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The Ill-Fated Field Marshal of Stalingrad: A Lesson for Men Who Blindly Follow “Invincible” Cult-Like Leaders

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Seventy-six years ago today the commander of the encircled German Sixth Army at Stalingrad, Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus left his command bunker and surrendered the the Red Army. In the ruins of Stalingrad lay most of his Army. Around 90,000 survivors surrendered in the coming days to the Red Army. Of the Germans taken prisoner, only about 5,000 returned home. Most were to die of their wounds, or of diseases, maltreatment, and starvation in Soviet Camps between 1943 and 1955 when the bulk of the survivors were released.

Friedrich Paulus was one of them, and his story is interesting, not because he was the Commander of the Sixth Army, but because he wasn’t the kind of man one would have expected to command an army of 13 divisions with a strength of nearly 285,000 men spearheading the great German Offensive of 1942.

Paulus, born in 1890 joined the Imperial Army in 1910 and served on the Western Front in the First World War, finishing the war as a Captain and after serving in. Freikorps was retained as one of the 4,000 officers in the new Reichsheer. He served as a staff officer and company commander, and briefly commanded a battalion. He would also serve on the staff which developed the new Panzer Forces for the Wehrmacht. An apolitical professional he was not a Nazi but considered Hitler:

“an excellent leader for the German people, a man who had contributed greatly to the development of the state. After watching him evolve the strategies that conquered Poland, France, and most of Europe, Paulus was awed by Hitler’s grasp of the technical aspects of warfare. He considered him a genius.”

That being said, Guderian was concerned about Paulus’s lack of command experience, decisiveness, and toughness. Paulus was promoted to Colonel in 1938 and served as Chief of Staff to Heinz Guderian’s XVI Motorized Corps, and then promoted to the rank of Generalmajor (the equivalent of a U.S. Brigadier General) to serve as Chief of Staff to the 10th Army under the command of General Walter Reichenau during the invasion of Poland. He continued in that position when 10th Army was redesigned 6th Army for the Invasion Of France and the Low Countries. After that campaign he was promoted to Generalleutnant and assigned as deputy Chief Staff, Operations, of the Oberkommando Des Heeres, the German General Staff. In this capacity he served as one of the principle planners of Operation Barbarossa.

His wife, Elena, a descendant of one of Romania’s Royal Houses was opposed to Hitler and the war. She told her husband that “he was far too good for the likes of men such as Keitel and the other “lackeys” who surrounded Hitler.” She protested the injustice of the war against Poland, but he simply followed orders. When he brought home maps and documents related to Barbarossa she again protested to him. When he ignored her she said:

“What will become of us all? Who will survive to the end?”

Believing in Hitler’s invincibility, Paulus ignored her concerns and told her that the war would be over in six weeks.

But Elena’s concerns were well justified. In December 1941 the German Offensive ground to a halt at the gates of Moscow and a devastating Red Army counterattack created a crisis in the Wehrmacht which was completely unprepared for the Russian Winter. Only heroic resistance and improvisation by German units and the still imperfect application of operational warfare kept saved the German front. Battles continued throughout the winter, the lines stabilized and both sides planned for the coming year.

During the winter debacle Hitler had sacked many commanders which left many vacancies. Reichenau, a committed National Socialist and fanatical fighter took over command of Army Group South from Field Marshal Gerd Von Rundstedt, who had been fired by Hitler. Reichenau, who had been Paulus’s patron had Paulus promoted to General der Panzertruppen and named as commander of 6th Army.

The two men were nothing alike and Paulus had never commanded more than a battalion, and not in combat, but six days later the athletic Reichenau suffered a heart attack and suffered a head injury during a medical evacuation flight back to Germany. He died, and Paulus, revoked the infamous Commissar Order, and Reichenau’s most notorious orders, the Severity Order which 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.… 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.…”

Paulus also forbade cooperation with the Einsatzgruppen death squads, which Reichenau had gone out of his way to support. This was unusual for any commander on the Eastern Front, especially one who believed in Hitler’s invincibility. Paulus did well in his first combat with the Red Army, when it attempted to disrupt the coming German offensive at Kharkov as Sixth Army encircled and captured over 200,000 Soviet troops.

The Sixth Army had a key role in the German summer offensive, Operation Blau. Paulus commanded it well but became involved in the battle for Stalingrad, and Hitler would not let him quit, and promoted him to Colonel General. Likewise, unknown to Hitler and his commanders, Stalin knew of Operation Blau and observing the German movements decided to turn Stalingrad into a fortress. He conducted a strategic withdraw to preserve his forces, allowing the Germans to advance further into the Caucasus and divide their armies, leaving the flanks of the Sixth Army protected by pathetically equipped Italian, Romanian, and Hungarian armies which could not match the manpower, mobility, or firepower of the Red Army.

Stalin allowed the German Army Group South to advance, and allowed Sixth Army to battle street by street, building by building, factory by factory to capture Stalingrad. Had the Germans followed their operational doctrine Stalingrad would have been bypassed and surrounded, but they didn’t. Paulus allowed the Soviets to maintain their defense by not cutting the Red Army defenders in the city off from the Volga, even not taking action to link up with the Fourth Panzer Army which under its commander Hermann Hoth had broken through the Soviet front south of the Stalingrad when the opportunity presented itself.

Even so the German advance had conquered most of the city when in November the Red Army launched Operation Uranus. The operation totally surprised the Germans and in four days time the Sixth Army went from the spearhead of the German assault to an army cut off and surrounded by a Soviet Army Group. The Italian, Hungarian, and Romanian armies on its flanks were shattered.

Plans were made to relieve the Sixth Army but they depended on the Sixth Army attacking out to meet the relief forces from the Fourth Panzer Army. Hitler refused permission and Paulus obeyed, believing Hitler’s promise that Goering’s Luftwaffe would be able to keep his troops supplied. On New Year’s Day Hitler promoted Paulus to Colonel General.

But the handwriting was on the wall. German Forces to the south were having to extricate themselves from an even bigger encirclement. The superb generalship of Field Marshal Erich Von Manstein prevented a complete disaster and inflicted a compelling defeat on the Red Army, but the Sixth Army was doomed. On the 7th Of January Paulus was offered generous surrender terms by General Konstantin Rokossovsky. Paulus asked permission to surrender which was denied by Hitler.

Again on January 22nd Paulus requested his Fuhrer:

… For submittal to the Führer and to commander in chief, Army Group Don.… The Russians are advancing on a six-kilometer frontage both sides of Voporonovo toward the east, [toward Stalingrad] in part with flying colors. There is no possibility to close the gap … All provisions are used up. Over twelve thousand unattended [wounded] men in the pocket. What orders am I to issue to the troops, who have no ammunition left? … Immediate decision is required, since symptoms of disintegration are noted in some places. However, the troops still have faith in their commanders.” Paulus

On January 25th the Red Army overran the last airfield in the Stalingrad pocket.

To a Luftwaffe Officer who was sent by Berlin to encourage Paulus about new airlifts, Paulus said:

“Why on earth did the Luftwaffe ever promise to keep us supplied? Who is the man responsible for declaring that it was possible? Had someone told me it was not possible, I should not have held it against the Luftwaffe. I could have broken out. When I was strong enough to do so. Now it is too late.…”

Paulus radioed Hitler for permission to surrender, empathetically stating the conditions in the pocket. No food, no medicine, no ammunition, no fuel; only to be denied again.

On January 30th, the 10th anniversary of Hitler’s seizure of power the Troops in Stalingrad were treated to a radio broadcast from Berlin, not Hitler, but Goering. The words of the Reichsmarschal fell hollow on the ears of the doomed men:

“… What herculean labors our Führer has performed … out of this pulp, this human pulp … to forge a nation as hard as steel. The enemy is tough, but the German soldier has grown tougher.… We have taken away the Russians’ coal and iron, and without that they can no longer make armaments on a large scale.… Rising above all these gigantic battles like a mighty monument is Stalingrad.… One day this will be recognized as the greatest battle in our history, a battle of heroes.… We have a mighty epic of an incomparable struggle, the struggle of the Nibelungs. They, too, stood to the last.… My soldiers, thousands of years have passed, and thousands of years ago in a tiny pass in Greece stood a tremendously brave and bold man with three hundred soldiers, Leonidas with his three hundred Spartans.… Then the last man fell … and now only the inscription stands: ‘Wanderer, if you should come to Sparta, go tell the Spartans you found us lying here as the law bade us.’… Someday men will read: ‘If you come to Germany, go tell the Germans you saw us lying in Stalingrad, as the law bade us.…’”

The soldiers knew that they had been abandoned by Berlin. Yet, Paulus, ever loyal radioed:

January 30th:

On the tenth anniversary of your assumption of power, the Sixth Army hails its “Führer.” The swastika flag is still flying above Stalingrad. May our battle be an example to the present and coming generations, that they must never capitulate even in a hopeless situation, for then Germany will come out victorious.

Hail my Führer Paulus, Generaloberst

But it was a lie. Less than 24 hours later on January 31st with Red Army tanks and troops outside his command bunker, Paulus surrendered, just hours after Hitler promoted him to Field Marshal. The promotion was supposed to encourage Paulus to commit suicide as no German Field Marshal had ever surrendered his army.

Colonel Adam, an aide to Paulus recorded how Paulus received his promotion:

January 31, 1943 – 7.00 a.m. It was still dark but day was dawning almost imperceptibly. Paulus was asleep. It was some time before I could break out of the maze of thoughts and strange dreams that depressed me so greatly. But I don’t think I remained in this state for very long. I was going to get up quietly when someone knocked at the door. Paulus awoke and sat up. It was the HQ commander. He handed the colonel general a piece of paper and said: ‘Congratulations. The rank of field marshal has been conferred upon you. The dispatch came early this morning – it was the last one.’

‘One can’t help feeling it’s an invitation to suicide. However I’m not going to do them such a favour.’ said Paulus after reading the dispatch. Schmidt continued: ‘At the same time I have to inform you that the Russians are at the door.’ with these words he opened the door and a Soviet general and his interpreter entered the room. The general announced that we were his prisoners. I placed my revolver on the table.”

Paulus surrendered, and did not commit suicide. In the next few days the other isolated pockets of German resistance surrendered as well. Roughly 95,000 Germans, Italians, and Romanians surrendered at Stalingrad. Fewer than 6,000 would return home after nearly a decade of imprisonment and forced labor.

In Hitler’s headquarters the scene was terrifying. Hitler ranted about the treason and cowardice of Paulus, and his lackeys in the military agreed. Paulus should have shot himself and the garrison formed a hedgehog and resisted to the last bullet.

Though he surrendered Paulus did not give support to the Soviets or the German resistance until he learned of the execution of his Friend Field Marshal Erich von Witzleben and others for their participation in the attempt to kill Hitler. When he learned of their deaths he joined the he joined the Communist-inspired Bund Deutsche Offiziere, an “anti-Fascist” group that broadcast appeals to the citizens of the Third Reich against the Hitler regime.

After the war he testified at the Nuremberg Trials admitting German conduct of the war in the east was criminal but refusing to label men like Wilhelm Keitel, and Afred Jodl as war criminals. He took up a position as the civilian chief for military history for the new East German Government. He died on February 1st 1957, having never seen his wife since he left to take command of Sixth Army in January 1942, she died in 1949. His son Alexander was killed at Anzio in 1944. His other son, Ernst, survived the war and committed suicide in 1970.

Paulus’s fate is an object lesson for military personnel, civil servants, or police officials who themselves are apolitical, and honorable people become seduced and believe in cults of personality, and end up sacrificing their lives, reputations, and even their families in the process.

Without mentioning any names, Americans who worship at the cult of Trump should pay heed. like Paulus, their loyalty will be betrayed, and even as their leader abandons them.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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

Yes Men and No Men: Hermann Goering and Johannes Steinhoff in the Age of Trump

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am posting a slightly updated version on an article that I have published before because I think it is even more relevant following how President Trump has treated, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Lieutenant General H. R. McMaster, and Mattis’s recommendation of Air Force General David Goldfein to be the next Chairman Of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. All are decorated combat commanders, had been under enemy fire, and all are scholars capable of self-reflection. All stand for a different type of military than that Trump admires, they are not yes men, nor Trump’s Generals. That is why Goldfein was rejected by Trump, why Mattis and McMaster both resigned, and were replaced by men that Trump sees as yes men, the same as with the replacement of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, FBI Director James Comey, and Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, by people thought to be loyal to the President, most of whom are totally unqualified for their office but whose personal loyalty to the President, not the Constitution, is unquestionable.

At Nuremberg, Hermann Goering was asked by Gustave Gilbert as to “why he and the others had been such abject “yes men,” Goering replied: “Please show me a ‘no man’ in Germany who is not six feet under the ground today.” Goering, who was exceptionally intelligent and talented subordinated himself to Hitler and while not completely correct in regards to the fate of all the “no men” did understand the principle of unconditional personal loyalty to his leader, which makes the actions of men like Johannes Steinhoff much more remarkable.

A few months back I did some research on the anti-Nazi resistors, which caused me to go back are re-read a book by World War II German Luftwaffe ace Johannes Steinhoff, which I believe should be requires reading for any military officer or public servant in the Trump era.

Steinhoff was unlike many of the German officers who wrote memoirs following the war, memoirs that historian Williamson Murray wrote “fell generally into two categories; generals writing in the genre of “if the fuhrer had only listened to me!” and fighter pilots or tank busters writing about their heroics against the productive flood from America or the primitively masses of the Soviet Union.”

Steinhoff’s book, The Final Hours: The Luftwaffe Plot Against Goering should be essential reading for any currently serving officer, diplomat, Federal law enforcement, intelligence, or Department of Justice official  as the Trump administration becomes more established and capricious.

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General Johannes Steinhof (above) as a Bundeswehr and NATO officer, showing his burns and before his crash (below)

steinhoff WW II

In his books, Steinhoff does something that you do not see authors do in most military or political memoirs, he actually does serious self reflection on his role in supporting an evil regime. In his introduction to his book The Final Hours the legendary fighter ace who was horribly disfigured when his Me-262 jet fighter crashed and burned two weeks prior to the end of the war wrote:

“In recalling these events, which had been long buried in my memory, it has not been my intention to make excuses. Our unconditional self-sacrifice in the service of the Third Reich is too well documented for that….

So it is because of what is happening today—with freedom threatened in virtually every respect by its own abuse—that I offer this contribution, in the form of an episode in which I was myself involved, to the history of the soldier in the twentieth century. Soldiers have always, in every century of their existence, been victims of the ruthless misuse of power; indeed, given the opportunity, they have joined in the power game themselves. But it fell to our own century to accomplish, with the aid of a whole technology of mass extermination, the most atrocious massacres in the history of mankind. This fact alone makes pacifism a philosophy worthy of respect, and I have a great deal of sympathy with those who profess it. 

The figure of the soldier in all his manifestations is thus symptomatic of the century now nearing its close, and it is to the history of that figure that I wish to contribute by describing what happened to me. I have tried to show what it is possible to do to men, how insidiously they can be manipulated by education, how they can be hoisted onto a pedestal as “heroes,” how they can be so corrupted as even to enjoy the experience—and how they can be dropped and denounced as mutineers when they discover that they have scruples. The complete lack of scruples that such treatment implies is peculiar to rulers who believe that the problems of their own and other peoples can be solved by imposing, through the use of military force, peace on their, the rulers’, terms—in our case a pax germanica, but the second Latin word is readily interchangeable.” from “The Final Hours: The Luftwaffe Plot Against Goring (Aviation Classics)” by Johannes Steinhoff

Since I am a historian and and a career military officer with service in the Iraq War, a war that was illegal and unjust by all measure I can understand Steinhof’s words. Because much of my undergraduate and graduate work focused on German history, particularly that of Imperial Germany after the unification, the Weimar Republic, and the Nazi Reich, I draw a lot of lessons from the period. I also understand how people in this country can fall for the same kind of vitriolic propaganda that the Germans of that era did. I can understand because for years I fell for the lies and propaganda being put out by the politicians, pundits and preachers of the American political right.

In fact I wrote about an incident that happened to me in my own chapel where a dedicated Trump supporter attempted to have me charged with Conduct Unbecoming an Officer and Contempt for the President.  He did this because I used biblical preaching backed by sound theology and history to condemn the President’s comparison of immigrants of darker skin colors as “animals” and an “infestation.” I compared those words with the way Hitler and other totalitarian leaders used such terminology to dehumanize their victims. As I mentioned I was completely cleared by the preliminary inquiry but it sends a chill through my spine.

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A picture of me (on left) in Iraq 2007 with my assistant and bodyguard RP1 Nelson Lebron

One of those lessons is that in times of crisis, that people, no matter what their race, culture, religious belief system, educational, or economic background are still human. Humanity is the one constant in all of history, our prejudices are often ingrained in us during childhood and reinforced by the words of politicians, pundits, and preachers. In times of stress, crisis, and societal change or upheaval even good people, moral people, people of great intellectual, scientific abilities can fall prey to demagogues who preach hate and blame others, usually racial, ethnic, or religious minorities, as well as civil libertarians who champion the rights of those minorities for the problems of the nation.

Shrewd politicians, preachers, and pundits do this well. They demonize the target group or population and then let the hatred of their disaffected followers flow. The leaders need that disaffected and angry base in order to rise to power; such was how Hitler, Stalin, and so many other despots gained power. They took advantage of a climate of fear, and found others to blame. For Hitler it was the Jews, Slavs, Socialists and Communists; while for Stalin it was various groups like the Ukrainians, or the Poles who were the devil to be feared and destroyed. Timothy Snyder in his book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin wrote:

“Dead human beings provided retrospective arguments for the rectitude of policy. Hitler and Stalin thus shared a certain politics of tyranny: they brought about catastrophes, blamed the enemy of their choice, and then used the death of millions to make the case that their policies were necessary or desirable. Each of them had a transformative utopia, a group to be blamed when its realization proved impossible, and then a policy of mass murder that could be proclaimed as a kind of ersatz victory.”

But that being said, there are a lot of people who from childhood believe the lies about others without question. In good times such people continue on with life as normal, but in crisis those hatreds and prejudices come to the fore. Rudolf Höss, the notorious sociopath who commanded Auschwitz told American Army psychologist Gustave Gilbert about his reaction when ordered to turn the camp into an extermination center. He said that the order “fitted in with all that had been preached to me for years,” and “at the same time I didn’t think of it as propaganda, but as something one just had to believe.” 

Eugene Davidson in his book on the Nuremberg Trials wrote:

“Every society has in it at all times negative, criminal, sadistic, asocial forces. What holds them in check more than law and police is the consensus of the society – a general belief that despite everything wrong and stupid and muddleheaded in politics, the state is a going concern that will somehow make its way into the future.” (Davidson, The Trial of the Germans p.581)

But when things do not go well, when people do not feel that things will be okay, that the future will be better, and that they have a purpose they look for answers. However, they tend to find their answers in the rantings of demagogues, race baiters, conspiracy theorists, and others who they would tend to dismiss out of hand in good times. In Germany it was the loss of the First World War, the humiliation of Versailles and the economic chaos and social change of the Weimar period which allowed Hitler to gain an audience, then a following, then political power. The demagogues played to what was already in the hearts and minds of the disaffected masses, without that fertile soil, the rantings of Hitler and his propagandists would have never succeeded. Albert Speer wrote:

“As I see it today, Hitler and Goebbels were in fact molded by the mob itself, guided by its yearnings and its daydreams. Of course, Goebbels and Hitler knew how to penetrate through to the instincts of their audiences; but in the deeper sense they derived their whole existence from these audiences. Certainly the masses roared to the beat set by Hitler’s and Goebbels’ baton; yet they were not the true conductors. The mob determined the theme. To compensate for misery, insecurity, unemployment, and hopelessness, this anonymous assemblage wallowed for hours at a time in obsessions, savagery and license. The personal unhappiness caused by the breakdown of the economy was replaced by a frenzy that demanded victims. By lashing out at their opponents and vilifying the Jews, they gave expression and direction to fierce primal passions.”

In a sense a similar thing has happened in the United States which has experienced a series of wars beginning with Vietnam, the shock of the 9-11-2001 attacks, the economic crash of 2007 and 2008 which devastated the savings, home ownership, and investments of many Americans while at the same time benefiting the banking and brokerage houses whose government assisted policies brought about the crash. Of course there are other issues, many religious conservatives hate the progress made by the Women’s and Gay Rights movements, and their leaders play to their fears in apocalyptic terms. I could go on, but I am sure that my readers can identify other issues which demagogues and others use to spread fear and hate to further their goals. The fact is that without the the fertile soil that lays in the hearts of their most fervent followers they would never have a following.

In Weimar Germany hate mongers like Julius Streicher and propagandist Josef Goebbels stuck a chord with disenchanted people who felt that they had lost their country. They were fearful, angry, and desired a leader who would “make Germany great again.” Hitler and his Nazi media sycophants played to that fear, and took advantage of their anger at the existing order. Davidson wrote such people “exist everywhere and in a sick society they can flourish.” 

For decades the way has been prepared for true extremists to take advantage of the fears and doubts of people as modern American versions of Streicher and Goebbels have been at work for years. Rush Limbaugh was a modern pioneer of this in the United States, and he has been joined by so many who are even more extreme in their rantings that it is hard to name them all. Likewise, whole media corporations especially Fox News, websites, and political networks spread such fear every minute of the day, claiming that they, and they alone are real Americans. They actively support politicians who condemn, and sometimes even threaten people who oppose them, and all the while claim that “make America great again.”

When I was younger I devoured that propaganda, despite all of my learning I followed the rantings of men who I realize today are propagandists who promote the basest of lies, and hatred, often in the name of God. I was changed when I was at war, and when I returned home from Iraq in 2008 I realized through hard experience that I had been lied to, and that as a result that thousands of my brothers and sisters were dead, and tens of thousands shattered in body, mind, and spirit. Likewise I saw the massive destruction levied on Iraq and realized how terrible war really is. That was my epiphany, that is what it took to see how much I had been lied to, and it called me to question everything else that I had so willingly believed, things which had been fed to me by years of indoctrination in church, through the media, and by politicians who I believed were truly Christian. I can understand now how Martin Niemoller felt after the Nazi seizure of power when he said, “I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.”

There was a time that I hated people who espouse the views that I hold today, the views that I write about so often here on this site. I can remember how angry I would get as I listened to the propaganda being put out by Limbaugh, Hannity, the Fox News Channel and all of the others that I listened to every time that I had the chance. But when I changed after Iraq, I felt the sting of that hatred in very real ways. I remember the day I was called by my bishop in my former church, who told me that I had to leave because my views on women, gays, and Moslems were to use his words were now “too liberal.” After that, many men who I considered to be the best of friends turned their backs on me, some in the most bitter and vindictive of ways.

But I realize now that what they did was because I had in a sense left the cult, and had to be ostracized. I can understand that now, because when I was under the spell I too turned my back on people who had fallen out of favor, or people who had rejected the tenants of the church or the political movement, and those are things that I can never undo. But at the time it made sense, it fitted in with all I had been taught for decades, as Albert Speer wrote of Hitler, “One seldom recognizes the devil when he is putting his hand on your shoulder.”

What happened to Steinhoff’s generation is threatening to happen again, in our country, an authoritarian movement is threatening to destroy our democracy and republic. In it soldiers are esteemed, until they realize what is going on and speak out, but by then it is usually too late. I am understanding that fact more and more every day, and having had people troll this blog and call me a traitor and worse, I understand just a bit of what happened to Steinhoff and his fellow officers when they protested to the highest levels what was happening to Germany in early 1945.

In 1944 he and other fighter pilots were subjected to a political indoctrination session and realized that in the Nazi state loyalty and doctrinal purity to Naziism was more important than either combat service or competence. He wrote:

“Now, however, we realized to our horror that a group of officers had decided, after five years of war, to conduct a purge among the troops with the object of eliminating all those “whose past life and present conduct were not consonant with the National-Socialist type” and who did not “stand firm on National-Socialist principles.” We sat there petrified, but some of those present appeared hugely to enjoy the ensuing discussion of what they called “National-Socialist guidelines.” Perhaps, though, for many it was simply an attempt to escape into a less concrete area of discussion than the desperate military situation—and then there was the added satisfaction of being able to censure others. Fanaticism took the place of hopelessness, and phrases like “faith in the Führer,” “rootedness in National-Socialist ideology,” and “irreproachability of character” fell without hesitation from people’s lips. The Luftwaffe leadership, it was said, must be “combed” from top to bottom, and then someone even came out with the “National-Socialist soul…”

We will soon know how military professionals react to being labeled as traitors. President Trump and his followers have been demonizing the personnel of the nation’s intelligence, law enforcement, and diplomatic communities since before the election. The President lambasts critics of any station on his Twitter feed which results in them receiving death threats from his followers. I expect that when Secretary of Defense James Mattis speaks his mind and tells the truth that we will find out.

Personally I expect that when he does that Trump and his most strident supporters will label him as a traitor for doing so. Like a religious cult they have no capacity to tolerate dissent, loyalty to the man will supersede loyalty to the country or the Constitution. When that happens it will be interesting to see the throngs of people in the military and outside of it who make the choice to throw one of the most courageous, selfless, and intellectual soldiers ever produced by our nation under the bus.

Their’s will be a conscious decision. My opinion is that the Constitution and the country will always come first. I wanted to give the President the benefit of the doubt and prayed that he world do the right thing for the country. But I was wrong. I am concerned because of his past and current behavior that his only loyalty is to himself. General Ludwig Beck, who resigned rather than obey Hitler’s order to invade Czechoslovakia in 1938 and died in the anti-Hitler coup attempt in 1944 said:

“It is a lack of character and insight, when a soldier in high command sees his duty and mission only in the context of his military orders without realizing that the highest responsibility is to the people of his country.” 

I have no doubt that General Mattis understands that and will courageously speak his mind, even if he is condemned for doing so. Sadly I have many doubts about other leaders: be they military, political, business, or religious. There are many people who will sell their souls for their personal advancement, the advancement of their agenda, or an increase in their bottom line. It is after all human nature.

But the question is: will we see true men and women of courage who will stand when it appears there is no chance of success? As Atticus Finch said in To Kill a Mockingbird: “Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.” 

That will be what is demanded in the coming months and years.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, History, leadership, Military, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary, world war two in europe

A Watershed Moment, and a Time to Be Afraid: Jim Mattis Resigns in Protest

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Secretary of Defense James Mattis resigned his position in protest at the manner in which President Trump is endangering the security of the United States. His resignation letter speaks for itself but it echoes many things that I have written regarding the Trump military and foreign policy since his election campaign. The final straw for Mattis was Trump’s unilateral decision against the advice of Mattis, the Department Of Defense, the State Department, and the National Security Council to withdraw all U.S. Troops from Syria falsely claiming that ISIS had been defeated.

Secretary Mattis’s letter is show below.

It was a watershed moment in American History. Honestly, I never expected Mattis to survive this long in the Trump Swamp. Everything about him stands in complete opposition to everything that Donald Trump embodies. The disgraced convicted felon Michael Flynn much more represents for which Trump stands.

Mattis was and remains a Marine who exemplified the Marine motto Semper Fidelis, and of living the creed of Duty, Honor, Country. Many times during his time in office he resisted the worst impulses and decisions made by the President. He knew that his duty and oath were to the Constitution of the United States and not the President. I think that he has become a tragic figure, he accepted the position thinking that he could serve the country better by taking it rather than not.

In the end Mattis could not abide the constant attacks on what he believed were the foundations of American national security and he resigned in protest. In a way he reminds me of Colonel General Ludwig Beck, Chief of Staff of the German Army, who resigned in protest over Hitler’s planned invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1938. Beck, who died in the attempt to kill Hitler on July 20th, 1944 said:

It is a lack of character and insight, when a soldier in high command sees his duty and mission only in the context of his military orders without realizing that the highest responsibility is to the people of his country.”

Working with former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster he had allies within the administration who could help check the President’s worst instincts. But Tillerson and McMaster were forced out and replaced by men who Trump believes that are more personally loyal to him, leaving Mattis isolated in the administration. Mattis was not able to get his recommendation for the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein approved by Trump. Mattis took this as a personal affront because the Secretary of Defense usually gets his recommendation for the position approved by the President. I wonder if Trump rejected Goldfein because in addition to being a decorated combat veteran who was actually shot down over Serbia in 1999, is also Jewish. Honestly, I don’t think that Trump could stomach having a Jewish war hero as his Chief military advisor. Maybe someone should ask that question, but I digress…

Mattis’s resignation, combined with Trump’s declaration of victory over ISIS and withdraw announcement sent a chill throughout Washington and around the world. Even influential Republican leaders who have carried Trump’s water are seeing the approaching danger of Trump unrestrained. The only question is if they will have the courage to choose principle over personal profit and power. Sadly, to this point they have not backed their words with action. Perhaps with the wheels coming off this presidency they will, but I think they are more afraid of his cult like followers than they are of him, so we will have to see.

Trump promises that he will nominate a replacement for Mattis soon. Make no mistake, whoever Trump chooses will be pliant and nothing more than his lackey. The replacement will be someone in the tradition of Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, who was absolutely committed to Adolf Hitler and who not only went along with, but signed criminal orders that obliged the German military to commit war crimes, at home and abroad. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson who served as the Chief American Prosecutor at Nuremberg said about Keitel:

“Keitel, the weak and willing tool, delivered the armed forces, the instrument of aggression, over to the party and directed them in executing its felonious designs.”

I am not sure who would want the job, but I am sure that he will be an modern embodiment of Keitel, and I will be glad that I will be retired within a few months of his confirmation. A year ago I thought that Senator Tom Cotton would gladly take it, but since he was one of the leading critics of the Syria withdraw, that he saw as a surrender to Russia I am not so sure. I don’t think that he’s that stupid. Instead, I think that Trump may pick a retired General or Admiral from his partisans for the job, there are plenty of them out there who would take it, I could be wrong, but we’ll have to see.

Regardless of who takes over for Mattis is the fact that with Mattis out of the way, Trump’s worst instincts will win policy debates and he may even lose John Bolton. Today the danger to our country and to to world has increased exponentially. To quote General Colin Powell’s words in his waning days as Secretary of State, “I sleep like a baby … every two hours I wake up screaming.”

I think that may be the case for many of us in the coming days, weeks, and months. Since I already do that due to my PTSD and combat based nightmares and night terrors this will be nothing new. If that hasn’t been the case for you, welcome to my world.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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A Lesson to be Learned: I Will Tell the Truth

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday I wrote about a Code that I live by and how a military officer, and contemporary of me violated that code. Of course I was writing about Michael Flynn in regard to the code of the Military Academy that “a Cadet will Not lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate those who do.” This is important because it is foundational to how one views the law, ethics, morality, and human rights.

Thus, during my military service I have always tried to tell the truth, even when it was disadvantageous to me, even when remaining silent would have been to my advantage. But I have always tried to tell the truth even when to deny it would have helped my career. That has been my experience, even through this year when I flat out asked a senior officer “do you want me to lie?”, when it came to putting my name on the evaluation of an important contractor at my base.

“Do you want me to lie?”

I don’t know many people who would ask that question to a superior, but I did, and it wasn’t the first time that I did it or I acted in ways that superiors would not do.

That superior officer told me that he did not, so I wrote the evaluation of the contractor and his services, in such a way that the truth was told, but in a manner in which the recipients of the service provided by the contractor were not harmed. I told the truth, fully and completely, even though the contend his supporters, including very high ranking officers have continued to attack me and try to cause me personal harm. Thankfully, my Commander and the commanders over him have seen through the lies and bullshit and have defended me and my staff against the lies and attacks of high ranking Admirals and supporters of my rogue contractor who has yet to admit his complicity in personal and legal attacks on me on my staff.

Frankly, I will go to my grave telling the truth rather than to lie. Call me whatever you want but it all goes back to the simple Cadet Code that I embraced as an ROTC Cadet : “I will Not lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate those who do.”

The truth matters. Personal integrity matters. Speaking the truth to power even if it is harmful to career ambitions matters.

Tonight I rewatched the films Denial about the libel trial raised by Holocaust denier David Irving against American historian Deborah Lipstadt, and Judgement at Nuremberg, a fictional account of the Judges Trials at Nuremberg.

Lipstadt wrote:

“And therein is a lesson that can be learned by all who fight the purveyors of hatred and lies. Though the battle against our opponents is exceptionally important, the opponents themselves are not. Their arguments make as much sense as flat-earth theory. However, in dramatic contrast to flat-earthers, they can cause tremendous pain and damage. Some of them use violence. Others, as Hajo Funke said in Berlin as we sat in the shadow of the Reichstag, use words that, in turn, encourage others to do harm. It was words that motivated those who blew up the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, dragged an African-American down a logging road to his death, tortured a young homosexual in Wyoming, stabbed a Jewish student to death on the streets of Crown Heights, blew up Israeli families about to celebrate the Passover Seder, and flew planes into the World Trade Center. We must conduct an unrelenting fight against those who encourage—directly or indirectly—others to do these things. But, even as we fight, we must not imbue our opponents with a primordial significance. We certainly must never attribute our existence to their attacks on us or let our battle against them become our raison d’etre. And as we fight them, we must dress them—or force them to dress themselves—in the jester’s costume. Ultimately, our victory comes when, even as we defeat them, we demonstrate not only how irrational, but how absolutely pathetic, they are.”

Speaking the truth to those in power and when it costs us something actually matters. Personal responsibility during war doesn’t begin or end at pulling the trigger at places like Babi Yar, Fort Number Nine, Lidice, or Oradour Sur Glane. It doesn’t begin or end at Nanking, My Lai, or Abu Ghraib. It is something that must be done regardless of whoever is in power or it is not about truth at all.

Truth and integrity matter, and if one is willing to subvert them in order to gain or maintain power, then they are merely a ruse.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“You’re Worse… You Went Along With it All, Even Though You Knew…” Loyal Servants of Evil Regimes

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

One of the more sobering war movies that I have ever watched is the film Stalingrad. Released in 1993 it is the story of four soldiers of a platoon of soldiers of the 336th Pioneer Battalion. The Pioneers were the equivalent of American Combat Engineers. It is a sobering film to watch. In a way it is much like the film Platoon. Director Joseph Vilsmaier made the battle and the human suffering come alive with realism. There is no happy ending and there are few if any heroes. The men see, protest, are punished, and then are ordered to participate in war crimes.

The battle of Stalingrad was one of the turning points of the Second World War, over a million Russian, German, Romanian, and Italian Soldiers died in the battle. Of the 260,000 soldiers of the German Sixth Army which led the attack in Stalingrad and then were surrounded by the Soviet counter-offensive, very few survived. Some escaped because they were evacuated by transport planes, but most perished. Of the approximately 91,000 German soldiers that surrendered only about 6,000 returned home.

I’ll write about that battle again around Christmas and on the anniversary of its surrender at the end of January, but there are two sequences of dialogue that stood out to me. The first is at the beginning of the battle where a German Chaplain exhorts the soldier to fight against the “Godless Bolsheviks” because the Germans believed in God and the officially Atheistic Soviet Union and its people did not. In his exhortation the Chaplain calls attentional the belt buckles worn by every soldier in the Wehrmacht, which were embossed with the words Gott mit Uns, or God is with us.

I am a a military Chaplain. I have been one since 1992, and the older I get the more distrustful I am of men who place a veneer of region over the most ungodly and unjust wars. For me that was frightening because I do know from experience that the temptation to do such things when in uniform is all too great, but how can anyone exhort people to acts of criminality in the name of God? I know that it is done far too often and I hate to admit I personally know, or know of American military chaplains who would say the same thing as the German Chaplain depicted in the film. Back in the Cold War while serving as an officer before I became a Chaplain I used to talk about the Godless Communists.

The second question is also difficult. I have been in the military for about thirty-seven plus years. Truthfully I am a dinosaur. I am the second most senior and the oldest sailor on my base. I have served during the Cold War as a company commander, was mobilized as a chaplain to support the Bosnia operation in 1996, I have served in the Korean DMZ, at sea during Operation Enduring Freedom and Southern Watch, and with American advisors to the Iraqi Army, Police, and Border troops in Al Anbar Province. I have seen too much of war but even though I could retire from the military today I still believe that I am called to serve and care for the men and women who will go into harm’s way.

That being said those who have read my writings on this site for years know just how anti-war I have become and why this dialogue hits so hard. Some of the members of the platoon are accused of cowardice and sent to a penal company in order to redeem themselves. The commander of the unit, a Captain who hold the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross is confronted by one of the men.

Otto: You know we don’t stand a chance. Why not surrender?

Captain Hermann Musk: You know what would happen if we do.

Otto: Do we deserve any better?

Captain Hermann Musk: Otto, I’m not a Nazi.

Otto: No, you’re worse. Lousy officers. You went along with it all, even though you knew who was in charge.

That is something that bothers me even today. I wonder about the men who go along with wars which cannot be classified as anything other than war crimes based on the precedents set by Americans at Nuremberg, and I am not without my own guilt. In 2003 I had my own misgivings about the invasion of Iraq, but I wholeheartedly supported it and volunteered to go there.

I was all too much like the German Captain. I went along with it despite my doubts. As a voter I could have cast my vote for John Kerry in 2004, but I didn’t. Instead I supported a President who launched a war of aggression that by every definition fits the charges leveled against the leaders of the Nazi state at Nuremberg. When I was in Iraq I saw things that changed me and I have written in much detail about them on this site, but I supported that invasion.

Now as a nation we are in a place where a man who openly advocates breaking the Geneva and Hague Conventions, supports the use of torture, and who both beats the drums of war, to the extent of appointing one of the most strident proponents of the invasion of Iraq as his National Security Advisor. Likewise, he holds the professional military in contempt appears to be angling for war in the Middle East against Iran even as he excuses the criminal actions of Saudi Arabia in Yemen and against American residents.

I have no doubt that unless something changes that a terrible war is coming and that our President will be a catalyst for it. But for the next nine months before I retire, I will remain in the military to care for the sailors, soldiers, marines, and airmen who will have to go to war and perhaps fight and die.

The thought haunts me and makes it hard for me to sleep at night and I do my best to speak up and be truthful in fulfillment of my priestly vows and my oath of office. Today, unlike my younger years; one thing for me is true: I will never tell any military member that God is with us in the sense that all too many Christian nationalists have done in the past.

I don’t actually think that I ever said the words “God is with us” in regards to advocating war in my career as a Chaplain, but I am sure that my words, and public prayers could have been interpreted in that way when I was younger, especially in the traumatic days after September 11th, 2001.

Likewise, I did go along with the war in Iraq even though I understood what it meant! and what the men and women who engineered it wanted when they took us to war. Sadly, I trusted my leaders too much, especially when Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke before the United Nations to prove the case against Iraq just before the invasion.

Supreme Justice Robert Jackson, who served as the Chief American Prosecutor at Nuremberg stated in the London Agreement:

“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.”

Now we live in a world where nationalism, ethnic, racial, and religious hatred are rising, and our own President seems to be abandoning the democratic and pluralistic ideas of or founders, while praising and tacitly supporting authoritarian and Fascist rulers around the world. Honestly, I dread what may befall us if he remains in power.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Who Were the Bodies? The Nazi Crimes Against Humanity in Retrospect

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In the film Judgement at Nuremberg the American Prosecutor at the Judges Trial played by Richard Widmark asked a question when showing a film of the victims of the Nazis when the Concentration Camps were liberated by American and British troops in the spring of 1945. His question in the face of films of massed piles of bodies being bulldozed into mass graves at Bergen-Belsen, of the cremated remains, shrunken skulls, and lampshades made of human skin at Buchenwald, gas chambers, medical experiments, the emaciated bodies of still living victims; little more than skin and bones, elbows, hips, and knees bulging over the shrunken remains of their bodies, eyes sunken in to the skulls.

Who Were they?

The Nazis specifically targeted the Jews for extermination. According to Hitler, his hnchemen, and other German nationalists, the Jews were less than human, they worked hand in hand with the Bolsheviks, and thus deserved their fate. Likewise, there were those crippled in body or mind who were euthanized, political opponents, religious and racial minorities, populations of conquered nations, who died at the hands of the German military, or who were gunned down in mass graves by the Einsatzgruppen, intentionally starved to death, or who were worked to death as Slave laborers in the Nazi work camps.

They were men and women, wives and husbands, sons and daughters. They spanned the spectrum from infants to the aged. Too many times multiple generations of families went to death together. Hermann Graebe, a civilian employed to help build roads for the Wehrmacht came across one of the many massacres committed up close and personal by SS Men on October 5th 1943 at Dubno, Ukraine. He testified:

Moennikes and I went direct to the pits. Nobody bothered us. Now I heard rifle shots in quick succession, from behind one of the earth mounds. The people who had got off the trucks—men, women and children of all ages—had to undress upon the orders of an SS-man, who carried a riding or dog whip.

They had to put down their clothes in fixed places, sorted according to shoes, top clothing and underclothing. I saw a heap of shoes of about 800 to 1,000 pairs, great piles of underlinen and clothing. Without screaming or weeping these people undressed, stood around in family groups, kissed each other, said farewells and waited for a sign from another SS-man, who stood near the pit, also with a whip in his hand.

During the 15 minutes that I stood near the pit I heard no complaint or plea for mercy. I watched a family of about 8 persons, a man and woman, both about 50 with their children of about 1, 8 and 10, and two grown up daughters of about 20 to 24. An old woman with snow-white hair was holding the one year old child in her arms and singing to it, and tickling it. The child was cooing with delight. The couple were looking on with tears in their eyes. The father was holding the hand of a boy about 10 years old and speaking to him softly; the boy was fighting his tears. The father pointed toward the sky, stroked his head, and seemed to explain something to him. At that moment the SS-man at the pit shouted something to his comrade.

I looked into the pit and saw that the bodies were twitching or the heads lying already motionless on top of the bodies that lay before them. Blood was running from their necks.

I was surprised that I was not ordered away, but I saw that there were two or three postmen in uniform nearby. The next batch was approaching already.

These victims were not just numbers and statistics. They were living breathing human beings whose lives were snuffed out by the Nazis and their allies. They had been abandoned by most of the world. Anything of value that they possessed was appropriated by the men who exterminated them; their businesses, homes, farms, clothes, shoes, currency, jewelry, wedding rings, artwork, furniture, and even their gold fillings, and yes, their hair, and even their skin.

Whole towns were exterminated, millions of people killed and millions of other people displaced, never to return to their homes. At Babi Yar outside of Kiev 33,771 Jews were exterminated by the members of Sonderkommando 4b of Einsatzgruppen C as well as Police 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. The German Army provided logistic support as well as security for the murder squads.

Fritz Hoefer, a SS man serving as a truck driver with the Sonderkommando said these words at the Einsatzgruppen Trial:

One day I was ordered to drive my truck out of town. I had a Ukrainian with me. It was about 10 a.m. On our way, we passed Jews marching in columns in the same direction, we were going. They were carrying their belongings. There were whole families. The farther we drove away from the town, the more people we saw in the columns. There were piles of clothes in a wide open field. My job was to fetch them.   

I stopped the engine nearby, and the Ukrainians standing around started loading the car with this stuff. From where I was, I saw other Ukrainians meeting the Jews who arrived, men, women and children, and directing them to the place where, one after another, they were supposed to remove their belongings, coats, shoes, outer garments and even their underwear.

They were supposed to put all their belongings together in a pile. Everything happened very quickly, the Ukrainians hurried those who hesitated by kicking and pushing them. I think it took less than a minute from the moment a person took off his coat before he was standing completely naked.

No distinction was made between men, women and children. The Jews who were arriving could have turned back when they saw those who had come earlier taking off their clothes. Even today I cannot understand why they didn’t run.

 

Columns of Jews march past a corpse in Kiev

Naked Jews were led to a ravine about 150 metres long, 30 metres wide and 15 metres deep. The Jews went down into the ravine through two or three narrow paths. When they got closer to the edge of the ravine, members of the Schutzpolizei (Germans) grabbed them and made them lie down over the corpses of the Jews who had already been shot.

It took no time. The corpses were carefully laid down in rows. As soon as a Jew lay down, a Schutzpolizist came along with a sub-machine gun and shot him in the back of the head.The Jews who descended into the ravine were so frightened by this terrible scene that they completely lost their will. You could even see some of them lying down in the row on their own and waiting for the shot to come.

Only two members of the Schutzpolizei did the shooting. One of them was working at one of the ravine, the other started at the other end. I saw them standing on the bodies and shooting one person after another.

Walking over the corpses toward a new victim who had already laid down, the machine gunner shot him on the spot. It was an extermination machine that made no distinction between men, women and children.Children were kept with their mothers and shot with them. I did not watch for long. When I approached the edge, I was so frightened of what I that I could not look at it for a long time.

 

German Einsatzgruppen & Police force groups of Jews to hand over their possessions and undress before being shot in the ravine at Babi Yar

I saw dead bodies at the bottom laid across in three rows, each of which was approximately 60 metres long. I could not see how many layers were there. It was beyond my comprehension to see bodies twitching in convulsions and covered with blood, so I could not make sense of the details.Apart from the two machine gunners, there were two other members of the Schutzpolizei standing near each passage into the ravine.

They made each victim lie down on the corpses, so that the machine gunner could shoot while he walked by. When victims descended into the ravine and saw this terrible scene at the last moment, they let out a cry of terror. But they were grabbed by the waiting Schutzpolizei right away and hurled down onto the others.

Those who followed them could not see the terrible scene because it was obstructed by the edge of the ravine. While some people were getting undressed and most of the others were waiting their turn, there was a lot of noise. The Ukrainians paid no attention to the noise and just kept forcing people through the passages into the ravine.

You could not see the ravine from the site where people were taking off their clothes, because it was situated about 150 metres away from the first pile of clothes. Besides, a strong wind was blowing and it was very cold. You couldn’t hear the shooting in the ravine.

Jews at Babi Yar waiting to be murdered

So I concluded that the Jews had no idea what was actually happening. Even today I wonder why the Jews did nothing to challenge what was going on. Masses of people were coming from town and they did not seem to suspect anything.

They thought they were just being relocated.              

The men who were the leaders of the mobile Einsatzgruppen which conducted these up close and personal killings of nearly a million and a half Jews and others were not common thugs. Most were very educated and accomplished men.

General Telford Taylor, an American lawyer who served as a prosecutor at the Einsatzgruppen Trial explained:

“These defendants are not German peasants or artisans drafted into the Wehrmacht. They are not uneducated juveniles. They are lawyers, teachers, artists, and a former clergyman. They are, in short, men of education, who were in full possession of their faculties and who fully understood the grave and sinister significance of the program they embarked upon. They were part of the hard core of the SS. They did not give mere lip service to Himmler’s atrocious racial doctrines; they were chosen for this terrible assignment because they were thought to be men of sufficient ruthlessness to carry them out. They are hand-picked fanatics; every one of them was an officer of the SS … They are not unhappy victims, unwillingly pushed into crime by the tyranny of the Third Reich; these men, above all others, themselves, spread the Nazi doctrine with fire and sword.”

The men who ran the death camps might not have been from the same “elite” stock as the commanders of the Einsatzgruppen but they carried out their duties in calculating and businesslike manner. Rudolf Hoess who commanded Auschwitz gave this statement to the International Military Tribunal:

On 1 December 1943 1 became Chief of Amt 1 in Amt Group D of the WVHA, and in that office was responsible for co-ordinating all matters arising between RSHA and concentration camps under the administration of WVHA. I held this position until the end of the war. Pohl, as Chief of WVHA, and Kaltenbrunner, as Chief of RSHA, often conferred personally and frequently communicated orally and in writing concerning concentration camps. . . .

The ‘final solution’ of the Jewish question meant the complete extermination of all Jews in Europe. I was ordered to establish extermination facilities at Auschwitz in June 1941. At that time, there were already in the General Government three other extermination camps: Belzek, Treblinka, and Wolzek. These camps were under the Einsatzkommando of the Security Police and SD. I visited Treblinka to find out how they carried out their exterminations. The camp commandant at Treblinka told me that he had liquidated 80,000 in the course of 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 Cyklon B, which was a crystallized prussic acid which we dropped into the death chamber from a small opening. It took from 3 to 15 minutes to kill the people in the death chamber, depending upon climatic conditions. We knew when the people were dead because their screaming stopped. We usually waited about one-half hour before we opened the doors and removed the bodies. After the bodies were removed our special Kommandos took off the rings and extracted the gold from the teeth of the corpses.

When he was asked specifics, Hoess stated: This gold was melted down and brought to the Chief Medical Office of the SS at Berlin.

He continued with some pride during cross examination:

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

But the bodies…

Jews and Gentiles from every nation in Europe as well as the Americas, Africa, and Asia ended up dying at the hands of the Nazis, either in their Death Camps, Concentration/ Labor Camps, or up close and personal at the hands of the Einsatzgruppen, the Waffen SS, or the Wehrmacht.

Every one of those bodies, the cold statistics of the Nazi machine were people like you and me. In April I visited the United States Holocaust Museum while visiting friends in Washington D. C.

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.” 

The Jewish-Italian Philosopher and Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi wrote:

Then for the first time we became aware that our language lacks words to express this offence, the demolition of a man. In a moment, with almost prophetic intuition, the reality was revealed to us: we had reached the bottom. It is not possible to sink lower than this; no human condition is more miserable than this, nor could it conceivably be so. Nothing belongs to us any more; they have taken away our clothes, our shoes, even our hair; if we speak, they will not listen to us, and if they listen, they will not understand. They will even take away our name: and if we want to keep it, we ill have to find ourselves the strength to do so, to manage somehow so that behind the name something of us, of us as we were, still remains.

I write because the remaining witnesses to the Nazi Crimes are dying off and deniers are becoming ever more numerous. In researching this article I came across a man, an American of all people, who is denying the mass murder at Babi Yar. I have to shake my head, but the fact is that such people have become emboldened by the Presidency of Donald Trump. They see in him a kindred spirit. Such does not bode well for the future, and the lives who will stand behind the faces and names of the future crimes against humanity.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“Say I Slew them Not” The Individual Responsibility and Lies of the Nuremberg Defendants: Robert Jackson’s Closing Arguments, Part Three

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is the final installment of my introduction and comments regarding Supreme Court Justice and Chief American Prosecutor Robert Jackson’s closing arguments at Nuremberg.

In this final segment of his closing arguments, Jackson confronted the impossibility of a cabal of the most powerful members of the Nazi Party, the German Government, its Military, and Police organizations, the men closest to Adolf Hitler and the center of power in Germany who by their testimony knew nothing of what was going on in the country.

When one reads the transcripts of the trials as I am continuing to do in between reading other books, the defendants universal defense was that they knew nothing, or had learned of the Nazi crimes for the first time during the trial.

What is remarkable is that for every denial there was documented evidence to the contrary, that each in their own way were willing participants in the Nazi crimes. While they pointed fingers at the dead, like Joseph Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich, or unaccounted for like Martin Bormann, and on occasion the other defendants in the dock, each attempted to cover his tracks with lies and deception. Even Albert Speer, who was the only one of the defendants to openly admit his guilt during the trial engaged in deception.

