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There is Nothing More Difficult than Understanding Evil: Dealing with the Evils Unleashed By President Trump

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote, “Nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer; nothing is more difficult than to understand him.”

Back in 2010 I had a creditable and very specific death threat from a Neo-Nazi in East Tennessee. The man had a formidable internet presence, many publications online, including articles on how best to assassinate people. So I did my research, figured out who he was and reported him to the FBI. A week later his internet presence disappeared. I don’t know what happened to him, but I watch my back.

Over the past few days I have been helping a Jewish friend who is dealing with many Neo-Nazi threats and harassment for supporting an effort to have headstones replaced at the San Antonio Military Cemetery. The headstones were of German POWs but each had a Swastika and the words “he died for his Fuhrer and Fatherland” on them. The fact is that such words and symbols are not allowed by the German Government on the graves of their WWII soldiers in Germany or at any German military cemetery in Europe. Why they ended up on headstones here I don’t know. When an United States Army Colonel complained to the VA about them he was brushed off. That man asked my friend to help. As a result the VA relented, removed the headstones and replaced them with headstones giving the soldier’s names, ranks, military service, and dates of birth and death. But to Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists this was unforgivable.

My friend forwarded those emails to me for assistance. Two were smart enough to use fake email addresses, but one of those revealed his actual name. Another was stupid enough to use his real name and email address. Within 15 minutes I found a plethora of incriminating evidence against him revealing his Nazi affiliations, statements, and all kinds of things easily available through a Google search and tools that are available to purchase. After the first death threat I learned and am continuing learn how to track these people down and expose them to the public from the internet slime they hid in. Sadly, there are a lot more of them now than a decade ago.

But despite attacks and mass murders at synagogues and Jewish Schools, centers, and the vandalism of Jewish businesses, cemeteries, schools, shrines, and synagogues most Americans don’t see the threat. Nor do they when Black Churches are burned, bombed, or attacked by mass murderers. The problem is that most people, even those repulsed by the vile criminals who do such things really don’t want to understand why these people do such things.

I admit that it is uncomfortable and deeply unsettling to do the work needed to understand them, because to do so we have to understand evil and our vulnerability to resorting to evil ourselves. However, it is necessary if we are to stop the scourge of Anti-Semitism and racism in our country. But let me explain.

I think one of our problems is that we want to believe that evil is simply done be evil people. That is why when we see a Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, or the monsters of the so-called Islamic State, we are often strangely comforted. This is often  because we can point to a single person with a wicked ideology and say “they are evil,” all the while forgetting that they are, or were, like us, also human. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn reminds us of the folly of that type of thinking:

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

A few years ago I took a break from my Gettysburg studies and writing and dusted off an old academic paper dealing with the one of the more uncomfortable aspects of the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews. I did that because I felt that I needed to reexamine the nature of evil in the modern world. Since that time I have gone back, done more study, more writing, and made more visits to locations of Nazi evil.

When I ponder the evil committed by supposedly civilized men and women of Germany, I realize that they are little different than others who share the culture of the West. These people were the products of a culture of learning, and of science. They were part of a culture formed by the Christian tradition, the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment, the age of Reason. As I pondered this I came to remember something said by the late Iris Chang“civilization is tissue thin.”

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                                    Lynching in the American South

That series of articles about the Einsatzgruppen dealt with the ordinary men, and the bureaucratic systems that implemented an ideology so twisted and evil that it is unimaginable to most people. In fact even in the Nazi system the much of the genocide was not committed in the death camps, but up close and personal by men standing over pits with pistols, rifles, and machine guns.

While most people in the United States know a little about the Holocaust, most do not fully comprehend how devilish and insidious the crimes of the Nazis were. More frightening is the fact that in a 2015 survey 46% of people worldwide have never heard of the Holocaust, and of the 54% who are aware of it some 32% think it is a myth or has been greatly exaggerated. The numbers will only get worse as we become farther removed from these events and the survivors, witnesses, and perpetrators die off. The same is true for other genocidal acts.

We typically know about the extermination camps like Auschwitz, but the lesser known dark side of the Holocaust, perhaps the scariest part, is the story of the men of the Einsatzgruppen. The Einsatzgruppen and affiliated units, including those of the Wehrmacht, the Waffen SS, the mobilized battalions of the Order Police, and locally recruited units, rounded up massive numbers of people and killed them up close and personal. In all these units murdered over two million people, about 1.3 million of whom were Jews.

My study of the Holocaust began in college as an undergraduate. My primary professor at California State University at Northridge, Dr. Helmut Haeussler had been an interpreter and interrogator at the Nuremberg trials. I was able to take a number of lecture classes from him a large amount of research and independent study courses in a year of graduate work while finishing my Army ROTC program at UCLA. It was an immersion in the history, sociology, and the psychology of evil, during which I was able to meet and talk with Jewish survivors of the Holocaust.

mass killing einsatzgruppen

                       Einsatzgruppen and Ordungspolizei in Russia

Since then I have continued to read and study. I lived in Germany for over four years, and made many other visits, during which I went to a number of Concentration Camp sites. I have been to Dachau more times than Incan count since 1996, Bergen-Belsen, Flossenbürg and Buchenwald. I visited the T4 Euthanasia Center at Hadamar, the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg, the Wannsee House and many other sites of remembrance in Germany. Likewise I visited the rebuilt synagogue in Worms which had been destroyed during the infamous Kristallnacht, and other museums and Holocaust memorial sites in Germany. I visited the Zeppelin field, the site of Hitler’s massive Nazi Party rallies in Nuremburg, as well as the graveyards which contain the victims of other Nazi crimes, including the Nacht und Nebel or night and fog actions, where people simply disappeared and were murdered by the Gestapo.

For me, those visits were sobering, maybe even more so because I understood exactly what happened in those sites. These are uncomfortable places to visit, and I can understand why many people would not want to visit them, or even study them. But once the COVID-19 Pandemic travel restrictions are over I will go to Auschwitz and the sites like Babi Yar outside Kiev where the Einsatzgruppen killed 33,000 Jews up close and personal in three days. I refuse to stop learning, remembering, walking, or bearing witness.

The darkness that they remind us of  is a part of our human condition. Traces of the evil on display in those places is present in every human being regardless of who we are. Frankly, most people cannot bear looking into that abyss, for fear that they might be swallowed by it. I choose to go there knowing the danger because it is the only way to bear witness and not forget.

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                                                            Nankingnanking_massacre_1

I can understand why most people don’t want to go to dark places,  and I have to admit that it is hard to do so. I am a historian as well as a clinician with much experience dealing with death and trauma. With my training I do a pretty good job of keeping my emotional distance to maintain objectivity when confronted with evil. However, it is hard for me not to have some emotional reaction when visiting these places, or reading about the events and people, and in writing about them. That happens even more when I have to deal with them after I find them and confront them. None are ever sorry or have any capacity for empathy. They are sociopaths and therefore dangerous.

Likewise, I am very troubled by the growing lack or awareness or denial of the Holocaust. It is very hard for me not to have a virulent reaction when I see books and websites dedicated to Holocaust denial, or that minimize other well documented genocides, and crimes against humanity.

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                                      Soviet Mass Killings in Ukraine

My sensitivity to human suffering and the terrible indifference of people in this country to it was greatly increased by my experience of war, and my post-war struggles with PTSD, depression, anxiety, which at points left me very close to committing suicide. A non-chaplain friend, a now retired Navy Command Master Chief Petty Officer that I served with at my last duty station recently remarked that I am a tremendously empathic person, and that I have a large capacity to feel the pain and suffering of others. This capacity for empathy and the ability to feel the suffering of others is part of who I am.

That is a good thing, but it makes my work studying and writing about the Holocaust, other genocides, crimes against humanity, and subjects like American slavery, racism, and Jim Crow a sometimes difficult and often very emotionally consuming task. This sometimes leaves me even more sleepless and anxious than normal; especially when I see the indifference of so many people to the suffering of others today.

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                                                  The Killing Fields

It is that indifference which motivates me to write; because if these events are not recalled and retold, they, like any part of history will be ignored and then forgotten. The statistics bear this out. There are people today, who say that we should stop talking about these events, that they are old news, and they cannot happen again; but history tells us different, and not just the Holocaust, but indeed every genocide. Then there are those who shamelessly use the Holocaust imagery to spread fear among their followers even as they openly demonize minority groups and religions as the Nazis did to the Jews.

I have to agree with Elie Wiesel who said, “Indifference to me, is the epitome of all evil.”

The late Iris Chang, who wrote The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II wrote something that is pertinent to almost every modern episode of genocide, or other crime against humanity. It is the ability of leaders, be they political, military, or religious to convince people to rationalize actions that they normally would find repulsive.

“After reading several file cabinets’ worth of documents on Japanese war crimes as well as accounts of ancient atrocities from the pantheon of world history, I would have to conclude that Japan’s behavior during World War II was less a product of dangerous people than of a dangerous government, in a vulnerable culture, in dangerous times, able to sell dangerous rationalizations to those whose human instincts told them otherwise.”

There are many other such events that we could note; the American decimation and genocide committed against native American tribes that spanned close to two centuries, the 1915 Turkish genocide of Armenians, the Rwandan genocide of 1994, the Serbian atrocities in Bosnia and Kosovo, the Chinese Communist “Great Leap Forward,” the actions of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and the more recent but seldom discussed action of the Myanmar government and military against its Rohingya Muslim minority.

                        Rwandan Genocide

What we call civilization, to use the words of Iris Chang, is tissue thin. That is why we must never forget these terrible events of history, and that part of human nature, and in a sense part of every one of us, that makes them so easy to repeat. That is why we must periodically take the time to remember and reflect on the Holocaust, other genocides and crimes against humanity.

It is even more important now with the rise of fascist, nationalist, and racist regimes around the world. Even in the United States these demons of the past, racism, nationalism, and fascism have come out into the open as those who believe in them have become emboldened by the words of President Trump and members of his administration. Trump’s time as President is about up, but he as awoken and emboldened an evil that was always a part of American life, but needed permission to go public.

In 2017 Trump briefly attempted to clean up his inaction after the violence committed by neo-Nazis and KKK sympathizers in Charlottesville.  He equated the Nazis and Klansmen with the people that they attacked. Under pressure made a speech condemning the Nazis and Klansmen. According to Bob Woodward, when a Fox News correspondent said his statement was almost an admission that he was wrong,” the President exploded at Rob Porter, the aide who convinced him to make the speech: “That was the biggest fucking mistake I’ve made,” the President told Porter. “You never make those concessions. You never apologize. I didn’t do anything wrong in the first place. Why look weak?” A few days later the President returned to the subject and again made the argument of moral equivalence.

Coupled with so many of the President’s words and policies directed against Blacks, Mexicans and Central Americans, Arabs, Africans, and others; as well as his attacks on the First Amendment and his praise and defense of cold blooded dictators around the world one has to take it more seriously. Even though he is soon to leave officer his Neo-Nazi and White Nationalist supporters will remain as dangerous as ever.

This is not an issue that simply lurks in the past, it is a very real part of the present. I wish that was not the case, but it is. 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.”

Yes, these are terribly uncomfortable subjects, but we cannot allow this generation to allow them to be forgotten, lest they be repeated. That is why that I must continue to write about them and do my best to make sure that they are not forgotten as we cannot afford to let them happen again.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under authoritarian government, christian life, civil rights, Coronavirus 19 Pandemic, crimes against humanity, ethics, euthanasia, Foreign Policy, germany, History, holocaust, laws and legislation, leadership, national security, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary, racism, war crimes, war crimes trials

Dachau: The Nazi Model Camp For Extrajudicial Imprisonment, Murder, Medical Experiments and More

 

 

 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

After the past week or so of being verbally attacked by White Supremacists, Holocaust Deniers, and other haters, I took the time to re-watch the movies “Mississippi Burning” which is about the Killing of three civil rights workers and the attempt to find their bodies and killers in 1964, and the film “Denial” which is based on Holocaust Historian having to defend herself again a libel charge in a British Court brought by the Hitler loving and Holocaust denying pseudo-historian and author David Irving. Both films helped me redouble my efforts to prevent such things from happening by telling the truth. So tonight I begin a series of articles about the Concentration Camps, the Wannsee Conference, and the Death Camps. I will probable take a few detours into other Nazi avenues of death, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, as well as the various war crimes trials. Tonight I begin with Dachau, the model camp which birthed others like it, and the death camps of 1942-1944. 

On March 20th 1933, barely a month and a half after the Nazi takeover of the German government and three days before the passage of the Enabling Act the Police President Of Munich, SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler ordered the establishment of the Dachau Concentration Camp. He appointed SS Standartenführer Hilmar Wäckerle as Commandant and the first 200 political prisoners from Munich’s Stadelheim prison arrived at Dachau on March 22nd.

Dachau’s Main thoroughfare in 1938

Wäckerle’s brief tenure as Commandant was marked by extraordinary brutality on the part of his staff, so much so that charges were brought against him by the Munich courts which resulted in his relief by SS Gruppenführer Theodore Eicke in July 1933. Eicke would establish the regulations which governed all the later Concentration Camps, and make Dachau the model camp for all others.

Theodore Eiche

Theodore Eicke, Second Commandant of Dachau and Chief Designer of Terror

Among the later SS killers of the Holocaust who served at Dachau were Adolf Eichmann, and the Commandant of Auschwitz, Rüdolf Höss. It became a training ground for other Concentration Camp commanders and staff. Others would become leaders in the Waffen SS and the Einsatzgruppen death squads.

Dachau 1938 

The announcement of Dachau’s Opening was reported by the German press in this release:

On Wednesday the first concentration camp is to be opened in Dachau with an accommodation for 5000 people. ‘All Communists and—where necessary—Reichsbanner and Social Democratic functionaries who endanger state security are to be concentrated here, as in the long run it is not possible to keep individual functionaries in the state prisons without overburdening these prisons, and on the other hand these people cannot be released because attempts have shown that they persist in their efforts to agitate and organize as soon as they are released.

The order was unprecedented, for Dachau operated extrajudicially, not as an organ of the Star, but as an organ of the Nazi Party. Many of the prisoners had been tried and acquitted in the German Court system, but the Gestapo was waiting for them when they left the court or the prisons where they were being held and transported to Dachau or other Concentration Camps without having been tried, sentenced, or given a sentence that indicated how long they would be incarcerated.

Dachau 2017, the Gate and the Headquarters Building 

Dachau began as a political prisoner camp for the Nazis to imprison Socialists, Communists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, some Jews, and other dissidents. It wasn’t a “death camp” designed to exterminate people even though tens of thousands of people died or were executed there.

Guard Tower 2017

It was designed to terrorize, dehumanize, and destroy the souls of its inmates. It was a place of inhuman medical experiments, which used the inmates in human experiments designed to improve the chances of German airman and other military personnel at the expense of the lives of the prisoners. Most were subjected to high altitude tests in a chamber that mimicked the effects of oxygen deprivation at high altitudes and what could be done to treat those suffering from it, as well as freezing and body cooling experiments where again prisoners were used to attempt to find best method of rewarding their bodies from freezing water temperatures. In all cases, any prisoner who survived the experiments was euthanized. The head of many of these experiments was SS and Luftwaffe Dr. Sigmund Rascher. At Dachau Rascher conducted hundreds of experiments on prisoners. Those selected for the hypothermia tests were forced to remain outdoors naked in freezing weather for up to 14 hours, or kept in a tank of icewater for three hours, their pulse and internal temperature measured through a series of electrodes. Warming of the victims was then attempted by different methods, most usually and successfully by immersion in hot water; at least one witness, an assistant to some of these procedures, later testified that some victims were thrown into boiling water for rewarming.

A Victim of Racher’s Freezing (above) and High Altitude Experiments (below)

Rascher, with Himmler’s permission also conducted experiments with poison injections of cyanide, or gas in Dachau’s gas chamber.


Dachau’s Gas Chamber and Crematorium 

Unlike those in the Poland explicitly used to murder mass numbers of Jews, Dachau’s chamber was used for experiments on limited numbers of prisoners. One of the prisoner doctors, Dr. Franciszek Blaha, a Communist prisoner from Czechoslovakia, testified at Nuremberg:

“Numerous executions with gas, by shooting or injections were carried out in the camp itself. The gas chamber was completed in 1944 and I was called by Dr. Rascher to examine the first victims. Out of the eight or nine persons in the room, three were still alive, the rest appeared to be dead. Their eyes were red and their faces swollen. Later on, many inmates were killed in this way. Subsequently they were moved to the crematorium where I was to check their teeth for gold. The teeth containing gold were extracted. Many inmates who were ill, were killed by injections while in the hospital. Some of the inmates who had been killed there, came into the autopsy room without a name of number on the label that was usually tied to their big toe. Instead, “no autopsy” was written on the label. I carried out post mortems on some of them and discovered they had been completely healthy but had died from injections. Sometimes inmates were killed just because they has dysenteria or because they had vomitted and were causing too much trouble for the nurses. Mental patients were liquidated by taking them to the gas chamber where they were either injected or shot. Shooting was a customary method of execution. Inmates could be shot right outside the crematorium and taken inside. I have seen people being pushed into the ovens, still breathing and making noises, although when they were still too much alive they were usually beaten on their heads.“ 

Rascher Supervising a Freezing Water Experiment in 1942 

Dachau was a place of terror, and the administrative center of a network of over 30 large and 100 small sub-Camps which were used as sources of slave labor for the German armaments industry. As the war broke out and continued, the SS rented prisoners to German industrial giants, many with plants in the Munich area.

Prisoners working on Construction  Projects 1938 (above) and at BMW aircraft engine plants near Munich during the war


Obergrüppenfuhrer Oswald  Pöhl, Head of the SS Industrial Concerns

But one has to remember that the SS was not simply an instrument of terror, but an institution devoted to profit. Prisoners were valued in what their lives equated in profits. A prisoner was valued in what he or her could produce versus the expenses of keeping them alive for a period of 6 to 12 months. Under Himmler and his assistant for production and profits, Obergrüppenfuhrer Oswald  Pöhl the Concentration Camps, as well as the death camps became centers of profit for the SS in collaboration with German industrial concerns and industries owned by the SS itself.

