"What I Saw In Europe"


By MALCOLM W. BINGAY, Editorial Director, The Detroit Free Press, Detroit, Michigan

Delivered before the Economic Club of Detroit, Detroit, Michigan, May 16, 1945

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XI, pp. 623-627.

WE went to Europe at the request of General Eisenhower—18 American Editors. He had seen one of the Nazi Slave Labor prison camps, and could not believe his own eyes. So he felt that older men in the newspaper business, this group of editors, should go over there to support the reports of the war correspondents.

He wanted us to testify to the world that conditions were not exaggerated and, so I testify to you today.

There could be no exaggeration; any stories written of the Nazi atrocities must needs be understatements.

I was frankly skeptical about atrocity charges. Having lived through the first world war, I realized that too many of them

had been exploded as myths and I went over in the attitude of "being from Missouri."

We found, however, that these reports were not propaganda. Rather they were inadequate in telling the full horror.

Statistics are utterly impossible.

We went into camps with men dying all around us, men mad with starvation and the tortures they had suffered.

We flew back and forth over Europe to see a nation in ruins, a continent wrecked. Practically every leading city of Germany today is in ashes, some partially destroyed, some devastated, others utterly obliterated.

They flew us at about 500 feet over Cologne, around and around the great cathedral. The old Spire of Christ still stands against the sky; but you cannot tell a street in that city that once held a million people; just a pile of dust and twisted steel.

There are anywhere from twenty million to forty million people—and again I say that statistics mean nothing, these figures are all conjectural—somewhere between twenty million and forty million people of all nationalities, displaced, dispossessed, freed prisoners, walking along the highways of Europe today, hungry and diseased. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse sweep over the whole continent.

All because a little group of gangsters were allowed to seize power, and a so-called civilization lacked the courage and the vision to stop them. I hope to touch on that later.

I have been asked to talk of the prison camps. Our first was at Buchenwald, about six miles out of Weimar, the old hunting lodge of Bismarck, in the most glorious, bountiful agricultural country I have ever driven through. At Weimar the people are well fed because of that agricultural wealth—big, buxom women, fat, happy children, well clothed—the women with silk hose.

Then six miles out, into Buchenwald, and there between 20,000 and 30,000 human skeletons crawled along the ground, or hung helplessly in their bunks or laid on the floors. Even as we came, they were carrying bodies out. From fifty to two hundred a day died.

These prisoners were not prisoners of war. They were political prisoners. Their only crime was that they disagreed with the Nazi philosophy. They had refused to accept the totalitarianism of Hitler and his gang.

The thing that tore my heart most was the little children. There had been about a thousand of them. When we arrived, there were about six hundred from three and a half years old up to twelve. They were fairly well fed, because there was a prospect of manpowering them. But their hands were like birds' claws and their eyes were like those of frightened animals. If a G.I. Joe tried to give one of them a piece of chocolate, they would snarl and run away. The Red Cross nurses tried to take them in their arms. They would scream in terror—children frightened by mere acts of kindness. If they had beaten them or kicked them, they would have taken it as a matter of course, and would not have been afraid.

At Buchenwald we looked for one of the gas chambers which we had heard so much about, and which I frankly doubted when reading of Lublin. There was none there, but they had a strangulation room. When a man was too sick, too starved, too broken to work any longer, he was strangled to death, or hit over the head with a club. His body was thrown into these great crematories. No religious ceremony, no identification.

All over the camps of Europe they had the technique of even pulling the gold out of their teeth before they were cremated.

These victims were scientists, college professors, doctors, lawyers, editors, priests, clergymen. They were not just the mere ordinary people of Germany. They were the men with the courage and the vision to defy the totalitarians.

When we got there, we found a pile of their bodies, oh, maybe two hundred or three hundred; piled up like cord-wood. The S. S. guards had not had time to cremate them before the Yanks arrived.

Here they had a hospital, set aside for vivisection on living human beings.

The Elite Guard Commandant of the camp had a prostitute wife who was clever in handicraft. They would bring these new prisoners in from all over Europe. They would watch, and if they had unusual tattoo marks, that skin would be cut off and given to her to be tanned, while the victim still lived; or, if he struggled, they killed him and then worked more effectively. Out of this skin lampshades and novelties were made.

