Propaganda is the bread and butter of covert action. -- Gregory Treverton    

          

                 Andy Rooney, War Propagandist, Liar

When the usually humorous octogenarian 60 Minutes commentator, Andy Rooney, turned serious on the eve of America's air assault on Yugoslavia and issued what amounted to a journalistic blank check for any military adventure our rulers might deign to embark upon, I was understandably appalled.  

Just as understandably, his words were very well received by the beneficiaries of the blank check.  When Vice Admiral James W. Metzger, Commander, U.S. Seventh Fleet, addressed the Foreign Correspondents Club of Hong Kong on December 8, 2000, he began his remarks this way:

                I must tell you that I have a lot of respect for the journalism 
                profession. The media play a critical role in American society, as they
                do elsewhere. Each of you is in a position to educate the public in a
                very powerful way. In a sense you ensure that fairness and openness prevail.

                About 20 months ago, a journalist impacted me most profoundly. On that
                Sunday, veteran CBS News correspondent Andy Rooney's 60 Minutes
                commentary recharged my sense of purpose as a naval officer. I would
                like to share with you his words because I feel they explain -- in Mr.
                Rooney's own eloquently unique style -- why we do what we do in the U.S.
                military. This story gives sense to a national military strategy.

                Andy Rooney said: "When I was in college, Adolf Hitler was trying to
                take over Europe. There was a political movement here called America
                First, led by a senator from Montana named Burton K. Wheeler. America
                First was telling everyone that Europe's problem was none of our
                business, and I agreed. Some philosopher I'd read in college had written
                that any peace is better than any war, and that seemed true to me. Why
                should I die for someone else's freedom? I was certain it was wrong for
                Americans to get involved in the war in faraway Europe. The draft board
                didn't care what I thought, and I was dragged out of college and into
                the army, kicking and screaming.

                After following the tanks and infantry across France and into Germany as
                a reporter for the 'Stars and Stripes,' I got to a small prison camp in
                a town named Thekla (ph). About 250 Jewish prisoners in it had been
                forced as slave labor to make wings for German fighter planes.

                When the guards heard we were coming, they poured gas on the roofs of
                two of the barracks, and with the prisoners still inside, set them on fire.

                Two days later, I got to Buchenwald. By this time, I knew how wrong the
                idea of America First was.

                I've never forgotten how dumb I was, thinking it was someone else's war.
                I smile and shake my head now when I hear a young senator say the
                slaughter of the Albanians in Kosovo is none of our business.

                It's not really a smile, I guess. I don't know what it is. I'm saying to
                myself, 'I understand, Senator. I used to be as wrong as you are.'"

                Rooney continued:

                "The argument against our involvement in Yugoslavia is that we can't
                correct every evil in every part of the world. Of course we can't, but
                that doesn't make it wrong for us to stop the slaughter in Kosovo. A
                doctor doesn't turn you down as a patient because he can't cure the
                whole world. We have the weapons, we have the money, and we have the
                moral authority. We even have some help from other countries this time.

                There's nothing in it for us. No big oil company is going to make money,
                no bankers. All we'll get out of it is the good feeling of knowing we're
                helping a lot of poor folks who don't have the power to help themselves.

                It didn't seem as if I'd ever say it about him a few months ago, but I
                trust President Clinton in this matter. I trust my country. I'm proud."

                Ladies and gentlemen, that says it all. I would imagine that Mr. Rooney
                influenced public opinion that Sunday evening. I can tell you -- without
                question -- he influenced me. I knew without a doubt as I listened to
                him speak that evening that Andy Rooney was right on the mark. And so,
                it is clear to me that it is imperative for the nations of the Pacific
                Rim, including the United States, to work together toward the common
                good of the people of this region, just as Andy Rooney talked about a
                commitment in Europe.

The United States embassy in Tokyo thought so much of Admiral Metzger's remarks that they have posted them on their web site at http://tokyo.usembassy.gov/e/p/tp-c243.html .

                                                               Poor Logic

The nonsense of Rooney's argument, on several levels, should be apparent to anyone with critical faculties.  First, and most obviously, there's no reason why Rooney's experience should have anything to do with turmoil in the Balkans.  And he as much as admits that the internal dispute between the Serbs and the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo has nothing at all to do with America's vital interests.  Furthermore, Rooney's experience really has little to do with whether we should have entered World War II on the side of the British and the Soviet Union against the Germans, Italians, and Japanese.  He's talking about one small atrocity late in the war, but before our decision to get involved, the atrocity score was already pretty heavily on the side of Stalin and the Soviet Union, what with the artificial famine inflicted on the Ukrainians in the early 1930s and the massacre of the Polish officer corps at Katyn Forest  http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Troy/1791/ in 1939, to take just two examples.  And though they played some serious catch-up later, one can make a strong case that the Germans never came close to the Soviets in the oppression and slaughter game.  

Basing foreign policy decisions on who's mean to whom is also pretty dodgy business.  The small-scale episode that Rooney describes might even be dismissed as just the work of some low level bad apples, like the United States has treated the My Lai massacre and its ongoing dismissal of its own torture practices in the "war on terrorism."  In this instance, Rooney's discovery of the viciousness of some Germans is used to justify not only U.S. participation in World War II, but the clear implication is that it also justifies government leaders' decisions to go to war from Vietnam to Panama to Iraq.  A good title for his little vignette could be "How I Learned that Big Brother Always Knows Best."  In fact, he comes pretty close to that with his summing up, equating the war-making president with the nation: "I trust my country. I'm proud."

And just as such reasoning serves as permanent justification for any U.S. presidential war against anybody, it would serve just as well for anyone else to go to war against us.  All the adversaries would need to do would be to refer to the My Lai massacre or to the napalming of a friendly Vietnamese village and point their own young Andy Rooneys in our direction.  The Rooney logic is a blueprint for permanent war.

                                                            Worse Facts

Anyone capable of so torturing logic to justify the wholesale killing and maiming that is war is hardly to be trusted when it comes to facts, either.  The cause for which the United States would end up bombing one civilian target after another in Serbia was, in Rooney's words, "to stop the slaughter in Kosovo."  But was our air-dropped terror bombing of Yugoslavia in any way justified? Was there really a slaughter going on that had to be stopped?  The clear answers are "no" and "no."  In the words of Nebojsa Malic, it was nothing but an "Evil Little War,"  like the current one in Iraq, embarked upon for ginned up reasons.  

Most of the criticism of the 1999 war has focused on its conduct (targeting practices, effects, "collateral damage") and consequences. But though the conduct of the war by NATO was atrocious and the consequences have been dire and criminal, none of that changes the fact that by its very nature and from the very beginning, NATO's attack was a war of aggression: illegal, immoral, and unjust; not "unsuccessful" or "mishandled," but just plain wrong.

If Rooney could be so wrong, so pernicious and propagandistic about Kosovo, one has to wonder if he is telling us the truth about what he saw in Germany in 1945.  He was a reporter for the U.S. military newspaper, Stars and Stripes, after all.  

Before going any further, I would like to remind readers that we are now beginning to tread upon some very politically risky ground.  You see, Rooney described all the victims at Thekla as Jewish.  Since the atrocity occurred as part of World War II, that means that their deaths would be considered part of the Holocaust.  In many countries of the world, laws have been passed making it an imprisoning offense to raise doubts about the official Holocaust story.  Questioning Rooney's veracity in this ticklish Thekla matter might well fall into that category.

There are more reasons to question Rooney's truthfulness about this episode than the ones we have raised.  This particular fit of viciousness on the part of the German guards seems rather irrational.  With the Americans and the Russians well on their way to taking over all of Germany, the likelihood that the perpetrators would be found and punished, quite likely with the death penalty, would seem to be rather high.  As low-level functionaries doing their job guarding prisoners, on the other hand, one can presume that they would have been relatively safe.  Their behavior in this instance would seem to go against the elementary human urge toward self-preservation.  I must admit that the moment I heard Rooney tell his story on 60 Minutes, I was suspicious for this reason.

