Tag Archives: Holocaust

Of Pardoning War Criminals: Trump and the Consequences Of Ignoring Justice

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

There are reports that this Memorial Day weekend that President Trump will Pardon convicted or accused War Criminals, men whose conduct dishonored the military and the country, men whose fellow soldiers, Marines, or Sailors have voluntarily testified against. These men murdered prisoners and committed other crimes forbidden by the law of war. If he does so this weekend it will be the ultimate betrayal of the military by the Commander in Chief.

When Richard Nixon Pardoned Lieutenant William Calley, convicted of leading his platoon in the deadliest atrocity committed by American Troops in the Vietnam War at a village called My Lai. His men’s butchery had to be stopped by an American helicopter and its crew who interposed their bird between Carley’s men and other potential victims, and threatened to shoot at Calley’s men. The crime was initially covered up by Calley’s chain-of-command. Eventually it became public and the Army was forced to deal with it. Of all the officers charged and soldiers charged, only Calley was convicted. It took thirty years for the military to award the heroes who stopped the massacre.

In the six degrees of separation I am just twice removed from My Lai, two times. In my MSIII, junior year of Army ROTC in the Fall of 1981. My instructor was Major Barry Towne, during the investigation he was Commanding part of the security force. He told us what kind of criminal element that Calley and his platoon was. Calley’s defense at Court Martial was that “he was just following orders.”

Major Towne told us of its effect on the troops, the public, and the war. He told us that we would be war criminals if we ever allowed that to happen under my command. So I knew one of the Officers with first hand knowledge of the crime and the crime scene. Then, in June of 1998 while serving as the Garrison Chaplain at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania I did the funeral of Calley’s Brigade Commander, Colonel Oran Henderson. He was acquitted of all charges including the cover-up which he began the day of the massacre. At the time I didn’t know his fully complicity in the massacre. Telford Taylor, one of the Senior American prosecutors at Nuremberg “wrote that legal principles established at the war crimes trials could have been used to prosecute senior American military commanders for failing to prevent atrocities such as the one at My Lai.” Those included Generals, and many other senior officers.

President Nixon commuted Calley’s prison time to House Arrest, and in September 1974 Calley was pardoned by the Secretary of the Army. That man said he did it because Calley really did believe that he was following orders.

So if the President begins pardoning War criminals it will be a watershed from which there will be no going back, unless the Generals and Admirals protest. If course if they do, Trump will replace them with men who will go all the way, and his base, especially his allegedly pro-life Christians, who believe that he has been ordained by God to Make America Great Again.

Just before the invasion of Poland Hitler told his military commanders:

“I shall give a propagandist cause for starting war -never mind whether it be plausible or not. The victor shall not be asked later on whether we told the truth or not. In starting and making a war, it is not the right that matters, but victory.”

In May 1941, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel disseminated the Barbarossa Decree in the name of Adolf Hitler which absolved German Soldiers from war crimes, even those against German law. Army Group and Army Commanders had the authority to be more severe than Keitel’s order. The Severity Order issued by Field Marshal Walter Reichenau of Army Group, Commander of 6th Army. That order stated:

The most important objective of this campaign against the Jewish-Bolshevik system is the complete destruction of its sources of power and the extermination of the Asiatic influence in European civilization.

In this eastern theatre, the soldier is not only a man fighting in accordance with the rules of the art of war, but also the ruthless standard bearer of a national conception and the avenger of bestialities which have been inflicted upon German and racially related nations. For this reason the soldier must learn fully to appreciate the necessity for the severe but just retribution that must be meted out to the subhuman species of Jewry. The Army has to aim at another purpose, i. e., the annihilation of revolts in hinterland which, as experience proves, have always been caused by Jews.

Other Wehrmacht Commanders wrote similar orders, unleashing the beast in their soldiers and classifying their enemies as less than human, a typical charge leveled at racial and religious minorities, as well as immigrants, and potential enemies by the President.

General Erich Hoepner issued this order to his soldiers of Panzer Group Four, Later known as the 4th Panzer Army:

The war against Russia is an important chapter in the German nation’s struggle for existence. It is the old battle of the Germanic against the Slavic people, of the defence of European culture against Muscovite-Asiatic inundation and of the repulse of Jewish Bolshevism. The objective of this battle must be the demolition of present-day Russia and must therefore be conducted with unprecedented severity. Every military action must be guided in planning and execution by an iron resolution to exterminate the enemy remorselessly and totally. In particular, no adherents of the contemporary Russian Bolshevik system are to be spared.

Unopposed Pardons will release unprecedented evil by otherwise honorable men who either believer that they are just following orders or approved by God through the words of their leader.

I take this very seriously. War Crimes are war crime whether committed by Nazis, Communists, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, or American soldiers. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson who organized the Nuremberg Trials and prosecuted the leading Nazis noted before the trials began:

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

If Trump Pardons these men he will be spitting in the face of American and International Justice. He will be blessing war crimes and if there is no push back from the Joint Chiefs of Staff or the Regional Combatant Command Commanders we are doomed to repeat what criminal regimes have done. We will be a rogue and outcast nation whose word will not be believed, and whose military members will be considered criminals, even if they serve honorably and have never committed any crimes. Ask any Vietnam Veteran if you don’t believe me. I wasn’t a Vietnam veteran, but my dad was. When I enlisted and joined the ROTC program at UCLA I had a man come out from nowhere and start screaming at me “off campus ROTC Nazi!”

I haven’t forgotten that. I was a kid when Calley committed his crimes. I had never fired a shot in anger, and my primary focus of study over the previous year had been the guilt of the Nazis and their genocidal policies. What leaders do matters, and there is no escaping that, especially if you volunteer to serve in the military.

These are big issues and cannot be allowed to go unnoticed. The rot begins in the head of the fish. We are well on our way to to becoming a criminal and outlaw nation, something our Founders thought they had prevented by devising our system of government, a system intentionally designed to limit the powers of the Executive.

This does matter. If Trump Pardons these men and there is no push back from the Senior Commanders I would advise no one to enlist or take a commission in the United States military, and I have almost 38 years of service in the Army and Navy to prove my devotion to the Constitution and Country, including combat tours in which I was shot at and was in danger on a daily basis. As a historian, priest, and officer I cannot be silent if the President Pardons War criminals. The very thought is abhorrent to my nature.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“Men Alone are Capable of Every Wickedness” the Reality Of Human Nature and the Holocaust

conspiracy

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Two weeks ago Saturday was Holocaust Remembrance Day in the United States. I had the honor of speaking about not forgetting the Holocaust at Norfolk’s Temple Israel. When I look at the Holocaust and the men who managed and executed the plan to exterminate the Jews of Europe, I realize the wisdom of the words of Joseph Conrad, who wrote:

“The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.”

Holocaust survivor and philosopher 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.” 

The truth is that human beings are incredibly capable of committing great evil and wickedness. The Holocaust stands alone, above every other genocide committed in history. Laurence Rees in his book Auschwitz, a New History, ended that book with these words:

We must judge behavior by the context of the times, and judged by the context of mid-twentieth century, sophisticated European culture, Auschwitz and the Nazis’ “Final Solution” represent the lowest act in all history. Through their crime, the Nazis brought into the world an awareness of what educated, technologically advanced human beings can do – as long as they possess a cold heart. Once allowed into the world, knowledge of what they did must not be unlearned. It lies there – ugly, inert, waiting to be discovered by each new generation. A warning for us, and for those who will come after.

That bring me to tonight’s subject. Seventy-seven years ago 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, or in German Endlösung. 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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Reinhard Heydrich

When Goering wrote Heydrich, who headed 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, and his words describing the Jews in terms of a question were euphemism of dehumanization. The late Christopher Hitchens understood how labeling ethnic or religious groups as in terms of questions or problems allowed people to escape the human realities of their solutions.

“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.”

The 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. In Heydrich, Goering, most likely acting on the verbal orders of Hitler, had found the man to execute the final solution of the Jewish Problem. Heydrich was the one man who could break through resistance of competing government and party offices and bring them into line.

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.

Order of Heydrich to Martin Luther, Under Secretary of the Foreign Ministry

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:

Estimates of Jews to be Exterminated from Wannsee Documents

“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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Auschwitz

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 Rudolf 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

Of course before the Endlösung was decided on in Berlin and and the pieces were put into place at Wannsee, the Einsatzgruppen had been at work for over six months 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 EinsatzgruppenOrdungspolizei Battalions, 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. Today we cannot allow the Holocaust to become just another terrible event in the history of humanity.

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 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 American President, other 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’s not that hard. Any of us can be a perpetrator, victim or bystander. Yehuda Bauer wrote these words of warning:

“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.“

Peace

Padre Steve+

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

“Commanders Must Make the Sacrifice Of Overcoming their Personal Scruples” the Wehrmacht, Police, and Einsatzgruppen in Russia: 1941-1944

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is another part of my article on the actions of Hitler’s Einsatzgruppen and their campaign of mass murder in Eastern Europe. This section is about the campaign in Russia. It is even more troubling than the previous sections, because in Russia, all pretense of civilization was dropped and even the German Army was heavily engaged in committing some of the grossest and most evil atrocities ever committed by a supposedly civilized and allegedly Christian people.  Likewise, it is important to remember that much of what happened occurred before the decision to implement the Final Solution and the operations of the massive extermination camps such as Auschwitz.

The tragedy is that in so ways that Americans, British, French and the Belgians, as well as the Spanish, not to mention the Russians, Turks, Japanese and so many other have committed genocide. The actions, if they were simply limited to just the Germans of that period could be explained away as a exception, but it is not. That is what makes these heinous crimes so troubling, as the people who committed them were not that different than us, or our own ancestors.

Peace

Padre Steve+

einsattzgruppen map

The Nazi war against Russia was the ultimate test of Hitler’s ideological race war. Planning for the war with the Soviet Union began after the fall of France and during the beginning stages of the Battle of Britain. On 21 July 1940 Hitler made“his intentions plain” to the Army leadership and “von Brauchitsch set his planners to work.” 119 The staff at OKH began preparations for the offensive in the winter of 1940-41 following the Luftwaffe’s failure against Britain and postponement of Operation Sea Lion, the proposed invasion of Great Britain.

Despite the fact that Britain was still in the war and had opened a new front in the Middle East against Italy which required German troops, Hitler decided to open another front and announced his intention to “crush Soviet Russia in a quick campaign which was to begin no later than March 15, 1941, and before the end of the war with England.” 120 Field Marshal Keitel noted the final decision came in “early December 1940” and from then he had “no doubt whatsoever that only some unforeseen circumstance could possibly alter his decision to attack.” 121

The military plan initially focused on the destruction of “the Red Army rather than on any specific terrain or political objective,” 122although the political and geographic objectives would arise in later planning and in the campaign. Hitler stated: “What matters is that Bolshevism must be exterminated. In case of necessity, we shall renew our advance whenever a new center of resistance is formed. Moscow as the center of doctrine must disappear from the earth’s center….” 123

Besides preparations aimed at the destruction of the Red Army and overthrow of the Soviet State, the “war against the Soviet Union was more openly ideological from the start.” 124 Hitler set the stage on March 3rd 1941 by announcing, “the forthcoming campaign is more than a mere armed conflict; it is a collision between two different ideologies…this war will not be ended merely by the defeat of the enemy armed forces” and that “the Jewish-Bolshevist intelligentsia must be eliminated….” 125

ordungspolizie officers

Ordungspolezei Officers

Hitler realized that the task of eliminating the Jews was one that had to be done by his SS men. He noted, that “this is a task so difficult that it cannot be entrusted to the Army.” 126 Reichskommissars, civilian overlords from the Nazi Party would be appointed to administer conquered areas, but since normal civilian powers would be insufficient to eliminate the Bolshevists, Hitler noted that it “might be necessary “to establish organs of the Reichsführer SS alongside the army’s Secret Field Police, even in the operational areas….” 127 The “primary task” of the SS Einsatzgruppen and Police battalions was to liquidate “all Bolshevist leaders or commissars” if possible while still in the operations zones,” 128 yet the orders were vague enough not to offend the sensibilities of Army leaders and did not contain “a syllable that in practice every Jew would be handed over to the extermination machine.” 129

As with almost all German operations which involved cooperation between the Army and the SS, the parties ensured that existing agreements between the agencies, German laws, and army doctrine were followed. On 13 March an agreement was reached between the Army represented by General Wagner and the SS, which stated in part, that “the Reichsführer SS has been given by the Führer special tasks within the operations zone of the Army…to settle the conflict between two opposing political systems.” 130Likewise the agreement dictated that Himmler’s SS units would “act independently and on his own responsibility” while ensuring that “military operations are not affected by measures necessary to carry out his task.” 131

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Rounding up Jews in Russia

A further instruction was issued by Wagner on 26 March which gave the Army’s agreement for the use of the Einsatzgrüppen in the operations zone. The agreement spelled out the coordinating instructions between the Einsatzgruppen and army authorities in the operational zone and communications zones to the rear. Cooperation between the Army and the SS was based on already existing agreements between the SS and the Army, notably the “principals for co-operation between the State Secret Police and the Field Security organization of the Wehrmacht agreed with the Security branch of the War Ministry on 1 January 1937.” 132

The most significant agreement that the Army reached with the SS was the Commissar Order. This order, sometimes known as the “Criminal Order” was used war as evidence at Nuremberg as against Keitel, Jodl and High Command of the Wehrmacht during the later Generals Trial. The order specified that the Army would cooperated with the SS and kill Soviet Political Commissars attached to the Red Army who were taken prisoner, as “they were not prisoners of war.” Another order specified that “in the event that a German soldier committed against civilians or prisoners, disciplinary action was optional….” 133 The order noted regarding political commissars that “in this struggle consideration and respect for international law with regard to these elements is wrong.” 134 The Army’s “Guidelines for the Conduct of Troops in Russia” issed on May 19, 1941 called for “ruthless and vigorous measures against Bolshevist inciters, saboteurs [and] Jews.” 135

einsatzgruppen executions

Shortly before the Commissar Order was issued, Hitler previewed it to the generals saying that the war in Russia “cannot be conducted in a knightly fashion” and that the war against the Soviet Union would have to be waged with “unprecedented, unmerciful and unrelenting harshness…” 136Hitler told the generals that they would have to “dispense with all of their outdated and traditional ideas about chivalry and the generally accepted rules of warfare: the Bolsheviks had long since dispensed with them.” 137 He explained that he understood that his orders were beyond their comprehension but insisted, “I cannot and will not change my orders and I insist that that they be carried out with unquestioning and unconditional obedience.” 138

