Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » A Photograph: Ezra Taft Benson, 1946

A Photograph: Ezra Taft Benson, 1946

By: Ardis E. Parshall - April 29, 2010

When Apostle Ezra Taft Benson toured Europe in 1946, reestablishing contact with the Saints and establishing relief channels, he visited the site of the Dachau concentration camp.



  1. Commenting on this trip to Dachau, President Benson wrote: “The things we saw and the statistics which were given us made us sudder to realize how far men will go in the direction of evil and sin when they fail to accept the eternal truths of the gospel.

    “We vistited the human crematories, saw the gallows, the trenches in which innocent victimgs were machine-gunned, and the kennels in which prisoners were thrown to be torn to pieces by the ferocious dogs kept there. I this camp alone over 238,000 persons were exterminated.

    “Persons were thus systematically and brutally killed in this and the other some 300 such camps established by the Nazis. The fiendish bestiality that was here related to us made us sick at heart.
    (European Mission History)

    Comment by Steve C. — April 29, 2010 @ 7:23 am

  2. Wow — what a striking photo. The loss is hard to comprehend 60 years later. Elder Benson appears to have been appropriately sobered by the then relatively-recent events.

    Comment by Hunter — April 29, 2010 @ 9:35 am

  3. Ardis, do you know if that is Fred Babbel with him?

    Comment by Kristine — April 29, 2010 @ 10:21 am

  4. Kristine: Fred Babbel was with Benson as they toured Dachau. Babbel comments on the conditions at Dachau in his book, On Wings of Faith. His account is pretty much based on the comments in the European Mission History as quoted in my earlier post.

    Comment by Steve C. — April 29, 2010 @ 10:27 am

  5. Am I the only one who sees the irony in marking the death of a quarter million Jews with a cross?

    Comment by Clark — April 29, 2010 @ 10:47 am

  6. Thanks for the background, Steve. You can always be counted on when the subject strays anywhere near World War II-era Germany, and I appreciate that.

    Kristine, I assume that’s Frederick Babbel with him, but the only picture of FB I have easy access to is on the dustjacket of his book. He’s a much older man there,and it’s hard to see any resemblance. Steve, do you know?

    Hunter, I’m with you. By this point ETB had seen so much destruction and want in the first part of his travels, yet if we can judge by a single photo the immensity of what Dachau stood for does seem to have sobered him despite all he had seen.

    I’m stuck that someone thought so quickly to preserve this site. I think it would have been totally understandable for any Allied unit to come in and be so horrified that their first instinct would be to destroy all trace of the evil.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 29, 2010 @ 10:48 am

  7. Clark, I thought that too at first — but then realized that the cross wasn’t the memorial and wasn’t intended itself to refer to the Jews. The cross was there for Allied soldiers, to signal “this is special” and to restrain them from bulldozing the site. A cross spoke to them, got their attention, which was what counted at the moment.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 29, 2010 @ 10:51 am

  8. Actually, Dachau was not primarily a camp for Jews–the data are incomplete, but some estimates were that about one-third of the prisoners who died there were Jews.

    And, Dachau wasn’t a “Vernichtungslager–“extermination camp.” Though people were executed there, most died of disease and malnutrition.

    Comment by Mark B. — April 29, 2010 @ 10:54 am

  9. A couple of years back, Bergera had a nice piece in the JMH about Benson’s 1946 mission, that I found quite moving.

    This image is striking.

    Comment by J. Stapley — April 29, 2010 @ 11:03 am

  10. I noticed that’s page on Ezra Taft Benson identifies the other person in the photograph as an “unidentified survivor.”

    Comment by Justin — April 29, 2010 @ 11:11 am

  11. Well, then, Mark, a cross is much more applicable than I guessed. We — at least I — forget how many non-Jews were also imprisoned. When this many people die, though, I’m not sure there’s much point in distinguishing between an extermination camp and some other kind.

    I’d forgotten about that, J. (I shouldn’t have forgotten — Gary is such a good writer, and the piece was moving). I need to look that up again.

    Thanks, Justin. Speaking of “always coming through …”

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 29, 2010 @ 11:20 am

  12. #5: Sorry if this veers too much into unrelated, but the idea that a cross isn’t appropriate for honoring Jewish dead is “an outrageous conclusion,” according to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. (!)

    Comment by sister blah 2 — April 29, 2010 @ 11:24 am

  13. I found a photo of Babbel from the same time period.

    Comment by Justin — April 29, 2010 @ 11:29 am

  14. To be fair, we only said it was “ironic,” not “inappropriate.”

    Monuments are so tricky, aren’t they? So the guy in your link gets his way by getting a statue of a soldier in place of a cross — if he’s a white soldier, does that devalue the service of black soldiers? If he’s Army, does it discredit Navy participation? If he’s a male soldier, then are we ignoring the female nurses as well as the uniformed women in every branch? And on and on …

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 29, 2010 @ 11:34 am

  15. Justin, I can see a definite resemblance between that photo and the one of Babbel as an old man.

    What am I going to have to do to get you signed on as Keepa’s guru in chief? Double my last offer? Consider it done.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 29, 2010 @ 11:35 am

  16. Here’s another photo: Pres. Benson (right) and Frederick Babbel (left).

    My oldest daughter recently had to read Elie Wiesel’s Night and was understandably quite disturbed. The Holocaust is so tragic and horrifying, and I find it sad that teachers feel the need to expose young children to such horrors.

    Comment by Researcher — April 29, 2010 @ 11:47 am

  17. To be sure, Ardis, there’s nothing about starving people to death, while working them beyond their meager strength, to recommend it over simply gassing them by the trainload. And if shedding the blood of one innocent is unforgivable, talking about numbers–especially the horrific numbers at Dachau or Buchenwald or Auschwitz or Treblinka–is just so much quibbling about different degrees of infinity.

    But, as a matter of historical accuracy, Dachau opened shortly after the Nazis came to power, it housed political dissidents and other political prisoners, as well as German Jews, from then until 1945. After the war began, those political prisoners came from the conquered nations as well. During those twelve awful years, approximately 200,000 inmates died.

    By contrast, Auschwitz-Birkenau, the most well-known of the Vernichtungslager, opened in 1941. Whereas some of the prisoners transported there were put to work, and actually survived (two prominent examples: Elie Wiesel and Primo Levi), huge numbers were killed immediately upon arrival. In just over three years that the camp was in operation, over one million were murdered there.

    Comment by Mark B. — April 29, 2010 @ 12:58 pm

  18. RE. #6: Eisenhower was so disturbed by the concentration camps and the death camps that he didn’t destroy them. He wanted the German people to see for themselves what had gone on.

    It is sad that teachers have to expose children to this sort of evil. However, there is danger if they don’t. Tomorrow, in my Modern Germany class, I am going over the Holocaust. Yes, these are college students, but I feel it’s essential to lecture on the Holocaust. And from what I’ve seen some of my students write in their term papers, it is something they need to learn.

    Comment by Steve C. — April 29, 2010 @ 2:02 pm

  19. Steve C.–I know, that’s why I asked about the picture. One of my brothers is married to a granddaughter of FB, so I know the story pretty well, but despite having seen many family photos, I’m not sure I recognize this one.

    Comment by Kristine — April 29, 2010 @ 2:11 pm

  20. I haven’t gotten very deep into Holocaust studies, beyond Anne Frank and some general history, but I spent much of my late teens mired in the horrors of Vietnam POW accounts. It wasn’t that I enjoyed the horror or sought out the evil — it was the contrast between that evil and the heroism and personal virtue of individual captives that I responded to. Forget “generals in the war in heaven” — when I hear that someone was a prisoner in Hanoi, and survived it with his mind and humanity intact, I *do* feel like falling to my knees.

    There must be similar stories associated with the history of the Holocaust. I think before I taught WWII history to children the age of Researcher’s daughter, I would be armed with several relevant narratives. There is a need for everyone to know what happened so that “never again” has meaning, but rather than “harrow up tender souls” for the sake of making them abhor the evil, I would want to give them hope to cling to, that when man is at his worst, he can also be at his best.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 29, 2010 @ 2:19 pm

  21. Great thought, Ardis.

    Last year we had Terry Waite, the Anglican envoy who was taken hostage in the Middle East in 1987 while trying to negotiate the release of several western hostages. While his ordeal was not quite that of those in the concentration camps, his story and how he rose above his captors was very inspiring.

    Comment by Steve C. — April 29, 2010 @ 4:19 pm

  22. Clarification: Terry Waite spoke on our campus last year.

    Comment by Steve C. — April 29, 2010 @ 4:20 pm

  23. Ardis, that’s very well said. And I think Babbel’s book is perhaps a good example of the kind of complementary narrative you describe. I read it after spending my eighth grade year in Germany, obsessed with Holocaust history, and while living in Los Alamos and navigating a whole other kind of collective guilt–it was helpful.

    Incidentally, the family says it is not Fred Babbel in the photo.

    Comment by Kristine — April 29, 2010 @ 9:03 pm

  24. So, does anyone really think that we should limit exposure to the Holocaust in our schools.

    The book Night has impacted my life more than any other book, including the scriptures and the works of Rawls.

    The Holocaust Museum is like unto the temple for me.

    Comment by Chris Henrichsen — April 29, 2010 @ 9:08 pm

  25. “The Holocaust is so tragic and horrifying, and I find it sad that teachers feel the need to expose young children to such horrors.”

    Researcher, I would love an explanation of what you mean. I have been reading student papers all week and this may be one of the more baffling things I have encountered all week.

    Comment by Chris Henrichsen — April 29, 2010 @ 9:14 pm

  26. Let’s not forget the other democides of the 20th Century. In terms of raw numbers, Hitler’s Germany came in 3rd place (including fatalities of the Holocaust and all other civilian and military casualties), behind the Soviet Union (#2), and the People’s Republic of China (#1).

    Bottom line: After WWII, communists killed 5 times more people than did Hitler. I think that also needs to be part of “Never again!”

    Comment by Bookslinger — April 29, 2010 @ 11:01 pm

  27. A very quick response for Chris H:

    First, if I understand correctly, you are working with college students. I am not talking about college students. I would personally prefer to keep selections like Night for the older high school student or college student. A more age-appropriate book on the topic for students of my daughter’s age would be Anne Frank’s Diary.

    Second, my response was actually more to the entire selection of materials by the teacher over the course of the year. If the teacher is using depressing and horrifying materials, she should also be using funny and interesting and uplifting selections. She is not. Bad idea for any course in literature. A constant diet of rape and brutality and racism is as inappropriate as avoiding the topics altogether would be.

    Comment by Researcher — April 30, 2010 @ 6:57 am

  28. Researcher,

    Thanks. The larger context does clarify things. I read Night in the 9th grade. Anyways, I am glad that your daughter has a parent who is so engaged is her learning. A lucky kid indeed.

    Comment by Chris Henrichsen — April 30, 2010 @ 7:14 am

  29. Chris,
    At what age do you believe children should be exposed to the holocaust? And to which books? Diary of Anne Frank is not nearly as disturbing as Night. Or perhaps I should say they are disturbing in different ways. I would never have my 7 year read either one. I am interested in your opinion.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — April 30, 2010 @ 7:24 am

  30. I like _Maus_ as a child’s introduction to the holocaust. The story is real, and disturbing, but the animal faces keep it from being too real.

