In 1944, when Edgar Snow reported in the Post what he had seen in a Nazi death camp in Poland, some readers were outraged that the Post would print “such propaganda.” Presaging today’s “fake news” conspiracy theories, many Americans back then believed the government invented Holocaust stories solely to sell war bonds. To prove the rumors wrong, Gen. Eisenhower asked America’s leading editors to see the Nazi camps for themselves. Then-editor of the Post Ben Hibbs accepted the invitation and walked through the Dachau camp just four days after Nazi guards fled from it.
—The excerpt below is from “Journey to a Shattered World” by Ben Hibbs, June 9, 1945
Since my return to the United States, I have been asked by many people if the concentration camps were as bad as the newspapers have been saying. I can answer in one word: Worse. The war correspondents did a good job of factual reporting, but there is a limit to what can be said in words and pictures. You have to walk into one of those places and smell the unspeakable stench, not only of the dead but of the living. You have to see the blank stare in the eyes of many of the inmates, the animal-like way they crowd around you, their pathetic thirst for a little attention from someone who has just come from the free world outside. You have to experience the sensation of choking nausea which assails you as you walk through the barracks, with their tier on tier of filthy, crowded bunks, and see the living skeletons dying of disease and starvation, too weak even to venture outside and enjoy their day of liberation. You must walk also through the revolting muck of the “streets” and see the famished prisoners making soup out of the refuse of the garbage dump, see them wolf down a chocolate bar, or a K-ration biscuit which you happen to have in your pocket.
Before you are allowed to go into one of these pest holes, you are given typhus shots and doused with DDT powder to keep off crawling death. Yet when you come out you feel that you will never be clean again. You want to take a bath in chlorine. You know as long as you live you’ll never quite be able to get the stink of the place out of your nostrils, nor forget the scenes of abject misery you have seen.
Featured image: Auschwitz concentration camp (publicdomainpictures.net)
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