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Genocide Does Not Happen In a Vacuum: The Ideological Background of the Einsatzgruppen and Other Mass Killers. Poland 1939 r l

babi yar

The Massacre at Babi Yar

Introduction 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Since I recently wrote about the invasion of Poland, the T4 Euthanasia Program, and the actions of the Einsatzgruppen in Poland, I thought that it would be a good thing to lay the foundations for the German campaign in the East which began in Poland on September 1st 1939.

As part of my academic work when I taught ethics at the Joint Forces Staff College a few years, I dealt with military ethics as related to the Just War Theory. In the class on jus post bellum or justice after war I dealt with the legal implications of participating in war crimes.

It is a serious subject and in the class I attempted  to make my students, all relatively senior officers from the United States and allied nations as uncomfortable as possible. I used a number of examples from the major war crimes trials at Nuremberg as well as the Generals Trial. I had some exceptionally good class over those years which motivated me me to go back and do some revisions to a number articles that I wrote in the past, beginning during my time working towards my Masters Degree in Military History, since then I have published a version of this before but I continue, between my other writing to make revisions and additions which I often post here.

As I went through previous notes and research I felt a tenseness and revulsion for the actions of those that ordered, committed or condoned these crimes; many of who were men who like me were professional career officers. I realize how easily it is for normal, rational, and even basically decent people to succumb to either participating in or turning a blind eye to crimes against others, even on a massive scale, in fact the bigger they are they seem easier to dismiss, because the victims cease be human, and simply a statistic. Sadly, Josef Stalin probably got human nature right when he said “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.” That comment causes great revulsion in my soul, but I have to admit it seems to be the way that many people deal with such great crimes.

September 29th 2020 was the 79th anniversary of the Babi Yar massacre. It was committed by members of the SS Einsatzgruppen C near Kiev shortly after the German Army captured that city. In total some 33,771 Jews were exterminated by the members of Sonderkommando 4b of Einsatzgruppen C as well as attached Ordungspolizei battalions. About 10,000 others, mainly Communist Officials and Gypsies were rounded up and killed in the same operation. The victims were stripped of all of their belongings taken to a ravine and shot. It was the second largest killing action by the various Einsatzgruppen in the war. It was committed by men who either believed that the people that they were killing were sub-human, or did not have the courage to stand up and say no.

These issues are still with us. Hannah Arendt made the comment that “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.” Likewise, Historian Gerhard Weinberg wrote:

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

These are uncomfortable subjects. We like to say that the Nazis were different than us or others. To some extent this is true, but the real truth is that most of the Christian Western European countries, and I include the United States have also committed gross crimes against humanity against peoples that we believed were less than human and not afforded human rights or protections. In the movie Judgement at Nuremberg Spencer Tracy makes a comment that should send chills through any of us. He spoke concerning one of the judges on trial, “Janning, to be sure, is a tragic figure. We believe he loathed the evil he did. But compassion for the present torture of his soul must not beget forgetfulness of the torture and the death of millions by the Government of which he was a part. Janning’s record and his fate illuminate the most shattering truth that has emerged from this trial: If he and all of the other defendants had been degraded perverts, if all of the leaders of the Third Reich had been sadistic monsters and maniacs, then these events would have no more moral significance than an earthquake, or any other natural catastrophe. But this trial has shown that under a national crisis, ordinary – even able and extraordinary – men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination….”

American Associate Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson spoke these words in his opening arguments during the Major War Crimes Trials at Nuremberg:

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

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

Babi Yar is just one example of how civilized people can get can commit great atrocities in the name of ideology and race, and it does not stand alone. The tragic fact is that it really doesn’t take much to condition people to go commit such crimes; just teach people from childhood that people of certain races or religions are less than human. Then subjugate them to incessant propaganda and then turn them loose using the pretext that they are killing terrorists or insurgents. But the more troubling question is about the adults in the room, the politicians, the career government officials and military officers who had once taken oaths to uphold the Constitution, and laws of their countries. Men who were not subjected to the incessant propaganda of a dictatorship until it arose in the middle or toward the end of their careers.

Beginning tonight I will be exploring the ideological as well as existing military doctrines that brought about Babi Yar and so many other atrocities committed by the Nazis during the campaigns in Poland and the Soviet Union. That is because Genocide and mass murder does not occur in a vacuum. It doesn’t just happen. There are pre-existing racial, ethnic and religious hatreds that often define how a country and culture view their enemies that can play into the domestic persecution of those people, and their actions during war, especially as to how the observe the Geneva and Hague Conventions, especially in terms of their treatment of civilians and non-combatants.

What happened at Babi Yar and the thousands of other massacres committed by the Nazi units, the Einsatzgruppen, Ordungspolizei, Waffen SS, the German Army of Heer, Luftwaffe Field Divisions, and locally recruited auxiliaries, is just one example of how civilized people can get can commit great atrocities in the name of ideology and race, and it does not stand alone. The tragic fact is that it really doesn’t take much to condition people to go commit such crimes; just teach people from childhood that people of certain races or religions are less than human. Then subjugate them to incessant propaganda and then turn them loose using the pretext that they are killing terrorists or insurgents.

The series of articles deal with the ideological as well as military reasons that brought about Babi Yar and so many other atrocities committed by the Nazis during the campaigns in Poland and the Soviet Union.

hitler

Introduction to Genocidal Race War 

The German war against the Soviet Union was the first truly race-based ideological war in history with the campaign against Poland its precursor. Adolf Hitler’s racial theories and beliefs played a dominant role in Germany’s conduct of the war in the East in both the military campaign and occupation. This has become clearer in recent years as historians have had the opportunity to examine Hitler’s writings, those of senior Nazi officials and military officers and documents which had been unavailable until the end of the Cold War.

Understanding the Nazi ideological basis and the underlying cultural prejudice against the Jews and eastern Europeans in general is foundational to understanding Hitler’s conduct of the war and why the destruction of the Jews figured so highly in his calculations. One must also understand the military and police cultures and doctrines that enabled them to cooperate so closely in the conduct of the war.

The German war in the east would differ from any previous war. Its underlying basis was ideological. Economic and geopolitical considerations were given importance in relationship to the understanding of the German “Master Race.” Race and Lebensraum was the goal of the State that “concentrates all of its strength on marking out a way of life for our people through the allocation of Lebensraum for the next one hundred years…the goal corresponds equally to the highest national and ethnic requirements.” 1

Hitler believed that Germany was “entitled to more land…because it was the “mother of life” not just some “little nigger nation or another.”” 2 The Germans planned to “clear” the vast majority of the Slavic population and the “settlement of millions of hectares of eastern Lebensraum with German colonists” complimented by a short term exploitation of the land to “secure the food balance of the German Grossraum.” 3 Joachim Fest notes that Hitler called it a “crime” to wage war only for the acquisition of raw materials. Only the issue of living space permitted resort to arms. 4

Following the Peace of Westphalia wars in Europe typically emphasized conquest of territory and natural resources either to expand empires or promote some kind of self-sufficiency. The Thirty Years War, which was ended by the Treaty of Westphalia had a heavy religious component which added to its brutality. However the root of much of this conflict was about increasing the power of emerging nation states led by men not necessarily loyal to their religious brethren. 5

The American and Russian Civil wars had some ideological basis and helped usher in the brutality of total war. Both had major effect in these nations’ development and both were bitterly contested with the winners imposing to various degrees political changes on their vanquished brothers they were civil wars. 6

Economic Historian Adam Tooze sees the Holocaust as the first step of the “last great land grab in the long and bloody history of European colonialism…” 7 This does have merit, Hitler’s desire for Lebensraum or living space was a type of colonialism. However, Tooze’s argument does not take away from the basic premise that Germany’s war in the east was at its heart motivated by ideological factors, mostly in Hitler’s belief in the mythical Aryan Supermen of the German Race, and their üntermenschen (sub human) foes, Jews, Gypsies, Blacks and Slavic people. In Hitler’s world  their existence was a threat, and they were occupying lands that rightly belonged to Germany and the Germans.

