Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Jewish Exterminations Revealed

Accounts of the mass murders of Jewish refugees by the Nazis and the inhumane conditions of prisoner work camps had been known in Europe as early as 1942, but had been repressed from the public out of fear that the war effort might be damaged as a result of citizens regarding it solely as a “Jewish problem.” The news did not break in the United States until June of 1944 when the New York Times published a brief article reporting the killings of Jewish prisoners in gas chambers. The story was printed on page five of the newspaper with very few details.

A month later, the paper published another article about the Nazi extermination camps following a report released by headquarters in Switzerland. The headline reads: “Inquiry Confirms Nazi Death Camps: 1,715,000 Jews Said to Have Been Put to Death by the Germans up to April 15.” The second article produced more in-depth coverage of the atrocities that took place in Auschwitz and Birkenau, featuring it this time on page three. The reporting style is technical and objective, listing the number of Jewish deaths in various European countries and citing the total death count at 1,715,000. Quotations from the Swiss report are employed to verify the statistics of deaths. The ending paragraph describes in brevity the gassing procedure and inevitable burning of the bodies.

The Los Angeles Times covered the story in a much different style, but not until November of 1944 after the War Refugee Board, working under President Roosevelt, released its findings on the death camps. The front page headline of the paper read, “U.S. Board Tells of Nazi Atrocities: Mass Murders and Cruelties in German Compounds Described.” The article paints a clear picture of the Holocaust as we know it today, describing in detail various horrors inflicted on the prisoners by the Nazis. The story begins with a quote from the board stating its purpose in publicizing the report to make all Americans aware of and understand the brutality of the camps.

The two-page article then categorizes each shocking discovery by the board, reporting the tiny and overcrowded cubicles prisoners were piled into with no room to stretch one's limbs or sit upright, the systematic gassings and burnings of prisoners, the arbitrary murders of Jews by German soldiers as they worked, the public killings of uncooperative prisoners whose bodies were then put on display, and the starved state of the captives who were fed inedible food. The report goes on to depict the “sick building” where ailing prisoners were taken but never received medical care and instead were assembled to be put to death, the high mortality rate of the prisoners as a result of the intolerable conditions, the medical experiments done upon prisoners, the selections by doctors of those who were to be sent to the gas chamber two times a week, a thorough account of the gas chambers and its facade as showers, the cramming of naked prisoners into the chambers with room only to stand, forcing them to huddle together with gun shots, and the pouring of powdered Cyanide through vents in the roof, gassing them all to death in three minutes.

The story is written far less objectively than the New York times article, evoking emotion and using terms like “unfortunate victims” and “innocent civilians.” Instead of providing only numerical sources, the story also includes quotes describing the atrocities and also from prisoners who were at the scene. Subheads are written for sensationalism, with titles like “Gruesome Figures,” “Selected for Death” and “Crowd Shot At.” However, the LA Times article contains a much more accurate account of the Nazi concentration camps and does a far superior job in delivering the real story to the American people. Even decades later, the horrors of the Holocaust are still very important to people all over the world

The difference in coverage between the two major newspapers is obvious. One paper placed the story on the front page in a lengthy feature and the other on the third page with sparser details and less sensationalism. In regards to the dissimilarity, I suspect the reason lies in the source. In a time of war, patriotism is at its highest and Americans never feel prouder to be Americans. When the New York Times debuted the news, it was a European committee who wrote the report that fed the article. The LA Times featured the story, its source was an American board employed in the Roosevelt cabinet. But by the time the American government released an official finding, the NY Times had already reported the story. The LA Times' article could have been considered more newsworthy and deserving of the front page as it had the “official” source: the American president.

Wireless to the New York Times, “Czechs Report Massacre,” New York Times, 20 June 1944, pg. 5
Daniel T. Brighamb, “Inquiry Confirms Nazi Death Camps,” New York Times, 3 July 1944, pg. 3
“U.S.” Board Tells of Nazi Atrocities,” Los Angeles Times, 26 November 1944, pg. 1

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