Admiral Metzger's rendering of Rooney's remarks provide an additional reason for suspicion.  He gives the impression that he is repeating Rooney's words verbatim.  He is not.  Rooney said that he was accompanied by New York Times reporter, Frederick Graham. Might there be some less than innocent reason for Metzger leaving that part out?  My suspicions sent me to the library to see what Graham had reported in The Times.

Graham's article appeared on April 22, 1945, on page 12.  He calls the prison camp, Camp Thekla, and he describes what appears to be the same atrocity that took place on April 18.  He also mentions the presence of the Stars and Stripes reporter, Andy Rooney.  Interestingly, he goes into great detail as to the nationality of the victims, describing them in editorial style as "inferior" (in Nazi eyes) Poles, Russians, Czechs, Belgians, and French.  He doesn't say how he found out the roasted victims' nationality.  The really interesting thing, though, is that, in contrast to Rooney, in Graham's account, none of them are Jews.  He never uses the words "Jew" or "Jewish" in his story.  

In one stroke, Graham gets me off the hook as a "Holocaust doubter," needing in the future to be wary about traveling in Europe, while he makes my doubts of Andy Rooney's veracity look even better.  

                                                        More Inconsistencies

But no one, as it turns out, undermines Rooney's credibility any more than Rooney himself.  Since Rooney was writing for Stars and Stripes, he must have reported on the Thekla incident at the time.  I contacted the librarian for the Stars and Stripes in Washington, DC, and was promptly sent the following story from their archives under Rooney's byline: 

        LEIPZIG, Germany, Apr. 20 (delayed)

        --Listen a minute to one more horror story.

        At 11 o'clock Wednesday morning, with the Americans a few hours away, two SS 
        guards climbed to the roof of a clapboard barracks in the concentration camp. 
        Two more handed gas cans up the ladder to the men on the roof.

        A few minutes before they had hand-picked 100 political prisoners who had given 
        them the most trouble and stuffed them in the long wooden shack they used as 
        barracks. The SS men carefully pulled down blackout curtains and rammed home 
        bolts on the flimsy wooden doors.

        The two men atop the barracks dumped their cans of gasoline over the roof and 
        scrambled down. They made their way to one small exit left open for them 
        through the ten-foot electrically-charged fence and 12 feet of curled barbed 
        wire which fitted close around the barracks.

        Several of them broke open cases of incendiary grenades, and while others stood 
        in towers at corners of the enclosure, they tossed their grenades into the 
        gasoline-soaked tinder box with its hundred trapped humans.

        The men inside started to burn and the smell of burning flesh filled the air. 
        They clawed at the windows and doors. Twenty struggled out and pulled their 
        scorched bodies to the barbed wire. They were cut down by machine-guns from 
        the towers.

        A few of them got as far as the barbed wire, where they were trapped on snags 
        and burned to death from the heat of the flames. A few lucky ones were shot as 
        they threw themselves on the barbed wire.

        Two got over the barbed wire, their bodies burned and torn, only to be shot 
        dead by Nazis sitting quietly in the tower where they could watch the whole 
        scene.

        Four men who escaped from the camp told American soldiers the horror story, but 
        their words were unnecessary. The story told itself in one glance at the 
        burned ruins and the burned and half-burned men. 

Notice that in this story, there is no reference at all as to the ethnicity of the victims, although it is replete with many tiny details such as the exact time of the atrocity and what each of the German guards did as they carried it out.  So specific is Rooney about what happened before he arrived and so vague is he as to what he actually saw, one gets the distinct impression that this is not really the report of an eyewitness after the fact, as he told us on 60 Minutes.  

"The story told itself in one glance at the burned ruins and the burned and half-burned men."

