Monthly Archives: September 2018

A Visit to Wannsee

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

We arrived in Berlin this afternoon after spending last night and this morning with our friends Gottfried and Hannelore in Eisenach. It was a wonderful time, we just spent time together catching up and enjoying our company. When we left the we set course for Berlin where will will remain until Wednesday morning.

We are staying at the Hotel Dietrich Bonhoeffer which is owned by the Evangelische Kirche, the Lutheran Church. It is very nice, the room is spacious and comfortable. We were able to stay here due to our friendship with the Bishop for the Lutheran Church’s military chaplains in Germany who we will meet again on Tuesday.

But on the way to the hotel today we went to the Wannsee House where Reinhard Heydrich chaired a meeting of 15 officials from various German government and Nazi Party agencies regarding the Final Solution of the Jewish Problem. The house is now a museum that deals with the history of anti-semitism in Germany, that of the Nazi Regime, and the policies of the Nazi State before and after Wannsee. To read the documents in German, to see the handwriting, personal notes, and the stamps of of the regime which marked the documents as official and their security classification in the very room that these officials met was sobering. To be where Heydrich, Adolf Eichmann, “Gestapo” Müller and a dozen lesser known functionaries debated and then followed Heydrich’s direction, that which he received from Herman Goering and Heinrich Himmler, directions that came from Hitler himself in December of 1941.

As I walked around the building and around the table on which the documents sat, which was where the table that these man gathered once was, I felt like I had been there before. Of course I had been there in my mind. I have read the accounts of the meeting, the documents preserved by the State Secretary for the Foreign Service, Martin Luther and found by the Allies after the war. I have read a number of biographies about Heydrich, Eichmann, and Müller, and from closer to 40 years of study I felt like I knew these men. They were all functionaries. Many had served in the military, a food number were police or law enforcement officials, and others lawyers, academics, or career bureaucrats who whether they were true believers in the Nazi cause and policies, nonetheless gave their willing support to them.

The meeting lasted only about 90 minutes and it really wasn’t a decision making meeting, it was intended by Heydrich to subordinate every other department of the Nazi State to the SS in regard to the Jewish Question. The fact was that the mass extermination of Jews by the SS Einsatzgruppen had been going on since June 1941 when Hitler’s armies invaded the Soviet Union. Likewise, massive extermination camps were already being constructed in Poland to eliminate every living Jew in Europe. These camps, Belzec, Soribor, Treblinka, and Auschwitz would become the main locations for the extermination of Jews. Estimates running from 2.3 to 2.7 million people, close to 90% Jews, were killed in these four camps between May of 1942 their closure as the SS Death’s Head, Totenkopfverbande tried to clean up and cover up its actions as the Red Army closed in on their empire of death. Of course that does not include the approximately 2 million people, including 1.3 million Jews murdered up close and personal by the Einsatzgruppen, or the numbers killed in the Concentration Camps in Germany and Western Europe, those killed in various pogroms orchestrated by the Nazi State and all of its government, police, military, and party organizations.

At Wannsee, Heydrich and his deputy Eichmann, turned the organization of mass murder into an administrative, logistical, and transportation exercise given a veneer of legality by them.

So it is late and I need to get some rest. Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under History, holocaust, laws and legislation

Meeting Old Friends in Eisenach

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It has been a long day so tonight’s post is basically to check in. We left Wittenberg this morning after a nice visit to meet our friends Gottfried and Hannelore in the town of Eisenach for Judy’s birthday which is tomorrow.

On the way we stopped at the Buchenwald Concentration Camp outside of Weimar. It was another sobering visit to a site where man’s inhumanity to man remains fully on display. I will write more about that later and may combine what I write with my observations at Flossenbürg which I visited Thursday.

