Category Archives: crime

Civilization is Tissue Thin: The Uncomfortable Necessity of Understanding Evil

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote, “Nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer; nothing is more difficult than to understand him.”

I think one of our problems is that we want to believe that evil is simply done be evil people. That is why when we see a Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, or the monsters of the so-called Islamic State, we are often strangely comforted. This is often  because we can point to a single person with a wicked ideology and say “they are evil,” all the while forgetting that they are, or were, like us, also human. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn reminds us of the folly of that type of thinking:

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

A few years ago I took a break from my Gettysburg studies and writing and dusted off an old academic paper dealing with the one of the more uncomfortable aspects of the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews. I did that because I felt that I needed to reexamine the nature of evil in the modern world. Since that time I have gone back, done more study, more writing, and made more visits to locations of Nazi evil. I will be doing more of that in the next few weeks as we go back to Germany for an eighteen day visit.

When I ponder the evil committed by supposedly civilized men and women of Germany, I realize that they are little different than others who share the culture of the West. These people were the products of a culture of learning, and of science. They were part of a culture formed by the Christian tradition, the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment, the age of Reason. As I pondered this I came to remember something said by the late Iris Chang, “civilization is tissue thin.”

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Lynching in the American South

That series of articles about the Einsatzgruppen dealt with the ordinary men, and the bureaucratic systems that implemented an ideology so twisted and evil that it is unimaginable to most people. In fact even in the Nazi system the majority of the genocide was not committed in the death camps, but up close and personal by men standing over pits with pistols, rifles, and machine guns.

While most people in the United States know a little about the Holocaust, most do not fully comprehend how devilish and insidious the crimes of the Nazis were. More frightening is the fact that in a 2015 survey 46% of people worldwide have never heard of the Holocaust, and of the 54% who are aware of it some 32% think it is a myth or has been greatly exaggerated. The numbers will only get worse as we become farther removed from these events and the survivors, witnesses, and perpetrators die off. The same is true for other genocidal acts.

We typically know about the extermination camps like Auschwitz, but the lesser known dark side of the Holocaust, perhaps the scariest part, is the story of the men of the Einsatzgruppen. The Einsatzgruppen and affiliated units, including those of the Wehrmacht, the Waffen SS, the mobilized battalions of the Order Police, and locally recruited units, rounded up massive numbers of people and killed them up close and personal. In all these units murdered over two million people, about 1.3 million of whom were Jews.

My study of the Holocaust began in college as an undergraduate. My primary professor at California State University at Northridge, Dr. Helmut Haeussler had been an interpreter and interrogator at the Nuremberg trials. I was able to take a number of lecture classes from him a large amount of research and independent study courses in a year of graduate work while finishing my Army ROTC program at UCLA. It was an immersion in the history, sociology, and the psychology of evil, during which I was able to meet and talk with Jewish survivors of the Holocaust.

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Einsatzgruppen and Ordungspolizei in Russia

Since then I have continued to read and study. I lived in Germany for over four years, and made many other visits, during which I went to a number of Concentration Camp sites. I visited the rebuilt synagogue in Worms which had been destroyed during the infamous Kristallnacht, and other museums and Holocaust memorial sites in Germany. I visited the Zeppelin field, the site of Hitler’s massive Nazi Party rallies in Nuremburg, as well as the graveyards which contain the victims of other Nazi crimes, including the Nacht und Nebel or night and fog actions, where people simply disappeared and were murdered by the Gestapo.

For me, those visits were sobering, maybe even more so because I understood exactly what happened in those sites. These are uncomfortable places to visit, and I can understand why many people would not want to visit them, or even study them.

The darkness that they remind us of  is a part of our human condition. Traces of the evil on display in those places is present in every human being. Frankly, most people cannot bear looking into that abyss, for fear that they might be swallowed by it.

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I can understand that and I have to admit that it is hard to do so. I am a historian as well as a clinician with much experience dealing with death and trauma. With my training I do a pretty good job of keeping my emotional distance to maintain objectivity when confronted with evil. However, it is hard for me not to have some emotional reaction when visiting these places, or reading about the events and people, and in writing about them.

Likewise, I am very troubled by the growing lack or awareness or denial of the Holocaust. It is very hard for me not to have a virulent reaction when I see books and websites dedicated to Holocaust denial, or that minimize other well documented genocides, and crimes against humanity.

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Soviet Mass Killings in Ukraine

My sensitivity to human suffering and the terrible indifference of people in this country to it was greatly increased by my experience of war, and my post-war struggles with PTSD, depression, anxiety, which at points left me very close to committing suicide. A non-chaplain friend, a now retired Navy Command Master Chief Petty Officer that I served with at my last duty station recently remarked that I am a tremendously empathic person, and that I have a large capacity to feel the pain and suffering of others. This capacity for empathy and the ability to feel the suffering of others is part of who I am. It is a good thing, but it makes my work studying and writing about the Holocaust, other genocides, crimes against humanity, and subjects like American slavery, racism, and Jim Crow a sometimes difficult and often very emotionally consuming task. This sometimes leaves me even more sleepless and anxious than normal; especially when I see the indifference of so many people to the suffering of others today.

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The Killing Fields

It is that indifference which motivates me to write; because if these events are not recalled and retold, they, like any part of history will be ignored and then forgotten. The statistics bear this out. There are people today, who say that we should stop talking about these events, that they are old news, and they cannot happen again; but history tells us different, and not just the Holocaust, but indeed every genocide. Then there are those who shamelessly use the Holocaust imagery to spread fear among their followers even as they openly demonize minority groups and religions as the Nazis did to the Jews.

I have to agree with Elie Wiesel who said, “Indifference to me, is the epitome of all evil.”

The late Iris Chang, who wrote The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II wrote something that is pertinent to almost every modern episode of genocide, or other crime against humanity. It is the ability of leaders, be they political, military, or religious to convince people to rationalize actions that they normally would find repulsive.

“After reading several file cabinets’ worth of documents on Japanese war crimes as well as accounts of ancient atrocities from the pantheon of world history, I would have to conclude that Japan’s behavior during World War II was less a product of dangerous people than of a dangerous government, in a vulnerable culture, in dangerous times, able to sell dangerous rationalizations to those whose human instincts told them otherwise.”

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The Islamic State

There are many other such events that we could note; the American decimation and genocide committed against native American tribes that spanned close to two centuries, the 1915 Turkish genocide of Armenians, the Rwandan genocide of 1994, the Serbian atrocities in Bosnia and Kosovo, the Chinese Communist “Great Leap Forward,” the actions of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and the more recent but seldom discussed action of the Myanmar government and military against its Rohingya Muslim minority.

                        Rwandan Genocide 

What we call civilization, to use the words of Iris Chang, is tissue thin. That is why we must never forget these terrible events of history, and that part of human nature, and in a sense part of every one of us, that makes them so easy to repeat. That is why we must periodically take the time to remember and reflect on the Holocaust, other genocides and crimes against humanity.

It is even more important now with the rise of fascist, nationalist, and racist regimes around the world. Even in the United States these demons of the past, racism, nationalism, and fascism have come out into the open as those who believe in them have become emboldened by the words of President Trump and members of his administration.

In fact in trying to clean up his inaction after the violence committed by neo-Nazis and KKK sympathizers in Charlottesville the President first equated the Nazis and Klansmen with the people that they attacked and under pressure made a speech condemning the Nazis and Klansmen. According to Bob Woodward, when a Fox News correspondent said that was an admission that he was almost an admission that he was wrong.” The President exploded at Rob Porter, the aide who convinced him to make the speech: “That was the biggest fucking mistake I’ve made,” the President told Porter. “You never make those concessions. You never apologize. I didn’t do anything wrong in the first place. Why look weak?” A few days later the President returned to the subject and again made the argument of moral equivalence.

Coupled with so many of the President’s words and policies directed against Blacks, Mexicans and Central Americans, Arabs, Africans, and others; as well as his attacks on the First Amendment and his praise and defense of cold blooded dictators around the world one has to take it more seriously.

This is not an issue that simply lurks in the past, it is a very real part of the present. Historian Timothy Snyder wrote:

“The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.”

 

Yes, these are terribly uncomfortable subjects, but we cannot allow this generation to allow them to be forgotten, lest they be repeated. That is why that I must continue to write about them and do my best to make sure that they are not forgotten as we cannot afford to let them happen again.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under crime, culture, ethics, History, holocaust, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary

Mass Murder and Genocide up Close and Personal: The Einsatzgrüppen and Ordungs Polizei in Poland 1939-1940

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Friends  of Padre Steve’s World,

I am a bit late posting today as we have a niece, nephew and their children visiting for the Labor Day holiday. Since I posted a new article about Hitler’s attack on Poland yesterday I am following it up with an older article dealing with Hitler’s use of the Einzastzg

Another section of the article dealing with the campaign of mass murder and genocide conducted by Hitler’s legions in Eastern Europe. This section deals with the actions of the Einsatzgrüppen in during the Polish campaign and occupation in 1939 and 1940. In it you will see that the while most of the killing was done by the SS that the German military high command was not guiltless. Some commanders attempted to stop SS actions, but they were the minority.  Most simply turned a blind eye to what was going on and a few would lend their assistance to the Einsatzgrüppen.

Please note, that all of this took place before the first extermination camps began operations. This killing was done up close and personal by  the men of the Einsatzgruppen and the Police battalions, sometimes with the direct support and approval of the Wehrmacht. In all just a few thousand troops massacred hundreds of thousands of Polish Jews as well as the Polish gentile elites.

It is terribly uncomfortable, for as I always say, these men were little different than most of us, they were terribly ordinary.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Heinrich Himmler

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.” 80

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….” 81 On 22 August Hitler enjoined the generals to “Close your hearts to pity! Act brutally! Eighty million people must obtain what is their right.” 82

Even so, most military leaders failed to appreciate what Hitler was calling on them to do; Erich von Manstein would later 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.” 83

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General Johannes Blaskowitz

Others such as Abwehr director Wilhelm 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.” 84 General Johannes Blaskowitz, the controversial commander of the German 8th Army who would become the military commander in Poland did not leave any notes about the meeting. However, his biographer noted that Blaskowitz “may have naively attached a military meaning to these terms since he was busy with military matters and soon to begin operations.” 85 As was noted before this was also the interpretation of Erich Manstein gave Hitler’s words, but one has to wonder as to the veracity of his statements. 86 Field Marshal Keitel noted that the speech was “delivered in the finest sense of psychological timing and application,” with Hitler molding “his words and phrases to suit his audience.” 87

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 FührerConferences….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.” 88 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.” 89

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.” 90 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. 91

Himmler began planning in early May and the Army, working in close collaboration with the SS decided to “use SS and police units to augment their own forces for security tasks.” 92 Himmler established “five Einsatzgrüppen to accompany each of the numbered German armies at the start of the campaign.” 93 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 SD, the Sicherhietsdienst. 94

Two additional Einsatzgrüppen were formed shortly after the invasion. 95Additionally three regiments of the SS Totenkopfverbandeunder 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. 96 The SS carefully shielded the real purpose of these units from the Army in the planning stages, while the Army might countenance anti-guerrilla operations and cooperate in arresting people who might lead resistance in Poland, the SS was not yet sure that the Army would support or countenance mass murder. 97 That being said, Heydrich worked with the Army to develop lists of up to 30,000 Poles to be arrested following the invasion including intellectuals, political leaders and clergy. 98

To eliminate the Polish elites without disturbing the Army, Himmler and Heydrich gave the Army “only the bare minimum of information” as to their ultimate intent99 The deception was initially successful and many Wehrmacht commanders welcomed the assistance of the SS units for rear area security missions. 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…” 100 General Wagner, the Quartermaster General 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 once it began, and had the Army had the political acumen and moral courage it could have considerably restricted or even halted the terror campaign. 101

The ensuing campaign in Poland demonstrated Hitler’s true intent. Heydrich openly discussed “murdering the Polish ruling class” of the aristocracy, Catholic clergy, communists and Jews at a meeting on September 7th, barely a week after the beginning of the invasion. 102 As the German armies advanced into Poland slicing through the badly deployed and inadequately equipped Polish Army the Einsatzgruppen and the 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 guerrilla campaign has broken out everywhere and we are ruthlessly stamping it out.” 103

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Ordungspolizei Battalion preparing for Mass Murder

Yet some of the actions by Einsatzgruppen and Totenkopf Verbandeagainst 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.” 104 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.” 105

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 a few other commanders attempted to put a halt to SS actions against Poles and Jews, 106 but most officers turned a blind eye to the atrocities or outright condoned them. It is believed that General Walter Model and many other senior officers “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.”” 107

It appears that many of the officers who objected were not motivated so much by humanitarian, moral or legal considerations, but rather by the effect on good order and discipline of their soldiers. 108 Likewise it is clear that many officers, even if they did not participate in the actions probably approved of them. Many of the early biographies and histories of this period were written by authors who were influenced by surviving German officers. Many of these men were being rehabilitated and helping the Americans and British meet the threat of the Soviet Union, made no or little mention of the Army’s part in these actions.

Both 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 orders of Hitler himself, They also resented that their troops were characterized as “undisciplined gangs of murderers” by many Army officers. 109

After crushing the Polish armies and dividing Poland with the help of the Red Army, the Germans established what became known as the Government General, which was headed by Hans Frank. The new civilian administration came into conflict with the military governor, General Blaskowitz. Appalled by the actions of the SS, Police and the Nazi administration. Blaskowitz made an “elaborate report on the atrocities of the SS,” 110 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.” 111

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 was not impressed by the less than ruthless attitudes of Blaskowitz and other commanders. His reaction to Army objections regarding the methods of the SS and police units was characteristically acidic. Hitler’s military adjutant recalled that Hitler accused the Army’s leaders of using “Salvation Army” methods, and called their ideas regarding the occupation as “childish.” 112

Following the reassignment of Blaskowitz, other officers that objected were also relieved of their commands or reassigned. General Georg von Külcher was relieved of command for protesting SS and police atrocities. 113

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At the beginning of the campaign the SS units and their commanders fell under military justice, and a number of SS officers and their troops were convicted by Army courts-martial for their actions. But soon, SS Officers convicted by Army courts-martial were given amnesty by Hitler and Hitler “removed SS units from the jurisdiction of military courts,” on October 4th 1939. 114 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. In November 1939, One German officer, who later was a conspirator in the July 20th plot, remarked, “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…” 115

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The Army was soon relieved of responsibility for policing Poland which fell on the Ordungspolizei battalions and Gendarmerie. Many officers were pleased as they could now turn their backs on the situation there and begin to prepare for the campaign in the West.

The Ordungspolizei battalions and the Gendarmerie units were composed of mobilized city police and rural constabulary police. These men would soon wreak their own devastation on Poland in the coming months and years. 116Poland was also be the first use of mass evacuations of civilian populations to make room for German settlers, in the newly acquired Lebensraum. 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 German had lost in 1919. 117

Prior to the war about 3.3 million Jews lived in Poland. The actions of the Einsatzgruppen and the Police brought a reign of terror to Poland’s Jews. The Jews were rounded up and sent to Ghettos from which they would be dispatched to the death camps following the decision to implement the “Final Solution.”After the war only some 50-70,000 Jews were found to have survived in Poland, the Polish Army and camps in Germany. A further 180,000 were repatriated from the Soviet Union. 118

To be continued….

Notes

80 Ibid. Weinberg. Visions of Victory p.8
81 Ibid. Goerlitz, History of the German General Staff p.346
82 Höhne, Heinze. The Order of the Death’s Head: The Story of Hitler’s SS. Translated by Richard Barry. PenguinBooks, 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

83 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

84 Ibid. Hohne. Canaris p.347

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

86 Ibid. Manstein. Lost Victories p.29

87 Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Keitel p.87

88 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

89 Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.13

90 Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p.297

91 Padfield, Peter. Himmler. MJF Books, New York 1990 p.264

92 Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.13

93 Ibid. Westermann. Hitler’s Police Battalions p.127

94 Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p.297 95 Ibid. Westermann. Hitler’s Police Battalions p.127 96 Ibid. Sydnor Soldiers of Destruction p.37

97 Ibid. Giziowski Blaskowitz p.120

98 Ibid. Witte. The Wehrmacht p.100

99 Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head pp. 297-298

100 Ibid. Giziowski Blaskowitz p.120

101 Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p.298

102 Ibid. Witte. The Wehrmacht p.100

103 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

104 Ibid. Giziowski. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz pp.165-166

105 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.

106 Ibid. Goerlitz. History of the German General Staff p.359

107 Ibid. Newton. Hitler’s Commander p.78

108 Ibid. Witte The Wehrmacht p.102

109 Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p.298

110 Ibid. Goerlitz. History of the German General Staff .p.359 111 Ibid. Giziowski. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz p.173 112 Ibid. Giziowski. TheEnigma of General Blaskowitz p.173

113 Ibid. Witte The Wehrmacht p.102

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

115 Ibid. Witte The Wehrmacht p.102

116 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

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

118 Ibid. Davidowicz The War Against the Jews pp.395-397

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Filed under crime, ethics, History, holocaust, Military, nazi germany, Political Commentary, world war two in europe

The Freedom Summer and Southern Justice: A Lesson for Us Today


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Norman Rockwell’s “Southern Justice” 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have had a very stressful week regarding something that happened last month that I may write about in the future. All is well now but the events of the past week have caused me to do some more reflection on the state of our society today. So tonight I am going back to the vault to reflect on the killings of three young civil rights workers during the Freedom Summer of 1964. Their brutal murders by Ku Klux Klan members aided and abetted by law enforcement officials was memorialized in Norman Rockwell’s painting Southern Justice and dramatized in the film Mississippi Burning. It is import that we remember this because the ideology and spirit of their killers is rising again in too many places in this country, and not just in the South, but in the White House and the Justice Department. 

Please never forget their sacrifice and why it is important to fight for real justice. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

Fifty-four years ago three young men working to register blacks to vote as part of the Freedom Summer in Mississippi were brutally murdered by members of the Ku Klux Klan.

The men, twenty year old Andrew Goodman from New York City, was a progressive activist and Anthropology student at Queens College. Twenty-four year old Mickey Schwerner was a graduate student at Columbia University’s School of Social Work. Both Goodman and Schwerner were Jewish. Twenty-one year old James Chaney was from Meridian Mississippi and was a volunteer with CORE, the Congress of Racial Equity working on voter registration and education with local churches.

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On June 21st 1964 the three men were in Philadelphia Mississippi where they were investigating the burning of Mount Zion Methodist Church which had been working with CORE in the town. In the wake of that many black citizens and church members were beaten by whites, and they accused Sheriff’s Deputy Cecil Price of abuse.

