THE UNITED STATES WAR DEPARTMENT WASHINGTON DC
AFFIDAVIT OF VERONICA HOPE
I, Veronica Hope, former nurse in the Red Cross hereby certify that: From 6 May 1943 to 18 August 1945, I was a nurse stationed with the Red Cross of Switzerland. My duties during that period were to accompany the Red Cross as directed in order to provide health and comfort where I could. My unit was accompanying General Patton when he liberated the Concentration Camp of Buchenwald, Germany, on 11 April 1945.
I was in the front passenger seat of the lead Red Cross lorry when we entered the camp behind the American troops. The entrance to the camp was through wrought iron gates with the words ‘Jedem das Seine’ forged into the design. I was later to learn that a translation of these words was ‘everyone deserves what they get.’ The camp was surrounded by a barbed wired fence approximately two meters high and with additional lines of barbed wire on the top. There was a guard tower above the entrance. As we drove into the camp, we could see rows of wooden huts. There were prisoners wandering about – some were excited to see us and welcomed us enthusiastically although they were clearly weak. Others walked with eyes glazed as though drugged or in a daze. These prisoners seemed to have little awareness of what was happening around them. They were almost all very emaciated.
Then I became aware of the full horror of the situation. There were mounds of dead bodies littered around the central square. Other lone bodies lay sprawled on the ground where they had fallen. Some of the corpses had clearly been beaten severely, for others the cause of death was less obvious and could have been malnutrition or disease. The corpses were painfully thin.
We set to work unloading the trucks and trying to tend to the situation. As a complete examination of the camp took place, the full horror of what had happened there began to become apparent, although it would be later before I became aware of all the atrocities which had been practiced there.
Even after the liberation, despite our efforts, former prisoners were dying at a rate of around forty a day. I and my colleagues located the infirmary, our primary focus being attention to the patients already in the hospital. I quickly realized that this was no ordinary hospital and that the facility was in fact a medical experimentation unit. There were no medicines left behind. All drugs and dressings, which might have been useful having been removed. Lined on either side of each hut there were camp beds. These were occupied by prisoners who were unable to move. The medical conditions I treated included a man who had had his testicles removed. He described to me how the doctor who had carried out the castration had insisted on showing him a jar containing them after the operation. There were typhus victims and others who had been subjected to poison gas experiments and who had suffered side effects as a result. Almost all the prisoners very malnourished, their limbs painfully thin. Many had extended stomachs as a result of hunger. All were traumatized by the experiences they had been subjected to, and the brutality they had witnessed. We immediately began to prepare to evacuate those patients who were strong enough to withstand the journey to a hospital. Many, however, were too ill to be moved, and others were clearly dying, our intervention coming too late to save them. These cases were particularly poignant. When the patients realized their ordeal was over and the camp had been liberated, a light would come to their eyes and with it a new energy. It broke my heart to watch this light fade, as did their life, as their bodies finally succumbed; All I could think was at least their suffering was at an end.
Although my duties were focused on the living, it was impossible to ignore the horror of the camp. It had been an extermination camp and had housed mainly men, from all corners of Europe. Their nationality and a camp number had been tattooed on their stomachs. The survivors told me horrific tales of how occupants had been killed by being worked to death, being shot in the back of the neck, starvation, disease, torture and brutality. They wore striped camp uniforms. Some had overcoats. They were housed in huts. The huts stank, and were stacked with bunks where men slept up to five in each bunk. Even those who were fit enough to be transferred suffered typically from starvation and infestation of lice and fleas, unavoidable in the cramped conditions. While performing my duties at the camp, I also saw the ovens in the crematorium. Their disposal capacity apparently four hundred bodies per day. There was a row of ovens. The makers, J.A. Topf and Sons had placed their plaque on the wall. I saw charred human remains in the ovens and piles of human ash outside the building. I saw stacks of human bodies outside the crematorium where they had been abandoned. Words cannot describe the sight. Malnourished bodies were stacked nearly six feet high, legs and arms protruding randomly like matchsticks tossed to the ground. Eyes stared from the corpses accusingly. Never in all my years as a nurse have I witnessed such disregard for the human being.
Other discoveries at the camp were brought to my attention. Depravities included lampshades made of human skin, pictures painted on human skin, and human heads shrunk to one fifth of the normal size.
The day following the liberation, General Patton ordered that mostly male German citizens of military age, plus a few women, from the nearby town of Weimar tour the camp. They were forced to walk the five miles from the town to the camp. I remember watching the townspeople arrive. Generally speaking, they appeared well-dressed and well-fed. As they entered the gates, they were confident and jovial. That soon changed as the atrocities were revealed to them. The General had insisted that the camp be left as it was found until the movie crews had filmed the evidence of what had happened. There would be the war commission afterwards, and therefore a need for preservation of evidence. Many of the visiting women fainted and required treatment before they were able to leave for the five-mile return walk to their homes. Many claimed to have no knowledge of what was taking place at the camp, despite living in such proximity.
After the visit, and when the film crew had done its work, the burials began. The US soldiers took charge of organization of the burials and the resettlement of the camp occupants. I continued to be stationed in the infirmary and volunteered to stay with those patients who were too ill to be moved. It was then that we had some exciting news. We were told that Josephine Baker, the singer and dancer, intended to visit the camp.
Initially the Red Cross advised against the visit because of the risk of typhoid in the camp. we were told, however, that Miss Baker insisted on visiting. I personally tried to prevent the visit, too, as I felt that the patients were too weak and would not benefit from having a celebrity such as Miss Baker in their midst.
I was wrong. Miss Baker arrived about two in the afternoon and immediately entered the infirmary. I spoke to her personally to warn her about the risk from typhoid and to explain how the disease could be spread. She was wearing an Airforce overcoat when she arrived, but she took it off when she sang. She was wearing a glamorous blue dress with diamante detail at the waist. She looked very beautiful and made it possible to forget for a few moments where we were. Some of the patients cried when she sang. Then she spent time chatting to many of them. She also sat with one who was dying and held his hand. Even though the patients were very ill, I could see that the visit by Miss Baker’s visit had brought some comfort to them. One or two noticeably brightened and sat up in their beds, determined to look the best for their famous visitor. I thanked Miss Baker at the end of her visit and reminded her to wash her hands immediately. I could see that she was not in the best of health herself. I was told by her entourage that she refused to stop and was determined to continue performing for allied troops and liberated prisoners until the war was completely over.
I stayed at the camp until the last patient was able to leave, and then returned to my home. The last thing I did before leaving the camp was to visit the memorial to the tree of Goethe, which was inside the campgrounds, though only the stump remained. Goethe, who had been a resident of Weimar, had been in the habit of climbing the Ettersberg hill and walking to the tree. He had done some of his writings there. The tree had been destroyed by American bombing in 1944. Some of the prisoners had described to me people having their arms tied behind their backs and then hung from the tree. This torture was called Strappado. I could not understand how persons who could appreciate the great scholar could also inflict such cruelty upon their brothers in humanity.
The words of the Buchenwald oath sworn by a group of the camp survivors after they had risen up and overthrown their guards will be forever in my consciousness. “We will cease our fight when the last guilty person stands before the judges of the people. The obliteration of Nazism as well as its roots is our guiding principal. The building of our new world of peace and freedom is our only goal. That is what we owe our murdered comrades and their families.”
It is estimated that fifty-one thousand men and boys died in various ways at Buchenwald.
I swear that the words of the affidavit are true and indeed am bound to say that my words can never adequately describe the horrors I saw at Buchenwald. The pain and suffering I witnessed there will be forever scarred on my memory.
All of which is the truth. Sworn on this day, the 19th of May 1946.
(this is an extract from the Appendix of the novel Josephine , singer,dancer, soldier,spy by Eilidh McGinness-Veronica Hope is a fictional person-the events described horribly real. )