Lebensraum

Lebensraum

German Anti-Semitism and Adolf Hitler

The root cause of this war was in the mind of Adolf Hitler himself. Hitler was born in Linz Austria during a time when various Pan-German and Ant-Semitic groups, publications and propaganda were widespread. As a young man Hitler moved to Vienna hoping to become an artist, something that he found little commercial success. While struggling to make a living in Vienna he was exposed to a culture far different from the provincial city of his youth, a cosmopolitan metropolis that had much culture but was also a meeting ground for the various conglomerate of peoples that populated the Austro- Hungarian Empire, including Slavs and many Jews. While many of the Germanic or Austrian Jews were outwardly little different from their Christian neighbors the Jews from Eastern Europe repulsed Hitler.

This attitude was not unique to German but found its roots in the various anthropologies written by other Europeans as well as Germans regarding the lack of rights of “inferior cultures” as related to their colonial expansion as well as the westward expansion of Americans. Friedrich Ratzel a German anthropologist and a founder of the Pan-German League paired the Jews with “the stunted hunting people of the African interior” into “the class of scattered people with no land.” 8 Ratzel’s work also examined the conquest of the Native American tribes by whites. This helped form the basis of Hitler’s Understanding of Lebensraum, a concept that he borrowed from Ratzel. Ratzel was originally a zoologist. In his concept of Lebensraum Ratzel “linked the biological theory of life with the geographical theory of space.” Ratzel believed that to “conquer and hold sufficient Lebensraum, others have to be displaced.” Ratzel noted how European settles had taken over land from the Native Americans to take it for themselves. He noted that “the result was an annihilating struggle, the prize for which was the land, the space.” 9

Another German academic and lecturer at the University of Glasgow Alexander Tille, wrote in 1893 that it is “the right of the stronger race to annihilate the lower…when that race does not maintain its ability to resist then it has no right to exist, for anyone who cannot maintain himself must be content to go under.” Tille’s “laws” were easily applied to both primitive peoples as well as to “the economically less successful peoples of Europe.” 10

Hitler’s lack of success in Vienna and continued struggle, despite a decent inheritance, with poverty and resentment of others led him to the writings of the Pan-Germanic and Anti-Semitic movements. Hitler’s  years in Vienna were foundational as he as he absorbed the ideas of these Pan-German, anti-Semitic groups through newspapers like the Deutsches Volksblatt. 11 In Vienna Hitler began to connect the Jews with Marxism.12 Joachim Fest noted that in Vienna Hitler became obsessed by the fear of the Slavs and Jews, hated the House of Hapsburg, the Social Democratic Party, and “envisioned the end of Germanism.” 13

Hitler’s racial views were amplified after the war in turbulent Weimar Germany, while serving as a political operative of the German Army, the Reichswehr, was assigned to watch a small but radical political party, the National Socialist, Democratic Workers Party, or NDSAP.  He soon left the army and became a member of the NDSAP, where he rose rapidly within it through is nearly hypnotic oratory skills. It was not long before he took over the party leadership. He reorganized it so that it “became the instrument of Hitler’s policies.” 14

The Bier Hall Putsch, Note Heinrich Himmler holding Flag and Ernst Röhm to Himmler’s left 

Munich Police Breaking Up Hitler‘ Bier Hall Putsch

The party rapidly gained strength under his leadership and Hitler made connections with other prominent right wing groups and leaders, including General Erich Ludendorff and became powerful enough in Munich that he believed that he and his Stürmabteilung (S.A.) would successfully gain the support of other right wing groups, paramilitaries, and possibly the support of the Army. But Hitler overplayed his hand, and his revolt was stopped in Munich’s Odeonsplatz by a company of Police who would not yield. In the resulting firefight a number of Hitler’s men were killed or wounded. Among the wounded was Hermann Goering whose wounds were attended to by a Jewish doctor. Hitler tried to flee but was arrested, tried and convicted of trying to overthrow the government. He was sentenced to five years imprisonment at Landsberg Prison where he was treated as a celebrity and released after serving just nine months in prison.

