Holocaust trunk by Crabapple Middle School students in Roswell, Ga.

For years Holocaust survivors have been visiting schools telling wide-eyed students about their days spent in camps and ghettos or hiding in the forest or someone’s attic. But it’s not often that a retired Army General from World War II visits schools, telling the same story from a different vantage point.

Middle school students in Georgia are lucky. They get to meet Brigadier General Russel Weiskircher in person. And he’s quite the storyteller, channeling the gravely voice of George C. Scott as General Patton.

Gen. Weiskircher; Photo: Tom Reed

He tells 50 rapt sixth graders at South Hall Middle School: “We asked the people in Dachau, ‘Where’s the prison camp?’ They didn’t know. Shook their heads.”

Gen. Weiskircher, WWII-era

He pauses for a moment and deepens his voice: “One old man!” he booms, “held his nose and pointed. In sign language he said, ‘Follow your nose, you’ll find it.’

There’s an inaudible gasp in the room. “I don’t mean to be vulgar,” says the retired General. “But the stench, I cannot describe to you.”

Although the 5:44 video is rough-shod, the General also had my rapt attention. (I recommend stopping at 4:34, though, as it’s mostly background noise after that).

South Hall Middle School sixth grader, 11-year-old Mason Barnes, said he could have listened all day to the General, says Access North Georgia.

As vice chairman of the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust, a state agency that uses the lessons of the Holocaust to teach about injustice, stereotyping, discrimination and bigotry, 88-year-old Weiskircher’s goal is to help today’s students cultivate an open mind. To do this, he goes from school to school as part of the Commission’s Holocaust Learning Trunk Project.

If the video wasn’t of such poor quality, I might have felt the same way. It’s a short video and I would love to know more of what the general spoke about. (Do I sound like Woody Allen when he complained about how terrible the food was but in such small portions?).

One thing that caught my attention, because I’ve heard about it before but never from someone first-hand, was IBM’s role in the war. Here’s what he told the students:

“[When] we pried the gate open [at Dachau], the first thing we found was a room with IBM key-punch cards. With a card for every prisoner in the German political system. It was being maintained by former IBM employees, Germans who had been trained to do it. There was a key-punch card for over 11 million people. That covered all over Europe, all of the prisoners, many of whom were dead.”