The Question is "Why"

By Chuck Ferree (Holocaust Witness and Liberator)

Harry Herder, Liberator of Buchenwald:

"Over fifty years ago, I went through a set of experiences that I have never been able to shake from my mind. They subside in my mind, and, then, in the spring always, some small trigger will set them off and I will be immersed in these experiences once more. The degree of immersion varies from year to year, but there is no gradual diminution with time. I note, but do not understand, that the events occurred in the spring, and the re-immersion seems to be always in the spring. This year I set those memories on paper, all of them, or at least all of them I recall. I hope for the catharsis. I do not expect a complete purging -- that would be expecting too much -- but if I can get these memories to crawl deeper into my mind, to reappear less vividly, and less frequently, it will be a help.

We are as we are, we saw what we saw, and we remember as we remember. So be it. These are my memories. It is enough for me that I feel what I do feel, and I am now attempting to thin those feelings out. And I use you, the reader. I must purge these feelings on someone, and if I have readers, it is they I am using. I apologize to you, and I ask for your understanding."

Harry Herder was an American soldier who rode through the electric barbed wire on an American tank at the Nazi camp; Buchenwald. His complete experience can be read at the Cybrary of the Holocaust web site ( Look under: "Liberators" for this man's story and experiences of other soldiers who liberated various Nazi camps.

The question of "why" soldiers who first entered the Nazi Death Camps, and that is what they really were; Nazi Death Camps, are hesitant to tell about their experiences is difficult to explain. Many have gone to their deaths, since WW-II, without their families knowing about their being Liberators. "Why" do so many men who had such unusual experiences refuse or find it complicated to share their intimacy with others? Harry Herder carried his burden around inside for 50 years, and finally wrote about it in the hopes of producing some relief from the haunting memories, a catharsis, Herder called it. He wanted to purge away those memories. He wanted to cleanse away the awful sights and smells and feelings. He needed to feel relief from the pain of those evil remembrances. Holocaust victims, are aware of this problem. Many victims simply cannot express their feelings. It's simply too painful. Some Holocaust victims also carry a burden of guilt; "why me?" "Why did I survive when some many perished?" There are no answers of course. Just deep feelings, which can not be shared.

In my own case, almost 50 years passed before I told my best and closest friend; my bride of over 50 years. One of the difficulties is wondering if others can understand, when even we have a trying time understanding. How does one explain such horrors? How does one feel secure that they will be believed? So much of what we witnessed is not believable, it wasn't at the time, and it isn't now. How can one describe the feelings of coming upon a huge burning building, crammed with over 1,000 helpless people sealed inside by the SS and torched. No way to fight the fire, just walk among the crisp, smoldering corpses, locked in various grotesque positions of agonizing death. Others murdered by SS bullets while trying to flee. How do we know that others are able to comprehend, what we find so difficult to understand ourselves? More questions than answers. "War is hell!" Everybody says that. Combat is unimaginable, unless one has experience battle. Participating on freeing semi-living, fellow humans who are so pitiful that one wants to turn away from the sight, is an indefinable experience. One's mind can not believe what the eyes behold.

One's other senses are numbed, it's close to unbearable. We see it, but we don't believe what we see. How can such feelings be expressed to strangers or even loved ones? There are no absolute answers to the question; "why." The telling brings back the feelings, the horrible smells, the rage, the wonder of; how could humans treat fellow humans so cruelly. I guess Harry Herder said it best: "We ask for your understanding." We also speak out now, because soon there will be no more eyewitnesses. We know it is necessary to share our experiences with the world. This is truth.

Revisionists would have the world believe that the Holocaust did not happen as recorded by history, but they can not quarrel with those of us who witnessed the Holocaust.

Chuck Ferree