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Jewish Troops and Jewish Victims: soldiers encounter the Holocaust
Jewish organizations communicated through books, articles, and speeches the honorable, even valorous, role that Jewish soldiers have played in all of America's wars to counter both Nazi propaganda but also general American anti-Semetic views of "the cowardly Jew."
This work highlights the positive contributions of Jews to the military history of the United States from colonial times through the opening campaigns of World War II, but as the Foreword demonstrates, this was also a public way to counter Nazi anti-Jewish propaganda and general anti-Semitism in the United States. The authors and their readership clearly knew that the Nazis had targeted Jews for harsh treatment, but other evidence shows that they were unlikely to have been fully aware of the extent of the persecution or of the Nazis’ “Final Solution” to the “Jewish problem.”
From the Foreword:
“...the toll of human life claimed by modern engines of death staggers the imagination. But even greater is the moral havoc wrought by the deadliest weapon of all time, the weapon of propaganda used by the Nazis with such fatal efficiency in France, in Holland, in Poland, and in Belgium to undermine the people's will and paralyze their resistance....
The world of tomorrow will remember the cruel suffering of the Jews under Nazi domination and also that Hitler selected the Jews as his first victim.......
The world of tomorrow will, let us hope, forget the vicious lies with which Hitler has attempted to degrade the Jews in the eyes of their neighbors……in the midst of the war, anti-Jewish propaganda is a danger to the United States [?and to American Jews?], and our best protection is the truth.
It is out of a desire to spread the truth that this book has been written. The military contribution of Jews to the up-building of our nation is too little known and we believe it important at this time to retell the story of the patriotism of the jew, not to impress our fellow Americans with the vitrues of Jews, but because the facts of American history are the best answer to the libels which endanger the unity of our country.”
In his memoir of World War II, General Eisenhower (soon to be President Eisenhower) reiterates the importance of this “’face to face’ encounter with ‘indisputable evidence’ as a defining moment not merely for himself but for the Allied nations. Previous evidence – including military intelligence reports and civilian eyewitness testimony – had, Eisenhower implies, failed to convince the Allies that reports of Nazi atrocities were anything beyond mere ‘propaganda’.
But Allied liberators were, he claims, uniquely situated to verify the truth of what would otherwise leave room for ‘cynical doubt.’ Eisenhower also asserts that, with this privilege of being eyewitnesses, the liberators bore special obligation thereafter to offer testimony ‘at first hand’.” [Shapiro (2003) pp.110-111]
“The same day (April 12, 1945) I saw my first horror camp. It was near the town of Gotha. I have never felt able to describe my emotional reactions when I first came face to face with the indisputable evidence of Nazi brutality and ruthless disregard of every shred of decency. Up to that time I had known about it only generally or through secondary sources. I am certain, however, that I have never at any other time experienced an equal sense of shock.
I visited every nook and cranny of the camp because I felt it my duty to be in a position from then on to testify at first hand about these things in case there ever grew up at home the belief or assumption that ‘the stories of Nazi brutality were just propaganda.’”
If the Supreme Allied Commander was aware “only generally or through secondary sources” of the horrific nature of the camps, how much less so the average “dog face” was prepared for this encounter.