During his stay at Landsberg Hitler wrote Mein Kampf  in which he enunciated his views about the Jews, Slavs and Lebensraum. Hitler believed that Imperial Germany had been “hopelessly negligent” in regard to the Jews 15 and that the Jews in conjunction with the Catholic Center Party and Socialists worked together for “maximum damage to Germany.” 16

The book was filled with the standard tropes of the anti-Semitism that had swept Europe for decades, it enunciated little in the way of a political plan, except his hatred of the Jews and the need of Germany for Lebensraum, or living space, and was terribly written. It did not prove to be a best seller but Hitler received enough in royalties to live more comfortably, supported by an ever growing ring of financial supporters.

Hitler wrote that the Jews as being the leaders of the “main ideological scourges of the nineteenth and twentieth century’s.” 17 It was the ideology of Hitler’s “obsessive anti-Semitism” 18 that drove Nazi Germany’s policy in regard to the Jews and against Jewish-Bolshevism.

By the 1920s Hitler had “combined his hatred of the Jews and of the supposedly Jewish dominated Soviet state with existing calls to conquer additional Lebensraum, or living space, in the east.” 19 Hitler wrote: “The fight against Jewish world Bolshevism requires a clear attitude toward Soviet Russia. You cannot drive out the Devil with Beelzebub.” 20 Richard Evans noted that Mein Kampf clearly enunciated that “Hitler considered racial conflict…the essence of history, and the Jews to be the sworn enemy of the German race ….” Likewise, Evans wrote that the “Jews were now linked indissolubly in Hitler’s mind with “Bolshevism” and “Marxism.” 21

When Hitler became the dictator of Germany “his ideology and strategy became the ends and means of German foreign policy.” 22 His aims were clear, Hitler remarked to Czech Foreign Minister Chvalkovsky on 21 January 1939: “We are going to destroy the Jews.” 23

It was clear that Hitler understood his own role in this effort telling General Gotthard Heinrici that “he was the first man since Charlemagne to hold unlimited power in his own hand. He did not hold this power in vain, he said, but would know how to use it in the struggle for Germany…” 24

To be continued…

Notes

1 Weinberg, Gerhard L. Ed. Hitler’s Second Book: The Unpublished Sequel to Mein Kampf by Adolph Hitler.  Translated by Krista Smith, Enigma Books, New York, NY 2006. Originally published as Hitlers zweites Buch, Gerhard Weinberg editor, 1961 p. 159

2 Davidowicz, Lucy S. The War Against the Jews 1933-1945 Bantam Books, New York, NY 1986. p.91

3 Tooze, Adam. The Wages of Destruction Penguin Books, New York, NY, 2008. First Published by Allen Lane Books, Penguin Group, London UK, 2006. p.463

4 Fest, Joachim, Hitler. Translated by Richard and Clara Winston. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers, San Diego,

New York, London, 1974. German Edition by Verlag Ullstein 1973 pp. 607-608

5 Note the actions of Cardinal Richelieu in France who worked to expand French power at the expense of other Catholic nations and the Vatican itself.

