Holocaust Remembrance Day
Earlier this year, my 91-year-old uncle, Allen Porter, was invited to be part of a panel of veterans at a WWII lecture at Fort Snelling. The topic was the liberation of the concentration camps. While Allen didn’t liberate Buchenwald, he was there about eight weeks later. Eisenhower, Allen was told, wanted soldiers to see what they had been fighting for. We weren’t sure Allen would agree to participate in the event, because like so many other veterans, he rarely spoke about the war. But he agreed, and in the week before the lecture, he dug through an old suitcase in his garage — a suitcase which held his war-time letters. He recalled he had written a letter to his father, a WWI veteran, about what he had seen. It was the first time in seventy years Allen looked at the letter, and he brought it to the event to share it with the audience.
It is reprinted here with his permission. I believe the reason he agreed to share it is articulated near the end of the letter: “It is up to all of us to see that a thing like Buchenwald never happens again.”
Thursday, June 28, 1945
The day before yesterday I saw something which I will never forget. If everybody in the States could see it, then I doubt we would ever have to fight another war. We went to Buchenwald, the SS slaughterhouse that you have undoubtably heard about. What culture! What civilization these German bastards have! The place has been cleaned up by now, but I might just as well tell you what I saw. We had a Hungarian Jew, who had lived in Cleveland for 17 years and had been a prisoner in Buchenwald when it was overrun by the 9th Div., for a guide. The SS kept a zoo there of polar bears and monkeys, which were fed nothing but human flesh, and you can still see the bones lying around. The main method of murdering the “undesireables” was to tell them that they were going to take a bath. They were taken one at a time, in the night while it was dark, to the slaughterhouse. When they got there, two brave SS men would grab them and throw them down a 20 foot hole, into the basement. If they weren’t lucky enough to land on their heads, then another SS man knocked them out with a heavy club. Then a couple more SS men grabbed the body and hung it from the wall, just to make sure. There is an elevator which carried the corpses up to the crematory, six ovens which were going all the time. Hundreds of thousands were disposed of in this manner. Scientific, aren’t they? But before the bodies were cremated, the doctors knocked out all of the gold fillings in their teeth and cut off any tattoos or other interesting souveniers. Any SS man who is found with one of these tattoos is hung. 83 of the sons of bitches have been hung so far for their crimes in this camp. Every SS man we captured ought to be shot or at least given a life sentence. And it isn’t only them either. All Germans are alike when the wind is blowing in their direction. As far as I am concerned they are all a bunch of sneaky, distrustful hypocrites. All you hear them say now is “nicht nazi, ich nicht nazi.” Who the hell was supporting Hitler I want to know? Another aspect of Buchenwald is the medical laboratory where the students conducted their “experiments.” There you see skeletons, half a man’s head pickled, and all the different human organs. If a man had something the matter with him, they would kill him and find out what it was in the laboratory. Everybody had dysentery all the time, and so there were many organs labeled “dysentery.” The latrines were built so that it would be impossible to get out of them, and a favorite trick of the SS guards was to knock a prisoner down in it, where he would be left to die. The living conditions were unbelievable, 800 men stacked in wooden tiers in a small barracks. Naturally, every kind of disease was prevalent. When our doughboys first entered Buchenwald they were just shocked and sickened by the sight. And then they got so mad and crazed that they shot every SS man they could find, no surrenders accepted. And yet our guide told us that Buchenwald was the best and most sanitary of the concentration camps he had been in. Jews and Russians were especially discriminated against. It is up to all of us to see that a thing like Buchenwald never happens again. Such is the German civilization. Thank God I am an American.
See photos of Allen here.