(Background) After Pearl Harbor (Dec 7, 1941), the War Department considered how the military could use foreigners and bilingual, first-generation immigrants from German-occupied areas to assist the war effort. The initial assessment concluded that it would be ‘un-American’ to train foreign troops on US soil, prompting the Norwegian government to refuse a request to recruit Norwegians in the United States for military training in Canada. After a time, however, the War Department decided to set up special units of US citizens from certain ethnic groups for operations in countries occupied by the Axis powers. The following five battalions, established in 1942, were organized based on ethnic groups: 1st Filipino Infantry Battalion (Filipino the nucleus of later 1st and 2nd Filipino infantry regiments), the 99th Infantry Battalion (S) (Norwegian), the 100th Infantry Battalion (S) (Japanese), the 101st Infantry Battalion (S) (Austrian but dissolved in 1943 before active service), the 122nd Infantry Battalion (S) (Greek). A Polish unit was also proposed, but never created.
In Norwegian historiography, the men of the 99-IB (S) are often referred to as Norwegian’Americans. This is only partially correct; the original intention was to transfer as many voluntary Norwegian nationals who had begun the immigration process (a condition of enlistment) to the unit from existing armies as could be acquired. In her book, The 99th Battalion, the Norwegian novelist Gerd Nyquist estimates that first-generation Norwegian immigrants may have constituted 50 percent of the original force – about 500 men. One of Nyquist’s sources from the battalion said 40 percent of the battalion had been Norwegian citizens (around 400 soldiers). This figure was the result of an informal survey conducted by Nyquist; however, the survey was limited to 152 respondents. Based on information from a veteran of the battalion, Max Hermansen argues in his book D-dagen 1944 og norsk innsats that there were approximately 300 Norwegians in the battalion.
The horrors of the Nazi murder camps were vividly brought home to S/Sgt M. A. Tuftedal, Roseland soldier, late in April when he visited one of the camps and saw with his own eyes the shocking evidence of Nazi bestiality. Sgt Tuftedal, who has been slightly wounded some months ago in the European area, describes the sights which met his eyes as ‘almost unbelievable’. He is the son of Mr. and Mrs. M. Tuftedal. A letter, which he wrote to the index, reads, in part, as follows:
I am again back in Germany, I have been moving around quite a bit and even with that and also the many different addresses your papers are coming to me regular. I really enjoy receiving them. I had the chance not long ago of going through a German Concentration Camp. It was one of the most horrible sights I have ever seen. You have probably read quite a bit about these places already.
As incredible as it may sounds, the people of a nearby town claimed they knew nothing about what was going on inside this camp. This may be true but us GI’s have doubts. Anyway, for their unwillingness to believe it, the US Army did one of the best things I have ever seen done to my way of thinking. They forced everyone out of their homes from this town and made them go completely through the concentration camp and see what atrocities their beloved Adolf Hitler was doing not only in this camp but many other camps also.
I was watching the reactions on these German civilians and I for one did not think they they were not really affected. True, though, some women were fainting while other ones cried. I will try to find the right words and describe everything I saw as I went through it.
This camp was under complete control of Hitler’s SS troops. Upon entering this camp you first see a 15-foot barbed wire fence that was electrically charged. The gate was a huge arch-shaped affair and at the top of this arch was a big black flag and right beneath this flag was a sign which read Recht oder Unrecht, mein Vaterland means Right or Wrong, my Fatherland.
Passing through the gates you see a mass of barracks of which we would ordinarily house about 25 to 30 men. We went into one of these barracks and there were at least 150 people inside. The peoples in there were more like living deads than anything else.
There were three layers of shelves on each side of the room and each shelf held about 20 to 25 people. They were just a mass of skin and bones and the odor was almost unbearable. Some of the people had laid on those boards for three and four weeks and unable to rise up from weakness.
We next went down to their so-called hospital which was even more crowded than the previous barracks. They were brought to this hospital after they were so weak from hunger and work that they could hardly move. Some of them were used for medical experiments.
The sights of some of the experiments were unbelievable and were enough to turn anyone’s stomachs. To see it you would think you were having a nightmare and that only a mad man could do such atrocities. Some two million people were killed in the camp alone in a period of three years. They had as high as 50 thousand people in this camp at one time. When they had no more use for these people they were taken to the torture area and killed. I will tell you more about this area later. While in this hospital we saw one man whose suffering was ending. Yes, he died right in front of us. The people told us that the only lucky ones were the ones that were killed right after coming to the camp as they had little suffering to go through. Every nationality was present in this camp.
Next, we went to the torture area. This area was in the middle of the camp and was completely fenced in with a high boarded fence. Upon going into this area the first thing we saw was a person hanging by the neck from a beam.
We went into the cellar of the house in this area and on the wall were dozens of hooks with a rope attached to them and the end of the ropes either had a loop to fit over the head or had another sharp hook that was inserted into the roof of the mouth. On the floor were several small stools upon which the victim stood while one of the above devices was placed on him, then the stool was kicked out from under the person and I need not say the rest. At the far end of this room was an elevator which carried the dead person up to the crematorium on the next floor.
Up in the crematorium, we met Miss Margaret Bourke White, a photographer from Life and Time magazines. She took several pictures of us in front of the ovens for historical purposes as well as for the magazines back home. She told us that a lot of the people over here as well as back home thought all of this was propaganda. I never believed all of it either until I actually saw it. She said that with some GI’s in the picture, it may convince some more people that these atrocities are actually going on over here. She took several pictures of the remains of several bodies that were left in the ovens yet. Next, we went outside the crematorium to a courtyard where we saw dead bodies piled like cordwood against the wall to be taken inside. There were about 200 in this pile plus about 150 that were piled in a wagon. Miss White took several more pictures of us in front of these piles for evidence, etc.
We next went into a big hall that was partitioned off into small operating rooms or what I would call torture chambers. They had hundreds of different types of devices for torturing the victims. No matter what kind of a device you can think of you would surely find one there. This about completes everything I saw there. I only wish they could take every person through these camps so they could actually see for themselves, people at home as well as the people in Germany. The people at home then could see with their own eyes that it surely wasn’t propaganda, that is most of it, and perhaps the war could end a little sooner. The people in Germany could then see how wonderful their beloved Nazis are. Naturally, that is my own opinion and more gifted writers could tell what I have seen better than I, but I have just tried to tell you what I saw with my own two eyes and you can judge for yourself.
The photographer and photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White was born Jun 14, 1904, in the Bronx, New York, United States of America and grew up in Bound Brook, New Jersey. Her father, Joseph White, was an engineer-designer for the printing industry and her mother, Minnie Bourke White, worked in publishing. She was encouraged early by her parents to set high standards for herself. In 1922, she began studying herpetology (the study of reptiles and amphibians) at Columbia University in New York. She then developed an interest in photography after studying with Clarence White, a leader in the pictorial school of photography and switched colleges several times before graduating from Cornell University in 1927. In 1925, Marge married Everett Chapman, a graduate student in engineering, but they divorced a year later. Before graduating from Cornell, Marge made a photographic study of the rural campus for the Cornell Alumni News.
Following her graduation, she moved to Cleveland, Ohio to embark on a career in photography. In 1929, she accepted a job with the new Fortune magazine as an associate editor. She was talented, took risks and was becoming more successful than some of her male colleagues. Beginning in 1930, she was sent to the Soviet Union on assignment, becoming the first Western photographer allowed into that country. In 1931, she published Eyes on Russia.
In the mid-thirties, she photographed drought victims of the Dust Bowl. In 1935, she joined the newly created Life magazine. Bourke-White’s photograph of the Fort Peck Dam appeared on Life’s first cover. She then traveled the American South with a writer, Erskine Caldwell, to document the living conditions of poor tenant farmers. In 1937, they published a book You Have Seen Their Faces. That same year, one of her most famous photographs was published in Life. It featured black victims of a flood in Louisville, Kentucky standing in a breadline beneath a billboard of smiling white family in a car. The headline on the billboard read: ‘World’s Highest Standard of Living – There’s no way like the American Way’.
Bourke-White married Caldwell in 1939 and together they published two more books. North of the Danube (1939) chronicled life in Czechoslovakia before the Nazi invasion and Say, Is This the USA (1941) was about life in the USA just before entering World War II. They were both in Moscow when the Germans attacked that city and Bourke-White sent a series of spectacular photos of the event to Life magazine. She was the only foreign photographer in the Soviet Union at the time.
Bourke-White and Caldwell divorced in 1942, and she went on to photograph action in North Africa and in Italy. She was the first woman accredited by the US Army as a war correspondent and crossed the German border with Patton’s troops. She was also one of the first photographers to enter and document the German death camps. Her photos were so compelling that Life published them, breaking the tradition of avoiding the horrific aspects of the war. The Living Dead of Buchenwald became a classic.
After the war, she was sent to India, where she took one of her most famous photographs, Gandhi at His Spinning Wheel. From 1949 to 1953, she photographed life in South Africa under apartheid, as well as the Korean War. In the mid-1950s, Burke-White discovered she had Parkinson’s disease and gradually withdrew from professional photography. In 1963, she published ‘Portrait of Myself’ and in 1971, she died peacefully in Connecticut.