Another 'Death Camp' Propaganda Fable

Published: 1995-11-01

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In a book originally published in 1946, American writer Bergen Evans neatly disposes of a wartime fable about a German "death camp" in France, and at the same time discredits the durable myth that quicklime dissolves bodies.

Writes Evans:

In fiction and journalism, however, in so far as one can make that distinction, quicklime is still the great remover of evidence. When vigorous digging in a reporter's imagination produces nothing to fill a column, there is always the possibility that quicklime ate up all the corpses. Thus when the resourceful Mr. W.A. S. Douglas, of the Paris bureau of the Chicago Sun, was confronted with an empty internment camp, Fort de Romainville, deserted by the retreating Germans, he was quick to perceive that it was actually a "death factory" for "the martyred heroines of France." [Chicago Sun, Sept. 2, 1944, p. 2.] No heroines or fragments of heroines were found, but that only added to the horror of it all: they had obviously been "buried in quicklime."

Writing here in The Natural History of Nonsense (a work first published in 1946, and issued as a Vintage reprint edition in 1959), Evans goes on cite Le Moyne Snyder in Homicide Investigation (p. 266) for evidence that quicklime does not dissolve bodies but "forms a combination with fatty tissue which is resistant to insect life and to the usual putrefactive changes."

"To be persuasive, we must be believable. To be believable, we must be credible. To be credible, we must be truthful."
—Edward R. Murrow

Additional information about this document
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Author(s): Mark Weber
Title: Another 'Death Camp' Propaganda Fable
Sources: The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 15, no. 6 (November/December 1995), p. 17
Published: 1995-11-01
First posted on CODOH: Dec. 25, 2012, 6 p.m.
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