WRITTEN BY GEORGES P. VANIER AFTER HIS
VISIT TO THE BUCHENWALD CONCENTRATION CAMP
DU CANADA | CANADIAN EMBASSY, PARIS
27th April, 1945.
1. Will you please
refer to my telegram No. 299, dated 24th April, which relates to my
visit to Buchenwald camp.
2. In company with eight members of the United States Congress, I left
London for Weimar on Sunday morning, the 22nd. April. The names of the
Congressmen, and of the States for which they sit, follow:
Marion T. BENNETT,
Gordon CANFIELD, Peterson, New Jersey
Henry M. JACKSON, Everett, Washington
Carter MANASCO, Jasper, Alabama
Albert RAINS, 5th District Alabama, Gadsden, Alabama
Francis E. WALTER, Easton, Pennsylvania
Earl WILSON, Huron, Indiana
Eugene WORLEY, Shannock, Texas
Half were Democrats,
the others Republicans, but whatever their political differences may
have been, they were of one mind and one will after the visit, about
the necessity for taking any measures, however drastic, which might
be required to prevent a recurrence of crimes against humanity.
3. My reasons
for going to the camp were to enquire into and to obtain all available
information on Canadians who had been interned there, and to make sure
also that there were no others among the remaining 20,000 ex-prisoners.
4. We had luncheon
in the plane and on arrival at Weimar drove direct to the camp where
we spent some hours and were shown over by the American officers in
charge. The camp of Buchenwald is situated near a former zoological
garden, some five miles from Weimar, where Goethe and Schiller lived
and died. The approach is by a road flanked on either side by beautiful
trees - pines and chestnuts. It is an idyllic drive which makes the
horrible contrast at the end of the journey all the more revolting.
The camp was built in 1937 by political prisoners to accommodate themselves.
In the first place it was designed to hold 8,000 but when liberation
came on the 11th April there were almost 60,000 inhabitants.
5. The official
figure given in the camp register of deaths during the months of January,
February, March and the first ten days of April of this year, was 18,485.
The condition of the internees was such that an average of 60 deaths
occurred daily for a week or more following liberation. The number who
died at Buchenwald altogether will never be established - well over
50,000, it may be over 100,000.
6. We visited
the death chambers and saw the quadruple electric lifts on which bodies
were raised to the ovens of the crematorium above. In the ovens, blackened
forms of bodies still lay. We saw also the noise-making machine which
drowned the screams of the unfortunate victims. We were told that the
death quota for the camp was 80 a day. Facilities existed for the easy,
continuous cremation of that many. This quota was often exceeded, however,
which accounted apparently for the naked bodies, piled like so much
cord wood, and on which lime was thrown. We saw some of these emaciated,
bruised and blood-stained bodies.
7. In the improvised
hospitals were hundreds of men, some with running sores, their bodies
so devoid of flesh that they could not lie for long in one position.
Some who were able to stand were little more than skin and bones. One
marvelled how the knee and ankle joints held together.
8. We say several
hundred children, most of them Polish Jews; some had been in prison
camps for years. Those of ten and over worked as slave labourers on
munitions. Not one, so far as I know, had any idea of where his parents
were; in view of the barbarous treatment inflicted on Poles and Jews
by the Germans, it is probable that all have been done to death.
9. A lampshade
was found - and this I saw - made from tattooed human skin.
10. There is a
famous oak tree at Buchenwald, beneath which Goethe wrote some of his
poems. The German gaolers found nothing better than to make of it a
gibbet for hanging men by the armpits with their hands tied behind their
11. Shortly after
liberation a memorial service was held to honour the dead. This, in
part, is the declaration made by the living: "We are assembled
here to honour our dead comrades - shot, hanged, trampled down, slain,
choked, starved, drowned, poisoned, tortured. The thought that kept
us alive, as we saw with helpless rage our comrades fall, was that the
day of vengeance would come." Yes, indeed, the seeds of hate sown
by the Germans throughout the world, and more especially in Europe,
are such that generations must pass before the grim harvest of revenge
will be checked.
12. One is forced
to the conviction that those who did these horrible things saw nothing
wrong in them; perhaps they were actually proud of their efficiency
in producing death. These Germans are not as other humans, they are
satanic. Though they have a veneer of Christianity, deep down they must
still be barbarians - in saying this one is unfair to the barbarian
because there is a scientific refinement about these horrors which barbarians,
uncouth and wild, living in a primitve state, could not invent.
13. After visiting
the camp with the Congressmen I went to the Records Office to obtain
whatever information I could with regard to the Canadians who were reported
as having been executed at the camp in September of last year. I was
shown a list of French, British and Canadian nationals, upon which were
the following names and information:-
9636 JOHN MACALISTER.
Date of birth 9-7-1914. Guelph (Advocat)
8738 GUY SABOURIN. Date of birth 1-1-1923 Montreal (Officer)
9992 FRANK PICKERSGILL. Date of birth 28-5-1915 Winnipeg.
The list purported
to be a record of the arrivals on the 27th August, 1944. The names were
of men who had been doing special work, for example, the transmission
of clandestine messages after having been parachuted, etc. They were
known as the Robert Benoist group. I did not find any list which indicated
that these men had been executed but I was told that the "X"
opposite each of the above three names afforded proof of such execution.
As a matter of fact the records are most incomplete, many of them were
either taken away or destroyed before the camp was liberated. I was
assured, however, by a Captain Simms, sent by S.O.E. to investigate,
that there could be no doubt that these men had been executed. There
were a few names (but not of Canadians) on the list, opposite which
no "X" appeared and about which there is some doubt.
14. I found an
ex-prisoner who was able to give me some information. His name is Richard
Rendl, an Austrian, whose permanent address is Sobieskigasse 9, Vienna
IX: present address - Buchenwald Camp. He saw the three Canadians arrive
at the camp. They were hand-cuffed and in civilian clothes. They were
given other civilian clothes later but not the usual grey striped clothes
of other prisoners. Rendl was quite sure that the three had been executed.
He did not remember the exact date. They had been in Block No. 17 which
was called the Quarantine Block. It was normal for them to be housed
there because they were new arrivals and all newcomers were taken there.
He saw them quite often up to and including the evening before they
were executed. They were always in good humour, apparently not suspecting
for a moment that they would be killed.
15. Rendl reported
that allied bombs fell in the camp towards the end of August (there
was a factory nearby in which some of the prisoners worked). A few days
later he heard Frank Pickersgill joking and wishing to wager a thousand
pounds that they would all be home by Christmas.
of letter deals with the names of persons who might provide leads as
to the fate of the Canadians, in sections 16 and 17. knm)
I have the honour
Your obedient servant,
[s/ Georges Vanier]
Vanier was in error. Congressman Marion T. Bennett was from Springfield,
Missouri, not Illinois.
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