Popularizing Anthropology, Combating Racism: Alfred Métraux at The UNESCO Courier

  • Edgardo C. Krebs


On 18 May 1945 the Swiss-born ethnographer Alfred Métraux (1902–1964) wrote the following letter to his wife, Rhoda, from Tübingen, Germany:

My darling, This afternoon I have been deeply shaken by the sight of a group of Jewish girls who were coming back from one of the death factories — Auschwitz. How to describe them? Imagine corpses who had emerged from the grave. There was around these ambulating skeletons something out of this world. A woman whom I thought to be about 50 turned out to be 23. As she collapsed and was obviously dying, she was taken away in a hurry. I talked with the others. No sooner one of them began to mention the horrors of the camp, the others started to cry and the girl became hysterical. They had their tagged numbers tattooed on their bodies. Darling, I have seen that — most of them had been branded like cattle on the throat or on their shoulders. They were taken to rest in a room with beds on which they threw themselves sobbing and laughing. The few things that they were able to tell (sur)pass the published reports. They were thrown to dogs, forced to witness the burning of other women … They screamed when they mentioned what happened to the children. The whole incident was so awful that there was not a person present who did not have tears in his eyes. I had to leave because I was breaking down.


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© Edgardo C. Krebs 2016

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