Category Archives: holocaust

The Beginning of Disaster at Stalingrad: Operation Uranus, the Revenge of the Red Army

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

On November 19th 1942 the Soviet Red Army launched Operation Uranus against the weakly held flanks of the German 6th Army at Stalingrad. By 22nd 1942 the Commander of the German 6th Army radioed Berlin that the Red Army had surrounded his army, as well as portions of the 4th Panzer Army. But Operation Uranus was simply the beginning of an end which Hitler had embarked on June 22nd 1941 when he launched Operation Barbarossa. It would end in May of 1945 when Berlin surrendered following the Soviet offensive across the Oder-Neisse rivers and defensive lines, known by the Soviets as the Berlin Strategic Offensive Operation. There is a direct line between the former and the latter, and Operation Uranus was the beginning of the end of Nazi Germany, but the line from Barbarossa to Berlin is a line that is so connected that the atrocities, war crimes, and crimes of both sides, against humanity in between cannot be disconnected from each other.

This is certainly no moral equivalence in my argument. The Nazis under Hitler were the aggressors. They defined the character of the war of aggression on which they embarked, despite the crimes of Stalin before and after the war.

Tonight I am posting what was a paper for one of my Masters degree classes dealing with the German 1942 summer offensive, Operation Blau, which ended when the Red Army began its counter-offensive on November 18th 1942. The German offensive ended in a disastrous defeat at Stalingrad which could have been even worse had it not been for the superb improvisation of Field Marshal Erich Von Manstein who extricated the rest of Army Group South from the Caucasus and stuck a counterblow that halted the Soviet advance.

German and Soviet Plans

Following the Soviet winter offensive and the near disaster in front of Moscow the German High Command was faced with the strategic decision of what to do in the 1942 campaign.  Several options were considered and it was decided to seize the Caucasus oilfields and in the process capture or neutralize the city of Stalingrad on the Volga.  River.

However, the German High Command was divided on the actual objectives of the campaign. The OKH (Oberkommando Des Heeres) under the guidance of Army Chief of Staff General Franz Halder, which was in charge of the Eastern Front, assumed that Stalingrad was the objective of the campaign. They believed that the advance into the Caucasus was to be a blocking effort.[i] On the other hand, Hitler and his OKW (Oberkommando Der Wehrmacht) envisioned that Army Group South would capture the Caucasus oil fields and capture or neutralize Stalingrad to secure the left flank.[ii]

Both the OKH and OKW considered Stalingrad significant but OKW “initially regarded it as a weigh station en route to the Caucasus oil fields.”[iii] The conflict between OKH and OKW apparent in the ambiguity of Directive No. 41. The directive “included the ‘seizure of the oil region of the Caucasus’ in the preamble concerning the general aim of the campaign, yet made no mention of this in the main plan of operations.”[iv]

At the planning conference held at Army Group South in early June “Hitler hardly mentioned Stalingrad. As far as his Generals were concerned it was little more than a name on the map. Hitler’s obsession was with the oil fields of the Caucasus.”[v] Manstein noted that “Hitler’s strategic objectives were governed chiefly by the needs of his war economy….”[vi] Anthony Beevor notes that at this stage of planning “the only interest in Stalingrad was to eliminate the armaments factories there and secure a position on the Volga. The capture of the city was not considered necessary.”[vii] German planners “expected that the Soviets would again accept decisive battle to defend these regions.”[viii]

Knocked out T-34 Tanks

In Moscow Stalin and his Generals attempted to guess the direction of the impending German offensive.  “Stalin was convinced that Moscow remained the principle German objective…Most of the Red Army’s strategic reserves…were therefore held in the Moscow region.”[ix]

With this in mind the Red Army attempted to disrupt the German offensive and to attempt to recover the key city of Kharkov. The Red Army launched three offensives against the Germans under the direction of Stavka. The largest of these, an attempt to take Kharkov was defeated between 12-22 May with the loss of most of the armor in southern Russia. This compounded by an equally disastrous defeat of Red Army forces in Crimea by Von Manstein’s 11th Army. The heavy losses meant that the Red Army would face the German offensive in a severely weakened condition.[x]

Operation Blau

The German offensive began on 28 June under the command of Field Marshal Fedor von Bock. Von Bock’s command included two separate army groups, Army Group B under Field Marshal Maximillian Von Weichs. Army Group B was comprised of 2nd Army, 6th Army, and the 4th Panzer Army. It also had three allied armies, the Italian 8th Army, the 2nd Hungarian, and 4th Romanian. These forces operated in the northern part of the operational area. Army Group A, under command of Field Marshal Wilhelm List was comprised of The 17th Army, 11th Army, and 1st Panzer Army.[xi] One allied Army, the Romanian 3rd Army was attached to it.

The allied armies which had few armored or motorized forces and little heavy artillery were being depended on to filled the gaps that the Germans could no longer fill with their own troops. The reliance on these units would prove to be a key factor in the German defeat.

Army Group B provided the main effort and its offensive quickly smashed through the defending Soviet armies. By July 20th Hitler believed that “the Russian is finished.”[xii] One reason for the German success in the south was that until July 7th Stalin believed that Moscow was still the primary objective.[xiii] Despite his success, Von Bock was prevented by Hitler from destroying Soviet formations left behind his advance. He protested and was relieved of command by Hitler. Von Bock was replaced by Von Weichs which created a difficult command and control problem.  Manstein noted that this created a “grotesque chain of command on the German southern wing” with the result that Army Group A had “no commander of its own whatever” and Army Group B had “no few than seven armies under command including four allied ones.”[xiv]

Panzer IV Ausf F Medium Tank

This decision proved fateful.  Hitler decided to redirect the advance of the 4th Panzer Army to support an early passage of the lower Don, diverting it from its drive on Stalingrad.  Additionally, the army groups became independent of each other when Bock was relieved of command.  They were “assigned independent-and diverging-objectives” under the terms of Directive No.45.[xv] This combination of events would have a decisive impact on the campaign.  The decision prevented a quick seizure of Stalingrad by 4th Panzer Army followed by a hand over to 6th Army to establish the “block” as described by Directive No.41.  Field Marshal Ewald Von Kleist, now commanding Army Group A noted that he didn’t need 4th Panzer Army’s help to accomplish his objectives and that it could have “taken Stalingrad without a fight at the end of July….”[xvi]

The result of Hitler’s decision doomed the campaign. Air support and fuel needed by Army Group A was transferred to 6th Army, denuding Army Group A of the resources that it needed to conclude its conquest of the Caucasus.[xvii] At the same time it denied Army Group B of the Panzer Army that could have quickly seized Stalingrad when it was still possible to do so.  Beevor calls Hitler’s decision a disastrous compromise.[xviii] Halder believed the decision underestimated the capabilities of the Red Army and was “both ludicrous and dangerous.”[xix]

All Eyes on Stalingrad

On July 22 as the Wehrmacht ran short on fuel and divisions to commit to the Caucasus, and the 6th Army fought for control of Voronezh, the Soviets created the Stalingrad Front to control operations in that city. Stavka moved an NKVD Division to the city,[xx] and rapidly filled the new front with formations transferred from the Moscow Front.[xxi]

Stalin issued Stavka Order 227, better known as “No Step Back” on 28 July. The order mandated that commanders and political officers who retreated would be assigned to Penal battalions[xxii]. It directed that each field Army was to form three to five special units of about 200 men each as a second line “to shoot any man who ran away.”[xxiii] Russian resistance west of the Don stiffened and slowed the German advance.

German commanders were astonished “at the profligacy of Russian commanders with their men’s lives.”[xxiv] Von Kleist compared the stubbornness of Russians in his area to those of the previous year and wrote that they were local troops “who fought more stubbornly because they were fighting to defend their homes.”[xxv] Additionally, Stalin changed commanders frequently in the “vain hope that a ruthless new leader could galvanize resistance and transform the situation.”[xxvi] General Vasily Chuikov brought the 64th Army into the Stalingrad Front in mid-July to hold the Germans west of the Don.[xxvii]

German Soldier in Stalingrad

The attacking German armies were weakened when the OKW transferred several key SS Panzer Divisions and the Grossdeutschland Division to France. The supporting Hungarian, Italian and Romanian allied armies lacked motorization, modern armor or anti-tank units and were unable to fulfill the gaps left by the loss of experienced German divisions and the unrealistic expectations of Hitler.[xxviii]

General Friedrich von Paulus

6th Army was virtually immobilized for 10 days due to lack of supplies. This allowed the Russians to establish a defense on the Don Bend.[xxix] To the south the Germans were held up by lack of fuel and increased Soviet resistance which included the introduction of a force of 800 bombers.[xxx]

Glantz and House noted that following the capture of Rostov on July 23rd, “Hitler abruptly focused on the industrial and symbolic value of Stalingrad.”[xxxi] Undeterred by warnings from Halder that fresh Russian formations were massing east of the Volga and the those of Quartermaster General Eduard Wagner, who guaranteed that he could supply either the thrust to the Caucasus or Stalingrad, but not both.[xxxii]

Again frustrated by slow the slow progress of the offensive, Hitler reverted to the original plan for 4th Panzer Army to assist 6th Army at Stalingrad. However, the cost in time and fuel necessitated by his changing of the plan in the first place were significant to the operation. Now the question for the Germans was whether “they could make up for Hitler’s changes in plan.”[xxxiii]

Strategic Implications

The changes in the German plan had distinct ramifications for both sides.  General F. W. Von Mellenthin wrote of Hitler’s meddling, that “the diversion of effort between the Caucasus and Stalingrad ruined our whole campaign.”[xxxiv] The Germans were able not secure the Caucasus oil fields which Hitler considered vital to the German war effort. While they advanced deep into the region and captured the Maikop oil fields, the vital wells and refineries were almost completely destroyed by the retreating Red Army.[xxxv]

Army Group A was halted by the Russians along the crests of the Caucasus on August 28th.[xxxvi] This left Hitler deeply “dissatisfied with the situation of Army Group A.”[xxxvii] Kleist and others attributed much of the failure to a lack of fuel[xxxviii] and General Günther Blumentritt noted that Mountain divisions that could have made the breakthrough were employed along the Black Sea coast in secondary operations.[xxxix]

Fuel and supply shortages delayed 6th Army’s advance while General Herman Hoth’s 4th Panzer Army was needlessly shuttled between Rostov and Stalingrad. By the time it resumed its attack, the Russians “had sufficiently recovered to check its advance.”[xl] As 6th Army advanced to the East, the “protection of Army Group B’s ever-extending northern flank was taken over by the 3rd Rumanian, the 2nd Hungarian and the newly formed 8th Italian Army.”[xli] The allied armies were neither equipped for the Russian campaign nor were they well motivated for a campaign that offered them or their countries much benefit.[xlii]

The supply shortage in both army groups was not helped by a significant logistics bottleneck. All supplies for Army Group A and Army Group B had pass over a single crossing over the Dnieper River. Manstein noted that this prevented the swift movement of troops from one area to another.[xliii]

General Friedrich Von Paulus’ 6th Army now attempted to rush Stalingrad between the 25th and 29th of July, while Hoth milled about on the lower Don.  However, Paulus’s piecemeal commitment of his divisions and failure to concentrate his army in the face of unexpectedly strong Soviet resistance caused the attacks to fail.  Paulus was forced to halt 6th Army on the Don so it could concentrate its forces and build its logistics base [xliv] as well as to allow Hoth’s 4th Panzer Army to come up from the south.

The delay permitted the Russians to build up their forces west of Stalingrad, to reinforce the Stalingrad front, and to strengthen the defenses of the city. [xlv] Ince the Germans were now operating far from their logistics center, and. The Red Army was closer to its supply centers and due to the distances involved it was now far easier for the Russians to reinforce the Stalingrad front than it was for the Germans to supply their armies.[xlvi] The delay also allowed the Russians to fill a number of key leadership positions with the Generals who would skillfully fight the battle.[xlvii]

German Mountain Troops planting Swastika Flag on Mount Elbrus

Hitler now focused on the capture of Stalingrad despite the fact that “as a city Stalingrad was of no strategic importance.”[xlviii] Strategically, its capture would cut Soviet supply lines to the Caucasus,[xlix] but this objective could be have been achieved without its capture. The success of the Soviets in checking Army Group A’s advance in the Caucasus began to give Stalingrad a moral importance to Hitler , which was enhanced by its name. This came to outweigh its strategic value.”[l] To Hitler Stalingrad would gain “a mystic significance”[li] and along with Leningrad, still besieged by the Wehrmacht, became “not only military but also psychological objectives.”[lii]

The Germans mounted a frontal assault on Stalingrad with the 6th Army, supported by elements of the 4th Panzer Army, despite air reconnaissance that indicated “the Russians are throwing forces from all directions at Stalingrad.[liii] Paulus as the senior General was in charge of the advance, with Hoth subordinated to him, but the attack had to wait until Hoth’s army could fight its way up from the south.[liv] Von Mellenthin comments rightly that “when Stalingrad was not taken on the first rush, it would have been better to mask it….”[lv]

It is clear that the German advance had actually reached its culminating point with the failure of the advance into the Caucasus and Paulus’s initial setback on the Don, but it was not yet apparent to many involved.[lvi] The proper course of action would have been to halt and build up the front and create mobile reserve to parry any Russian offensive along northern flank while reinforcing success in the Caucasus. Manstein wrote that “by failing to take appropriate action after his offensive had petered out without achieving anything definite, he [Hitler] paved the way to the tragedy of Stalingrad!”[lvii]

Transfixed by Stalingrad

Luftwaffe Ju-52 Transport

On August 19th Paulus launched a concentric attack against the Russian 62nd and 64th Armies on the Don.  The attack ran into problems, especially in Hoth’s sector.[lviii] Yet, on the 22nd the 14th Panzer Corps “forced a very narrow breach in the Russian perimeter at Vertyachi and fought its way across the northern suburbs of Stalingrad,”[lix] and reached the Volga on the 23rd. That day 4th Air Fleet launched 1600 sorties against the city dropping over 1,000 tons of bombs On the city. [lx]

The German breakthrough imperiled the Soviet position as they had concentrated their strongest forces against Hoth’s 4th Panzer Army.[lxi] The Germans maintained air superiority in the sector and the Luftwaffe continued its heavy bombing attacks.

During the last days of August the 6th Army “moved steadily forward into the suburbs of the city, setting the stage for battle.”[lxii] As the Soviets reacted to Paulus, Hoth finally achieved a breakthrough in the south which threatened the Russian position.  However, the 6th Army was unable to disengage its mobile forces from the fight in the city to link up with the 4th Panzer Army and thus another opportunity had been missed.[lxiii]

As 6th Army moved into the city, General Andrey Yeromenko ordered attacks against General Hans Hube’s 16th Panzer Division. Soviet resistance increased, and as more Red Army formations arrived the Germans suffered “one of their heaviest casualty rates.”[lxiv] Though unsuccessful, the counterattacks “managed to deflect Paulus’s reserves at the most critical moment.”[lxv]

Despite this, the Germans remained confident the first week of September as 6th Army and 4th Panzer Army linked up, but Yeremenko saved his forces by withdrawing and avoided encirclement, and retired to an improvised line close to the city.[lxvi]

“Time is Blood”

General Vasily Chuikov at Stalingrad

On September 12th Chuikov was appointed to command 62nd Army in Stalingrad.  Chuikov understood that there “was only one way to hold on. They had to pay in lives. ‘Time is blood,’ as Chuikov put it later.”[lxvii] Stalin sent Nikita Khrushchev to the front “with orders to inspire the Armies and civilian population to fight to the end.”[lxviii] The 13th Guards Rifle Division arrived on the 14th saved the Volga landings but it lost 30% casualties in its first 24 hours of combat.[lxix] An NKVD regiment and other units held the strategically sited high ground of Mamaev Kurgan, keeping German guns from controlling the Volga.[lxx]

The defenders fought house to house and block by block. Red Army and NKVD divisions were reinforced by Naval Infantry.  Chuikov conducted the defense with a brutal ferocity, relieving senior commanders who showed a lack of fight and sending many officers to penal units.  Chuikov funneled the massed German attacks into “breakwaters” where the panzers and infantry could be separated from each other causing heavy German casualties.[lxxi]

Communism Must be Deprived of Its Shrine

Now the “city became a prestige item, its capture ‘urgently necessary for psychological reasons,’ Hitler declared on October 2nd. A week later he declared that Communism must be ‘deprived of its shrine.’”[lxxii] Paulus’s troops continued to gain ground, however slowly and at great cost, especially among their infantry. Casualties were so heavy that companies had to be combined.

Chuikov used his artillery to interdict the Germans from the far side of the Volga where it was immune from ground attack. The fight in the city was fought by assault squads with incredible ferocity, and the close-quarter combat was dubbed “’Rattenkrieg’ by German soldiers.”[lxxiii]

Von Paulus brought more units into the city and continued to slowly drive the Russians back against the river, and by early October Chuikov wondered if he would be able to hold.[lxxiv] By early November Chuikov “was altogether holding only one-tenth of Stalingrad-a few factory buildings and a few miles of river bank.”[lxxv] Paulus now expected “to capture the entire city by 10 November,”[lxxvi] despite the fact that many of his units were fought out. The 6th Army Staff judged that 42% of the battalions of 51st Corps were fought out and no longer combat effective.[lxxvii] Even so, on November 9th, the 19th anniversary of the Beer Hall Putsch, Hitler declared “No power on earth will force us out of Stalingrad again!”[lxxvi.]

Operation Uranus, the Soviet Counter Offensive

On September 24th Hitler relieved Halder as Chief of Staff of the Army for persisting in explaining “what would happen when new Russian reserve armies attacked the over-extended flank that ran out to Stalingrad.”[lxxix] Many Officers on the German side now recognized the danger. Blumentritt said “The danger to the long-stretched flank of our advance developed gradually, but it became clear early enough for anyone to perceive it who was not willfully blind.”[lxxx] Warnings of the danger were also given by Rumanian Marshall Antonescu and the staff sections of Army Group B and the 6th Army[lxxxi]. Despite this Hitler remained transfixed on Stalingrad and failed to allow his commanders to conduct operations that might be more successful elsewhere. In doing so the Germans gave up the advantage of uncertainty and once the German “aim became obvious…the Russian Command could commit its reserves with assurance.”[lxxxii]

In the midst of Stalin’s concern about Stalingrad Stavka planners never lost sight of their goal to resume large scale offensive operations as soon as possible in order to destroy at least one German Army Group.[lxxxiii] Unlike Hitler, Stalin had finally begun to trust his Generals. In September, Stavka under the direction of Marshal Aleksandr Vasilevsky produced a plan to cut off the “German spearhead at Stalingrad by attacking the weak Rumanian forces on its flanks.”[lxxxiv]

At first Stalin “showed little enthusiasm” for the attack, fearing that Stalingrad might be lost, but on 13 September he gave his full backing to the proposal. [lxxxv] Zhukov, Vasilevsky, and Vatutin developed into a plan involving two operations, Operation Uranus to destroy the German and allied forces at Stalingrad, and Operation Saturn to destroy all the German forces in the south, along with a supporting attack to fix German forces in the north, Operation Mars which was aimed at Army Group Center.[lxxxvi]

Soviet Armor Advancing to the Cheers of Civilians

To accomplish the destruction of 6th Army and part of 4th Panzer Army, Stavka employed over 60% of the “whole tank strength of the Red Army.”[lxxxvii] Strict secrecy combined with numerous acts of deception were used by the Red Army to disguise the operation.[lxxxviii] The plan involved an attack against 3rd Rumanian Army on the northern flank by 5th Tank Army and two infantry armies with supporting units.[lxxxix]

