America And The Holocaust

Eisenhower got his first glimpse of the worst Nazi horrors the day death claimed the American who had done most to stop them.

“In the meantime, and until the victory that is now assured is won, the United States will persevere in its efforts to rescue the victims of brutality of the Nazis and the Japanese. In so far as the necessity of military operations permit, this Government will use all means at its command to aid the escape of all intended victims of the Nazi and Japanese executioner— regardless of race or religion or color. We call upon the free peoples of Europe and Asia temporarily to open their frontiers to all victims of oppression. We shall find havens of refuge for them, and we shall find the means for their maintenance and support until the tyrant is driven from their homelands and they may return.”

In December 1944 Anne O’Hare McCormick, a renowned foreign affairs reporter for The New York Times , wrote of a visit by a congressional delegation to the front in Italy. The congressmen expressed shock at the rigors of the campaign; they complained that this was one of the toughest battles of the war—and Americans were not being told about it. McCormick wrote: “The stories have been written and have been printed. They have even been overwritten and printed so many times that readers don’t see the mud or blood anymore. They don’t hear the screams of the shells or the thunder of the rockets. Congress either didn’t read the accounts of the war in Italy or they couldn’t take in the meaning of what they read. They had to see it. It is not their fault. It is because the thing is indescribable.” How much more true is this insight regarding the death camps.

On April 12, 1945, General Eisenhower visited Ohrdruf Nord, the first concentration camp liberated by the American Army. “The things I saw beggar description,” he wrote General Marshall. According to his biographer Stephen Ambrose, “Eisenhower had heard ominous rumors about the camps, of course, but never in his worst nightmares had he dreamed they could be so bad.” He sent immediately for a delegation of congressional leaders and newspaper editors; he wanted to make sure Americans would never forget this. Five months later he dismissed his close friend and brilliant army commander Gen. George Patton for using former Nazi officials in his occupation structure and publicly likening “the Nazi thing” to differences between the Republicans and Democrats. (Patton had visited the Ohrdruf camp with Eisenhower and become physically ill from what he saw.)

Eisenhower got his first glimpse into the worst horrors at the heart of the Third Reich on the day death claimed the American who had done more than any other to bring them to an end. How ironic that Franklin Roosevelt— the man Hitler hated most, the leader constantly attacked by the isolationist press and derided by the anti-Semites, vilified by Goebbels as a “mentally ill cripple” and as “that Jew Rosenfeld”—should be faulted for being indifferent to the genocide. For all of us the shadow of doubt that enough was not done will always remain, even if there was little more that could have been done. But to say that “we are all guilty” allows the truly guilty to avoid that responsibility. It was Hitler who imagined the Holocaust and the Nazis who carried it out. We were not their accomplices. We destroyed them.


The Holocaust and Kosovo