Another day, and another questionable quotation drops in my lap. And this time it’s offered as a compliment to the attributed author, and to a much more praiseworthy author at that:
“Get it all on record now – get the films – get the witnesses – because somewhere down the track of history some bastard will get up and say that this never happened.”
– General Dwight D. Eisenhower, on future Holocaust denial
Still, I had to raise an eyebrow to this. It seems a little too colloquial, a little too punchy, to have come from the pen of one of our greatest WWII heroes. The blog I found the quote cited Wikipedia as its source, and Wikipedia cited…Dominican Today. And here I was expecting maybe, oh, a book about Eisenhower, and not a foreign newspaper article.
Plus, as is the warning sign of many a spurious quotation, even Wikipedia’s source doesn’t offer up when Eisenhower supposedly said this. In fact, Dominican Today hedges its own bets by prefacing the quote by saying Eisenhower “said in words to this effect…” It’s all but confessing it’s a paraphrase, and not an actual quote.
The quote doesn’t turn up in a single book indexed on Amazon or Google Book Search, so it might still be early enough to nip it in the bud. Some quick web searches fail to turn up any uses of the quotation prior to December 2007, with wider citation beginning in early 2008. Not a good sign for a supposed author who died in 1969. The earliest use I’ve seen is in Oregon Magazine on or just before December 1, 2007. And even it uses the paraphrase-hinting “words to this effect” language.
So the literal quote is bad. But did Eisenhower say something to that effect? As luck would have it, he did. As related on page 223 of “Dear General: Eisenhower’s Wartime Letters to Marshall,” (available on Google Books) Eisenhower wrote:
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 [to Gotha] 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.”
Similar sentiments, but not quite as soundbite friendly. Hopefully by tackling the bad quote this early it won’t make it into actual books, which makes it that much harder to kill. Which would be a pity, because the real quote paints a much richer picture of Eisenhower’s true distress and concern for posterity.