My calendar says today is Holocaust Remembrance Day.
To me, the Holocaust is about grainy black-and-white film from one of the greatest horrors of the 20th century.
But my father saw the aftermath with his own eyes.
He was a trucker, hauling supplies for Gen. George S. Patton’s tanks, and chasing them across Europe.
Dad was in Ulm, Germany, on July 1, 1945, when he sat down to write my mother back home.
“Hello, Honey, how is my one and only by now?” he wrote.
“I feel good tonight, except a little tired from riding in the back of a truck about 200 miles today. I am glad I went up there though,” Dad continued.
“I told you last night that we were planning on going up to Dachau prison camp today,” he said. “Well, it was a pretty day, so we left here about 8:30. It was about 11 when we found the place though. We had a guide to show us around. He was also an internee of the place and spoke good English.”
Dad added, “That is the most horrible thing I ever heard of or read about. You probably have read some about it in the papers or magazines. I read about it in the Time magazine after we got back, but the story was flowered up a bit from what we saw and this internee guide told us.”
He added, “They should all be shot. No, that is too good for the ones who had any dealing with it. I’m not going to try to explain the methods of killing the ones they did, for you would be confused a bit. However, they had five ways they killed them and all of them were horrible.”
Then, they went to Munich to see Hitler’s headquarters.
“I never saw so much marble in my life as there was in Hitler’s headquarters,” Dad wrote. “GIs live there now and they have a barber shop in his private bath. Several of the boys took pictures of things there and if they get them developed, I will get some of them.”
But his mind couldn’t leave Dachau.
“I didn’t tell you how many they killed and cremated at that place, did I?,” he asked. “250,000 and that is the smallest place of the eight they have in Germany. This guide we had said he had been in five of them in the five years he has been a prisoner and that was the best one he had seen. That is, living quarters etc. Well, let’s change the subject and talk about something more pleasant. I wouldn’t want you to see a place like that and I guess I have told you enough to give you the creeps now. Hope not.”
Dad never talked about that visit around me.
But I know he never forgot it.
In 2002, a year before he died, the Klan had a rally on the courthouse lawn downtown.
I told Dad about it.
“I’ve never seen the Klan,” he said. “I’d like to have seen what it was like.”
I told him about the swastikas and Nazi salutes.
“They should have shot them,” he said.
And I have a feeling that most of the men who fought World War II would have agreed.