A story about this well-known quote by President Dwight D. Eisenhower ran recently in my childhood hometown paper, the Valley News in Hanover, NH. I took note for two reasons. First, I was there on “The Dartmouth Green” in front of the Baker Library when Eisenhower made these remarks. I was just four years old and yet remember being held up above the heads of the surrounding adults to see the great man who had led the Allies to victory over the Nazi Germany eight years before. I didn’t know what I was seeing, of course, much less what he had to say, but my Dad did. He was one of the GIs General Eisenhower led in the massive invasion force that stormed ashore in France to bring an end to that global horror. Dad was barely out of High School when that happened, the Class of 1941. Shortly after they pushed inland, a single bomb dropped from a lone German aircraft killed his best friend just a few feet from him. Their unit, the 150th U.S. Army Combat Engineers, was repairing a bridge the retreating German forces had destroyed to slow their advance.
But the second reason I took note was just as powerful, if less personal. Eisenhower was not just a great military mind, but also someone who saw the context of the things happening around him. He visited the liberated concentration camps to witness the incomprehensible evidence of what had taken place there. Among his remarks after that visit was this quote, which is memorialized in a stone inscription on the entrance to the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. “The things I saw beggar description… the visual evidence and verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were so overpowering… I made the visit deliberately, in order to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations to propaganda.”
His remarks in Hanover on that day in 1953 were no less prescient, if not remembered so well. Some have proposed he never said these things. Except he did. I was there, and even though I was too young to know what he was talking about back then, I still feel a little pride in knowing he said them in my presence, in my lifetime, in my home town.