Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
Last night while Judy was out with her ceramics class last night friends I decided to re-watch the film Judgement at Nuremberg after having finished reading Deborah Lipstadt’s book Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory. The book is a damning look into the mentality and motivations of present day Holocaust Deniers. Even though her book was first published in 1993 her conclusions about the deniers, including a good number of men and women who support President Trump, are still spot on.
My first encounter with Holocaust Denial was when I was in college at California State University Northridge when in classes on German History, Nazi Germany, and the Holocaust taught by Professor Helmut Heussler I came to learn about the growing number of Holocaust deniers who were and still attempting to use academia, the First Amendment, and arguments of moral equivalence to deny and ultimately discredit the history and the reality of the Holocaust.
I was fortunate to study under Dr. Heussler. He was from Germany but his parents immigrated to the United States when he was a child. He served with the 82nd Airborne Division during the Second World War and after the war served as a translator at the Nuremberg Trials. In the class on the Holocaust he and I were the only gentiles and he brought in Mel Mermelstein to tell us about his experience at Auschwitz. Mermelstein who successfully challenged the Institute for Historical Review, the most notorious of the psuedo-academic Holocaust denial groups in court when that group offered a bounty of $50,000 to anyone who could prove the Holocaust happened. When the IHR refused to acknowledge the truth of the Holocaust and his testimony, Mermelstein sued and won his battle after I met him.
Lipstadt was sued for libel by Holocaust denier David Irving for her portrayal of hi in her book. He did this in Britain rather than the United States because in Britain the defendant in a lawsuit for libel must prove their innocence as opposed to the United States where the burden of proof is on the accuser. Despite this, Liptstadt won and Irving was shown to be exactly what he is, a Holocaust denying anti-Semite masquerading as a legitimate historian.
Now if Irving and the other Holocaust deniers like him had been consigned to the ash heap of history this would not be an issue; but the IHR, Irving, and many other anti-Semetic, White Supremacist, and neo-Nazi activists continue to push their history denying racist hatred around the Internet, the Right Wing media, and television. When confronted with facts, they play the victim and complain that their free-speech rights are under attack.
The climax of Judgment at Nuremberg occurs when the defendant, Judge Ernst Janning played by Burt Lancaster decides that he can no longer remain silent about the crimes of the Nazi regime that he served. His counsel, Hans Rolfe played by Maximillian Schell attempts to stop Janning from being heard, as does fellow defendant Emil Hahn, played by Werner Klemperer.
Ernst Janning: I wish to testify about the Feldenstein case because it was the most significant trial of the period. It is important not only for the tribunal to understand it, but for the whole German people. But in order to understand it, one must understand the period in which it happened. 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 out 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! Re-militarize 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 begun in this courtroom 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 16 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. I had reached my verdict on the Feldenstein case before I ever came into the courtroom. I would have found him guilty, whatever the evidence. It was not a trial at all. It was a sacrificial ritual in which Feldenstein, the Jew, was the helpless victim.
Hans Rolfe: Your Honor, I must interrupt. The defendant is not aware of what he’s saying. He’s not aware of the implications!
Ernst Janning: I am aware. I am aware! My counsel would have you believe we were not aware of the concentration camps. Not aware. Where were we? Where were we when Hitler began shrieking his hate in Reichstag? Where were we when our neighbors were being dragged out in the middle of the night to Dachau? Where were we when every village in Germany has a railroad terminal where cattle cars were filled with children being carried out to their extermination! Where were we when they cried out in the night to us. Deaf, dumb, blind!
Hans Rolfe: Your Honor, I must protest!
Ernst Janning: My counsel says we were not aware of the extermination of the millions. He would give you the excuse: We were only aware of the extermination of the hundreds. Does that make us any the less guilty? Maybe we didn’t know the details. But if we didn’t know, it was because we didn’t want to know.
Emil Hahn: Traitor! Traitor!
Judge Dan Haygood: Order! Order! Order! Put that man back in his seat and keep him there.
Ernst Janning: I am going to tell them the truth. I am going to tell them the truth if the whole world conspires against it. I am going to tell them the truth about their Ministry of Justice. Werner Lammpe, an old man who cries into his Bible now, an old man who profited by the property expropriation of every man he sent to a concentration camp. Friedrich Hofstetter, the “good German” who knew how to take orders, who sent men before him to be sterilized like so many digits. Emil Hahn, the decayed, corrupt bigot, obsessed by the evil within himself. And Ernst Janning, worse than any of them because he knew what they were, and he went along with them. Ernst Janning: Who made his life excrement, because he walked with them.
In an era where the President of the United States calls political opponents and other critics “traitors” as did the fictional Emil Hahn call Ernst Janning the film as well as Lipstadt’s writings are of paramount importance. Deniers come in all types and deny too many events that are not in dispute. In this country we not only have the anti-Semetic Holocaust deniers, but those that deny that Slavery was the proximate cause of the American Civil War, that Jim Crow laws were meant to help African Americans, that the extermination of the Native American tribes and their confinement to reservations often hundreds or thousands of miles from their ancestral lands, and the removal of American citizens of Japanese descent to concentration camps in the American desert Southwest after the attack on Pearl Harbor were somehow just.
Likewise we are seeing a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe most of which is home grown; whose leaders like in Poland and Hungary who deny their own anti-semitism and their ancestors participation in the Nazi genocide.
In the United States this is seen in the what is called the Alt Right and others who are not only anti-Semetic, but who in their false history and revisionism attack African Americans, Jews, Muslims, Asians, Mexican and other Central American immigrants in a manner far to similar to the propagandists of Nazi Germany to be ignored or brushed aside as mere aberrations. When the President and some of his senior advisors as well as members of congress and their media supporters promote anti-semetic and White Supremacist ideology they have to be confronted, unless like Ernst Janning we want our lives and reputations to be excrement because we walked with them.
I for one cannot do that.