Sunday, May 30, 2010

Why they fought

This is a re-post from last year -- because I just thought it was a good idea. In light of this week's historic votes on DADT, I think it's worth seeing this again and to remind ourselves that it wasn't just the Jews... that the Nazis (including the gays in their ranks) persecuted and murdered people for simply being LGBT. For being disabled. And anyone else who simply did not fit into their "clean", "Aryan" vision of what the world should be.

A final memorial day tribute. To those who fought against the Nazis in Europe, a reminder in pictures of why the sacrifices were made and why we must always remember.

My friend Grove Rathbun lent me these photographs for me to scan and share with you. They are very disturbing and are not suitable for anyone to view; but it happened, so we must so we remember why we fought, and why we still must fight for the defenseless and forgotten.

Grove's summary follows:

On April 29, 1945 the American Army liberated Dachau one of Nazi Germany's most notorious concentration camps. As an army doctor, Capt. Sanford Rathbun was a member a special medical unit that had been trained to treat poison gas victims in the event that the Germans used it as a last ditch defense. This special unit traveled very close to the front lines and as a result he entered Dachau within 24 hours after a surprise attack by the American Army captured it. After working to provide food and medical attention to the prisoners he took these photographs because he didn't think anyone would believe the conditions found here. One of the first tasks the doctors performed was to give typhus shots to the prisoners. They were then fed black bread and soup (for one month) before they were able to eat richer "American" food. The single sitting prisoner was 6' 2" and weighted 60 pounds. He died later. Dachau used Polish displaced persons (DP's) to do most of the physical work in the camp. They are dressed in prison clothes, but are obvious better fed that the prisoners. Two of the DP's pose with the cyanide gas valves used to fill the gas chambers with cyanide gas. There were 35 piles of bodies counting many in railroad cars awaiting cremation in the "furnaces/ovens." Doctor Rathbun was born in Belle Fourche, SD in 1911, and after the war practiced medicine in Beatrice, NE until his death in 1992.

Grove sent these pictures to the Rapid City Journal for their "snapshot" series of historical photos; but the two pictures that are not very disturbing (especially if you don't recognize what is in the picture) were the two they published. Here is Grove's response, published on Sunday 5/24 in the Journal Letters section:

Point missed in photo selections

On April 27, I left 14 pictures with the Rapid City Journal features department that my uncle, a physician and U.S.Army Captain, had taken at Dachau, a Nazi prison camp, just a few hours after it had been liberated.

April 29th was the 64th anniversary of that liberation, and I thought it would be appropriate for people to remember what can happen when too much power is concentrated in the hands of a “few” and when the “many” look the other way.

The Journal printed two of the pictures along with a brief write-up. The two pictures chosen were rather innocuous pictures of well fed Polish displaced workers. Eight of the other pictures showed the ravages of the starvation and treatment the prisoners had endured along with stacks of naked corpses waiting to be put in the ovens.

Not one picture of a prisoner was used. The impression given is that Dachau was similar to a CCC camp, not the tragic death camp that it was.

The explanation I got for the selection of the two trivial pictures was that the others were too horrible to print. That was the point. Horrible or not, it happened. No one should ever forget it. The Germans living in the town of Dachau claimed they didn’t know what was happening in the camp.Maybe their newspaper didn’t want to offend their sensibilities.

Rapid City

Thank you, Grove, for sharing these with us.
Dear readers, PLEASE do not copy these pictures without permission. Thank you.

RCJ May 10 caption:
Polish displaced workers unload black bread and soup, which was fed to the prisoners.

RCJ May 10 caption:
Two of the displaced workers pose with cyanide gas valves used to fill the gas chambers with cyanide gas.


  1. All my life I've heard the stories of the camps and seen the pictures from many sources. How there can be any deniers of the holocaust is beyond my comprehension. How anybody can refuse to believe people who were there...our own soldiers and the people themselves is just impossible in my mind. When I lived in the Chicago area I met old people with numbers tattooed on their arms. They were in the camps. They saw. They were witnesses. There is no conspiracy to keep the truth from people, to tell a lie that the holocaust was not what it was every bit as horrible as people have told and worse...because WE cannot know exactly unless WE saw it ourselves. All we have is the witness of our troops, our soldiers, our citizens, our neighbors who defended our nation against the might and hatred of National Socialism in Germany. We see the pictures and are numb. But we must be numb from shock...all the time. Not numb from over-exposure. I don't know what to do with deniers...I don't. I just know that I am convinced beyond doubt that hatred can reach unfathomable depths of depravity. As a gay man I know this because I have been threatened by that hate. People like me died at the hand of hate like this. The battle is always against hate...even the hate in our own hearts against those who hate us. When I have hated I know I was wrong. I defend they're right to have a different opinion...but I know how deeply hate is rooted that they cannot see their own and what founded this hatred. Beyond confusion is this world. Beyond confusion. As wonderful as life is so bizarre that people cannot accept what they see, who they know, and often who they are. As much I have problems with organized religion, these confusions, these dichotomies are they only thing that drives me headlong into faith....because only a power greater than myself can change the hearts of those who hate.

  2. you are to be commended for your work. Everything your uncle told you is correct. As an 18 year old GI stationed in Dachau at the end of the war I can vouch for the pictures and everything else he said. Get my book:
    The Day the Thunderbird Cried. Itk tells the whole story of Dachau and the liberation Web page www,
    You can check it all out on Google under Dachau or my name.....david l. israel.
    You can contact me at
    Enjoyed your comments. Young people have to know.

  3. If haven't seen readers might appreciate watching the movie Bent on the incarceration of gays after the Night of the Long Knives. It's free on the web site HereTV under the heading Camp Here: