Rabbi Herschel Schacter – the American Army chaplain who entered the Buchenwald concentration camp an hour after its liberation in 1945 and who died March 21 at the age of 95 – made a little-known recording in 1992 for a Jewish radio program describing his first moments in the camps.
"The most unforgettable day in my life was April 11, 1945," recalled Schacter in the recording, which was obtained by Haaretz. "Believe me, there simply are no words in the human vocabulary that can even remotely attempt to describe the horrors - the brutal inhuman horrors - that were perpetrated against our people."
"I came upon this hell-hole called Buchenwald," recalled Schacter, who was attached to the Third Army’s VIII Corps and was the first Jewish chaplain to enter the notorious camp. "Within a matter of hours after the American tanks rolled through and liberated that dungeon on the face of this earth."
"I saw hundreds of human bodies strewn in front of the ovens that were still hot, smoke still curling upward, waiting to be shoveled into the furnaces," recalled Schacter. "How can any human being ever forget such a sight?"
Schacter described entering a section of the Buchenwald camp known as "Das Kleiner Lager," or "the Small Camp," which he said was "reserved especially for the brutal treatment of Jews."
"I went into those barracks and I saw just raw planks of wood shelves which were strewn; scraggly, stinking straw sacks," he said.
"And there they were, looking down at me: men, a few boys – there were no women at Buchenwald. But I will never forget those eyes, haunted with fear, half-crazed, emaciated, more dead than alive," Schacter remembered.
Schacter, who was known as a consummate orator, served for decades as a Bronx, N.Y. congregational rabbi. He was a past chairman the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in the United States.
"I do indeed consider it a privilege – tragic, sad – to have been among those who literally opened the gates of hell," said Schacter in the recording, which was originally broadcast on New York City radio station WEVD-AM in 1992.