    Comment by Eric Boysen — April 30, 2010 @ 7:58 am

  31. Bookslinger, you’re right about absolute numbers, and those other 20th century atrocities should not be forgotten.

    There is, I think, a special horror for those of us in the West, including the US, about Hitler’s regime that raises it for us above all the others. The perpetrators of that are more “like us” than anyone else — and I’m not referring chiefly to race. So very many of us had parents or grandparents who came from the Germanic countries. Germany was, perhaps even more than England or France, the cradle of modern intellectualism — the artists and scholars and philosophers and mathematicians and thinkers who made Western civilization what it was at the turn of the 19th into the 20th century were largely German. Unlike Russia and China, Germany had, along with the rest of the West, gone through the Enlightenment with its emphasis on the value and rights of the individual. Germany was supposed to know better and do better. If they could sink to Hitler’s level so quickly and easily, didn’t we have the seeds of murderous fascism in us, too? Those are likenesses that Western civilization just didn’t share with the Russians or the Chinese.

    Just my thoughts on why Hitlerism looms so much larger than the other genocides in the minds of most of us in the West.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 30, 2010 @ 8:21 am

  32. Night is written from the perspective of a 15-16 year-old, which is how old Wiesel was during his experiences.

    Anne Frank is great, particularly as a lead up to Night. However, here diary is not really about the Holocaust. This is not to say that it is not important.

    I have recorded the new BCC movie of the Diary of Anne Frank. I hope to show it to my kids (8 and 10) soon.

    My mother is Dutch (we visited the Attic in a trip to Holland after my 7th grade year). My Dad had strong interests in European history. So, none of this was new to me when I came to it in school.

    Ardis, your comment #31 is well said.

    I now feel a need to blog on this topic. Thanks for the inspiration.

    Comment by Chris Henrichsen — April 30, 2010 @ 8:38 am

  33. One more thing about Germany, which I found out yesterday in a conversation with Douglas Tobler: the German Missions had tremendous success in the years right after World War I–particularly in the east–East Prussia, Pomerania, Silesia, Prussia, Saxony, Brandenburg. In fact, there were more members of the church in Germany during that period than in any other country outside the U.S.–including Canada.

    The fall of a people that produced such missionary success, a people who, as Ardis points out, had made extraordinary contributions in the arts (music, anybody?–where would music be if not for the Germans?) and the sciences (even in the 1960s I would hear, from my chemist father, that a person who was serious about keeping up with the latest scholarship in the field had to know German–when he was in grad school in the 1950s, German was required) into such depths of depravity was and continues to be a shock.

    Comment by Mark B. — April 30, 2010 @ 9:16 am

  34. Mass murder is mass murder regardless of who carries it out. We should always be aware of such atrocities. I teach about the Holocaust. I also discuss Stalin. We should, however, avoid getting into a sort of macabre ranking system regarding mass murder.

    There are some troubling aspects about the Holocaust beyond just the notion that a “cultured” people could do such a thing. First, Hitler’s intense hatred toward Jews. He killed Jews not because they were some sort of political opponent, but simply because they were born Jewish. That goes for all other cases of ethnic genocide. Second, the mechanized, industrialized method of the killings. The last thing I find so troubling about the Holocaust is what would any of us do if we were in the same situation? Christopher Browning’s book, Ordinary Men, makes me wonder what I choices I would have made given the intense propaganda and peer-pressure. I hope I would not have cracked. Even Church members were confused by the rhetoric. I sure hope that we can remember that all people are children of God.

    Comment by Steve C. — April 30, 2010 @ 11:51 am

  35. In #32, that should be BBC and not BCC. I spend way too much time on the bloggernacle.

    Comment by Chris Henrichsen — April 30, 2010 @ 11:54 am

  36. More random thoughts on Hitler and Jews:

    Hitler was a political genius for his time, and one reason to persecute the Jews was that he needed to focus public anger against a scapegoat. The depression of the 1930’s was world-wide, and Germany went into it still suffering after-effects of World War I.

