tv The Presidency Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Holocaust CSPAN May 8, 2021 9:15am-10:01am EDT
man who later occupied the white house. next, on the presidency, his granddaughter, susan eisenhower, talks about what led ike to this decision. she is the author of how i pled, prince and howard b -- printable's behind eisenhower's biggest decisions. this conversation was hosted -- susan: today's international holocaust for member and stay. years ago, the auschwitz camp complex was liberated and people around the world paused on this date, the summer anniversary, to under the memory of europe -- europe's jews. it is the days to remember the holocaust era and defend historical record. now more than ever as we have fewer and fewer eyewitnesses to these events. please join me in welcoming today's guest, susan eisenhower.
good morning. susan: good morning. it is a pleasure to be with you today. thank you for the opportunity and the honor of presenting today. for the international holocaust remembrance day. >> it is an honor that have -- to have you. for those of you unfamiliar, she is in a comp list scholar whose recent book is titled how ike led, the principles behind eisenhower's biggest decisions. you may be familiar or are likely familiar with susan's grandfather, dwight d eisenhower , either as the united states presidents between 19 and 1961, or during world war ii. today, we want to focus on a lesser-known but incredibly important aspect of eisenhower's legacy, his determination to document the crimes we now refer to as the holocaust. even as the allies continued their fight against nazi germany
. eisenhower recognized then, one day, semi-deny the truth of the atrocities committed against european druze -- jews and other victim groups. please post your questions for susan in the comment section and we will get to as many of them live as possible. let's begin by understanding a little bit of the forces that shape your grandfather's background. where was he born and raised, what was family life like for him growing up? susan: ike was born in denison, texas, but grew up in adler and kansas -- in kansas. there, he was part of a community that emigrated to the united states in 1741. his family were deep believers in pacifism. they abhorred alcohol, cigarettes, and dancing. they were a very religious emily. you can see ike on the extreme left. he is the blond of the family.
and these are six boys altogether. they were seven sons originally. one died in infancy. ike was a real student of history as a young boy and often had to be reminded he should put on his history books. his mother locked them up in the closet. of all those boys, she said her son wyatt had the most to learn. he was a passionate care there. he felt injustice. he was alert to injustice. he had a temper his parents had to teach them how to control, and altogether, i guess he was a bit of a handful. but certainly, going to west point changed much of that. you saw a wonderful picture of him in high school. dr. friedberg: and you mentioned they were a very religious family. his mother was a mennonite, right? susan: she was. they were a subgroup.
it was a large community that's left from pennsylvania and went to kansas in the late 1800s. dr. friedberg: that must've been quite the statement for ike. you have told me i can call him ike. i don't want to be disrespectful. susan: please. dr. friedberg: for ike to come from this background and go to a military academy. tell me how he rose through the forces of the armed forces -- rights of the armed forces. susan: my great-grandfather did not want to be a farmer and tried his hand in business, which was not terribly successful. he had a modest job at the creamery. they could not afford to put their kids through college. ike put his older brother through college but then went to west point because of the free education. i think it also merged with his history in military history. dr. friedberg: i want to take a moment to acknowledge viewers --
visitors, i'm usually -- we are pleased to welcome viewers from around the world. good morning or afternoon wherever you are. hello in toronto, canada. peru, london also in the u.k.. we are also glad to have viewers from brazil, tokyo, japan, and sicko. in the united states, tennessee, florida, jackson, michigan, goldsboro north carolina, and up the road in delaware. greetings, and thank you for joining us. so in general eisenhower came general eisenhower and became the supreme during the war in europe, what were his responsibilities in this role and approach to them? susan: actually, dwight eisenhower was the strategic leader. he was the supreme commander and his job was to reconcile all of the factors in military
operation. when he is given that appointment, he has been given the appointment for operation overlord, which is what we often called the day. his job was to rationalize the strategic objectives with logistics, with the use of forces, with the politics, with everything that goes into making a successful operation. this is one of my favorite pictures of ike during the war. he is here talking to the 101st airborne division literally within an hour -- division. literally within an hour, they will take off her in what is one of the most ambitious or one of -- and most amphibious operations in history. one of the largest ever. so there were a lot of factors, including a dicey weather forecast. as you know, paratroopers have to have the capacity to see their targets, so this was a
very important moment, for ike to be going out and looking in the eyes of his soldiers and to make a connection with them. i think his feeling was that he wanted to know and see the people who would have an impact, who his decisions would impact. i think it is a moving picture because you get a sense of his humanity. dr. friedberg: it is such a powerful image, and we know, not unique, that he made it a point to greet thousands upon thousands of soldiers, whatever their rank, that he took their risks and sacrifices seriously. susan: that's right. he felt morale had to be an input to any successful operation rather than success and victory. he thought it was important that they knew the supreme commander cared about them and understood the challenges in front of them. dr. friedberg: kind of lump in
the throat interactions to imagine. i would like us to turn to a transformational moment from the following year, during the last weeks of the war in april of 1945. the first site liberated by u.s. forces, reports quickly got back to general eisenhower and he insisted on seeing for himself what was uncovered. what did eisenhower find? susan: first of all, driving into the order of area, apparently, the atmosphere was overwhelming. the smell of dk in flash was overwhelming, and already, dwight eisenhower, general bradley, and general george patton could tell they were about to enter some type of really dire situation. it was so bad that general patton deferred going into certain parts of the camp because he felt he was getting sick.
ike, learning extreme self-discipline finally as a kid, really felt it was important to look in every, as he said, nook and cranny of the camp, because he wanted to bear witness to what had occurred there. if you look at these pictures, which are rather remarkable, you can see a defiant stance in eisenhower's physical composure there. you can see a kind of set jaw. after this incident, he went back to headquarters and told his valley he had -- valet he had never been so angry in his life, that the english language did not even have words that could describe what he saw. he was astonished at the hideous ways the germans had for treating and disposing of these bodies, and all of its was in a violation of every rule of war that had ever been written.
so eisenhower determined -- you can see he has his hands on his hips there. in family body language, hands on the hips means something really serious, as does the firm jaw we can see. in any case, i think it was rigidly important he went through "every note and cranny," because he wrote to winston churchill and said everything you read in the paper about this does not adequately describe what has really happened here. dr. friedberg: indeed he demonstrated the impact of that, the pain of what he had seen in his actions over the subsequent weeks when he was very busy winning the war. the war was not over. after witnessing this, he demonstrated an extreme foresight in recognizing someone might deny these crimes, that they might be too extreme to be believable.
what actions did he take? susan: i have to say that is what impressed you most about researching all of this, because that evening, after he got back, he sent a message to the chief of staff of the army, george marshall, and said he wanted -- first of all, he said that the camp beggar description -- beggared description. he at all kinds of descriptions, including bestie alla t -- be astiality, but he later said it did not describe it. he ordered anyone close to the camps or officers not at the front to go to these camps chronically. as a matter of fact, many of the pictures, including our own family collection, represent photos taken there by my father. dr. friedberg: and we were prepping for this show, you described to me and i thought it
was a powerful turn of phrase that eisenhower had an extraordinary capacity to think and times, to project really far ahead. could you comment on that a little? susan: i think what i found remarkable about this was eisenhower's capacity to, in real time, to look at what he was seeing and allowing his mind work beyond the current shock, and he was in shock. his valet said when he came back, his face was like -- his valet had never seen his face before. yet, while he is looking at this truly disturbing scene, he was thinking about for years from now. he just knew that the horrors or so beyond imagination that, if this did not get chronicles, people would say it never happened, or it would be put what we call fake news or propaganda, or whatever.
he made a very big point in the last weeks of the war, to make sure these things were chronicled, and the army was sent in to take documentary footage so, later, they could be shown to the german population as we got into the accountability phase of this terrible war. dr. friedberg: before we turn more specifically to the german population, i would like to quote more extensively from the cable you mentioned, that eisenhower sent to the joint chiefs of staff in washington. part of it is in our museum at the outset of our permanent exhibition. it reads "i made that visit deliberately in order to give first-hand evidence of these things, if ever in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations to
propaganda." in the comment section, you can see you can participate in a crowdsourcing project, history unfolded, in which you can learn how american newspapers at the time reported on eisenhower was a push, on his invitation to u.s. congressman and journalists to come and bear witness for themselves. susan, you mention t also felt it was important to compel ordinary germans to view the camps and to view the camps and see the crimes committed in their names. let's show a clip from the time that illustrates that endeavor. ♪ >> nazi party leaders and officeholders were commanded by allied military authorities to visit concentration camps in the neighborhood of their cities. they were forced to see with their own eyes crimes whose existed they had denied.
