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Sophie Scholl and the White Rose at 75: “Long Live Freedom!”

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Seventy-five years ago today a young German woman stepped up the the guillotine at Munich’s Stadelheim Prison. She had been tried and convicted of treason for distributing a series of anti-Nazi leaflets by the Nazi Volksgericht or “People’s Court” under the direction of the notorious Judge Roland Freisler who gained further infamy in his show trials of those suspected of participating in or supporting the July 20th Bomb Plot against Hitler.

The woman was Sophie Scholl, a student at the University of Munich she was just 22 years old. Her story and the story of the resistance group that she was at the center of is remarkable for the moral clarity that she and her friends displayed in an era where most people were willing to look the other way, if not unreservedly served Hitler’s Third Reich.

 

 


The story of Sophie and the White Rose is a remarkable story because stories like this are often buried by the propaganda machines of totalitarian regimes; but the shock of what these young people did was so great that the Nazi propaganda machine had to publicly confront it with the goal of instilling such fear that no one else’s would dare repeat it. What politicians, generals, and others could not do to shake the Nazi regime a handful of university students accomplished.

There are a number of monuments scattered around Munich to the White Rose movement, but the most remarkable is the monument in front of the university where they studied and where they distributed their leaflets.  Facsimiles of their publications and letters are part of the pavement, looking as if they have been dropped on the ground for someone to pick up.

Scholl, as well as her friends were students, some who in the course of their time of study who had been drafted into the Wehrmacht as medics, serving on the Russian front before returning to the University. There were five of them, Sophie, Willi Graf, Alexander Schmorrel, Hans Scholl, and Christoph Probst, plus one of their professors, Professor Dr. Kurt Huber who began a resistance cell that focused on telling the truth about the crimes of the Nazi regime, and the lies of Hitler.

Telling the truth in a dictatorship is dangerous and although Sophie and her companions could have remained silent they had consciences that were guided by reason and human rights, as well as by their Christian faith, a faith which remained despite their aversion to the institutional church for its complicity with the Nazis. As she stood before Freisler and the Volksgericht she was recorded as saying:

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

Too many people lacked the courage to speak as Sophie did in her day as all too many do today. It is far easier to take the path of least resistance. Laurence Rees in his history of Auschwitz wrote:

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

Sophie and her circle of friends in the White Rose chose how courageous people behave in such abominable conditions. They published a series of six leaflets which they printed themselves and distributed around the university, the city, and to like minded people in a number of other cities. They asked those who got them to make as many copies as they could and distribute them. They were in the process of drafting a seventh when Scholl was spotted distributing them at the university by a maintenance man who was a member of the Nazi Party. She and her friends were arrested on February 21st 1943 by the notorious Nazi People’s Court under the direction of Roland Freisler on the 22nd, and executed by beheading at Munich’s Stadelheim Prison on the 23rd.


The members of the White Rose were bold and defiant in the face of evil, of course those that have that kind of courage usually have short life expectancies in a totalitarian state, but they did not back down. Their pamphlets and graffiti criticizing Hitler garnered the attention of the Gestapo and when they were caught they were brutally tortured, but none backed down.

Their criticisms of Hitler and his Third Reich were hard hitting. Since all of the students had spent much of their childhood teenage years in Nazi organizations which were designed to make loyal little Nazis, their resistance came as a shock to many. All were children who could have easily due to their family background taken the easy road, but chose the more honorable and dangerous road.


Their pamphlets are striking, and each focused on a different part or aspect of the Nazi regime. In their first leaflet they wrote:

“Nothing is so unworthy of a civilized nation as allowing itself to be governed without opposition by an irresponsible clique that has yielded to base instinct.” They urged their readers “Therefore every individual, conscious of his responsibility as a member of Christian and Western civilization, must defend himself as best he can at this late hour, he must work against the scourges of mankind, against fascism and any similar system of totalitarianism.” And to “Offer passive resistance – resistance – wherever you may be, forestall the spread of this atheistic war machine before it is too late, before the last cities, like Cologne, have been reduced to rubble, and before the nation’s last young man has given his blood on some battlefield for the hubris of a sub-human. Do not forget that every people deserves the regime it is willing to endure!”

Such was their beginning, but they went on to attack the Nazi, leaders, the Nazi system, and especially the silence of their countrymen over the extermination of the Jews and Polish intellectuals. They asked in the second leaflet:

“Why do German people behave so apathetically in the face of all these abominable crimes, crimes so unworthy of the human race? Hardly anyone thinks about that. It is accepted as fact and put out of mind. The German people slumber on in their dull, stupid sleep and encourage these fascist criminals; they give them the opportunity to carry on their depredations; and of course they do so…. For through his apathetic behavior he gives these evil men the opportunity to act as they do; he tolerates this “government” which has taken upon itself such an infinitely great burden of guilt; indeed, he himself is to blame for the fact that it came about at all! Each man wants to be exonerated of a guilt of this kind, each one continues on his way with the most placid, the calmest conscience. But he cannot be exonerated; he is guilty, guilty, guilty!”

In each of the letters they asked their readers to offer some form of resistance to Hitler and the Nazi State but urged passive resistance, but in the third missive they went into more detail, including something that anyone who thinks that they are loyal to their country need to appreciate:

“The meaning and the goal of passive resistance is to topple National Socialism, and in this struggle we must not recoil from any course, any action, whatever its nature. At all points we must oppose National Socialism, wherever it is open to attack. We must soon bring this monster of a state to an end. A victory of fascist Germany in this war would have immeasurable, frightful consequences. The military victory over Bolshevism dare not become the primary concern of the Germans. The defeat of the Nazis must unconditionally be the first order of business… And now every convinced opponent of National Socialism must ask himself how he can fight against the present “state” in the most effective way, how he can strike it the most telling blows. Through passive resistance, without a doubt…”

Eventually their tracts became more biting, and in fourth the metaphysical linking Hitler to Satan and Anti-Christ.


They wrote:

“Every word that comes from Hitler’s mouth is a lie. When he says peace, he means war, and when he blasphemously uses the name of the Almighty, he means the power of evil, the fallen angel, Satan. His mouth is the foul-smelling maw of Hell, and his might is at bottom accursed…. I ask you, you as a Christian wrestling for the preservation of your greatest treasure, whether you hesitate, whether you incline toward intrigue, calculation, or procrastination in the hope that someone else will raise his arm in your defence? Has God not given you the strength, the will to fight? We must attack evil where it is strongest, and it is strongest in the power of Hitler.”

In the fifth leaflet they spoke of where the Nazi war effort would end and the responsibility of not only Hitler but the German people for it:

“It has become a mathematical certainty that Hitler is leading the German people into the abyss. Hitler cannot win the war; he can only prolong it. The guilt of Hitler and his minions goes beyond all measure. Retribution comes closer and closer. But what are the German people doing? They will not see and will not listen. Blindly they follow their seducers into ruin. Victory at any price! is inscribed on their banner. “I will fight to the last man,” says Hitler-but in the meantime the war has already been lost…. Do not believe that Germany’s welfare is linked to the victory of national Socialism for good or ill. A criminal regime cannot achieve a German victory. Separate yourselves in time from everything connected with National Socialism. In the aftermath a terrible but just judgment will be meted out to those who stayed in hiding, who were cowardly and hesitant.”

In the aftermath of the disaster at Stalingrad they published their sixth and last issue before being caught. In it they urged Germans to fight against the Nazi Party and regime, and confronted the way that since its inception Hitler and the Party corrupted the meaning of honor and freedom:

“Freedom and honor! For ten long years Hitler and his coadjutor have manhandled, squeezed, twisted, and debased these two splendid German words to the point of nausea, as only dilettantes can, casting the highest values of a nation before swine. They have sufficiently demonstrated in the ten years of destruction of all material and intellectual freedom, of all moral substance among the German people, what they understand by freedom and honor. The frightful bloodbath has opened the eyes of even the stupidest German – it is a slaughter which they arranged in the name of “freedom and honor of the German nation” throughout Europe, and which they daily start anew.”

Just over two weeks later they were caught and in Freisler’s People’s Court convicted and executed. During their trial, if it can be called that, Freisler and others expressed their shock that young Germans could commit treason. Sophie had no problem confronting her accusers:

Her last words before going to the guillotine were unapologetic: “How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause? Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?” On the back of the order condemning her to death she wrote the word Freedom.


There are leaders in many nations today intent on destroying freedom and in many places the people and the country’d institutions fall in behind them, usually by painting pictures of threats so imminent that people willingly trade real freedom for a false security. It is a dangerous world and all of us must be alert to changes in society and question what comes out of the mouths of leaders, and even more so their true believer followers.

Sophie Scholl and her companions understood the risk, but they got their message heard at the highest level of government, and most were killed. But their example of courage and belief in freedom and human rights is still stronger that they mightiest despot, and unlike their mighty yet evil rulers, they are the ones that Germany remembers.

 

I think that there is a lesson for us as well, and I think that it is a lesson that many of our young people will understand better than their elders. That my friends gives me hope for the future.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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With Malice Towards All and Charity Towards None: President’s Day and the Absence of Empathy in the Age of Trump

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

After four devastating years of Civil War Abraham Lincoln ended his Second Inaugural Address with these words:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Today is the second President’s Day that the United States has observed during the Trump Era. A year ago I really did hope that things would be different than they are today. and I do not think that President Trump could ever say or mean the words that Lincoln spoke on that day in March 1865, in fact he seems in his life, words, and actions to filled with malice towards all and charity towards none.

I had spent the year and a half before Mr. Trump’s election, even before most people considered him a serious candidate for the Republican nomination warning about the danger that he posed to the Constitution and to the Republic whose course it guides. But less than a month after his inauguration I expressed hopes that the man who I believed was a self-absorbed bully, a narcissist, and sociopath could somehow rise above all of that to be a man who could grow into the office.

I wrote:

“I would wish that Mr. Trump would have a sense of empathy for others. I don’t doubt his business acumen, or his ability to read weakness in others, nor his ability to demean, threaten, and humiliate people. He has wealth, celebrity, and now he is in reality the President of the most powerful country in the world. He seems to have everything, and at the same time he seems to have nothing, his life seems empty of almost everything that makes us human. Jesus said, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his soul?… I really do hope that he finds friendship, comes to know fraternity, gains prudence and wisdom, and develops a sense of empathy, if not for the country, for him, his wife, and young son….”

I really wanted to be proven wrong in my assessment of him, but the past year has shown that he is incapable of transcending his pathological narcissism and basic hatred of humanity. Every speech, every interview, every tweet of the past year has driven that home. Even this week as the nation mourned the deaths of seventeen people in a mass murder at Douglas High School in Parkland Florida, Mr. Trump made the event all about himself as he attacked the FBI blaming their failure to stop the attack on the investigation into the now proven Russian interference in the 2016 election; an investigation that is getting ever closer to him.

The list of scandals involving Mr. Trump, including affairs with porn stars and Playboy models: coupled with attacks on individual Americans, political opponents regardless of their party affiliation, the press, and long standing allies while embracing dictators and authoritarians around the world, all the while threatening war, even nuclear war in Korea and against Iran. Then there are his attacks on Congress, the judiciary, the Justice Department, Federal Law enforcement personnel and agencies, and American intelligence services.

If that was all it would be damning enough, but Mr. Trump demonstrates in his words and actions that he has no empathy for the victims of abuse, racism, or even the wife of an American soldier killed in action in Niger. However he can defend Nazis and White Supremacists after Charlottesville as “very fine people” and former White House aide and serial spouse abuser Rob Porter as “having done a very good job” and defended him against the allegations. Even last week he appeared to blame the victims of the Florida shooting for not doing enough to stop the shooter before they were killed.

I do not know why Mr Trump is incapable of empathy. As I speculated last year I think it may be how he was brought up. Whatever the reason for his actions and behavior he exhibits enough of the traits of Narcissistic Personality Disorder as well as Sociopathic Personality Disorder to be truly scary and disturbing.

When I watch the President in action I am reminded of the words of Dr. Gustave Gilbert, a psychologist who was detailed to the major war criminals at the Nuremberg Trials wrote in his book Nuremberg Diary: 

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

I think that is what bothers me the most about President Trump; he has the genuine incapacity to feel with with his fellow men. Because of his position that portends bad things for all of us.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

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“I am Going to Tell the Truth”

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Last night while Judy was out with her ceramics class last night friends I decided to re-watch the film Judgement at Nuremberg after having finished reading Deborah Lipstadt’s book Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory. The book is a damning look into the mentality and motivations of present day Holocaust Deniers. Even though her book was first published in 1993 her conclusions about the deniers, including a good number of men and women who support President Trump, are still spot on.

My first encounter with Holocaust Denial was when I was in college at California State University Northridge when in classes on German History, Nazi Germany, and the Holocaust taught by Professor Helmut Heussler I came to learn about the growing number of Holocaust deniers who were and still attempting to use academia, the First Amendment, and arguments of moral equivalence to deny and ultimately discredit the history and the reality of the Holocaust.

I was fortunate to study under Dr. Heussler. He was from Germany but his parents immigrated to the United States when he was a child. He served with the 82nd Airborne Division during the Second World War and after the war served as a translator at the Nuremberg Trials. In the class on the Holocaust he and I were the only gentiles and he brought in Mel Mermelstein to tell us about his experience at Auschwitz. Mermelstein who successfully challenged the Institute for Historical Review, the most notorious of the psuedo-academic Holocaust denial groups in court when that group offered a bounty of $50,000 to anyone who could prove the Holocaust happened. When the IHR refused to acknowledge the truth of the Holocaust and his testimony, Mermelstein sued and won his battle after I met him.

Lipstadt was sued for libel by Holocaust denier David Irving for her portrayal of hi in her book. He did this in Britain rather than the United States because in Britain the defendant in a lawsuit for libel must prove their innocence as opposed to the United States where the burden of proof is on the accuser. Despite this, Liptstadt won and Irving was shown to be exactly what he is, a Holocaust denying anti-Semite masquerading as a legitimate historian.

Now if Irving and the other Holocaust deniers like him had been consigned to the ash heap of history this would not be an issue; but the IHR, Irving, and many other anti-Semetic, White Supremacist, and neo-Nazi activists continue to push their history denying racist hatred around the Internet, the Right Wing media, and television. When confronted with facts, they play the victim and complain that their free-speech rights are under attack.

The climax of Judgment at Nuremberg occurs when the defendant, Judge Ernst Janning played by Burt Lancaster decides that he can no longer remain silent about the crimes of the Nazi regime that he served. His counsel, Hans Rolfe played by Maximillian Schell attempts to stop Janning from being heard, as does fellow defendant Emil Hahn, played by Werner Klemperer.

