INSIDE THE VICIOUS HEART: Americans and the Liberation of Nazi Concentration Camps by Robert H. Abzug
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INSIDE THE VICIOUS HEART: Americans and the Liberation of Nazi Concentration Camps

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A quiet, almost reticent account of what may truly be called ""a turning point in Western consciousness"": the liberation of Nazi concentration camps in April and May of 1945--what the first American forces found, and its impact upon them; how they responded, how the news was disseminated and received, how the survivors were treated. Abzug--a historian at the U. of Texas, biographer of Theodore Weld (Passionate Liberator, 1980)--wisely confines himself to American experience. (The single, partial exception--British liberation of Bergen-Belsen--is suggestive of differences.) He interprets and analyzes; he doesn't expostulate. With the graphic evidence--the map showing concentration camps throughout Germany (Dachau close to Munich, Buchenwald on the outskirts of Weimar), the photos that stunned the world (the piles of dead, the cadaverous living)--he has no cause or need. Americans, he notes, couldn't imagine the full extent of Nazi atrocities--only partly on account of the discredited 1914-18 atrocity tales. Using eye-witness testimony (some published, some collected at the Holocaust Project, Emery U.), Abzug chronicles the confrontation, the recognition, the ""disturbing mixture"" of horror and revulsion, anger and alienation, camp by camp (especially as it beset the Jewish soldier). Eisenhower, in ""the small hell of Ohrdruf,"" snapping at a hapless G.I. (""Still having trouble hating them?"") and ordering that all behind-the-lines units tour the camp. The grisly spectacle of Nordhausen--where ""We laboriously tried to pick out the ones who still showed signs of life"" (and the dead were laid out side-by-side over two acres). The ""macabre society"" of Buchenwald, ruled by German Communist prisoners who kept the despised Jewish inmates sealed off, even days after liberation. The dead burned alive at Gardelegen, their heads ""peering from beneath the walls""; the charred bodies caught in motion at Thekla. The violence and revenge at Dachau--and the rejection, the backing away from the ""subhuman,"" grasping survivors, from mass-German guilt (and its connotations). In the aftermath, American personnel found German civilians, and displaced Baits and Poles, far more congenial and sympathetic than the suspicious, unruly, ""lazy"" and ""dirty"" Jewish DPs. Americans who did connect, however, ""could better gauge the fragility of life in a world whose possibility for evil had been irrevocably widened."" But we are not helpless to stop it. At once documentation and contemplation, stark and muted: a precarious undertaking, well and memorably done.

Pub Date: April 4th, 1985
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press