My current Netflix binge-watch, with some never-before-seen footage, is Greatest Events of WWII. While I watched this mini-series, I thought of my dad; a young man who fought in this war, was shot down and lived for 2 years in Stalag Luft III, a German prison camp.
There are 10 Episodes in this mini-series: one about Hitler’s invasion of Poland, another about D- Day, another about Pearl Harbor, and so on. It is only toward the end of the series that you learn about and see pictures of the internment camps.
Towards the end of WWII, before my dad’s camp was liberated, American soldiers came upon Buchenwald, the first and largest concentration camp in Germany. The men were aghast at the horrific scene they found and called General Patton. When Patton arrived, he is said to have gone behind a building and thrown up. When General Eisenhower arrived, before cleaning up the dead, he called in the press to document the human cruelty. He wanted the world to know and see that the rumors, brushed off as fake news, were true.
The Rise of Hitler and His Atrocities
Now, in the information age, it is hard to imagine that such atrocities could exist without everyone knowing. But, bear in mind, communications between countries were archaic compared to today. Methods available at that time: Propaganda pamphlets, Newspapers/Magazines, Radio, Airplanes, Telegraph (Western Union limited characters, just like Twitter), Telephones, Mail, Animals (even pigeons), and Cryptology (ex. Morse code).
With no way to fact check, propaganda was rampant. People and newspapers in other countries, who had heard the rumors, just couldn’t believe (or wouldn’t believe) it was true. Therefore, few papers, if any, printed the stories they heard.
I learned the people who ran these internment camps were glorified sadists. When the Buchenwald Commandant Heir Karl-Otto Koch’s wife saw a prisoner with a tattoo she liked, she would have them killed, skinned and their tattoo sent to her for tanning. She made book covers, lamp shades and kept a collection of human tattoos in a photo album. Jeffery Dahmer would have made a good Nazi Commandant.
After liberating Buchenwald, General Patton, being known for many disciplinary actions, instructed his soldiers to line the streets with the rotting corpses they found and forced the so-called civilized Aryan-German families to parade down the streets and bear witness to the cost of their complacency.
The people of Germany feigned innocence, but they had to know what was going on. In a country that is half the size of Texas, there were no less than six such concentration camps. As the wind changed, the stench of dead would have been cause enough to wonder what was really happening to all those families shipped out on trains.
German citizens knew Hitler was a liar. But in the beginning, they brushed it off, saying he couldn’t possibly get elected. But he did. They also recognized Hitler was unstable, but unstable people are often entertaining to watch, and he could motivate a crowd with his promise to Make Germany Great Again phrase. As for his hate mongering and riotous behavior, this could be overlooked because, after all, Aryan lives were improving; for every Jew shipped out of town, another job opened for an Aryan-German.
At first, many citizens of Germany, including the Jews, didn’t believe Hitler could accomplish much. They underestimated him. In his push for power he released propaganda and waged war against his critics while cleverly restructuring the government and building the Third Reich to give himself supreme rule. This led to the silencing of churches, a military draft, Nazi Youths, and the euthanasia of handicapped and mentally impaired children. Over 75 million people died in WWII of which over 40 million were civilians. That equates to 3% of the worlds population at the time and does not account for all those maimed.
Through complacency, the people supported Hitler’s genocide until it was too late. They were quiet so long, they eventually gave up their right to speak.
Heroes of Democracy
I’m so proud to be the daughter of Edwin Ormond Krouse, (1920-2004) who fought for what was (and still is) right, and I am sure that he is being rewarded in heaven. Thank you, Daddy, for being part of the solution. I love learning about the “greatest generation” — your generation.
“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer