Tag Archives: Albert Speer

“Say I Slew them Not” The Individual Responsibility and Lies of the Nuremberg Defendants: Robert Jackson’s Closing Arguments, Part Three

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is the final installment of my introduction and comments regarding Supreme Court Justice and Chief American Prosecutor Robert Jackson’s closing arguments at Nuremberg.

In this final segment of his closing arguments, Jackson confronted the impossibility of a cabal of the most powerful members of the Nazi Party, the German Government, its Military, and Police organizations, the men closest to Adolf Hitler and the center of power in Germany who by their testimony knew nothing of what was going on in the country.

When one reads the transcripts of the trials as I am continuing to do in between reading other books, the defendants universal defense was that they knew nothing, or had learned of the Nazi crimes for the first time during the trial.

What is remarkable is that for every denial there was documented evidence to the contrary, that each in their own way were willing participants in the Nazi crimes. While they pointed fingers at the dead, like Joseph Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich, or unaccounted for like Martin Bormann, and on occasion the other defendants in the dock, each attempted to cover his tracks with lies and deception. Even Albert Speer, who was the only one of the defendants to openly admit his guilt during the trial engaged in deception.

The lies of these men and their brutal exposure before the watching world should serve as a warning to the leaders of nations, especially the nations which prosecuted these men, the foremost being the United States of America. Before the trial in the London agreement, Jackson noted:

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

I have served and continue to serve the United States, but my oath to the Constitution demands that I be intellectually honest and forthright in stating that the United States has not lived up to its founding principles or the words of Justice Jackson. During the Cold War the United States engaged in overthrowing foreign governments and replacing them with dictators more inclined to do our bidding, engineered the pretext to allow massive U. S. Military intervention in Vietnam, and after the Cold War used the real pretext of the terrorism of the 9-11-2001 attacks to invade Iraq, a country that was not involved. The list could go on and on, but because of the protections of the First Amendment, a free press has been able to expose many of those lies, even as the beast of corporate media egged on war like the Yellow Journalism of William Randolph Hearst during the run up to the Spanish American War.

Every government in every nation has engaged in some amount of lying to increase its power, influence, or to cover its malfeasance. The United States is not blameless, but too often Americans, ignorant or history, and the Constitution revel in the myth of American Exceptionalism to justify actions against other nations that do the same, that we have gone to war to confront or prosecuted as war criminals for doing. In fact, some of the Nazis in the dock at Nuremberg defended their actions by citing American history: Slavery, Jim Crow, the extermination of the Native American tribes, the American practice of eugenics, and medical experiments on racial minorities or the mentally ill, and the incarceration of Japanese Americans following Pearl Harbor to justify and defend their crimes, even as they denied their culpability for their crimes.

The Nazis in the dock at Nuremberg included true believers as well as opportunists. The were willing members of a regime founded upon lies. In defeat and on trial they would all repeat those lies, and add to them. Unfortunately, the current American President and his administration seem to be playing the same game with truth as the Nazis did. 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 man who can fabricate it.”

Truth and integrity are not fungible assets that one can abandon without consequences. Germany is still hampered in international relations as well as domestic politics by what the Nazis did. The shadows of the Nazi past still enshroud Germans who are two or three generations removed from the Nazi past. The great ethicist Sissela Bok wrote:

“Trust and integrity are precious resources, easily squandered, hard to regain. They can thrive only on a foundation of respect for veracity.” 

As I watch the American President and his consigliere’s of criminal corruption be exposed for what they are by a still free press, and a relentlessly honest special prosecutor, I am reminded of how Robert Jackson and the team of Allied prosecutors used the words and documents of the Nazis themselves to indict and convict them.

With that I give you Robert Jackson’s masterful dissection of the Nazis in the dock at Nuremberg’s Palace of Justice.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Record of Proceedings: July 26, 1946, continued:

Rudolf Hess

The zealot Hess, before succumbing to wanderlust, was the engineer tending the Party machinery, passing orders and propaganda down to the Leadership Corps, supervising every aspect of Party activities, and maintaining the organization as a loyal and ready instrument of power.

Joachim von Ribbentrop

When apprehensions abroad threatened the success of the Nazi regime for conquest, it was the double-dealing Ribbentrop, the salesman of deception, who was detailed to pour wine on the troubled waters of suspicion by preaching the gospel of limited and peaceful intentions.

Wilhelm Keitel

Keitel, the weak and willing tool, delivered the armed forces, the instrument of aggression, over to the Party and directed them in executing its felonious designs.

Ernst Kaltenbrunner

Kaltenbrunner, the grand inquisitor, assumed the bloody mantle of Heydrich to stifle opposition and terrorise into compliance, and buttressed the power of National Socialism on a foundation of guiltless corpses.

Alfred Rosenberg

It was Rosenberg, the intellectual high priest of the “master race”, who provided the doctrine of hatred which gave the impetus for the annihilation of Jewry, and who put his infidel theories into practice against the Eastern occupied territories. His woolly philosophy also added boredom to the long list of Nazi atrocities.

Hans Frank

The fanatical Frank, who solidified Nazi control by establishing the new order of authority without law, so that the will of the Party was the only test of legality, proceeded to export his lawlessness to Poland, which he governed with the lash of Caesar and whose population he reduced to sorrowing remnants.

Wilhelm Frick

Frick, the ruthless organiser, helped the Party to seize power, supervised the police agencies to ensure that it stayed in power, and chained the economy of Bohemia and Moravia to the German war machine.

Julius Streicher

Streicher, the venomous vulgarian, manufactured and distributed obscene racial libels which incited the populace to accept and assist the progressively savage operations of “race purification”.

Walter Funk

As Minister of Economics Funk accelerated the pace of rearmament, and as Reichsbank president banked for the SS the gold teeth-fillings of concentration camp victims -probably the most ghoulish collateral in banking history.

Hjalmar Schacht

It was Schacht, the facade of starched respectability, who in the early days provided the window-dressing, the bait for the hesitant, and whose wizardry later made it possible for Hitler to finance the colossal rearmament programme, and to do it secretly.

Karl Dönitz

Donitz, Hitler’s legatee of defeat, promoted the success of the Nazi aggressions by instructing his pack of submarine killers to conduct warfare at sea with the illegal ferocity of the jungle.

Erich Raeder

Raeder, the political admiral, stealthily built up the German Navy in defiance of the Versailles Treaty, and then put it to use in a series of aggressions which he had taken a leading part in planning.

Baldur von Schirach

Von Schirach, poisoner of a generation, initiated the German youth in Nazi doctrine, trained them in legions for service in the SS and Wehrmacht, and delivered them up to the Party as fanatic, unquestioning executors of its will.

Fritz Sauckel

Sauckel, the greatest and cruellest slaver since the Pharaohs of Egypt, produced desperately needed manpower by driving foreign peoples into the land of bondage on a scale unknown even in the ancient days of tyranny in the kingdom of the Nile.

Alfred Jodl

Jodl, betrayer of the traditions of his profession, led the Wehrmacht in violating its own code of military honour in order to carry out the barbarous aims of Nazi policy.

Franz von Papen

Von Papen, pious agent of an infidel regime, held the stirrup while Hitler vaulted into the saddle, lubricated the Austrian annexation, and devoted his diplomatic cunning to the service of Nazi objectives abroad.

Arthur Seyess-Inquart

Seyss-Inquart, spearhead of the Austrian fifth column, took over the government of his own country only to make a present of it to Hitler, and then, moving north, brought terror and oppression to the Netherlands and pillaged its economy for the benefit of the German juggernaut.

Konstantin von Neurath

Von Neurath, the old-school diplomat, who cast the pearls of his experience before the Nazis, guided Nazi diplomacy in the early years, soothed the fears of prospective victims, and as Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia strengthened the German position for the coming attack on Poland.

Albert Speer

Speer, as Minister of Armaments and Production, joined in planning and executing the programme to dragoon prisoners of war and foreign workers into German war industries, which waxed in output while the labourers waned in starvation.

Hans Fritzsche

Fritzsche, radio propaganda chief, by manipulation of the truth goaded German public opinion into frenzied support of the regime, and anaesthetised the independent judgement of the population so that they did their masters’ bidding without question.

Martin Bormann

Bormann, who has not accepted our invitation to this reunion, sat at the throttle of the vast and powerful engine of the Party, guiding it in the ruthless execution of Nazi policies, from the scourging of the Christian Church to the lynching of captive Allied airmen.

The activities of all these defendants, despite their varied backgrounds and talents, were joined with the efforts of other conspirators not now in the. dock, who played still other essential roles: They blend together into one consistent and militant pattern animated by a common objective to reshape the map of Europe by force of arms. Some of these defendants were ardent members of the Nazi movement from its birth. Others, less fanatical, joined the common enterprise later, after success had made participation attractive by the promise of rewards. This group of latter-day converts remedied a crucial defect in the ranks of the original true believers, for as Dr. Siemers has pointed out in his summation:

“… There were no specialists among the National Socialists for the particular tasks. Most of the National Socialist collaborators did not previously follow a trade requiring technical education.”

It was the fatal weakness of the early Nazi band that it lacked technical competence. It could not from among its own ranks make up a government capable of carrying out all the projects necessary to realize its aims. Therein lies the special crime and betrayal of men like Schacht and von Neurath, Speer and von Papen, Raeder and Donitz, Keitel and Jodl. It is doubtful whether the Nazi master plan could have succeeded without their specialized intelligence which they so willingly put at its command. They did so with knowledge of its announced aims and methods, and continued their services after practice had confirmed the direction in which they were tending. Their superiority to the average run of Nazi mediocrity is not their excuse. It is their condemnation.

The dominant fact which stands out from all the thousands of pages of the record of this trial is that the central crime of the whole group of Nazi crimes -the attack on the peace of the world -was clearly and deliberately planned. The beginning of these wars of aggression was not an unprepared and spontaneous springing to arms by a population excited by some current indignation. A week before the invasion of Poland Hitler told his military commanders:

“I shall give a propagandist cause for starting war -never mind whether it be plausible or not. The victor shall not be asked later on whether we told the truth or not. In starting and making a war, it is not the right that matters, but victory.”

The propagandist incident was duly provided by dressing concentration camp inmates in Polish uniforms, in order to create the appearance of a Polish attack on a German frontier radio station. The plan to occupy Belgium, Holland, and Luxembourg first appeared as early as August, 1938, in connection with the plan for attack on Czechoslovakia. The intention to attack became a programme in May, 1939, when Hitler told his commanders that:

“The Dutch and Belgian air bases must be occupied by armed forces. Declarations of neutrality must be ignored.”

Thus, the follow-up wars were planned before the first was launched. These were the most carefully plotted wars in all history. Scarcely a step in their terrifying succession and progress failed to move according to the master blueprint or the subsidiary schedules and timetables until long after the crimes of aggression were consummated. Nor were the war crimes and the crimes against humanity unplanned, isolated or spontaneous offences. Apart from our undeniable evidence of their plotting, it is sufficient to ask whether six million people could be separated from the population of several nations on the basis of their blood and birth, could be destroyed and their bodies disposed of, unless the operation had fitted into the general scheme of government. Could the enslavement of five millions of labourers, their impressment into service, their transportation to Germany, their allocation to work where they would be most useful, their maintenance, if slow starvation can be called maintenance, and their guarding have been accomplished if it did not fit into the common plan? Could hundreds of concentration camps located throughout Germany, built to accommodate hundreds of thousands of victims, and each requiring labour and materials for construction, manpower to operate and supervise, and close gearing into the economy -could such efforts have been expended under German autocracy if they had not suited the plan? Has the Teutonic passion for organization suddenly become famous for its toleration of non-conforming activity? Each part of the plan fitted into every other. The slave labour programme meshed with the needs of industry and agriculture, and these in turn synchronised with the military machine. The elaborate propaganda apparatus geared with the programme to dominate the people and incite them to a war which their sons would have to fight. The armament industries were fed by the concentration camps. The concentration camps were fed by the Gestapo. The Gestapo was fed by the spy system of the Nazi Party. Nothing was permitted under the Nazi iron rule that was not in accordance with the programme.

Everything of consequence that took place in this regimented society was but a manifestation of a premeditated and unfolding purpose to secure the Nazi State a place in the sun by casting all others into darkness.

COMMON DEFENCES AGAINST THE CHARGE OF COMMON RESPONSIBILITY

The defendants meet this overwhelming case, some by admitting a limited, responsibility, some by putting the blame on others, and some by taking the position, in effect, that while there have been enormous crimes there are no criminals. Time will not permit me to examine each individual and particular defence, but there are certain lines of defence common to so many cases that they deserve some consideration.

Counsel for many of the defendants seek to dismiss the charge of a common plan or conspiracy on the ground that the pattern of the Nazi plan does not fit into the concept of conspiracy applicable in German law to the plotting of a highway robbery or a burglary. Their concept of conspiracy is in the terms of a stealthy meeting in the dead of night, in a secluded hide-out, in which a group of felons plot every detail of a specific crime. The Charter forestalls resort to such parochial and narrow concepts of conspiracy taken from local law by using the additional and non-technical term, “common plan”. Omitting entirely the alternative term of “conspiracy”, the Charter reads that “leaders, organisers, instigators, and accomplices participating in the formulation or execution of a common plan to commit” any of the described crimes “are responsible for all acts performed by any persons in execution of such plan”.

The Charter concept of a common plan really represents the conspiracy principle in an international context. A common plan or conspiracy to seize the machinery of a State, to commit crimes against the peace of the world, to blot a race out of existence, to enslave millions, and to subjugate and loot whole nations cannot be thought of in the same terms as the plotting of petty crimes, although the same underlying principles are applicable. Little gangsters may plan who will carry a pistol and who a stiletto, who will approach a victim from the front and who from behind, and where they will waylay him. But in planning war, the pistol becomes a Wehrmacht, the stiletto a Luftwaffe. Where to strike is not a choice of dark alleys, but a matter of world geography. The operation involves the manipulation of public opinion, the law of the State, the police power, industry, and finance. The baits and bluffs must be translated into a nation’s foreign policy. Likewise, the degree of stealth which points to a guilty purpose in, a conspiracy will depend upon its object. The clandestine preparations of a State against international society, although camouflaged to those abroad, might be quite open and notorious among its own people. But stealth is not an essential ingredient of such planning. Parts of the common plan may be proclaimed from the housetops, as anti-Semitism was, and parts of it kept under cover, as rearmament for a long time was. It is a matter of strategy how much of the preparation shall be made public, as was Goering’s announcement in 1935 of the creation of an air force, and how much shall be kept covert, as in the case of the Nazis’ use of shovels to teach “labour corps” the manual of arms. The forms of this grand type of conspiracy are amorphous, the means are opportunistic, and neither can divert the law from getting at the substance of things.

The defendants counted, however, that there could be no conspiracy involving aggressive war because (1) none of the Nazis wanted war; (2) rearmament was only intended to provide the strength to make Germany’s voice heard in the family of nations; and (3) the wars were not in fact aggressive wars but were defensive wars against a “Bolshevik menace”.

When we analyse the argument that the Nazis did not want war it comes down, in substance, to this: “The record looks bad indeed -objectively -but when you consider the state of my mind -subjectively I hated war. I knew the horrors of war. I wanted peace.” I am not so sure of this. I am even less willing to accept Goering’s description of the General Staff as pacifist. However, it will not injure our case to admit that as an abstract proposition none of these defendants liked war. But they wanted things which they knew they could not get without war. They wanted their neighbours’ lands and goods. Their philosophy seems to be that if the neighbours would not acquiesce, then they are the aggressors and are to blame for the war. The fact is, however, that war never became terrible to the Nazis until it came home to them, until it exposed their deceptive assurances to the German people that German cities, like the ruined one in which we meet, would be invulnerable. From then on, war was terrible.

But again the defendants claim: “To be sure, we were building guns. But not to shoot. They were only to give us weight in negotiating.” At its best this argument amounts to a contention that the military forces were intended for blackmail, not for battle. The threat of military invasion which forced the Austrian Anschluss, the threats which preceded Munich, and Goering’s threat to bomb the beautiful city of Prague if the President of Czechoslovakia did not consent to the Protectorate, are examples of what the defendants had in mind when they talked of arming to back negotiation.

But from the very nature of German demands, the day was bound to come when some country would refuse to buy its peace, would refuse to pay Dane-geld,

“For the end of that game is oppression and shame, And the nation that plays it is lost.”

Did these defendants then intend to withdraw German demands, or was Germany to enforce them and manipulate propaganda so as to place the blame for the war on the nation so unreasonable as to resist? Events have answered that question, and documents such as Admiral Carl’s memorandum, earlier quoted, leave no doubt that the events occurred as anticipated.

But some of the defendants argue that the wars were not aggressive and were only intended to protect Germany against some eventual danger from the “menace of Communism”, which was something of an obsession with many Nazis.

At the outset this argument of self-defence fails because it completely ignores this damning combination of facts clearly established in the record: first, the enormous and rapid German preparations for war; second, the repeatedly avowed intentions of the German leaders to attack, which I have previously cited; and third, the fact that a series of wars occurred in which German forces struck the first blows, without warning, across the borders of other nations.

Even if it could be shown -which it cannot -that the Russian war was really defensive, such is demonstrably not the case with those wars which preceded it.

It may also be pointed out that even those who would have you believe that Germany was menaced by Communism also compete with each other in describing their opposition to the disastrous Russian venture. Is it reasonable that they would have opposed that war if it were undertaken in good faith in self-defence.

It is sought to balance the frivolous self-defence theory against the facts, as advocates often do, by resort to a theory of law. Dr. Jahrreiss, in his scholarly argument for the defence, rightly points out that no treaty provision and no principle of law denied Germany, as a sovereign nation, the right of self-defence. He follows with the assertion for which there is authority in classic International Law, that:

“… every State is alone judge of whether in a given case it is waging a war of self-defence”.

It is not necessary to examine the validity of an abstract principle which does not apply to the facts of our case. I do not doubt that if a nation arrived at a judgement that it must resort to war in self-defence, because of conditions affording reasonable grounds for such an honest judgement, any Tribunal would accord it great and perhaps conclusive weight, even if later events proved that judgement mistaken.

But the facts in this case call for no such deference to honest judgement because no such judgement was ever pretended, much less honestly made.

In all the documents which disclose the planning and rationalisation of these attacks, not one sentence has been or can be cited to show an honest fear of attack. It may be that statesmen of other nations lacked the courage forthrightly and fully to disarm. Perhaps they suspected the secret rearmament of Germany. But if they hesitated to abandon arms, they did not hesitate to neglect them. Germany well knew that her former enemies had allowed their armaments to fall into decay, so little did they contemplate another war. Germany faced a Europe that not only was unwilling to attack, but was too weak and pacifist even adequately to defend, and went to the very verge of dishonour, if not beyond, to buy its peace. The minutes we have shown you of the Nazis’ secret conclaves identify no potential attacker. They bristle with the spirit of aggression and not of defence. They contemplate always territorial expansion, not the maintenance of territorial integrity.

Minister of War von Blomberg, in his 1937 directive prescribing general principles for the preparation for war of the armed forces, has given the lie to these feeble claims of self-defence. He stated at that time:

“The general political situation justifies the supposition that Germany need not consider an attack on any side. Grounds for this are, in addition to the lack of desire for war in almost all nations, particularly the Western Powers, the deficiencies in the preparedness for war in a number of States and of Russia in particular.”

Nevertheless, he recommended: “a continuous preparation for war in order to (a) counter-attack at any time, and (b) to enable the military exploitation of politically favourable opportunities should they occur”.

If these defendants may now cynically plead self-defence, although no honest need of self-defence was asserted or contemplated by any responsible leader at that time, it reduces non-aggression treaties to a legal absurdity. They become additional instruments of deception in the hands of the aggressor, and traps for well-meaning nations. If there be in non-aggression pacts an implied condition that each nation may make a bona fide judgement as to the necessity for self-defence against imminent threatened attack, it certainly cannot be invoked to shelter those who never made any such judgement at all.

In opening this case I ventured to predict that there would be no serious denial that the crimes charged were committed, and that the issue would concern the responsibility of particular defendants. The defendants have fulfilled that prophecy. Generally, they do not deny that these things happened, but it is contended that they “just happened”, and that they were not the result of a common plan or conspiracy.

One of the chief reasons the defendants say why there was no conspiracy is the argument that conspiracy was impossible with a dictator. The argument runs that they all had to obey Hitler’s orders, which had the force of law m the German State, and hence obedience could not be made the basis of a criminal charge. In this way it is explained that while there have been wholesale killings, there have been no murderers.

This argument is an effort to evade Article 8 of the Charter, which provides that the order of the Government or of a superior shall not free a defendant from responsibility but can only be considered in mitigation. This provision of the Charter corresponds with the justice and with the realities of the situation, as indicated in defendant Speer’s description of what he considered to be the common responsibility of the leaders of the German nation; he said that … with reference to decisive matters, there was a joint responsibility. There must be a joint responsibility among the leaders, because who else could take the responsibility for the development of events, if not the close associates who work with and around the head of the State?

And again he told the Tribunal that … it was impossible after the catastrophe to evade this joint responsibility, and that if the war had been won, the leaders would also have laid claim to joint responsibility.

Like much of defence counsel’s abstract arguments, the contention that the absolute power of Hitler precluded a conspiracy crumbles in the face of the facts of record. The Fuehrerprinzip of absolutism was itself a part of the common plan, as Goering has pointed out. The defendants may have become the slaves of a dictator, but he was their dictator. To make him such was, as Goering has testified, the object of the Nazi movement from the beginning. Every Nazi took this oath:

“I pledge eternal allegiance to Adolf Hitler. I pledge unconditional obedience to him and the Fuehrers appointed by him.”

Moreover, they forced everybody else in their power to take it. This oath was illegal under German law, which made it criminal to become a member of an organization in which obedience to “unknown superiors or unconditional obedience to known superiors is pledged”. These men destroyed free government in Germany and now plead to be excused from responsibility because they became slaves. They are in the position of the boy of fiction who murdered his father and mother and then pleaded for leniency because he was an orphan.

What these men have overlooked is that Adolf Hitler’s acts are their acts. It was these men among millions of others, and it was these men leading millions of others, who built up Adolf Hitler and vested in his psychopathic personality not only innumerable lesser decisions but the supreme issue of war or peace. They intoxicated him with power and adulation. They fed his hates and aroused his fears. They put a loaded gun in his eager hands. It was left to Hitler to pull the trigger, and when he did they all at that time approved. His guilt stands admitted, by some defendants reluctantly, by some vindictively. But his guilt is the guilt of the whole dock, and of every man in it.

But it is urged that these defendants could not be in agreement on a common plan or conspiracy because they were fighting among themselves or belonged to different factions or cliques. Of course, it is not necessary that men should agree on everything in order to agree on enough things to make them liable for a criminal conspiracy. Unquestionably there were conspiracies within the conspiracy, and intrigues and rivalries and battles for power. Schacht and Goering disagreed, but over which of them should control the economy, not over whether the economy should be regimented for war. Goering claims to have departed from the plan because, through Dahlerus, he conducted some negotiations with men of influence in England just before the Polish war. But it is perfectly clear that this was not an effort to prevent aggression against Poland but to make that aggression successful and safe by obtaining English neutrality. Rosenberg and Goering may have had some differences as to how stolen art should be distributed, but they had none about how it should be stolen. Jodl and Goering may have disagreed about whether to denounce the Geneva Convention, but they never disagreed about violating it. And so it goes through the whole long and sordid story. Nowhere do we find a single instance where any one of the defendants stood up against the rest and said: “This thing is wrong and I will not take part in it.” Wherever they differed, their differences were as to method or jurisdiction, but always within the framework of the common plan.

Some of the defendants also contend that in any event there was no conspiracy to commit war crimes or crimes against humanity because Cabinet members never met with the military commanders to plan these acts. But these crimes were only the inevitable and incidental results of the plan to commit the aggression for purposes of Lebensraum. Hitler stated, at a conference with his commanders, that:

“The main objective in Poland is the destruction of the enemy and not the reaching of a certain geographical line.”

Frank picked up the tune and suggested that when their usefulness was exhausted,

“… then, for all I care, mincemeat can be made of the Poles and Ukrainians and all the others who run around here -it does not matter what happens”.

Reichskommissar Koch in the Ukraine echoed the refrain:

“I will draw the very last out of this country. I did not come to spread bliss ….”

This was Lebensraum in its seamy side. Could men of their practical intelligence expect to get neighboring lands free from the claims of their tenants without committing crimes against humanity?

The last stand of each defendant is that even if there was a conspiracy, he was not in it. It is therefore important in examining their attempts at avoidance of responsibility to know, first of all, just what it is that a conspiracy charge comprehends and punishes.

In conspiracy we do not punish one man for another man’s crime. We seek to punish each for his own crime of joining a common criminal plan in which others also participated. The measure of the criminality of the plan and therefore of the guilt of each participant is, of course, the sum total of crimes committed by all in executing the plan. But the gist of the offence is participation in the formulation or execution of the plan. These are rules which every society has found necessary in order to reach men, like these defendants, who never get blood on their own hands but who lay plans that result in the shedding of blood. All over Germany today, in every zone of occupation, little men who carried out these criminal policies under orders are being convicted and punished. It would present a vast and unforgivable caricature of justice if the men who planned these policies and directed these little men should escape all penalty.

These men in this dock, on the face of this record, were not strangers to this programme of crime, nor was their connection with it remote or obscure. We find them in the very heart of it. The positions they held show that we have chosen defendants of self-evident responsibility. They are the very highest surviving authorities in their respective fields and in the Nazi State. No one lives who, at least until the very last moments of the war, outranked Goering in position, power, and influence. No soldier stood above Keitel and Jodl, and no sailor above Raeder and Donitz. Who can be responsible for the double-faced diplomacy if not the Foreign Ministers, von Neurath and Ribbentrop, and the diplomatic handyman, von Papen? Who should be answerable for the oppressive administration of occupied countries if Gauleiter, Protectors, Governors and Commissars such as Frank, Seyss-Inquart, Frick, von Schirach, von Neurath, and Rosenberg are not? Where shall we look for those who mobilised the economy for total war if we overlook Schacht and Speer and Funk? Who was the master of the great slaving enterprise if it was not Sauckel? Where shall we find the hand that ran the concentration camps if it was not the hand of Kaltenbrunner? Who whipped up the hates and fears of the public, and manipulated the Party organizations to incite these crimes, if not Hess, von Schirach, Fritzsche, Bormann and the unspeakable Julius Streicher? The list of defendants is made up of men who played indispensable and reciprocal parts in this tragedy. The photographs and the films show them again and again together on important occasions. The documents show them agreed on policies and on methods, and all working aggressively for the expansion of Germany by force of arms.

Hermann Goering

Each of these men made a real contribution to the Nazi plan. Each man had a key part. Deprive the Nazi regime of the functions performed by a Schacht, a Sauckel, a von Papen, or a Goering, and you have a different regime. Look down the rows of fallen men and picture them as the photographic and documentary evidence shows them to have been in their days of power. Is there one who did not substantially advance the conspiracy along its bloody path towards its bloody goal? Can we assume that the great effort of these men’s lives was directed towards ends they never suspected?

To escape the implications of their positions and the inference of guilt from their activities, the defendants are almost unanimous in one defence. The refrain is heard time and again: these men were without authority, without knowledge, without influence, without importance. Funk summed up the general self-abasement of the dock in his plaintive lament that:

“I always, so to speak, came up to the door. But I was not permitted to enter.”

In the testimony of each defendant, at some point there was reached the familiar blank wall: nobody knew anything about what was going on. Time after time we have heard the chorus from the dock:

“I only heard about these things here for the first time.”

These men saw no evil, spoke none, and none was uttered in their presence. This claim might sound very plausible if made by one defendant. But when we put all their stories together, the impression which emerges of the Third Reich, which was to last a thousand years, is ludicrous. If we combine only the stories of the front bench, this is the ridiculous composite picture of Hitler’s Government that emerges. It was composed of:

A No. 2 man who knew nothing of the excesses of the Gestapo which he created, and never suspected the Jewish extermination programme although he was the signer of over a score of decrees which instituted the persecution of that race;

A No. 3 man who was merely an innocent middleman transmitting Hitler’s orders without even reading them, like a postman or delivery boy;

A Foreign Minister who knew little of foreign affairs and nothing of foreign policy;

A Field-Marshal who issued orders to the armed forces but had no idea of the results they would have in practice;

A Security Chief who was of the impression that the policing functions of his Gestapo and SD were somewhat on the lines of directing traffic;

A Party philosopher who was interested in historical research, and had no idea of the violence which his philosophy was inciting in the twentieth century;

A Governor-General of Poland who reigned but did not rule;

A Gauleiter of Franconia whose occupation was to pour forth filthy writings about the Jews, but who had no idea that anybody would read them;

A Minister of the Interior who knew not even what went on in the interior of his own office, much less the interior of his own department, and nothing at all about the interior of Germany;

A Reichsbank President who was totally ignorant of what went in and out of the vaults of his bank;

A Plenipotentiary for the War Economy who secretly marshalled the entire economy for armament, but had no idea it had anything to do with war.

This may seem like a fantastic exaggeration, but this is what you would actually be obliged to conclude if you were to acquit these defendants.

They do protest too much. They deny knowing what was common knowledge. They deny knowing plans and programmes that were as public as Mein Kampf and the Party programme.

They deny even knowing the contents of documents which they received and acted upon. Nearly all the defendants take two or more conflicting positions. Let us illustrate the inconsistencies of their positions by the record of one defendant -who, if pressed, would himself concede that he is the most intelligent, honourable and innocent man in the dock. That is Schacht. And this is the effect of his own testimony -but let us not forget that I recite it not against him alone, but because most of its self-contradictions are found in the testimony of several defendants.

Schacht did not openly join the Nazi movement until it had won, nor openly desert it until it had lost. He admits that he never gave it public opposition, but asserts that he never gave it private loyalty. When we demand of him why he did not stop the criminal course of the regime in which he was a Minister, he says he had not a bit of influence. When we ask why he remained a member of the criminal regime, he tells us that by sticking on he expected to moderate its programme. Like a Brahmin among Untouchables, he could not bear to mingle with the Nazis socially, but never could he afford to separate from them politically. Of all the Nazi aggressions by which he now claims to have been shocked, there is not one that he did not support before the world with the weight of his name and prestige. Having armed Hitler to blackmail a continent, his answer now is to blame England and France for yielding. Schacht always fought for his position in a regime he now affects to despise. He sometimes disagreed with his Nazi confederates about what was expedient in reaching their goal, but he never dissented from the goal itself. When he did break with them in the twilight of the regime, it was over tactics, not principles. From then on he never ceased to urge others to risk their positions and their necks to forward his plots, but never on any occasion did he hazard either of his own. He now boasts that he personally would have shot Hitler if he had had the opportunity, but the German newsreel shows that even after the fall of France, when he faced the living Hitler, he stepped out of line to grasp the hand he now claims to loathe and hung upon the words of the man he now says he thought unworthy of belief. Schacht says he steadily “sabotaged” the Hitler Government. Yet the most relentless secret service in the world never detected him doing the regime any harm until long after, he knew the war to be lost and the Nazis doomed. Schacht, who dealt in “hedges” all his life, always kept himself in a position to claim that he was in either camp. The plea for him is as specious on analysis as it is persuasive on first sight. Schacht represents the most dangerous and reprehensible type of opportunism -that of the man of influential position who is ready to join a movement that he knows to be wrong because he thinks it is winning.

These defendants, unable to deny that they were the men in the very highest ranks of power, and unable to deny that the crimes I have outlined actually happened, know that their own denials are incredible unless they can suggest someone who is guilty.

The defendants have been unanimous, when pressed, in shifting the blame on other men, sometimes on one and sometimes on another. But the names they have repeatedly picked are Hitler, Himmler, Heydrich, Goebbels and Bormann. All of these are dead or missing. No matter how hard we have pressed the defendants on the stand, they have never pointed the finger at a living man as guilty. It is a temptation to ponder the wondrous workings of a fate which has left only the guilty dead and only the innocent alive. It is almost too remarkable.

The chief villain on whom blame is placed -some of the defendants vie with each other in producing appropriate epithets -is Hitler. He is the man at whom nearly every defendant has pointed an accusing finger.

I shall not dissent from this consensus, nor do I deny that all these dead and missing men shared the guilt. In crimes so reprehensible that degrees of guilt have lost their significance they may have played the most evil parts. But their guilt cannot exculpate the defendants. Hitler did not carry all responsibility to the grave with him. All the guilt is not wrapped in Himmler’s shroud. It was these dead men whom these living chose to be their partners in this great conspiratorial brotherhood, and the crimes that they did together they must pay for one by one.

It may well be said that Hitler’s final crime was against the land he had ruled. He was a mad “messiah” who started the war without cause and prolonged it without reason. If he could not rule he cared not what happened to Germany. As Fritzsche has told us from the stand, Hitler tried to use the defeat of Germany for the self-destruction of the German people. He continued the fight when he knew it could not be won, and continuance meant only ruin.

Speer, in this courtroom, has described it as follows:

“… The sacrifices which were made on both sides after January, 1945, were senseless. The dead of this period will be the accusers of the man responsible for the continuation of that fight, Adolf Hitler, and the ruined cities which in this last phase lost tremendous cultural values and in which a colossal number of dwellings were destroyed …. The German people remained faithful to Adolf Hitler until the end. He betrayed them knowingly. He finally tried to throw them into the abyss ….”

Hitler ordered everyone else to fight to the last and then retreated into death by his own hand. But he left life as he lived it, a deceiver; he left the official report that he had died in battle. This was the man whom these defendants exalted to a Fuehrer. It was they who conspired to get him absolute authority over all of Germany. And in the end he and the system they had created for him brought the ruin of them all. As stated by Speer in cross-examination:

“… the tremendous danger of the totalitarian system, however, only became really clear at the moment when we were approaching the end. It was then that one could see what the principle really meant, namely, that every order should be carried out without criticism. Everything that has become known during this trial, especially with regard to orders which were carried out without any consideration, has proved how evil it .was in the end…. Quite apart from the personality of Hitler, on the collapse of the totalitarian system in Germany it became clear what tremendous dangers there are in a system of that kind. The combination of Hitler and this system has brought about these tremendous catastrophes in the world.”

But let me for a moment turn devil’s advocate. I admit that Hitler was the chief villain. But for the defendants to put all blame on him is neither manly nor true. We know that even the head of the State has the same limits to his senses and to the hours of his days as do lesser men. He must rely on others to be his eyes and ears as to most that goes on in a great empire. Other legs must run his errands; other hands must execute his plans.

On whom did Hitler rely for such things more than upon these men in the dock? Who led him to believe he had an invincible air armada if not Goering? Who kept disagreeable facts from him? Did not Goering forbid Field-Marshal Milch to warn Hitler that in his opinion Germany was not equal to the war upon Russia? Did not Goering, according to Speer, relieve General Galland of his air force command for speaking of the weaknesses and bungling of the air force? Who led Hitler, utterly untravelled himself, to believe in the indecision and timidity of democratic peoples if not Ribbentrop, von Neurath, and von Papen? Who fed his illusion of German invincibility if not Keitel, Jodl, Raeder, and Donitz? Who kept his hatred of the Jews inflamed more than Streicher and Rosenberg? Who would Hitler say deceived him about conditions in concentration camps if not Kaltenbrunner, even as he would deceive us? These men had access to Hitler and often could control the information that reached him and on which he must base his policy and his orders. They were the Praetorian Guard, and while they were under Caesar’s orders, Caesar was always in their hands.

If these dead men could take the witness stand and answer what has been said against them, we might have a less distorted picture of the parts played by these defendants. Imagine the stir that would occur in the dock if it should behold Adolf Hitler advancing to the witness box, or Himmler with an armful of dossiers, or Goebbels, or Bormann with the reports of his Party spies, or the murdered Roehm or Canaris. The ghoulish defence that the world is entitled to retribution only from the cadavers is an argument worthy of the crimes at which it is directed.

We have presented to this Tribunal an affirmative case based on incriminating documents which are sufficient, if unexplained, to require a finding of guilt on Count One against each defendant. In the final analysis, the only question is whether the defendants’ own testimony is to be credited as against the documents and other evidence of their guilt. What, then, is their testimony worth?

The fact is that the Nazi habit of economising in the use of truth pulls the foundations out from under their own defences. Lying has always been a highly approved Nazi technique. Hitler, in Mein Kampf, advocated mendacity as a policy. Von Ribbentrop admits the use of the “diplomatic lie”. Keitel advised that the facts of rearmament be kept secret so that they could be denied at Geneva. Raeder deceived about rebuilding the German Navy in violation of Versailles. Goering urged Ribbentrop to tell a “legal lie” to the British Foreign Office about the Anschluss, and in so doing only marshalled him the way he was going. Goering gave his word of honour to the Czechs and proceeded to break it. Even Speer proposed to deceive the French into revealing the specially trained among their prisoners.

Nor is the lie direct the only means of falsehood. They all speak with a Nazi double meaning with which to deceive the unwary. In the Nazi dictionary of sardonic euphemisms “Final solution” of the Jewish problem was a phrase which meant extermination; “Special treatment” of prisoners of war meant killing; “Protective custody” meant concentration camp; “Duty labour” meant slave labour; and an order to “take a firm attitude” or “take positive measures” meant to act with unrestrained savagery. Before we accept their word at what seems to be its face value, we must always look for hidden meanings. Goering assured us, on his oath, that the Reich Defence Council never met “as such”. When we produced the stenographic minutes of a meeting at which he presided and did most of the talking, he reminded us of the “as such” and explained this was not a meeting of the Council “as such” because other persons were present. Goering denies “threatening” Czechoslovakia. He only told President Hacha that he would “hate to bomb the beautiful city of Prague”.

Besides outright false statements and those with double meanings, there are also other circumventions of truth in the nature of fantastic explanations and absurd professions. Streicher has solemnly maintained that his only thought with respect to the Jews was to resettle them on the island of Madagascar. His reason for destroying synagogues, he blandly said, was only because they were architecturally offensive. Rosenberg was stated by his counsel to have always had in mind a “chivalrous solution” to the Jewish problem. When it was necessary to remove Schuschnigg after the Anschluss, Ribbentrop would have had us believe that the Austrian Chancellor was resting at a “villa”. It was left to cross-examination to reveal that the “villa” was Buchenwald concentration camp. The record is full of other examples of dissimulations and evasions. Even Schacht showed that he, too, had adopted the Nazi attitude that truth is any story which succeeds. Confronted on cross-examination with a long record of broken vows and false words, he declared in justification -and I quote from the record:

“I think you can score many more successes when you want to lead someone if you don’t tell them the truth than if you tell them the truth.”

This was the philosophy of the National Socialists. When for years they have deceived the world, and masked falsehood with plausibilities, can anyone be surprised that they continue that habit of a lifetime in this dock? Credibility is one of the main issues of this trial. Only those who have failed to learn the bitter lessons of the last decade can doubt that men who have always played on the unsuspecting credulity of generous opponents would not hesitate to do the same now.

It is against such a background that these defendants now ask this Tribunal to say that they are not guilty of planning, executing, or conspiring to commit this long list of crimes and wrongs. They stand before the record of this trial as bloodstained Gloucester stood by the body of his slain King. He begged of the widow, as they beg of you: “Say I slew them not.” And the Queen replied, “Then say they were not slain. But dead they are ….” If you were to say of these men that they are not guilty, it would be as true to say that there has been no war, there are no slain, there has been no crime.

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The Encouragement of Violence by the President and the Absence of Empathy in His Supporters

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Monument to the Men of the German Resistance Executed at the Bendlerstrasse Headquarters of the German Army on the Night of July 20th 1944

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have been writing a lot of late about the ordinary men who helped carry out Hitler’s genocide as well as those who opposed the Hitler regime and very often paid with their lives. Having been to the sites where some were executed and others exterminated the reality of how this happens, how ordinary men and women can become become perpetrators of violence is all too real.

I was reminded of the importance of why I write after I read conservative columnist Michael Gerson’s article in the Washington Post yesterday.

Gerson wrote:

“Fascism may not describe what Trump has done, as opposed to what he says. But what he says matters and can create its own dangerous dynamic. It is possible for a leader to be incompetent and still profoundly corrupt the people who follow him, undermining the virtues — tolerance, civility and compromise — that make democratic self-government work. It is possible for a foolish leader to leave the imprint of fascism on a portion of his followers. And the language used by Trump — particularly a certain racially tinged nostalgia and a tribal resentment for the other — strikes me as at a higher level of prominence and acceptance than at any time I can remember. So maybe, rather than fearing a fascist dictator, we should fear the legitimacy of fascist modes of thought in the Republican Party.

This is a more complex danger than most talk of fascism generally suggests. But it is a danger nonetheless.”

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. Many of his followers seem to share that attribute. You can see it in their words and in their actions.

At a campaign rally the President praised a Congressman from Montana who assaulted a reporter just before the 2016 elections and the crowd cheered its approval. As they cheered Trump said: “Any guy that can do a body slam … he’s my guy.” Then he acted out a motion of a person violently throwing someone to the ground, and the crowd continued to cheer. Though he has repeatedly attacked and mocked the press, it was the first time that he praised and openly condoned the attack on a reporter, and it came at a time when he has not condemned the brutal murder of the Saudi Arabian journalist and American resident Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul Turkey last week.

Trump being who he is I expect that, but for the crowd to applaud it showed the deep moral rot in the Republican Party. It is troubling because it reflects something far more dangerous which could actually bring about a Fascist type takeover of the U.S. Government.

Gerson wrote:

And one event in particular could quickly heighten that danger. Consider what American politics would look like if Republicans — against all odds and expectations — were to keep the Senate and House. There might be many explanations for such a result — exceptional economic conditions, bad Democratic strategy, the rallying effect of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh among Republicans — but we know how the president would interpret it. He would regard such a victory as the complete vindication — the stamp of national approval — on his entire approach to politics.

All the last remaining opposition in the GOP would melt, and many of his supporters would be calling for retribution against enemies and traitors. The whole leadership of the FBI and Justice Department — anyone who ever displeased him — would be at immediate risk of replacement. Trump would take his victory as permission for even more brutal treatment of migrants. More generally, a leader with no commitment to the separation of powers, with no respect for the traditional self-restraints of the presidency, with savage disdain for the free press, with an admiration for authoritarians, with a history of menacing individuals and companies by name, and with a talent for division and dehumanization would feel unbound.

The boor, the bluffer, the bully would be a political colossus. Then the language of fascism might become less theoretical. Then alarmism would be realism.

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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“If These Trees Could Talk” A Visit to Buchenwald

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

We are beginning to wind up our trip to Germany staying with our friends Linda and Holger near Karlsruhe. As do so I am beginning to catch up on writing about some of the places that we have been to and things that we have experienced.

Last Saturday while driving from Wittenberg to Eisenach to meet our friends Gottfried and Hannelore we stopped at Buchenwald, a notorious Concentration Camp located on the Ettersburg hill and the Buchenwald Forrest near Weimar. The area is beautiful and serene, it is hard to imagine the evil that took place here. The deaths of over 50,000 people who died from being executed by hanging or with a shot to the base of the neck, being worked to death, starved, maltreated, and being used as Guinea Pigs for medical experiments cannot be removed by the scenery in the local area.

If you visit Buchenwald you will be surprised at how vast the camp is. The area most visited is the main camp, but two others adjoin it, though the visible markers are less numerous or obvious than at the main camp. Unless you have more than a couple of hours you cannot do it all. Had I had the time I would have liked to walk the entire perimeter, which you can do, but due to our schedule I could only spend about an hour and a half there.

At the gate there is an inscription which must be read from the inside of the camp. It states Jedem das Seine or to each their own, which the SS interpreted to mean that the Master Race had the right to humiliate and destroy all others.

Buchenwald was opened in 1937 as a place where the Nazi regime could imprison political prisoners as well as members of what they called untermenschen or sub-human. The former included Communists, Socialists, other political opponents, of course Jews, as well as people deemed “asocial” which could mean almost anything. Repeat offenders and habitual criminals, Roma and Sinti, Homosexuals, Freemasons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the mentally, and the mentally or physically disabled. As the Nazi occupation of Europe grew to encompass most of the continent the list expanded to include the former as well as political, military, social, religious and intellectual leaders of those countries, and anyone else deemed a threat the Reich.

But Buchenwald was not a Death Camp. It had no gas chambers and those executed were killed up close and personal with a bullet to the base of the neck, being hanged in some manner, and in a few cases of Catholic clergy, crucified upside down. Yet it was a place of horror. General Dwight Eisenhower wrote after visiting the Ohrdorf sub-camp of Buchenwald subsequent to its liberation wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allied prisoners of war, especially Russians and Poles were brought to Buchenwald. While many Red Army POWs were assigned to the work camps, thousands of other Soviet POWs were summarily executed upon their arrival and thus were never registered as inmates and are not counted in the official German numbers of those who died at the Camp.

In one of the more unusual instances, 168 Allied aviators from the United States, Britain, Canada, and other Commonwealth nations were transported to Buchenwald by the SS from France in August 1944. Normally such prisoners were the responsibility of the Luftwaffe. The men arrived at Buchenwald and remained for two months in the same conditions as the other inmates. During that time three died. The Luftwaffe found out about the prisoners and had them transferred to Stalag Luft III, a regular POW Camp in Silesia from which the legendary Great Escape had been made in March 1944.

One of the Canadians wrote of their arrival at Buchenwald:

As we got close to the camp and saw what was inside… a terrible, terrible fear and horror entered our hearts. We thought, what is this? Where are we going? Why are we here? And as you got closer to the camp and started to enter [it] and saw these human skeletons walking around—old men, young men, boys, just skin and bone, we thought, what are we getting into?

As for me the the cruelty of the SS to their inmates is horrible enough, but I think for me it was the larger scale use of the camp and it’s inmates for medical experiments by physicians that affected me the most. I have Robert Jay Lifton’s book The Nazi Doctors, but to see where and stand where these practitioners of evil did their work was difficult. Lifton wrote:

In all fundamentalisms, and they are usually religious or political, there is the sense of profound threat to what are considered fundamental beliefs and symbols, and a compensatory invocation of a sacred text (the Bible, the Koran, Mein Kampf) as a literal guide to every form of action. History stops so that murderous therapy can be applied. While medicine does not provide the sacred text, one can revert to ancient practices of shamans, witch doctors, and tricksters who could be expected to kill in order to heal. For physicians as well as charismatic spiritual physicians, there is a release from Hippocratic restraint.

Hundreds of inmates were injected with Typhus in order to test treatments for the disease. To test balms which could help victims of incendiary bombs, prisoners were exposed to White Phosphorus which caused massive and incredibly painful burns in order to test the treatments. Many other experiments were conducted by the SS Doctors of Buchenwald.

Almost all of the prisoners at Buchenwald and its sub-Camps were used as slave laborers for German industrial plants and armaments plants. The sub- Camp at Mittelbau-Dora (Nordhausen) which became independent from Buchenwald in 1944 was a key production facility for the V-1 and V-2 rockets. Under the direction of SS Gruppenführer Oswald Pohl and the Verwaltung und Wirtschaft Hauptamt, the Administrative and Economics Main Office, Fritz Sauckel, General Plenipotentiary for Labour Deployment who oversaw the efforts to bring extra laborers to the Reich, and Armaments Minister Albert Speer.

Buchenwald is both historical reality that cannot be denied, as well as an everlasting reminder of the capacity of supposedly advanced human beings can do to others. Man’s capacity for evil is limitless and Buchenwald is one of the great reminders of it.

As I listen to and read the opinions of many American supporters of President Trump I believe that such evil could happen again, this time in my country and at the hands of my countrymen. Honestly, I don’t think that most of these people are really evil. I think that most are simply deluded by years of propaganda put forth by the politicians, pundits, and preachers of the political right who play upon their fears of being displaced economically and socially by minorities, women, foreigners, and others deemed less deserving of having a chance to live the American Dream. In their fear they would excuse the actions of a government that would run Buchenwald and the other components of the Concentration Camp system, not only for punishing political opponents, but also using that system to exploit victims for economic gain without any consideration of them as human beings.

This is something that we have to remember now more than ever. For at least a few months the American President who is an admirer of everything authoritarian now controls all three branches of the Federal Government. With such power at his disposal, a compliant executive branch, a subservient legislative branch, and a Supreme Court in the hands of Right Wing ideologues it would be incredibly easy to pass something like the Reichstag Fire Decree or the Enabling Act giving the President unlimited power.

Historian Timothy Snyder wrote these words not even two years ago.

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

I do not want to sound like an alarmist but I am beginning to doubt that the institutions so well designed by our Founders to withstand assaults on the Constitution by one or two branches of government can survive this. There is no going back from what has happened over the past few weeks and we will be very fortunate if our institutions survive in the manner that our Founders intended. The outward structure may survive, but the heart of those institutions will be destroyed, even if the Democrats regain control of the House and Senate.

Tomorrow we travel to Munich to spend the night before flying home Monday. Our trip has allowed me to me more reflective about the current American crisis without being immersed in it on a minute to minute basis.

I expect to post something from Munich so until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Consequences of Having Scruples: Johannes Steinhoff and Government Service in the Trump Era

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I have written a lot about the dehumanization of people and genocide, and some of the things that create a climate where such events take place, and how political and religious leaders stir the primal passions of otherwise good, decent and law abiding citizens. I wrote yesterday about some of my favorite resistance figures in history. It will be a multi-part series. I think the next in the series will deal with White and African American abolitionists in the ante-Bellum period and the American Civil War.

But that being said writing about the anti-Nazi resistors caused me to go back are re-read a book by World War II German Luftwaffe ace Johannes Steinhoff.

Steinhoff was unlike many of the German officers who wrote memoirs following the war, memoirs that historian Williamson Murray wrote “fell generally into two categories; generals writing in the genre of “if the fuhrer had only listened to me!” and fighter pilots or tank busters writing about their heroics against the productive flood from America or the primitively masses of the Soviet Union.”

Steinhoff’s book, The Final Hours: The Luftwaffe Plot Against Goering should be essential reading for any currently serving officer, diplomat, Federal law enforcement, intelligence, or Department of Justice official  as the Trump administration becomes more established and capricious.

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General Johannes Steinhof (above) as a Bundeswehr and NATO officer, showing his burns and before his crash (below)

steinhoff WW II

In his books, Steinhoff does something that you do not see authors do in most military or political memoirs, he actually does serious self reflection on his role in supporting an evil regime. In his introduction to his book The Final Hours the legendary fighter ace who was horribly disfigured when his Me-262 jet fighter crashed and burned two weeks prior to the end of the war wrote:

“In recalling these events, which had been long buried in my memory, it has not been my intention to make excuses. Our unconditional self-sacrifice in the service of the Third Reich is too well documented for that….

So it is because of what is happening today—with freedom threatened in virtually every respect by its own abuse—that I offer this contribution, in the form of an episode in which I was myself involved, to the history of the soldier in the twentieth century. Soldiers have always, in every century of their existence, been victims of the ruthless misuse of power; indeed, given the opportunity, they have joined in the power game themselves. But it fell to our own century to accomplish, with the aid of a whole technology of mass extermination, the most atrocious massacres in the history of mankind. This fact alone makes pacifism a philosophy worthy of respect, and I have a great deal of sympathy with those who profess it. 

The figure of the soldier in all his manifestations is thus symptomatic of the century now nearing its close, and it is to the history of that figure that I wish to contribute by describing what happened to me. I have tried to show what it is possible to do to men, how insidiously they can be manipulated by education, how they can be hoisted onto a pedestal as “heroes,” how they can be so corrupted as even to enjoy the experience—and how they can be dropped and denounced as mutineers when they discover that they have scruples. The complete lack of scruples that such treatment implies is peculiar to rulers who believe that the problems of their own and other peoples can be solved by imposing, through the use of military force, peace on their, the rulers’, terms—in our case a pax germanica, but the second Latin word is readily interchangeable.” from “The Final Hours: The Luftwaffe Plot Against Goring (Aviation Classics)” by Johannes Steinhoff

Since I am a historian and and a career military officer with service in the Iraq War, a war that was illegal and unjust by all measure I can understand Steinhof’s words. Because much of my undergraduate and graduate work focused on German history, particularly that of Imperial Germany after the unification, the Weimar Republic, and the Nazi Reich, I draw a lot of lessons from the period. I also understand how people in this country can fall for the same kind of vitriolic propaganda that the Germans of that era did. I can understand because for years I fell for the lies and propaganda being put out by the politicians, pundits and preachers of the American political right.

In fact I wrote about an incident that happened to me in my own chapel where a dedicated Trump supporter attempted to have me charged with Conduct Unbecoming an Officer and Contempt for the President.  He did this because I used biblical preaching backed by sound theology and history to condemn the President’s comparison of immigrants of darker skin colors as “animals” and an “infestation.” I compared those words with the way Hitler and other totalitarian leaders used such terminology to dehumanize their victims. As I mentioned I was completely cleared by the preliminary inquiry but it sends a chill through my spine.

10665323_10154041610267059_5277331492232210946_n

A picture of me (on left) in Iraq 2007 with my assistant and bodyguard RP1 Nelson Lebron

One of those lessons is that in times of crisis, that people, no matter what their race, culture, religious belief system, educational, or economic background are still human. Humanity is the one constant in all of history, our prejudices are often ingrained in us during childhood and reinforced by the words of politicians, pundits, and preachers. In times of stress, crisis, and societal change or upheaval even good people, moral people, people of great intellectual, scientific abilities can fall prey to demagogues who preach hate and blame others, usually racial, ethnic, or religious minorities, as well as civil libertarians who champion the rights of those minorities for the problems of the nation.

Shrewd politicians, preachers, and pundits do this well. They demonize the target group or population and then let the hatred of their disaffected followers flow. The leaders need that disaffected and angry base in order to rise to power; such was how Hitler, Stalin, and so many other despots gained power. They took advantage of a climate of fear, and found others to blame. For Hitler it was the Jews, Slavs, Socialists and Communists; while for Stalin it was various groups like the Ukrainians, or the Poles who were the devil to be feared and destroyed. Timothy Snyder in his book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin wrote:

“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.”

But that being said, there are a lot of people who from childhood believe the lies about others without question. In good times such people continue on with life as normal, but in crisis those hatreds and prejudices come to the fore. Rudolf Höss, the notorious sociopath who commanded Auschwitz told American Army psychologist Gustave Gilbert about his reaction when ordered to turn the camp into an extermination center. He said that the order “fitted in with all that had been preached to me for years,” and “at the same time I didn’t think of it as propaganda, but as something one just had to believe.” 

Eugene Davidson in his book on the Nuremberg Trials wrote:

“Every society has in it at all times negative, criminal, sadistic, asocial forces. What holds them in check more than law and police is the consensus of the society – a general belief that despite everything wrong and stupid and muddleheaded in politics, the state is a going concern that will somehow make its way into the future.” (Davidson, The Trial of the Germans p.581)

But when things do not go well, when people do not feel that things will be okay, that the future will be better, and that they have a purpose they look for answers. However, they tend to find their answers in the rantings of demagogues, race baiters, conspiracy theorists, and others who they would tend to dismiss out of hand in good times. In Germany it was the loss of the First World War, the humiliation of Versailles and the economic chaos and social change of the Weimar period which allowed Hitler to gain an audience, then a following, then political power. The demagogues played to what was already in the hearts and minds of the disaffected masses, without that fertile soil, the rantings of Hitler and his propagandists would have never succeeded. Albert Speer wrote:

“As I see it today, Hitler and Goebbels were in fact molded by the mob itself, guided by its yearnings and its daydreams. Of course, Goebbels and Hitler knew how to penetrate through to the instincts of their audiences; but in the deeper sense they derived their whole existence from these audiences. Certainly the masses roared to the beat set by Hitler’s and Goebbels’ baton; yet they were not the true conductors. The mob determined the theme. To compensate for misery, insecurity, unemployment, and hopelessness, this anonymous assemblage wallowed for hours at a time in obsessions, savagery and license. The personal unhappiness caused by the breakdown of the economy was replaced by a frenzy that demanded victims. By lashing out at their opponents and vilifying the Jews, they gave expression and direction to fierce primal passions.”

In a sense a similar thing has happened in the United States which has experienced a series of wars beginning with Vietnam, the shock of the 9-11-2001 attacks, the economic crash of 2007 and 2008 which devastated the savings, home ownership, and investments of many Americans while at the same time benefiting the banking and brokerage houses whose government assisted policies brought about the crash. Of course there are other issues, many religious conservatives hate the progress made by the Women’s and Gay Rights movements, and their leaders play to their fears in apocalyptic terms. I could go on, but I am sure that my readers can identify other issues which demagogues and others use to spread fear and hate to further their goals. The fact is that without the the fertile soil that lays in the hearts of their most fervent followers they would never have a following.

In Weimar Germany hate mongers like Julius Streicher and propagandist Josef Goebbels stuck a chord with disenchanted people who felt that they had lost their country. They were fearful, angry, and desired a leader who would “make Germany great again.” Hitler and his Nazi media sycophants played to that fear, and took advantage of their anger at the existing order. Davidson wrote such people “exist everywhere and in a sick society they can flourish.” 

For decades the way has been prepared for true extremists to take advantage of the fears and doubts of people as modern American versions of Streicher and Goebbels have been at work for years. Rush Limbaugh was a modern pioneer of this in the United States, and he has been joined by so many who are even more extreme in their rantings that it is hard to name them all. Likewise, whole media corporations especially Fox News, websites, and political networks spread such fear every minute of the day, claiming that they, and they alone are real Americans. They actively support politicians who condemn, and sometimes even threaten people who oppose them, and all the while claim that “make America great again.”

When I was younger I devoured that propaganda, despite all of my learning I followed the rantings of men who I realize today are propagandists who promote the basest of lies, and hatred, often in the name of God. I was changed when I was at war, and when I returned home from Iraq in 2008 I realized through hard experience that I had been lied to, and that as a result that thousands of my brothers and sisters were dead, and tens of thousands shattered in body, mind, and spirit. Likewise I saw the massive destruction levied on Iraq and realized how terrible war really is. That was my epiphany, that is what it took to see how much I had been lied to, and it called me to question everything else that I had so willingly believed, things which had been fed to me by years of indoctrination in church, through the media, and by politicians who I believed were truly Christian. I can understand now how Martin Niemoller felt after the Nazi seizure of power when he said, “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.”

There was a time that I hated people who espouse the views that I hold today, the views that I write about so often here on this site. I can remember how angry I would get as I listened to the propaganda being put out by Limbaugh, Hannity, the Fox News Channel and all of the others that I listened to every time that I had the chance. But when I changed after Iraq, I felt the sting of that hatred in very real ways. I remember the day I was called by my bishop in my former church, who told me that I had to leave because my views on women, gays, and Moslems were to use his words were now “too liberal.” After that, many men who I considered to be the best of friends turned their backs on me, some in the most bitter and vindictive of ways.

But I realize now that what they did was because I had in a sense left the cult, and had to be ostracized. I can understand that now, because when I was under the spell I too turned my back on people who had fallen out of favor, or people who had rejected the tenants of the church or the political movement, and those are things that I can never undo. But at the time it made sense, it fitted in with all I had been taught for decades, as Albert Speer wrote of Hitler, “One seldom recognizes the devil when he is putting his hand on your shoulder.”

What happened to Steinhoff’s generation is threatening to happen again, in our country, an authoritarian movement is threatening to destroy our democracy and republic. In it soldiers are esteemed, until they realize what is going on and speak out, but by then it is usually too late. I am understanding that fact more and more every day, and having had people troll this blog and call me a traitor and worse, I understand just a bit of what happened to Steinhoff and his fellow officers when they protested to the highest levels what was happening to Germany in early 1945.

In 1944 he and other fighter pilots were subjected to a political indoctrination session and realized that in the Nazi state loyalty and doctrinal purity to Naziism was more important than either combat service or competence. He wrote:

“Now, however, we realized to our horror that a group of officers had decided, after five years of war, to conduct a purge among the troops with the object of eliminating all those “whose past life and present conduct were not consonant with the National-Socialist type” and who did not “stand firm on National-Socialist principles.” We sat there petrified, but some of those present appeared hugely to enjoy the ensuing discussion of what they called “National-Socialist guidelines.” Perhaps, though, for many it was simply an attempt to escape into a less concrete area of discussion than the desperate military situation—and then there was the added satisfaction of being able to censure others. Fanaticism took the place of hopelessness, and phrases like “faith in the Führer,” “rootedness in National-Socialist ideology,” and “irreproachability of character” fell without hesitation from people’s lips. The Luftwaffe leadership, it was said, must be “combed” from top to bottom, and then someone even came out with the “National-Socialist soul…”

We will soon know how military professionals react to being labeled as traitors. President Trump and his followers have been demonizing the personnel of the nation’s intelligence, law enforcement, and diplomatic communities since before the election. The President lambasts critics of any station on his Twitter feed which results in them receiving death threats from his followers. I expect that when Secretary of Defense James Mattis speaks his mind and tells the truth that we will find out.

Personally I expect that when he does that Trump and his most strident supporters will label him as a traitor for doing so. Like a religious cult they have no capacity to tolerate dissent, loyalty to the man will supersede loyalty to the country or the Constitution. When that happens it will be interesting to see the throngs of people in the military and outside of it who make the choice to throw one of the most courageous, selfless, and intellectual soldiers ever produced by our nation under the bus.

Their’s will be a conscious decision. My opinion is that the Constitution and the country will always come first. I wanted to give the President the benefit of the doubt and prayed that he world do the right thing for the country. But I was wrong. I am concerned because of his past and current behavior that his only loyalty is to himself. General Ludwig Beck, who resigned rather than obey Hitler’s order to invade Czechoslovakia in 1938 and died in the anti-Hitler coup attempt in 1944 said:

“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 have no doubt that General Mattis understands that and will courageously speak his mind, even if he is condemned for doing so. Sadly I have many doubts about other leaders: be they military, political, business, or religious. There are many people who will sell their souls for their personal advancement, the advancement of their agenda, or an increase in their bottom line. It is after all human nature.

But the question is: will we see true men and women of courage who will stand when it appears there is no chance of success? As Atticus Finch said in To Kill a Mockingbird: “Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.” 

That will be what is demanded in the coming months and years.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Kursk: The Death Ride of the Panzerwaffe

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am reposting an older article today which was a paper that I wrote for a class as part of my second Masters Degree program. 

The Battle of Kursk was the climactic battle on the Eastern Front from which the Germans never recovered. It was a battle that should not have been fought, at least at the time that it was fought. It was high risk operation with minimal payoff should it succeed. It did not and combined with the Allied landings in Sicily and other setbacks suffered by German forces in 1943 was the battle that doomed Germany to defeat. It was the last time that the German military had a chance to score a major victory against the Soviets and their defeat ensured the defeat of the Third Reich. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

The German Situation and Dilemma in April 1943

Battle_of_Kursk_(map)

The Germans faced a dilemma in April 1943.  Manstein’s brilliant counter-stroke had turned what could have been disaster into an opportunity to salvage prospects for the Eastern Front. The German action had “repaired its front, shattered the hopes of the Allies, and nipped the Russian spearhead.”[i]Unfortunately for the Germans the spring thaw meant that Manstein could not continue immediately and eliminate the Kursk bulge which had been formed by Rokossovky’s offensive and Manstein’s own counter-stroke.  With the Germans stalled by the weather Stavka cancelled “other significant planned offensives to dispatch reinforcements to the Kursk region.”[ii] Despite the weather Manstein pushed Kluge for an immediate attack on both sides of the bulge but was rebuffed by Kluge who “insisted that his troops needed to rest and refit.”[iii] This rebuff combined with the onset of the Russian mud meant that in “March 1943 the war on the ground came to an end….The front was immobilized.”[iv]

manstein with tanksField Marshal Erich von Manstein with Tiger I Tanks

Manstein’s offensive had “enabled the Germans to consolidate a firm position in the East, and build up strength afresh- not to its former level, but sufficient to provide a good prospect of holding the Russians at bay.”[v] As a result German armies in the south “held again nearly the same positions from which the Blau offensive had begun the previous spring.”[vi] Now the Kursk bulge some 250 Kilometers wide and 160 Kilometers deep[vii] protruded menacingly into the German lines and drew the attention of both sides, to the Germans it appeared to be designed for an encirclement battle.[viii] Thus it appeared that the Kursk bulge was the obvious place for the Germans to resume the offensive and maintain the initiative on the Eastern Front.

But was the Kursk necessary?  Was Operation ZITADELLE as obvious as it seemed to be to Hitler, Zeitzler and others?  The battle is the subject of many books and articles which often focus on tactical and operational details of the German offensive, particularly the battle on the southern side of the bulge and the clash of armor at Prokhorovka.  This essay will focus less on the battle and more on the strategic situation faced by the Germans in the spring of 1943. Key to this are the arguments for and against the operation, the operations timing and the option that the Germans had to conduct a mobile defense.   It is the strategic situation that must be looked at to determine whether Operation ZITADELLE was necessary at all. Manstein believed that had the offensive been launched early enough that it might have succeeded provided it “we launched it early enough we could hope to catch them in a state of unpreparedness.”[ix]Williamson Murray and Allan Millett agree with Manstein’s assessment but note that an early offensive was “riskier…but greater the prospect for a major success.”[x] Guderian on the other hand saw that nothing good could come of ZITADELLE and opposed it from the beginning.[xi] Glantz and House in their detailed study argue that “there is absolutely no basis for assuming that Citadel would have succeeded had it been launched in spring 1943.”[xii]

battle_kursk t 34The Soviets Reinforced and Fortified the Kursk Salient

The Germans faced a number of major problems in early 1943.  First, among them was manpower.  The armed forces had been mauled on the Eastern Front, “after continuous operations from June 1942 to March 1943, most German units were worn out.”[xiii] Many infantry divisions “were reduced to two thirds of their original strength, with declining mobility and anti-tank defenses.”[xiv] Had the Germans only faced the Russians this might have been overcome, however they not only faced a rejuvenated Red Army, but challenges brought about by multi-theater operations and their weak, ineffective and reluctant allies.  The Allied air offensive which though it “did not decisively effect German arms production it nevertheless prevented a great deal of work from being carried on and had profound moral effects which communicated themselves to all the fronts.”[xv] Likewise the U-Boat campaign had been effectively defeated by May 1943 allowing for increasing numbers of American troops and supplies to reach Europe, including significant Lend-Lease aide for the Soviet Union.  Manpower became a major issue for the the German Army and industry.  Both the military and industryhad difficulty in getting the required number of personnel to meet their personnel needs, in January 1943 the German High Command “demanded 800,000 men-but even the most ruthless call-up was able to produce only 400,000” who were lost to the civilian war economy.[xvi] Even the “belated industrial mobilization of Germany, fueled by slave labor and directed by the organizational genius of men like Speer and Guderian, could do little beyond patching together existing units.”[xvii]

Bild 101I-139-1112-17General Heinz Guderian, Inspector of Panzer Troops was one of Few Senior German Officers to Oppose ZITADELLE from the Beginning

There were other challenges. The German and Italian armies in North Africa had surrendered, and about 330,000 Axis soldiers entered captivity.[xviii] Added to the heavy losses on the Eastern Front, the disasters in North Africa and Stalingrad had “effectively destroyed the Axis military alliance, such as it was.”[xix] Italy, Hungary and Romania all began to pull their forces out of the Eastern front after having them shattered by the Soviet Winter offensive.[xx]Italy, shaken by its losses in North Africa and the Russian front was wavering in its support for Germany; Mussolini’s government itself was on the verge of falling.  Likewise the Hungarian government sought contact with the Allies;[xxi]as did the Romanians.[xxii] Finland too was looking for a way out and limiting its participation in German offensive operations.[xxiii] As her allies looked for a way out, the British and Americans were about to open a new front in Southern Europe, while another had effectively been opened by partisans in Yugoslavia and Greece.[xxiv] The crisis in the south was great enough that OKW under General Jodl began to look at ways of shoring up those fronts in case Italy withdrew from the war including the use of units that would have to be withdrawn from the Eastern Front.[xxv] The Balkans drained German reserves such that the number of German divisions deployed there increased from 5 to 15 between July 1942 and July 1943.[xxvi] Additionally many units had to be created by the Replacement Army to build up the Western Front knowing that an Allied strike there would eventually take place, further depriving the Eastern Front of badly needed infantry replacements and divisions.

