- The Texas Liberators: Veteran Narratives from World War II ed. by Aliza S. Wong
The Texas Liberators is the culmination of years of effort by the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission (THGC) to promote understanding of the Holocaust and to expose Texas students to the history of one of the world's most tragic events. In particular, this book is designed to tell the story of those Texans who participated in the liberation of more than forty Nazi labor and death camps in the waning days of World War II in Europe. The result is an important and fascinating look at the lives and experiences of these soldiers, one that has been made available to public and private school students in Texas through advanced placement courses.
Expertly edited and arranged by Aliza Wong, the stories of the Texas liberators are revealed through excerpts of twenty-one in-depth oral history interviews conducted with the Texan liberators by the Baylor University Institute for Oral History in conjunction with the THGC. These interviews reveal the complexity of emotions experienced by the liberators and provide valuable context for the people and places involved. Each of the [End Page 234] interviews introduces the reader to one of the liberators and provides context for his life experiences prior to the war as well as information related to his military experiences leading up to the moving stories of camp liberations.
One strength of this work is that it reveals the great diversity of individuals who participated in liberating the camps, each offering his views on what he experienced in 1945 as well as how those days continue to resonate with him. Discussing wartime atrocities, Raymond Stewart Watson, a former student at Texas A&M, observes, "But that trait [willingness to commit atrocities], I guess is in a lot of people, maybe all of us" (45). There is also the story of Gerd Miller, a German Jew whose family escaped Germany in 1938 and settled among Seguin's German population. Miller attempted to enlist in the army following Pearl Harbor, but was rejected because of his official status as an enemy alien. He persevered and was inducted into the army, eventually participating in the liberation of Dachau. Miller recalled: "When we approached Dachau, the smell—the smell was so awful. … And I tell you, this may sound bad, but they were the lucky ones" (24). The one consistent question that permeates each man's story is, "How could man behave in such a manner to his fellow man?"
This collection of interviews provides poignant, first-hand accounts of these heart-wrenching events and will serve as a conduit to new generations of students, helping to keep alive the memories of not only the victims, but also those who were there to liberate them. The book's photographs help show who the interviewees were during the war, while recent photos of each man at the beginning of each chapter are striking in their black-and-white simplicity. The addition of a brief introduction to each story would have benefitted the reader, especially considering the younger, school-age audience for whom the work is intended. Nonetheless, the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission and Aliza Wong have provided a useful tool to further the study and understanding of this most important event and its enduring legacy.