Tag Archives: Heinrich Himmeler

What Kind of People Are We in the COVID19 Pandemic: Perpetrators, Victims, Bystanders, or People of Courage

trump-flames-iran-protests

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

One of my favorite World War II movies is Downfall, which is the account of the last months of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich. Tonight I imagine the coming Götterdämmerung that awaits the United States under President Trump. I do not know when it is coming or exactly how it will happen. But I believe that unless something happens to curb his power, which at the present time is unrestrained by his political party, I expect that the rule of law and the rights enumerated in the Constitution will end, unless something interrupts that process before it can reach its fulfillment.

If the worst happens the President and his allies in his propaganda services, which include the right wing media, and church pastors, the country will plunge into wars without allies that it cannot win, unless winning is defined by obliterating enemies in a nuclear holocaust. If that happens there are no winners, and the only thing named after him will be a pile of rubble.

Somehow when the final cataclysm occurs I expect that the President and his most devoted followers will in the midst of the flames consuming them, will blame the very people who helped them to power for the downfall. And they do so without any feeling or remorse because they are sociopaths who really do not care about the lives of others, so long as they either gain and hold absolute power, or destroy everything they pretend to want to make or keep great.

When the Red Army was entering Berlin, SS General Wilhelm Mohnke who was in charge of the defense of the area around the Reich Chancellory begged Josef Goebbels to convince Hitler to surrender Berlin in order to allow the people of the city to live, Goebbels responded:

“I feel no sympathy. I repeat, I feel no sympathy! The German people chose their fate. That may surprise some people. Don’t fool yourself. We didn’t force the German people. They gave us a mandate, and now their little throats are being cut!”

Neither the President, the Vice President, nor their propagandists have any sense of compassion or empathy. In the days before he killed himself Hitler ranted to those who supposedly betrayed him in his bunker to an audience that including Albert Speer, who wrote of it:

“Everyone has lied to me, everyone has deceived me, non[sic] one has told me the truth. The armed forces have lied to me and now the SS have left me in the lurch. The German people has not fought heroically, it deserves to perish. It is not I who have lost the war, but the German people.”

Believe me, however the Trump administration meets its end, it will not be good as Trump trusts no one, even his family, or closest associates. I don’t know how the end of the Trump era will happen. I don’t know if it will be it a war that he stumbles into during the midst of the COVID19 Pandemic, maybe one that he wants to use to distract from the pandemic and his incompetence in dealing with it. It could a direct result of the massive number of lives lost to it and his incompetence in dealing with it, as well as the economic depression that will very likely near his name and his subsequent rejection at the ballot box in November. Either of those options could bring about chaos and draw Trump’s heavily armed supporters into the street.

Or of course through their staggering arrogance and lack of taking any social distancing precautions Trump and Vice President Pence could themselves fall victim to the virus, leaving Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi as President. Admittedly the last is unlikely, but at least remotely possible, especially since during the past three White House Staff members, one President Trump’s Navy valet’s, Katie Miller, wife of senior Trump Aide Stephen Miller, who is Vice President Pence’s Press Secretary, and Ivanka Trump’s Personal Assistant have tested positive for the virus. Although Trump and Pence were test for the virus and announced that they were negative, it is possible that they still might be infected, if not through contact with the people diagnosed, but through others who had contact with them who have not been tested and may be asymptotic.

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, FL – APRIL 17: People crowded the beaches in its first open hour on April 17, 2020 in Jacksonville Beach, Fl. Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry opened the beaches to residents for limited activities for the first time in weeks since closing them to the public due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Jacksonville Beach became the first beach in the country to reopen. (Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Because of possible exposure the head of the CDC, Dr. Robert Redfield, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, all members of the Coronavirus Task Force are under self-quarantine and teleworking for the next 14 days. Even though the White House sent others home and is attempting to contract trace the sources of the infections, while claiming that social distancing was being observed, it is clear that there it is not. On Saturday the President hosted over 20 GOP Senators and Representatives, at the White House in which no one was wearing masks, and no social distancing was evident while the event was taking place. Earlier today Vice President Pence said that he was going to self-quarantine due to possible expulsion from Katie Miller, and later in the evening said that he would be back at work Monday. The virus has the potential of decapitating the Executive Branch and at least part of the Legislative Branch.

Katie Miller answering Reporters Questions Outside Nursing Home on 7 May

When Trump was informed of the infection of his valet he reportedly became “Lava Level mad” and blamed his staff for not protecting him.”  I find that ironic because so many who have been infected, suffered, and died from COVID 19 or has lost their employment, perhaps for months or years he is finally having to deal with actual reality, and not the conjured fantasies of his dark and uncaring soul. With Coronavirus now inside his White House fortress, he has discovered that he is not immune, and his fear shows in his actions and tweets. This crisis within the crisis has exposed his innate cowardice and lack of responsibility during a pandemic he could have done much to mitigate.

It’s the same thought that the graduate of a high school military academy realized just as he understood that military service in Vietnam could get him killed or wounded. Thus he used his family, business, and political connections to get multiple deferments from the draft, including one that he used a conjured medical excuse of having bone spurs even as he played college level baseball and was being scouted by major league teams. A coward will writhe in fear about the same danger they allow others to face, without the lack of protections afforded to them. By the way those are my words, not lifted or attributed to someone else. Everyone fears something, but only cowards force others to die for conditions that they help foment. As Stephen King said: “A coward judges all he sees by what he is.” 

In every previous crisis, the President, his political, media, and religious sycophants were be quite similar to Goebbels and Hitler in the Final days. The crisis is everyone else’s fault, including those who believed in them, and faithfully supported their policies, and followed them into the abyss.

But, even then some of the closest and longest loyal supporters of Hitler including Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler abandoned their Fuhrer in order to save themselves, not because they are brave or heroes. but because they decided to face the reality of Germany’s defeat, in order to save themselves, because they were cowards who were so morally blind that did not understand their complicity in Hitler’s rule, the war, or their own personal responsibility in it. Hitler found out about their disloyalty, excommunicated them from the Nazi Party and condemned them to death. Himmler only lived until he was discovered by the British while masquerading as an ordinary soldier, and then committed suicided. Goering surrendered before Hitler’s loyalists could catch him. He was convicted on all four counts at the Major War Criminal Trials at Nuremberg, sentenced to death, but killed himself prior to his execution.

President Trump and his inner circle are not Nazis. Trump is not another Hitler, but he and his loyalists demonstrate the same lack of concern and empathy for the people who followed them into the abyss that they created, as did the the Nazis. Right now, we are not technically at war, though Trump could easily lead us into one simply because he needs a diversion that will somehow aid in keeping him in power. However, the crisis he and his cultists have brought upon us, is a crisis greater danger than any war or crisis the nation has faced since the World Wars, the Great Influenza, and the Great Depression. Sadly, they are incapable of mastering it, and I sincerely doubt that anything but a massive electoral loss in November will change anything.

I do pray that I am wrong but I cannot see how this will end in anything less than a disaster, even with a loss in the November election. These people are apocalyptic in their ideology and would rather destroy everything than to allow any opponent to take power, even if it means them bringing on the Boogaloo, their code name for civil war and the extermination of their opponents.

Again I pray that I am wrong, but my study of history and human nature shows that I tend to be more right than I want to be in my analysis to be. That being said Hannah Arendt wrote:

“The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.” 

Yes there are people who will commit evil even against their followers, they are perpetrators. Likewise, there will be others that never say a word or lift a hand against what their heart, soul, faith, ethics, morality say is wrong. To preserve themselves they remain silent, they are bystanders, then there are the victims. Human nature is the one constant in human history, and to understand the reactions of world leaders, and especially our own, as well as ordinary people in times of crisis. Yehuda Bauer wrote:

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

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

Those words are more important now than they have been since the crimes and genocide of the Nazis against the Jews. This time it is all of humanity that is at risk, and even then the penchant for people to insist on their own freedom, prosperity, and social irresponsibility, even if it means the needless sacrifice of others is incomprehensible.

So I have to ask what role each of us will play in a global pandemic that has infected over four million people, killed close to 300,000, including more than 80,000 Americans. Will we be perpetrators who through our actions and words are responsible for the deaths of others? Will we be victims, devoured by the disease and the actions of government leaders and fellow citizens that do little to stop it, or actually encourage it’s spread? Or will we be bystanders who turn our backs and look away as the perpetrators commit their crimes and more victims die?

That is the question that all of us have to ask ourselves. But there is one more choice. We can decide to rise above the fear for our own lives, sacrifice certain liberties, and give our lives to help alleviate the suffering and death of others. Likewise we can protest the inhuman and fetid policies that allow people to suffer and die when there were earlier options that could have mitigated this, or which even now, late in the game could help stop the rampage of the Coronavirus 19 Pandemic. Of course we could also confront those who are using displays of force to try to coerce officials to abandon policies that save lives so they don’t have to be inconvenienced.

The German Pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was killed at Flossenbürg Concentration Camp in April 1945 on the direct order of Adolf Hitler wrote:

If I sit next to a madman as he drives a car into a group of innocent bystanders, I can’t, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe, then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.”

He also wrote: “Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

Those are our choices. We can be perpetrators, victims, or bystanders, but we can also speak out, protest, and resist in order to save lives. That is the harder and more dangerous choice, especially when heavily armed and lawless men under no authority threaten those who do so, be they government officials, medical personnel, or citizens actual practicing social distancing and masking. Online and personal intimidation and threats are growing, and being encouraged by the President, and members of the Right Wing Media.

This requires courage which General William Tecumseh Sherman defined: “Courage – a perfect sensibility of the measure of danger, and a mental willingness to endure it.”  We also have to be able to face down our fears. As Nelson Mandela wrote: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” 

If we are to stand a chance against the dual threats of the novel Coronavirus 19 and the incredibly stupid people who care nothing but their own convenience and nothing for the lives of others, we must overcome our fears and display moral, spiritual, and physical courage in the face of a deadly virus and violent people who live by apocalyptic ideologies, are motivated by conspiracy theories, despise experts of any kind, and will do what the man they idolize like a god will tell them to do. When that man is the President, who has a long history of inciting his followers to violence there is no telling how far they will go.

Until tomorrow, please be safe,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Coronavirus, Diseases Epidemics and Pandemics, ethics, healthcare, History, leadership, national security, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary

The Liberation of Dachau “Model Camp” at 75 Years

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Dachau, the model concentration camp of the the Nazi SS State.

 

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.

The first SS guards assigned to Dachau were given the following instruction:

“Comrades of the SS!
You all know what the Fuehrer has called us to do. We have not come here for human encounters with those pigs in there. We do not consider them human beings, as we are, but as second-class people. For years they have been able to continue their criminal existence. But now we are in power. If those pigs had come to power, they would have cut off all our heads. Therefore we have no room for sentimentalism. If anyone here cannot bear to see the blood of comrades, he does not belong and had better leave. The more of these pig dogs we strike down, the fewer we need to feed.”

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

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.

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.

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. It was designed to terrorize, dehumanize, and destroy the souls of its inmates.

It was a place of inhuman medical experiments, 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. But one has to remember that the SS was not simply an instrument of terror, but an institution also 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, ObergrüppenfuhrerOswold 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.

Dachau was not one of the Death Camps, although it was a place of incredible cruelty, extraordinary suffering, brutality, and death. While not a “death camp” per say, an estimated 40,000 or more  prisoners were murdered there. For tens of thousands of others it served as a transit camp from which they were sent to the death factories in Poland, including Auschwitz, or other work camps, where many died of being worked to death, malnutrition, disease, or the simple cruelty and maltreatment inflicted on them by the guards.

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

The picture that you see above is the memorial to the Unknown Prisoner at Dachau. The words: “Den Toten zur Ehr, den Lebenden zur Mahnung” [To Honor the Dead, to Warn the Living] are engraved at its base.

