George Marshall Foresaw Holocaust Deniers After Liberating the First Camp
Long before “fake news” became a popular term, the fakiest of news, as Stephen Colbert might say, was the denial of the Holocaust. Despite its absurdity, Holocaust denial is as resistant to facts as cockroaches are to insecticide. According to the ADL’s 2015 global survey, nearly one-third of people around the world have heard of the Holocaust, but believe that it has been “greatly exaggerated” or a “myth.”
The Internet and social media, of course, have helped spread the pernicious lies suggesting that the Holocaust was a hoax or a conspiracy invented by the Jews; that there were no gas chambers; and that if any Jews were killed, it was a tiny fraction of the six million claimed.
I remember in the early days of Google, when it was popular to Google oneself, I was curious what I would find. Thousands of pages came up under my name. Curious what was being cited or said about me, I started going through the links and discovered that almost every one was a site that contained the same article written by a Holocaust denier who, for some reason, mentioned a totally unrelated article that I had written in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Several years ago, a man named Bradley Smith decided that the best way to perpetuate the myths about the Holocaust was to target the next generation. He tried to place a series of ads questioning the veracity of the Holocaust in student newspapers. One, for example, suggested there had been no gas chambers because they were not mentioned in Dwight Eisenhower’s book about the war: “Do you think maybe it slipped his mind?” The ad also addressed professors and asked if any of them could provide proof that one person had been killed in a gas chamber at Auschwitz.
The ads ran in dozens of papers. Typically, ill-informed student editors justified running the ads by citing the First Amendment. Fortunately, many others were smart enough to recognize they had no obligation to publish lies. Two papers that apparently didn’t get it were The Justice at Brandeis and The Harvard Crimson. The former created an uproar that made The New York Times, Washington Post, and Time. The editors never cashed the check for the ad and donated the $130 to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, which refused the money. After a similar furor erupted at Harvard, the paper lamely said that the ad “fell through the cracks.”
Recently, we had the equally lame response of Mark Zuckerberg in response to calls that Holocaust denial be banned on Facebook. Zuckerberg said that while he finds Holocaust denial “deeply offensive,” he doesn’t believe its proponents should be banned from Facebook. “At the end of the day,” he added, “I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong. I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong.”
As far back as 1945, the Americans who fought Hitler and liberated the camps knew better. They anticipated that people would intentionally get it wrong and deny the Holocaust. General George Marshall wrote to General Dwight Eisenhower on April 15, 1945 about his visit to a German internment camp near Gotha. The place he visited was Ohrdruf, a sub-camp of Buchenwald, the first concentration camp liberated by American forces.
The things I saw beggar description. … 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 they were piled up twenty or thirty naked men, killed by starvation, George Patton would not even enter. He said 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.
Marshall added, “If you could see your way clear to do it, I think you should make a visit here at the earliest possible moment.”
Eisenhower later did, and wrote to Marshall on April 19, 1945,
We continued to discover German concentration camps for political prisoners in which conditions of indescribable horror prevail. … I have visited one of these myself, and I assure you that whatever has been printed on them to date has been an understatement. If you would see any advantage in asking about a dozen leaders of Congress and a dozen prominent editors to take a short visit to this theater in a couple of C-54s, I will arrange to have them conducted to one of these places where the evidence of bestiality and cruelty is so overpowering as to leave no doubt in their minds about the normal practices of the Germans in these camps.
Eisenhower understood that it would be hard for people to believe the atrocities without seeing them for themselves.
On April 15, Patton also wrote to Eisenhower about visiting a camp he described as worse than Ohrdruf. He also wanted the press to come and write about the horrors to build up the “evidence as to the brutality of the Germans.”
Eisenhower also made a statement during a June press conference about the camps that is apropos of the recent decision to deport a 95-year-old former Nazi guard to Germany to stand trial for war crimes. After referring to piles of bodies of people who had starved to death, burial pits, and other horrors that he saw in the camps, Eisenhower said, “I think people ought to know about such things. It explains something of my attitude toward the German war criminal. I believe he must be punished, and I will hold out for that forever.”
There is more than one reason Marshall, Patton, and Eisenhower were the greatest generation.
Mitchell Bard, Executive Director of AICE and Jewish Virtual Library, has written 24 books including: The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews, and After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.