Maybe so, but was it from Rooney's glance?  

"Two days later, I got to Buchenwald," he says in his 60 Minutes account.  His Thekla story is reported from Leipzig, and from further research we learn that Thekla is a Leipzig suburb.  Buchenwald is to the southwest of Leipzig, and at that time the U.S. Army was advancing to the northeast toward Berlin.  Young Rooney, for some reason, seems to have been going in the opposite direction from the assault. 

Furthermore, he appears to be in disagreement with himself over the number of victims.  Initially, he made it the nice round number of 100.  In the 60 Minutes account he speaks of 250 Jewish slave laborers and we are given to believe that all of them were killed.  For his part, Graham, of The New York Times, said there were 300 victims.

At this point, one gets the distinct impression that Mr. Rooney and Mr. Graham, as well, are engaging in what H.L. Mencken politely calls, the "synthesis of news."  Mencken, in his autobiographical Newspaper Days, 1899-1906, admits to having fabricated large portions of his stories as a young reporter covering some of the seamier portions of his native Baltimore.  His purpose was to save time and labor.  How much more likely is it that military and New York Times reporters would have done it in wartime for political purposes!  The most important thing in such news synthesis, according to Mencken, is that the stories by the various reporters agree with one another.

This labor-saving device was in use the whole time I covered South Baltimore for the Herald, and I never heard any complaint against it.  Every one of the three city editors, comparing his paper to the other two, was surprised and pleased to discover that his reporter always got names and addresses right, and all three of us were sometimes commended for our unusual accuracy....

Thus, in my tenderest years, I became familiar with the great art of synthesizing news, and gradually took in the massive fact that journalism is not an exact science.  (reprinted in H. L. Mencken, A Choice of Days, Edward L. Galligan, editor, Vintage Books, 1980, pp. 210-211)

As it happens, Rooney wrote about Thekla at least one other time, and then he was more carefully on the same page as Graham, saying that the guards "...herded 300 prisoners into barracks..." before burning them. 

The account is from his 1995 book, My War, pp. 259-260.  In that telling, not only was his head count the same as Graham's, but he was moving in the right direction, with the troops toward Berlin:

For all the impact Buchenwald had on all of us who saw it in that first week, it was a much smaller camp I saw several days later, on April 20, that is more vivid in my mind.  It was called simply Thekla for the name of the town in what became East Germany...

The Fifth Armored Division had blown through Thekla the day before we arrived...

The compound had housed several thousand slave laborers who worked in the adjacent aircraft factory and about 1,200 Jews, but we were never sure, from what our guide said, how the Jewish prisoners worked in relation to the other prisoners.

Here, apparently for the first time, Jews are introduced into the narrative.  Rooney doesn't yet describe them as the victims of the massacre, but leaves readers with that impression by immediately launching into a section on the Nazi laws that were passed discriminating against Jews.

If his memory of Thekla was so vivid, one would think he would remember whether he saw it before or after he saw Buchenwald.  You'd also think he would know which army outfit happened upon Thekla.  According to their official history, available in the National Archives, the Fifth Armored Division never got anywhere near Leipzig or its suburb, Thekla.  As we can see from their official map, compared to a map of Germany, their line of advance kept them at least 100 kilometers to the north of Leipzig.  Not surprisingly, in their account of their operations, they make no mention of having come upon a German labor camp where an atrocity had recently occurred, and, of course, they make no mention of the town of Thekla.  Why should they, when this Leipzig suburb was so far from where they were?

                                                        Did It Happen at All?

At this point we must seriously question not only whether the victims of the Thekla atrocity were Jewish, but whether any such atrocity took place at all.  If it had to come down to taking Rooney's word for it, we'd have to rule it out, so thoroughly is his account contradicted by official documents and by his own words.  Given 60 Minutes precedent and CBS history, we should not be surprised if this is all one big lie.  We still remember Mike Wallace, in his piece on the death of Deputy White House Counsel Vincent Foster, looking straight into the camera and saying most solemnly, "The forensic evidence shows that the fatal bullet had been fired into Fosterís mouth from the gun found in Fosterís hand and that Fosterís thumb had pulled the trigger.Ē

That was a patent lie.  No bullet was ever found, and Foster's fingerprints were not on the gun.  Further discussion of Wallace's mendacity on that program can be found at "The Reign of the Lie."

