The Liberation of the Camps: Facts vs. Lies
by Theodore J. O'Keefe
A DIFFERENT REALITY
TYPHUS, NOT POISON GAS
NO LAMPSHADES, NO HANDBAGS, ETC.
CONCENTRATION CAMP SURVIVORS - MERELY VICTIMS?
THE PROPAGANDA INTENSIFIES
TIME FOR TRUTH
At Dachau, Buchenwald, Dora, Mauthausen, and other work and detention camps,
horrified American infantrymen encountered heaps of dead and dying inmates,
emaciated and diseased. Survivors told them hair-raising stories of torture and
slaughter, and backed up their claims by showing the GI's crematory ovens,
alleged gas chambers, supposed implements of torture, even shrunken heads and
lampshades, gloves, and handbags purportedly made from skin flayed from dead
But it is known today that, very soon after the liberation of the camps,
American authorities were aware that the real story of the camps was quite
different from the one in which they were coaching military public information
officers, government spokesmen, politicians, journalists, and other mouthpieces.
U.S. government authorities, mindful that most Americans, who remembered the
atrocity stories fed them during World War I, still doubted the Allied
propaganda directed against the Hitler regime, resolved to "document" what the
GI's had found in the camps. Prominent newsmen and politicians were flown in to
see the harrowing evidence, while the U.S. Army Signal Corps filmed and
photographed the scenes for posterity. The famous journalist Edward R. Murrow
reported, in tones of horror, but no longer of disbelief, what he had been told
and shown, and Dachau and Buchenwald were branded on the hearts and minds of the
American populace as names of infamy unmatched in the sad and bloody history of
For Americans, what was "discovered" at the camps - the dead and the diseased,
the terrible stories of the inmates, all the props of torture and terror -
became the basis not simply of a transitory propaganda campaign but of the
conviction that yes, it was true: the Germans DID exterminate six million Jews,
most of them in lethal gas chambers. What the GI's found was used, by way of
films which were mandatory viewing for the vanquished populace of Germany, to
"re-educate" the German people by destroying their national pride and their will
to a united, independant national state, imposing in their place overwhelming
feelings of collective guilt and political impotence. And when the testimony,
and the verdict, at Nuremberg incorporated most, if not all, of the horror
stories Americans were told about Dachau, Buchenwald, and other places captured
by the U.S. Army, the Holocaust could pass for one of the most documented, one
of the most authenticated, one of the most proven historical episodes in the
When American and British forces overran western and central Germany in the
spring of 1945, they were followed by troops charged with discovering and
securing any evidence of German war crimes. Among them was Dr. Charles Larson,
one of America's leading forensic pathologists, who was assigned to the Judge
Advocate General's Department. Dr. Larson performed autopsies at Dachau and some
twenty other German camps, examining on some days more than 100 corpses. After
his grim work at Dachau, he was questioned for three days by U.S. Army
Dr. Larson's findings? According to an interview he gave to an American
journalist in 1980, "What we've heard is that six million Jews were
exterminated. Part of that is a hoax."(2) And what part was the hoax? Dr.
Larson, who told his biographer that to his knowledge he "was the only forensic
pathologist on duty in the entire European Theater,"(3) informed "Wichita Eagle"
reporter Jan Floerchinger that there "never was a case of poison gas uncovered."
(4) Neither Dr. Larson nor any other forensic specialist has ever been cited by
any Holocaust historian to substantiate a single case of death by poison gas,
whether Zyklon-B or any other variety.
If not by gassing, how did the unfortunate victims at Dachau, Buchenwald, and
Bergen-Belsen perish? Were they tortured to death? Deliberately starved? The
answers to these questions are known as well. As Dr. Larson and other Allied
medical men discovered, the chief cause of death at Dachau, Belsen, and the
other camps was disease, above all typhus, an old and terrible scourge of
mankind which until recently flourished in places where populations were crowded
together in circumstances where public health measures were unknown or had
broken down. Such was the case in the overcrowded internment camps in Germany at
war's end, where, despite such measures as systematic delousing, quarantine of
the sick, and cremation of the dead, the virtual collapse of Germany's food,
transport, and public health systems led to catastrophe.
Perhaps the most authoritative statement of the facts as to typhus and mortality
in the camps has been made by Dr. John E. Gordon, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of
preventive medicine and epidemiology at the Harvard University School of Public
Health who was with U.S. forces in Germany in 1945. Dr. Gordon reported in 1948
that "The outbreaks in concentration camps and prisons made up the great bulk of
typhus infection encountered in Germany." Dr. Gordon summarized the causes for
the outbreaks as follows:
"Germany was in chaos. The destruction of whole cities and the path left by
advancing armies produced a disruption of living conditions contributing to the
spread of the disease. Sanitation was low grade, public utilities were seriously
disrupted, food supply and food distribution was poor, housing was inadequate
and order and discipline were everywhere lacking. Still more important, a
shifting of populations was occurring such as few countries and few times have
Dr. Gordon's findings are corroborated by Dr. Russel Barton, today a
psychiatrist of international repute, who entered Bergen-Belsen with British
forces as a young medical student in 1945. Barton, who volunteered to care for
the diseased survivors, testified under sworn oath in a Toronto courtroom in
1985 that "Thousands of prisoners who died at the Bergen-Belsen concentration
camp during World War II weren't deliberately starved to death but died from a
rash of diseases."(6) Dr. Barton further testified that on entering the camp he
had credited stories of deliberate starvations but had decided such stories were
untrue after inspecting the well-equipped kitchens and the meticulously
maintained ledgers, dating back to 1942, of food cooked and dispensed each day.
Despite noisily publicized claims and widespread popular notions to the
contrary, no researcher has been able to document a German policy of
extermination through starvation in the German camps.
What of the ghoulish stories of concentration camp inmates skinned for their
tattoos, flayed to make lampshades and handbags, or other artifacts? What of the
innumerable "torture racks," "meathooks," whipping posts, gallows, and other
tools of torment and death that are reported to have abounded at every German
camp? These allegations, and even more grotesque ones profferred by Soviet
prosecutors, found their way into the record at Nuremberg.
The lampshade and tattooed-skin charges were made against Ilse Koch, dubbed by
journalists the "Bitch of Buchenwald," who was reported to have furnished her
house with objects manufactured from the tanned hides of luckless inmates. But
General Lucius Clay, military governor of the U.S. zone of occupied Germany, who
reviewed her case in 1948, told his superiors in Washington: "There is no
convincing evidence that she [Ilse Koch] selected inmates for extermination in
order to secure tattooed skins or that she possessed any articles made of human
skin."(7) In an interview General Clay gave years later, he stated about the
material for the infamous lampshades: "Well, it turned out actually that it was
goat flesh. But at the trial it was still human flesh. It was almost impossible
for her to have gotten a fair trial."(8) Ilse Koch hanged herself in a West
German jail in 1967.
It would be tedius to itemize and refute the thousands of bizarre claims as to
Nazi atrocities. That there were instances of German cruelty, however, is clear
from the testimony of Dr. Konrad Morgen, a legal investigator attached to the
Reich Criminal Police, whose statements on the witness stand at Nuremberg have
never been challenged by believers in the Jewish Holocaust. Dr. Morgen informed
the court that he had been given full authority by Heinrich Himmler, commander
of Hitler's SS and the dreaded Gestapo, to enter any German concentration camp
and investigate instances of cruelty and corruption on the part of the camp
staffs. According to Dr. Morgen's sworn testimony at Nuremberg, he investigated
800 such cases, in which over 200 convictions resulted.(9) Punishments included
the death penalty for the worst offenders, including Hermann Karl Koch, Ilse's
husband, commandant of Buchenwald.
In reality, while camp commandants in certain cases did inflict physical
punishment, such acts had to be approved by authorities in Berlin, and it was
required that a camp physician first certify the good health of the prisoner to
be disciplined and then be on hand at the actual beating.(10) After all, the
camps were throughout most of the war important centers of industrial activity.
The good health and morale of the prisoners was critical to the German war
effort, as is evidenced by a 1942 order issued by SS-Brigadefuhrer Richard
Glucks, chief of the office which controlled the concentration camps, which held
camp commanders "personally responsible for exhausting every possibility to
preserve the physical strength of the detainees." (11)
U.S. Army investigators, working at Buchenwald and other camps, quickly
ascertained what was common knowledge among veteran inmates: that the worst
offenders, the cruellest denizens of the camps were not the guards but the
prisoners themselves. Common criminals of the same stripe as those who populate
U.S. prisons today committed many villainies, particularly when they held
positions of authority, and fanatical Communists, highly organized to combat
their many political enemies among the inmates, eliminated their foes with
Two U.S. Army investigators at Buchenwald, Egon W. Fleck and Edward A. Tenenbaum,
carefully investigated circumstances in the camp before its liberation. In a
detailed report submitted to their superiors, they revealed, in the words of
Alfred Toambs, their commander, who wrote a preface to the report, "how the
prisoners themselves organized a deadly terror within the Nazi terror."(12)
Fleck and Tenenbaum described the power exercised by criminals and Communists as
". . . The trusties, who in time became almost exclusively Communist Germans,
had the power of life and death over all other inmates. They could sentence a
man or a group to almost certain death . . . The Communist trusties were
directly responsible for a large part of the brutalities at Buchenwald."
Colonel Donald B. Robinson, chief historian of the American military government
in Germany, summarized the Fleck-Tenenbaum report in an article which appeared
in "The American Mercury" shortly after the war. Colonel Robinson wrote
succinctly of the American investigators' findings: "It appeared that the
prisoners who agreed with the Communists ate; those who didn't starved to death.
Additional corroboration of inmate brutality has been provided by Ellis E.
Spackman, who, as Chief of Counter-Intelligence Arrests and Detentions for the
Seventh U.S. Army, was involved in the liberation of Dachau. Spackman, later a
professor of history at San Bernardino Valley College in California, wrote in
1966 that at Dachau "the prisoners were the actual instruments that inflicted
the barbarities on their fellow prisoners." (14)
On December 9, 1944 Col. Paul Kirk and Lt. Col. Edward J. Gully inspected the
German concentration camp at Natzweiler in Alsace. They reported their findings
to their superiors at the headquarters of the U.S. 6th Army Group, which
subsequently forwarded Kirk and Gully's report to the War Crimes Division.
While, significantly, the full text of their report has never been published, it
has been revealed, by an author supportive of Holocaust claims, that the two
investigators were careful to characterize equipment exhibited to them by French
informants as a "SO-CALLED lethal gas chamber," and claim it was "ALLEGEDLY used
as a lethal gas chamber" (15) [emphasis added].
Both the careful phraseology of the Natzweiler report, and its effective
suppression, stand in stark contrast to the credulity, the confusion, and the
blaring publicity which accompanied official reports of alleged gas chambers at
Dachau. At first, a U.S. Army photo depicting a GI gazing mournfully at a steel
door marked with a skull and crossbones and the German words for: "Caution! Gas!
Mortal danger! Don't open!" was identified as showing the murder weapon. Later,
however, it was evidently decided that the apparatus in question was merely a
standard delousing chamber for clothing, and another alleged gas chamber, this
one cunningly disguised as a shower room, was exhibited to American congressmen
and journalists as the site where thousands breathed their last. While there
exist numerous reports in the press as to the operation of this second "gas
chamber," no official report by trained Army investigators has yet surfaced to
reconcile such problems as the function of the shower heads: Were they
"dummies," or did lethal cyanide gas stream through them? (Each theory has
appreciable support in journalistic and historiographical literature.)
As with Dachau, so with Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen, and the other camps captured
by the Allies. There was no end of propaganda about "gas chambers," "gas ovens,"
and the like, but so far not a single detailed description of the murder weapon
and its function, not a single report of the kind that is mandatory for the
successful prosecution of any assault or murder case in America at the time and
today, has come to light.
Furthermore, a number of Holocaust authorities have now publicly decreed that
there were no gassings, no extermination camps in Germany after all! All these
things, we are told, were located in what is now Poland, in areas captured by
the Soviet Red Army and off-limits to Western investigators. In 1960 Dr. Martin
Broszat, who is now director of the Munich-based Institute for Contemporary
History, which is funded by the West German government to SUPPORT the Holocaust
story, wrote a letter to the German weekly "Die Zeit" in which he stated
categorically: "Neither in Dachau nor in Bergen-Belsen nor in Buchenwald were
Jews or other prisoners gassed."(16) Professional Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal
wrote in 1975 that "there were no extermination camps on German soil."(17) And Dachau "gas chamber" No. 2, which was once presented to a stunned and grieving
world as a weapon which claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, is now described
in the brochure issued to tourists at the modern Dachau "memorial site" in these
words: "This gas chamber, camouflaged as a shower room, was not used."(18)
More than forty years after American troops entered Dachau, Buchenwald, and the
other German camps, and trained American investigators established the facts as
to what had gone on in them, the government in Washington, the entertainment
media in Hollywood, and the print media in New York continue to churn out
millions of words and images annually on the horrors of the camps and the infamy
of the Holocaust. Despite the fact that, with the exception of the defeated
Confederacy, no enemy of America has ever so suffered so complete and
devestating defeat as did Germany in 1945, the mass media and the politicians
and bureaucrats behave as if Hitler, his troops, and his concentration camps
continue to exist in an eternal present, and our opinion makers continue to
distort, through ignorance or malice, the facts about the camps.
It is time that the government and the professional historians revealed the
facts about Dachau, Buchenwald, and the other camps. It is time that they let
the American public know how the inmates died, and how they didn't die. It is
time that the claims as to mass murder by gassing were clarified and
investigated in the same manner as any other claims of murder are dealt with. It
is time that the free ride certain groups have enjoyed as the result of
unchallenged Holocaust claims be terminated, just as it is time that other
groups, including Germans, eastern Europeans, the Roman Catholic hierarchy, and
the wartime leadership of America and Britain stop being scapegoated, either for
their alleged role in the Holocaust or their supposed failure to stop it.
Above all, it is time that the citizens of this great democratic Republic have
the facts about the camps, facts which they possess a right to know, a right
that is fundamental to the exercise of their authority and their will in the
governance of their country. As citizens and as taxpayers, Americans of all
ethnic backgrounds, of all faiths, have a basic right and an overriding interest
in determining the facts of incidents which are deemed by those in positions of
power to be determinative in America's foreign policy, in its educational
policy, in its selection of past events to be memorialized in our civic life.
The alleged facts of the Holocaust are today at issue all over the civilized
world: in Germany, in France, in Italy, in Britain, in the Low Countries and
Scandinavia, in Japan, across our border in Canada and in the United States of
America itself. The truth will be decided only by recourse to the facts, in the
public forum: not by concealing the facts, denying the truth, stonewalling
reality. The truth will out, and it is time the government of this country, and
governments and international bodies throughout the world, made public and
patent the evidence of what actually transpired in the German concentration
camps in the years 1933-1945, so that we may put paid to the lies, without fear
or favor, and carry out the work of reconciliation and renewal that is and must
be the granite foundation of mutual tolerance between peoples and of a peace
based on justice, rather than on guns, barbed wire, prisons, and lies.
1) Crime Doctor, a biography of Larson by John D. McCallum, Mercer, Washington &
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, 1979, p. 69.
2) Wichita Eagle_, April 1, 1980, p. 4C.
3) Crime Doctor, p. 46.
4) Wichita Eagle, April 1, 1980, p. 4C
5) John E. Gordon, "Louse-Borne Typhus Fever in the European Theater of
Operations, U.S. Army, 1945," in Forest Ray Moulton, Ed., _Rickettsial Diseases
of Man, Am. Acad. for the Advancement of Science, Washington D.C. 1948.
6) Toronto Star, February 8, 1985, p. A2.
7) New York Times, 24 September 1948, p. 3.
8) Interview with Lucius Clay,_Official Proceeding of the George C. Marshall
Research Foundation, cited in "Buchenwald: Legend and Reality," Mark Weber, The
Journal of Historical Review, Vol. 7, no. 4.
