps whose names are familiar to almost everyone, but in literally thousands of camps and subcamps sprinkled all over the map of Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and France. Wherever slaves could help the Third Reich accomplish its aims, there were camps. Some may have been nothing more than a barn where women workers making hand grenades in a forest armory were locked up at night; others were part of sophisticated underground manufacturing facilities where the first rockets and jet fighters were built and thousands of workers were used up. Each of the major camps in Germany and Austria--like Dachau, Buchenwald, and Mauthausen, to name three of the oldest and largest--had jurisdiction over a wide geographical area, and each may have had a hundred or more subcamps. Workers were often transferred from one to the other as needed and then transported back to the main camp alive, to be killed, or dead, to be burned. It's this system that American soldiers discovered, much to their shock, horror, and surprise, as they chased the German army toward its mythical Alpine redoubt. The GIs had received no warning as to what they might find, but that may not have mattered, for as one of them said to me, "What if we had? How do you prepare to see that?" Most of the more than 150 Americans interviewed for this book were soldiers. Six were U.S. Army nurses. One was a 4F (physically unfit to be drafted) volunteer civilian ambulance driver who worked at Bergen- Belsen with the British and Canadian forces. Three were U.S. Army prisoners of war--two of them Jewish soldiers--who experienced the Holocaust firsthand alongside slave laborers imported from Eastern Europe. Five were concentration camp inmates who developed special relationships with particular GIs and are now American citizens. And one--also an American citizen now--served in the Polish army attached to the Russian army. With them he discovered some of the worst of the camps in Poland but only after all the inmates had been either murdered or evacuated to the west. He finally liberated prisoners in Sachsenhausen and eventually participated in the battle for Berlin. At the time they were interviewed, the veterans ranged in age from eighty- three to ninety- six. All are among the relative handful of America's witnesses to the Holocaust who are still alive, still willing and able to recount their experiences, still cognizant of the need to tell their stories. While researching this book, I discovered that it's not unusual for veterans not to know, even now, the names of the camp Excerpted from The Liberators: America's Witnesses to the Holocaust by Michael Hirsh All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.