General Franz Halder, Chief of the OKH, or the Army High Command took notes on Hitler’s speech. They are chilling to read as none present could have understood them in any other way than Hitler meant:

“Clash of two ideologies. Crushing denunciation of Bolshevism, identified with asocial criminality….We must forget the comradeship between soldiers. A Communist is no comrade before nor after the battle. This is a war of extermination….We do not wage war to preserve the enemy….War against Russia: Extermination of the Bolshevist Commissars and of the Communist intelligentsia….this is no job for military courts. The individual troop commanders must know the issues at stake. They must be leaders in the fight….This war will be very different from war in the West. In the East harshness today means leniency in the future. Commanders must make the sacrifice of overcoming their personal scruples.”139

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Franz Halder

Hitler’s speech was protested by some of the generals according to Von Brauchitsch. 140 Von Brauchitsch refused to protest the order to Hitler but issued an order on his own authority “threatening dire penalties for excesses against civilians and prisoners of war” which he maintained at Nuremberg “was sufficient to nullify the Commissar Order.” 141 Yet during the campaign against the Soviet Union, von Brauchitsch told his commanders to “proceed with the necessary hardness.” 142 Walter Warlimont noted that Field Marshal Fedor von Bock, who would “later emerge as an opponent of the Commissar Order…makes no special comment on the meeting or the restricted conference that followed.”143

At Nuremberg Keitel said that he “stubbornly contested” the clause “relating to the authority of the SS-Reichsführer… in the rearward operational areas.” 144Keitel blamed the Army High Command OKH under Halder, but the order came out with his signature on behalf of Hitler, which was key evidence against him at Nuremberg. Keitel stated that “there was never any possibility of justifying them in retrospect by circumstances obtaining in the Russian campaign.” 145

Some commanders refused to publish the orders and “insisted that the Wehrmacht never implemented such policies…” blaming them instead on the SS. One writer states “such protests were undoubtedly sincere, but in practice German soldiers were far from innocent. The senior professional officers were often out of touch with their subordinates.” 146 The orders were a “license to kill, although not a great departure from German military traditions….” 147 The effect was terrifying, for in a sense the Einsatzgruppen, “could commit ever crime known to God and man, so long as they were a mile or two away from the firing line.” 148 Security Divisions of the Army were “instructed to give material and logistical support to…units of the Einsatzgruppen.” 149 Even worse, other army units in rear areas “could be called on to assist Himmler’s SS police leaders” as the situation dictated, and few commanders refused. 150

For the campaign against the Soviet Union the Heydrich and the SS formed four Einsatzgruppen composed of SD, Waffen-SS and Police troops designated A-D. Einsatzgruppe A was assigned to Army Group North, Einsatzgruppe B to Army Group Center, Einsatzgruppe C to Army Group South and Einsatzgruppe D to the 11th Army.

The Einsatzgruppen were not standardized in manpower or equipment. In size they were battalion equivalents the largest Einsatzgruppe being Einsatzgruppe A in the North with 990 assigned personnel 151while Einsatzgruppe D was the smallest and had only 550 troops assigned. 152 These units had SS, SD or Police commanders. Though these units were not large, they also had the support of nine Ordungspolizei battalions, which were initially assigned to the invasion forces to supplement the operations of the Einsatzgruppen153

The police contingent would grow to be a massive force. By 1943, these Ordnungspolizei battalions would be grouped into regiments and number about 180,000 men assisted by 301,000 local non-German auxiliaries. 154 These units acted in concert with nine Army Security Divisions which handled rear area security. 155

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Himmler was so secretive that he initially did not reveal the intent and planned use of their units to the Einsatzgruppen commanders. Instead he spoke to them of a “heavy task…to “secure and pacify” the Russian area using Sicherheitspolizei and SD methods.” 156 Understanding the effect of these operations, Himmler would state that “in many cases it is considerably easier to lead a company in battle than to command a company responsible to…carry out executions, to deport people…to be always consistent, always uncompromising-that is in many cases far, far harder.” 157

The actions of these units are well documented; the Einsatzgruppen, Police, Army and locally recruited Schutzmannschaft battalions 158 ruthlessly exterminated Jews and others in the operational area. No sooner had an Einsatzgruppe unit entered a city, a “deadly stranglehold” would grip the “Jewish inhabitants claiming thousands and thousands of victims day by day and hour by hour.” 159 

Non-Jewish Russians were encouraged to conduct programs which Heydrich noted “had to be encouraged.” 160 An Einsatzgruppen D report numbered 153 noted: “During period covered by this report 3,176 Jews, 85 Partisans, 12 looters, 122 Communist functionaries shot. Total 79,276.” 161   By the spring of 1942 Einsatzgruppe A had claimed “more than 270,000 victims, the overwhelming majority of whom were Jewish.” 162 The total killed for all groups by early 1942 was 518,388 people, mostly Jews. 163 Germany’s Romanian ally acted against Jews in their operational areas as well. In Odessa, “on 23 October 1941 19,000 Jews were shot near the harbor… probably 200,000 Jews perished either at Romanian hands or after being turned over by the Romanians to the Germans.” 164

To further cloud the ethics and morality, the operations against Jews were often called anti-partisan operations. Himmler referred to Einsatzgruppen as “anti-Partisan formations” 165 while Wehrmacht Security divisions cooperating with the SS “murdered countless Soviet civilians and burned Russian settlements to the ground under the pretext of subduing partisan resistance.” 166 The attitude by 1941-1942 was that “all Jews are partisans and all partisans are Jews.” From 1943, all armed resistance was “banditry” and all Jews irrespective of circumstances were treated as “bandits.”” 167

Walter_von_Reichenau

Walter von Reichenau

General Von Reichenau issued an order in which he stated: 

“The soldier in the Eastern territories is not merely a fighter according to the art of war but also a bearer of a ruthless national ideology and the avenger of the bestialities which had been inflicted upon German and racially related nations. Therefore the soldier must have full understanding for the necessity of a severe but just revenge on subhuman Jewry.” 168

Likewise the distinguished Panzer commander General Herman Hoth issued his own order of 17 November 1941 urging his troops to exact revenge on the Jews and Communists:

“Every trace of active or passive resistance or of any kind of machinations by the Bolshevik – Jewish agitators are [sic] to be immediately and pitilessly rooted out. The necessity of severe measures against elements foreign to people and kind must be understood precisely by the soldiers. These circles are the spiritual pillars of Bolshevism, the tablebearers [priests] of its murder organization, the helpers of the partisans. It consists of the same Jewish class of people which have done so much to harm our Fatherland and by its hostile activity…and anti-culture, which promotes anti-German currents in the whole world and which wants to be the bearer of revenge. Their annihilation is a law of self-preservation. Any soldier criticizing these measures has no memory of the former traitorous activity lasting for years carried on among our own people by Jewish-Marxist elements.” 169

 Piaśnica_digging_of_the_graves

Jews digging their own graves

The commander of the Wehrmacht’s 221st Security Division endeavored to persuade his “subordinate units that the Jews were carriers of Bolshevik contamination and, therefore, the ultimate source of any sabotage or difficulty the division faced.” 170 The extermination of the Jews and partisan war were closely intertwined with the Reich’s economic policies designed to exploit the natural resources of the Russia. This included the “hunger plan” which German authorities seemed to imagine that “millionfold starvation could be induced by requisitioning off all available grain and “shutting off” the cities.” 171

einsatzgruppen-brutal-germans-nazi-death-squads1

Einsatzgruppe men and Ordungspolizei above and below in action

“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.” Timothy Snyder

Einsatzgruppe_A

The Wehrmacht’s complicity in these measures is demonstrated in the order drafted by Warlimont and signed by Keitel on 13 May 1941. That order, the “Decree on Exercising Military Jurisdiction in the Area of Barbarossa and Special Measures by the Troops” made it clear that international conventions regarding the treatment of civilians would not be observed in the Soviet Union. The order, relying on the historic precedent of German military law in regard to partisan activity stated

I “Treatment of crimes committed by enemy civilians”

“1. Until further order the military courts and the courts martial will not be competent for crimes committed by enemy civilians.”

2. Francs-tireurs will be liquidated ruthlessly by the troops in combat or while fleeing. “

3. Also all other attacks by enemy civilians against the armed forces, its members, andauxiliaries will be suppressed on the spot by the troops with the most rigorous methods until the assailants are finished (niederkaempfen)”

4. Where such measures were not taken or at least were not possible, persons suspected of the act will be brought before an officer at once. This officer will decide whether they are to be shot. Against localities from which troops have been attacked in or treacherous manner, collective coercive measures be applied immediately upon the order of an officer of the rank of at least battalion etc., commander, if the circumstances do not permit a quick identification of individual perpetrators.”

II. “Treatment of crimes committed against inhabitants by members of the Wehrmacht and its auxiliaries”

1. With regard to offenses committed against enemy civilians by members of the Wehrmacht or by its auxiliaries prosecution is not obligatory, even where the deed is at the same time a military crime or misdemeanor….” 172

Hitler was quite clear in his intent when he told General Halder that in 1941 that he “intended to level Moscow and Leningrad, to make them uninhabitable, so there would be no need to feed their populations during the winter.” 173Economic officials held life and death power over villages. Those that met agricultural quotas were “likely to be spared annihilation and evacuation…the culmination of this process, during 1943, would be the widespread creation of “dead zones.””174All told during the campaign against the Soviet Union the Germans killed nearly 1.5 million Russian Jews. 175

ww2 mizocz1

By 1942, over two million Soviet POW’s had been killed. 600,000 shot outright, 140,000 by the Einsatzkommandos. 176Eventually about 3.3 million Soviet POWs died in German captivity through starvation, disease and exposure, 177are included in a total of over 10 million Red Army Combat deaths. 178 The distinguished German historian Karl Dietrich Bracher wrote, “The reality and irreality of the National Socialism were given their most terrible expression in the extermination of the Jews.” 179

arthur nebe

Arthur Nebe, from Jew killer to anti-Hitler plotter

Himmler and others continued to use euphemistic language to describe their efforts talking in terms of “Jewish resettlement.” 180 Terms such as special actions, special treatment, execution activity, cleansing and resettlement were used in place of the word murder. 181At the same time these operations led to problems in the ranks, one SS trooper observed: “deterioration in morale among his own men who had to be issued increasing rations of vodka to carry out their killing orders.” 182

Even commanders of the Einsatzgruppe were affected. Arthur Nebe would say “I have looked after so many criminals and now I have become one myself.” Nebe became an active participant in the July 20th plot against Hitler 183and a fellow conspirator would describe him as a “shadow of his former self, nerves on edge and depressed.” 184 Erich Bach-Zelewski, who led the SS anti- partisan operations, would suffer a nervous breakdown which included “hallucinations connected to the shootings of Jews” which hospitalized him in 1942. 185 Himmler would state in his Posen speech given in October 1943 that “to have gone through” the elimination of the Jews had “and remained decent, that has made us tough. This is an unwritten, never to be written, glorious page in our history.” 186

While while the Einsatzgruppen, Ordungspolizei battalions, the Wehrmacht Security Divisions, and locally recruited forces continued their Jew Hunts, another even more ghastly plan was being launched against the Jews in Nazi occupied territory. The Endlösung of the Jewish Problem had been set in motion.

To be continued…

Notes

119 Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.24

120 Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett The Nemesis of Power p.511

121 Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel. P.132

122 Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1995 p.31

123 Trevor-Roper, H.R. Hitler’s Table Talk 1941-1944 with an introduction by Gerhard L Weinberg, Translated byNorman Cameron and R.H. Stevens, Enigma Books, New York, NY 2000. Originally published in Great Britain by Weidenfeld & Nicholoson, London 1953 p.6

124 Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.10 The campaign against the Soviet Union was to be much more openlyideological as compared to the campaign in Poland.

125 Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.150 126 Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.151

125 Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.150 126 Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.151

127 Ibid. Reitlinger, The SS p.175

128 Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 354

129 Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 354 Again another deception.

130 Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.153

131 Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.153

132 Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters pp. 158-159

133 Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed p.56

134 Ibid. Davidowicz. The War Against the Jews p.123

135 Ferguson, Niall. The War of the Worlds: Twentieth Century Conflict and the Descent of the West. The Penguin Press, New York, 2006 p.442

136 Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. Nemesis of Power p.513

137 Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel. P.135

138 Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. Nemesis of Power p.513

139 Hebert, Valerie Genevieve, Hitler’s Generals on Trial: The Last War Crimes Tribunal at Nuremberg University of Kansas Press, Lawrence Kansas 2010 pp.77-78

140 Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett Nemesis of Power p.513 and footnote. He cites the three Army Group commanders, Leeb, Rundstedt and Bock. However Von Rundstedt’s biographer notes that “no evidence exists as to what VonRundstedt’s to this was at the time.” Messenger, Charles, The Last Prussian: A Biography of Field Marshal Gerd Von Rundstedt 1875-1953 Brassey’s (UK) London England 1991. p.134

141 Ibid. Reitlinger, The SS p.176

142 Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.33

143 Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.162

144 Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Keitel p.136

145 Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Keitel pp.136-137

146 Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed p.56

147 Ibid. Blood. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.52

148 Ibid. Reitlinger The SS p. 177

149 Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East p.54

150 Ibid. Reitlinger The SS p. 177

151 Ibid. Rhodes Masters of Death pp.12-13

152 Ibid. Westermann. Hitler’s Police Battalions p.167 153 Ibid. Westermann. Hitler’s Police Battalions p.164 154 Ibid. Blood Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.141

155 Ibid. Shepherd Wild War in the East p.48. Shepherd notes the deficiencies of these units in terms of organization, manpower and equipment which he calls “far short of the yardstick of military excellence with which the Wehrmacht is so widely associated

156 Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 356 Only one of the Einsatzgruppen commanding officers was a

volunteer, Arthur Nebe who was involved in the conspiracy to kill Hitler. It is believed by many that Nebe volunteered to earn the clasp to the Iron Cross to curry favor with Heydrich and that initially “Nebe certainly did not know that “employment in the east” was synonymous with the greatest mass murder in history.

157 Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.422

158 Ibid. Blood Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.55

159 Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 360 160 Ibid. Friedlander TheYears of Extermination p.207 161 Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 360 162 Ibid. Tooze The Wages of Destruction p.481

163 Ibid. Ferguson. The War of the World p.446

164 Di Nardo, Richard L. Germany and the Axis Powers: From Coalition to Collapse. University Press of Kansas,Lawrence, KS. 2005 p.133 The Hungarians would also engage in ant-Jewish operations. Only the Italian army would not conduct operations against the Jews.

