We are simply passing through history....
September 4, 2013 5:25 PM   Subscribe

"It’s not often that one finds buried treasure, but that’s exactly what happened in Wayland High School’s History Building as we prepared to move to a new campus. Amidst the dusty collection of maps featuring the defunct USSR, decades-old textbooks describing how Negroes are seeking equality, and film strips pieced together with brittle scotch tape, was a gray plastic Samsonite briefcase, circa 1975."
posted by Kid Charlemagne (40 comments total) 69 users marked this as a favorite

 
No doubt one expects it given the subject matter, but be warned that some of the photos in the archive are profoundly distressing. Not, of course, that the documents are a walk in the park either.
posted by yoink at 5:41 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


“These men … were naturally crazy to get home,” Joyce told the Globe. “Some would try to climb the wall and get over the dry ditch and the mast at any opportunity. Naturally, the most the sentries did was fire in the air and go after them. We couldn’t and wouldn’t handle them roughly, both because they were mostly our Allies and because they were in no condition to stand any rough handling.”

This just seems unreal to me. I don't know much late WWII history, but was there real justification for not just letting go people who wanted to leave despite the challenges?
posted by edeezy at 5:44 PM on September 4, 2013


Because it's weird ethically to allow someone ill equipped to survive to go traipsing cross country? You have to remember they also had to withhold solid food from some of these individuals until they recovered enough to eat. I'm also guessing that even the the camps were liberated that it wasn't going to be a walk in the park getting home and that a lot of people still probably wanted these former prisoners dead.

If you risked your life to liberate these camps I think you would want to maximize the number of survivors.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:55 PM on September 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


As horrible as it sounds, they were probably in better hands in the camp where the liberators could attend to their health, than they would have been in a countryside where hostilities hadn't ceased. Where they wanted to go might not be welcoming to them, either.
posted by ardgedee at 5:57 PM on September 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


I think the real justification was that they probably had no chance of making it home alive. There were people who nearly died just trying to get back home on September 11th 2001. Imagine replacing Manhattan with war torn Europe and well fed office workers with emaciate prisoners.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:00 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow, he also survived the sinking of the Andrea Doria.
posted by padraigin at 6:03 PM on September 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


This must be the best document-based question ever. I never even knew what happened to the concentration camps after they were liberated. I wonder why they never teach that part. We spent a lot of time learning about the Holocaust, but it seems like the aftermath was always skipped.
posted by bleep at 6:06 PM on September 4, 2013


Consider also that these people would have had no money and no documentation, and would be passing through areas occupied by many different nations' armies. Food was scarce, how would they eat unless they stole? Fuel was almost non-existent and the roads and railways were in shambles. How would they get where they were going? How would they explain to the Soviets that they weren't Nazi war criminals or collaborators on the run? How would they explain that to a Canadian for that matter? Or even their own countries' partisans?
posted by [expletive deleted] at 6:17 PM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have got to admit that when I got to the point in the first link where they tracked down Joyce's grave at Arlington, I had a little problem with something getting in my eye.
posted by localroger at 6:22 PM on September 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


Thanks for the answers, it just seems equally if not more ethically weird to recapture people who want to be free so badly they're climbing walls to escape, especially after what they had gone through under the camp's former regime.

I don't want to derail, I think this was an amazing teaching opportunity that Mr. Delaney took full advantage of and I'd imagine this was one of the discussions they had in the class.
posted by edeezy at 6:45 PM on September 4, 2013


This must be the best document-based question ever. I never even knew what happened to the concentration camps after they were liberated. I wonder why they never teach that part. We spent a lot of time learning about the Holocaust, but it seems like the aftermath was always skipped.

The American school version of the Second World War, even in AP classes, is still good triumphs over evil, everyone lives happily ever after, without details and actually talking about the aftermath of the war kind of puts a damper on that. I barely remember discussion of the Second World War in AP US History. Pearl Harbor, Japanese internment and I think that was about it. Oh, lend-lease. My AP European History teacher was still disappointed the collapse of the Soviet Union had made his calling as an anti-communist a bit superfluous and I feel like we may have pretty much skipped the Holocaust to talk about the Cold War. (There was a project entitled 'Ten Titans of the Fall of Communism', I kid you not.) And this was in Illinois, which has a Holocaust education mandate. At least we talked about the Holocaust in other classes, I guess.
posted by hoyland at 6:52 PM on September 4, 2013


The Army's job was to keep the people alive/stop the hemorrhaging of life that was going on. Letting them wander out into a war zone when they probably weren't in their right minds would have been the opposite of that. On the other hand they were given freedom and autonomy in the camps while they healed.
posted by bleep at 6:53 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Some pretty awful stuff happened. I read an account of ex-prisoners dying from eating DDT, which, I guess, they thought was flour.
posted by thelonius at 6:55 PM on September 4, 2013


I googled around and found some discussion of people being kept at Dachau as a quarantine measure on account if the typhus outbreak. That's also mentioned in the article, though it isn't given much prominence.
posted by Area Man at 7:04 PM on September 4, 2013


The new Rick Atkinson book, " Guns at Last Light," actually talks a lot about the camps. Newer books are really handling it better.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:05 PM on September 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


What an amazing teacher to write a grant and get an archivist to guide his students in processing and documenting this collection. I'm about to apply to grad school in library/information science and this is exactly the creative kind of project I want to be involved with when I finish.
posted by Polyhymnia at 7:12 PM on September 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


What happened after really depended on who liberated the camps. Many former concentration camp prisoners in the Soviet zone were treated as enemies and shipped to Siberia. Remember that the eastern camps included the "death/extermination camps"--Sobibor, Treblinka, Chelmno, Majdanek, etc. Russian soldiers expected there to be no survivors, even in the camps that weren't specifically built for large-scale killing. If you managed to survive, well, you must have collaborated in some way (the thinking went). Many, many people were classified as "enemies" this way and were shipped back to the Soviet Union for hard labor.

Many former female prisoners were also sexually assaulted by Russian troops.
posted by orrnyereg at 7:15 PM on September 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh God, some of those documents. Fuck you, deniers.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 7:29 PM on September 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


I never even knew what happened to the concentration camps after they were liberated.

Mark Kurlansky's book Chosen Few: The Resurrection of European Jewry talks a lot about what happened to Jews returning to various countries right after the war. Not camp-specific but very very interesting.
posted by jessamyn at 7:44 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I had no idea that they kept the concentration camp prisoners as prisoners after liberation. I guess it makes sense, but it's surprising.
posted by empath at 7:58 PM on September 4, 2013


Sachenhausen was used as an NKVD prison
posted by thelonius at 8:01 PM on September 4, 2013


See also the Kielce Pogrom.
posted by orrnyereg at 8:19 PM on September 4, 2013


Oh my goodness. These high-rez scans of the documents are amazing.

I wish they had a link to download a .zip of all of them at once instead of just single pages, but if I have to click 200 individual links to get them all in a single album on my iPad, then I guess that's what I'm going to do.
posted by rifflesby at 8:23 PM on September 4, 2013


Holy crap, scrapbook pg. 10-11
posted by rifflesby at 8:30 PM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Some of this stuff is just mind-boggling.

Joyce recalled the case of an inmate charged with stealing another prisoner’s shoes. He was tried by a third prisoner, who had been a high-ranking judge in his own country. The camp court sentenced the thief with two days of confinement.

Okay.. a prisoner of Dachau was tried and sentenced to two days confinement in Dachau.

There must be little suitcases like this all over the world. Most vets never talked about the war. My uncle would never talk about what happened at Iwo Jima.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:00 PM on September 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is a jaw droppingly astonishing discovery-story-proof. Feeling almost overwhelmed with a number of intense emotions, such gratitude for Joyce's work, for leaving this treasure behind. Easy to weep over the task he handled, his caring meticulousness in documenting, the torture of those in Dachau. The amazingness of finding this briefcase in tact, in the hands of people who valued it and it wasn't just chucked into the garbage, who handled the contents with the respect they deserve. The horrors of the suffering in the photos, the rage that I feel, disgust and pity.

And then I think about the war we are insinuating our country into with Syria, the nightmare of the invasion and attack on Iraq, on Afghanistan, the 1.6 billion rounds of ammo the Department of Homeland Security has purchased, the 2700 tanks they've bought.

The terrible burden of war, engendered by hatred and greed. Why haven't we learned from these two World Wars and all the wars in between, before and after? Pete Seeger songs from my childhood come to mind, with more meaning than ever.
posted by nickyskye at 9:26 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


charlie don't surf: "There must be little suitcases like this all over the world. Most vets never talked about the war. My uncle would never talk about what happened at Iwo Jima."

A friend whose mother was German told me the story of his grandfather. It's been a while, so I might be embellishing a bit:

He fought on the Eastern Front, and walked back home from Siberia (I think? Soviet Union, definitely) after being released from a POW camp there, probably around 48-49. He arrived home to his family home in Germany, bathed, shaved, and got himself a meal, and then promptly locked himself in the attic.

He spent something like six months up there, only leaving to go to the bathroom and to eat, writing. When he was done, he locked all the hand written pages up in an old suitcase, came down out of the attic, went to look for a job, and never spoke of the war again.

I heard this story in the 90s, and I think the grandfather was still alive, so it was probably still in the attic at that point. I've since lost touch with my friend, and I don't know what happened to the suitcase, but I hope it was preserved somehow.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 10:01 PM on September 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


'Band of Brothers' did cover the situation in the concentration camps after the war.
Most of my knowledge came from survivors my family knew.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 10:07 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


edeezy: "This just seems unreal to me. I don't know much late WWII history, but was there real justification for not just letting go people who wanted to leave despite the challenges?"

The dense-but-fabulous book "Postwar" by Tony Judt includes an eye-opening account of just how much of a mess of displaced persons Europe was after WWII. I have no trouble understanding why inhabitants of Dachau would have been kept there for a time for their own good.
posted by desuetude at 10:16 PM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


And then I think about the war we are insinuating our country into with Syria, the nightmare of the invasion and attack on Iraq, on Afghanistan, the 1.6 billion rounds of ammo the Department of Homeland Security has purchased, the 2700 tanks they've bought.

Comparing the proposed limited raid against Syria to the holocaust is, frankly, to offensively minimize the holocaust. The other things you mention are long debunked myths from the looney-toons freeper/Tea Party corners of the paranoiasphere.
posted by yoink at 10:17 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


yoink, Thanks for the correction about the Forbes article. But for god's sake, I'm not comparing anything to anything. I'm just talking about war in general. As I would talk about peace in general. War is horrible. Napalming people or using Agent Orange in Vietnam is monstrous, what's gone on in Iraq is a nightmare, the gassing of innocents in Syria is despicable. Saying war is horrible is one place is not a denial of war being horrible elsewhere.
posted by nickyskye at 10:34 PM on September 4, 2013


[Guys, it would be great not to steer this into a discussion of Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.; we have other open threads for that.]
posted by taz at 4:27 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maus by Art Spiegelman and If This is a Man / The Truce by Primo Levi both have interesting depictions of the events after the liberation of the camps. The situation was chaotic, to say the least.
posted by Drexen at 5:44 AM on September 5, 2013


I never even knew what happened to the concentration camps after they were liberated. I wonder why they never teach that part.

One thing I remember hearing from a WWII veteran is that in at least some of the camps, the soldiers were angry enough at the treatment of the victims that they went to the neighboring towns and forced the citizens there, at gunpoint, to come to the camps and look at what they had allowed to happen nearby them.
posted by corb at 6:39 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was skimming the article and realized that after all that -- WWI, being a state trooper, WWII, fuckin Dachau -- he was on the Andrea Doria, too! I thought their "it's like Forrest Gump" was a bit of a strained metaphor at the beginning of the article, but, really, no.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:54 AM on September 5, 2013


What an incredible treasure.

I grew up in Los Angeles in the 70's and 80's in the Jewish community. Many of my grandparent's friends were survivors and I attended Hebrew school where my Aleph teacher was a survivor. Additionally, we would have a month long session every year on the Shoah where at least one survivor would come speak with us and answer our childish questions.

I know that many of the survivors I met ended up in refugee camps because there was no "home" to return to. When one is starved, tortured and imprisoned, the thought of returning to the way it was before is what gets one through the imprisonment, torture and starvation. But the starvation-fed delusions must have been overwhelming that there was a previous life to return to.

Now that there are so few survivors left who were old enough to remember the camps/war - I am hopeful that more of these suitcases will be found.

L'shana tova v'metukah all.
posted by Sophie1 at 7:02 AM on September 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


In at least some of the camps, the soldiers were angry enough at the treatment of the victims that they went to the neighboring towns and forced the citizens there, at gunpoint, to come to the camps and look at what they had allowed to happen nearby them.

This was more than angry soldiers; it was at the direction of Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower. Anticipating the deniers, he also saw to it that the horrors of the camps were documented fully. In fact much of the film we now have of the camps comes from that effort; they were originally shown in German movie theaters, in front of audiences who were compelled to attend by the Allies.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 7:23 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


There must be little suitcases like this all over the world.

And even more sad, there are not: when my grandpa got back from WWII, he was sworn to secrecy. (The history of radio intelligence in WWII wasn't widely known for a long time.) He threw away his whole uniform as soon as he got the letter releasing him from additional obligation, and he never said a word to his family what he'd been doing in the Philippines.

Everyone had guesses and questions, but when he died in 1981, his stories went with him.

Since then I discovered a good bit of the story of his unit -- the 7th Radio Squadron, Mobile (J) in the 13th Air Force -- and where he served, but a stack of 8"x10" photos from his time training in Arizona are now forever unexplained.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:14 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Some years ago I did some volunteer database work for a group that interviewed, recorded (audio and video) and transcribed testimonies from survivors and liberators. The director of that group was both a trained historian (with a Ph.D in oral history methodologies) and the child of survivors. She was dogged in her determination to interview as many survivors and liberators as she could, and to document document document her interview subjects to the greatest degree they would permit. AFAIK she's now affiliated with the National Holocaust Museum, and I'm sure she is heartened that such a trove of original documents has been discovered, especially in such astonishingly good condition, and with such provenance. This is truly an astounding find!

And OMG, kudos to the teacher who had the wherewithal to get a grant and trained help to process this material! THAT'S A TEACHER.

And finally: fuck the deniers. This is what primary source material looks like; I can't imagine the frame of mind that makes it possible to deny that these events and tragedies occurred, but whatever that mindset is, it just became even more ridiculous and harder to maintain.

L'shana tova, everyone.
posted by mosk at 12:34 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


mosk: "And finally: fuck the deniers."

Amen to that! All you need to do is to watch Memory of the Camps. (Props to Frontline for deleting the Nazi celebratory scenes at the beginning.)

Also, needless to say that video is definitely not safe for work. I think everyone needs to see it at least once, though.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 4:22 PM on September 5, 2013


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