THE LIBERATORS by Michael Hirsh


America’s Witnesses to the Holocaust
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Veterans tell their stories of liberating Nazi death camps in the closing months of World War II.

Journalist Hirsh (None Braver: U.S. Air Force Pararescuemen in the War on Terrorism, 2003, etc.) interviewed more than 150 veteran U.S. soldiers who discovered death camps in Germany and Austria. In 1945, the first to be uncovered by American troops was Ohrdruf, a subcamp of the soon-to-be-notorious Buchenwald. The horrors there were unlike any that even battle-hardened soldiers had seen before. Piles of corpses littered the ground, some covered in lime or partially incinerated. The death-camp survivors were emaciated and barely alive. Some 50 years later, many veterans repeat very similar details. Many describe the bodies as being “stacked up like cordwood,” the smells of the filth and decay are noted by nearly everyone and many note how German civilians from surrounding towns yelled “Nicht Nazi” in an effort to distance themselves from responsibility for the camps. Despite the repetition, each veteran comes across as a distinct individual, and each story adds shocking and/or poignant details. For example, one tells of discovering baskets of what he thought were pebbles, but that turned out to be teeth. The soldiers’ reactions to the horrors varied—some didn’t talk about what they saw for years, or even decades, while others made it their mission to tell as many people as possible. Hirsh should be commended for the diversity of his interview subjects, which include former GI and Ohrdruf liberator Charles T. Payne, President Obama’s great-uncle, who gained fame during the 2008 presidential campaign. Overall, the book is a worthy tribute to these soldiers and a valuable historical document.

A necessary history about some of the worst atrocities of World War II.

Pub Date: March 16th, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-553-80756-1
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Bantam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2010