the real killing fields


In mid-April 1945 American GIs entered Buchenwald while their British compatriots marched, horrified, into Bergen-Belsen. There they found scenes of unimaginable suffering, men of bones and skin standing, somehow, on spindly legs, amid piles of emaciated corpses. In those dark days at Buchenwald, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower postponed the burial of the dead so that journalists could be brought to the scene to tell the world what the fight had been about. Even as thousands of typhus-stricken survivors died, witnesses to a liberation that came too late for them, Edward R. Murrow filed reports and Margaret Bourke-White made chilling photographs that documented what must have seemed the nether pole of human depravity, the worst an inhuman regime could achieve. A picture of evil was set; yet that picture, it has long been clear, was distorted and mistaken. A little over a year ago, as he put the finishing touches on his important new work of history, Bloodlands, Timothy Snyder published a much remarked-upon piece in The New York Review of Books titled—somewhat portentously—”The Holocaust: The Ignored Reality.” As in the finished volume, Snyder offered a powerful reminder that the true killing fields of the Holocaust were in German-occupied territories in the east, where first with mass shootings and then at killing centers like the hellish Treblinka the Jews were put to death as Jews—most of them immediately, without staying the night. “The fate of the concentration camp inmates, horrible though it was, is distinct from that of those many millions who were gassed, shot, or starved,” Snyder writes in his book. “American and British forces,” he continues, “saw none of the major killing sites.”

more from Samuel Moyn at The Nation here.