Actually, you may add this to the failure of the Seventh Army at Montelimar...

from: A Taste of War, by Alfred de Grazia

(...) Actually, you may add this to the failure of the Seventh Army to close the trap upon the 19th German Army at Montelimar and have most of the explanation of why the war lasted into 1945 at great cost all around, at the cost of losing a voice in the immediate settlement of a government upon Poland, Hungary, and East Germany, at the cost of a million and more Jewish and other prisoners’ lives in the death camps. But no one, repeat, no one was saying these things within the broad scope and confidential mass of information and intelligence pouring into the bivouac of the Combat Propaganda Company from the radio systems of the world, the army intelligence sources, and the populations, prisoners, refugees whom the friendly troops were overtaking. The War in the Pacific aside, a large issue can be raised over the total conduct of the war on the part of the top leaders and their subordinates, whenever these latter were given the right to make strategic decisions. It was not a job for me; I was powerless even to obtain the captaincy that had been recommended a year earlier by Colonel Hall, Chief of Military Personnel back at AFHQ in Algiers.

Anyhow I was much less critical of the great strategy - unconditional surrender, Yalta, the aerial bombings of cities, the points of invasion, the handling of the Nazi mass murders and dislocations, and even of unimaginative propaganda policies than I would give you to believe here. I had to be, or I would not have endured so far so good.

The issue is still troubling, whether the top Allied Command, including the heads of state, was not immersed in a logistical mass, a bureaucratic system, flapping to the surface for air on occasion to ejaculate decisions before subsiding. Before and after the war, the top command was immune to fundamental political criticism, as if their method of conducting warfare were not political. This is choice idiocy. Yet not even Jewish leaders perceived keenly that the delays in bringing the war to an end, which contributed so greatly to the total distress and slaughter, were inordinate and avoidable.

It is highly doubtful that I had made a proper correlation of events, or knew of half of them; the same might be said of my comrades, several of them Jews with access to all that I might know. With respect to the genocide of the Jews, the twisted Nazi logic and the events that were determined by it went generally as follows:

1. The job of extirpation of the German and Austrian Jews was nearly completed and remnants had been moved East as the attack on the Soviet Union was launched in June of 1941. Many thousands had saved themselves by flight abroad. The euthanasia campaign against the mentally ill and the old and disabled was carried out on Germans in Germany actively in 1941. Many Jews were being rounded up in France and elsewhere. The Big Rationalization that married Genocide to Total War was not quite born. Total War, including the redeployment, resettling, and moving of hordes of people was in itself a favorite and early Nazi concept. Not yet Total Murder.

I knew this and had assimilated its meaning. That is why I was so anti-Nazi and pro-War. I had been well-grounded in the origins of Nazism and chauvinistic fascism in its several forms; my professors and fellow-students at the University of Chicago had seen to this. I had spoken at length to German and Austrian refugees. I knew nearly as much as any well-informed and anxious Jew, and much more than the average politician and citizen or general officer.

2. By the Fall of the first year of the German offensive against the Soviet Union all of the genocidal elements of the Nazi vision and apparatus were coming together and becoming dominant politically and militarily. In the Fall of 1941 and the year 1942, immense massacres were conducted by the SS forces; they had the extensive help of native anti-semites in Poland, Lithuania, Yugoslavia, Latvia, the Ukraine and other conquered Soviet regions, anti-“Jew-Bolsheviks,” impressed laborers and prisoners, and often even the German Army. Soviet prisoners were frequently butchered or put into camps and starved. Over half a million of the more than one million Soviet prisoners of the first campaigns died within a year. That the Nazis, with popular German support, waged Total War in fact, and against whole peoples physically, was known to me and my circle of friends and in the civilian and Army milieus where I found myself during this year, the year which saw terrible warfare in Eastern Europe and the beginning of the equally Total War of the Pacific with Japan. At the end of 1942, the British Government, speaking through Anthony Eden, began finally to describe and denounce publicly the accelerating destruction visited by the Nazis upon the Jewish people. It was tardy. Worse, almost no change in policies, nor speed-up in the War, occurred.

3. From 1942 through 1944, massacres by the hundreds occurred throughout Eastern Europe except Hungary and Rumania. In Yugoslavia, fanatic Croatian Catholics, the Ustachis, given an independent State, brutally disposed of over half a million Serbians, including all Jews who could be found. Camps were constructed to hold Jews and others. Great numbers of deaths by starvation and disease occurred. The brutality, rape, torture and hardships affecting 50,000,000 of those alive and those to die go beyond the record for any other historical epoch. The black-uniformed Nazis and those they set loose had the equivalent effect of the Black Death of the plagues that killed a third of Europe in the Fourteenth Century; they were worse by being flesh and blood, wolves of fellow humans.

Did I learn of all this? No, only part of it. The media were full of “real war” between uniformed combatants, and had no major interest in following the “human rights violations” intensely and continually. East European ethnic exterminations were remote from everyday life in the army camps throughout the States, and displaced by the widespread attention lent to the Pacific War against Japan.

4. The middle of 1944 witnessed landings in Normandy, Russian victories, the German officers’ July 20 attempt to kill Hitler, the defection of Rumania, and abundant absolute evidence of the approaching extermination of Jews when the SS heavily pressured the Hungarians to round up half a million of them. Then on July 24, 1944 the Majdanek Concentration Camp was liberated before the SS could remove all prisoners and raze it as they had intended to do. (They exhibited a consistent pattern of attempts to hide genocidal operations up to the very end.)

Between August 1944 and January 1945, the population of German work camps and extermination camps rose by 200,000 to over 700,000, despite high death rates. Millions of foreign workers were in Germany, living miserably and under threat of extermination.

The Seventh Army Combat Propaganda Team knew little of the vast cauldron of torture and death that Germany, and Central and Eastern Europe had become. They only knew that it was very bad.

By a strange contradiction and irony, this unit that could have been used to advise the Seventh Army on morale was used strictly against the enemy. Its officers, unlike the Army command, did not believe that American soldiers got their morale from Red Cross doughnut stands by the roadside and Betty Grable movies. Nor, and here is a misfortune, it did not believe that morale came from ideal convictions concerning the War and the Nazi horrors far away. It is hard to believe that this very team, or, better yet, something that should have been coming out of the Army Morale Division, that was mainly justifying soldiers’ fears by careful research and putting on vaudeville to divert them, could not have mounted a propaganda campaign among the troops with just enough effect to have cut off the Germans at Montelimar and gotten the Army to all points of the Upper Rhine by October.

The idea that American troops would have been insulted by, degraded by, dictated to by propaganda (“information”), or that the job was well left to a jolly troop newspaper like the Stars and Stripes, may be emphatically denied. American troops, more than the German troops, needed continuous “education” and encouragement to do their job. The achievement of high morale was not a function of newspaper reporters asking soldiers questions designed to expose how tough their personal conditions were and how pitiable.

I could be scored high in knowledge and indignation, high in wish to “do something about it all,” but was as powerless as any general officer or U.S. Senator to push against the inertia of the system that had grown up for winning the War. So I lived an ordinary soldier’s life for the most part, as I tell it here, with much more personal freedom and awareness of what was happening; there was no stimulation of the morale factor among the American troops, and only had such been called for would I have been spurred into greater action. I was always wary of being characterized as a trouble-maker, although that is what I wanted to be and sometimes was.

5. Between January of 1945 and the capture of Berlin four months later, 200,000 camp inmates were brought within the borders of the Reich. Most of these were killed or died. They were brought in a) to hide them, b) to keep them hostage and ransom them , c) to kill them, and d) to use them as workers. The Nazi mind was seeking desperately a way to escape or, barring that, a way to bring down the world with their own destruction. The Nazis' early terrorist slogan turned upon the Nazi mind: “Better a terrible end than an endless terror!”

As the Seventh and Third Armies joined in a solid front moving North across France, and only a pocket of resistance remained in Southern Alsace after the liberation of Strasbourg (I had already entered Alsace in September), Nazi killings were at peak and a million people were being driven into Germany. At least 150,000 lives a month would be saved for every month by which the War might be shortened. Were the War to end before the end of the year 1944, as many as a million souls would be saved. Not included would be the saved lives, otherwise to be lost, from among the friendly and hostile armies engaged, including the American armies in Europe and the Pacific, the hundreds of thousands of civilian lives saved (from aerial bombing, as well as on the ground, as in the bombings, largely useless, that devastated Berlin and Dresden). The atomic bomb might not have been rushed to completion or might not have been dropped.

Could so much of the disaster that actually occurred really be traced back and laid to the frequently uninspired and incompetent political and military leadership of the Allies? There was some indication that such was the case in this soldier's taste of war that trailed back to the initial landings in Africa and included delays all along the line in the timing of invasions and the giving of battle. And perhaps even back to the delay in inducting me into the Armed Forces, the transfers about, the largely useless training that I shared with twelve million other soldiers.

There were numerous psychological facets to this hippopotamatic military behavior. To complicate problems at the top, to give excuses, too, for all manner of timidity and delay and logistical excess were a cavernous and maddening echo of the egalitarian slogan: “Not one of our boys shall be sacrificed unnecessarily.” The British recalled the Somme and Verdun, the Americans: Mom. An obsessive inflation of the word “unnecessary” led often to inactivity and indecisiveness.

The thoughts, no less than the feet, of a soldier often stink, so one could imagine two additional reasons for the generals and politicians of the West not to exert themselves over reports of the destruction of Jewry in the East. Jews had disappeared from the West of Europe, hence no vivid emergency was close at hand; the Nazis had thoughtfully murdered their Western victims in walking columns, trains, and gas ovens elsewhere. Moreover, importantly, Western high conservatives, industrialists, and military officers consciously and unconsciously identified Jews with Bolshevism just as did the Nazis, and were therefore turned off by the news and mental pictures that arose from it.

Can even also this be possible: that they had to have reasons to be conducting this World War that were quite sufficient in themselves? That is, they would prefer not to introduce the problem of a lot of strange Jews being driven into camps and killed. The more the Jews who were murdered, one ought to reason, the more the Allied elite could and should in all conscience justify the War. But, not wishing to justify a War to save the Jews, they would suppress considerations and evidence of a veritable holocaust.

Moreover, psychologically, they would avoid taking any steps to establish its occurrence, extent, and significance. Thereupon they could rest upon their strongly preferred rationale for the War: Nazi aims to conquer the World, attacks on kindred democracies, and aggressive attacks by the Axis powers against the United States of America. All of these things I remarked upon from the beginning of the War to the End. My data bank was enriched, also, when I came to be invited by a grateful Army Orientation Officer to stop off whenever I could and talk to combat troops in reserve or in rest camp, crouched on their cannon and carriers or sprawled on the floors in a half-ruined factory, where I could sense how tenuous was the men's commitment to the Great War as the focus of life’s ideals. To venture that they were at war to protect anyone from extermination but Themselves, construed personally, and suspiciously, would have been foolhardy. It would also be deluding oneself to think that their experience of war had enhanced their taste for it.

To all of this, as I confessed, I had my back half-turned. I knew more than I needed to know and infinitely more than I had the power to act upon. I could even sympathize with a helpless Landser prisoner, who claimed to know nothing of large affairs, who was loyal to Der Führer, and who interpreted the crashing down of his moral and physical world as being no more than the maddening din of American artillery bursts.

from A Taste of War by Alfred de Grazia, Metron Publications, 1992 & 2010.

Commemorating the end of World War II

Read here the account by Joseph Bialot of the liberation of Auschwitz (translated from the French)

Alfred de Grazia: The Campaign of Provence

Read here the beginning of his account of the war in France