They seemed to creep out of the woodwork that last Sunday of April in 1945 – living skeletons, covered with lice, waving tiny Allied flags pieced together from scraps. They became hysterical when the realization struck that those coming through the gates were liberators, and they hugged and kissed their saviors wildly. This was the scene at Dachau concentration camp in southern Germany as the U.S. Army liberated 33,000 remaining prisoners. One of the former prisoners, a Polish priest, grabbed the first uniform he saw and kissed the goggled and helmeted figure over and over. Imagine his surprise when he found that he was kissing not a soldier, but a young woman!
Marguerite Higgins was a reporter for the New York Herald Tribune and at age 23 was the first correspondent to report on the liberation of Dachau. Her report, which shocked the American public, was filed even as the 45th Infantry Division continued to fight the SS in the northern part of the camp. She was not a soldier, but her role on the front lines was a critical one… She was a witness, a truth-teller, one who would capture the horror and the suffering in the written word, so that it would never be forgotten.
Marguerite Higgins would go to cover wars in Korea and Vietnam and would be the first female recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting. And so why have so few of us heard of her, this daring girl with her smiling face? Marguerite Higgins contracted a tropical disease while reporting in Vietnam and died on January 3, 1966. She was 45 years old.
Here’s to all the truth-tellers, to those who bear witness. May we never forget…