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”The Lessons Have Not Been Learned” Reflections after International Holocaust Remembrance Day

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Sunday was Holocaust Remembrance Day. I took the time to write about it after completing reading the book Hitler’s Death Squads: The Logic Of Mass Murder, by Helmut Langerbein, Forgotten Crimes: The Holocaust and People with Disabilities, Perpetrators: the World Of the Holocaust Killers, by Gunter Lewy, and Operation Eichmann by Zvi Aharoni and Wilhelm Dietl. I also watched a number of films and documentaries about the Holocaust. Sunday was the anniversary of the day that the Red Army liberated the Nazi extermination and slave labor camp at Auschwitz.

Primo Levi wrote, “Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.” 

Seventy-seven years ago this a group of 15 relatively common bureaucrats of various German government, police, and party agencies sat around a table and discussed the implementation of what is called the Final Solution. The meeting was chaired by SS Lieutenant General Reinhard Heydrich, who had been charged with the task of solving Germany’s “Jewish Problem” shortly after the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Hermann Goering, the number two man in the Nazi Reich sent Heydrich the following message:

Berlin, July 31st 1941

To: Gruppenfuhrer Heydrich

Supplementing the task assigned to you by the decree of January 24th 1939, to solve the Jewish problem by means of evacuation and emigration in the best possible way by according to present conditions, I hereby charge you to carry out preparations as regards organizational, financial, and material matters for a total solution (Gesamtlosung) of the Jewish question in all the territories of Europe under German occupation.

Where the competency of other organizations touches on this matter, the organizations are to collaborate. 

I charge you further to submit to me as soon as possible a general plan of the administrative material and financial measures necessary for the carrying out the desired final solution (Endlosung) of the Jewish question.”

Goering

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                                                            Heydrich 

When Goering wrote Heydrich, the head of the Reichssiecherhiethauptampt (RSHA) or Reich Security Main Office, in July 1941 it seemed that Nazi victory in Europe was all but assured. Goering’s words were businesslike. Early measures taken by Heydrich to rid Germany and annexed Austria had been reasonably successful to rid those areas of their Jews through emigration and evacuation. These were not benign measures, people were forced to leave their homes, businesses, communities, and had most of their belongings taken from them in order to leave the Reich. However with the occupation of most of Europe following the Nazi military success and the looming occupation and subjugation of the Soviet Union the process of giving the Jews a chance to emigrate to lands outside Nazi control had come to an end. In fact the Nazis occupied the countries that may Jews had found refuge.

Less than six months after he received the directive from Goering, on January 20th 1942 Heydrich summoned representatives from various Reich agencies were called for what turned out to be a brief, two hour meeting which decided the fate of the Jews. The meeting was held at an estate located in the suburbs of Berlin, called Wansee. Organized by Heydrich’s deputy Adolph Eichmann, involved Heydrich, Eichmann and 13 mid level representatives from various economic, governmental, justice and police entities.

At the conference Heydrich established his authority through Goering’s directive to overcome the bureaucratic and personal attempts of various attendees to take control of the Final Solution process. Despite objections from some attendees who favored sterilization and the use of Jews in the war armaments industries, Heydrich made it clear that the Final Solution would be a campaign of extermination. He was quite clear:

“Approximately 11 million Jews will be involved…in large single sex labor columns, Jews fit to work will work their way eastward constructing roads. Doubtless the large majority will be eliminated through natural causes. Any final remnant that survives will doubtlessly consist of the most resistant elements. They will have to be dealt with appropriately, because otherwise by natural selection, they would form the germ cell of a new Jewish revival.”

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The Nazi leadership decided that its race war against the Jews needed to forge ahead. Within days of Wansee the orders went out and SS commanders at various concentration camps began devising more efficient means to exterminate Jews and other “sub-humans.” It was a matter of pride and efficiency for them. As Rudolph Hoess the Commandant of Auschwitz said at Nuremberg “the camp commandant at Treblinka told me that he had liquidated 80,000 in the course of one half year. He was principally concerned with liquidating all the Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto. He used monoxide gas, and I did not think that his methods were very efficient. So when I set up the extermination building at Auschwitz, I used Zyclon B….” Hoess estimated that some 2.5 million people were exterminated at Auschwitz at rates as high as 10,000 a day.

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Einsatzgruppen in Action

In the Soviet Union four Einsatzgruppen followed each of the German Army Groups and systematically began to massacre the Jews of every city and village which German soldiers captured. The EinsatzgruppenOrdungspolizeibattalions, Army Security Divisions and locally recruited units in fewer than six months, killed over a million and a half Soviet Jews, and the slaughter would continue unabated until the dying days of the Reich.

Heinrich Himmler, Heydrich’s friend and superior told a gathering of senior SS leaders:

“I also want to mention a very difficult subject before you here, completely openly. It should be discussed among us, and yet, nevertheless, we will never speak about it in public…I am talking about the “Jewish evacuation” the extermination of the Jewish people.” 

It is One of the things that is easily said. “The Jewish people is being exterminated,” every Party member will tell you, “perfectly clear, it’s part of our plans, we’re eliminating the Jews, exterminating them, ha!, a small matter.” 

But then along they all come, all the decent upright Germans and each has his decent Jew. They all say: the others are all swine, but here is a first class Jew. And none of them has seen it, has endured it. Most of you will know what it means when 100 bodies lie together, or when there are 500 or 1000. And to have seen this through, and –with the exception of human weaknesses– to have remained decent, has made us hard and is a page of glory never mentioned and never to be mentioned….”

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Himmler and his entourage 

Whether the words are those of Goering, Heydrich, Hoess or Himmler, there is a certain businesslike banality to them. But these men, and many others like them orchestrated a campaign of genocide and race hatred unmatched in history. Yes, there have been other genocides, the Turks killing the Armenians during the First World War and the Hutu and Tutsi slaughter in Rwanda but neither they or the politically motivated campaigns of mass slaughter conducted by the Soviets, the Chinese Communists and the Khamer Rouge killing fields can match the systematized extermination campaign waged by the Nazis against the Jews.

The truly terrifying thing about the Nazi perpetrators of the Holocaust to me is that most of the men at Wansee, men that commanded the Concentration camps and the Einsatzgruppen were very ordinary men who simply believed that they were doing their jobs. Very few could be described as psychopathic killers by nature. They were lawyers, doctors, career police officials, businessmen, and bureaucrats who carried out an extermination campaign that killed by their own numbers between 5.5 and 6 million Jews, not to mention others deemed to be subhuman including the handicapped, the mentally ill, homosexuals, and other non-Jewish minorities like the Gypsies not to mention the wide variety of those considered political enemies. But it was the Jews that bore the most tragic fate and it was the Jews who were the object of Hitler’s most bloodthirsty actions.

But without the bureaucrats, the mayors, district leaders, party functionaries, police officers, soldiers, railroad officials, businessmen, and others who helped there could have been no Holocaust. As British Historian Laurence Rees wrote:

“human behavior is fragile and unpredictable and often at the mercy of the situation. Every individual still, of course, has a choice as to how to behave, it’s just that for many people the situation is the key determinate in that choice.” 

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

That is something that we must never forget lest the would be architects of annihilation of our day; the politicians, preachers, propagandists, and profiteers, who demonize the Jews, Muslims, dark skinned immigrants, LTBTQ people and other inconvenient elements and prepare people to do evil or ignore it: the ordinary men who just obey orders. Primo Levi who I quoted at the beginning was right, the common me, those that don’t think but simply follow orders or turn their heads and ignore the evil who are the most dangerous.

Milton Mayer wrote in his book They Thought They Were Free about a German colleague during the 1950s that had lived through the Hitler years as an academic. The man tried to explain how changes were so gradual that people like him who should have known better did not take action, if they did at all until it was too late. The man asked Mayer:

“How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly educated ordinary men? Frankly, I do not know. I do not see, even now. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice—‘Resist the beginnings’ and ‘Consider the end.’ But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings. One must foresee the end clearly and certainly and how is this to be done, by ordinary men or even by extraordinary men? Things might have. And everyone counts on that might.”

We cannot forget and we must always be vigilant or we too could easily succumb, it is not that hard. History and human nature shows it all too clearly.

Peace

Padre Steve

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Filed under History, holocaust, nazi germany, Political Commentary, war crimes, world war two in europe

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

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Die Judenfrage,’ it used to be called, even by Jews. ‘The Jewish Question.’ I find I quite like this interrogative formulation, since the question—as Gertrude Stein once famously if terminally put it—may be more absorbing than the answer. Of course one is flirting with calamity in phrasing things this way, as I learned in school when the Irish question was discussed by some masters as the Irish ‘problem.’ Again, the word ‘solution’ can be as neutral as the words ‘question’ or ‘problem,’ but once one has defined a people or a nation as such, the search for a resolution can become a yearning for the conclusive. Endlösung: the final solution.”

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

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

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

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

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

Yehuda Bauer wrote:

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

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

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

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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

Never Again? Holocaust Days of Remembrance 2018

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

April 8th to 15th are the Holocaust Days of Remembrance in the United States. I am glad we do this but sadly I don’t think that the vast majority of Americans really care about the Holocaust or its eternal precedent because frankly we live in an age where history, unless it is being bastardized to fit the propaganda message of political ideologues matters not a wit.

Historian Timothy Snyder refers to the current trend of history being cherry picked and perverted in support of ideology as the  politics of eternity. Over the past two decades this concept has replaced the politics of inevitability  which defined the immediate ear after the Cold War. Inevitability presumed that no-matter what happened that the future would unfold in a manner that ultimately benefited everyone.

That understanding lasted until the disastrous American war against Iraq, the collapse of the banking system, and the politics of inequity that by 2010 made most Americans feel that they were being shortchanged. The social contract that had buttressed society has given way much in the way that it had in Europe following the First World War. Many, regardless of where they lay on the political spectrum feel victimized and angry. Their victimhood and anger require scapegoats who in turn become victims and many times the scapegoats are those who were traditionally exploited and persecuted based on race or religion, or new immigrants who have taken the place of the previously persecuted peoples that now embrace the very ideologies used to persecute their ancestors.

Snyder noted that the politics of “eternity places one nation at the centre of a cyclical story of victimhood. Time is no longer a line into the future, but a circle that endlessly returns the same threats from the past. Within inevitability, no one is responsible because we all know that the details will sort themselves out for the better; within eternity, no one is responsible because we all know that the enemy is coming no matter what we do. Eternity politicians spread the conviction that government cannot aid society as a whole, but can only guard against threats. Progress gives way to doom.”

To those that practice the politics of eternity, no matter what nation they hail from the precedent of the Holocaust looms large.

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

That is something that we must never forget lest the would be architects of annihilation of our day; the politicians, preachers, propagandists, and profiteers, who demonize the Jews, Muslims, dark skinned immigrants, LTBTQ people and other inconvenient elements and prepare people to do evil or ignore it: the ordinary men who just obey orders. Primo Levi wrote:Primo Levi wrote, “Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.” 

Levi was right, the common men, those that don’t think but simply follow orders or turn their heads and ignore the evil who are the most dangerous.

But of all of the people victimized by the politics of eternity it has to be the Jewish people  who have suffered the greatest from often disparate enemies. Anti-Semitism knows few boundaries and is not just one prejudice among many, even though the purveyors of it often persecute and massacre others. Christopher Hitchens noted about the Nazi crimes in Eastern Europe which were often aided by local militias: “We should not at all allow ourselves to forget the millions of non-Jewish citizens of Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, and other Slav territories who were also massacred. But for me the salient fact remains that anti-Semitism was the regnant, essential, organizing principle of all the other National Socialist race theories. It is thus not to be thought of as just one prejudice among many.” 

That is one major reason why I fear the surge in the politics of eternity in the United States, Europe, and other nations. I fear that the Jews will again be a sacrificial victim especially because a part of the American electorate which allegedly supports Israel, Evangelical Christians only do so because their theology requires the sacrifice of the Jews and Israel at the hand of the Anti-Christ during Christ’s Second Coming.  Sadly, these are the same people who unabashedly support a President that mocks their faith and Christ in word and deed, and whose often disparaging tone toward American Jews is well known. As such I cannot help but think that it could indeed happen here. If this is what it means to make America Great again then we are deep trouble. Snyder wrote: “When exactly was the “again” in the president’s slogan “Make America great again”? Hint: It is the same “again” that we find in “Never again.”

Milton Mayer wrote in his book They Thought They Were Free about a German colleague during the 1950s that had lived through the Hitler years as an academic. The man tried to explain how changes were so gradual that people like him who should have known better did not take action, if they did at all until it was too late. The man asked Mayer:

“How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly educated ordinary men? Frankly, I do not know. I do not see, even now. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice—‘Resist the beginnings’ and ‘Consider the end.’ But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings. One must foresee the end clearly and certainly and how is this to be done, by ordinary men or even by extraordinary men? Things might have. And everyone counts on that might.”

With what is happening on the border of Israel in Syria I am very much afraid that there will be a backlash against American Jews, as well as American Muslims from both the political left and right. The precedent of the Holocaust is indeed eternal and it is incumbent on us to ensure that it does not happen again. That being said if it does and some of us have the courage to resist and even risk martyrdom it will not be the martyrdom of the innocent. Sadly, most of us regardless of our ideological or political point of view have contributed to the situation that we see today. Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke these words as the Nazi Party became the largest and most powerful in Germany before Hitler was appointed Chancellor by Hindenburg:

“the blood of martyrs might once again be demanded, but this blood, if we really have the courage and loyalty to shed it, will not be innocent, shining like that of the first witnesses for the faith. On our blood lies heavy guilt, the guilt of the unprofitable servant who is cast into outer darkness” 

I am one of those unprofitable servants because for some thirty years I supported the party and policies that brought about Trump and turned a blind eye toward the consequences until I saw the terrible results of the polices that I supported when I went to Iraq in 2007 and 2008.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, faith, History, holocaust, middle east, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary