Tag Archives: auschwitz

“An Exercise in Exceptions” Faith in the Evil Age of Trump

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Likewise, Rabbi Emil Fackenheim noted:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We think we’ve come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches it’s all ancient history. Then – before you can blink an eye – suddenly it threatens to start all over again.”

It is happening, all around the world, and it could easily happen here. The unwavering support of Evangelical, Charismatic/Pentecostal, and other conservative Christians for Trump, people who believe that anyone who opposes Trump is an enemy of God demonstrates that.  Our founders realized how easily it could happen, and they warned us about it; but they are dead, and neither Trump or his followers give a damn about them or the Constitution that they crafted.

How can it not be. This is nothing new. In discussions with aides concerned about the more onerous provisions of the Patriot Act renewal, President George W. Bush became aggravated and shouted: “Stop throwing the Constitution in my face,… It’s just a goddamned piece of paper!”

Personally I, believe that Bush uttered those words in a time of stress and anger. Could he have been reacting emotionally to resistance from his staff? I think that is a real possibility that is the case. On the other hand, it could have been what he really thought of the Constitution, especially in light of the fact that of many of his staff, cabinet, and advisors had all been convicted of crimes during the Reagan administration. Many would influence Bush’s decision to attack Iraq in 2003. But I digress.

Many followers of the current President are far more dangerous than Trump, because they will outlast him by a generation, or more, always waiting for the chance to grab power by any means possible. A prime example is the heretical and money grubbing Paula White, who is now the President’s “spiritual advisor.” Likewise they are true believers in authoritarian, theocratic government, and are no better than the Taliban, the Iranian Ayatollahs, or the Saudi Mullahs.

Trump is a problem, and he needs to be impeached and convicted, or voted out of office, I personally believe him to be malfeasant and evil, but some of his action and behaviors could be related to some form of dementia, that has only made his narcissist tendencies worse.

But his supporters should know better, especially the ones who claim to be Observant Christians, or Jews. How anyone who supposedly studies the Jewish and Christian scriptures and traditions, yet supports and defends Trump is beyond me. It is more about faith than politics for me, though mine do often intersect. Being “pro-life” means much more than being “anti-abortion.” Being “pro-Christian morality” means more than being “anti-gay.” Being pro-Religious Freedom means more than being more than supporting policies that only benefit Christians, and I am a Christian. Some may take exception to that, Conservative Christians especially, but those of other religious as well as non-believers as well. However, it has been my experience that Atheists and Agnostics, as well as others that do not subscribe to my faith hold the Constitution in higher regard than most of the Christians that I know, or for than matter Muslims who have grown up as citizens in this country, and serve in our Armed Forces.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Who Were the Victims? Does Anybody Care? The Holocaust and War Crimes Today

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tonight I write about the victims of the Holocaust, and other Nazi Crimes Against Humanity. At the heart of the Nazi crimes was the genocide committed against the Jews, but the Nazi crimes extended far beyond them; the systemic extermination of the handicapped, mentally ill, chronically sick, and others deemed to be Life Unworthy of Life. Likewise there was the killing of possible political political opponents in the Reich and conquered territories; the intentional starvation of Poles and Russians, the use of slave labor, and the indiscriminate killing of civilians.

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

Who were they?

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

To the average German of the time they were subhuman, and even those not fully in agreement with the Nazis seldom cared, and simply turned their backs. There were the perpetrators and the bystanders, who seldom if ever thought about their victims. In a way very much like most of us don’t even blink when we are confronted with war crimes committed by our own soldiers, and their victims, or innocent women and children killed during air or drone strikes where perhaps one or two at best terrorists or insurgents were reportedly located.

we have a lot to learn from the past.

The victims of the Nazis, like so many others who have committed crimes against humanity, including us, were men and women, wives and husbands, sons and daughters. They spanned the spectrum from infants to the aged. Too many times multiple generations of families went to death together. Examples of the Nazi crimes are so numerous that they must never be forgotten. That is why I write tonight, that we never forget, so we do not repeat them ourselves. Human nature is human nature, and as much as we think we have progressed, the darkness still resides in us, and we must fight to do right.

However, some witnesses to the Nazi crimes were appalled and when the Nazi regime finally was crushed testified to those crimes.

One of them was Hermann Graebe, a civilian employed to help build roads for the Wehrmacht came across one of the many massacres committed up close and personal by SS Men on October 5th 1943 at Dubno, Ukraine. At Nuremberg he testified:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Columns of Jews march past a corpse in Kiev

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Jews at Babi Yar waiting to be murdered

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

They thought they were just being relocated.              

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He continued with some pride during cross examination:

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

But the bodies…

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

Every one of those bodies, the cold statistics of the Nazi machine were people like you and me. In April of 2018 I visited the United States Holocaust Museum while visiting friends in Washington D. C.

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

          The Tower of Faces at the United States Holocaust Museum 

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

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

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

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

               Wehrmacht Troops Pose With Jews that They Hanged 

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

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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A Pilgrimage to Dachau

 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Sunday, I made pilgrimage to the Concentration Camp at Dachau outside of Munich. I took the S-Bahn, a local commenter train from the Ostbahnhof near the hotel I am staying at to Dachau. Then I walked the approximately two and a half miles from the Dachau Bahnhof to the camp, following the same route as the  men and women, Gentile and Jew, that arrived at the camp following its establishment in 1933.

The weather suited the occasion, while not cold at all, there was cloud cover, sometimes thin enough to let a little bit of the sun shine through. As I walked down the streets I noted that many were named for victims who were either imprisoned at Dachau, or later killed at the camp, or sent to Auschwitz, Buchenwald, or other places where they were murdered.

Dachau was initially established as an extrajudicial place of incarceration and punishment shortly after Hitler’s seizure of power in 1933, by the local Munich Nazi Party and its SS under control of the Nazi Police President of Munich, Heinrich Himmler. The first prisoners were political prisoners transferred from the Stadelheim prison in Munich, and the Landsberg prison not too far away. However, under the initial administration of Hilmar Wäkerle, managed to engage in practices so disgusting that Himmler relieved him and placed Theodor Eicke in charge. Eicke, was certainly cruel, but he insisted on controlled violence against the prisoners. Under his command the camp became the model for all other concentration camps, and many of his subordinates went on to command some of the worst of them. The rules for guards and prisoners alike became the regulations for all concentration camps.

The cynical motto that Eicke placed at the gate of Dachau, “Arbeit Macht Frei”  found its way to the notorious camp at Auschwitz, under the command of Rudolf Höss who had served under Eicke at Dachau.

While not a “death camp” per say, an estimated 30,000 prisoners were murdered there and tens of thousands of others sent to the death factories in Poland, including Auschwitz.

Unlike the past I did not go to the museum. Instead I walked, meditated, and remembered the evil perpetrated at Dachau and the other camps. Of course there were many people from all over the word there. Some were on guided tours, others  using the mobile device for tours, but there was a certain respect for the dead and what happened at Dachau that I have seen at many of America’s historic sites, including Gettysburg.

I will continue to walk, remember, and bear witness even as the perpetrators, victims, and bystanders of the times pass away. In fact I need to get back to work on that book and my proposal to my agent for it.

Tomorrow is already here for us in Munich, so I wish you a good evening.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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“Life Unworthy of Life” The Killing Of the Handicapped and Mentally Ill at the T4 Euthanasia Center at Hadamar


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In a couple of weeks my wife Judy and I will be traveling to Germany for a time of relaxation, study, and visits with German friends. I will be writing about those events as they occur. But as we get closer to going I began to reflect on our visit to Germany. At the end of that visit while visiting our friends Gottfried and Hannelore I took a trip with Gottfried to the T4 Euthanasia Center memorial at Hadamar which is about 12 miles from where they live.

Hadamar had been a mental hospital for decades before it was chosen as one of six places where an euthanasia program ordered by Hitler was to be conducted. Hitler ordered the program on September 1st 1939, the same day his forces invaded Poland.

Under the cover of the title Reich Committee for the Scientific Registering Of Serious Hereditary and Congenital Illnesses.” Under the Direction Of Hitler’s accompanying physician, Dr. Karl Brandt, Philipp Bouhler of the Party Chancellery, the Action, with Hitler’s full approval began, in Germany and the newly occupied territories in Poland.

Between 1941 and 1945 over 15,000 people, deemed to be “life unworthy of life” were murdered at Hadamar. The victims were killed in a bus garage where they were killed with carbon monoxide gas, the gas chamber, or by lethal injection or intentional overdoses of barbiturates while laying in bed at night. The gas chambers at Hadamar ceased operations at the end of 1941 and were removed, making the killings in the next stages “up close and personal” killings done by medical professionals. The specialists that operated them were transferred to run the death camps in German occupied Poland.


Those killed at Hadamar included men, women, and children deemed to have diseases, handicaps, or mental illnesses that kept them from being a useful part of the German economy, or a drain on society. Likewise, there were many people brought to Hadamar to be sterilized so they could never reproduce. The orders for this action came from Hitler himself and were based on what were in the early 20th Century very popular expressions of Social Darwinism which were not isolated to Germany. Sadly, there were those who expressed the same thoughts and conducted medical experiments and sterilization short of euthanasia in many Western countries, including the United States.

The victims included the handicapped, the mentally ill, those born with Down’s Syndrome or other neurological diseases, Jews, people with long term illnesses, children, people determined to be asocial, and during the war soldiers, including those of the Waffen SS who were determined to have mental illness, including what we would now call PTSD which made them unfit for active service.

Karl Brandt 

The relatives of those killed received notification from the authorities that their son, daughter, sister, or brother had died of natural causes, certified by the doctors who had decided that they should die. Unlike the extermination camps in the East, or the concentration camps, the killing in Hadamar and the other T4 centers was conducted by medical personnel. The T4 directorate “created a transport company, Gekrat, that collected the doomed patients from their respective institutions by bus. They were taken first to “transit institutions” for a temporary stay and then to the killing centers. Following their deaths by carbon monoxide, families of the victims received falsified death notices. By August 1941 over 70,000 people had perished in the gas chambers of Brandenburg, Grafeneck, Hartheim, Sonnenstein, Hadamar and Bernburg.” (Browning, Christopher. The Origins Of the Final Solution, September 1939 – March 1942 p. 191) 

When the first phase, that which used carbon monoxide gas in the bus garage was ended, many of the personnel involved were transferred to help run the extermination camps including Treblinka, Soribor, and Auschwitz in the east. After the official ending of the gassings at the T4 centers, the killings continued, this time up close and personal using lethal injections of barbiturates by nurses under the supervision of physicians. When the staff of Hadamar killed their 10,000th victim, they had a party.

Hadamar with Crematorium in Operation 

Jewish victims were treated no differently, apart from that their executioners notified their families that they had died in an asylum at Chelm, Poland. The same faked death notices were sent to their survivors from Chelm to add to the deception.

The service of the gas chamber personnel at Hadamar and the other T4 was little more than a training ground for their future employment. Historian Christopher Browning noted that “the connection between Nazi “Euthanasia” and the Final Solution goes well beyond the personnel, technology, and procedure. The killing of the handicapped and the Jews were two essential elements of the Nazi’s wider vision of creating a racial utopia. The former was to cleanse the German race of its “degenerate” or “defective” elements. The latter was to destroy its ultimate enemy. They were two campaigns in the same crusade.” (Browning p. 193) 

I will write more about the T4 Program and Hadamar at another time. That being said I have to admit that the visit was chilling. In addition to being a memorial, with historical classes, seminars, and tours being offered, the campus is used for many other activities, including medical and educational programs. Likewise, unlike places like Dachau, which are not particularly scenic locations, Hadamar, located in rural Hessen is a place that one could never imagine mass murder ever have taken place. It is a beautiful and peaceful location, so the crimes that happened there, although numerically small compared to other camps are unimaginable.

Afterwards Gottfried and I talked and went back to his house. I went on a walk to the town hall, or the Rathaus to see the towns memorial to the Jews who lived there before the war and then I took a walk in the surrounding area and went back to the Jewish cemetery which I had visited last night as the grave stones could not be read in the dark. Those which were still legible were written in Hebrew and or German and most dated to the 1800s and early 1900s. As I mentioned last night the Jews who remained in Loehnberg were forced to sell their houses and belongings and were sent to the extermination centers. At least one survived and she helped dedicate the memorial at the Rathaus in 1991. One thing that I do like about Germany is that the majority of the people now have the opinion that the crimes of their parents, grandparents, or even great-grandparents generations need to be remembered, and the victims, and not the perpetrators be honored. I wish it was that way in the United States where we honor too many of the men who brought genocide to the Native American tribes, or enslaved African Americans and considered both the be less than human.

      Nazi Propaganda Poster on the Cost Of Caring for Handicapped and Mentally Ill 

As I walked through the forests and meadows surrounding Loehnberg after my visit to Hadamar, as well as my visits to Dachau, the White Rose Memorial and museum at the University of Munich, and the National Socialist Documentation Center in Munich I did a lot of thinking. I wondered about people who could excuse such terrible crimes in the name of love of country, or even worse because they really believed that God thought that their country and race mattered more than others. I began to think about Manifest Destiny and American Exceptionalism in the light of what happened in Germany, a people who believed for close to 80 years that God intended them to dominate Europe and even the world. Many of theological writings of the times in Germany and the United States.

Honestly, I think that there are a lot of people in the United States who call themselves “Pro Life” because they are anti-abortion or against birth control that would have no problem with the methods of the Nazis at Hadamar so long as those methods either brought them a profit, political power, or were used against people that they thought were less than human. Since lot of these people, mostly self-identified Evangelical and Catholic Christians frequently are in lockstep with President Trump, and cheer him on as he identifies those that he believes to be less than human or unworthy of existence in the United States, I have no doubt that they would either approve and justify such actions or turn their backs on the victims. As for the President, he has openly mocked the handicapped, he gives the support of his office to Neo-Nazi and White Supremacists, and he seldom speaks up for the victims of Neo-Nazi or White Supremacist murderers.

When I ponder all of this it sends a cold chill down my spine, because many of the President’s supporters are our neighbors, co-workers, acquaintances, friends, and family members, and we rub shoulders with them every day. As financial conditions worsen, look for them to look to the government to eliminate what they consider to be Life Unworthy Of Life. 

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“A Country that Will Tolerate Evil Means – Evil Manners, and Standards Of Ethics… Will be So Poisoned that it Never Have Any Good End”

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tonight I am re-posting an older article that I think is even more pertinent than it was when I first wrote it. I am doing this because I haven’t slept well for the past few weeks. My sleep doctor ordered me a BIPAP machine, replacing my CPAP. Hopefully it will help me sleep better. It may not stop all the crazy PTSD dreams and nightmares, but maybe I will sleep better, but I digress.

Thew fact is that many of Trump’s followers were prepared for his advent by years of highly politicized propaganda nationalistic covered with a very thin veneer of Christian jibber-jabber, most of which is at odds with 2000 years of the teachings of the Church going back to Jesus. But this propaganda has brought about a wave of hatred that consumes many toward those that they identify as enemies, and indifference to the victims of the policies that their political and clerical leaders espouse.

Historian Ian Kershaw wrote: “The road to Auschwitz was built by hate, but paved with indifference.” I find that comment all too real today when I look at the President, his propagandists, and those who follow him without question even when they know that he is lying to them.

The longer that I live the more that I understand how this happens. Today, as there were in 1930s and 1940s Nazi Germany, there are all too many hate-filled ideologues who desire to destroy or subjugate entire races and ethnic groups, or members of different religions or political ideologies. In the United States they have free reign to do speak and write freely about their goals and for many years we have regarded most of them as fringe characters who had no chance of ever enacting anything that they proposed.

Barry Goldwater, the true conservative scion of the GOP was frightened by the Christians who now form the core of the Trump personality cult. Goldwater said:

“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.” 

Many of these were and continue to be the most vocal supporters of President Trump, and see in him a man who will help them accomplish their desires as no President has done before. One of them, Steve Bannon who served as his chief policy adviser and strategist. Likewise, there are no shortage of civil rights opponents and proponents of a police state in his cabinet, including his first, Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, and his current AG, William Barr. While serving. As AG before he was fired, Sessions, the top law enforcement official in the country joined a chorus of Republican youth chanting “lock her up” meaning former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. More recently Mr. Barr has moved to ensure that the Executive Branch achieves the primacy over the legislative and judicial branches that it is denied in the Constitution. Ken Cuccinelli said that the words on the Statue Of Liberty only applied to those of European descent.

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Despite the myriad of actions taken by the Trump administration, its abuses of power, its probable connections to a hostile power, its attempts to shut down law enforcement probes of the Russia connections, its unabashed attempts to silence the press and all other opponents, and its nearly uncountable number of lies and distortions that it makes on a daily basis is that the vast majority of Congressional Republicans nor his supposedly Christian followers seem to care.

Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of opposition, but among his followers and the great number of people in the middle who prefer not to get involved there is little real opposition; moral, religious, ethical, or political to anything that he says or does, mostly because they do not understand how it effects them or their liberties, nor how toxic it is to the nation. It seems to me that they are not only apathetic to the abuses of power, but have no empathy towards the people that they are directed against.

But as I said at the opening of this article, the were prepared by decades of political propaganda covered with a veneer of Christian jibber-jabber. I know this because for a bit over two decades I was exposed to it and and believed it. Years ago I knew and went to church with Randall Terry, the former head Operation Rescue. He once said: “Let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good…” I have walked in the shoes of Trump’s “Christian” personality cult, and at one time I was as whipped into a frenzy of hate by those preachers, and their colleagues in right wing talk radio. That was before I went to and returned from Iraq. Thus I fully understand them and now I reject them and their intolerant creeds.

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For the Trump supporters this is not a problem. He represents a chance for them to recover their greatness, just as Hitler did for many of his followers in the 1930s, including those who joined the Party late. One of the greatest film monologues that illustrated this phenomenon is that of Burt Lancaster in his portrayal of a Nazi judge who is on trial in the movie Judgment at Nuremberg. His comments remind me so much of what I see among many Trump supporters today:

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

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While we have not reached the point that the Third Reich did between 1933 and 1938, it will not take much for us to get there. Trump is certainly not Hitler, but he is escalating his words and actions toward the establishment of an authoritarian state. We misjudge ourselves if we belief that such things cannot happen here.

Sinclair Lewis, who wrote the book It Can’t Happen Here as a response to authoritarian and Fascist movements in the 1930s wrote in it:

“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.”

Timothy Snyder wrote:

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

Reinhold Niebuhr, the great American theologian noted: “Ultimately evil is done not so much by evil people, but by good people who do not know themselves and who do not probe deeply.”

We should heed their warnings before we cross that precipice and head into the abyss.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Unending Reality Of Endlösung: The Legacy of Adolf Eichmann and those Who Embrace Race Hatred

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

On June 1st 1962 Adolf Eichmann was hanged in Israel for his crimes of mass murder and genocide. His appearance in the court where he portrayed himself as a functionary and bureaucrat who was repulsed by bloodshed and only following orders. So convincing was his act that Hannah Arendt wrote of him:

“The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together, for it implied — as had been said at Nuremberg over and over again by the defendants and their counsels — that this new type of criminal, who is in actual fact hostis generis humani, commits his crimes under circumstances that make it well-nigh impossible for him to know or to feel that he is doing wrong.”

Unfortunately there are people such as Arendt described, but Eichmann was not one of them. She wrote her commentary having only attended parts of the trial, but what she saw convinced her that Eichmann was ordinary and normal. She was convinced by his appearance and presentation at the trial that he was not the man who ran roughshod over Jews as well as German officials in order to execute the Final Solution. That phrase, “the banality of evil” has often been used to provide an alibi for men and women who wholeheartedly participated in the extermination of the Jews and others deemed to be less than human regardless of whether they were desk bound bureaucrats in Berlin, managers of the extermination camps, or the members of the Einsatzgruppen, the Ordungspolizei, or the Wehrmacht who systematically exterminated millions of people up close and personal.

Eichamnn was a true believer in the Nazi system and its desire to exterminate the Jews from the earth and he enjoyed what he did. He not only acted on orders but he anticipated them, as he told William Sassen in an interview while living undercover in Argentina in the 1950s:

“If we would have killed 10.3 million Jews, then I would be satisfied and would say, good, we annihilated an enemy. … I wasn’t only issued orders, in this case I’d have been a moron, but I rather anticipated, I was an idealist.”

Eichmann began his career by persecuting the Jews of Vienna but following the Wansee Conference he was entrusted by Reinhard Heydrich with overseeing the mechanics of implementing the Final Solution. He was only an SS Lieutenant Colonel but he wielded his power with such effect that he could ensure that Nazi functionaries senior to him did his bidding in regard to the Jews, He told Sassen:

“They knew me wherever I went. Through the press, the name Eichmann had emerged as a symbol…. In any case, the word Jew … was irreversibly linked with the word Eichmann. Much more power … was attributed to me than I actually had.”

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

Some of the 437,000 Hungarian Jews Being Sent to Auschwitz

His greatest accomplishment of genocide was in Hungary between March and May of 1944 when he orchestrated the “evacuation” of 437,000 Jews to Auschwitz, of which nearly 400,000 were exterminated in that camps massive gas chambers. His greatest regret was that Himmler and others, realizing that the war was lost were now trying to find ways to deal with the Allies using the Jews as bargaining chips. They put an end to his campaign leaving half of Hungary’s Jews alive, something that he detested to the end of his life for his superiors had taken away his reason for being.

Eichmann twisted language in a perverse manner to both glorify and justify his inhumanity. Bettina Stangneth, wrote in her book Eichmann Before Jerusalem:

“The language becomes entirely perverted where Eichmann turns metaphors on their heads, talking about expulsion and murder using gentle images of life. An institution for forced emigration was his “first child,” where he was able to “be creative in my work.” All the individual acts of robbery and expulsion that took place in Austria were committed to “provide [the country] with injections of Jewish solutions.” Even exterminations and deportations were “born”. This was why he felt so superfluous in Budapest, when he was forced to stop deporting people to Auschwitz: “As far as I know, I couldn’t have done anything fruitful anymore” … In Eichmann’s language, he didn’t send people to the death camps; the camps were “fed with material”.

Adolf Eichmann went to his death unrepentant and there is nothing to be mourned on this anniversary of his death, other than the fact that there are people who are much like him today. That is the terrifying reality. Some may be those faceless bureaucrats, but too many others would easily become killers. As Timothy Snyder noted:

“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.”

Christopher Browning wrote in his book Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Holocaust in Poland:

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

In such a world it is all too important that we never forget, especially now when we could be watching it begin all over again. Eichmann may be dead but he lives on and we must always remain vigilant, or the specter of the Holocaust will rise again, quite possibly in countries that are considered civilized and freedom loving, like the United States.

Never forget,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“Men Alone are Capable of Every Wickedness” the Reality Of Human Nature and the Holocaust

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Two weeks ago Saturday was Holocaust Remembrance Day in the United States. I had the honor of speaking about not forgetting the Holocaust at Norfolk’s Temple Israel. When I look at the Holocaust and the men who managed and executed the plan to exterminate the Jews of Europe, I realize the wisdom of the words of Joseph Conrad, who wrote:

“The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.”

Holocaust survivor and philosopher Primo Levi wrote, “Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.” 

The truth is that human beings are incredibly capable of committing great evil and wickedness. The Holocaust stands alone, above every other genocide committed in history. Laurence Rees in his book Auschwitz, a New History, ended that book with these words:

We must judge behavior by the context of the times, and judged by the context of mid-twentieth century, sophisticated European culture, Auschwitz and the Nazis’ “Final Solution” represent the lowest act in all history. Through their crime, the Nazis brought into the world an awareness of what educated, technologically advanced human beings can do – as long as they possess a cold heart. Once allowed into the world, knowledge of what they did must not be unlearned. It lies there – ugly, inert, waiting to be discovered by each new generation. A warning for us, and for those who will come after.

That bring me to tonight’s subject. Seventy-seven years ago a group of 15 relatively common bureaucrats of various German government, police, and party agencies sat around a table and discussed the implementation of what is called the Final Solution, or in German Endlösung. The meeting was chaired by SS Lieutenant General Reinhard Heydrich, who had been charged with the task of solving Germany’s “Jewish Problem” shortly after the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Hermann Goering, the number two man in the Nazi Reich sent Heydrich the following message:

Berlin, July 31st 1941

To: Gruppenfuhrer Heydrich

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

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

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

Goering

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Reinhard Heydrich

When Goering wrote Heydrich, who headed the Reichssiecherhiethauptampt (RSHA) or Reich Security Main Office, in July 1941 it seemed that Nazi victory in Europe was all but assured. Goering’s words were businesslike, and his words describing the Jews in terms of a question were euphemism of dehumanization. The late Christopher Hitchens understood how labeling ethnic or religious groups as in terms of questions or problems allowed people to escape the human realities of their solutions.

“Die Judenfrage,’ it used to be called, even by Jews. ‘The Jewish Question.’ I find I quite like this interrogative formulation, since the question—as Gertrude Stein once famously if terminally put it—may be more absorbing than the answer. Of course one is flirting with calamity in phrasing things this way, as I learned in school when the Irish question was discussed by some masters as the Irish ‘problem.’ Again, the word ‘solution’ can be as neutral as the words ‘question’ or ‘problem,’ but once one has defined a people or a nation as such, the search for a resolution can become a yearning for the conclusive. Endlösung: the final solution.”

The early measures taken by Heydrich to rid Germany and annexed Austria had been reasonably successful to rid those areas of their Jews through emigration and evacuation. These were not benign measures, people were forced to leave their homes, businesses, communities, and had most of their belongings taken from them in order to leave the Reich. However with the occupation of most of Europe following the Nazi military success and the looming occupation and subjugation of the Soviet Union the process of giving the Jews a chance to emigrate to lands outside Nazi control had come to an end. In fact the Nazis occupied the countries that may Jews had found refuge. In Heydrich, Goering, most likely acting on the verbal orders of Hitler, had found the man to execute the final solution of the Jewish Problem. Heydrich was the one man who could break through resistance of competing government and party offices and bring them into line.

Less than six months after he received the directive from Goering, on January 20th 1942 Heydrich summoned representatives from various Reich agencies were called for what turned out to be a brief, two hour meeting which decided the fate of the Jews. The meeting was held at an estate located in the suburbs of Berlin, called Wansee. Organized by Heydrich’s deputy Adolph Eichmann, involved Heydrich, Eichmann and 13 mid level representatives from various economic, governmental, justice and police entities.

Order of Heydrich to Martin Luther, Under Secretary of the Foreign Ministry

At the conference Heydrich established his authority through Goering’s directive to overcome the bureaucratic and personal attempts of various attendees to take control of the Final Solution process. Despite objections from some attendees who favored sterilization and the use of Jews in the war armaments industries, Heydrich made it clear that the Final Solution would be a campaign of extermination. He was quite clear:

Estimates of Jews to be Exterminated from Wannsee Documents

“Approximately 11 million Jews will be involved…in large single sex labor columns, Jews fit to work will work their way eastward constructing roads. Doubtless the large majority will be eliminated through natural causes. Any final remnant that survives will doubtlessly consist of the most resistant elements. They will have to be dealt with appropriately, because otherwise by natural selection, they would form the germ cell of a new Jewish revival.”

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Auschwitz

The Nazi leadership decided that its race war against the Jews needed to forge ahead. Within days of Wansee the orders went out and SS commanders at various concentration camps began devising more efficient means to exterminate Jews and other “sub-humans.” It was a matter of pride and efficiency for them. As Rudolf Hoess the Commandant of Auschwitz said at Nuremberg “the camp commandant at Treblinka told me that he had liquidated 80,000 in the course of one half year. He was principally concerned with liquidating all the Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto. He used monoxide gas, and I did not think that his methods were very efficient. So when I set up the extermination building at Auschwitz, I used Zyclon B….” Hoess estimated that some 2.5 million people were exterminated at Auschwitz at rates as high as 10,000 a day.

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Einsatzgruppen in Action

Of course before the Endlösung was decided on in Berlin and and the pieces were put into place at Wannsee, the Einsatzgruppen had been at work for over six months in the Soviet Union. Four Einsatzgruppen followed each of the German Army Groups and systematically began to massacre the Jews of every city and village which German soldiers captured. The EinsatzgruppenOrdungspolizei Battalions, Army Security Divisions and locally recruited units in fewer than six months, killed over a million and a half Soviet Jews, and the slaughter would continue unabated until the dying days of the Reich.

Heinrich Himmler, Heydrich’s friend and superior told a gathering of senior SS leaders:

“I also want to mention a very difficult subject before you here, completely openly. It should be discussed among us, and yet, nevertheless, we will never speak about it in public…I am talking about the “Jewish evacuation” the extermination of the Jewish people.” 

It is One of the things that is easily said. “The Jewish people is being exterminated,” every Party member will tell you, “perfectly clear, it’s part of our plans, we’re eliminating the Jews, exterminating them, ha!, a small matter.” 

But then along they all come, all the decent upright Germans and each has his decent Jew. They all say: the others are all swine, but here is a first class Jew. And none of them has seen it, has endured it. Most of you will know what it means when 100 bodies lie together, or when there are 500 or 1000. And to have seen this through, and –with the exception of human weaknesses– to have remained decent, has made us hard and is a page of glory never mentioned and never to be mentioned….”

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Himmler and his entourage 

Whether the words are those of Goering, Heydrich, Hoess or Himmler, there is a certain businesslike banality to them. But these men, and many others like them orchestrated a campaign of genocide and race hatred unmatched in history. Yes, there have been other genocides, the Turks killing the Armenians during the First World War and the Hutu and Tutsi slaughter in Rwanda but neither they or the politically motivated campaigns of mass slaughter conducted by the Soviets, the Chinese Communists and the Khamer Rouge killing fields can match the systematized extermination campaign waged by the Nazis against the Jews. Today we cannot allow the Holocaust to become just another terrible event in the history of humanity.

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

But without the bureaucrats, the mayors, district leaders, party functionaries, police officers, soldiers, railroad officials, businessmen, and others who helped there could have been no Holocaust. As Laurence Rees wrote:

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

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Timothy Snyder correctly observed that “The world is now changing, reviving fears that were familiar in Hitler’s time, and to which Hitler responded. The history of the Holocaust is not over. Its precedent is eternal, and its lessons have not yet been learned.”

That is something that we must never forget lest the would be architects of annihilation of our day; the American President, other politicians, preachers, propagandists, and profiteers, who demonize the Jews, Muslims, dark skinned immigrants, LTBTQ people and other inconvenient elements and prepare people to do evil or ignore it: the ordinary men who just obey orders. Primo Levi who I quoted at the beginning was right, the common me, those that don’t think but simply follow orders or turn their heads and ignore the evil who are the most dangerous.

Milton Mayer wrote in his book They Thought They Were Free about a German colleague during the 1950s that had lived through the Hitler years as an academic. The man tried to explain how changes were so gradual that people like him who should have known better did not take action, if they did at all until it was too late. The man asked Mayer:

“How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly educated ordinary men? Frankly, I do not know. I do not see, even now. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice—‘Resist the beginnings’ and ‘Consider the end.’ But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings. One must foresee the end clearly and certainly and how is this to be done, by ordinary men or even by extraordinary men? Things might have. And everyone counts on that might.”

We cannot forget and we must always be vigilant or we too could easily succumb, it’s not that hard. Any of us can be a perpetrator, victim or bystander. Yehuda Bauer wrote these words of warning:

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

Peace

Padre Steve+

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