I have been to Dachau at least a half dozen times beginning back in 1996. For me as a historian of the period the trip is both for learning and for meditation, for beyond its historical significance this is a holy place, a place made holy by the blood of tens of thousands of victims of one of the most evil regimes in history. The crimes committed by the staff of Totenkopfverbande SS guards from it’s inception were intended to terrorize and dehumanize the inmates who included political prisoners, religious objectors, Jews, and homosexuals. The inmates were not there because they were convicted of any crimes, in fact many had actually been exonerated by courts. In the case of those who had been convicted by courts, all had served what ever sentence they had been convicted of, but upon their release from prison were picked up by the SS and taken to Dachau where they were imprisoned without being charged with a crime, and an indefinite period and no date of release. Sometimes prisoners would suddenly and without warning be released, but they remained under observation by the local police and Gestapo. If they talked about their experience they were quite often sent back.

Prisoners were told on arrival:

Here you are, and you’re not in a sanatorium! You’ll have got that already. Anyone who hasn’t grasped that will soon be made to. You can rely on that . . . You’re not prison inmates here, serving a sentence imposed by the courts, you’re just ‘prisoners’ pure and simple, and if you don’t know what that means, you’ll soon find out. You’re dishonourable and defenceless! You’re without rights! Your fate is a slave’s fate! Amen.

In the Camp the prisoners were subject to punishment for even the most minor or perceived infractions, beatings, and whippings. Other punishments were meted out by guards who themselves were punished if they showed any mercy or human kindness to a prisoner. “While an offender sentenced to a term in prison knew when he was going to get out, release for the concentration camp inmate was determined by the whim of a quarterly review board, and could be delayed by the malice of any of the SS guards.”

Theodore Eicke, the commandant who systematized the Concentration Camp system created a world that his subordinate, and the later Commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Hoess described:

“It was Eicke’s intention that his SS-men, by means of continuous instruction and suitable orders concerning the dangerous criminality of the inmates, should be made basically ill-disposed towards the prisoners. They were to ‘treat them rough’, and to root out once and for all any sympathy they might feel for them. By such means, he succeeded in engendering in simple-natured men a hatred and antipathy for the prisoners which an outsider will find hard to imagine.”

Even a brutal man like Hoess found the brutality hard to watch, he recalled the:

“malicious evil-minded, basically bad, brutal, inferior, common creatures’ amongst the guards, who compensated for their sense of inferiority by venting their anger on the prisoners. The atmosphere of hatred was total.”

In the twelve years of its existence the staff of Dachau, through mistreatment, execution by bullet, gallows, through being used as subjects in grotesque medical experiments, by “execution by work,” or untreated illness and disease, murdered 41,566 prisoners. The point to be remembered is that despite this incredible number of murders that Dachau was not an extermination camp.

As the Third Reich crumbled the Nazis attempted to hide their crimes. Many inmates from Dachau were sent to other camps, by train or forced marched hundreds of miles. During these transits many, already shells of humanity due to maltreatment, disease and malnourishment. Even as this was happening trains from other camps were arriving at Dachau.



On 29 April 1945 units of the U.S. Army 45th and 42nd Infantry Divisions liberated Dachau, which was surrendered by its senior remaining officer, a mere SS 1st Lieutenant, as the commandant and   o ther senior officer had already fled. Most to be captured within days or weeks. The liberators were shocked by what they saw, the piles of dead, the bones in the crematoria, the emaciated prisoners,  and a train car full of dead, and some soldiers took their revenge on some of the guards, and massacred an estimated 20-50 of the surrendered SS men. Although charges were preferred, they were dropped.

The Execution of SS Guards at Dachau 

Regardless of the actions of the American liberators, even those who took justice into their own hands, the fact is that the Dachau guards all knew what was going on and had each to some degree participated in the atrocities at Dachau and in some cases other camps, or on the Eastern Front.

You may wonder why I took the time to go into such detail about my visits to Dachau and its terrible legacy. The answer is the same why I choose to walk American Civil War battlefields, it is to being to try to understand what the people there were seeing and experiencing.

Of course there were the prisoners who were so savagely treated by their jailers. Then there were the bystanders, the citizens of Dachau and other German cities who watched as Jews, political enemies, and others were marched to the camp, which was not a secret installation. Finally, there were the perpetrators, very few of whom were punished for their actions.

But another reason is that the survivors, be they victims, perpetrators, or bystanders are rapidly passing away

Soon none will be left. When that happens it is up to us the living to ensure that this is not forgotten and that those murdered at Dachau, the other Concentration Camps, the extermination camps, and those killed by the murder squads that went from one end of Europe to the other in a systematic attempt to wipe every Jew that they could find off of the face of the earth. Yes, there were other victims, but the Nazi crusade against the Jews knew no boundaries, physical or time included. Unlike every other genocide it extended beyond national borders, or time; it was an eschatological crusade that by the will of Hitler was limited by only one factor, the complete military defeat that was inflicted on Nazi Germany by those who she attacked.


Finally, the story must be told because there are those who either claim it didn’t happen, or are tired of talking about it. In Germany those include leaders of the new-Nazi AfD (Alternative for Germany) Party. In the United States, Britain, and other nations there are members of many new-Nazi and Alt-Right groups who desire very much the same thing. But if decent people decide not to speak out, if we remain silent, there is nothing anywhere that will keep these ideological descendants of Hitler from beginning it again, if not to the Jews, to other despised racial, religious, ethnic, or ideological groups. We live in a world where demagogues take advantage of people’s legitimate anxieties and deeply ingrained prejudices to stir up ungodly anger and hatred in order to both gain new followers and to incite those followers to a campaign of violence.

Doctor 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.”

But I know why, there are some people who are sociopaths, who though they seem ordinary have no empathy for others, and they are more numerous than we might ever suspect. Captain Gustave Gilbert, a psychologist assigned to the major war crime defendants at the Nuremberg war crimes trials noted:

“In my work with the defendants (at the Nuremberg Trails 1945-1949) I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it. A lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the defendants, a genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow men. Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.”

That absence of empathy runs strong among Trump supporters and others of the religious and political right today. For the rest of my life I will fight them and expose them.

So until tomorrow I wish you all the best and ask that no matter what the leaders of your state say, to obey common sense and facts and be as careful as you can, as the COVID 19 pandemic is far from over.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Survival as What? Truth, Justice, and the Value of a Single Human Life in the Age of Trump

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday I wrote about the rise in Anti-Semitism as reflected in an email sent to me by a Jewish friend and champion of religious liberty. With that rise rise in Anti-Semitism the film Judgment at Nuremberg, came to my mind today. So I am following that up that post with an, albeit, short post regarding one of the most riveting monologues in film from that film, which is a factionalized account of the Nuremberg Judge’s Trial.

 Since yesterday marked the beginning Holocaust Remembrances, which cumulated on the 27th with the actual Holocaust Remembrance Day, and the liberation of Auschwitz, it is appropriate to take the time to never forget. For while we may not want to admit it, as human beings we are all capable of the same inhumanity. Yesterday, one of the President’s aids was quoted as saying “I can’t wait until the revenge (for impeachment) begins” If that doesn’t make make you tremble, in combination with a threat from the President to GOP Senators who vote for witnesses and the introduction of documents and other evidence; one has to take it seriously. As a historian I cannot ignore the Night of the Long Knives when Hitler, Himmler, and Goering joined forces with the Army to exact vengeance on some of Hitler’s longest, and closest supporters in the Nazi Party, German conservative parties, and even Army generals.

The segment of the film, in which Spencer Tracy plays the role of Chief Judge Dan Heywood gives his verdict is one of the most telling sequences in cinema regarding what it is to be an American. I always showed it in the first session of my military ethics class at the Staff College and since the majority of my students had never seen the film, and it usually left them in silence. So I am just going to leave it with you to watch, read, and contemplate. Who are we, and what do we stand for?

This is especially true when the President, politicians of the majority party in the legislature, pundits, and politically minded preachers make no bones that they have every intent of persecuting those who are of certain races, religions, or political beliefs that they abhor, often using the most scurrilous charges, and outright lies in order to demonize them, dehumanize them, and  open the door for normal, decent, and even brilliant people to justify government sponsored cruelty and injustice that defies the ideals of the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, and the Constitution itself, even in the midst of an impeachment trial.

Please, watch the video and read the text. Ponder it in your heart, because it speaks to something that is not a historical aberration, not just a dramatic film, but something that affects the human condition and is present right here and right now in our own country.

“The trial conducted before this Tribunal began over eight months ago. The record of evidence is more than ten thousand pages long, and final arguments of counsel have been concluded.

Simple murders and atrocities do not constitute the gravamen of the charges in this indictment. Rather, the charge is that of conscious participation in a nationwide, government organized system of cruelty and injustice in violation of every moral and legal principle known to all civilized nations. The Tribunal has carefully studied the record and found therein abundant evidence to support beyond a reasonable doubt the charges against these defendants.

Herr Rolfe, in his very skillful defense, has asserted that there are others who must share the ultimate responsibility for what happened here in Germany. There is truth in this. The real complaining party at the bar in this courtroom is civilization. But the Tribunal does say that the men in the dock are responsible for their actions, men who sat in black robes in judgment on other men, men who took part in the enactment of laws and decrees, the purpose of which was the extermination of humans beings, men who in executive positions actively participated in the enforcement of these laws — illegal even under German law. The principle of criminal law in every civilized society has this in common: Any person who sways another to commit murder, any person who furnishes the lethal weapon for the purpose of the crime, any person who is an accessory to the crime — is guilty.

Herr Rolfe further asserts that the defendant, Janning, was an extraordinary jurist and acted in what he thought was the best interest of this country. There is truth in this also. 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 at through 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.”

Think about it, Justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.” 

This is something for every American; Republican, Democrat, Independent, Green, Libertarian, True Believer, or Atheist to think about. No one is safe when the President; be it Trump, or any future President of any party, as well as his or her officials threaten anyone they believe to be opponents regardless of political party, religion, or place in society.

I am concerned, but Judy and I got to see Three Dog Night in concert yesterday evening. I will have to write about that later.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“The Spearhead of Terror” Nazi Anti-Semitism and Robert Jackson’s Opening Statement at Nuremberg

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I return again to the Nuremberg Trials and the opening statement of the American Chief Prosecutor, Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson. Today I do it with a heavier heart than usual in the wake of Trump’s firing of Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer for resisting Trump’s order to allow a convicted war criminal from retaining his SEAL Trident following ordering the Navy to restore his rank so he could retire. These are the kinds of incidents that led to Hitler succeeding in turning the Wehrmacht, the German Armed Forces into a compromised organ of state that for the most part did his bidding with few complaints as long as victory looked certain. With today’s action Trump took his first real movement to compromise the military and turn it into his instrument of terror.

The nine volumes of the trial proceedings are something that anyone that studies the Nazi period, or international law must read. In reading them one gets a feel for the process itself and the overall fairness of it.

Jackson’s opening and closing statements in the trial are considered to be among the most important and compelling addresses in legal history, as well as masterful rhetoric which connected with the audience and still do today. One legal analyst wrote:

The form components connected with all who participated as an audience at the time and kept the attentiveness of the audience, to change international criminal law forever. The settings broke, and notably continue to break, down the barriers for even those who still read the discourse today. Finally, the narrative’s connectivity is an absolute active function, as the memory and legacy of the tragedy that the Nazis inflicted upon humanity will forever evoke emotion for anyone exposed to this opening statement… With its emotional charge, legal rationale, and human viewpoint, it cannot be denied that this narrative not only held a strong rhetorical effectiveness for the judicial panel hearing the case, but also the world at the time it was given. Patrick Iyampillai, “A Grave Responsibility: A Rhetorical Critique of the Opening Statement at Nuremberg Using the Narrative Perspective”

I have posted with commentary Jackson’s introduction, and his discussion of the Nazi battles against Free Labor Unions, and the Churches. Today I move on to his discussion of the criminal racial Nazi War Against the Jews in Germany and across occupied Europe. This is one of the most important aspects of his opening statement because of its relevance today as anti-Semitism and violence against Jews grows more open and more common in Europe and the United States.

When you read them you get a sense of the moral authority that Jackson championed and the manner in which he tied these crimes in to the the crimes that he previously had dealt with in his speech before the tribunal.

I have read many authoritative histories of the Holocaust and the Nazi genocide committed against the Jews. I have also read the accounts of the Nazi perpetrators. These are vitality important, but what is often missing from them is Jackson’s skill as a prosecutor to hammer away at the guilt of those who committed these heinous actions. Sometimes a detached historian attempting to convey the facts, fails provide the moral rhetoric of a prosecutor to fully convey the extent of the evil that was committed by the Nazis Against the Jews. Thus, Jackson’s speech should be a jumping off point before one begins to study the Holocaust. It may not sound fair, but one has to understand the moral outrage of the Nazi crimes before one can appreciate the truth about the Nazi crimes.

https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/film/screening-of-concentration-camp-film-footage

Sadly, the crimes of the Nazis evoke little outrage today. When neo-Nazis demonstrated in Charlottesville in the summer of 2017, killing a counter-protestor and beating others, President Trump equivocated and said that there “were very good people on both sides.” Time after time we witness the spectacle of political leaders in the United States, Hungary, Poland, Germany, France, and Russia using blatant anti-Semitism, and racism to remind others that they are the superior race; and most of their supporters make no protest. The examples of their political words, and the crimes directly linked to racism and anti-Semitism are now far too numerous to even bother to list, and they are added to on what seems like a daily basis.

Do not get me wrong, history is important, facts matter, and anti-Semitism and racism are a poison that seems to infect the human race. Historian Christopher Browning wrote:

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

 

The Nazis were guilty. Their crimes were horrific, and one cannot as a human being simply relegate them to the depths of history when before our eyes their apologists seek to again use race hatred to gain power; in some countries they are The stakes are far too high. As historian Timothy Snyder has so poignantly written:

“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 fact is what happened in the Holocaust was not an aberration of human nature. Genocide is not confined to the Nazis. Rwanda, Cambodia, Armenia, the Balkans, Nanking, Stalin’s genocide of Ukrainians, Kazakhs, Belorussians, and other non-Russian citizens of the Soviet Union, and the American extermination of the indigenous Native American tribes are not ancient history. Historian Gerhard Weinberg wrote:

“It’s very, very important for people to get a sense of what the potentialities of people really are, what the dangers of ignorance can be. It is in this context, that a supposedly advanced society risks descending into the sewer, that the Holocaust is a warning to people who think of themselves as an advanced, modern society

With that, I give you Jackson’s dissection of the Nazi Crimes Against the Jews which he delivered on the afternoon of November 21st, 1945.

The most savage and numerous crimes committed by the Nazis were those against the Jews. Those in Germany, in 1933, numbered about 500,000. In the aggregate, they had made for themselves positions which excited envy, and had accumulated properties which excited the avarice of the Nazis. They were few enough to be helpless and numerous enough to be held up as a menace.

Let there be no misunderstanding about the charge of persecuting Jews. What we charge against these defendants is not those arrogances and pretensions which frequently accompany the intermingling of different peoples and which are likely, despite the honest efforts of Government, to produce regrettable crimes and convulsions. It is my purpose to show a plan and design to which all Nazis were fanatically committed to annihilate all Jewish people. These crimes were organised and promoted by the Party Leadership, executed and protected by the Nazi officials, as we shall convince you by written orders of the Secret State Police itself.

The persecution of the Jews was a continuous and deliberate policy. It was a policy directed against other nations as well as against the Jews themselves. Anti-Semitism was promoted to divide and embitter the democratic peoples and to soften their resistance to the Nazi aggression. As Robert Ley declared in Der Angriff on 14 May, 1944, “the second German secret weapon is Anti-Semitism because, if it is constantly pursued by Germany, it will become a universal problem which all nations will be forced to consider.”

Anti-Semitism also has been aptly credited with being a “spearhead of terror.” The ghetto was the laboratory for testing repressive measures. Jewish property was the first to be expropriated, but the custom grew and included similar measures against Anti-Nazi Germans, Poles, Czechs, Frenchmen, and Belgians. Extermination of the Jews enabled the Nazis to bring a practised hand to similar measures against Poles, Serbs, and Greeks. The plight of the Jew was a constant threat to opposition or discontent among other elements of Europe’s population -Pacifists, Conservatives, Communists, Catholics, Protestants, Socialists. It was in fact, a threat to every dissenting opinion and to every non-Nazi’s life.

The persecution policy against the Jews commenced with non-violent measures, such as disfranchisement and discriminations against their religion, and the placing of impediments in the way of success in economic life. It moved rapidly to organised mass violence against them, physical isolation in ghettos, deportation, forced labour, mass starvation, and extermination. The Government, the Party formations indicted before you as criminal organisations, the Secret State Police, the Army, private and semi-public associations, and “spontaneous” mobs that were carefully inspired from official sources, were all agencies that were concerned in this persecution. Nor was it directed against individual Jews for personal bad citizenship or unpopularity. The avowed purpose was the destruction of the Jewish people as a whole, as an end in itself, as a measure of preparation for war, and as a discipline for conquered peoples.

The conspiracy or common plan to exterminate the Jew was so methodically and thoroughly pursued, that despite the German defeat and Nazi prostration this Nazi aim largely has succeeded. Only remnants of the European Jewish population remain in Germany, in the countries which Germany occupied, and in those which were her satellites or collaborators. Of the 9,600,000Jews who lived in Nazi-dominated Europe, 6o per cent. are authoritatively estimated to have perished-5,700,000 Jews are missing from the countries in which they formerly lived, and over 4,500,000 cannot be accounted for by the normal death rate nor by immigration; nor are they included among displaced persons. History does not record a crime ever perpetrated against so many victims or one ever carried out with such calculated cruelty.

You will have difficulty, as I have, to look into the faces of these defendants and believe that in this Twentieth Century human beings could inflict such sufferings as will be proved here, on their own countrymen as well as upon their so-called “inferior” enemies. Particular crimes, and the responsibility defendants for them, are to be dealt with by the Soviet Government’s Counsel, when committed in the East, and by Counsel for the Republic of France committed in the West. I advert to them only to show their magnitude as evidence of a purpose and a knowledge common to all defendants, of an official plan rather than of a capricious policy of some individual commander, and to show such a continuity of Jewish persecution, from the rise of the Nazi conspiracy to its collapse, as forbids us to believe that any person could be identified with any part of Nazi action without approving this most conspicuous item in their programme.

The Indictment itself recites many evidences of the anti-Semitic persecutions. The defendant Streicher led the Nazis in anti-Semitic bitterness and extremism. In an article appearing in Der Sturmer on 19th March, he complained that Christian teachings have stood in the way of “racial solution of the Jewish question in Europe,” and quoted enthusiastically as the Twentieth Century solution the Fuehrer’s proclamation Of 24th February, 1943, that “the Jew will be exterminated.” And on 4th November, 1943, Streicher declared in Der Sturmer that the Jews “have disappeared from Europe and that the Jewish ‘Reservoir of the East’ from which the Jewish plague has for centuries beset the people of Europe, has ceased to exist.” Streicher now has the effrontery to tell us he is “only a Zionist”; he says he only wants to return the Jews to Palestine.

But on 7th May, 1942, his newspaper Der Sturmer had this to say: “It is also not only a European problem! The Jewish question is a world question! Not only is Germany not safe in the face of the Jews as long as one Jew lives in Europe, but also the Jewish question is hardly solved in Europe so long as Jews live in the rest of the world.”

Hans Frank Hitler’s Lawyer and Governor General of Occupied Poland

And the defendant Hans Frank, a lawyer by profession I say with shame, summarised in his diary in 1944 the Nazi policy thus:

“The Jews are a race which has to be eliminated; whenever we catch one, it is his end.” (Document No. 2233-PS, Vol. 1944, p. 26.)

And earlier, speaking of his function as Governor-General of Poland, he confided to his diary this sentiment:

“Of course I cannot eliminate all lice and Jews in only a year’s time.” (2233-PS, Vol. IV, 1940, p. 1159)

I could multiply endlessly this kind of Nazi ranting, but I will leave it to the evidence and turn to the fruit of this perverted thinking.

The most serious of the actions against Jews were outside of any law, but the law itself was employed to some extent. There were the infamous Nuremberg decrees of 15th September, 1935. (” Reichsgesetzblatt,” 1935, Part 1, p. 1146.) The Jews were segregated into ghettos and put into forced labour; they were expelled from their professions; their property was expropriated; all culturallife, the Press, the theatre, and schools were prohibited them; and the S.D. was made responsible for them. (212-PS, 069-PS.) This was an ominous guardianship as the following order for “The Handling of the Jewish Question” shows:

“The competency of the Chief of the Security Police and Security Service, who is charged with the mission of solving the European Jewish question, extends even to the occupied eastern provinces. . . .

An eventual act by the civilian population against the Jews is not to be prevented as long as this is compatible with the maintenance of order and security in the rear of the fighting troops. . . .

The first main goal of the German measures must be the strict segregation of Jewry from the rest of the population. In the execution of this, first of all, is the seizing of the Jewish populace by the introduction of a registration order and similar appropriate measures…

Then immediately, the wearing of the recognition sign, consisting of a yellow Jewish star, is to be brought about and all rights of freedom for Jews are to be withdrawn. They are to be placed in ghettos, and at the same time, are to be separated according to sex. The presence of many more or less closed Jewish settlements in White Ruthenia and in the Ukraine makes this mission easier. Moreover, places are to be chosen which make possible the full use of the Jewish manpower in case labour needs are present. The entire Jewish property is to be seized and confiscated, with the exception of that which is necessary for a bare existence. As far as the economical situation permits, the power of disposal of their property is to be taken from the Jews as soon as possible through orders and other measures given by the commissariat, so that the moving of property will quickly cease.”

“Any cultural activity will be completely forbidden to the Jew. This includes the outlawing of the Jewish Press, the Jewish theatres and schools.

“The slaughtering of animals according to Jewish rites is also to be prohibited.” (212-PS).

Obergrüppenfuhrer Reinhard Heydrich Architect of the Final Solution

The anti-Jewish campaign became furious following the assassination in Paris of the German Legation Councillor von Rath. Heydrich, Gestapo head, sent a telegram to all Gestapo and S.D. offices with directions for handling “spontaneous” uprisings anticipated for the nights of 9th and 10th November, 1938, so as to aid in destruction of Jewish-owned property and protect that of Germans. No more cynical document ever came into evidence. Then there is a report by an S.S. Brigade Leader, Dr. Stahlecher to Himmler, which recites that:

“Similarly, native anti-Semitic forces were induced to start pogroms against Jews after capture, though this inducement proved to be very difficult.

Following out orders, the Security Police was determined to solve the Jewish question with all possible means and most decisively. But it was desirable that the Security Police should not put in an immediate appearance, at least at the beginning, since the extraordinarily harsh measures were apt to stir even German circles. It had to be shown to the world that the native population itself took the first action by way of natural reaction against the suppression by Jews during several decades and against the terror exercised by the Communists during the preceding period.”

In view of the extension of the area of operations and the great number of duties which had to be performed by the Security Police, it was intended from the very beginning to obtain the co-operation of the reliable population for the fight against vermin – that is mainly the Jews and Communists. Beyond our directing of the first spontaneous actions of self-cleansing, which will be reported elsewhere, care had to be taken that reliable people should be put to the cleansing job, and that they were appointed auxiliary members of the Security Police.”

Kowno. To our surprise it was not easy at first to set in motion an extensive pogrom against Jews. Klimatis, the leader of the partisan unit, mentioned above, who was used for this purpose primarily, succeeded in starting a pogrom on the basis of advice given to him by a small advanced detachment acting in Kowno, and in such a way that no German order or German instigation was noticed from the outside. During the first pogrom in the night from 25 to 26.6 the Lithuanian partisans did away with more than 1,500 Jews, set fire to several Synagogues or destroyed them by other means and burned down a Jewish dwelling district consisting of about 60 houses. During the following nights about 2,300 Jews were made harmless in a similar way. In other parts of Lithuania similar actions followed the example of Kowno, though smaller and extending to the Communists who had been left behind.

These self-cleansing actions went smoothly because the Army authorities who had been informed showed understanding for this procedure. From the beginning it was obvious that only the first days after the occupation would offer the opportunity for carrying out pogroms. After the disarmament of the partisans the self-cleansing actions ceased necessarily.

It proved much more difficult to set in motion similar cleaning actions in Latvia.”

From the beginning it was to be expected that the Jewish problem in the East could not be solved by pogroms alone. In accordance with basic orders received, however, the cleansing activities of the Security Police had to aim at the complete annihilation of the Jews…

“The sum total of Jews liquidated in Lithuania amounts to 71,105. . . .” (L-180)

Of course, it is self-evident that these “uprisings” were managed by the government and the Nazi Party. If we were in doubt, we could resort to Streicher’s memorandum of 14th April, 1939, which says, “The anti-Jewish action of November, 1938, did not arise spontaneously from the people.. Part of the party formation has been charged with the execution of the anti-Jewish action.” (406-PS) Jews as a whole were fined a billion Reichsmarks. They were excluded from all businesses, and claims against insurance companies for their burned properties were confiscated, all by the decree of the defendant Goering. (Reichsgesetzblatt, 1938, Part 1, pp. 1579-1582.)

Synagogues were the objects of a special vengeance. On 10th November, 1938, the following order was given: “

“By order of the Group Commander, all Jewish Synagogues in the area of Brigade 50 have to be blown up or set afire. The operation will be carried out in civilian clothing…. Execution of the order will be reported….( 1721-PS.) Some 40 teletype messages, from police headquarters, which will be introduced to you, will tell the fury with which all Jews were pursued in Germany on those awful November nights. The S.S. troops were turned loose and the Gestapo supervised. Jewish-owned property was destroyed. The Gestapo ordered twenty to thirty thousand “well-to-do Jews” to be arrested. Concentration camps were to receive them and the order provided healthy Jews, fit for labour, were to be taken (3051-PS).

As the German frontiers were expanded by war, so the campaign against the Jews expanded. The Nazi plan never was limited to Germany; always it contemplated extinguishing the Jew in Europe and often in the world. In the West, the Jews were killed and their property, taken over. But the campaign achieved its zenith of savagery in the East. The Eastern Jew has suffered as no people ever suffered. Their sufferings were carefully reported to the Nazi authorities to show faithful adherence to the Nazi design. I shall refer only to enough of the evidence of these to show the extent of the Nazi design for killing Jews.

If I should recite these horrors in words of my own, you would think me intemperate and unreliable. Fortunately, we need not take the word of any witness but the Germans themselves. I invite you now to look at a few of the vast number of captured German orders and reports that will be offered in evidence, to see what a Nazi invasion meant. We will present such evidence as the report of “Einsatzgruppe (Action Group) A” of 15th October, 1941, which boasts that in overrunning the Baltic States, “Native Anti-Semitic forces were induced to start pogroms against the Jews during the first hours after occupation.” The report continues:

“From the beginning it was to be expected that the Jewish problem in the East could not be solved by pogroms alone. In accordance with the basic orders received, however, the cleansing activities of the Security Police had to aim at a complete annihilation of the Jews. Special detachments reinforced by selected units -in Lithuania partisan detachments, in Latvia units of the Latvian auxiliary police -therefore performed extensive executions both in the towns and in rural areas. The actions of the execution detachments were performed smoothly.”

“The sum total of the Jews liquidated in Lithuania, according to the report, amounts to 71,105. During the pogroms in Kowno 3,800 Jews were eliminated, in the smaller towns about 1,200 Jews.”

“In Latvia, up to now a total of 30,000 Jews was executed. Five hundred were eliminated by pogroms in Riga.” (L-180.)

This is a captured report from the Commissioner of Sluzk on 20th October, 1941, which describes the scene in more detail.

It says:-“… The first lieutenant explained that the police battalion had received the assignment to effect the liquidation of all Jews here in the town of Sluzk, within two days … Then I requested him to postpone the action one day. However, he rejected this with the remark that he had to carry out this action everywhere and in all towns and that only two days were allotted for Sluzk. Within these two days the town of Sluzk had to be cleared of Jews by all means … All Jews without exception were taken out of the factories and shops and deported in spite of our agreement. It is true that part of the Jews was moved by way of the ghetto, where many of them were processed and still segregated by me, but a large part was loaded directly on trucks and liquidated without further delay outside of the town.. For the rest, as regards the execution of the action, I must point out to my deepest regret that the latter bordered already on sadism. The town itself offered a picture of horror during the action. With indescribable brutality on the part of the German police officers and particularly the Lithuanian partisans, the Jewish people, but also among them White Ruthenians, were taken out of their dwellings and herded together. Everywhere in the town shots were to be heard and in different streets the corpses of shot Jews accumulated. The White Ruthenians were in greatest distress to free themselves from the encirclement. Regardless of the fact that the Jewish people, among whom were also tradesmen, were mistreated in a terribly barbarous way in the face of the White Ruthenian people, the White Ruthenians themselves were also worked over with rubber clubs and rifle butts. There was no question of an action against the Jews anymore. It rather looked like a revolution…”( 1104-PS.)

There are reports which merely tabulate the numbers slaughtered. Another example is an account of the work of Einsatzgruppen of Sipo and S.D. in the East which relates that “in Estonia, all Jews were arrested immediately upon the arrival of the Wehrmacht.”

Jewish men and women above the age of sixteen and capable of work were drafted for forced labour. Jews were subjected to all sorts of restrictions and all Jewish property was confiscated.

All Jewish males above the age of sixteen were executed, with the exception of doctors and elders. Only 500 of an original 4,500 Jews remained.

37,180 persons have been liquidated by the Sipo and S.D. in White Ruthenia during October.

In one town, 337 Jewish women were executed for demonstrating a “provocative attitude.” In another, 380 Jews were shot for spreading vicious propaganda.

And so the report continues, listing town after town, where hundreds upon hundreds of Jews were murdered.

In Vitebsk 3,000 Jews were liquidated because of the danger of epidemics.

In Kiev, 33,771 Jews were executed On 29th/ 30th September in retaliation for some fires which were set off there.

In Zhitomir, 3,145 Jews “had to be shot” because, judging from experience they had to be considered as the carriers of Bolshevik propaganda.

In Kherson, 410 Jews were executed in reprisal against acts of sabotage. In the territory east of the Djnepr, the Jewish problem was “solved” by the liquidation Of 4,891 Jews and by putting the remainder into labour battalions of up to 1,000 persons. (R-102.)

Other accounts tell not of the slaughterso much as of the depths of degradation to which the tormentors stooped. For example, we will show the report made to defendant Rosenberg about the Army and the S.S. in the area under Rosenberg’s jurisdiction, which recited the following:

“Details in the presence of S.S. man, a Jewish dentist has to break all gold teeth and fillings out of mouth of German and Russian Jews before they are executed.”

Men, women and children are locked into barns and burned alive.

Peasants, women and children, are shot on the pretext that they are suspected of belonging to bands. (R-135.)

We of the Western world heard of gas wagons in which Jews and political opponents were asphyxiated. We could not believe it. But here we have the report of 16th May, I942, from the German S.S. Officer Becker, to his supervisor in Berlin, which tells this story;

“Gas vans in C group can be driven to execution spot, which is generally stationed ten to fifteen kilometres from main road, only in dry weather. Since those to be executed become frantic if conducted to this place, such vans become immobilised in wet weather.

Gas vans in D group were camouflaged as cabin trailers, but vehicles well known to authorities and civilian population which calls them ‘Death Vans.’

The writer of the letter, Becker, ordered all men to keep as far away as possible during gassing. Unloading van after the gassing has ‘atrocious spiritual and physical effect’ on men and they should be ordered not to participate in such work.” (501-PS.)

I shall not dwell on this subject longer than to quote one more sickening document which evidences the planned and systematic character of these Jewish persecutions. I hold a report written with Teutonic thoroughness as to detail, illustrated with photographs to authenticate its almost incredible text, and beautifully bound in leather with the loving care bestowed to a proud work. It is the original report of the S.S. Brigade General Stroop in charge of the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto, and its title page carries the inscription, “The Jewish Ghetto in Warsaw no longer exists.” It is characteristic that one of the captions explains that the photograph concerned shows the driving out of Jewish “bandits”; those whom the photograph shows being driven out are almost entirely women and little children. It contains a day-by-day account of the killings mainly carried out by the S.S. Organisation, too long to relate, but let me quote General Stroop’s summary: “

“The resistance put up by the Jews and bandits could only be suppressed by energetic actions of our troops day and night. The Reichsfuehrer S.S. ordered therefore on 23rd April, 1943, the cleaning out of the ghetto with utter ruthlessness and merciless tenacity. I, therefore, decided to destroy and burn down the entire ghetto without regard to the armament factories. These factories were systematically dismantled and then burned. Jews usually left their hideouts, but frequently remained in the burning buildings and jumped out of the windows only when the heat became unbearable. They then tried to crawl with broken bones across the street into buildings which were not afire. Sometimes they changed their hideouts during the night into the ruins of burned buildings. Life in the sewers was not pleasant after the first week. Many times we could hear loud voices in them. S.S. men or policemen climbed bravely through the manholes to capture these Jews. Sometimes they stumbled over Jewish corpses; sometimes they were shot at. Tear gas bombs were thrown into the manholes and the Jews driven out of the sewers and captured. Countless numbers of Jews were liquidated in sewers and bunkers through blasting. The longer the resistance continued the tougher became the members of the Waffen S.S., Police and Wehrmacht, who always discharged their duties in an exemplary manner. Frequently Jews who tried to replenish. their food supplies during the night or to communicate with neighbouring groups were exterminated.” (1061-PS) “

“This action eliminated,” says the S.S. commander, “a proved total of 56,065. To that we have to add the number killed through blasting, fire, etc., which cannot be counted.”

We charge that all atrocities against Jews were the manifestation and culmination of the Nazi plan to which every defendant here was a party. I know very well that some of these men did take steps to spare some particular Jew for some personal reason from the horrors that awaited the unrescued Jew. Some protested that particular atrocities were excessive, and discredited the general policy. While a few defendants may show efforts to make specific exceptions to the policy of Jewish extermination, I have found no instance in which any defendant opposed the policy itself or sought to revoke or even modify it.

Determination to destroy the Jews was a binding force which at all times cemented the elements of this conspiracy. On many internal policies there were differences among the defendants. But there is not one of them who has not echoed the rallying cry of Naziism: DEUTSCIILAND ERWACHE-JUDA VERRECKE (Germany Awake-Jewry Perish!)

I come to the discussion of terrorism and to preparation for the war.

How a Government treats its own inhabitants generally is thought to be no concern of other Governments or of international society. Certainly few oppressions or cruelties would warrant the intervention of foreign powers. But the German mistreatment of Germans is now known to pass in magnitude and savagery any limits of what is tolerated by modern civilisation. Other nations, by silence, would take a consenting part in such crimes. These Nazi persecutions, moreover, take character as international crimes because of the purpose for which they were undertaken.

The purpose, as we have seen, of getting rid of the influence of free labour, the churches and the Jews was to clear their obstruction to the precipitation of aggressive war. If aggressive warfare in violation of treaty obligation is a matter of international cognisance, the preparations for it must also be of concern to the international community. Terrorism was the chief instrument for securing the cohesion of the German people in war purposes. Moreover, these cruelties in Germany served as atrocity practice to discipline the membership of the criminal organisation to follow the pattern later in occupied countries.