The longtime connection of CBS founder and chairman of the board, Colonel William S. Paley, to the intelligence community is discussed at some length in "Clinton and Cronkite: Odd Couple?"  There, he is described by author Deborah Davis as a man "who believed that the commercial media, as well as the military, must develop Ďall manner of propaganda' to help in the war effort...."  In Andy Rooney, it would appear, he found a reliable veteran in that cause, whatever war that might be.

Admiral Metzger's Navy doesn't have the best of records when it comes to "official investigations," either, considering the ones they have done on the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty, the gun turret explosion on the USS Iowa, and the death of former Navy and Defense Secretary, James V. Forrestal, to cite three of their more notable cover-ups.

                                                           Another Source

We have not completely laid the Thekla atrocity story to rest, however. Although in the shelves of books that have been written on the beastliness of the Nazis, the word "Thekla" hardly turns up at all, it is not entirely absent from the written record.  Most recently, apart from Rooney, Robert H. Abzug in his 1985 book, Inside the Vicious Heart, Americans and the Liberation of Nazi Concentration Camps, treats it at some length and detail, complete with ghastly photographs of burned corpses near a barbed wire fence.  The language is lurid and evocative:

Margaret Bourke-White of Life was among the first reporters to view Thekla, its ruins and corpses left undisturbed pending autopsies and press coverage.  The terrible charred bodies, caught in motion as they fled the flames and rifle fire, etched the tragedy of individual humans in a manner different from what was observed at the larger camps.  "Some of the victims were so close to freedom," Bourke-White recalled soon after, "that it made my heart bleed to see them."  She was told of the Polish professor who had been an aircraft technician (and the survivors pointed him out)--his body aflame, still he had managed to squeeze himself halfway through the outer fence.  "The shriveled lower half of his body lay in cinders within the enclosure," she wrote, with his charred crutch close by, but the fine intellectual bald head thrust through to the outside was still unmarred, with even the spectacles in place.  He must have been much loved; the survivors shed many tears over him."  Another man's blistered body had a silver cross around its neck.  A returned survivor of Thekla knelt down, touched the medal, and said, "Blood on the cross'" (p. 77).

That's at least one victim that we can be sure was not Jewish. 

Abzug's sources may not agree on the number killed--from one paragraph to the next on page 75 the separately-reported number of victims goes from "about 200" to "about 60"--but he's at least within the realm of possibility when it comes to which American Army unit happened upon the war crime scene:

Men of the First Army were shown a similar atrocity as they surged eastward toward the Elbe.  On April 18th, as the fight for Leipzig was winding down, an escaped French prisoner made contact with Lieutenant Daniel Camous, a French officer attached to the American army.  He led Camous to the [Leipzig] suburb of Thekla, northeast of the city, and showed him what remained of a small labor camp that had supplied slaves for an aircraft factory near by. (pp. 74-75)

Another trip to the National Archives to see what the First Army reported for its activities in the month of April 1945 revealed that it was, indeed, all over the Leipzig area:

On 20 April the remaining area of resistance in the Harz Mountains was reduced to a pocket around Thale.  The enemy, however, counterattacked at Bitterfeld, previously the scene of determined fighting and, with the final occupation of Leipzig, our troops pushed on against weakened resistance to seize Hohenleina and Rodefeld.

Missing, however, in the extensive report is any mention of the town or suburb of Thekla or any prison camp or atrocity resembling the one described by Rooney and Abzug.  One might think that that is because the report confined itself to purely battlefield operations, but that is not the case.  Consider the following section:

d.  Violations of the Geneva Convention :  A total of eight violations were formally reported during the month, and forwarded to the Commanding General, Twelfth Army Group.  Six of these investigations were made by Inspectors General from this headquarters, and the other two by Inspectors General of subordinate commands.

e.  During the period covered by this report First Army troops overran two more "murder factories", located at Buchenwald and Nordhausen, and the War Crimes Investigating Team attached to this headquarters from Twelfth Army Group as well as Inspectors General from this office and officers from the Staff Judge Advocate's section were engaged upon the investigation resulting therefrom.

The horrible slaughter of defenseless victims described by Rooney, Abzug, et al. should have been worth a mention as a war crime and Geneva Convention violation, it would seem.  But maybe not.  

The atrocity to which Thekla was said to have been similar, in the passage from Abzug above, was, according to Abzug, encountered by the Fifth Armored Division, and as described it was much worse than the Thekla incident.  "Hundreds" of prisoners which had been in transit had been herded into a large barn, the doors had been locked, and the building had been set afire, burning them all to death.  This supposedly had taken place near the town of Gardelegen.  This town was in the Fifth Armored Division's zone of operation.  It is mentioned twice in that unit's April report as being on the southern border of the area that they covered.  Somehow, though, the atrocity described by Abzug, as well as by Time magazine on April 30, 1945, which set the number of victims at 500, managed to escape mention by the Fifth Armored Division in its official report.  

Time, in the same issue, describes an atrocity identical in almost every respect to Thekla, but gives the name of the prison camp as "Erla," the same name that Bourke-White uses for what Abzug says was the Thekla atrocity.  To further confuse matters, Time has a photograph of a charred body in repose, leaning on a brick foundation with what looks like the remains of burned straw in one hand.  That picture, according to Time, is of an Erla victim.  Abzug has the identical photograph in his book, which he identifies as a "prisoner burned alive at Gardelegen, April 16, 1945."

What's going on here?  The following quote from Mark Zepezauer's book, The CIA's Greatest Hits, is perhaps germane:  

The three most valuable media assets the CIA could count on were William Paley's CBS, Arthur Sulzberger's New York Times and Henry Luce's Time/Life empire. All three bent over backwards promoting the picture of Oswald as a lone nut in the JFK assassination. 

(See http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/CIA%20Hits/Wurlitzer_CIAHits.html)

As we have seen, all three news organizations were involved in disseminating the Thekla atrocity story as well, and doing it with the same sort of inconsistencies that undermine confidence in the official story in the Kennedy assassination.  If they were acting as "media assets" to the CIA in one case, it should not surprise us to see them performing in that capacity in the other case as well, although, for the Thekla story, it would initially have been for the CIA's predecessor, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).

But what about the author, Mr. Abzug?  We find from a Net search that he is a professor of Jewish studies and chairman of the Department of American Studies at the University of Texas.  The former capacity suggests that he is a partisan with a axe to grind when it comes to reporting on World War II, and his book, from its accusatory title to its almost cartoonish portrayal of the villainous Germans does nothing to suggest that he is a dispassionate, objective scholar.  The latter capacity suggests that he might well be in the same business as CBS, The New York Times, and Time-Life.  You see, because foreign students tapped for future leadership roles in their home countries are heavy patrons of the American studies curriculum, the covert community has greatly penetrated the ranks of American studies faculties in the country's major universities.  In that regard, it is but a more extreme example of what has gone on with curricula in area studies in general:

One returns to McGeorge Bundy's enthusiastic statement about the OSS and academe: that the area studies programs in American universities "were manned, directed, or stimulated by graduates of the OSS--a remarkable institution, half cops and robbers, half faculty meeting."  There was, Bundy told his Johns Hopkins audience, and he hoped there always would be, "a big measure of interpenetration between universities with area programs and the information-gathering agencies of the United States." (Robin W. Winks, Cloak & Gown, Scholars in the Secret War, 1939-1961, p. 447)

Professor Abzug reminds us of another American studies professor, one who has weighed in vigorously in support of the government's fiction in both the JFK and Vincent Foster death cases.  That is Professor Jacob Cohen of Brandeis University.  (See http://my.brandeis.edu/news/item?news_item_id=102234&show_release_date=1, http://www.dcdave.com/article1/122297.html, and http://www.dcdave.com/article2/102998a.html .)

