Dispatches from the End of the War
ORSON WELLES—New York Post—May 1945
EDITORS’ NOTE: These paragraphs from “Orson Welles’ Today” are culled from columns after the Nazi surrender, as newsreel footage of the concentration camps was shown in movie theaters across the United States.
I think you’ll be glad with me that it has been made so difficult to avoid those hideous sights. They are the proof of the nightmare. The heaped-up dead in evidence. The burdened ovens. The ingenious machinery for the pit of pain. The eyeball blinking in the open grave. The tawdry skeleton that turns out to be still alive. The survivor squatting among the cadavers, opening his toothless mouth and naming the guilty without speech. Patton and Bradley, their eyes choked full of this. Eisenhower moving slowly with immense dignity through the long tableau.
Then there are the Germans—-the householders, the solid citizens. They are dressed like people. You recognize the costumes. A doctor, a school teacher, a shopkeeper, a factory foreman, a mother. Stock types, but in all a very unpersuasive masquerade. These creatures are less alive than the dead they have been called to view and bury.
The MP’s are gentle with the Herrenvolk. You realize that they have need to be gentle or they would strike them down each with a single blow.
* * *
One place of torture you will learn was camouflaged as a madhouse. Here the most grisly of all grand guignol conceits was realized. Here the wardens were the lunatics. You can watch the chief of these being interviewed in the newsreels. The subject is poison. He is very businesslike. Between phrases he touches his upper lip with a fat lizard’s tongue. The frown is professional. He is the man of science, called for expert consultation. The poison gives him away. And his chin—it is wet with drool.
* * *
If your stomach is weak you are the one they were after when they decided to show these films in the movie house. No, you must not miss the newsreels. They make a point this week no man can miss: The war has strewn the world with corpses, none of them very nice to look at. The thought of death is never pretty, but the newsreels testify to the fact of quite another sort of death—quite another level of decay. This is a putrefaction of the soul, a perfect spiritual garbage.
* * *
Said Mussolini at the point of a partisan’s pistol. “Let me have my life and I will give you an empire.”
These people really talk that way. They’re actually the jibbering lunatics we said they were, I think that’s why their downfall hasn’t yet been dignified with a mighty sentence for the history books. The great and terrible names of Fascism are checked off, one by one, and there isn’t anything to say.
The line equaling the event is often very casually spoken. A sequence in history is many times lassoed by the most accidental sort of prose and often goes unrecognized as the conclusive word. I nominate this last item from a news dispatch. Please read it slowly and carefully out loud.
“Lieut. Jerome Shapiro, New York City, guarded Goering’s door last night.”