On April 11, 1945, fifty-five years ago this week, the Allied forces liberated Buchenwald, one of the Nazi prison camps of WWII.
Buchenwald had imprisoned almost 240,000 people during the eight years of its existence from 1937-45. It is estimated that more than 55,000 were killed there.
At its liberation in 1945, the Allied army marched almost 2,000 residents of the nearby German town of Weimar five miles up a steep hill so that they could see firsthand the atrocities of Buchenwald. These were crimes against humanity that had been committed right under the noses, to which they had pleaded ignorance.
Even today, seeing this video footage or the photographs found at sites like the Holocaust Research Project is troubling to all but the most calloused. In fact, “troubling” is an understatement. It is hard to find a word that adequately captures a truly human response.
This parade of German citizens through Buchenwald could have been considered prurient, unnecessary, and something that people did not need to see. It was truly unfit for human consumption. It is staggering to the human mind to consider what depths of depravity had to exist for this type of environment to exist.
But it would awaken the people to what had happened while they stood by. It would open the eyes of the people who supported the Nazi regime, whether knowingly or because of deception, to see the type of abuse, mistreatment, and murder that had gone on right under their nose.
Only by seeing this abuse could they be shown the depths of depravity.
Only be seeing this abuse could future generations be reminded the cost of totalitarianism.
Today, there are those who say that scandals should not be exposed. It hurts the cause. It exposes well-meaning people. It unfairly labels people who did nothing wrong.It lumps too many people together. It does not resolve anything. It does not repair the damage.
And all of that is true.
And all of that is mostly irrelevant.
Public exposure of the atrocities of Buchenwald, Dachau, Auschwitz and Birkenau, Mauthausen, Treblinka, or any other prison camp would not bring back one single life. It would not reunite one single family. It would not undo one day of torture or abuse. It would not provide one meal for the malnourished prisoners. It would not remove the stench of disease and death.
But it would bring a lifetime of reminders, an image stamped so deeply on the human mind that the world should resolve never to let it happen again.
The uncovering of atrocity is an astounding spectacle.
But the scandal is worse.
May a generation arise that refuses to tolerate scandal and its cover-up, that treats victims with grace and mercy, that remembers the atrocities of past generations so that future generations can be spared.