The average death rate by starvation, by disease and by extermination, was six thousand a month.

These poor creatures slept in bunks three and four tiers high; in bunks that might have comfortably fitted three, or possibly four men. There would be eight and ten piled on top of each other. In the morning when the roll call came, part of their job was to drag out of these bunks their companions who had died through the night.

The hospital was just a vast series of rooms without beds. The dying were laid in rows on the bare floors. As one died, the guards would hit him on the head and drag him out

The crematories took care of some four hundred bodies every ten hours. They worked night and day. Then they ran short of coal. The Army Intelligence has records of the complaints of the S. S. Commandants on the inefficiency of the Nazi Government, because they had not supplied sufficient crematories, and most certainly had not supplied sufficient coal to burn all those bodies.

To solve the problem they gathered together in one heap something like two thousand dead. Prisoners were taken out into the countryside and made to dig great holes in the ground. These bodies were just dumped in, in a heap. The camp officials knew the Americans were advancing. They wanted to destroy all evidence,

Himmler had given absolute orders that no prisoner in any, of these political prison camps was to be left alive to be turned over to the American Command; they were all to be killed. The Yanks moved so fast that they could not carry out his orders.

Four thousand of these people were packed into box cars, some of them open, some of them closed, in mid-winter, with no clothing except their prison uniforms, lighter than our summer pajamas, made of cotton. It took several weeks for this horrible cargo of humanity, in freezing weather, to go from Buchenwald, near Weimar, to the murder factory or Dachau, about eighteen miles out of Munich.

So they flew us to Dachau, three days behind the tactical army.

Again, figures are impossible. They estimated somewhere between forty thousand and fifty thousand prisoners at Dachau. Again you got a sense of pastoral loveliness, driving through those wonderful Bavarian farms.

G.I. Joe, driving our jeep, as we came into Dachau along a railroad track, cried out: "God! There is a human body in that ditch!"

We drove along, and he yelled again: "There are four of five more!" Naked bodies scattered along the track.

Then as we drew nearer to Dachau, we began to under stand. All along the railroad siding were these bodies, indescribable bodies. They had ceased to look human: skeletons with nothing but a covering of skin.

At the railroad station itself we saw the boxcars, between thirty or forty of them. Dead bodies were still piled in them. Of that four thousand that had been shipped from Buchenwald to escape from the Yank advance, somewhere between fifteen hundred and two thousand had died in transit.

G.I. Joe and the American Army nurses, digging down among those piles of corpses, found men still living. Those who still could breathe were rushed into a specially organized hospital inside of Dachau.

Here was the glory of the American nurses. With typhus everywhere, disease everywhere, to see them cleaning out this filth and making decent the death of these poor victims of the Nazi terror.

When the American troops broke into this camp and saw the conditions, G.I. Joe forgot all military protocol. First they shot the great wolfhounds the Nazis had at night to guard the prisoners. If any man escaped, he was torn to pieces by these dogs.

G.I. Joe shot those dogs. The S. S. Guards had camouflaged uniforms on, so they were very readily picked out. They, too, were shot without questions being asked. Soldiers broke the electric current in the barbed wire fences, and let the prisoners loose. Not outside the gates of hell was there ever such a sight.

Scattered all around that railroad yard, all over the camp itself when we got there, were these bodies of prisoners, and S. S. Elite Guards, twisted into horrible shapes as death came to them from American bullets and from the clubs and the sticks of the persecuted that they had tortured for years.

The gas chamber which I had read about and heard about, as I have said, was not at Buchenwald. At Dachau we found one. It was nothing that was just thrown together for temporary use. That, to me, is one of the most hideous facts in the investigation.

It was a solidly built building. The cornerstone was cut to the year 1937; a great, brick structure; and over the top of it the words "Brause Bad," Shower Bath. Prisoners were told that they were to be taken to the bath. They had the idea that a bath, a shower, meant that they were to be liberated. They were given a little piece of soap and rag for a towel. They were put through these doors from which no man ever returned alive. The lobby looked very much like an American bath house with a mosaic floor and wicker furniture. At the center was a big desk, and there were flowers on it—faded flowers.

