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The Indictment of America Today: Justice Robert Jackson’s Opening Statement at Nuremberg

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is hard to write this series of articles in the wake of President Donald Trump’s pardoning of American soldiers convicted of War Crimes and the Crime of Aggressive War initiates by President George Bush against Iraq in 2003. Before such actions, even the My Lai Massacre and other atrocities in Vietnam I couldn’t imagine the United States government going against the Nuremberg War Crimes precedents or the words of Justice Robert Jackson who organized the trials and served as the chief American Prosecutor at the Major War Crimes Trials. Before those Trials Jackson noted something incredibly profound, which too many Americans, regardless of their political party or ideology fail to comprehend.

“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.” Justice Robert Jackson International Conference on Military Trials, London, 1945, Dept. of State Pub.No. 3080 (1949), p.330.

However, Jackson’s words are not our reality, Bush and Trump are not out of the ordinary when it comes to Twentieth Century and even the Obama Administration which with the barest of obfuscation continued without asking for either a declaration of war or update to the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Force against Al Qaeda. In fact all of our military actions since 2001 have been based on that that one act by Congress, disregarding any other facts regarding those that we are fighting.

That brings me to tonight’s article and my articles for much of the next week.

On November 20th, 1945 twenty Nazi leaders took their seats in the dock in Saal 6oo (Courtroom 600) at the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg. The men were among the top leaders of the Third Reich, though there were a number of conspicuous absences. Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, and Heinrich Himmler had committed suicide as the Reich collapsed. Martin Bormann was missing and was believed to have escaped. Reinhard Heydrich died of wounds caused by Czech partisans in 1942.

Now, the men who ruled over most of Europe just three years before presented a sad sight. Deprived of their opulent uniforms and power they looked terrifyingly ordinary.

At 10 A.M., Presiding Judge, Sir Geoffrey Lawrence banged his gavel on his desk looking across the courtroom at the defendants and made his opening statement, saying:

“Before the defendants in this case are called upon to make their pleas to the indictment which has been lodged against them, and in which they are charged with Crimes against Peace, War Crimes, and Crimes against Humanity, and with a Common Plan or Conspiracy to commit those Crimes… The trial which is now about to begin is unique in the history of the jurisprudence of the World and it is of supreme importance to millions of people all over the globe…”

Two years ago during I stood next to that same defendant’s dock where Hermann Goering and nineteen other men sat. Goering had been Hitler’s number two man and designated successor until the last days of the war. The others in the dock with Goering were Governor General of Poland, Dr. Hans Frank; Minister of the Interior and Reich Protector of Bohemia-Moravia, Dr.Wilhelm Frick; General Alfred Jodl, Chief of Staff of the Oberkommando Der Wehrmacht; Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, Chief of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht; Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop; Gauleiter of Thuringia, and head of Slave Labor programs, Fritz Sauckel; Dr. Arthur Rosenberg, Reich Minister for the Occupied Easter Territories, Dr. Arthur Seyess-Inquart, Reichskommissar of occupied Netherlands; Julius Streicher, Gauleiter of Franconia and publisher of the Nazi propaganda paper, Der Sturmer; Commander of the German Navy and Hitler’s successor, Grand Admiral Karl Donitz; Minister of Economics, Dr. Walter Funk; Deputy Fuhrer Rudolf Hess;;Foreign Minister, Baron Konstantin von Neurath; the First Commander of the German Navy under Hitler, Grand Admiral Erich Raeder; Head of the Hitler Youth, and Gauleiter of Vienna, Baldur von Schirach; Armaments Minister, Albert Speer; Hans Fritzsche of the Propaganda Ministry, Dr. Hjalmar Schlacht pre-war head of the Reichsbank, and Economics Minister, Franz von Papen, who also had served as Vice Chancellor, Ambassador to Austria and later Turkey.

Also indicted but not in the dock, were SS Obergrüppenfuhrer and Chief of the Reich Security Main Office, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, who was recovering from a mild stroke; Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, Head of the Armaments and heavy industry conglomerate Friedrich Krupp AG, and Chief of The Nazi Party Chancellery Martin Bormann. Robert Ley, leader of The German Labor Front committed suicide in his cell before the trial began. Krupp was too sick and senile to go to trial.

On the second day of trial Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Robert Jackson who was serving as Chief Prosecutor for the United States gave one of the most powerful opening statements in any trial. He said:

May it please Your Honour, the privilege of opening the first trial in history for crimes against the peace of the world imposes a grave responsibility. The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant and so devastating, that civilisation cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated. That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury, stay the hands of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgement of the law, is one of the most significant tributes that Power ever has paid to Reason.

This Tribunal, while it is novel and experimental, is not the product of abstract speculations nor is it created to vindicate legalistic theories. This inquest represents the practical effort of four of the most mighty of nations, with the support of seventeen more, to utilise International Law to meet the greatest menace of our times -aggressive war. The common sense of mankind demands that law shall not stop with the punishment of petty crimes by little people. It must also reach men who possess themselves of great power and make deliberate and concerted use of it to set in motion evils which leave no home in the world untouched. It is a cause of that magnitude that the United Nations will lay before Your Honour.

In the prisoners’ dock sit twenty-odd broken men. Reproached by the humiliation of those they have led, almost as bitterly as by the desolation of those they have attacked, their personal capacity for evil is forever past. It is hard now to perceive in these miserable men as captives the power by which as Nazi leaders they once dominated much of the world and terrified most of it. Merely as individuals their fate is of little consequence to the world.

What makes this inquest significant is that these prisoners represent sinister influences that will lurk in the world long after their bodies have returned to dust. We will show them to be living symbols of racial hatreds, of terrorism and violence, and of the arrogance and cruelty of power. They are symbols of fierce nationalism and of militarism, of intrigue and war-making which embroiled Europe, generation after generation, crushing its manhood, destroying its homes, and impoverishing its life. They have so identified themselves with the philosophies they conceived, and with the forces they have directed, that tenderness to them is a victory and an encouragement to all the evils which attached to their names. Civilisation can afford no compromise with the forces which would gain renewed strength if we deal ambiguously or with the men in whom those forces now precariously survive.

What these men stand for we will patiently and temperately disclose. We will give you undeniable proofs of incredible events. The catalogue of crimes will omit nothing that could be conceived by a pathological pride, cruelty, and lust for power. These men created in Germany, under the “Fuehrerprinzip,” a National Socialist despotism equalled only by the dynasties of the ancient East. They took from the German people all those dignities and freedoms that we hold natural and inalienable rights in every human being, The people were compensated by inflaming and gratifying hatreds towards those who were marked as “scapegoats.” Against their opponents, including Jews, Catholics, and free labour the Nazis directed such a campaign of arrogance, brutality, and annihilation as the world has not witnessed since the pre-Christian ages. They excited the German ambition to be a “master race,” which of course implies serfdom others. They led their people on a mad gamble for domination. They diverted social energies and resources to the creation of what they thought to be an invincible war machine. They overran their neighbours. To sustain the “master race” in its war-making, they enslaved millions of human beings and brought them into Germany, where these hapless creatures now wander as “displaced persons.” At length, bestiality and bad faith reached such excess that they aroused the sleeping strength of imperilled Civilisation. Its united efforts have ground the German war machine to fragments. But the struggle has left Europe a liberated yet prostrate land where a demoralised society struggles to survive. These are the fruits of the sinister forces that sit with these defendants in the prisoners’ dock.

In justice to the nations and the men associated in this prosecution, I must remind you of certain difficulties which may leave their mark on this case. Never before in legal history has an effort been made to bring within the scope of a single litigation the developments of a decade covering a whole continent, and involving a score of nations, countless individuals, and innumerable events. Despite the magnitude of the task, the world has demanded immediate action. This demand has had to be met, though perhaps at the cost of finished craftsmanship. In my country, established courts, following familiar procedures, applying well-thumbed precedents, and dealing with the legal consequences of local and limited events, seldom commence a trial within a year of the event in litigation. Yet less than eight months ago to-day the courtroom in which you sit was an enemy fortress in the hands of German S.S. troops. Less than eight months ago nearly all our witnesses and documents were in enemy hands. The law had not been codified, no procedures had been established, no tribunal was in existence, no usable courthouse stood here, none of the hundreds of tons of official German documents had been examined, no prosecuting staff had been assembled, nearly all of the present defendants were at large, and the four prosecuting powers had not yet joined in common cause to try them. I should be the last to deny that the case may well suffer from incomplete researches, and quite likely will not be the example of professional work which any of the prosecuting nations would normally wish to sponsor. It is, however, a completely adequate case to the judgement we shall ask you to render, and its full development we shall be obliged to leave to historians.

Before I discuss particulars of evidence, some general considerations which may affect the credit of this trial in the eyes of the world should be candidly faced. There is a dramatic disparity between the circumstances of the accusers and of the accused that might discredit our work if we should falter, in even minor matters, in being fair and temperate.

Unfortunately, the nature of these crimes is such that both prosecution and judgement must be by victor nations over vanquished foes. The world-wide scope of the aggressions carried out by these men has left but few real neutrals. Either the victors must judge the vanquished or we must leave the defeated to judge themselves. After the First World War we learned the futility of the latter course. The former high station of these defendants, the notoriety of their acts, and the adaptability of their conduct to provoke retaliation make it hard to distinguish between the demand for a just and measured retribution, and the unthinking cry for vengeance which arises from the anguish of war. It is our task, so far as is humanly possible, to draw the line between the two. We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants today is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our lips as well. We must summon such detachment and intellectual integrity to our task that this trial will commend itself to posterity as fulfilling humanity’s aspirations to do justice.

At the very outset, let us dispose of the contention that to put these men to trial is to do them an injustice entitling them to some special consideration. These defendants may be hard pressed but they are not ill used. Let us see what alternative they would have to being tried.

More than a majority of these prisoners surrendered to or were tracked down by the forces of the United States. Could they expect us to make American custody a shelter for our enemies against the just wrath of our Allies? Did we spend American lives to capture them only to save them from punishment? Under the principles of the Moscow Declaration, those suspected war criminals who are not to be tried internationally must be turned over to individual governments for trial at the scene of their outrages. Many less responsible and less culpable American-held prisoners have been and will continue to be turned over to other United Nations for local trial. If these defendants should succeed, for any reason, in escaping the condemnation of this Tribunal, or if they obstruct or abort this trial, those who are American-held prisoners will be delivered up to our continental Allies. For these defendants, however, we have set up an International Tribunal, and have undertaken the burden of participating in a complicated effort to give them fair and dispassionate hearings. That is the best known protection to any man with a defence worthy of being heard. If these men are the first war leaders of a defeated nation to be prosecuted in the name of the law, they are also the first to be given a chance to plead for their lives in the name of the law. Realistically, the Charter of this Tribunal, which gives them a hearing, is also the source of their only hope. It may be that these men of troubled conscience, whose only wish is that the world forget them, do not regard a trial as a favour. But they do have a fair opportunity to defend themselves -a favour which, when in power, they rarely extended even to their fellow countrymen. Despite the fact that public opinion already condemns their acts, we agree that here they must be given a presumption of innocence, and we accept the burden of proving criminal acts and the responsibility of these defendants for their commission.

When I say that we do not ask for convictions unless we prove crime, I do not mean mere technical or incidental transgression of international conventions. We charge guilt on planned and intended conduct that involves moral as well as legal wrong. And we do not mean conduct that is a natural and human, even if illegal, cutting of corners, such as many of us might well have committed had we been in the defendants’ positions. It is not because they yielded to the normal frailties of human beings that we accuse them. It is their abnormal and inhuman conduct which brings them to this bar.

We will not ask you to convict these men on the testimony of their foes. There is no count in the Indictment that cannot be proved by books and records. The Germans were always meticulous record keepers, and these defendants had their share of the Teutonic passion for thoroughness in putting things on paper. Nor were they without vanity. They arranged frequently to be photographed in action. We will show you their own films. You will see their own conduct and hear their own voices as these defendants re-enact for you, from the screen, some of the events in the course of the conspiracy.

We would also make clear that we have no purpose to incriminate the whole German people. We know that the Nazi Party was not put in power by a majority of the German vote. We know it came to power by an evil alliance We would also make clear that we have no purpose to incriminate the whole German people. We know that the Nazi Party was not put in power by a majority of the German vote. We know it came to power by an evil alliance between the most extreme of the Nazi revolutionists, the most unrestrained of the German reactionaries, and the most aggressive of the German militarists. If the German populace had willingly accepted the Nazi programme, no Storm-troopers would have been needed in the early days of the Party, and there would have been no need for concentration camps or the Gestapo, both of which institutions were inaugurated as soon as the Nazis gained control of the German state. Only after these lawless innovations proved successful at home were they taken abroad.

The German people should know by now that the people of the United States hold them in no fear, and in no hate. It is true that the Germans have taught us the horrors of modern warfare, but the ruin that lies from the Rhine to the Danube shows that we, like our Allies, have not been dull pupils. If we are not awed German fortitude and proficiency in war, and if we are not persuaded of their political maturity, we do respect their skill in the arts of peace, their technical competence, and the sober, industrious and self-disciplined character of the masses of the German people. In 1933, we saw the German people recovering prestige in the commercial, industrial and artistic world after the set-back of the last war. We beheld their progress neither with envy nor malice. The Nazi regime interrupted this advance. The recoil of the Nazi aggression has left Germany in ruins. The Nazi readiness to pledge the German word without hesitation and to break it without shame has fastened upon German diplomacy a reputation for duplicity that will handicap it for years. Nazi arrogance has made the boast of the “master race” a taunt that will be thrown at Germans the world over for generations. The Nazi nightmare has given the German name a new and sinister significance throughout the world, which will retard Germany a century. The German, no less than the non-German world, has accounts to settle with these defendants.

The fact of the war and the course of the war, which is the central theme of our case, is history. From September 1st, 1939, when the German armies crossed the Polish frontier, until September, 1942, when they met epic resistance at Stalingrad, German arms seemed invincible. Denmark and Norway, the Netherlands and France, Belgium and Luxembourg, the Balkans and Africa, Poland and the Baltic States, and parts of Russia, all had, been overrun and conquered by swift, powerful, well-aimed blows. That attack on the peace of the world is the crime against international society which brings into international cognizance crimes in its aid and preparation which otherwise might be only internal concerns. It was aggressive war, which the nations of the world had renounced. It was war in violation of treaties, by which the peace of the world was sought to be safeguarded.

This war did not just happen -it was planned and prepared for over a long period of time and with no small skill and cunning. The world has perhaps never seen such a concentration and stimulation of the energies of any people as that which enabled Germany, twenty years after it was defeated, disarmed and dismembered, to come so near carrying out its plan to dominate Europe. Whatever else we may say of those who were the authors of this war, they did achieve a stupendous work in organisation, and our first task is to examine the means by which these defendants and their fellow conspirators prepared and incited Germany to go to war.

In general, our case will disclose these defendants all uniting at some time with the Nazi Party in a plan which they well knew could be accomplished only by an outbreak of war in Europe. Their seizure of the German State, their subjugation of the German people, their terrorism and extermination of dissident elements, their planning and waging of war, their calculated and planned ruthlessness in the conduct of warfare, their deliberate and planned criminality toward conquered peoples -all these are ends for which they acted in concert; and all these are phases of the conspiracy, a conspiracy which reached one goal only to set out for another and more ambitious one. We shall also trace for you the intricate web of organisations which these men formed and utilised to accomplish these ends. We will show how the entire structure of offices and officials was dedicated to the criminal purposes and committed to the use of the criminal methods planned by these defendants and their co-conspirators, many of whom war and suicide have put beyond reach.

It is my purpose to open the case, particularly under Count One of the Indictment, and to deal with the Common plan or Conspiracy to achieve ends possible only by resort to Crimes against Peace, War Crimes, and Crimes against Humanity. My emphasis will not be on individual perversions which may have occurred independently of any central plan. One of the dangers ever present in this trial is that it may be protracted by details of particular wrongs and that we will become lost in a “wilderness of single instances.” Nor will I now dwell on the activity of individual defendants except as it may contribute to exposition of the Common Plan.

The case as presented by the United States will be concerned with the brains and authority behind all the crimes. These defendants were men of a station and rank which does not soil its own hands with blood. They were men who knew how to use lesser folk as tools. We want to reach the planners and designers, the inciters and leaders without whose evil architecture, the world would not have been for so long scourged with the violence and lawlessness, and racked with the agonies and convulsions, of this terrible war.

I shall first take up the lawless road by which these men came to possess the power which they have so used. The chief instrumentality of cohesion in plan and action was the National Socialist German Workers Party, known as the Nazi Party. Some of the defendants were with it from the beginning. Others joined only after success seemed to have validated its lawlessness or power had invested it with immunity from the processes of the law. Adolf Hitler became its supreme leader or “Fuehrer” in 1921.

On the 24th February, 1920, at Munich, it publicly had proclaimed its programme (1708-PS). Some of its purposes would commend themselves to many good citizens, such as the demands for “profit-sharing in the great industries,” “generous development of provision for old age,” “a land reform suitable to our national requirements,” and “raising the standard of health.” It also made a strong appeal to that sort of nationalism which in ourselves we call patriotism and in our rivals chauvinism. It demanded “equality of rights for the German people in its dealing with other nations and the evolution of the peace treaties of Versailles and St. Germain.” It demanded the “union of all Germans on the basis of the right of self-determination of peoples to form a Great Germany.” It demanded “land and territory (colonies) for the enrichment of our people and the settlement of our surplus population.” All of these, of course, were legitimate objectives if they were to be attained without resort to aggressive warfare.

The Nazi Party from its inception, however, contemplated war. It demanded the “abolition of mercenary troops and the formation of a national army.” It proclaimed that “in view of the enormous sacrifice of life and property demanded of a nation by every war, personal enrichment through war must be regarded as a crime against the nation. We demand, therefore, ruthless confiscation of all war profits.” I do not criticise this policy. Indeed, I wish it were universal. I merely wish to point out that in a time of peace, war was a preoccupation of the Party, and it started the work of making war less offensive to the masses of the people. With this it combined a programme of physical training and sports for youth that became, as we shall see, the cloak for a secret programme of military training.

The Nazi Party declaration also committed its members to an anti-Semitic programme. It declared that no Jew or any person of non-German blood could be a member of the nation. Such persons were to be disfranchised, disqualified for office, subject to the alien laws, and entitled to nourishment only after the German population had first been provided for. All who had entered Germany after 2nd August, 1914, were to be required forthwith to depart, and all non-German immigration was to be prohibited.

The Party also avowed, even in those early days, an authoritarian and totalitarian programme for Germany. It demanded creation of a strong central power with unconditional authority, nationalisation of all businesses which had been “amalgamated,” and a “reconstruction” of the national system of education, which “must aim at teaching the pupil to understand the idea of the State (state sociology).” Its hostility to civil liberties and freedom of the Press was distinctly announced in these words: “It must be forbidden to publish newspapers which do not conduce to the national welfare. We demand the legal prosecution of all tendencies in art or literature of a kind likely to disintegrate our life as a nation, and the suppression of institutions which might militate against the above requirements.”

The forecast of religious persecution was clothed in the language of religious liberty, for the Nazi programme stated “We demand liberty for all religious denominations in the State.” But it continued with the limitation, “so far as they are not a danger to it and do not militate against the morality and moral sense of the German race.”