9) International Military Tribunal, Vol. XVII, p. 556; IMT, Vol. XX, pp. 489,
10) Cited in The Theory and Practice of Hell, Eugen Kogon, Berkley Books, New
York, pages 108-109.
11) Nuremberg document NO-1523.
12) Buchenwald: A Preliminary Report, Egon W. Fleck and Edward A. Tenenbaum,
U.S. Army, 12th Army Group, 24 April 1945. National Archives, Record Group 331,
SHAEF, G-5, 17.11, Jacket 10, Box 151 (8929/163-8929/180).
13) "Communist Atrocities at Buchenwald," Donald B. Robinson, in _American
Mercury, October 1946.
14) _San Bernardino Sun-Telegram, March 13, 1966 (cited in The Man Who Invented
"Genocide", James J. Martin, Institute for Historical Review, IHR, 1984, pp.
15) Concentration Camp at Natzwiller [sic]_, RG 331, Records of Allied
Operations and Occupation, Army Headquarters WW2, SHAEF/G-5/2717, Modern
Military, National Archives, Washington, D.C., cited in Robert H. Abzug, Inside
the Vicious Heart_, Oxford University Press, New York, 1985, p. 10, p. 181. 16)
_Die Zeit_, Hamburg, Germany, August 26, 1960. 17) _Books & Bookmen, April 1975,
Vol. 7, p. 5. 18) Leaflet, Memorial Site Concentration Camp Dachau, The
International Dachau-Committee, Dachau, Germany, n.d.
16.John Cobden, Dachau: Reality and Myth (IHR, 1994), pp.
25-29. See also: The Journal of Historical Review, May-June 1993, pp. 9-11; The
Journal of Historical Review, March- April 1995, p. 16.
17."Keine Vergasung in Dachau," Die Zeit (Hamburg), August 19,
1960. Facsimile reprint, and English-language translation, in The Journal of
Historical Review, May-June 1993, p. 12.
18.Letters in Books & Bookmen (London), April 1975, p. 5, and
in The Stars and Stripes (European edition), Jan. 24, 1993, p. 14. Wiesenthal's
1993 Stars and Stripes letter is reprinted in facsimile in The Journal of
Historical Review, May-June 1993, p. 10.
19.Memorial Site Concentration Camp Dachau. Leaflet published
by the International Dachau-Committee (Dachau, Germany), no date.
The author Theodore J. O'Keefe is the editor of "The Journal of Historical
Review." Educated at Harvard, he has studied history and literature on three
continents, and has published many articles on historical and political
The inmates of a Polish concentration camp: shortly after the camp was
overun by advancing Soviet forces and the captives were released. Note the
absence of any emaciated figures here
The conclusions of the early U.S. Army investigations as to the truth about the
wartime German concentration camps have since been corroborated by all
subsequent investigators and can be summarized:
1. The harrowing scenes of dead and dying inmates were not the result of a
German policy of "extermination," but rather the result of epidemics of typhus
and other disease brought about largely by the effects of Allied aerial attacks.
2. Stories of Nazi supercriminals and sadists who turned Jews and others into
handbags and lampshades for their private profit or amusement were sick lies or
diseased fantasies; indeed, the German authorities consistently punished
corruption AND cruelty on the part of camp commanders and guards.
3. On the other hand, the representations of the newly liberated inmates to have
been saints and martyrs of Hitlerism were quite often very far fom the truth;
indeed, most of the brutalities inflicted on camp detainees were the work of
their fellow prisoners, in contravention of German policy and German orders.
4. The alleged homicidal showers and gas chambers had been used either for
bathing camp inmates or delousing their clothes; the claim that they had been
used to murder Jews or other human beings is a contemptible fabrication.
Orthodox, Establishment historians and professional "Nazi hunters" have quietly
dropped claims that inmates were gassed at Dachau, Buchenwald, and other camps
in Germany. They continue, however, to keep silent regarding the lies about
Dachau and Buchenwald, as well as to evade an open discussion of the evidence
for homicidal gassing at Auschwitz and the other camps captured by the Soviets.
The original version of this revised and updated essay first appeared in The
Journal of Historical Review, July-August 1995 (Vol. 15, no. 4), pp. 18-23.