Add this

Saturday, April 12, 2014

William Scott: African American Photographer of the Holocaust

My last post discussed the Office of War Information and how photographer Roger Smith captured iconic images of Montford Point Marines. His pictures displayed young, agile African American men training at boot camp at Montford Point, New River, NC. The pictures were groundbreaking because the United States Marine Corps finally permitted Negros to join their ranks. The two century long ban was lifted.

There was no mention of discrimination or any of the difficulties the enlistees might have endured. The propaganda policy of the Office of War made sure of that. I recently showed my father some Montford Point Marines pictures on the Internet. "You never told me you went to chapel," I teased. "Maybe I'm in some of those pictures, " he offered. "I'll see if I can print them out for you." I announced.

An article from the Detroit Free Press depicted members of the Montford Point Marines Association with actual prints from a special exhibit of Roger Smith photos. The elderly gentlemen were excited about seeing the images, and talked about marching around the Montford Point tower in the hot North Carolina sun. They jokingly shared how mean drill instructor Sargent Major Gilbert "Hashmark" Johnson was and how he had to be tough in order to make men out of them.

Roger Smith's photographs of valiant Montford Point Marines undoubtedly inspired young African American men to enlist and fight for the cause. Of course, as many Montford Point Marines can attest, some racists resented them in Marine uniforms. One Black Marine was even arrested for impersonating a Marine, according to* Roger Smith's photos proudly represented the Montford Point Marines at their best. 

 Smith had a contemporary by the name of William Alexander Scott III. William Scott also took photographs during World War II and happened to be African American. His family owned the Atlanta Daily World, an African American newspaper. Scott was drafted into the Army while a student at Morehouse College. William Scott is famous for shooting photographs of liberators of concentration camps and Holocaust victims.

William Scott was an African American Photographer of the Holocaust

The irony of the situation can not be overstated. Scott was a member of an oppressed group from the United States covering the Holocaust at a concentration camp. According to Professor Jerry Legge in The Dade County Sentinel, some of the laws that lead to the mass genocide of Jews began with the following:

 In the 1930s Hitler’s laws began to limit or revoke their “Germanhood.” Jews were kicked out of civil service jobs, Jewish doctors were forbidden to practice, and Jewish professors were fired from German universities.Then the Nuremberg laws of September 1935 spelled out with neat German precision what rights the Jews must forfeit. They couldn’t go to the same parks, pools or schools as “regular” Germans, and there must be no intermarriage between Jews and the Master Race. In 1939 Jews were forced into segregated ghettos. (Excerpt from speech given by Dr. Jerry Legge)

Do any of these discriminatory laws seem familiar? Note the parallels with Jim Crow laws and Nuremberg laws. William Scott's segregated Black Army unit marched with General Patton's 3rd Army. He was one of the first soldiers to enter Buchenwald. I think the best way to convey the enormity of William Scott's arrival is to read it in his own poignant words:

I took out my camera and began to take some photos, but that only lasted for a few pictures. As the scenes became more gruesome, I put my camera in its case and walked in a daze with the survivors as we viewed all forms of dismemberment of the human body. We learned that 31,000 of the 51,000 persons there had been killed in a two-week period prior to our arrival. An SS trooper had remained until the day of our arrival; survivors had captured him. As he tried to flee over a fence, he was taken into a building, and two men from my unit followed. They said he was trampled to death by the survivors.I began to realize why few, if any, people would believe the atrocities I had seen. HOLOCAUST was the word used to describe it, but one has to witness it to even begin to believe it. And finally, after going through several buildings with various displays — lampshades of human skin, incinerators choked with human bones, dissected heads and bodies, testes in labeled bottles, so that they could be seen by the victims on a shelf by the door as they went in and out of the barracks (after two weeks of this procedure, they would be killed, but we arrived before this ritual could be continued) — my mind closed the door on this horror.- Atlanta Daily World, April 22, 2013

Photos below:**
Deceased bodies of Holocaust victims.

Roger Smith and William Scott were two notable World War II photographers who documented World War II and left an indelible impression on viewers. Smith was a civilian employed by the Office of War Information. His pictures provided permanent visuals of the patriotism and the inclusion of all Americans.

 William Scott served in the Army and his first hand account showed us the horrors and the inhumanity of a war machine gone mad. Scott's Holocaust images are stark reminders that genocide and discrimination must not exist. Both photographers gave us a close look at the military and war in ways that the world will never forget.

 Source:  Augusta Chronicle
Witness to the Holocaust Exhibit, Georgia

What are your feelings when you see some of these photos? 

Please share! Follow the Montford Point Marines and Honor Blogspot on Pinterest for more photos!

Sources: Augusta Chronicle
Atlanta Daily World
Chess Drum
Dade County Sentinel
Detroit Free Press*
Witness to the Holocaust

Notes:** "American troops, including African American soldiers from the Headquarters and Service Company of the 183rd Engineer Combat Battalion, 8th Corps, US 3rd Army, view corpses stacked behind the crematorium during an inspection tour of the Buchenwald concentration camp. Among those pictured is Leon Bass (the soldier third from left). Buchenwald, Germany, April 17, 1945."  From United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

See Also:

Alfred Masters Becomes The First Black Marine Inducted Into The Armed Service
Photographer Roger Smith Captured Iconic Images of Montford Point Marines

Oral History Interview with William Scott

Animated Social Gadget - Blogger And Wordpress Tips