                                                             Agent Andy?

For his part, Andy Rooney puts us in mind of no one so much as an old covert-warrior acquaintance of mine, Scott Runkle, some of whose propaganda exploits I have described at http://www.dcdave.com/article1/072198a.html.  His career progression was, for the record: OSS French specialist during World War II, Time magazine correspondent in Paris, Paris Match correspondent in Washington, presidency of his own Washington public relations firm.  In this latter capacity he showed me how he could write an editorial promoting his clients' interests that would appear verbatim in newspapers large and small, represented as the opinion of the newspaper, itself.  He had particularly good connections with the New York Times, he explained, because the editor of that paper's editorial page was an old OSS buddy.  On the day I learned of Runkle's death I was informed, by a person who was particularly well situated to know, that Runkle had been an intelligence agent throughout his career.  

Et tu, Andy?

David Martin,  April 23, 2005

                                             Addendum:  Atrocity Confirmed

After the research was completed that underlies the above story, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum posted an article with more details about the Thekla atrocity at http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/article.php?lang=en&ModuleId=10006167.  The key information provided in that article is that members of the 69th Infantry Division were the ones who liberated the camp and discovered the carnage.  The 69th was a part of the First Army, which makes this story consistent with the one told by Abzug.  A good deal of information about the 69th is available on the Net, and through this avenue we were able to locate a veteran survivor of the 69th who had been at Leipzig and was familiar with the atrocity story.  He was able to furnish us with a collection of official U.S. Army documents that confirm the basic outlines of the story.

There were about 2,000 inmates of the Thekla prison camp.  Some days before the arrival of the Americans, about 1,700 of the inmates had been moved elsewhere, accompanied by guards, including the camp commander.  The remainder, under orders given by SS men, were herded into two barracks, said to have previously housed Jewish women, and the buildings were sealed up and set afire.  Many who tried to escape were shot, although a number of the prisoners apparently did manage to escape.  The maximum number of bodies accounted for, by a U.S. Army pathologist, was 84, although he said that there might have been some undiscovered bodies.  Curiously, in a funeral presided over by a Protestant minister, a Catholic priest, and a Jewish rabbi, only 75 graves were dug and filled.

By any measure, this was, indeed, a wanton slaughter and a war crime.  The SS was noted for its savagery, and this was another example of it.  The official account, like the first published account in The New York Times, differs from Rooney's 60 Minutes story in one important aspect.  None of the victims were specifically identified as Jewish, and with the mention of barracks that previously housed Jewish women, the survivors seemed to be quite well aware of who were Jews and who were not.  Some lists of names and nationalities appear in the reports.  The majority of them are identified as Russian, with lesser numbers of Poles, Czechs, and French.  With a rabbi among those presiding at the funeral, it is possible that some of the victims might have been Jewish, but, again, no specific mention is made in any of the official reports of Jewish victims.

Not to justify in any way the slaughter of innocents that took place in these waning days of the war, but the fact that most of the prisoners were Russian might provide something of an explanation.  The Russians were notorious for their brutality, and the Germans might have been lashing out in revenge at the nearest available targets.  Having absolute power in wartime over people regarded as the enemy also tends to be a very corrupting thing, at any time and place.  As bad as the crime was, it would also seem to be out of place as a part of the Holocaust Memorial Museum, because it was clearly not part of any systematic extermination of Jews.  It would fit better into the category of prisoner abuse leading to thousands of premature deaths inflicted upon Confederate POWs at Camp Douglas in Chicago and Point Lookout in southern Maryland.

February 21, 2006

 

 

 

 

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