Although it may not be well known to many people today, when the war in Europe was won by the Allies in 1945, one of the many actions taken to right the wrongs was to force ordinary German citizens to walk through the concentration camps and see for themselves what they had allowed to take place.
This was part of the larger process known as Entnazifizierung (Denazification) which the Allies undertook after the war to rid Germany and Austria of all things related to Nazi ideology. As part of this, numerous films showing the horrors of the concentration camps were made and shown to the German public.
But forcing German citizens to actually see what was taking place all around them was a major part of this. Not only did they have to tour the camps, but often they had to bury rotting corpses and/or exhume mass graves. The sights and the stench were certainly powerful wake-up calls to many who claimed ignorance or denied any responsibility.
“But we didn’t know” was just not a sufficient excuse. Many of these folks did know, or at least should have known. Where were all those train cars going to? Farmers had received tons of human ash to use as fertiliser. Where did that come from?
Tons of human hair from murdered women also was received by manufacturers. Were no questions asked? What about the continuous cries of the tortured? Was it all just a wailing of the wind? Even if they did not know all about the details of what was happening in the death camps, ordinary Germans in the millions voted for and supported the Nazi program.Share
Ordinary Germans sang hymns of hate in mass rallies. They cheered on Hitler and the Nazis. They believed in the myths of German supremacy and the inferiority of other races and peoples. So they were responsible for this, and they cannot be allowed to be exonerated here.
One account of this – of many – is worth citing here. This one involves General Eisenhower and what he did following the war’s end:
As Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in World War II, General Eisenhower had been given information about the Nazi concentration camp system well before he led the invasion to liberate Western Europe (June, 1944). Reports on the massive genocide inflicted on Jews, Gypsies, political prisoners, homosexuals, dissidents, and other groups by the Schutzstaffel (SS) had been circulated among all the Allied leaders. Very few of the Allied commanders, however, had an accurate conception of what is now known to the world as the Holocaust until their troops began to encounter the death camps as they marched into Western Germany.On April 4, 1945, elements of the United States Army’s 89th Infantry Division and the 4th Armored Division captured the Ohrdruf concentration camp outside the town of Gotha in south central Germany. Although the Americans didn’t know it at the time, Ohrdruf was one of several sub-camps serving the Buchenwald extermination camp, which was close to the city of Weimar several miles north of Gotha. Ohrdruf was a holding facility for over 11,000 prisoners on their way to the gas chambers and crematoria at Buchenwald. A few days before the Americans arrived to liberate Ohrdruf, the SS guards had assembled all of the inmates who could walk and marched them off to Buchenwald. They left in the sub-camp more than a thousand bodies of prisoners who had died of bullet wounds, starvation, abuse, and disease. The scene was an indescribable horror even to the combat-hardened troops who captured the camp. Bodies were piled throughout the camp. There was evidence everywhere of systematic butchery. Many of the mounds of dead bodies were still smoldering from failed attempts by the departing SS guards to burn them. The stench was horrible.When General Eisenhower learned about the camp, he immediately arranged to meet Generals Bradley and Patton at Ohrdruf on the morning of April 12th. By that time, Buchenwald itself had been captured. Consequently, Ike decided to extend the group’s visit to include a tour of the Buchenwald extermination camp the next day. Eisenhower also ordered every American soldier in the area who was not on the front lines to visit Ohrdruf and Buchenwald. He wanted them to see for themselves what they were fighting against.During the camp inspections with his top commanders Eisenhower said that the atrocities were “beyond the American mind to comprehend.” He ordered that every citizen of the town of Gotha personally tour the camp and, after having done so, the mayor and his wife went home and hanged themselves. Later on Ike wrote to Mamie, “I never dreamed that such cruelty, bestiality, and savagery could really exist in this world.” He cabled General Marshall to suggest that he come to Germany and see these camps for himself. He encouraged Marshall to bring Congressmen and journalists with him. It would be many months before the world would know the full scope of the Holocaust — many months before they knew that the Nazi murder apparatus that was being discovered at Buchenwald and dozens of other death camps had slaughtered millions of innocent people.General Eisenhower understood that many people would be unable to comprehend the full scope of this horror. He also understood that any human deeds that were so utterly evil might eventually be challenged or even denied as being literally unbelievable. For these reasons he ordered that all the civilian news media and military combat camera units be required to visit the camps and record their observations in print, pictures and film. As he explained to General Marshall, “I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to ‘propaganda.’”(Read more.)