- Eisenhower, Dwight David
- (1890–1969)As Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in World War II, General Eisenhower, the future 34th president of the United States, 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 4 April 1945, elements of the U.S. Army’s 89th Infantry Division and the Fourth Armored Division captured the Ohrdruf concentration camp outside the town of Gotha in southcentral Germany. Although the Americans did not know it at the time, Ohrdruf was one of several subcamps 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 subcamp 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 Omar Bradley and George Patton at Ohrdruf on the morning of 12 April. By that time, Buchenwald itself had been captured. Consequently, Eisenhower decided to extend the group’s visit to include a tour of the Buchenwald extermination camp the next day. He 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 his wife, Mamie, “I never dreamed that such cruelty, bestiality, and savagery could really exist in this world.” He cabled General George Marshall to suggest that he come to Germany and see these camps for himself. He encouraged Marshall to bring congressmen and journalists with him. Still it would be many months before the world would know the full scope of the Holocaust, and that the Nazi murder apparatus had slaughtered millions of innocent people. General Eisenhower himself understood that many people would be unable to comprehend the full scope of this horror. He also realized 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.’”See also Holocaust Denial.
Historical dictionary of the Holocaust. Jack R. Fischel. 2014.