We arrived at the hotel shortly before they did about 3:45 and we spent the afternoon and evening conversing and reminiscing over dinner and drinks. Our friendship with them is special, we have known them since early 1985 when I was a young Army First Lieutenant stationed in Wiesbaden Germany. We got to know each other through the partnership program between the 68th Medical Group and Sanitäts Regiment 74. Gottfried, who had worked himself up through the enlisted ranks to become an officer was also a First Lieutenant and the Officer in Charge of a Medical Clinic in Mainz.

Over the years we have managed to stay in touch. We have seen their children grow up and have kids of their own. We know Hannelore’s brother and many of their friends. They are like family to us. Tomorrow we will have breakfast with them and then go over to see the Wartburg Castle where Martin Luther was hidden by his supporters after his defense at the Diet of Worms, an where he translated the New Testament from Greek into German. After that we will each head our separate ways, they to their home where they are dealing with repairs to their own home as well as the disposition of the home and business Hannelore’s aunt who died in April. We will drive to Berlin where we will remain until Tuesday.

We will get some pictures posted of the visit sometime soon as I keep getting backlogged on the articles that I plan on writing due to the travel schedule of the past few days. So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under life, Loose thoughts and musings, Travel

Christmas Angel Mecca: The Blank Kunsthandwerk Shop in the Erzgebirge

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

We are overnighting in the City of Chemnitz in the Erzgebirge Region of the southeast German State of Saxony. We are here because I had to make sure that Judy got to the workshop and store of the Blank Kunsthandwerk in Grünhainichen which is about fifteen miles from here. Tomorrow we will travel to Lutherstadt Wittenberg to our northwest. On the way there we will stop by the town of Torgau where on April 25th 1945, United States Army and Soviet Red Army troops met to cut Hitler’s Third Reich in two.

The Blank Workshop is a family run business that dates back to the aftermath of the Second World War. The founders, George Beyers and Kurt Lehnert founded it in 1955 but lost it when it nationalized in the early 1972 and the dozen or so employees made their iconic short skirt wooden Christmas Angels for export outside the DDR. Beyers, whose technical expertise led to the creation of the angels and many other wooden craft items was employed only to glue felt to the bases the creations he had invented. It was not until the reunification of the country that the company return to private ownership.

We discovered these hand crafted and delicate wooden angels in late 1984 while visiting Koblenz not long after Judy and I moved to Wiesbaden. Since we didn’t have the cash with us we were send the set of about 25 angels and a tiered stand for 300 Deutsch Marks, which were worth about $100 back then. Since then her collection has grown to over 100 standing figures and 100 hanging figures, the latter that adorn our Christmas tree. Of course the prices have gone up, gone are the days of virtual slave labor which is a good thing. When we first started collecting them they cost us about 5 to 7 Marks each. After the Wall fell and we began to collect them again they cost about 15-20 Marks each, while today, depending on the complexity a piece will cost any from € 20 to € 30, but Judy is always looking for deals on eBay and quite often scores. She also knows how to tell an original from a fake, which helps.

We got into town this afternoon and Judy was able to get a bunch of pieces that she didn’t have as well as 20 pair of replacement wings; as I said these are delicate. We were also able to talk with the girl at the shop about other items the Blank is coming out with and that other local craftsmen produce.

I was glad the Judy finally got to see this place. The fascinating thing is back in the 1980s we never could have visited the Erzgebirge Region or the Blank Shop. We were able to go to Berlin with special authorization and that was unforgettable, we will be in Berlin for the first time since November 1986 on Sunday.

The area is beautiful, in places it reminds me a bit of sections of the Shenandoah Valley, albeit with castles and ancient towns.

On the we here we stopped at the Flossenbürg Concentration Camp which I will write about another time.

So anyway, until the next time,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under History, labor, Loose thoughts and musings, Travel

Flugzeug, Fußball, and International Friendship in Trump’s Amerika First World

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Sorry for the delay in posting, but the past couple of days have been quite full. Yesterday we had to exchange our rental car and afterwards went to the Deutsches Museum’s aircraft yard Flugwerft in Schleissheim just outside of Munich. After that we went to our favorite local restaurant, Zum Brunnstein, had a long and relaxing lunch and then did some shopping in the local area near our hotel, which despite being a very expensive 4 1/2 star hotel, is located in your typical working class neighborhood. This is because of its location near the city’s Ostbahnhof which makes it a travel hub for business people and tourists.

After that we went back to the hotel where I prepared for my epic trip to a Bayern München game at Allianz Arena. But before I do that I have to go back in time…

Back in 1979 I was traveling with an American Christian singing group in Europe when President Jimmy Carter gave his American Malaise speech. Back then I was young, and still idealistic about the hope and promise of the United States that was given life in the proposition of the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal,” as well as the ability of Americans to rise to the occasion in the midst of a real economic crisis triggered by massive inflation that had begun during the Nixon administration and the massive rise in oil prices after the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

There was also a crisis of confidence in the ability of the nation to do better in the future, a crisis of confidence in the American system of government, and deep divisions over the Vietnam War, and the Civil Rights movement which had expanded to women and homosexuals. Carter, whose deep Christian faith was always in evidence was castigated by prominent political activist preachers in the nascent Christian Right.

His speech was actually masterful, but he chose to use a harsh term to describe the truth about the United States in 1979, he talked of an American Malaise. That word was enough to cause his otherwise masterful diagnosis of the health of the nation to be mocked on both sides of the Atlantic. I will write about that speech soon because it is

At the time his words were mocked in many parts of Europe and as a nineteen year old college student traveling abroad I was embarrassed to be an American as I read in British newspapers the reaction to his speech. Of course I hadn’t actually heard or read the speech, only the reaction in the British tabloids which used it to slam the American President who they considered to be a non-Presidential commoner. Likewise, at the time I didn’t understand the nature of the Tabloids, or even the flagship British newspapers, and assumed that what I read was accurate. Based on those articles in the British tabloids, I wanted to hide the fact that I was an American, but if I had actually read or heard the speech I would have admired his honesty and candor.

Yesterday was different yet similar, however, instead of simply reading the reaction to the President’s speech at the United Nations, I was able to watch it and read its text, almost in real time. I watched in horror as Trump claimed to have done more than any American President during his first year and a half in office than any previous American President, only to be met with derisive laughter. One has to hand it to the miracles of modern technology sometimes, even when it exposes the American President, using his own speech as a complete idiot and buffoon.

So yesterday, instead of being a young and idealistic college student with little access to news in real time, I am almost forty years older and while still idealistic, I am much more world wise, with a lot more access to news as it happens than I was back then. Frankly, in 1979 I really didn’t know shit from Shinola about anything, even though I thought that I knew it all. Almost forty years later words of the late Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts” have become more than a nice quote. They are truth.

Thirty-nine years after President Carter’s Malaise speech I was again in Europe when the American President again, not only embarrassed the country, but did so on full display while speaking at the United Nations. As I read his words at Munich’s Hofbrauhaus before going up to the Bayern Munich match against Augsburg I wanted to hide, but I was at a table with a couple of Germans, a Pole, and a Dane, all Bayern fans. It is interesting how the a team like Bayern can bring together so many people from around the world.

I could have easily hid the fact that I am American, in fact my German is good enough and my accent a blend of Bayerische, Hessische, and Rheinländische Deutsch to pass myself off as a German. But I am an American and like it or not, for now, Trump is the American President and he has no shame. One of the men that I was sitting with asked where I was from, assuming that I was German. I surprised him by telling him that I was an American and as happens often here I was told by the man just how he loved the United States and Americans but how fearful he was of President Trump. Like other German friends he told me that I should flee to Germany to escape what is coming. The specter of the unthinkable still haunts many Germans, even as the struggle with their own nativist, nationalist, racist, and anti-democratic elements.

