With the President at Buchenwald, I thought about the first time I had seen the camp...
When the Wall came down, I took my NCOs on a professional development trip to see the Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald which was near Weimar (once "the jewel of the republic"). Former East Germany was still a mess. Historic mansions were crumbling, gates falling off their hinges, weeds in the garden, fountains stagnate. The architecture was covered in soot. It was a great lesson for some Cold Warriors that had never really seen what the other side was like (the leaders behind the Iron Curtain had built well kept modern villages within sight of the border only as propaganda).
When we arrived at Buchenwald, the Germans had decided to keep the Soviet version of the history of the camp in tact. They had hurriedly translated the Soviet version (in German) into French and English. So, as we toured the camp, all of the graphics and descriptions were about how the prisoners were socialists trying to rise up against the fascists and were put in the camps for their socialist views. Not one word about the jews or others who went there to die. Or one word about how the Soviets used the camp for political prisoners after the war. It would have been laughable if not existing in such a dark and horrible place. The Soviets and East Germans re-wrote this part of history.
At the end of the tour, we were in the prisoner quarters, I believe. I was herding my boys through the line. At that point we were pretty damn macabre about the whole thing - like Dachau, there was a feeling of hopelessness. That's when Segeant Rowe shouts out, "Hey, Sir, you have to see this!"
Rowe was a history buff. He was always first in line to read everything about the camp and moved through quickly as though he was afraid to miss out on anything should he linger too long. He was the first to reach the end of the tour.
I was tired of the Socialist propaganda and had stopped reading the placards hours ago.
At the very last display in the camp, there was a book for former prisoners to write messages in. Most were in French or Hebrew. One of the pages had been torn out by the new German historians of the camp. They had framed the page above the book. You could not miss it - that was obviously the point.
The page was written by a former prisoner who lived in Paris and had just visited the camp a few weeks before we did. It was written in French and the Germans had it translated into German and English and Russian (brilliant!). I'll never forget it.
Now everyone can know the truth.
Patton liberated this camp, not the Russians. I was there. The Amercans saved my life.
Thank you Americans!
Not one of my sergeants spoke for a long time.
More about Buchenwald from Edward R. Murrow.