In 1945 General Dwight D. Eisenhower, later to become President Eisenhower, wanted the world to see what he called the “indescribable horror” of concentration camps after they were liberated. That’s why he suggested the United States take videos and photographs of the death and devastation. Dwight Eisenhower’s grandson, David Eisenhower, was at the Holocaust Museum of Southwest Florida Monday to talk about the legacy of what his grandfather did.
David Eisenhower, an academic and historian and the grandson of the general and President Eisenhower, looked at pictures and maps in the Holocaust Museum of Southwest Florida in Naples. He reminisced about watching war documentaries as a kid.
He remembered one scene in one documentary that showed soldiers entering a crematorium.
"They open oven doors and you just see scenes which tell you that this is the central event of the war," Eisenhower said. "This is what drew us into this maelstrom trying to stop this. We didn’t stop it in time but stopped it, hopefully, for the future."
(The video above shows General Dwight D. Eisenhower touring the Ohrdruf concentration camp after it was liberated.)
Reva Kibort was also in the Holocaust Museum, visiting from Minneapolis. As it turns out, she and David Eisenhower have a unique connection - she's met his grandfather.
As a kid, she was born in Warsaw, Poland. Then, she spent time trapped in two Nazi labor camps.
“One was called Deblin and the other was called Czestochowa,” Kibort said.
By the time the war ended in 1945, Kibort was an orphan. She was sent to a displaced persons camp where U.S. soldiers visited. And she remembers seeing General Eisenhower.
“I was a 12-year-old little girl. [The kids in the displaced persons camp] were just in awe of him because we knew who he was," Kibort said. "We knew that he was the one winning the war.”
And 12-year-old Kibort got to meet the general.
"I was selected to give him the flowers," she said, smiling. "My son tried to look on Google or whatever you look to find out. And he found the picture with Eisenhower holding the flowers. But he cannot find me. So I said to him I wasn't important so they didn't take [a picture of] me."
David Eisenhower, the general and president’s grandson, said that his grandad felt that if people didn't see the results of the Holocaust, they wouldn't be able to grasp how awful it was.
"Which is why granddad brings photographers into the camps.," Eisenhower said. "If they do not see this, they'll never understand emotionally. And so the idea was to make a record that people could emotionally connect with."
He said that his general grandad also had the foresight to know that people would try to deny the Holocaust ever happened.
"Because the thing is so beyond imagining that you are always going to have a large number of people who are going to just simply seek out alternative explanations," the young Eisenhower said.
Eisenhower said he remembers a few specific words of former President Bill Clinton’s speech during the dedication of the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C back in 1993.
“If this museum can mobilize morality, then those who have perished will thereby gain a measure of immortality," Clinton said on that windy day of April 22, 1993.
Susan Suarez, the executive director of the Holocaust Museum of Southwest Florida, said this museum and others like it exist in the hopes that tangible change will happen.
“Which is why our mission is not just to tell the stories of the Holocaust," Suarez said. "It's in order to inspire people to take action against hatred bigotry and violence. We want them to do something with what they've learned.”
Eisenhower, the historian and author, said as the descendant of an integral figure to World War II who made sure the world saw the atrocities of the Holocaust, he feels some sense of duty that’s been passed on for generations.
"I don't think that anybody who experienced Europe in that period will ever feel that an obligation has been fulfilled anyway and that is something that came through my family," Eisenhower said. "If somebody wants me to come to a group because they are grateful for Dwight Eisenhower's role in publicizing this historical fact and making it permanent and so forth, I'm going to come.”
He believes that after seeing videos from concentration camps, America’s collective conscience was mobilized to make sure a Holocaust never happens again.