Abzug, Robert H. Inside the Vicious Heart: Americans and the Liberation of Nazi Concentration

 

Abzug, Robert H. Inside the Vicious Heart: Americans and the Liberation of Nazi Concentration
Camps.New York: Oxford University Press, 1987 (Originally, 1985).

This is a fascinating little book which details American reaction to the discoveries of those awful
Nazi concentration camps in the waning days of WWII. American troops were the first to enter
several of the camps (Dachau, Strasbourg, Buchenwald, Gotha, Nordhausen, and others). This
book is an effort to describe the reactions of American troops, reporters, and staff, to these horrid
places. How did Americans react? What did they write? What did they photograph? How did
they document?

This book contains many of the photographs taken by Americans in those days. Not easy
viewing. Graphic details is not spared. And it's very clear that many did try to document Nazi
atrocities with detailed photographs. But more, some of the camps were "staged" in those early
days and used for "propaganda purposes": it was very clear once those camps were examined just
who are enemies in the war had been. Indeed, sometimes these stagings went on too long and the
stinking corpses had to be buried lest disease spread. But the military Top Brass knew a good
thing when they saw it and so troops were ordered to examine the camps. Journalists were
ordered to visit the camp; politicians were brought over from Washington to see with their own
eyes. And leading stateside newspapermen Pulitzer for example was also brought over and
allowed to write about the camps.

So there are newspaper reports, Congressional reports, personal reports, photographs, and all
sorts of other "evidences" of these hell-holes. Yet, there are people who doubt (not just the nuts
and the kooks and the anti-semites) and there are some reasons to doubt: even the people who
saw the horrors had to doubt their own eyes. Others just had to forget about the terrible places -
who would want to remember those places? And here's part of the explanation I did not know: in
WWI, there were many atrocity stories told about the Hun. Well, after the war, we had to own up
to the fact that these stories were pure propaganda and not true at all. People could credit the idea
that the Americans had lied about Germans jut as they did in WWI. And some might credit that
as we have been known to manipulate history to our own advantage.

Yet to brand the facts of genocide impossible to imagine only begs a deeper question: Why? It
was certainly true that the artifacts of the camps - gas chambers, crematoria, massive
warehourses to story booty from the dead - and the enormity of Nazi plans were new things under
the sun, seemingly without precedent at least in scale and implementation. However, the facts
themselves were perhaps not even the most effective bar to acceptance. It was rather what those
facts signified to those who read them. And the awful truth was that they presented the possibility
of death with no chance of escape, death without meaning or logic. As with war itself, death in
the media versions of Nazi terror spoke to heroism, defiance, and it fortified the hope that a more
positive human spirit would survive and emerge triumphant. But what a mass death, whether in
the ditch at Babi Yar or in the gas chambers of Auschwitz? Here there was no promise but the
end of life, stripped of its cultural meaning and reduced to an impersonal disappearance. There
was no redeeming value and certainly no hope for the future. (P. 17)

Put another way, the truth is hard to take when it forces us to confront our own basic values. And
we share those same basic values that Germany had. In many ways, the Germans were us and
they brought us to what "we" are doing. That's a new hideous reality which we again don't wish
to confront.

The author provides what appears to be a good bibliography.