These victims, fifty at a time, were told to strip. They were ushered into what they thought were showers. There were what looked like shower sprays, but no water ever came out. When they were all under these "showers," the great iron door clanged shut. A heavy glass-covered peephole was there for the guards to watch. The gas was turned on. All were dead within three or four minutes. Then great ventilators were turned on to cleanse the air of the poison, and other prisoners were moved in. The bodies were dragged to the crematories. It is estimated that these crematories burned as high as a thousand bodies a day.

All here, too, were political prisoners—no war prisoners.

We found here around three thousand Roman Catholic priests. They were segregated. Pastor Niemoeller, the great Lutheran who had challenged Hitler from the beginning, had been there three weeks before the Yanks arrived. They had rushed him out, but the priests were still there. They used these priests, as they did the rest, for slave labor. They had to work in the fields or the factories. But they also used these priests for experimental purposes in medicine.

I talked to Father Peter Van Gestel, a Dutch Jesuit, who had been thrown into this prison in September of 1941. His only crime was getting up in his pulpit and urging his people not to become contaminated by the atheistic doctrines of the Nazis, to have faith in God, and to believe in their individual souls. That was all he had ever done.

I spent an hour with him. He had the most saintly face, the gentlest voice, I have ever encountered. There was no bitterness in him.

I said to him, "Father, how in God's name could you have stood this for four years?"

He said, "I had faith in God, I was sustained in my belief that the Master ordained that I should be here that I might help the suffering and soothe the dying."

They took these men of God and inoculated them with malaria to experiment on various cures that they thought they had. Of the two hundred, thirty-seven died. Three hundred more were inoculated with phlegmon—bringing on hideous ulcers and sores all over the body, a disease of malnutrition.

Three or four hundred more of those priests were given water treatments. They were submerged under various temperatures to see how long they could live under certain conditions, were given various chemicals, and then submerged again. They were given salt water at sea temperature, and then colder. All this, to determine how long Nazi flyers, if they fell in the ocean, could live in it.

Dachau was the training quarters, the barracks of the S. S. Elite Guard. Here they hardened recruits by having them practice tortures on their victims.

They would hang a prisoner up by his thumbs, just high enough off the ground so that the dogs would have to jump at his writhing body.

The prisoners were forced to watch all these tortures as a warning to them.

There were camps like this for women, which we did not see. But other correspondents had seen them and the American Intelligence had photographs of them, where 10, 20 and 30 thousand women were given even worse treatment. Strangely enough, they tell me that the women guards and the women commandants of those camps were even more brutal to their own sex than the men were to the men.

At Dachau they furnished agricultural laborers and put men to work in the factories. Those who wanted them were supplied with prostitutes. Thousands of women—mothers, wives, young girls—were dragged from their homes in Russia, in Poland and the other nations of Europe, dragged there for prostitution. When they became too sick, too hungry, too starved and too diseased to be further used for that purpose, they were released from their agonies by the gas chambers.

On one of our tours we went through Rheims. We saw the ancient Cathedral—again the facade blown to pieces. That night in Paris I said to Captain David Rockefeller, who had been at Rheims, "I suppose," I said, "your father will have to rebuild it again." He said, "I do not know what the Foundation will do about that, but I know one spot in Europe they will never rebuild."

I said, "And what is that?"

He said, "That is the Village of Oradour."

Now, this little village of some four hundred people was in the southern agricultural area of France. There was no military reason for taking that town. The Nazis moved in. They were not brutal, not even rough to these villagers. The French merely shrugged their shoulders, and said as they always do, "Another war." They are used to it.

But about four o'clock in the afternoon an order cracked forth. All the men in that village were taken to one side of the town, and all the women and children to another. Every man was machine gunned to death. Then all the women and children were piled into the village church. This had been soaked with gasoline. They set fire to it. As the flames roared, the machine guns poured in upon them through the open doors. Only eight people escaped.

One poor womany with a three-months-old baby in her arms, climbed a ladder to the upper window of the church, and held the poor little thing out to give it a last breath of air. They shot the mother. The baby dropped to the ground. A Nazi soldier took it by its feet and dashed its brains out against the church.