The Party programme foreshadowed the campaign of terrorism. It announced, “we demand ruthless war upon those whose activities are injurious to the common interests,” and it demanded that such offences be punished with death.

It is significant that the leaders of this Party interpreted this programme as a belligerent one, certain to precipitate conflict. The Party platform concluded:

“The leaders of the Party swear to proceed regardless of consequences -if necessary, at the sacrifice of their lives -toward the fulfilment of the foregoing points.”

It is this Leadership Corps of the Party, not its entire membership, that stands accused before you as a criminal Organisation.

We have not sought to include every person who may, at some time, have supported the Nazi Party, but only the leadership core which pledged itself to achieve its ends at the risk of their lives.

Let us now see how the leaders of the Party fulfilled their pledge to proceed regardless of consequences. Obviously, their foreign objectives, which were nothing less than to undo international treaties and to wrest territory from foreign control, as well as most of their internal programme, could be accomplished only by possession of the machinery of the German State. The first effort, accordingly, was to subvert the Weimar Republic by violent revolution. An abortive “putsch” at Munich in 1921 landed many of them in jail. A period of meditation which followed produced “Mein Kampf,” henceforth the source of law for the Party workers and a source of considerable revenue to its supreme leader. The Nazi plans for the violent overthrow of the feeble Republic then turned to plans for its capture.

No greater mistake could be made than to think of the Nazi Party in terms of the loose organisations which we of the Western world call “political parties.” In discipline, structure, and method the Nazi Party was not adapted to the democratic process of persuasion. It was an instrument of conspiracy and of coercion. The Party was not organised to take over power in the German State by winning the support of a majority of the German people; it was organised to seize power in defiance of the will of the people.

The Nazi Party, under the “Fuehrerprinzip,” was bound by an iron discipline into a pyramid, with the Fuehrer, Adolf Hitler, at the top and broadening into a numerous Leadership Corps, composed of overlords of a very extensive Party membership at the base. By no means all of those who may have supported the movement in one way or another were actual Party members. The membership took the Party oath which in effect amounted to an abdication of personal intelligence and moral responsibility. This was the oath: “I vow inviolable fidelity to Adolf Hitler; I vow absolute obedience to him and to the leaders he designates for me.” The membership in daily practise followed its leaders with an idolatry and self-surrender more Oriental than Western. We will not be obliged to guess as to the motives or goal of the Nazi Party. The immediate aim was to undermine the Weimar Republic. The order to all Party members to work to that end was given in a letter from Hitler of 24th August, 1931, to Rosenberg, of which we will produce the original.

Hitler wrote:-“I am just reading in the Volkischer Beobachter, edition 235/ 236 page 1, an article entitled ‘Does Wirth intend to come over?’ The tendency of the article is to prevent on our part a crumbling away from the present form of government. I myself am travelling all over Germany to achieve exactly the opposite. May I therefore ask that my own paper will not stab me in the back with tactically unwise articles …” (047-PS)

Captured film enables us to present the defendant, Alfred Rosenberg, who from the screen will himself tell you the story. The S.A. practised violent interference with the elections. We have here the reports of the S.D., describing in detail how its members later violated the secrecy of elections in order to identify those who opposed them. One of the reports makes this explanation:

“The control was effected in the following way: some members of the election-committee marked all the ballot-papers with numbers. During the ballot itself, a voters list was made up. The ballot-papers were handed out in numerical order, therefore it was possible afterwards with the aid of this list to find out the persons who cast no-votes or invalid votes. One sample of these marked ballot-papers is enclosed. The marking was done on the back of the ballot-papers with skimmed-milk.” (R-142)

The Party activity, in addition to all the familiar forms of political contest, took on the aspect of a rehearsal for warfare. It utilised a Party formation, “Die Sturmabteilungen,” commonly known as the S.A. This was a voluntary organisation of youthful and fanatical Nazis trained for the use of violence under semi-military discipline. Its members began by acting as bodyguards for the Nazi leaders and rapidly expanded from defensive to offensive tactics. They became disciplined ruffians for breaking up opposition meetings and the terrorisation of adversaries. They boasted that their task was to make the Nazi Party “master of the streets.” The S.A. was the parent organisation of a number of others. Its offspring included “Die Schutzstaffeln” commonly known as the S.S., formed in 1925, and distinguished for the fanaticism and cruelty of its members; “Der Sicherheitsdienst,” known as the S.D.; and “Die Geheime Staatspolizei,” the Secret State Police, the infamous Gestapo formed in 1934 immediately after Nazi accession to power.

A glance at a chart of the Party Organisation is enough to show how completely it differed from the political parties we know. It had its own source of law in the Fuehrer and it had its own courts and its own police. The conspirators set up a government within the Party to exercise outside the law every sanction that any legitimate State could exercise and many that it could not. Its chain of command was military, and its formations were martial in name as well as in function. They were composed of battalions set up to bear arms under military discipline, motorised corps, flying corps, and the infamous “Death Head Corps,” which was not misnamed. The Party had its own secret police, its security units, its intelligence and espionage division, its raiding forces, and its youth forces. It established elaborate administrative mechanisms to identify and liquidate spies and informers, to manage concentration camps, to operate death vans, and to finance the whole movement. Through concentric circles of authority, the Nazi Party, as its leadership later boasted, eventually organised and dominated every phase of German life -but not until they had waged a bitter internal struggle characterised by brutal criminality. In preparation for this phase of their struggle they created a party police system. This became the pattern and the instrument of the police State, which was the first goal in their plan.

The Party formation, including the Leadership Corps of the Party, the S.D., the S.S. the S.A. and the infamous Secret State Police, or Gestapo -all these stand accused before you as criminal organisations; organisations which, as we will prove from their own documents, were recruited only from the recklessly devoted Nazis, ready in conviction and temperament to do the most violent of deeds to advance the common programme. They terrorised and silenced democratic opposition and were able at length to combine with political opportunists, militarists, industrialists, monarchists and political reactionaries.

A glance at a chart of the Party Organisation is enough to show how completely it differed from the political parties we know. It had its own source of law in the Fuehrer and it had its own courts and its own police. The conspirators set up a government within the Party to exercise outside the law every sanction that any legitimate State could exercise and many that it could not. Its chain of command was military, and its formations were martial in name as well as in function. They were composed of battalions set up to bear arms under military discipline, motorised corps, flying corps, and the infamous “Death Head Corps,” which was not misnamed. The Party had its own secret police, its security units, its intelligence and espionage division, its raiding forces, and its youth forces. It established elaborate administrative mechanisms to identify and liquidate spies and informers, to manage concentration camps, to operate death vans, and to finance the whole movement. Through concentric circles of authority, the Nazi Party, as its leadership later boasted, eventually organised and dominated every phase of German life -but not until they had waged a bitter internal struggle characterised by brutal criminality. In preparation for this phase of their struggle they created a party police system. This became the pattern and the instrument of the police State, which was the first goal in their plan. The Party formation, including the Leadership Corps of the Party, the S.D., the S.S. the S.A. and the infamous Secret State Police, or Gestapo -all these stand accused before you as criminal organisations; organisations which, as we will prove from their own documents, were recruited only from the recklessly devoted Nazis, ready in conviction and temperament to do the most violent of deeds to advance the common programme. They terrorised and silenced democratic opposition and were able at length to combine with political opportunists, militarists, industrialists, monarchists, and political reactionaries.

On January 30,1933 Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of the German Republic. An evil combination, represented in the prisoner’s dock by its most eminent survivors, had succeeded in possessing itself of the machinery of the German Government, a facade behind which they thenceforth would operate to make reality of the war of conquest they so long had plotted. The conspiracy had passed into its second phase.

We shall now consider the steps, which embraced the most hideous of crimes against humanity, to which the conspirators resorted In perfecting control of the German State and in preparing Germany for the aggressive war indispensable to their ends.

The Germans of the 1920′ s were a frustrated and baffled people as a result of defeat and the disintegration of their traditional government. The democratic elements, which were trying to govern Germany through the new and feeble machinery of the Weimar Republic, got inadequate support from the democratic forces of the rest of the world. It is not to be denied that Germany, when world-wide depression added to her other problems, was faced with urgent intricate pressures in her economic and political life, which necessitated bold measures.

The internal measures by which a nation attempts to solve its problems are ordinarily of no concern to other nations. But the Nazi programme from the first was recognised as a desperate programme for a people still suffering the effects of an unsuccessful war. The Nazi policy ends recognised as attainable only by a renewal and more successful outcome of war. The conspirators’ answer to Germany’s problems was nothing less than to plot the the regaining of territories in the First World War and the acquisition of other fertile lands of Eastern Europe by dispossessing or exterminating those who inhabited them. They also contemplated destroying or permanently weakening all other neighbouring peoples so as to win virtual domination over Europe and probably over the world. The precise limits of their ambition we need not define, for it was and is as illegal to wage aggressive war for small stakes as for large ones.

We find at this period two governments in Germany-the real and the ostensible. The form of the German Republic was maintained for a time, and it was the outward and visible government. But the real authority in the State was outside of and above the law and rested in the Leadership Corps of the Nazi Party.

On February 27, 1933, less than a month after Hitler became Chancellor, the Reichstag building was set on fire. The burning of this symbol of free parliamentary government was so providential for the Nazis that it was believed they staged the fire themselves. Certainly when we contemplate their known crimes, we cannot believe they would shrink from mere arson. It is not necessary, however, to resolve the controversy as to who set the fire. The significant point is in the use that was made of the fire and of the state of public mind it produced. The Nazis immediately accused the Communist Party of instigating and committing the crime, and turned every effort to portray this single act of arson as the beginning of a Communist revolution. Then, taking advantage of the hysteria, the Nazis met this phantom revolution with a real one. In the following December, the German Supreme Court, with commendable courage and independence, acquitted the accused Communists, but it was too late to influence the tragic course of events which the Nazi conspirators had set rushing forward.

