Historians have documented evidence that as Germany’s defeat became imminent and the Nazi leaders realized they would most likely be captured and brought to trial, great effort was made to destroy all evidence of mass extermination. Heinrich Himmler instructed his camp commandants to destroy records, crematoria, and other signs of mass extermination. As one of many examples, the bodies of the 25,000 mostly Latvian Jews whom Friedrich Jeckeln and the soldiers under his command had shot at Rumbula (near Riga) in late 1941 were dug up and burned in 1943. Similar operations were undertaken at Belzec, Treblinka and other death camps. In the infamousPosen speeches of October 1943 such as the one on October 4, Himmler explicitly referred to the murder of the Jews of Europe and further stated that the murder must be permanently kept secret:
I also want to refer here very frankly to a very difficult matter. We can now very openly talk about this among ourselves, and yet we will never discuss this publicly. Just as we did not hesitate on June 30, 1934, to perform our duty as ordered and put comrades who had failed up against the wall and execute them, we also never spoke about it, nor will we ever speak about it. Let us thank God that we had within us enough self-evident fortitude never to discuss it among us, and we never talked about it. Every one of us was horrified, and yet every one clearly understood that we would do it next time, when the order is given and when it becomes necessary.
The same day I saw my first horror camp. It was near the town of Gotha. I have never been able to describe my emotional reactions when I first came face to face with indisputable evidence of Nazi brutality and ruthless disregard of every shred of decency. Up to that time I had known about it only generally or through secondary sources. I am certain however, that I have never at any time experienced an equal sense of shock.
I visited every nook and cranny of the camp because I felt it my duty to be in a position from then on to testify at first hand about these things in case there ever grew up at home the belief or assumption that “the stories of Nazi brutality were just propaganda”. Some members of the visiting party were unable to go through with the ordeal. I not only did so but as soon as I returned to Patton’s headquarters that evening I sent communications to both Washington and London, urging the two governments to send instantly to Germany a random group of newspaper editors and representative groups from the national legislatures. I felt that the evidence should be immediately placed before the American and the British publics in a fashion that would leave no room for cynical doubt.
Eisenhower, upon finding the victims of the death camps, ordered all possible photographs to be taken, and for the German people from surrounding villages to be ushered through the camps and even made to bury the dead. He wrote the following to General Marshall after visiting a German internment camp near Gotha, Germany:
The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were so overpowering as to leave me a bit sick. In one room, where they [there] were piled up twenty or thirty naked men, killed by starvation, George Patton would not even enter. He said that he would get sick if he did so. I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to “propaganda”.