Through the police formations that are before you accused as criminal organisations, the Nazi Party leaders, aided at some point in their basic and notorious purpose by each of the individual defendants, instituted a reign of terror. These espionage and police organisations were utilised to hunt down every form of opposition and to penalise every nonconformity. These organisations early founded and administered concentration camps -Buchenwald in 1933, Dachau in 1934. But these notorious names were not alone. Concentration camps came to dot the German map and to number scores. At first they met with resistance from some Germans. We have a captured letter from Minister of Justice Gurtner to Hitler which is revealing. A Gestapo official had been prosecuted for crimes committed in a camp at Hohenstein, and the Nazi Governor of Saxony had promptly asked that the proceeding be quashed. The Minister of Justice in June of 1935 protested because, as he said, “In this camp unusually grave mistreatments of prisoners has occurred at least since Summer 1939. The prisoners not only were beaten with whips, without cause, similarly as in the Concentration Camp Bredow near Stettin until they lost consciousness, but they were also tortured in other manners, e.g., with the help of a dripping apparatus constructed exclusively for this purpose, under which prisoners had to stand until they were suffering from serious purulent wounds of the scalp.” (787-PS)

I shall not take time to detail the ghastly proceedings in these concentration camps. Beatings, starvings, tortures, and killings were routine -so routine that the tormentors became blase and careless. We have a report of discovery that in Plotzensee one night, 186 persons were executed while there were orders for only 150. Another report describes how the family of one victim received two urns of ashes by mistake. Inmates were compelled to execute each other. In 1942, they were paid five Reichsmarks per execution, but on 27th June, 1942, S.S. General Glucke ordered commandants of all concentration camps to reduce this honorarium to three cigarettes. In 1943, the Reichs leader of the S.S. and Chief of German Police ordered the corporal punishment on Russian women to be applied by Polish women and vice versa, but the price was not frozen. “As a reward, a few cigarettes” was authorised. Under the Nazis, human life had been progressively devalued, until it finally became worth less than a handful of tobacco -Ersatz tobacco. There were, however, some traces of the milk of human kindness. On 11th August, 1942, an order went from Himmler to the commandants of fourteen concentration camps that “only German prisoners are allowed to beat other German prisoners.” (2189-PS).

Mystery and suspense was added to cruelty in order to spread torture from the inmate to his family and friends. Men and women disappeared from their homes or business or from the streets, and no word came of them. The omission of notice was not due to overworked staff; it was due to policy. The Chief of the S.D. and Sipo reported that, in accordance with orders from the Fuehrer, anxiety should be created in the minds of the family of the arrested person. (668-PS.) Deportations and secret arrests were labelled, with a Nazi wit which seems a little ghoulish, “Nacht und Nebel” (Night and Fog). (L, 90, 833-PS.)

One of the many orders for these actions, gave this explanation:

“The decree carries a basic innovation. The Fuehrer and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces commands that crimes of the specified sort by civilians of the occupied territories are to be punished by the pertinent courts martial in the occupied territories only when (a) the sentence calls for the death penalty; and (b) the sentence is pronounced within eight days of arrest. Only when both conditions are met does the Fuehrer and Commander-in Chief of the Armed Forces hope for the desired deterrent effect from the conduct of punitive proceedings in the occupied territories. In other cases in the future, the accused are to be secretly brought to Germany, and the further conduct of the trial carried on here. The deterrent effect of these measures lies (a) in allowing the disappearance of the accused without a trace; (b) therein that no information whatsoever may be given about their whereabouts and their fate.” (833-PS.)

To clumsy cruelty, scientific skill was added. “Undesirables” were exterminated by injection of drugs into the bloodstream, by asphyxiation in gas chambers. They were shot with poison bullets, to study the effects (L-103); Then, to cruel experiments the Nazi added obscene ones. These were not the work of underling-degenerates, but of master-minds high in the Nazi conspiracy. On 20th May, 1942, General Field Marshal Milch authorised S.S. General Wolff to go ahead at Dachau Camp with so-called “cold experiments”; and four female gypsies were selected for the purpose. Himmler gave permission to carry on these “experiments” also in other camps (1617-PS). At Dachau, the reports of the “doctor” in charge show that victims were immersed in cold water until their body temperature was reduced to 26 degrees centigrade (8.24 degrees Fahrenheit) when they all died immediately. (1618-PS.) This was in August, 1942. But the “doctor’s” technique improved. By February, 1943, he was able to report that thirty persons were chilled to 27 to 29 degrees, their hands and feet frozen white, and their bodies “rewarmed” by a hot bath. But the Nazi scientific triumph was “rewarming with animal heat.” The victim, all but frozen to death, was surrounded with the bodies of living women until he revived and responded to his environment by having sexual intercourse. (1616-PS.) Here Nazi degeneracy reached its nadir.

I dislike to encumber the record with such morbid tales, but we are in the grim business of trying men as criminals, and these are the things that their own agents say happened. We will show you these concentration camps in motion pictures. just as the Allied armies found them when they arrived, and the measures General Eisenhower had to take to clean them up. Our proof will be disgusting and you will say I have robbed you of your sleep. But these are the things which have turned the stomach of the world and set every civilised hand against Nazi Germany.

Germany became one vast torture chamber. Cries of its victims were heard round the world and brought shudders to civilised people everywhere. I am one who received during this war most atrocity tales with suspicion and skepticism. But the proof here will be so overwhelming that I venture to predict not one word I have spoken will be denied. These defendants will only deny personal responsibility or knowledge.

Under the clutch of the most intricate web of espionage and intrigue that any modern State has endured, and persecution and torture of a kind that has not been visited upon the world in many centuries, the elements of the German population which were both decent and courageous were annihilated. Those which were decent but weak were intimidated. Open resistance, which had never been more than feeble and irresolute, disappeared. But resistance, I am happy to say, always remained, although it was manifest in only such events as the abortive effort to assassinate Hitler on 20th July, 1944. With resistance driven underground, the Nazi had the German State in his own hands.

But the Nazis not only silenced discordant voices. They created positive controls as effective as their negative case. Propaganda organs, on a scale never before known, stimulated the party and party formations with a permanent enthusiasm and abandon such as we, democratic people, can work up only for a few days before a general election. They inculcated and practised the Fuehrer-prinzip which centralised control of the Party and of the Party-controlled State over the lives and thought of the German people, who are accustomed to look upon the German State, by whomever controlled, with a mysticism that is incomprehensible to my people.

All these controls, from their inception were exerted with unparalleled energy and single-mindedness to put Germany on a war footing. We will show from the Nazis’ own documents their secret training of military personnel, their secret creation of a military air force. Finally, a conscript army was brought into being. Financiers, economists, industrialists, joined in the plan and promoted elaborate alterations in industry and finance to support an unprecedented concentration of resources and energies upon preparations for war. Germany’s rearmament so outstripped the strength of her neighbours that in about a year she was able to crush the whole military force of Continental Europe, exclusive of that of Soviet Russia, and then to push the Russian armies back to the Volga. These preparations were of a magnitude which surpassed all need of defence, and every defendant, and every intelligent German, well understood them to be for aggressive purposes.

Before resorting to open aggressive warfare, the Nazis undertook some rather cautious experiments to test the spirit of resistance of those who lay across their path. They advanced, but only as others yielded, and kept in a position to draw back if they found a temperament that made persistence dangerous.

On 7th March, 1936, the Nazis reoccupied the Rhineland and then proceeded to fortify it in violation of the Treaty of Versailles and the Pact of Locarno. They encountered no substantial resistance and were emboldened to take the next step, which was the acquisition of Austria. Despite repeated assurances that Germany had no designs on Austria, invasion was perfected. Threat of attack forced Schuschnigg to resign as Chancellor of Austria and put the Nazi defendant Seyss-Inquart in his place. The latter immediately opened the frontier and invited Hitler to invade Austria “to preserve order”. On 12th March the invasion began. The next day, Hitler proclaimed himself Chief of the Austrian State, took command of its armed forces, and a law was enacted annexing Austria to Germany.

Threats of aggression had succeeded without arousing resistance. Fears nevertheless had been stirred. They were lulled by an assurance to the Czechoslovak Government that there would be no attack on that country. We will show that the Nazi Government already had detailed plans for the attack. We will lay before you the documents in which those conspirators planned to create an incident to justify their attack. They even gave consideration to assassinating their own Ambassador at Prague in order to create a sufficiently dramatic incident. They did precipitate a diplomatic crisis which endured throughout the summer. Hitler set 30th September as the day when troops should be ready for action. Under the threat of immediate war, the United Kingdom and France concluded a pact with Germany and Italy at Munich on 29th September, 1938, which required Czechoslovakia to acquiesce in the cession of the Sudetenland to Germany. It was consummated by German occupation on 1st October, 1938.

The Munich Pact pledged no further aggression against Czechoslovakia, but the Nazi pledge was lightly given and quickly broken. On 15th March, 1939, in defiance of the Treaty of Munich itself, the Nazis seized and occupied Bohemia and Moravia, which constituted the major part of Czechoslovakia not already ceded to Germany. Once again the West stood aghast, but it dreaded war, it saw no remedy except war, and it hoped against hope that the Nazi fever for expansion had run its course. But the Nazi world was intoxicated by these unresisted successes in open alliance with Mussolini and in covert alliance with Franco. Then, having made a deceitful, delaying peace with Russia, the conspirators entered upon the final phase of the plan to renew war.

I will not prolong this address by detailing the steps leading to the war of aggression which began with the invasion of Poland on 1st September, 1939. The further story will be unfolded to you by the British Delegation from documents including those of the German High Command itself. The plans had been laid long in advance. As early as 1935 Hitler appointed the defendant Schacht to the position of “General Deputy for the War Economy.” (2261-PS) We have the diary of General Jodl (1780-PS); the “Plan Otto,” Hitler’s own order for attack on Austria in case trickery failed (C-102); the “Plan Green” which was the blueprint for attack on Czechoslovakia (338-PS); the plan for the War in the West (376-PS, 375-PS); Funk’s letter to Hitler dated 25th August, 1939, detailing the long course of economic preparation for war (699-PS); Keitel’s top-secret mobilisation order for 1939-40 prescribing steps to be taken during a “period of tension,” as it was described, during which no “‘ state of war’ will be publicly declared even if open war measures against the enemy will be taken.” This latter order (1699-PS) is in our possession despite a secret order issued on 16th March, 1945, when Allied troops were advancing into the heart of Germany, to burn these plans. We have also Hitler’s directive, dated 18th December, 1940, for the “Barbarossa Contingency,” which was a code name, outlining the strategy of the attack on Russia. That plan, in the original, bears the initials of the defendants Keitel and Jodl. They were planning the attack and planning it long in advance of the declaration of war. We have detailed information concerning the “Case White,” the plan for attack on Poland (2327-PS). That attack began the war. The plan was issued by Keitel on 3rd April, 1939. The attack did not come until September. Steps in preparation for the attack were taken by subordinate commanders, one of whom issued an order on 14th June providing that:

“The Commander-in-Chief of the Armies has ordered the working out of a plan of deployment against Poland which takes in account the demands of political leadership for the opening of the war by surprise and for quick successes.. I declare it the duty of the Commanding Generals, the Divisional Commanders, and the Commandants to limit as much as possible the number of persons who will be informed, and to limit the extent of the information, and ask that all suitable measures be taken to prevent persons not concerned from getting information.

The operation, in order to forestall an orderly Polish mobilisation and concentration, is to be opened by surprise with forces which are for the most part armoured and motorised, placed on alert in the neighbourhood of the border. The initial superiority over the Polish frontier-guards and surprise that can be expected with certainty are to be maintained by quickly bringing up other parts of the army as well to counteract the marching up of the Polish Army.

If the development of the political situation should show that a surprise at the beginning of the war is out of question, because of well-advanced defence preparations on the part of the Polish Army, the Commander-in-Chief of the Army will order the opening of the hostilities only after the assembling of sufficient additional forces The basis of all preparations will be to surprise the enemy..”( 2327-PS)

We also have the order for the attack on England, initialled again by Keitel and Jodl. It is interesting that it commences with a recognition that although the British military position is “hopeless,” they show not the slightest sign of giving in. (442-PS)

Not the least incriminating are the minutes of Hitler’s meeting with his high advisers.

As early as 5th November, 1937, Hitler told defendants Goering, Raeder, and Neurath, among others, that German rearmament was practically accomplished and that he had decided to secure by force, starting with a lightening attack on Czechoslovakia and Austria, greater living space for Germans in Europe no later that 1943-5 and perhaps as early as 1938. (368-PS) On the 23rd May, 1939, the Fuehrer advised his staff that:

“It is a question of expanding our living space in the East and of securing our food supplies over and above the natural fertility, thoroughgoing German exploitation will enormously increase the surplus.

There is therefore no question of sparing Poland, and we are left with the decision:

To attack Poland at the first suitable opportunity.

We cannot expect a repetition of the Czech affair. There will be war.” (L-79)

On 22nd August, 1939, Hitler again addressed members of the High Command, telling them when the start of military operations would be ordered. He disclosed that for propaganda purposes, he would provocate a good reason. “It will make no difference,” he announced, “whether this reason will sound convincing or not. After all, the victor will not be asked whether he talked the truth or not. We have to proceed brutally. The stronger is always right.” (1014-PS) On 23rd November, 1939, after the Germans had invaded Poland, Hitler made this explanation: “For the first time in history we have to fight on only one front. The other front is at present free, but no one can know how long that will remain so. I have doubted for a long time whether I would strike in the East and then in the West. Basically, I did not organise the armed forces in order not to strike. The decision to strike was always in me. Earlier or later I wanted to solve the problem. Under pressure it was decided that the East was to be attacked first.” (789-PS)

We know the bloody sequel. Frontier incidents were staged. Demands were made for cession of territory. When Poland refused, the German forces invaded on 1st September, 1939. Warsaw was destroyed; Poland fell. The Nazis, in accordance with plans, moved swiftly to extend their aggression throughout Europe and to gain the advantage of surprise over their unprepared neighbours, Despite repeated and solemn assurances of peaceful intentions, they invaded Denmark and Norway on 9th April, 1940; Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg on 10th May, 1940, Yugoslavia and Greece on 6th April 1941.

As part of the Nazi preparation for aggression against Poland and her allies, Germany, on 23rd April, 1939 had entered into a non-aggression pact with Soviet Russia. It uses only a delaying treaty intended to be kept no longer than necessary to prepare for its violation. On 22nd June, 1941, pursuant to long matured plans, the Nazis hurled troops into Soviet territory without any declaration of war. The entire European world was aflame.

The Nazi plans of aggression called for use of Asiatic allies, and they found among the Japanese men of kindred mind and purpose. They were brothers, under the skin.

Himmler records a conversation that he had on 31st January, 1939, with General Oshima, Japanese Ambassador at Berlin. He wrote:

“Furthermore, he (Oshima) had succeeded up to now in sending 10 Russians with bombs across the Caucasian frontier. These Russians had the mission to kill Stalin. A number of additional Russians, whom he had also sent across, had been shot at the frontier.” (2195-PS.)

On 27th September, 1940, the Nazis concluded a German-Italian-Japanese ten-year military and economic alliance by which those powers agreed “to stand by and co-operate with one another in regard to their efforts in Greater East Asia and regions of Europe respectively, wherein it is their prime purpose to establish and maintain a new order of things.”

On 5th March, 1941, a top secret directive was issued by defendant Keitel. It stated that “The Fuehrer had ordered instigation of Japan’s active participation in the war” an directed that “Japan’s military power has to be strengthened by the disclosure of German war experiences and support of a military, economic and technical nature has to be given.” The aim was stated to be to crush England quickly, thereby keeping the United States out of the war. (C-75)

On 29th March, 1941, Ribbentrop told Matsuoka, the Japanese Foreign Minister, that the German Army was ready to strike against Russia. Matsuoka in turn reassured Ribbentrop about the Far East. Japan, he reported, was acting at the moment as though she had no interest whatever in Singapore, but “intends to strike when the right moment comes.” (1877-PS) On April, 1941, Ribbentrop urged Matsuoka that entry of Japan into the war would “hasten the victory” and would be more in the interest of Japan than of Germany, since it would Japan a unique chance to fulfil her national aims and to play a leading part in Eastern Asia. (1882-PS.)

The proofs in this case will also show that the leaders of Germany were planning war against the United States from its Atlantic as well as instigating it from its Pacific approaches. A captured memorandum from the Fuehrer’s headquarters, dated 29th October, 1940, asks certain information as to air bases and reports further that:

“The Fuehrer is at present occupied with the question of the occupation of the Atlantic islands with a view to the prosecution of war against America at a later date. Deliberations on this subject are being embarked upon here.” (376-PS.)

On 7th December, 1941, a day which the late President Roosevelt declared “will live in infamy,” victory for German aggression seemed certain. The Wehrmacht was at the gates of Moscow. Taking advantage of the situation, and while her plenipotentiaries were creating a diplomatic diversion in Washington, Japan without declaration o war treacherously attacked the United States at Pearl Harbour and the Philippines. Attacks followed swiftly on the British Commonwealth and The Netherlands in the South-west Pacific. These aggressions met in the only way that they could be met, with instant declarations of war and with armed resistance which mounted slowly through many long months of reverse until finally the Axis was crushed to earth and deliverance for its victims was won.

Your Honour, I am about to take up “Crimes in the Conduct of War,” which is quite a separate subject. We are within five minutes of the recessing time. It will be very convenient for me it if will be agreeable to you.

THE PRESIDENT: We will sit again in 15 minutes’ time, (A recess was taken.)

THE PRESIDENT: The Tribunal must request that if it adjourns for I5 minutes, that members of the bar and others are back in their seats after an interval of 15 minutes. Mr. Justice Jackson, I understand that you wish to continue to 5.15, when you may be able to conclude your speech?

MR. JUSTICE JACKSON: I think that would be the most orderly way.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, the Tribunal will be glad to do so.

MR. JUSTICE JACKSON: May it please your Honour, I will now take up the subject of “Crimes in the Conduct of War.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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A Cautionary Tale for Military Leaders that Give Obedience to a Tyrant: the Story of Erwin Rommel, the Legendary Desert Fox

 

rommel

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Just over 75 years ago in Ulm Germany a car pulled up to the residence of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. In the car was the driver and two Generals dispatched by Hitler.  Rommel was recuperating following being severely wounded in an air attack in Normandy on July 17th 1944.

Rommel had been awarded the Pour le Merite, sometimes known as the Blue Max, Imperial Germany’s highest award for valor in the First World War. He was never an official member of the Nazi Party, but like many Germans he believed Hitler’s promises and propaganda. As Hitler really ose to power he like many others was carried away by early Nazi successes, the bloodless conquests of the Rhineland, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and the spectacle of the Olympics.

He was also an opportunist. With the rise of the Nazis came the expansion of the German military. Rommel was already well known due to his exploits as a platoon and company commander during the First World War in France, Romania, and Italy. In Italy he captured an entire Italian infantry division during the Battle of Mount Cosna, which was part of the Caporetto in October 1917. His company of 150 troops, exploited terrain and weather to surprise and capture 9,000 soldiers and 81 artillery pieces at the cost of 6 men killed and 30 wounded. Rommel used infiltration tactics, flanking maneuvers, and even disobeyed the orders of his superiors during the battle. Less than two weeks later at Langarone using the same tactics, his company surprised the 1st Italian Infantry which thinking it surrounded by superior forces surrendered to Rommel. For these actions Rommel was awarded the coveted Blue Max. 

Rommel was retained in the 100,000 man Reichswehr, but he had refused to attend the course that would have made him part of the elite General Staff. As such he was not assigned to the critical billets that would normally lead to high command. Instead he served in company command and as an instructor at the Infantry School in Dresden. While assigned to the school he wrote a manual of infantry tactics and training based on his experience. The book, Infantrie Greift an, or Infantry Attacks is still considered a classic book on infantry tactics and leadership, and was highly influential in his rise to high command. He was promoted to Major after serving 14 years as a Captain in 1932. In October 1933 he was assigned to command the 3rd Jaeger Battalion of the 17th Infantry Regiment where he first met Hitler when the latter reviewed his troops on an inspection visit.

Rommel, like many officers was caught in the thrall of Hitler. His wife, Lucy was caught up in the moment and was an avid Hitler supporter. Rommel was never a Nazi party member, but that did not keep him from supporting the overtly nationalist and militarist actions of the Hitler regime. In 1935 he was assigned to the Military Academy at Potsdam where as a Lieutenant Colonel he published Infantrie Greift an. In 1937 Hitler appointed Rommel as the liaison officer from the War Ministry to the Hitler Youth. Rommel clashed with the head of the Hitler Jugend, Baldur von Schirach and twiced proposed removing the organization from the Party to the War Ministry.

The conflict resulted in Rommel being quietly reposted from that assignment, promoted to Colonel and assigned to command the former Austrian Theresian Military Academy  in Wiener Neustadt. He was then selected by Hitler to command the Führer-Begleit-Battalion (Escort battalion) which served as the force protection unit for Hitler’s headquarters during the Polish campaign.

Following that campaign, Rommel, now a Major General was appointed to command the newly formed 7th Panzer Division which he commanded with great distinction during the Battle of France, 1940. When the campaign ended the division was placed in reserve where it readied to become part of the planned invasion of Britain, Operation Sea Lion. When that operation was postponed due to the defeat of the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain, and Mussolini’s Italian army in North Africa was routed by the small British Western Desert Force, Rommel was assigned to command the Deutsches Afrika Korps, composed of the 5th Light Division, which would soon be re-designated as the 21st Panzer Division and the 15th Panzer Division.

Over the next two years in North Africa built a reputation as an energetic and often risk taking commander who fought against long odds in a campaign which his own high command gave little support. The isolation of North Africa and its purely military significance in supporting a weak ally made it a different war from the concurrent, racially driven German invasion of the Soviet Union. Fighting the British and later the Americans, Rommel built a reputation of being a noble and chivalrous opponent. Unlike most of Europe and especially in Russian there was little to no influence of the SS in theater and the Jewish population of Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria suffered little under Nazi occupation, which many North African Jews attributed to Rommel.

During the North African campaign Rommel soared to the heights of international fame due to his exploits. The Nazi Propaganda Minister, Josef Goebbels sent one of his aides, Lieutenant Alfred Berndt to serve on Rommel’s Staff.  Berndt sent reports to the Propaganda Ministry which became the staple of Nazi propaganda to build Rommel into a German hero. Despite serving in a remote theater and commanding a relatively small number of troops, Rommel became the poster child for Goebbels’s propaganda machine. He was revered by the German people, and at the same time despised by many of his Army contemporaries and superiors.

His fame also earned the resentment of many fellow officers who because he was not an officer of the General Staff regarded him with jealous envy and distain. Even so, Rommel was a soldier’s soldier. He believed in sharing in the suffering of his troops. He once said: 

“Be an example to your men in your duty and in private life. Never spare yourself, and let the troops see that you don’t in your endurance of fatigue and privation. Always be tactful and well-mannered, and teach your subordinates to be the same. Avoid excessive sharpness or harshness of voice, which usually indicates the man who has shortcomings of his own to hide.”

Rommel basked in the praise of Hitler but as time wore on in Africa he became disillusioned by the course of the war, and while maintaining faith in Hitler, he openly despised many of the Nazi elite and his own High Command. While in Africa, Rommel was promoted to Field Marshal but denied the troops and supplies that he needed to successfully hold out in Africa. He opposed efforts to send more troops to Africa and recommended withdrawing his German and Italian soldiers before the Allies closed the door on withdraw across the Mediterranean.

As his troops were being chewed to pieces at El Alamein he requested permission to withdraw to the west. The request was refused and Hitler issued and order to stand in place and not withdraw. Rommel’s words are revealing for a man who had previously trusted Hitler and taken every opportunity from the dictator to advance his career.

“The order demanded the impossible. Even the most devoted soldier can be killed by a bomb. In spite of our unvarnished situation reports, it was apparently still not realized at the Fuehrer’s H.Q. how matters really stood in Africa.  Arms, petrol, and aircraft could have helped us, but not orders. We were completely stunned, and for the first time during the Africa campaign I did not know what to do. A kind of apathy took hold of us as we issued orders for the existing positions to be held on instructions from highest authority. I forced myself to this action, as I had always demanded unconditional obedience from others and, consequently, wished to apply the principle to myself. Had I known what was to come I should have acted differently, because from that time on, we had continually to circumvent orders from the Fuehrer or Duce in order to save the army from destruction. But this first instance of interference by higher authority in the tactical conduct of the African war came as a considerable shock.”

Like most other officers Rommel had served the Hitler regime as it spread its dark pall over Europe without protest. Yet, unlike so many other officers when he suffered a crisis in conscience about the Nazi leadership and their policies, he refused to obey orders that he knew were both illegal and immoral, and then risked his life by joining the conspiracy to kill Hitler.bundesarchiv_bild_146-1991-031-25a_nordafrika_vor_tobruk_rommel

It was at El Alamein that Rommel discovered the emptiness of Hitler’s promises as the troops of the Afrika Corps found themselves subjected to constant privation from lack of supply, air support and reinforcements. As commander of the Afrika Corps and later the Panzer Armee Afrika he and his troops achieved amazing success against an enemy that was always better supplied, equipped and which always had air and sea superiority. Battling the British as well as the political machinations of Mussolini and Germany’s Italian Allies as well as opponents in the German government such as Hermann Goering, Rommel saw his troops crushed under the press of the British as well as the Americans who landed in French North Africa. Eventually, sick and worn out, Rommel was sent back to Germany to recuperate.

rommel-with-soldier

Rommel had a sense of honor and humanity that many other German generals lacked. He refused to allow anti-Jewish measures in areas occupied by German troops in North Africa, ensuring that the approximately 425,000 Jews living in Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco were spared the fate of the Holocaust. He refused to execute Jewish POWs, including members of the Jewish Battalion serving with the British 8th Army. Likewise, Rommel refused to follow the notorious “commando order.” In June of 1944 he protested the massacre of the people of the village of Oradour-sur-Glane by units of the 2nd SS Panzer Division directly to Hitler and asked for the authority to punish those responsible, but was refused.

After his return from Africa, Rommel’s honest and open assessments of the chances of the Germans winning the war made him persona non grata in Berlin and Berchtesgaden. He was posted to France in early 1944 according to some accounts he became a part of the plot to end the war and overthrow Hitler. Rommel’s Chief of Staff at OB West, General Hans Speidel, was a key man in the conspiracy and Rommel had contacts with a number of key conspirators. There are arguments about Rommel’s connections and activities in regard to the anti-Hitler plot among respected historians.

When the invasion came Rommel was away from Normandy visiting his wife. On learning of the invasion he sped back to Normandy. When he arrived he fought a desperate battle against the Allied forces. His outnumbered forces were under constant assault from the land, sea and air received paltry reinforcements compared to the Allies. Even so, German troops inflicted many local defeats and exacted a heavy price in allied blood in Normandy but were ground to dust. Even so, many American and British infantry regiments suffered 100% casualties but remained in action because of a continuous stream of replacements. Rommel urged Hitler and the High Command to withdraw German forces from Normandy before the allies broke through his front. By doing so he found that he was now considered a defeatist.

If Rommel had joined the plot to topple Hitler, he did not stop working to defend Germany against the coming Allied invasion. He believed that the war was lost if his forces failed to repel the Allies on the beaches of France, and he worked feverishly to bolster the beach fortifications. He recommended that the Panzer Divisions be deployed near the coast where they could immediately counterattack Allied invasion forces while they were still vulnerable. But his advice was not taken. He was given command of the Army Group but was not given control of most of the Panzer Divisions, which Hitler kept under his direct control. Neither did he approve of an assassination attempt but realizing that his front was about to collapse he was in favor of independent peace negotiations with the Allies on the Western Front.

Many commanders in the west, including Waffen SS commanders were in agreement Rommel was severely wounded in an air attack on his vehicle by a just days before the attempt on Hitler’s life. Hitler survived the attempted assassination and exacted a terrible revenge on anyone connected with the plot. Show trials and public hangings of officers who had served valiantly at the front were common. Thousands were killed and thousands more imprisoned. Many of those arrested, imprisoned, or killed, were those who knew Rommel’s views on ending the war.

Various conspirator’s testimony exposed Rommel as part of the plot. Leading Nazis, including Martin Bormann, and Heinrich Himmler urged Hitler to deal with Rommel. Likewise, some in the High Command, including Heinz Guderian turned upon Rommel. After a secret hearing it was recommended by the “Court of Military Honor” that Rommel be expelled from the military and tried by the “People’s Court” of Judge Roland Freisler. During the purge that followed the attempt on Hitler’s life, many noted German military commanders were hauled before this court and humiliated by Freisler before they were sent to their deaths. Freisler, a fanatic Nazi judge was a participant at the infamous Wannsee Conference which planned the details of the Final Solution was killed when his courtroom was bombed in February 1945.

On 27 September, Martin Bormann submitted to Hitler a memorandum which claimed that “the late General Stülpnagel, Colonel von Hofacker, Kluge’s nephew who has been executed, Lieutenant Colonel Rathgens, and several … living defendants have testified that Field Marshal Rommel was perfectly in the picture about the assassination plan and has promised to be at the disposal of the New Government.”

Rommel’s fate was sealed, but because of his fame and popularity in Germany Hitler decided to offer Rommel a choice of being tried by the People’s Court or committing suicide. Goebbels who had spent so much time building up the Rommel legend, turned against him. The latter with an offer to ensure his family’s safety, which he would not guarantee if Rommel choose to defend himself in open court. Hitler dispatched Generals Wilhelm Burgdorf and Ernst Maisel from Berlin to personally deliver the message. Burgdorf was the last Army Chief of Staff and killed himself following Hitler’s suicide.

492px-Erwin_rommel_death

Rommel suspected that he would be identified and killed and told that to his friends and family in the days leading up to the arrival of Generals Wilhelm Burgorf and Ernst Maisel from OKW with the ultimatum. They met with Rommel for a short time before giving him the opportunity to say goodbye to his family. Rommel told them of his choice and left his home for the last time. 15 minutes later the Generals called his wife to say that he had died of a heart attack. Rommel was given a state funeral and the German people were lied to about his cause of his death.

Winston Churchill wrote of Rommel:

“He also deserves our respect because, although a loyal German soldier he came to hate Hitler and all his works, and took part in the conspiracy to rescue Germany by displacing the maniac and tyrant. For this, he paid the forfeit of his life. In the sombre wars of modern democracy, chivalry finds no place … Still, I do not regret or retract the tribute I paid to Rommel, unfashionable though it was judged.”

Rommel was just 52 years old when he died. I find in the story of Rommel some commonality in my own life. Before Rommel went to Africa he believed that Germany would win the war, during his command there he discovered that what he believed was lies and that Hitler had little regard for him or his troops.

Rommel is a complex character. His attitudes towards Hitler waxed and waned. He was no Nazi. He conducted his battles in an honorable manner and displayed much chivalry towards his opponents. His views on race were not at all Nazi like. In North Africa he faced down a White South African commander who did not want to be imprisoned with his Black troops. Rommel told the officer: “For me, soldiers are all equal. Those black people wore your same uniform, fought on your side, and so you will be in the same jail.”

But from the beginning he willingly served Hitler’s regime and basked in the fame that he enjoyed due to Goebbels’s propaganda machine. At the same time while he was according to the Chief of the German Navy in the West, Admiral Friedrich Ruge, as well as his Rommel’s letters to his wife, indicated that Rommel’s mood fluctuated wildly regarding Hitler: while he showed disgust towards the atrocities and disappointment towards the overall military and strategic situation, he was overjoyed to welcome a visit or praise from Hitler, only to return to depression the next day when faced with reality.

The example of Erwin Rommel is a cautionary tale of what can happen when a brilliant and honorable man comes under the spell of a demagogue. Rommel believed Hitler and blindly followed him until he ran into the hard face of reality in Africa at which point he had the moral courage to do the right thing, but many others didn’t.

Sadly there are otherwise honorable men and women in the current United States military that blindly support a delusional madman who happens to be the President: a man who promises to order soldiers to commit war crimes, who threatens to jail political opponents, who condemns whole races of people and religions, who incites violence against his opponents, a man who has no respect for the courts, the law, or the Constitution to which they are sworn to defend.

But I think that we also have to remember the men like Rommel who though not a true believer in the Nazi cause and polices, not only willingly served the Reich, but basked in the adulation lavished on him by friends and foes alike.

To me this is not about partisan politics but something that is bigger than politics, bigger than temporary political advantage, bigger than any single political issue, for which in our country, at least for the moment, that there are many ways to express dissent which were not available to most Germans of Rommel’s era. It is about the Constitution, the rule of law, and the foundational principles of the Declaration of Independence.

Personally, as a historian I cannot understand the blind obedience in the face of the evidence; but then I blindly followed President George Bush into the ill-advised and criminal invasion of Iraq. It was in the desert of Iraq’s Al Anbar Province that I had my own revelation that the man I supported had led the country into a war that could not be won. Like Rommel at El Alamein, it opened my eyes to things that I had never seen before.

Now, in light of President Trump’s immoral, unconstitutional, and foolhardy policies and decisions I wonder why so few high ranking military officers, active or retired have the courage to oppose them. Surely, some must, like Rommel, Ludwig Beck, Henning Von Tresckow, Erich von Witzleben, Hans Oster, Claus von Stauffenberg and others like them realize the abyss that the President is leading the nation to, and far to few are willing to tell the truth when most needed. It took far more courage for the German officers to oppose Hitler than it does American officers to tell the truth about Trump’s policies. Maybe we have become so insulated from political realities that we make excuses for ourselves, and our actions.

Maybe we as officers need to remember the works of General Ludwig Beck:

“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.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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A Pilgrimage to Dachau

 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

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

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


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

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

Karl Brandt 

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

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

Hadamar with Crematorium in Operation 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Einsatzgruppen and Ordungspolizei in Poland, 1939-1940: Killing Up Close and Personal

einsatz1

Friends  of Padre Steve’s World,

Since I posted a new article about Hitler’s attack on Poland yesterday I am following it up with an older article dealing with Hitler’s first use of the Einsatzgruppen in dealing with Poles who might become leaders in an anti-Nazi Resistance as well as Jews. 

Another section of the article dealing with the campaign of mass murder and genocide conducted by Hitler’s legions in Eastern Europe. This section deals with the actions of the Einsatzgrüppen in during the Polish campaign and occupation in 1939 and 1940. In it you will see that the while most of the killing was done by the SS that the German military high command was not guiltless. Some commanders attempted to stop SS actions, but they were the minority.  Most simply turned a blind eye to what was going on and a few would lend their assistance to the Einsatzgrüppen.

Please note, that all of this took place before the first extermination camps began operations, and were accomplished well before the decision about the Final Solution. This killing was done up close and personal by  the men of the Einsatzgruppen and the Police battalions, sometimes with the direct support and approval of the Wehrmacht. In all just a few thousand troops massacred hundreds of thousands of Polish Jews as well as the Polish gentile elites.

It is terribly uncomfortable, for as I always say, these men were little different than most of us, they were terribly ordinary.

Peace

Padre Steve+

himmler1                 

                                                   Heinrich Himmler

The Polish campaign was a precursor to the Russian campaign and was not totally race driven. It contained elements of Germany’s perception of the injustice of Versailles which gave Poland the Danzig corridor and Germany’s desire to reconnect East Prussia to the Reich, as well as the perceived necessity to remove a potential enemy from its rear as it faced France, yet it was a campaign steeped in Nazi racial ideology. Poland resisted German efforts to ally itself with Germany in 1939, thus Hitler determined it “would be crushed first.” 80

Meeting with military leaders on 23 May 1939 Hitler “made it plain that the real issue was not Danzig, but securing of Germany’s Lebensraum….” 81 On 22 August Hitler enjoined the generals to “Close your hearts to pity! Act brutally! Eighty million people must obtain what is their right.” 82

Even so, most military leaders failed to appreciate what Hitler was calling on them to do; Erich von Manstein would later note that “what Hitler had to say about an eventual war with Poland, could not, in my opinion, be interpreted as a policy of annihilation.” 83

generaloberst johannes blaskowitz

                                        General Johannes Blaskowitz

Others such as Abwehr director Wilhelm Canaris was “utterly horrified.” As he read his notes to his closest colleagues “His voice trembled as he read, Canaris was acutely aware that he had witnessed something monstrous.” 84 General Johannes Blaskowitz, the controversial commander of the German 8th Army who would become the military commander in Poland did not leave any notes about the meeting. However, his biographer noted that Blaskowitz “may have naively attached a military meaning to these terms since he was busy with military matters and soon to begin operations.” 85 As was noted before this was also the interpretation of Erich Manstein gave Hitler’s words, but one has to wonder as to the veracity of his statements. 86 Field Marshal Keitel noted that the speech was “delivered in the finest sense of psychological timing and application,” with Hitler molding “his words and phrases to suit his audience.” 87

In light of the mixed interpretations by military leaders, it is possible that many misinterpreted Hitler’s intent and did not fully appreciated his ideology as they went into Poland, carefully secluding themselves in the narrow confines of their military world. While such an explanation is plausible for some, it is also true that many others in light of subsequent actions were in full agreement with Hitler. One author notes that “no man who participated in the FührerConferences….and there were present the highest ranking officers of the three services, could thereafter plead ignorance of the fact that Hitler had laid bare his every depth of infamy before them, and they had raised no voice in protest either then or later.” 88 In July, General Wagner, the Quartermaster General issued orders that “authorized German soldiers to take and execute hostages in the event of attacks by snipers or irregulars.” 89

Regardless of the meaning ascribed to Hitler’s speech by his generals, Hitler had already laid plans to destroy the Jews in Poland and decimate the Polish intelligentsia and leadership.   Hitler gave Himmler the task of forming Einsatzgrüppen to follow the German troops as they advanced into Poland and liquidate Poland’s upper class wherever it was to be found.” 90 While senior party leaders remained at Hitler’s side following the conference, Himmler worked to coordinate his troops, including the reinforced Totenkopf battalions and Einsatzgrüppen with the Army. 91

Himmler began planning in early May and the Army, working in close collaboration with the SS decided to “use SS and police units to augment their own forces for security tasks.” 92 Himmler established “five Einsatzgrüppen to accompany each of the numbered German armies at the start of the campaign.” 93 Placed under the aegis of Reinhard Heydrich the groups were broken down into smaller units of 100-150 men and allotted to army corps. All senior posts were occupied by officers of the SD, the Sicherhietsdienst. 94

Two additional Einsatzgrüppen were formed shortly after the invasion. 95Additionally three regiments of the SS Totenkopfverbandeunder the direction of SS General Theodore Eicke were deployed in the rear areas of the advancing armies. These regiments were formed from the Concentration Camp guard units and eventually became the nucleus of the 3rd SS Panzer Division Totenkopf. 96 The SS carefully shielded the real purpose of these units from the Army in the planning stages, while the Army might countenance anti-guerrilla operations and cooperate in arresting people who might lead resistance in Poland, the SS was not yet sure that the Army would support or countenance mass murder. 97 That being said, Heydrich worked with the Army to develop lists of up to 30,000 Poles to be arrested following the invasion including intellectuals, political leaders and clergy. 98

To eliminate the Polish elites without disturbing the Army, Himmler and Heydrich gave the Army “only the bare minimum of information” as to their ultimate intent99 The deception was initially successful and many Wehrmacht commanders welcomed the assistance of the SS units for rear area security missions. Blaskowitz’s 8th Army defined the mission of the Einsatzgrüppen in the traditional doctrinal terms of the Ettapen, noting their mission as “the suppression of all anti-Reich and anti- German elements in the rear of the “fighting troops, in particular, counter espionage arrests of  politically unreliable persons, confiscation of weapons, safeguarding of important counter- espionage materials etc…” 100 General Wagner, the Quartermaster General issued orders in July 1939 that “authorized German soldiers to take and execute hostages in the event of attacks by snipers or irregulars.” Despite the deception, there was no way to disguise the murder of Polish intelligentsia and Jews once it began, and had the Army had the political acumen and moral courage it could have considerably restricted or even halted the terror campaign. 101

The ensuing campaign in Poland demonstrated Hitler’s true intent. Heydrich openly discussed “murdering the Polish ruling class” of the aristocracy, Catholic clergy, communists and Jews at a meeting on September 7th, barely a week after the beginning of the invasion. 102 As the German armies advanced into Poland slicing through the badly deployed and inadequately equipped Polish Army the Einsatzgruppen and the Totenkopf Verbande followed in their wake, conducting mass arrests and executions of those Poles deemed to be a threat.

Many army leaders were worried about Polish soldiers left behind in rear areas as the armies advanced. In some cases that concern became a paranoid mindset and some generals believed that a “brutal guerrilla campaign has broken out everywhere and we are ruthlessly stamping it out.” 103

ordungspolizei

               Ordungspolizei Battalion preparing for Mass Murder

Yet some of the actions by Einsatzgruppen and Totenkopf Verbande against the Polish elites and the Jews drew Army reactions. The unit commanded by SS General Woyrsch “behaved with such unparalleled bestiality that it was thrown out of the operational area” by General List of 14th Army.” 104 Another unit, the Totenkopfverbande Brandenburg came to Army attention when its commander remarked that the “SSVT would not obey Army orders.” The conclusion drawn by the Army General was that “the SSVT commander was following orders from some non-military authority to terrorize the local Jews.” 105

These atrocities as well as those of other Waffen-SS units were hard to hide and brought reactions out of army commanders who sought to punish the offenders. Blaskowitz and a few other commanders attempted to put a halt to SS actions against Poles and Jews, 106 but most officers turned a blind eye to the atrocities or outright condoned them. It is believed that General Walter Model and many other senior officers “not only knew what was occurring in Poland but actually took part in what Colonel General Franz Halder himself described in October as “this devilish plan.”” 107

It appears that many of the officers who objected were not motivated so much by humanitarian, moral or legal considerations, but rather by the effect on good order and discipline of their soldiers. 108 Likewise it is clear that many officers, even if they did not participate in the actions probably approved of them. Many of the early biographies and histories of this period were written by authors who were influenced by surviving German officers. Many of these men were being rehabilitated and helping the Americans and British meet the threat of the Soviet Union, made no or little mention of the Army’s part in these actions.

Both Himmler and Heydrich were sensitive to the perception of the Army and resented the fact that the Army believed them to be responsible for actions that they were carrying out under the direction and orders of Hitler himself, They also resented that their troops were characterized as “undisciplined gangs of murderers” by many Army officers. 109

After crushing the Polish armies and dividing Poland with the help of the Red Army, the Germans established what became known as the Government General, which was headed by Hans Frank. The new civilian administration came into conflict with the military governor, General Blaskowitz. Appalled by the actions of the SS, Police and the Nazi administration. Blaskowitz made an “elaborate report on the atrocities of the SS,” 110 expressing concern about his “extreme alarm about illegal executions, his worries about maintaining troop discipline under those circumstances, the failure of discussions with the SD and Gestapo and their assertions that they were only following SS Orders.” 111

While it is unclear if the memorandum made it to Hitler, it is clear that Hitler did know about the protest and Blaskowitz fell into disfavor and was reassigned after a period of continued conflict with the Nazi administration. Hitler was not impressed by the less than ruthless attitudes of Blaskowitz and other commanders. His reaction to Army objections regarding the methods of the SS and police units was characteristically acidic. Hitler’s military adjutant recalled that Hitler accused the Army’s leaders of using “Salvation Army” methods, and called their ideas regarding the occupation as “childish.” 112

Following the reassignment of Blaskowitz, other officers that objected were also relieved of their commands or reassigned. General Georg von Külcher was relieved of command for protesting SS and police atrocities. 113

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At the beginning of the campaign the SS units and their commanders fell under military justice, and a number of SS officers and their troops were convicted by Army courts-martial for their actions. But soon, SS Officers convicted by Army courts-martial were given amnesty by Hitler and Hitler “removed SS units from the jurisdiction of military courts,” on October 4th 1939. 114 While the army remained, it was no longer in charge and would actively assist the SS and Police in combat and further atrocities against civilians. In November 1939, One German officer, who later was a conspirator in the July 20th plot, remarked, “was ashamed to be German! The minority are dragging our good through the mud by murdering, looting and torching houses will bring disaster on the whole German people if we do not stop it soon…” 115

poland murders

The Army was soon relieved of responsibility for policing Poland which fell on the Ordungspolizei battalions and Gendarmerie. Many officers were pleased as they could now turn their backs on the situation there and begin to prepare for the campaign in the West.

The Ordungspolizei battalions and the Gendarmerie units were composed of mobilized city police and rural constabulary police. These men would soon wreak their own devastation on Poland in the coming months and years. 116Poland was also be the first use of mass evacuations of civilian populations to make room for German settlers, in the newly acquired Lebensraum. Poles were driven into the newly formed Government General and ethnic Germans moved into previously Polish occupied territories. By 1941 over 1,200,000 Poles and 300,000 Jews had been expelled and 497,000 ethnic Germans brought into provinces German had lost in 1919. 117

Prior to the war about 3.3 million Jews lived in Poland. The actions of the Einsatzgruppen and the Police brought a reign of terror to Poland’s Jews. The Jews were rounded up and sent to Ghettos from which they would be dispatched to the death camps following the decision to implement the “Final Solution.”After the war only some 50-70,000 Jews were found to have survived in Poland, the Polish Army and camps in Germany. A further 180,000 were repatriated from the Soviet Union. 118

To be continued….

                                                        Notes

80 Ibid. Weinberg. Visions of Victory p.8
81 Ibid. Goerlitz, History of the German General Staff p.346
82 Höhne, Heinze. The Order of the Death’s Head: The Story of Hitler’s SS. Translated by Richard Barry. PenguinBooks, New York and London, 2000. First English edition published by Martin Secker and Warburg Ltd. London 1969. Originally published as Der Orden unter dem Totenkopf, Verlag Der Spiegel, Hamburg 1966 p.259

83 Manstein, Erich von. Forward by B.H. Liddle Hart, Introduction by Martin Blumenson. Lost victories: The War Memoirs of Hitler’s Most Brilliant General. Zenith Press, St Paul MN 2004. First Published 1955 as Verlorene Siege, English Translation 1958 by Methuen Company p.29

84 Ibid. Hohne. Canaris p.347

85 Giziowski, Richard. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz. Hppocrene Books, New York 1997 p.119

86 Ibid. Manstein. Lost Victories p.29

87 Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Keitel p.87

88 Wheeler-Bennett, John. The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945. St. Martin’s Press Inc. New York, NY 1954 p.448

89 Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.13

90 Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p.297

91 Padfield, Peter. Himmler. MJF Books, New York 1990 p.264

92 Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.13

93 Ibid. Westermann. Hitler’s Police Battalions p.127

94 Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p.297 95 Ibid. Westermann. Hitler’s Police Battalions p.127 96 Ibid. Sydnor Soldiers of Destruction p.37

97 Ibid. Giziowski Blaskowitz p.120

98 Ibid. Witte. The Wehrmacht p.100

99 Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head pp. 297-298

100 Ibid. Giziowski Blaskowitz p.120

101 Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p.298

102 Ibid. Witte. The Wehrmacht p.100

103 Newton, Steven H. Hitler’s Commander: Field Marshal Walter Model-Hitler’s Favorite General Da Capo Press a division of Perseus Books Group, Cambridge MA 2005. p.74

104 Ibid. Giziowski. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz pp.165-166

105 Ibid. Sydnor, Soldiers of Destruction pp. 42-43 Note SSVT is the common abbreviation for Verfügungstruppe which was the early designation of the SS Totenkopf Verbande and some other Waffen SS Units.

106 Ibid. Goerlitz. History of the German General Staff p.359

107 Ibid. Newton. Hitler’s Commander p.78

108 Ibid. Witte The Wehrmacht p.102

109 Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p.298

110 Ibid. Goerlitz. History of the German General Staff .p.359 111 Ibid. Giziowski. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz p.173 112 Ibid. Giziowski. TheEnigma of General Blaskowitz p.173

113 Ibid. Witte The Wehrmacht p.102

114 Burleigh, Michael and Wippermann, Wolfgang. The Racial State: Germany 1933-1945 Cambridge University Press, New York NY and Cambridge UK 1991. p.100

115 Ibid. Witte The Wehrmacht p.102

116 For a good account of one of the Police Battalions see Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland by Christopher Browning Harper Perennial Publishers, San Francisco CA 1992

117 Reitlinger, Gerald. The SS: Alibi of a Nation. The Viking Press, New York, 1957. Republished by Da Capo Press, New York, NY p.131

118 Ibid. Davidowicz The War Against the Jews pp.395-397

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The Founding Of Dachau, the Model Concentration Camp

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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.

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

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.

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.

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. It was designed to terrorize, dehumanize, and destroy the souls of its inmates. It was a place of inhuman medical experiments, 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. 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 Oswold 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.

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 victims of tyranny.

Never forget.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, History, holocaust, nazi germany, Political Commentary