Another Military Liberation

Elizabeth Pochada
The Nation, Feb. 22, 1993

Among the more disturbing of recent magazine articles is Jeffrey Goldberg's report in the February 8 New Republic on the well-reviewed and exceptionally affecting PBS documentary Liberators: Fighting on two Fronts in World War II. Accompanied by a large-format picture book published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Liberators, which aired in November, tells the little-known story of all-black Army units that helped capture Buchenwald and Dachau. Filled with moving accounts of racism in the military as well as recollections of liberation by camp survivors, the documentary seemed to me an obvious Academy Award contender; it is already extending its brief TV life in sponsored screenings designed to foster better relations between blacks and Jews, and it is scheduled to be distributed to New York City schools. But according to Goldberg, an editor of The Forward, the story told in Liberators is little known for good reason: Although the units featured in the film had many achievements, he says, liberating the camps was not one of them. Coyly titled "The Exaggerators," his piece quotes members and officers of the battalions to the effect that these units were as many as 100 miles away at the time. As represented by Goldberg, even the survivors who appear in the film now wonder when they actually saw the black troops-during the liberation or only afterward. Although Goldberg did not interview William Miles, who directed the film, he does quote Nina Rosenblum, a co-producer, as saying that the narration of a reunion scene at Buchenwald in which two black veterans and one survivor tour the camp "may be misleading."

But wait. Since Goldberg's article appeared, the filmmakers and WNET in New York have been busy preparing a six-page response. In brief, it explains quite convincingly why documentation on the liberation of Dachau and Buchenwald does not show the presence of the all-black 761st Tank Battalion: It was split apart and attached to other units. which were identified in the reports. Furthermore, the battalion commander who seemed to deny that his troops were involved in the liberation told WNET that he was in no position to confirm or deny whether some members of the 761st were at the camps- his duties at the time were administrative. It is the context in which his words were used by Goldberg that made them seem a denial. And so on with other quotes. Moreover, the memories of Elie Wiesel and many other survivors attest to the presence of black soldiers at Buchenwald at the outset of its liberation; and Carl Ginsburg, a CBS News producer who has conducted extensive interviews with participants in the film, says the recollections by black soldiers of their participation in the liberation are "clear and consistent:' including accounts of firefights at Dachau. (The filmmakers may have been unwise, though, in introducing into the Buchenwald "reunion" scene two black veterans intended to represent individual liberators but who appear to be visiting the camp for the first time.)