Gabe Vacca (18 minutes)
Major Vacca was a fighter pilot whose squadron was stationed at a captured base in Weimar just before the end of the war. He was one of the first Americans to see Buchenwald when it was liberated, and he witnessed a famous event: hundreds of civilians from Weimar were rounded up and brought to see the death camp. Born in Youngstown, Ohio, Gabe joined the army in 1941 and worked as an aircraft mechanic. He then went to flight school and was trained as a fighter pilot, sent to England, and then to France after the Normandy invasion. His 406th Fighter Group provided air support for the 3rd Army. After the war he visited Israel six times, and developed a strong interest in Jewish history and culture. He died in 1999, but his wife still lives in Riverside.
Weimar was the center of the German Enlightenment, the home of Goethe and other notable writers, artists and philosophers. At the end of World War I it was chosen as the site of a conference to write a new democratic constitution for defeated Germany, and the resulting government (1919-1933) was known as the “Weimar republic.” During the war, Weimar was considerably damaged but has been restored. Buchenwald was located not far from the town on a hill called the Ettersburg.
Questions for classroom discussion
1. How would an experience like Gabe’s change you?
2. Why did the Americans force civilians to come and look at the camp? Would you have done the same?
3. If you had been a US government official during the war, and had known about the camps, would you have made the information public? Why or why not?
4. In your own life, have you had the experience of discovering something painful and shocking? Was it something you might have prevented, had you known about it? Did you feel guilty, or angry, or both?
Link to Youtube video