Antisemitism is alive and well with over 800 hate groups in the USA alone. Europe is aflame in the rise of new Nazi groups and extremist organizations. The most hateful states with the highest levels of hate groups? Southern Poverty Law Center (via yesmagazine.org) says: “The states with the most hate groups per million people in population were Montana, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Vermont.”
According to one of the top Nazi hunters in Europe, Serge Klarsfeld, “there is no safe place on earth right now for Jews.”
This is a profoundly disturbing reality and remark, made even more important as Discovery network brings to light a compelling documentary that uses eyewitness accounts of living American World War II veterans of every gender and race to bear witness to an unimaginable hellscape they walked through during the end of the European leg of the war in the liberation of the death camps of Nazi Germany.
In 1994, USC Shoah Foundation was created by filmmaker Steven Spielberg to document witnesses to the Holocaust during WWII in the last century. Spielberg knew people forgot things over time, and that truths become distorted and denied and those who aim to cause harm create false narratives to divide and whip up hate-fueled violence.
Veterans of the Allied Forces back in 1945 were not prepared to see what was waiting behind the gates of camps like Arbeitsdorf, Buchenwald, Belzec, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Bergen-Belsen, Chelmno, Dachau, Mauthausen-Gusen, Neuengamme, Sachsenhausen, Sobibór and the thousands of other camps Nazi Germany set up for labor, transport and relocation, concentrations camps and extermination (murder) purposes.
These recollections of the American veterans who were there and are still with us to tell their stories are what propels Liberation Heroes: The Last Eye Witnesses.
The kids sent in to liberate these camps had survived The Battle of Stalingrad, The Battle of the Bulge and landing the beaches of Normandy.
Nothing prepared the young Americans for the concentration camps and the sights of the people clinging to life there still. All the bloodshed and nightmares these young soldiers and nurses had lived through did not steel any of them for what was to come.
The stench was what hit them first. Burning human flesh.
Jersey boy Alan Moskin, who features in our exclusive clip from the documentary below, served under Patton’s Third Army, 71st Division. Alan was drafted into the military service at the age of 18 and served in the United States Army during World War II (from September 1944 until August 1946). He was a member of the 66th Infantry, 71st Division, part of General George Patton’s 3rd Army.
He is 93 years old and his sense of urgency is palpable. Alan tells the listening younger soldiers the grim details of his years at their age — walking amidst death and carnage never seen in modern times. Speaking to young military men and women, Moskin says: “You’re the last generation that are gonna hear about these things from people like me.”
When he returned home after this tour, staying a year to help with the occupation, he spoke to no one about those days. Most all of them followed suit and never spoke of it to their immediate friends and family.
But Alan and other surviving veterans of that war are now overflowing with a purposeful mission, He says: “I cant get rid of that mark, it’s right here…on my heart, my soul.”
We also meet Virgil Westdale, who was mixed-race, Caucasian and Japanese, a very unfortunate blend in the days of WWII. He was sent to a special unit where others like him served in the war.
Maj Gen William P. Levine, field lieutenant Mary E.M. Morris and African American veteran and now Dr. Leon Bass all share their unique recollections, with Dr. Bass admitting freely he was not emotionally invested in fighting for America until he saw the camps in person and realized what humanity was up against.
The forces that battled together included the Europeans, the Russians and the Americans who fought to end this Nazi tyranny — but for these soldiers their mission was made concrete by what they witnessed in these camps.
Generals George Patton and Dwight D. Eisenhower made damn sure that the media and photographers were brought in to journal and record the atrocities and even marched the nearby villagers of Weimar through a death camp, Buchenwald, so they could see what they turned a blind eye to.
Primarily the targets were Jews, but the Nazis went after Catholics, gypsies, gay people, mentally ill people and anyone they deemed “non desirable.”
The camps like Dachau — liberated April 1945 — Mauthausen, Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen and on and on saw these American and some British troops offer those who were clinging to life their rations out of instinct to help. But because of how far gone these concentration camp victims were in starvation mode, it caused some of the weakest prisoners to choke to death right on the spot.
Alan recalls this and how they were panicked and radioed for help, not understanding how to help such a malnourished person. The nurses soon followed the soldiers and you will hear their stories too.
They remember the smells, the sights. People alive sitting on top of dead bodies in a stupor of near death themselves.
The inhumanity was so gut wrenching it caused these Americans and Brits to react in so many ways — with anger, grief, panic, pain. The common denominator was silence — the liberators were all in shock from the horror of it all. It was and still is unbelievable these things happened but they did and we must remember and pass this knowledge on.
In one story, Alan recalls how he told the scared prisoners in the camps that he was a Jew as well. The look of disbelief and relief at once. Elie Weisel was one of these people liberated, and he too recalled these young foreign liberators and how they saved him. He remembered their anger at the Nazis and what they had done. He said of the liberators: “You were heroes, our idols.”
In closing, Alan says:
There’s over 800 hate groups in the United States of America…800 plus hate groups still doing this! I want
you to be an upstander, not a bystander! You’re the last generation probably who are gonna hear people like me, and hear people like the survivors. The time you have children right here…we will be gone. You guys got to do the job. Your generation…you got to get rid of all this. If my generation didn’t do it…I can’t get a handle on how this happened, what did the civilized world do? They knew about it and didn’t do a damn thing about it.
Discovery CEO David Zaslav said: “Discovery is proud to shine a light on these remarkable stories of heroism, which serve as a solemn reminder for audiences everywhere to never forget. Liberation Heroes: The Last Eyewitnesses is a call to action to stand against hate in all forms. These stories remind us of what can happen when religious, racial and ethnic hatred is unbridled.”
Producer Andy Friendly said: “The mission of the documentary is not only a celebration and remembrance of the last heroic eyewitnesses to one of mankind’s darkest moments, but it is also their enduring final plea and message to never stand idly by – and in the face of the dramatic rise of intolerance around the world, this message is more relevant than ever.”
Andy’s late father, Fred Friendly, was a journalist who wrote about what he witnessed at Mauthausen while covering the war as a Master Sergeant in the Army.
Fred Friendly’s historic “Mauthausen Letter” to his family and Edward R. Murrow’s radio report from Buchenwald are included in the documentary.
Liberation Heroes: The Last Eye Witnesses airs Wednesday May 1 at 7pm on Discovery Channel