165 Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 369

166 Ibid. Wette The Wehrmacht p.127

167 Ibid. Blood. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.117

168 Ibid. Hebert p.94

169 Ibid. Hebert pp.94-95

170 Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East pp.90-91

171 Ibid. Tooze The Wages of Destruction p.481

172 Ibid, Hebert p.86

173 Ibid. Magargee. War of Annihilation p.64

174 Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East pp.127-128

175 Ibid. Davidowicz The War Against the Jews from the table on page 403. This included 228,000 from the Baltic republics (90%) 245,000 from White Russia (65%) 900,000 from the Ukraine (60%) and 107,000 from Russia proper

(11%)

176 Ibid. Rhodes. Masters of Death p.241

177 Ibid. Glantz and House When Titans Clashed p.57

178 Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed table on p.292

179 Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.431

180 Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.430

181 Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 367

182 Ibid. Rhodes. Masters of Death p.225

183 Ibid. Rhodes Masters of Death p.225

184 Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 363 185 Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 363 186 Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorshipp.423

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A Day at Temple Israel: Passover and the Holocaust

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I had the distinct honor today of being a guest speaker at the end of the final Passover service for Norfolk’s Temple Israel Synagogue. They are a Conservative synagogue that is quite active in the community here. I met their Rabbi, Michael Panitz last year at a Navy Exchange Command Diversity Celebration. In the months following we have become friends and as I remain in the area after I retire from the military hopefully become close colleagues in the fight for religious rights as intended by the Bill of Rights.

I spoke on the topic of Bearing Witness in an age where the witnesses to the Holocaust are passing away and Holocaust Denial and anti-Semitism are rising, with a commensurate increase in anti-Semitic and racial base. Even today as we were finishing the service in Norfolk a synagogue in The area of San Diego came under attack by a gunman armed with an AR type assault rifle. He killed one and wounded three worshippers before surrendering to the police. In the hours before his attack the terrorist had published an anti-Jewish and anti-immigrant manifesto.

Truthfully I was worried about something like that happening in Norfolk today, thankfully nothing like that happened, the Norfolk Police had officers stationed at both entrances. I don’t know if anyone in the local area was thinking about or planning anything, but you never know. I was just grateful that nothing happened here.

I have to say that today was most interesting. It was the first time I have attended a Jewish Passover service and despite the fact that I couldn’t understand half or more of the service because it was in Hebrew, I still found it fascinating. In it I could see where Some of or Catholic and other liturgical Christian traditions come from, and I could not help but to reverence the Scrolls of the Talmud as they were processed down the aisles of the sanctuary and taken back to the Tabernacle; the psalms and songs led by the Cantor, scripture readings and prayers, including for the prayers for our ancestors who have died was for me fascinating. Of course through my study of liturgy I knew this, but for the first time to see it was very humbling. As a Christian I could see the debt that we owe to our Jewish brothers and sisters.

What I talked about was received well, many of the congregation members came up,to me afterwards to thank me and tell me how much they learned and how it affected them. Likewise, they encouraged me to keep teaching, writing, and making pilgrimage to the sites that I have not yet visited.

We live in very dangerous times. We have to heed the words of Yehuda Bauer:

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

As I mentioned last night this will be part of my post military mission, to teach, to write, and to take people to these places where millions were murdered by the Nazis and their allies.

As Ellie Wiesel noted: “For the dead and the living we must bear witness.”

I must bear witness.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Turning People into Questions or Problems: the Root Of Genocide

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In the morning I will be speaking on the last day of Passover at Norfolk’s Temple Israel on bearing witness to the Holocaust even as its last survivors pass away from their earthly journey. Since it is late and I have to be up early, for a Saturday, I will leave you with this thought from the late Christopher Hitchens:

“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.”

President Trump repeatedly dehumanizes minority groups, immigrants, both legal and undocumented, LGBTQ people, religious minorities (including liberal Jewish) and women. Right wing pundits, politicians, and preachers often do the same, and the bulk of the Republican Party, mostly made up of White Evangelical Christians says nothing. While most do not readily admit their prejudice, though some, including members of Congress openly support White Nationalist policies and groups. Little or no condemnation is ever made by them against killings and mass murder, let us call it Domestic Terrorism. In return such groups are growing and being emboldened and the President and his compatriots spin lies as history.

How does one prevent yet another genocide from happening? I think that there is some wisdom in the answer a German University Colleague of Milton Mayer said when Mayer was questioning him about the subject.

In his book They Thought they Were Free Mayer wrote of his conversation with that professor:

“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.

“Your ‘little men,’ your Nazi friends, were not against National Socialism in principle. Men like me, who were, are the greater offenders, not because we knew better (that would be too much to say) but because we sensed better. Pastor Niemöller spoke for the thousands and thousands of men like me when he spoke (too modestly of himself) and said that, when the Nazis attacked the Communists, he was a little uneasy, but, after all, he was not a Communist, and so he did nothing; and then they attacked the Socialists, and he was a little uneasier, but, still, he was not a Socialist, and he did nothing; and then the schools, the press, the Jews, and so on, and he was always uneasier, but still he did nothing. And then they attacked the Church, and he was a Churchman, and he did something—but then it was too late.”

So I leave you with that for the night,

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Bearing Witness: My Mission

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The words on the polished stone in the hall of remembrance at the U.S. Holocaust Museum are as much as a somber warning as a command:

Only Guard Yourself and Guard Your Soul Carefully, Lest You Forget the Things Your Eyes Saw, Lest These Things Depart Your Heart All the Days Of Your Life, and You Shall Make Them Known to Your Children and to Your Children’s Children.

Last May I visited the United States Holocaust Museum. Since I study the Weimar and Nazi period, the Holocaust and the war crimes trials this was important. While in Germany I have been to the Dachau, Buchenwald, Flossenburg, and Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camps, the T4 Euthanasia Program Center at Hadamar, the Palace Of Justice in Nuremberg where the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials (as well as the Nazi era Nuremberg laws) were prosecuted, the Wannsee House where the Final Solution was implemented, the Memorials to the German Resistance in Berlin, the Sophie Scholl White Rose Museum, and the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism; this visit, in the United States was important. I will be continuing to visit Holocaust sites in Germany when I go there this Fall, but last year I finally was able to stake out the time to visit the U.S. Holocaust Museum.

The museum is important and despite having been to places shown in it and knowing more about the Nazi regime and the Holocaust than the vast majority of Americans, I found myself overwhelmed at times as I walked slowly through the exhibits. Many I recognized, knew about, or had been to, but that did not make them any less emotionally difficult to see. But there were others that drove home why this museum is so important in our day and time.

I think that the one that hit me the hardest was the pictorial Tower of Faces from the Polish shtetl of Ejszyszki. That town was home to some 4,000 Jews and the pictures had been taken over the preceding decade by local photographers. They were pictures of everyday family and community life; men, women, children at work, at play, at rest. Worshipping, working, studying, the old and the young, the well off and the poor, the religious and those not as religious at all phase of life captured in photos for eternity. For 3500 of them their lives ended on September 21st 1941 when the Nazis rounded up the Jews at their Synagogues on the eve of Yom Kippur and executed them by firing squad in mass graves at the town’s Christian and Jewish cemeteries. Only 29 of those who survived that day lived through the war. That Jewish community had existed for 900 years and was exterminated in a matter of hours.

