Category Archives: nazi germany

Resistance is Never Futile: Sophie Scholl and the White Rose

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have written about Sophie Scholl and the White Rose resistance against Hitler before, I spent time in September on my last visit to Munich to visit a number of the places where Sophie Scholl, her brother Hans, and other members of the resistance worked to write and distribute six pamphlets exposing the crimes of the Nazi regime. While distributing the sixth Sophie and Hans were caught when a maintenance man at Munich University spotted them and reported them to the Gestapo.

Tonight I watched the German language film Sophie Scholl: The Final Days. I found it to be an intensely emotional experience as I watched the film, shot on location in places that I have walked resonated in real time as I watch the freedoms that the United States was founded on being attacked in real time right now. I wonder how long it will be until the Constitution is turned upon its head and the law and the courts are turned into accomplices of terror.

I think the scenes in the film that were the most powerful to me were those that depicted the interrogation of Sophie by the Gestapo investigator Robert Mohr. He is a Nazi, but he is also a professional police office and investigator, devoted to the law, a law which though the words had not been changed since before Hitler’s assumption of power, had been commandeered by the Nazis to prescribe loyalty to the Hitler regime above all. The real Robert Mohr survived the war and lived until 1977

By the end of the film I was in tears, especially in the scene just before her execution her parents are allowed to visit her, and her father tells her that he is proud of her. Try as I might I couldn’t see my mother doing that for me, my late father yes, but my mother no. When in 2009 I visited them shortly after my father had been placed in a nursing home and I was in a state of emotional and spiteful collapse after my return from Iraq, I objected to her agreement with the Fox News pundits our their portrayal of the war and she called me a coward. I had spent seven months in Al Anbar Province with American advisors and our Iraqi allies, being exposed to constant danger and being shot at on several occasions. She would have been a perfect and obedient servant of the Third Reich. As a career officer returned broken from War I would have probably shared the fate of men like Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg and the other anti-Hitler plotters of the July 20th bomb plot. That night I left her house for a hotel, and though I have visited her and been to the house since then, I have always stayed in a hotel when visiting home. I haven’t been back since October 2014 and that is probably a good thing.

In their trial Hans Scholl, though berated by the President of the People’s Court, Judge Roland Freisler told him: I have served on the Eastern Front, as have many others here, but you haven’t. That is my feeling toward those who combat veterans who object to nationalist propaganda being disguised and patriotism by people who have never spent a day in uniform much less who have never put on a uniform, or even fewer who have served in harms way.

Honestly, in our current day I fear for freedom in this land, and I must always do my best to speak the truth. That might mean making waves or enemies, Lord knows how many supposed friends have condemned my political and religious beliefs because they do not reflect the the ideology of the supposedly Evangelical Christian America First followers of our current President, not to mention those who decide that they cannot speak up simply because they do not want to make waves in order to survive though they know in their hearts that their actions betray their faith and life.

Sophie wrote:

“The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.”

Though Sophie, Hans, and a number of their friends were executed and others imprisoned, their message got out. Smuggled out of Germany the sixth pamphlet was reprinted in the millions and dropped by the Royal Air Force and American Army Air Force over Germany. That leaflet said:

For us there is but one slogan: fight against the party! Get out of the party organisation, which are used to keep our mouths sealed and hold us in political bondage! Get out of the lecture rooms of the SS corporals and sergeants and the party bootlickers! We want genuine learning and real freedom of opinion. No threat can terrorise us, not even the shutting down of the institutions of higher learning. This is the struggle of each and every one of us for our future, our freedom, and our honour under a regime conscious of its moral responsibility…

Fellow Fighters in the Resistance!

Shaken and broken, our people behold the loss of the men of Stalingrad. Three hundred and thirty thousand German men have been senselessly and irresponsibly driven to death and destruction by the inspired strategy of our World War I Private First Class. Fuhrer, we thank you!

The German people are in ferment. Will we continue to entrust the fate of our armies to a dilettante? Do we want to sacrifice the rest of German youth to the base ambitions of a Party clique? No, never! The day of reckoning has come – the reckoning of German youth with the most abominable tyrant our people have ever been forced to endure. In the name of German youth we demand restitution by Adolf Hitler’s state of our personal freedom, the most precious treasure we have, out of which he has swindled us in the most miserable way.

We grew up in a state in which all free expression of opinion is unscrupulously suppressed. The Hitler Youth, the SA, the SS have tried to drug us, to revolutionise us, to regiment us in the most promising young years of our lives. “Philosophical training” is the name given to the despicable method by which our budding intellectual development is muffled in a fog of empty phrases. A system of selection of leaders at once unimaginably devilish and narrow-minded trains up its future party bigwigs in the “Castles of the Knightly Order” to become Godless, impudent, and conscienceless exploiters and executioners – blind, stupid hangers-on of the Fuhrer. We “Intellectual Workers” are the ones who should put obstacles in the path of this caste of overlords. Soldiers at the front are regimented like schoolboys by student leaders and trainees for the post of Gauleiter, and the lewd jokes of the Gauleiters insult the honour of the women students. German women students at the university in Munich have given a dignified reply to the besmirching of their honour, and German students have defended the women in the universities and have stood firm…. That is a beginning of the struggle for our free self-determination – without which intellectual and spiritual values cannot be created. We thank the brave comrades, both men and women, who have set us brilliant examples.

For us there is but one slogan: fight against the party! Get out of the party organisation, which are used to keep our mouths sealed and hold us in political bondage! Get out of the lecture rooms of the SS corporals and sergeants and the party bootlickers! We want genuine learning and real freedom of opinion. No threat can terrorise us, not even the shutting down of the institutions of higher learning. This is the struggle of each and every one of us for our future, our freedom, and our honour under a regime conscious of its moral responsibility.

Freedom and honour! 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 honour. 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 honour of the German nation” throughout Europe, and which they daily start anew. The name of Germany is dishonoured for all time if German youth does not finally rise, take revenge, and atone, smash its tormentors, and set up a new Europe of the spirit. Students! The German people look to us. As in 1813 the people expected us to shake off the Napoleonic yoke, so in 1943 they look to us to break the National Socialist terror through the power of the spirit. Beresina and Stalingrad are burning in the East. The dead of Stalingrad implore us to take action. “Up, up, my people, let smoke and flame be our sign!”

Our people stand ready to rebel against the Nationals Socialist enslavement of Europe in a fervent new breakthrough of freedom and honour.

Honestly, I do not know how many Americans today regardless of their political party who would if faced with the possibly imprisonment and death of speaking out against the anti-American, illegal, and unconstitutional actions of the Trump Administration, or for that matter any administration. Sophie said “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.”

Freedom matters, as does truth. There is no excuse for the Christian to stay silent in the face of evil. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak.”

Never forget that resistance is never futile.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Resisting Catastrophe and Looking to Resurrection: Faith in the Trump Era

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Sophie Scholl, who played a pivotal role in the White Rose resistance movement wrote: “Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by others. They just don’t dare express themselves as we did.”

The more I see the ways that many Christian pastors and leaders are prostituting their faith to defend the indefensible actions

‘of men like President Trump and Alabama candidate for the U.S. Senate, Roy Moore, the more I am convinced that regardless of whatever political power or success that they achieve, that have forever destroyed the credibility of the Christian Church in the United States. They have aligned themselves with White Nationalists, Neo-Nazis, and sexual predators in ways not seen since the German Christians threw away their faith for the cause of Adolf Hitler in the early 1930s.

What was especially discouraging was the rally where a number of Moore’s clergy supporters joined the candidate to hail him as a hero and martyr in his stand against the rights of LGBTQ citizens, Flip Benham who told Moore that he gets “the applause of heaven.” Even more discouraging were the comments of Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, also a conservative Evangelical Christian said while she “has no reason to disbelieve” Moore’s female accusers said that she will vote for Moore because “we need to have a Republican in the United States Senate to vote on things like the Supreme Court justices, other appointments the Senate has to confirm and make major decisions,”

My friend Father Kenneth Tanner, a conservative Priest wrote: “No. It is never OK to turn a blind eye to multiple and credible witnesses against a leader running for public office because utilitarian politics are more important than principles and human decency.

It matters not one wit if a presidential agenda or a senate majority or the makeup of the Supreme Court or any other grave moral challenge—like the precious life of the unborn—hangs in the balance.”

Today Andrew Sullivan wrote: “The Christian right’s support for a sociopathic, cruel, and vulgar pagan was inevitable, in other words, from the moment the Moral Majority was born. If politics is fused with religion, and if your opponents are deemed evil, then almost anything can be justified to defeat them. Sooner or later, you’l find yourself defending the molestation of a minor. Which is why I have long refused to call this political movement Christian, but Christianist. It is not about faith; it is about power.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The German pastor who would be murdered at the command of Adolf Hitler in April 1945 wrote:

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

Sadly, I don’t think that what passes for Christian in the United States can do this. It would be better that what passes for Christian would collapse under the weight of its own lies and misrepresentations in the pursuit of temporal power than for it to continue in this rotten state. It has sold its soul for a prize that can only destroy it. The good thing is that Jesus the Christ is still engaged in bringing new life to the dead and that he works through people who know their inadequacy in order to bring it to the world. As Juergen Moltmann wrote:

“Believing in the resurrection does not just mean assenting to a dogma and noting a historical fact. It means participating in this creative act of God’s … Resurrection is not a consoling opium, soothing us with the promise of a better world in the hereafter. It is the energy for a rebirth of this life. The hope doesn’t point to another world. It is focused on the redemption of this one.”

So in spite of my pessimism in regard to the state of what Sullivan calls Christianist I still believe in the energy of resurrection and rebirth in this life and world. I believe that I have to be part of that even if it offends the Christianists who would use the power of the state to persecute and kill those they despise, the same people who Jesus defended.

I have come to realize that the offense I take against the notion of a Christian Nation promoted by Roy Moore and his supporters and their idol President Trump is that they prostitute the Gospel for the filthy rags of unrequited political power. I have come to realize more and more that my faith, as small and insignificant as it so often is, is the source of my politics. That is why I must resist as Bonhoeffer noted:

“If I sit next to a madman as he drives a car into a group of innocent bystanders, I can’t, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe, then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.”

Sophie Scholl and her friends in the White Rose circle, Bonhoeffer and others resisted when others who called themselves Christians either wholeheartedly supported Hitler and the NSDAP or chose to remain silent during the Nazi era. Traudl Juergen who served as Hitler’s Secretary from 1942 until his death in Berlin struggled with her roll in the war and how after the war it occurred to her that she could have done more:

“All these horrors I’ve heard of during the Nurnberg process, these six million Jews, other thinking people or people of another race, who perished. That shocked me deeply. But I hadn’t made the connection with my past. I assured myself with the thought of not being personally guilty. And that I didn’t know anything about the enormous scale of it. But one day I walked by a memorial plate of Sophie Scholl in the Franz-Joseph-Strasse. I saw that she was about my age and she was executed in the same year I came to Hitler. And at that moment I actually realised that a young age isn’t an excuse. And that it might have been possible to get to know things.”

I cannot remain silent.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Stupidity Infects the Church

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

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

Those words are more profound than many of us would admit, and sadly in the United States they are the last thing thought about by supposedly orthodox Evangelical Christians.

Today I want to follow up on something my friend from my former church denomination, Fr. Kenneth Tanner posted on Facebook. Ken is both orthodox and conservative in his theology. He is a remarkable writer and he puts his faith into action at the local level in his parish in Michigan. Over the past couple of days he has posted comments that I wish I had posted because not only do I want to agree with him but because they call me back to who I am as a Christian and why in spite of everything I still remain one.

Yesterday Fr. Ken posted this gem which reminds me of so many of the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

“Every attempt by the church to tie its mission and destiny to a political leader, or party, or policy involves forgetting the Spirit. Presidents and legislatures and courts and banks and marketplaces are not in the business of resurrection. The church is.

The day before he posted a comment which I think in light of the political scandals, especially those of politicians, Republican and Democrat regarding sexual assault:

“This is for my people, speaking as a leader within our community. It may not apply to you but they need this right now; they need to know where I stand.

No. It is not OK for a man to seduce or pursue or be alone with teenaged girls. And, no, it is not possible for there to be a consensual sexual relationship between a man and a teenaged girl.

Yes. Women and girls who make allegations of sexual harassment or assault are almost always telling the truth and we should assume female veracity even as justice and accountability are pursued in ways that ensure the rights of the accused.

There is a reason that false accusation is for God on a level of moral seriousness reserved for murder, because it “murders” the reputation and life of those falsely accused, but we also have to understand that most victims of sexual harassment and assault are honest with near-mortal wounds of their own that they bear.

No. It is never OK to turn a blind eye to multiple and credible witnesses against a leader running for public office because utilitarian politics are more important than principles and human decency.

It matters not one wit if a presidential agenda or a senate majority or the makeup of the Supreme Court or any other grave moral challenge—like the precious life of the unborn—hangs in the balance.

It also make zero difference if it’s all so unfair or the other “side” doesn’t play by the rules or everyone is against “us.”

There is no justifiable reason for a pastor to support a candidate for public office that is accused by multiple women of sexual assault. It is an offense to the gospel and calls the integrity of the church into question.

In short, Christian faith is rarely about winning. It’s about dying and waiting for God to use our death in his grand promise to make all things well.

When I saw it I read it to one of my Chaplains who is also a theological evangelical conservative who was amazed at Kenneth’s boldness and how well he said what needed to be said.

As I have pondered his comments I meditated on some of the words of the German Pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Honestly, I don’t think I could even hold a candle to Bonhoeffer but in our country at this time I think that Kenneth does. Kenneth, like Bonhoeffer is a theologian of the Cross.

As I continue to read things being said in the defense of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, and the defense of the unprincipled and thoroughly un-Christian actions of President Trump and GOP lawmakers I am ashamed to even call myself a Christian. Honestly I cannot believe than anyone claiming to be a Christian would defend them, but these defenders of Moore and Trump are abusing utilitarian ethics while claiming to follow supposedly Biblical absolutes. They would condemn Bill Clinton (as he should be) but let Trump and Moore off the hook for even worse moral acts. Theirs is indeed a dark and dystopian world where Orwellian doublespeak is the norm, and the clear words of Jesus the exception. I do not know whether to hate them or pity them, but because of Christ, as much as I detest them and their actions I cannot hate them, as Jesus said from the Cross, “they know not what they do.”

Bonhoeffer wrote:

“Upon closer observation, it becomes apparent that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere, be it of a political or a religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity. It would even seem that this is virtually a sociological-psychological law. The power of the one needs the stupidity of the other. The process at work here is not that particular human capacities, for instance, the intellect, suddenly atrophy or fail. Instead, it seems that under the overwhelming impact of rising power, humans are deprived of their inner independence and, more or less consciously, give up establishing an autonomous position toward the emerging circumstances. The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he is not independent. In conversation with him, one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with him as a person, but with slogans, catchwords, and the like that have taken possession of him. He is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being. Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil. This is where the danger of diabolical misuse lurks, for it is this that can once and for all destroy human beings.”

This so totally describes those who defend Trump, Moore, or for that matter anyone from the other side of the political spectrum who have groped, assaulted, raped, or abused young women, or in some cases young men and then defend themselves as good Christians, or liberal humanitarians. As for me I care not a wit whether they are Republicans or Democrats, liberals or conservatives, religious or irreligious, the point is, at least for me is that I have to be honest and not sacrifice my integrity for any kind of temporal gain. I cannot hold those who I agree with politically or socially to a different standard than those who I oppose simply because they are more representative of my political or social views.

Bonhoeffer wrote:

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

Despite all of my struggles with faith I am still drawn to the Crucified God, and as such my life, my politics, and my words, as hopelessly flawed as they may be and as I am, have to at least attempt to live up to the Gospel of Christ. Otherwise what use am I?

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Corker, McCain, Flake, and Von Papen: A Reflection on Words Without Actions

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have been listening to the words and watching the actions of Republicans who at one time or another have criticized or stood against the words and actions of President Trump. Likewise I have watched and listened for any pushback from military leaders at the actions of retired Marine Corps General John Kelly when like any hired partisan political hack he went to the defense of the President, and made false statements regarding a Democratic Congresswoman while pouring more gasoline on a fire that never should have been lit in the first place. As I have watched that spectacle I have been reminded of the words of one of my football coaches in high school who told me when I protested not getting playing time “your actions speak so loud I can hear a word you are saying.” He was talking about my performance in practice and his words helped me to set a new course for my life. I only wish that President Trump’s Republican critics would have gotten that message.

A number of Senators, Jeff Flake, Bob Corker, and John McCain, as well,as former President George Bush made sharp comments about the President’s actions, words, and his character, but were careful to avoid mentioning him by name. Corker was one of Trump’s earliest supporters but now has become one of the Presidents’s most stalwart critics. Senator Lindsey Graham, who has occasionally spoken out against certain policies of the President gave voice as to the real reason that congressional Republicans say little and do less to oppose the chaos of the administration, or President’s attacks on the Constitution, when he said that he wasn’t criticizing Trump because he was “working for tax cuts.”

Working for tax cuts while the President and his supporters like Steve Bannon threaten the very heart of the American system of government and the Constitutional rights of all Americans is a sad excuse for doing nothing. When I read the the comments of the erstwhile GOP opponents of Trump I am reminded of Franz von Papen and other German conservatives who in 1933 looked the other way when Hitler began his campaign to eliminate political opposition, including that of their own parties. Too late, Papen, who had helped convince President Paul von Hindenburg to make Hitler Chancellor. In a speech at Marburg University on June 17th 1934 Papen, then serving as Vice Chancellor spoke against some aspects of the National Socialist state without actually naming Hitler or the Nazi Party. Even so, the speech infuriated Hitler, and two weeks later Papen narrowly escaped death during the Night of the Long Knives when Hitler eliminated much potential opposition from inside and outside of the Nazi Party in a two day bloodbath in which three of his closest aides were murdered by the SS and Gestapo. Afterward Papen resigned his post and was appointed as Ambassador to Austria where he served during the Nazi takeover of that county, and later in Turkey.

Other German conservatives, especially in the Army lent a hand to Hitler by both tacit agreement and silent acquiescence in those early years when it was still possible under the Weimar Constitution to remove Hitler, but their hatred of democracy and Hitler’s opponents on the political left prevented them from taking the courageous steps necessary.

Papen bore heavy responsibility for helping Hitler gain power and to carry out his initial work to eliminate organized political opposition, and to eliminate his opponents in the Nazi Party. Without the cooperation of Papen and other non-Nazis as well as their later silence, Hitler would not have been able to gain full power over the German state.

I wonder how many American conservatives, including GOP leaders, Christian ministers, and military men will end up regretting their acquiescence to President Trump. When I do that I am reminded of the words of Martin Niemoller, a German war hero from the First World War who became an influential pastor. He wrote:

“I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.”

Niemoller later wrote the immortal poem First They Came. I wonder how many of the people who either cheer on the President today, or knuckle under to his threats will find Niemoller’s words apropos when they find themselves under the gun. Niemoller wrote:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. 

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. 

Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me. 

Words matter, but actions matter more. This is a warning from history.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Not Everyone Deserves a Monument: Military Leaders and War Crimes

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

This weekend I had a friend whose family survived the Holocaust ask me where removing memorials to men like Robert E. Lee ends. I replied that it was all about context and the totality of life. We mythologize Robert E. Lee in a manner that his crimes and his flaws are intentionally hidden, though they are many. I will write about that soon, I actually have a draft of that article that I started a while back that I need to complete.

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

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

In his initial message to his troops Hoepner stated:

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is where we have to go if we have the moral courage to do so. However, I don’t think that will happen in the next few years, or even in my lifetime.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Stamtisch, a March, and a Memorial: Time in Munich

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Just a short post before turning in for the night and getting ready to drive from Munich to see old German friends in the area north of Wiesbaden, in the German state of Hessen where we spent much of my first tour in Germany from January 1984 to the end of December 1986. My friend has battled prostate Cancer for a few years and told me that his doctor has given him bad news. I can only imagine that it has spread, so this part of our visit may be more somber than usual.

Today was a good day, we slept late, had a last dinner at our favorite restaurant here where one of the women Judy has become friends with sat us at the Stamtisch which is a table reserved for customers that are regulars. Today we shared it with a number of older German men, all locals and had a nice talk. Afterward Judy went back to the hotel while I went went walking. Today I left the S-Bahn at Rosenheimer Platz, which put me near where the Burgerbraukeller once stood. That place, where Hitler and the early Nazis gathered to overthrow the Weimar Republic on November 9th 1923 was the beginning point of what is now known as the Bier Hall Putsch. Hitler and his storm troopers marched from there, across the Ludwigsbrucke, through the Isar Tor, to Marienplatz and the Rathaus, and from there turning North up Theatnerstrasse, to Residenzestrasse to the Odeonsplatz where they were met by a contingent of well armed police. The Nazis began a fight when the police refused to give way and were repulsed with casualties. Hitler was uninjured but was arrested, tried, and convicted for his role in the putsch, serving a minimal sentence of nine months in prison, free to receive visitors and write his book Mein Kampf.


It is always weird for me when I go to these places, to think that not even one hundred years ago that Hitler and his followers attempted to overthrow the German government right where I was walking. Of course Hitler changed his tactics to get enough of the vote so that President Paul von Hindenburg was persuaded to appoint him Chancellor, and of course the rest is history.


This was the second of two days where I walked and visited places that are important in history so that we do not forget. Yesterday I went to the National Socialist Documentation Center near the Konigsplatz. This is a great place to go for anyone serious about studying the Nazi era. Like all museums in Germany it pulls no punches about the country’s Nazi past and just how evil it was while also confronting the same threats from similar people today.

I wish that I could have spent several days there doing nothing but studying and reading original documents and records from the era. The center is build where Hitler and the Nazis made their headquarters in Munich in the years before the seizure of power, the Brown House. Around it the Nazis either occupied or built other buildings to house various party offices, including the SA and SS. I walked around that quarter of the city, and also went to the Monument to the Victims of National Socialism, which are commemorated by an eternal flame. I only wish that more Americans could take this in and then apply the lessons to our own genocide of the Native American tribes, American Slavery, and America medical experiments in Eugenics, Medical sterilization, and infectious diseases which involved human subjects, mostly African Americans. If we did we might have fewer memorials to the perpetrators of these crimes and more things about remembering the crimes and the victims, rather than hundreds of monuments dedicated to the mythologized and sanitized past in which we remember the perpetrators as military heroes or great Americans, even those that rebelled against the United States in a war that cost about three quarters of a million lives.

But anyway. The hour is late, and yes I have more to write about my time in Munich, including a this evening at the Neil Diamond 50th Anniversary Tour Concert at the Olympia Halle, but tomorrow is a travel day.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Path of Remembrance: A Visit to Dachau

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

The picture that you see above is the memorial to the Unknown Prisoner at Dachau. The words: “Den Toten zur Ehr, den Lebenden zur Mahnung” [To Honor the Dead, to Warn the Living] are engraved at its base.

Yesterday, Munich time, I took short excursion to Dachau in order to visit the Concentration Camp. I have been to Dachau a number of times beginning back in 1996. For me as a historian of the period the trip is both for learning and for meditation, for beyond its historical significance this is a holy place, a place made holy by the blood of tens of thousands of victims of one of the most evil regimes in history. The crimes committed by the staff of Totenkopfverbande SS guards from it’s inception were intended to terrorize and dehumanize the inmates who included political prisoners, religious objectors, Jews, and homosexuals. They were not there because they were convicted of any crimes, in fact many had actually been exonerated by courts, or had served what ever sentence they had been convicted of, but upon release were picked up by the SS and taken to Dachau.

Prisoners were told on arrival:

Here you are, and you’re not in a sanatorium! You’ll have got that already. Anyone who hasn’t grasped that will soon be made to. You can rely on that . . . You’re not prison inmates here, serving a sentence imposed by the courts, you’re just ‘prisoners’ pure and simple, and if you don’t know what that means, you’ll soon find out. You’re dishonourable and defenceless! You’re without rights! Your fate is a slave’s fate! Amen.

In the Camp they were subject to punishment for even the most minor or perceived infractions, beatings, whippings, and other punishments were meted out by guards who themselves were punished if they showed any mercy or human kindness to a prisoner. “While an offender sentenced to a term in prison knew when he was going to get out, release for the concentration camp inmate was determined by the whim of a quarterly review board, and could be delayed by the malice of any of the SS guards.”

Theodore Eicke, the commandant who systematized the Concentration Camp system created a world that his subordinate, and the later Commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Hoess described:

“It was Eicke’s intention that his SS-men, by means of continuous instruction and suitable orders concerning the dangerous criminality of the inmates, should be made basically ill-disposed towards the prisoners. They were to ‘treat them rough’, and to root out once and for all any sympathy they might feel for them. By such means, he succeeded in engendering in simple-natured men a hatred and antipathy for the prisoners which an outsider will find hard to imagine.”

Even a brutal man like Hoess found the brutality hard to watch, he recalled the “malicious evil-minded, basically bad, brutal, inferior, common creatures’ amongst the guards, who compensated for their sense of inferiority by venting their anger on the prisoners. The atmosphere of hatred was total.”

In the twelve years of its existence the staff of Dachau, through mistreatment, execution by bullet, gallows, through being used as subjects in grotesque medical experiments, by “execution by work,” or untreated illness and disease, murdered 41,566 prisoners. The point to be remembered is that despite this incredible number of murders that Dachau was not an extermination camp.

I took the S-Bahn from Munich-East to Dachau, a trip of about 30 minutes. While there I read the chapter in Richard Evans book Third Reich in Power that described the establishment and operations of Dachau and the other early Concentration Camps, from which all of the quotes above this are from. When I got off the train I had a choice of taking a bus to the camp or walking to it via the path known as the Weg des Erinnerns or Path of Remembrance. I chose the walk which was about two miles. Along it there were markers with parts of the history of Dachau and what the prisoners experienced from getting off a train to getting to the camp. The path winds through the town along the street now named Friedenstrasse, (Peace Street) and through John F. Kennedy Platz.

As I neared the camp the signs pointed out the SS Training School and housing for the SS guards. Then it left the paved road and went onto a trail which was uncovered in 2004. This trail is named Strasse der KZ – Opfer, or the Street of the Concentration Camp Victims, or perhaps better translated, “Sacrificial Victims” which was the path that the prisoners took from the SS barracks to the camp itself. It ended at the Hauptwache, the main guardhouse which also functioned as the entrance to the camp.

I went through the wrought iron gate with the cynical words Arbeit Mach Frei, work makes you free in the center of it. On entering to the right is the camp’s administration and headquarters building which now serves as a museum. Since I spent a lot of time at the museum last year I went left which took me down the western perimeter of the camp with its barbed wire fences and guard tower with the foundations of the camps prisoner barracks to my right.

Eventually I reached the location of the execution grounds and the crematorium. I had been there in 1996 but the weather was so cold and damp that I didn’t stay long and I have never found the pictures that I took then. Today I spent more time there, for it is truly the holy place in the camp. Even though there were a good number of people there, including a tour group, it was very quiet. I heard very few words as I walked the area. The first thing I did was to walk the execution grounds around the crematorium. In front of the building the former location of the camp gallows was marked. Behind the building was a memorial with a Star of David crowned with a Menorah and a marker to the thousands of unknown victims. Walking to the right of it down a gravel path that winds through a small grove of trees along the camp wall there were other markers to where the ashes of those murdered were unceremoniously deposited between 1933 and 1945.

But perhaps the most chilling marker was at the place where SS guards executed prisoners up close and personal with a pistol shot to the nape of the neck. The wall behind where they knelt still stands a long with the blood ditch. After that I walked to the crematorium. At the south end there is the delousing station. The camp was designed with a gas chamber for which there is no credible information of it ever being used. Instead, prisoners who were no longer fit for work were either given lethal injections in the infirmary, sent to extermination camps, or the former T4 Euthanasia site in Hardheim.

Had it been used the the procedure would have been much like the other camps where the unknowing prisoners walked in their camp uniforms which were then removed so they could go into a waiting area before they entered the “shower” or as it is marked over the entrance, the Brausbad. At Dachau this cynically named room was the a gas chamber that was designed to hold up to 150 prisoners. Once they were in the chamber the specially constructed doors which would make the chamber airtight were shut. Then SS men on the roof would release canisters of Zyklon-B gas into it. Within minutes the prisoners were dead, their bodies showing their final agony as many tried to escape the chamber. This was common at other camps as well as in the extermination camps.

Once the executioners had determined that the prisoners were dead and the gas was evacuated from the chamber, other prisoners would enter to remove the bodies to another waiting room, in which the bodies were staged before they were taken to the four chamber crematorium for cremation. Their ashes were then deposited in the areas nearby. At the end of the building another waiting room contained bodies of other prisoners who had been executed by pistol, or died of beatings, whippings, or disease.

The walk through those areas of the camp as well as the walk up the Path of Remembrance brought me close to tears at many points as I imagined what it must have been like. I was in a somber mood when I left that area and walked past the Russian Orthodox, Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish religious shines along the north edge of the camp. I think that the Jewish one was the most poignant to me. Across it were the words of Psalm 9:21 in German, and as one walks down into it a hole at the top off the monument’s roof allows light to stream into the darkness.

Finishing that I walked down the eastern wall and fence, once again noticing the guard towers, but about halfway down I turned right and walked over to the center street between the rows of prisoner barracks, the street known as Appelallee where the prisoners were assembled multiple times per day for head count and inspection purposes. As I walked down that street which is now lined with trees and markers denoting which prisoner block was at each spot I could almost see the images of the emaciated prisoners falling out for inspection and their brutal guards.

Finally I arrived back at the area in front of the headquarters building which due to a recent commemoration was decorated with wreaths from the German government, the State of Bavaria, Israel, Romania, and other nations. The words Never Again were prominently displayed. As I walked out of the camp I saw a dedication in English, German, French, and Russian which said:

May the example of those who were exterminated here between 1933 and 1945 because they resisted Naziism – help to unite the living for the defense of peace, and freedom and in respect for their fellow man.

I left the camp and decided to take the bus back to the train station where twenty minutes later I was back on a S-Bahn train to Munich.

You may wonder why I took the time to go into such detail about this walk. The answer is the same that I choose to walk civil war battlefields, it is to being to try to understand what the people there were seeing and experiencing. Of course there were the prisoners who were so savagely treated by their jailers. Then there were the bystanders, the citizens of Dachau and other German cities who watched as Jews, political enemies, and others were marched to the camp, which was not a secret installation. Finally, there were the perpetrators, very few of whom were punished for their actions.

But another reason is that the survivors, be they victims, perpetrators, or bystanders are rapidly passing away. Soon none will be left. When that happens it is up to us the living to ensure that this is not forgotten and that those murdered at Dachau, the other Concentration Camps, the extermination camps, and those killed by the murder squads that went from one end of Europe to the other in a systematic attempt to wipe every Jew that they could find off of the face of the earth. Yes, there were other victims, but the Nazi crusade against the Jews knew no boundaries, physical or time included. Unlike every other genocide it extended beyond national borders, or time; it was an eschatological crusade that by the will of Hitler was limited by only one factor, the complete military defeat that was inflicted on Nazi Germany by those who she attacked.

Finally, the story must be told because there are those who either claim it didn’t happen, or are tired of talking about it. In Germany those include leaders of the new-Nazi AfD (Alternative for Germany) Party. In the United States, Britain, and other nations there are members of many new-Nazi and Alt-Right groups who desire very much the same thing, but if decent people decide not to speak out, if we remain silent, there is nothing anywhere that will keep these ideological descendants of Hitler from beginning it again, if not to the Jews, to other despised racial, religious, ethnic, or ideological groups. We live in a world where demagogues take advantage of people’s legitimate anxieties and deeply ingrained prejudices to stir up ungodly anger and hatred in order to both gain new followers and to incite those followers to a campaign of violence.

Doctor Timothy Snyder wrote:

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

Today among other things I will visit sites associated with Sophie Scholl. She was a young Christian college student who led the opposition group the White Rose, which during 1941-1943 attempted to tell the truth about what the Nazis were doing. They were found out, and most after trial were beheaded in Munich. There is a small marker to her and the group just about a block from the hotel on the wall of a building. Her grave is in a cemetery less than a mile from the hotel.

The one thing about Germany as opposed to other nations, including Japan in China, Korea, and much of Asia, Russia and the mass exterminations of Stalin’s time, Belgium in the Congo, Britain in many of its colonies, much of Eastern Europe, Turkey, and yes, even the United States has faced its responsibility to remember the victims of their most evil and lawless government. If only other nations would take such deliberate steps to acknowledge their crimes. It may have taken over a generation for that to become a part of Germany’s being and part of their moral voice today. In Germany the monuments stand not to the perpetrators, but to the victims. An they are not just monuments, dedicated to memory, but the German words Denkmal and gedenkstatte contain the German word for think, meaning that they are not just there for people to remember a mythological past, but rather to be a part of the now living the history of those days for the living to ponder and to serve as a warning that it can happen again.

In a world where nothing is guaranteed and where those who deny or minimize the Holocaust attempt to find legitimacy and to silence good people I have to speak up. I cannot allow myself to become a bystander and let it all happen again, not to the Jews or anyone else.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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