Category Archives: germany

Dachau: The Nazi Model Camp For Extrajudicial Imprisonment, Murder, Medical Experiments and More

 

 

 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

After the past week or so of being verbally attacked by White Supremacists, Holocaust Deniers, and other haters, I took the time to re-watch the movies “Mississippi Burning” which is about the Killing of three civil rights workers and the attempt to find their bodies and killers in 1964, and the film “Denial” which is based on Holocaust Historian having to defend herself again a libel charge in a British Court brought by the Hitler loving and Holocaust denying pseudo-historian and author David Irving. Both films helped me redouble my efforts to prevent such things from happening by telling the truth. So tonight I begin a series of articles about the Concentration Camps, the Wannsee Conference, and the Death Camps. I will probable take a few detours into other Nazi avenues of death, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, as well as the various war crimes trials. Tonight I begin with Dachau, the model camp which birthed others like it, and the death camps of 1942-1944. 

On March 20th 1933, barely a month and a half after the Nazi takeover of the German government and three days before the passage of the Enabling Act the Police President Of Munich, SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler ordered the establishment of the Dachau Concentration Camp. He appointed SS Standartenführer Hilmar Wäckerle as Commandant and the first 200 political prisoners from Munich’s Stadelheim prison arrived at Dachau on March 22nd.

Dachau’s Main thoroughfare in 1938

Wäckerle’s brief tenure as Commandant was marked by extraordinary brutality on the part of his staff, so much so that charges were brought against him by the Munich courts which resulted in his relief by SS Gruppenführer Theodore Eicke in July 1933. Eicke would establish the regulations which governed all the later Concentration Camps, and make Dachau the model camp for all others.

Theodore Eiche

Theodore Eicke, Second Commandant of Dachau and Chief Designer of Terror

Among the later SS killers of the Holocaust who served at Dachau were Adolf Eichmann, and the Commandant of Auschwitz, Rüdolf Höss. It became a training ground for other Concentration Camp commanders and staff. Others would become leaders in the Waffen SS and the Einsatzgruppen death squads.

Dachau 1938 

The announcement of Dachau’s Opening was reported by the German press in this release:

On Wednesday the first concentration camp is to be opened in Dachau with an accommodation for 5000 people. ‘All Communists and—where necessary—Reichsbanner and Social Democratic functionaries who endanger state security are to be concentrated here, as in the long run it is not possible to keep individual functionaries in the state prisons without overburdening these prisons, and on the other hand these people cannot be released because attempts have shown that they persist in their efforts to agitate and organize as soon as they are released.

The order was unprecedented, for Dachau operated extrajudicially, not as an organ of the Star, but as an organ of the Nazi Party. Many of the prisoners had been tried and acquitted in the German Court system, but the Gestapo was waiting for them when they left the court or the prisons where they were being held and transported to Dachau or other Concentration Camps without having been tried, sentenced, or given a sentence that indicated how long they would be incarcerated.

Dachau 2017, the Gate and the Headquarters Building 

Dachau began as a political prisoner camp for the Nazis to imprison Socialists, Communists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, some Jews, and other dissidents. It wasn’t a “death camp” designed to exterminate people even though tens of thousands of people died or were executed there.

Guard Tower 2017

It was designed to terrorize, dehumanize, and destroy the souls of its inmates. It was a place of inhuman medical experiments, which used the inmates in human experiments designed to improve the chances of German airman and other military personnel at the expense of the lives of the prisoners. Most were subjected to high altitude tests in a chamber that mimicked the effects of oxygen deprivation at high altitudes and what could be done to treat those suffering from it, as well as freezing and body cooling experiments where again prisoners were used to attempt to find best method of rewarding their bodies from freezing water temperatures. In all cases, any prisoner who survived the experiments was euthanized. The head of many of these experiments was SS and Luftwaffe Dr. Sigmund Rascher. At Dachau Rascher conducted hundreds of experiments on prisoners. Those selected for the hypothermia tests were forced to remain outdoors naked in freezing weather for up to 14 hours, or kept in a tank of icewater for three hours, their pulse and internal temperature measured through a series of electrodes. Warming of the victims was then attempted by different methods, most usually and successfully by immersion in hot water; at least one witness, an assistant to some of these procedures, later testified that some victims were thrown into boiling water for rewarming.

A Victim of Racher’s Freezing (above) and High Altitude Experiments (below)

Rascher, with Himmler’s permission also conducted experiments with poison injections of cyanide, or gas in Dachau’s gas chamber.


Dachau’s Gas Chamber and Crematorium 

Unlike those in the Poland explicitly used to murder mass numbers of Jews, Dachau’s chamber was used for experiments on limited numbers of prisoners. One of the prisoner doctors, Dr. Franciszek Blaha, a Communist prisoner from Czechoslovakia, testified at Nuremberg:

“Numerous executions with gas, by shooting or injections were carried out in the camp itself. The gas chamber was completed in 1944 and I was called by Dr. Rascher to examine the first victims. Out of the eight or nine persons in the room, three were still alive, the rest appeared to be dead. Their eyes were red and their faces swollen. Later on, many inmates were killed in this way. Subsequently they were moved to the crematorium where I was to check their teeth for gold. The teeth containing gold were extracted. Many inmates who were ill, were killed by injections while in the hospital. Some of the inmates who had been killed there, came into the autopsy room without a name of number on the label that was usually tied to their big toe. Instead, “no autopsy” was written on the label. I carried out post mortems on some of them and discovered they had been completely healthy but had died from injections. Sometimes inmates were killed just because they has dysenteria or because they had vomitted and were causing too much trouble for the nurses. Mental patients were liquidated by taking them to the gas chamber where they were either injected or shot. Shooting was a customary method of execution. Inmates could be shot right outside the crematorium and taken inside. I have seen people being pushed into the ovens, still breathing and making noises, although when they were still too much alive they were usually beaten on their heads.“ 

Rascher Supervising a Freezing Water Experiment in 1942 

Dachau was a place of terror, and the administrative center of a network of over 30 large and 100 small sub-Camps which were used as sources of slave labor for the German armaments industry. As the war broke out and continued, the SS rented prisoners to German industrial giants, many with plants in the Munich area.

Prisoners working on Construction  Projects 1938 (above) and at BMW aircraft engine plants near Munich during the war


Obergrüppenfuhrer Oswald  Pöhl, Head of the SS Industrial Concerns

But one has to remember that the SS was not simply an instrument of terror, but an institution devoted to profit. Prisoners were valued in what their lives equated in profits. A prisoner was valued in what he or her could produce versus the expenses of keeping them alive for a period of 6 to 12 months. Under Himmler and his assistant for production and profits, Obergrüppenfuhrer Oswald  Pöhl the Concentration Camps, as well as the death camps became centers of profit for the SS in collaboration with German industrial concerns and industries owned by the SS itself.

There were many other crimes against humanity committed at Dachau, and it provided the commanders to other camps including Auschwitz, where Rudolf Höss ran a hybrid camp, part regular Concentration Camp and labor camp, with connections to SS run or private industrial corporations, as well as a camp where Medical experiments were conducted by Josef Mengele, as well as a death camp at which over a million people, primarily Jews, were exterminated in gas chambers that could accommodate up to 2,000 people in one operation. When asked about the operations at Auschwitz Höss, who had been called by the Defense at Nuremberg to give Earnest Kaltenbrunner an alibi for not visiting Auschwitz, was cross examined by the prosecution. His answers were damning, not only to him but to the entire Concentration Camp  system stated:

“when I was appointed Commandant of Auschwitz. I commanded Auschwitz until 1 December 1943, and estimate that at least 2,500,000 victims were executed and exterminated there by gassing and burning, and at least another half million succumbed to starvation and disease making a total dead of about 3,000,000. This figure represents about 70 or 80 percent of all persons sent to Auschwitz as prisoners, the remainder having been selected and used for slave labor in the concentration camp industries; included among the executed and burned were approximately 20,000 Russian prisoners of war (previously screened out of prisoner-of-war cages by the Gestapo) who were delivered at Auschwitz in Wehrmacht transports operated by regular Wehrmacht officers and men. The remainder of the total number of victims included about 100,000 German Jews, and great Numbers of citizens, mostly Jewish, from Holland, France, Belgium, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Greece, or other countries. We executed about 400,000 Hungarian Jews alone at Auschwitz in the summer of 1944… 

The ‘final solution’ of the Jewish question meant the complete extermination of all Jews in Europe. I was ordered to establish extermination facilities at Auschwitz in June 1941. At that time, there were already in the General Government three other extermination camps: Belzek, Treblinka, and Wolzek. These camps were under the Einsatzkommando of the Security Police and SD. I visited Treblinka to find out how they carried out their exterminations. The camp commandant at Treblinka told me that he had liquidated 80,000 in the course of onehalf 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 Cyklon B. which was a crystallized prussic acid which we dropped into the death chamber from a small opening. It took from 3 to 15 minutes to kill the people in the death chamber, depending upon climatic conditions. We knew when the people were dead because their screaming stopped. We usually waited about onehalf hour before we opened the doors and removed the bodies. After the bodies were removed our special Kommandos took off the rings and extracted the gold from the teeth of the corpses…

Another improvement we made over Treblinka was that we built our gas chamber to accomodate 2,000 people at one time whereas at Treblinka their 10 gas chambers only accommodated 200 people each. The way we selected our victims was as follows: We had two SS doctors on duty at Auschwitz to examine the incoming transports of prisoners. The prisoners would be marched by one of the doctors who would make spot decisions as they walked by. Those who were fit for work were sent into the camp. Others were sent immediately to the extermination plants. Children of tender years were invariably exterminated since by reason of their youth they were unable to work. Still another improvement we made over Treblinka was that at Treblinka the victims almost always knew that they were to be exterminated and at Auschwitz we endeavored to fool the victims into thinking that they were to go through a delousing process. Of course, frequently they realized our true intentions and we sometimes had riots and difficulties due to that fact. Very frequently women would hide their children under the clothes, but of course when we found them we would send the children in to be exterminated. We were required to carry out these exterminations in secrecy but of course the foul and nauseating stench from the continuous burning of bodies permeated…” 

Höss had learned well at Dachau. He learned to follow his orders without question, and was willing to speak of his crimes in open court.

Himmler Visiting a Camp before the war. 

I have been to Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, Flossenburg, and Buchenwald. I have also been to the T4 Euthanasia Center at Hadamar. To walk through these places where human beings subjected other people to the most inhuman of conditions, punishments, and torture brings the reality of the Holocaust into stark reality. The great evil committed by the Nazis in these places have made them hallowed ground.

Sadly, the way things are going in this country under the Trump Regime, and so many similar regimes around the world there will probably many more places of hallowed ground, ground hallowed by the lives and blood of the victims of tyranny. Yesterday, President Trump suggested that He agreed with extrajudicial killings by police or others. Of course such a policy if enacted by the President it would defy every principle in the Constitution and in American jurisprudence. It would be a dictatorial action, illegal and criminal in any Western Nation.

Never forget the words of Yehuda Bauer:

“The horror of the Holocaust is not that it deviated from human norms; the horror is that it didn’t. What happened may happen again, to others not necessarily Jews, perpetrated by others, not necessarily Germans. We are all possible victims, possible perpetrators, possible bystanders.”

So please, never forget, especially when we have a President who indicated that he is in favor of extrajudicial killings.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Example of Adolf Eichmann: People that Embrace Racism are Just One Step from a “Final Solution”

Eichmann1

Adolf Eichmann 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday I wrote about the men in the dock at the Einsatzgruppen Trial and their actions. Tonight I will address their Chief, SD Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Eichmann. Eichmann’s power in the SS hierarchy far outweighed his rank. As the second to the Chief of the Riech Security Main Office (RSHA) SS Lieutenant General Reinhard Heydrich and following Heydrich’s death his successor Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Eichmann was directly in control of the execution of the Endlösung or Final Solution, be it in the Death Camps or by the up close and personal methods of the Einsatzgruppen. 

On June 1st 1962 Adolf Eichmann was hanged in Israel for his crimes of mass murder and genocide. His appearance in the court where he portrayed himself as a functionary and bureaucrat who was repulsed by bloodshed and only following orders. So convincing was his act that Hannah Arendt wrote of him:

“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, for it implied — as had been said at Nuremberg over and over again by the defendants and their counsels — that this new type of criminal, who is in actual fact hostis generis humani, commits his crimes under circumstances that make it well-nigh impossible for him to know or to feel that he is doing wrong.”

Unfortunately there are people such as Arendt described, but Eichmann was not one of them. She wrote her commentary having only attended parts of the trial, but what she saw convinced her that Eichmann was ordinary and normal. She was convinced by his appearance and presentation at the trial that he was not the man who ran roughshod over Jews as well as German officials in order to execute the Final Solution. That phrase, “the banality of evil” has often been used to provide an alibi for men and women who wholeheartedly participated in the extermination of the Jews and others deemed to be less than human regardless of whether they were desk bound bureaucrats in Berlin, managers of the extermination camps, or the members of the Einsatzgruppen, the Ordungspolizei, or the Wehrmacht who systematically exterminated millions of people up close and personal.

Eichamnn was a true believer in the Nazi system and its desire to exterminate the Jews from the earth and he enjoyed what he did. He not only acted on orders but he anticipated them, as he told William Sassen in an interview while living undercover in Argentina in the 1950s:

“If we would have killed 10.3 million Jews, then I would be satisfied and would say, good, we annihilated an enemy. … I wasn’t only issued orders, in this case I’d have been a moron, but I rather anticipated, I was an idealist.”

Eichmann began his career by persecuting the Jews of Vienna but following the Wansee Conference he was entrusted by Reinhard Heydrich with overseeing the mechanics of implementing the Final Solution. He was only an SS Lieutenant Colonel but he wielded his power with such effect that he could ensure that Nazi functionaries senior to him did his bidding in regard to the Jews, He told Sassen:

“They knew me wherever I went. Through the press, the name Eichmann had emerged as a symbol…. In any case, the word Jew … was irreversibly linked with the word Eichmann. Much more power … was attributed to me than I actually had.”

Eichmann summed up the attitude of many when he said regarding his work to deport hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz in in just a few weeks during the fall of 1944, “Whether they were bank directors or mental cases, the people who were loaded on those trains meant nothing to me.” Speaking to Willem Sassen in 1957 Eichmann reveled in that accomplishment, “It was an achievement that was never matched before or since.” Eichmann also enjoyed leading his victims on, pretending that he might listen, and they might change his mind. Eichmann was proud of what he did. He told his staff, “I will leap into my grave laughing because the feeling that I have five million human beings on my conscience is for me a source of extraordinary satisfaction.”

Some of the 437,000 Hungarian Jews Being Sent to Auschwitz

His greatest accomplishment of genocide was in Hungary between March and May of 1944 when he orchestrated the “evacuation” of 437,000 Jews to Auschwitz, of which nearly 400,000 were exterminated in that camps massive gas chambers. His greatest regret was that Himmler and others, realizing that the war was lost were now trying to find ways to deal with the Allies using the Jews as bargaining chips. They put an end to his campaign leaving half of Hungary’s Jews alive, something that he detested to the end of his life for his superiors had taken away his reason for being.

Eichmann twisted language in a perverse manner to both glorify and justify his inhumanity. Bettina Stangneth, wrote in her book Eichmann Before Jerusalem:

“The language becomes entirely perverted where Eichmann turns metaphors on their heads, talking about expulsion and murder using gentle images of life. An institution for forced emigration was his “first child,” where he was able to “be creative in my work.” All the individual acts of robbery and expulsion that took place in Austria were committed to “provide [the country] with injections of Jewish solutions.” Even exterminations and deportations were “born”. This was why he felt so superfluous in Budapest, when he was forced to stop deporting people to Auschwitz: “As far as I know, I couldn’t have done anything fruitful anymore” … In Eichmann’s language, he didn’t send people to the death camps; the camps were “fed with material”.

Adolf Eichmann went to his death unrepentant and there is nothing to be mourned on this anniversary of his death, other than the fact that there are people who are much like him today. That is the terrifying reality. Some may be those faceless bureaucrats, but too many others would easily become killers. As Timothy Snyder noted:

“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.”

Christopher Browning wrote in his book Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Holocaust in Poland:

“I fear that we live in a world in which war and racism are ubiquitous, in which the powers of government mobilization and legitimization are powerful and increasing, in which a sense of personal responsibility is increasingly attenuated by specialization and bureaucratization, and in which the peer group exerts tremendous pressures on behavior and sets moral norms. In such a world, I fear, modern governments that wish to commit mass murder will seldom fail in their efforts for being unable to induce “ordinary men” to become their “willing executioners.”

Eichmann’s deputy SS Captain Dieter Wisliceny described him in this manner: “Eichmann was personally a cowardly man, who was at great pains to protect himself from responsibility… He was amoral and completely ice cold in his attitude.“

The late Christopher Hitchens wrote about what happens when any people or government use the word problem or question to characterize any race, ethnic group, religion, or opponent of any kind:

“Die Judenfrage,’ it used to be called, even by Jews. ‘The Jewish Question.’ I find I quite like this interrogative formulation, since the question—as Gertrude Stein once famously if terminally put it—may be more absorbing than the answer. Of course one is flirting with calamity in phrasing things this way, as I learned in school when the Irish question was discussed by some masters as the Irish ‘problem.’ Again, the word ‘solution’ can be as neutral as the words ‘question’ or ‘problem,’ but once one has defined a people or a nation as such, the search for a resolution can become a yearning for the conclusive. Endlösung: the final solution.”

In such a world it is all too important that we never forget, especially now when we could be watching it begin all over again. Eichmann may be dead but he lives on in the hearts and minds of many, and we must always remain vigilant, or the specter of the Holocaust will rise again, quite possibly in countries that are considered civilized and freedom loving, like the United States. In fact his ideological heirs are roaming the streets of the country, either as extra constitutional and illegal White Nationalist “militias” or law enforcement officers using their position to terrorize people they are pledged to protect and serve, in the name of the American President they worship as their supreme leader.

Never forget,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“Each Assumed the Right to Decide the Fate of Men, and Death was the Intended Result of his Power and Contempt” : The Einsatzgruppen Trial Part One


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Over the past week I have been writing about the Nazi crimes against humanity in Poland and the Soviet Union I want to spend just a bit of time discussing the leaders of the Einsatzgruppen who were tried at Nuremberg beginning on September 29th 1947.  It was nearly a miracle that these men would face justice, for the evidence that condemned them had not been found until most of the war crimes trials were over, resources And personnel for the American War Crimes Tribunals drying up, and with the Cold War looming a growing impatience of Americans and Germans alike to end the trials due to the growing Soviet threat.

But in the charred ruins of Berlin, American investigations discovered a treasure trove of documents about crimes that had not been brought to justice. A young Jewish-American lawyer named Benjamin Ferencz volunteered to take on the prosecution of these masters of mass murder. Ferencz, a distinguished graduate of Harvard Law School, and veteran of the Second World War, was the youngest man on the prosecution team, and though a brilliant researcher, and investigator, he  had never served as a prosecutor for any trial. But no other prosecutors were available as the Americans attempted to wrap up the remaining trials.

Ferencz reviewed the evidence recovered from the ruins of the Reichs Security Main Office, and realized that the crimes committed had to be prosecuted. He brought the evidence to Brigadier General Telford Taylor admitted his office’s lack of resources but told Ferencz that if he took the case he would add it.

The evidence was some of the most damning of all the War Crimes trials because it came from the unedited reports submitted by the commanders of the Einsatzgruppen and their subordinate units. Eventually, twenty-three of these men were selected for trial, unfortunately some of the most guilty were either dead, or missing, including the man these men reported to and who relentlessly drove them to kill more Jews faster, even if it harmed the German war effort; SD Standartenführer Adolf Eichmann who seemed to have to disappeared off the face of the earth, but with the help of the Vatican was beginning a new life under a false name in Argentina.

On July 29th the following Einsatzgruppe leaders filed into the dock In Nuremberg’s Palace of Justice.

SS-Major General Otto Ohlendorf, Chief of Einsatzgruppe D. Graduated in law and political science from the Universities of Leipzig and Goettingen. A one-time practicing barrister in the courts of Alfeld-Leine and Hildesheim.

SS-Brigadier General Heinz Jost, Chief of Einsatzgruppe A. Specialized in law and economics when he studied at the Universities of Giessen and Munich.

SS-Brigadier General Erich Naumann, Chief of Einsatzgruppe B. Left school at age of 16 and entered commercial firm. Later became officer of police.

SS-Brigadier General Otto Rasch. Doctor of Law and Economics, former mayor of Wittenberg.

SS-Brigadier General Erwin Schulz. Studied law at University of Berlin and later became staff member of Dresden Bank.

SS-Brigadier General Franz Six. Full time university professor.

SS-Colonel Paul Blobel. Former architect.

SS-Colonel Walter Blume. Graduated in law at University of Erlangen.

SS-Colonel Martin Sandberger. Studied jurisprudence at Universities of Munich, Freiburg, Cologne and Tuebinger. Assistant judge in Inner Administration of Wuerttemberg.

SS-Colonel Willy Seibert. Graduated from University of Goettingen in 1932 in economics.

SS-Colonel Eugen Steimle. Studied history, Germanic languages and French at the Universities of Tuebingen and Berlin.

SS-Colonel Ernst Biberstein. Former clergyman.

SS-Colonel Werner Braune. Graduated in law from University of Jena and obtained degree of Doctor of Juridical Science.

SS-Lieutenant Colonel Walter Haensch. Studied law at Leipzig University and trained as “Referendar.”

SS-Lieutenant Colonel Gustav Nosske. Studied banking, economics and law. Became assessor and “entered Administration of Justice” at Halle.

SS-Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Ott. Began career in administrative office of German Workers’ front in Lindau.

SS-Lieutenant Colonel Eduard Strauch. Graduate Erlangen University. Member Intelligence service, press officer, disciplinary officer general SS.

SS-Major Woldemar Klingelhoefer. Voice teacher and opera singer.

SS-Major Lothar Fendler. Doctor in dentistry.

SS-Major Waldemar Von Radetzky. Linguist. Worked with import firm.

SS-Captain Felix Ruehl. Commercial Clerk. Lived in England for one year.

SS-First Lieutenant Heinz Hermann Schubert. High School education; apprentice to lawyer and “registrator.” In civil administrative service.

SS-Master Sergeant Mathias Graf. Independent business man and civil servant.

Telford Taylor spoke at the beginning of the trial:

“These defendants are not German peasants or artisans drafted into the Wehrmacht. They are not uneducated juveniles. They are lawyers, teachers, artists, and a former clergyman. They are, in short, men of education, who were in full possession of their faculties and who fully understood the grave and sinister significance of the program they embarked upon. They were part of the hard core of the SS. They did not give mere lip service to Himmler’s atrocious racial doctrines; they were chosen for this terrible assignment because they were thought to be men of sufficient ruthlessness to carry them out. They are hand-picked fanatics; every one of them was an officer of the SS … They are not unhappy victims, unwillingly pushed into crime by the tyranny of the Third Reich; these men, above all others, themselves, spread the Nazi doctrine with fire and sword.”

Well educated, cultured for the most part, schooled in the law and justice, cultured and articulate. It seemed that men who were being charged with killing between a million and a million and a half people would look and act  like barbarians, but these men didn’t look anything like murderers, yet all of these men in the dock shared one expression, the firm resolution that drove them across the steppes and swamps of Russia to fulfill Hitler’s diabolical mission of exterminating the Jewish-Bolshevik menace and conquer the Lebensraum that would secure the Thousand Year Reich. 

But all were committed to the cause, and to it they gave what should have been the best years of their lives. But working under the direction of Eichmann they compiled statistics like like the sports reporters of the 1990s reporting the exploits of baseball home run hitters on steroids, each report exacting in detail, and numbing to read.  Einsatzgruppe B sent a report to the RHSA on October 15th 1941 cited the following:

After announcing that 71,105 Jews had been executed in Lithuania, the Einsatz commander, Walter Stahlecker appended an inventory of all persons killed by his organization, just as a regional office of a national or transnational corporation might cite its monthly or quarterly profits:

“Total: Jews | Communists | Total

Lithuania           80,311 | 860 | 81,171
Latvia                 30,025 | 1,845 | 31,868
Estonia.              474 |     684    |1,158
White Ruthenia 7,620 |            |7,620
Total:               118,430 | 3,387 | 121,817

to be added to these figures: In Lithuania and Latvia Jews annihilated by pogroms: 5,500 Jews, Communists and partisans executed in old-Russian area: 2,000 Lunatics executed: 748 (correct total 130,065): 122,455 Communists and Jews liquidated by State Pol. and Security Service Tilsit during search actions: 5,502 Total: 135,567”

Justice Michael Musmanno who tried the case wrote:

“Like election returns, the figures on executions came pouring into Eichmann’s office in Berlin, and with the characteristic Teutonic precision and passion for orderliness the reports were duly mimeographed and tabulated, copies were distributed and originals filed.”

But why? The report filed by the Commander of Einsatzgruppe C wrote after reporting some 51,000 executions in the Ukraine, announced the reason why: 

 “These were the motives for the executions carried out by the Kommandos: Political officials, looters and saboteurs, active Communists and political representatives, Jews who gained their release from prison camps by false statements, agents and  informers of the NKWD, persons who, by false depositions and influencing witnesses, were instrumental in the deportation of ethnic Germans, Jewish sadism and revengefulness, undesirable elements, partisans, politrucks, dangers of plague and epidemics, members of Russian bands, armed insurgents… provisioning of Russian bands, rebels and agitators, drifting juveniles …” and then came the all inclusive phrase: “Jews in general.”

In his opening Ferencz said:

“May it please your Honors. Vengeance is not our goal, nor do we seek merely a just retribution. We ask this Court to affirm by international penal action man’s right to live in peace and dignity regardless of his race or creed. The case we present is a plea of humanity to law… 

“Each of the defendants in the dock held a position of responsibility or command in an extermination unit. Each assumed the right to decide the fate of men, and death was the intended result of his power and contempt. Their own reports will show that the slaughter committed by these defendants was dictated, not by military necessity, but by that supreme perversion of thought, the Nazi theory of the master race. We shall show that these deeds of men in uniform were the methodical execution of long-range plans to destroy ethnic, national, political, and religious groups which stood condemned in the Nazi mind.”

Where Ferencz ended his associate, Peter Walton, from Georgia took up the opening statement:

“These small forces totaling not more than three thousand men killed at least one million human beings in approximately two years’ time. These figures enable us to make estimates which help considerably in understanding this case. They show that the four Einsatzgruppen averaged some 1,350 murders per day during a two-year period; 1,350 human beings slaughtered on the average day, seven days a week for more than one hundred weeks … All these thousands of men, women, and children killed had first to be selected, brought together, held in restraint, and transported to a place of death. They had to be counted, stripped of possessions, shot, and buried. And burial did not end the job, for all of the pitiful possessions taken from the dead had to be salvaged, crated, and shipped to the Reich. Finally, books were kept to cover these transactions. Details of all these things had to be recorded and reported.”

I will leave it at that for tonight.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Bearing Witness and Resisting Genocide in Real Time Hermann Graebe and Axel von Dem Bussche at Dubno 1942

Hermann Graebe after the War 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Over the past week I have been writing about the Nazi campaigns in Poland and the Soviet Union. These posts have included the actions of  Reinhard Heydrich and Adolf Eichmann’s Einsatzgruppen, Nazi Plans and policies, the military and legal precedents to genocide, the complicity of the German Army and many of their senior leaders  in the genocide conducted against the Jews.

The things I have written about are not pleasant, but in a sense, despite the words of the Generals who issued criminal orders, The vast numbers killed by the Einsatzgruppen and a few incidents of individual actions against the Jews. All that being said it is really hard to grasp the killings of millions. Most of us can grasp the death of one or maybe two human beings, but to try to conceptualize the deaths of hundreds of thousands or millions is far above what we can imagine. Mass numbers of dead human beings become statistics, they certainly were to Adolf Eichmann who took in the daily numbers killed by the Einsatzgruppen and recorded them like sports reporters reporting statistics.

But when reads the detailed account of a family of eight representing four generations going to their deaths it hits home more. The following is the testimony of  Hermann Friedrich Graebe, a civilian German engineer and project manager for the Josef Jung Construction Company  in the Ukraine. While working on a project at Dubno where among his laborers were Jews. He testified at the Einsatzgruppen Trial and as a result had so many threats on his life that he emigrated to the United States and settled in San Francisco until his death in 1986.

Before this he worked to save as many Jewish workers as possible when alerted to an Einsatzgruppen killing operation in Rovno. Although he was promised that his workers would be spared, he found that seven had being seized and were going to be killed. Hi account of that experience follows:

Hermann Friedrich Graebe, was a manager and supervisor engineer in charge of a German building firm in Sdolbunow, Ukraine, assigned to rebuilding aircraft hangers at the former Soviet airfield. Graebe narrated in graphic language how many Einsatzgruppen mass murder operations were conducted.

When he heard that one of these horrifying performances was being rehearsed in his town he called on the commanding officer of the area, SS-Sturmbannfuehrer Puetz, to make inquiries, since he, Graebe, employed a few Jewish workers he wished to protect. Sturmbannfuehrer Puetz denied the rumors. Later, however, Graebe ascertained from the Area Commissioner’s deputy, Stabsleiter Beck, that what he heard was true, but Beck exacted from Graebe the promise not to disclose the secret. In exchange for this promise, he supplied Graebe with a certificate which was to protect his workers when the storm of blood should burst. This amazing document reads:

“Messrs. JUNG ROVNO:

The Jewish workers employed by your firm are not affected by the pogrom (Aktion). You must transfer them to their new place of work by Wednesday, 15 July 1942, at the latest. From the Area Commissioner Beck”

That evening the Einsatzgruppen killers lashed through the streets of Rovno like a hurricane. Graebe described it:

“The people living there were driven on to the street just as they were, regardless of whether they were dressed or in bed. Since the Jews in most cases refused to leave their houses and resisted, the SS and militia applied force. They finally succeeded, with strokes of the whip, kicks and blows, with rifle butts in clearing the houses. The people were driven out of their houses in such haste that small children in bed had been left behind in several instances. In the street women cried out for their children and children for their parents. That did not prevent the SS from driving the people along the road, at running pace, and hitting them, until they reached a waiting freight train. Car after car was filled, and the screaming of women and children, and the cracking of whips and rifle shots resounded unceasingly. Since several families or groups had barricaded themselves in especially strong buildings, and the doors could not be forced with crowbars or beams, these houses were now blown open with hand grenades. Since the Ghetto was near the railroad tracks in Rovno, the younger people tried to get across the tracks and over a small river to get away from the Ghetto area. As this stretch of country was beyond the range of the electric lights, it was illuminated by signal rockets.

All through the night these beaten, hounded and wounded people moved along the lighted streets. Women carried their dead children in their arms, children pulled and dragged their dead parents by their arms and legs down the road toward the train. Again and again the cries “Open the door! Open the door!” echoed through the Ghetto.” 

Despite the immunity guaranteed Graebe’s Jewish workers by Stabsleiter Beck, seven of his employees were seized and taken to the collecting point. Graebe’s narrative continued:

“I went to the collecting point to save these seven men. I saw dozens of corpses of all ages and both sexes in the streets I had to walk along. The doors of the houses stood open, windows were smashed. Pieces of clothing, shoes, stockings, jackets, caps, hats, coats, etc. were lying in the street. At the comer of the house lay a baby, less than a year old with his skull crushed. Blood and brains were spattered over the house wall and covered the area immediately around the child. The child was dressed only in a little shirt.

The commander, SS Major Puetz, was walking up and down a row of about 80-100 male Jews who were crouching on the ground. He had a heavy dog whip in his hand. I walked up to him, showed him the written permit of Stabsleiter Beck and demanded the seven men whom I recognized among those who were crouching on the ground. Dr. Puetz was very furious about Beck’s concession and nothing could persuade him to release the seven men. He made a motion with his hand encircling the square and said that anyone who was once here would not get away. Although he was very angry with Beck, he ordered me to take the people from 5 Bahnhofstrasse out of Rovno by 8 o’clock at the latest.

When I left Dr. Puetz, I noticed a Ukrainian farm cart, with two horses. Dead people with stiff limbs were lying on the cart, legs and arms projected over the side boards. The cart was making for the freight train. I took the remaining 74 Jews who had been locked in the house to Sdolbunow.

Five thousand Jews were killed in this pogrom.” 

Hermann Graebe Receiving his Honors from Yad Vashem 

For his actions to save these Jews, Graebe was recognized as one of the Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem. As powerful as his actions were in this incident it was his testimony at the Einsatzgruppen Trial which are even more chilling.

“I, the undersigned, Hermann Friedrich Graebe, make the following declaration under oath:

From September 1941 to January 1944 I was director and chief engineer of the Sdolbunow branch of the Josef Jung Construction Company of Solingen. In this capacity one of my duties was to visit the firm’s projects. Under the terms of a contract with the army construction services, the company was building grain warehouses on the old Dubno airfield in the Ukraine.

On October 5th 1942, at the time of my visit to the construction offices in Dubno, my foreman, Hubert Moennikes told me that some Dubno Jews had been shot near the building, in three huge ditches about 30 metres long and three metres deep. The number of people killed daily was estimated at around 1,500. The 5,000 Jews who lived in Dubno before the Pogrom were all marked for liquidation. Since the executions took place in the presence of my employee, he was painfully aware of and affected by them.

Accompanied by Moennikes, I went to the work area. I saw great mounds of earth about 30 metres long and two metres high. Several trucks were parked nearby. Armed Ukrainian militia were forcing people out, under the surveillance of SS soldiers. The same militia men were responsible for guard duty and driving the trucks. The people in the trucks wore the regulation yellow pieces of cloth that identified them as Jews on the front and back of their clothing.

Moennikes and I went straight toward the ditches without being stopped. When we neared the mound, I heard a series of rifle shots close by. The people from the trucks – men, women and children – were forced to undress under the supervision of an SS soldier with a whip in his hand. They were obliged to put their effects in certain areas: shoes, clothing, and underwear separately. I saw a pile of shoes, thousands of pairs, great heaps of underwear and clothing. Without weeping or crying out, these people undressed and stood together in family groups, embracing each other and saying goodbye while waiting for a sign from the SS soldier, who stood on the edge of the ditch.

During the fifteen minutes I stayed there, I did not hear a single complaint or plea for mercy. I watched a family of about eight: a man and woman about fifty years old, surrounded by their children aged about one, eight, and ten, and two older girls about 20 and 24. An old lady, her hair completely white, held the baby in her arms, rocking it and singing it a song. The infant was crying aloud with delight. The parents watched the groups with tears in their eyes. The father held the ten-­year-­old boy by the hand, speaking softly to him; the child struggled to hold back his tears. Then the father pointed a finger to the sky and, stroking the child’s head, seemed to be explaining something.

At this moment, the SS man near the ditch called something to his comrade. The latter counted off some twenty people and ordered them behind the mound. The family of which I have just spoken was in the group. I still remember the young girl, slender and dark, who, passing near me, pointed at herself, saying, “23.” I walked around the mound and faced a frightful common grave. Tightly packed corpses were heaped so close together that only the heads showed. Most were wounded in the head and the blood flowed over their shoulders. Some still moved. Others raised their hands and turned their heads to show that they were still alive. The ditch was two­-thirds full. I estimate that it held a thousand bodies.

I turned my eyes toward the man who had carried out the execution. He was an SS man; he was seated, legs swinging, on the narrow edge of the ditch; an automatic rifle rested on his knees and he was smoking a cigarette. The people, completely naked, climbed down a few steps cut in the clay wall and stopped at the place indicated by the SS man. Facing the dead and wounded, they spoke softly to them. Then I heard a series of rifle shots. I looked in the ditch and saw their bodies contorting, their heads, already inert, sinking on the corpses beneath. The blood flowed from the nape of their necks. I was astonished not to be ordered away, but then I noticed two or three uniformed postmen nearby. A new batch of victims approached the place. They climbed down into the ditch, lined up in front of the previous victims and were shot.

On the way back, while rounding the mound, I saw another full truck which had just arrived. This truck contained only the sick and crippled. Women, already naked, were undressing an old woman with an emaciated body, her legs frightfully thin. She was held up by two people and seemed paralyzed. The naked people led her behind the mound. I left the place with Moennikes and went back to Dubno in a car.

The next morning, returning to the construction, I saw some thirty naked bodies lying thirty to fifty yards from the ditch. Some were still alive; they stared into space with a set look, seeming not to feel the coolness of the morning air. A young girl of about twenty spoke to me, asking me to bring her clothes and to help her escape. At that moment we heard the sound of a car approaching at top speed; I saw that it was an SS detachment. I went back to my work. Ten minutes later rifle shots sounded from the ditch The Jews who were still alive had been ordered to throw the bodies in the ditch. They then had to lie down themselves to receive a bullet in the back of the neck.”

Hermann Graebe, a civilian, chose to risk his life to save people who were doomed to death. Survivors of the massacre remembered his efforts.

Survivors of Dubno Massacre honoring the dead in 1945 

Another accidental witness was a German Army Lieutenant, Axel von dem Bussche, whose regiment was in the area but refused to participate in the action, but Bussche decided to witness what was really happening. He was so traumatized by what he saw that he joined the resistance cell in Army Group Center. After this experience he declared that there were only three ways left to preserve his honor as an officer: to die in battle, to desert, or to rebel against the government that had ordered this and all other massacres. He chose the last option, justifying his intention to kill Hitler by his legal right to defend others against unlawful, ongoing, criminal attacks. I wonder if any American Officers would choose the same course today if President Trump continues down the road to authoritarian dictatorship and attacking, jailing, or killing those that oppose him.

Von dem Bussche volunteered for two of the early operations to kill Hitler which each failed because Hitler changed his plans at the last moment. In January 1944 he was severely wounded in action and spent months in an SS Hospital recovering from the loss of his leg. Because of his wounds, and long absence from the conspiracy no conspirators arrested after the failed the July 20th plot exposed his involvement in previous attempts on Hitler’s life.


Axel von dem Bussche 

He survived the war and became a diplomat for the new West German Republic. He died in 1993, the last of the anti-Hitler conspirators to die.

Both Hermann Graebe and Axel von dem Bussche saw evil, and each in their own way decided to do what they could to stop it. Graebe, took action in the moment, Von dem Bussche, made the conscious decision to break his personal oath to Hitler and was involved in two assassination attempts.

The actions of both of these men who risked their lives to either save lives directly or to kill and overthrow the leader who had ordered genocide and war crimes. I wonder how many Americans would do either if they had to make such a choice. I know what I would do. I would  do whatever necessary to save a vengeful racist dictator’s intended victims, or whatever I could do to put an end to such a man’s rule. As another of Hitler’s Victims said in 1933:

In April 1933 while speaking of the responsibility of Christians and the church to stand against injustice he wrote in his essay The Church and the Jewish Question: 

“The church has an unconditional obligation to the victims of any ordering society, even if they do not belong to the Christian community.” and also“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”

If a Christian makes the decision to draw a line around the Church and not to act to protect the people created by God outside of it in order to buttress their political and social power he or she does not know Jesus the Christ. If in the coming months or years I am put in the place to make such a choice, I will not hesitate to stake my life on my actions to both rescue the victims and to put a spike into the wheel, and the heart of injustice.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Complicity of the German Army in the Crime of Genocide With the Einsatzgruppen in the Soviet Union


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Over the past few days I have been writing about War crimes, war criminals, and bringing them to justice while pointing out that some commanders, even in criminal nations have opposed and disobeyed such orders. Most of these articles have already with the Einsatzgruppen which were charged with carrying our the mass murder of Jews, Red Army Commissars, Soviet Officials, anyone believed to be a partisan, with or without proof, as well as “Life Unworthy of Life,” the physically handicapped, mentally ill, including disabled children. Their chain of command ran directly to SD Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Eichmann, and through him to SS Lieutenant General Reinhard Heydrich, SS Reichführer Heinrich Himmler to Adolf Hitler. Everything that concerned Hitler’s genocidal plan to exterminate the Jews, from emigration, to Ghettos, to the Einsatzgruppen and eventually death camps.  Even when Himmler ordered the extermination of the Jews end, Eichmann did all that he could to continue exterminating them.

What caused me to revisit the subject was watching the biographical documentary of Benjamin Ferencz, the last remaining prosecutor from the Nuremberg Trials. Ferencz discovered the evidence to the Einsatzgruppen in Berlin, but not in time to have them prosecuted the Einsatzgruppen Trial. The Einsatzgruppen were four units composed of SS, SD, Waffen SS, and Order Police personnel, with a combined strength of about 3,000 personnel, commanded by SS, or SD Colonels or Generals.

The Einsatzgruppen had the mission of exterminating Jews, Gypsies, and Soviet Communist Party officials, or Red Army Commissars. They received additional support from Order Police Battalions, Wehrmacht Security Divisions, government and party officials in charge of the occupied territories, and from the Wehrmacht Army Group, Army, Army Corps, and Division Commanders in their areas of operations. The Einsatzgruppen murdered nearly a million and a half people up close and personal with pistols, rifles, and machine guns at close range over mass graves. They also pioneered the use of gas vans, which served as some of the initial gas chambers in the East. Many of their actions took place before the decision to implement the Final Solution.

However the Einsatzgruppen could not succeed in their policies without the cooperation of of the Wehrmacht, Government occupation authorities, and the Order Police they could not have murdered so many people. The story begins with Wehrmacht, principally the Army, without which the Einsatzgruppen could not have killed anyone. For the most  part the Army and it’s senior commanders either gave their complete support to the Einsatzgruppen or turned a blind eye to their atrocities.

Contrary to the myth of a clean Wehrmacht, during the German invasion of the Soviet Union senior leaders of the Wehrmacht actively cooperated with the crimes of the Nazi regime against the Jews, Soviet prisoners of war, and Soviet citizens.

I have pointed out that Hitler’s ideology of the racial superiority of his Aryan Master Race and the corresponding view that the Jews and Slavs were untermenschen or subhuman justified the most extreme measures that the Nazis used to kill millions of innocent people through extermination, ethnic cleansing, and extermination.

There was a common myth after the Second World War that the regular German Army, the Wehrmacht, fought an honorable and clean war while the criminal actions of war crimes and genocide were the fault of Hitler, the Nazi Party, and the SS. It was a comforting myth because it allowed a great number of men who agreed with Hitler’s policies, and often assisted in them to maintain a fiction of honor and respectability. While for the most part the German Army in the West fought according to international norms of conduct, it was a different matter on the Easter Front, where following Hitler’s lead the Wehrmacht from its senior officers in down was often at the tip of the spear in enforcing Hitler’s racial and ideological war.

Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel 

This came form the top. In addition to the Commissar order, also known as the Criminal Order, Field Marshal Keitel offered this directive to units fighting on the Easter Front:

“In view of the vast size of the conquered territories in the East, the forces available for establishing security in these areas will be sufficient only if instead of punishing resistance by sentencing the guilty in a court of law, the occupying forces spread such terror as is likely, by its mere existence, to crush every will to resist amongst the population.

The commanders concerned, together with all available troops, should be made responsible for maintaining peace within their areas. The commanders must find the means of keeping order within their areas, not by demanding more security forces, but by applying suitable drastic measures.”

                                  Field Marshal Walter Von Reichenau 

Commanders in the East used Keitel’s order as carte blanche authority to be even more severe than Keitel’s order specified. Field Marshal Walter Reichenau issued what is something’s known as the Severity Order to his 6th Army which was part of Field Marshal Gerd Von Rundstedt’s Army Group South. Von Rundstedt, who was not a Nazi and who maintained his “clean” reputation after the war expressed his “complete agreement” with it and urged other subordinates to issue similar orders. Reichenau’s order stated:

“The most important objective of this campaign against the Jewish-Bolshevik system is the complete destruction of its sources of power and the extermination of the Asiatic influence in European civilization. … In this eastern theatre, the soldier is not only a man fighting in accordance with the rules of the art of war, but also the ruthless standard bearer of a national conception. … For this reason the soldier must learn fully to appreciate the necessity for the severe but just retribution that must be meted out to the subhuman species of Jewry…” 

Field Marshal Erich Von Manstein

An order was issued by General Erich Von Manstein to his Eleventh Army in November 1941 which stated in part:

“Jewry constitutes the middleman between the enemy in the rear and the remainder of the Red Armed Forces which is still fighting, and the Red leadership. More strongly than in Europe it holds all the key positions in the political leadership and administration, controls commerce and trades, and further forms the nucleus for all unrest and possible uprisings.

The Jewish-Bolshevist system must be exterminated once and for all. Never again must it encroach upon our European living space.

The German soldier has therefore not only the task of crushing the military potential of this system. He comes also as the bearer of a racial concept and as the avenger of all the cruelties’ which have been perpetrated on him and on the German people…

The food situation at home makes it essential that the troops should as far as possible be fed off the land and that furthermore the largest possible stocks should be placed at the disposal of the homeland. Particularly in enemy cities a large part of the population will have to go hungry. Nevertheless nothing which the homeland has sacrificed itself to contribute may, out of a misguided sense of humanity, be given to prisoners or to the population unless they are in the service of the German Wehrmacht.

The soldier must appreciate the necessity for the harsh punishment of Jewry, the spiritual bearer of the Bolshevist terror. This is also necessary in order to nip in the bud all uprisings which are mostly plotted by Jews…

Manstein claimed that he did not remember the order at his trial and that he sought to ensure that his troops did not engage in conduct not fitting of the honor of soldiers. He included the following in the order: “Severest action to be taken: against despotism and self-seeking; against lawlessness and lack of discipline; against every transgression of the honor of a soldier.”

In his defense at Nuremberg Generals Trial, Manstien attempted to mitigate the damning words of the order. He explained that “I do want to point out to you that if it says here that the system must be exterminated, then that is extermination of the Bolshevik system, but not the extermination of human beings.” Despite Manstein’s clarification of what he meant in the order it would be hard for soldiers and commanders receiving the order as written could hardly have been expect not to interpret it literally. Likewise his order mentions the intentional starvation of Soviet citizens and harsh invectives against the Jews.

Like Von Rundstedt, Manstein too would be rehabilitated and for the most part his complicity in Hitler’s racial and ideological war forgotten by historians and military men who admired his strategic, operational, and tactical acumen.

Colonel General Hermann Hoth

Colonel General Hermann Hoth, commander of a Panzer Group issued this order:

“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.”

 

Colonel General Erich Hoepner with SS Major General Walter Krüger of the 4th SS Infantry Division “Polizei” 

Likewise, General Erich Hoepner issued the following order at the beginning of Operation Barbarossa: 

The war against Russia is an important chapter in the German nation’s struggle for existence. It is the old battle of the Germanic against the Slavic people, of the defence of European culture against Muscovite-Asiatic inundation and of the repulse of Jewish Bolshevism. The objective of this battle must be the demolition of present-day Russia and must therefore be conducted with unprecedented severity. Every military action must be guided in planning and execution by an iron resolution to exterminate the enemy remorselessly and totally. In particular, no adherents of the contemporary Russian Bolshevik system are to be spared.

Hoepner issued a number of other orders directing how Jews should be treated and the commander of Einsatzgruppe A, SS Brigadier General Walter Stahlecker whose units killed nearly 250,000 Jews between July and December 1941 praised the cooperation of the Wehrmacht and in particular of Hoepner with his execution squads. Stahlecker described the cooperation of the Wehrmacht with his men as “generally very good”, and “in certain cases, as for example, with Panzer Group 4 under the command of General Hoepner, extremely close, one might say even warm.” The fact is that the Einsatzgruppen could not have ran up such massive numbers of deaths without the cooperation of the German Army leaders in Russia.


There are many other examples of German Army commanders at various levels issuing orders similar to Von Reichenau, Von Manstein, Hoth, and Hoepner as well as accounts of Wehrmacht units cooperating with the Einsatzgruppen in various mass extermination actions against the Jews, including the action at Babi Yar. In many cases the cooperation was quite close as evidenced by the report of the commander of Einsatzgruppe C to Berlin on November 3rd 1941:

In a great number of cases, it happened that the support of the Einsatzkommandos was requested by the fighting troops. Advance detachments of the Einsatzgruppe also participated in every large military action. They entered newly captured localities side by side with the fighting troops. Thus, in all cases, the utmost support was given. For example, in this connection, it is worth mentioning the participation in the capture of Zhitomir, where the first tanks entering the city were immediately followed by three cars of Einsatzkommando 4a.

As a result of the successful work of the Einsatzgruppe, the Security Police is also held in high regard, in particular by the HQ of the German Army. The liaison officers stationed in Army HQ are loyally briefed of all military operations, and, besides, they receive the utmost cooperation. The Commander of the 6th Army, Generalfeldmarschall von Richenau, has repeatedly praised the work of the Einsatzkommandos and, accordingly, supported the interests of the SD with his staff.

It is true that in some cases individual Wehrmacht officers refused to cooperate with the Einsatzgruppen in their operational areas, but without the cooperation of the Wehrmacht the extermination campaigns against the Jews and other Soviet citizens could not have been successful.

One has to ask what it takes for otherwise ordinary and law abiding people to carry out crimes of such magnitude. I believe that the answer is found in the racial ideology that posits certain races as being less than human. The examples of such belief in action litter human history and are not limited to the Germans of the Nazi era.

The truly disturbing thing is that the men who perpetrated the Nazi crimes against humanity and genocide were not unique. The actions of the Japanese army in China, Korea, and Southeast Asia to include the Rape of Nanking and their Unit 731; the American genocide committed against the Native American tribes and the enslavement of Blacks; the extermination of the Herero in German Southwest Africa, the Rwandan genocide, the mass killings of Bosnians by Bosnian Serbs,  the Armenian genocide committed by the Turks, and far too many more examples show this to be the case. But as Israeli historian and Holocaust survivor Yehuda Bauer wrote:

“The horror of the Holocaust is not that it deviated from human norms; the horror is that it didn’t. What happened may happen again, to others not necessarily Jews, perpetrated by others, not necessarily Germans. We are all possible victims, possible perpetrators, possible bystanders.”

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.Once human beings decide that other human beings are less than human, then all bets are off, and that includes Americans. Over our history we have shown a taste for barbarity when we believe our opponents are less than human.

There is a scene in the movie Nuremberg in which an American psychologist named Gustave Gilbert questions the commandant of Auschwitz. When he asks the commandant if he felt guilty for the extermination of the Jews in his camp the commandant said “does a rat catcher feel guilty for killing rats.” Thereafter Gilbert confronts Herman Goering pointedly asking the number two Nazi “A rat catcher catching rats”. Is that the kind of thinking it takes to carry out state sanctioned mass murder? Not just blind obedience but also a belief that your victims are not human?” 

Goering replies: Let me ask you this. What was Hiroshima? Was it not your medical experiment? Would Americans have dropped bombs as easily on Germany as it did upon Japan killing as many civilians as possible? I think not. To an American sensibility, a Caucasian child is considerably more human than a Japanese child…

What about the negro officers in your own army? Are they not allowed to command troops in combat? Can they sit on the same buses as the whites? The segregation laws in your country and the anti Semitic laws in mine, are they not a difference of degree? 

The tragic thing is that while Gilbert was certainly correct in his question to Goering, Goering was also right. For all that is good about America there is a persistent strain of this kind of thinking which deems other people, especially non-white people as inferior racially, culturally, and intellectually. Over the decades we like to think that we have become better but the underlying attitudes are still present today, sometimes in plain view, but often just under our veneer of civility and good manners, but what maintains that civility is quite fragile. In his history of Auschwitz British historian Laurence Rees wrote:

“human behavior is fragile and unpredictable and often at the mercy of the situation. Every individual still, of course, has a choice as to how to behave, it’s just that for many people the situation is the key determinate in that choice.” 

The German military officers who took part in the campaign in the East were terrifyingly normal. They were raised in an advanced society, highly cultured, well educated, and raised in the cradle of Protestantism, as well as Catholic Germany. Yet many of them became willing participants in crimes of their nation that are unimaginable. But the fact is that the character of nations can be as fragile as that if individuals. As Americans we like to think that we are different but our history often belies this, even our military history and this is part of our conundrum.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote of the struggle:

 “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?”

When I taught ethics at the Joint Forces Staff College I challenged my students to deal with these kinds of questions. They are not easy and they require that we look into the darkest reaches of our hearts to see what we will do when we are confronted with choices to obey orders that go against the values of the institution but may reflect the more troubling aspects of our culture. Some of these men and women I am sure understood and will not break under pressure, but I am not so sure about others, and I worry about them in the crisis. The fact is we are only as good as we are in the crisis. Historian Timothy Snyder wrote something that we should not discount when asking the question about how ordinary men become war criminals:

“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.”

This is something that we most ponder because it would not take much in our present day where the old ethnic race hatreds, religious hatreds, and resurgent nationalism are again raising their head not only in our own country, but around the world. So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“These men, above all others, themselves, spread the Nazi doctrine with fire and sword.” The Einsatzgruppen in the Soviet Union 1941-44


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is another part of  series of articles on the actions of Hitler’s SS and their Einsatzgruppen during their campaign of mass murder in Eastern Europe. This section is about the campaign in Russia. It is even more troubling than the previous sections, because in Russia, all pretense of civilization was dropped and even the German Army was heavily engaged in committing some of the most heinous and evil atrocities ever committed by a supposedly civilized and allegedly Christian people.

Likewise, it is important to remember that much of what happened before February 1942 occurred before the decision to implement the Final Solution and the beginning operations of the massive extermination camps such as Auschwitz-Birkenau, Soribor, Belzec, and Treblinka in Poland. The latter three were simply extermination centers, while Auschwitz-Birkenau served a multiplicity of roles: death camp, medical experimentation center, work camp which provided laborers for German industry, and camp for Polish political dissidents. I will deal with these camps in future articles. 

The tragedy is that other nations and people’s including Americans, British, French and the Belgians, as well as the Spanish, not to mention the Russians, Chinese, Turks, Japanese, Rwandans, and so many other have committed genocide, but nothing in their litany of genocide can compare with the Nazi Holocaust, even when the numbers added up to more. This is because nearly every ministry of the German Government was involved in them, and the Nazi Party, its officials, German Government ministries, the military and police, and German industry were involved to an extent not seen before or since.

The leaders of the Einsatzgruppen were according to General Telford Taylor:

“These defendants are not German peasants or artisans drafted into the Wehrmacht. They are not uneducated juveniles. They are lawyers, teachers, artists, and a former clergyman. They are, in short, men of education, who were in full possession of their faculties and who fully understood the grave and sinister significance of the program they embarked upon. They were part of the hard core of the SS. They did not give mere lip service to Himmler’s atrocious racial doctrines; they were chosen for this terrible assignment because they were thought to be men of sufficient ruthlessness to carry them out. They are hand-picked fanatics; every one of them was an officer of the SS … They are not unhappy victims, unwillingly pushed into crime by the tyranny of the Third Reich; these men, above all others, themselves, spread the Nazi doctrine with fire and sword.” (From “The Eichmann Kommandos: Hitler’s Executioners and the Einsatzgruppen Trial” by Justice Michael Musmanno, 1964)

Had not files been unearthed in the ruins of Berlin by a young Jewish American investigator, Benjamin Ferencz, the crimes of the Einsatzgruppen might never had been uncovered, or their leaders tried. Ferencz reported back to his superior Brigadier General Telford Taylor that he had evidence that another trial had to be added to the Nuremberg trials. Taylor agreed, and Ferencz, the youngest member of the prosecution team was appointed to prosecute these men, although he had never tried a case in his life.  


Benjamin Ferencz Prosecuting the Accused during the Einsatzgruppen Trial, Ferencz is the last surviving prosecutor or defense attorney from the Nuremberg Trials still living, he was a driving force in the establishment of the International Criminal Court, which the United States has yet to Join. 


The actions of the Nazis, if they were simply limited to just the Germans of that period could be explained away as a exception, but it is not. That is what makes these heinous crimes so troubling, as the people who committed them were not that different than us, or our own ancestors. Despite those the genocides perpetrated by others, those of the Nazis against the Jews are unique in their execution and evil. The entire police and military power of a nation were used first against their fellow citizens, and then against the Jews of every country they conquered or occupied in Europe. It was unique and thus the evil perpetrated by them was in a league of its own.

Eventually I will be revising these articles significantly and use them in a book that I have already begun to write “Walk, Remember, Bear Witness: Ensuring the Holocaust is not Forgotten after the Last Survivors and Witnesses Have Passed Away” This revision includes minor updates to grammar as well as to clarifying what was written in earlier editions which can be found on this site. All of these revised articles will need to be converted into a word document that I can edit and add new material and update footnotes and references. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

einsattzgruppen map

The Nazi war against Russia was the ultimate test of Hitler’s ideological race war. Planning for the war with the Soviet Union began after the fall of France and during the opening stages of the Battle of Britain, when German and the Soviet Union were supposedly committed to their non-Aggression Pact, signed just before the invasion of Poland. On 21 July 1940 Hitler made“his intentions plain” to the Army leadership of his desire to invade and destroy the Soviet Union, and the head of the OKH, Field Marshal  “von Brauchitsch set his planners to work.” 119 Accordingly his staff at OKH began preparations for the offensive in the winter of 1940-41 following the Luftwaffe’s failure against Britain and postponement of Operation Sea Lion, the proposed invasion of Great Britain.

A war on multiple fronts was what all senior German officers feared, and the fact that Britain was still in the war and had opened yet another front in the Middle East against Italy which required German troops to keep the Italians from collapsing, Hitler decided to open another front.  He announced his intention 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.” 120 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.” 121

The military plan initially focused on the destruction of “the Red Army rather than on any specific terrain or political objective,” 122although the political and geographic objectives would arise in later planning and during the campaign, the goal of destroying the Red Army was of paramount importance to the destruction of the Soviet Union. 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….” 123

Besides preparations aimed at the destruction of the Red Army and overthrow of the Soviet State, versus territorial gain, the “war against the Soviet Union was more openly ideological from the start.” 124 The ideological prominence set the stage for the invasion and on March 3rd 1941 Hitler announced this to his assembled Generals by announcing:

“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….” 125

                                 Ordungspolizei  Officers in Russia 

The Jews remained the primary target of Hitler since he saw Jews and Bolsheviks as one. Because that was so important to him personally he realized that the task of eliminating the Jews was one that had to be conducted by Heinrich Himmler’s SS. He noted, that “this is a task so difficult that it cannot be entrusted to the Army.” 126

Reichskommissarscivilian overlords from the Nazi Party political leadership, mostly those with experience as Gauleiters would be appointed to administer conquered areas.  However, since  normal civilian powers would be insufficient to eliminate the Bolsheviks Hitler noted that it “might be necessary “to establish organs of the Reichsfuhrer SS alongside the army’s Secret Field Police, even in the operational areas….” 127 The “primary task” of the SS Einsatzgruppen and Police battalions was to liquidate “all Bolshevist leaders or commissars” if possible while still in the operations zones,” 128 yet the orders were vague enough not to offend the sensibilities of Army leaders and did not contain “a syllable that in practice every Jew would be handed over to the extermination machine.” 129


Wehrmacht Soldiers (not SS or Police) hanging civilians in Russia 

As with almost all German operations which involved cooperation between the Army and the SS, the parties ensured very precise legal definitions and that existing agreements between the agencies, German laws, and army doctrine were followed. On 13 March an agreement was reached between the Army represented by General Wagner and the SS represented by SS-Brigadeführer Walter Schellenberg  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.” 130Likewise the agreement dictated that Himmler’s SS units would “act independently and on his own responsibility” while ensuring that “military operations are not affected by measures necessary to carry out his task.” 131

einsatzgruppe troops and victims

                                         Rounding up Jews in Russia

A further instruction was issued by Wagner on 26 March which gave the Army’s agreement for the use of the Einsatzgrüppen in the operations zone. The agreement spelled out the coordinating instructions between the Einsatzgruppen and army authorities in the operational zone and communications zones to the rear. Cooperation between the Army and the SS was based on already existing agreements between the SS and the Army, notably 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.” 132

Zentralbild – IML / 1.8.1962 II.Weltkrieg 1939-45 Der überlebende halbwüchsige Sohn dieser ermordeten Familie wird an die Mordstelle herangeführt. Von dem hinter ihm stehenden faschistischen deutschen Offizier wurde er durch Genickschuss ermordet. (The surviving teenage son of this murdered family is brought to the scene of the murder. He was murdered by a shot in the neck by the fascist German officer standing behind him.) 5.7.1941 in Slorow, Ukraine A 0706/18/30 

The most significant agreement that the Army reached with the SS was the Commissar Order. This order, sometimes known as the “Criminal Order” was used war as evidence at Nuremberg as against Keitel, Jodl and High Command of the Wehrmacht during the later Generals Trial. The order specified that the Army would cooperate with the SS and kill Soviet Political Commissars attached to the Red Army who were taken prisoner, as “they were not prisoners of war.” Another order specified that “in the event that a German soldier committed against civilians or prisoners, disciplinary action was optional….” 133

This was a major break that the Wehrmacht made with its previous commitment to abide by the provisions of the Geneva and Hague Conventions. The new order noted a new attitude regarding political commissars and their protections under international law:  “in this struggle consideration and respect for international law with regard to these elements is wrong.” 134 Yet another new order released by Keitel’s OKW, the Army’s “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.” 135 The inclusion of the Jews made the Wehrmacht a willing accomplice to every charge leveled against German political and government organizations at Nuremberg.

einsatzgruppen executions
Jewish Women Being Finished off In Russia

Shortly before the Commissar Order was issued Hitler previewed it to the generals saying that the war in Russia “cannot be conducted in a knightly fashion” and that the war against the Soviet Union would have to be waged with “unprecedented, unmerciful and unrelenting harshness…” 136

Hitler told the generals 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.” 137 He explained that he understood that his orders were beyond their comprehension but insisted, “I cannot and will not change my orders and I insist that that they be carried out with unquestioning and unconditional obedience.” 138

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

“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.”139

220px-Bundesarchiv_Bild_146-1970-052-08,_Franz_Halder

                        Colonel General Franz Halder, Chief Of OKH

According to Von Brauchitsch a number of Generals protested the orders that Hitler was previewing in the briefing, and demanded that he take their protest to Hitler. 140 Von Brauchitsch refused to protest the order directly or otherwise bring it up 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 Nuremberg “was sufficient to nullify the Commissar Order.” 141

But that was a lie, as during the campaign against the Soviet Union, von Brauchitsch told his commanders to “proceed with the necessary hardness.” 142 General Walter Warlimont noted that Field Marshal Fedor 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.”143

At Nuremberg Keitel said that he “stubbornly contested” the clause “relating to the authority of the SS-Reichsführer… in the rearward operational areas.” 144

At Nuremberg Keitel attempted to shift blame for order the to the Army High Command OKH under Halder. But his argument was easy to disprove because the order came out with his signature on behalf of Hitler, which was key evidence against him at Nuremberg. Keitel stated that “there was never any possibility of justifying them in retrospect by circumstances obtaining in the Russian campaign.” 145

Some Wehrmacht commanders refused to publish the orders and “insisted that the Wehrmacht never implemented such policies…” blaming them instead on the SS, but in the campaign such refusals to publish the orders made little difference. One writer stated that “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.” 146

 


Einsatzgruppe Mass Killing and Grave 

The orders coming from Hitler, and signed by Keitel were a “license to kill, although not a great departure from German military traditions….” 147 as I noted in my article about the Legal and Military Foundations of Genocide. The effect of these orders was terrifying, for in a sense the Einsatzgruppen, even when operating with or near the Army “could commit ever crime known to God and man, so long as they were a mile or two away from the firing line.” 148 Additionally the Security Divisions of the Army, which were in charge of rear area security, were “instructed to give material and logistical support to…units of the Einsatzgruppen.” 149 Even worse, other army units in rear areas “could be called on to assist Himmler’s SS police leaders” as the situation dictated, and few commanders refused to honor such requests. 150

Jews Digging their graves. 

Adolf Eichmann 

For the campaign against the Soviet Union, Himmler had his deputy, SS Obergrüppenfuhrer Reynard Heydrich, the Head of the Sicherheitsdienst or SD, assisted by Heydrich’s SD Deputy, SS-Obersturmbannführer (Lieutenant Colonel) Adolf Eichmann, the SS formed four Einsatzgruppen composed of SD, Waffen-SS and Police troops designated Einsatzgruppen A-D.

SS-Brigadeführer Dr. Franz Walter Stahlecker, Einsatzgruppen A 


Einsatzgruppe A
 was assigned to Army Group North; it was commanded by SS-Brigadeführer Dr. Franz Walter Stahlecker. Stahlecker was killed in action against partisans in early 1942 and was replaced by SS Brigadeführer Heinz Jost.

Einsatzgruppe B was assigned to Army Group Center, and it was commanded by SS-Brigadeführer Arthur Nebe. Nebe returned to his job as Chief of the Kriminal Polizei at the Reichs Security Main Office in October 1941. He was ordered by the head of the Gestapo, SS General Heinrich Müller in the 50 British Officer escapees of Stalag Luft III, the Great Escape for execution in March 1944, and would be involved in the plot to kill Hitler. He went into hiding but was betrayed by a former mistress was arrested and executed at the personal order of Hitler. He was succeeded by SS Brigadeführer Erich Naumann. 

Einsatzgruppe C was assigned to Army Group South and was commanded by SS-Gruppenführer Dr. Otto Rasch. Rasch who had been careful to ensure that every officer under his command personally murdered Jews was removed from his position in October 1941 and not returned to service in the SS. Units under his command conducted the Babi Yar Massacre, at Kiev in September 1941. He was employed by a German Oil company until the end of the war. He was a defendant at the Einsatzgruppen Trials but charges were dismissed due to his declining health and inability to take part in his defense. He died in 1948 while in custody. He was followed as commander of Einsatzgruppen C by SS-Gruppenführer und Generalleutnant der Polizei Max Thomas. 

Otto Ohlendorf (standing) at the Einsatzgruppen Trial and in Uniform (below)

Lastly, Einsatzgruppe D was assigned to General Erich von Manstein’s 11th Army, which had the responsibility for operations along the Black Sea coast and the conquest of Crimea. It was commander by SS-Gruppenführer Prof. Otto Ohlendorf. During his command his units executed over 90,000 Jews, and at trial he offered no excuses but was brutally honest and unrepentant in what he had done.

The Einsatzgruppen were not standardized in manpower or equipment. In size they were The equivalent of battalions. The largest Einsatzgruppe was Einsatzgruppe A in the North with 990 assigned personnel 151while Einsatzgruppe D was the smallest and had only 550 troops assigned. 152 These units all had SS, SD or Police commanders. Though these units were not large, they also had the support of nine Ordungspolizei battalions, which were initially assigned to the invasion forces to supplement the operations of the Einsatzgruppen153

The Importance of the Ordnungspolizei Battalions

The police contingent would grow to be a massive force. By 1943, these Ordnungspolizei battalions would be grouped into regiments and number about 180,000 men assisted by 301,000 local non-German auxiliaries. 154 These units acted in concert with nine Army Security Divisions which handled rear area security. 155

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Himmler was so secretive that he initially did not reveal the intent and planned use of the Ordnungspolizei units to the Einsatzgruppen commanders. Instead he told them that they had a “heavy task…to “secure and pacify” the Russian area using Sicherheitspolizei and SD methods.” 156 Understanding the effect of these operations on the Ordungspolizei commanders and their personnel,  Himmler told them 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.” 157

Russian Jew about to be executed in 1941 by Einsatzgruppe NCO, note the witnesses that include regular Army Personnel 

The actions of all of the units are well documented; those of the most notorious, the Einsatzgruppen, but also the active and reserve Ordnungspolizei Battalions, the Army Security Divisions, and other Army or Luftwaffe units that directly aided or supported the killing of the Jews, and the locally recruited Schutzmannschaft battalions 158  which 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.” 159

Babi Yar 

Non-Jewish Russians were encouraged to conduct programs which Heydrich noted “had to be encouraged.” 160 An Einsatzgruppen D report numbered 153 noted: “During period covered by this report 3,176 Jews, 85 Partisans, 12 looters, 122 Communist functionaries shot. Total 79,276.” 161   By the spring of 1942 Einsatzgruppe A had claimed “more than 270,000 victims, the overwhelming majority of whom were Jewish.” 162 The total killed for all groups by early 1942 was 518,388 people, mostly Jews. 163 Germany’s Romanian ally acted against Jews in their operational areas as well. In Odessa, “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.” 164

To further cloud the ethics and morality, the operations against Jews were often called anti-partisan operations. Himmler referred to Einsatzgruppen as “anti-Partisan formations” 165 while Wehrmacht Security divisions cooperating with the SS “murdered countless Soviet civilians and burned Russian settlements to the ground under the pretext of subduing partisan resistance.” 166 The German attitude in Russia 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.”” 167

Walter_von_Reichenau

                               Field Marshal Walter von Reichenau

Field Marshal Von Reichenau, commander of the German 6th Army 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.” 168

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.” 169

 Piaśnica_digging_of_the_graves

                                        Jews digging their own graves

The commander of the Wehrmacht’s 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.” 170 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.” 171

einsatzgruppen-brutal-germans-nazi-death-squads1

Einsatzgruppe men and Ordungspolizei in action above and below: Yale Historian Timothy Snyder wrote in his book “On Tyranny” 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.”

Einsatzgruppe_A

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, andauxiliaries 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….” 172

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.” 173Economic 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.””174

All told during the campaign against the Soviet Union the Einsatzgruppen, Ordnungspolizei, Army, and Local Security  killed nearly 1.5 million Russian Jews. 175

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                                  Jewish Women Awaiting Execution 

By 1942, over two million Soviet POW’s had been killed. 600,000 shot outright, 140,000 by the Einsatzkommandos. 176Eventually about 3.3 million Soviet POWs died in German captivity through starvation, disease and exposure. 177

Most are included included in the total of over 10 million Red Army Combat deaths, but those starved were killed as prisoners, and not in combat, attesting to the inhumanity of their German captors. 178

But still the Jews as an indistinguishable part of the Jewish-Bolshevik menace, were the number one target of the Nazis wherever they went, especially in the Soviet Union. The distinguished German historian Karl Dietrich Bracher wrote, “The reality and irreality of the National Socialism were given their most terrible expression in the extermination of the Jews.” 179

arthur nebe

                   Arthur Nebe, from Jew killer to anti-Hitler plotter

Himmler and others continued to use euphemistic language to describe their efforts talking in terms of “Jewish resettlement.” 180 Terms such as special actions, special treatment, execution activity, cleansing and resettlement were used in place of the word murder. 181At 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.” 182

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 183and a fellow conspirator would describe him as a “shadow of his former self, nerves on edge and depressed.” 184 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. 185 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.” 186

Proud and Unrepentant: Ohlendorf and Jost on Trial at Nuremberg 

While while the Einsatzgruppen, Ordungspolizei battalions, the Wehrmacht Security Divisions, and locally recruited forces continued their Jew Hunts, another even more ghastly plan was being launched against the Jews in Nazi occupied territory. The Endlösung of the Jewish Problem had been set in motion.

To be continued…

Notes

119 Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.24

120 Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett The Nemesis of Power p.511

121 Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel. P.132

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

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

124 Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.10 The campaign against the Soviet Union was to be much more openlyideological as compared to the campaign in Poland.

125 Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.150 126 Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.151

125 Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.150 126 Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.151

127 Ibid. Reitlinger, The SS p.175

128 Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 354

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

130 Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.153

131 Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.153

132 Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters pp. 158-159

133 Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed p.56

134 Ibid. Davidowicz. The War Against the Jews p.123

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

136 Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. Nemesis of Power p.513

137 Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel. P.135

138 Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. Nemesis of Power p.513

139 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

140 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 VonRundstedt’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

141 Ibid. Reitlinger, The SS p.176

142 Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.33

143 Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.162

144 Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Keitel p.136

145 Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Keitel pp.136-137

146 Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed p.56

147 Ibid. Blood. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.52

148 Ibid. Reitlinger The SS p. 177

149 Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East p.54

150 Ibid. Reitlinger The SS p. 177

151 Ibid. Rhodes Masters of Death pp.12-13

152 Ibid. Westermann. Hitler’s Police Battalions p.167 153 Ibid. Westermann. Hitler’s Police Battalions p.164 154 Ibid. Blood Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.141

155 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

156 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.

157 Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.422

158 Ibid. Blood Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.55

159 Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 360 160 Ibid. Friedlander TheYears of Extermination p.207 161 Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 360 162 Ibid. Tooze The Wages of Destruction p.481

163 Ibid. Ferguson. The War of the World p.446

164 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.

165 Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 369

166 Ibid. Wette The Wehrmacht p.127

167 Ibid. Blood. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.117

168 Ibid. Hebert p.94

169 Ibid. Hebert pp.94-95

170 Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East pp.90-91

171 Ibid. Tooze The Wages of Destruction p.481

172 Ibid, Hebert p.86

173 Ibid. Magargee. War of Annihilation p.64

174 Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East pp.127-128

175 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%)

176 Ibid. Rhodes. Masters of Death p.241

177 Ibid. Glantz and House When Titans Clashed p.57

178 Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed table on p.292

179 Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.431

180 Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.430

181 Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 367

182 Ibid. Rhodes. Masters of Death p.225

183 Ibid. Rhodes Masters of Death p.225

184 Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 363 185 Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 363 186 Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.423

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Genocide Does Not Happen In a Vacuum: The Ideological Background of the Einsatzgruppen and Other Mass Killers. Poland 1939 r l

babi yar

The Massacre at Babi Yar

Introduction 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Since I recently wrote about the invasion of Poland, the T4 Euthanasia Program, and the actions of the Einsatzgruppen in Poland, I thought that it would be a good thing to lay the foundations for the German campaign in the East which began in Poland on September 1st 1939.

As part of my academic work when I taught ethics at the Joint Forces Staff College a few years, I dealt with military ethics as related to the Just War Theory. In the class on jus post bellum or justice after war I dealt with the legal implications of participating in war crimes.

It is a serious subject and in the class I attempted  to make my students, all relatively senior officers from the United States and allied nations as uncomfortable as possible. I used a number of examples from the major war crimes trials at Nuremberg as well as the Generals Trial. I had some exceptionally good class over those years which motivated me me to go back and do some revisions to a number articles that I wrote in the past, beginning during my time working towards my Masters Degree in Military History, since then I have published a version of this before but I continue, between my other writing to make revisions and additions which I often post here.

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; many of who were men who like me were professional career officers. I realize how easily it is for normal, rational, and even basically decent people to succumb to either participating in or turning a blind eye to crimes against others, even on a massive scale, in fact the bigger they are they seem easier to dismiss, because the victims cease be human, and simply a statistic. Sadly, Josef Stalin probably got human nature right when he said “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.” That comment causes great revulsion in my soul, but I have to admit it seems to be the way that many people deal with such great crimes.

September 29th 2020 was the 79th 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. In total some 33,771 Jews were exterminated by the members of Sonderkommando 4b of Einsatzgruppen C as well as attached Ordungspolizei 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 the various 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.

These issues are still with us. Hannah Arendt made the comment that “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.” Likewise, Historian Gerhard Weinberg wrote:

“It’s very, very important for people to get a sense of what the potentialities of people really are, what the dangers of ignorance can be. It is in this context, that a supposedly advanced society risks descending into the sewer, that the Holocaust is a warning to people who think of themselves as an advanced, modern society.” 

These are uncomfortable subjects. We like to say that the Nazis were different than us or others. To some extent this is true, but the real truth is that most of the Christian Western European countries, and I include the United States have also committed gross crimes against humanity against peoples that we believed were less than human and not afforded human rights or protections. In the movie Judgement at Nuremberg Spencer Tracy makes a comment that should send chills through any of us. He spoke concerning one of the judges on trial, “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….”

American Associate Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson spoke these words in his opening arguments during the Major War Crimes Trials at Nuremberg:

“The persecution of the Jews was a continuous and deliberate policy. It was a policy directed against other nations as well as against the Jews themselves. Anti-Semitism was promoted to divide and embitter the democratic peoples and to soften their resistance to the Nazi aggression. As Robert Ley declared in Der Angriff on 14 May, 1944, “the second German secret weapon is Anti-Semitism because, if it is constantly pursued by Germany, it will become a universal problem which all nations will be forced to consider.”

Anti-Semitism also has been aptly credited with being a “spearhead of terror.” The ghetto was the laboratory for testing repressive measures. Jewish property was the first to be expropriated, but the custom grew and included similar measures against Anti-Nazi Germans, Poles, Czechs, Frenchmen, and Belgians. Extermination of the Jews enabled the Nazis to bring a practised hand to similar measures against Poles, Serbs, and Greeks. The plight of the Jew was a constant threat to opposition or discontent among other elements of Europe’s population -Pacifists, Conservatives, Communists, Catholics, Protestants, Socialists. It was in fact, a threat to every dissenting opinion and to every non-Nazi’s life.” 

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. But the more troubling question is about the adults in the room, the politicians, the career government officials and military officers who had once taken oaths to uphold the Constitution, and laws of their countries. Men who were not subjected to the incessant propaganda of a dictatorship until it arose in the middle or toward the end of their careers.

Beginning tonight I will be exploring the ideological as well as existing military doctrines that brought about Babi Yar and so many other atrocities committed by the Nazis during the campaigns in Poland and the Soviet Union. That is because Genocide and mass murder does not occur in a vacuum. It doesn’t just happen. There are pre-existing racial, ethnic and religious hatreds that often define how a country and culture view their enemies that can play into the domestic persecution of those people, and their actions during war, especially as to how the observe the Geneva and Hague Conventions, especially in terms of their treatment of civilians and non-combatants.

What happened at Babi Yar and the thousands of other massacres committed by the Nazi units, the Einsatzgruppen, Ordungspolizei, Waffen SS, the German Army of Heer, Luftwaffe Field Divisions, and locally recruited auxiliaries, 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 series of articles deal 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.

hitler

Introduction to Genocidal Race War 

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

Economic Historian 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, mostly in Hitler’s belief in the mythical Aryan Supermen of the German Race, and their üntermenschen (sub human) foes, Jews, Gypsies, Blacks and Slavic people. In Hitler’s world  their existence was a threat, and they were occupying lands that rightly belonged to Germany and the Germans.

Lebensraum

Lebensraum

German Anti-Semitism and Adolf Hitler

The root cause 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 cosmopolitan metropolis that had much culture but was also a meeting ground for the various conglomerate of 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.

This attitude was not unique to German but found its roots in the various anthropologies written by other Europeans as well as Germans regarding the lack of rights of “inferior cultures” as related to their colonial expansion as well as the westward expansion of Americans. Friedrich Ratzel a German anthropologist and a founder of the Pan-German League paired the Jews with “the stunted hunting people of the African interior” into “the class of scattered people with no land.” 8 Ratzel’s work also examined the conquest of the Native American tribes by whites. This helped form the basis of Hitler’s Understanding of Lebensraum, a concept that he borrowed from Ratzel. Ratzel was originally a zoologist. In his concept of Lebensraum Ratzel “linked the biological theory of life with the geographical theory of space.” Ratzel believed that to “conquer and hold sufficient Lebensraum, others have to be displaced.” Ratzel noted how European settles had taken over land from the Native Americans to take it for themselves. He noted that “the result was an annihilating struggle, the prize for which was the land, the space.” 9

Another German academic and lecturer at the University of Glasgow Alexander Tille, wrote in 1893 that it is “the right of the stronger race to annihilate the lower…when that race does not maintain its ability to resist then it has no right to exist, for anyone who cannot maintain himself must be content to go under.” Tille’s “laws” were easily applied to both primitive peoples as well as to “the economically less successful peoples of Europe.” 10

Hitler’s lack of success in Vienna and continued struggle, despite a decent inheritance, with poverty and resentment of others led him to the writings of the Pan-Germanic and Anti-Semitic movements. Hitler’s  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. 11 In Vienna Hitler began to connect the Jews with Marxism.12 Joachim Fest noted 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.” 13

Hitler’s racial views were amplified after the war in turbulent Weimar Germany, while serving as a political operative of the German Army, the Reichswehr, was assigned to watch a small but radical political party, the National Socialist, Democratic Workers Party, or NDSAP.  He soon left the army and became a member of the NDSAP, where he rose rapidly within it through is nearly hypnotic oratory skills. It was not long before he took over the party leadership. He reorganized it so that it “became the instrument of Hitler’s policies.” 14

The Bier Hall Putsch, Note Heinrich Himmler holding Flag and Ernst Röhm to Himmler’s left 

Munich Police Breaking Up Hitler‘ Bier Hall Putsch

The party rapidly gained strength under his leadership and Hitler made connections with other prominent right wing groups and leaders, including General Erich Ludendorff and became powerful enough in Munich that he believed that he and his Stürmabteilung (S.A.) would successfully gain the support of other right wing groups, paramilitaries, and possibly the support of the Army. But Hitler overplayed his hand, and his revolt was stopped in Munich’s Odeonsplatz by a company of Police who would not yield. In the resulting firefight a number of Hitler’s men were killed or wounded. Among the wounded was Hermann Goering whose wounds were attended to by a Jewish doctor. Hitler tried to flee but was arrested, tried and convicted of trying to overthrow the government. He was sentenced to five years imprisonment at Landsberg Prison where he was treated as a celebrity and released after serving just nine months in prison.

During his stay at Landsberg Hitler wrote Mein Kampf  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 15 and that the Jews in conjunction with the Catholic Center Party and Socialists worked together for “maximum damage to Germany.” 16

The book was filled with the standard tropes of the anti-Semitism that had swept Europe for decades, it enunciated little in the way of a political plan, except his hatred of the Jews and the need of Germany for Lebensraum, or living space, and was terribly written. It did not prove to be a best seller but Hitler received enough in royalties to live more comfortably, supported by an ever growing ring of financial supporters.

Hitler wrote that the Jews as being the leaders of the “main ideological scourges of the nineteenth and twentieth century’s.” 17 It was the ideology of Hitler’s “obsessive anti-Semitism” 18 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.” 19 Hitler wrote: “The fight against Jewish world Bolshevism requires a clear attitude toward Soviet Russia. You cannot drive out the Devil with Beelzebub.” 20 Richard Evans noted 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 ….” Likewise, Evans wrote that the “Jews were now linked indissolubly in Hitler’s mind with “Bolshevism” and “Marxism.” 21

When Hitler became the dictator of Germany “his ideology and strategy became the ends and means of German foreign policy.” 22 His aims were clear, Hitler remarked to Czech Foreign Minister Chvalkovsky on 21 January 1939: “We are going to destroy the Jews.” 23

It was clear that Hitler understood his own role in this effort telling General Gotthard 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…” 24

To be continued…

Notes

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 Lindqvist, Sven Exterminate All the Brutes: One Man’s Oddessy into the Heart of Darkness and the Origins of European Genocide Translated from the Swedish by Joan Tate, The New Press , New York and London 1992 p.145

9 Ibid. Lindqvist p.154 It is interesting to note that the current American “historian” of the American Religious right

David Barton made the same arguments recently about the American Indians. Barton said: “You have to deal, a lot of it, with how the enemy responds. It’s got to be based on what the enemy responds [to,] you cannot reason with certain types of terrorists; and see that’s why we could not get the Indians to the table to negotiate with us on treaties until after we had thoroughly whipped so many tribes …” “People complain about the fact that the American military and buffalo hunters went out and wiped out all the buffalo in the western plains. Doing that was what brought the Indians to their knees because the Indians lived on those wide western plains where there were very few towns; Indians didn’t go into town to buy supplies, they went to the buffalo herds, that’s where they got their meat, that’s where they got their coats, the hides provided coats, they provided covering for their teepees.

If you don’t have the buffalos, those Indians cannot live on the open western plains without those buffalo and so what happened was the military wiped out the supply line by wiping out the buffalo. That’s what brought those wars to an end, that’s what brought the Indians to their knees and ended all the western conflict.” Retrieved from Barton’s Wallbuilders Live broadcast http://www.wallbuilderslive.com/Historic.asp?cdate=77515 9 May 2014 and text   from   http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/david-barton-explains-just-war-theory-we-had-destroy-indian-  tribes-until-they-became-civiliz

10 Ibid. Lindqvist p.148

11 Ibid. Davidowicz, The War Against the Jews pp.8-9 12 Ibid. Davidowicz. The WarAgainst the Jews p.12 13 Ibid. Fest Hitler. p.47

14 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

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

16 Ibid. Weinberg, Hitler’s Second Book p.60

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

18 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.

19 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

20 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.

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

22 Ibid. Davidowicz The War Against the Jews pp. 88-89

23 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

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

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Our Heart of Darkness and Failure to Understand rather than Just Condemn Evil

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Joseph Conrad wrote in his book Heart of Darkness: “The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.” 

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

As I struggle to understand President Trump and his criminal administration and cult followers in regard to the epic disaster of Coronavirus 19 in the United States, his unabashed authoritarian actions in destroying the guardrails of the Constitution and our Institutions, his open and flagrant disregard for law and the unwritten norms that have helped preserve and protect our resilient yet fragile system of government which depends on the constitutional separation of powers and the need for compromise in order to keep us from falling in into an authoritarian and yes, Fascist dictatorship. He has so corrupted the institutions charged with preserving the rights and liberties of our people, regardless of their political party, race, ethnicity, religion or lack thereof, and turned the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security into instruments of domestic terror that it boggles the mind. Despite all Trump has done to corrupt and poison the American political system, he has done little to take his terror abroad, although he seldom speaks up when other authoritarian rulers use their power to kill and imprison their opposition.

The fact is that the current American President is a serial liar, adulterer, business failure, deceiver, swindler and grifter who has no respect for our ideals as written in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the laws enacted by Congress and upheld by the Supreme Court. But those are just the surface issues, for honestly he is an evil man who could care less about the life of any American, even his followers. The fact is that President Trump is a malignant narcissistic sociopath and open racist who only cares about himself, his power, and his wealth that the lives of people don’t matter to him. Property and businesses yes, but victims of racism and violence committed by Police officers, or right wing racist and fascist individuals or groups don’t matter to him, because they are sub-human criminals who don’t deserve to live as equals in this country. That was never more on display than several times this year after Numerous Black men including George Floyd of Minneapolis who had a police officer who happened to work with him as a club bouncer, kneeled with his knee across Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds, despite Floyd’s plea that he couldn’t breathe before he died. Before that there was Brianna Taylor, a paramedic and EMT in Louisville who had her home invaded by Louisville Police and was dunned down. Last week it was the turn of another Black Man, this time Jacob Blake who was shot seven times in the back by a white police officer who was holding on to his shirt as Blake attempted to get in his car with his three young children. Blake survived but will most likely be crippled for life. There are hundreds of other incidents of police brutality and killings of Blacks and other minorities over the past several decades. Then there are the killings committed by White Supremacists at Black churches, Jewish Synagogues, Islamic Mosques, Sikh Temples, people protesting Confederate monuments and other locations which do not seem to even register in President Trump’s perverted soul. It seems to me that many, if not most Americans do not want to believe that any American President is capable of the commission of gross and unspeakable crimes or approve of them. Trump may not be the first of such men, as we can go back much father, but as President he is the worst, even topping Andrew Johnson in that category of racist criminals, and yes both were impeached, but not removed from office. 

So how did we as Americans get to such a place where such a criminal, scofflaw, and unrepentant racist could not only be elected to office, but could based on inflaming the fears of white people could be re-elected. I find that interesting because of something that Gustave Gilbert, an American Army Psychologist assigned to watch over the Major Nazi War Crimes Defendant’s at Nuremberg came to see. He wrote about a truth that we cannot see in President Trump and his cohort of racist cult followers. Gilbert wrote:

“In my work with the defendants (at the Nuremberg Trails 1945-1949) I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it. A lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the defendants, a genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow men. Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.”

That absence of empathy is common to Trump and the vast majority of his White Christian supporters. The evidence is show in almost every poll, 80-90% of them see nothing wrong in what he is doing and has done. Personally, after having been a Republican for more than half of my life I cannot imagine just how low the GOP has sunk under Trump’s authoritarian leadership. When I left the GOP in 2008 after returning from Iraq, I refused to belief that the party could abandon all principle and support a man with no moral center, no integrity, and no loyalty to family, wives, children, his employees, his investors, or the country.

I honestly believe that one of our greatest problems in the United States is to believe the myths of our nation being a light to the world, our manifest destiny, as well as the twin myths that have shaped us since Reconstruction, the myth of the Noble South, and the myth of the Lost Cause. Likewise the racist crimes committed against committed against almost every immigrant group going back to the Irish and Germans, Then the southern and Eastern Europeans, the Jews, the Japanese, the Chinese, Filipinos, those of Mexican or Latin American Descent, and yes Arabs regardless of their religious beliefs, and last but not least the genocide committed by our English ancestors and our own genocide and confinement to reservations of the descendants of America’s First Nation, more commonly called Native Americans, tend to be minimized by almost all of White America, as well as by other minorities who simply don’t know about the crimes committed by our nation against every Original Nation since the English landed at Jamestown in 1607. We tend to show little empathy for others, especially those darker than us.

Malcom X said something very appropriate, and which if you have not experienced poverty, and discrimination, you may find it hard to empathize with the plight of American Blacks. The often  misunderstood Civil Rights leader said: “The American Negro never can be blamed for his racial animosities – he is only reacting to four hundred years of the conscious racism of the American whites.” What we tend to forget is that such treatment in Europe brought many English, Scots, Irish, Germans, and others to the United States, where their descendants emulated the behaviors of their ancestor’s oppressors, especially towards Blacks who many believed were sub-human, the same term used by the Nazis to describe the Jews. Think about if you or I were the products of such longstanding, pervasive, and institutionalized discrimination, how would you feel or what would you do? If you cannot answer the same as Malcom X, then you will never understand.

One of our chief problems is that we want to believe that evil is simply done be evil people, especially the leaders of enemy nations, because we cannot abide the reflection that we see when we look in the mirror and see our own crimes committed at home and abroad, once again proving that for much of our national existence we have had little empathy for the victims of slavery, the wars against our First Nations, which included biological warfare, and the forced marches of them from their ancestral homelands to desolate lands, which once we found contained gold, silver, or oil, we took back from them, despite our treaty obligations. I could go on to our conquests and geographical expansion against weaker opponents like Mexico, Spain, and the relatively newly independent nations of Central American and the Caribbean. It was no wonder that Ulysses Grant in his memoirs wrote of the conquest of Mexico:

“Generally, the officers of the army were indifferent whether the annexation was consummated or not; but not so all of them. For myself, I was bitterly opposed to the measure, and to this day, regard the war, which resulted, as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation. It was an instance of a republic following the bad example of European monarchies, in not considering justice in their desire to acquire additional territory.

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, because we cannot see ourselves in them. This is often  because we We look abroad we can point to a single person with a wicked ideology and proclaim that  “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 was not able to do so this year because of Europe’s well reasoned travel ban on Americans due to the incomprehensible

When I ponder the evil committed by supposedly civilized men and women of Germany, I realize that they are little different than others who incompetence and insipid evil  of the Trump Regime regarding COVID19 share the immoral 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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                                                            Nankingnanking_massacre_1

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 the late Holocaust survivor 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.”

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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They Thought They Were Free: the Germans 1933-45 and the GOP 2016-2020

they thought they were free

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As I Continue to follow the rhetoric coming out of the Trumpublican Party at their their Virtual Nuremberg Rally, am re-posting an article about one of the most important books that was published in the years following the Second World War. That book is Milton Mayer’s They Thought They Were Free. 

It is one of the most powerful books I have ever read was Milton Mayer’s “They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933-1945.” Mayer was a visiting professor at the University of Frankfurt in the 1950s and lived in a small Hessian town near the city. The book is about the relationships that he built with ten ordinary citizens in the town and how they lived under Nazism and how most saw little wrong with it in the end.

The book is well worth the read and very timely when one compares the attitudes of the men who became Mayer’s friends and many people in the United States today. The last few chapters of the book are a reflection of the author’s opinions of the future of Germany at the time of his writing and he was mistaken on how the Germans would eventually become a society that embraced democracy and rejected authoritarianism (at the time he felt that it was very possible that democracy would fail in Germany,) they do not take away anything from the heart of the book and its message about how people adjust to authoritarian rule.

One chapter in particular struck me, it was a conversion that Mayer had with a colleague at the University who also reflected what it was like to live in the Third Reich and how in doing so he compromised himself and lost the opportunity to resist when resistance might have changed the course of events as Germany proceeded down the road to dictatorship and destruction. The chapter is particularly painful to read as the man understood that he should have known better but didn’t recognize the warning signs of the gradual nature of how life was changing with each new law or dictate from the Fuhrer.

In reading the chapter I see parallels in American society today. There are the Trump loyalists, many of who openly call for restrictions of liberty and crushing opposition to the President’s policies using extra-constitutional means including violence. I have watched videos and interviews with Trump supporters over the past few years, particularly after Charlottesville, the QANON inspired “Pizzagate,” and following the murder of George Floyd the President gave a speech at the White House Rose Garden and then unleashed Federal Police of multiple agencies and the Washington DC National Guard launch an all out attack on peaceful demonstrators in Lafayette Park and outside Saint John’s Church, following which accompanied by the Attorney General, Secretary of Defense, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff marched through the chaos to get a photo op, holding a Bible every which way imaginable until he figured out which way was up. Ever since he was elected some of his followers have openly discussed resorting to violence, killing opponents, and civil war if Trump is removed from office or is defeated in the 2020 election. Sadly, these are not a stand alone video, there are others much like it, as well as blog posts, Twitter and Facebook posts, and other social media platforms. One of Tuesday’s speaker’s Abby Johnson, an anti-abortionist activist has said that Mixed Race children, particularly those that have a Black parent and a White parent are more likely to be criminals than purely White children. That is even worse than how the Nazis viewed mixed race German-Jewish people. And the woman calls herself pro-life. What have we come to?

That being said there are many Trump supporters who through traditions long established in the United States: a distrust of Government authority, the media, academics, supposed leftists and socialists, and finally racial, ethnic, or religious minorities follow him. Sadly for the last 40 years they have been subjected to the incessant drumbeat of those ideologies through right wing talk radio, internet “news” sights and Fox News well meaning and decent people have absorbed race hatred and conspiracy theories, just like regular people in Germany in the late 1920s and early 1930s willingly surrendered their wills to Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party. 

 

As I said, many Trump supporters are quite extreme And violent, while others, persuaded by years of right-wing talk radio, politically charged sermons by their pastors, and the daily dose of Fox News now believe everything said by the President even when confronted by facts.

Then there are Trump’s opponents, but many of the opponents were divided and could not get along with each other in order to thwart Trump.  Some of these opponents actually helped Trump into office by circulating the Russian anti-Hillary Clinton conspiracy theories and falsehoods throughout the 2016 campaign. I think things are different now, but one cannot say what the end will be.

While both parties have true believers and fanatics, there is another segment comprised of the people who simply go with the flow because life is too busy and crisis laden to get too deeply enmeshed in the political debate, and many have become so cynical that they see no difference in either side and are much more concerned about making it paycheck to paycheck, and pray to live as the Coronavirus 19 cuts a swath of death through the American population, and the economy crashes with an over 10% unemployment rate and businesses shuttering forever as Trump and the GOP close off help to all but their richest business and banking allies.

Meanwhile Trump’s Virtual Nuremberg Rally continues with it’s complete submission and worship of Trump the Messiah, the one alone can fix everything, even as they state blatantly racist propaganda like the supposedly pro-life (read anti-abortion) 

When his eventually falls, which men like always do, his followers, be they true believers or those who simply followed because it seemed to be better for them will face a reckoning, with the crimes that they either cooperated or allowed by looking the other way.

So I invite you to read this and draw your own conclusions. Have a great day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Chapter 13: But Then It Was Too Late

“What no one seemed to notice,” said a colleague of mine, a philologist, “was the ever widening gap, after 1933, between the government and the people. Just think how very wide this gap was to begin with, here in Germany. And it became always wider. You know, it doesn’t make people close to their government to be told that this is a people’s government, a true democracy, or to be enrolled in civilian defense, or even to vote. All this has little, really nothing, to do with knowing one is governing.

“What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could not understand it, it could not be released because of national security. And their sense of identification with Hitler, their trust in him, made it easier to widen this gap and reassured those who would otherwise have worried about it.

“This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter.

“You will understand me when I say that my Middle High German was my life. It was all I cared about. I was a scholar, a specialist. Then, suddenly, I was plunged into all the new activity, as the university was drawn into the new situation; meetings, conferences, interviews, ceremonies, and, above all, papers to be filled out, reports, bibliographies, lists, questionnaires. And on top of that were the demands in the community, the things in which one had to, was ‘expected to’ participate that had not been there or had not been important before. It was all rigmarole, of course, but it consumed all one’s energies, coming on top of the work one really wanted to do. You can see how easy it was, then, not to think about fundamental things. One had no time.”

“Those,” I said, “are the words of my friend the baker. ‘One had no time to think. There was so much going on.’”

“Your friend the baker was right,” said my colleague. “The dictatorship, and the whole process of its coming into being, was above all diverting. It provided an excuse not to think for people who did not want to think anyway. I do not speak of your ‘little men,’ your baker and so on; I speak of my colleagues and myself, learned men, mind you. Most of us did not want to think about fundamental things and never had. There was no need to. Nazism gave us some dreadful, fundamental things to think about—we were decent people—and kept us so busy with continuous changes and ‘crises’ and so fascinated, yes, fascinated, by the machinations of the ‘national enemies,’ without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us. Unconsciously, I suppose, we were grateful. Who wants to think?

“To live in this process is absolutely not to be able to notice it—please try to believe me—unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us had ever had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’ that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these ‘little measures’ that no ‘patriotic German’ could resent must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.

“How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly educated ordinary men? Frankly, I do not know. I do not see, even now. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice—‘Resist the beginnings’ and ‘Consider the end.’ But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings. One must foresee the end clearly and certainly and how is this to be done, by ordinary men or even by extraordinary men? Things might have. And everyone counts on that might.

“Your ‘little men,’ your Nazi friends, were not against National Socialism in principle. Men like me, who were, are the greater offenders, not because we knew better (that would be too much to say) but because we sensed better. Pastor Niemöller spoke for the thousands and thousands of men like me when he spoke (too modestly of himself) and said that, when the Nazis attacked the Communists, he was a little uneasy, but, after all, he was not a Communist, and so he did nothing; and then they attacked the Socialists, and he was a little uneasier, but, still, he was not a Socialist, and he did nothing; and then the schools, the press, the Jews, and so on, and he was always uneasier, but still he did nothing. And then they attacked the Church, and he was a Churchman, and he did something—but then it was too late.”

“Yes,” I said.

“You see,” my colleague went on, “one doesn’t see exactly where or how to move. Believe me, this is true. Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. You don’t want to act, or even talk, alone; you don’t want to ‘go out of your way to make trouble.’ Why not?—Well, you are not in the habit of doing it. And it is not just fear, fear of standing alone, that restrains you; it is also genuine uncertainty.

“Uncertainty is a very important factor, and, instead of decreasing as time goes on, it grows. Outside, in the streets, in the general community, ‘everyone’ is happy. One hears no protest, and certainly sees none. You know, in France or Italy there would be slogans against the government painted on walls and fences; in Germany, outside the great cities, perhaps, there is not even this. In the university community, in your own community, you speak privately to your colleagues, some of whom certainly feel as you do; but what do they say? They say, ‘It’s not so bad’ or ‘You’re seeing things’ or ‘You’re an alarmist.’

“And you are an alarmist. You are saying that this must lead to this, and you can’t prove it. These are the beginnings, yes; but how do you know for sure when you don’t know the end, and how do you know, or even surmise, the end? On the one hand, your enemies, the law, the regime, the Party, intimidate you. On the other, your colleagues pooh-pooh you as pessimistic or even neurotic. You are left with your close friends, who are, naturally, people who have always thought as you have.

“But your friends are fewer now. Some have drifted off somewhere or submerged themselves in their work. You no longer see as many as you did at meetings or gatherings. Informal groups become smaller; attendance drops off in little organizations, and the organizations themselves wither. Now, in small gatherings of your oldest friends, you feel that you are talking to yourselves, that you are isolated from the reality of things. This weakens your confidence still further and serves as a further deterrent to—to what? It is clearer all the time that, if you are going to do anything, you must make an occasion to do it, and then you are obviously a troublemaker. So you wait, and you wait.

“But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That’s the difficulty. If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and smallest, thousands, yes, millions would have been sufficiently shocked—if, let us say, the gassing of the Jews in ’43 had come immediately after the ‘German Firm’ stickers on the windows of non-Jewish shops in ’33. But of course this isn’t the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D.

“And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self-deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my case my little boy, hardly more than a baby, saying ‘Jewish swine,’ collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose. The world you live in—your nation, your people—is not the world you were born in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God. The system itself could not have intended this in the beginning, but in order to sustain itself it was compelled to go all the way.

“You have gone almost all the way yourself. Life is a continuing process, a flow, not a succession of acts and events at all. It has flowed to a new level, carrying you with it, without any effort on your part. On this new level you live, you have been living more comfortably every day, with new morals, new principles. You have accepted things you would not have accepted five years ago, a year ago, things that your father, even in Germany, could not have imagined.

“Suddenly it all comes down, all at once. You see what you are, what you have done, or, more accurately, what you haven’t done (for that was all that was required of most of us: that we do nothing). You remember those early meetings of your department in the university when, if one had stood, others would have stood, perhaps, but no one stood. A small matter, a matter of hiring this man or that, and you hired this one rather than that. You remember everything now, and your heart breaks. Too late. You are compromised beyond repair.

“What then? You must then shoot yourself. A few did. Or ‘adjust’ your principles. Many tried, and some, I suppose, succeeded; not I, however. Or learn to live the rest of your life with your shame. This last is the nearest there is, under the circumstances, to heroism: shame. Many Germans became this poor kind of hero, many more, I think, than the world knows or cares to know.”

I said nothing. I thought of nothing to say.

“I can tell you,” my colleague went on, “of a man in Leipzig, a judge. He was not a Nazi, except nominally, but he certainly wasn’t an anti-Nazi. He was just—a judge. In ’42 or ’43, early ’43, I think it was, a Jew was tried before him in a case involving, but only incidentally, relations with an ‘Aryan’ woman. This was ‘race injury,’ something the Party was especially anxious to punish. In the case at bar, however, the judge had the power to convict the man of a ‘nonracial’ offense and send him to an ordinary prison for a very long term, thus saving him from Party ‘processing’ which would have meant concentration camp or, more probably, deportation and death. But the man was innocent of the ‘nonracial’ charge, in the judge’s opinion, and so, as an honorable judge, he acquitted him. Of course, the Party seized the Jew as soon as he left the courtroom.”

“And the judge?”

“Yes, the judge. He could not get the case off his conscience—a case, mind you, in which he had acquitted an innocent man. He thought that he should have convicted him and saved him from the Party, but how could he have convicted an innocent man? The thing preyed on him more and more, and he had to talk about it, first to his family, then to his friends, and then to acquaintances. (That’s how I heard about it.) After the ’44 Putsch they arrested him. After that, I don’t know.”

I said nothing.

“Once the war began,” my colleague continued, “resistance, protest, criticism, complaint, all carried with them a multiplied likelihood of the greatest punishment. Mere lack of enthusiasm, or failure to show it in public, was ‘defeatism.’ You assumed that there were lists of those who would be ‘dealt with’ later, after the victory. Goebbels was very clever here, too. He continually promised a ‘victory orgy’ to ‘take care of’ those who thought that their ‘treasonable attitude’ had escaped notice. And he meant it; that was not just propaganda. And that was enough to put an end to all uncertainty.

“Once the war began, the government could do anything ‘necessary’ to win it; so it was with the ‘final solution of the Jewish problem,’ which the Nazis always talked about but never dared undertake, not even the Nazis, until war and its ‘necessities’ gave them the knowledge that they could get away with it. The people abroad who thought that war against Hitler would help the Jews were wrong. And the people in Germany who, once the war had begun, still thought of complaining, protesting, resisting, were betting on Germany’s losing the war. It was a long bet. Not many made it.”

Copyright notice: Excerpt from pages 166-73 of They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45 by Milton Mayer, published by the University of Chicago Press. ©1955, 1966 by the University of Chicago. All rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that this entire notice, including copyright information, is carried and provided that the University of Chicago Press is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the University of Chicago Press. (Footnotes and other references included in the book may have been removed from this online version of the text.)

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The Film that Shocked the World: Nazi Concentration Camps From Nuremberg

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,


Instead of writing much tonight I am posting a video compiled by American and British personnel as they liberated Nazi Concentration Camps in Germany. The images even though shot in black and white are still nearly 75 years after it was shown in the Nuremberg Palace of Justice on 29 November 1945, just a week into the trial the Allied Prosecutors led by Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Robert H. Jackson introduced it into evidence.

The UPI report of the day’s testimony and the film described the scene:

NUREMBERG, Nov. 29, 1945 (UP) – A tense audience at the war crimes trial watched for 52 horror-packed minutes today a 6,000-foot American Army film baring conditions at Nazi concentration camps. The prosecution charged that the camps were an instrument of policy of German leaders, including the 20 men on trial in the courtroom, in their drive for power.

In an almost deathlike silence the defendants, silhouetted in the dark courtroom by fluorescent lamps so that their guards could watch them, stared fascinated, bowed their heads low or mopped their faces as the show proceeded.

One, Hjalmar Schacht, kept his back turned throughout. Another, Polish Overlord Hans Frank, one of the most infamous mass murderers in world history, got sick.

American Sidney S. Alderman had closed the case on the German seizure of Austria, denouncing Reichsmarshal Hermann Goering, Austrian traitor Arthur Seyss-Inquart, Baron Franz von Papen and former Foreign Minister Baron Constantin von Neurath as the arch-plotters – “sly bullies wearing sanctimonious masks to cover their duplicity.”

High spots included a telephone talk in which Goering dictated to Seyss-Inquart a request which Seyss-Inquart was to make that German troops be sent into Austria; a telephone talk in which Adolf Hitler said he would “never, never forget” Benito Mussolini for co-operating and a 41-minute call by Goering to former Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, then Ambassador in London, describing how “the birds are twittering here” in Berchtesgaden the day after the German invasion.

Court recessed at 3:15 so the movie screen could be made ready. At 3:35 the lights suddenly went out. At the same instant lights set around the prisoners’ dock rail flashed on to light the defendants. Reinforcements of American M.P.’s filed silently into the room to join the white-helmeted guards around the dock.

American Prosecutor Thomas Dodd rose.

“We will now show what concentration camps mean,” he said. “… the camps were not an end in themselves but an integral part of the Nazi system of government. We intend to prove that each defendant knew of the camps and that the camps were instruments by which the defendants retained power. They used the camps to prepare aggressive war.”

At 3:50 the film started grinding. The 6,000 feet shown were selected from 80,000 feet.

First came Leipzig – shots of bodies, burned to a crisp, of men and women who had tried to flee barracks the Nazis set afire and were mowed down by machine-gun fire.

Goering leaned forward in his seat, staring. Rudolf Hess snapped upright, betraying intelligent interest for the first time since the trial started, and whispered to Goering on his right and Ribbentrop on his left.

The camera eye moved slowly over the heaps of burned bodies. War correspondents had seen them before they were piled up – fingers dug into the earth in agony.

Col. Gen. Alfred Jodi put on dark glasses. Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel bent stiffly forward.

The film flashed to Hamadar, which the Germans called the shudder house.

Papen lowered his head and covered his face with a handkerchief.

The film went on to Northausen, which the American 3rd Armored and 104th Infantry divisions liberated. It showed 2,500 bodies stacked beside a bombed building.

Schacht, his owl-like glasses reflecting the light in the prisoners’ dock, remained rigidly facing the audience, turned away from the screen.

German civilians, carrying bodies to mass graves under the guns of American troops, passed on the screen.

Grand-Adm. Karl Doenitz leaned heavily over the side of the dock as if he had taken all he could. Keitel took off his glasses, mopped his sweating face and lowered his head.

Next came Buchenwald, one of the worst of all. The film showed German civilians marching past a display of lamp shades, picture frames, plaques and bookmarks made of the skin of murdered men. The wife of the S.S. camp commandant had selected the victims.

Hess still watched, intensified. Julius Streicher stared with a deadpan face. Ribbentrop still had his eyes to the floor.

Then came Mauthausen, notorious Dachau, one of the earliest, greatest and most dreadful, and Belsen, where bodies were piled so high British bulldozers had to push them int o mass graves.

The film ended and the lights went on. For long moments the entire audience sat as if transfixed. Goering did not move his eyes from the screen until court adjourned one minute later. Schacht stood up and his lawyer said that he had nothing to do with the camps – in fact, would tell the court that he spent seven months at Dachau himself.

The film is real, and there was much more like it; in fact the Soviets would show a film from the death camps they liberated just two months later. But for now I will leave you with the film that shocked the world, and forever turned the tide against the Nazi Major War Criminals.

Please don’t believe that such events could happen in any country in the World, including Trump’s America. Please watch all of it, even if it sickens you as it should. Please don’t believe anything Trump says regarding race, ethnicity, religion, political opponents, the free press, and his deliberate falsification or anything that might embarrass him, because in each case he is telling his alternate version of the truth which acquits him and blames his victims.
As of today he has been responsible for decisions that have claimed the lives of over 160,000 American and infected over Five million Americans with the Coronavirus 19 virus and a pandemic that has made a nation with just 4.25% of the Worlds population, which supposedly had the best in medical, scientific and research programs to stop pandemics to the worst for a nation supposedly so well educated, prepared, and ready for a pandemic.

But instead of a President dedicated to telling the truth, backing the facts of science and medicine, we have a man who only speaks for himself and those who will not turn on him. 162,000 dead, and over Five Million infected Americans testify against him

Yet, unlike the President I will tell the truth because I am bound by my oath to the Constitution, and my vows as a priest.

With that I leave you for tonight. I do need get some sleep.

I report, you decide.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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