This is important history, and vitally important, considering how much the Right made a fool of themselves attacking Obama for getting a few facts wrong on what was so obviously true. Barack Obama's great-uncle, Charles T. Payne, is a true hero to this country for what he did in World War Two. Although Obama's family has been very private (and understandably so), Charles has now come forward with his story. You can read it here. It gets me all emotional, on the incredible sacrifice he made, and equally so with his statement about his great nephew, "He's truly an astounding young man and always has been." More below the fold.
It is fitting that Charles Payne's story comes out now, as Obama has landed in Israel, and will be visiting the Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem, in Jerusalem:
Charles T. Payne was 20 years old and, like any good Midwesterner, he knew how to listen.
He was making conversation, in pieced-together English and German, with a freed prisoner of Ohrdruf, the Nazi work camp Payne's infantry division had just liberated at the end of World War II.
"With great difficulty we conversed and, if I got what it was he was telling me about, it was that the Germans had killed a million Jews and that the world didn't really know this yet," Payne, 83, told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday as, on the other side of the world, his great-nephew, Barack Obama, prepared to visit the Yad Vashem national Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.
Helping liberate Ohrdruf, a subcamp of the Buchenwald concentration camp, in April 1945 was Payne's first close brush with history.
There have been a lot of false rumors told about Barack Obama these past months. Frankly, it is hard to understand why people choose to believe the lies. But this is nothing new. When someone looks different or whose name is different, it has been way too easy to label them "the other", but that does not make it right. Charles saw what happened when such hate of the unknown turned deadly.
He had seen plenty of death during his two years in the Army, but the cruelty of what he witnessed at Ohrdruf appalled him. In the courtyard, he saw lying dead "a circle of the inmates in their rags, and you could see they were mostly near starvation. They were there with their tin cups like they were called to get food, then had been machine gunned."
In a shed, he saw bodies stacked like cord wood. The survivors, many near starvation, were "nothing but just skin over bones with nothing, no flesh at all." He said the 1993 movie "Schindler's List" was "very good, but it didn't begin to show the desperate plight of the prisoners. I guess in real life you can't really starve people next to death in order to make a movie."
I have to say this sends shivers down my spine at what Charles witnessed, and the evil he stopped. He strikes me as a modest and highly intelligent man, unsure of whether he should delve into presidential politics after his name created a firestorm among the Right who attacked Obama for getting the name of the Concentration Camp his uncle liberated wrong (it was a subcamp of Buchenwald, not Auschwitz). In the end, Charles chose to speak out, and I think it must have been painful for him to conjure up those old memories, but he did so, because his great nephew was worth it:
"He's truly an astounding young man and always has been," he said.
He ends with a warning of man's inhumanity to man:
"Clearly to me it's proof that there's no limit to what a man will do to man and what government out of control will do," he said. "I guess we need to be on our guard eternally."
For those who do not know the whole story of what transpired with the right wing's attack on Obama and his uncle, please read this diary. Thanks, BruinKid, for the link.