And the Nazi explanation of that was quite logical—to them.

"Very sorry!" They had made a mistake! It was the wrong town! It was another village that had been causing trouble, and to teach the French a lesson, they had orders to destroy that town. But the orders had been confused.

So the farm people of the area ask that nothing be built there. They with their own hands are going to build a great wall of stone around the ruin, and leave it there for all eternity as a symbol of man's inhumanity to man.

These, are just incidents, highlights. As I came out of Iceland across the ocean, on our way home, I began thinking of this nightmare, this ten years' reign of terror.

At Munich we had found the key to how it all started, how a little gang of criminals were able to dominate eighty million people and almost conquer the world with their doctrine of hate.

The entire philosophy of Nazism can be sized up in just three words—"No moral law."

If you set aside the moral law, then you can understand everything that has happened in Europe.

Let us go back to the prisons for political prisoners. The sight of them still haunts me at night*

All over Germany these camps—and we have checked and rechecked—followed a given pattern. It was no happenstance, no accident;.it cannot be said that some sadistic madman plotted this thing in one sector and it was not so in others.

The political prison camps varied little in any part of Germany. All of them had gas chambers or strangulation rooms. All of them had crematories.

The thing that started this coldly calculated mass murder system was revealed to us on that last horrible day in Munich.

Here we stood in the ruins m the beer hall where the Nazi party was born.

In this saloon there gathered back in 1921, little groups of police court characters, petty thieves, racketeers, perverts, the scum of Munich. They were held together under the hypnotic genius of Adolph Hitler. From there they launched their campaign of hate which almost conquered the world.

The whole Nazi movement is a combination of three elements, three forces, that we all are vividly aware of in the United States. By mentioning them we can understand what happened in Germany.

First, you find in the Nazi Movement the hate and the bigotry which dominates our Ku Klux Klan.

Second, the gangster technique of Al Capone's, which made him master of Chicago.

And third, you find a political, rabble rousing genius, such as Huey Long.

Those three factors went to make up this Nazi terror.

They began under the evil genius of Hitler by first bringing about a nationwide wave of Anti-Semitism.

By the horrible power of Hitler, they were able to convince all too many Germans that the Jews were to blame for everything that ever happened that was wrong in Germany.

The Jews were the first victims of these gas chambers. Then the industrialist, Herman Goering, saw a manpower waste there.

First, it was agreed, make them slave labor. Take all their property away from them, confiscate everything they have, and make them slaves and after that, when too sick and too starved to work, then, kill them!

That set the pattern. After the Jews, there came every other person in Germany—man or woman or child—who did not conform to the orders from Hitler and his gang. And so I say that the finest culture of Germany, the best scholars, the great, courageous lovers of liberty, the scientists, the real character of Germany, followed the Jews.

We could not find one Jew in all Germany. At least somewhere between five and six million have been slaughtered. How many others, there is no way of estimating, Every man who opposed Hitler, went to the torture, to slave labor, and to death—except those who were saved by the advancing armies of freedom.

This pattern followed through as the Nazis conquered other countries. Every man who in any way opposed the Nazi regime, was dragged into Germany to supply this slave labor.

It is estimated by Army Intelligence that somewhere around fifteen million of these conquered people were sent to these labor camps.

Thinking of these things, I could see my own beloved America through that hideous nightmare that was once Germany. I could see Governor Dick Lesche at Baton Rouge in Louisiana, sneeringly telling of "The Second Louisiana Purchase"—meaning by that the action by which he and 18 other gangsters of Louisiana, had tax indictments nolle prossed, following the assassination of Huey Long. And with the nolle prossing of those indictments, they all supported the New Deal. That was his idea of "the Louisiana Purchase."

If a Huey Long had had a nation the size of Germany, smaller than the State of Texas, Huey might have been the "Der Fuehrer" of America, as he was of Louisiana,

I could see Frank Hague, boss of New Jersey, who proclaims publicly, "I am the law." I could see him lolling on the beach at the Surf Club in Miami, accepted by respectable society because he has money and is willing to spend it—and they don't ask him where it comes from.

I could see the big political bosses of our American cities who determine our national elections,

I could see the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, which after the first World War totaled something like 5,100,000 people; who, for the privilege of hating their fellow men, were willing to pay ten dollars for a bed sheet to hide behind.

I could see the rising tide of bigotry, of racial and religious hatred sweeping over America. And I could readily understand how Hitler and his gang conquered first the German people, then conquered Europe and almost conquered the world.

Are the German people to blame? Are they guilty? Yes! Just in the same sense that we are guilty, we of America, for tolerating such men as Huey Long and the Frank Hagues and the political bosses, failing to live up to our responsibility as citizens of a free democracy. The rabble rouser Hitler and his alter ego Goebbels, I can see them, too, nascently, in America, and I am not unaware of the fact thatsome of these rabble rousers have been financed by American business.

Big business, big financiers, the Monarchical Party, the Junker Party, the military caste, financed Hitler, saying, "He is a fool and we can handle him."

Their ashes mingle now in the soil of Germany with the martyrs who refused to accept the philosophy of hate.

I can see in America, along with big business also, the union racketeer, using the same technique by which the Nazis rose to power, the gangsters' ultimatum—"or else"

We talked to scholars, we talked to industrial leaders, we talked to scientists, we talked to the little people of Germany, and always it was the same story: "No, we didn't believe in the Nazi principles, but we had to join up—or else" They were afraid!

A neighbor would say something, and he would disappear through the night. They never knew where he went. This reign of terror kept growing. Frequently they would let prisoners escape from camps to go back and tell people what was happening to them—as a warning.

The businessman said, "I would have lost everything I had if I had not gone along."

You can no more find a Nazi in Germany than you can find a respectable American who will ever admit having been a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Those Germans who confess they were members of the party insist they "had to—or else."

The pages of history are made bright by the names of men and women who have died, gladly, as martyrs to ideals and principles rather than surrender their convictions. But there are now no Nazi martyrs because there never were any principles or ideals.

Always the "or else" as their only excuse for membership.

And so in America, I have heard big businessmen say, "You have got to play ball with them."

I have heard big businessmen and little businessmen justify paying money to union racketeers because it was the only way, they said, they could keep in business. So, too, they had paid politicians and corrupted each other.

Graft, bribery, extortion, intimidation—all under the jungle law of "or else."

All over America you can find that "or else" spirit in a people too tired to live up to their responsibility as citizens, people too timid and fearful that something might happen. They might lose their money, they might lose their social position, they might lose their political opportunity. The same spirit that I find in my beloved America, I found in the hell that was once a great and prosperous Germany.

And so I say to you in closing, anyone among us who has hate in his heart for his fellow mortal; to the extent of that hate he has accepted the philosophy of Nazism.

Any man who is afraid to speak his mind; any man who is afraid to declare himself an American citizen, standing on the fundamental principles that gave this nation its birth; any man who for cowardice or for mere gain, or prestige of position, who will prostitute his faith, he, too, at heart is a Nazi.

If he lets this poison of blind hate, this poison of selfish ambition, this fear of the future, this insane desire for security and comfort master him, he, too—marches down, down and down, the road to serfdom—down to the hell of Nazism.

Huey Long was once asked whether Fascism would ever take hold in America, and he said, "Yes, but they will call it anti-Fascism."

So, we of America today let's look into our own hearts and our own souls. If we have hate for a man because he is a Jew or a Catholic or a Protestant or whatever his religion; because he is a Republican or a Democrat, a radical or a conservative, if we have hate for any man for any reason, we are opening the doors to what has happened in Europe.

If we lack the courage to speak our minds and stand on our feet and to be an American, we are bending our necks to the yoke.

The whole world is beset with the philosophy of the hate made manifest by Hitler. Until the human race can recapture the age-old message of Isaiah and of Christ, can bring back a faith and trust in the goodness of people; until we have recaptured that, this civilization of ours is crumbling. And it was crumbling, or else no such gang as began at Munich in 1921 could have pushed it over. That is our indictment.

There must come to America a restoration of our faith, the courage of our fathers, the age-old lessons of the Sermon on the Mount and of Calvary. Until that time we are in danger. The guilt of Germany shall be our guilt. The Moral Law alone can save us. That is what the Nazis first threw away to launch their crime of the ages.