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The week of April 27 - May 4 is designated this year's Days of Remembrance, the nation's annual commemoration of the Holocaust.
DAYS OF REMEMBRANCE
It was on April 4, 1945 that American troops captured the Ohrdruf concentration camp outside of Gotha in south central Germany. It was the first of the camps to be captured on the western front. GIs discovered piles of bodies littering the camp by the hundreds - prisoners dead of torture, starvation, disease, and bullet wounds. The mounds of corpses were still smoldering from the attempts by departing guards to burn them.
As was later determined, Ohrdruf was a holding facility of the Buchenwald extermination camp where prisoners would eventually be sent to be gassed and cremated. General Eisenhower along with Bradley and Patton inspected the camps on April 12 and 13. While at Ohrdruf, one of Eisenhower's staff recalled seeing "Eisenhower go to the opposite end of the road and vomit. From a distance I saw Patton bend over, holding his head with one hand and his abdomen with the other. And I soon became ill." Eisenhower wrote to his wife Mamie shortly thereafter: "I never dreamed that such cruelty, bestiality, and savagery could really exist in the world."
Eisenhower ordered every American soldier in the area to visit the two camps to see for themselves what they were fighting against. He ordered that every citizen of Gotha personally tour the camp. After doing so, the mayor of the town and his wife committed suicide. He encouraged Chief of Staff General George Marshall to see the camps for himself and bring along Congressmen and journalists. He ordered all civilian and military news media to visit and record their observations.
Eisenhower wrote the following about the visit to General Marshall:
The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were so overpowering as to leave me a bit sick. In one room, where there were piled up twenty or thirty naked men, killed by starvation, George Patton would not even enter. He said that he would get sick if he did so. 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.
Sadly, how prescient Eisenhower was in his suspicion that one day there would be those who would deny the Holocaust.
Thus, the need for a Days of Remembrance.
Did You Know?
Dwight Eisenhower served as General MacArthur’s chief of staff in the Philippines in the 30s. Although quick to acknowledge MacArthur’s brilliant military mind, Eisenhower was frustrated with the General’s penchant for grandstanding and theatrics.