    He used hatred against Jews as a means of uniting the populace, and he put forth himself and his party and his ideas as the “answers” to the “Jewish problem.” In other words, he used the Jews as the foil in a the “Hegelian Dialectic”, they were the ‘problem’ for which he and his party were the ‘solution’. And, he could have not implemented his ‘solution’ without there first being a ‘problem’ that demanded to be solved.

    And, for Aryans to be the uber-menschen, there had to be an identifiable under-menschen. And he needed the idea of Aryan superiority to fuel the populace to go along with his design of kingdom-building and subjugating the rest of Europe.

    And I believe his motives were Satanically inspired, though I am ignorant of whether Hitler was cognizant of it.

    Comment by Bookslinger — April 30, 2010 @ 5:25 pm

  37. Slinger,

    Please stop.

    Comment by Chris Henrichsen — April 30, 2010 @ 6:15 pm

  38. I didn’t know what to expect by posting a picture without any real commentary — it has been fascinating to watch this thoughtful conversation develop in so many relevant directions.

    Rather than ranging any farther afield in ranking atrocities or placing blame or explaining/guessing how things came to be, I’d appreciate hearing more of the personal response to learning about evil in recent history.


    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 30, 2010 @ 6:43 pm

  39. The problem is that the evil has become too banal. It doesn’t shock me that it occurs.

    My first exposure to the holocaust was staying up way too late and sneeking the TV on late at night finding footage from the Nuremburg trials sometime around 1970.

    Pol Pot and Rwanda didn’t suprise me at least in the matter of mass murder of one group by another. It is much easier to find a single murder more shocking because it is easier to map the experience on to ones own life.

    Comment by Eric Boysen — May 1, 2010 @ 1:53 am

  40. Along with any discussion of the Holocaust should come a discussion about the “Righteous Gentiles” such as the Dutch woman, Corrie Ten Boom, the Swedish diplomat, Raoul Wallenberg, or the Danish people, who managed to spirit away the vast majority of Danish Jews to neutral Sweden. We should not forget our own Helmuth Hubener, who spoke out against Hitler and was beheaded at age 18. There were many others, less known, who also did their part as well to protect the innocent. Some paid with their and/or their family’s lives for their courageous stand.
    Two other points, General Eisenhower, himself of German descent, remarked that he was never so ashamed of his heritage as he was on the day he toured the death camps. As to Hitler, I believe that there is documented evidence that Hitler was ‘inspired’ by the mass slaughter that took place during the Russian Revolution and thereafter. Around the year 2000 the Library of Congress had an exhibit of Ulyanov’s (a.k.a. “Lenin”) orders to the various leaders of the “Cheka” rebuking them for not killing enough priests, university professors, kulaks (supposedly ‘rich’ peasants), and bourgeoise. I believe that the documents, (on loan from the Russian State Library), also included some of Dzhugashvili’s (a.k.a. “Stalin”) monthly orders to the NKVD, lists of hundreds, sometimes thousands of people to be executed for mostly trivial and arcane reasons. The Russians, to this day, are still uncovering mass graves all across the country of these victims. For those who might want to read an account of how these mass murders can be brought about, Google “Ukrainian famine”. It was an artificial famine that was created to destroy all resistance to the collectivization of agriculture. Men, women and children in whole villages and towns were starved to death while the local Chekist hooligans looked on in indifference. This event occurred from the mid-1920’s through the first half of the 1930’s, if my memory serves me correctly. Incidentally, it was used as an excuse to loot all of the treasures from all of the Russian Orthodox churches, (and other churches, too), across the former empire to pay for ‘famine relief’. The only real relief, however, came from the west, and that was only allowed in at a trickle. I still don’t understand why these atrocities, (the count of the victims ranges from 16 to 22 million people), have never captured the attention of the world. I suppose that the dead can’t speak, and the survivors were too terrified to speak lest they themselves end up in the gulag or a mass grave.

    Comment by Velikiye Kniaz — May 1, 2010 @ 1:58 am