On July 22, 1942—seventy-two years ago to this day—the first inhabitants of the Warsaw Ghetto were placed in rail cars and deported to Nazi concentration camps. Accounts of exact numbers vary, but less than six months later, the ghetto held only approximately 50,000 of the original 550,000 Jews. The rest had been deported. Most had died or would soon die in Treblinka, at the hands of the Nazis.
Five months after those deportations began, on December 22, 1942, The New Republic published one of the very first accounts of the Holocaust that would reach Western eyes. Aptly titled "The Massacre of the Jews," the piece laid out in minute detail the horrors being perpetrated against the Jews of Europe and indicted the Nazi government, Adolf Hitler, and Joseph Goebbels. Varian Fry's account was unflinching in its honesty and pointedly crafted to alert Americans to "the most appalling picture of mass murder in all of human history." He began:
There are some things so horrible that decent men and women find them impossible to believe, so monstrous that the civilized world recoils incredulous before them. The recent reports of the systematic extermination of the Jews in Nazi Europe are of this order.
Fry goes on to provide concrete numbers of Jews who have been deported or fled their home countries. And in what may be the most damning paragraph of the piece, he outlines the exact methods the Nazis were using to torture and murder the Jews. His reports would be the first that most Americans would hear of cattle cars, death camps, and systematic extermination.
There is starvation: Jews all over Europe are kept on rations often only one-third or one-fourth what is allowed to non-Jews. Slow death is the inevitable consequence. There is deportation: Jews by the hundreds of thousands have been packed into cattle cars, without food, water or sanitary conveniences of any sort, and shipped the whole breadth of Europe. When the cars arrive at their destination, about a third of the passengers are already dead. There are the extermination centers, where Jews are destroyed by posion gas or electricity. There are specially constructed trucks, in which Jews are asphyxiated by carbon monoxide from the exhausts, on their way to burial trenches. There are the mines, in which they are worked to death, or poisoned by fumes of metals. There is burning alive, in crematoria, or buildings deliberately set on fire. There is the method of injecting air-bubbles into the blood stream: it is cheap, clean and efficient, producing clots, embolisms and death within a few hours. And there is the good old-fashioned system of standing the victims up, very often naked, and machine-gunning them, preferably beside the graves they themselves have been forced to dig. It saves time, labor and transportation.
You can read the entirety of Varian Fry's "The Massacre of the Jews," below.
Hillary Kelly is the digital media editor at The New Republic.