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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.” 

arbeitmachtfrei

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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Turning People into Questions or Problems: the Root Of Genocide

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In the morning I will be speaking on the last day of Passover at Norfolk’s Temple Israel on bearing witness to the Holocaust even as its last survivors pass away from their earthly journey. Since it is late and I have to be up early, for a Saturday, I will leave you with this thought from the late Christopher Hitchens:

“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.”

President Trump repeatedly dehumanizes minority groups, immigrants, both legal and undocumented, LGBTQ people, religious minorities (including liberal Jewish) and women. Right wing pundits, politicians, and preachers often do the same, and the bulk of the Republican Party, mostly made up of White Evangelical Christians says nothing. While most do not readily admit their prejudice, though some, including members of Congress openly support White Nationalist policies and groups. Little or no condemnation is ever made by them against killings and mass murder, let us call it Domestic Terrorism. In return such groups are growing and being emboldened and the President and his compatriots spin lies as history.

How does one prevent yet another genocide from happening? I think that there is some wisdom in the answer a German University Colleague of Milton Mayer said when Mayer was questioning him about the subject.

In his book They Thought they Were Free Mayer wrote of his conversation with that professor:

“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.

“Your ‘little men,’ your Nazi friends, were not against National Socialism in principle. Men like me, who were, are the greater offenders, not because we knew better (that would be too much to say) but because we sensed better. Pastor Niemöller spoke for the thousands and thousands of men like me when he spoke (too modestly of himself) and said that, when the Nazis attacked the Communists, he was a little uneasy, but, after all, he was not a Communist, and so he did nothing; and then they attacked the Socialists, and he was a little uneasier, but, still, he was not a Socialist, and he did nothing; and then the schools, the press, the Jews, and so on, and he was always uneasier, but still he did nothing. And then they attacked the Church, and he was a Churchman, and he did something—but then it was too late.”

So I leave you with that for the night,

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Bearing Witness: My Mission

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The words on the polished stone in the hall of remembrance at the U.S. Holocaust Museum are as much as a somber warning as a command:

Only Guard Yourself and Guard Your Soul Carefully, Lest You Forget the Things Your Eyes Saw, Lest These Things Depart Your Heart All the Days Of Your Life, and You Shall Make Them Known to Your Children and to Your Children’s Children.

Last May I visited the United States Holocaust Museum. Since I study the Weimar and Nazi period, the Holocaust and the war crimes trials this was important. While in Germany I have been to the Dachau, Buchenwald, Flossenburg, and Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camps, the T4 Euthanasia Program Center at Hadamar, the Palace Of Justice in Nuremberg where the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials (as well as the Nazi era Nuremberg laws) were prosecuted, the Wannsee House where the Final Solution was implemented, the Memorials to the German Resistance in Berlin, the Sophie Scholl White Rose Museum, and the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism; this visit, in the United States was important. I will be continuing to visit Holocaust sites in Germany when I go there this Fall, but last year I finally was able to stake out the time to visit the U.S. Holocaust Museum.

The museum is important and despite having been to places shown in it and knowing more about the Nazi regime and the Holocaust than the vast majority of Americans, I found myself overwhelmed at times as I walked slowly through the exhibits. Many I recognized, knew about, or had been to, but that did not make them any less emotionally difficult to see. But there were others that drove home why this museum is so important in our day and time.

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.

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.” 

But then this is not abnormal as the great American theologian and philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr wrote: “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.”

The problem is that what happened during the Holocaust and to the people of the shtetl of Ejszyszki is not just an aberration, it is all too much a part of human nature; even that of people who call themselves Christians like those who exterminated the Jewish people of Ejszyszki. It is not simply an artifact of history that we can ignore. It can happen again and if we are not careful it will happen again. The spirit of the ideology that allowed normal law abiding people to massacre millions of people, either up close and personal like at Ejszyszki or in death factories like Soribor, Treblinka, Belzec, and Auschwitz is still alive today in Russia, Europe, and even in the United States. Of course it exists elsewhere in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. But I think that it is most frightening when it exists in the nations which claim to be inheritors of Christian civilization or the enlightenment, especially among the people who claim the words of the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” 

Honesty when I see the President of the United States and his most devoted followers follow the script of the Nazis and other race supremacists I get concerned and I remember the words of historian Yehuda Bauer:

“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.”

As for people who might be neighbors, coworkers or even friends today who for whatever reason either support, dismiss, or ignore the peril of the racial, ideological, and religious animus of the modern authoritarians and anti-Semites I can only recall the words of Yale historian Dr. Timothy Snyder who wrote:

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

Today, more than at any time in his Presidency, I truly believe that under President Trump that the United States is just a Reichstag Fire moment the usurpation Of the Constitution and the beginning of a dictatorship. I believe that, the Muller Investigation and the Democratic Party House Majority notwithstanding, we entering a phase of history when not only Trump supporters, but even some Trump opponents would do nothing in a crisis and either become willing participants in tyranny, bystanders to it or victims of it. As I walked through the museum and remembered all of my visits to Holocaust and other sites in Germany I realized again that it can happen again.

When I finished with most of my visit I went to the Hall of Remembrance and sat for a long time in silence, a silence facing the words on that stone, and that made me realize again just how easy it would be to happen again, and the choices that all of us must make if it is not to happen again in our time.

I’ll leave you with the warning of Yehuda Bauer:

“Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.”

I cannot be a bystander. This Saturday I will be speaking on the topic of bearing witness to the Holocaust as the last witnesses pass away and the Holocaust denial industry ramps up and gains supporters in the high reaches of governments around the world. It is entitled, Lest We Forget: Walk, Remember, and Bear Witness at Temple Israel in Norfolk. The premise is that In order to bear witness today the those who want to prevent genocide today need to study it, and then go to the places hallowed by the blood of the victims in order to internalize it and speak for those whose voices cry out from the grave, “never again!”

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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America First and the Holocaust

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Before Donald Trump’s promise to Make America Great Again and govern by the principle America First there was a movement that proclaimed the message of America First. It was a movement that was led by men like Charles Lindbergh as well as many isolationist politicians, mostly Republicans. It advocated a policy favorable to Nazi Germany and fought against the immigration of any Jews to the United States from Germany or Nazi occupied Europe. Lindbergh blamed the Jews as well as the British, and the Roosevelt administration for the war more than he did Hitler, and this was in his Des Moines speech of September 11th 1941, after two years of war and Hitler’s ruthless war of conquest.

In that speech Lindbergh said:

“Instead of agitating for war the Jewish groups in this country should be opposing it in every possible way, for they will be among the first to feel its consequences. Tolerance is a virtue that depends upon peace and strength. History shows that it cannot survive war and devastation. A few farsighted Jewish people realize this and stand opposed to intervention. But the majority still do not. Their greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio, and our government.”

That my friends is the root of the America First message. It was demonstrated in the Trump Press Secretary, Sean Spicer’s words in the immediate aftermath of the Syrian chemical attack on its own citizens in which Spicer said that Hitler had not even done that, ignoring the fact that Hitler’s henchmen had gassed millions of Jews. When he attempted to correct himself he only dug himself in deeper by talking about “Holocaust Centers.” While they did not use it against enemy soldiers, they used it against their own people first, beginning with the disabled, then the Jews, both German and those in countries that they overran. It was evident in the administration’s statement on Holocaust memorial day which did not mention the Jews. One only hope that the President will someday will be somewhat more clear about who the primary targets of Hitler’s Final Solution were, instead of constantly invoking moral equivalence or simply ignoring violent acts of Neo-Nazis. Yes, many millions were killed or starved to death by the Nazis, but it was the Jews who were the target of Hitler’s race hatred from the very beginning. 

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.” 

If this is what it means to make America Great again then we are deep trouble.  Historian Timothy Snyder wrote: “When exactly was the “again” in the president’s slogan “Make America great again”? Hint: It is the same “again” that we find in “Never again.”

I had hoped that the President would rid himself of this terrible America First ideology, for it has nothing to do with true patriotism or the ideals of those who founded our country. Instead he has doubled down on it over the past two years, and continues to do nearly every day. Yehuda Bauer wrote these exceptionally pertinent to our time:

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.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Anti-Semitism: Not Just One Prejudice Among Others

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I had lunch with a local Rabbi today who I have gotten to know over the past year at a number of diversity celebrations at the headquarters of the Navy Exchange Command, or NEXCOM. I always love taking part I their events because they are not perfunctory, the are occasions of learning, and building community from a diverse workforce. I have taken part in many diversity events in military and civilian settings, but by far NEXCOM, its leadership and people make the events worth going to and being part of, but I digress.

I met the Rabbi at a couple of these events where we offered prayers or spoke. We have become friends and he has invited me to speak at his synagogue during Holocaust Remembrance week,  and invited me to an ecumenical ministers gathering that takes place monthly. I think that I am in the process of finding a spiritual community that I can really be part of when I retire from the Navy. It’s actually something that I have needed for a long time but haven’t found, until now. But again I digress…

We were talking about the various types of anti-Semitism which appear to be growing more strident, public, and vocal than the past. Likewise we discussed how it has not only grown roots in the political Right, but also in the political left., most noticeably in Britain’s Labour party, but also among elements of the American Left. This is troubling because the vast majority of American Jews  tend to be affiliated with the Democratic Party, and much more socially progressive than many other Americans, including guarding the civil rights of other minority groups, including religious minorities.

Despite that there is a long history of prejudice, discrimination, and even violence against Jews since the founding of the United States, the Know Nothings, the KKK, other White Nationalist groups, pre World War II American Fascists and Nazis, and the original America First Crowd. 

We have to be honest; there have been other genocides, including those perpetuated over centuries by the British Colonists and their American descendants against Native Americans, and the inhabitants of El Norte, the northern states of the Republic of Mexico. Likewise, the Nazis perpetuated other mass killings and would have continued their genocidal practices against the Jews and others had they not been defeated.

The late Christopher Hitchens wrote something with which I completely agree. He 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.” 

If this is what it means to make America Great again then we are deep trouble.  Historian Timothy Snyder wrote: “When exactly was the “again” in the president’s slogan “Make America great again”? Hint: It is the same “again” that we find in “Never again.”

Can someone disagree with the policies of the government of Israel and not be anti-Semitic? Of course, vast numbers of American Jews do just that, but in doing so one cannot subscribe or perpetuate the hate filled myths and conspiracy theories of The Protocols Of the Elders Of Zion, or any other brazenly anti-Semeitc and anti-Jewish works that have been used for centuries to demonize Jews, nor can one subscribe to ahistorical Holocaust Denial theories and their authors. Nor can one elevate and mythologize the Nazi Waffen SS as mere elite soldiers fighting for their country. Many were true believers in the Nazi racial theories, and they carried them out, at the front, behind the lines with the Einsatzgruppen, and in alleged anti-partisan operations where hundreds or thousands of kills were claimed but few weapons ever seized, and this was not just on the Eastern Front.

The fact that anti-semitism is arising from the depths of the abyss should not surprise us, but for the President Of the United States, some of his closest advisors, the head of the British Labour Party, and a host of European political parties espouse overt anti-semitism in their party platforms and praise their ancestors who committed genocide is particularly disturbing.

It is with a great deal of humility that I will assume the pulpit in my friends synagogue on April 27th, and speak to his congregation and their guests about the necessity of revisiting the places where these crimes against humanity occurred because it won’t be long until the last perpetrators, victims, and bystanders who witnessed the crimes committed by the Einsatzgruppen, in the death camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Soribor, Belzec, Treblinka, the Labor murder Camps of Maulthausen, Nordhausen, Begen-Belsen, Buchenwald, and Flossenberg, the political prison of Dachau, and the T-4 Euthanasia centers like Hardheim, Sonnesnstein, and Hadmar where disabled infants, children, adults, as well as the mentally ill were sent to their deaths, murders that were carried out by physicians and nurses.

Likewise one cannot forget the courtrooms, such as the one in Nuremberg which before it was taken over by the Allies at the end of the war saw some of the greatest abuses of justice known to humankind by adjudicated. Nor, can one leave out the room at the Wannsee House in an affluent suburb of Berlin where represenatives  of every major depart of the German Government and Nazi Party gathered to discuss the implementation of what euphemistically was known as The Final Solution Of the Jewish Problem. One learns at Wannsee that language can easily be used to disguise genocide and mass murder.

Timothy Snyder wrote something that we should not forget. We as Americans are not unique, we are as prone to moral cowardice and selling the lives of others in the cheap as any nation on earth. So we must remember that what happened in Europe could just as easily happen here. He 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.”

That is what we need to ask and act upon today. The danger is upon us, and as Snyder wrote:

“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.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

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Holocaust Remembrance 2019: “To Forget a Holocaust is to Kill Twice”

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Seventy-four years ago today the Red Army liberated the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Although Auschwitz was liberated, the Nazis continued to exterminate Jews at other camps and conducted forced marches in freezing winter weather to keep them from being liberated, marches which were both deadly and inhuman. Actions that even Heinrich Himmler had forbidden. Many of these actions were the work of Adolf Eichmann.

Even Rudolf Höss the former Commandant of Auschwitz, who admitted to killing over one and a half-million Jews, was appalled by the senseless brutality of what he saw. Höss, the meticulous killer of millions, was shocked by the columns of emaciated and Jews, with no winter clothing or in many cases not even shoes that Eichmann marched from Budapest and other cities and camps to Austria and Czechoslovakia in late 1944 and 1945 to keep the Russians from liberating them, even against the orders of Himmler.

There have been many episodes of genocide in human history, but none were more pointedly directed at a single group of people based on race hatred than the Holocaust of the Jews. While it is true that the Nazis exterminates millions of people than the nearly six million Jews they dispatched during the Holocaust. This is important, as the late Christopher Hitchens noted:

“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.” 

Hitchens was right, without the primary Nazi hatred and determination to obliterate the Jews from the face of the earth, their other atrocities would never occurred. Today, that rabid anti-semitism is again raising its evil head in Eastern and Western Europe, the Middle East, and even in the United States.

It is impossible for an objective person to deny this fact. Hate crimes against Jews are blossoming around the world like toxic mushrooms. The new perpetrators are the descendants of the former perpetrators, Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians, Muslims, and secularists who embrace the same social Darwinism that motivated many of the Nazis.

Or course the non-Muslim opponents of the Jews today also despise dark skinned minorities, non-Christians, not to mention atheists and secularists; thus what Hitchens says is still as accurate as it was when he wrote those words.

So here we are, Holocaust Remembrance Day, 2019. The question is, will we allow it to happen again? The late Iris Chang, who documented the Rape Of Nanking noted: “to forget a holocaust is to kill twice.” Sadly, I believe that without a sea change in public opinion and knowledge about the Holocaust, genocide, and anti-semitism we will see it happen again.

But will we allow it to happen again? I would hope not, but I have to say that human nature and the course of events is leading me to believe that it will happen again, maybe even in our lifetime.

That may be difficult to accept, but it is reality. What is the alternative to telling the truth? Except to perpetuate a lie, except to take the side of the perpetrators, and those who would do the same today. That includes many of President Trump’s most loyal supporters, Evangelical Christians who while outwardly allying with Israel, only do so in that their interpretation of Biblical prophecy might be fulfilled. That interpretation is that Christians will be raptured from the earth, and during a seven year Great Tribulation the Anti-Christ will conquer his foes and that in the end over two-thirds of all Jews will be killed, while the survivors convert to follow Christ.

Honestly, I cannot deem such politicized and racist theology to be Christian, or respectful and considerate of the elder brother of the Christian faith, Judaism, without which Christianity wouldn’t exist. Let me repeat that. Without Judaism Christianity would not exist, and the treatment of the Jews by the Christian Church has been shameful for the majority of its existence. I say that as a Christian.

In the 1930s and 1940s the Nazis created the euphemism the Jewish Question in order to remove the aspect of humanity from their policy. It wasn’t about human beings, it was about people that they considered sub-human minority that they were able to demonize to expedite their elimination. Hitchens wrote:

“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.”

Thus, once one labels the Jews, or for that matter any other despised minority a question, or a problem, we place ourselves on the path to Trump administration and his followers have done that since 2015 regarding Mexicans and other Hispanics, Arabs, Haitians, Sub-Saharan Africans, and too many others.

That is why I cannot be silent. I have to proclaim the words of Ellie Wiesel:

“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

Silence it not an option, and to again quote Wiesel: “For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.”

We must bear witness, for if we do not it will happen again. Humanity is the one constant in history, and there are no exceptions once one begins down the path to labeling the fate of races, nations, and peoples a question or a problem which they can resolve with a solution, the more comprehensive, total, or final, the better. There are certainly plenty of people, including Trump’s closest advisors who would make draconian laws in order to enable the government to commit genocide.

Yehuda Bauer wrote:

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

In the wake of an number of situations that I have seen and have watched in morbid fascination be debated on my Facebook timeline, I realize that with the prevailing attitudes being stoked by men like President Trump, his media supporters, and sadly, far too many Conservative Christians, that it will quite probably happen again.

I will fight it, butI have no doubt of the power, passion, and petulance of people consumed by race hatred under the guise of patriotism.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, holocaust, Loose thoughts and musings, nazi germany

Guard Your Soul Lest You Forget: the Relevance Of the Holocaust Today

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I took a few days of leave for the first time in months so that Judy and I could visit friends in the Washington D.C. area. Since Wednesday ended with me being called back in to work to deal with the workplace suicide of a young sailor stationed at one of the units on our base it was needed.

It is nice because the expectations that we have of each other are simply to enjoy the time together without expecting them to entertain us. Judy does crafts with Melissa, all of us talk, sometimes we play card games or watch television or a movies while our seven combined Papillon dogs hang out and play.

So yesterday I drove over to the nearest Metro station and went down to the Holocaust Museum. Since I study the Weimar and Nazi period, the Holocaust and the war crimes trials this was important. In Germany I have been to the Dachau and Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camps, the T4 Euthanasia Program Center at Hadamar, the Palace Of Justice in Nuremberg where the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials (as well as the Nazi era Nuremberg laws) were prosecuted, the Sophie Scholl White Rose Museum, and the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism; this was important. I will be continuing to visit Holocaust sites in Germany when I go there this Fall, but I finally was able to stake out the time to visit the U.S. Holocaust Museum.

The museum is important and despite having been to places shown in it and knowing more about the Nazi regime and the Holocaust than the vast majority of Americans, I found myself overwhelmed at times as I walked slowly through the exhibits. Many I recognized, knew about, or had been to, but that did not make them any less emotionally difficult to see. But there were others that drove home why this museum is so important in our day and time.

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.

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.” 

But then this is not abnormal as the great American theologian and philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr wrote: “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.”

The problem is that what happened during the Holocaust and to the people of the shtetl of Ejszyszki is not just an aberration, it is all too much a part of human nature; even that of people who call themselves Christians like those who exterminated the Jewish people of Ejszyszki. It is not simply an artifact of history that we can ignore. It can happen again and if we are not careful it will happen again. The spirit of the ideology that allowed normal law abiding people to massacre millions of people, either up close and personal like at Ejszyszki or in death factories like Soribor, Treblinka, Belzec, and Auschwitz is still alive today in Russia, Europe, and even in the United States. Of course it exists elsewhere in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. But I think that it is most frightening when it exists in the nations which claim to be inheritors of Christian civilization or the enlightenment, especially among the people who claim the words of the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Honesty when I see the President of the United States and his most devoted followers follow the script of the Nazis and other race supremacists I get concerned and I remember the words of historian Yehuda Bauer:

“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.”

As for people who might be neighbors, coworkers or even friends today who for whatever reason either support, dismiss, or ignore the peril of the racial, ideological, and religious animus of the modern authoritarians and anti-Semites I can only recall the words of Yale historian Dr. Timothy Snyder who wrote:

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

Today I truly believe that under President Trump that the United States is just a Reichstag Fire moment from entering a phase of history when not only Trump supporters, but even some Trump opponents would do nothing in a crisis and either become willing participants in tyranny, bystanders to it or victims of it. As I walked through the museum and remembered all of my visits to Holocaust and other sites in Germany I realized again that it can happen again.

When I finished with most of my visit I went to the Hall of Remembrance and sat for a long time in silence, a silence that made me realize again just how easy it would be to happen again and the choices that all of us if it happens in our time will have to make.

I’ll leave you with the warning of Yehuda Bauer:

“Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, holocaust, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary