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On the Trail of the White Rose: Resistance in the Face of Real Terror

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Just a few short thought for today following up on my article yesterday about my visit to Dachau. Today I had the chance to visit one of the memorials and a museum dedicated to the remembrance of Sophie Scholl and the members of the White Rose resistance group. The group was built around Scholl and a number of other students from the University in Munich during 1942 and 1943. I have written about them before but this was the first time that I was able to visit the location where much of their work was centered.


Theirs 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. 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, 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, Scholl, 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 Scholl 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.

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 is a lesson for us as well. I’ll write about that another time. 

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Presidential Twitter Storms and the Absence of Empathy

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As residents of southeast Texas struggled against the unrelenting rain and floods of former Hurricane Harvey the President was on a Twitter spree recommending a book by Milwaukee Sheriff David Clark (his other favorite criminal Sheriff after Joe Arpaio) his determination to build a border wall, NAFTA, a visit to Missouri, the 2016 election, a slam against Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, and a few treats bragging about the great response to the hurricane.

It was a banal display of sordid narcissism by a man who shows not a bit of empathy for people, many of who voted for him. But then that should not surprise anyone because his tweets and his public statements have always had a mocking tone towards those most loyal to him.

Gustave Gilbert, who served as a psychologist to the major Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg noted that in his observation and discussions with them he had to deal with the nature of evil. He had to find the common thread among them that allowed them to take part in the most horrific crimes against humanity conducted by an allegedly civilians, western and Christian country. He noted that in his dealings with them they had one thing in common, they had no empathy for their victims. He said, “evil is the absence of empathy.” The common psychological term for a person who cannot empathize with other people is a sociopath. That is what are President is. It is a trait that he shares with the vilest criminals of the Twentieth Century. Yesterday was just another day in the life of our sociopath in chief.

I was have a beer with some friends this afternoon and a friend showed me some Facebook post of a mutual friend. They were posts and memes that belittled and mocked the people fighting the rain and floods caused by Hurricane Harvey. I could only shake my head when she asked me if he was a Trump supporter, because indeed he is, and he was belittling many people who like him voted for and continued unreservedly to support the President, at least until Harvey, we’ll see if they remain supporters. However, That being said, I do think that many of the President’s supporters are so far in the tank for he that he could shoot an kill one of their family members and they would continue to support him.

As I thought of these things last night I was reminded of the words of Hannah Arendt: “When evil is allowed to compete with good, evil has an emotional populist appeal that wins out unless good men and women stand as a vanguard against abuse.”

Now honestly I don’t think that the majority of Trump supporters are themselves evil or even bad people. But that being said I do believe that quite a few of the, perhaps a majority of them have surrendered to taking the path of least resistance and looking out for what they think are their interests first, even if the result of their decisions hurt people who are much like them.

As Arendt said, “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

That is what we are watching happen before our very eyes. Some might claim ignorance, or claim that they are non-political and are in no position to judge the morality of this President and his administration, but that is the refuge of the coward. Karl Popper noted “Ignorance is not a simple lack of knowledge but an active aversion to knowledge, the refusal to know, issuing from cowardice, pride, or laziness of mind.”

The fact is that today, like in Germany between 1933 and 1945 no one can claim ignorance about the nature and character of our President, but if they don’t know it is simply cause they do not want to know, and for those in positions of authority who turn a blind eye, what Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect and later armaments minister wrote “…being in a position to know and nevertheless shunning knowledge creates direct responsibility for the consequences…”

It is lack of empathy, an active aversion to truth, shunning knowledge, and perhaps worse, a refusal to know when in a position to know which allow people to look the other way in the face of evil and injustice.

Until tomorrow.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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A Contempt for Facts and Defense of Nazis: the President’s Response to Charlottesville 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I feel like I now live in a alternate universe where everything looks like it is supposed to but at the same time everything is different. This has been particularly striking apparent to me some since the Nazi caused violence in Charlottesville and the President’s multiple responses, ending with yesterday’s news conference in which he deflected the blame for that violence onto what he called “the alt-left.”

Honestly I had a hard time believing this was real, but it is, and now I must continue to speak out. If I don’t I will be as guilty before the bar of justice and humanity as the President and his apologists. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: 

“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.” 

The President is a Nationalist who by his words and actions seems to ally himself with the White Nationalists of the Alt-Right. He does his best not to criticize them and when he does he blames their (and his) opponents using a language of moral equivalence. Hannah Arendt wrote: 

“Before mass leaders seize the power to fit reality to their lies, their propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such, for in their opinion fact depends entirely on the power of the man who can fabricate it.” 

It is hard for me to imagine any leader in American history who fits Arendt’s description better than President Trump. 

I was aghast when I heard President Trump’s third set of remarks about the Nazi caused violence and death in Charlottesville this weekend. I hardly could believe my ears and just shook my heard when I read the complete transcript. I never believed that I would ever hear any American President do his utmost to deflect the blame off of Nazis and Nazi sympathizers than I heard today. At the same time I had no doubt that this would happen at some point as since the President first announced his candidacy in 2015 I have been saying it, even here on this website, but every time I wrote about it I wanted to be wrong. Sadly I wasn’t wrong and now the President has a news conference and blames everyone but the Nazis for the violence, insisting that there were some “very good people among them” even as he blame liberals of the fictional “alt-left” for what happened.

Yesterday the President held a news conference in which he said that the ideology of the Alt-Right, including the KKK and the Nazis was against American values. I watched it and it seemed forced as he read it from a teleprompter. It sounded so forced that Richard Spencer, one of the leading Alt-Right agitators said that he didn’t believe the President’s words were sincere. 

Today proved that the Nazi was absolutely right about the President. The press conference was a not only a public relations and political disaster for the President, but it covered him in disgrace and dishonor. It also embarrassed the country in the eyes of the world. It was unbelievable. 

The only people who seem to be happy are the Nazis of the Alt-Right who praised the President for his “honesty and courage.” 

The President and his Nazi like apologists have turned their words to reject and demonize legitimate opposition in order to deflect criticism from themselves. In his book On Tyranny Timothy Snyder wrote about how Hitler did this in Nazi Germany:

“Victor Klemperer, a literary scholar of Jewish origin, turned his philological training against Nazi propaganda. He noticed how Hitler’s language rejected legitimate opposition: The people always meant some people and not others (the president uses the word in this way), encounters were always struggles (the president says winning), and any attempt by free people to understand the world in a different way was defamation of the leader (or, as the president puts it, libel).”

As I said, the only people defending him are the Nazis of the Alt-Right and the Court Evangelicals who have been his most stalwart supports. There seems to be nothing that he can do to disappoint them and they quickly jump to his defense using the same arguments of moral equivalence that that the President does. The former are Nazis whether they assume the title or not, the latter are no better than the German church leaders who encouraged their flocks to support Hitler and refused to speak out against the crimes of the Nazis. 

Yesterday the President lost any remaining credibility he had in terms of upholding his office and defending the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. 

God help us,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Trump and “Total Solutions” 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

On this day in 1941 it appeared to Hitler and his henchmen that the Wehrmacht would soon defeat Stalin’s Red Army and Complete Hitler’s conquest of the European continent. In the cold blooded calculations of the Nazis it was time to begin the planning to settle their accounts with the Jews. On that day, seventy-six years ago Herman Goering, acting on the orders of Adolf Hilter sent the following order to Reinhard Heydrich, the head of Himmler’s Sicherheitsdienst and the Reichssicherheitshauptamt or Reichs Security Main Office: 

Berlin, July 31st 1941

To: Gruppenfuhrer Heydrich

Supplementing the task assigned to you by the decree of January 24th 1939, to solve the Jewish problem by means of evacuation and emigration in the best possible way by according to present conditions, I hereby charge you to carry out preparations as regards organizational, financial, and material matters for a total solution (Gesamtlosung) of the Jewish question in all the territories of Europe under German occupation.

Where the competency of other organizations touches on this matter, the organizations are to collaborate. 

I charge you further to submit to me as soon as possible a general plan of the administrative material and financial measures necessary for the carrying out the desired final solution (Endlosung) of the Jewish question.”

Goering

That order set the stage for the completion of a program of mass killing that had already began as Heydrich’s Einsatzgruppen followed the Wehrmacht into the Soviet Union killing hundreds of thousands of Jews up close and personal. The order would eventually form the basis of the final solution which would be fully implemented as policy after the Wansee Conference of January 20th 1942 and Heydrich’s killing by Czech commandos not long afterward. During that time men who had previously unblemished records of service sacrificed their sacred honor to carry out Hitler’s decrees, while many more remained as silent witnesses of their evil deeds. 

The German program of genocide was replicated by Stalin against Jews and other non-Russians of the Societ Union, without the Nazi’s racial bloodlust. 

Timothy Snyder in his book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin wrote something that we should be concerned with today as Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin each work to secure their greatness on the lives of others deemed to be their enemies: 

“Dead human beings provided retrospective arguments for the rectitude of policy. Hitler and Stalin thus shared a certain politics of tyranny: they brought about catastrophes, blamed the enemy of their choice, and then used the death of millions to make the case that their policies were necessary or desirable. Each of them had a transformative utopia, a group to be blamed when its realization proved impossible, and then a policy of mass murder that could be proclaimed as a kind of ersatz victory.”

So far only Putin has used a policy of mass murder to achieve his goals, but if actions follow words, then President Trump will not be far behind his Russian tutor in tyranny. The President has already named who he blames for his failures: liberals, Democrats, blacks, LGBTQ people, Mexican and other Hispanic immigrants, Muslims, women, the news media, educators, scientists, and more recently the former GOP mainstream headed by Senators John McCain, Susan Collins, Lisa, Murkowski, and his former chief of staff Reince Priebus. 

In the past few days I know of a number of politically liberal military officers, all junior chaplains, whose conservative chaplain superiors are threatening their careers and freedom to voice their faith online, simply because they and their churches stand against Trump’s latest attack on transgender military personnel. This, despite the fact that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has said that as of now there is no change in policy towards transgender personnel and the fact that chaplains may faithfully stand by and proclaim their churches or religions teachings, even if they conflict with the views of those in power. 

My question is simple: If the President continues threatening American citizens, will he finally decide that his opponents need to be liquidated to achieve his goals? In light of the President’s words and tirades against his opponents, which grow increasingly more violent on a daily basis, this is a fair, if still hypothetical question. But even so, since he, and many of his supporters openly speak of using violence against their opposition, and voice their admiration for Putin, Turkey’s Erdogin, and other dictators, it must be asked especially when a Fox News host, Jesse Watters, even said “A lot of people wish President Trump was a dictator…” 

A dictator? If I recall correctly our founders warned of us of this day as they debated the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

I just wonder, if the President were to give such orders, just who in his administration or among its allies will be the modern Goering and Heydrich? Who will be the men, or women, who given the chance would order, coordinate, and maybe even kill for the President to set the stage whatever final solution he is attempting to achieve. I wonder who will write the order after Trump tweets it, and who will sell their souls to execute it. Honestly, I don’t know who will eventually do that. All I know is that I take my lead from General Ludwig Beck who resigned his office rather than lead an invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1938 and who gave up his life in the attempt to overthrow Hitler in July of 1944: 

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

I do hope others will do the same if the President issues orders that are illegal, unconstitutional, or go against American values or international law. There was a time that I could not imagine that happening, but with every passing day of the Trump presidency I become less sure of that. 

Likewise, I wonder who will get the blame for the catastrophes unleashed by our President, but based on his past actions and current words, there is one person that will not accept any blame, and that is the President. He never has in done so in any private, public, or political venue. 

So in the midst of this I am reminded of the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and I must ask the question he did: 

“We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds; we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretence; 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?”

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

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How Will History Judge Us? Operation Valkyrie at 73


                                                                                         Henning Von Trescow 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Seventy-three years ago today a number of German military officers as well as civilian officials attempted to assassinate Adolf Hitler in an attempt to overthrow the Nazi Regime and end the Second World War. Ironically many had been supporters of Hitler’s early policies and few had spoken out against the Nazi seizure of power, elimination of political opponents, the outlawing of trade unions and opposition political parties. Most remained silent when Hitler conducted his brutal Night of the Long Knives massacre of 1934 and took the personal oath of loyalty to him after Hindenburg died soon after. 

Some would recognize the threat but offered little resistance as Hitler consolidated his power and began to begin his reign of terror at home even as he began to conquer swaths of Europe without firing a shot. Early plans to overthrow Hitler collapsed because his opponents, so used to being loyal and obedient servants of the State were paralyzed whenever an unexpected contingency arose. 

Eleven years after Hitler made opposition political parties illegal and almost five years after he invaded Poland to begin the Second World War a plan called Operation Valkyrie was launched. Two of the key plotters were Colonel Claus Schenk Von Stauffenberg, Major General Henning Von Trescow, and retired General Ludwig Beck. 

Most understood that the attempt would likely fail, but they were determined to try. Von Trescow said: “It is almost certain that we will fail. But how will future history judge the German people, if not even a handful of men had the courage to put an end to that criminal?” 

When Stauffenberg detonated a bomb at Hitler’s East Prussian Wolf’s Lair headquarters Beck and other conspirators attempted to seize power in Berlin. However their plans went awry. Hitler survived the blast. Josef Goebbels secured Berlin, and the plot fell apart. Stauffenberg and a number of conspirators were shot that night, Beck attempted to commit suicide but failed and was killed. Over 5,000 more conspirators, suspects, and other Nazi opponents, including some of the most respected officers of the Wehrmacht were tried in show trials and executed. Some like Field Marshal Erwin Rommel were given the choice of committing suicide to save their families. Von Trescow, who killed himself on the Russian front following the collapse of the coup noted: “We have to show the world that not all of us are like him. Otherwise, this will always be Hitler’s Germany.” Beck notes something that has become a key part of my military ethic: “It is a lack of character and insight, when a soldier in high command sees his duty and mission only in the context of his military orders without realizing that the highest responsibility is to the people of his country.” 

Fabian von Schlabrendorff, a conspirator who was tortured by the Gestapo, said: “Obedience is the rule. However, there are cases which demand disobedience. This has been uncontested in the Prussian Army. Blind obedience has its origin with Hitler.” 

When Hitler issued the Commisar or Criminal Order on the eve of Operation Barbarossa in 1941, Von Trescow told a colleague:

“Remember this moment. If we don’t convince the field marshal (Fedor von Bock) to fly to Hitler at once and have these orders (Commissar Order) canceled, the German people will be burdened with a guilt the world will not forget in a hundred years. This guilt will fall not only on Hitler, Himmler, Göring, and their comrades but on you and me, your wife and mine, your children and mine, that woman crossing the street, and those children over there playing ball.” 

Unlike Hitler’s Germany Americans still have some checks and balances to guard against a President attempting to gain control of the country the way Hitler did Germany, but those checks and balances are delicate, fragile, and if neglected will fail in the crisis. If they do will we have the courage to stand for the principles and ideals of our country? That we do not yet know. 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.”

But there are prices to be paid for obedience to unlawful orders and the actions of a criminal state, as well as a price to be paid for disobedience. The men who belatedly and against a nation that was still devoted to Hitler understood those questions and acted accordingly. I do hope that none of us have to face what these men did between 1933 and 1944, but if we do, will we stand the test? 

That my friends is a question we may all have to answer sooner than we think. 
Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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What Does it take to Become a War Criminal? 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Over the past few days I have been writing about the German invasion of the Soviet Union and the fact that senior leaders of the Wehrmacht actively cooperated with the crimes of the Nazi regime against the Jews, Soviet prisoners of war, and Soviet citizens. I have pointed out that Hitler’s ideology of the racial superiority of his Aryan Master Race and the corresponding view that the Jews and Slavs were untermenschen or subhuman justified the most extreme measures that the Nazis used to kill millions of innocent people through extermination, ethnic cleansing, and extermination. 

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


                                                                                       Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel 

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

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

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

                                                                                  Field Marshal Walter Von Reichenau 

Field Marshal Walter Reichenau issued what is something’s known as the Severity Order to his 6th Army which was part of Field Marshal Gerd Von Rundstedt’s Army Group South. Von Rundstedt, who was not a Nazi and who maintained his reputation after the war expressed his “complete agreement” with it and urged other subordinates to issue similar orders. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like Von Rundstedt, Manstein too would be rehabilitated and for the most part his complicity in Hitler’s racial and ideological war forgotten. 


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

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

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

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

                                                                                                 The Rape of Nanking 

One has to ask what it takes for otherwise ordinary and law abiding people to carry out crimes of such magnitude. I do believe that the answer is found in the racial ideology that posits certain races as being less than human. The examples of such belief in action litter human history and are not limited to the Germans of the Nazi era. The disturbing thing as that the men who perpetrated the Nazi crimes against humanity and genocide were not unique. The actions of the Japanese army in China, Korea, and Southeast Asia to include the Rape of Nanking and their Unit 731; the American genocide committed against the Native American tribes and the enslavement of Blacks; the extermination of the Herero in German Southwest Africa, the Rwandan genocide, the mass killings of Bosnians by Bosnian Serbs,  the Armenian genocide committed by the Turks, and far too many more examples show this to be the case. 

I think one of our problems is that we want to believe that evil is simply done be evil people. That is why when we see a Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, or the monsters of the so-called Islamic State, we are often strangely comforted. This is often because we can point to a single person with a wicked ideology and say “they are evil,” all the while forgetting that they are, or were, like us, also human. 



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

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

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

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

“human behavior is fragile and unpredictable and often at the mercy of the situation. Every individual still, of course, has a choice as to how to behave, it’s just that for many people the situation is the key determinate in that choice.” The German military officers who took part in the campaign in the East were terrifyingly normal. They were raised in an advanced society, highly cultured, well educated, and raised in the cradle of Protestantism. Yet many of them became willing participants in crimes of their nation that are unimaginable. But the fact is that the character of nations can be as fragile as that if individuals. As Americans we like to think that we are different but our history often belies this, even our military history and this is part of our conundrum. 

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote of the struggle:

 “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

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

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

This is something that we most ponder because it would not take much in our present day where the old ethnic race hatreds, religious hatreds, and resurgent nationalism are again raising their head not only in our own country, but around the world. I will address this in the recent American context next week. So until tomorrow, when I publish something more personal and unrelated to this subject.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Devil’s Details: Hitler’s Criminal Orders and his Obedient Generals


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday I posted a short article, well by my standards, dealing with the criminal nature of Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union. The words of Hitler are damning, but even worse are the words and actions of the Generals who should have known better.

Hitler’s war against the Soviet Union was something that he had dreamed of long before he took power. I wrote about it in Mein Kampf and spoke about it many times. He wrote: “The fight against Jewish world Bolshevism requires a clear attitude toward Soviet Russia. You cannot drive out the Devil with Beelzebub.” He intended that those who served him would carry out his orders implicitly without regard to traditional morality, ethics, or law. His war against the Soviet Union was unlike any in history.

Richard Evans notes that Mein Kampf clearly enunciated that “Hitler considered racial conflict…the essence of history, and the Jews to be the sworn enemy of the German race ….” And that the “Jews were now linked indissolubly in Hitler’s mind with “Bolshevism” and “Marxism.” When Hitler became the dictator of Germany “his ideology and strategy became the ends and means of German foreign policy.” His aims were clear, Hitler remarked to Czech Foreign Minister Chvalkovsky on 21 January 1939: “We are going to destroy the Jews.” It was clear that Hitler understood his own role in this effort noting to General Gotthard Heinrici that “he was the first man since Charlemagne to hold unlimited power in his own hand. He did not hold this power in vain, he said, but would know how to use it in the struggle for Germany…”


Hitler’s “ideological and grandiose objectives, expressed in racial and semi-mystical terms, made the war absolute.” Field Marshal Keitel noted a speech in March 1941 where Hitler talked about the inevitability of conflict between “diametrically opposed ideologies” and that the “war was a fight for survival and that they dispense with their outdated and traditional ideas about chivalry and the generally accepted rules of warfare.” General Franz Halder, Chief of the OKH wrote in his War Dairy for that meeting: “Annihilating verdict on Bolshevism…the leaders must demand of themselves the sacrifice of understanding their scruples.”

Based on the concepts of Lebensraum (living space) and race, the German approach to war would combine “racism and political ideology” for the purpose of the “conquest of new living space in the east and its ruthless Germanization.” Hitler explained that the “struggle for the hegemony of the world will be decided in favor of Europe by the possession of the Russian space.” Territories conquered in the East by the Wehrmacht would be “Reich protectorates…and that these areas were to be deprived of anything in the nature of a Slav intelligentsia.”

This goal was manifest in the “Criminal Order” issued by OKW which stated that the war was “more than mere armed conflict; it is a collision between two different ideologies…The Bolshevist-Jewish intelligentsia must be eliminated….” The Slavic inhabitants of the conquered eastern lands would be killed or allowed to starve. This was directly tied in to the economic considerations of the Reich, which gave Germans priority in distribution of food, even that from the conquered lands. The Slavs, being untermenschen or sub-human in Nazi parlance, were simply excess mouths to feed and thus expendable. Starvation was a population control measure that supplemented other forms of annihilation, and it was cheaper than bullets. As Fest notes in Russia Hitler was “seeking nothing but “final solutions.” Despite the numerous post-war justifications and evasions of responsibility by various Wehrmacht generals; many of who found employment working for the Americans and British in the years following the war, the “Wehrmacht and army fell into line with Hitler because there was “a substantial measure of agreement of “ideological questions.”

Ideology was key to Hitler’s worldview and fundamental to understanding his actions in the war. However twisted Hitler’s ideological formulations were, he found men who willingly carried them out beyond the true believers of the Nazi faithful. They were embraced by much of the Army and Police, who would execute the campaigns in Poland and Russia in conjunction with the Einsatzgrüppen and Nazi party organizations.  In these organizations he found allies with pre-existing cultural, political and doctrinal understandings which allowed them to be willing participants in Hitler’s grand scheme of eastern conquest.


The lesson for today is that no tyrant bent on conquest or terror at home can do so without compliant members of the police, the military, the civil service, and the judiciary. As Timothy Snyder wrote: “If lawyers had followed the norm of no execution without trial, if doctors had accepted the rule of no surgery without consent, if businessmen had endorsed the prohibition of slavery, if bureaucrats had refused to handle paperwork involving murder, then the Nazi regime would have been much harder pressed to carry out the atrocities by which we remember it.” The German Generals also had their chances to stop the Hitler, but they became the men who made his conquests and genocide possible by carrying out his orders.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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