While the Supreme Court recently invalidated the Stolen Valor Act, which imposed criminal penalties on Americans who falsely claim medals for combat bravery, prominent Democrats – including Jesse Jackson, Charles Rangel, Robert Morgenthau and Eric Holder – have repeatedly distorted World War II and Holocaust history for purposes of ethnic politics.
This sordid affair began in 1978 when Jimmy Carter established the President’s Commission on the Holocaust, chaired by Auschwitz and Buchenwald survivor Elie Wiesel, to recommend a suitable national memorial for the 6 million Jewish and 5 million other victims of the worst genocide in history.
But as historian Edward Linenthal points out in Preserving Memory: The Struggle to Create America’s Holocaust Museum, Carter was also using – or misusing – Holocaust remembrance to “reach out to an increasingly alienated ethnic constituency.”
In October 1980, one month before Carter’s crushing defeat by Republican Ronald Reagan, a Democratic-controlled Congress adopted the commission’s main recommendations to create a U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, whose members are appointed by the president and Congressional leaders, and to build a national Holocaust museum. In the November election, Carter received 45 percent of the Jewish vote, a sharp drop from the 65 percent he won in 1976.
The first major event sponsored by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council and chairman Wiesel was a 1981 International Liberators Conference at State Department headquarters. Though it occurred during the first year of Reagan’s presidency, the conference was planned by Wiesel and other Carter appointees, who in the summer of 1979 traveled to Europe and met liberators from the Soviet Union and other World War II allies.
At that event, Leon Bass, an African-American veteran and a member of the official U.S. delegation, was presented to national and international audiences as a liberator of Buchenwald (which, with 21,000 prisoners, was the first large concentration camp freed on the Western Front).
A front-page article in The Washington Post of October 28, 1981 mischaracterized Bass as a “high school principal from Philadelphia who liberated Buchenwald with an all-black unit.”
Another veteran of the 183rd Combat Engineers Battalion at the conference was William Scott III, who likely was acquainted with President Carter, the former governor of Georgia, as Scott was a top executive at the family-owned Atlanta Daily World, the South’s most influential black newspaper. In reality, the “heroism” of Bass and Scott consisted of a tour of Buchenwald on April 17, 1945, six days after liberation, during which Scott took some photographs.
* * *
On the 40th anniversary of the liberation of the Western concentration camps, Elie Wiesel and Leon Bass again propagated the myth of the African-American liberators of Buchenwald in a New York Times “news” article on April 14, 1985, “For Survivors and Liberators: A Commemoration.”
Ironically, Wiesel, in his classic Holocaust memoir Night, first published in English in 1960, doesn’t mention black liberators, but his book does conclude with a story concocted by East German Communist leaders, many of whom were Buchenwald survivors, that the camp’s prisoners liberated themselves in an armed uprising before the arrival of American soldiers on April 11, 1945.
From 1950 until 1990, the former concentration camp was controlled by East Germany, whose leaders employed it as a nationalistic indoctrination center. On the same day the Wiesel/Bass article appeared, the Times also published a front-page article, “At Buchenwald, Ceremony of Bitter Memory,” that repeated the Communists’ “self-liberation” fabrication.
* * *
During the 1988 Democratic presidential primaries, Jesse Jackson enlarged the myth of black liberators to include Buchenwald and Dachau. A Jackson campaign speech on Memorial Day in Jersey City was dutifully reported in The New York Times on May 31, 1988:
“Placing the wreath on a statue called ‘Liberation,’ which depicts an American soldier carrying a survivor of the Holocaust, Mr. Jackson said that the first American soldiers to liberate Dachau and Buchenwald were black men who served in the United States Army Corps of Engineers.”
Jackson also falsely identified Paul Parks, a close associate and appointee of the eventual Democratic presidential nominee, Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis, as an African-American Dachau liberator.
* * *
On November 9, 1992, New York City Mayor David Dinkins was the keynote speaker at the Lincoln Center world premiere of PBS’s soon-to-be notorious “Liberators: Fighting on Two Fronts in World War II,” which further expanded the “black engineers liberated Buchenwald and Dachau” myth to include the 761st Tank Battalion.