Life is Grace

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do/ with your one wild and precious life?” (Mary Oliver)

a8c00-holocaust3During WWII, my dad’s outfit helped liberate a small camp somewhere in the Hartz Mountain. area of Germany, near the infamous camps of Nordhausen and Buchenwald. I don’t know anything more about it, because although he told me a few bits and pieces about D-Day, and the Battle of the Bulge, and the push through Germany, the camps were the one thing he’d refused to talk about. Please, Daddy, you must at least remember the name of the camp, I’d coax. That’s when he’d bury his face behind the newspaper and mumble, Nope. Don’t remember. And I knew better than to press any further. (I’ve tried to find out which one of the camps it was, but apparently the entire area was simply crawling with them; I’ll probably never know which one it was.)

He did tell me one thing, when I was working on a paper about the Holocaust for a college course: It was a work camp, not a death camp, he said. But, he added, there wasn’t a hell of a lot of difference between them. My dad didn’t anger easily but I never saw him angrier that the night we watched an episode of 60 Minutes that featured Neo-Nazi Holocaust deniers. Eisenhower said this would happen, he sputtered. That’s why he made them take so many pictures.

After my dad died, I found his own snapshots. And finally understood why he never talked about the camps. Because every time I look at them I, quite literally, feel as though I’m about to vomit. And I wasn’t even there. (Somehow, probably because they were taken by my dad, they seem more real to me than the many other Holocaust pictures I’ve seen.)

So, now that we finally have a printer with a scanner, I can in my own small way honor my father’s legacy and be a witness to history, that those who perished, all six million of them, will never be forgotten. May their memory be a blessing.

db676-holocaust2

NEVER AGAIN
My edit, March 12, 2017: In the years since, I kept researching and discovered a letter from an officer in my dad’s outfit who mentioned the camp the guys “stumbled over” i.e. Nordhausen, a subcamp of Buchenwald. Nordhausen was mostly corpses and had no sanitary facilities or food or water; it was where the slave laborers of Dora Camp (Jews and POWS) were sent to die. Thus I suspect these photos were taken at Buchenwald. The letter mentions that many of the men from dad’s battalion visited at Eisenhower’s request. Ike reportedly said that “many of our soldiers have said they don’t know what they are fighting for. Well, I want them to know what they’ve been fighting against.”

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