Category Archives: world war two in europe

D-Day at 70 Years and Forever: Courage, Sacrifice and Reconciliation…

d-day-opener1Omaha Beach

“We are on this Earth for only a moment in time.  And fewer of us have parents and grandparents to tell us about what the veterans of D-Day did here 70 years ago.  As I was landing on Marine One, I told my staff, I don’t think there’s a time where I miss my grandfather more, where I’d be more happy to have him here, than this day.  So we have to tell their stories for them.  We have to do our best to uphold in our own lives the values that they were prepared to die for.  We have to honor those who carry forward that legacy, recognizing that people cannot live in freedom unless free people are prepared to die for it.” President Barack Obama at the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings, June 6th 2014

Seventy years ago the liberation of France began on the beaches of Normandy.  Soldiers from 6 Allied Infantry and 3 Airborne Divisions supported by an Armada of over 5000 ships and landing craft and several thousand aircraft braved weather, heavy seas and in places fierce German resistance to gain the foothold on beaches named Omaha, Utah, Gold, Sword and Juno.  Over the next seven weeks the Allied soldiers advanced yard by yard through the hedgerows and villages of Normandy against ferocious German resistance before they were able to break out of the lodgement area and begin the drive across France.

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The fighting was bloody, most American, British and Canadian infantry battalions and regiments suffered nearly 100% casualty rates in Normandy.  Replacements were fed in at a cyclic rate to make up the losses even as fresh divisions flowed ashore, but the losses were terrible.  By the time the landings took place, the British having been at war for nearly five years were bled out.  They had little left to replace their losses.  From Normandy on the British were losing combat power at a rate that they could not make up.

For the Americans there was another problem.  The US High command decided to limit the Army to 90 Divisions.  Many of these were committed to the Pacific and Mediterranean theaters.   Likewise, American Infantry units were generally made up of the lowest caliber of recruits, led often by the poorest officers, the best went to either the Air Corps or technical branches of the Army.

Now this is not to criticize veterans, but it is a factor in the campaign.  Most US Infantry Divisions with the exceptions of those previously blooded in North Africa and Sicily often performed badly in action.  Some, after being manhandled by the Germans had their leadership replaced and became excellent combat units.  However, every new division that arrived in France after D-Day always got the worst of their initial engagement against German forces.

While performance suffered there was another problem for the Americans.  With the limitation in number of divisions, they stopped building infantry divisions, upon whom the bulk of the campaign depended. Thus they had little in the way of trained infantry replacements to make up heavy losses in Normandy.  By late 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge the American infantry crisis was so bad that 30,000 Air Corps candidates were trained as infantry and soldiers support units such as Ant-Aircraft battalions were used to bolster infantry units.

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Had the Germans been able to hold out and had they not been bled white by the Red Army on the Easter Front, had they not lost the nearly their entire Army Group Center in the Red Army offensive of 1944 it is conceivable that the British and American offensive in the West would have ground to a halt for lank of infantry in 1945.  In spite of this there was no lack of individual courage among the troops engaged; the courage and sacrifice of all who fought there should not be forgotten.

caen_ruins1The Ruins of Caen

The human toll among the combatants both Allied and German, as well as the local populace was especially traumatic.  While the American, Canadian and British people are keen to remember the sacrifices made by our soldiers we often forget the toll among the French civilian population of Normandy as well as the German soldiers, mostly conscripts, sacrificed by the Nazi regime.  Normandy suffered more than any part of France during the liberation.  In the months leading up to D-Day Allied Air Forces unleashed hell on Normandy to attempt to lessen potential German resistance.  The Allied Naval bombardment added to the carnage ashore and once the campaign began the combined fires of both Allied and German forces devastated the region.  Whole cites such as Caen were destroyed by Allied Air forces and an estimated 30,000 French civilians were killed during the Normandy campaign, 3000 on D-Day alone.  I think it can be said that the blood of the civilians of Normandy was shed for the freedom of all of France.

Normandie, Fallschirmjäger mit MG 42

The campaign in Normandy was one of the most viciously contested in western military history.  German forces, especially Paratroops of the 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th Fallschirmjager Divisions, German Army Panzer Divisions such as the 2nd, 21st, 116th and Panzer Lehr and those of the Waffen-SS, especially the 1st, 2nd and 12th SS Panzer Divisions held the line against ever increasing Allied forces.  As they sacrificed themselves Hitler refused to commit more forces to Normandy and insisted that his Army contest every meter of ground.  He forbade his commanders to withdraw to more defensible positions along the Seine.

Hitler’s decisions actually shortened the campaign.  Whatever the crimes of the Hitler Regime and Nazism, which were among the most heinous in history, one can never question the valor, courage and sacrifice of ordinary German soldiers.  For those Americans who lump all Germans who fought in World War II with the evil of the Nazi regime, please do not forget this fact:  There are those today, even in this country that make the same charge against Americans who have fought in Iraq and those at home and abroad who have labeled the US as an aggressor nation.  When you judge others, know that the same standard will be applied to you someday. It is as Justice Robert Jackson who served as the Chief Prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal wrote:

“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.”

Normandy was a near run thing for the Allies.  First the weather almost delayed it by 2 to 4 weeks.  Had that happened the Germans might have been even better prepared to meet the invasion.  Likewise, the Red Army’s devastating offensive which annihilated Army Group Center in June kept the Germans from transferring additional forces from the Russian Front to Normandy.  On D-Day itself there were a number of times where Lady Luck, or maybe the Deity Herself, saved the Allies from disaster.

Any person who has seen Saving Private Ryan, The Longest Day or Band of Brothers knows a little bit about how close Overlord came to failure.  Allied Airborne units were dispersed throughout the region after they drooped.  Many units were not fully operational for more than a day as they sought to organize themselves and gather their troops.  At Omaha Beach the Americans had not counted on the presence of the first rate German 352nd Infantry Division.  This division, despite being pounded by naval and air forces almost cause General Bradley to withdraw from Omaha.  At Utah the soldiers of the 4th Infantry division escaped a similar mauling by landing on the wrong beach.  Had they landed at the planned beaches they would have ran into the same kind of resistance from well dug in German forces.  At Gold Juno and Sword British forces benefited from confusion in the German command which kept the 21st Panzer Division from descending on the British forces and quite possibly splitting the British zones.

The Allies benefited from the absence of Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, Commander of Army Group B who because of the ad weather assumed no invasion was possible and traveled to German to celebrate his wife’s birthday.  Finally, and perhaps most important they benefited by Hitler’s refusal to immediately commit forces, including his Panzer reserve to defeat the invasion at the beachhead.

For those who fought in Normandy and those civilians who lived through it the memories are still vivid. Many suffer the effects of PTSD, grief and other wounds, physical, emotional and spiritual.  When one is exposed to the danger and destruction of war, the smell of death, the sight of burned out cities, vehicles and the suffering of the wounded and dying, it makes for a lifetime of often painful memories.

For some of the German, British and American veterans, the struggle in Normandy has given way to long lasting friendships.  Many of those who fought against the Allied onslaught became fast friends after the war. Those who fought against each other were soon allies as part of NATO and soldiers of nations which were once bitter enemies serve together in harm’s way in Afghanistan.  The generation that fought at Normandy is rapidly passing away, their numbers ever dwindling they remain a witness to courage, sacrifice and reconciliation.

In the end it is reconciliation and healing that matters. Some scars of war never pass away; some memories are far too painful to release.  Yet we strive to reconcile.  In 2002 while deployed at sea for Operation Enduring Freedom I was an advisor to a boarding team from my ship.  It was our job to make sure that impounded ships which were breaking the UN embargo on Iraq were not in danger of sinking, and that their crews had food, water and medical care.  Since many of these ships remained at anchor for 2-4 weeks in the heat of the Arabian Gulf, this was important.

The delays imposed by UN rules sometimes meant that the sailors of these ships grew resentful.  It was my job to spend time with the Master’s of these ships to keep things calm and work out any issues that arose.  On one of these ships I met an Iraqi merchant skipper.  The man was well traveled, educated in the U.K. in the 1960s and in his career a frequent visitor to the US. In 1990 he was the senior captain of the Kuwaiti shipping line.  Then Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.  As a result of this when Kuwait was liberated he lost his job.  His nation was an international pariah.  Since his life was the sea he took up the only job possible to support his family, what he knew best, captaining ships.  He was most apologetic for the trouble that he and others like him caused us.  We shared much during those visits.   One of his daughters was in medical school and other children in university.  He longed for the day when Iraq would be free.  On our last talk before his ship was released he remarked to me “I hope one day we will meet again.  Maybe someday like the American, British and German soldiers after the war, we can meet in a pub, share a drink and be friends.” 

dinner-w-bg-sabah1Me with Iraqi General Sabah in his Quarters in Ramadi 2007

I too pray for that, especially after my tour in Al Anbar five years after I encountered that Iraqi Merchant Captain.  Maybe someday we will. I thought of him almost every day that I was in Iraq. I only hope that he and his family have survived the war, the continuing violence in Iraq and are doing well. There is hardly a day that goes by that I do not think of this man or the Iraqis that I had the honor of serving alongside in Al Anbar in 2007 and 2008.

President Obama remarked in Normandy last week about the veterans of the 9-11 Generation of service members, of which I and so many others like me are part:

“And this generation — this 9/11 Generation of service members — they, too, felt something.  They answered some call; they said “I will go.”  They, too, chose to serve a cause that’s greater than self — many even after they knew they’d be sent into harm’s way.  And for more than a decade, they have endured tour after tour.”

God bless all those who fought at Normandy and give your peace to all who have served since then. Be with our troops as they serve in Afghanistan. Heal the wounds of war and bring your peace to the nations. Amen

Peace, Steve+

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Filed under History, iraq,afghanistan, Military, News and current events, world war two in europe

“They fight to liberate” Remembering the Men of D-Day at 70 Years

It is hard to believe now as we look at the serene beaches of Normandy that seventy years ago they were places of desperate combat in which hundreds of thousands of Allied and German soldiers, sailors, airmen and marine-commandos battled in a contest that helped free Europe of Nazi tyranny and changed the course of history.

Then they were young, most in their twenties, but some in their teens or thirties as well as a smattering of senior leaders or old career soldiers in their 40s and 50s. When I first began to read about and study the battle a good number were still alive, most about the same age as I am now. Today, their ranks thinning they are passing into history. When the 80th anniversary is celebrated, the few that remain will all be about 100 years old, and even now, the youngest of these men are nearing 90 years old.

On June 6th 1944 the Allies invaded German controlled France on the beaches of Normandy. By that evening the Allied Expeditionary Force had landed six infantry divisions on five invasion beaches and the bulk of three airborne divisions on the approaches to those beaches. Near 175,000 Allied Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marine Commandos were involved in the attack and nearly 10,000 would listed be as killed, wounded or missing by the end of the day, over half on Omaha Beach.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower sent them forward with this message:

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.  In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world….

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The names of the invasion beaches and the units involved have been immortalized in history, in film and literature. The American 101st Airborne “Screaming Eagles,” the “All American” 82nd Airborne Division and British 6th Airborne Division “Red Devils” made the largest night airborne drop and battled Germans, the elements as the struggled to reorganize on the heels of widely scattered drops.  The Americans battled the German 91st Airlanding Division and the crack 6th Parachute Regiment, while the British faced men of the 716th “Static” Infantry Division and battle groups of the nearby 21st Panzer Division.

On Sword Beach men of the 3rd British Division and 27th Armoured Brigade teamed with the 1st Special Services Brigade composed of Army and Royal Marine Commandos made the assault, to their right on Juno Beach the Canadians of the 3rd Canadian Division, 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade and two Royal Marine Commandos (battalions) while to their right on the middle invasion beach, God Beach the British 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division and 8th Armoured Brigade went ashore with elements of the British 79th Armoured Division and the 47th Royal Marine Commando.

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To the right of the British landed the American V Corps on Omaha Beach, the 1st Infantry Division, the famous “Big Red One” and the 29th “Blue and Gray” Infantry Division of the Virginia and Maryland National Guard. They would fight the most seasoned Germans on the beaches that day, the hardened combat veterans of the 352nd Infantry Division.  The battle of Omaha was nearly a disaster and a one point General Omar Bradley contemplated withdraw from the beach.  The American troops, including the men of the 2nd Ranger Battalion who scaled the cliffs of Point du Hoc to protect the beach from enfilade fire from German artillery mounted on the point, yet the German guns had not yet been emplaced and the Rangers fought a bitter battle against strong German resistance on that rugged mount.  On the far right the American VII Corps led by the 4th Infantry Division assaulted Utah Beach; fortunately the Americans landed away from their planned point of assault and faced little resistance. Had they landed in the correct location they might fared as their neighbors on Omaha Beach.

Offshore the venerable battleships HMS Warspite and HMS Ramillies and the USS Texas, USS Nevada and USS Arkansas provided fire support to the beaches aided by the Free Naval Forces of France, the Netherlands, Poland and Norway.  The French forces included the cruisers Montcalm and Georges Leygues.

Names such has St Mere-Eglise and Pegasus Bridge, the Merville Battery, Point du Hoc and Bloody Omaha remain etched in the minds of the dwindling number of surviving veterans as well as historians, military personnel and others that take the time to remember the sacrifices of these men.

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The Men came from all parts of the United States and the British Commonwealth. Additionally personnel from France and other countries occupied by Nazi Germany were represented in the land, air and naval forces involved.  For the French, humiliated by their defeat in 1940 and divided by the Vichy and Free French divide were determined, despite their small numbers to liberate their homeland.

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They were opposed by four German Divisions, a Luftwaffe Fallschirmjaeger regiment and elements of the 21st Panzer Division.  The Germans with nothing in the way of air support and no significant naval forces were on their own. Hitler had refused Rommel’s request to deploy Panzer divisions near the beaches and was not awakened when word came of the invasion.  German soldiers fought with considerable valor and would do so throughout the Normandy campaign, even if they fought for a regime that was evil at its core.

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As the battle continued President Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed the nation and asked all Americans to join him in this prayer:

My Fellow Americans:

Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our Allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.

And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest — until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

And for us at home — fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them — help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.

Many people have urged that I call the nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.

Give us strength, too — strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.

And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.

And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment — let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace — a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Thy will be done, Almighty God.

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Today we remember them. On the 40th anniversary of the invasion President Ronald Reagan eulogized those who fought and died for the freedom of the world:

Today, in their memory, and for all who fought here, we celebrate the triumph of democracy.  We reaffirm the unity of democratic people who fought a war and then joined with the vanquished in a firm resolve to keep the peace.

From a terrible war we learned that unity made us invincible; now, in peace, that same unity makes us secure.  We sought to bring all freedom-loving nations together in a community dedicated to the defense and preservation of our sacred values.  Our alliance, forged in the crucible of war, tempered and shaped by the realities of the post-war world, has succeeded.  In Europe, the threat has been contained, the peace has been kept.

Today, the living here assembled:  officials, veterans, area citizens, pay tribute to what was achieved here 40 years ago.  This land is secure.  We are free.  These things are worth fighting and dying for.

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His words are powerful reminders of what was accomplished on that fateful day, June 6th 1944. I hope and pray that as we remember that day and those brave men that we will never forget.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Remembering the “Mighty Hood” and the Battle of the Denmark Strait

hms-hood-sinking11Artist rendition of the Loss of the HMS Hood

Seventy-three years ago today the “Mighty Hood” was sunk by the German Battleship Bismarck. It is an anniversary that I always mark. I first read about this battle in C.S Forrester’s little book Hunting the Bismarck which was used as the screenplay for the 1960 film Sink the Bismarck. This essay is in honor of the gallant HMS Hood and her crew.  It is fitting although the HMS Hood and her killer, the German battleship Bismarck were American. Both were great ships manned by gallant crews and the loss of both ships was tragic, especially from the aspect of the great loss of human life. May we never forget the sacrifice of these men and all others who have gone down to the sea in great ships.

hood-malta1HMS Hood at Malta

There are some warships and naval engagements which assume legendary proportions.  The Battle of the Denmark Strait on 24 May 1941 between the two largest battleships in commission at the time, the pride of the British Royal Navy the HMS Hood and the German behemoth Bismarck is legendary as are those two mighty ships.  The battle came at a critical time as the Britain stood alone against the seemingly invincible German Blitzkrieg.

hood-at-san-francisco1Hood in San Francisco on 1920s goodwill tour

Britain had been driven from Western Europe and was being bombed regularly by Herman Goering’s Luftwaffe while a British expeditionary force that had been sent to Greece had been defeated and the Germans were assaulting Crete with airborne forces.  In the Western Desert the Afrika Korps under Field Marshall Erwin Rommel had driven off a British counter-offensive on the Libyan-Egyptian frontier and were laying siege to Tobruk and in the Atlantic German U-Boats sank 66 Allied Merchant Ships of over 375,000 tons and the Royal Navy would lose 25 warships not including the Hood.

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The Hood was the pride of the Royal Navy and was world famous due to her inter-war international presence and goodwill visits.  Displacing 47,430 tons full load she was armed with eight 15” guns in four twin turrets.  Designed as a battle cruiser she was less heavily armored than contemporary battleships and had very weak vertical protection from plunging shellfire.  This was a fault which was known but never rectified between the wars and when the war came the Royal Navy could ill-afford to take her out of service for the necessary improvements to her protection system.  She was fast with a designed speed of 31 knots which been reduced to 28 knots by 1939 as a result of modifications which increased her displacement.   This was further reduced by the wear and tear on her propulsion plant to 26.5 knots by 1940.

Hood was designed before the battle of Jutland (May 1916) where the weaknesses in the armor protection of British Battlecruisers was exposed as three, the HMS Invincible, HMS Queen Mary and HMS Indefatigable were destroyed by plunging fire which exploded their magazines.  Though her design was modified during construction she still was vulnerable to plunging fire. She was scheduled for a major refit which would have included significant improvement in armor protection in 1941 but the war prevented the Hood from receiving anything more than improvements to her anti-aircraft batteries.

Combat1lgHood (nearly hidden by falling shells) in action at Mers-El-Kebir

During the war Hood was engaged in patrol and search operations against German raiders in the North Atlantic and in June 1940 joined Force “H” in the Mediterranean.  As Flagship of Force “H” she took part in the sinking of French Fleet Units including the Battleship Bretagne at Mers-El-Kebir on 3 July 1940 following the French surrender to the Germans and remained in operation searching for the German Pocket Battleship Admiral Scheer and Heavy Cruiser Admiral Hipper until she was withdrawn for a brief refit in January 1941. Following another brief refit in mid-March, Hood was underway from mid-March searching for the German raiders Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and a false report of Bismarck breaking out into the Atlantic in April 1941. She returned to Scapa Flow on 6 May 1941.

bismarck1Bismarck

When the British discovered that Bismarck had entered the Atlantic, Hood as the flagship of Vice Admiral Lancelot Holland was dispatched with the newly commissioned battleship HMS Prince of Wales to join the Heavy Cruisers HMS Suffolk and HMS Norfolk at the entrance to the Denmark Strait.  When the cruisers discovered Bismarck along with her consort the Heavy Cruiser Prinz Eugen the two British battleships steamed into naval history.

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Bismarck was slightly larger than Hood and mounted the same main armament but that was about all the two ships had in common. If the battle was a battle between heavyweight prize fighters Hood was the valiant but crippled champion and Bismarck the young and overpowering challenger.  Bismarck was slightly faster than the limping Hood and was one of the most well protected ships ever built.  Her gunnery officers and the men that manned those deadly 15” guns were like previous generations of German sailors’ gunnery experts working some of the finest naval guns ever made.

Schlachtschiff Bismarck, SeegefechtBismarck firing on Hood

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The German ships shadowed at a distance by the Norfolk and Suffolk German task force under the command of Admiral Gunther Lütjens emerged from the strait and was sighted by the British at 0537.  Knowing his ship’s weakness in regard to plunging fire Admiral Holland desired to steer a direct course at the German ships in order to close the range quickly. Events dictated otherwise and the British were forced to close the range much more slowly and exposing Hood and Prince of Wales to German plunging fire for a longer period of time.  Holland turned to close faster with the result that his gunnery was degraded by wind and spray coming over the bows of his ships and the inability to fire his after turrets.

hood0231Hood from Prince of Wales moments before being hit and sunk

At 0553 Holland ordered his ships to open fire without the benefit of Suffolk and Norfolk being in position to engage the Prinz Eugen.  The Hood initially concentrated her fire on Prinz Eugen assuming her to be the Bismarck while Prince of Wales engaged Bismarck.  Prince of Wales drew first blood striking Bismarck three times. One which damaged her seaplane catapult, a second which did minor damage to machinery spaces and a third which passed through the bow near the waterline which severed fuel lines from her forward fuel tanks.

prinzeugen-21Prinz Eugen

Both German ships opened fire at 0555 concentrating on the Hood.  Prinz Eugen immediately hit Hood with at least one 8” shell which set a large fire among the ready to use 4”ammunition stored in lockers near the mainmast. The hit started a large fire which Hood’s damage control teams raced to contain.  At 0600 Holland ordered his ships to turn to port in order to bring his rear turrets into the fight. As the squadron executed the turn Hood was straddled by a salvo from Bismarck and observers on Prince of Wales observed an explosion between “X” turret and the mainmast which consumed the Hood causing her bow to jut sharply out of the water before sinking beneath the waves in under 3 minutes time. Witnesses on both sides of the engagement were stunned by the sudden and violent end of the Hood and the Germans rapidly shifted fire to the Prince of Wales knocking her out of the action.  Against the advice of Bismarck’s Captain Ernst Lindemann, Lütjens did not follow up his advantage to sink the crippled British ship.

hood_explosion_sketch1Hood blows up. Drawing by the Captain of HMS Prince of Wales J.C. Leach

Only three crewmen Petty Officer Ted Briggs, Seaman Bob Tilburn and Midshipman Bill Dundas survived the sinking of Hood out of a total of 1415 souls embarked. They were rescued 4 hours later nearly dead of hypothermia staying awake by sinking “Roll out the Barrel” by the destroyer HMS Electra.

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Briggs who died in 2008 recounted the sinking:

“Then she started listing to starboard. She righted herself, and started going over to port. When she had gone over by about 40 degrees we realised she was not coming back…” Briggs was sucked under the water “I had heard it was nice to drown. I stopped trying to swim upwards. The water was a peaceful cradle – I was ready to meet my God. My blissful acceptance of death ended in a sudden surge beneath me, which shot me to the surface like a decanted cork in a champagne bottle. I turned, and 50 yards away I could see the bows of the Hood vertical in the sea. It was the most frightening aspect of my ordeal, and a vision which was to recur terrifyingly in nightmares for the next 40 years.” (The Daily Telegraph 5 October 2008)

briggs1Ted Briggs

tilburn4111Bob Tilburn

The Admiralty reported the loss of the Hood later in the day saying Hoodreceived an unlucky hit in a magazine and blew up.”  The official report of the sinking released later in the year said:

That the sinking of Hood was due to a hit from Bismarck’s 15-inch shell in or adjacent to Hood’s 4-inch or 15-inch magazines, causing them all to explode and wreck the after part of the ship. The probability is that the 4-inch magazines exploded first.”

The commission’s findings have been challenged by a number of naval historians and there are several theories of how the magazines might have exploded but all point to a massive magazine explosion but probably not due to a plunging round but from another hit which detonated the unprotected 4” magazines or a hit from Bismarck below Hood’s waterline which stuck a magazine.  Hood’s wreckage was located in 2001 lying across two debris fields and the examination revealed that the after magazines had exploded.  The site is designated as a War Grave by Britain and protected site under the Protection of Military Remains Act of 1986.

bismarck-sinking1Bismarck sinking

Bismarck and her crew did not long survive her victory being crippled by a lucky aerial torpedo hit from a Fairley Swordfish bomber flying from the HMS Ark Royal on 26 May and being scuttled by her crew after absorbing massive damage from the HMS King George V, HMS Rodney and several cruisers including HMS Dorsetshire the plucky and persistent Norfolk and several destroyers. When she went down she took with her all but 115 souls of her crew of over 2200 which included the Fleet Staff of Admiral Lütjens.

hms-prince-of-wales1HMS Prince of Wales

Prince of Wales would take Winston Churchill to Argentia Bay Newfoundland to meet with Franklin Roosevelt from 9-12 August 1941 where the Atlantic Charter was drafted. She reported to the Far East where she was sunk along with the Battlecruiser HMS Repulse on 9 December 1941 by a force of land based Japanese aircraft.  The Prinz Eugen was the only heavy ship of the German Navy to survive the war and was taken by the US Navy at the end of the war. She was expended as a target during the Able and Baker nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll.  Too radioactive to be repaired she was towed to Kwajalein Atoll where she capsized and sank on 22 December 1946. Her wreck is still visible.

The loss of the Hood traumatized the people of Britain and the Royal Navy; she had been the symbol of British Naval power for over 20 years and people around the world were likewise stunned at her demise. The sinking of the Hood and the loss of her crew was a tragedy which all sailors assigned to large and prestigious ships and the nations that they sail for need to keep in mind.

No matter how mighty any ship may be, every ship has an Achilles heel and no ship is unsinkable.  Of the over 3600 officers and crew of the Hood and the Bismarck only 118 survived.

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I will remember the Hood, her gallant crew especially my very distant relative Midshipman Bill Dundas who I never met.  He left the Royal Navy about 1960 and was killed in a car wreck in 1965.  According to the Hood Association website he was troubled by the sinking for the rest of his life.  One can understand.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, Military, Navy Ships, world war two in europe

“Unparalleled Bestiality” Hitler’s Racial and Ideological War in Poland and Russia

babi yar

 

As part of my academic work I teach military ethics as related to the Just War Theory. In the class on jus post bellum or justice after war I deal with the implication of participating in war crimes. It is a serious subject and in the class I attempt to make my students, all relatively senior officers as uncomfortable as possible. I use a number of examples from the major war crimes trials at Nuremberg as well as the Generals Trial. I had an exceptionally good class over the past several weeks and that caused me to go back and do some revisions to a number articles that I have written in the past. I have published a version of this before but I have made some additions and expect that like my work on Gettysburg that this work too will be an ongoing project.

I think part of why I write about this is that the witnesses of and those who confronted these crimes and tried the criminals are dying. Very few are left, and those still alive were very junior and very young. For years there has been a closet industry of Holocaust deniers and in many places neo-Nazi and other anti-Semitic groups are rising up. It is something that causes me great concern.

As I went through previous notes and research I felt a tenseness and revulsion for the actions of those that ordered, committed or condoned these crimes, men who were like me professional officers. I realize how easily it is that as Spencer Tracy playing an American justice at the Judges trial at Nuremberg in the movie Judgment at Nuremberg said: “under a national crisis, ordinary – even able and extraordinary – men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination.”

September 29th 2014 will be the 73rd anniversary of the Babi Yar massacre. It was committed by members of the SS Einsatzgruppen C near Kiev shortly after the German Army captured that city. 33,771 Jews were exterminated by the members of Sonderkommando 4b of Einsatzgruppen C as well as Police battalions. About 10,000 others, mainly Communist Officials and Gypsies were rounded up and killed in the same operation. The victims were stripped of all of their belongings taken to a ravine and shot. It was the second largest killing action by Einsatzgruppen in the war. It was committed by men who either believed that the people that they were killing were sub-human, or did not have the courage to stand up and say no.

Babi Yar is just one example of how civilized people can get can commit great atrocities in the name of ideology and race, and it does not stand alone. The tragic fact is that it really doesn’t take much to condition people to go commit such crimes; just teach people from childhood that people of certain races or religions are less than human. Then subjugate them to incessant propaganda and then turn them loose using the pretext that they are killing terrorists or insurgents.

The article deals with the ideological as well as military reasons that brought about Babi Yar and so many other atrocities committed by the Nazis during the campaigns in Poland and the Soviet Union.

einsattzgruppen map

Einsatzgruppen Massacre sites (www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org)

Introduction

The German war against the Soviet Union was the first truly race-based ideological war in history with the campaign against Poland its precursor.  Adolf Hitler’s racial theories and beliefs played a dominant role in Germany’s conduct of the war in the East in both the military campaign and occupation.  This has become clearer in recent years as historians have had the opportunity to examine Hitler’s writings, those of senior Nazi officials and military officers and documents which had been unavailable until the end of the Cold War.  Understanding the Nazi ideological basis and the underlying cultural prejudice against the Jews and eastern Europeans in general is foundational to understanding Hitler’s conduct of the war and why the destruction of the Jews figured so highly in his calculations.  One must also understand the military and police cultures and doctrines that enabled them to cooperate so closely in the conduct of the war.

The German war in the east would differ from any previous war.  Its underlying basis was ideological. Economic and geopolitical considerations were given importance in relationship to the understanding of the German “Master Race.”  Race and Lebensraum was the goal of the State that “concentrates all of its strength on marking out a way of life for our people through the allocation of Lebensraum for the next one hundred years…the goal corresponds equally to the highest national and ethnic requirements.” [1]

Hitler believed that Germany was “entitled to more land…because it was the “mother of life” not just some “little nigger nation or another.”” [2] The Germans planned to “clear” the vast majority of the Slavic population and the “settlement of millions of hectares of eastern Lebensraum with German colonists” complimented by a short term exploitation of the land to “secure the food balance of the German Grossraum.” [3] Joachim Fest notes that Hitler called it a “crime” to wage war only for the acquisition of raw materials. Only the issue of living space permitted resort to arms. [4]

Following the Peace of Westphalia wars in Europe typically emphasized conquest of territory and natural resources either to expand empires or promote some kind of self-sufficiency. The Thirty Years War, which was ended by the Treaty of Westphalia had a heavy religious component which added to its brutality. However the root of much of this conflict was about increasing the power of emerging nation states led by men not necessarily loyal to their religious brethren. [5]

The American and Russian Civil wars had some ideological basis and helped usher in the brutality of total war. Both had major effect in these nations’ development and both were bitterly contested with the winners imposing to various degrees political changes on their vanquished brothers they were civil wars. [6]

Adam Tooze sees the Holocaust as the first step of the “last great land grab in the long and bloody history of European colonialism…” [7] This does have merit, Hitler’s desire for Lebensraum or living space was a type of colonialism. However, Tooze’s argument does not take away from the basic premise that Germany’s war in the east was at its heart motivated by ideological factors.

hitler

Adolf Hitler

German Anti-Semitism and Adolf Hitler

The root of this war was in the mind of Adolf Hitler himself. Hitler was born in Linz Austria during a time when various Pan-German and Ant-Semitic groups, publications and propaganda were widespread. As a young man Hitler moved to Vienna hoping to become an artist, something that he found little commercial success. While struggling to make a living in Vienna he was exposed to a culture far different from the provincial city of his youth, a city that had much culture but was also a meeting ground for the various peoples that populated the Austro-Hungarian Empire, including Slavs and many Jews. While many of the Germanic or Austrian Jews were outwardly little different from their Christian neighbors the Jews from Eastern Europe repulsed Hitler.

Hitler’s lack of success, struggle with poverty and resentment of others led him to the writings of the Pan-Germanic and Anti-Semitic movements. His years in Vienna were foundational as he as he absorbed the ideas of these Pan-German, anti-Semitic groups through newspapers like the Deutsches Volksblatt. [8] In Vienna Hitler began to connect the Jews with Marxism.[9] Joachim Fest notes that in Vienna Hitler became obsessed by the fear of the Slavs and Jews, hated the House of Hapsburg, the Social Democratic Party, and “envisioned the end of Germanism.” [10]

Hitler’s racial views were amplified after the war in turbulent Weimar Germany where he became a member of the NDSAP, rising rapidly within it, eventually taking over party leadership, reorganizing it so that it “became the instrument of Hitler’s policies.” [11] Following the unsuccessful Beer Hall Putsch of 1923 Hitler wrote Mein Kampf while imprisoned in the Landsberg prison in which he enunciated his views about the Jews, Slavs and Lebensraum. Hitler believed that Imperial Germany had been “hopelessly negligent” in regard to the Jews [12] and that the Jews in conjunction with the Catholic Center Party and Socialists worked together for “maximum damage to Germany.” [13]

Likewise he saw the Jews as heading the “main ideological scourges of the nineteenth and twentieth century’s.” [14] It was the ideology of Hitler’s “obsessive anti-Semitism” [15] that drove Nazi Germany’s policy in regard to the Jews and against Jewish-Bolshevism.  By the 1920s Hitler had “combined his hatred of the Jews and of the supposedly Jewish dominated Soviet state with existing calls to conquer additional Lebensraum, or living space, in the east.” [16] Hitler wrote: “The fight against Jewish world Bolshevism requires a clear attitude toward Soviet Russia. You cannot drive out the Devil with Beelzebub.” [17] Richard Evans notes that Mein Kampf clearly enunciated that “Hitler considered racial conflict…the essence of history, and the Jews to be the sworn enemy of the German race ….” And that the “Jews were now linked indissolubly in Hitler’s mind with “Bolshevism” and “Marxism.” [18]

When Hitler became the dictator of Germany “his ideology and strategy became the ends and means of German foreign policy.” [19] His aims were clear, Hitler remarked to Czech Foreign Minister Chvalkovsky on 21 January 1939: “We are going to destroy the Jews.” [20]It was clear that Hitler understood his own role in this effort noting to General Heinrici that “he was the first man since Charlemagne to hold unlimited power in his own hand. He did not hold this power in vain, he said, but would know how to use it in the struggle for Germany…” [21]

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Wilhelm Keitel: “war was a fight for survival….dispense with outdated and traditional ideas about chivalry and the generally accepted rules of warfare…” Bundesarchiv Bild

Race, Anti-Semitism and the German High Command

This study will focus on the German policy of ideological-racial war in Poland and Russia. The German war against the Soviet Union and to a certain extent Poland was waged with an unforgiving ferocity against Hitler’s enemy, the Jewish-Bolshevik state and the Slavic Untermenschen.

The campaigns in Poland and the Soviet Union were characterized by the rise of a “political-ideological strategy.” [22] Operation “Barbarossa showed the fusion of technocracy and ideology in the context of competitive military planning.” [23] Hitler’s “ideological and grandiose objectives, expressed in racial and semi-mystical terms, made the war absolute.” [24]

Field Marshal Keitel noted a speech in March 1941 where Hitler talked about the inevitability of conflict between “diametrically opposed ideologies” and that the “war was a fight for survival and that they dispense with their outdated and traditional ideas about chivalry and the generally accepted rules of warfare.” [25] General Halder, Chief of the OKH in his War Dairy for that meeting noted “Annihilating verdict on Bolshevism…the leaders must demand of themselves the sacrifice of understanding their scruples.” [26]

Based on Lebensraum and race, the German approach to war would combine “racism and political ideology” for the purpose of the “conquest of new living space in the east and its ruthless Germanization.” [27] Hitler explained that the “struggle for the hegemony of the world will be decided in favor of Europe by the possession of the Russian space.” [28] Conquered territories would be “Reich protectorates…and that these areas were to be deprived of anything in the nature of a Slav intelligentsia.” [29]

This goal was manifest in the “Criminal Order” issued by OKW which stated that the war was “more than mere armed conflict; it is a collision between two different ideologies…The Bolshevist-Jewish intelligentsia must be eliminated….” [30] Other displaced inhabitants of the conquered eastern lands would be killed or allowed to starve. [31] Part of this was due to economic considerations in the Reich, which gave Germans priority in distribution of food, even that from the conquered lands. Starvation was a population control measure that supplemented other forms of annihilation. [32]As Fest notes in Russia Hitler was “seeking nothing but “final solutions.”” [33]Despite numerous post-war justifications by various Wehrmacht generals, the “Wehrmacht and army fell into line with Hitler because there was “a substantial measure of agreement of “ideological questions.”” [34]

ss recruiting poster

Waffen SS Volksdeutsch Recruiting Poster

Hitler’s racial ideology was central to his worldview and fundamental to understanding his actions in the war. [35] However twisted Hitler’s ideological formulations were his ideas found acceptance beyond the Nazi faithful to the Army and Police, who would execute the campaigns in Poland and Russia in conjunction with the Einsatzgrüppen and Nazi party organizations.  In these organizations he found allies with pre-existing cultural, political and doctrinal understandings which allowed them to be willing participants in Hitler’s grand scheme of eastern conquest.

Doctrinal and Ideological Foundations

While Hitler’s racial ideology was more extreme than many in the German military and police, these organizations had cultural beliefs and prejudices as well as doctrinal and ideological foundations which helped them become willing accomplices to Hitler.  These factors were often, consciously or unconsciously, excluded from early histories of World War II. The Allies relied on German officers to write these histories at the beginning of the Cold War, developing the “dual myth of German military brilliance and moral correctness.” [36] British historian and military theorist B.H. Liddell-Hart makes the astounding statement that “one of the surprising features of the Second World War was that German Army in the field on the whole observed the rules of war than it did in 1914-1918-at any rate in fighting its western opponents….” [37]

While Liddell-Hart might be excused by lack of knowledge of some German army atrocities he could not have been ignorant. It was not just the SS who he blamed the atrocities but many of the men who he interviewed. In doing this Liddell-Hart and others presented a myth as truth. [38] The myths were helped by the trials of Manstein and Kesselring where “historical truth had to be sacrificed…to the demands of the Cold War.” [39] British military historian Kenneth Macksey confronted the myth that only the “Waffen SS committed barbaric and criminal acts” noting: “Not even the Knights of the Teutonic Order and their followers in the Middle Ages sank to the depths of the anti-Bolshevik Wehrmacht of 1941.” [40]

Germany had a long running history of anti-Semitism before Hitler.  German anti-Semitism often exhibited a “paranoid fear of the power of the Jews,” [41] and included a “fashionable or acceptable anti-Semitism” [42] which became more pronounced as the conditions of the Jews became better and Jews who had fled to Eastern Europe returned to Germany. [43] Sometimes this was tied to religious attitudes, but more often focused on the belief that the Jews “controlled certain aspects of life” and presented in “pseudo-scientific garb” the “myth of a secret Jewish plot for world domination which was simultaneously part of the internationalism of Freemasonry.” [44]

Admiral Wilhelm Canaris provides an example as he “had grown up in the atmosphere of “moderate” anti-Semitism prevailing in the Ruhr middle class and in the Navy believed in the existence of a “Jewish problem”” and would “suggest during 1935-1936 that German Jews should be identified by a Star of David as special category citizens….” [45] Wehrmacht soldiers were “subject to daily doses of propaganda since the 1930s” and that with the “start of the Russian campaign propaganda concerning Jews became more and more aggressive.” [46]Some objected to Nazi actions against Jews. Von Manstein protested the “Aryan paragraph” in the Reichswehr on general principal.” [47]Yet some who planned and executed the most heinous crimes like Adolf Eichmann had “no fanatical anti-Semitism or indoctrination of any kind.” [48]

anti-jewish poster

Anti-Jewish Poster: He is guilty for the war

The military “looked to the regime to reshape society in every respect: political, ideological, economic and military…Propaganda would hammer home absolute nature of the struggle…” [49] Ideological training began in the Hitler Youth and Reichsarbeitsdienst and produced a soldier in which “Anti-Semitism, anti-communism, Lebensraum – these central tenants of Nazism were all inextricably linked with the Landser’s conception of duty, with his place and role in the vast machinery of war.” [50]

Following the dismissal of General Fritsch in 1938, General Brauchitsch promised Hitler that “he would make every effort to bring the Army closer to the State and the State’s ideology.” [51] Alfred Novotny, a Austrian soldier in the Gross Deutschland division noted how training depicted the Russians as Untermenschen and how they were “subjected to official rantings about how the supposedly insidious, endless influence of the Jews in practically every aspect of the enemy’s endeavors…Jews were portrayed as rats, which were overrunning the world….” [52]

This ideological component added to the already “harsh military discipline” which had a long tradition in Germany conditioning soldiers to violence and brutalization of their enemy. Similar programs existed in the Order Police which would play a large part in the eastern campaign, the “image of “treasonous” leftists and Jews helped shape the personal and political beliefs of many policemen throughout the interwar period.” [53] Even ordinary police training before the war in German speaking Europe was brutalizing.” [54] These troops were recipients of an ideological formation which “aimed at shaping the worldview of the police leading to the internalization of belief along National Socialist lines.” [55] Waffen SS soldiers, especially those of the Totenkopf division were subjected to even more systematic political indoctrination on the enemies of National Socialism, the Jews, freemasonry, Bolshevism and the churches. [56]

Along with cultural anti-Semitism and the Nazification of German thought in the 1930s, there were aspects of military doctrine which helped prepare the way for the eastern campaign. The most important were the Army’s anti-partisan and rear area security doctrine.  The history of security anti-partisan operations dated back to the Prussian Army’s Ettapen, which began in 1813 with the Landwehr’s role in security against looters and others. [57] These units supported and supplied offensive operations from the rear to the combat zone with a secondary mission of countering partisans and preventing disruptions in the rear area. The Ettapen would be reformed and regulated in 1872 following the Franco-Prussian War. [58]

The German experience fighting guerrillas and partisans, the francs-tireurs in the Franco-Prussian War, “scarred the Army’s institutional mentality.” [59] Von Moltke was “shattered,” writing his brother that “war was now taking on an ever more hate-inspired character.” [60] He was “appalled by improvised armies, irregular elements, and appeals to popular passion, which he described as a “return to barbarism.” [61]He wrote: “Their gruesome work had to be answered by bloody coercion. Because of this our conduct of the war finally achieved a harshness that we deplored, but which we could not avoid.” [62]

The brutal German response to the franc-tireurs found its legal justification in Franz Lieber’s principles for classification of belligerents and non-belligerents, which determined that guerrillas were outlaws or bandits. [63] Leiber’s principles were written for the Federal Army of the United States during the U.S. Civil War. Propagated as General Order 100 and signed by Abraham Lincoln the sections dealing with irregular forces and partisans dealt with this in section IV of that code:

Article 82 stated: “Men, or squads of men, who commit hostilities, whether by fighting, or inroads for destruction or plunder, or by raids of any kind, without commission, without being part and portion of the organized hostile army, and without sharing continuously in the war, but who do so with intermitting returns to their homes and avocations, or with the occasional assumption of the semblance of peaceful pursuits, divesting themselves of the character or appearance of soldiers – such men, or squads of men, are not public enemies, and, therefore, if captured, are not entitled to the privileges of prisoners of war, but shall be treated summarily as highway robbers or pirates.”

Article 84 stated: “Armed prowlers, by whatever names they may be called, or persons of the enemy’s territory, who steal within the lines of the hostile army for the purpose of robbing, killing, or of destroying bridges, roads or canals, or of robbing or destroying the mail, or of cutting the telegraph wires, are not entitled to the privileges of the prisoner of war.”

Article 85 stated: “War-rebels are persons within an occupied territory who rise in arms against the occupying or conquering army, or against the authorities established by the same. If captured, they may suffer death, whether they rise singly, in small or large bands, and whether called upon to do so by their own, but expelled, government or not. They are not prisoners of war; nor are they if discovered and secured before their conspiracy has matured to an actual rising or armed violence.” [64]

The German Army adapted that code and incorporated it in its doctrine for dealing with partisans. In response to their experience in France during the Franco-Prussian War the Germans systematically reorganized the Ettapen to include railroad and security troops, special military courts, military police, intelligence and non-military police, including the Landespolizei and the Grenzschutzpolizei. [65]

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Pre-Nazi Exterminator: General Lothar Von Trotha led the Genocide against the Herero in Namibia

The doctrinal response to partisans, or as they would become known in German writings as “bandits,” was that bandits should be encircled and destroyed. This was employed in the Southwest Africa German colonies.  The Germans, influenced by the experience in France, “displayed a ferocity surpassing even that of the racially brutalized campaigns of its imperialist peers.” [66] The campaign against the Herero tribes which resisted the occupation of Namibia from 1904-1912 utilized encirclement operations, racial cleansing and what would become known as Bandenkämpfung operations. [67]

This was further developed in the First World War, especially in the east where General Fritz Gempp described the security problem as a “ruthless struggle” in which German pacification policy “was in reality the application of terror to galvanize the population into accepting German rule.” [68]Anti-partisan doctrine was codified in the Truppenführung of 1933 which stated that “area defense against partisan warfare is the mission of all units” and that the preferred method of combating partisan bands was that they be surrounded and destroyed. [69]General Erhard Rauss later described active and passive measures used to deal with partisans, focusing on the tactic of encirclement to destroy the enemy. [70]

Anti-partisan doctrine focused on the destruction of the partisans, was coupled a total war philosophy and provided fit well with Hitler’s radical ideology.  The “propensity for brutality in anti-guerrilla warfare was complimented by officers’ growing preoccupation, both during and after World War I, with the mastery and application of violence.” [71] Michael Geyer notes: “ideological mobilization for the creation of a new national and international order increasingly defined the parameters of technocratic planning.” [72] The acceptance of long used brutal tactics to destroy the enemy combined with Hitler’s radical racial animus against the Jews could only be expected to create a maelstrom in which all international legal and moral standards would be breached.

Beginnings in Poland

The Polish campaign was a precursor to the Russian campaign and was not totally race driven. It contained elements of Germany’s perception of the injustice of Versailles which gave Poland the Danzig corridor and Germany’s desire to reconnect East Prussia to the Reich, as well as the perceived necessity to remove a potential enemy from its rear as it faced France, yet it was a campaign steeped in Nazi racial ideology.  Poland resisted German efforts to ally itself with Germany in 1939, thus Hitler determined it “would be crushed first.” [73]

Meeting with military leaders on 23 May 1939 Hitler “made it plain that the real issue was not Danzig, but securing of Germany’s Lebensraum….[74] On 22 August he enjoined the generals to “Close your hearts to pity! Act brutally! Eighty million people must obtain what is their right.” [75] Even so, most military leaders failed to appreciate what Hitler was calling on them to do; Manstein would note that “what Hitler had to say about an eventual war with Poland, could not, in my opinion, be interpreted as a policy of annihilation.” [76]

Others such as Canaris was “utterly horrified” as he read his notes to his closest colleagues “His voice trembled as he read, Canaris was acutely aware that he had witnessed something monstrous.” [77]General Johannes Blaskowitz, commander of 8th Army who would be the military commander in Poland did not leave any notes about the meeting, but his biographer notes that he “may have naively attached a military meaning to these terms since he was busy with military matters and soon to begin operations.” [78] This was the interpretation of Manstein as well. [79] Keitel noted that the speech was “delivered in the finest sense of psychological timing and application,” molding “his words and phrases to suit his audience.” [80]

In light of the mixed interpretations by military leaders, it is possible that many misinterpreted Hitler’s intent and did not fully appreciated his ideology as they went into Poland, carefully secluding themselves in the narrow confines of their military world. While such an explanation is plausible for some, it is also true that many others in light of subsequent actions were in full agreement with Hitler. One author notes that “no man who participated in the Führer Conferences….and there were present the highest ranking officers of the three services, could thereafter plead ignorance of the fact that Hitler had laid bare his every depth of infamy before them, and they had raised no voice in protest either then or later.” [81] In July, General Wagner, the Quartermaster General issued orders that “authorized German soldiers to take and execute hostages in the event of attacks by snipers or irregulars.” [82]

Regardless of the meaning ascribed to Hitler’s speech by his generals, Hitler had already laid plans to destroy the Jews in Poland and decimate the Polish intelligentsia and leadership.   Hitler gave Himmler the task of forming “Einsatzgrüppen to follow the German troops as they advanced into Poland and liquidate Poland’s upper class wherever it was to be found.” [83] While senior party leaders remained at Hitler’s side following the conference, Himmler worked to coordinate his troops, including the reinforced Totenkopf battalions and Einsatzgrüppen with the Army. [84]

einsatzgruppe troops and victims

Einsatzgruppen Troops gathering Ukrainian Jews for Execution Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv Wiesbaden

Himmler began planning in early May and the Army decided to “use SS and police units to augment their own forces for security tasks.” [85]Himmler established “five Einsatzgrüppen to accompany each of the numbered German armies at the start of the campaign.” [86] Placed under the aegis of Reinhard Heydrich the groups were broken down into smaller units of 100-150 men and allotted to army corps.  All senior posts were occupied by officers of the Sicherhietsdienst. [87]

Two additional Einsatzgrüppen were formed shortly after the invasion. [88]Additionally 3 regiments of the SS Totenkopfverbande, under the direction of SS General Theodore Eicke were deployed in the rear areas of the advancing armies. These regiments were formed from the Concentration Camp guard units and eventually became the nucleus of the 3rd SS Panzer Division Totenkopf.  [89] The purpose of these units was shielded from the Army in the planning stages, [90] although Heydrich worked with the Army to develop lists of up to 30,000 Poles to be arrested including intellectuals, political leaders and clergy. [91]

To eliminate the Polish elites without disturbing the Army, Himmler and Heydrich gave the Army “only the bare minimum of information.” [92] The deception was initially successful.  Blaskowitz’s 8th Army defined the mission of the Einsatzgrüppen in the traditional doctrinal terms of the Ettapen, noting their mission as “the suppression of all anti-Reich and anti-German elements in the rear of the “fighting troops, in particular, counter espionage arrests of politically unreliable persons, confiscation of weapons, safeguarding of important counter-espionage materials etc…” [93] General Wagner issued orders in July 1939 that “authorized German soldiers to take and execute hostages in the event of attacks by snipers or irregulars.” Despite the deception, there was no way to disguise the murder of Polish intelligentsia and Jews, and had the Army had the political acumen and moral courage it could have considerably restricted or even halted the terror campaign. [94].

himmler1

Heinrich Himmler: Implementer of Hitler’s Ideas Authorizes formation of Einsatzgruppen

The ensuing campaign in Poland demonstrated Hitler’s true intent. Heydrich talked about “murdering the Polish ruling class” of the aristocracy, Catholic clergy, communists and Jews on 7 September barely a week after the beginning of the invasion. [95] As the German armies advanced into Poland slicing through the badly deployed and inadequately equipped Polish Army the Einsatzgruppen and Totenkopf Verbande followed in their wake, conducting mass arrests and executions of those Poles deemed to be a threat.

Many army leaders were worried about Polish soldiers left behind in rear areas as the armies advanced. In some cases that concern became a paranoid mindset and some generals believed that a “brutal guerilla campaign has broken out everywhere and we are ruthlessly stamping it out.” [96]

Yet some of the actions by Einsatzgruppen and Totenkopf Verbande against the Polish elites and the Jews drew Army reactions. The unit commanded by SS General Woyrsch “behaved with such unparalleled bestiality that it was thrown out of the operational area” by General List of 14th Army.” [97] Another unit, the Totenkopfverbande Brandenburg came to Army attention when its commander remarked that the “SSVT would not obey Army orders.” The conclusion drawn by the Army General was that “the SSVT commander was following orders from some non-military authority to terrorize the local Jews.” [98]

These atrocities as well as those of other Waffen-SS units were hard to hide and brought reactions out of army commanders who sought to punish the offenders. Blaskowitz and others attempted to put a halt to SS actions against Poles and Jews, [99] but most officers turned a blind eye to the atrocities or outright condoned them.  It is believed that General Walter Model and others “not only knew what was occurring in Poland but actually took part in what Colonel General Franz Halder himself described in October as “this devilish plan.”” [100]

It appears that many who objected were not motivated so much by humanitarian, moral or legal considerations, but rather by the effect on good order and discipline. [101]Likewise it is clear that many officers, even if they did not participate in the actions probably approved of them.  Many biographies and histories of this period written by authors influenced by surviving German officers make no or little mention of the Army’s part in these actions. Himmler and Heydrich were sensitive to the perception of the Army and resented the fact that the Army believed them to be responsible for actions that they were carrying out under the direction and order of Hitler and that their troops were “undisciplined gangs of murderers.” [102]

After the establishment of the Government General led by Hans Frank there was conflict between the Army under Blaskowitz the military commander, the SS, Police and the Nazi administration. Blaskowitz made an “elaborate report on the atrocities of the SS,” [103] expressing concern about his “extreme alarm about illegal executions, his worries about maintaining troop discipline under those circumstances, the failure of discussions with the SD and Gestapo and their assertions that they were only following SS Orders.” [104]

While it is unclear if the memorandum made it to Hitler, it is clear that Hitler did know about the protest and Blaskowitz fell into disfavor and was reassigned after a period of continued conflict with the Nazi administration. Hitler’s reaction to Army objections according to his adjutant was that the Army’s leaders used “Salvation Army” methods, and called their ideas “childish.” [105] others that objected were also relieved of their commands or reassigned. General Georg von Külcher was relieved of command for protesting SS and police atrocities. [106]

SS Officers convicted by Army courts-martial were given amnesty by Hitler on “4 October 1939 who two weeks later removed SS units from the jurisdiction of military courts.” [107]While the army remained, it was no longer in charge and would actively assist the SS and Police in combat and further atrocities against civilians. One German officer, later a conspirator in the July 20th plot, remarked in November 1939 about the killings that he “was ashamed to be German! The minority are dragging our good through the mud by murdering, looting and torching houses will bring disaster on the whole German people if we do not stop it soon…” [108]

ordungspolizei

Ordungspolizei in Action: Street Cops Become Executioners

The Army was relieved of responsibility for policing Poland which fell on the Ordungspolizei battalions and Gendarmerie.  These units were composed of mobilized city police and rural constabulary police and would wreak their own devastation on Poland in the coming months and years. [109] Poland would also be the first Nazi driven shift in population to exploit the newly won Lebensraum as Poles were driven into the newly formed Government General and ethnic Germans moved into previously Polish occupied territories. By 1941 over 1,200,000 Poles and 300,000 Jews had been expelled and 497,000 ethnic Germans brought into provinces lost in 1919. [110] Prior to the war about 3.3 million Jews lived in Poland. After the war 50-70,000 were found to have survived in Poland, the Polish Army and camps in Germany. A further 180,000 were repatriated from the Soviet Union. [111]

Russia

The Nazi war against Russia was the ultimate test of Hitler’s ideological at war. Planning for the war with the Soviet Union began after the Fall of France and during the beginning stages of the Battle of Britain. On 21 July 1940 Hitler made “his intentions plain” to the Army leadership and “von Brauchitsch set his planners to work.” [112] Detailed preparations for the offensive began in the winter of 1940-41 following the Luftwaffe’s failure against Britain and postponement of Operation Sea Lion.  Hitler intended to “crush Soviet Russia in a quick campaign which was to begin no later than March 15, 1941, and before the end of the war with England.” [113] Field Marshal Keitel noted the final decision came in “early December 1940” and from then he had “no doubt whatsoever that only some unforeseen circumstance could possibly alter his decision to attack.” [114]

The military plan initially focused on the destruction of “the Red Army rather than on any specific terrain or political objective,” [115]although the political and geographic objectives would arise in later planning and in the campaign. Hitler stated: “What matters is that Bolshevism must be exterminated. In case of necessity, we shall renew our advance whenever a new center of resistance is formed. Moscow as the center of doctrine must disappear from the earth’s center….” [116]

Besides preparations aimed at the destruction of the Red Army and overthrow of the Soviet State, the “war against the Soviet Union was more openly ideological from the start.” [117] Hitler set the stage on March 3rd 1941: “the forthcoming campaign is more than a mere armed conflict; it is a collision between two different ideologies…this war will not be ended merely by the defeat of the enemy armed forces” and that “the Jewish-Bolshevist intelligentsia must be eliminated….” [118]

Hitler noted that “this is a task so difficult that it cannot be entrusted to the Army.” [119] Reichskommissars would be appointed in the conquered areas, but since normal civilian powers would be insufficient to eliminate the Bolshevists, that it “might be necessary “to establish organs of the Reichsführer SS alongside the army’s Secret Field Police, even in the operational areas….” [120] The “primary task was to liquidate “all Bolshevist leaders or commissars” if possible while still in the operations zones,” [121] yet the orders did not contain “a syllable that in practice every Jew would be handed over to the extermination machine.” [122]

This was followed on 13 March by an agreement between the Army represented by General Wagner and the SS, which stated in part that “the Reichsführer SS has been given by the Führer special tasks within the operations zone of the Army…to settle the conflict between two opposing political systems.” [123]  Likewise the agreement dictated that Himmler would “act independently and on his own responsibility” while ensuring that “military operations are not affected by measures necessary to carry out his task.” [124]

A further instruction of 26 March issued by Wagner gave the Army’s agreement to the use of the Einsatzgrüppen in the operations zone, specifying coordination between them and army authorities in the operational zone and communications zones to the rear.  Cooperation was based on the “principals for co-operation between the State Secret Police and the Field Security organization of the Wehrmacht agreed with the Security branch of the War Ministry on 1 January 1937.” [125]

The most significant act for the Army in this was the Commissar Order. This order is sometimes known as the “Criminal Order” which was used war as evidence at Nurnberg as against Keitel, Jodl and High Command of the Wehrmacht during the later Generals Trial.  The order specified the killing of Soviet Political Commissars attached to the Red Army and as “they were not prisoners of war” and another order specified that “in the event that a German soldier committed against civilians or prisoners, disciplinary action was optional….” [126] The order noted regarding political commissars that “in this struggle consideration and respect for international law with regard to these elements is wrong.” [127] The “Guidelines for the Conduct of Troops in Russia” issued on May 19, 1941 called for “ruthless and vigorous measures against Bolshevist inciters, saboteurs [and] Jews.” [128]

Shortly before the order was issued, Hitler previewed it to the generals saying that the war in Russia “cannot be conducted in a knightly fashion” and that it would have to be waged with “unprecedented, unmerciful and unrelenting harshness…” [129] and that they would have to “dispense with all of their outdated and traditional ideas about chivalry and the generally accepted rules of warfare: the Bolsheviks had long since dispensed with them.” [130] He explained that his orders were beyond their comprehension stating “I cannot and will not change my orders and I insist that that they be carried out with unquestioning and unconditional obedience.” [131]

General Franz Halder, Chief of the OKH, or the Army High Command took notes on Hitler’s speech. They are chilling to read as none present could have understood them in any other way than Hitler meant:

“Clash of two ideologies. Crushing denunciation of Bolshevism, identified with asocial criminality….We must forget the comradeship between soldiers. A Communist is no comrade before nor after the battle. This is a war of extermination….We do not wage war to preserve the enemy….War against Russia: Extermination of the Bolshevist Commissars and of the Communist intelligentsia….this is no job for military courts. The individual troop commanders must know the issues at stake. They must be leaders in the fight….This war will be very different from war in the West. In the East harshness today means leniency in the future. Commanders must make the sacrifice of overcoming their personal scruples.”[132]

Hitler’s speech was protested by some according to Von Brauchitsch. [133] Von Brauchitsch refused to protest to Hitler but issued an order on his own authority “threatening dire penalties for excesses against civilians and prisoners of war” which he maintained at Nurmeberg “was sufficient to nullify the Commissar Order.” [134] Yet Von Brauchitsch later would tell commanders to “proceed with the necessary hardness.” [135] Warlimont noted that Von Bock, who would “later emerge as an opponent of the Commissar Order…makes no special comment on the meeting or the restricted conference that followed.” [136]

At Nuremberg Keitel said that he “stubbornly contested” the clause “relating to the authority of the SS-Reichsführer… in the rearward operational areas.” [137]Keitel blamed the Army High Command OKH under Halder, but the order came out with his signature on behalf of Hitler, which was key evidence against him at Nurnberg. He stated that “there was never any possibility of justifying them in retrospect by circumstances obtaining in the Russian campaign.” [138]

Some commanders refused to publish the orders and “insisted that the Wehrmacht never implemented such policies…” blaming them instead on the SS. One writer states “such protests were undoubtedly sincere, but in practice German soldiers were far from innocent. The senior professional officers were often out of touch with their subordinates.” [139] The orders were a “license to kill, although not a great departure from German military traditions….” [140] The effect was terrifying, for in a sense the Einsatzgruppen, “could commit ever crime known to God and man, so long as they were a mile or two away from the firing line.” [141] Security Divisions were “instructed to give material and logistical support to…units of the Einsatzgruppen.” [142] Even worse, army units in rear areas “could be called on to assist Himmler’s SS police leaders.” [143]

einsatzgruppen executions

Einsatzgruppe troops finishing off Jewish Women

For the campaign in the Soviet Union the SS formed four Einsatzgruppen composed of SD, Waffen-SS and Police troops designated A-D. Einsatzgruppe A was assigned to Army Group North, Einsatzgruppe B to Army Group Center, Einsatzgruppe C to Army Group South and Einsatzgruppe D to the 11th Army.  The Einsatzgruppe were not standardized in manpower or equipment. In size they were battalion equivalents the largest Einsatzgruppe being A in the North with 990 assigned personnel [144]while Einsatzgruppe D had only 550 troops assigned. [145] These units had SS, SD or Police commanders. Additionally nine Ordnungspolizei battalions were initially assigned to the invasion forces to supplement the Einsatzgruppen. [146]

The police contingent would grow over time so that by 1943, these units would be grouped under regiments and number about 180,000 men assisted by 301,000 auxiliaries. [147] These units would act in concert with nine Army Security Divisions which handled rear area security. [148] Himmler initially did not reveal their intent and planned use to Einsatzgruppen commanders, only speaking of a “heavy task…to “secure and pacify” the Russian area using Sicherheitspolizei and SD methods.” [149] Understanding the effect of these operations, Himmler would state that “in many cases it is considerably easier to lead a company in battle than to command a company responsible to…carry out executions, to deport people…to be always consistent, always uncompromising-that is in many cases far, far harder.” [150]

The actions of these units are well documented; the Einsatzgruppen, Police, Army and locally recruited Schutzmannschaft battalions [151] ruthlessly exterminated Jews and others in the operational area. No sooner had an Einsatzgruppe unit entered a city, a “deadly stranglehold” would grip the “Jewish inhabitants claiming thousands and thousands of victims day by day and hour by hour.” [152] Non-Jewish Russians were encouraged to conduct programs which Heydrich noted “had to be encouraged.” [153] Einsatzgruppen D report number 153 noted: “During period covered by this report 3,176 Jews, 85 Partisans, 12 looters, 122 Communist functionaries shot. Total 79,276.” [154]   By the spring of 1942 Einsatzgruppe A had claimed “more than 270,000 victims, the overwhelming majority of whom were Jewish.” [155] The total killed for all groups then was 518,388 people, mostly Jews. [156] Germany’s Romanian ally acted against Jews in Odessa as well; “on 23 October 1941 19,000 Jews were shot near the harbor… probably 200,000 Jews perished either at Romanian hands or after being turned over by the Romanians to the Germans.” [157]

ordungspolizie officers

Many Anti-Jewish Massacres were Labeled “Anti-Partisan” Operations

Operations against Jews were often called anti-partisan operations.  Himmler referred to Einsatzgruppen as “anti-Partisan formations [158] while Wehrmacht Security divisions “murdered countless Soviet civilians and burned Russian settlements to the ground under the pretext of subduing partisan resistance.” [159] The attitude by 1941-1942 was that “’all Jews are partisans and all partisans are Jews.” From 1943, all armed resistance was “banditry” and all Jews irrespective of circumstances were treated as “bandits.”” [160]

General Von Reichenau issued an order in which he stated:

“The soldier in the Eastern territories is not merely a fighter according to the art of war but also a bearer of a ruthless national ideology and the avenger of the bestialities which had been inflicted upon German and racially related nations. Therefore the soldier must have full understanding for the necessity of a severe but just revenge on subhuman Jewry.” [161]

Russland, Generale v. Bock, Hoth, W. v. Richthofen

Herman Hoth

Likewise the distinguished Panzer commander General Herman Hoth issued his own order of 17 November 1941 urging his troops to exact revenge on the Jews and Communists:

“Every trace of active or passive resistance or of any kind of machinations by the Bolshevik -Jewish agitators are [sic] to be immediately and pitilessly rooted out. The necessity of severe measures against elements foreign to people and kind must be understood precisely by the soldiers. These circles are the spiritual pillars of Bolshevism, the tablebearers [priests] of its murder organization, the helpers of the partisans. It consists of the same Jewish class of people which have done so much to harm our Fatherland and by its hostile activity…and anti-culture, which promotes anti-German currents in the whole world and which wants to be the bearer of revenge. Their annihilation is a law of self-preservation. Any soldier criticizing these measures has no memory of the former traitorous activity lasting for years carried on among our own people by Jewish-Marxist elements.” [162]

The commander of the 221st Security Division endeavored to persuade his “subordinate units that the Jews were carriers of Bolshevik contamination and, therefore, the ultimate source of any sabotage or difficulty the division faced.” [163] The extermination of the Jews and partisan war were closely intertwined with the Reich’s economic policies designed to exploit the natural resources of the Russia. This included the “hunger plan” which German authorities seemed to imagine that “millionfold starvation could be induced by requisitioning off all available grain and “shutting off” the cities.” [164]

The Wehrmacht’s complicity in these measures is demonstrated in the order drafted by Warlimont and signed by Keitel on 13 May 1941. That order, the “Decree on Exercising Military Jurisdiction in the Area of Barbarossa and Special Measures by the Troops” made it clear that international conventions regarding the treatment of civilians would not be observed in the Soviet Union. The order, relying on the historic precedent of German military law in regard to partisan activity stated:

I. “Treatment of crimes committed by enemy civilians “1. Until further order the military courts and the courts martial will not be competent for crimes committed by enemy civilians. “2. Francs-tireurs will be liquidated ruthlessly by the troops in combat or while fleeing. “3. Also all other attacks by enemy civilians against the armed forces, its members, and auxiliaries will be suppressed on the spot by the troops with the most rigorous methods until the assailants are finished (niederkaempfen) “4. Where such measures were not taken or at least were not possible, persons suspected of the act will be brought before an officer at once. This officer will decide whether they are to be shot. Against localities from which troops have been attacked in or treacherous manner, collective coercive measures be applied immediately upon the order of an officer of the rank of at least battalion etc., commander, if the circumstances do not permit a quick identification of individual perpetrators.

II. “Treatment of crimes committed against inhabitants by members of the Wehrmacht and its auxiliaries “1. With regard to offenses committed against enemy civilians by members of the Wehrmacht or by its auxiliaries prosecution is not obligatory, even where the deed is at the same time a military crime or misdemeanor….” [165]

Hitler was quite clear in his intent when he told General Halder that in 1941 that he “intended to level Moscow and Leningrad, to make them uninhabitable, so there would be no need to feed their populations during the winter.” [166]Economic officials held life and death power over villages. Those that met agricultural quotas were “likely to be spared annihilation and evacuation…the culmination of this process, during 1943, would be the widespread creation of “dead zones.”” [167]All told during the campaign against the Soviet Union the Germans killed nearly 1.5 million Russian Jews. [168]

By 1942, over two million Soviet POW’s had been killed.  600,000 shot outright, 140,000 by the Einsatzkommandos. [169]Eventually about 3.3 million Soviet POWs died in German captivity through starvation, disease and exposure, [170] are included in a total of over 10 million Red Army Combat deaths. [171] Bracher notes: “The reality and irreality of the National Socialism were given their most terrible expression in the extermination of the Jews.” [172]

arthur nebe

The Killer Becomes a Victim: Arthur Nebe’s experience commanding an Einsatzgruppe so traumatized him that he would be reassigned and then become active in the attempt to kill Hitler and lose his life

Himmler and others continued to use euphemistic language to describe their efforts talking in terms of “Jewish resettlement.” [173] Terms such as special actions, special treatment, execution activity, cleansing and resettlement were used in place of the word murder. [174]At the same time these operations led to problems in the ranks, one SS trooper observed: “deterioration in morale among his own men who had to be issued increasing rations of vodka to carry out their killing orders.” [175]

Even commanders of the Einsatzgruppe were affected. Arthur Nebe would say “I have looked after so many criminals and now I have become one myself.” Nebe became an active participant in the July 20th plot against Hitler [176]and a fellow conspirator would describe him as a “shadow of his former self, nerves on edge and depressed.” [177] Erich Bach-Zelewski, who led the SS anti-partisan operations, would suffer a nervous breakdown which included “hallucinations connected to the shootings of Jews” which hospitalized him in 1942. [178] Himmler would state in his Posen speech given in October 1943 that “to have gone through” the elimination of the Jews had “and remained decent, that has made us tough. This is an unwritten, never to be written, glorious page in our history.” [179]

Conclusion

The German war against Poland and the Soviet Union was heavily dependent on the racist ideology of Adolf Hitler.  He was the true spirit behind the atrocities committed by his nation as one noted in Russia: “Here too the Führer is the moving spirit of a radical solution in both word and deed.” [180]He saw the partisan war as “the chance to stamp out everything that stands against us.” [181]Belief in Germany’s right to Lebensraum the superiority of the German Volk and necessity to settle the Jewish problem provided a fertile ground for Hitler’s plans.  German military doctrines, especially those of anti-partisan and total warfare abetted Hitler’s goals.

It is quite clear that many in the Wehrmacht were in agreement with Hitler’s ideology of racial-war. Prepared by cultural prejudice and long traditions of thought, the “Prussian and in later German military must be regarded as a significant part of the ideological background of the Second World War.” [182] General Walther Von Reichenau’s orders to his troops are revealing: “The most important goal of the campaign against Jewish-Bolshevism is the complete destruction of its grip on power and the elimination of the Asian influence from our European cultural sphere.” [183] Field Marshal Gerd Von Rundstedt appeared to agree with Reichenau to “use the partisan threat as excuse for persecuting Jews, so long as the dirty work was largely left to SS Einsatzgruppen.” [184]

The Army command…on the whole acquiesced in the extermination of the Jews, or at least closed its eyes to what was happening.” [185] Even if the Generals had been more forceful in their opposition, they would have been opposed by the highly nazified youth that made up the bulk of their Army, especially junior officers and then there was the matter of their oath to Hitler and what they saw as personal honor. General Alfred Jodl told American Army psychologist Gustave Gilbert at Nuremberg that “In war the moral pressure of obedience and the stigma of high treason are pretty hard to get around.” [186]

Jodl’s superior Keitel stated his helplessness before Hitler saying to Gilbert “What could I do? There were only 3 possibilities: 9a) refusal to follow orders, which naturally meant death; (b) resign my post, or (c) commit suicide. I was on the point of resigning my post 3 times, but Hitler made it clear that he considered my resignation in time of war the same as desertion. What could I do?” [187] This was obviously an after the fact excuse by Keitel who had been present in Hitler’s headquarters since the beginning and had witnessed the explosive General Heinz Guderian explode in rage against Hitler in 1945.

SS leaders fanatically executed Hitler’s policies aided by the civil administration. Genocide was to bring the Reich “long term economic gains and trading advantages” and was seen as a way of “financing the war debt without burdening the German taxpayer.” [188] Many in the Army as it has been shown were not only knowledgeable about the crimes committed but urged their soldiers to participate in these crimes.

Otto Ohlendorf, commander of Einsatzgruppe D testified at the Einsatzgruppe Trial that “Einsatzgruppen reported all of their tasks to the army commanders, and that together, they and the army agreed on the time, place, and possible support of the troops for any particular “liquidation action[s].” [189]

Some individuals did attempt to resist the most brutal aspects of the Nazi campaign against the Jews. Wilhelm Kube, Reichskommissar for White Russia and a virulent anti-Semite was shocked at the murders of the Jews calling them “unworthy of the German cause and damaging to the German reputation” and would later attempt to spare Jews by employing them in war industries, would be “defeated by Himmler’s zealots.” [190]Army officers who objected like Blaskowitz and Külcher were relieved, or like Von Leeb, told by Hitler to “in so many words told to mind his own business.” Leeb stated: “the only thing to do is to hold oneself at a distance.” [191] Field Marshall Erwin Rommel knew of crimes being committed against the Jews and others through Blaskowitz but blamed the crimes “on Hitler’s subordinates, not Hitler himself.” [192]

einsatzgruppen trial

Partial Justice: The Einsatzgruppen Trial

Hitler’s ideology permeated German military campaigns and administration of the areas conquered by his armies. No branch of the German military, police or civil administration in occupied Poland or Russia was exempt guiltless in the crimes committed by the Nazi regime. It is a chilling warning of the consequences awaiting any nation that allows it to become caught up in hate-filled political, racial or even religious ideologies which dehumanizes opponents and of the tragedy that awaits them and the world. In Germany the internal and external checks that govern the moral behavior of the nation and individuals failed. Caught up in the Nazi system, the Germans, especially the police and military abandoned the norms of international law, morality and decency, banally committing crimes which still reverberate today and which are seen in the ethnic cleansing actions in the former Yugoslavia, Syria and other nations.

It is something that we should not forget.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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[1] Weinberg, Gerhard L. Ed. Hitler’s Second Book: The Unpublished Sequel to Mein Kampf by Adolph Hitler. Translated by Krista Smith, Enigma Books, New York, NY 2006. Originally published as Hitlers zweites Buch, Gerhard Weinberg editor, 1961 p. 159

 

[2] Davidowicz, Lucy S. The War Against the Jews 1933-1945 Bantam Books, New York, NY 1986. p.91

[3] Tooze, Adam. The Wages of Destruction Penguin Books, New York, NY, 2008. First Published by Allen Lane Books, Penguin Group, London UK, 2006. p.463

[4] Fest, Joachim, Hitler. Translated by Richard and Clara Winston.Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers, San Diego, New York, London, 1974.  German Edition by Verlag Ullstein 1973 pp. 607-608

[5] Note the actions of Cardinal Richelieu in France who worked to expand French power at the expense of other Catholic nations and the Vatican itself.

[6] In the United States the Reconstruction policies produced great resentment in the south with decidedly negative results for the newly freed slaves which lasted another 100 years, while in the Soviet Union great numbers of “opponents of Socialism” were killed, imprisoned or driven out of the county

[7] Ibid. Tooze. The Wages of Destruction p.462

 

[8] Ibid. Davidowicz, The War Against the Jews pp.8-9

[9] Ibid. Davidowicz. The War Against the Jews p.12

[10] Ibid. Fest  Hitler. p.47

 

[11] Bracher, Karl Dietrich. The German Dictatorship: The Origins, Structure, and Effects of  National Socialism. Translated by Jean Steinberg, Holt Rinehart and Winston, New York, NY 1979. Originally Published under the title Die Deutsche Diktatur: Entstehung, Struktur,Folgen des Nationalsocialismus. Verlag Kiepenheuer & Witsch. Koln and Berlin, 1969 p.93

[12] Weinberg, Gerhard L. Germany Hitler and World War II . Cambridge University Press, New York, NY 1995 p.61

[13] Ibid. Weinberg, Hitler’s Second Book p.60

[14] Friedlander, Saul Nazi Germany and the Jews 1939-1945: The Years of Extermination. Harper Perennial, New York, NY 2007 p.xviii

[15] Ibid. Friedlander, The Years of Extermination p.xvii  Friedlander called this anti-Semitism “Redemptive anti-Semitism” in which “Hitler perceived his mission as a kind of crusade to redeem the world by eliminating the Jews.

[16] Megargee, Geoffrey P. War of Annihilation: Combat and Genocide on the Eastern Front 1941.Bowman and Littlefield Publishers Inc. Lanham, Boulder, New York. 2007 p.4

[17] Hitler, Adolf Mein Kampf translated by Ralph Manheim. Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, NY 1999. Houghton Mifflin Company 1943, copyright renewed 1971. Originally published in Germany by Verlag Frz. Eher Nachf. GmbH 1925. p.662.

[18] Evans, Richard J. The Coming of the Third Reich Penguin Books, New York 2004.  First published by Allen Lane 2003 p.197

[19] Ibid. Davidowicz The War Against the Jews pp. 88-89

[20] Rhodes, Richard. Masters of Death: The SS Einsatzgruppen and the Invention of the Holocaust. Vintage Books a division of Random House, New York, NY 2002 p.37

[21] Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich. Collier Books, a Division of MacMillan Publishers, Inc. New York, NY 1970 p.166

[22] Geyer, Michael. German Strategy 1914-1945 in Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age. Peter Paret, editor. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ. 1986. p.582

[23] Ibid. Geyer. German Strategy p.587

[24] Strachan, Hew. European Armies and the Conduct of War. George, Allen and Unwin, London, UK 1983 p.174

[25] Goerlitz, Walter. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel: Chief of the German High Command 1938-1945.  Translated by David Irving. Cooper Square Press 2000,  First English Edition 1966 William Kimber and Company Ltd.  German edition published by Musterschmnidt-Verlad, Gottigen 1961 p. 135

[26] Ibid. Fest, Hitler.  p. 649

[27] Ibid. Megargee, War of Annihilation p.7

[28] Trevor-Roper, H.R. Hitler’s Table Talk 1941-1944 with an introduction by Gerhard L Weinberg,  Translated by Norman Cameron and R.H. Stevens, Enigma Books, New York, NY 2000. Originally published in Great Britain by Weidenfeld & Nicholoson, London 1953 p. 27 Goebbels notes a similar theme in his recollection of Hitler’s reasons for destroying Russia a power .  See Taylor, Fred, Editor and Translator. The Goebbels Diaries 1939-1941, Penguin Books Ltd, Harmondsworth UK and New York NY 1984 pp. 413-415.

[29] Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff.” Translated by Brian Battershaw, Westview Press, Boulder and London, 1985. Originally published as Die Deutsche Generalstab Verlag der Frankfurter Hefte, Frankfur am Main, 1953 p.390

[30] Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45. Translated by R.H. Berry, Presido Press, Novato CA, 1964 p. 150

[31] Weinberg, Gerhard L. Visions of Victory: The Hopes of Eight World War II Leasers. Cambridge University Press, New York, NY 2005. p. 24

[32] Aly, Gotz and Heim, Susanne. Architects of Annihilation :Auschwitz and the Logic of Destruction Phoenix Paperbacks, London, 2003, Originally published as  Vordenker der Vernichtung, Hoffman und Campe, Germany 1991, English translation by Allan Blunden.  First published in Great Britain Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, 2002 pp. 245-246

[33] Ibid. Fest. Hitler p.649

 

[34] Wette, Wolfram. The Wehrmacht: History, Myth, Reality. Translated by Deborah Lucas Schneider. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 2006. Originally published as Die Wehrmacht: Feindbilder, Vernichtungskreig, Legenden. S. Fischer Verlag, GmbH, Frankfurt am Main, 2002 p.93

[35] This understanding is different than many historians who as Friedlander notes advocate something like this: “The persecution and extermination of the Jews of Europe was but a secondary consequence of major German policies pursued toward entirely different goals.” See Friedlander p.xvi

 

[36] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.xii

[37] Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Quill Publishing, New York, NY. 1979. Copyright 1948 by B.H. Liddell-Hart p.22

[38] It has to be noted that Liddell-Hart published this work in 1948 and was limited in the materials available, his primary sources being German officers who he viewed with sympathy because he saw them as exponents of his theory of the indirect approach. The time was also around the beginning of the Cold War and the Berlin Blockade when many American and British leaders were trying to end the war crimes trials and bring the West Germans into the new anti-Communist alliance.

[39] Ibid. Wette. The Wehrmacht p.224

[40] Macksey, Kenneth. Why the Germans Lose at War: The Myth of German Military Superiority. Barnes and Noble Books, New York 2006, originally published by Greenhill Books, 1996. p.139

[41] Stern, Fritz. Gold and Iron: Bismarck, Bleichroder and Building of the German Empire. Vintage Books a division of Random House, New York 1979 First published by Alfred a Knopf 1977.  p.495

[42] Ibid. Stern. Gold and Iron p.494

[43] Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.34

[44] Ibid. Bracher The German Dictatorship pp.34-35

[45] Höhne, Heinze. Canaris: Hitler’s Master Spy. Translated by J. Maxwell, Brownjohn. Cooper Square Press,New York 1999. Originally published by C. Bertelsmann Verlag Gmbh, Munich 1976, first English edition by Doubleday and Company 1979 p. 216.  Canaris would later protest the Kristalnacht to Keitel (p.334) and become convinced of the crime of the Nazis against the Jews.

 

[46] Ibid. Witte. The Wehrmacht p.98

[47] Ibid Witte The Wehrmacht, p.73

[48] Arendt, Hannah, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Revised and Enlarged Edition. Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, England and New York, NY 1965. Originally published by Viking Press, New York, NY 1963 p.26

[49] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.6

[50] Fritz, Stephen G. Frontsoldaten: The German Soldier in World War II.  The University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 1995 p.195

 

[51] Craig, Gordon A. The Politics of the Prussian Army 1640-1945. Oxford University Press, London and New York, 1955 p.495

[52] Novatny, Alfred. The Good Soldier. The Aberjona Press, Bedford, PA 2003 p.40

[53] Westermann, Edward B. Hitler’s Police Battalions: Enforcing Racial War in the East. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 2005 p.64  Westermann also notes the preponderance of SA men who entered the Order Police in the 1930s, a factor which helped further the politicization of that organization.

[54] Ibid. Rhodes Masters of Death p.23

[55] Ibid. Westermann Hitler’s Police Battalions p.103

[56] Sydnor, Charles W. Soldiers of Destruction: The SS Death’s Head Division, 1933-1945. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NY 1977 p. 28

[57] Shepherd, Ben. War in the Wild East: The German Army and Soviet Partisans. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 2004 p.41

[58] Blood, Philip. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters: The SS and the Occupation of Europe. Potomac Books Inc. Washington, DC 2008 p.11

[59] Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East p.42

[60] Ibid. Goerlitz. History of the German General Staff p.93

[61] Rothenburg, Gunther. Moltke, Schieffen, and the Doctrine of Strategic Envelopment in Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age. Peter Paret, editor. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ. 1986 p.305

[62] Hughes, Daniel J. editor. Moltke on the Art of War: Selected Writings, translated by Harry Bell and Daniel J Hughes. Presidio Press, Novato CA 1993. p.32

[63] Ibid. Blood Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.6   Lieber was a Prussian emigrant to the US who taught law at Columbia University.

[64] Instructions for the Government of Armies of the United States in the Field, prepared by Francis Lieber, LL.D., Originally Issued as General Orders No. 100, Adjutant General’s Office, 1863, Washington 1898: Government Printing Office. Retrieved from http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/lieber.asp 6 May 2014

[65] Ibid. Blood Hitler’s Bandit Hunters pp.12-13

[66] Ibid. Shepherd Wild War in the East p.42

[67] Ibid. Blood. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters pp.16-19

[68] Ibid. Blood. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.22

[69] Condell, Bruce and Zabecki, David T. Editors. On the German Art of War: Truppenführung, Lynn Rienner Publishers, Boulder CO and London 2001. p.172

[70] Tsouras, Peter G. Editor, Fighting in Hell: The German Ordeal on the Eastern Front The Ballantine Publishing Group, New York, 1998. First published 1995 by Greenhill Books pp. 142-146.  It is interesting to note that Rauss does not describe any actual anti-partisan operation

[71] Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East p.45

[72] Ibid. Geyer. German Strategy p.584

[73] Ibid. Weinberg. Visions of Victory p.8

[74] Ibid. Goerlitz, History of the German General Staff p.346

[75] Höhne, Heinze. The Order of the Death’s Head: The Story of Hitler’s SS. Translated by Richard Barry. Penguin Books, New York and London, 2000. First English edition published by Martin Secker and Warburg Ltd. London 1969. Originally published as Der Orden unter dem Totenkopf, Verlag Der Spiegel, Hamburg 1966 p.259

[76] Manstein, Erich von. Forward by B.H. Liddle Hart, Introduction by Martin Blumenson. Lost victories: The War Memoirs of Hitler’s Most Brilliant General. Zenith Press, St Paul MN 2004. First Published 1955 as Verlorene Siege, English Translation 1958 by Methuen Company p.29

[77] Ibid. Hohne. Canaris p.347

[78] Giziowski, Richard. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz. Hppocrene Books, New York 1997 p.119

[79] Ibid. Manstein. Lost Victories p.29

[80] Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Keitel p.87

[81] Wheeler-Bennett, John. The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945. St. Martin’s Press Inc. New York, NY 1954 p.448

[82] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.13

[83] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p.297

[84] Padfield, Peter. Himmler. MJF Books, New York 1990 p.264

 

[85] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.13

[86] Ibid. Westermann. Hitler’s Police Battalions p.127

[87] Ibid.  Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p.297

[88] Ibid. Westermann. Hitler’s Police Battalions p.127

[89] Ibid. Sydnor Soldiers of Destruction p.37

[90] Ibid. Giziowski Blaskowitz p.120

[91] Ibid. Witte. The Wehrmacht p.100

[92] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head pp. 297-298

[93] Ibid. Giziowski Blaskowitz p.120

[94] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p.298

[95] Ibid. Witte. The Wehrmacht p.100

[96] Newton, Steven H. Hitler’s Commander: Field Marshal Walter Model-Hitler’s Favorite General Da Capo Press a division of Perseus Books Group, Cambridge MA 2005. p.74

[97] Ibid. Giziowski. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz pp.165-166

[98] Ibid. Sydnor, Soldiers of Destruction pp. 42-43 Note SSVT is the common abbreviation for Verfügungstruppe which was the early designation of the SS Totenkopf Verbande and some other Waffen SS Units.

[99] Ibid. Goerlitz. History of the German General Staff p.359

[100] Ibid. Newton. Hitler’s Commander p.78

[101] Ibid. Witte The Wehrmacht p.102

[102] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p.298

[103] Ibid. Goerlitz. History of the German General Staff .p.359

[104] Ibid. Giziowski. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz p.173

[105] Ibid. Giziowski. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz p.173

[106] Ibid. Witte The Wehrmacht p.102

[107] Burleigh, Michael and Wippermann, Wolfgang. The Racial State: Germany 1933-1945 Cambridge University Press, New York NY and Cambridge UK 1991. p.100

[108] Ibid. Witte The Wehrmacht p.102

[109] For a good account of one of the Police Battalions see Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland by Christopher Browning Harper Perennial Publishers, San Francisco CA 1992

[110] Reitlinger, Gerald.  The SS: Alibi of a Nation. The Viking Press, New York, 1957. Republished by Da Capo Press, New York, NY p.131

[111] Ibid. Davidowicz The War Against the Jews pp.395-397

[112] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.24

[113] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett The Nemesis of Power p.511

[114] Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel. P.132

[115] Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1995 p.31

[116] Trevor-Roper, H.R. Hitler’s Table Talk 1941-1944 with an introduction by Gerhard L Weinberg,  Translated by Norman Cameron and R.H. Stevens, Enigma Books, New York, NY 2000. Originally published in Great Britain by Weidenfeld & Nicholoson, London 1953 p.6

[117] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.10 The campaign against the Soviet Union was to be much more openly ideological as compared to the campaign in Poland.

[118] Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.150

[119] Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.151

[120] Ibid. Reitlinger, The SS p.175

[121] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 354

[122] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 354 Again another deception.

[123] Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.153

[124] Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.153

[125] Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters pp. 158-159

[126] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed p.56

[127] Ibid. Davidowicz. The War Against the Jews p.123

 

[128] Ferguson, Niall. The War of the Worlds: Twentieth Century Conflict and the Descent of the West. The Penguin Press, New York, 2006 p.442

[129] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. Nemesis of Power p.513

[130] Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Keitel p.135

[131] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. Nemesis of Power p.513

[132] Hebert, Valerie Genevieve, Hitler’s Generals on Trial: The Last War Crimes Tribunal at Nuremberg University of Kansas Press, Lawrence Kansas 2010 pp.77-78

[133] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett Nemesis of Power p.513 and footnote. He cites the three Army Group commanders, Leeb, Rundstedt and Bock. However Von Rundstedt’s biographer notes that “no evidence exists as to what Von Rundstedt’s to this was at the time.” Messenger, Charles, The Last Prussian: A Biography of Field Marshal Gerd Von Rundstedt 1875-1953 Brassey’s (UK) London England 1991. p.134

[134] Ibid. Reitlinger, The SS p.176

[135] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.33

[136] Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.162

[137] Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Keitel p.136

[138] Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Keitel pp.136-137

[139] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed p.56

[140] Ibid. Blood. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.52

[141] Ibid. Reitlinger The SS p. 177

[142] Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East p.54

[143] Ibid. Reitlinger The SS p. 177

[144] Ibid. Rhodes Masters of Death pp.12-13

[145] Ibid. Westermann. Hitler’s Police Battalions p.167

[146] Ibid. Westermann. Hitler’s Police Battalions p.164

[147] Ibid. Blood Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.141

[148] Ibid. Shepherd Wild War in the East p.48. Shepherd notes the deficiencies of these units in terms of organization, manpower and equipment which he calls “far short of the yardstick of military excellence with which the Wehrmacht is so widely associated

[149] Ibid.  Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 356 Only one of the Einsatzgruppen commanding officers was a volunteer, Arthur Nebe who was involved in the conspiracy to kill Hitler. It is believed by many that Nebe volunteered to earn the clasp to the Iron Cross to curry favor with Heydrich and that initially “Nebe certainly did not know that “employment in the east” was synonymous with the greatest mass murder in history.

[150] Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.422

[151] Ibid. Blood Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.55

[152] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 360

[153] Ibid.  Friedlander The Years of Extermination p.207

[154] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 360

[155] Ibid. Tooze The Wages of Destruction p.481

[156] Ibid. Ferguson. The War of the World p.446

[157] Di Nardo, Richard L. Germany and the Axis Powers: From Coalition to Collapse. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 2005 p.133 The Hungarians would also engage in ant-Jewish operations. Only the Italian army would not conduct operations against the Jews

[158] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 369

[159] Ibid. Wette The Wehrmacht p.127

[160] Ibid. Blood. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.117

[161] Ibid. Hebert p.94

[162] Ibid. Hebert pp.94-95

[163] Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East pp.90-91

[164] Ibid. Tooze The Wages of Destruction p.481

[165] Ibid, Hebert p.86

[166] Ibid. Magargee. War of Annihilation p.64

[167] Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East pp.127-128

[168] Ibid. Davidowicz The War Against the Jews from the table on page 403. This included 228,000 from the Baltic republics (90%) 245,000 from White Russia (65%) 900,000 from the Ukraine (60%) and 107,000 from Russia proper (11%)

[169] Ibid. Rhodes. Masters of Death p.241

[170] Ibid. Glantz and House When Titans Clashed p.57

[171] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed table on p.292

[172] Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.431

 

[173] Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.430

[174] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 367

[175] Ibid. Rhodes. Masters of Death p.225

[176] Ibid. Rhodes Masters of Death p.225

[177] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 363

[178] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 363

[179] Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.423

[180] Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.430

[181] Ibid. Megargee War of Annihilation p.65

[182] Ibid. Wette. The Wehrmacht p.293

[183] Ibid. Wette. The Wehrmacht p.97

[184] Messenger, Charles. The Last Prussian A Biography of Field Marshal Gerd Von Rundstedt 1875-1953 Brassey’s London, 1991 p148

[185] Ibid. Bracher The German Dictatorship pp.430-431

[186] Gilbert, Gustave Nuremberg Diary DaCapo Press 1995 copyright G.M. Gilbert 1947 p.290

[187] Ibid. Gilbert p.26

[188] Ibid. Aly and Heim Architects of Annihilation p.242

[189] Ibid. Hebert p.92

[190] Ibid. Padfield Himmler pp.341-342

[191] Ibid. Megargee War of Annihilation p.97

[192] Fraser, David. Knight’s Cross: A Life of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel Harper Perennial, New York 1995, first published by Harper Collins in Britain, 1993. p.536

 

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Never Forget: Holocaust Remembrance 2014

dachau

Dachau

“For the dead and the living we must bear witness.” Ellie Wiesel
  arbiet macht frei

April 27 and 28th was the annual Holocaust Remembrance day, or Yom HaShoah.In the United States it is a week of remembrance that ended Sunday May 4th this year. The beginning marks the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943. Due to other academic, personal and travel conflicts I was unable to produce anything during the actual remembrance week but it the event is so seminal from the perspective of how a civilized people can turn their eyes away as their countrymen systematically work to exterminate a race it cannot be ignored.

Genocide is certainly not new, pogroms were a staple of Europe, the extermination of Native Americans throughout American history, the slaughter of Armenians by the Ottomans in 1915 and the Rwandan genocide and other such acts are all too real and none can be condoned.  But what happened to the Jews in Germany and Nazi occupied Europe was unique.  It was a state organized systematic and industrial slaughter of a people because of their race and religion. Yes the Nazis did persecute and kill others, Gypsies, Homosexuals, Communists, Socialists and some Christian clergy and other external and internal enemies of that evil regime. But what they did to the Jews was unique and must never be forgotten.

I love the movie Judgment at Nuremberg. It is a fictionalized version of the Judges Trials that took place late in the Nuremberg trial process as the Cold War was beginning to heat up.  During the sentencing scene toward the end of the movie the character Judge Dan Heywood played by Spencer Tracy delivers this chilling commentary.

“Janning, to be sure, is a tragic figure. We believe he loathed the evil he did. But compassion for the present torture of his soul must not beget forgetfulness of the torture and the death of millions by the Government of which he was a part. Janning’s record and his fate illuminate the most shattering truth that has emerged from this trial: If he and all of the other defendants had been degraded perverts, if all of the leaders of the Third Reich had been sadistic monsters and maniacs, then these events would have no more moral significance than an earthquake, or any other natural catastrophe.

But this trial has shown that under a national crisis, ordinary – even able and extraordinary – men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination. No one who has sat through the trial can ever forget them: men sterilized because of political belief; a mockery made of friendship and faith; the murder of children. How easily it can happen. There are those in our own country too who today speak of the “protection of country” – of ‘survival’. A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient – to look the other way. Well, the answer to that is ‘survival as what’? A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult! Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, in our decision, this is what we stand for: justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.”

I have posted the link here if you want to watch it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3BwK51YFgQ 

It is important to have some understanding of the cold blooded and ruthless planning that the Nazis did and their thought process and ideology so we never have to repeat such a tragedy again.

Goering-Sitting-1939

Hermann Goering

Berlin, July 31st 1941

To: Gruppenfuhrer Heydrich

Supplementing the task assigned to you by the decree of January 24th 1939, to solver the Jewish problem by means of evacuation and emigration in the best possible way by according to present conditions, I hereby charge you to carry out preparations as regards organizational, financial, and material matters for a total solution (Gesamtlosung) of the Jewish question in all the territories of Europe under German occupation.

Where the competency of other organizations touches on this matter, the organizations are to collaborate.

I charge you further to submit to me as soon as possible a general plan of the administrative material and financial measures necessary for the carrying out the desired final solution (Endlosung) of the Jewish question.”

Goering

heydrich

Heydrich

It is hard to believe that 70 years ago the gas chambers and crematoria of Auschwitz and many other extermination factories were in high gear. Specially formed units of the SS, Police and their Foreign auxiliaries, the Einsatzgruppen were exterminating Jews and others, people the Nazis termed Untermenchen (subhumans) across Europe.

When Herman Goering wrote Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the Reichssiecherhiethauptampt (RSHA) in July 1941 it seemed that Nazi victory in Europe was all but assured. Goering’s words were businesslike. Early measures to rid Germany and the annexed Austria ha been reasonably successful of their Jews through emigration and evacuation. However with the occupation of most of Europe following the Nazi military success and the looming occupation and subjugation of the Soviet Union the process of giving the Jews a chance to emigrate to lands outside Nazi control had come to an end. In fact the Nazis occupied the countries that may Jews had found refuge. The Nazi leadership decided that its race war against the Jews needed to forge ahead.

Within weeks SS commanders at various concentration camps were devising means to exterminate Jews more efficiently. It was a matter of pride and efficiency for them. As Rudolph Hoess the Commandant of Auschwitz said at Nuremberg “the camp commandant at Treblinka told me that he had liquidated 80,000 in the course of one half year. He was principally concerned with liquidating all the Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto. He used monoxide gas, and I did not think that his methods were very efficient. So when I set up the extermination building at Auschwitz, I used Zyclon B….” Hoess estimated that some 2.5 million people were exterminated at Auschwitz at rates as high as 10,000 a day. That testimony and the attitudes of Nazi leaders is depicted in the movie Nuremberg. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0hJqNuRH1A

hoess and staff

Hoess and his Staff at Auschwitz

In the Soviet Union four Einsatzgruppen followed each of the German Army Groups and systematically began to massacre the Jews of every city and village which German soldiers captured. Over a million and a half Soviet Jews were killed by the Einsatzgruppen, Ordungspolizei battalions, Army Security Divisions and locally recruited units.

einsatzgruppen

Einsatzgruppen

Less than six months after he received the directive from Goering, on January 20th 1942 Heydrich summoned representatives from various Reich agencies were called for what turned out to be a brief, two hour meeting which decided the fate of the Jews. The meeting was held at an estate located in the suburbs of Berlin, called Wansee. Organized by Heydrich’s deputy Adolph Eichmann, involved Heydrich, Eichmann and 13 mid-level representatives from various economic, governmental, justice and police entities.

At the conference Heydrich established his authority through Goering’s directive to overcome the bureaucratic and personal attempts of various attendees to take control of the Final Solution process. Despite objections from some attendees who favored sterilization and the use of Jews in the war armaments industries, Heydrich made it clear that the Final Solution would be a campaign of extermination. Heydrich was quite clear:

“Approximately 11 million Jews will be involved…in large single sex labor columns, Jews fit to work will work their way eastward constructing roads. Doubtless the large majority will be eliminated through natural causes. Any final remnant that survives will doubtlessly consist of the most resistant elements. They will have to be dealt with appropriately, because otherwise by natural selection, they would form the germ cell of a new Jewish revival.”

himmler

Himmler with Staff on a Visit

Himmler in a speech given to senior SS leaders at Posen on October 4th 1943:

I want to also mention a very difficult subject … before you, with complete candor. It should be discussed amongst us, yet nevertheless, we will never speak about it in public. Just as we did not hesitate on June 30 to carry out our duty as ordered, and stand comrades who had failed against the wall and shoot them — about which we have never spoken, and never will speak. That was, thank God, a kind of tact natural to us, a foregone conclusion of that tact, that we have never conversed about it amongst ourselves, never spoken about it, everyone … shuddered, and everyone was clear that the next time, he would do the same thing again, if it were commanded and necessary.

I am talking about the evacuation of the Jews, the extermination of the Jewish people. It is one of those things that is easily said. [quickly] “The Jewish people is being exterminated,” every Party member will tell you, “perfectly clear, it’s part of our plans, we’re eliminating the Jews, exterminating them, a small matter”. [less quickly] And then along they all come, all the 80 million upright Germans, and each one has his decent Jew. [mockingly] They say: all the others are swine, but here is a first-class Jew. [a few people laugh] And … [audience cough] [carefully] … none of them has seen it, has endured it. Most of you will know what it means when 100 bodies lie together, when 500 are there or when there are 1000. And … to have seen this through and — with the exception of human weakness — to have remained decent, has made us hard and is a page of glory never mentioned and never to be mentioned. Because we know how difficult things would be, if today in every city during the bomb attacks, the burdens of war and the privations, we still had Jews as secret saboteurs, agitators and instigators. We would probably be at the same stage as 16/17, if the Jews still resided in the body of the German people.

We have taken away the riches that they had, and … I have given a strict order, which Obergruppenführer Pohl has carried out, we have delivered these riches [carefully] to the Reich, to the State. We have taken nothing from them for ourselves. A few, who have offended against this, will be judged in accordance with an order, [loudly] that I gave at the beginning: he who takes even one Mark of this is a dead man. [less loudly] A number of SS men have offended against this order. They are very few, and they will be dead men [yells] WITHOUT MERCY! We have the moral right, we had the duty to our people to do it, to kill this people who would kill us. We however do not have the right to enrich ourselves with even one fur, with one Mark, with one cigarette, with one watch, with anything. That we do not have. Because we don’t want, at the end of all this, to get sick and die from the same bacillus that we have exterminated. I will never see it happen that even one … bit of putrefaction comes in contact with us, or takes root in us. On the contrary, where it might try to take root, we will burn it out together. But altogether we can say: [slowly, carefully] We have carried out this most difficult task for the love of our people. And we have suffered no defect within us, in our soul, or in our character.”

Whether the words are those of Goering, Heydrich, Hoess or Himmler, there is a certain businesslike banality to them. But these men, and many others like them orchestrated a campaign of genocide and race hatred unmatched in history. Yes, there have been other genocides, the Turks killing the Armenians during the First World War and the Hutu and Tutsi slaughter in Rwanda but neither they or the politically motivated campaigns of mass slaughter conducted by the Soviets, the Chinese Communists and the Khamer Rouge killing fields can match the systematized extermination campaign waged by the Nazis against the Jews.

The truly terrifying thing about the Nazi perpetrators of the Holocaust to me is that most of the men at Wansee, men that commanded the Concentration camps and the Einsatzgruppen were very ordinary men who simply believed that they were doing their jobs. Very few could be described as psychopathic killers by nature. They were lawyers, doctors, career police officials, businessmen, and bureaucrats who carried out an extermination campaign that killed by their own numbers between 5.5 and 6 million Jews, not to mention others deemed to be subhuman including the handicapped, the mentally ill, homosexuals, and other non-Jewish minorities like the Gypsies not to mention the wide variety of those considered political enemies. But it was the Jews that bore the most tragic fate.

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Arrival at Auschwitz

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SS Camp Guards and Female Auxiliaries burying bodies at Bergen-Belsen in 1945 und British Supervision  

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Survivors

Primo Levi said it well:

“Monsters exist, but they are too few in numbers to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are…the functionaries ready to believe and act without asking questions.”

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Mass Graves and Markers at Bergen-Belsen

This is something that we must always watch, especially during times of turmoil, real or imagined threats to security and economic displacement. It is in these times where formerly privileged groups look for scapegoats to blame their misfortune. It is during such times that functionaries, bureaucrats, judges and police officials, military men, industrialists and bankers and even the clergy all too easily turn a blind eye to evil or wholeheartedly carry it out.

This condition is not unique to Nazi Germany but lurks deep in every society and must be guarded against by all of us.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

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Never Again: Holocaust Remembrance Day 2014

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Dachau 

On January 27th 1945 the Soviet Red Army liberated the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, the centerpiece of the Nazi Death Camp machine. Though it did not end the Nazi genocide against the Jews it was only a matter of time before the horror would end.

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Auschwitz 

It is a day that we should never forget. The horrors perpetrated by the Nazi regime, all in the name of “race purity” and the extermination of the Jews and others deemed by the Nazis to be “sub-human” or untermenschen is something that is hard for most to imagine.

The Nazis had begun their persecution of the Jews shortly after Hitler took power in 1933. Later in the year the Enabling Act gave Hitler and his henchmen the legal means to begin their persecution of the Jews and others. These were followed by the Nuremberg Laws and other laws that targeted the Jews. Persecution increased throughout the 1930s, and sadly most countries refused to accommodate increased Jewish immigration.

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Kristallnacht

Nazi persecution became more pronounced during Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, when on 9-10 November 1938, a series of orchestrated attacks on Jewish businesses, Synagogues, institutions and individuals. On that night close to 200 synagogues, 7000 Jewish businesses and 29 major department stores were destroyed or damaged. Over 30,000 Jews, mostly en were arrested and sent to concentration camps, 91 people were killed outright, and several thousand died in the aftermath.

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The order to executed the Kristallnacht progrom from SS Gruppenfuhrer Heydrich is chilling in its bureaucratic attention to detail:

TO ALL REGIONAL AND SUB-REGIONAL GESTAPO OFFICES 1:20AM, November 8, 1938

SUBJECT: MEASURES AGAINST THE JEWS THIS NIGHT

That only such measures were to be taken that would not endanger German lives or property  Businesses and residences of Jews may be damaged but not looted. Particular care is to be paid in business sections and surrounding streets. Non-Jewish businesses are to be protected from damage under all circumstances. Police are to seize all archives from synagogues and offices of community organizations, this refers to material of historical significance. Archives are to be handed over to the SS. As soon as possible, officials are to arrest as many Jews especially wealthy ones – in all districts as can be accommodated in existing cells. For the time being, only healthy male Jews of not too advanced age are to be arrested.


Reinhard Heydrich, SS Gruppenführer

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The Jews were made to bear the costs of the assault on them and their institutions. Hermann Goering, in charge of the German economic program was not in favor, though he and his contacts in the German banking industry, major corporations and businesses took full advantage of the situation to “Aryanize” Jewish businesses, stripping Jews of businesses that had been in their families for generations.

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Goering

After the war began the persecution became worse and in July 1941, not long after the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Hitler ordered that the the “Endlosung” or Final Solution of the “Jewish problem” begin. Georing entrusted the task to SS Gruppenfuhrer  Reinhard Heydrich. His order read:

Berlin, July 31st 1941

To: Gruppenfuhrer Heydrich

Supplementing the task assigned to you by the decree of January 24th 1939, to solver the Jewish problem by means of evacuation and emigration in the best possible way by according to present conditions, I hereby charge you to carry out preparations as regards organizational, financial, and material matters for a total solution (Gesamtlosung) of the Jewish question in all the territories of Europe under German occupation.

Where the competency of other organizations touches on this matter, the organizations are to collaborate.

I charge you further to submit to me as soon as possible a general plan of the administrative material and financial measures necessary for the carrying out the desired final solution (Endlosung) of the Jewish question.”

Goering

When Goering wrote Heydrich, the head of the Reichssiecherhiethauptampt (RSHA) in July 1941 it seemed that Nazi victory in Europe was all but assured. Goering’s words were businesslike. Early measures to rid Germany and the annexed Austria ha been reasonably successful of their Jews through emigration and evacuation. However with the occupation of most of Europe following the Nazi military success and the looming occupation and subjugation of the Soviet Union the process of giving the Jews a chance to emigrate to lands outside Nazi control had come to an end. In fact the Nazis occupied the countries that may Jews had found refuge. The Nazi leadership decided that its race war against the Jews needed to forge ahead.

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Rudolph Höss and his Officers 

Within weeks SS commanders at various concentration camps were devising means to exterminate Jews more efficiently. It was a matter of pride and efficiency for them. As Rudolph Höss the Commandant of Auschwitz said at Nuremberg “the camp commandant at Treblinka told me that he had liquidated 80,000 in the course of one half year. He was principally concerned with liquidating all the Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto. He used monoxide gas, and I did not think that his methods were very efficient. So when I set up the extermination building at Auschwitz, I used Zyclon B….” Hoess estimated that some 2.5 million people were exterminated at Auschwitz at rates as high as 10,000 a day.

In the Soviet Union four Einsatzgruppen followed each of the German Army Groups and systematically began to massacre the Jews of every city and village which German soldiers captured. Over a million and a half Soviet Jews were killed by the Einsatzgruppen, Ordungspolizei battalions, Army Security Divisions and locally recruited units.

