The lead editors on the project said as they began to document all the concentration camps in Europe, they thought there were about 7,000 of them. (I read an old article that said there were 1500.) Then they began their research and soon the number went to 11,000, then an astonishing 20,00. Finally, they have cataloged about 42,500 such camps! They include prisoner-of-war camps, killing centers, brothels, and forced labor camps.
The article said, "What they have found so far has shocked even scholars steeped in the history of the Holocaust."
I was reminded about the part in my Dad's story where, as an Infantry lieutenant in World War II, he came across one small concentration camp late in the war. Here then is what my father, Lieut. H.G. Wight, related:
We resumed driving through Germany, fighting our way through woods and towns. One day we were advancing slowly through a section of forest against moderate resistance when the firing slowed, then stopped completely. The Germans in front of us seemed to evaporate. At first we suspected a trap and continued to advance cautiously. After about an hour of marching through silence, we came upon something that looked like a prison camp with high walls, guard towers and barbed wire. It turned out to be a small concentration camp consisting of just a few barracks buildings.
|Photograph courtesy of Google Images|
As we carefully approached the entrance, we saw the gates were wide open. The guards and even the combat troops in the area had left. I assumed none of them wanted to be caught anywhere near this place. Even before we entered the gates, we were met with a terrible stench--like a combination of death and excrement. Inside, we came upon a few men sitting in the open yard in black and dirty-white striped uniforms, with a big yellow star on their shirts.
I approached them and said, "Zie zint frei." (You are free.) They just stared at me, their mouths hanging open and drooling a little, their eyes totally blank, as if there was no one inside. They seemed barely alive. They looked like skeletons inside their loose prison clothes. I had a K-ration in my pack, so I opened it and offered it to them. It took a few minutes for them to realize this was food I was offering, but when they did, they grabbed it and wolfed it down. Almost immediately they began retching. I assumed real food was too much for them.
Taking a few of my men, we entered one of the barracks.
|Photograph courtesy of Google Images|
I can scarcely describe the horror of the inside of that building. Rough wooden bunks lined the walls, with men, or what had once been men, lying in them.Obviously many of these people hadn't been out of their bunks in days. In fact, several of the occupants were dead and evidently had been for some time. I could hardly bear to look around and I felt like crying.
I realized Germany was short of food for their own people late in the war, but they had apparently just stopped feeding the prisoners in this camp. There was no evidence of poison gas or other ways of killing here. They were merely starving them to death.
One of our radiomen called back to headquarters reporting what we'd found and requesting medical assistance. We stayed a couple hours, trying to comfort the living and get a start on cleaning up the place. We removed the dead from the barracks, laying them out in rows and covering them with whatever we could find.
Soon a few of our trucks came up with some supplies and medical personnel. As they took over we moved out and resumed our march through the woods.
I was angrier than I'd ever been in my life--angry and grimly determined to beat this enemy that had so little regard for human life. In addition, I was grateful to be doing my part to prevent this obscenity from reaching America. And I wasn't the only one who felt like that. After that day we had no trouble motivating our men to fight.