Sadly, neither the President nor his Cult followers have any capacity for ethical or moral reflection. While I was embarrassed at President Carter’s speech in 1979, I never wanted to hide my head in shame as as much as I did yesterday when I read and watched President Trump’s speech to the United Nations. I was ashamed, because unlike Carter’s speech which had much basis in the reality of the times, and maybe more so today, Trump’s message of an America First foreign policy upends the promise of of the Atlantic Charter and everything good that came after it. He praises dictators and compliments regimes that have more in common with Stalin, Mao, or Hitler than Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, or Roosevelt and routinely savages our actual friends and allies.

But anyway, it is now after midnight here and we will be getting up to travel north, first to the Erzgebirge Region of Saxony before going to Wittenberg where Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation, then to Eisenach to meet our friends Gottfried and Hannelore before traveling to Berlin on Sunday.

So until the next time,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

2 Comments

Filed under History, Loose thoughts and musings, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary, Travel

A Walk in Munich, a Police Headquarters, and a Voice that will not be Silenced: the Witness of Sophie Scholl

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tonight another thought from Munich.

Today was relatively uneventful from a historian’s point of view in our current trip to Germany. Today was a day that Judy and I spent time together walking around the city center and Marienplatz. We did some shopping and more window shopping before getting a late lunch at our favorite local restaurant, Zum Brunstein before working our way back to our hotel. After she got a bit of rest and I went and picked up a few things that we needed and then did some reading, we went back out to get a few drawing supplies and the have a late supper.

Since Judy needs two knee replacement surgeries after we return to the United States and is dragging herself around on crutches I was proud that she got about five miles of walking in today. I got in eight miles and since we are not eating like we do in the United States I assume that we are both losing some weight, which is not a bad thing. My injuries from the fall that I took a month and a half ago seem to be doing better and though I still am in some pain I am no longer walking with such a noticeable limp, and when not escorting Judy like a destroyer escorting a cargo ship I am able to walk at a much faster clip than I have since the fall. I haven’t tried running yet but that may yet happen, but I digress…

The fact is that I continued muse upon the lives of Sophie Scholl and her companions in the White Rose resistance movement. It is something that as I think about what is happening in the United States regarding the Trump Administration’s lack of respect or concern for the rule of law which is reaching a fever pitch.

One site that we walked past today was the Police Headquarters, or the Polizei Präsidentin. The building was the headquarters of the Munich Police, before, during and after the Nazi State. It was the initial headquarters and workplace of Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich before they moved to Berlin not long after the Nazi takeover.

In 1943 it housed the offices of the Gestapo and other police agencies. It was here that following their arrest that Sophie Scholl and her brother Hans, were first taken for interrogation before being imprisoned at Städelheim and tried before the Volksgericht headed by Roland Freisler.

This place that we see here, even those that few think about are still important. Sophie said: I am, now as before, of the opinion that I did the best that I could do for my nation. I therefore do not regret my conduct and will bear the consequences that result from my conduct

Since we have an early morning tomorrow I will wish you a good night,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under History, life, Loose thoughts and musings, nazi germany

“Safe?! From What?” A Visit to the Grave of Sophie Scholl

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Our visit to Munich today was relatively quiet. We went to breakfast and then since Judy’s knees were not up to a lot of long walks or standing took our rental car out to see a couple of places that we haven’t been. We went to the grave of the anti-Nazi martyr Sophie Scholl, her brother Hans, and friend Christoph Probst who were executed in February 1943 for publishing anti-Hitler, Nazi, and war pamphlets. Following that we went to the BMW Museum and BMW World.

I will write about the latter later, but tonight I will write about a visit to the Friedhof at Perlacher Forst in Munich where Sophie Scholl is buried.

The cemetery is adjacent to the Stadelheim Prison where she was held before her trial and executed on February 22nd 1943. I have written about her and the White Rose resistance movement before. Last year I visited the White Rose Museum and study center at the Ludwig Maximillians University of Munich but last year I didn’t get the chance to make a pilgrimage to her gravesite. I made it a priority this year.

We parked on the street outside Stadelheim, which is still an active prison surrounded by tall walls and guard towers. While Judy waited with the car I walked to the cemetery and then to the gravesite which is on the opposite side of the cemetery from the main entrance. It is a very peaceful place, with many trees and the sections cordoned off by carefully trimmed grapevines.

When I reached the gravesite I paused, and remained for about ten minutes contemplating the cost of real resistance to tyranny. She and her companions had no political, military, or economic power. They were students, and a number had served as medics on the Eastern Front before resuming their studies.

Unlike the men who launched Operation Valkyrie 17 months later they had no connections to any kind of power: they were not part of the movement of German conservatives and militarists who initially supported Hitler and then had second thoughts. When Hitler came to power they were children. They resisted because they found what was happening to go beyond any sense of ethics, morality, or in some cases, like Sophie, their Christian faith.

At her trial she told the notorious President of the Nazi People’s Court, Roland Freisler:

Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don’t dare express themselves as we did.

While I was their I tried to imagine her courage as she testified to the truth and went to her death. The woman who shared Sophie’s cell wrote of her final words before going to her execution:

How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause? Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?

Many people today are being faced with the same questions that Sophie Scholl, her brother Hans, and friends, including Christoph Probst who was executed the same day had to make. Thankfully, for the most part the future imitators of Hitler have not yet seized full power in Europe or the United States, but it wouldn’t take much for that to happen. Too many people, and not just conservatives, would be willing to sacrifice freedom in the name of security if a major war, terrorist attack, or natural disaster that threatened their well being and/or their economic or social status occurred.

In such a situation, how many people would allow their government to oppress and terrorize people that they distrusted due to their race, ethnicity, or religion? I think that the numbers are a lot higher than we would want to admit. The preservation or self and wealth is often more of a motivation than faith, or the rights and liberties of others.

During the Nazi era many non-Nazis supported the Nazi programs because they thought that they benefited them. The same is true in any authoritarian State regardless of the ideology that it subscribes and its people hold dear.

Sophie said:

The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.

So until tomorrow from Munich,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under christian life, civil rights, ethics, faith, History, holocaust, Political Commentary

Der Münchner Wiesn 2018: a Parade, Bier, and Gemütlichkeit

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today was the beginning of Munich’s Oktoberfest, commonly known here as der Wiesn. This is actually a term from the Bavarian dialect which means the green which is a term used for the Theresienwiese, the lawn of the Nymphenburg palace grounds in Munich which hosted the first Oktoberfest on which King Ludwig I of Bavaria celebrated his wedding to Princess Theresa and a horse race.

The King invited the people of the city and thereafter it became a regular event and soon a national and worldwide event celebrating Munich’s heritage of community and beer, which helped bridge the otherwise insurmountable of German and other European cultural divide. Munich, with its beer hall culture is one of those rare places in Europe that a mayor, governor, senior civil service official, or military officer might sit next to a lowly peasant, worker, farmer, or even a beggar might sit together drinking beer, class differences cast aside. A number of historians have noted this fact.

Today, Munich is still home to a tradition that has grown far from the Theresianwiese to other locations throughout Germany and around the world.

We have visited Munich and gone to der Wiesn for the last five years, but today was the first time that we were here for the opening parade and the ceremonial tapping of the Festbier by the Mayor of Munich in the Hofbrauhaus tent.

After the parade we took seats in the beer garden area of the Hofbrauhaus tent where we had a delightful time with three German retirees, Dora, Ludwig, and Christa, and a mixed group of younger Germans and internationals. We stayed a lot longer than we expected. After we got back to our hotel I went down to the hotel bar watch the Schalke vs. Bayern Munich match. While there I spent the match chatting with two pilots from Qatar Airlines. Bayern won 2-0 and I look forward to Tuesday night when I see them play Augsburg at Allianz Arena.

These are some of the sights of this event.

Tomorrow we will take our rental car and visit historical sites around town which are normally out of the way.

I hope that you enjoy, I know that we are.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under life, Loose thoughts and musings, Travel