6 In the United States the Reconstruction policies produced great resentment in the south with decidedly negative

results for the newly freed slaves which lasted another 100 years, while in the Soviet Union great numbers of “opponents of Socialism” were killed, imprisoned or driven out of the county

7 Ibid. Tooze. The Wages of Destruction p.462

8 Lindqvist, Sven Exterminate All the Brutes: One Man’s Oddessy into the Heart of Darkness and the Origins of European Genocide Translated from the Swedish by Joan Tate, The New Press , New York and London 1992 p.145

9 Ibid. Lindqvist p.154 It is interesting to note that the current American “historian” of the American Religious right

David Barton made the same arguments recently about the American Indians. Barton said: “You have to deal, a lot of it, with how the enemy responds. It’s got to be based on what the enemy responds [to,] you cannot reason with certain types of terrorists; and see that’s why we could not get the Indians to the table to negotiate with us on treaties until after we had thoroughly whipped so many tribes …” “People complain about the fact that the American military and buffalo hunters went out and wiped out all the buffalo in the western plains. Doing that was what brought the Indians to their knees because the Indians lived on those wide western plains where there were very few towns; Indians didn’t go into town to buy supplies, they went to the buffalo herds, that’s where they got their meat, that’s where they got their coats, the hides provided coats, they provided covering for their teepees.

If you don’t have the buffalos, those Indians cannot live on the open western plains without those buffalo and so what happened was the military wiped out the supply line by wiping out the buffalo. That’s what brought those wars to an end, that’s what brought the Indians to their knees and ended all the western conflict.” Retrieved from Barton’s Wallbuilders Live broadcast http://www.wallbuilderslive.com/Historic.asp?cdate=77515 9 May 2014 and text   from   http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/david-barton-explains-just-war-theory-we-had-destroy-indian-  tribes-until-they-became-civiliz

10 Ibid. Lindqvist p.148

11 Ibid. Davidowicz, The War Against the Jews pp.8-9 12 Ibid. Davidowicz. The WarAgainst the Jews p.12 13 Ibid. Fest Hitler. p.47

14 Bracher, Karl Dietrich. The German Dictatorship: The Origins, Structure, and Effects of National Socialism.

Translated by Jean Steinberg, Holt Rinehart and Winston, New York, NY 1979. Originally Published under the title Die Deutsche Diktatur: Entstehung, Struktur,Folgen des Nationalsocialismus. Verlag Kiepenheuer & Witsch. Koln and Berlin, 1969 p.93

15 Weinberg, Gerhard L. Germany Hitler and World War II . Cambridge University Press, New York, NY 1995 p.61

16 Ibid. Weinberg, Hitler’s Second Book p.60

17 Friedlander, Saul Nazi Germany and the Jews 1939-1945: The Years of Extermination. Harper Perennial, New York, NY 2007 p.xviii

18 Ibid. Friedlander, The Years of Extermination p.xvii Friedlander called this anti-Semitism “Redemptive anti- Semitism” in which “Hitler perceived his mission as a kind of crusade to redeem the world by eliminating the Jews.

19 Megargee, Geoffrey P. War of Annihilation: Combat and Genocide on the Eastern Front 1941.Bowman and

Littlefield Publishers Inc. Lanham, Boulder, New York. 2007 p.4

20 Hitler, Adolf Mein Kampf translated by Ralph Manheim. Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, NY 1999. Houghton Mifflin Company 1943, copyright renewed 1971. Originally published in Germany by Verlag Frz.

Eher Nachf. GmbH 1925. p.662.

21 Evans, Richard J. The Coming of the Third Reich Penguin Books, New York 2004. First published by Allen Lane 2003 p.197

22 Ibid. Davidowicz The War Against the Jews pp. 88-89

23 Rhodes, Richard. Masters of Death: The SS Einsatzgruppen and the Invention of the Holocaust. Vintage Books a division of Random House, New York, NY 2002 p.37

24 Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich. Collier Books, a Division of MacMillan Publishers, Inc. New York, NY 1970 p.166

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Filed under anti-semitism, authoritarian government, crimes against humanity, ethics, euthanasia, germany, History, holocaust, Military, nazi germany, Political Commentary, war crimes trials, world war two in europe

Der Schicksaltag, November 9th in History: Revolutions, Abdication, Republics, Repression, and A Wall Falls

Hitler-Putsch, M¸nchen, Marienplatz

Schicksaltag: The Fateful Day and the Beer Hall Putsch November 9th 1923

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

There are some days in history that are crammed full world changing events, and sometimes those events occur, for good or bad and sometimes good and bad in different countries. In the United States July 4th is not only Independence Day, but eighty-seven years later marked the surrender of Vicksburg and the retreat of Robert E. Lee’s army from Gettysburg. Likewise it was the day that the Louisiana Purchase was announced in 1803 and that in 1826 the Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died. In Russia however it was on July 4th 1918 that Czar Nicholas and his family were killed by the Bolsheviks.

Since 1918 November 9th has been a day in German history that has impacted both Germany and the world in many ways. In a sense it is almost hard to believe that so much occurred on that day. It is known by many as Der Schicksaltag (the fateful day).

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Robert Blum

In 1848 a member of the Frankfurt Parliament, Robert Blum was arrested and executed executed for traveling to Vienna to support the 1848 democracy uprising there. A liberal, humanist and democrat Blum advocated German unification without Prussian dominance, protested Prussian oppression of Poles, stood against anti-Semitism and for the rights of Catholics in heavily Protestant German kingdoms. Blum’s dream remained unfulfilled for over a century after his death.

Wilhelm II. (4.v.l.) geht am Tag der Unterzeichnung seiner Abdankung über die Grenze in das holländische Exil

Kaiser Wilhelm II Cross the Dutch Border Following his Abdication

It was a gloomy day at the military headquarters of Kaiser Wilhelm II on November 9th 1918 when General Wilhelm Groener looked his sovereign in the eye and told Kaiser Wilhelm that the war was lost, and that he no longer had the support of the Army. The Kaiser, reeling from battlefield defeats and the mutiny of the High Seas Fleet was stunned, and Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, who had for all practical intents directed the war effort meekly nodded his concurrence with Groener. The Kaiser abdicated the throne and departed in his private train to the Netherlands the next day.

ausrufung-der-republik-in-berlin-preview-image_900x510

Phillip Scheidemann Proclaims the Republic 

In Berlin Majority Socialist parliament member Philip Scheidemann proclaimed the Republic, in part to prevent a Soviet takeover, which became known as the Weimar Republic. However, the promise of democracy was soured by a continued allied blockade, a humiliating peace treaty, loss of territory, and occupation of the industrial areas of the Ruhr and Saar by France and Belgium, heavy reparations, and war guilt; compounded by civil war between various right and left wing factions and major economic problems including massive hyper-inflation doomed the young republic.

Beer Hall Putsch

Beer Hall Putsch Re-enactment 

Five years later an Austrian in Munich who had fought and been wounded fighting for Germany in the First World War gathered with his political sympathizes and para-military street thugs and attempted a putsch. The man was Adolf Hitler, the head of the small and radical National Socialist Deutches Arbeiter Partei, or National Socialist German Workers Party, which he hoped that his putsch would result in a popular uprising against the German government in Berlin. The putsch was a failure and ended in bloodshed at the Feldherrnhalle on Munich’s Odeonsplatz.

Hitler was wounded, convicted of treason and jailed for nine months at the Landesberg prison where he wrote his book Mein Kampf and continued to recruit others to his cause. Under ten years later Hitler was appointed Chancellor by President Hindenburg. He quickly banned political opposition and began his persecution of Jews and others that he believed to be sub human and on Hindenburg’s death in 1934 merged the office of Chancellor and President become the leader of Nazi Germany.

In November 1938 Hitler’s and his henchmen were looking for a reason to openly begin persecuting the Jews, something that they had already been doing since the seizure of power. One of the chief reasons for this was to seize the property and financial resources of German Jews, which coincided with the expulsion of Polish Jews from Germany. A reason was furnished when a young Polish man, Herschel Grynszpan, whose parents were expelled from Germany on November 3rd went to the German embassy in Paris and shot and mortally wounded Ernst von Rath, a young diplomat, who reportedly had some anti-Nazi sentiments.

