World War II Reporter
Murrow was not at all shy about where he had to go to get a story. He was not one of those reporters who only sat at a desk and delivered news written by someone else based on facts gathered by another person. From his signature, “This...is London” to the final “Good night and good luck”, he brought the action to the audience at home in the United States.
One of his first reports from the middle of the action was during the Blitz in London. He provided a blow-by-blow account of the German bombs dropping on London. Reporting from the steps of St. Martins in the Fields on Trafalgar Square, with air raid sirens blaring in the background, he described in great detail the blackout. In other reports you can hear him talk about “bombs skittering”, hear the sound of explosions in the background and ack-ack exploding overhead.
He flew 25 mission with both the RAF and the US Army Air Corp even though the honchos at CBS had a fit. This was an interesting take since his London office was bombed out three or four times. Wherever there was a bombed out street, that is exactly where Murrow headed, to be in the middle of all the action.
Murrow often became frustrated with the bosses trying to keep him safe. He longed to report from the front but they did not want to risk their star. Eventually, he found a way to get to the front and reported first-hand accounts of many battles and raids. Murrow counted parachutes in Holland, watched a German strafe an airfield in Belgium, and accompanied the British in North Africa.
One of his most moving reports, however, was his report from Buchenwald. It was not overly dramatic or sensational. It was personal. In the camp, a man came up to him and introduced himself as the former mayor of Prague, Petr Zenkl and asked if Murrow remembered him. “I remembered him but I did not recognize him,” Murrow said. It really was, literally, personal. He ended the show by saying, “I pray you to believe what I have said about Buchenwald. I reported what I saw and heard, but only part of it. For most of it, I have no words. If I have offended you by this rather mild account of Buchenwald, I'm not in the least sorry....”
Below is a complete transcript of Murrow's Broadcast:
There surged around me an evil-smelling stink, men and boys reached out to touch me. They were in rags and the remnants of uniforms. Death already had marked many of them, but they were smiling with their eyes. I looked out over the mass of men to the green fields beyond, where well-fed Germans were ploughing....
[I] asked to see one of the barracks. It happened to be occupied by Czechoslovaks. When I entered, men crowded around, tried to lift me to their shoulders. They were too weak. Many of them could not get out of bed. I was told that this building had once stabled 80 horses. There were 1200 men in it, five to a bunk. The stink was beyond all description.
They called the doctor. We inspected his records. There were only names in the little black book — nothing more — nothing about who had been where, what he had done or hoped. Behind the names of those who had died, there was a cross. I counted them. They totaled 242 — 242 out of 1200, in one month.
As we walked out into the courtyard, a man fell dead. Two others, they must have been over 60, were crawling toward the latrine. I saw it, but will not describe it.
In another part of the camp they showed me the children, hundreds of them. Some were only 6 years old. One rolled up his sleeves, showed me his number. It was tattooed on his arm. B-6030, it was. The others showed me their numbers. They will carry them till they die. An elderly man standing beside me said: “The children — enemies of the state!” I could see their ribs through their thin shirts....
We went to the hospital. It was full. The doctor told me that 200 had died the day before. I asked the cause of death. He shrugged and said: “tuberculosis, starvation, fatigue and there are many who have no desire to live. It is very difficult.” He pulled back the blanket from a man's feet to show me how swollen they were. The man was dead. Most of the patients could not move.
I asked to see the kitchen. It was clean. The German in charge....showed me the daily ration. One piece of brown bread about as thick as your thumb, on top of it a piece of margarine as big as three sticks of chewing gum. That, and a little stew, was what they received every 24 hours. He had a chart on the wall. Very complicated it was. There were little red tabs scattered through it. He said that was to indicate each 10 men who died. He had to account for the rations and he added: “We're very efficient here.”
We proceeded to the small courtyard. The wall adjoined what had been a stable or garage. We entered. It was floored with concrete. There were two rows of bodies stacked up like cordwood. They were thin and very white. Some of the bodies were terribly bruised; though there seemed to be little flesh to bruise. Some had been shot through the head, but they bled but little.
I arrived at the conclusion that all that was mortal of more than 500 men and boys lay there in two neat piles. There was a German trailer, which must have contained another 50, but it wasn't possible to count them. The clothing was piled in a heap against the wall. It appeared that most of the men and boys had died of starvation; they had not been executed.
But the manner of death seemed unimportant. Murder had been done at Buchenwald. God alone knows how many men and boys have died there during the last 12 years. Thursday, I was told that there were more than 20,000 in the camp. There had been as many as 60,000. Where are they now?
I pray you to believe what I have said about Buchenwald. I reported what I saw and heard, but only part of it. For most of it, I have no words.
If I have offended you by this rather mild account of Buchenwald, I'm not in the least sorry....