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Heydrich

Less than six months after he received the directive from Goering, on January 20th 1942 Heydrich summoned representatives from various Reich agencies were called for what turned out to be a brief, two hour meeting which decided the fate of the Jews. The meeting was held at an estate located in the suburbs of Berlin, called Wansee. Organized by Heydrich’s deputy Adolph Eichmann, involved Heydrich, Eichmann and 13 mid level representatives from various economic, governmental, justice and police entities.

At the conference Heydrich established his authority through Goering’s directive to overcome the bureaucratic and personal attempts of various attendees to take control of the Final Solution process. Despite objections from some attendees who favored sterilization and the use of Jews in the war armaments industries, Heydrich made it clear that the Final Solution would be a campaign of extermination. He was quite clear:

“Approximately 11 million Jews will be involved…in large single sex labor columns, Jews fit to work will work their way eastward constructing roads. Doubtless the large majority will be eliminated through natural causes. Any final remnant that survives will doubtlessly consist of the most resistant elements. They will have to be dealt with appropriately, because otherwise by natural selection, they would form the germ cell of a new Jewish revival.”

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Himmler talked to the SS Leaders responsible for the mass killings:

“I also want to mention a very difficult subject before you here, completely openly. It should be discussed among us, and yet, nevertheless, we will never speak about it in public…I am talking about the “Jewish evacuation” the extermination of the Jewish people.”

It is One of the things that is easily said. “The Jewish people is being exterminated,” every Party member will tell you, “perfectly clear, it’s part of our plans, we’re eliminating the Jews, exterminating them, ha!, a small matter.”

But then along they all come, all the decent upright Germans and each has his decent Jew. They all say: the others are all swine, but here is a first class Jew. And none of them has seen it, has endured it. Most of you will know what it means when 100 bodies lie together, or when there are 500 or 1000. And to have seen this through, and –with the exception of human weaknesses– to have remained decent, has made us hard and is a page of glory never mentioned and never to be mentioned….”

Whether the words are those of Goering, Heydrich, Höss or Himmler, there is a certain businesslike banality to them. But these men, and many others like them orchestrated a campaign of genocide and race hatred unmatched in history. Yes, there have been other genocides, the Turks killing the Armenians during the First World War and the Hutu and Tutsi slaughter in Rwanda but neither they or the politically motivated campaigns of mass slaughter conducted by the Soviets, the Chinese Communists and the Khamer Rouge killing fields can match the systematized extermination campaign waged by the Nazis against the Jews.

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The truly terrifying thing about the Nazi perpetrators of the Holocaust to me is that most of the men at Wansee, men that commanded the Concentration camps and the Einsatzgruppen were very ordinary men who simply believed that they were doing their jobs. Very few could be described as psychopathic killers by nature. They were lawyers, doctors, career police officials, businessmen, and bureaucrats who carried out an extermination campaign that killed by their own numbers between 5.5 and 6 million Jews, not to mention others deemed to be subhuman including the handicapped, the mentally ill, homosexuals, and other non-Jewish minorities like the Gypsies not to mention the wide variety of those considered political enemies. But it was the Jews that bore the most tragic fate.

Auschwitz began as a work camp, notoriously harsh in its treatment of its prisoners but a work camp, picked because of its proximity to rail lines and isolation. By the summer of 1941 it was the largest camp in the Concentration Camp system. Within months the process of turning Auschwitz into a factory of mass murder began, quite accidentally when members of the camp staff discovered that a chemical used for the delousing of barracks known as Zyklon-B also worked on large animals, and therefore people.  It was tested on Russian and Polish POWs in September 1941.

As the Nazi desire for efficient extermination grew and early death factories showed their limitations and the “experiments” at Auschwitz resulted in it being selected as a death camp. The camp was expanded and its first gas chamber, the former camp morgue began its operations in February 1942. Other more massive chambers were built, chambers that could hold up to 2000 victims per cycle. By the time the operation was shut down in the weeks leading up to the camp’s liberation Rudolf Höss the Commandant of Auschwitz estimated that 2.5 million people, mostly Jews were exterminated in it. Höss boasted d that his camp could exterminate 10,000 people in a 24 hour period. Other estimates are lower, but still in the millions.

Höss, and other functionaries such Adolf Eichmann, who coordinated the massive effort to exterminate the Jews of Europe following the Wansee Conference of January 20th 1942 approached their jobs dispassionately. This was a common attitude among the civil service, military and police officials that oversaw the Holocaust. They simply did their jobs and followed the law.

Hannah Arendt wrote of Eichmann:

“The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together.”

This was what made the Holocaust committed against the Jews of Europe by Nazi Germany a phenomenon different than other genocides. Many of the perpetrators were not driven by centuries old hate as in the Balkans, tribal blood lust as occurred in Rwanda, or the products of Soviet Communism or Communist Chines Maoist regimes.

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Einsatzgruppen 

It was the racial ideology of the Nazis which deemed the Jews and other non-Aryans to be sub-human. That ideology undergirded the German treatment of the Jews, and the conduct of the war, especially in the East. But the execution of the plan required the bureaucratic, administrative, technical and legal skills brought to the table by ordinary men. Men who sought promotion, advancement and economic security for their families. Individually many would have never killed, but in their positions they ran the rail network, the factories, the banking and finance industries and supported the war effort, most not thinking much about the evil that they abetted or if they did finding a way, be it social, scientific, religious, patriotic, legal or simply in the name of efficiency.

That is what makes the evil committed by them so terrifying. It is the product of “normal” people in an advanced Western nation. Make no bones about it, their actions were evil. They aided and abetted the genocide of the Jews, the disabled, other “sub-human” races, particularly Slavs, as well as those that they deemed less than suitable.

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Ordinary Men of Reserve Police Battalion 101

I think that the most chilling thing about the Holocaust was that the greatest atrocities were committed by ordinary men, sometimes well educated, decent family men. These were men who simply executed orders and often went home at night. Hannah Arendt wrote that “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.” She was right, there was an ordinariness to the evil perpetrated by the Nazis.

It is important that we do not forget the Holocaust. It is also important to recognize that the instruments of that horror were on the whole “ordinary” men who as they saw it were simply doing their job. It is something that everyone needs to remember.

Primo Levi wrote:

“Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.” 

That is the real problem with atrocities committed by human beings.

In the classic film Judgment at Nuremberg Spencer Tracy reads the verdict at the end of the Judges Trial. His words are timeless:

“Janning, to be sure, is a tragic figure. We believe he loathed the evil he did. But compassion for the present torture of his soul must not beget forgetfulness of the torture and the death of millions by the Government of which he was a part. Janning’s record and his fate illuminate the most shattering truth that has emerged from this trial: If he and all of the other defendants had been degraded perverts, if all of the leaders of the Third Reich had been sadistic monsters and maniacs, then these events would have no more moral significance than an earthquake, or any other natural catastrophe.

But this trial has shown that under a national crisis, ordinary – even able and extraordinary – men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination. No one who has sat through the trial can ever forget them: men sterilized because of political belief; a mockery made of friendship and faith; the murder of children. How easily it can happen. There are those in our own country too who today speak of the “protection of country” – of ‘survival’. A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient – to look the other way. Well, the answer to that is ‘survival as what’? A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult! Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, in our decision, this is what we stand for: justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.”

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Never Again: Bergen Belsen 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Christmas at the Front 2013: A Look at Christmas Now and in Military History

German Bundeswehr army soldiers decorate a fir tree imported from Germany for Christmas eve in the army camp in Kunduz

German Bundeswehr Soldiers decorating for Christmas in Afghanistan 

Today as on so many Christmas Days in days gone by military personnel serve on the front lines in wars far away from home. Today American and NATO troops engage a resourceful and determined enemy in Afghanistan. American Marines are working to safeguard the lives of Americans in South Sudan while French troops are intervening in Mali and the Central African Republic to attempt to prevent genocide. In many corners of the globe others stand watch on land, at sea and in the air. Unfortunately on this Christmas wars continue and most likely will until the end of time as we know it.

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It is easy to understand the verse penned by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his song I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day after the death of his wife and wounding of his son in the US Civil War:

And in despair I bowed my head

“There is no peace on earth,” I said,

“For hate is strong and mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I have done my time in Iraq at Christmas on the Syrian-Iraqi Border in 2007 with our Marine advisors and their Iraqis.  That was the most memorable Christmas and the most important Christmas Masses that I ever celebrated. Since returning home have thought often of those that remain in harm’s way as well as those soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen, American and from other nations that have spent Christmas on the front lines. Some of these events are absolutely serious while others display some of the “light” moments that occur even in the most terrible of manmade tragedies.

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Christmas 1776 at Trenton

In American history we can look back to 1776, of course we could go back further but 1776 just sounds better. On Christmas of 1776 George Washington took his Continental Army across the Delaware to attack the British garrison at Trenton. Actually it was a bunch of hung over Hessians who after Christmas dinner on the 24th failed to post a guard which enabled them to be surprised,  but it was an American victory.

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In 1777 Washington and his Army had a rather miserable Christmas at Valley Forge where they spent the winter freezing their asses off and getting drilled into a proper military force by Baron Von Steuben.

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The Eggnog Riot

While not a battle in the true sense of the word the Cadets at West Point wrote their own Christmas legend in the Eggnog Riot of 1826 when the Cadets in a bit of holiday revelry had a bit too much Eggnog and a fair amount of Whiskey and behaved in a manner frowned upon by the Academy administration. Needless to say that many of the Cadets spent the Christmas chapel services in a hung over state with a fair number eventually being tossed from the Academy for their trouble.

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The Battle of Lake Okeechobee

In 1837 the U.S. Army was defeated at the Battle of Lake Okeechobee by the Seminole Nation, not a Merry Christmas at all.  In 1862 the Army of the Potomac and Army of Northern Virginia faced each other across the Rappahannock River after the Battle of Fredericksburg while to the south in Hilton Head South Carolina 40,000 people watched Union troops play baseball some uttering the cry of many later baseball fans “Damn Yankees.”

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Blue and Grey Christmas Baseball

In 1864 the Army of the Potomac and Army of Northern Virginia faced each other again in the miserable trenches of Petersburg while General William Tecumseh Sherman enjoyed Christmas in Savannah Georgia after cutting a swath of destruction from Atlanta to the sea. He presented the city to Lincoln who simply said “nice, but I really wanted Richmond.”

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Napoleon had something to celebrate on December 25th 1801 after surviving an assassination attempt on Christmas Eve and 1809 he was celebrating his divorce from Empress Josephine which had occurred on the 21st of December.

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The Christmas Truce 

In 1914 “Christmas Truce” began between British and German troops and threatened to undo all the hard work of those that made the First World War possible.  Thereafter the High Commands of both sides ensured that such frivolity never happened again. The movie Joyeux Noel (Merry Christmas) does a wonderful job in bringing home the miraculous truce.

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General and Montgomery and his Staff, winter 1942

World War II brought much suffering. In 1941 after Pearl Harbor the Japanese forced the surrender of Hong Kong and its British garrison while two days later the Soviets launched their counterattack at Moscow against Hitler’s Wehrmacht. In Libya the British were retaking Benghazi from the Afrika Corps after a brutal series of tank battles in Operation Crusader.  A year later the Americans were clearing Guadalcanal of the Japanese. General Montgomery’s 8th Army was pursuing Rommel’s Afrika Korps into Tunisia as American and British forces under General Dwight D. Eisenhower were slogging their way into Tunisia against tough German resistant.  In Russia the Red Army was engaged in a climactic battle against the encircled German 6th Army at Stalingrad. At Stalingrad a German Physician named Kurt Reuber painted the famed Madonna of Stalingrad.

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Kurt Reuber’s Madona of Stalingrad

The drawing which was taken out of Stalingrad by one of the last German officers to be evacuated now hangs in the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin. Reuber drew another in 1943 while in a Soviet POW campbefore his death from Typhus in early 1944. Reuber wrote to his wife of painting in Stalingrad:

“I wondered for a long while what I should paint, and in the end I decided on a Madonna, or mother and child. I have turned my hole in the frozen mud into a studio. The space is too small for me to be able to see the picture properly, so I climb on to a stool and look down at it from above, to get the perspective right. Everything is repeatedly knocked over, and my pencils vanish into the mud. There is nothing to lean my big picture of the Madonna against, except a sloping, home-made table past which I can just manage to squeeze. There are no proper materials and I have used a Russian map for paper. But I wish I could tell you how absorbed I have been painting my Madonna, and how much it means to me.”

“The picture looks like this: the mother’s head and the child’s lean toward each other, and a large cloak enfolds them both. It is intended to symbolize ‘security’ and ‘mother love.’ I remembered the words of St.John: light, life, and love. What more can I add? I wanted to suggest these three things in the homely and common vision of a mother with her child and the security that they represent.”

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Christmas Concert at Guadalcanal 

In 1943 the Marines were battling the Japanese at New Britain while the Red Army was involved in another major winter offensive against the Wehrmacht. In 1944 Christmas found the Russians advancing in Hungary.

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Bastogne Christmas 

In December 1944 the Americans were engaged in a desperate battle with the Germans in the Ardennes now known as The Battle of the Bulge. On Christmas day the leading German unit, the 2nd Panzer Division ran out of gas 4 miles from the Meuse River and was destroyed by the American 2nd Armored Division.

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As that was occurring the embattled 101st Airborne Division at Bastogne was relieved by General George Patton’s 3rd Army. Patton had his Chaplain pen this Christmas prayer:

“Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair weather for Battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call upon Thee that, armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory, and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies and establish Thy justice among men and nations.”

In the Philippines Douglas MacArthur’s forces were fighting hard to liberate Leyte, Samar and Luzon from the Japanese. At sea US and Allied naval forces fought off determined attacks by Kamikazes.

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USO Christmas Show in WWII

During the war the USO sponsored many entertainers who went to combat zones to perform Christmas shows, among them was Bob Hope.

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Bob Hope Christmas Show on USS Ticonderoga CVA-14 off Vietnam 

In the years following the Second World War Christmas was celebrated while armies continued to engage in combat to the death. Christmas of 1950 was celebrated in Korea as the last American forces were withdrawn from the North following the Chinese intervention which the 1st Marine Division chewed up numerous Red Chinese divisions while fighting its way out of the Chosin Reservoir.

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Bob Hope with 1st Infantry Division in Vietnam

In 1953 the French garrison of Dien Bien Phu celebrated Christmas in primitive fashion unaware that Vietnamese General Giap was already marshaling his forces to cut them off and then destroy them shortly after Easter of 1954.   In 1964 the U.S. committed itself to the war in Vietnam and for the next 9 years American Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen battled the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong with Marines fighting the North at Khe Sanh during Christmas of 1967. A hallmark of that war would be Bob Hope whose televised Christmas specials from that country helped bring the emotion of Christmas at the front back to those at home.

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In the years after Vietnam American troops would spend Christmas in the Desert of Saudi Arabia preparing for Operation Desert Storm in 1990, in Somalia the following year and in the Balkans. After September 11th 2001 U.S. Forces spent their first of at least 12 Christmas’s in Afghanistan. From 2003 thru 2011 US and coalition partner troops spent 8 years in Iraq, that was my war.

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Christmas with Bedouin on Christmas Eve (above) and Christmas games at COP North Al Anbar Province Iraq 2007 (Below)

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Christmas Services at COP South Al Anbar Province, Iraq 2007

Today Americans and our Allies serve around the world far away from home fighting the war against Al Qaeda and its confederates and some may die on this most Holy of Days while for others it will be their last Christmas.

Please keep them and all who serve now as well as those that served in the past, those that remain and those that have died in your prayers.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Christmas in the Cauldron: Kurt Reuber and the The Madonna of Stalingrad

Bundeswehr zeigt "Stalingrad"-Ausstellung

Kurt Rueber was a theologian, pastor and medical doctor. A friend of Albert Schweitzer he was conscripted to serve as a physician in the Germany Army. By November 1942 he was a seasoned military physician serving with the 16th Panzer Division, part of the German 6th Army, which had been fighting in the hell of Stlaingrad. When that division along with most of 6th Army was surrounded by the Soviets, cut of from most supply and without real hope of relief he continued to serve the soldiers committed to his care.

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A Self Portrait 

However that care also included spiritual matters. Rueber was also an artist and pastor and as such he reflected on the desparation of the German soldiers in the Stalingrad pocket. He wrote to his family.

“I wondered for a long while what I should paint, and in the end I decided on a Madonna, or mother and child. I have turned my hole in the frozen mud into a studio. The space is too small for me to be able to see the picture properly, so I climb on to a stool and look down at it from above, to get the perspective right. Everything is repeatedly knocked over, and my pencils vanish into the mud. There is nothing to lean my big picture of the Madonna against, except a sloping, home-made table past which I can just manage to squeeze. There are no proper materials and I have used a Russian map for paper. But I wish I could tell you how absorbed I have been painting my Madonna, and how much it means to me.”

“The picture looks like this: the mother’s head and the child’s lean toward each other, and a large cloak enfolds them both. It is intended to symbolize ‘security’ and ‘mother love.’ I remembered the words of St. John: light, life, and love. What more can I add? I wanted to suggest these three things in the homely and common vision of a mother with her child and the security that they represent.”

The picture was drawn on the back of a captured Soviet map and when he finished it he displayed it in his bunker, which became something of a shrine. Reuber wrote:

“When according to ancient custom I opened the Christmas door, the slatted door of our bunker, and the comrades went in, they stood as if entranced, devout and too moved to speak in front of the picture on the clay wall…The entire celebration took place under the influence of the picture, and they thoughtfully read the words: light, life, love…Whether commander or simple soldier, the Madonna was always an object of outward and inward contemplation.”

As the seige continued men came to the bunker for both medical care and spiritual solace.  On Christmas Eve Reuber found himself treating a number of men wounded by bombs outside the bunker. Another soldier lay dying, just minutes before the soldier had been in the bunker singing the Christmas hymn O Du Froeliche.  Reuber wrote:

“I spent Christmas evening with the other doctors and the sick. The Commanding Officer had presented the letter with his last bottle of Champagne. We raised our mugs and drank to those we love, but before we had had a chance to taste the wine we had to throw ourselves flat on the ground as a stick of bombs fell outside. I seized my doctor’s bag and ran to the scene of the explosions, where there were dead and wounded. My shelter with its lovely Christmas decorations became a dressing station. One of the dying men had been hit in the head and there was nothing more I could do for him. He had been with us at our celebration, and had only that moment left to go on duty, but before he went he had said: ‘I’ll finish the carol with first. O du Frohliche!” A few moments later he was dead. There was plenty of hard and sad work to do in our Christmas shelter. It is late now, but it is Christmas night still. And so much sadness everywhere.”

On January 9th 1943 with all hope of escape or reinforcement gone Reuber gave the picture to the battlaion commander.  The officer was too ill to carry on and was one of the last soldiers to be evacuated from the pocket.

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German POWs walking out of Stalingrad

Reuber was taken prisoner and survived the harrowing winter march to the Yelabuga prison camp. In late 1943 Reuber wrote his  Christmas Letter to a German Wife and Mother – Advent 1943. It was a spiritual reflection but also a reflection on the hope for life after the war, when the Nazi regime would be defeated, and Germany given a new birth.

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Reuber operating on a wounded soldier above and drawing below

Reuber wrote:

“The concatenation of guilt and fate has opened our eyes wide to the guilt. You know, perhaps we will be grateful at the end of our present difficult path yet once again that we will be granted true salvation and liberation of the individual and the nation by apparent disappointment of our “anticipation of Advent”, by all of the suffering of last year’s as well as this year’s Christmas. According to ancient tradition, the Advent season is simultaneously the season of self-reflection. So at the very end, facing ruin, in death’s grip – what a revaluation of values has taken place in us! We thus want to use this period of waiting as inner preparation for a meaningful new existence and enterprise in our family, in our vocation, in the nation. The Christmas light of joy is already shining in the midst of our Advent path of death as a celebration of the birth of a new age in which – as hard as it may also be – we want to prove ourselves worthy of the newly given life.”  (Erich Wiegand in Kurt Reuber, Pastor, Physician, Painter, Evangelischer Medienverb. Kassel 2004. )

Reuber did not live to see that day. He died of Typhus on January 20th 1944, not long after writing this and just a few weeks after painting another portrait of the Madonna, this one entitled The Prisoner’s Madonna. He was not alone, of the approximately 95,000 German POWs taken at Stalingrad only about 6,000 returned home. 

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His paintings survived the war and his family gave The Madonna of Stalingrad  to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin when its ruins were restored as a symbol of hope and reconcilliation. Copies are also displayed in Coventry Cathedral and the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Volgagrad, the former Stalingrad. A copy of The Prisoner’s Madonna is now displayed at the Church of the Resurrection in Kassel. 

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I have a print of the Madonna of Stalingrad in my office. It has become one of the most meaningful pictures I have since I returned from Iraq in 2008. To me they are symbols of God’s presence when God seems entirely absent.

Praying for an end to war.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Character Sacrifice, Service in the Face of Blatant Racism and the Dream that Cannot be Stopped: Brigadier General Benjamin O Davis Sr and Lieutenant General Benjamin O Davis Jr.

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“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Last Friday, October 25th was the 73rd anniversary of the promotion of Colonel Benjamin O. Davis to the Rank of Brigadier General in the United States Army. In 1940 as the nation prepared for war many experienced officers were being promoted, some to Flag or General Officer rank. However, Colonel Davis was different, he was black.

Seldom do we take the time to remember that it really wasn’t that long ago that African Americans were for all practical purposes less than full citizens. Jim Crow laws, discrimination, segregation and impediments to voting were the norm in much of the country. Separate but equal was that mantra of racists in power. Blacks no matter how educated, how patriotic or how successful were discriminated against, held back and in far to many cases the target of hatred, violence and even murder. It was in such a climate that Benjamin O Davis served as an officer in the US Army.

While American History would not be the same without the life, work and prophetic ministry of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. much of his hard fought success was brought about by men and women who served in the military, or for that matter played the game of baseball in an exemplary manner in an otherwise whiter than white bread world.

Dr. King was born in a time when most of the country was segregated when “separate by equal” was simply façade to cover the lie that in no way did African Americans have equal rights or privileges in the United States. Something some leaders attempt today through the use of voter purges that target Blacks, hispanics and other minorities. Sad to day that some things don’t change. Racists are still racists.

In 1922 Carrie Williams Clifford published the poem The Black Draftee from Georgia which alluded to to the lynching of Wilbur Little, a soldier and veteran of the First World War  who was lynched by a mob for wearing his uniform after being warned not to:

What though the hero-warrior was black?
His heart was white and loyal to the core;
And when to his loved Dixie he came back,
Maimed, in the duty done on foreign shore,
Where from the hell of war he never flinched,
Because he cried, “Democracy,” was lynched.

 Dr King was born less than 60 years after the secession of the Southern states from the Union and the beginning of the American Civil War. Though that blood conflict had freed the slaves it had not freed African Americans from prejudice, violence and discrimination.  When Dr. King began his ministry and was thrust upon the national stage as the strongest voice for equal rights and protections for blacks the discrimination and violence directed towards blacks was a very real and present reality in much of the United States.

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 Buffalo Soldiers in the 1880s 

However there were cracks beginning to appear in the great wall of segregation in the years preceding Dr. King’s ascent to leadership as the moral voice of the country in the matter of racial equality. In baseball Jackie Robinson became the first African American player in Major League Baseball opening a door for others who would become legends of the game as well as help white America begin its slow acceptance of blacks in sports and the workplace.

Likewise the contributions of a father and son Brigadier General Benjamin O. Davis Sr. and General Benjamin O. Davis Jr. were advancing the cause of blacks in the military which eventually led to the desegregation of the military in 1948.  The impact of these two men cannot be underestimated for they were trailblazers who by their lives, professionalism and character blazed a trail for African Americans in the military as well as society.

Benjamin O. Davis Sr. was a student at Howard University when the USS Maine exploded and sank in Havana Harbor.  He volunteered for service and was commissioned as a temporary 1st Lieutenant in the 8th United States Volunteer Infantry. He was mustered out of service in 1899 but enlisted as a private in the 9th United States Cavalry one of the original Buffalo Soldiers regiments.

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 Buffalo Soldiers in the Philippines 

He was initially the unit clerk of I troop of 3rd Squadron and was promoted to be the squadron Sergeant Major. He was commissioned while the unit was deployed to the Philippines counterinsurgency campaign and assigned to the 10th Cavalry.

Early in his career Davis was assigned in various positions including command, staff and instruction duties including as Professor of Military Science and Tactics in various ROTC programs.  He reached the rank of rank of temporary Lieutenant Colonel and Squadron Commander of 3rd and later 1st Squadron 9th Cavalry from 1917-1920 in the Philippines before reverting to the rank of Captain on his return as part of the post World War I reduction in force.

He continued to serve during the inter-war years and assumed command of the 369th Infantry Regiment New York National Guard in 1938. He was promoted to Brigadier General on 25 October 1940 becoming the first African American elevated to that rank in the United States Army and was assigned as Commander 4th Brigade 2nd Cavalry Division. He later served in various staff positions at the War Department and in France and was instrumental in the integration of the U.S. Military. He retired after 50 years service in 1948 in a public ceremony with President Harry S. Truman presiding. He was a member of the American Battle Monuments Commission from 1953-1961 and died in 1970.

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Colonel Davis with his son Cadet Benjamin O Davis Jr.

His son Benjamin O. Davis Jr. was appointed to West Point in 1932.  He graduated and was commissioned in 1936 graduating 35 out of 278, the fourth African American graduate of West Point. During his time at the Academy most of his classmates shunned him and he never had a roommate.  Despite this he maintained a dogged determination to succeed.  The Academy yearbook made this comment about him:

“The courage, tenacity, and intelligence with which he conquered a problem incomparably more difficult than plebe year won for him the sincere admiration of his classmates, and his single-minded determination to continue in his chosen career cannot fail to inspire respect wherever fortune may lead him.”

He was denied entrance to the Army Air Corps because of his race and assigned to the Infantry first to the all lack 24th Infantry Regiment at Ft Benning where he was not allowed in the Officers Club due to his race. Upon his commissioning the Regular Army had just 2 African American Line Officers, 2nd Lieutenant Davis and his father Colonel Davis. After completion of Infantry School he was assigned as an instructor of Military Science and Tactics and the Tuskegee Institute.

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Benjamin O Davis Jr in WWII

In 1941 the Roosevelt Administration moved to create a black flying unit and Captain Davis was assigned to the first black class at the Tuskegee Army Air Field and in March 1942 one his wings as one of the first 5 African Americans to complete flight training.  In July 1942 the younger Davis was assigned as Commanding Officer of the 99th Pursuit Squadron which served in North Africa and Sicily flying Curtiss P-40 Warhawks.

He was recalled to the United States in September 1943 to command the 332nd Fighter Group. However some senior officers attempted to prevent other black squadrons from serving in combat alleging that the 99th had performed poorly in combat. Davis defended his squadron and General George Marshall ordered an inquiry which showed that the 99th was comparable to white squadrons in combat and during a 2 day period over the Anzio beachhead the pilots of the 99th shot down 12 German aircraft.

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Colonel Benjamin O Davis Jr (left) with one of his Tuskegee Airmen

Davis took the 332nd to Italy where they transitioned to P-47 Thunderbolts and in July 1944 to the P-51 Mustang which were marked with a signature red tail. During the war, the units commanded by Davis flew more than 15,000 sorties, shot down 111 enemy planes, and destroyed or damaged 273 on the ground at a cost of 66 of their own planes. Their record against the Luftwaffe was outstanding and their protection of the bombers that they escorted was superb with very few bombers lost while escorted by them men that the Luftwaffe nicknamed the Schwarze Vogelmenschen and the Allies the Red-Tailed Angels or simply the Redtails. Davis led his Tuskegee Airmen to glory in the war and their performance in combat helped break the color barrier in the U.S. Military which was ended in 1948 when President Truman signed an executive order to end the segregation of the military. Colonel Davis helped draft the Air Force plan and the Air Force was the first of the services to fully desegregate.

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Lieutenant General Benjamin O Davis Jr

 Colonel Davis transitioned to jets and let the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing against Chinese Communist MIGs in the Korean War.  He was promoted to Brigadier General in 1954 and served in numerous command and staff positions. He retired in 1970 with the rank of Lieutenant General and was advanced to General while retired by President Clinton in 1998.  He died in 2002 at the age of 89.

The legacy of Benjamin O. Davis Senior and Benjamin O. Davis Junior is a testament to their character, courage and devotion to the United States of America. They helped pioneer the way for officers such as General Colin Powell and helped change this country for the better.  During times when discrimination was legal they overcame obstacles that would have challenged lesser men.

Benjamin O. Davis Junior remarked “My own opinion was that blacks could best overcome racist attitudes through achievements, even though those achievements had to take place within the hateful environment of segregation.”

Such men epitomize the selfless service of so many other African Americans who served the country faithfully and “by the content of their character” triumphed over the evil of racism and helped make the United States a more perfect union. Today many African Americans as well as members of other minorities including racial minorities, women and gays serve with distinction in the military. What they do today is in many part a direct result of the courage, character and convictions of men like Benjamin O Davis Sr and Benjamin O Davis Jr.

Unfortunately the struggle for equality is never over and current generation will have to work just as hard to ensure that the freedoms won at so great a cost are not lost. General Colin Powell, the first Black man to serve as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State commented in 1994:

“I stand here today as a direct descendant of those Buffalo Soldiers and of the Tuskegee Airmen and all the black men and women who have served the nation in uniform, I will never forget my debt to them. I didn’t just show up. I climbed on the backs of those who never had the kind of opportunity that I had.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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D-Day: Brigadier General Theodore “Ted” Roosevelt III Lands at Utah Beach

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“Courage, above all things, is the first quality of a warrior.” Carl Von Clausewitz

By the standards of military service on the front line the man was ancient. He was 56 years old, had arthritis and a history of heart problems, but he was his father’s son.

The oldest man to land on the beaches of Normandy was the son of a President, Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt who had taken leave of his office as Assistant Secretary of the Navy at the outset of the Spanish-American War. With the help of his friend Colonel Leonard Wood, Roosevelt formed the legendary First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, the “Rough Riders” and led them in the fight at the Battle of San Juan Hill.

The son of the President entered the business world and then served as a Reserve officer and since he had received prior military training was commissioned as a Major when the United States entered World War One. He volunteered for overseas service and served as a battalion commander and later as commander of the 26th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division. Leading from the front he was wounded and gassed at Soissons in 1918. For his service he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the French Chevalier Légion d’honneur.

After the war he helped found the American Legion and entered politics and was elected to the New York State Assembly. However while serving as Assistant Secretary of the Navy in the Harding Administration he was linked to the Teapot Dome Scandal and though cleared of any wrongdoing his name was tarnished. Opposed by his cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt his political fortunes in elected offices floundered. However he was appointed as Governor of Puerto Rico and later Governor-General of the Philippines a post that he served until 1935 when he returned to the United States and the business world serving as an executive with American Express.

Between the wars “Ted” continued his Army Reserve service attending his annual training periods as well as attending the Infantry Officer Basic and Officer Advanced Courses as well as the Command and General Staff College. When war came to Europe he again volunteered for active service, attended a refresher course and was promoted to Colonel in the Army Reserve. Mobilized in April 1940 he was given command of his old 26th Infantry Regiment assigned to the First Infantry Division and was promoted to Brigadier General in late 1941 becoming the Assistant Division Commander.

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He served well in that role in North Africa and Sicily and earned citations for bravery being constantly on the front lines with his soldiers. However his association with the Division Commander, the unorthodox Terry Allen earned the enmity of George Patton and Omar Bradley. Patton disliked Allen and hated the way both Allen and Roosevelt eschewed “spit and polish” and “dressed down,” often wearing unauthorized uniform items. After Bradley assumed command of 7th Army he relieved both officers, believing that they were guilty of “loving their division too much” something that he admitted was one of the hardest decisions that he made in the war. Roosevelt served as a liaison officer with the Free French Forces in Italy before returning to England to assume duties as Assistant Division Commander of the 4th Infantry Division. Allen would go on to command the 104th Infantry Division in an exemplary manner during the command’s in France and Germany in 1944-45 with even Bradley praising him and his new division as one of the best in Europe.

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Roosevelt constantly trained with the troops and asked his commander, Major General Raymond “Tubby” Barton for permission to land with the first wave in the invasion. After being denied twice Roosevelt put his request to Barton in writing:

“The force and skill with which the first elements hit the beach and proceed may determine the ultimate success of the operation…. With troops engaged for the first time, the behavior pattern of all is apt to be set by those first engagements. [It is] considered that accurate information of the existing situation should be available for each succeeding element as it lands. You should have when you get to shore an overall picture in which you can place confidence. I believe I can contribute materially on all of the above by going in with the assault companies. Furthermore I personally know both officers and men of these advance units and believe that it will steady them to know that I am with them.”

Barton reluctantly approved the request not expecting Roosevelt to survive the landings. Roosevelt was in the first wave of assault troops at Utah Beach. On landing he discovered that the first wave was about a mile off course. Armed with a pistol and supported by a cane Roosevelt led a reconnaissance to find the causeways off the beach. He briefed the battalion commanders and then ordered an attack from where the troops had landed telling his officers “We’ll start the war from right here!” a moment immortalized in the film The Longest Day in which Henry Fonda played Roosevelt.

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Henry Fonda Portrays Brigadier General Theodore “Ted” Roosevelt III in “The Longest Day”

His actions were key in the success of the Utah Beach landings and he was recommended for the Distinguished Service Cross by General Barton. Just over a month after the invasion after continuously leading his troops in Normandy Roosevelt died of a heart attack on July 12th 1944, the very day he had been selected for his second star and promotion to Major General and had orders to take command of the 90th Infantry Division. His award was upgraded to the Congressional Medal of Honor which was posthumously awarded on September 28th 1944. He was buried in the American Cemetery in Normandy, the remains of his younger brother Quentin who had been killed in the First World War were exhumed and interred next to his in 1955.

The Medal of Honor citation reads:

For gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty on 6 June 1944, in France. After 2 verbal requests to accompany the leading assault elements in the Normandy invasion had been denied, Brig. Gen. Roosevelt’s written request for this mission was approved and he landed with the first wave of the forces assaulting the enemy-held beaches. He repeatedly led groups from the beach, over the seawall and established them inland. His valor, courage, and presence in the very front of the attack and his complete unconcern at being under heavy fire inspired the troops to heights of enthusiasm and self-sacrifice. Although the enemy had the beach under constant direct fire, Brig. Gen. Roosevelt moved from one locality to another, rallying men around him, directed and personally led them against the enemy. Under his seasoned, precise, calm, and unfaltering leadership, assault troops reduced beach strong points and rapidly moved inland with minimum casualties. He thus contributed substantially to the successful establishment of the beachhead in France.

Roosevelt’s story is quite amazing. In the modern wars of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries few commanders as senior as Roosevelt would ever be in the first wave of an invasion or offensive operation. The personal courage and example set by Roosevelt in both World Wars, leading from the front and maintaining relationships with the troops that he commanded in combat is something that we talk about a lot in various military leadership classes but often seems to be smothered by business models promoted by think tanks and others with money to be made.

Likewise, a commander suffering from Roosevelt’s infirmities would not be allowed to command troops in combat today. But in the Second World War when many other American Generals failed miserably and often could not be found near the front and were relieved of command for incompetence and cowardice the old, crippled and infirm Roosevelt led from the front. He made decisions on Utah Beach on D-Day that helped ensure that the landings were a success. Bradley, who had fired Roosevelt after the Sicilian Campaign with Allen said that the most heroic act that he had seen in combat was “Ted Roosevelt on Utah Beach.”

Roosevelt was an exception to Clausewitz’s axiom that “boldness becomes rarer, the higher the rank.” I think that even if a General wanted to lead in the manner of Roosevelt today that he would be punished by the institution for risking himself.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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