The three were arrested for an alleged traffic violation, jailed and released that evening without being allowed to make any phone calls. On the way back to Meridian, two carloads of Klan members forced them over, abducted them and killed them. The bodies were not discovered for 44 days. Their disappearance brought national attention and a major investigation to the town. Eventually seven men, including deputy Price were convicted of the murders. The murders and the investigation became the subject of the movie Mississippi Burning.

Rockwell, well known for his portraits of American life and the Civil Rights movement painted “Southern Justice” which is sometimes known as “Murder in Mississippi” in 1965. This was not long after passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1964, which has been under attack in many southern states over the past decade and had a key provision gutted by the Supreme Court last year.

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52 years ago the murders of these three young men brought national attention to the pervasive racism and discrimination in the country. So many murders, lynchings and burnings of homes businesses and that went before had been covered up by the media. I do hope and pray that we never go back to those days, but as laws are passed to limit voting rights in various states I wonder if the clock will be turned back. I don’t thing that it will in the long run, but the sacrifice of so many for those rights should never be forgotten.

I post this in memory of Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Mickey Schwerner and others of the Freedom Summer and the Civil Rights movement who died or suffered to peacefully bring about change to our society. I also post it as a reminder and a warning to us today that the same spirit that enabled men to murder them in cold blood for fighting for the rights of others is still present today. It is the duty of every American who believes in the proposition of the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…” to oppose that spirit or be morally complicit in the crimes that are being and will be committed in the name of White supremacy.

Until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, crime, History, News and current events, Political Commentary

Reflections on Life as an Authoritarian State Arises

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

We are visiting friends in the Washington DC area as we get ready to celebrate our wedding anniversary Monday. It is nice to be relaxing with each other, another friend who is down from Pennsylvania and combined flock of 12 Papillon dogs, three of which are ours. Everyone but me has now gone to their bedrooms while I sip a glass of McClelland’s Highland Single Malt Scotch Whiskey with my little boy Pierre at my side, all 4.8 pounds of him. That’s a good thing.

Since tomorrow’s weather forecast is for continued rain I will probably watch World Cup games, read and spend time with Judy, our friends and the Papillons. If the weather is good Sunday Monday hope to take Judy to the Smithsonian Museum of American History. Monday night we will celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary with our friends. Depending on the weather I hope to get some decent runs and walks in along the Potomac River.

Likewise, despite all that is going on try to take a break from the incessant pounding of crises manufactured by the President and the chaos that he uses to increase his personal power over his administration, the Congress, the media, and yes all of us. Sadly, none of this is going away anytime soon and it will likely become much worse before it gets better; such is the nature of fledgling dictatorships. Even today he demonized all immigrants as criminals and their supporters as being against the rule of law and his supporters applaud as the leaders of his political party cower before him. Eric Hoffer wrote:

Should Americans begin to hate foreigners wholeheartedly, it will be an indication that they have lost confidence in their own way of life.

The words and actions of the President and his supporters bear this out, they claim to be making America great again but they are destroying the very fabric of the ideals on which the nation was founded.

He did this as his administration and immigration agencies imprisons thousands of children, refuses to reunite them with their families, makes plans for camps on military bases to house nearly 150,000 immigrants, sets up checkpoints on American highways demanding that travelers have proof of citizenship, details military JAG officers with no experience in immigration law to serve as Acting US Attorneys to prosecute immigrants.

At a publicity stunt Friday the President compared all immigrants from south of the border to criminals by parading the survivors of people killed by illegals and spouting absolute lies about the number of crimes committed by immigrants, legal and illegal alike. He then took the time to sign his name on the pictures of the victims of those crimes.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a tremendous amount of compassion for the victims of any violent crime. I have stood over the bodies of men, women, and children killed by the bullets of criminals and tried to console their survivors. I did that so many times that I have lost count of the number.

Likewise I have been the victim of violent crime. I was held up at gunpoint with my wife and her family when we were dating and had a pistol pointed at my head as I sat in the back seat of a car unable to go after the gunman without risking the lives of Judy and her parents. I have also had my liefe threatened by White Supremacist for things that I have written, one that was so specific that I reported it to both the local police and the FBI. But in all cases the people who attacked or threatened me were native born Americans.

In the President’s view if you are killed by a dark skinned immigrant your families are called “Angel Families” but if you are killed by an American you and your family do not exist because you serve no political purpose. That my friends is a fact and the statistics show that far more violent crimes are committed by Americans than all immigrants and most actual cases of domestic terrorism in the United States are committed by White Supremacists, and mass murders including those at schools, businesses, entertainment venues, churches or other places of worship are committed by White people, not immigrants. But those go largely unheralded by the President, except for incidental tweets that express thoughts and prayers and praise of law enforcement.

But that is how incipient dictatorships behave. Certain groups are targets, demonized and compared to the worst examples. In the parlance of Trump they are all murderers, rapists, terrorists, gang members, and drug dealers. This behavior runs rampant in dictatorships and authoritarian states. The President has persistently and insidiously invoked that immigrants are evil. Hoffer wrote:

“Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” 

That has been happening since the day that President Trump announced his candidacy for President and it is no secret. Mexicans were the first devil of his campaign, and he called them criminals, murderers and rapists on the day that he announced his candidacy. The videos of his speeches, his manifold number of Tweets, and the actions of his administration are all too widely available not to be found by anyone seeking the truth about him, but for his most fervent supporters all of those facts are fake, even if he said them in front of millions of people.

Now, events in the United States and at our borders have shown that the President was absolutely correct about his followers when he said that they would continue “to follow him even if he shot somebody on 5th Avenue.”

My friends, it is not going to get any better and we better be ready for what comes next or we will be swept away in the flood of lies and evil to come. Despite his buffoonery, one cannot underestimate the potential evil of the President and his followers. Likewise do not assume that a Blue Wave will happen in November because there may be events that occur which will allow the President to use executive orders enacted by his predecessors during the height of the Cold War and the potential of nuclear war to postpone elections or rule by decree. I refer to this as a Reichstag Fire moment.

Historian Timothy Snyder wrote in his book On Tyranny:

“Modern tyranny is terror management. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that authoritarians exploit such events in order to consolidate power. The sudden disaster that requires the end of checks and balances, the dissolution of opposition parties, the suspension of freedom of expression, the right to a fair trial, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Do not fall for it.”

We live in a very perilous time where the vision of our founders could be overturned in the blink of an eye and our Republic, as flawed as it is, but always has embraced the ideal of building a more perfect union will perish from the face of the earth. The nation and people may remain, but the ideal will be gone and with it the Republic.

So until tomorrow or the next post, have a good day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Leak: Why Mark Felt Became Deep Throat

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Back in 2012 I was asked to do a review of Max Holland’s book about Watergate Leak: Why Mark Felt Became Deep Throat. It think that the book is very pertinent today and well worth the read for anyone immersed in the daily revelations of numerous members of the Trump campaign and administration. The sheer number of these allegations, not to mention the number of convictions and plea deals already racked up by the Muller investigation demonstrates the seriousness of the allegations while the web of connections to the fact of Russian meddling in the 2016 demands answers. That being said we need to look back at the history of the Nixon administration to help us understand what is going on today.

So I am posting my review that I published for TLC Book Reviews on June 12th 2012. The review is exactly how I wrote it with no editing for today. I recommend the book to my readers. 

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

Motives do matter and actions often have unintended consequences. That is the lesson of Max Holland’s book about Mark Felt. Felt was the man whose leaks helped end the Presidency of Richard Nixon and skyrocket the young and obscure Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to fame. For more than three decades Mark Felt’s identity remained hidden a mystery man to the public, a man popularized by the dark moniker “Deep Throat.” His role as the leaker was suspected by some, including President Nixon and some of his staff but known only for sure by Woodward, Bernstein and Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlee.

In this truly scholarly book Max Holland pieces together the dark underside of the Watergate tapestry that Woodward and Bernstein helped to break in 1972 and would go on to write about in All the President’s Men and The Final Days. It is a book that is important because it is the first account to seriously explore the motivation of Mark Felt when he began to leak and the background story of the monumental post J. Edgar Hoover FBI power struggle.  That story which in normal times would have been a major story was missed in an era where the country was in turmoil and there were so many other “big” stories to cover.

Taking advantage of more recent revelations, disclosures and evidence Holland paints a picture that not only broadens one’s understanding of Watergate but helps the reader understand how important it is to understand the motivations of those that were involved, Nixon and his staff, Felt and other FBI officials and the media.

The picture painted by Holland of Felt makes his role in the story more understandable. Felt was not the altruistic leaker of myth who sought to destroy the Nixon Presidency, something that was the picture painted by Woodward and Bernstein. His motivations were much more down to earth. He wanted to use his knowledge to ensure that he became Hoover’s successor as the Director of the FBI. He used it to destroy L. Patrick Gray who served as the interim Director and his chief rival in the Bureau William C. “Bill” Sullivan in the eyes of the White House, Congress, the Bureau and the media. Felt’s leaks helped blow the lid off of the White House cover up of the Watergate break-in and which led to the resignation of President Nixon and the conviction of a number of his closest advisors. Felt’s duplicity which included deceiving the Administration, Congress, his superiors and the media with falsehoods even as he revealed key truths is amazing to behold.

The picture that Holland paints of the White House is not pretty. The moral depravity and ruthlessness of Nixon and his advisors is shown without dehumanizing them.  In fact they become more human in Holland’s account.  Likewise Holland’s portrayal of other key figures in Felt’s story at the FBI, L. Patrick Gray, William Ruckelshaus and William Sullivan is compelling. The naive and compliant Gray, Felt’s bitter rival Sullivan and the “sweeper” (to use the term given to Harvey Keitel’s character Winston “the Wolf” Wolfe in Pulp Fiction) Ruckelshaus who helps to “sweep” Felt out of the FBI.

But the most interesting part of the book for me is Holland’s portrayal of Woodward and Bernstein. They are young and idealistic and Woodward believes whatever Felt tells him, including deliberate misinformation. What jumped out at me was their willingness to take at face value what Felt told them and not to explore his motivations which could have led to even more revelations that could have shaken the FBI to its core.  Likewise was Woodward’s willingness to press the limits with information provided by Felt going beyond what Felt demanded for secrecy but which Felt, even though upset by the reporter continued to provide information cumulating in his long and rambling confession to Woodward following his retirement under pressure on May 16th 1973.

They, particularly Woodward did not ask themselves the three key questions that anyone should ask when someone comes to them with this kind of information: Why this? Why this information. Why Me?  Why am I being chosen to receive the information. Why Now? Why is the source telling me this information now. Those three questions could have blown the case open even more had they explored them. Of course they were caught up in the chase for “scoops” with rivals at the New York Times, The Washington Sun and Time Magazine and chose to believe what Felt told them, something that occasionally left them hanging when the information was wrong.

Conversely Felt’s distain and lack of respect for the media and the belief that he could use Woodward, Bernstein and others in the media to further his goals with impunity proved false. He became careless and caused the Nixon Administration to suspect him and work to force him out of the FBI without drawing more attention to themselves.

Holland also covers the “cover-up” of “Deep Throat’s identity which was maintained by Felt, Woodward and Bernstein until Felt was in the beginning stages of dementia and his family was ready to reveal his role.  The dual myths of Deep Throat’s motives and the role of the press as the “men in the  white hats” against the evil bad guys in the White House are exposed by Holland who points out how much of the investigation broken by Woodward and Bernstein was being accomplished by FBI agents and appointed to investigate the break-in and staff members at the Committee to Re-Elect the President who were appalled by the illegality of what they saw being done by their superiors.

The book is excellently sourced and researched. It is a compelling narrative that sheds light on a dark period of our nation’s history which also serves as a reminder to those who investigate “leaks” from well placed sources that there is always another layer of motivation and intent that cannot be discounted and must be factored into the investigation.

This is relevant today as the media, Congress and the the Justice Department investigate leaks from inside the Obama White House regarding national security information. Why This? Why Me? Why Now? Those are the questions. Thanks to Max Holland we now know much of what transpired behind the scenes as Woodward and Bernstein investigated and published their accounts of the Watergate break-in and cover up with the information provided by Mark Felt.

The book Leak: How Mark Felt Became Deep Throat is published by the University of Kansas Press and is available at http://www.amazon.com/Leak-Mark-Felt-Became-Throat/dp/0700618295/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1339544616&sr=8-1&keywords=leak

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“The Coexistence of Normality and Bottomless Cruelty” Timothy McVeigh and the Terrorist Next Door

murrah bombing

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Just a short note to close out the work week. Amid all the political drama surrounding President Trump, James Comey, and the release of the Comey memos this week, one thing that was overlooked by most people was the anniversary of the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols in 1995.

I don’t think that I could ever forget the day. I was working as a hospital ER department chaplain where I worked a 3:00-11:00 shift and usually didn’t get to bed until one or two in the morning. I was also a Chaplain in the Army National Guard. Not long after I got up I turned on the news and was drinking my coffee when the news about the bombing flashed across the screen. I was stunned, especially when I found out that the bombers were Americans, and both former soldiers. I could not imagine American soldiers turning their hatred agains the government into an act of terrorism.

They killed 168 people, including babies and young children in the day care center were killed, hundreds of others wounded. McVeigh and Nichols were part of the anti-government so-called “militia” movement that still exists in parts of this country, of which the Bundy family, which occupied a Federal Wildlife Sanctuary in 2016 in order to bring about a revolt against the government is part.

Sadly, there are such people who would do the same today if given the chance. As this attack shows, most of them are not Islamic terrorists, but some are plain old Americans, people you might see in the grocery store or at the gas station. Some belong to the White Supremacist and Neo-Nazi Alt-Right, others to heavily armed self-appointed “militia” groups, and still others simply deluded followers of conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones. Members of all of these groups or movements have committed violent acts or have been stopped from doing so by the work of the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.

What is scary is that almost all of them repeat the same words, thoughts and ideology that McVeigh wrote about before and after the attack. In the end McVeigh rationalized his violence and defended his actions, never showing any hint of remorse for his victims, they were simply collateral damage, and the children he killed, a distraction from his message. Those that interviewed him said that he seemed completely normal and it was hard for them to reconcile his normalcy with what he did and his attitude toward his victims.

Reading his words and what others observed about him reminded me of what the Israeli court psychologist who interviewed Adolf Eichmann noted about Eichmann. Hannah Arendt recounted it:

“The Israeli court psychiatrist who examined Eichmann found him a “completely normal man, more normal, at any rate, than I am after examining him,” the implication being that the coexistence of normality and bottomless cruelty explodes our ordinary conceptions and present the true enigma of the trial.” 

I find it sad to see others like McVeigh doing their damnedest to impugn the character, honor and work of the men and women of the FBI. Unfortunately they have found a friend in President Trump who impugns the honor, decency, and loyalty of the FBI, members of the Justice Department, and Federal Judges; not to mention his political enemies and the free press.

So let’s never forget the events of that terrible morning and remember that to paraphrase Arendt using McVeigh instead of Eichmann:

The trouble with McVeigh was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted or sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. 

Until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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No One Will Be Spared: Beleaguered Sessions Fires McCabe

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

On Friday Night Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe just hours from his retirement. I expected this because of the incredible pressure being put upon him in public, and probably in private to dispatch McCabe. Last night McCabe maintained his innocence of any wrongdoing. For months President Trump has led the chorus of condemnation against McCabe so I am not at all surprised that the last minute firing was an act of personal vengeance by Trump calculated to instill fear in the heart of anyone in the FBI or Justice Department that dares to oppose him or investigate his actions in relation to Russia or any other potential crimes committed by him or his administration.

To do this to McCabe he used Attorney General Jeff Sessions who has been the constant whipping boy of the President for recusing himself in the Muller investigation. It is believed that because of the President’s personal antipathy to Sessions because of his perceived “lack of personal loyalty” means that the the Attorney General will also soon be gone. Sessions may have acted against McCabe to spare his own job and prove his loyalty but I am sure that it will not be enough to save him.

I was reminded of two incidents following the failed attempt on Hitler’s life on July 20th 1944. The first was General Erich Fromm when he ordered the spot execution of Colonel Claus Von Stauffenberg, General Friedrich Olbricht, Lieutenant Colonel Albrecht Mertz Von Quirnheim, and Lieutenant Werner Von Haeften.

Fromm had known of the plans for the coup but would neither declare himself for it nor expose it. When it failed he rapidly declared himself for Hitler but to cover his tracks disobeyed orders to take the men alive ordered their execution and is told that he will not escape.

That moment is depicted in the 2008 film Valkyrie:

Von Haeften : You’re as guilty as any of us.

Fromm: [scoffing]  Spare me, Lieutenant.

Stauffenberg: No one will be spared.

Stauffenberg was correct. Two days later Fromm was arrested and interrogated. He was discharged from the Army in September 1944, tried before the Volksgericht and convicted of cowardice before the enemy. He was executed on March 12th 1945.

Sessions should have known better and in firing McCabe has given up any shred of honor that he might have retained during his tenure as Attorney General.

Likewise I thought about the words of Field Marshal Erwin Von Witzleben before Judge Roland Freisler and the Volksgericht following the July 20th 1944 attempt on Hitler’s life. Freisler was one of the most notorious of all the Nazis using his People’s Court, which was separate from the regular judicial system to viciously humiliate the accused before sentencing most (90%) to death. During his reign he personally pronounced the death sentence on over 5000 German citizens including distinguished military personnel, civil servants, and opponents of the regime including many people connected with the July 20th plot, as well as Sophie Scholl and the other members of the White Rose resistance.

After his death sentence was pronounced Von Witzleben who had been one of the earliest military opponents of Hitler used his last moments in public to tell Freisler:

“You may hand us over to the executioner, but in three months time, the disgusted and harried people will bring you to book and drag you alive through the dirt in the streets.” At their trial in February 1943 Sophie and Hans Scholl were convicted for having “published leaflets at a time of war, calling for people to sabotage armaments, and to overthrow our people’s National Socialist way of life. They propagated defeatist ideas and visciously insulted the Fuhrer.”

Hans Scholl told the court: “If you and Hitler weren’t afraid of our opinion, we wouldn’t be here.” Sophie told Freisler, “You will soon be standing where we stand now.”

Freisler was spared that ignominy when he was killed by an American bomb which destroyed his courtroom.

But the Nazi regime which had so twisted law and Justice that it was no longer recognizable ended up on the ash heap of history, leaving Germany devastated. Unless the Trump administration changes its ways it will do the same to the United States.

Luise Jodl, the wife of General Alfred Jodl was working at the Lützow Hospital when Freisler’s body was brought in, recalled that a worker commented, “It is God’s verdict.” According to Mrs. Jodl, “Not one person said a word in reply.”

I believe that when Sessions falls to Trump that few will mourn for him. He should have remembered the words of Stauffenberg, no one will be spared.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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