Ernst Janning:  I wish to testify about the Feldenstein case because it was the most significant trial of the period. It is important not only for the tribunal to understand it, but for the whole German people. But in order to understand it, one must understand the period in which it happened. There was a fever over the land, a fever of disgrace, of indignity, of hunger. We had a democracy, yes, but it was torn by elements within. Above all there was fear, fear of today, fear of tomorrow, fear of our neighbors, and fear of ourselves. Only when you understand that can you understand what Hitler meant to us, because he said to us: “Lift your heads. Be proud to be German. There are devils among us, communists, liberals, Jews, gypsies. Once these devils will be destroyed your misery will be destroyed.” It was the old, old story of the sacrificial lamb. What about those of us who knew better, we who knew the words were lies and worse than lies? Why did we sit silent? Why did we take part? Because we loved our country. What difference does it make if a few political extremists lose their rights? What difference does it make if a few racial minorities lose their rights? It is only a passing phase. It is only a stage we are going through. It will be discarded sooner or later. Hitler himself will be discarded – sooner or later. The country is in danger. We will march out of the shadows! We will go forward. FORWARD is the great password. And history tells how well we succeeded, Your Honor. We succeeded beyond out wildest dreams. The very elements of hate and power about Hitler that mesmerized Germany, mesmerized the world. We found ourselves with sudden powerful allies. Things that had been denied to us as a democracy were open to us now. The world said, “Go ahead. Take it. Take it! Take Sudetenland! Take the Rhineland! Re-militarize it! Take all of Austria! Take it!” And then, one day we looked around and found that we were in an even more terrible danger. The ritual begun in this courtroom swept over the land like a raging, roaring disease. What was going to be a “passing phase” had become the way of life. Your Honor, I was content to sit silent during this trial. I was content to tend my roses. I was even content to let counsel try to save my name, until I realized that in order to save it, he would have to raise the specter again. You have seen him do it. He has done it, here, in this courtroom. He has suggested that the Third Reich worked for the benefit of people. He has suggested that we sterilized men for the welfare of the country. He has suggested that perhaps the old Jew did sleep with the 16 year old girl after all. Once more, it is being done – for love of country. It is not easy to tell the truth. But if there is to be any salvation for Germany, we who know our guilt must admit it – whatever the pain and humiliation. I had reached my verdict on the Feldenstein case before I ever came into the courtroom. I would have found him guilty, whatever the evidence. It was not a trial at all. It was a sacrificial ritual in which Feldenstein, the Jew, was the helpless victim.

Hans Rolfe:  Your Honor, I must interrupt. The defendant is not aware of what he’s saying. He’s not aware of the implications!

Ernst Janning: I am aware. I am aware! My counsel would have you believe we were not aware of the concentration camps. Not aware. Where were we? Where were we when Hitler began shrieking his hate in Reichstag? Where were we when our neighbors were being dragged out in the middle of the night to Dachau? Where were we when every village in Germany has a railroad terminal where cattle cars were filled with children being carried out to their extermination! Where were we when they cried out in the night to us. Deaf, dumb, blind!

Hans Rolfe: Your Honor, I must protest!

Ernst Janning: My counsel says we were not aware of the extermination of the millions. He would give you the excuse: We were only aware of the extermination of the hundreds. Does that make us any the less guilty? Maybe we didn’t know the details. But if we didn’t know, it was because we didn’t want to know.

Emil Hahn: Traitor! Traitor!

Judge Dan Haygood: Order! Order! Order! Put that man back in his seat and keep him there.

Ernst Janning: I am going to tell them the truth. I am going to tell them the truth if the whole world conspires against it. I am going to tell them the truth about their Ministry of Justice. Werner Lammpe, an old man who cries into his Bible now, an old man who profited by the property expropriation of every man he sent to a concentration camp. Friedrich Hofstetter, the “good German” who knew how to take orders, who sent men before him to be sterilized like so many digits. Emil Hahn, the decayed, corrupt bigot, obsessed by the evil within himself. And Ernst Janning, worse than any of them because he knew what they were, and he went along with them. Ernst Janning: Who made his life excrement, because he walked with them.

In an era where the President of the United States calls political opponents and other critics “traitors” as did the fictional Emil Hahn call Ernst Janning the film as well as Lipstadt’s writings are of paramount importance. Deniers come in all types and deny too many events that are not in dispute. In this country we not only have the anti-Semetic Holocaust deniers, but those that deny that Slavery was the proximate cause of the American Civil War, that Jim Crow laws were meant to help African Americans, that the extermination of the Native American tribes and their confinement to reservations often hundreds or thousands of miles from their ancestral lands, and the removal of American citizens of Japanese descent to concentration camps in the American desert Southwest after the attack on Pearl Harbor were somehow just.

Likewise we are seeing a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe most of which is home grown; whose leaders like in Poland and Hungary who deny their own anti-semitism and  their ancestors participation in the Nazi genocide.

In the United States this is seen in the what is called the Alt Right and others who are not only anti-Semetic, but who in their false history and revisionism attack African Americans, Jews, Muslims, Asians, Mexican and other Central American immigrants in a manner far to similar to the propagandists of Nazi Germany to be ignored or brushed aside as mere aberrations. When the President and some of his senior advisors as well as members of congress and their media supporters promote anti-semetic and White Supremacist ideology they have to be confronted, unless like Ernst Janning we want our lives and reputations to be excrement because we walked with them.

I for one cannot do that.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

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Filed under History, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary, world war two in europe

Stalingrad At 75

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Wednesday the 31st of January marks the 75th anniversary of  the surrender of the remnants of the German 6th Army to the Soviets at Stalingrad. The focus of this article is on how the Germans and Russians fought the Stalingrad campaign. In particular it is an analysis of the way the governments and military’s of both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union planned and executed strategy during the course of the campaign adjusted to the situation and how the campaign ended. It is also a reminder of the price that ordinary soldiers can pay when a country commits them to war. In all nearly two million Axis and Soviet personnel, including civilians were killed, wounded, or captured during the campaign.

That being said, it is a reminder to all of us of the consequences of how xenophobic and racist politics of self-anointed leaders, and their followers can lead nations into disaster.

Peace 

Padre Steve+

Stalingrad: Primary or Secondary Objective

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The mistakes began early in the planning and conduct of the operation

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 capture or neutralize the city of Stalingrad on the Volga.  However, the German High Command was divided on the actual objective of the campaign.

operation blau map

The Oberkommando des Heer or the OKH (Army High Command) under the guidance of General Franz Halder assumed that Stalingrad was the objective and the advance into the Caucasus was a blocking effort.[i] Hitler and Oberkommando des Wehrmacht or the OKW planned to capture the Caucasus oil fields and capture or neutralize Stalingrad to secure the left flank.[ii] Both OKH and OKW considered Stalingrad significant but “German commanders initially regarded it as a weigh station en route to the Caucasus oil fields.” [iii] The conflict echoed in the ambiguity of Directive No. 41, which “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. His obsession was with the oil fields of the Caucasus.” [v] Manstein noted, “Hitler’s strategic objectives were governed chiefly by the needs of his war economy….” [vi] Historian Anthony Beevor noted 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]

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]The Soviet High Command, Stavka attempted to disrupt the German offensive and to recover Kharkov by launching three offensives three offensives of their own. The largest of these, an attack on Kharkov was defeated by the Germans between the 12th to the 22nd of May, with the loss of most of the armor in southern Russia. This disaster was accompanied by an equally disastrous defeat of Red Army forces in Crimea by Erich Von Manstein’s 11th Army, and the combination meant that the Red Army would face the Germans in a severely weakened condition. [x]

Operation Blau: Opening Moves and Divergent Objectives

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Panzers cross the Don

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 General Maximilian Von Weichs with 2nd Army, 6th Army and 4th Panzer Army operated in the northern part of the operational area. Army Group A under Field Marshall Wilhelm List was to the south with 17th Army and 1st Panzer Army, with the goal of driving into the Caucasus. [xi] Army Group B provided the main effort for the offensive and its forces quickly smashed through the defending Soviet armies and by the 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 for any German summer offensive. [xiii] Despite his success, Hitler prevented Von Bock from destroying the Soviet formations that had been left behind and was relieved of command by Hitler. This enabled many of those units to escape the German onslaught. For his trouble 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]

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Destroyed Soviet T-34s

This decisions made next proved fateful.  Hitler’s 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 had a decisive impact on the campaign.  Hitler’s 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.  Kleist 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]

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Field Marshall Von Paulus

The result was damning. The Luftwaffe 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 seized Stalingrad when it was still possible to do so.  Anthony Beevor called Hitler’s decision a disastrous compromise, [xviii] while Halder believed that Hitler’s decision underestimated the enemy and was “both ludicrous and dangerous.” [xix]

Focus on Stalingrad

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Sturmgeschutz Battalion Advancing toward Stalingrad

On July 22nd as the Wehrmacht ran short on fuel and divisions to commit to the Caucasus, and 6th Army fought for control of Voronezh the Soviets created the Stalingrad Front. Stavka moved an NKVD Division to the city [xx] and rapidly filled the new front with formations transferred from the Moscow Front. [xxi]Stalin then issued Stavka Order 227, better known as “No Step Back” on July 28th. The order mandated that commanders and political officers who retreated would be assigned to Penal battalions[xxii] and 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 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 his commanders frequently in the “vain hope that a ruthless new leader could galvanize resistance and transform the situation.” [xxvi] General Chuikov brought the 64th Army into the Stalingrad Front in mid-July to hold the Germans west of the Don.[xxvii]

The OKW further weakened the German offensive by transferring several key SS Panzer Divisions and the Grossdeutschland Panzer Division to France. The Hungarian, Italian and Romanian armies that were part of the army group lacked motorization; modern armored and anti-tank units, and were unable to fulfill the gaps left by the loss of the experienced German divisions that had been transferred and the expectations of Hitler. [xxviii] The German 6th Army was virtually immobilized for 10 days due to lack of supplies allowing 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 including the introduction of a force of 800 bombers, which took away the total domination of the air that the Germans had previously enjoyed.[xxx] David Glantz and House note that after the fall of Rostov on July 23rd “Hitler abruptly focused on the industrial and symbolic value of Stalingrad.” [xxxi] Hitler was undeterred by warnings from Halder that fresh Russian formations were massing east of the Volga and those of Quartermaster General Erich Wagner, who guaranteed that he could supply either the thrust to the Caucasus or Stalingrad but not both operations simultaneously. [xxxii] Again frustrated by the slow progress to take Stalingrad, Hitler reverted to the original plan for the 4th Panzer Army to assist the 6th Army at Stalingrad, but the cost in time and fuel to move that army from the Caucasus to Stalingrad were significant to the operation and the question 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.  Friedrich Von Mellenthin wrote, “the diversion of effort between the Caucasus and Stalingrad ruined our whole campaign.” [xxxiv] The Germans could not secure the Caucasus oil fields that Hitler considered vital to the German war effort.  The Germans advanced deep into the region and captured the Maikop oil fields, though the drilling and refining facilities were almost completely destroyed by the retreating Russians when they withdrew.[xxxv] Due to the lack of fuel and increased Soviet resistance Army Group A was halted along the crests of the Caucasus on August 28th[xxxvi] This setback 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] while Gunther Blumentritt observed that Mountain divisions that could have made the breakthrough were employed along the Black Sea coast in secondary operations. [xxxix]

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JU-87 Stuka over Stalingrad

Meanwhile on the Stalingrad front, fuel and supply shortages hampered 6thArmy’s advance while Hermann Hoth’s 4th Panzer Army was needlessly shuttled between Rostov and Stalingrad. By the time the 4th Panzer Army resumed its advance the Russian forces around Stalingrad “had sufficiently recovered to check its advance.” [xl] As the 6th Army advanced into Stalingrad 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 had to occupy overextended fronts, and these formations were neither trained equipped for the Russian campaign, nor well motivated to die for Germany. [xlii] The supply shortage in both German army groups was not helped by a logistics bottleneck. All supplies for both army groups had to transit over a single crossing on the Dnieper River, which Manstein noted, also prevented swift movement of troops from one area to another. [xliii]

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Reconnaissance Battalion of 24th Panzer Division near Stalingrad

Von Paulus’ 6th Army attempted to capture Stalingrad with a swift attack between the 25th and 29th of July, even as Hoth’s 4th Panzer Army milled about on the lower Don.  However, Paulus’s piecemeal commitment of his divisions and failure to concentrate in the face of unexpectedly strong Soviet resistance caused the attacks to fail.  Paulus then halted the 6th Army on the Don so it could concentrate its forces and build its logistics base, [xliv] and to allow Hoth’s army to come up from the south. This further delay allowed the Russians to build up even more forces west of Stalingrad, to reinforce the Stalingrad front, and to strengthen the defenses of the city. [xlv] Likewise, due to the distances involved it now was easier for the Russians to reinforce the Stalingrad front than it was for the Germans. [xlvi] As they strengthened their positions, the Soviets filled a number of key leadership positions with competent and tough Generals who would skillfully fight the coming battle for the city.[xlvii]

russian marines stalingrad

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 could be achieved without its capture. The check of the German advance in the Caucasus “began to give Stalingrad a moral importance-enhanced by its name-which came to outweigh its strategic value.” [l] To Hitler Stalingrad would gain “a mystic significance” [li] and along with Leningrad became “not only military but also psychological objectives.” [lii]

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Red Army Armored troops using Lend-Lease American M3 Stuart and M3 Grant tanks

Despite the risks the Germans now mounted a frontal assault using the 6th Army and elements of 4th Panzer Army despite having intelligence reports supported by airiel reconnaissance that “the Russians are throwing forces from all directions at Stalingrad.” [liii] Friedrich von 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, “when Stalingrad was not taken on the first rush, it would have been better to mask it….” [lv] Such a decision would have enabled the Germans to strengthen their lines and prepare for the inevitable Soviet counter-offensive. In retrospect 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, “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

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German Stug III at Stalingrad

On August 19th Paulus launched a concentric attack against the Russian 62ndand 64th Armies.  The attack ran into problems, especially in Hoth’s sector. [lviii]Yet, on the 22nd the 14th Panzer Corps of 6th Army “forced a very narrow breach in the Russian perimeter at Vertyachi and fought their way across the northern suburbs of Stalingrad,” [lix] reaching the Volga on the 23rd. That day 4th Air Fleet launched some 1600 sorties against the city dropping over 1,000 tons of bombs. [lx] The breakthrough by the 6th Army imperiled the Soviet position as they had concentrated their strongest forces against Hoth. [lxi] For the moment the Germans held air superiority and continued heavy bombing attacks.  During the last days of August 6th Army “moved steadily forward into the suburbs of the city, setting the stage for battle.” [lxii] As the Soviets reacted to Paulus, Hoth’s army achieved a breakthrough in the south that threatened the Russian position.  However the 6th Army was unable to disengage its mobile forces from inside Stalingrad to link up with the 4th Panzer Army and another opportunity to defeat major Soviet forces in the area and secure the city was missed. [lxiii]

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German unit crossing the Don

As the 6th Army moved into the city General Yeremenko ordered attacks against General Hube’s 16th Panzer Division. Soviet resistance increased as more formations arrived the Germans suffered one of their heaviest casualty rates. [lxiv] Though unsuccessful the Soviet counterattacks “managed to deflect Paulus’s reserves at the most critical moment.” [lxv] The Germans remained confident the first week of September as 6th Army and the 4th Panzer Army linked up, but Yeremenko saved his forces by withdrawing and avoided encirclement west of the city, retiring to an improvised line closer to the Stalingrad. [lxvi] On September 12th Vasily Chuikov was appointed to command 62nd Army in Stalingrad.  Chuikov understood that for the Soviets in Stalingrad 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] In the next few days the 13th Guards Rifle Division arrived and saved the Volga landings, which allowed the Soviets to continue to resupply Stalingrad, but the division last 30% of its troops as casualties in its first 24 hours of combat. [lxix]

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T-34 in Stalingrad

An NKVD regiment and other units held the strategically sited Mamaev Kurgan, keeping German guns from controlling the Volga.[lxx] The defenders contucted a house to house and block by block fight, and the Red Army and NKVD units were reinforced by Naval Infantry.  Chuikov conducted the defense with a brutal ferocity, relieving senior commanders who showed a lack of fight and by sending many officers to penal units.  Chuikov’s defensive plan was masterful; he funneled German attacks into “breakwaters” where the panzers and infantry could be separated from each other causing heavy German casualties. [lxxi]

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Now for Hitler the “city became a prestige item, its capture ‘urgently necessary for psychological reasons,’ as Hitler declared on October 2. A week later he declared that Communism must be ‘deprived of its shrine.’” [lxxii] The Germans continued to gain ground in the city, but slowly and at great cost, especially among their infantry, so much so that decimated companies had to be combined to form combat effective units.

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Chuikov used his artillery to interdict the Germans from the far side of the Volga while assault squads with incredible ferocity fought the fight in the city.   The close-quarters combat in the city was dubbed, “Rattenkrieg by German soldiers.” [lxxiii] Paulus continued to bring more units into the city, further thinning his flanks, but his troops continued to slowly drive the Russians back against the river, and by early October Chuikov wondered if he would be able to hold. [lxxiv] It appeared that the Germans might finally capture Stalingrad, and by 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 causalities had been massive; an analysis by 6th Army determined that 42% of the battalions of 51st Corps were fought out. [lxxvii] Even so on November 9th, a confident Hitler declared “No power on earth will force us out of Stalingrad again!” [lxxviii] However, that boast was misplaced.

Soviet Counteroffensive: Disaster on the Flanks

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Soviet Forces Advancing

As 6th Army fought its way into Stalingrad some officers in the German High Command attempted to warn Hitler of the danger. Hitler now tolerated no interference, and on September 24th he relieved Halder for persisting to explain, “what would happen when new Russian reserve armies attacked the over-extended flank that ran out to Stalingrad.” [lxxix] Many on others the German side 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] Rumanian Marshall Antonescu, and the staffs of both Army Group B and Paulus’s 6th Army warned Hitler too, [lxxxi] but Hitler was transfixed on Stalingrad.  By their sole focus on Stalingrad 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]

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Chuikov and his staff

Despite Stalin’s concern about Stalingrad the Stavka planners never lost sight of their goal to resume large-scale offensive operations and destroy at least one German Army Group. [lxxxiii] Unlike Hitler, the ever suspicious Stalin had begun to trust his Generals and Stavka under the direction of Marshal Vasilevsky produced a concept in September 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] which Marshals Zhukov, Vasilevsky and Vatutin developed into a plan involving three operations; Operation Uranus, to destroy the German and allied forces at Stalingrad, and Operation Saturn to destroy all the German forces in the south, and a supporting attack to fix German forces in the north, Operation Mars aimed at Army Group Center. [lxxxvi]

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Soviet Katusha Rockets

To accomplish the destruction of 6th Army and at least a part of 4th Panzer Army around Stalingrad the Stavka planners employed over 60% of the “whole tank strength of the Red Army.” [lxxxvii] Strict secrecy combined with numerous acts of deception was used by the Red Army to disguise the operation. [lxxxviii]The plan involved an attack against 3rd Romanian Army on the northern flank by the Soviet 5th Tank Army and two infantry armies and their supporting units. [lxxxix] In the south another force of over 160,000 men and 430 tanks were deployed against 4th Rumanian Army and weak element of 4th Panzer Army. [xc]Despite warnings from his Intelligence Officer, 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 believed that the attack would take place against Army Group Center. [xcii] Walter Warlimont who served at OKW noted that there was a “deceptive confidence in German Supreme Headquarters.” [xciii]

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Luftwaffe JU-52s made many resupply runs into the pocket but suffered great losses

The storm broke on 19 November as Soviet forces attacked rapidly crushing Romanian armies to the north and the south of Stalingrad [xciv] linking up to encircle the Germans in the city on the 23rd[xcv] The German 48th Panzer Corps supporting the Romanians was weakened by the exhausting campaign and had few operational tanks. [xcvi] It attempted a counterattack but was “cut to pieces” in an engagement against the 5th Tank Army. [xcvii] A promising attempt by the German 29th Motorized division against the flank of the southern Russian pincer was halted by the Army Group and the division was ordered to defensive positions south of Stalingrad. [xcviii] To compound German problems the Luftwaffe was neutralized by bad weather. [xcix] Inside the city Paulus continued to do nothing as since the attacks were outside of his area of responsibility and rather than taking the initiative to extricate his forces, waited for instructions. [c] As a result the 6th Army’s 16th and 24th Panzer Divisions that could have assisted matters to the west remained “bogged down in street-fighting in Stalingrad.” [ci] Without support of the army’s Panzer formations, the 6th Army units west of Stalingrad were forced back in horrific conditions.  By the 23rd of November the 6th Army was cut off along with one corps of the 4th Panzer Army and assorted Romanian units, over 330,000 men.  Though they had the Germans surrounded, the entrapped force would require the Soviets to use seven rifle armies and much staff attention to eliminate. [cii]

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Paulus Surrenders

Hitler ordered Von Manstein to form a new, composite, Army Group Don, to relieve Stalingrad. Hitler would not countenance a break out by the encircled forces and wanted Manstein to break through and relieve the 6th Army.[ciii]Hitler refused a request by Paulus on 23 November to move troops to prepare for a possible a break out attempt, and assured him that he would be relieved. [civ]Albert Speer noted that General Kurt Zeitzler who replaced Halder at OKW insisted that the Sixth Army “must break out to the west.” [cv] Hitler, completely obsessed with capturing Stalingrad told Zeitzler, “We should under no circumstances give this up. We won’t get it back once it’s lost.” [cvi] The ever boastful Herman Goering promised that his Luftwaffe would be able to meet the re-supply needs of 6th Army by air, even though his own Generals knew that it was impossible with the number of transport aircraft available. [cvii] However, Hitler took his Luftwaffe chief 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] Hitler then issued a Führer decree ordering that the front be held at all costs. [cix] Walter Goerlitz stated, “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, as he also had to protect the flank of Army Group A, which was still deep in the Caucasus.

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Hungarian Dead and Wounded

Manstein’s “army group” was only corps strength and was spread across a 200 mile front. [cxi] Any relief attempt had to wait for more troops, especially Panzers.  Manstein 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] and many soldiers, long conditioned to believe in the promises of their Hitler were optimistic that Hitler would get them out of the caldron. [cxiii] Other German generals like Guderian, Reichenau, Heinrici, Hoeppner, or even the Waffen SS General Sepp Dietrich might have acted to save their army, but Paulus, surrounded in the city, was knew nothing but obedience.[cxiv]

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German POWs only 5000 of some 90,000 would see home again

Operation Saturn began on 7 December destroying the Italian 8th Army and forcing 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 6 January 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.[cxx] On the 22nd the last airfield had been overrun and on 31 January Paulus surrendered.[cxxi]

Analysis: What Went Wrong

Stalingrad had drawn the attention Hitler and Stalin and the lives of their soldiers into a giant vortex of death. However, the Soviet Stavka, even when facing disaster never lost sight of their primary objectives during the campaign. The Germans on the other hand committed numerous unforced errors mostly caused by Hitler and or von Paulus. The German mistakes began early in their planning process and continued throughout the campaign. Overconfident, they failed to follow up success, and allowed the Soviets to regroup and then smash their forces at Stalingrad.

Russland-Nord, Erich von Manstein, Brandenberger

Von Manstein

After the fall of Stalingrad as the Soviets attempted to follow up their success by attempting to cut off Army Group “A.” Manstein, with the meager forces at hand was permitted by Hitler to wage a mobile defense while Von Kleist managed to withdraw his army group 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, showing them that the German army, though wounded was not without the power to fight back.

But the German Army had suffered a massive defeat.  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 massive offensive operations on the thinly held flanks all contributed to the defeat.  Alan Clark notes these facts but adds that the Germans “were simply attempting too much.” [cxxiii] Likewise, the Soviet advantage in numbers allowed them to wear down the Germans even early in the campaign when they were suffering defeat after defeat. [cxxiv] Stalin, whose decisions had nearly lost the war in 1941 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]All through the campaign Zhukov 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 with 6th Army.

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

[cxxv] 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 1954

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The Banner of Critical Independence, Ragged and Torn… is Still the Best We Have: Standing for the Truth in an Age of Nativist Ignorance

Richard Hofstadter

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In July of 2017 the Pew Research Center published a detailed study of the current views of Americans regarding various institutions. One of those was higher education. The results showed that since 2015, Republicans, particularly Conservative Republicans place much less value on higher education and even that higher education has a negative effect on the country.

This should not be too surprising to anyone who studies American History. Our history is filled with anti-intellectual movements which are quite often tied in with conspiratorial world views, isolationism, and anti-immigrant or foreigner movements such as the Know Nothings, the Ku Klux Klan, and the original “America First” crowd. This has been a consistent drumbeat in American History, and yhe late historian Richard Hofstadter wrote:

“As a consequence, the heartland of America, filled with people who are often fundamentalist in religion, nativist in prejudice, isolationist in foreign policy, and conservative in economics, has constantly rumbled with an underground revolt against all these tormenting manifestations of our modern predicament.” 

But simple native prejudice and religious fundamentalism are only part of the problem. Throughout much of our history Americans have as Susan Jacoby has noted “only in terms of its practical results.”  She notes that this phenomenon has “reasserted itself strongly in the “no frills” decisions of many local and state school boards. That the eliminated frills had once provided children with some exposure to a higher culture than pop was a matter of little concern to the public.”

The prevailing opinion, especially among conservatives is that education is only valuable if it produces jobs. In other words it’s training, not education and if you don’t know the difference between the two you are probably not really educated. The fact is that education, especially formal higher education should pursue truth more on their own long after their formal schooling ends. I can thank my teachers and professors at every level for inspiring me to do that. Sadly, more many, if not most Americans education at any level is simply a way to punch a ticket to get a job, but I digress…

In 2015 Pew noted that 54% of Republicans held a positive view of higher education, while 37% viewed universities, colleges and higher education negatively. That shifted in 2016 to a plurality of 45% positive and 45% negative. Their 2017 survey showed a much more pronounced shift, 58% negative and only 39% positive. Of the Republicans those who considered themselves “conservative” views were even more pronounced with 65% saying that higher education had a negative impact.

A change of such magnitude regarding what Americans have almost always universally valued as a societal good does not happen in a vacuum, the ground has to be prepared for it. Since a large portion of the GOP conservatives are Evangelical Christians one has to look at what has been going on in Evangelical Church and its politics for the past 50 years. whole denominations like the Southern Baptist Convention experienced splits as moderates were drive from the denomination and its educational institutions during the Fundamentalist takeover of it and its institutions.

The growth of Evangelical power centers that any type of education that comes from secular institutions have created their own educational centers to propagate their fundamentalist and radically right wing political views. Institutions like the American Family Association, the Eagle Institute, and others mimic traditional think tanks but are nothing more than propaganda outlets covered with an academic veneer in order to fool people into thinking that they are legitimate.  Likewise, the promotion and acceptance of fake history by faux “historians” like David Barton has led to a devastating decline in the willingness of Evangelicals, and hence Republicans to care about the truth and to rail at institutions which they despise out of the fundamentalist worldview.

Non-intellectual virtues such as patriotism, loyalty, faith, prosperity, and power have supplanted the intellectual quest for truth. Expertise of any kind is disregarded but particularly that of academics. Even on college and university campuses academics and the pursuit of academic and intellectual questions is being subsumed by bloated bureaucracies which treat instructors and professors as chattel while seeking profits which usually come at the cost of academics, but again I digress…

The fact is that American society as a whole is hostile towards intellectuals and academics. As Hofstadter wrote:

“All this is the more maddening, as Edward Shils has pointed out, in a populistic culture which has always set a premium on government by the common man and through the common judgement and which believes deeply in the sacred character of publicity. Here the politician expresses what a large part of the public feels. The citizen cannot cease to need or to be at the mercy of experts, but he can achieve a kind of revenge by ridiculing the wild-eyed professor, the irresponsible brain truster, or the mad scientist, and by applauding the politicians as the pursue the subversive teacher, the suspect scientist, or the allegedly treacherous foreign-policy adviser. There has always been in our national experience a type of mind which elevates hatred to a kind of creed; for this mind, group hatreds take a place in politics similar to the class struggle in some other modern societies. Filled with obscure and ill-directed grievances and frustrations, with elaborate hallucinations about secrets and conspiracies, groups of malcontents have found scapegoats at various times in Masons or abolitionists, Catholics, Mormons, or Jews, Negroes, or immigrants, the liquor interests or the international bankers. In the succession of scapegoats chosen by the followers of this tradition of Know-Nothingism, the intelligentsia have at last in our time found a place.” 

The American President has shown that he is exactly that kind of leader, and he is supported by followers who lap up everything that he says. Fed by the lies of pundits and radio talk show hosts who are college dropouts that despise anything that might be considered intellectual the President has added his voice to the cacophony of anti-intellectual thought that characterizes current American conservatism, in which men like William F. Buckley would be hard put to find a home.

There is a cost to such trends. We are not unique and such cultural trends do have consequences that many people do not think could happen here. But the non-intellectualism of our time, especially that of the militant and often fundamentalist Christian Right that predominates American conservatism is dangerous. Milton Mayer wrote of his experience with ordinary Germans in the years after the Second World War in his book They Thought They Were Free: 

“As the Nazi emphasis on nonintellectual virtues (patriotism, loyalty, duty, purity, labor, simplicity, “blood,” “folk-ishness”) seeped through Germany, elevating the self-esteem of the “little man,” the academic profession was pushed from the very center to the very periphery of society. Germany was preparing to cut its own head off. By 1933 at least five of my ten friends (and I think six or seven) looked upon “intellectuals” as unreliable and, among these unreliables, upon the academics as the most insidiously situated.”

The Nazis loved educated men who were able to subordinate themselves to the Party and the State to get the job done. There were quite a few academics, particularly lawyers and doctors who were willing to put their education to use in service of the regime. Real intellectuals, men who thought and fought for truth and freedom were removed from academia or their positions in government. They were replaced with men willing to sacrifice their integrity and honor to further their own interests or to serve Nazi ideology and the Party.

It is my view that regardless of what happens with the Trump Presidency that the assault on intellectuals, knowledge, education, and ultimately truth will continue unabated. Irving Howe wrote in his essay The Age of Conformity: 

“The most glorious vision of the intellectual life is still that which is loosely called humanist: the idea of a mind committed yet dispassionate, ready to stand alone, curious, eager, skeptical. The banner of critical independence, ragged and torn though it may be, is still the best we have.” 

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“Are We Still of Any Use?” The Horrible Witness of Conservative Christians in the Trump Era

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Over his first year in office President Trump has managed to tell over 2,000 lies. That being said we all expect politicians to lie, it’s part of American life and political discourse. Will Rogers once said “If you ever injected truth into politics you have no politics.” I think that the expectation that elected officials will lie is one reason that Mark Twain quipped: “An honest man in politics shines more there than he would elsewhere.”

However the shear numbers of lies and falsehood proclaimed by the President is having a toxic effect on our society, in particular on those in the church, men and women who call themselves by the name of Christ who not only believe them, but repeat them, and defend them.  The fact is that for decades these same Christian leaders and people have proclaimed their allegiance to what they call “moral absolutes” and  “Biblical values”while excoriating Democrats, particularly Bill and Hillary Clinton for their lies. The fact is that by doing this Christians simply become another political interest group hustling politicians for favors that benefit them, even at the expense of the credibility of their witness to Christ.

The constant repetition the President’s well documented lies, and their defense by his preacher’s daughter Press Secretary, his other administration flacks, Congressional supporters, the Fox News media empire, and the big name Evangelical Preachers who have sold their souls in his defense have damaged the soul of the country and yes the Church.

Of course one would expect the President’s opponents to point out his lies but in normal times you wouldn’t expect his conservative religious supporters to go to the mat defending him and his lies, and even calling him a “role model” for young people.  In a recent survey some 70% of his predominantly Christian, Republican supporters say that he is and that my friends is, if you value the long term witness of the Christian Church absolutely devastating, especially since for over a decade young people have been fleeing the church in never before seen numbers while unbelievers, even those that admire Christ and what some would call Christian values want nothing to do with the Church.

The fact is that the repetition of lies and falsehoods, whether you are a Trump supporter or opponent there is a not a good thing either for the Church or for the country. It has a terrible effect, and one only has to look to the countries of Europe to see how Christian support for malevolent leaders has reduced it to irrelevance. Whether it be the support of ethnic and religious persecution, or the participation in and protection of sexual predators masquerading and Bishops, Priests, and Nuns has eviscerated the witness of the Church.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer understood this and asked a question that should be asked by people that call themselves by the name of Christ who at the same time defend the indefensible and not only defend, but take great pleasure in defending the lies of the President. Bonhoeffer observed the same dynamic in his day. He wrote:

“We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds; we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretense; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use? What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, and straightforward men. Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves remorseless enough, for us to find our way back to simplicity and straightforwardness?”

Please believe me when I say that I am not being an alarmist about this situation. I know too much about history, human nature, and yes the Church not to see the danger.

But that’s part of the problem. The lies and actions of the President and his administration have been cumulative; what was shocking on day one became normalized over the course of the past year. The effect is both numbing and corrosive: first on the President’s defenders who surrender all pretext of moral or religious authority, and on his opponents who gradually are worn down by the barrage of lies and the fact that they are also the minority party, or if the are Republicans, the minority in the President’s party.

Since President Trump first announced his candidacy for President in 2015 I have been sounding a warning about the President. I have lost friends and been ostracized or attacked by others for doing so, despite the fact that until my return from Iraq in 2008 I had been both a politically active Conservative Christian and Republican for over thirty years. That being said regardless of the cost I would rather follow my conscience than surrender it to the cacophony of lies and acceptance of evil by people who were once friends.

I do not consider myself to be a victim of my former friends. In fact I understand how they got to this point. In fact what has happened with them did not begin with the lies of President Trump. For decades, they, like I did until 2008, bought the repeated lies of the politicians, pundits, and preachers of the American conservative movement. The leaders of this movement coopted them by constantly repeating that they were under attack and needed to take control of the government in order to both defend the faith and implement a Christian government.  Whole theologies were built around this and gradually many, if not most conservative and Evangelical Christians accepted the idea that Christians had to “take dominion”over the country regardless of the cost. The leaders of the so-called “Christian Right” including Franklin Graham, Tony Perkins, James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Albert Mohler, Robert Jeffress, and far too many others have sacrificed every bit of their integrity in defending the President and excusing his lies to further their own power.

Truthfully, I understand how they got there. If I hadn’t gone to Iraq, seen what I saw there, realized the lies that went into the propagation of the war and the lies of Christians who demonized all Muslims because of some after the attacks of September 11th 2001, I would probably still be one of them. For me it took war to understand the moral and theological bankruptcy the politics and theology of the Christian Right, of which over 80% voted for the President and over 75% still support him.

Bonhoeffer asked the right question in terms of Christians and their support of morally bankrupt regimes. Are we still of any use?

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, ethics, faith, History, holocaust, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary, Religion

From Ordinary Men to Willing Executioners: Holocaust Remembrance 2018

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

We live in troubling times and I believe that we are at a point in world history where the not so distant specter of a horrifying past is is rising before our eyes and all too many people cannot see it.

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day. On that day seventy-three years ago the Soviet Red Army liberated the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, the centerpiece of the Nazi Death Camp machine. To be sure, in his panic to save his neck Heinrich Himmler had started in the Fall of 1944 began to switch from his tactic of extermination to using the Jews as bargaining chips., but by then most of the Jews under Nazi control were dead. Those that remained, emaciated and dying by the thousands to starvation, and unchecked disease, as they were marched in ghastly conditions to camps deeper inside Nazi controlled areas.

About this time last year two things happened in the United States that caused me to shake my head and wonder if we are becoming a place that will turn its eyes away from current atrocities, genocide, ethnic and religious cleansing, and walk away. Likewise they were events the presaged even worse.

Last year President Trump issued a proclamation to observe Holocaust Remembrance Day, a statement that did not mention the Jews. How one remembers the Holocaust without mentioning the Jews is beyond me, but some of the President’s advisers, including the now fired and disgraced Steve Bannon, are closely connected to the self-proclaimed Alt-Right, a movement of white supremacists and neo-Nazis looking for respectability. The second thing the President did was to issue an Executive Order halting the immigration of refugees from certain Muslim majority countries, and to cap the number entering. I’m not going to go into details about that but it is not the first time that the United States stopped refugees from entering the country on national security grounds, as in the 1930s and 1940s one of the reasons used to keep German Jewish refugees out of the country was exactly that, they might be Nazi spies and saboteurs.

But since those early days the President, members of his administration, members of Congress, and his supporters in the Right Wing media have increased the rhetoric of racism and race hatred. In addition to Muslims who has often insinuated are terrorists, or sympathetic to terrorists, the President has defamed and dehumanized whole classes of other immigrants, those from Africa, Central America, and the Caribbean as being from “Shithole countries.” Likewise, after Charlottesville, the President stated that neo-Nazis and White Supremacists are “very good people” and even though his son-in-law and daughter are Orthodox Jews he has frequently disparaged Jews in public and private.  Of course as so often is the case much of what the President is saying being sold under the label of Patriotism. Hannah Arendt wrote:

“The antisemites who called themselves patriots introduced that new species of national feeling which consists primarily in a complete whitewash of one’s own people and a sweeping condemnation of all others.”

The present day reminds us that this is a day that we should never forget. The horrors perpetrated by the Nazi regime, all in the name of “race purity” and the extermination of the Jews and others deemed by the Nazis to be “sub-human” or untermenschen is something that is hard for most to imagine.

A couple of years ago I read Bettina Stangneth’s book, Eichmann Before Jerusalem: The Unexamined Life of a Mass Murderer. While I am very well informed and educated on the lives, writings, actions, and statements of many of the Nazi war criminals, this new book on Eichmann is the most troubling that I have ever read. In particular it is the accounts of his writings and interviews with other pro-Nazi, or former Nazis in Argentina, particularly the Sassen Interviews, which span hundreds of hours of tape and thousands of pages of transcripts.

I am a Christian, a gentile, and a historian, as well as a nearly thirty-seven year military who served alongside our advisors and the Iraqis who fought alongside of us. I have lived in Germany, read, speak and write German and have many friends in that country, including members of the German military, retired and active duty.  My study and association with Holocaust survivors goes back to my college days at California State University Northridge when as an undergraduate history major I spent much of my time studying Germany from the first unification and the Kaiser Reich, the First World War, Versailles, Weimar and the Hitler Regime. My professor, Dr. Helmut Heussler, whose family left Germany in the late 1920s, served in the U.S. Army in World War II and was an interrogator at Nuremberg. I took a number of classes from Dr. Heussler, including Hitler’s Germany and the Holocaust. In the latter I had the chance to meet Holocaust survivor Mel Mermelstein, who was later played by Leonard Nimoy in the TV movie Never Forget. 

Since my college days I have continued to read and study, and to get a second Masters Degree in History in which much of my work dealt with the Nazi regime. I have visited the sites of former concentration camps including Dachau and Bergen-Belsen. I have been to the sites of the Nazi Party rallies in Nuremberg, the courtroom where the Nuremberg Trails were conducted and to the T4 Euthanasia complex at Hadmar. One day, God willing I will get to Auschwitz and some of the other sites.

The Nazis had begun their persecution of the Jews shortly after Hitler took power in 1933. Later in the year the Enabling Act gave Hitler and his henchmen the legal means to begin their persecution of the Jews and others. These were followed by the Nuremberg Laws and other laws that targeted the Jews. Persecution increased throughout the 1930s, and sadly most countries refused to accommodate increased Jewish immigration. Then came Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, when on 9-10 November 1938, a series of orchestrated attacks on Jewish businesses, Synagogues, institutions and individuals. On that night close to 200 synagogues, 7000 Jewish businesses and 29 major department stores were destroyed or damaged. Over 30,000 Jews, mostly men, were arrested and sent to concentration camps, 91 people were killed outright, and several thousand died in the aftermath.

mass killing einsatzgruppen

When the Nazis invaded Poland, its Jews were rounded up and placed into ghettos where many died of starvation and abuse even before the ghettos were liquidated and the people who lived in them were deported to the extermination camps. In 1941 as the German military seemed to be assured of victory in the Soviet Union the Nazis decided to exterminate the Jews of Europe. In the Soviet Union four Einsatzgruppen followed each of the German Army Groups and systematically began to massacre the Jews of every city and village which German soldiers captured. Over a million and a half Soviet Jews were killed by the Einsatzgruppen, Ordungspolizei battalions, Army Security Divisions and locally recruited units.

At the Wansee Conference of January 20th 1942 the specifics of the “Final Solution” were mapped out by Himmler’s number two man, SS General Reinhard Heydrich. What followed is beyond the comprehension of most people, but the perpetrators were for the most part men and women who were terrifyingly normal.

The truly terrifying thing about the Nazi perpetrators of the Holocaust to me is that most of the men at Wansee, men that commanded the Concentration camps and the Einsatzgruppen were very ordinary men who simply believed that they were doing their jobs. Very few could be described as psychopathic killers by nature. They were lawyers, doctors, career police officials, businessmen, and bureaucrats who carried out an extermination campaign that killed by their own numbers between 5.5 and 6 million Jews, not to mention others deemed to be subhuman including the handicapped, the mentally ill, homosexuals, and other non-Jewish minorities like the Gypsies not to mention the wide variety of those considered political enemies. But it was the Jews that bore the most tragic fate.

When you read their writings, listen to them when they were interviewed, or watch footage of them during or after the war, you find that they had absolutely no empathy for their victims. When confronted about the evil that they engineered they invariably blamed their victims, just as many like them do today.

Most of the men who coordinated the massive effort to exterminate the Jews of Europe following the Wansee Conference of January 20th 1942 approached their jobs dispassionately. This was a common attitude among the civil service, military and police officials that oversaw the Holocaust. They simply did their jobs and followed the law, and for most of them, their victims meant nothing.

ChildrenBirkenau

Hungarian Jews being sent to Extermination Camps

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

Hannah Arendt wrote of Eichmann:

“The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together.”

This was what made the Holocaust committed against the Jews of Europe by Nazi Germany a phenomenon different than other genocides. Many of the perpetrators were not driven by centuries old hate as in the Balkans, tribal blood lust as occurred in Rwanda, or the products of Soviet Communism or Communist Chines Maoist regimes, but a profoundly racial ideology.

dachaumorgue1945

It was the racial ideology of the Nazis which deemed the Jews and other non-Aryans to be sub-human. That ideology undergirded the German treatment of the Jews, and the conduct of the war, especially in the East. But the execution of the plan required the bureaucratic, administrative, technical and legal skills brought to the table by ordinary men. These were men who sought promotion, advancement, and economic security for their families. Individually many would have never killed, but they ran the rail networks, the factories, the banking and finance industries and supported the war effort, most not thinking much about the evil that they abetted or if they did finding a way, be it social, scientific, religious, patriotic, legal or simply in the name of efficiency.

Survivors of Auschwitz

That is what makes the evil committed by them so terrifying. It is the product of “normal” people in an advanced Western nation. Make no bones about it, their actions were evil. They aided and abetted the genocide of the Jews, the disabled, other “sub-human” races, particularly Slavs, as well as those that they deemed less than suitable. Sadly, human beings, even Americans have that same capacity to commit genocide.

I think that the most chilling thing about the Holocaust was that the greatest atrocities were committed by ordinary men, sometimes well educated, decent family men. These were men who simply executed orders and often went home at night. Arendt wrote that “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.” She was right, there was an ordinariness to the evil perpetrated by the Nazis, at the same time there are those who consciously decide to participate in evil.

It is important that we do not forget the Holocaust. It is also important to recognize that the instruments of that horror were on the whole “ordinary” men who as they saw it were simply doing their job. It is something that everyone needs to remember. Bettina Stangneth wrote “Systematic mass murder is not just the sum of isolated instances of sadism but the result of a political thinking that is perverted from the ground up.”

So many of the perpetrators saw nothing wrong in what they were doing, in fact at his trial in Jerusalem Eichmann said, “To sum it all up, I must say that I regret nothing.”

The men and women who committed these crimes believed that their victims were less than human and like so many people even today, they had no empathy. Gustave Gilbert, an American Army Psychologist at the major War Criminal Trials at Nuremberg said it so well: “Evil is the absence of empathy.”

Today we have to be very careful. Christopher Browning wrote in his book Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Holocaust in Poland:

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

In such a world it is all too important that we never forget, especially now when we could be watching it begin all over again.

I’ll write more on this tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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