Category Archives: holocaust

Look Who’s Back (Er ist Wieder Da) A Comedy With a Far too Serious Message

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I just watched the German satirical comedy Er ist Wieder Da or as it is called in its English title Look Who’s Back, on Netflix.

The film is about Hitler who wakes up in a garden near the former Reichs Chancellory In 2014 with no knowledge of anything that happened in the intervening 50 years. He is befriended by a man that runs a newspaper kiosk, as well as a down on his luck television producer. Neither man believes that he is Hitler, but in the world of YouTube, Facebook, and Google, the Führer becomes a reality television celebrity.

I am not going to give away the story or or any spoilers. At times it is hysterically funny as it goes between scripted scenes to unscripted scenes done on the streets of Berlin and other German cities with people who are not actors. I guess that for me, the unscripted scenes were the most frightening, because regardless of whether the people were members of the AfD, the NPD, the CDU, the Greens, the SPD, or Die Linke, many were attracted to the the populist, anti-immigrant, and anti-democratic film version of spouted. It was like watching the Borat of the Third Reich.

However, there is one exchange of dialogue toward the end of the film that is far too troubling not to cite here, simply because it is not only appropriate to Hitler and Germany, but to France and Le Pen, Hungary and Orban, Turkey and Erdogan, the Philippines and Duterte; and if we don’t think we are so different that 1933 Germany, the United States and Donald Trump.

The television producer who helped bring Hitler back to fame says:

“Yes history repeats itself. You are fooling people with your propaganda.”

Hitler replied:

“Oh Sawatski. In 1933, people were not fooled by propaganda. They elected a leader who openly disclosed his plans with great clarity. The Germans elected me.”

The film is frightening, it might even be more so if I was German, but it is frightening enough in the United States.

That exchange between Hitler and Sawatski demonstrates exactly what President Trump and his base believe, otherwise he would never have remained in office despite everything. The fact is, that like Hitler, there are many people who love him and would do all they could to see his racist, authoritarian, and unconstitutional dreams come into being. In 2015 candidate Trump made the comment:

“You know what else they say about my people? The polls, they say I have the most loyal people. Did you ever see that? Where I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay? It’s like incredible.”

Like those that followed Hitler into the Bunker and flames of Berlin, Trump’s most loyal followers will do that today.

I have never laughed so hard at a movie that terrified me more than this. I have to say, that my friends is exceptional satire.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Mia San Mia: Finding Myself Again after the Thrill is Gone

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Glenn Frey of the Eagles penned these immortal words which kind of sum up here I am with life as a Navy Chaplain:

Same dances in the same old shoes
Some habits that you just can’t lose
There’s no telling what a man might use
After the thrill is gone…

Now please be sure, I cannot stop being a Priest, nor can I refuse the chance to care for people in need of pastoral care, or the sacraments, and I will remain faithful to the Church. That being said, apart from caring for servicemen and women and their families, the thrill is gone as far as serving in the Chaplain Corps.

I think that I realized it back in 2014 while teaching at the Joint Forces Staff College. I realized that my real calling as a Priest was being a historian, teacher, and writer. It is not surprising, the most influential people in my life have included Priests and Pastors who do more as teachers and writers in fields outside of traditional theology or pastoral care. In fact I credit the late Andrew Greeley for helping to restore and reorient my faith after a terrible faith crisis following my tour in Iraq. His Bishop Blackie Ryan mysteries were they only things I read that in any sense communicated the mystery and magic of faith to me in a terribly dark time.

That being said I have always been a historian for as long as I can remember. I used to cut Geometry class in 10th grade to go to the library and read the books in the history reserved section that could not be checked out. I cut Geometry so often that the librarians thought I had a permanent pass to be there. Good thing my mother didn’t know. By the way, hi mom.

I probably should have retired when my assignment to the Staff College ended, but I thought that I could do another tour. If I had been used to my strengths it might have worked out, but I was put in charge of a large base chapel though my last base chapel experience was in the Army some twenty years before, in a far different religious, cultural, and political climate, where I had funding and command support to close down a regular army base, turn it over to the National Guard and find a way to creatively ensure that the base chapel remained open and the congregations continued after the transfer.

In the current Navy climate there is no money, funding, or support for anything on the base side of operations, far less chapel programs to make things work for servicemen and women and their families; active duty, Reserve, and retired. It’s a sad commentary, my facilities are falling apart, funding continues to be cut, and my staff is being decimated. If my base was being closed and turned over to the reserves I am sure that the chapel would go away and the 700 plus people who worship there would be cut loose.

Then there is the problem that I my opinion is that the Chaplain Corps is more invested in surviving than ministering. The institutional rot runs deep, and I think that unless there is a radical change that the Chaplain Corps has maybe 10 years left in it before the Navy decides to shitcan it. The Marines and Coast Guard will probably be the only thing that keeps the Navy Chaplain Corps going if it survives, but I digress. I know for me it is time to leave the institutional ministry of the Navy, the thrill quite frankly is gone.

But it’s not like that I didn’t know what I was getting into. I was warned about the Chaplain Corps even before I left active duty in the fall of 1988 to attend seminary. My Brigade Executive Officer told me: “Steve, you think the Army Medical Department is brutally political, and backstabbing, we can’t hold a candle to the Chaplain Corps.” Sadly, that witness has not only been born out in my career, but repeated by Chaplains and Line officers in both the Army and Navy since then. Despite the many selfless men and women who have served as military Chaplains, the institution itself has what Kierkegaard called, the sickness unto death, and most don’t realize it. I served in the Army and Navy Chaplain Corps fore 26 of my 37 plus years in the military, serving all because I believed in the First Amendment, sometimes more than God. But it is time for me to go.

Today, I interviewed for a part time history instructor position at a local college. I found out about the position by a stroke of luck. I was going through a required pre-retirement class and one of our exercises was to find a job listing and write a targeted resume for it. In a moment of inspiration I decided to follow the advice of our Department of Labor instructor to not only do an exercise, but to see if I could actually find a job doing it. A simple Google search provided an advertisement for a history instructor at a for profit local college. So I followed the instructions in the job description and made the phone call.

That was a month ago. Today, I did my interview and gave a demonstration lecture. It went well. There is still one more applicant, but he or she will have to be shit hot to take it from me. The comments about the interview and sample lecture about the causes and road to the First World War were as I had hoped: he’s an engaging and captivating speaker and great story teller.

I do hope and pray that I will get this job simply because I love history, as well as teaching it and writing about it. The fact is that I cannot do anything else. My former. Dean at the Joint Forces Staff College said that I was a “Historian masquerading as a Chaplain, not that there was anything wrong with that.” One of my subordinate Chaplains at my current base said to me: Sir, I need to start taking notes so I can try to get graduate credit for our talks.

But that is who and what I am. In the Latin words of a Bavarian motto taken up by the Bayern München soccer team. Mia San Mia, We are Who We Are, or for me, I am Who I Am.

After twenty-six plus years as an Army and Navy Chaplain, I realized that while I would always remain a Priest and a part of the church, that I couldn’t be a parish pastor or continue working in institutional ministry just because I had the education, the experience, and the need for steady employment post Navy, enough to make up the difference between my retirement, disability, and what I make on active duty. But even without that, I know that I need to stay engaged and to read, teach, and write; Mia San Mia.

I am who I am.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“Vice into Virtue, Slander into Truth… Sadism into Justice” The Miraculous Rationalizations Of Trump’s Christian Cult

Catch-22 (1970) Alan Arkin Mike Nichols 24

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The government is partially shut down, nearly an million government employees and contractors have either been furloughed or working without pay for almost three weeks. A large number of those are employees of the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department, the Transportation Department, and the Department Of the Interior. A huge number of them are law enforcement: FBI, Border Control Agents, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agents, TSA, Federal Prison Guards, a host of other Federal Law Enforcement Officers, Court employees, and too many others to list. All have vital functions to making sure the country is safe and that the government is able to fulfill its responsibilities to its citizens and the nation, and this partial shutdown for the sake of a wall of folly endangers national security.

Sadly, neither the President nor his most faithful supporters, mostly Evangelical Christians and those in media who have long supported theocratic, authoritarian, fascist, and racist policies. Of the Christians most claim to be pro-life, which more accurately stated is anti-abortion, as most do not seem to care about any life once it has left the womb, especially if that life is darker skinned, or the progeny of poor people, or non-White Christians.

This, when I see and hear the political-religious leaders of the Christian Right like Jerry Falwell Jr., Robert Jeffress, Franklin Graham, and a host of other Evangelical and Conservative Christian leaders defend the indefensible actions of President Trump I am reminded of the words of Joseph Heller in his classic novel Catch 22, who wrote about the Chaplain:

“The chaplain had mastered, in a moment of divine intuition, the handy technique of protective rationalization, and he was exhilarated by his discovery. It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character.” 

As much as I doubt at times, I still remain a Christian. However, if I wasn’t already a Christian I couldn’t think of a single reason to follow the false God of men like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell Jr., Franklin Graham, Tony Perkins, or any of the host of big name Evangelical Christian preachers who excuse the behaviors of President Trump and his decadently despicable defenders, including people that I once thought that I knew and considered to be friends.

I used to think that most people like to believe that religion is a benign or positive influence in the world. As much as I want to believe the positive aspects I have to admit based on the historical and sociological evidence that this is not so, especially during unsettled times of great change. We live in such an era and when it comes to identity, God is the ultimate trump card.

If one wonders why the most fanatical individuals and groups on earth are tied to religions, whether it is the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Hezbollah, Orthodox Jews, radical Hindus and Buddhists as well as militant Christians. Of course all of these groups have different goals, but their thought and philosophy are quite similar.

Robert Heinlein wrote:

“Almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so.”

Heinlein, the author of the classic Starship Troopers was absolutely correct. Just look at any place in any time where any religion, sect or cult has gained control of a government. They are not loving, they are not forgiving and they use the police power of the state to persecute any individual or group that is judged to be in error, or even worse has the gall to question their authority.

Since the Christian groups tend to thrive in the West, they only speak in terms of violence, most, with the exception of Russian Orthodox Christians, do not have a government to translation of those words into action. Many, especially conservative Catholics and some Evangelical and Charismatic Protestants seem for a long for the day when they can assume control of a theocratic government.

Samuel Huntington wrote in his book The Clash of Civilizations:

“People do not live by reason alone. They cannot calculate and act rationally in pursuit of their self-interest until they define their self. Interest politics presupposes identity. In times of rapid social change established identities dissolve, the self must be redefined, and new identities created. For people facing the need to determine Who am I? Where do I belong? Religion provides compelling answers….In this process people rediscover or create new historical identities. Whatever universalist goals they may have, religions give people identity by positing a basic distinction between believers and non-believers, between a superior in-group and a different and inferior out-group.”

Huntington was right, you see the true believers, those who follow their religion without question and believe that it is superior to all others also believe that their religion entitles them to be atop the food chain, others who don’t believe like them be damned, if not in this life, the next. That is the certitude of the true believer, especially the religious one. Secular or atheistic fanatics could care less about the next life, for this life is all that they have. But the religious “true believers” are not only interested in destroying someone in this life, but ensuring that in the next that they suffer for eternity, unless they believe in the annihilation of the soul after death, which really spoils the whole Dante’s Inferno perspective of the damned in the afterlife.

The great American philosopher, Eric Hoffer wrote:

“The impression somehow prevails that the true believer, particularly the religious individual, is a humble person. The truth is the surrendering and humbling of the self breed pride and arrogance. The true believer is apt to see himself as one of the chosen, the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a prince disguised in meekness, who is destined to inherit the earth and the kingdom of heaven too. He who is not of his faith is evil; he who will not listen will perish.”

That is why they, the religious true believers of any faith are capable of such great evil, and why such people can murder innocents in the most brutal manner simply because they do not believe correctly. In fact today when I see the words and actions of these supposed Conservative Christians.

Please do not get me wrong. I am a Christian, a priest, a historian and a theologian, but I also know just how insidious those who hold their religion over those of others can be. While I hold faith dear, I know that it can be abused for the claim of some to have God as their final authority is a sort of trump card with which they are able to justify the most obscene and evil acts against others.

Likewise I struggle with faith every day. If you have read this blog from the beginning you will see chronicle my struggles with faith and its practice, especially in life and politics.

I guess that is why I am even more frightened of religious true believers than non-religious true believers. While the non-religious true believer may sacrifice everything for the sake of power and control in this life, and may in fact commit the most heinous crimes against humanity, their hatred is bounded in space and time to this earth. The religious true believer is not content with that; their enemies must be damned and punished in this life, but for eternity, without hope of salvation.

When the true believers look at people like me, or Yossarian, I am sure they believe what Heller wrote:

“Morale was deteriorating and it was all Yossarian’s fault. The country was in peril; he was jeopardizing his traditional rights of freedom and independence by daring to exercise them.” 

I will be a Yossarian any day of the week rather than the Chaplain in Catch 22, who like Falwell, Jeffress, Graham, and so many other have “turned vice into virtue, slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted:

Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christian should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.

As the President considers declaring a national emergency to build his wall, it would be good for all,of us to remember that tyranny does not arise in a vacuum. It requires accomplices who are willing to embody the Chaplain of Catch 22.

With that I wish you a good day.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Justice and Life as an Exercise in Exceptions: Faith in the Age of Trump

thedrumhead117

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The English Mathematician and founder of Process Philosophy, Alfred North Whitehead wrote:

Religion carries two sorts of people in two entirely opposite directions: the mild and gentle people it carries towards mercy and justice; the persecuting people it carries into fiendish sadistic cruelty…” 

I find much truth in Whitehead’s words. Those who follow my writings know how much I struggle with faith and doubt on a daily basis. I believe, but as the man told Jesus when he asked Jesus to heal his child “I believe, help my unbelief.” I no longer believe in the “absolute truths” that I once believed.

Of course to some this makes me a heretic or worse. That being said, as a Christian, I have faith in a God I cannot see or prove. I have faith in a God who Scripture and Tradition clothes himself in human weakness and allows himself to be killed based on the trumped up charges of corrupt and fearful religious leaders aided by fearful politicians. For me this is part of being a theologian of the Cross in a post-Auschwitz world.

Jürgen Moltmann, a German theologian who wrote the book The Crucified God answered a question about believing in God after Auschwitz:

“A shattering expression of the theologia crucis which is suggested in the rabbinic theology of God’s humiliation of himself is to be found in Night, a book written by E. Wiesel, a survivor of Auschwitz:

The SS hanged two Jewish men and a youth in front of the whole camp. The men died quickly, but the death throes of the youth lasted for half an hour. ‘Where is God? Where is he?’ someone asked behind me. As the youth still hung in torment for a long time, I heard the man call again, ‘Where is God now?’ And I heard a voice in myself answer: ‘Where is he? He is here. He is hanging there on the gallows…’

Any other answer would be blasphemy. There cannot be any other Christian answer to the question of this torment. To speak here of a God who could not suffer would make God a demon. To speak here of an absolute God would make God an annihilating nothingness. To speak here of an indifferent God would condemn men to indifference.

(Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, p 273-274)

In answer to the question “How can we believe in God after Auschwitz he responded:

“In whom can we believe after Auschwitz if not God?

Likewise, Rabbi Emil Fackenheim noted:

If we abandoned our faith in God after Auschwitz, we would give Hitler a posthumous victory.

And as long as we know that the ‘Sh’ma Yisrael’ and the ‘Our Father’ prayers were prayed in Auschwitz, we must not give up our faith in God.”

Thus, while I believe, I have a problem with Christians or members of other religions try to use the police power of state to enforce their beliefs on others. In this belief I am much like the great Virginia Baptist leader, John Leland who was a driving force behind the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights who wrote:

“Is conformity of sentiments in matters of religion essential to the happiness of civil government? Not at all. Government has no more to do with the religious opinions of men than it has with the principles of mathematics. Let every man speak freely without fear–maintain the principles that he believes–worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods; and let government protect him in so doing, i.e., see that he meets with no personal abuse or loss of property for his religious opinions. Instead of discouraging him with proscriptions, fines, confiscation or death, let him be encouraged, as a free man, to bring forth his arguments and maintain his points with all boldness; then if his doctrine is false it will be confuted, and if it is true (though ever so novel) let others credit it. When every man has this liberty what can he wish for more? A liberal man asks for nothing more of government.”

When it comes to God, I believe, but my doubts are all too real. Frankly I cringe when I hear religious people speaking with absolute certitude about things that they ultimately cannot prove, and that includes the concept of justice, which cannot always be measured in absolutes.

Captain Jean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) noted in the Star Trek the Next Generation episode Justice: 

“I don’t know how to communicate this, or even if it is possible. But the question of justice has concerned me greatly of late. And I say to any creature who may be listening, there can be no justice so long as laws are absolute. Even life itself is an exercise in exceptions.”

I have found and learned to accept that life as we know it “is an exercise in exceptions.”  We all make them, and the Bible and the history of the church is full of them. So I have a hard time with people who claim an absolute certitude in beliefs that wish to impose on others.

True believers frequently wrap themselves in the certitude of their faith. They espouse doctrines that are unprovable and then build complex doctrinal systems to prove them, systems that then which must be defended, sometimes to the death. Eric Hoffer wrote:

A doctrine insulates the devout not only against the realities around them but also against their own selves. The fanatical believer is not conscious of his envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. There is a wall of words between his consciousness and his real self.”

Henri Nouwen, the Priest who wrote the classic book on pastoral care, The Wounded Healer, and many other works wrote:

Theological formation is the gradual and often painful discovery of God’s incomprehensibility. You can be competent in many things, but you cannot be competent in God.” 

No one can be competent in God, I certainly am not. I am sure that even well meaning people who claim to be are hopelessly deluded, and those that those that use their alleged competence in God to prop up evil are far worse, they are evil men masquerading as good.

Those men and women that speak of absolutes and want to use the Bible or any other religious text as some sort of rule book that they alone can interpret need to ask themselves this question, “When has justice ever been as simple as a rulebook?” The Bible is not a rule book, but a story of imperfect people trying to understand and live an experience with a being that they, like us, can only imagine and often misunderstand.

Sadly too many people, Christians, Moslems, Jews, Hindus, and others apply their own misconceptions and prejudices to their scriptures and use them as a weapon of temporal and divine judgement on all who they oppose. However, as history, life and even our scriptures testify, that none of us can absolutely claim to know the absolutes of God. As Captain Picard noted “life itself is an exercise in exceptions.” 

It takes true wisdom to know when and how to make these exceptions, wisdom based on reason, grace and mercy. Justice, is to apply the law in fairness and equity, knowing that even our best attempts can be misguided. If instead of reason we appeal to emotion, hatred, prejudice or vengeance and clothe them in the language of righteousness, what we call justice can be more evil than any evil it is supposed to correct, no matter what our motivation.

But we see it all too often, religious people and others misusing faith or ideology to condemn those they do not understand or with whom they disagree. It is happening again.

When such people gain power, especially when the do so supporting a leader who is they tend to expand that power into the realm of theocratic absolutism and despotism. As Captain Jean Luc Picard noted in the Start Trek Next Generation episode The Drumhead: 

“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.”

It is happening, all around the world, and it could easily happen here. Our founders realized how easily it could happen, they warned about it; but they are dead, and neither Trump or his followers give a damn about them or the Constitution that they crafted. In fact, his followers are for more dangerous thanTrump, because they will outlast him by a generation, or more, always waiting for the chance to grab power by any means possible.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Padre Steve+

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“You’re Worse… You Went Along With it All, Even Though You Knew…” Loyal Servants of Evil Regimes

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

One of the more sobering war movies that I have ever watched is the film Stalingrad. Released in 1993 it is the story of four soldiers of a platoon of soldiers of the 336th Pioneer Battalion. The Pioneers were the equivalent of American Combat Engineers. It is a sobering film to watch. In a way it is much like the film Platoon. Director Joseph Vilsmaier made the battle and the human suffering come alive with realism. There is no happy ending and there are few if any heroes. The men see, protest, are punished, and then are ordered to participate in war crimes.

The battle of Stalingrad was one of the turning points of the Second World War, over a million Russian, German, Romanian, and Italian Soldiers died in the battle. Of the 260,000 soldiers of the German Sixth Army which led the attack in Stalingrad and then were surrounded by the Soviet counter-offensive, very few survived. Some escaped because they were evacuated by transport planes, but most perished. Of the approximately 91,000 German soldiers that surrendered only about 6,000 returned home.

I’ll write about that battle again around Christmas and on the anniversary of its surrender at the end of January, but there are two sequences of dialogue that stood out to me. The first is at the beginning of the battle where a German Chaplain exhorts the soldier to fight against the “Godless Bolsheviks” because the Germans believed in God and the officially Atheistic Soviet Union and its people did not. In his exhortation the Chaplain calls attentional the belt buckles worn by every soldier in the Wehrmacht, which were embossed with the words Gott mit Uns, or God is with us.

I am a a military Chaplain. I have been one since 1992, and the older I get the more distrustful I am of men who place a veneer of region over the most ungodly and unjust wars. For me that was frightening because I do know from experience that the temptation to do such things when in uniform is all too great, but how can anyone exhort people to acts of criminality in the name of God? I know that it is done far too often and I hate to admit I personally know, or know of American military chaplains who would say the same thing as the German Chaplain depicted in the film. Back in the Cold War while serving as an officer before I became a Chaplain I used to talk about the Godless Communists.

The second question is also difficult. I have been in the military for about thirty-seven plus years. Truthfully I am a dinosaur. I am the second most senior and the oldest sailor on my base. I have served during the Cold War as a company commander, was mobilized as a chaplain to support the Bosnia operation in 1996, I have served in the Korean DMZ, at sea during Operation Enduring Freedom and Southern Watch, and with American advisors to the Iraqi Army, Police, and Border troops in Al Anbar Province. I have seen too much of war but even though I could retire from the military today I still believe that I am called to serve and care for the men and women who will go into harm’s way.

That being said those who have read my writings on this site for years know just how anti-war I have become and why this dialogue hits so hard. Some of the members of the platoon are accused of cowardice and sent to a penal company in order to redeem themselves. The commander of the unit, a Captain who hold the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross is confronted by one of the men.

Otto: You know we don’t stand a chance. Why not surrender?

Captain Hermann Musk: You know what would happen if we do.

Otto: Do we deserve any better?

Captain Hermann Musk: Otto, I’m not a Nazi.

Otto: No, you’re worse. Lousy officers. You went along with it all, even though you knew who was in charge.

That is something that bothers me even today. I wonder about the men who go along with wars which cannot be classified as anything other than war crimes based on the precedents set by Americans at Nuremberg, and I am not without my own guilt. In 2003 I had my own misgivings about the invasion of Iraq, but I wholeheartedly supported it and volunteered to go there.

I was all too much like the German Captain. I went along with it despite my doubts. As a voter I could have cast my vote for John Kerry in 2004, but I didn’t. Instead I supported a President who launched a war of aggression that by every definition fits the charges leveled against the leaders of the Nazi state at Nuremberg. When I was in Iraq I saw things that changed me and I have written in much detail about them on this site, but I supported that invasion.

Now as a nation we are in a place where a man who openly advocates breaking the Geneva and Hague Conventions, supports the use of torture, and who both beats the drums of war, to the extent of appointing one of the most strident proponents of the invasion of Iraq as his National Security Advisor. Likewise, he holds the professional military in contempt appears to be angling for war in the Middle East against Iran even as he excuses the criminal actions of Saudi Arabia in Yemen and against American residents.

I have no doubt that unless something changes that a terrible war is coming and that our President will be a catalyst for it. But for the next nine months before I retire, I will remain in the military to care for the sailors, soldiers, marines, and airmen who will have to go to war and perhaps fight and die.

The thought haunts me and makes it hard for me to sleep at night and I do my best to speak up and be truthful in fulfillment of my priestly vows and my oath of office. Today, unlike my younger years; one thing for me is true: I will never tell any military member that God is with us in the sense that all too many Christian nationalists have done in the past.

I don’t actually think that I ever said the words “God is with us” in regards to advocating war in my career as a Chaplain, but I am sure that my words, and public prayers could have been interpreted in that way when I was younger, especially in the traumatic days after September 11th, 2001.

Likewise, I did go along with the war in Iraq even though I understood what it meant! and what the men and women who engineered it wanted when they took us to war. Sadly, I trusted my leaders too much, especially when Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke before the United Nations to prove the case against Iraq just before the invasion.

Supreme Justice Robert Jackson, who served as the Chief American Prosecutor at Nuremberg stated in the London Agreement:

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

Now we live in a world where nationalism, ethnic, racial, and religious hatred are rising, and our own President seems to be abandoning the democratic and pluralistic ideas of or founders, while praising and tacitly supporting authoritarian and Fascist rulers around the world. Honestly, I dread what may befall us if he remains in power.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Who Were the Bodies? The Nazi Crimes Against Humanity in Retrospect

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In the film Judgement at Nuremberg the American Prosecutor at the Judges Trial played by Richard Widmark asked a question when showing a film of the victims of the Nazis when the Concentration Camps were liberated by American and British troops in the spring of 1945. His question in the face of films of massed piles of bodies being bulldozed into mass graves at Bergen-Belsen, of the cremated remains, shrunken skulls, and lampshades made of human skin at Buchenwald, gas chambers, medical experiments, the emaciated bodies of still living victims; little more than skin and bones, elbows, hips, and knees bulging over the shrunken remains of their bodies, eyes sunken in to the skulls.

Who Were they?

The Nazis specifically targeted the Jews for extermination. According to Hitler, his hnchemen, and other German nationalists, the Jews were less than human, they worked hand in hand with the Bolsheviks, and thus deserved their fate. Likewise, there were those crippled in body or mind who were euthanized, political opponents, religious and racial minorities, populations of conquered nations, who died at the hands of the German military, or who were gunned down in mass graves by the Einsatzgruppen, intentionally starved to death, or who were worked to death as Slave laborers in the Nazi work camps.

They were men and women, wives and husbands, sons and daughters. They spanned the spectrum from infants to the aged. Too many times multiple generations of families went to death together. Hermann Graebe, a civilian employed to help build roads for the Wehrmacht came across one of the many massacres committed up close and personal by SS Men on October 5th 1943 at Dubno, Ukraine. He testified:

Moennikes and I went direct to the pits. Nobody bothered us. Now I heard rifle shots in quick succession, from behind one of the earth mounds. The people who had got off the trucks—men, women and children of all ages—had to undress upon the orders of an SS-man, who carried a riding or dog whip.

They had to put down their clothes in fixed places, sorted according to shoes, top clothing and underclothing. I saw a heap of shoes of about 800 to 1,000 pairs, great piles of underlinen and clothing. Without screaming or weeping these people undressed, stood around in family groups, kissed each other, said farewells and waited for a sign from another SS-man, who stood near the pit, also with a whip in his hand.

During the 15 minutes that I stood near the pit I heard no complaint or plea for mercy. I watched a family of about 8 persons, a man and woman, both about 50 with their children of about 1, 8 and 10, and two grown up daughters of about 20 to 24. An old woman with snow-white hair was holding the one year old child in her arms and singing to it, and tickling it. The child was cooing with delight. The couple were looking on with tears in their eyes. The father was holding the hand of a boy about 10 years old and speaking to him softly; the boy was fighting his tears. The father pointed toward the sky, stroked his head, and seemed to explain something to him. At that moment the SS-man at the pit shouted something to his comrade.

I looked into the pit and saw that the bodies were twitching or the heads lying already motionless on top of the bodies that lay before them. Blood was running from their necks.

I was surprised that I was not ordered away, but I saw that there were two or three postmen in uniform nearby. The next batch was approaching already.

These victims were not just numbers and statistics. They were living breathing human beings whose lives were snuffed out by the Nazis and their allies. They had been abandoned by most of the world. Anything of value that they possessed was appropriated by the men who exterminated them; their businesses, homes, farms, clothes, shoes, currency, jewelry, wedding rings, artwork, furniture, and even their gold fillings, and yes, their hair, and even their skin.

Whole towns were exterminated, millions of people killed and millions of other people displaced, never to return to their homes. At Babi Yar outside of Kiev 33,771 Jews were exterminated by the members of Sonderkommando 4b of Einsatzgruppen C as well as Police battalions. About 10,000 others, mainly Communist Officials and Gypsies were rounded up and killed in the same operation. The victims were stripped of all of their belongings taken to a ravine and shot. The German Army provided logistic support as well as security for the murder squads.

Fritz Hoefer, a SS man serving as a truck driver with the Sonderkommando said these words at the Einsatzgruppen Trial:

One day I was ordered to drive my truck out of town. I had a Ukrainian with me. It was about 10 a.m. On our way, we passed Jews marching in columns in the same direction, we were going. They were carrying their belongings. There were whole families. The farther we drove away from the town, the more people we saw in the columns. There were piles of clothes in a wide open field. My job was to fetch them.   

I stopped the engine nearby, and the Ukrainians standing around started loading the car with this stuff. From where I was, I saw other Ukrainians meeting the Jews who arrived, men, women and children, and directing them to the place where, one after another, they were supposed to remove their belongings, coats, shoes, outer garments and even their underwear.

They were supposed to put all their belongings together in a pile. Everything happened very quickly, the Ukrainians hurried those who hesitated by kicking and pushing them. I think it took less than a minute from the moment a person took off his coat before he was standing completely naked.

No distinction was made between men, women and children. The Jews who were arriving could have turned back when they saw those who had come earlier taking off their clothes. Even today I cannot understand why they didn’t run.

 

Columns of Jews march past a corpse in Kiev

Naked Jews were led to a ravine about 150 metres long, 30 metres wide and 15 metres deep. The Jews went down into the ravine through two or three narrow paths. When they got closer to the edge of the ravine, members of the Schutzpolizei (Germans) grabbed them and made them lie down over the corpses of the Jews who had already been shot.

It took no time. The corpses were carefully laid down in rows. As soon as a Jew lay down, a Schutzpolizist came along with a sub-machine gun and shot him in the back of the head.The Jews who descended into the ravine were so frightened by this terrible scene that they completely lost their will. You could even see some of them lying down in the row on their own and waiting for the shot to come.

Only two members of the Schutzpolizei did the shooting. One of them was working at one of the ravine, the other started at the other end. I saw them standing on the bodies and shooting one person after another.

Walking over the corpses toward a new victim who had already laid down, the machine gunner shot him on the spot. It was an extermination machine that made no distinction between men, women and children.Children were kept with their mothers and shot with them. I did not watch for long. When I approached the edge, I was so frightened of what I that I could not look at it for a long time.

 

German Einsatzgruppen & Police force groups of Jews to hand over their possessions and undress before being shot in the ravine at Babi Yar

I saw dead bodies at the bottom laid across in three rows, each of which was approximately 60 metres long. I could not see how many layers were there. It was beyond my comprehension to see bodies twitching in convulsions and covered with blood, so I could not make sense of the details.Apart from the two machine gunners, there were two other members of the Schutzpolizei standing near each passage into the ravine.

They made each victim lie down on the corpses, so that the machine gunner could shoot while he walked by. When victims descended into the ravine and saw this terrible scene at the last moment, they let out a cry of terror. But they were grabbed by the waiting Schutzpolizei right away and hurled down onto the others.

Those who followed them could not see the terrible scene because it was obstructed by the edge of the ravine. While some people were getting undressed and most of the others were waiting their turn, there was a lot of noise. The Ukrainians paid no attention to the noise and just kept forcing people through the passages into the ravine.

You could not see the ravine from the site where people were taking off their clothes, because it was situated about 150 metres away from the first pile of clothes. Besides, a strong wind was blowing and it was very cold. You couldn’t hear the shooting in the ravine.

Jews at Babi Yar waiting to be murdered

So I concluded that the Jews had no idea what was actually happening. Even today I wonder why the Jews did nothing to challenge what was going on. Masses of people were coming from town and they did not seem to suspect anything.

They thought they were just being relocated.              

The men who were the leaders of the mobile Einsatzgruppen which conducted these up close and personal killings of nearly a million and a half Jews and others were not common thugs. Most were very educated and accomplished men.

General Telford Taylor, an American lawyer who served as a prosecutor at the Einsatzgruppen Trial explained:

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

The men who ran the death camps might not have been from the same “elite” stock as the commanders of the Einsatzgruppen but they carried out their duties in calculating and businesslike manner. Rudolf Hoess who commanded Auschwitz gave this statement to the International Military Tribunal:

On 1 December 1943 1 became Chief of Amt 1 in Amt Group D of the WVHA, and in that office was responsible for co-ordinating all matters arising between RSHA and concentration camps under the administration of WVHA. I held this position until the end of the war. Pohl, as Chief of WVHA, and Kaltenbrunner, as Chief of RSHA, often conferred personally and frequently communicated orally and in writing concerning concentration camps. . . .

The ‘final solution’ of the Jewish question meant the complete extermination of all Jews in Europe. I was ordered to establish extermination facilities at Auschwitz in June 1941. At that time, there were already in the General Government three other extermination camps: Belzek, Treblinka, and Wolzek. These camps were under the Einsatzkommando of the Security Police and SD. I visited Treblinka to find out how they carried out their exterminations. The camp commandant at Treblinka told me that he had liquidated 80,000 in the course of one-half year. He was principally concerned with liquidating all the Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto. He used monoxide gas, and I did not think that his methods were very efficient. So when I set up the extermination building at Auschwitz, I used Cyklon B, which was a crystallized prussic acid which we dropped into the death chamber from a small opening. It took from 3 to 15 minutes to kill the people in the death chamber, depending upon climatic conditions. We knew when the people were dead because their screaming stopped. We usually waited about one-half hour before we opened the doors and removed the bodies. After the bodies were removed our special Kommandos took off the rings and extracted the gold from the teeth of the corpses.

When he was asked specifics, Hoess stated: This gold was melted down and brought to the Chief Medical Office of the SS at Berlin.

He continued with some pride during cross examination:

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

But the bodies…

Jews and Gentiles from every nation in Europe as well as the Americas, Africa, and Asia ended up dying at the hands of the Nazis, either in their Death Camps, Concentration/ Labor Camps, or up close and personal at the hands of the Einsatzgruppen, the Waffen SS, or the Wehrmacht.

Every one of those bodies, the cold statistics of the Nazi machine were people like you and me. In April I visited the United States Holocaust Museum while visiting friends in Washington D. C.

I think that the one that hit me the hardest was the pictorial Tower of Faces from the Polish shtetl of Ejszyszki. That town was home to some 4,000 Jews and the pictures had been taken over the preceding decade by local photographers. They were pictures of everyday family and community life; men, women, children at work, at play, at rest. Worshipping, working, studying, the old and the young, the well off and the poor, the religious and those not as religious at all phase of life captured in photos for eternity. For 3500 of them their lives ended on September 21st 1941 when the Nazis rounded up the Jews at their Synagogues on the eve of Yom Kippur and executed them by firing squad in mass graves at the town’s Christian and Jewish cemeteries. Only 29 of those who survived that day lived through the war. That Jewish community had existed for 900 years and was exterminated in a matter of hours.

I looked at those pictures and I could not get over all of those innocent lives cut short. Each face was the picture of an individual or individuals, families, friends, schoolmates. They were not abstract numbers or statistics but real flesh and blood people like you and me. They had hopes and dreams, but because they were Jews they were exterminated, like nearly six million other Jews who also were real people with hopes and dreams that would be destroyed by the Nazi racial war. Of course the Nazis targeted others, but none with the relentless anti-Semitic racial hatred propagated by Nazi ideology. Thus they condoned and executed by people who would have ordinarily have been considered upstanding and moral citizens. The late Christopher Hitchens wrote:

“We should not at all allow ourselves to forget the millions of non-Jewish citizens of Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, and other Slav territories who were also massacred. But for me the salient fact remains that anti-Semitism was the regnant, essential, organizing principle of all the other National Socialist race theories. It is thus not to be thought of as just one prejudice among many.” 

The Jewish-Italian Philosopher and Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi wrote:

Then for the first time we became aware that our language lacks words to express this offence, the demolition of a man. In a moment, with almost prophetic intuition, the reality was revealed to us: we had reached the bottom. It is not possible to sink lower than this; no human condition is more miserable than this, nor could it conceivably be so. Nothing belongs to us any more; they have taken away our clothes, our shoes, even our hair; if we speak, they will not listen to us, and if they listen, they will not understand. They will even take away our name: and if we want to keep it, we ill have to find ourselves the strength to do so, to manage somehow so that behind the name something of us, of us as we were, still remains.

I write because the remaining witnesses to the Nazi Crimes are dying off and deniers are becoming ever more numerous. In researching this article I came across a man, an American of all people, who is denying the mass murder at Babi Yar. I have to shake my head, but the fact is that such people have become emboldened by the Presidency of Donald Trump. They see in him a kindred spirit. Such does not bode well for the future, and the lives who will stand behind the faces and names of the future crimes against humanity.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“It is the Duty of Troops to Use All Means… Even Against Women and Children…” Robert Jackson’s Closing Arguments at Nuremberg, Part Two

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tonight I am continuing on with my series on Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson’s closing arguments while serving as the Chief American Prosecutor at the Major War Crimes Trials at Nuremberg. These crimes are not without relevance today, thus it is important for us to revisit them, for as I noted yesterday, quoting Yehuda Bauer, the Holocaust did not deviate from human norms.

For me it is a difficult subject, for I served in and supported a war that by any standard of legal and moral judgement would have met the criteria that we prosecuted the Nazis for I. 1945. I should have known better because I had studied the Nazi crimes and had been the student of a professor who served as an interrogator and interpreter during the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials. But in the moment of hysteria after the attacks of September 11th 2001 and my belief in the integrity of Secretary of State Colin Powell I allowed my good sense to be persuaded that an act of aggressive war that resulted in war crimes, and might even include crimes against humanity was perfectly legal.

I went to Iraq in 2007 and 2008. I worked with advisors to Iraqi Army, Border Troops, Police, Port of Entry, and Provincial Reconstruction Teams In Al Anbar Province. I came back from Iraq a very different man. I saw the lies. I came to love and appreciate the Iraqis and what they had suffered under both Saddam Hussein and our invasion and occupation. I can still see the maimed bodies, the destroyed cities and hamlets, the crippled children, as well as the wounded Marines in my mind. I pray and hope that the Iraqis that I served alongside did not become victims of ISIS after I left the country.

I am haunted by it to this day, and I no longer trust the supposedly good intentions of the American government, and in the age of Donald Trump fear for our nation and the world. This weekend the American Border Patrol fired CS gas, a riot control agent that is banned for use in combat across the international border into Mexico at unarmed Central American refugees, many of whom were women and children. The reason was that they “felt endangered” because some in the sea of refugees threw rocks across the border at the border control officers who were dressed in body armor and Kevlar helmets with face masks.

While this was not war, there is a principle and law of war that American law enforcement officers frequently violate, the principle of proportionality. I’m sorry, but firing CA gas at unarmed refugees on the opposite side of the border for throwing rocks is not proportional. They had not breached the border and were also facing Mexican Federal Police. I have to wonder what is next. President Trump says that he has authorized U. S. Military personnel to use deadly force against rock throwers, and his Chief of Staff, retired Marine Corps General John Kelly issued a “cabinet order” something never heard of before, allowing U. S. Military personnel to engage refugees believed to be endangering Border Control agents, in what appears to be a direct violation of Posse Comitatus.

But I digress. When I read these accounts my mind is taken back to the subject of war crimes, and based on my expertise and study of the crimes of the Nazis, not to mention the Japanese in the Second World War, I automatically default to those settings.

So, I will stop with my words and go back to those of Robert Jackson at Nuremberg.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Immediately after the seizure of power the Nazis went to work to implement these aggressive intentions by preparing for war. They first enlisted German industrialists in a secret rearmament programme. Twenty days after the seizure of power Schacht was host to Hitler, Goering and some twenty leading industrialists. Among them were Krupp von Bohlen of the great Krupp armament works and representatives of I. G. Farben and other Ruhr heavy industries. Hitler and Goering explained their programme to the industrialists, who became so enthusiastic that they set about to raise three million Reichsmarks to strengthen and confirm the Nazi Party in power. Two months later Krupp was working to bring a reorganised association of German industry into agreement with the political aims of the Nazi Government. Krupp later boasted of the success in keeping the German war industries secretly alive and in readiness despite the disarmament clauses of the Versailles Treaty, and recalled the industrialists’ enthusiastic acceptance of “the great intentions of the Fuehrer in the rearmament period of 1933-1939”.

Some two months after Schacht had sponsored his first meeting to gain the support of the industrialists, the Nazis moved to harness industrial labour to their aggressive plans. In April, 1933, Hitler ordered Dr. Ley “to take over the trade unions”, numbering some 6 million members. By Party directive Ley seized the unions, their property and their funds. Union leaders, taken into “protective custody” by the SS and SA, were put into concentration camps. The free labour unions were then replaced by a Nazi organization known as the German Labour Front, with Dr. Ley at its head. It was expanded until it controlled over 23 million members. Collective bargaining was eliminated, the voice of labour could no longer be heard as to working conditions, and the labour contract was prescribed by “trustees of labour” appointed by Hitler. The war purpose of this labour programme was clearly acknowledged by Robert Ley five days after war broke out, when he declared in a speech that:

“We National Socialists have monopolised all resources and all our energies during the past seven years so as to be able to be equipped for the supreme effort of battle.”

The Nazis also proceeded at once to adapt the Government to the needs of war. In April, 1933, the Cabinet formed a Defence Council, the working committee of which met frequently thereafter. In the meeting of 22nd May, 1933, at which defendant Keitel presided, the members were instructed that:

“No document must be lost since otherwise the enemy propaganda would make use of it. Matters communicated orally cannot be proven; they can be denied by us in Geneva.”

In February, 1934 -and, your Honours, dates in this connection are important -with defendant Jodl present, the Council planned a mobilization calendar and mobilization order for some 240,000 industrial plants. Again it was agreed that nothing should be in writing so that “the military purpose may not be traceable”.

On 21st May, 1935, the top secret Reich Defence Law was enacted. Defendant Schacht was appointed Plenipotentiary General for War Economy with the task of secretly preparing all economic forces for war and, in the event of mobilization, of financing the war.

Schacht’s secret efforts were supplemented

in October, 1936, by the appointment of defendant Goering as Commissioner of the Four-Year Plan, with the duty of putting the entire economy in a state of readiness for war within four years.

A secret programme for the accumulation of the raw materials and foreign credits necessary for extensive rearmament was also set on foot immediately upon seizure of power. In September of 1934, the Minister of Economics was already complaining that:

“The task of stock-piling is being hampered by the lack of foreign currency; the need for secrecy and camouflage also is a retarding influence.”

Foreign currency controls were at once established. Financing was delegated to the wizard Schacht, who conjured up the MEFO bill to serve the dual objectives of tapping the short-term money market for rearmament purposes while concealing the amount of these expenditures.

The spirit of the whole Nazi administration was summed up by Goering at a meeting of the Council of Ministers, which included Schacht, on 27th May, 1936, when he said: “All measures are to be considered from the standpoint of an assured waging of war.” The General Staff, of course, also had to be enlisted in the war plan. Most of the generals, attracted by the prospect of rebuilding their armies, became willing accomplices. The Minister of War von Blomberg and the Chief of Staff General von Fritsch, however, were not cordial to the increasingly belligerent policy of the Hitler regime, and by vicious and obscene plotting they were discredited and removed in January, 1938. Thereupon, Hitler assumed for himself supreme command of the armed forces and the positions of von Blomberg and of von Fritsch were filled by others who became, as Blomberg said of Keitel, “a willing tool in Hitler’s hands for every one of his decisions”. The generals did not confine their participation to merely military matters. They participated in all major diplomatic and political manoeuvres, such as the Obersalzberg meeting where Hitler, flanked by Keitel and other top generals, issued his virtual ultimatum to Schuschnigg.

As early as 5th November, 1937, the plan to attack had begun to take definiteness as to time and victim. In a meeting which included the defendants Raeder, Goering and von Neurath, Hitler stated the cynical objective:

“The question for Germany is where the greatest possible conquest could be made at the lowest possible cost.”

He discussed various plans for the invasion of Austria and Czechoslovakia, indicating clearly that he was thinking of these territories not as ends in themselves, but as means for further conquest. He pointed out that considerable military and political assistance could be afforded by possession of these lands, and discussed the possibility of constituting from them new armies up to a strength of about 12 divisions. The aim he stated boldly and baldly as the acquisition of additional living-space in Europe, and recognized that “The German question can be solved only by way of force.” Six months later, emboldened by the bloodless Austrian conquest, Hitler, in a secret directive to Keitel, stated his “unalterable decision to smash Czechoslovakia by military action in the near future”.

On the same day, Jodl noted in his diary that the Fuehrer had stated his final decision to destroy Czechoslovakia soon and had initiated military preparations all along the line. By April the plan had been perfected to attack Czechoslovakia “with lightning swift action as the result of an ‘incident'”.

All along the line preparations became more definite for a war of expansion, on the assumption that it would result in a world-wide conflict. In September, 1938, Admiral Carls officially commented on a “Draft Study of Naval Warfare against England”:

“There is full agreement with the main theme of the study.

1. If, according to the Fuehrer’s decision, Germany is to acquire a position as a world power, she needs not only sufficient colonial possessions but also secure naval communications and secure access to the ocean.

2. Both requirements can only be fulfilled in opposition to Anglo-French interests and will limit their positions as world powers. It is unlikely that they can be achieved by peaceful means. The decision to make Germany a world power therefore forces upon us the necessity of making the corresponding preparations for war.

3. War against England means at the same time war against the Empire, against France, probably against Russia as well, and a large number of countries overseas; in fact, against one-third to one-half of the whole world.

It can only be justified and have a chance of success if it is prepared economically as well as politically and militarily and waged with the aim of conquering for Germany an outlet to the ocean.”

This Tribunal knows what categorical assurances were given to an alarmed world after the Anschluss, after Munich, after the occupation of Bohemia and Moravia, that German ambitions were realised and that Hitler had “no further territorial demands to make in Europe.” The record of this trial shows that those promises were calculated deceptions and that those high in the bloody brotherhood of Nazidom knew it.

As early as 15th April, 1938, Goering pointed out to Mussolini and Ciano that the possession of those territories would make possible an attack on Poland. Ribbentrop’s Ministry wrote on 26th August, 1938:

“After the liquidation of the Czechoslovakian question, it will be generally assumed that Poland will be next in turn.”

Hitler, after the Polish invasion, boasted that it was the Austrian and Czechoslovakian triumphs by which “the basis for the action against Poland was laid”. Goering suited the act to the purpose and gave immediate instructions to exploit, for the further strengthening of the German war potential, first the Sudetenland, and then the whole Protectorate.

By May of 1939 the Nazi preparations had ripened to the point that Hitler confided to the defendants Goering, Raeder, Keitel, and others, his readiness “to attack Poland at the first suitable opportunity”, even though he recognized that “further successes cannot be attained without the shedding of blood”. The larcenous motives behind this decision he made plain in words that echoed the covetous theme of Mein Kampf:

“Circumstances must be adapted to aims. This is impossible without invasion of foreign States or attacks upon foreign property. Living-space in proportion to the magnitude of the State is the basis of all power -further successes cannot be attained without expanding our living-space in the East ….”

While a credulous world slumbered, snugly blanketed with perfidious assurances of peaceful intentions, the Nazis prepared not as before for a war but now for the war. The defendants Goering, Keitel, Raeder, Frick and Funk, with others, met as the Reich Defence Council in June of 1939. The minutes, authenticated by Goering, are revealing evidence of the way in which each step of Nazi planning dovetailed with every other. These five key defendants, three months before the first panzer unit had knifed into Poland, were laying plans for “employment of the population in wartime”, and had gone so far as to classify industry for priority in labour supply after “five million servicemen had been called up”. They decided upon measures to avoid “confusion when mobilization takes place”, and declared a purpose “to gain and maintain the lead in the decisive initial weeks of war”. They then planned to use in production prisoners of war, criminal prisoners, and concentration camp inmates. They then decided on “compulsory work for women in war time”. They had already passed on applications from 1,172,000 specialist workmen for classification as indispensable, and had approved 727,000 of them. They boasted that orders to workers to report for duty “are ready and tied up in bundles at the labour offices”. And they resolved to increase the industrial manpower supply by bringing into Germany “hundreds of thousands of workers” from the Protectorate to be “housed together in hutments”.

It is the minutes of this significant conclave of many key defendants which disclose how the plan to start the war was coupled with the plan to wage the war through the use of illegal sources of labour to maintain production. Hitler, in announcing his plan to attack Poland, had already foreshadowed the slave labour programme as one of its corollaries when he cryptically pointed out to the defendants Goering, Raeder, Keitel, and others that the Polish population “will be available as a source of labour”. This was part of the plan made good by Frank, who as Governor-General notified Goering, that he would supply “at least one million male and female agricultural and industrial workers to the Reich”, and by Sauckel, whose impressments throughout occupied territory aggregated numbers equal to the total population of some of the smaller nations of Europe.

Here also comes to the surface the link between war labour and concentration camps, a manpower source that was increasingly used and with increasing cruelty. An agreement between Himmler and the Minister of Justice, Thierack, in 1942 provided for “the delivery of anti-social elements from the execution of their sentence to the Reichsfuehrer SS to be worked to death”. An SS directive provided that bedridden prisoners be drafted for work to be performed in bed. The Gestapo ordered 46,000 Jews arrested to increase the “recruitment of manpower into the concentration camps”. One hundred thousand Jews were brought from Hungary to augment the camps’ manpower. On the initiative of the defendant Donitz concentration camp labour was used in the construction of submarines. Concentration camps were thus geared into war production on the one hand, and into the administration of justice and the political aims of the Nazis on the other. The use of prisoner-of-war labour, as then planned in that meeting, also grew with German needs. At a time when every German soldier was needed at the front and forces were not available at home, Russian prisoners of war were forced to man anti-aircraft guns against Allied planes. Field-Marshal Milch reflected the Nazi merriment at this flagrant violation of International Law, saying: “… This is an amusing thing, that the Russians must work the guns.”

The orders for the treatment of Soviet prisoners of war were so ruthless that Admiral Canaris, pointing out that they would “result in arbitrary mistreatments and killing”, protested to the OKW against them as breaches of International Law. The reply of Keitel was unambiguous. He said:

“The objections arise from the military conception of chivalrous warfare! This is the destruction of an ideology! Therefore I approve and back the measures”.

The Geneva Convention would have been thrown overboard openly, except that Jodl objected because he wanted the benefits of Allied observance of it while it was not being allowed to hamper the Germans in any way.

Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel

Other crimes in the conduct of warfare were planned with equal thoroughness as a means of ensuring victory of German arms: In October, 1938, almost a year before the start of the war, the large-scale violation of the established rules of warfare was contemplated as a policy, and the Supreme Command circulated a most secret list of devious explanations to be given by the Propaganda Minister in such cases. Even before this time commanders of the armed forces were instructed to employ any methods of warfare so long as they facilitated victory. During the progress of the war the orders increased in savagery. A typical Keitel order, demanding the use of the “most brutal means”, provided that .

“… It is the duty of the troops to use all means without restriction, even against women and children, so long as they ensure success.”

The German naval forces were no more immune from the infection than the land forces. Raeder ordered violations of the accepted rules of warfare wherever necessary to gain strategic successes. Donitz urged his submarine crews not to rescue survivors of torpedoed enemy ships, in order to cripple merchant shipping of the Allied Nations by decimating their crews.

Thus, the WAR CRIMES against Allied forces and the CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY committed in occupied territories are incontestably part of the programme for making the war because, in the German calculations, they were indispensable to its hope of success.

Similarly, the whole group of pre-war crimes, including the persecutions within Germany, fall into place around the plan for aggressive war like stones in a finely wrought mosaic. Nowhere is the whole catalogue of crimes of Nazi oppression and terrorism within Germany so well integrated with the crime of war as in that strange mixture of wind and wisdom which makes up the testimony of Hermann Goering. In describing the aims of the Nazi programme before the seizure of power, Goering stated that the first question was to achieve and establish a different political structure for Germany, which would enable Germany to object against the Dictate (of Versailles), and to make not only a protest, but an objection of such a nature that it would actually be considered.

With these purposes, Goering, admitted that the plan was made to overthrow the Weimar Republic, to seize power, and to carry out the Nazi programme by whatever means were necessary, whether legal or illegal.

From Goering’s cross-examination we learn how necessarily the whole programme of crime followed. Because they considered a strong State necessary to get rid of the Versailles Treaty, they adopted the Fuehrerprinzip. Having seized power, the Nazis thought it necessary to protect it by abolishing parliamentary government, and suppressing all organized opposition from political parties. This was reflected in the philosophy of Goering that the opera was more important than the Reichstag. Even the “opposition of each individual was not tolerated unless it was a matter of unimportance”. To insure the suppression of opposition a secret police force was necessary. In order to eliminate incorrigible opponents, it was necessary to establish concentration camps and to resort to the device of protective custody. Protective custody, Goering, testified, meant that:

“People were arrested arid taken into protective custody who had not yet committed any crime but who could be expected to do so if they remained free.”

The same war purpose was dominant in the persecution of the Jews. In the beginning, fanaticism and political opportunism played a principal part, for anti-Semitism and its allied scapegoat, mythology, were the vehicle on which the Nazis rode to power. It was for this reason that the filthy Streicher and the blasphemous Rosenberg were welcomed at Party rallies and made leaders and officials of the State or Party. But the Nazis soon regarded the Jews as foremost amongst the opposition to the police State with which they schemed to put forward their plans of military aggression. Fear of their pacifism and their opposition to strident nationalism was given as the reason that the Jews had to be driven from the political and economic life of Germany. Accordingly, they were transported like cattle to the concentration camps, where they were utilised as a source of forced labour for war purposes.

At a meeting held on 12th November, 1938, two days after the violent anti-Jewish pogroms instigated by Goebbels and carried out by the Party Leadership Corps and the SA, the programme for the elimination of Jews from the German economy was mapped out by Goering, Funk, Heydrich, Goebbels, and the other top Nazis. The measures adopted included confinement of the Jews in ghettoes, cutting off their food supply, “aryanizing” their shops, and restricting their freedom of movement. Here another purpose behind the Jewish persecutions crept in, for it was the wholesale confiscation of their property which helped to finance German rearmament. Although Schacht’s plan to use foreign money to ransom the entire race within Germany was not adopted, the Jews were stripped to the point where Goering was able to advise the Reich Defence Council that the critical situation of the Reich exchequer, due to rearmament, had been relieved “through the billion Reichsmark fine imposed on Jewry, and through profits accrued to the Reich in the aryanization of Jewish enterprises”.

A glance over the dock will show that, despite quarrels among themselves, each defendant played a part which fitted in with every other, and that all advanced the Common Plan. It contradicts experience that men of such diverse backgrounds and talents should so forward each other’s aims by coincidence. The large and varied role of Goering was half militarist and half gangster. He stuck his pudgy finger in every pie. He used his SA bullies to help bring the gang into power. In order to entrench that power he contrived to have the Reichstag burned, established the Gestapo, and created the concentration camps. He was equally adept at massacring opponents and at framing scandals to get rid of stubborn generals. He built up the Luftwaffe and hurled it at his defenceless neighbours. He was among the foremost in harrying Jews out of the land. By mobilising the total economic resources of Germany he made possible the waging of the war which he had taken a large part in planning. He was, next to Hitler, the man who tied the activities of all the defendants together in a common effort.

The parts played by the other, defendants, although less comprehensive and less spectacular than that of the Reichsmarschall, were nevertheless integral and necessary contributions to the joint undertaking, without any one of which the success of the common enterprise would have been in jeopardy. There are many specific deeds of which these men have been proven guilty. No purpose would be served -nor indeed is time available -to review all the crimes which the evidence has charged against their names. Nevertheless, in viewing the conspiracy as a whole and as an operating mechanism, it may be well to recall briefly the outstanding services which each of the men in the dock rendered to the common cause.

To be continued…

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