Eyewitness to Historyby John Carey (Editor)
Spanning from ancient Greece to the end of the Marcos regime in the Philippines, this collection of eyewitness accounts of significant historical events is culled from hundreds of memoirs, letters, travel books, and newspapers.
- Harvard University Press
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- 5.77(w) x 8.59(h) x 1.47(d)
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The Nazi Extermination Camp, Maidanek,23 July 1944Alexander WerthOn the outskirts of Lublin, Poland, Maidanek was converted into an extermination camp for Jews in 1942. According to some estimates, about 1.5 million died there. At first victims were disposed of in mass shootings; later, gas chambers using Zyklon-B were built. After the rebellion at Sobibor extermination camp in November 1943, the prisoners at Maidanek were killed, and the SS tried to obliterate traces of the massacre. My first reaction to Maidanek was a feeling of surprise. I had imagined something horrible and sinister beyond words. It was nothing like that. It looked singularly harmless from outside. 'Is that it?' was my first reaction when we stopped at what looked like a large workers' settlement. Behind us was the many-towered skyline of Lublin. There was much dust on the road, and the grass was a dull, greenish-grey colour. The camp was separated from the road by a couple of barbed-wire fences, but these did not look particularly sinister, and might have been put up Outside any military or semi-military establishment. The place was large; like a whole town of barracks painted a pleasant soft green. There were many people around - soldiers and civilians. A polish sentry opened the barbed-wire gate to let our cars enter the central avenue, with large green barracks on either side. And then we stopped outside a large barrack marked Bad und Desinfektion II. 'This', somebody said, 'is where large numbers of those arriving at the camp were brought in.The inside of this barrack was made of concrete, and water taps J~ came out of the wall, and around the room there were benches where the clothes were put downandafterwards collected. So this was the place into which they were driven. Or perhaps they were politely invited to 'Step this way, please?' Did any of them suspect, while washing themselves after a long journey, what would happen a few minutes later? Anyway, after the washing was over, they were I asked to go into the next room; at this point even the most unsuspecting must have begun to wonder. For the 'next room' was a series of large square concrete structures, each about one-quarter of the size of the bath-house, and, unlike it, had no windows. The naked people (men one time, women another time, children the next) were driven or forced from the bath-house into these dark concrete boxes - about five yards square - and then, with 200 or 250 people packed into each box - and it was completely dark there, except for a small skylight in the ceiling and the spyhole in the door - the process of gassing began. First some hot air was pumped in from the ceiling and then the pretty pale-blue crystals of Zyklon were showered down on the people, and in the hot wet air they rapidly evaporated. In anything from two to ten minutes everybody was dead ... There were six concrete boxes - gas chambers - side by side. 'Nearly 2000 people could be disposed of here simultaneously,' one of the guides said.But what thoughts passed through these people's minds during those first few minutes while the crystals were falling; could anyone still believe that this humiliating process of being packed into a box and standing there naked, rubbing backs with other naked people, had anything to do with disinfection?At first it was all very hard to take in, without an effort of the imagination. There were a number of very dull-looking concrete structures which, if their doors had been wider, might anywhere else have been mistaken for a row of nice little garages. But the doors - the doors! They were heavy steel doors, and each had a heavy steel bolt. And in the middle of the door was a spyhole, a circle, three inches in diameter composed of about a hundred small holes. Could the people in their death agony see the SS-man's eye as he watched them? Anyway, the SS-man had nothing to fear: his eye was well protected by a steel netting over the spyhole. And, like the proud maker of reliable safes, the maker of the door had put his name round the spyhole: 'Auert, Berlin'. Then a touch of blue on the floor caught my eye. It was very faint, but still legible. In blue chalk someone had scribbled the word vergast and had drawn crudely above it a skull and crossbones. I had never seen this word before, but it obviously meant 'gassed' - and not merely 'gassed' but, with that eloquent little prefix ver, 'gassed out'. That's this job finished, and now for the next lot. The blue chalk came into motion when there was nothing but a heap of naked corpses inside. But what cries, what curses, what prayers perhaps, had been uttered inside that gas chamber only a few minutes before? Yet the concrete walls were thick, and Herr Auert had done a wonderful job, so probably no one could hear anything from outside. And even if they did, the people in the camp knew what it was all about.It was here, outside Bad und Desinfektion 11, in the side-lane leading into the central avenue, that the corpses were loaded into lorries, covered with tarpaulins, and carted to the crematorium at the other end of the camp, about half a mile away. Between the two there were dozens of barracks, painted the same soft green. Some had notice boards outside, others had not. Thus, there was an Effekten Kammer and a Frauen-Bekleidungskammer; here the victims' luggage and the women's clothes were sorted out, before they were sent to the central Lublin warehouse, and then on to Germany.At the other end of the camp, there were enormous mounds of white ashes; but as you looked closer, you found that they were not perfect ashes: for they had among them masses of small human bones: collar bones, finger bones, and bits of skulls, and even a small femur, which can only have been that of a child. And, beyond these mounds there was a sloping plain, on which there grew acres and acres of cabbages. They were large luxuriant cabbages, covered with a layer of white dust. As I heard somebody explaining: 'Layer of manure, then layer of ashes, that's the way it was done . . These cabbages are all grown on human ashes . . . The Ss-men used to cart most of the ashes to their model farm, some distance away A well-run farm; the SS-men liked to eat these overgrown cabbages and the prisoners ate these cabbages, too, although they knew that they would almost certainly be turned into cabbages themselves before long . . .'The Chopin Warehouse was like a vast, five-storey department store, part of the grandiose Maidanek Murder Factory. Here the possessions of hundreds of thousands of murdered people were sorted and classified and packed for export to Germany. In one big room there were thousands of trunks and suitcases, some still with carefully written-out labels; there was a room marked Herrenschuhe and another marked Damenschuhe; here were thousands of pairs of shoes, all of much better quality than those seen in the big dump near the camp. Then there was a long corridor with thousands of women's dresses, and another with thousands of overcoats. Another room had large wooden shelves all along it, through the centre and along the walls; it was like being in a Woolworth store: here were piled up hundreds of safety razors, and shaving brushes, and thousands of pen-knives and pencils. In the next room were piled up children's toys: teddy-bears, and celluloid dolls and tin automobiles by the hundred, and simple jigsaw puzzles, and an American-made Mickey Mouse . . . And so on, and so on. In a junk heap I even found a manuscript of a Violin Sonata, Op. 15, by somebody called Ernst J. Weil of Prague. What hideous story was behind this?Copyright ) 1987 by John Carey
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Good, fun reading with interesting facts
Very fun way to look at history. It's like being transported back to that time and that moment. I enjoyed seeing it through the eyes of people who lived it or witnessed it. HOWEVER...It is not a history lesson. The stories are very brief. Some stories would have been more interesting had I known more about that period or background of the person etc.
I read this book some years ago and loaned it to a friend. Of course I never got it back so I'm getting another copy. It is so much fun to read the first person accounts -- a thoroughly enjoyable book. Never a dull account -- it is like being there for the event.
Read this book a few years ago and recently re-read certain stories. Each is a few pages and is in chronological order from the first recorded events to 1980's. A must have for those who need to get a first hand unedited version of the events that shaped our world.