There were many other crimes against humanity committed at Dachau, and it provided the commanders to other camps including Auschwitz, where Rudolf Höss ran a hybrid camp, part regular Concentration Camp and labor camp, with connections to SS run or private industrial corporations, as well as a camp where Medical experiments were conducted by Josef Mengele, as well as a death camp at which over a million people, primarily Jews, were exterminated in gas chambers that could accommodate up to 2,000 people in one operation. When asked about the operations at Auschwitz Höss, who had been called by the Defense at Nuremberg to give Earnest Kaltenbrunner an alibi for not visiting Auschwitz, was cross examined by the prosecution. His answers were damning, not only to him but to the entire Concentration Camp  system stated:

“when I was appointed Commandant of Auschwitz. I commanded Auschwitz until 1 December 1943, and estimate that at least 2,500,000 victims were executed and exterminated there by gassing and burning, and at least another half million succumbed to starvation and disease making a total dead of about 3,000,000. This figure represents about 70 or 80 percent of all persons sent to Auschwitz as prisoners, the remainder having been selected and used for slave labor in the concentration camp industries; included among the executed and burned were approximately 20,000 Russian prisoners of war (previously screened out of prisoner-of-war cages by the Gestapo) who were delivered at Auschwitz in Wehrmacht transports operated by regular Wehrmacht officers and men. The remainder of the total number of victims included about 100,000 German Jews, and great Numbers of citizens, mostly Jewish, from Holland, France, Belgium, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Greece, or other countries. We executed about 400,000 Hungarian Jews alone at Auschwitz in the summer of 1944… 

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

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

Höss had learned well at Dachau. He learned to follow his orders without question, and was willing to speak of his crimes in open court.

Himmler Visiting a Camp before the war. 

I have been to Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, Flossenburg, and Buchenwald. I have also been to the T4 Euthanasia Center at Hadamar. To walk through these places where human beings subjected other people to the most inhuman of conditions, punishments, and torture brings the reality of the Holocaust into stark reality. The great evil committed by the Nazis in these places have made them hallowed ground.

Sadly, the way things are going in this country under the Trump Regime, and so many similar regimes around the world there will probably many more places of hallowed ground, ground hallowed by the lives and blood of the victims of tyranny. Yesterday, President Trump suggested that He agreed with extrajudicial killings by police or others. Of course such a policy if enacted by the President it would defy every principle in the Constitution and in American jurisprudence. It would be a dictatorial action, illegal and criminal in any Western Nation.

Never forget the words of Yehuda Bauer:

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

So please, never forget, especially when we have a President who indicated that he is in favor of extrajudicial killings.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under authoritarian government, crimes against humanity, ethics, euthanasia, germany, History, holocaust, laws and legislation, Military, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary, White nationalism, world war two in europe

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


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

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

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


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

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

Karl Brandt 

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

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

Hadamar with Crematorium in Operation 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Anti-Semitism: Not Just One Prejudice Among Others

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

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Another Pilgrimage to the Church of Beer

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today we fly to Germany for the Oktoberfest in Munich and to see old friends who live in the state of Hessen, not far from Wiesbaden and Limburg in the Taunus Mountains.

This our fourth trip in as many years to Munich for Oktoberfest, and ever since the first trip we have tried to see and experience different things besides the Fest. As a historian who has spent much of my life researching and writing about Germany from unification until the end of the Second World War, I can always find something to see and do and still have time for some revelry and great beer. Last year we got to Salzburg Austria, Nuremberg where we went to the Nuremberg Trial museum and the actual courtroom where those trials occurred. We visited the Dachau Concentration Camp, as well at the Deutsches Museum, which is similar to the different parts of the Smithsonian.

Last year we had great weather, this year it looks like the weather won’t be so great. The first four or five days temperatures will be in the 50s for highs, 40s for lows with a lot of rain in the forecast, you win some and you lose some but we will enjoy ourselves. Heck, we’ll even see Neil Diamond’s 50th anniversary tour concert while in Munich. I have some plans for things I want to see both around Munich and near where our friends live, and on the way up to our friends we’ll get a chance to see the town where at least part of Judy’s mother’s family was from. While in Munich I went to see the memorial to Sophie School and the other anti-Nazis of the White Rose circle, and while with our friends visit the memorial to the victims of the Nazi T-4 Euthanasia program at Hadamar. Depending on what time we have and the weather I have some other things I would like to se as well.

But anyway. I will keep posting while we are away, so until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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