Hitler, on the morning after the fire, obtained from the aged and ailing President von Hindenburg a Presidential decree suspending the extensive guarantees of individual liberty contained in the constitution of the Weimar Republic. The decree provided that “Sections 114, 115, 117, 118, 123, 124, and 153 of the constitution of the German Reich are suspended until further notice. Thus, restrictions on personal liberty, on the right of free expression of opinion, including freedom of the Press, on the right of assembly and the right of association, and violations of the privacy of postal, telegraphic, and telephonic communications and warrants for house searches, orders for confiscation as well as restrictions on property, are also permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed.” (1390-PS)

The extent of the restriction on personal liberty under the decree of 28th February, 1933, may be understood by reference to the rights under the Weimar Constitution which were suspended:

Article 114. The freedom of the person is inviolable. Curtailment or deprivation of personal freedom by a public authority is only permissible on a legal basis. Persons who have been deprived of their personal freedom must be informed at the latest on the following day by whose authority and for what reasons the deprivation of freedom was ordered. Opportunity shall be afforded them without delay of submitting objection to their deprivation of freedom.

Article 115. Every German’s home is his sanctuary and is inviolable. Exceptions may only be made as provided by law.

Article 117. The secrecy of letters and all postal, telegraphic and telephone communications is inviolable. Exceptions are inadmissible except by Reich law.

Article 118. Every German has the right, within the limits of the general laws, to express his opinions freely in speech, in writing, in print, in picture form or in any other way. No condition of work or employment may detract from this right and no disadvantage may accrue to him from any person making use of this right.

Article 123. All Germans have the right to assemble peacefully and unarmed without giving notice and without special permission. A Reich law may make previous notification obligatory for assemblies in the open air, and may prohibit them in the case of immediate danger to the public safety.

Article 124. All Germans have the right to form associations or societies for purposes not contrary to criminal law. This right may not be curtailed by preventive measures. The same provisions apply to religious associations and societies. Every association may become incorporated (Erwerb der Rechtsfaehigkeit) according to the provisions of the civil law. The right may not be refused to any association on the grounds that its aims are political, social-political or religious.

Article 153. Property is guaranteed by the Constitution. Its content and limits are defined by the laws. Expropriation can only take place for the public benefitand on a legal basis. Adequate compensation shall be granted, unless a Reich law orders otherwise. In the case of dispute concerning the matter to the ordinary civil courts, unless Reich laws determine otherwise. Compensation must be paid if the Reich expropriates property belonging to the Lands, Communes, or public utility associations. Property carries obligations. Its use shall also serve the common good.” (2050-PS)

It must be said, in fairness to von Hindenburg, that the Constitution itself authorised him temporarily to suspend these fundamental rights “if the public safety and order in the German Reich are considerably disturbed or endangered.” It must also be acknowledged that President Ebert previously had invoked this power.

But the National Socialist coup was made possible because the terms of the Hitler-Hindenburg decree departed from all previous ones in which the power of suspension had been invoked. Whenever President Ebert had suspended constitutional guarantees of individual rights, his decree had expressly revived the Protective Custody Act adopted by the Reichstag in 1916 during the previous war. This Act guaranteed a judicial hearing within twenty-four hours of arrest, gave a right to have counsel and to inspect all relevant records, provided for appeal, and authorised compensation from Treasury funds for erroneous arrests.

The Hitler-Hindenburg decree of 28th February, 1933, contained no such safeguards. The omission may not have been noted by von Hindenburg. Certainly he did not appreciate its effect. It left the Nazi police and party formations, already existing and functioning under Hitler, completely unrestrained and irresponsible. Secret arrest and indefinite detention without charges, without evidence, without hearing, without counsel, became the method of inflicting inhuman punishment on any whom the Nazi police suspected or disliked. No court could issue an injunction, or writ of habeas corpus, or certiorari. The German people were in the hands of the police, the police were in the hands of the Nazi Party, and the Party was in the hands of a ring of evil men, of whom the defendants here before you are surviving and representative leaders.

The Nazi conspiracy, as we shall show, always contemplated not merely overcoming current opposition, but exterminating elements which could not be reconciled with its philosophy of the State. It not only sought to establish the Nazi “new order” but to secure its way, as Hitler predicted, “for a thousand years.” Nazis were never in doubt or disagreement as to what those dissident elements were. They were concisely described by one of them, Col. General von Fritzsche, on 11th December, 1938, in these words:

“Shortly after the first war I came to the conclusion that we should have to be victorious in three battles if Germany were to become powerful again: (1) The battle against the working class -Hitler has won this; (2) Against the Catholic Church, perhaps better expressed against Ultramontanism (3) Against the Jews.” (1947-PS)

The warfare against these elements was continuous. The battle in Germany was but a practice skirmish for the world-wide drive against them. We have here in point of geography and of time two groups of crimes against humanity -one within Germany before and during the war, the other in occupied territory during the war. But the two are not separated in Nazi planning. They are a continuous unfolding of the Nazi plan to exterminate peoples and institutions which might serve as a focus or instrument for overturning their “new world order” at any time. We consider these Crimes against Humanity in this address as manifestations of the one Nazi Plan and discuss them according to General von Fritsche’s classification…

Jackson would continue his statement and address the battle against the Working Class, the battle against the churches, the crimes committed against the Jews, crimes in the conduct of war. I will deal with each of these In later articles.

Jackson concluded his opening statement with this words, and they are important, not only to the Nuremberg Process, but in our day today:

While the defendants and the prosecutors stand before you as individuals, it is not the triumph of either group alone that is committed to your judgement. Above all personalities there are anonymous and impersonal forces whose conflict makes up much of human history. It is yours to throw the strength of the law behind either the one or the other of these forces for at least another generation. What are the forces that are contending before you?

No charity can disguise the fact that the forces which these defendants represent, the forces that would advantage and delight in their acquittal, are the darkest and most sinister forces in society-dictatorship and oppression, malevolence and passion, militarism and lawlessness. By their fruits we best know them. Their acts have bathed the world in blood and set civilisation back a century. They have subjected their European neighbours to every outrage and torture, every spoliation and deprivation that insolence, cruelty, and greed could inflict. They have brought the German people to the lowest pitch of wretchedness, from which they can entertain no hope of early deliverance. They have stirred hatreds and incited domestic violence on every continent. There are the things that stand in the dock shoulder to shoulder with these prisoners.

The real complaining party at your bar is Civilisation. In all our countries it is still a struggling and imperfect thing. It does not plead that the United States, or any other country, has been blameless of the conditions which made the German people easy victims to the blandishments and intimidations of the Nazi conspirators.

But it points to the dreadful sequence of aggression and crimes I have recited, it points to the weariness of flesh, the exhaustion of resources, and the destruction of all that was beautiful or useful in so much of the world, and to greater potentialities for destruction in the days to come. It is not necessary among the ruins of this ancient and beautiful city with untold members of its civilian inhabitants still buried in its rubble, to argue the proposition that to start or wage an aggressive war has the moral qualities of the worst of crimes. The refuge of the defendants can be only their hope that International Law will lag so far behind the moral sense of mankind that conduct which is crime in the moral sense must be regarded as innocent in law.

Civilisation asks whether law is so laggard as to be utterly helpless to deal with crimes of this magnitude by criminals of this order of importance. It does not expect that you can make war impossible. It does expect that your juridical action will put the forces of International Law, its prospects, its prohibitions and, most of all, its sanctions, on the side of peace, so that men and women of good will, in all countries, may have “leave to live by no man’s leave, underneath the law.”

Following the trials of the major war criminals, eleven more trials were held, including the Doctor’s Trial, a General’s Trial, also known as the Hostage Trial, and the Einsatzgruppen Trial, as well as others.

To stand in the courtroom where such evidence was presented and powerful testimony given was humbling. To see where learned men, powerful, and even respected men, who had so willingly sacrificed any trace of personal honor and morality, men who aided and abetted a regime which committed the most heinous crimes committed by a civilized “Christian” nation in history left me silent. I have studied these trials since I was in college over 35 years ago. My primary professor, Dr. Helmut Haeussler was an interpreter at the trials.

Since that time I have continued to study them and today as I see the rise of Right Wing movements in Europe, as well as the United States, movements which have at their core many of the same beliefs and principles held by Hitler, the Nazi Party, and the men who stood trial at Nuremberg I find myself frightened.

This is especially so in the United States where Donald Trump has made repeated policy statements limiting civil rights and freedom of speech, limiting the role of the courts, curtailing freedom of the press, favoring one religion above others, curtailing the legal and civil rights of whole groups of people, expelling millions of people, banning whole groups of other people entry into the country, promising to rid the government of his opponents, to fire military leaders who disagree with him in mass, to commit the military to use methods that are condemned as war crimes, war crimes such as were prosecuted by the United States and her Allies at Nuremberg.

To make matters more frightening, many of Trump’s supporters see no problem with this and are often shown on video threatening opponents, advocating even more extreme and violent measures than Trump himself. They justify their proposed polices by saying that these measures are to “protect the country,” and to Make America Great Again.” 

But at what price?

In Judgement at Nuremberg, the film version of the Judges’ Trial, Spencer Tracy played Judge Dan Heywood. In the scene at which the verdicts were read, he gave this speech, some of which echoed the words of Justice Robert Jackson’s closing argument in the Major War Criminal Trial.

“Janning, to be sure, is a tragic figure. We believe he loathed the evil he did. But compassion for the present torture of his soul must not beget forgetfulness of the torture and the death of millions by the Government of which he was a part. Janning’s record and his fate illuminate the most shattering truth that has emerged from this trial: If he and all of the other defendants had been degraded perverts, if all of the leaders of the Third Reich had been sadistic monsters and maniacs, then these events would have no more moral significance than an earthquake, or any other natural catastrophe.

But this trial has shown that under a national crisis, ordinary – even able and extraordinary – men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination. No one who has sat through the trial can ever forget them: men sterilized because of political belief; a mockery made of friendship and faith; the murder of children. How easily it can happen. There are those in our own country too who today speak of the “protection of country” – of ‘survival’. A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient – to look the other way. Well, the answer to that is ‘survival as what’? A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult! Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, in our decision, this is what we stand for: justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.”

A nation is what it stands for. The ideals that have marked the American experiment have never been perfectly practiced by the United States, but they are still the hallmark of the last and greatest hope of civilization. They are the ideals which lead people around the world to want to become Americans, they are the ideals which sustain us. But what Trump and his followers say is that they are not important, and in fact should be limited or abrogated entirely. But this is the way of expediency, and the end of the American experiment.

Standing beside the dock at Nuremberg I was humbled by the fact that I was where such history had been made, and at the same time I was frightened for my country and the world. This is important because the United States is not immune from going down the path of the Third Reich. Historian 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.”

The Nuremberg trials help us to understand why. We cannot forget them.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Tree of Life Continues to Weep: thoughts a Year After Anti-Semitic Killing in Pittsburgh

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I repost this article with a heavy heart. It has been just over a year since the White Nationalist massacre of Jewish worshippers at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue. The saddest part is that seems to be forgotten by most Americans, even as anti-Semitic incidents and violence continue to rise in the United States and Europe.

In his book Auschwitz: A New History, Laurence Rees noted something that is important about how human beings act in crisis. After interviewing many of perpetrators, victims, and bystanders who were at Auschwitz and other parts of the Nazi death machine he wrote this:

“…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.”

Just over a year ago, on the Shabbat, the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was attacked by Rob Bowers, an open and unashamed White Supremacist determined to kill as many Jews as he could. Armed with an AR-15 style assault rifle and two or three semi-automatic pistols he entered the synagogue and opened fire screaming “All Jews must die!”

This is not an isolated incident, although it appears with eleven people killed, the worst single attack on American Jews in our history. While the United States is probably the least anti-Semitic country in the Jewish diaspora, there has always been an undercurrent of anti-Semitism in the United States. Historically this has been mostly relegated to White Supremacist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan, the America First movement of the 1930s, and other White Nationalist, or Neo-Nazi groups. The Right Wing, White Nationalist anti-Semitism almost always flows from the deep well of racism. In the various expressions of this ideology, Jews are not White, they are Middle Eastern, and thus foreign. Likewise, to the Right Wing the Jews are conflated with Communism and thus in league with America’s Cold War enemies.

Likewise, there are people on the fringes of the American Left who espouse anti-Semitic beliefs, often in reaction to the policies and actions of Israel. Regardless of where it comes from, anti-Semitic threats, actions, and violence are an expression of evil, just as much as are other forms of racism.

The historical background is important. Recognizing it enables us to put the dramatic rise in documented anti-Semitic attacks or incidents over the past three years https://www.adl.org/resources/reports/2017-audit-of-anti-semitic-incidents in their appropriate context.

The fact is that the rise is significant and coupled with the more open and in your face actions of leading White Supremacists, and their political connections within the Republican Party, and among highly placed officials and advisers to President Trump. GOP Congressman Steve King of Iowa frequently makes common cause with White Nationalists, and he is not alone. When in the President claimed that there “were fine people on both sides” in response to the violence precipitated by White Nationalist, KKK, and neo-Nazis which claimed the lives of a counter protester in Charlottesville, it was a tacit blessing of their movement, and despite the later attempts of the President to walk back the remarks, the damage was done.

Now the terrorist attack was committed by a man who embraced the apocalyptic fear mongering of the President regarding Central American immigrants, did not vote for or approve of the President. Bowers does not believe that the President is a Nationalist and believes that White Supremacists that support him are being foolish.

Bowers, who has posted that “the Jews are the children of Satan…” was particularly incensed by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. The HIAS was founded in 1881 to help the Jewish victims of Russian pogroms find safety. They are the oldest such agency in the United States and now support refugees of every race, color, and creed. Bowers was most angered by its support for Central American refugees. In his rage at refugees Bowers is similar to many of the President’s supporters, except that the rage is directed at Jews who support refugees. He could have targeted any number of Christian or secular organizations that support refugees but he targeted Jews. Over the past few months he has made online threats to HIAS for its sponsorship of a National Refugee Shabbat in which participating congregations dedicated a worship service to the plight of refugees. Just before the attack Bowers posted:

“HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in,”

Bowers’s rational for killing Jews is very much like the German Nazis in regard to German and European Jews. They believed that they were the victims of the Jews, that the Jews were trying to destroy their race, and since they believed that the Jews were a sub-human infestation, had to be exterminated. Just three days ago Bowers posted:

“Daily Reminder: Diversity means chasing down the last white person.”

Bowers was a frequent poster on the Gab social media site which has become a haven for men like him, as an alternative to Twitter or Facebook, however, anti-Semitic posts on Twitter have risen at an alarming rate. About 40% of the anti-Semitic posts on Twitter include the #MAGA and #KAG hashtags of Trump supporters.

Bowers’s violent act was not an isolated incident, but part of a larger pattern of violent racism and racist political extremism. It took place at the end of a week of race and political based violence. First, a rabid Trump supporter, conspiracy theory follower, and anti-Semite was arrested for mailing 13 bombs to political figures, former government officials, and media figures. All of the people targeted had been openly attacked by the President on Twitter or in various speeches. One of his former employers noted that the man said that he wished “to go back to the Hitler days” and that if it was in his power he would “eradicate the Jews” along with lesbians, black people and Hispanic people.

Then there was the was the incident in Louisville, Kentucky where a White man attempted to attack a predominantly Black church, and failing that went to a Kroger supermarket and shot two Black customers in the back, killing them. When confronted by an armed civilian in the parking lot the man said “whites don’t kill whites.” There was no other motive for the killing except the man’s expressed White Supremacism and racism.

These domestic terrorists are all individually responsible for the crimes that they committed and the lives that they have snuffed our. That being said, how they got to the place in their minds where such actions are justified is not hard to explain. They are very similar to others throughout history who have embraced race hatred, including anti-Semitism as a way of life. But, without a belief that violent acts are permissible due to the existential threats promoted by the President, his GOP political allies, the hosts of Right Wing pundits who have poisoned the airwaves and internet for three decades, and the political preachers who justify race and religious based Nationalism, the perpetrators would likely never act.

Just before the attack, President Trump publicly described himself as a Nationalist for the first time. In 2016 Timothy Snyder wrote of President Trump and the contrast between a Nationalist and a Patriot:

“The president is a nationalist, which is not at all the same thing as a patriot. A nationalist encourages us to be our worst, and then tells us that we are the best. A nationalist, “although endlessly brooding on power, victory, defeat, revenge,” wrote Orwell, tends to be “uninterested in what happens in the real world.” Nationalism is relativist, since the only truth is the resentment we feel when we contemplate others. As the novelist Danilo Kiš put it, nationalism “has no universal values, aesthetic or ethical.” A patriot, by contrast, wants the nation to live up to its ideals, which means asking us to be our best selves. A patriot must be concerned with the real world, which is the only place where his country can be loved and sustained. A patriot has universal values, standards by which he judges his nation, always wishing it well—and wishing that it would do better.

The President has stoked the flames or racism, nationalism, and even anti-Semitism sine the day he announced his candidacy. The GOP establishment, even those men and women who before Trump’s nomination opposed and condemned all that he stood for have embraced him, very much as the German conservatives did with Hitler between 1932 and 1936, only much faster.

It is not that Trump is Hitler, at best he is a sorry pretender, not that he isn’t dangerous in his own right. Rather, it is the fact that his former GOP opponents have sold their souls for some kind of political or economic gain to him despite their obvious contempt for him and all that he stood. It is that the reality that the de facto state run media of Fox News sets his agenda on a daily basis. It is the fact that the scions of Evangelicalism who would never have supported a man like him have not only embraced Trump, but have invented supposedly Biblical reasons to support him. It is the fact that millions of people now embrace conspiracy theories because Trump repeats and amplifies them. It is the fact that this maelstrom of madness has opened the floodgates to the violence we have seen over the past week and it was not unbelievable or unsurprising. It was all too predictable. I have been saying so for years.

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.”We have to understand why or this not be the end. It will continue and it will get worse, regardless of what happens in the mid-term elections unless people stop being bystanders and confront the evil that is before us. The President will not, and neither will the compliant GOP majorities in Congress.

The fact that these men have been emboldened to use race based terrorism and murder, to openly espouse and act on anti-Semitism, and other forms of racism as was the case in Louisville and there is no push back in the Right Wing media while much of the mainstream media continues to give the enablers of such violent people equal time by inviting them to panel discussions where the truth is allowed to be obfuscated in the name of fairness and equal time.

So it will happen again and again. No amount of security can stop it. Unlike the terrorist who attacked on September 11th 2001, these terrorists are born and bred Americans. Two of the three would have attracted any attention, and the one who did was so over the top and open about his beliefs that he was considered to be a loon. They all had a choice as how to behave, and like the murderers of Auschwitz they allowed their situation to determine their choices.

Be assured, these acts will continue to happen. Anti-Semitism didn’t die in the Bunker with Hitler. It has found a comfortable home in the United States and what happened this week at the Tree of Life Synagogue shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, and ethics can collapse.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Of Demagogues and Tyrants: The Declaration, the Constitution, and the Current President


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In the Declaration of Independence these words stand out. “A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”

I cannot think of an American President who these were more pertinent to, then  Donald Trump. He is the man who Alexander Hamilton warned us in his words and in the Federalist Papers.

“Of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people, commencing demagogues and ending tyrants.”

From the beginning of his campaign in 2015 the President has been nothing more than a demagogue, charlatan, and compulsive liar. Additionally, he has shown contempt for the Constitution, the laws, and the institutions of this country in such a myriad of ways it is hard to list them all here; but they include domestic, and foreign affairs which certainly Hamilton and the other Founders believed would eventually happen in our land.

This is all exploding on us now. Those who warned us were derided by Trump’s loyal Army conservative Evangelical Christian supporters, members of White Supremacist groups, and Neo-Nazis; as well as the unofficial, yet official State Propaganda television network, Fox News, and hundreds of right wing television and radio pastors, and other propaganda pundits, many with dubious records of personal and legal conduct.

We are living in a dangerous time. Based on his long history of unfaithfulness to wives, children, employees, investors, and contractors it would be foolish to believe that this President would be faithful to the oath that he took when he was inaugurated as President in 2017.

I am tired and will sign off for the night and continue my series on the Battle of Leyte Gulf tomorrow since I got ahead of myself last night.
So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Brittle Personalities with Yearning for Respect, the Danger Of the Lack Of Character in Leaders: President Trump and Kaiser Wilhelm II

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

We are in the German State Of Hessen visiting German friends that we have known for almost 35 years, after making the trip up from Munich. In our conversations with our German friends who are conservative supporters of Angela Merkel and the CDU, the question of the stability, suitably for office, and the Character of the American President came up, and they are frightened by his actions and wonder how a country like ours could have elected him. That made me revisit the question of the President’s character, or lack thereof, and compare him with other vain, immature, and unstable leaders. Character matters, especially when we elect someone to be President of the United States. President Trump may be a character, but he has none, and that is the most dangerous thing about him.

Theodore Roosevelt noted: “Character, in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations alike.”

As the crises of probable impeachment hearings and potential war in the Middle East, and a growing trade war with Chine swirl around the White House I think that it is important to see the President’s words and actions in light of a number of factors. One of those, as Theodore Roosevelt noted is character. Thus it is important to know how the character other leaders at other times influenced how they treated people, reacted to criticism, and led their nations.

In the American experience one is hard pressed to find a President with a similar temperament and character that corresponds to Donald Trump. Yes, Nixon had some similarities, Andrew Jackson as well, but both men even at their worst did, at least in public restrain themselves, and Nixon, when confronted with the reality of certain impeachment did the country a favor by resigning. James Buchanan, whose pro-slavery positions helped ignite the American Civil War, and Andrew Johnson, whose anti-Reconstruction policies and actions led to his impeachment, which fell short of conviction by one vote in the Senate, were as corrupt and cruel as Trump, but neither rose to Trump’s level of contempt for our institutions and Constitution.

But that was a different time. There were leaders in the Republican Party who chose to honor the Constitution and their oaths over blind party loyalty or their determination to pass a certain legislative act. Their resistance to President Nixon was instrumental in his resignation in 1974, especially that of conservative icon Barry Goldwater.

But there seem to be few current members of the GOP congressional delegations willing to stand either for fear of the Trump base, or blind determination to press on with tax cuts even if it means the sacrifice of the Constitution, nuclear war, or their own integrity. It seems that Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse are now beginning to show some backbone, but most of the Republican Senate still seems willing; even after the revelations of what appears to be the President using his office to influence the President of the Ukraine to help undermine the campaign of one of his leading Democratic Party rivals, Vice President Joe Biden.

Of course no amount of the President’s lies and corruption have yet swayed most of his supporters, so I don’t think, unless individual Republican Senators decide that their political survival depends on abandoning Trump, that the GOP will do anything. His base remains solid, and armed members of private “militias” are begging the President to call them into action to eliminate his political enemies and members of the press who press his administration for the truth. I actually saw one of the videos a couple of days ago. Basically such people and their organizations are lawless gangs, despite their words, and they include active and former members of the military. They, are willing to kill for Trump, especially those who believe that he was chosen by God to be President, but I digress, Trump is not Hitler, and his thugs are minor leaguers compared to the SA and the SS.

But I do think that there is a leader who in temperament was much like President Trump, who ended up helping to lead his nation and the world to the abyss of World War. That is not Adolf Hitler who many people often compare the President. I think that Trump’s authoritarian tendencies and his reliance on his radicalized base, including armed mobs in the street, and hyper-partisan allies in the right wing media, especially Fox News and Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp which serves as his de-facto state media are similar, but they do not speak to the President’s unstable, narcissistic, and paranoid behaviors. I think that the better comparison is to Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany with whom the President seems to share many similarities.

In his book The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, Christopher Clark wrote of Wilhelm in words that are strikingly reminiscent of the President.

“It was one of this Kaiser’s many peculiarities that he was completely unable to calibrate his behaviour to the contexts in which his high office obliged him to operate. Too often he spoke not like a monarch, but like an over-excited teenager giving free rein to his current preoccupations.

‘I am the sole master of German policy,’ he remarked in a letter to the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII), ‘and my country must follow me wherever I go”

“Wilhelm frequently –especially in the early years of his reign –bypassed his responsible ministers by consulting with ‘favourites’, encouraged factional strife in order to undermine the unity of government, and expounded views that had not been cleared with the relevant ministers or were at odds with the prevailing policy.

“It was in this last area –the unauthorized exposition of unsanctioned political views –that the Kaiser achieved the most hostile notice, both from contemporaries and from historians. There can be no doubt about the bizarre tone and content of many of the Kaiser’s personal communications in telegrams, letters, marginal comments, conversations, interviews and speeches on foreign and domestic political themes. Their exceptional volume alone is remarkable: the Kaiser spoke, wrote, telegraphed, scribbled and ranted more or less continuously during the thirty years of his reign, and a huge portion of these articulations was recorded and preserved for posterity…”

Max Hastings wrote that Wilhelm “was a brittle personality whose yearning for respect caused him to intersperse blandishments and threats in ill-judged succession.” Sean McMeekin in his book July 1914 wrote that Wilhelm had an “insecurity complex, a need for constant attention and acclaim. As one of his many critics put it, the kaiser needed to be “the stag at every hunt, the bride at every wedding, and the corpse at every funeral.” He also noted “Eager for praise, taking offense at the merest slight, the kaiser was a difficult man to work for. Bismarck had disdained to gratify Wilhelm II’s fragile ego after he became emperor in 1888, which led to his sacking two years later.”

Like President Trump the Kaiser did experience some push back from different governmental ministers, and was somewhat restrained during the month leading up to the war, but his constant belligerence, instability, and unscripted remarks helped set the diplomatic and governmental crisis that led to the war. Of course this was not his fault alone, the Austrian-Hungarians, Serbians, Russians, French, and British all had a hand, but the Kaiser, through his words and actions during the three decades preceding the war bears much responsibility for what happened in 1914. If the Kaiser had had a Twitter account he would have certainly used it in a similar manner to President Trump.

But Germany had no checks and balances to restrain Wilhelm. He was an absolute monarch. Americans do still have institutional checks and balances to Presidential overreach or abuses should we choose to follow the Constitution, but for that to happen the leadership of the Republican Party must also act, as did their predecessors during the Nixon administration to put principle or party, and rule of law over blind obedience. This is not about partisanship; it is about the Constitution, our form of government, and yes, even the prevention of nuclear war.

Character and temperament are very important in times of crisis and elevated tensions. Character is also fate. We should all tremble when we think of the lack of character and maturity shown by our President.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A City Without Jews, Foreigners, or Muslim Refugees: A Visit to the National Socialist Documentation Center in Munich and the Sophie Scholl- White Rose Museum

Friends Of Padre Steve’s World,

Today was a busy day for us in Munich. We visited the Oktoberfest grounds and ate and drank at the Paulaner beer tent before going downtown for some shopping.

Before that I took a couple of hours to power walk to the National Socialist Documentation Center, where I saw the new exhibit “A City Without Jews, Foreigners, or Muslim Refugees” before walking over the the Sophie Scholl and White Rose Movement Memorial at the University Of Munich.

What is frightening is that in both 1938 and 1998 Germans designed board games to promote the expulsion and extermination of Jews and other undesirables from public life.

The 1938 game might have been excused as an act of misdirected revenge based on already widespread and popular versions of anti-Semitism and intensive and anti-Jewish Nazi propaganda, but the 1998 game, spread by the Neo-Nazi NSU was designed to raise funds to combat the Jews.

The game board of the later was discovered by the Polizei during a raid in 1998, along with a sizable weapons cache. It was being sold in order to fund the terrorists activities and to purchase weapons.

I was speaking with one of the docents at the museum about the rise in such thinking and action among people and now government figures in each of our countries. The fact is that there are now sizable majorities in democratic nations who are proceeding down the path of exiling or eliminating, Jews, Muslims, racial and religious minorities, from public life.

This is happening throughout Europe as well as in the United States. In the United States, President Trump and many in the Republican Party tap into this already existing feeling and legitimize it. It is frightening to watch as government agencies work to isolate and drive out minorities and the poor. In Germany such attitudes were spread by the NPD, the Nationalist Party Of Germany, but have been taken into the government by the AfD, the Alternative for Germany Party.

Sadly, I do not see things getting better any time soon. We know where such ideologies led in the 1930s and 1940s. The only question is how far they will spread and how violent they will become in our time.

But that is enough for now.

From Munich,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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Einsatzgruppen and Ordinary Men: Religion, Ideology, and True Believers, Now

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

this is a follow up to yesterday’s article about the Einsatzgruppen  and Ordungspolizei action in Poland from 1939 to early 1942, the period before Hitler and his minions made the decision to enact the Endlosung, the Final Solution to what they referred to in academic and clinical terms of the Jewish Problem. 

I cannot think for you, but the social and political climate of the United States and many other Western Democracies, what happened then is not simply an academic question that we can leave in the past, unless we are to submit ourselves to repeat that tragedy, that Holocaust. 

Eighty years ago the members of Heinrich Himmler’s Einsatzgruppen were following the German Army into Poland. These forces were intended to do one thing, to eliminate any Poles capable of resisting the Reich and to round up and kill Jews. The sad thing is that while the Genocide committed by the Nazis is in a league of its own, the propensity for others to write about, urge, and promote genocidal practices is not unique.

One of the most troubling aspects of genocide is the degree to which people will go to rationalize and justify it, especially if it is supposedly commanded by their “God.” This includes people who exalt their human leader’s pronouncements to that of a god.

Eric Hoffer wrote:

“The impression somehow prevails that the true believer, particularly the religious individual, is a humble person. The truth is the surrendering and humbling of the self breed pride and arrogance. The true believer is apt to see himself as one of the chosen, the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a prince disguised in meekness, who is destined to inherit the earth and the kingdom of heaven too. He who is not of his faith is evil; he who will not listen will perish.”

Thus, today’s article is difficult to write. I realize that some people will be offended because to those that cannot see the nuance that any criticism of their beliefs is akin to an attack on God. That is not my intent at all, there are too many people of faith in all religions who work against the extremists who claim to speak evil in the name of their God. Likewise I am not  attempting by any stretch of the imagination to broad brush or demonize people of faith. That being said, there are people of every faith and ideology who are capable of planning and committing genocide.

Yes there are extremists, but there are also many ordinary people who obey without questioning, and if ordered by a high enough authority will commit unspeakable acts. As Primo Levi noted, “Monsters exist, but they are too few in numbers to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are…the functionaries ready to believe and act without asking questions.”

But my purpose today, in fact the sole intent of this article is to point out some of the questions and issues that people of faith need to ask when they faced with the killing of innocents or defenseless people in the name of God, or of a political leader. The fact that the Trump administration has already began rounding up people including American citizens and separating them from their families in what amount to concentration camps. (And yes, I do know the difference between a concentration camp like Dachau and a death camp like Treblinka, or Auschwitz so don’t even go there Mr. Trump Cultist.) But the fact is that once you go down the path that the Trump administration has elected to trod there is not much more to overcome before the killing begins.

Historian 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.”

Thus, one only has to look at history and the words or actions of people who live among us to realize that the seeds of genocide are always being sown by those who find others less than human. The men and women who sow the seeds of future genocide can do so in the name of their God, their religion, their religious or secular political ideological, or their views on the superiority of their race. The Nazis provide us a road map of the twisted logic used by the perpetrators of such actions, but they are not alone in history, and people like them exist today, some peddling their hatred in the name of God and religion, but not always.

When one reads the speeches, the after action reports, and the post-war testimony of those who orchestrated and conducted the worst terror of the Nazi regime against the Jews and others that they considered to be less than human, or in the case of the handicapped and the mentally ill, “life unworthy of life” they are stunning, and troubling. I just finished reading Horst Bieshold’s Crying Hands: Eugenics and Deaf People in Nazi Germany, and I am currently reading Christopher Browning’s The Origins Of the Holocaust: The Evolution Of Nazi Jewish Policy, September 1939 – March 1942. 

During his Posen speech of October 1943 SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler was quite clear about the aims of the Nazis, and their goals regarding the Jews and other Untermenschen (Sub humans) including infants and children. Himmler said:

“We came to the question: what to do with the women and children? I decided to find a clear solution here as well. I did not consider myself justified to exterminate the men – that is, to kill them or have them killed – and allow the avengers of our sons and grandsons in the form of their children to grow up. The difficult decision had to be taken to make this people disappear from the earth…”

One would think that killing babies, any babies, but in the particular case Jewish babies to prevent them from growing up to avenge the deaths of their parents would be repulsive, especially to Jews. For most Jews it is, but like every religion Judaism has its share of extremists.

One of them is the controversial Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, the dean of the Od Yosef Hai Yeshiva near Nablus in Israel. In a chapter in his book Torat ha-Melekh [The King’s Teaching] entitled “Deliberate harm to innocents,” which provides numerous justifications to kill gentiles, even babies, Shapira wrote:

“In any situation in which a non-Jew’s presence endangers Jewish lives, the non-Jew may be killed even if he is a righteous Gentile and not at all guilty for the situation that has been created… Hindrances—babies are found many times in this situation. They block the way to rescue by their presence and do so completely by force. Nevertheless, they may be killed because their presence aids murder. There is justification for killing babies if it is clear that they will grow up to harm us, and in such a situation they may be harmed deliberately, and not only during combat with adults.”

The Rabbi’s followers have engaged in frequent violence against Palestinians and Jews who do not hold his radical views. In 2006 he was detained for questioning after writing an article in which he said that all Palestinian males from age 13 and up should be killed or expelled from the West Bank. The rabbi condemns any moderation by the Israeli Defense Forces, and he criticizes Israel’s legal system and judiciary when its rulings conflict with his uncompromising views. To be sure his book was condemned by other Rabbis, especially of the Reformed School, but some Orthodox Rabbis supported it.

Those views are not unlike the stated views of the leaders of the so-called Islamic State when it comes to the killing of non-believers. In that organization’s 2013 Declaration of War those leaders stated:

“If you can kill a disbelieving American or European – especially the spiteful and filthy French – or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the disbelievers waging war, including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the Islamic State, then rely upon Allah, and kill him in any manner or way however it may be. Do not ask for anyone’s advice and do not seek anyone’s verdict. Kill the disbeliever whether he is civilian or military, for they have the same ruling. Both of them are disbelievers. Both of them are considered to be waging war [the civilian by belonging to a state waging war against the Muslims]. Both of their blood and wealth is legal for you to destroy, for blood does not become illegal or legal to spill by the clothes being worn.”

Many Imam’s and Mufti’s around the world and in the Middle East have issued Fatwah’s against the Islamic State and condemned its teachings. But many of these clerics, who often represent their tribal or government leaders, are considered to be disbelievers and “defenders of Israel” by the Islamic State. As such, many Moslem clerics, and large numbers the vast oppressed masses of impoverished, and often disenfranchised Arab Moslems are attracted to that ideology, especially that directed against the Jews, who are seen as the ultimate enemy.

There are Christians too that find theological justification for killing children, and their reasons are chillingly like those of Himmler: The author of an article on the blog Rational Christianity wrote:

“Why were the children killed, if they weren’t guilty? Apparently, they were considered as morally neutral, since they weren’t yet old enough to be held accountable or to have done much right or wrong. While not as corrupt as their parents, they were part of the society that was judged, and shared its earthly (though not its eternal) fate.”

Another author, a man named Wayne Jackson of Apologetics Press writes of the children of the Canaanites, “Would it not have been infinitely worse, in view of eternity, had these children grown to maturity and adopted the same pagan practices as their parents?”

William Lane Craig, a frequent apologist wrote in the Reasonable faith website a comment that sounds like it could have come from the lips of Himmler in dealing with the effect of the mass murders of Jews and others on the troops of the Einsatzgruppen. Craig wrote:

“So whom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites? Not the Canaanite adults, for they were corrupt and deserving of judgment. Not the children, for they inherit eternal life. So who is wronged? Ironically, I think the most difficult part of this whole debate is the apparent wrong done to the Israeli soldiers themselves. Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children? The brutalising effect on these Israeli soldiers is disturbing.”

However, Craig has no qualms about what the Israelites did, simply because the genocide was commanded by God.

If one substitutes “Hitler” for “God” one sees a similar rationalization used members of the Einsatzgruppen. Colonel Walter Blume, a Police Colonel at Vitebsk who tried to “care” for his troops during a mass execution of Jews. He wrote:

“If I am now asked about my inner attitude which I then held, I can only say that it was absolutely split. On the one hand there was the strict order of my superior… and as a soldier I had to obey. On the other hand I considered the execution of this order cruel and humanly impossible. My very presence at this execution convinced me of this in a final manner. I still know that I wanted to make the situation easier for my men who were certainly moved by the same feelings. When ten men were shot there was always a pause until the next had been brought in. During these pauses I let my men sit down and rest and I joined them. I still know what I said exactly the following words to them at this time: “As much as it is no job for German men and soldiers to shoot defenseless people but the Fuhrer has ordered these shootings because he is convinced that these men would otherwise shoot at us as partisans or would shoot our comrades and our women and children were to be protected if we undertake these executions. This we would have to remember when we carry out this order.” Furthermore, I tried talking about neutral subjects to make the difficult spiritual situation easier and to overcome it.”

That is the troubling issue for me. Genocide is genocide and evil, no matter who commands it. We can try to wiggle around and avoid the subject by saying that whatever God we have is above normal law, or that our secular leader’s commands are above the law, but we cannot escape the fact that genocide is immoral and an immutable evil; even if we do it in the name of our God.

I think that is the problem that I have with people who follow their leaders down the path to genocide, even those who they believe are speaking for God. Likewise, I am very much concerned when people seem to care more about the emotional and spiritual effects of mass murders on the perpetrators than on the victims.

But then, the victims are dead and have no one left to speak for them, unless we do. Never forget.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“Nothing is so unworthy of a civilized nation as allowing itself to be “governed” without opposition by an irresponsible clique that has yielded to base instinct.” A Portrait Of the German Resistance

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is an article about resisters and those that revisited the evil of the Nazi State. Many of these men and women sacrificed their lives in their efforts to resist Hitler. They included university students, military officers, civil servants, clerics, and ordinary citizens. This was part one of a series that I never completed. Over the next few weeks I will complete the series. Things just got away from me last year with home repairs and renovations and an injuries that I am only just now recovering from the following month. So this is a good place to start again on that series since many of my new readers, or twitter followers have never read it. 

Let me make it clear, despite the President’s despotic and narcissistic actions which have been so harmful to so many Americans, and which threaten the stability of the world and could end up in war; we are not living in 1930s Germany, and Trump is not Hitler. At the same time there are many troubling parallels. In my opinion it would not take much to bring us to a similar point, especially as the President doubles down on intentionally racist, sexist, and simply inhuman and cruel words, and policies. 

My next article in the series will deal with American abolitionists. I am not sure what I will do after that, probably various American Civil Rights leaders, including African Americans, Mexican Americans, Women, Asians, and LGBTQ rights advocates. 

So until tomorrow, 

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

They are know and unknown but all resisted tyrants and all have become inspirational figures in my life. They are men and women, and many are soldiers or clergy, while others were civil rights leaders. Most were advocates of non-violence, but some due to the incredibly evil nature of the regime under which they lived and served resorted to violence. But all show me and I hope will show you that the path of resistance is not futile.

The problem is that far too many people become discouraged the longer the struggle lasts and end up accommodating themselves to the evil regimes under which they lived. That will probably be the experience of those who struggle against tyranny around the world today as authoritarianism under many guises becomes more entrenched. It is a world wide phenomena but if the classic understanding of democratic liberalism advocated by so many including the founders of the United States is to survive, authoritarians and their tyrannical worldview must be resisted.

Sophie Scholl, a young student at the University of Munich wrote:

“I’ve been thinking of a story from the Old Testament: Moses stood all day and all night with outstretched arms, praying to God for victory. And whenever he let down his arms, the enemy prevailed over the children of Israel. Are there still people today who never weary of directing all their thinking and all their energy, single-heartedly, to one cause?”

That my friends is important.

Yesterday, July 20th was the 74th anniversary of Operation Valkyrie, the attempt of conservative German military officers, diplomats, and others to kill Hitler and end the tyrannical and genocidal Nazi regime. Among the men who died in that attempt were Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, General Henning von Trescow, General Ludwig Beck, Lieutenant Colonel Mertz von Quirnheim, and General Friedrich Olbricht. Others were implicated and were murdered after kangaroo court proceedings at the hand of the Volksgericht, the “People’s Court” headed by Roland Freisler. Among them was Field Marshal Erich von Witzleben. While Freisler hounded and tried to humiliate him Witzleben remained calm and announced to the court:

“You may hand us over to the executioner, but in three months’ time, the disgusted and harried people will bring you to book and drag you alive through the dirt in the streets!”

 

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General Henning von Tresckow

“We have to show the world that not all of us are like him. Otherwise, this will always be Hitler’s Germany.” When the attempt failed von Trescow was serving on the Russian front far away from Berlin. To avoid arrest and the possibility that under torture he could implicate others or cause harm to his wife and children von Trescow killed himself. Another participant wrote that before his death von Trescow said:

“The whole world will vilify us now, but I am still totally convinced that we did the right thing. Hitler is the archenemy not only of Germany but of the world. When, in few hours’ time, I go before God to account for what I have done and left undone, I know I will be able to justify what I did in the struggle against Hitler. God promised Abraham that He would not destroy Sodom if only ten righteous men could be found in the city, and so I hope for our sake God will not destroy Germany. No one among us can complain about dying, for whoever joined our ranks put on the shirt of Nessus. A man’s moral worth is established only at the point where he is ready to give his life in defense of his convictions.”

Ludwig Beck

General Ludwig Beck

Beck, who had resigned his post as commander of the German Army in protest of the planned invasion of Czechoslovakia wrote something that has become a key part of my military and personal ethic: “It is a lack of character and insight, when a soldier in high command sees his duty and mission only in the context of his military orders without realizing that the highest responsibility is to the people of his country.” 

Tresckow, a committed Christian also noted of Hitler’s supposedly Christian supporters: “I cannot understand how people can still call themselves Christians and not be furious adversaries of Hitler’s regime.” 

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Admiral Wilhelm Canaris 

There were other Christian resisters of the Hitler regime. Hans Oster was the son of a pastor and one of the senior officers in the Abwehr, the German military intelligence. His boss, Admiral Wihelm Canaris was also a resister. Both would be executed on the personal order of Hitler in April 1945 along with Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, all had been arrested for their involvement in anti-Hitler activities. For his part Canaris would note something that military, intelligence, or police officials who might be tempted to excuse the actions of modern day tyrants or would be authoritarians:

“One day the world will hold the Wehrmacht responsible for these methods since these things are taking place under its nose.”

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer 

Pastor Bonhoeffer who died with Oster and Canaris at Flossenburg wrote:

“Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christian should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.”

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Hermann Maas 

Hermann Maas, another Lutheran pastor made his mark by speaking out in defense of Jews and Socialists. He angered the German political right including the Nazis by doing so. He aided Jews and other non-Aryans to escape Germany, and cared for the elderly Jews who could not. He was removed from his pastorate and imprisoned. He survived the war and would be the first German recognized by Yad Vashem as one of the Righteous Among the Nations. Maas discussed the responsibility of all Germans for the crimes of Hitler and the Nazis, something that Christians and others in nations like the United States, Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America that are threatened by authoritarian leaders and racist regimes:

“Every German bears responsibility for Germany no matter who he is or where he stands, in the homeland or abroad, in public and at home. No one can absolve him of this responsibility. He can transfer it to no one.” 

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Sophie Scholl

But these men were not the only opponents of the Nazi regime. A young woman, a student at the University of Munich named Sophie Scholl and her brother Hans were at the center of an anti-Nazi resistance called the White Rose. They published and distributed a number of anti-Nazi leaflets and were caught doing so in early 1943.

One of those pamphlets noted:

“Nothing is so unworthy of a civilized nation as allowing itself to be “governed” without opposition by an irresponsible clique that has yielded to base instinct. It is certain that today every honest German is ashamed of his government. Who among us has any conception of the dimensions of shame that will befall us and our children when one day the veil has fallen from our eyes and the most horrible of crimes – crimes that infinitely outdistance every human measure – reach the light of day?

If the German people are already so corrupted and spiritually crushed that they do not raise a hand, frivolously trusting in a questionable faith in lawful order in history; if they surrender man’s highest principle, that which raises him above all other God’s creatures, his free will; if they abandon the will to take decisive action and turn the wheel of history and thus subject it to their own rational decision; if they are so devoid of all individuality, have already gone so far along the road toward turning into a spiritless and cowardly mass – then, yes, they deserve their downfall.

Goethe speaks of the Germans as a tragic people, like the Jews and the Greeks, but today it would appear rather that they are a spineless, will-less herd of hangers-on, who now – the marrow sucked out of their bones, robbed of their center of stability – are waiting to be hounded to their destruction. So it seems – but it is not so. Rather, by means of a gradual, treacherous, systematic abuse, the system has put every man into a spiritual prison. Only now, finding himself lying in fetters, has he become aware of his fate.

Only a few recognized the threat of ruin, and the reward for their heroic warning was death. We will have more to say about the fate of these persons. If everyone waits until the other man makes a start, the messengers of avenging Nemesis will come steadily closer; then even the last victim will have been cast senselessly into the maw of the insatiable demon.

Therefore every individual, conscious of his responsibility as a member of Christian and Western civilization, must defend himself against the scourges of mankind, against fascism and any similar system of totalitarianism. Offer passive resistance – resistance – wherever you may be, forestall the spread of this atheistic war machine before it is too late, before the last cities, like Cologne, have been reduced to rubble, and before the nation’s last young man has given his blood on some battlefield for the hubris of a sub-human. Do not forget that every people deserves the regime it is willing to endure.”

She wrote:

“It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.”

I think of all of these people that I admire young Sophie Scholl the most. She had no power. She was not an officer, a government official, a businessman, or a pastor. She was simply a young woman who was informed by her faith and her concern for basic human morality and ethics.

While the Nazi State was consumed by the flames of Hitler’s Götterdämmerung, the lives and message of those few who resisted still redounds to us today. And yes, in comparison to the majority of Germans  of the Hitler era, they were a tiny minority, Of over 2000 German General and Flag officers a mere 22 were involved in anti-Nazi activities and the same is true for most professions in the Third Reich.

Milton Mayer wrote the words of a German University Professor and colleague after the war was over. The professor was reflecting on how people ended up going along with the Nazi regime. Mayer wrote his friends words:

“And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self-deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my case my little boy, hardly more than a baby, saying ‘Jewish swine,’ collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose. The world you live in—your nation, your people—is not the world you were born in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God. The system itself could not have intended this in the beginning, but in order to sustain itself it was compelled to go all the way.

“You have gone almost all the way yourself. Life is a continuing process, a flow, not a succession of acts and events at all. It has flowed to a new level, carrying you with it, without any effort on your part. On this new level you live, you have been living more comfortably every day, with new morals, new principles. You have accepted things you would not have accepted five years ago, a year ago, things that your father, even in Germany, could not have imagined.

“Suddenly it all comes down, all at once. You see what you are, what you have done, or, more accurately, what you haven’t done (for that was all that was required of most of us: that we do nothing). You remember those early meetings of your department in the university when, if one had stood, others would have stood, perhaps, but no one stood. A small matter, a matter of hiring this man or that, and you hired this one rather than that. You remember everything now, and your heart breaks. Too late. You are compromised beyond repair.

“What then? You must then shoot yourself. A few did. Or ‘adjust’ your principles. Many tried, and some, I suppose, succeeded; not I, however. Or learn to live the rest of your life with your shame. This last is the nearest there is, under the circumstances, to heroism: shame. Many Germans became this poor kind of hero, many more, I think, than the world knows or cares to know.”

I think this is something for every American to ponder in the age of Trump.

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