Bringing Liberator Testimony into the Classroom

Bringing Liberator Testimony into the Classroom

Special thanks to our guest contributors at the Ohio Holocaust and Genocide Memorial and Education Commission (OHGMEC) for writing this month's blog on teaching Genocide Awareness Month.


 “We heard that we were liberators, but all I could think was, too late, too late, too late. We saw more dead than alive.”

Robert Stubenrauch, Combat photographer at Dachau.

In December 2023, nearly 79 years after the liberation of the Eastern European concentration camps by American and British troops, The Economist released a poll that found that 1/5 of US citizens between the ages of 18 and 29 believe that the Holocaust is a myth. The rise in Holocaust denial, an essential component of antisemitism has been disturbing to all Americans. The State of Antisemitism in America 2023 Report by the American Jewish Committee found that 93% of Jews thought antisemitism was a problem and that 92% of U.S. adults believe “Antisemitism affects society as a whole; everyone is responsible for combating it.” Everyone is responsible for combating antisemitism.

The Ohio Holocaust & Genocide Memorial & Education Commission believes to combat this rise in denial is to educate young people. If you are teaching World War II or the Holocaust through American History, the voices of the liberators and witnesses who discovered the camps in Eastern Europe can be very helpful in students making a personal connection to the history and understanding that the Holocaust was not a myth. Teachers can contact local museums and libraries or visit IWitness to find testimonies of liberators and survivors.

Two Ohioans who liberated camps in April of 1945 gave testimony in which they spoke of seeing things that defied the imagination. Unbearable smells, bodies piled like cord wood, starved survivors, so many in such bad shape they died within minutes and hours after they arrived.

Interviewed in his home in Canton for the USC Shoah Foundation, Robert Stubenrauch, recounts what it was like to come upon Dachau. “We were overwhelmed by the smell, even 10 to 12 kilometers out of town I could smell something I never had smelled before or since. The closer you got the more unbearable the smell became---we associated Dachau with the smell, there had to be something horrible there.” Assigned to the Army Signal Corps to photograph the war, he was at first unable to use his camera as he tried to process what he was seeing. He told his story to combat Holocaust denial.

James Matthews from Lakewood, a liberator at Nordhausen was overcome with emotion as he recalled what he witnessed. “No one had an age, they all looked old, they were starved.” He further described encountering people in tatters and rags, the smell being indescribable. “I had never seen anything like this-my brain went numb---I told my story because young people need to know these things to face the future ahead.”

The Holocaust was the most documented event in history, the perpetrators providing the most evidence. Even without the voices of survivors and witnesses it should be enough to stand up against denial. But the power of witness is what engages students, to help them empathize and think critically about events in their own times, if we are to make change for a better future.

Blog image citation: Musser, Arland B. Liberated prisoners greet American soldiers at Allach, a sub-camp of Dachau. Photograph. Allach, Germany: April 30, 1945. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Stuart McKeever. https:​/​/​/search​/catalog​/pa1167592.

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