Bourke-White at Buchenwald


At the end of WWII, impending Allied victory was sobered by the grim facts of the atrocities which allied troops were uncovering all over Germany. Margaret Bourke-White was with General Patton’s third amy when they reached Buchenwald on the outskirts of Weimar. Patton was so incensed by what he saw that he ordered his police to get a thousand civilians to make them see with their own eyes what their leaders had done. The MPs were so enraged they brought back 2,000. Bourke-White said, “I saw and photographed the piles of naked, lifeless bodies, the human skeletons in furnaces, the living skeletons who would die the next day… and tattoed skin for lampshades. Using the camera was almost a relief. It interposed a slight barrier between myself and the horror in front of me.”

LIFE magazine decided to publish these photos in their May 7, 1945 issue many photographs of these atrocities, saying, “Dead men will have indeed died in vain if live men refuse to look at them.”

6 thoughts on “Bourke-White at Buchenwald

  1. Greetings from Indiana, I was 19 when the american liberation occured and I was there as a 300th Quarter master Battalion member walked in on the site of this disaster of humanity. I have pictures of the site that the world has seen and only have them in my box of things from the war. I am 85 now and will remember the event like yesterday. The U.S. Army was great way to be educated, But with how the German Army destroyed the human population was a horrible learning experience.

    May God Bless all the oppressed people and departed souls.

    Thank, Jim Orr

  2. My father was at Buchenwald as a prisoner. Margaret Bourke-White’s photos capture for me what he told me about his experiences. I wrote a poem about his experiences in this camp called What My Father Ate. Here is the poem:

    What My Father Ate

    He ate what he couldn’t eat,
    what his mother taught him not to:
    brown grass, small chips of wood, the dirt
    beneath his gray dark fingernails.

    He ate the leaves off trees. He ate bark.
    He ate the flies that tormented
    the mules working in the fields.
    He ate what would kill a man

    in the normal course of his life:
    leather buttons, cloth caps, anything
    small enough to get into his mouth.
    He ate roots. He ate newspaper.

    In his slow clumsy hunger
    he did what the birds did, picked
    for oats or corn or any kind of seed
    in the dry dung left by the cows.

    And when there was nothing to eat
    he’d search the ground for pebbles
    and they would loosen his saliva
    and he would swallow that.

    And the other men did the same.

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