I looked at those pictures and I could not get over all of those innocent lives cut short. Each face was the picture of an individual or individuals, families, friends, schoolmates. They were not abstract numbers or statistics but real flesh and blood people like you and me. They had hopes and dreams, but because they were Jews they were exterminated, like nearly six million other Jews who also were real people with hopes and dreams that would be destroyed by the Nazi racial war. Of course the Nazis targeted others, but none with the relentless anti-Semitic racial hatred propagated by Nazi ideology. Thus they condoned and executed by people who would have ordinarily have been considered upstanding and moral citizens. The late Christopher Hitchens wrote:

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

But then this is not abnormal as the great American theologian and philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr wrote: “Ultimately evil is done not so much by evil people, but by good people who do not know themselves and who do not probe deeply.”

The problem is that what happened during the Holocaust and to the people of the shtetl of Ejszyszki is not just an aberration, it is all too much a part of human nature; even that of people who call themselves Christians like those who exterminated the Jewish people of Ejszyszki. It is not simply an artifact of history that we can ignore. It can happen again and if we are not careful it will happen again. The spirit of the ideology that allowed normal law abiding people to massacre millions of people, either up close and personal like at Ejszyszki or in death factories like Soribor, Treblinka, Belzec, and Auschwitz is still alive today in Russia, Europe, and even in the United States. Of course it exists elsewhere in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. But I think that it is most frightening when it exists in the nations which claim to be inheritors of Christian civilization or the enlightenment, especially among the people who claim the words of the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” 

Honesty when I see the President of the United States and his most devoted followers follow the script of the Nazis and other race supremacists I get concerned and I remember the words of historian Yehuda Bauer:

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

As for people who might be neighbors, coworkers or even friends today who for whatever reason either support, dismiss, or ignore the peril of the racial, ideological, and religious animus of the modern authoritarians and anti-Semites I can only recall the words of Yale historian Dr. Timothy Snyder who 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.”

Today, more than at any time in his Presidency, I truly believe that under President Trump that the United States is just a Reichstag Fire moment the usurpation Of the Constitution and the beginning of a dictatorship. I believe that, the Muller Investigation and the Democratic Party House Majority notwithstanding, we entering a phase of history when not only Trump supporters, but even some Trump opponents would do nothing in a crisis and either become willing participants in tyranny, bystanders to it or victims of it. As I walked through the museum and remembered all of my visits to Holocaust and other sites in Germany I realized again that it can happen again.

When I finished with most of my visit I went to the Hall of Remembrance and sat for a long time in silence, a silence facing the words on that stone, and that made me realize again just how easy it would be to happen again, and the choices that all of us must make if it is not to happen again in our time.

I’ll leave you with the warning of Yehuda Bauer:

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

I cannot be a bystander. This Saturday I will be speaking on the topic of bearing witness to the Holocaust as the last witnesses pass away and the Holocaust denial industry ramps up and gains supporters in the high reaches of governments around the world. It is entitled, Lest We Forget: Walk, Remember, and Bear Witness at Temple Israel in Norfolk. The premise is that In order to bear witness today the those who want to prevent genocide today need to study it, and then go to the places hallowed by the blood of the victims in order to internalize it and speak for those whose voices cry out from the grave, “never again!”

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Good Friday and the Men Who Wash their Hands Of Responsible for Failing to uphold the Law.

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Today is Good Friday and so unless something really unusual and earth shattering occurs I am going to take the Easter weekend to do some reflection, including on some spiritual topics. In light of that I am simply going to post three of my older fictional accounts of that weekend today, tomorrow and Sunday while I spend most of my time preparing for a talk at Temple Israel in Norfolk next week about bearing witness to the Holocaust even as the last survivors and witnesses pass from their journey on this earth.

There are a number of other articles in the series that cover all of Holy Week. If you want to read them those stories are on the site,

As a genre this series falls in the realm of historical fiction, which means that while they may be set in a historical event, that they are fiction. Likewise, I admit that they and the main character are more a reflection of me, and my journey, and my over-active imagination, than my cursory study of Roman and New Testament History. Likewise, I reject any claim that the Jewish people as a whole were at fault in the death of Jesus the Nazarene. Of the people directly involved on that weekend, there was much blame to be passed around, but to ascribe the ultimate blame to the Jews and justify the persecution of Jewish people two millennia after that weekend is despicable. To label them as “Christ Killers” is only something a Nazi or Christian version of the Taliban would do. So as you read this and the next few articles please keep that in mind. Likewise, keep in mind that political and religious leaders like Herod, Pilate, Caiaphas, soldiers like Longinus and his men, and traitors like Judas are no different than people of any age, people like you and me. That is why whether you are a Christian or not, the narrative of Easter is profoundly human, and points to more things about humanity that we would rather ignore, than to the more positive attributes of humanity. That is why, despite the message of Easter, we have to remember the words of the Jewish Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer:

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

Honestly, that is also the lesson of Good Friday and Easter, regardless of whether you believe or don’t. So if you take the time to read the Passion narrative, remember that we are all possible victims, perpetrators, or bystanders. That being said, have a nice weekend, and if you do it, have a nice Easter. If you don’t do Easter, I wish you well. If you are Jewish have a nice Passover, or if you are something else or an unbeliever, just have a nice weekend.

But please take the time to ponder, whether on Good Friday or in Nazi Germany, would you be a victim, perpetrator, or bystander? Even if the story of Good Friday and Easter is nothing more than a myth there are human lessons to be learned, even for a President, an Attorney General, and their hosts of propagandists and supporters who turn their eyes from injustice and seek vengeance on the innocent.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Longinus had finally decided to try to get a bit of rest. After his rather morose meeting with Flavius and Decius he and Decius went back to check on the preparations for the executions scheduled for the next day. Quentin his Tesserarius had been working with the squad chosen to to conduct the actual crucifixions of the prisoners, Bar-Abbas the insurgent as well as the common criminals and murderers Dismas and Gestas who he had met in the hell hole of a jail in the dungeon of Fortress Antonia after Pilate had assigned him the task of conducting the executions.

Longinus was certain of his unit’s ability to carry out the mission, though he would have rather had a unit from Italy than his unit of Syrian and Samaritan troops. There was one positive aspect, his Samaritans and Syrians had no love for the Jews and would have no qualms whatsoever in disposing of the criminals.

He thought for a moment about the prisoners. That Bar-Abbas fellow, he would be glad that he or any other Roman would have to deal with him again once the crucifixion was over. As for the common criminals he felt that everyone would be better off with Gestus dead although he hoped that Pilate might take pity on the repentant thief named Dismas. However, despite his feelings he also knew that the law was the law and repentant or not that Dismas was guilty of the crimes and the sentence was just. As he had realized earlier in the day while talking with Flavius it was important not to become emotionally involved with the locals, especially prisoners. Maintaining an emotional distance ensured that he would not flinch in times when ice rather than blood needed to flow through one’s veins. He was proud that he could do this but envied the humanity that his comrade and friend Flavius still maintained in spite of everything.

He was just about to prepare for bed when a messenger from Pilate knocked on his door. It was late, too late and Longinus wondered just what was going on.

“Come.” He said, the weariness in his voice obvious in the way he answered.

The messenger, a relatively young Italian soldier assigned to Pilate’s bodyguard entered, came to attention and saluted.

Longinus looked at the young man, like him far from home and asked “what am I needed for now?”

“Centurion, the Governor has requested your presence” the soldier replied.

“May I ask what for?” A now increasingly irritated Longinus asked.

“Sir, I do not have the details but it is a pressing matter regarding the Jews and that Galilean preacher.” The young man was obviously uncomfortable in having to request a career officer like Longinus, a veteran of real battles and campaigns appear before Pilate for what was not much more than a religious dispute among an occupied people.

“Pressing matter?” Asked Longinus.

“Yes Centurion. I was told that it was urgent that you come to Governor Pilate now and alert your unit as at least some of your men may be needed if things get out of hand.”

“Can you please tell me just what is going on?” Longinus asked as he pulled his armored breastplate over his shoulders.

“I’m sorry Centurion, I have no more information. You are to report to the Governor within the half hour. The Governor wants your unit ready within the hour.” When he finished he came to attention, saluted and exited the room.

Longinus hated how leaders sent young men to be their messengers and would not give them all of the relevant information.

He then sat back down in his chair where he had been sitting and discussing the situation with Flavius and Decius. He wondered to himself what could be so pressing that Pilate needed him now.

After briefing Decius and Quentin, instructing them to wake the men and be ready for action Longinus took a squad and went to Pilate’s headquarters. When he arrived Pilate greeted him.

“Centurion, I hate to have bothered you at this hour in light of how busy you and your men will be in the morning but a situation has arisen.” Longinus looked around the room and then heard some commotion on the area called “the Pavement.

“What is happening my Lord?”

“Longinus, these Jews have brought that Jesus fellow here and are accusing him of fomenting a rebellion against the Emperor.”

“A rebellion sir?”

“That is what they say Centurion. They claim that one of his closest associates had turned him in and after a trial of their own that they found him guilty of claiming to be a king and God that will overthrow the Emperor.” Pilate could not hide his discomfort.

“Do you actually believe them sir? After all we had heard this morning that this Judas Iscariot fellow had betrayed him for 30 pieces of silver.”

“I know Centurion, I know.” Pilate looked at Longinus then back out at the crowd gathered outside in the dark. He was afraid and Longinus could sense that fear, fear that if he made the wrong move that a real rebellion could break out and that Pilate as the Governor would take the blame and bear the punishment and wrath of Caesar.

“Centurion, I tried to placate these people be questioning this Jesus fellow myself.” Pilate paused. “I must say that he is a rather unusual man and truthfully I could not find anything that under Roman law that I could find him guilty of doing. Not a thing Centurion, nothing but their leaders kept pressing me.” Pilate’s gaze seemed to be almost pleading with Longinus to help him escape this decision. Longinus knew at that moment that his day was about to get worse. Pilate continued “It seems to be a religious squabble of some kind so in order to deal with it and to try to keep us out of it I sent Jesus to Herod since Herod is the ruler of Galilee.”

“So Herod will certainly deal with the situation, will he not Governor?”

“Centurion, I thought that too. I thought that the corpulent bastard Herod would deal with it but I just got word that Herod too could find no crime. The Jewish leaders and of their Temple Police are supposedly bringing him back to me to render judgment. They are leaving it to me.”

“Judgment for what?”

“Sedition, treason, blasphemy, proclaiming himself a king.” Pilate paused, his face flushed. “My God I’m surprised that they haven’t accused the man of fathering the High Priest’s daughter.” The sarcasm and bitterness was evident in his voice.

“So what do you intend to do.”

“I intend to try to get us out of this with as little trouble or guilt as possible. When they return him to me I will ask a few more questions and set him free as is my prerogative, certainly they wouldn’t want to release a real murderer like Bar-Abbas back into society, I do give them more credit than to stoop that low.”

“I do hope that you are right governor, but from what I understand it seems that they are intent on ridding themselves of the fellow once and for all. I think that their leaders see the Galilean as more of a threat than a man like Bar-Abbas.”

Pilate said nothing and during the silence Longinus’s troops under the direction of Decius entered the perimeter of the court adding an additional security cordon as the crowd grew and got more boisterous. As they took up position the Temple Police and members of the High Priest’s entourage approached the court with the Galilean in custody. Quentin with four soldiers met them and took custody of the obviously tired and already abused man. They delivered Jesus to Pilate and stood back. Longinus watched as it happened. As he did so Flavius entered the room with his servant. The servant appeared unsteady and full of emotion when he saw the man who had healed him two years before. Flavius stood by his face not betraying any feelings except deep-seated rage that was boiling as he saw this travesty of justice take place.

Pilate attempted every trick in the book to garner a way to save the life of the man standing before him. He asked him questions and Jesus clothed in a purple robe that Herod had mockingly placed upon him said nothing. Finally in desperation Pilate asked Jesus if he was a king. The answer both fascinated and terrified Pilate and caused him to wish that he had never come to the city. As he deliberated earlier and debated the members of the Sanhedrin his wife again urged him to “have nothing to do with that innocent man.”

But the answer of Jesus to the question of his kingship troubled Pilate. Had he thought the man insane he would have scourged him, declared him mad and been done with the affair.

“My kingdom is not of this world, if it were my followers would be fighting to ensue that you did not hand me over to the Jewish leaders.” Jesus looked into Pilate’s eyes, the look sent a chill through Pilate’s soul and so he restated the question “so you are a king?”

Jesus replied solemnly “You say I am a king. I was born for this and it is why I came to this world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to me.”

Pilate appeared stunned and both Longinus and Flavius knew that Pilate, the consummate politician and man of intrigue was beaten. They listened as Pilate asked “what is truth?” The question was one of a man who had long ago sold his soul to gain the world, it was the question of a deeply cynical man who had long determined that truth was only in the eye of the beholder and to be used as needed to acquire power. At the same time they could see a touch of genuineness in the question as Pilate, desperate for an answer that would enable him to please everyone and spare the life of the man before him wrestled with the question of truth for the first time in years.

They watched as Pilate attempted to bargain for the life of Jesus only to be shouted down by the increasingly riotous crowd who demanded that Bar-Abbas be released. Again attempting to assuage the mob he had Jesus scourged with a barbed whip. The soldier who did that brutal work was a Syrian, big and burley without a trace of feeling in his eyes or face. The servant of Flavius begged him to intervene but Flavius now knew that the things happening to Jesus could no longer be influenced by sentimentality and stories of the goodness of Jesus. He had seen this type of Justice before, and though he despised it, he earnestly hoped that it would be enough to deliver Jesus.

After the scourging, soldiers assigned to Longinus jammed a crown of thorns down on the blood covered Jesus and placed the purple cloak over him. Jesus’s body trembled. Pilate again approached the mob and tried to decline the odious responsibility thrust into his hands. The mob led by the Chief Priests and joined by man of their rivals, the Pharisees cried out for Jesus to be crucified.

They heard Pilate plead with Jesus, again noting that he had power over the life and death of Jesus to which Jesus replied that Pilate “had no power over him that had not been given by God.” Finally he pleaded with the Jews one more time to take Bar-Abbas for execution and to spare the Galilean. The leaders shouted him down again and cried out that Pilate would be “a traitor to Caesar” if he let a man who claimed to be a king live.

Defeated By the mob and by his own weakness of character Pilate asked for a ceremonial washing basin full of water. When it came in the hands of a court member he placed his hands in it and proclaimed “I am innocent of this man’s blood.” He then ordered the soldiers to take Jesus to be crucified even as the prisoners Dismas and Gestus were led from the dungeon for execution and a profoundly perplexed Bar-Abbas was released by the jailer.

Longinus looked at Flavius and whispered to him “wash my hands of his blood? My God, he knows that he is as guilty as them.” Flavius looked on and simply said, “I know my friend, we all are.”