Benito_Mussolini_and_Adolf_HitlerHitler Felt Regaining the Initiative in the East was Critical to Keeping his Allies in the War

The German Options and Decision

The question for the Germans now was whether they “had any strategic options that would allow them to avoid defeat.”[xxvii] It is from this perspective that the necessity of Kursk must be examined. Most in the German High Command now realized that strategy in the east could no longer be “based on the illusion of conquering the vast Soviet Union.”[xxviii] As such the discussion turned to what direction the new strategy should take.  Political considerations came into play: Since the German allies were looking for ways to exit the war it was felt that “it was politically impossible for Germany to surrender the initiative on the Eastern Front.”[xxix] Realistically there were two options available: Wait and counterattack or launch a limited attack on the Kursk salient. The general impression among many German commanders in the East was that they had ended the last campaign “with a relative advantage over the Reds, an advantage that should be exploited as soon as the rasputitsa ended in April or early May.”[xxx] But the only strategy that looked feasible balancing the political and military goal of maintaining the initiative was what Manstein originally had in mind after Kharkov, to continue on, pinch out the Kursk bulge with the cooperation of Kluge’s Army Group Center.  As noted the opportunity to do so was lost with Kluge’s refusal and the onset of the spring thaw.  Yet this idea captured Zeitzler at OKH and Kluge at Army Group Center, though by April and May Manstein was more inclined toward “the ‘backhand’ stroke, which involved giving up the whole Donetz basin and staging a major Panzer offensive southeast from Kharkov.”[xxxi] However, this was too bold for Hitler who was “unwilling to give up the Donetz Basin with its industrial and mineral resources.”[xxxii]

battle_kursk_tiger advancingThe New Tiger Tanks Were to Play a Critical Role in the Attack

Manstein felt that the “moment of opportunity had passed, but his counterpart at Army Group Center…Kluge, was enthusiastic about the proposal.”[xxxiii]Zeitzler believed that an “attack at Kursk would be less risky”[xxxiv] than Manstein’s “backhand” and pushed the plan to Hitler.  There were advantages to this strategy if it could be carried out successfully. The Germans would encircle and destroy Russian forces in the salient and “shorten their own defensive lines after such an encirclement.”[xxxv] Yet the plan was opposed by others. Jodl at OKW argued against ZITADELLE “because he believed that it was dangerous to empty the strategic reserve when so many new crises threatened to develop in the Mediterranean.”[xxxvi] Zeitzler countered that because of German weakness in the east that they could not “wait to be hit.”[xxxvii] Guderian did not believe that either Army Group could be ready to mount the offensive that Zeitzler envisioned and “declared that the attack was pointless…if we attacked according to the plan of the Chief of the General Staff, we were certain to suffer heavy tank casualties, which we would not be in position to replace in 1943.”[xxxviii]Guderian asked Hitler at a separate conference “why he wanted to attack at all in the East in 1943.” When Keitel expressed that the reasons were political, Guderian asked Hitler “How many people do you think even know where Kursk is? It’s a matter of profound indifference to the world whether we hold Kursk or not…”[xxxix] Guderian and Speer both pointed out technical problems in producing the Tigers and Panthers but were overruled.[xl] Hitler himself reportedly had misgivings about the attack at one point reportedly stating that “the thought of the Zitadelle operation ‘made [his] stomach turn over’”[xli] In spite of Jodl and Guderian’s warnings, his own misgivings and those of Manstein and Model in April and May, Hitler “allowed himself to be tempted once more into taking the offensive. The Kursk salient…lured him into mounting his great pincer operation known as Citadel.”[xlii] Glantz and House maintain that he could “see no alternative politically and agreed to the plan.”[xliii]

The Facts on the Ground

Kursk_T34_and_Fieldgun-px800Soviet Forces Expected the Attack and Were well Prepared to Meet it

Once the decision to attack was made the question that remained was the timing of the attack. Manstein had preferred an early attack in May, but the operation was postponed to mid-June and then to July due to the request of Model who believed that his forces were too weak and needed reinforcements.[xliv] The attack was to be one of several “limited offensives designed to consolidate the German defenses while inflicting sufficient damage on the Red Army to delay any Soviet offensive.”[xlv] But the delays insisted on by Model and agreed to by Hitler were a fatal error.  The Germans failed to “factor into their decision was the unpalatable reality that Soviet strength in the Kursk salient was growing much faster than the Wehrmacht could muster forces to attack it.”[xlvi] Not only were the Soviet forces growing they knew about the German plans and could deploy their forces to counter them and for their own offensive.[xlvii] Stalin’s generals were able to convince him not to launch an attack and instead wait on the Germans so they could attack as the Germans exhausted their strength.[xlviii] They knew of it since April and reinforced the flanks of the salient with guns and armor at a faster pace than the Germans opposite them.[xlix] At Kursk “improved intelligence collection and analysis permitted the Red Army to predict almost exactly the strategic focal point of a major German offensive.”[l] Into the bulge “Vatutin and Rokossovsky crammed seven armies.”[li] The Russians deployed in depth in heavy fortified zones and minefields along the very sectors of the bulge that the Germans intended to attack, successfully masking their preparations from the Germans. It was “a measure of Soviet self-confidence that the senior commanders were looking beyond the German attack, beyond its failure, to the first major Soviet summer offensive.”[lii] Had the Germans succeeded in pinching off the salient “they would have faced several additional defensive belts constructed to the east of the salient.”[liii]

Typically when one launches an offensive it is desirable to have numeric advantage over the defender, 3:1 is normally assumed to be sufficient. At Kursk the Germans were outnumbered by the Russians 2.3:1 in men and 1.6:1 in tanks[liv] yet somehow the offensive had now morphed from a spoiling attack into a strategic offensive, albeit with more limited objectives attacking one of the strongest points in the Russian line.  General Raus, commanding a corps in Army Detachment Kempf noted: “Considering Russian dispositions, defenses and terrain, German strength could be considered only minimally sufficient for the assigned mission.”[lv] The Chief of Staff of XLVIII Panzer Corps called Kursk “the strongest fortress in the world.”[lvi]

Danger Signs: Requests for Cancellation

keitel-jodl-hitlerGeneral Alfred Jodl at OKW Protested the Offensive Verbally and in Writing

As more delays occurred Manstein “came out in the open and protested that the operation was no longer feasible and must be abandoned, but it was too late.  The united stand of orthodox General Staff opinion, Keitel, Zeitzler, Kluge, had persuaded the Führer, whose mind, once made up, was never altered.”[lvii]Manstein felt that the idea had been to “attack the enemy before the enemy had replenished his forces and got over the reverses of the winter.”[lviii] He felt there was great danger to the Mius line and to the northern Orel bulge with each delay; and the felt the threat of an attack by the Allies in Western Europe.[lix] On 18 June Jodl and the OKW Operations Staff “recommended to Hitler that he abandon Operation Citadel in order to free strategic reserves for defense in both East and West.”[lx] Warlimont writes that Jodl “raised empathic objection to the premature commitment of the central reserves to the East; he pointed out both verbally and in writing that a local success was all that could be hoped from Operation Citadel and that it could have no strategic significance for the overall situation.”[lxi] Hitler again refused the request.  “The doubts of certain Chiefs of Staff of the attacking armies were disregarded, and in the case of Colonel von Schleinitz, answered with dismissal.”[lxii]

The Battle

battle_kursk tigersTigers Advancing

The attacking forces for ZITADELLE involved units of Army Group Center and Army Group South.  Spearheading the assault for Army Group Center was Model’s 9th Army.  2nd Army from the same Army Group took a defensive role in the center of the bulge while Army Group South’s 4th Panzer Army under Hoth and Army Detachment Kempf composed the Southern attack force.  Von Mellenthin noted that to muster the necessary divisions for the attacking armies “neighboring fronts were to be thinned out beyond the limits of prudence” and from a strategic point of view likened Citadel “to be a veritable ‘death ride.’”[lxiii]Manstein worried about stripping the Mius-Donetz salient which “had to hand over all their available forces.”[lxiv] The Germans sent 17 panzer divisions against Kursk including the elite 2nd Panzer, Grossdeutschland, Leibstandarte, Das Reich and Totenkopf. Hoth’s army was the “strongest force ever put under a single commander in the German Army.”[lxv] While the Germans assembled the Russians waited, and beginning on 1 July the “Red Army defenders were on constant alert, waiting in their bunkers for the first sign of attack.”[lxvi]

battle_kursk_0020Panzers on the Advance

ZITADELLE began on 4 July with a reconnaissance in force, the main blow scheduled for 0300 5 July. The Russians learned of the timing from a prisoner and quickly launched an artillery counter-preparation an hour prior to the German attack, disrupting it while air strikes were ordered against Luftwaffe airfields.[lxvii] Model’s 9th Army on the northern flank attacked the Russian “13th and 70th Armies on a frontage of 50 kilometers”[lxviii] with the focus being a 16 kilometer front where he concentrated 6 infantry divisions, a panzer division and all his Tiger and Ferdinand units.[lxix] He intended to break the Soviet defensive system “by constantly feeding in new units to grind down the defenses.”[lxx] The attack stalled by the 9July making minimal progress of “8 to 12 kilometers into the massive Soviet defenses.”[lxxi] A good deal of his problem was due to limited infantry strength which was  “far below established strength….moreover, the Ninth Army’s infantry- even the veterans- lacked experience in conducting set-piece attacks against prepared positions.”[lxxii]The Russians defined the battleground and forced Model into a battle determined by superior firepower on a constricted battlefield, “a game that the Wehrmacht could not win.”[lxxiii] This nullified any advantage the Germans might have had in mobility for their panzer divisions.  In savage battles to take the high ground at Ponyri station and Ol’khovatka Model’s assaults faltered.  9thArmy sacrificed about 50,000 men and 400 tanks to the god of war.”[lxxiv]Model continued to attack until 12 July when the Russians launched their offensive against the Orel bulge forcing him to redeploy to counter the Russian advance.  The battle in the north became “a savage defensive battle in which considerable parts of the offensive wing of Ninth Army were involved.”[lxxv]Model’s defeat made Hoth’s task “much more challenging.”[lxxvi]

battle_kursk_t-34s and infantryT-34’s and Infantry

The Fourth Panzer Army and Army Detachment Kempf made better progress, nearly breaking through the Russian defenses after hard fighting. They penetrated “into the third Soviet defensive belt, a depth of 35 kilometers, but were stopped by Katukov’s 1st Tank Army.”[lxxvii] The critical point was reached on 11 and 12 July at Prokhorovka station when 5th Tank Army collided with 4thPanzer Army. “Over 1200 tanks from both sides were engaged in this struggle.”[lxxviii] It was the largest tank engagement of the war, over 700 tanks were destroyed and “German losses were too great to allow a decisive breakthrough.”[lxxix] Both sides took heavy casualties but the Germans could not replace theirs while the Russians still had formidable uncommitted reserves.  On 13 July the battle in the south drifted into a stalemate as XLVIII Panzer Corps and Hausser’s II SS Panzer Corps failed to break the Soviet line[lxxx] as the Russians “kept on throwing in fresh troops, and their reserves seemed inexhaustible.”[lxxxi] Manstein desired to continue the offensive as he believed that for his Army Group “the battle was now at its culminating point, that to break it off at this moment would be tantamount to throwing victory away.”[lxxxii] Although Manstein and Hoth felt that they could continue on and break the Russian line, they were now not in a position to do so. Model’s forces were in no shape to assist in the north and Manstein and Kluge were called to the Wolfsschanze by Hitler who, now preoccupied with the Allied invasion of Sicily necessitating withdraws of strong panzer forces from the east to face the threat in the west.[lxxxiii] Hitler rejected Manstein’s counsel to continue and ordered him to withdraw II SS Panzer Corps,[lxxxiv] effectively ending the ZITADELLE as the Russians launched their offensive on 17 July.

battle_kursk_destroyed panzersDestroyed Panzers

Analysis of the Decision: Zitadelle Was Not Obvious, Necessary nor Well Executed

To Hitler and the supporters of ZITADELLE the operation seemed obvious.  In the two previous years the Germans had dealt punishing blows against the Red Army and the belief of Zeitzler and others was that the Wehrmacht was still qualitatively superior to the Soviets and that even a limited offensive would succeed in its objectives.  But the conditions on the ground had changed and the Germans failed to take the change into account.  The German Army did not have the resources for an offensive of the scope of Barbarossa or Blau. However this lack of resources did not lessen the optimism of some for ZITADELLE; particularly Zeitzler and Kluge. From their perspective the offensive to pinch out the Kursk salient seemed likely to succeed.  Yet as Clark notes the offensive was defined by a “lack of imagination and adaptability….Where the old Blitzkrieg formula….was fed into the computer, with little regard for the changed conditions….” [lxxxv] Von Mellenthin comments that by attacking Kursk, the “German Army threw away all their advantages in mobile tactics, and met the Russians on ground of their own choosing.”[lxxxvi] Glantz and House attribute this to the fact that the Germans “clung to outmoded assumptions about their own superiority over their opponents” due to their previous success. They point out that the Red Army had systematically reviewed its performance after every failure,” so that “Soviet doctrine, organization, and expectations were closer to battlefield reality than were those of the senior German leadership.”[lxxxvii] The German intelligence services failed them[lxxxviii] as they failed to detect the large strategic sized force that the Soviets had concentrated in the spring of 1943.  This was a force that Glantz and House believe would have caused ZITADELLE to fail even had it occurred in May, particularly in regard to the comparatively weak German forces fielded by Manstein.[lxxxix]

An offensive with what appeared to be reasonable objectives that were believed to be within the capabilities of the Wehrmacht failed.  Hitler according to Carell “gambled away not only victory but all hope of a draw.”[xc] Manstein categorized the offensive as a “fiasco.”[xci] Guderian called it “a decisive defeat” that made it “problematical” whether the armored formations could be “rehabilitated in time to defend the Eastern Front.”[xcii] Warlimont who served at OKW commented: “Operation Citadel was more than a battle lost; it handed the Russians the initiative and we never recovered it again right up to the end of the war.”[xciii]Guderian’s biographer Kenneth Macksey wrote that “the failure at Kursk was due to the employment of a faulty plan which lacked the element of strategic as well as tactical surprise.”[xciv] Raus lists several factors for this.  However, his argument is summarized: “once we learned in May and June that this was the area in which the Russians were prepared to offer their stiffest resistance, we should have modified our plans.  Either we should have refrained from attacking at all, or the operation should have been carried out to strike the enemy not at his strongest, but at his weakest point.”[xcv]

Hitler felt that a decisive victory was needed for political and propaganda reasons, yet even a significant victory was unlikely to keep Italy in the war, even if it swayed the lesser allies to stay the course.  ZITADELLE was conducted too late to save the Italians, success in May might have given German supporters in Italy some leverage but the invasion of Sicily and the failure at Kursk emboldened Mussolini’s opponents. The Fascist Grand Council “voted to have Mussolini removed as prime minister” and King Vittorio Emmanuaele “dismissed Mussolini” who was then placed under arrest.[xcvi] Finland refused to take offensive action that might have cut the Murmansk railway[xcvii] and engaged the Americans in a round of “abortive negotiation”[xcviii] while the Hungarians and Romanians provided little assistance to the Germans, partially due to the German reluctance to assist in modernizing and rebuilding their armies.[xcix]

Of the German Generals involved it was only Guderian as Inspector of Armored Troops and Jodl at OKW who consistently opposed ZITADELLE, citing realistic assessments of strengths, risks and dangers in other theaters.  Manstein opposed it when he felt the opportunity had passed, though it was unlikely to succeed had it been launched in May as he desired.  Guderian and Jodl’s arguments proved correct in every respect. ZITADELLE engaged German the preponderance of German forces in a battle that had at best chances of local success. The offensive itself weakened and endangered the German position on all fronts.  In the end, despite the belief and decision of Hitler, Zeitzler Kluge and others in the High Command, Operation ZITADELLE was neither obvious nor necessary and played out with the disastrous results expected by those who opposed it.

Notes


[i] Clark, Allan. Barbarossa:  The Russian-German Conflict 1941-45. Perennial, an Imprint of Harper Collins Books, New York, NY 2002. Originally published by William Morrow, New York, NY 1965. p. 306

[ii] Glantz, David M and House, Jonathan. The Battle of Kursk.  University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1999. p.14

[iii] Ibid. Glantz and House, Jonathan. The Battle of Kursk.  p.14

[iv] Carell, Paul. Scorched Earth: The Russian German War 1943-1944. Translated by Ewald Osers, Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1971, published in arrangement with Little-Brown and Company. p. 335

[v] Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Quill Publishing, New York, NY. 1979. Copyright 1948 by B.H. Liddell-Hart. p.212

[vi] Wray, Timothy A. Standing Fast: German Defensive Doctrine on the Russian Front in World War II, Prewar to March 1943. U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, KS. 1986. p.163

[vii] Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1995. p.157

[viii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.157

[ix] Manstein, Erich von. Lost Victories. Translated by Anthony G. Powell, Zenith Press, an imprint of MBI Publishing Company, St Paul, MN. 2004. First Published as Verlorene Siege Athenaum-Verlag, Bonn, GE 1955, English edition Methuen & Company Ltd. 1958  p.447

[x] Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War.  The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 2000. p.295

[xi] Macksey, Kenneth. Guderian: Creator of the Blitzkrieg. Stein and Day Publishing, New York, NY 1975 p.206

[xii] Ibid. Glantz and House. The Battle of Kursk. p.261

[xiii] Ibid. Glantz and House. The Battle of Kursk. p.14

[xiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. Clash of Titans. p.174

[xv] Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff 1657-1945.Translated by Brian Battershaw. Westview Press. Boulder CO and London. 1985 Originally published as Der Deutsche Generalstab, Verlag der Fankfurter Hefte, Frankfurt am Main.  First U.S. publication in 1953 by Preager Publishers. p.441

[xvi] Ibid. Carell. p.336

[xvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Clash of Titans. p.174

[xviii] Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45. Translated by R.H. Berry, Presido Press, Novato CA, 1964. p.312

[xix] DiNardo, Richard L. Germany and the Axis Powers: From Coalition to Collapse. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 2005. p.174

[xx] Ibid. DiNardo. p.174. By the summer all Italians units had been withdrawn, all but two Hungarian divisions which were used in anti-partisan operations and nine Romanian divisions.

[xxi] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.441

[xxii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.21

[xxiii] Ibid. DiNardo. p.180

[xxiv] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.441

[xxv] Ibid. Warlimont. pp.317-318

[xxvi] Dunn, Walter S. Jr. Heroes or Traitors: The German Replacement Arm, the July Plot, and Adolf Hitler. Praeger Publishers, Westport CT and London, 2003. p.53

[xxvii] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.294

[xxviii] Ibid. Carell. p.339

[xxix] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.21

[xxx] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.21

[xxxi] Ibid. Clark. p.322

[xxxii] Liddell-Hart, B.H. Strategy. A Signet Book, the New American Library, New York, NY. 1974, Originally Published by Faber and Faber Ltd., London. 1954 & 1967. p.280

[xxxiii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.157

[xxxiv] Ibid. Clark. p.322

[xxxv] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.157

[xxxvi] Ibid. Clark. p.323

[xxxvii] Ibid. Clark. p.323

[xxxviii] Guderian, Heinz. Panzer Leader. (abridged) Translated from the German by Constantine Fitzgibbon, Ballantine Books, New York 1957. pp.245-246

[xxxix] Ibid. Clark. p.325.

[xl] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.157.

[xli] Ibid. Clark. p.325

[xlii] Ibid. Carell. p.341

[xliii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.158

[xliv]Newton, Steven H. Hitler’s Commander: Field Marshal Walter Model, Hitler’s Favorite General. DeCapo Press, Cambridge MA 2005. pp.218-219

[xlv] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.21

[xlvi] Ibid. Newton. p.219

[xlvii] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.295

[xlviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.158

[xlix] Ibid. Clark. p.326

[l] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.63

[li] Overy, Richard. Russia’s War: A History of the Soviet War Effort: 1941-1945. Penguin Books, New York NY and London, 1997. pp.200-201

[lii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.159

[liii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kurskp.64

[liv] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.65 This reference contains a listing of each sector and the force ratios of men, tanks and guns in each sector.

[lv] Raus, Erhard. Panzer Operation: The Eastern Front Memoir of General Raus, 1941-1945. Compiled and Translated by Steven H Newton. Da Capo Press a member of the Perseus Book Group, Cambridge, MA 2003. p.197

[lvi] Weingartner, James. J. Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler: A Military History, 1933-45. Battery Press, Nashville, TN.(no publication date listed)  p.81

[lvii] Ibid. Clark. p.327

[lviii] Ibid. Manstein. p.447

[lix] Ibid. Manstein. pp.447-448

[lx] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.55

[lxi] Ibid. Warlimont. p.334

[lxii] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.445

[lxiii] Von Mellenthin, F.W. Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armor in the Second World War. Translated by H. Betzler, Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 1971. Originally Published University of Oklahoma Press, 1956. p.262

[lxiv] Ibid. Manstein. p.448

[lxv] Ibid. Clark. p.328

[lxvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.78

[lxvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. pp.81-84

[lxviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.166

[lxix] Ibid. Erickson. P.99

[lxx] Erickson, John. The Road to Berlin. Cassel Military Paperbacks, London, 2003. First Published by Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1983. p.99

[lxxi] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.166

[lxxii] Ibid. Newton. p.222

[lxxiii] Ibid. Newton. 234

[lxxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.121

[lxxv] Ibid. Carell. p.342

[lxxvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.121

[lxxvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.166

[lxxviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.166

[lxxix] Ibid. Overy. p.209

[lxxx] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. pp.215-217

[lxxxi] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.274

[lxxxii] Ibid. Manstein. p.449

[lxxxiii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. pp.217-218.

[lxxxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.167

[lxxxv] Ibid. Clark. pp.329-330

[lxxxvi] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.264

[lxxxvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.269

[lxxxviii] Macksey, Kenneth. Why the Germans Lose at War. Greenhill Books 1996, Barnes and Noble, New York,  2006. p.227

[lxxxix] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p. 261

[xc] Ibid. Carell. p.342

[xci] Ibid. Manstein. p.449

[xcii] Ibid. Guderian. p.251

[xciii] Ibid. Warlimont. p.334

[xciv] Ibid. Macksey. Guderian p.206

[xcv] Ibid. Raus. p.211

[xcvi] Ibid. DiNardo. p.178

[xcvii] Ibid. DiNardo. p.181

[xcviii] Ibid. Erickson. p.91

[xcix] Ibid. DiNardo. pp.182-188

Bibliography

Carell, Paul. Scorched Earth: The Russian German War 1943-1944. Translated by Ewald Osers, Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1971, published in arrangement with Little-Brown and Company

Clark, Allan. Barbarossa:  The Russian-German Conflict 1941-45. Perennial, an Imprint of Harper Collins Books, New York, NY 2002. Originally published by William Morrow, New York, NY 1965

DiNardo, Richard L. Germany and the Axis Powers: From Coalition to Collapse.University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 2005

Dunn, Walter S. Jr. Heroes or Traitors: The German Replacement Arm, the July Plot, and Adolf Hitler. Praeger Publishers, Westport CT and London, 2003

Erickson, John. The Road to Berlin. Cassel Military Paperbacks, London, 2003. First Published by Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1983

Glantz, David M and House, Jonathan. The Battle of Kursk.  University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1999.

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

Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff 1657-1945. Translated by Brian Battershaw. Westview Press. Boulder CO and London. 1985 Originally published as Der Deutsche Generalstab, Verlag der Fankfurter Hefte, Frankfurt am Main.  First U.S. publication in 1953 by Preager Publishers

Guderian, Heinz. Panzer Leader. (abridged) Translated from the German by Constantine Fitzgibbon, Ballantine Books, New York 1957

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

Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Quill Publishing, New York, NY. 1979. Copyright 1948 by B.H. Liddell-Hart.

Macksey, Kenneth. Guderian: Creator of the Blitzkrieg. Stein and Day Publishing, New York, NY 1975

Macksey, Kenneth. Why the Germans Lose at War. Greenhill Books 1996, Barnes and Noble, New York, 2006

Manstein, Erich von. Lost Victories. Translated by Anthony G. Powell, Zenith Press, an imprint of MBI Publishing Company, St Paul, MN. 2004. First Published as Verlorene Siege Athenaum-Verlag, Bonn, GE 1955, English edition Methuen & Company Ltd. 1958

Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War.  The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 2000

Newton, Steven H. Hitler’s Commander: Field Marshal Walter Model, Hitler’s Favorite General. DeCapo Press, Cambridge MA 2005

Overy, Richard. Russia’s War: A History of the Soviet War Effort: 1941-1945.Penguin Books, New York NY and London, 1997

Raus, Erhard. Panzer Operation: The Eastern Front Memoir of General Raus, 1941-1945. Compiled and Translated by Steven H Newton. Da Capo Press a member of the Perseus Book Group, Cambridge, MA 2003

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

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

Weingartner, James. J. Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler: A Military History, 1933-45. Battery Press, Nashville, TN.(no publication date listed)

Wray, Timothy A. Standing Fast: German Defensive Doctrine on the Russian Front in World War II, Prewar to March 1943. U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, KS. 1986.

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Filed under History, Military, nazi germany, world war two in europe

Repeating Historical Myths: The Trump Administration and the “Stab in the Back”

stab-in-the-back

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In light of the many flagrant lies, historical myths and conspiracy theories being floated by President Trump and his supporters  is always appropriate to look at examples of the power of those myths in the lives of nations and their influence on citizens.

It is true that some myths can be positive and inspiring so long as they remain recognized as myth. But myths which are believed as truth lead to conspiracy theories, false accusations and the demonization of others. The vast majority of the time this is done for the purpose of inciting hatred against political, social or religious opponents, or to justify indefensible polices at home or abroad.

Myths also can be used to perpetuate false beliefs about other countries that influence policy decisions, including the decision to go to war that ultimately doom those that believe them. There are many times in history where leaders of nations and peoples embrace myths about their history even when historical, biographical and archeological evidence points to an entirely different record.  Myths are powerful in the way that they inspire and motivate people. They can provide a cultural continuity as a people celebrates the key events and people that shaped their past, even if they are not entirely true.  At the same time myths can be dangerous when they cause leaders and people to make bad choices and actually become destructive.

A good example of this is the Stab in the Back myth that began after the armistice that ended the First World War, as well as the false beliefs held by Hitler and other Nazi leaders about the United States.

Just two days ago President Trump’s Chief Economic Advisor Larry Kudlow accused Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of “stabbing President Trump in the back” following the G7 meeting in Quebec. The choice of words was not only unfortunate but buttresses every action that the President has taken to delegitimatize faithful allies and partners since long before his inauguration.  In doing so he embraced an infamous term used so often by the Nazis and others on the German right following the defeat of Germany in the First World War.

After the war the belief that the German Army was not defeated but was betrayed by the German people, especially those of the political left.  Like all myths there was an element of truth in the “stab in the back” myth, there were revolts against the Monarchy of Kaiser Wilhelm II and even mutiny on elements of the German High Seas Fleet and Army units stationed in Germany. However the crisis had been brought about by General Ludendorff who until the last month of the war refused to tell the truth about the gravity of Germany’s position to those in the German government.

So when everything came crashing down in late October and early November 1918 the debacle came as a surprise to most Germans.  The myth arose because the truth had not been told by Ludendorff who was arguably the most powerful figure in Germany from 1916-1918.  In the looming crisis which included Ludendorff’s collapse and relief, General Wilhelm Groener presented the facts to the Kaiser and insisted on his abdication.  The Republic that was proclaimed on the 9th of November was saddled with the defeat and endured revolution, civil war and threats from the extreme left and right.  When it signed the Treaty of Versailles it accepted the sole responsibility of Germany for the war and its damages. Ordered to dismantle its military, cede territory that had not been lost in battle and pay massive reparations the legend of the “stab in the back” gained widespread acceptance in Germany.

Hitler always believed that the defeat of Germany in the First World War was due to the efforts of internal enemies of the German Reich on the home front and not due to the fact that the German army was collapsing, the U-Boat campaign had failed, and the Navy’s High Seas Fleet was hopelessly outnumbered and incapable of defeating the Royal Navy and breaking the blockade that was strangling Germany.

The Stab in the Back was a fundamental belief of Hitler and was expressed in his writings, speeches and actions.  The internal enemies of Germany for Hitler included the Jews, as well as the Socialists and Communists who he believed were at the heart of the collapse on the home front.  Gerhard Weinberg believes that the effect of this misguided belief on Hitler’s actions has “generally been ignored” by historians. (Germany, Hitler and World War II p. 196)

Hitler believed that those people and groups that perpetrated the “stab in the back” were “beguiled by the by the promises of President Wilson” (World in the Balance p.92) in his 14 Points.  Thus for him Americans were in part responsible for undermining the German home front, something that he would not allow to happen again.  In fact Hitler characterization of Wilson’s effect on the German people in speaking about South Tyrol.  It is representative of his belief about not only the loss of that region but the war: “South Tyrol was lost by those who, from within Germany, caused attrition at the front, and by the contamination of German thinking with the sham declarations of Woodrow Wilson.” (Hitler’s Second Book p.221)

While others will note Hitler’s lack of respect for the potential power of the United States, no other author that I am familiar with links Hitler’s actions and the reaction of the German political, military and diplomatic elites to the entry of the United States into the war to the underlying belief in the “stab in the back.”   Likewise Hitler had little regard for the military abilities or potential of the United States. Albert Speer notes that Hitler believed “the Americans had not played a very prominent role in the war of 1914-1918,” and that “they would certainly not withstand a great trial by fire, for their fighting qualities were low.” (Inside the Third Reich: Memoirs by Albert Speer p.121)

Hitler not only dismissed the capabilities of the Americans but also emphasized the distance that they were from Germany and saw no reason to fear the United States when “he anticipated major victories on the Eastern Front.” (Germany Hitler and World War II p.92)   Hitler’s attitude was reflected by the majority of the military high command and high Nazi officials. Ribbentrop believed that the Americans would be unable to wage war if it broke out “as they would never get their armies across the Atlantic.” (History of the German General Staff, Walter Goerlitz, p.408).  General Walter Warlimont notes the “ecstasy of rejoicing” found at Hitler’s headquarters after Pearl Harbor and the fact that the he and Jodl at OKW caught by surprise by Hitler’s declaration of war. (Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-1945 pp.207-209) Kenneth Macksey notes Warlimont’s comments about Hitler’s beliefs; that Hitler “tended to dismiss American fighting qualities and industrial capability,” and that Hitler “regarded anyone who tried to show him such information [about growing American strength] as defeatist.”(Why the Germans Lose at War, Kenneth Macksey, p.153.)

Others like Field Marshal Erwin Rommel record the disregard of senior Nazis toward American capabilities in weaponry.  Quoting Goering who when Rommel discussed 40mm anti-aircraft guns on aircraft that were devastating his armored forces Goering replied “That’s impossible. The Americans only know how to make razor blades.” (The Rommel Papers edited by B.H. Liddell-Hart p.295) Rommel was one of the few German commanders who recognized the folly of Hitler’s declaration of war on the United States noting that “By declaring war on America, we had brought the entire American industrial potential into the service of Allied war production. We in Africa knew all about the quality of its achievements.” (The Rommel Papers p.296)

When one also takes into account the general disrespect of the German military for the fighting qualities of American soldiers though often with good reason (see Russell Weigley’s books Eisenhower’s Lieutenants and The American Way of War) one sees how the myth impacted German thought.  This is evidenced by the disparaging comments of the pre-war German military attaché to the United States; General Boeticher, on the American military, national character and capability. (See World in the Balance pp. 61-62)

The overall negative view held by many Germans in regard to the military and industrial power and potential of the United States reinforced other parts of the myth. Such false beliefs served to bolster belief in the stab-in-the back theory as certainly the Americans could not have played any important role in the German defeat save Wilson’s alleged demoralization of the German population.  This was true not only of Hitler, but by most of his retinue and the military, diplomatic and industrial leadership of the Reich. Hitler’s ultimate belief shaped by the stab-in-the back and reinforced by his racial views which held the United States to be an inferior mongrel people. This led him to disregard the impact that the United States could have in the war and ultimately influenced his decision to declare war on the United States, a decision that would be a key factor in the ultimate defeat of Germany.

Myth can have positive value, but myth which becomes toxic can and often does lead to tragic consequences. All societies have some degree of myth in relationship to their history including the United States.  The myths are not all the same, various subgroups within the society create their own myth surrounding historic events. The danger is that those myths can supplant reason in the minds of political, military, media and religious figures and lead those people into taking actions that work to their own detriment or even destruction.

Today the President leads the way in promoting lies patently false myths in the name of his personal greatness which he shrouds himself while conflating that with making America great again all the while endangering the country. He has been promoting conspiracy theories for nearly a decade and has never stopped doing so or offered an apology for those words.

It is the duty of historians, philosophers and others in the society to ensure that myth does not override reality to the point that it moves policy both domestic and foreign in a manner that is ultimately detrimental to the nation.  The lesson of history demonstrated by myths surrounding the German defeat and role of the United States in that defeat shows just how myth can drive a nation to irrational, evil and ultimately tragic actions not only for that nation and its people, but for the world.

Sadly, it appears that the United States led by President Trump is following the path of Hitler’s Germany in terms of how it views the world and treats other nations and history will not be kind to us.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“It Can’t Happen Here” but it is Happening Before Our Eyes

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In 1935 the American writer Sinclair Lewis wrote a novel called It Can’t Happen Here. It was a semi-satirical novel about a Fascist state coming to power in the United States. In it Lewis wrote these words:

“A country that tolerates evil means- evil manners, standards of ethics-for a generation, will be so poisoned that it never will have any good end.”

I believe that we are seeing that happen before our eyes. That being said I realized from the beginning of the Trump campaign that it would to this at home and abroad. I was looking back at my archives going even back to 2012 after President Obama’s re-election and found that I had written about Trump’s maniacal desire to upend defy political and social norms and demonstrate his contempt for the Constitution and our laws. When he announced his campaign he began by appealing to nationalism and racism and he never stopped.

On December 15th 2015 I wrote these words in an article entitled The Mob Determined the Theme. Some people thought that I was writing about the Mafia or gangs, but I was talking about mob rule. Those words are here:

“When Albert Speer discussed the ability of Adolf Hitler to captivate the German people he noted something important. He discussed how Hitler and his minions played to them set by the disgruntled and angry German population. Speer wrote, “The mob determined the theme. To compensate for misery, insecurity, unemployment, and hopelessness, this anonymous assemblage wallowed for hours at a time in obsessions, savagery and license. The personal unhappiness caused by the breakdown of the economy was replaced by a frenzy that demanded victims. By lashing out at their opponents and vilifying the Jews, they gave expression and direction to fierce primal passions.”

Hitler played to that misery, insecurity and the obsessions of the politically and economically disaffected “conservative base” that no longer trusted the party establishments of the old-line conservative parties. He also played to the deep-rooted racism and anti-Semitism of those people. Hitler was an outsider, he was not indebted to any traditional party hierarchy and as such was able to throw away convention and play to the fear and anger of many Germans.

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Donald Trump is doing today and he is running circles around the traditional politicians of the Republican Party. Every time trump says something that would have gotten himself blown out of the race twenty years ago had he said such things, today his poll numbers keep going up. He is now trending around 35% in most polls of GOP voters and my guess is that those numbers are low, as some supporters may not be willing to tell a pollster that they are for Trump, at least yet. My guess is that Trump’s support in the GOP is probably higher than 40% and won’t go down much. The party hierarchy and most of Trump’s primary rivals consistently criticize Trump, but most say that they will back him if he is the nominee. I cannot imagine that being the case twenty years ago when both the party establishment and the voters would have dumped him in a New York minute.

Aug. 21. 2015 Mobile, AL, Trump supporters at his campaign pep rally in Ladd Peebles Stadium. These women are all party of the Republican Party and plan to vote for Trump.  Over 20 thousand came to the Ladd-Peebles Stadium to attend Trumps campaign pep rally. 40,000 were expected to come.

Trump understands the mood of much of the traditionally conservative public better than his Republican establishment competitors. Trump is not stupid, unlike Hitler who actually believed in his message, Trump is not a radical, he cannot be, he has too much invested in the system. Instead, he is a street smart and pragmatic businessman who is exploiting the situation on the ground to his advantage. His opponents and the GOP establishment are frightened, but like the hidebound conservatives of the Weimar Republic who either dismissed or Hitler or thought that they could contain him are not willing to make a stand. As a result, Trump is able to play to the mood of the base and to coin a phrase, to “trump the establishment” by channeling the deepest anger, fear, hatred, xenophobia, and racism that the GOP establishment refuses to acknowledge. When there is a push back by the establishment it further angers the base, and Trump, quite adroitly threatens to leave the party; something which would doom the GOP in the 2016 general election, and possibly shatter the party.

Trump’s GOP opponents should not underestimate him and neither should establishment Democrats. Trump is using his celebrity bombast and the democratic process to take control of a major political party, and he is a lot smarter than most political analysts give him credit. As such, as a non-establishment outsider, Trump has a chance at taking over a major political party, something that has never before happened in the United States.

If he succeeds in his takeover bid, it will forever change American politics, especially if he is able to ride the fear, hatred, and fear to the White House. I don’t think the latter will happen, but I would not exclude it from the realm of the possible. To paraphrase Speer’s words about Hitler and Goebbels: By lashing out at their opponents and vilifying the Muslims and immigrants, Trump gave expression and direction to fierce primal passions of a disaffected GOP base.”

That was in 2015.

On July 22nd 2017 I wrote I Alone Can Fix It: Trump’s Dictatorial Message as I observed the new GOP nominee at the GOP National Convention. Five months later I wrote on December 27th 2016 I wrote Freedom is Never More than a Generation from Extinction. On March 22nd of this year I wrote Trump’s America: Saving the Form But not the Soul. I could go on and link many other articles but I will not, I have incriminated myself enough tonight.

Now that Donald Trump is in power he has used the Department of Homeland Security through a militarized ICE using mass incarcerations, expulsions, separating children from their families, and operating prison facilities from which people who are not with any crime charged are held indefinitely without legal representation. He has opening given support to White Supremacists including Neo-Nazis. He continues to threaten the Press, the political opposition, and long time allies using his Twitter account and his sycophants at Fox News and a multitude of Right Wing propaganda outlets to peddle lies as truth label those who tell the truth as liars and peddlers of Fake News.

He shows no interest in Civil Rights except support measures at the Federal, State, and local levels to roll back civil rights for ethnic, racial, and religious minorities, women, and LGBTQ people. His economic and social policies are designed to benefit his allies, especially the top 1% and politically reliable Evangelical Christians while impoverishing and disenfranchising all others. He labels all who oppose or criticize him and his policies as enemies of the state and traitors.

In terms of foreign policy he has during the course of his presidency personally undermined and now destroyed alliances and treaties that Presidents from Franklin Roosevelt to Barak Obama worked to sustain. Those Presidents who included Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan helped build those alliances and forge those treaties for our good and the good of our allies and those who we welcomed into the fold of democratic ideals. Instead he makes diplomatic war on our allies while openly praising dictators abroad and carrying out the dictates of Vladimir Putin.

This brings me back to his attacks on the American Justice system of which almost all are tied to his, his family’s, and his advisor’s connection with Russia attempts to undermine American elections and the military attack and occupation of parts of the Ukraine, which during his campaign he supported by saying that the conquered Ukrainian regions “probably preferred Russian rule.” Neither before or after his election did he, his aides ever condemn the shoot-down of a commercial airliner by Russian forces near the Russian-Ukrainian border. The actions in the Ukraine led the G-7 to expel Russia. This weekend the President proposed reinstating the Russians despite the fact that they are still actively working against the United States and our Allies.

He is launching a trade war with our allies and leading trading partners which will be disastrous to most Americans.

Later today he will attempt to “negotiate a deal” with the North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un while admitting that he has done no preparation for it. I would hope for a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula but I believe that the President will either come back with a deal that works to the advantage of the North Koreans or which will fail and bring about war in Northeast Asia. If he does come up with a deal it is very possible that he will use it as a means to go to war against Iran which will result in an apocalyptic conflagration in the Middle-East.

As he does all of this he surrounds himself with terrified yes men who are too afraid of him to tell the truth while increasing his attacks on the law, the Constitution, and people that he sees as his personal enemies at home and abroad. As I watch him and read what he writes I am reminded of Winston Churchill’s who wrote:

“You see these dictators on their pedestals, surrounded by the bayonets of their soldiers and the truncheons of their police … yet in their hearts there is unspoken fear. They are afraid of words and thoughts: words spoken abroad, thoughts stirring at home — all the more powerful because forbidden — terrify them. A little mouse of thought appears in the room, and even the mightiest potentates are thrown into panic.” 

The President’s aggressiveness is not brought about by confidence, it is brought about by his fear, he cannot abide criticism of any kind, thus he must crush it.

I fear for what is coming and I am not sure if our institutions, laws, or Constitution will survive in any recognizable form. I want them to, but right now I do not see light at the end of this tunnel, and I would much rather be wrong than right.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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