Last month was the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Dachau. I’ve been saving that link, planning to write something about the Allied troops who had no idea of the horrors they were about to stumble into.
Allied commanders knew about the camps. But for whatever reason they didn’t tell the men who actually walked in and encountered the Holocaust unprepared.
For the last two weeks I’ve been trying to frame what I wanted to say about those soldiers and why they were left so unready to witness what no one should ever have to see, let alone endure.
Before I could finish my thoughts, something new came to light: letters from an Army doctor to his wife about how some of the weary, shocked, horrified, outraged — and ultimately vengeful — allied troops reacted. (Warning: graphic images.)
They turned on the SS guards and gave them a small taste of what the SS had given its victims.
Historians knew about this and have called the troops’ revenge shameful. But was it? Was it right? Wrong? Legal? Illegal? Sadistic? Or simple justice? Those questions didn’t matter. Would the exhausted troops have behaved differently had they been warned what to expect? Had their commanders taken better charge? Who can know?
For good or ill, history (even the history of the noble act of liberation) is so much more complex than we were taught in school.
Be sure to read the full account of Dr. Wilsey’s letters and experiences in the New Republic.