In the south against the 4th Rumanian Army and weak elements of the 4th Panzer Army, another force of over 160,000 men including 430 tanks were deployed.[xc] Despite warnings from his Intelligence Officer, Von Paulus did not expect a deep offensive into his flanks and rear and made no plans to prepare to face the threat.[xci] Other senior officers at OKW believed that the attack would take place against Army Group Center.[xcii] Warlimont notes that there was a “deceptive confidence in German Supreme Headquarters.”[xciii]

The storm broke on 19 November as Soviet forces attacked, rapidly crushing Romanian armies in both sectors[xciv] and linking up on November 23rd.[xcv] The 48th Panzer Corps which was deployed to support the Romanians was weak and had few operational tanks.[xcvi] It attempted a counterattack, but was “cut to pieces” in an encounter with 5th Tank Army.[xcvii]

A promising attempt by 29th Motorized division against the flank of the southern Russian pincer was halted by the Army Group and the division was ordered to take up defensive positions south of Stalingrad.[xcviii] Meanwhile, the Luftwaffe was neutralized by bad weather.[xcix] Von Paulus, in Stalingrad continued to do nothing since the attacks were outside of his area of responsibility, and waited for instructions from the Army Group. [c]

As a result the 16th and 24th Panzer Divisions which could have assisted matters to the west remained “bogged down in street-fighting in Stalingrad.”[ci] Without support 6th Army units west of Stalingrad were forced to,retreat in horrific conditions.  By the 23rd, the 6th Army was cut off along with one corps of 4th Panzer Army and assorted Romanian units, a total over 330,000 men.  The entrapped force would require the Soviets to use seven rifle armies and devote much staff attention to eliminate.[cii]

The Death of 6th Army

Hitler ordered Von Manstein to form Army Group Don to relieve Stalingrad. Hitler would not countenance any attempt by 6th Army to break out of the pocket and wanted Manstein to break through and relieve 6th Army.[ciii] Hitler refused a request by Paulus on 23 November to move troops to prepare for a possible a break out attempt, assuring him that he would be relieved.[civ]

Albert Speer notes that General Kurt Zeitzler, who replaced Halder insisted that the Sixth Army must break out to the west.”[cv] Hitler told Zeitzler that “We should under no circumstances give this up. We won’t get it back once it’s lost.”[cvi] Hermann Goering promised that the Luftwaffe would be able to meet the re-supply needs of 6th Army by air, even though his Generals knew that it was impossible with the number of transport aircraft available.[cvii]

Hitler took Goering at his word and exclaimed “Stalingrad can be held! It is foolish to go on talking any more about a breakout by Sixth Army…”[cviii] A Führer decree was issued ordering that the front be held at all costs.[cix] Walter Goerlitz wrote that “Hitler was incapable of conceiving that the 6th Army should do anything but fight where it stood.”[cx] Likewise Manstein had precious few troops with which to counterattack and he also had to protect the flank of Army Group A, which was still deep in the Caucasus and in danger of being cut off.

Field Marshal Erich von Manstein

His army group was only at corps strength and was spread across a 200 mile front.[cxi] Any relief attempt had to wait for more troops, especially Panzers divisions. Manstein too believed that the best chance for a breakout had passed and that it was a serious error for Paulus to put the request to withdraw through to Hitler rather than the Army Group or act on his own.[cxii] Many soldiers were optimistic that Hitler would get them out.[cxiii] Other generals like Guderian, Reichenau or Hoeppner might have acted, but Paulus was no rebel.[cxi]

Operation Saturn began on 7 December. The Red Army destroyed the Italian 8th Army and forced the Germans to parry the threat.[cxv] A relief attempt by 57th Panzer Corps under Hoth on 12 December made some headway until a massive Soviet counterattack on 24 December drove it back.[cxvi] This attack was hampered by OKW’s refusal to allocate the 17th Panzer and 16th Motorized divisions to Manstein,[cxvii] and by 6th Army not attacking out to link with the relief force.[cxviii]

By January 6th, Von Paulus signaled OKW “Army starving and frozen, have no ammunition and cannot move tanks anymore.”[cxix] On 10 January the Soviets launched Operation Ring to eliminate the pocket and despite all odds German troops fought on. On the 16th Paulus requested that battle worthy units be allowed to break out, but the request was not replied to by OKW. cxx] On January 22nd the last airfield was overrun, and on January 31st Paulus surrendered.[cxxi]

Analysis

Stalingrad had strangely drawn the attention of both sides, but the Russians never lost sight of their primary objectives during the campaign. The Germans on the other hand committed numerous unforced errors mostly caused by Hitler or Paulus. After the fall of Stalingrad as the Soviets attempted to follow up their success by attempted to cut off Army Group “A” Manstein was permitted to wage a mobile defense while Von Kleist managed to withdraw with few losses.[cxxii]

The superior generalship of Manstein and Von Kleist prevented the wholesale destruction of German forces in southern Russia, and Manstein’s counter offensive inflicted a severe defeat on the Soviets. However, the German Army had been badly defeated.  The seeds of defeat were laid early, the failure to destroy bypassed Soviet formations in July, the diversion of 4th Panzer Army from Stalingrad, and the divergent objectives of trying to capture the Caucasus and Stalingrad at the same time.  This diluted both offensives ensuring that neither succeeded.  Likewise the failure to recognize the culminating point when it was reached and to adjust operations accordingly was disastrous for the Germans.

The failure create a mobile reserve to meet possible Russian counter offensives and the fixation on Stalingrad took the German focus off of the critical, yet weakly held flanks. The hubris of Hitler and OKW to believe that the Russians were incapable of conducting major mobile operations even as Stavka commenced offensive operations on those flanks all contributed to the defeat.  Clark notes these facts, but adds that the Germans “were simply attempting too much.”[cxxiii]

Soviet numbers allowed them to wear down the Germans even in defeat.[cxxiv] At the same time Stalin gave his commanders a chance to revive the mobile doctrine of deep operations with mechanized and shock armies that he had discredited in the 1930s.[cxxv] Throughout the campaign Zhukov, Chuikov and other commanders maintained both their nerve even when it appeared that Stalingrad was all but lost. They never lost sight of their goal of destroying major German formations though they failed to entrap Army Group A in the Caucasus.

Notes

[i] Clark, Alan. Barbarossa: The Russian-German Conflict:1941-45. Perennial Books, An imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, New York, NY 1965. p.191

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titan’s Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. The University Press of Kansas, Lawrence KS, 1995. p.111

[iv] Ibid. Clark. p.191

[v] Beevor, Anthony. Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943. Penguin Books, New York NY 1998. p.69

[vi] Manstein, Erich von. Forward by B.H. Liddle Hart, Introduction by Martin Blumenson. Lost victories: The War Memoirs of Hitler’s Most Brilliant General. Zenith Press, St Paul MN 2004. First Published 1955 as Verlorene Siege, English Translation 1958 by Methuen Company. p.291 This opinion is not isolated, Beevor Quotes Paulus “If we don’t take Maikop and Gronzy…then I must put an end to the war.” (Beevor pp. 69-70)  Halder on the other hand believed that Hitler emphasized that the objective was “the River Volga at Stalingrad. (Clark. p.190)

[vii] Ibid. Beevor. p.70.

[viii] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.106

[ix] Ibid. p.105-106

[x] Ibid. Clark. p.203.  The offensive did impose a delay on the German offensive.

[xi] Ibid. Clark. p.191 Each group also contained allied armies.

[xii] Ibid. p.209.

[xiii] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.119

[xiv] Ibid. Manstein. p.292.

[xv] Ibid. Clark. p.209

[xvi] Ibid. Clark.  p.211

[xvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.120. There is a good discussion of the impact of this decision here as 6th Army’s advance was given priority for both air support and fuel.

[xviii] Ibid. Beevor. p.74

[xix] Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45. Translated by R.H. Berry, Presido Press, Novato CA, 1964. p.249

[xx] Ibid. Beevor. p.75 This was the 10th NKVD Division and it took control of all local militia, NKVD, and river traffic, and established armored trains and armor training schools.

[xxi] Ibid. Clark. p.212

[xxii] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.121

[xxiii] Ibid. Beevor. p.85

[xxiv] Ibid. p.89

[xxv] Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Quill Publishers, New York, NY 1979. Originally published by the author in 1948. p.202

[xxvi] Ibid. Beevor. p.88

[xxvii] Ibid. Beevor. p.90

[xxviii] Ibid. Beevor. p.81

[xxix] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.121

[xxx] Ibid. Liddell-Hart. p.202

[xxxi] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.120

[xxxii] Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff. Westview Press, Frederick A. Praeger Publisher, Boulder, CO. 1985 p.416

[xxxiii] Ibid. Beevor. pp.95-96.

[xxxiv] Von Mellenthin, F.W. Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armor in the Second World War. Translated H. Betzler, Edited by L.C.F. Turner. Oklahoma University Press 1956, Ballantine Books, New York, NY. 1971. p.193

[xxxv] Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. A Touchstone Book published by Simon and Schuster, 1981, Copyright 1959 and 1960. p.914

[xxxvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.122

[xxxvii] Ibid. Warlimont. p.256

[xxxviii] Ibid. Liddell-Hart. p.203

[xxxix] Ibid. p.204

[xl] Ibid. Shirer. p.914

[xli] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.416

[xlii] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.416

[xliii] Ibid. Manstein. p.293

[xliv] Ibid. Clark. p.214

[xlv] Ibid. Beevor. pp.97-99. The mobilization included military, political, civilian and industrial elements.

[xlvi] Liddell-Hart, B.H. Strategy. A Signet Book, the New American Library, New York, NY. 1974, Originally Published by Faber and Faber Ltd., London. 1954 & 1967. p.250

[xlvii] Ibid. Beevor. p.99.  Two key commanders arrived during this time frame, Colonel General Andrei Yeremenko, who would command the Stalingrad Front  and General Chuikov commander of 64th Army who would conduct the defense of the city.

[xlviii] Carell, Paul Hitler Moves East: 1941-1943. Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1971, German Edition published 1963. p.581

[xlix] Ibid. Shirer.  p.909.

[l] Ibid. Liddell-Hart, Strategy. p.250

[li] Wheeler-Bennett, John W. The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945. St. Martin’s Press, New York, NY 1954.  p.531

[lii] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. p.531

[liii] Ibid. Beevor. p.96

[liv] Ibid. Clark. p.216.

[lv] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. P.193

[lvi] See Von Mellinthin pp.193-194.  Von Mellinthin quotes Colonel Dinger, the Operations Officer of 3rd Motorized Division at Stalingrad until a few days before its fall. Dingler noted that the Germans on reaching Stalingrad “had reached the end of their power. Their offensive strength was inadequate to complete the victory, nor could they replace the losses they had suffered.” (p.193) He believed that the facts were sufficient “not only to justify a withdrawal, but compel a retreat.” (p.194)

[lvii] Ibid. Manstein. p.294

[lviii] Ibid. Clark. p.216

[lix] Ibid. Clark. p.217

[lx] Ibid. Beevor. p.107

[lxi] Ibid. Beevor. p.107

[lxii] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.122

[lxiii] Ibid. Carell. P.601

[lxiv] Ibid. Beevor. p.118

[lxv] Ibid. Beevor. p.118

[lxvi] Ibid. Carell. p.602

[lxvii] Ibid. Beevor. p.128

[lxviii] Ibid. Carell. p.603

[lxix] Ibid. Beevor. p.134

[lxx] Ibid. Beevor. pp.136-137

[lxxi] Ibid. Beevor. p.149

[lxxii] Fest, Joachim. Hitler. Translated by Richard and Clara Winston, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich Publishers, San Diego, New York, London. 1974. p.661

[lxxiii] Ibid. Beevor. pp. 149-150

[lxxiv] Ibid. Beevor. p.164

[lxxv] Ibid. Carell. p.618

[lxxvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.123

[lxxvii] Ibid. Beevor. p.218

[lxxviii] Ibid. Carell. p.623

[lxxix] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.418

[lxxx] Ibid. Liddell-Hart. The German Generals Talk. p.207

[lxxxi] Ibid. Manstein. p292

[lxxxii] Ibid. Liddell-Hart. History of the Second World War. p.258

[lxxxiii] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.129

[lxxxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.130

[lxxxv] Ibid. Beevor. pp.221-222 Glantz and House say that Stalin gave his backing in mid-October but this seems less likely due to the amount of planning and movement of troops involved to begin the operation in November.

[lxxxvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.130

[lxxxvii] Ibid. Beevor. p.226

[lxxxviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.132

[lxxxix] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.130

[xc] Ibid. Beevor. p.227

[xci] Ibid. Beevor. p.228

[xcii] Ibid. Clark. p.235

[xciii] Ibid. Warlimont. p.274

[xciv] Ibid, Carell. p.627 3rd Rumanian Army lost 75,000 men in three days.

[xcv] Ibid. Clark.pp.247-248

[xcvi] The condition of the few German Panzer Divisions in position to support the flanks was very poor, the 22nd had suffered from a lack of fuel and maintenance and this many of its tanks were inoperative. Most of the armor strength of the 48th Panzer Corps was provided by a Rumanian armored division equipped with obsolete Czech 38t tanks provided by the Germans.

[xcvii] Ibid. Clark. pp.251-252. The designation of 2nd Guards Tank Army by Clark has to be wrong and it is the 5th Tank Army as 2nd Guards Tank was not involved in Operation Uranus.  Carell, Beevor and Glantz properly identify the unit.

[xcviii] Ibid. Carell. p.630

[xcix] Ibid. Beevor. p.244

[c] Ibid. Beevor. p.247

[ci] Ibid. Beevor. p.245

[cii] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.134

[ciii] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.134

[civ] Ibid. Clark. p.256

[cv] Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich. Collier Books, a Division of MacMillan Publishers, Inc. New York, NY 1970. p.248

[cvi] Heiber, Helmut and Glantz, David M. Editors. Hitler and His Generals: Military Conferences 1942-1945. Enigma Books, New York, NY 2002-2003.  Originally published as Hitlers Lagebsprechungen: Die Protokollfragmente seiner militärischen Konferenzen 1942-1945. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt GmbH, Stuttgart, 1962. p.27

[cvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.135 Glantz and House note that the amount of aircraft estimated to successfully carry out the re-supply operation in the operational conditions was over 1,000.  The amount needed daily was over 600 tons of which the daily reached only 300 tons only one occasion.

[cviii] Ibid. Speer. p.249

[cix] Ibid. Carell. p.636

[cx] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.426

[cxi] Ibid. Clark. p.252

[cxii] Ibid. Manstein. p.303

[cxiii] Ibid. Beevor. p.276

[cxiv] Ibid. Carell. p.640

[cxv] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.140

[cxvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.140

[cxvii] Ibid. Clark. p.264

[cxviii] Ibid. Manstein. p.337

[cxix] Ibid. Beevor. p320

[cxx] Ibid. Beevor. p.365

[cxxi] Of the approximately 330,000 in the pocket about 91,000 surrendered, another 45,000 had been evacuated.  22 German divisions were destroyed.

[cxxii] Ibid. Liddell-Hart. The German Generals Talk. p.211

[cxxiii] Ibid. Clark. p.250

[cxxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.124

[cxxiv] Ibid. Beevor. p.221

Bibliography

Beevor, Anthony. Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943. Penguin Books, New York NY 1998

Carell, Paul Hitler Moves East: 1941-1943. Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1971, German Edition published 1963.

Clark, Alan. Barbarossa: The Russian-German Conflict:1941-45. Perennial Books, An imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, New York, NY 1965.

Fest, Joachim. Hitler. Translated by Richard and Clara Winston, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich Publishers, San Diego, New York, London. 1974

Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titan’s Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. The University Press of Kansas, Lawrence KS, 1995.

Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff. Westview Press, Frederick A. Praeger Publisher, Boulder, CO. 1985

Heiber, Helmut and Glantz, David M. Editors. Hitler and His Generals: Military Conferences 1942-1945. Enigma Books, New York, NY 2002-2003.  Originally published as Hitlers Lagebsprechungen: Die Protokollfragmente seiner militärischen Konferenzen 1942-1945. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt GmbH, Stuttgart, 1962.

Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Quill Publishers, New York, NY 1979. Originally Published by the author in 1948.

Liddell-Hart, B.H. Strategy. A Signet Book, the New American Library, New York, NY. 1974, Originally Published by Faber and Faber Ltd., London. 1954 & 1967

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

Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. A Touchstone Book published by Simon and Schuster, 1981, Copyright 1959 and 1960

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

Von Mellenthin, F.W. Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armor in the Second World War. Translated H. Betzler, Edited by L.C.F. Turner. Oklahoma University Press 1956, Ballantine Books, New York, NY. 1971.

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

Wheeler-Bennett, John W. The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945. St. Martin’s Press, New York, NY 195

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“Functionaries Ready to Believe and Act Without Asking Questions” Trump’s Orwellian Administration

 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As I have thought about the actions of President Trump of the last week or so that I remembered the words of historian Timothy Snyder. He wrote in his book The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America:

“Authoritarianism begins when we can no longer tell the difference between the true and the appealing. At the same time, the cynic who decides that there is no truth at all is the citizen who welcomes the tyrant.”

Sadly it seems that there are many Americans, a vocal minority who can no longer tell the difference between truth and what they find appealing. Much of this cannot be ascribed to any other motive than racism, admitted or not. Likewise, there is probably a larger number of Americans who have become so cynical that they have made the decision that there is no truth. They are the people who really make authoritarian regimes possible.

Hannah Arendt wrote:

The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction ( i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false ( i.e ., the standards of thought) no longer exist.

That is a big part of the danger that we face today. Such people become the willing functionaries who drive the machine of the criminal state.

The late and great Auschwitz survivor, Primo Levi wrote:

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

Last night I quoted from the book The Participants: the Men of the Wannsee Conference in the chapter dealing with Friedrich Kritzinger, State Secretary for the Reich Chancellery, whose job it was to make the bureaucracy of the Third Reich run as smoothly as possible. The writers of that chapter noted:

“Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies?” (St. Augustine). This might not be a quote from Kritzinger, but it serves as a reminder that, by working as a lawyer for a regime, which he has known from the start to be criminal, he made himself a stooge.” (The Participants p.217”) 

I wonder how many like Kritzinger are currently serving in the Trump Administration, or in Congress defending his every misdeed. From my perspective I could name more than a dozen without blinking an eyelash, men an women who purposely subvert the law and Constitution in the name of Trump, as if loyalty to him is more important than their oath, or if his word “trumps” the law and Constitution. In the Third Reich it was said by many leading Nazis that Hitler’s word was above the law and that it was the law.

Be it whether they are true believers of lies, or cynics who have stopped believing in truth, they make possible the existence and functionality of the criminal authoritarian state. Both the true believers and the cynics refuse any personal responsibility and commit themselves to a system that knows no bounds of cruelty or lawlessness. Hoffer wrote:

“There is also this: when we renounce the self and become part of a compact whole, we not only renounce personal advantage but are also rid of personal responsibility. There is no telling to what extremes of cruelty and ruthlessness a man will go when he is freed from the fears, hesitations, doubts and the vague stirrings of decency that go with individual judgment. When we lose our individual independence in the corporateness of a mass movement, we find a new freedom—freedom to hate, bully, lie, torture, murder and betray without shame and remorse.”

So anyway, I am tired. It has been a long day.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Conflicted War Criminals: They do not Deserve Monuments

 

Colonel General Erich Hoepner 
Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Monuments to soldiers who served their country faithfully and honorably are not a bad thing. At the same time one has to look at the context of their service and if they serve in the high command or in other government postings their service needs to be carefully examined to see if the deserve to be memorialized.

In the United States we have frequently memorialized men whose actions as military and political leaders, while commendable in some aspects leaves much to be desired in terms of long standing memorials.

A couple of years ago I had a friend whose family survived the Holocaust ask me where removing memorials to men like Robert E. Lee ends. I replied that it was all about context and the totality of life. We mythologize Robert E. Lee in a manner that his crimes and his flaws are intentionally hidden, though they are many. Since then I have written about Lee, and his crimes against the slaves that his family owned, and his meaningless sacrifice of thousands of Confederate Solders and the destruction of much of the South because he did not have the personal courage to tell Jefferson Davis and the Confederate Congress that the war lost in late 1863 or early 1864. He was the most respected man in the Confederacy and his words word have created an uproar that the Confederacy could not have survived. Instead he is remembered for the myth of his nobility with statues throughout the South and even the former Union States.

I then talked about German General Erich Hoepner who though he had been a part of plots to overthrow Hitler before the war and took part in the plot to overthrow Hitler in 1944 and was executed after a sham trial. The pictures and films of Hoepner being shamed and degraded by the Nazi Chief inquisitor, Judge Roland Freisler, give an impression that General Hoepner was a victim of the Nazi regime.

To some extent Hoepner was a victim of the regime, but while in command of Panzer Group Four during the invasion of the Soviet Union his actions place him in the pantheon of Nazi War Criminals. He fully cooperated with some the most criminal aspects of the Nazi regimes actions. He was a willing accomplice to crimes that stagger the imagination.

In his initial message to his troops Hoepner stated:

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.

That leaves us with the question of how does one remember such a military leader? Hoepner demonstrated bravery as a young officer in the First World War, and was prepared to help overthrow Hitler before the war and lost his life in the attempt to kill Hitler on July 20th 1944. But he enabled and participated in war crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination.

In 1956 a Berlin school was named after Hoepner for his role in the anti-Hitler plot, but in 2008, after his actions in relationship to the Nazi war crimes became public, the school was renamed. Because he perished in the attempt on Hitler’s life, Hoepner was included in the myth of the noble Wehrmacht. But that was a myth, the Wehrmacht was so complicit in the Nazi crimes that it cannot be exculpated from them. It’s leaders for the most part agreed with Nazi racial policies and had no hesitation in cooperating with the SS. Yes, there were exceptions, but they were and forever will remain exceptions, the myth be damned.

So in relation to the American controversy regarding monuments to Confederate leaders, or for that matter to leaders who planned, conducted, or supported our own genocide of Native Americans, the unlawful subjection and conquest of Mexico, the exploitation of territories and peoples gained following the Spanish-American War, those who conducted medical experiments not much different than the Nazi doctors on minorities and the handicapped, and so many other examples which would take too long to list for the purpose of this article: what are we to do?

As I have written before, this is a matter of context and honesty. Honestly I think this is something that we need to address, just as the Germans have since the end of the Second World War. We have to be brutally honest in our assessment of the men and women who we chose to memorialize. If we aren’t we simply bless their crimes and allow their veneration to inspire new generations of racial motivated criminals.

That is where we have to go if we have the moral courage to do so. However, I don’t think that will happen in the next few years, or even in my lifetime, but I can hope and I can act in my own way to bring attention to to them, and hopefully do what I can to keep people of our present time from heading down the same evil path.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Cautionary Tale for Military Leaders that Give Obedience to a Tyrant: the Story of Erwin Rommel, the Legendary Desert Fox

 

rommel

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Just over 75 years ago in Ulm Germany a car pulled up to the residence of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. In the car was the driver and two Generals dispatched by Hitler.  Rommel was recuperating following being severely wounded in an air attack in Normandy on July 17th 1944.

Rommel had been awarded the Pour le Merite, sometimes known as the Blue Max, Imperial Germany’s highest award for valor in the First World War. He was never an official member of the Nazi Party, but like many Germans he believed Hitler’s promises and propaganda. As Hitler really ose to power he like many others was carried away by early Nazi successes, the bloodless conquests of the Rhineland, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and the spectacle of the Olympics.

He was also an opportunist. With the rise of the Nazis came the expansion of the German military. Rommel was already well known due to his exploits as a platoon and company commander during the First World War in France, Romania, and Italy. In Italy he captured an entire Italian infantry division during the Battle of Mount Cosna, which was part of the Caporetto in October 1917. His company of 150 troops, exploited terrain and weather to surprise and capture 9,000 soldiers and 81 artillery pieces at the cost of 6 men killed and 30 wounded. Rommel used infiltration tactics, flanking maneuvers, and even disobeyed the orders of his superiors during the battle. Less than two weeks later at Langarone using the same tactics, his company surprised the 1st Italian Infantry which thinking it surrounded by superior forces surrendered to Rommel. For these actions Rommel was awarded the coveted Blue Max. 

Rommel was retained in the 100,000 man Reichswehr, but he had refused to attend the course that would have made him part of the elite General Staff. As such he was not assigned to the critical billets that would normally lead to high command. Instead he served in company command and as an instructor at the Infantry School in Dresden. While assigned to the school he wrote a manual of infantry tactics and training based on his experience. The book, Infantrie Greift an, or Infantry Attacks is still considered a classic book on infantry tactics and leadership, and was highly influential in his rise to high command. He was promoted to Major after serving 14 years as a Captain in 1932. In October 1933 he was assigned to command the 3rd Jaeger Battalion of the 17th Infantry Regiment where he first met Hitler when the latter reviewed his troops on an inspection visit.

Rommel, like many officers was caught in the thrall of Hitler. His wife, Lucy was caught up in the moment and was an avid Hitler supporter. Rommel was never a Nazi party member, but that did not keep him from supporting the overtly nationalist and militarist actions of the Hitler regime. In 1935 he was assigned to the Military Academy at Potsdam where as a Lieutenant Colonel he published Infantrie Greift an. In 1937 Hitler appointed Rommel as the liaison officer from the War Ministry to the Hitler Youth. Rommel clashed with the head of the Hitler Jugend, Baldur von Schirach and twiced proposed removing the organization from the Party to the War Ministry.

The conflict resulted in Rommel being quietly reposted from that assignment, promoted to Colonel and assigned to command the former Austrian Theresian Military Academy  in Wiener Neustadt. He was then selected by Hitler to command the Führer-Begleit-Battalion (Escort battalion) which served as the force protection unit for Hitler’s headquarters during the Polish campaign.

Following that campaign, Rommel, now a Major General was appointed to command the newly formed 7th Panzer Division which he commanded with great distinction during the Battle of France, 1940. When the campaign ended the division was placed in reserve where it readied to become part of the planned invasion of Britain, Operation Sea Lion. When that operation was postponed due to the defeat of the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain, and Mussolini’s Italian army in North Africa was routed by the small British Western Desert Force, Rommel was assigned to command the Deutsches Afrika Korps, composed of the 5th Light Division, which would soon be re-designated as the 21st Panzer Division and the 15th Panzer Division.

Over the next two years in North Africa built a reputation as an energetic and often risk taking commander who fought against long odds in a campaign which his own high command gave little support. The isolation of North Africa and its purely military significance in supporting a weak ally made it a different war from the concurrent, racially driven German invasion of the Soviet Union. Fighting the British and later the Americans, Rommel built a reputation of being a noble and chivalrous opponent. Unlike most of Europe and especially in Russian there was little to no influence of the SS in theater and the Jewish population of Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria suffered little under Nazi occupation, which many North African Jews attributed to Rommel.

During the North African campaign Rommel soared to the heights of international fame due to his exploits. The Nazi Propaganda Minister, Josef Goebbels sent one of his aides, Lieutenant Alfred Berndt to serve on Rommel’s Staff.  Berndt sent reports to the Propaganda Ministry which became the staple of Nazi propaganda to build Rommel into a German hero. Despite serving in a remote theater and commanding a relatively small number of troops, Rommel became the poster child for Goebbels’s propaganda machine. He was revered by the German people, and at the same time despised by many of his Army contemporaries and superiors.

His fame also earned the resentment of many fellow officers who because he was not an officer of the General Staff regarded him with jealous envy and distain. Even so, Rommel was a soldier’s soldier. He believed in sharing in the suffering of his troops. He once said: 

“Be an example to your men in your duty and in private life. Never spare yourself, and let the troops see that you don’t in your endurance of fatigue and privation. Always be tactful and well-mannered, and teach your subordinates to be the same. Avoid excessive sharpness or harshness of voice, which usually indicates the man who has shortcomings of his own to hide.”

Rommel basked in the praise of Hitler but as time wore on in Africa he became disillusioned by the course of the war, and while maintaining faith in Hitler, he openly despised many of the Nazi elite and his own High Command. While in Africa, Rommel was promoted to Field Marshal but denied the troops and supplies that he needed to successfully hold out in Africa. He opposed efforts to send more troops to Africa and recommended withdrawing his German and Italian soldiers before the Allies closed the door on withdraw across the Mediterranean.

As his troops were being chewed to pieces at El Alamein he requested permission to withdraw to the west. The request was refused and Hitler issued and order to stand in place and not withdraw. Rommel’s words are revealing for a man who had previously trusted Hitler and taken every opportunity from the dictator to advance his career.

“The order demanded the impossible. Even the most devoted soldier can be killed by a bomb. In spite of our unvarnished situation reports, it was apparently still not realized at the Fuehrer’s H.Q. how matters really stood in Africa.  Arms, petrol, and aircraft could have helped us, but not orders. We were completely stunned, and for the first time during the Africa campaign I did not know what to do. A kind of apathy took hold of us as we issued orders for the existing positions to be held on instructions from highest authority. I forced myself to this action, as I had always demanded unconditional obedience from others and, consequently, wished to apply the principle to myself. Had I known what was to come I should have acted differently, because from that time on, we had continually to circumvent orders from the Fuehrer or Duce in order to save the army from destruction. But this first instance of interference by higher authority in the tactical conduct of the African war came as a considerable shock.”

Like most other officers Rommel had served the Hitler regime as it spread its dark pall over Europe without protest. Yet, unlike so many other officers when he suffered a crisis in conscience about the Nazi leadership and their policies, he refused to obey orders that he knew were both illegal and immoral, and then risked his life by joining the conspiracy to kill Hitler.bundesarchiv_bild_146-1991-031-25a_nordafrika_vor_tobruk_rommel

It was at El Alamein that Rommel discovered the emptiness of Hitler’s promises as the troops of the Afrika Corps found themselves subjected to constant privation from lack of supply, air support and reinforcements. As commander of the Afrika Corps and later the Panzer Armee Afrika he and his troops achieved amazing success against an enemy that was always better supplied, equipped and which always had air and sea superiority. Battling the British as well as the political machinations of Mussolini and Germany’s Italian Allies as well as opponents in the German government such as Hermann Goering, Rommel saw his troops crushed under the press of the British as well as the Americans who landed in French North Africa. Eventually, sick and worn out, Rommel was sent back to Germany to recuperate.

rommel-with-soldier

Rommel had a sense of honor and humanity that many other German generals lacked. He refused to allow anti-Jewish measures in areas occupied by German troops in North Africa, ensuring that the approximately 425,000 Jews living in Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco were spared the fate of the Holocaust. He refused to execute Jewish POWs, including members of the Jewish Battalion serving with the British 8th Army. Likewise, Rommel refused to follow the notorious “commando order.” In June of 1944 he protested the massacre of the people of the village of Oradour-sur-Glane by units of the 2nd SS Panzer Division directly to Hitler and asked for the authority to punish those responsible, but was refused.

After his return from Africa, Rommel’s honest and open assessments of the chances of the Germans winning the war made him persona non grata in Berlin and Berchtesgaden. He was posted to France in early 1944 according to some accounts he became a part of the plot to end the war and overthrow Hitler. Rommel’s Chief of Staff at OB West, General Hans Speidel, was a key man in the conspiracy and Rommel had contacts with a number of key conspirators. There are arguments about Rommel’s connections and activities in regard to the anti-Hitler plot among respected historians.

When the invasion came Rommel was away from Normandy visiting his wife. On learning of the invasion he sped back to Normandy. When he arrived he fought a desperate battle against the Allied forces. His outnumbered forces were under constant assault from the land, sea and air received paltry reinforcements compared to the Allies. Even so, German troops inflicted many local defeats and exacted a heavy price in allied blood in Normandy but were ground to dust. Even so, many American and British infantry regiments suffered 100% casualties but remained in action because of a continuous stream of replacements. Rommel urged Hitler and the High Command to withdraw German forces from Normandy before the allies broke through his front. By doing so he found that he was now considered a defeatist.

If Rommel had joined the plot to topple Hitler, he did not stop working to defend Germany against the coming Allied invasion. He believed that the war was lost if his forces failed to repel the Allies on the beaches of France, and he worked feverishly to bolster the beach fortifications. He recommended that the Panzer Divisions be deployed near the coast where they could immediately counterattack Allied invasion forces while they were still vulnerable. But his advice was not taken. He was given command of the Army Group but was not given control of most of the Panzer Divisions, which Hitler kept under his direct control. Neither did he approve of an assassination attempt but realizing that his front was about to collapse he was in favor of independent peace negotiations with the Allies on the Western Front.

Many commanders in the west, including Waffen SS commanders were in agreement Rommel was severely wounded in an air attack on his vehicle by a just days before the attempt on Hitler’s life. Hitler survived the attempted assassination and exacted a terrible revenge on anyone connected with the plot. Show trials and public hangings of officers who had served valiantly at the front were common. Thousands were killed and thousands more imprisoned. Many of those arrested, imprisoned, or killed, were those who knew Rommel’s views on ending the war.

Various conspirator’s testimony exposed Rommel as part of the plot. Leading Nazis, including Martin Bormann, and Heinrich Himmler urged Hitler to deal with Rommel. Likewise, some in the High Command, including Heinz Guderian turned upon Rommel. After a secret hearing it was recommended by the “Court of Military Honor” that Rommel be expelled from the military and tried by the “People’s Court” of Judge Roland Freisler. During the purge that followed the attempt on Hitler’s life, many noted German military commanders were hauled before this court and humiliated by Freisler before they were sent to their deaths. Freisler, a fanatic Nazi judge was a participant at the infamous Wannsee Conference which planned the details of the Final Solution was killed when his courtroom was bombed in February 1945.

On 27 September, Martin Bormann submitted to Hitler a memorandum which claimed that “the late General Stülpnagel, Colonel von Hofacker, Kluge’s nephew who has been executed, Lieutenant Colonel Rathgens, and several … living defendants have testified that Field Marshal Rommel was perfectly in the picture about the assassination plan and has promised to be at the disposal of the New Government.”

Rommel’s fate was sealed, but because of his fame and popularity in Germany Hitler decided to offer Rommel a choice of being tried by the People’s Court or committing suicide. Goebbels who had spent so much time building up the Rommel legend, turned against him. The latter with an offer to ensure his family’s safety, which he would not guarantee if Rommel choose to defend himself in open court. Hitler dispatched Generals Wilhelm Burgdorf and Ernst Maisel from Berlin to personally deliver the message. Burgdorf was the last Army Chief of Staff and killed himself following Hitler’s suicide.

492px-Erwin_rommel_death

Rommel suspected that he would be identified and killed and told that to his friends and family in the days leading up to the arrival of Generals Wilhelm Burgorf and Ernst Maisel from OKW with the ultimatum. They met with Rommel for a short time before giving him the opportunity to say goodbye to his family. Rommel told them of his choice and left his home for the last time. 15 minutes later the Generals called his wife to say that he had died of a heart attack. Rommel was given a state funeral and the German people were lied to about his cause of his death.

Winston Churchill wrote of Rommel:

“He also deserves our respect because, although a loyal German soldier he came to hate Hitler and all his works, and took part in the conspiracy to rescue Germany by displacing the maniac and tyrant. For this, he paid the forfeit of his life. In the sombre wars of modern democracy, chivalry finds no place … Still, I do not regret or retract the tribute I paid to Rommel, unfashionable though it was judged.”

Rommel was just 52 years old when he died. I find in the story of Rommel some commonality in my own life. Before Rommel went to Africa he believed that Germany would win the war, during his command there he discovered that what he believed was lies and that Hitler had little regard for him or his troops.

Rommel is a complex character. His attitudes towards Hitler waxed and waned. He was no Nazi. He conducted his battles in an honorable manner and displayed much chivalry towards his opponents. His views on race were not at all Nazi like. In North Africa he faced down a White South African commander who did not want to be imprisoned with his Black troops. Rommel told the officer: “For me, soldiers are all equal. Those black people wore your same uniform, fought on your side, and so you will be in the same jail.”

But from the beginning he willingly served Hitler’s regime and basked in the fame that he enjoyed due to Goebbels’s propaganda machine. At the same time while he was according to the Chief of the German Navy in the West, Admiral Friedrich Ruge, as well as his Rommel’s letters to his wife, indicated that Rommel’s mood fluctuated wildly regarding Hitler: while he showed disgust towards the atrocities and disappointment towards the overall military and strategic situation, he was overjoyed to welcome a visit or praise from Hitler, only to return to depression the next day when faced with reality.

The example of Erwin Rommel is a cautionary tale of what can happen when a brilliant and honorable man comes under the spell of a demagogue. Rommel believed Hitler and blindly followed him until he ran into the hard face of reality in Africa at which point he had the moral courage to do the right thing, but many others didn’t.

Sadly there are otherwise honorable men and women in the current United States military that blindly support a delusional madman who happens to be the President: a man who promises to order soldiers to commit war crimes, who threatens to jail political opponents, who condemns whole races of people and religions, who incites violence against his opponents, a man who has no respect for the courts, the law, or the Constitution to which they are sworn to defend.

But I think that we also have to remember the men like Rommel who though not a true believer in the Nazi cause and polices, not only willingly served the Reich, but basked in the adulation lavished on him by friends and foes alike.

To me this is not about partisan politics but something that is bigger than politics, bigger than temporary political advantage, bigger than any single political issue, for which in our country, at least for the moment, that there are many ways to express dissent which were not available to most Germans of Rommel’s era. It is about the Constitution, the rule of law, and the foundational principles of the Declaration of Independence.

Personally, as a historian I cannot understand the blind obedience in the face of the evidence; but then I blindly followed President George Bush into the ill-advised and criminal invasion of Iraq. It was in the desert of Iraq’s Al Anbar Province that I had my own revelation that the man I supported had led the country into a war that could not be won. Like Rommel at El Alamein, it opened my eyes to things that I had never seen before.

Now, in light of President Trump’s immoral, unconstitutional, and foolhardy policies and decisions I wonder why so few high ranking military officers, active or retired have the courage to oppose them. Surely, some must, like Rommel, Ludwig Beck, Henning Von Tresckow, Erich von Witzleben, Hans Oster, Claus von Stauffenberg and others like them realize the abyss that the President is leading the nation to, and far to few are willing to tell the truth when most needed. It took far more courage for the German officers to oppose Hitler than it does American officers to tell the truth about Trump’s policies. Maybe we have become so insulated from political realities that we make excuses for ourselves, and our actions.

Maybe we as officers need to remember the works of General Ludwig Beck:

“It is a lack of character and insight, when a soldier in high command sees his duty and mission only in the context of his military orders without realizing that the highest responsibility is to the people of his country.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Der Schicksaltag, November 9th in History: Revolutions, Abdication, Republics, Repression, and A Wall Falls

Hitler-Putsch, M¸nchen, Marienplatz

Schicksaltag: The Fateful Day and the Beer Hall Putsch November 9th 1923

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

There are some days in history that are crammed full world changing events, and sometimes those events occur, for good or bad and sometimes good and bad in different countries. In the United States July 4th is not only Independence Day, but eighty-seven years later marked the surrender of Vicksburg and the retreat of Robert E. Lee’s army from Gettysburg. Likewise it was the day that the Louisiana Purchase was announced in 1803 and that in 1826 the Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died. In Russia however it was on July 4th 1918 that Czar Nicholas and his family were killed by the Bolsheviks.

Since 1918 November 9th has been a day in German history that has impacted both Germany and the world in many ways. In a sense it is almost hard to believe that so much occurred on that day. It is known by many as Der Schicksaltag (the fateful day).

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Robert Blum

In 1848 a member of the Frankfurt Parliament, Robert Blum was arrested and executed executed for traveling to Vienna to support the 1848 democracy uprising there. A liberal, humanist and democrat Blum advocated German unification without Prussian dominance, protested Prussian oppression of Poles, stood against anti-Semitism and for the rights of Catholics in heavily Protestant German kingdoms. Blum’s dream remained unfulfilled for over a century after his death.

Wilhelm II. (4.v.l.) geht am Tag der Unterzeichnung seiner Abdankung über die Grenze in das holländische Exil

Kaiser Wilhelm II Cross the Dutch Border Following his Abdication

It was a gloomy day at the military headquarters of Kaiser Wilhelm II on November 9th 1918 when General Wilhelm Groener looked his sovereign in the eye and told Kaiser Wilhelm that the war was lost, and that he no longer had the support of the Army. The Kaiser, reeling from battlefield defeats and the mutiny of the High Seas Fleet was stunned, and Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, who had for all practical intents directed the war effort meekly nodded his concurrence with Groener. The Kaiser abdicated the throne and departed in his private train to the Netherlands the next day.

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Phillip Scheidemann Proclaims the Republic 

In Berlin Majority Socialist parliament member Philip Scheidemann proclaimed the Republic, in part to prevent a Soviet takeover, which became known as the Weimar Republic. However, the promise of democracy was soured by a continued allied blockade, a humiliating peace treaty, loss of territory, and occupation of the industrial areas of the Ruhr and Saar by France and Belgium, heavy reparations, and war guilt; compounded by civil war between various right and left wing factions and major economic problems including massive hyper-inflation doomed the young republic.

Beer Hall Putsch

Beer Hall Putsch Re-enactment 

Five years later an Austrian in Munich who had fought and been wounded fighting for Germany in the First World War gathered with his political sympathizes and para-military street thugs and attempted a putsch. The man was Adolf Hitler, the head of the small and radical National Socialist Deutches Arbeiter Partei, or National Socialist German Workers Party, which he hoped that his putsch would result in a popular uprising against the German government in Berlin. The putsch was a failure and ended in bloodshed at the Feldherrnhalle on Munich’s Odeonsplatz.

Hitler was wounded, convicted of treason and jailed for nine months at the Landesberg prison where he wrote his book Mein Kampf and continued to recruit others to his cause. Under ten years later Hitler was appointed Chancellor by President Hindenburg. He quickly banned political opposition and began his persecution of Jews and others that he believed to be sub human and on Hindenburg’s death in 1934 merged the office of Chancellor and President become the leader of Nazi Germany.

In November 1938 Hitler’s and his henchmen were looking for a reason to openly begin persecuting the Jews, something that they had already been doing since the seizure of power. One of the chief reasons for this was to seize the property and financial resources of German Jews, which coincided with the expulsion of Polish Jews from Germany. A reason was furnished when a young Polish man, Herschel Grynszpan, whose parents were expelled from Germany on November 3rd went to the German embassy in Paris and shot and mortally wounded Ernst von Rath, a young diplomat, who reportedly had some anti-Nazi sentiments.

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Kristallnacht 

The murder was what Josef Goebbels needed and on the night of November 9th Nazi storm troopers ransacked Jewish businesses, homes and synagogues causing hundreds of millions of Reichsmarks in damage, destroying over 200 synagogues and 7000 businesses. About 100 Jews were killed during the rampage, which went unchecked by police. Another 2000-3000 subsequently died either by suicide or in concentration camps. About 30,000 Jewish men were incarcerated. To add to the insult to injury Jews were charged for the damage done to their property and insurance payments that should have gone to them were collected by the state. The night became known as Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass and marked a major turn in the open Nazi persecution of Jews in Germany, which would extend throughout Europe and end in the Final Solution and the systematic murder of nearly six million Jews. World War Two ended with the total defeat of Germany and the Nazi regime.

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Occupied by the allied powers Germany was split in two, the East under the domination of the Soviet Union which became the German Democratic Republic, and the West which supported by the United States and Britain became the Federal Republic of Germany. The divided country became the focal point of what became the Cold War, the fortified border became infamous as the Iron Curtain. The divided Berlin was blockaded by the Soviets in 1948 and the subsequent airlift kept West Berlin Free. However in August 1961 as the Cold War escalated the leaders of East Germany erected a fence which became the Berlin Wall, a wall which was effectively a means to imprison the population. It seemed to be a fixture that would never come down.

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But in the 1980s the Cold War began to thaw, the economically strapped Soviet Union was bogged down in a costly war in Afghanistan, and a struggle against a Polish democratic movement; Premier Gorbachev sought to relieve the situation with a policy of openness. It backfired, throughout Eastern Europe, pro-democracy and pro-freedom groups began to protest the status quo, and as borders were opened hundreds of thousands of Eastern Europeans including thousands of East Germans went west through Hungary and Czechoslovakia. East Germans began to gather at the wall and on November 9th 1989 a tottering East German government decided to open border crossing points, but on hearing the news hundreds of thousands of people gathered at the six crossings demanding to be let through, finally, ignoring orders, Stasi Lieutenant Colonel Harald Jäger who commanded the Bornholmer Strasse crossing opened the gates. The wall had fallen and 339 days later East Germany was dissolved and Germany reunited.

The new Germany is the economic heart of the European Union and has become a champion of human rights and social progress. It has now been thirty years since the Wall fell, eighty-one years since Kristallnacht, ninety-four years since the Beer Hall Putsch and one hundred and one years since the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II. These are all important events, and our challenge as citizens of the world is never to forget just how important and fateful each was, and why November 9th is indeed the “fateful day.”

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“If You Are Offended I am not In the Least Bit Sorry” Witnesses to Genocide: George Patton, Dwight Eisenhower and Edward R. Murrow

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

During our trip to Germany last year we visited the Buchenwald Concentration Camp, which as a Major Camp had numerous sub-Camps, including Ohrdruf which Generals George Patton and Dwight Eisenhower visited shortly after its liberation in April 1945. Both went out of their way to describe the horrors they saw.

In our day there are fewer and fewer people who lived through or personal saw or documented the evils of the Nazi Concentration Camps. Likewise, there are a host of Holocaust deniers who produce a plethora of pseudo-scholarly articles claiming to be legitimate historians. Even more frighteningly the rise of apologists for the Nazi regime including those who are active members of allegedly conservative parties in the United States and the European Union is beginning to influence politics. The abject racism, rejection of anyone considered racially inferior, and quite often their unhidden anti-Semitism show that what lies in the dark heart of Naziism is not dead and in fact is rising.

In the United States its rise is being fueled and legitimized by the Presidency of Donald Trump who has referred to American Nazis and White Supremacists as “very good people” after one of their protests where an anti-Nazi demonstrator was murdered and others brutally attacked. In the same time frame a good number of Republican candidates have exposed themselves as White Supremacists and actual Nazis while running for office. A host of new-Nazi and White supremacist organizations openly meet and flood the internet with their race hatred, and it goes unchecked by the Administration and the Justice Department.

The fact is that anyone who denies the Holocaust, attempts to minimize it, or advocates the same policies of race hatred and violence against political, religious, or other opponents is no better than the perpetrators of the Holocaust. Likewise, those who stand by and say nothing are worse. As 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.”

The good thing is that there were people who took the time to record what they saw in the Nazi Concentration Camps and exposed those deeds to the world in such a way that only perverted and evil people could brazenly deny those facts.

One of the most detailed descriptions of a liberated Concentration Camp was written by General George Patton in his memoirs entitled War as I Knew It.

… we drove to Ohrdruf and visited the first horror camp any of us had ever seen. It was the most appalling sight imaginable.

A man who said he was one of the former inmates acted as impresario and showed us first the gallows, where men were hanged for attempting to escape. The drop board was about two feet from the ground, and the cord used was piano wire which had an adjustment so that when the man dropped, his toes would just reach the ground and it would take about fifteen minutes for him to choke to death, since the fall was not sufficient to break his neck. The next two men to die had to kick the board out from under him. It was stated by some of the Germans present that the generals who were executed after the Hitler bomb incident were hanged in this manner.

Our guide then took us to the whipping table, which was about the height of the average man’s crotch. The feet were placed in stocks on the ground and the man was pulled over the table, which was slightly hollowed, and held by two guards, while he was beaten across the back and loins. The stick which they said had been used, and which had some blood on it, was bigger than the handle of a pick.

Our guide claimed that he himself had received twenty-five blows with this tool. It later developed that he was not a prisoner at all, but one of the executioners. General Eisenhower must have suspected it, because he asked the man very pointedly how he could be so fat. He was found dead next morning, killed by some of the inmates.

Just beyond the whipping table there was a pile of forty bodies, more or less naked. All of these had been shot in the back of the head at short range, and the blood was still cooling on the ground.

In a shed near-by was a pile of forty completely naked bodies in the last stages of emaciation. These bodies were lightly sprinkled with lime – not, apparently, for the purpose of destroying them, but to reduce the smell. As a reducer of smell, lime is a very inefficient medium.

The total capacity of the shed looked to me to be about two hundred bodies. It was stated that bodies were left until the shed was full and then they were taken out and buried. The inmates said some three thousand people had been buried from this shed since January 1, 1945.

When our troops began to draw near, the Germans thought it expedient to remove the evidence of their crimes. They therefore used the inmates to exhume the recently buried bodies and to build a sort of mammoth griddle of 60 cm. railway tracks laid on a brick foundation. The bodies were piled on this and they attempted to burn them. The attempt was a bad failure. Actually, one could not help but think of some gigantic cannibalistic barbecue. In the pit itself were arms and legs and portions of bodies sticking out of the green water which partially filled it.

General Walker and General Middleton had wisely decided to have as many soldiers as possible visit the scene. This gave me the idea of having the inhabitants themselves visit the camp. I suggested this to Walker, and found that he had already had the mayor and his wife take a look at it. On going home those two committed suicide. We later used the same system in having the inhabitants of Weimar go through the even larger slave camp (Buchenwald) north of that town. (Excerpted for G. Patton War as I Knew It)

Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote after seeing the camp:

The same day [April 12, 1945] I saw my first horror camp. It was near the town of Gotha. I have never felt able to describe my emotional reactions when I first came face to face with indisputable evidence of Nazi brutality and ruthless disregard of every shred of decency. Up to that time I had known about it only generally or through secondary sources. I am certain, however that I have never at any other time experienced an equal sense of shock.

Eisenhower was so moved that he ordered that the best reporters and newsmen come and record what he had seen. He did not want the horrors to be denied by history. He wrote:

I visited every nook and cranny of the camp because I felt it my duty to be in a position from then on to testify at first hand about these things in case there ever grew up at home the belief or assumption that `the stories of Nazi brutality were just propaganda.’ Some members of the visiting party were unable to through the ordeal. I not only did so but as soon as I returned to Patton’s headquarters that evening I sent communications to both Washington and London, urging the two governments to send instantly to Germany a random group of newspaper editors and representative groups from the national legislatures. I felt that the evidence should be immediately placed before the American and British publics in a fashion that would leave no room for cynical doubt.

One of those reporters was Edward R. Murrow who broadcast his visit to Buchenwald:

There surged around me an evil-smelling stink, men and boys reached out to touch me. They were in rags and the remnants of uniforms. Death already had marked many of them, but they were smiling with their eyes. I looked out over the mass of men to the green fields beyond, where well-fed Germans were ploughing….

[I] asked to see one of the barracks. It happened to be occupied by Czechoslovaks. When I entered, men crowded around, tried to lift me to their shoulders. They were too weak. Many of them could not get out of bed. I was told that this building had once stabled 80 horses. There were 1200 men in it, five to a bunk. The stink was beyond all description.

They called the doctor. We inspected his records. There were only names in the little black book — nothing more — nothing about who had been where, what he had done or hoped. Behind the names of those who had died, there was a cross. I counted them. They totaled 242 — 242 out of 1200, in one month.

As we walked out into the courtyard, a man fell dead. Two others, they must have been over 60, were crawling toward the latrine. I saw it, but will not describe it.

In another part of the camp they showed me the children, hundreds of them. Some were only 6 years old. One rolled up his sleeves, showed me his number. It was tattooed on his arm. B-6030, it was. The others showed me their numbers. They will carry them till they die. An elderly man standing beside me said: “The children — enemies of the state!” I could see their ribs through their thin shirts….

We went to the hospital. It was full. The doctor told me that 200 had died the day before. I asked the cause of death. He shrugged and said: “tuberculosis, starvation, fatigue and there are many who have no desire to live. It is very difficult.” He pulled back the blanket from a man’s feet to show me how swollen they were. The man was dead. Most of the patients could not move.

I asked to see the kitchen. It was clean. The German in charge….showed me the daily ration. One piece of brown bread about as thick as your thumb, on top of it a piece of margarine as big as three sticks of chewing gum. That, and a little stew, was what they received every 24 hours. He had a chart on the wall. Very complicated it was. There were little red tabs scattered through it. He said that was to indicate each 10 men who died. He had to account for the rations and he added: “We’re very efficient here.”

We proceeded to the small courtyard. The wall adjoined what had been a stable or garage. We entered. It was floored with concrete. There were two rows of bodies stacked up like cordwood. They were thin and very white. Some of the bodies were terribly bruised; though there seemed to be little flesh to bruise. Some had been shot through the head, but they bled but little.

I arrived at the conclusion that all that was mortal of more than 500 men and boys lay there in two neat piles. There was a German trailer, which must have contained another 50, but it wasn’t possible to count them. The clothing was piled in a heap against the wall. It appeared that most of the men and boys had died of starvation; they had not been executed.

But the manner of death seemed unimportant. Murder had been done at Buchenwald. God alone knows how many men and boys have died there during the last 12 years. Thursday, I was told that there were more than 20,000 in the camp. There had been as many as 60,000. Where are they now?

I pray you to believe what I have said about Buchenwald. I reported what I saw and heard, but only part of it. For most of it, I have no words.I

If I have offended you by this rather mild account of Buchenwald, I’m not in the least sorry….

The fact is that as much as we want to pretend that what happened a Buchenwald, Flossenbürg, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, Auschwitz, Soribor, Belzec, and Treblinka are images from history that cannot happen again, however, they are an ever present reality and they cannot be ignored. Sadly, I cannot help but to imagine that this can and will happen again in my lifetime. The late Primo Levi, a Jewish Italian philosopher and survivor of Auschwitz wrote: “It happened, it can happen again.” 

I will now quote from one of my favorite episodes of Star Trek the Next Generation called The Drumhead uttered by Jean Luc Picard:

We think we’ve come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches it’s all ancient history. Then – before you can blink an eye – suddenly it threatens to start all over again.

That is our reality. There are people, even neighbors and those that we think are friends who would be perpetrators or bystanders when those that transgress the way of Trump are take us from our homes and families because of our beliefs. I would love to be wrong about this, but I am a historian and a theologian and I know the human condition far too well to sit back and remain silent, no matter what the cost.

Last year I had a Facebook exchange with a friend who is a retired Navy Chaplain. He is very much a Trump supporter and apologist. He is very happy about Justice Kavanaugh being in the Supreme Court. The stories of the victims and their claims did not matter to him. Despite that I do not believe that he is a bad man or an evil person. I simply believe that like Martin Niemöller that he has made a bad choice in the man and party that he currently supports and that he will eventually regret it. I could be wrong, he might not turn out to be a Niemöller, but a Reichsbishof Müller. Sincerely hope that he does not become the latter.

I keep quoting historian Timothy Snyder, but he was all too correct when he wrote these words less than two years ago:

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.

If you don’t believe me read the words of the President, his closest supporters, the prominent political preachers of the Christian Right, and any number of Trump leaning columnists, pundits, and politicians. There are some who are so far gone that they will accuse any opponent of being disloyal, not the the Constitution or the law but to President Trump.

Last year, one of those people tried to get my commanding officer to have me tried by Court Martial for a sermon in which he lied about what I said. I had to spend my money to hire a lawyer to defend me from the false charges and have them dismissed during the preliminary investigation.

Trust me, I know what resistance will mean if this President and his cult like followers are not stopped. Our fate will be worse than that of Nazi Germany because we should have known better. We should have learned from Dwight Eisenhower and George Patton. We should have learned fro Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemöller, we should have learned from the Nuremberg trials, but we have not.

Facing possible impeachment, and with a growing likelihood that the Democrats will extend their control of the House, possibly regain the Senate, and maybe defeat Trump in the 2020 elections, a desperate Trump, backed  by his true believers may very well attempt to circumvent those elections and impeachment hearings.  With the laws already enacted in the Patriot Act and numerous executive orders there is little to stop a President who has no respect for the law or the Constitution from declaring full emergency powers should any war, terrorist act, or natural disaster be declared. That’s what makes all of this so frightening. Trump only needs an event which is scary enough to frighten people into following any emergency decree. Americans wouldn’t be the first to do so, it’s human nature: the need for security overrides the need for the rule of law and freedom.

So with all of that happy commentary I will leave you until tomorrow.

Until then have a good night, and please, never forget.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The First Rule: Above All Thou Shall Not Be a Bystander

Jewish Men being Rounded Up in Baden with Citizens looking on  

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer wrote: “Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.”  These words from his book Perpetrators, Victims, Bystanders: The Jewish Catastrophe 1933-1945 serve as a warning to members of a society where various minority groups are being labeled as enemies of the state and often less than human.

Two years ado we have watched as a rabid Trump supported sent pipe bombs to a dozen men and women who the President has personally attacked in speeches, interviews, or on his Twitter account. We have watched as a White man gun down two Black senior citizens in a Louisville, Kentucky Kroger store after failing to gain access into a Black Baptist Church. Last year have watched as a hate filled anti-Semite kill eleven Jews, mostly senior citizens in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Likewise we watch as the President turns a caravan of Honduran refugees, mostly women and children, nearly 1,000 miles from the US border into a terrorist caravan full of MS-13 and ISIS killers, something that he reprises at nearly every rally that he headlines.

The President has blamed the intended victims for the actions of a very real terrorist who happened to be one of his most stalwart supporters. He ignored the racially motivated murder of Black senior citizens. He made jokes about having a “bad hair day” within hours of the massacre at Tree of Life on his way to a political rally where he again excoriated the press and his political opponents blaming them for the violent acts of his supporters or men who have fully bought in to the President’s racial conspiracy theories.

Many people wonder how this can happen, but it happens all too easily. All that is needed is a population that has been conditioned by propaganda, based on historical myth, untruth, a prevailing climate of fear, and in which the threat of crisis, real or imagined, can delude even good, able, and even extraordinary people to commit crimes that if they were not real, would be incomprehensible to the mind.

In such times decisions have to be made, difficult decisions, the decision to stand for what is right, even if the country’s leaders, and their most vocal followers threaten violence and the use of government force against those who dissent.

Primo Levi, an Italian Jew who survived Auschwitz wrote, “Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.” 

The excuse of just following orders has been shown to be no excuse. Men and women who follow such orders under a thin veneer of technical legality will be condemned by history. The men of the Wehrmacht who gave logistic, communication, and security support to the Einsatzgruppen that were committing genocide in the Soviet Union were as guilty as the trigger pullers.

Genocide begins when those who know better turn their backs on crimes committed against a few. The last lines of the classic film Judgement at Nuremberg are illuminating when it comes to understanding men and women who do just that. In the film, Burt Lancaster playin the convicted Nazi judge Janning asks Judge Heywood played by Spencer Tracy to visit him. In that closing scene Janning implored Heywood to understand that he never believed that things would go so far.

Ernst Janning: “Judge Haywood… the reason I asked you to come: Those people, those millions of people… I never knew it would come to that. You must believe it, You must believe it!”

Judge Dan Haywood: “Herr Janning, it “came to that” the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.”

Being a perpetrator is one thing, but being a bystander is worse. As Hannah Arendt noted: “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil. 

Until Tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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