all citizens were ordered to visit the concentration camps. they started the trip as though they were going on a picnic. after all, it was only a short walk from any german city to the nearest concentration camp. but there was no picnic behind the barbed wire. death was the only one who existed here. each and every one had been murdered, on orders of the nazi high command. ♪ dr. friedberg: susan, that is not easy footage to watch and it certainly could not have been an easy experience at the time. why did your grandfather find it so important that average civilians be brought in to witness these atrocities? susan: there were many people at the end of the war who said they did not know.
i can little patience for that. he felt if they did not know, they were closing their eyes to it, or that those who said they were only following orders did not cut the mustard for general eisenhower. he believed that there was responsibility in the orders you accepted. i must say the other rather interesting thing is he put out orders that people should come in and give the holocaust victims a dignified burial. that must have been every bit as searing to the german population as having to go in and witness the camps. later, a documentary film was put together and circulated around germany and the population was compelled to watch it. dr. friedberg: we have in our collection still photos and film footage that shows some of the burials happening. i can't help but think, looking at the clip we just saw, about the young children who were
brought there, they were the only ones who would still be alive from that seen today, but clearly, that is something that would be seared into their memories. we have a viewer question, susan. a woman name sandy is asking, what do you think your grandfather would take -- would say to the deniers of the call -- deniers of the holocaust now? susan: i think he would have very little patience for it, and i think, depending on how widespread it was, i think he would, of course, well he bore witness to it, so he would be able to validate its reality. it is hard to take him out of his era, because i daresay we would not have gotten into a situation we are in today where we have a post-truth environment where people feel like just what they want to think is legitimate and fair game. anyway, it is a good thing he did put together or encourage
the collection of these important documents. it is so widespread, there is so much of it, that it is impossible to deny that this happened. dr. friedberg: and it wasn't just any impact on your grandfather but on many generations of your family. i know from speaking with you that you are quite young when you learned about the holocaust. your father had graduated from west point only months before enlisting, and he was among the troops called to witness the camps. what did your father tell you about his experience at the concentration camp? susan: of course he not only describe what he saw but he had taken a significant number of photographs. he was an amateur photographer anyway, but they were encouraging young officers, anyone in these camps, to actually take pictures so it would add to the volume of evidence we have. my father thought this was such an important chapter in world war ii that we were raised on those photographs.
i can't tell you how many times i have been through that photograph album that is largely focused on what he saw at the concentration camp, and my father made sure that my own children and grandchildren saw these pictures before he died. he must have had some kind of a feeling that, even though we could not bear witness directly, we had to tie his knowledge to him and his credibility. it was an important thing for all of our family. dr. friedberg: and somehow, that responsibility to bear witness is transitive, that it is carried on as a burden carried from generation to generation. susan: it must be. otherwise, there is room for the deniers and liars to make inroads into what public understanding is. i think this is one reason the holocaust national memorial and museum is such an important
benchmark for our country and for the other museums similar to it around the world. dr. friedberg: i would like to encourage our viewers to post questions for susan in the comment section. we are lucky not only are you a scholar of history, the soviet union, and your grandfather, but you are also a granddaughter. i'm hoping you can give personal insights. tell us a little bit about off-duty i, what he was like as a grandfather and family man. susan: his icicle yearbook, he graduated in 1915, he was described as big as life and twice as natural. that beautifully summarized his personality. what a big figure in every conceivable way. and what a smile. i must say that, in writing how ike led, i knew about these
decisions, but then i, for the first time in my life, put it together about what i knew about him as a person. i think the thing that is extraordinary is how he managed some of the most consequent -- consequential decisions of the 20th century and kept his,. i discovered -- kept his calm. i discovered occasions where reunions with my grand parents coincided with events, all coming together to make me realize self-discipline was something he exercised well. but he was always optimistic. given the dark things he saw during world war ii, i'm surprised in retrospect that he could keep his optimistic center at all times. finally, let me say he had a wonderful, kind side. look at the face of a grandfather, right?
dr. friedberg: [indiscernible] susan: i'm sorry? dr. friedberg: that's you on his lap. susan: that's me, taken at camp david in 1954. i was 17 years old when he died, so i had tremendous opportunity to be with my grandparents during those years. i can tell you that he loved kids, and he always used to give us advice when we wanted it or not. one of the big pieces of advice he would say to us was, "you have to be for something." you can't be against things all the time." you have to be first -- something. can't be against things all the time, you have to be for something." dr. friedberg: you have shared with me that he also was a painter in his spare time. could you talk about that? i was surprised to hear that. susan: this was something that was very much part of my childhood. there is a picture he is doing there as you can see of my mother and three of the four of
us, before my younger sister was born. he painted, after the war and throughout his presidency, and he did it as a way of centering himself. if you have these enormous responsibilities and a complex set of circumstances, he believed it was important to let your mind work, settle down and let the various levels of your brain produce some new insights into problems at hand. dr. friedberg: it's what we would today call mindfulness, i guess. susan: that is a great way to put it. dr. friedberg: i am struck listening to you now and in prior conversation talking about him. he has been described as a warrior that hated war area did he seemed to have a foresight about him but also a self-awareness that one needs balance in life in order to navigate such heavyweights --
heavy weights. susan: the balancing is important. you can even see it in the way he handles big issues like u.s.-german relations, his balance of accountability and eventual reconciliation. this is all part of balance. dr. friedberg: could you talk more about that, about how what he witnessed, what he saw, what his experience are, how he then translated that into recognizing the dangers of ostracizing germany after the war? susan: i'm afraid some of this is my speculation, but i'm thinking of a young boy who grew up in a german-american household, where a lot of german food was consumed. his uncles all spoke -- uncles and aunts -- all spoke german. they spoke english too, but they spoke german. and then to go watch the events unfold and be in a position of power to change the trajectory of history, i was thinking,
sometimes, as i wrote this book about the painting -- book, about the painting, and what he was processing in his own mind about good and evil, about his ethnic groups, about what turns a civilized people into maniacs. i don't know that there is another word for it, into people who are so fanatical that they will do things that are completely inhuman. i think he was very aware of the conditions that brought germany to that point and the dangers of really dangerous leadership. i think this is one reason why he felt that it was important to find a path of reconciliation with the germans, after they had taken full account of what they did during the or. -- the war. dr. friedberg: just within days of accepting the unconditional surrender of nazi germany, he
said to his staff, "we will know we have won this war if 50 years from now germany is a prosperous democracy." what did he mean by that? susan: i think he meant that the end of a war is really the beginning of a new chapter. when he decided to run for president, he thought that it was his duty to try to win -- when the piece. i think this was -- win the p eace. i think this was exemplary to the fact that 1955, 10 years to the day of the unconditional surrender of nazi germany, dwight eisenhower brought west germany into the nato alliance into what wonderment described to me as our iron embrace. dr. friedberg: very powerful and not necessarily the path everyone would have followed
after those experiences. i do want to acknowledge a viewer named valerie who had written in to ask about the effects on eisenhower from viewing, memorializing these atrocities. we have another question from a viewer from david. this might be more of an historian question. david is asking, didn't u.s. military have definitive proof of the death camps prior to liberating one? why was it such a shock to the military? a very compact question, david. it depends on who you're talking about. in the case of the united states government, did at the highest levels, have irrefutable evidence of the scale of nazi crimes and some of the details of the mechanics of it, but the average united states soldier was not sent to europe with the goal of liberating jews. that was never the military priority. i remember in particular a colonel in the army at the time who described himself not as a
camp liberator but as an overrun or, because he felt -- overrunner because he felt the term liberator implied intent. the military mission was the defeat of germany. if you think about someone who is 18 or 19 years old, a young surge -- a young soldier who would not have seen news reports, not like the brutal newsreel footage we just saw. how could you not be shocked as a human being to witness, firsthand, to see people who look like skeletons, smell the smells, see the scale of it? i think it is different to talk about knowledge and understanding and also those different levels of responsibility and access to information. susan: and without the defeat of nazi germany, this would all be an academic question.
the end of nazi-ism made it possible to assure these camps were shut down for good. but you are right, it is a complex question. eisenhower does say he had gotten secondary reports of these things, but i think it is fair to say, who could even imagine? who could imagine, it even if -- he warned churchill that even if i try to describe it, the english language does not have words for it, so i will just leave my part of the question there. dr. friedberg: this reminds me actually of words from one of the holocaust survivors who volunteers at our museum. she was asked at the time of a dedication to the new memorial to general and president eisenhower in washington to reflect on what he meant to her. she said, "i shall never forget the moment we saw the american troops and heard a voice telling us we were free."
it was indescribable, unbelievable, a miracle. my four great grandchildren would not be here today if not for the -- for general eisenhower and those who fought so graciously. susan, in the time we have left, i want to turn a little bit more to the analytical side of your most recent book, which is about eisenhower's approach as a leader. what inspired you to write this book, and what were some unique aspects of his vision of leadership that might speak to us in this present moment? susan: first of all, it might interest you to know that i got the idea to write this book at one of the holocaust commemorations. i was invited to attend one of the dinners that marked this important date.
when i heard somebody stand up and talk about this visit to order -- visit, it suddenly clicked in my mind, i wonder why he went to so much trouble to get this chronicled? it wasn't in his job description. nowhere does it say to do anything other than to destroy nazi power. then, i thought, well, he did not have to do it, so why did he? i started getting curious about that element. the more i looked into his career, the more i saw he was often telling hard truths to people he was closest associated with. i'm not saying he was closely associated with germany at any point except ethnically, but he was a truth teller. he also had an uncanny capacity to assess whether or not something he was doing could be
sustained over a longer period of time. in sheer leadership, he believed accountability, truth telling, and building positive relationships were fundamental to his leadership. i think we see it, time and time again, in his record. it is very moving to be on this program, specifically because the holocaust museum and all you do there gave me the inspiration to look into how brave it was even to admit the stock from which he came could have been so compromised in terms of its own moral standing. again, there are no words in the english-language anything we are discussing here. dr. friedberg: thank you for that, susan. i know i speak for my colleagues when i say we are grateful and humble, if at all we could offer you from inspiration -- offer
you some inspiration to approach your work in a new way. we are at an extraordinarily fractured moment in our nations history, and many americans don't even share a common understanding of what is credible or what is true. a viewer name lisa is asking, what can we do, personally, to address the post truths we find ourselves in currently? and what do you think general eisenhower's ideas can offer today? susan: first of all, there is no such thing as post-truth. we have only called it that because we have given up trying to reason with our neighbors who think something completely differently then we do about the facts. ike was very facts oriented. you can't fight a war without needing to know the facts. i'm sure if you are alive today, he would be talking about the importance of finding facts that we can all agree upon. frankly, at the end of the day,
it is a failure of leadership. the facts could be told about a whole range of things if certain people who held political positions right now were willing to help educate their followers who believe that something that happened -- who believed a set of untruths. this is a dangerous time for this country, because we do not want some of these situations to fester. that was the thing about world war ii. it would be hard to imagine a germany today if they had not been held accountable. i think we have to hold our public years accountable, those who lie and tell people things that are not true need to be held accountable in the marketplace of ideas. and we have to be better
neighbors to those we disagree with. i think that civility, if it starts with us, might make it up political and intellectual chain. dr. friedberg: while general and certainly president eisenhower embodied a lot of those values -- certainly general and president eisenhower embodied a lot of those values. kathy writes, "my dad was a member of ike's boys, a group of his bodyguards that deeply respected him and would have done anything for him. after the war was over, this group of men would meet every five years in a different town in america." any thoughts for kathy? susan: this rings absolutely true. i'm so lucky in life to be invited often to those reunions, and i know about ike's boys, and i think it is wonderful you raised this here today. my grandfather loved those boys.
i'm glad to know that it was passed down to you, that the feeling was mutual. dr. friedberg: i also want to give especially knowledge meant and thanks to the families of many liberating soldiers sharing their personal stories in our facebook comments today. susan would be glad to share with you after the program. we are grateful for their bravery, their sacrifice, and for those who did not live to have the sent -- have descendants. we owe them a great debt. susan, it was a pleasure to talk with you today about your book, about your grandfather as a man and the leader -- and a le ader. susan: thank you so much. dr. friedberg: general eisenhower can eyes to there be future challenges to the truth of the crimes we now call the holocaust. the anticipate -- he anticipated a day like today where, unfortunately, we continue confront holocaust denial and distortion.
his exceptional legacy endures in so many ways, not least in the many lives he helped to save area at our museum, we are proud to honor his extraordinary contributions, and you are seeing a photograph right now of the eisenhower plaza, one of the entrances outside of our museum in washington, d.c. when you are next in washington when travel is safe and possible again, you can visit the national memorial to do dwight d. eisenhower, which opened this past september. >> if you like american history tv, keep up with us during the week on facebook, twitter, and youtube. learn about what happened this day in history and see preview clips of upcoming programs. follow us @cspanhistory. >> sunday, a time for peace, in 1972 u.s. information agency film documenting president nixon's trips to various countries. here is a preview.
>> president richard nixon is greeted by the premier. during the next eight days, the two nations will begin the process of slowly bridging diplomatic barriers. after the president's arrival, there is a meeting with dash, a major step in opening dialogue between the two countries. on the first night, a banquet is held in the president's honor in the great hall of the people. [speaking foreign language] >> the american people are a great people. the chinese people are a great people. now, through the common efforts of china and the united states, the gate to friendly contact has finally been opened.
[applause] >> there is no reason for us to be enemies. neither of us seeks the territory of the other, neither of us seeks domination over the other, neither of us seeks to stretch out our hands and rule the world. ♪ >> premier joanne mr. nixon meet often, talks covering cultural and economic exchanges. -- i -- exchanges, independence in asia. while the discussions continue, misses nixon acts as a roving ambassador throughout the city. ♪
the great wall, built by hand in the second century bc, stretches 1600 miles across northern china . originally, it sealed off this territory from invaders. president nixon expresses the hope that, one day, people will be free of barriers and no walls, physical or ideological, will divide them. >> watch the full program, sunday on reel america at 4:00 p.m. eastern, 1:00 p.m. pacific on american history tv. >> this week, we are looking back to this date in history. ♪ >> the german hindenburg, queen of the skies, seen here from a universal news plane as it spread over new york, now lies at the naval air station a twisted mass of metal. shortly after these pictures were taken showing the great skyline are saluting the millions watching from below on
its first trip of the season, the huge craft exploded while docking and blazed to a fiery end, taking the lives of almost half of its 99 passengers and crew. hours late on his trip because of headwind, the south wind had to write out a thunderstorm before heading to the air station and nosing its way toward [indiscernible] but docking is a ticklish one but it is all a thrill of the happy passengers eager to land after their trip. slowly, the big ship comes in and the ground crews rush to the lines in another attempt -- lines. in another 10 minutes, the aircraft would have been docked. as the passengers crowded to watch, a roar and burst of flames near the tail fins turned the ship into a flaming inferno. ♪
[screaming] [dramatic music playing] >> passengers and crew, the fortunate among them, fell or jumped and was dragged to safety before the fiery furnace took their lives. he would -- heroic work. snatch more than one gaze from the blazing wreckage, but for the most of the incandescent tangle, there was no hope. it is the greatest of miracles that anyone came out of the disaster alive. >> follow us on social media, @cspanhistory for more history clips and posts. ♪
on may 23rd and 24th of 1865 two military processions in washington dc called the grand review of the armies drew thousands of spectators to pennsylvania avenue. president andrew johnson cabinet and government officials and general ulysses' s. grant watched from this reviewing stand in front of the white house. on may 23rd an estimated 80,000 soldiers of the army of the potomac led by general meade took about six hours to pass before theev