All these years later, after countless reports, books, oral histories and documentary films have constructed a terrifyingly clear picture of the Third Reich's vast machinery of murder, it's difficult to grasp just how shocking these first revelations really were.
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The most horrific rumors about what was happening to the Jews and millions of other "undesirables—Catholics, pacifists, homosexuals, Slavs—in Nazi-occupied lands paled before the reality revealed by the liberation of the camps. In an issue of LIFE published a few weeks later, in which several of the pictures in this gallery first appeared, the magazine told its readers of a "barbarism that reaches the low point of human degradation.
Last week the jubilance of impending victory was sobered by the grim facts of the atrocities which the Allied troops were uncovering all over Germany. For 12 years since the Nazis seized power, American have heard charges of German brutality. Made skeptical by World War I "atrocity propaganda," many people refused to put much faith in stories about the inhuman Nazi treatment of prisoners.
The things [their photos] show are horrible. They are printed for the reason stated seven years ago when, in publishing early pictures of war's death and destruction in Spain and China, LIFE stated, "Dead men will have indeed died in vain if live men refuse to look at them. In Rodger's own typed picture captions, meanwhile, dated April 20, , the photographer detailed what he had witnessed when he accompanied the British 11th Armoured Division the fabled "Black Bull" into the camp just days earlier.
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Somehow, the stark, almost telegraphic language of the notes carries more power—more immediacy —and are thus more terrifying than so many of the passionate, outraged articles and editorials that appeared in newspapers and on the radio in the weeks and months to come. Here are just a few examples:.
Ukrainian women cooking a meal on a refuse dump in the camp. For fuel for their fire they used the ragged clothing torn from corpses.
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They are boiling pine needles and roots to form a sort of soup. There must be about 5, bodies in this grave. The former SS guards—both women and men—are made to collect them. These girls, all between 20 and 25, were even worse than the men. They were more cruel.
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Authentic stories are told of how these [women] tied living people to the corpses and burned them alive. SS girls and men working in the mass grave and unloading the dead from trucks. If so, why was she there?
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And perhaps most important: Did she survive? Smoyer is now 95 and long retired from his job as a supervisor at an industrial cement plant. He was married to Melba, the woman who sent him homemade fudge when he was in combat, for 70 years before she died in They had two daughters. German tanks had Americans outgunned, but Smoyer destroyed a feared German tank during a legendary battle.
Anyone passing Smoyer on the street today wouldn't imagine that he fought in one the most legendary tank duels of World War II, says Makos.
He destroyed a dreaded Panther tank, one of the most formidable weapons in the German arsenal. Yet Smoyer doesn't revel in war stories. He turns the channel when war movies come on. He closes the window when Fourth of July fireworks go off. He's a big quiet guy with a nervous chuckle. Smoyer had good reason to turn away from the sounds of war. For those who fought in tanks, war was literally hell on wheels.
Men who hadn't showered in three weeks were crammed together into small metal capsules. Shells that penetrated through tank hulls ricocheted inside like supersonic pinballs. Concussion forces from the impact of shells shattered men's bones and turned their bodies to jelly, with just the skin holding their corpses together. Tanks were called "crematoriums on wheels.
Smoyer top center and his crew pause during a lull in the fighting. He thought he wouldn't survive the war. In one of the most heartbreaking scenes in the book, Makos tells the story of Smoyer's company commander, Capt. Mason Salisbury. Salisbury had returned home from the war, graduated from Columbia Law School and become a lawyer at big New York firm. One winter weekend, he stayed at his parents' mansion on Long Island. He played tennis and ate dinner with his family. That Monday morning, his father found him slumped in a car in the garage. The car had been running all night. Salisbury had killed himself at He'd left a note, saying he was depressed over the loss of his friends in battle.
Salisbury had been stalked and cut down by the unseen killer. The mental toll of war. Smoyer was losing the battle with that unseen killer. The mental toll of the war was eating into him. He'd become a hero for his actions in Cologne that day. After his encounter in the intersection, his tank would go on to tangle with another German tank known as the "monster" -- the dreaded Panther.
It had a gun so powerful that its shells could go through one American Sherman tank into the next. Tank warfare was so grisly during World War II that American soldiers had a nickname for tanks: crematoriums on wheels. Smoyer and his crew destroyed that Panther, and the duel was caught on film by a combat cameraman. Journalists heard about the battle and interviewed and photographed Smoyer and his crew.
One journalist wrote a piece about it called, "Killing a Monster. But as the years went by, Smoyer tried not to think about the war. He'd have flashbacks of battles, but he pushed those memories away. Yet one question never quite went away: What really happened at that intersection? Smoyer plopped the tape into his video player and started reliving a battle he had fought over 50 years earlier. He saw the massive intersection again.
The rubble. The car streaking through as bullets and tracers from his tank and the German tank zipped across the roadway. He saw the car crash again, a body tumbling out of the passenger side, a familiar flash of curly brown hair. He saw her stare vacantly into the sky as American medics tried to treat her. He saw her curl into a fetal position as one medic tenderly covered her with a blanket. He saw her blink as soldiers walked by. The woman from the car fights for her life as American medics tend to her wounds.
His chest started to heave as he realized what he had done. At the time of the battle, he was too preoccupied with surviving the war to dwell on his actions. And he kept the memories at bay for years afterward. Now, he could no longer do that. Smoyer started having nightmares. He'd wake up swinging, afraid he'd hit his wife, Melba. He had to take medication to calm himself, but the nightmares kept coming. He could barely function in the day. He kept seeing the woman in his dreams. Smoyer couldn't change what he'd seen, but maybe he could lessen its sting.
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January Learn how and when to remove this template message. Retrieved 23 July American Soldier Ballads. Retrieved The Yale Book of Quotations. Yale University Press. The Struggle for Guadalcanal, August February University of Illinois Press. October 31, Archived from the original on October 31,
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