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Kristallnacht 

The murder was what Josef Goebbels needed and on the night of November 9th Nazi storm troopers ransacked Jewish businesses, homes and synagogues causing hundreds of millions of Reichsmarks in damage, destroying over 200 synagogues and 7000 businesses. About 100 Jews were killed during the rampage, which went unchecked by police. Another 2000-3000 subsequently died either by suicide or in concentration camps. About 30,000 Jewish men were incarcerated. To add to the insult to injury Jews were charged for the damage done to their property and insurance payments that should have gone to them were collected by the state. The night became known as Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass and marked a major turn in the open Nazi persecution of Jews in Germany, which would extend throughout Europe and end in the Final Solution and the systematic murder of nearly six million Jews. World War Two ended with the total defeat of Germany and the Nazi regime.

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Occupied by the allied powers Germany was split in two, the East under the domination of the Soviet Union which became the German Democratic Republic, and the West which supported by the United States and Britain became the Federal Republic of Germany. The divided country became the focal point of what became the Cold War, the fortified border became infamous as the Iron Curtain. The divided Berlin was blockaded by the Soviets in 1948 and the subsequent airlift kept West Berlin Free. However in August 1961 as the Cold War escalated the leaders of East Germany erected a fence which became the Berlin Wall, a wall which was effectively a means to imprison the population. It seemed to be a fixture that would never come down.

berlin-wall_1412605c

But in the 1980s the Cold War began to thaw, the economically strapped Soviet Union was bogged down in a costly war in Afghanistan, and a struggle against a Polish democratic movement; Premier Gorbachev sought to relieve the situation with a policy of openness. It backfired, throughout Eastern Europe, pro-democracy and pro-freedom groups began to protest the status quo, and as borders were opened hundreds of thousands of Eastern Europeans including thousands of East Germans went west through Hungary and Czechoslovakia. East Germans began to gather at the wall and on November 9th 1989 a tottering East German government decided to open border crossing points, but on hearing the news hundreds of thousands of people gathered at the six crossings demanding to be let through, finally, ignoring orders, Stasi Lieutenant Colonel Harald Jäger who commanded the Bornholmer Strasse crossing opened the gates. The wall had fallen and 339 days later East Germany was dissolved and Germany reunited.

The new Germany is the economic heart of the European Union and has become a champion of human rights and social progress. It has now been thirty years since the Wall fell, eighty-one years since Kristallnacht, ninety-four years since the Beer Hall Putsch and one hundred and one years since the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II. These are all important events, and our challenge as citizens of the world is never to forget just how important and fateful each was, and why November 9th is indeed the “fateful day.”

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The War to End All Wars….and a Peace to end all Peace

It was the War to end all war

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month the guns fell silent across Western Europe and the war which had killed 16 million soldiers, sailors and civilians and wounded another 21 million more came to an end. It had begun as a conflict in the Balkans which rapidly drew in all of Europe’s major powers.  The central focus of the war was the Western Front where the armies of Germany battled those of Britain, France, Belgium and later the United States.  Battles with names such as the Marne, Passchendaele, the Somme, Verdun, Ypres, Chateau Thierry, Belleau Wood, Vimy Ridge, Cambrai, the Aisne, represented the pinnacle of killing as soldiers battled in the mud of massive trench systems and Generals sacrificing thousands of men in a day for the gain of a few hundred yards of territory throwing them against mountains of barbed wire, landmines, well emplaced machine gun nests and mortars. Massed batteries of artillery tore men to shreds leaving many men so pulverized that they would ever be identified.  Poison gas both choking agents and the long lasting mustard gas added to the hell that was the war in the West.

During the war the war Imperial Russia had fallen to a Communist revolt and surrendered, the Austro-Hungarian Empire fell in October of 1918 and even the Allies had faced near calamity on the home front. In 1917 the French Army mutinied after years of futility with only Marshal Petain the hero of Verdun able to quell it.

The men who drafted the Peace to end all Peace: Clemenceau, Wilson, Lloyd George

Kaiser Wilhelm II had abdicated his throne on November 9th amid a revolution at home which tore the country apart.  The new German Government accepted an armistice in the belief that the Allies would honor President Woodrow Wilson’s 14 Points.  Instead they were subjected to humiliation and starvation as the Allies refused to end their blockade of Germany until the Peace Treaty was signed. Hundreds of thousands more Germans died as a result of starvation and disease as their cities were wracked by violence as order collapsed.  It was the Socialist government which had inherited the country that had to fight the Communists in the streets allying themselves with the Army High Command to form Freikorps from units and individual soldiers under commanders willing to fight.

Soviet style revolution in Germany 1918-1919

In France at the Palace of Versailles the Allies led by the British and French brushed aside Wilson’s attempt at a just peace and placed draconian sanctions on the new German Republic which had no choice but to accept the surrender terms dictated by the Treaty of Versailles. The Army was to be reduced to 100,000 men with no heavy weapons, the Navy to a token force of obsolete ships, the air force disbanded.  Massive war reparations were imposed which were impossible for the Germans to fulfill and which were only paid off this year.  The final ignominy was the fact that the Germans were forced to bear the sole responsibility for the war. The German economy collapsed in the aftermath, France occupied key German industrial areas in the Saar and Ruhr and the nation fell into more disorder as the Deutschmark lost all of its value as hyperinflation made the money worthless.

Freikorps helped restore order when the Army dissolved

Eventually order returned to Germany with a brief period of relative prosperity which lasted until the world-wide Great Depression which through Germany back into chaos. Government after government was formed and dissolved and the last Chancellors of the Republic were forced to rule under the emergency conditions of Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution.  Eventually extremists on the left and the right brought further chaos as the eventually leading President Hindenburg to appoint the Leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei) or NSDAP as Chancellor.  We know the rest of the story. A World War that killed far more than the first 22-25 million military and 62-78 million civilians, a war of extermination on the Eastern Front, the Holocaust, and fearful weapons which ushered in the Atomic and Nuclear age.  Europe was shattered, Britain’s wealth drained and empire unsustainable, France divided and impoverished and other nations in political or economic crisis with the Soviets controlling Eastern Europe behind an Iron Curtain.

Cold War

In Europe and Asia a “Cold War” between the Soviet Communists and the West took the place of the previous war.  The United States would fight wars in Korea and Vietnam while the Soviets would rule with an iron fist in Eastern Europe and at the height of the Cold War invaded Afghanistan.  The wars in Vietnam and Afghanistan caused crisis in both the United States and the Soviet Union and Afghanistan helped mark the end of Soviet power and the end of the Soviet Union.

Around the world colonial empires fell through either revolts of colonized people or the abdication of empire by nations exhausted and economically broken by war. The many of the newly free “nations” were artificial and as a result experienced their own civil, tribal and religious conflicts the effects of which are still felt.  The end of the Cold war brought more change and for a time there was a period of American superiority but wars engulfed the Middle East as Iraq attacked its neighbors and was defeated in the Gulf War.  However the effects of that war were felt as Moslem extremists took power in Afghanistan and others including the Yemeni born Saudi Osama Bin Laden began a campaign of terror to drive the United States out of the Middle East that culminated in the attacks of September 11th 2001 and now the war that seems to have no end.

And it was the War to end all war and a peace that ended all hope of peace….God help us as it is unlikely that this war will end anytime soon for us or our allies even if we withdraw from Afghanistan.  Our enemies are too beholden to their ideology to stop their attacks until they win or are destroyed, the war will continue and God only knows how many soldiers and civilians will die in the coming years over 90 years after the War to end all War ended and the Peace to end all Peace began.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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