The small cohort of soldiers assigned to the crucifixion detail were commanded by Quentin, a man who had fought many battles, and like Longinus and Flavius felt that these executions of helpless prisoners were unworthy of soldiers like himself. The soldiers of Flavius’s unit had responsibility for helping to clear a way down the narrow street called by the Romans Via Delarosa, or The street of suffering. It was the street that all the condemned travelled to the hill of execution so fittingly called the place of the Skull. Longinus had seen others walk this path but in the past he had been able to shield his person from their suffering, but today was different.

Longinus’s own execution squad led by Quentin led Jesus and the others along, forcing them to carry their crosses. About halfway down the street Jesus collapsed under the weight if his cross and grabbed a bystander, a man from Cyrene to carry the cross while the soldiers prodded the bloody body of Jesus down the street and out of the city to the place of execution. People jeered at the condemned as they did at very execution as for most this was no different than any other crucifixion and most of those present knew little about any of the condemned men and even those that were familiar with Jesus probably did not recognize the bloody man stumbling down the street. Of course there were others present who did know Jesus and watched in horror as their friend, teacher and for one woman her son struggled to the execution site. Longinus wondered about his own elderly mother and thought of her as he saw the mother of Jesus. He quickly tried to chase her image from his mind, he needed to be strong and hard if he was to keep his objectivity and conduct the mission as distasteful as he found it.

When the macabre parade arrived at the hill, the prisoners were stripped, placed on the crosses and nailed to them. Their screams as Quentin hammered the large iron nails home through their already abused flesh echoed for all to hear. Thankfully Quentin knew what he was doing and this part of the execution process happened quickly. Then the crosses were raised, but just before this a messenger from Pilate arrived with the placards that denoted the charges. He handed them to Longinus who noted what was written on the one for Jesus. It said “The King of the Jews.”

The placards were placed and with a thud the crosses were placed in the holes on the hill. The suffering of the prisoners was great, the crowds jeered and mocked them while those that loved them stood at a distance. Soldiers stood guard to ensure that no one interfered with them in any way. There was a bit of banter between the real criminals one of whom, the unpleasant one named Gestus joined in the mocking of Jesus only to be put in his place by the other one named Dismas.

Longinus, Flavius, Decius and a few other officers watched as their soldiers from the crucifixion detail divided the paltry worldly possession of the men between themselves. The men argued over a one piece tunic worn by Jesus, Not wanting to destroy it they cast lots for it. A trooper from Tyre won the tunic. Longinus and Flavius looked at each other and realized how little most of their men earned and neither begrudged the men the few items that they gathered from the men being executed.

The skies which had began the day with bright sunshine now became dark and foreboding. Lightening appeared in the distance and occasionally Jesus would address his mother or one man, Flavius believed him to be a disciple who stood by the cross. Jesus even promised the Dismas character that “he would be with him in paradise” and told others, Longinus thought the soldiers but he wasn’t sure “forgive them they know not what they do.” As it approached the ninth hour Jesus cried out in Aramaic “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me!”

A cold rain began to fall.

Quentin approached him with a sponge on a pole which was soaked in a sour wine. It touched Jesus’s lips and Jesus said “Father into your hands I commit my spirit” and then “it is finished.”

With that last dying remark the head of Jesus fell to his chest and his body, bloody and mangled hung limp. As the men looked on the ground began to tremble and as the ground shook and the officers looked about amid the gloom and confusion as the onlookers took flight Longinus exclaimed “surely this man was the son of God.” Flavius looked at his fellow Centurion in astonishment. Longinus, the man who had closed his heart in a fortress was echoing what he had believed since Jesus had healed his servant, the young man who was more than a servant to him.

As the crowds dispersed Longinus received the message that the executions had to be concluded before the Jews began their Passover. With that he sent Quentin to break the legs of the prisoners to hasten their deaths. When Quentin reached Jesus he called for Longinus.

“Centurion, I believe that this man is already dead. Do you still want me to break his legs?”

Longinus looked up at the bloody corpse and then at his subordinate and said “no I must do this myself.” He had a soldier bring him his lance, a ceremonial lance that denoted his seniority as the senior Centurion in the Legion. He looked at the lance and plunged it into the side of Jesus into his heart. Jesus did not move but from the wound blood mixed with what looked like water poured out of the wound and down his side.

“Quentin, he is dead, you may take him down.” Other soldiers pulled down the dead bodies of the thieves. As they did this a man approached Longinus and Flavius.

“Gentlemen. I am Joseph, I am a member of the Sanhedrin. I have come to take responsibility for the body of Jesus of Nazareth.”

Longinus replied in a businesslike manner “by whose authority?” He had a hard time believing that a member of the Sanhedrin would claim this body.

With that Joseph produced a letter from Pilate. Longinus looked the letter over and handed it back to Joseph without comment. Joseph then motioned to several men with him to take the body as Longinus, Flavius and the others looked on. Longinus thought to himself that it was good that a man of some means and influence would at least take the time to give this innocent man a decent burial.

As Quentin took charge of the cleanup Longinus instructed Decius to prepare the troops to return to Fortress Antonia. Flavius instructed his optimo to do the same. The last thing that any of them wanted to be was on the streets when the Jews began their Passover, as always they decided that it was unwise to stir up any more animosity than was needed. Today was a near run thing with e demonstration outside Pilate’s headquarters and none of them wanted any more excitement this evening.

When the clean up was completed and the bodies removed Longinus and Flavius ordered their soldiers back to Fortress Antonia. When they arrived the Centurions went to Pilate to inform him that the mission was complete. Pilate was glad the ordeal was over but was obviously still disturbed by the events of the day. Longinus, now exhausted was glad to leave Pilate’s presence. He still loathed politicians and wondered if had Pilate been a soldier if he would have had the courage to tell the leaders of the Sanhedrin to “pound sand” and keep Jesus alive. But then he knew that had Pilate done something that only a diplomat could do, he kept the peace. Had he been in charge the man named Jesus might have lived but hundreds maybe even thousands of others might have died.

After he dismissed his soldiers he went to his room, doffed his gear and went to the tavern in the fortress. Flavius joined him about 15 minutes later. They sat at the table as the barkeeper brought them each an ale. They looked at each other and Flavius asked “What did you mean by surely this man was the son of God?”

Longinus shook his head. “My friend I do not really know.” He paused and took a drink from his cup. “Until today I simply figured that he was a good man, but after today, after what I witnessed I just don’t know.”

“If you ask me my friend I think that he must be a God, if not somehow connected to the greatest of Gods, the God of the Jews.”

“Perhaps Flavius you are right. All I know is that I can no longer see the world, the Empire or my life in the same light as I did just a week ago.”

Flavius nodded his understanding as Decius entered the tavern. The younger officer reported to his seniors. They acknowledged his entrance and Longinus asked the younger officer to sit with them.

“What do you know Decius?”

The younger officer spoke. “Sir, I do not know if you heard the latest about the man that betrayed Jesus.”

Longinus asked sarcastically “did they elect him High Priest?”

The younger man caught the sarcasm and replied “if only that we’re the case. He was found dead, hanging from a tree in the Potter’s Field.”

Flavius answered: “So the traitor couldn’t handle the consequences of his own act of duplicity?”

Longinus replied, “Evidently not, it serves the bastard right.” He took a drink from his cup and motioned for the barkeep to get Decius a cup of ale too. The three men continued to drink silently and wondered what else could happen…

Peace

Padre Steve+

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