“The Liberators: America’s Witnesses to the Holocaust,” by Michael Hirsh. Bantam Books. 356 pages. $27.00.
The great body of witness testimony to the Holocaust is survivor testimony. It has a relatively long history in print, and it will always be central to our understanding of both the monstrous and the courageous in human nature. It has, quite rightly, been given a privileged position, even while Holocaust deniers somehow manage to construe it as fabrication or delusion. As the generation of those who escaped or survived the Holocaust vanishes, and as their voices are stilled, other kinds of evidence and testimony need to be encouraged and enshrined in collective memory. Michael Hirsh’s “The Liberators” performs an important part of this task by presenting, at a distance of 65 years, the memories of those once-young Americans who liberated the Nazi death camps.
Mr. Hirsh, a Punta Gorda resident, sought out and interviewed over 150 U. S. veterans, including nurses and ambulance drivers, who came upon the immense collection of atrocities during the spring of 1945. His plan is essentially chronological, following U. S. forces through April and early May as they took control of one camp, and then another, and then another – until they had put an end to the Nazi death machine.
The author sketches the early life of each liberator and provides details about each individual’s entrance into military service, unit assignments, and combat experiences (as appropriate) before becoming part of the liberation effort.
The large majority of these liberator-witnesses were not prepared for what they encountered: the astounding piles of human remains, the methodologies and instruments of annihilation, the horrifying sight of barely living survivors – maltreated, malnourished, and almost insanely grateful. Indeed, without the Allied march to victory, the liberation would not have happened, and countless more of those herded together for extinction would have met that fate.
To read this review in its entirety, as published in the Naples and Charlotte editions of Florida Weekly for April 22-28, 2010, click here:Florida Weekly – Michael Hirsh. The review also appears in the April 21-27 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly.