Liberation rage

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.


13 thoughts on “Liberation rage”

  1. “In a letter sent on May 22 Captain Wilsey goes into more detail about the executions of German soldiers; far more disturbing detail.”

    Funny, it doesn’t disturb me. BTW, I was in the 45th Inf. BDE in the eighties

  2. Those of us who lost family to Nazi genocide are not being kept awake by those accounts is my guess. Most of the SS murderers got away, others got piddling sentences for murdering people. Immediate justice by former inmates or our GIs sounds appropriate to me.

    1. That’s pretty much what I thought, too (though my perspective is way different than yours). I do still wonder a lot about what was going on the minds of those Allied soldiers and their commanders. I’m glad that even Patton, that creep whose attitude toward Jews was not so far from Hitler’s, made sure none of the troops were punished for taking their rage and horror out on the SS.

      FWIW, I think the recent TZP posts on revenge (and there’ve been several from different posters) are working up to something. We’re not just typing out history. I don’t know where all this is going yet, but I suspect it’s more about preparing for a possible future than about the past.

      1. I’d noticed that, too. I don’t believe it’s mere coincidence.

        I fear you may be right that it could be leading up to something, but I’d rather be ready and have nothing happen than be caught unawares, unprepared, flat-footed, and empty-handed.

      2. Claire,

        I’m curious as to in what way your perspective is ” way different” than mine. If you are unable to post it here, feel free to PM me.

        1. Oh, sorry. I just meant that I’m not Jewish and lost no one in the Holocaust. That often makes me feel as if I should defer to you who have a much deeper, more personal stake.

          1. Actually, you have it reversed, Claire. We Jews are always going to be considered Jews by blood whether we are religious or not or even if we become Buddhists. We have no choice. Those nonJews such as yourself who put choose to put themselves out in public to support Jews…you folks are the true heroes.

            Am Yisroel Chai.

      3. I noticed the comments in the article almost uniformly supported what the US troops there did. Popularity is not proof, but it seems human beings do not agree much with the “court historians”. Fancy that.

        As to what this is building up to, it is at least a final warning to the ruling class that there are consequences from their actions. They might not (as a class) be running the court that sits in judgement of them, or there might be no court at all. Take care, rulers…

  3. The function of a court is to discover the truth and to ensure that justice is done, in an effort to uphold the preservation of individual rights or to ensure that those who do not uphold them are held accountable for their actions.

    The truth is that by their own admission and presence the SS guards were complicit in multiple counts of first degree murder, among a multitude of other crimes. Justice requires that such people be removed permanently from society, i.e. executed. The fact that this was done ad hoc does not trouble me at all.

  4. When mad dogs are loose and doing harm; Methinks it is a good policy to put them down immediately before they do even more damage!

    Death before slavery!

  5. Tonight I have rejoined Aaron Zelman; he represented so much that was good, and just; g-d speed. Rabbi Marmelstein – I miss your advice. My fiancee and I are scraping by, but this is important; indeed the last resort. I grieved at the “death” of JPFO at the hand of money-changers, and thank those who have brought about TZP. (Claire – I’ll still man a pike with you you at the wall anyday.)

    Although I am goyim, please dedicate this membership to Modechaj Anielewicz, my hero and benchmark since childhood, and to the memory of the dedication, bravery and sacrifice of ┼╗ydowska Organizacja Bojowa. May they live in Peace and be remembered in Yad Vashem for eternity.

    I will never forget you.

    Shalom, My Brothers and Sisters.

    1. Wallace Fish — What a great, encouraging message. I think I can speak for all of us when I say that makes the day. Will get your book and photo in the mail this afternoon, ahead of the long post office holiday weekend.

  6. I grew up with the pictures, as did anybody who was a kid in the ’60’s USA. It still horrifies me that humans are capable of such things.

    I was only vaguely familiar with the ‘revenge killings’, but I find that a completely normal thing for any decent person to do. We shoot rabid dogs too. I’m happy the soldiers didn’t simply let the NAZI guards slip off into the general population to disappear. To quote the book Total Resistance, “You WILL be held accountable”.

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