The lies of these men and their brutal exposure before the watching world should serve as a warning to the leaders of nations, especially the nations which prosecuted these men, the foremost being the United States of America. Before the trial in the London agreement, Jackson noted:

“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.

I have served and continue to serve the United States, but my oath to the Constitution demands that I be intellectually honest and forthright in stating that the United States has not lived up to its founding principles or the words of Justice Jackson. During the Cold War the United States engaged in overthrowing foreign governments and replacing them with dictators more inclined to do our bidding, engineered the pretext to allow massive U. S. Military intervention in Vietnam, and after the Cold War used the real pretext of the terrorism of the 9-11-2001 attacks to invade Iraq, a country that was not involved. The list could go on and on, but because of the protections of the First Amendment, a free press has been able to expose many of those lies, even as the beast of corporate media egged on war like the Yellow Journalism of William Randolph Hearst during the run up to the Spanish American War.

Every government in every nation has engaged in some amount of lying to increase its power, influence, or to cover its malfeasance. The United States is not blameless, but too often Americans, ignorant or history, and the Constitution revel in the myth of American Exceptionalism to justify actions against other nations that do the same, that we have gone to war to confront or prosecuted as war criminals for doing. In fact, some of the Nazis in the dock at Nuremberg defended their actions by citing American history: Slavery, Jim Crow, the extermination of the Native American tribes, the American practice of eugenics, and medical experiments on racial minorities or the mentally ill, and the incarceration of Japanese Americans following Pearl Harbor to justify and defend their crimes, even as they denied their culpability for their crimes.

The Nazis in the dock at Nuremberg included true believers as well as opportunists. The were willing members of a regime founded upon lies. In defeat and on trial they would all repeat those lies, and add to them. Unfortunately, the current American President and his administration seem to be playing the same game with truth as the Nazis did. Hannah Arendt wrote:

“Before mass leaders seize the power to fit reality to their lies, their propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such, for in their opinion fact depends entirely on the power of man who can fabricate it.”

Truth and integrity are not fungible assets that one can abandon without consequences. Germany is still hampered in international relations as well as domestic politics by what the Nazis did. The shadows of the Nazi past still enshroud Germans who are two or three generations removed from the Nazi past. The great ethicist Sissela Bok wrote:

“Trust and integrity are precious resources, easily squandered, hard to regain. They can thrive only on a foundation of respect for veracity.” 

As I watch the American President and his consigliere’s of criminal corruption be exposed for what they are by a still free press, and a relentlessly honest special prosecutor, I am reminded of how Robert Jackson and the team of Allied prosecutors used the words and documents of the Nazis themselves to indict and convict them.

With that I give you Robert Jackson’s masterful dissection of the Nazis in the dock at Nuremberg’s Palace of Justice.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Record of Proceedings: July 26, 1946, continued:

Rudolf Hess

The zealot Hess, before succumbing to wanderlust, was the engineer tending the Party machinery, passing orders and propaganda down to the Leadership Corps, supervising every aspect of Party activities, and maintaining the organization as a loyal and ready instrument of power.

Joachim von Ribbentrop

When apprehensions abroad threatened the success of the Nazi regime for conquest, it was the double-dealing Ribbentrop, the salesman of deception, who was detailed to pour wine on the troubled waters of suspicion by preaching the gospel of limited and peaceful intentions.

Wilhelm Keitel

Keitel, the weak and willing tool, delivered the armed forces, the instrument of aggression, over to the Party and directed them in executing its felonious designs.

Ernst Kaltenbrunner

Kaltenbrunner, the grand inquisitor, assumed the bloody mantle of Heydrich to stifle opposition and terrorise into compliance, and buttressed the power of National Socialism on a foundation of guiltless corpses.

Alfred Rosenberg

It was Rosenberg, the intellectual high priest of the “master race”, who provided the doctrine of hatred which gave the impetus for the annihilation of Jewry, and who put his infidel theories into practice against the Eastern occupied territories. His woolly philosophy also added boredom to the long list of Nazi atrocities.

Hans Frank

The fanatical Frank, who solidified Nazi control by establishing the new order of authority without law, so that the will of the Party was the only test of legality, proceeded to export his lawlessness to Poland, which he governed with the lash of Caesar and whose population he reduced to sorrowing remnants.

Wilhelm Frick

Frick, the ruthless organiser, helped the Party to seize power, supervised the police agencies to ensure that it stayed in power, and chained the economy of Bohemia and Moravia to the German war machine.

Julius Streicher

Streicher, the venomous vulgarian, manufactured and distributed obscene racial libels which incited the populace to accept and assist the progressively savage operations of “race purification”.

Walter Funk

As Minister of Economics Funk accelerated the pace of rearmament, and as Reichsbank president banked for the SS the gold teeth-fillings of concentration camp victims -probably the most ghoulish collateral in banking history.

Hjalmar Schacht

It was Schacht, the facade of starched respectability, who in the early days provided the window-dressing, the bait for the hesitant, and whose wizardry later made it possible for Hitler to finance the colossal rearmament programme, and to do it secretly.

Karl Dönitz

Donitz, Hitler’s legatee of defeat, promoted the success of the Nazi aggressions by instructing his pack of submarine killers to conduct warfare at sea with the illegal ferocity of the jungle.

Erich Raeder

Raeder, the political admiral, stealthily built up the German Navy in defiance of the Versailles Treaty, and then put it to use in a series of aggressions which he had taken a leading part in planning.

Baldur von Schirach

Von Schirach, poisoner of a generation, initiated the German youth in Nazi doctrine, trained them in legions for service in the SS and Wehrmacht, and delivered them up to the Party as fanatic, unquestioning executors of its will.

Fritz Sauckel

Sauckel, the greatest and cruellest slaver since the Pharaohs of Egypt, produced desperately needed manpower by driving foreign peoples into the land of bondage on a scale unknown even in the ancient days of tyranny in the kingdom of the Nile.

Alfred Jodl

Jodl, betrayer of the traditions of his profession, led the Wehrmacht in violating its own code of military honour in order to carry out the barbarous aims of Nazi policy.

Franz von Papen

Von Papen, pious agent of an infidel regime, held the stirrup while Hitler vaulted into the saddle, lubricated the Austrian annexation, and devoted his diplomatic cunning to the service of Nazi objectives abroad.

Arthur Seyess-Inquart

Seyss-Inquart, spearhead of the Austrian fifth column, took over the government of his own country only to make a present of it to Hitler, and then, moving north, brought terror and oppression to the Netherlands and pillaged its economy for the benefit of the German juggernaut.

Konstantin von Neurath

Von Neurath, the old-school diplomat, who cast the pearls of his experience before the Nazis, guided Nazi diplomacy in the early years, soothed the fears of prospective victims, and as Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia strengthened the German position for the coming attack on Poland.

Albert Speer

Speer, as Minister of Armaments and Production, joined in planning and executing the programme to dragoon prisoners of war and foreign workers into German war industries, which waxed in output while the labourers waned in starvation.

Hans Fritzsche

Fritzsche, radio propaganda chief, by manipulation of the truth goaded German public opinion into frenzied support of the regime, and anaesthetised the independent judgement of the population so that they did their masters’ bidding without question.

Martin Bormann

Bormann, who has not accepted our invitation to this reunion, sat at the throttle of the vast and powerful engine of the Party, guiding it in the ruthless execution of Nazi policies, from the scourging of the Christian Church to the lynching of captive Allied airmen.

The activities of all these defendants, despite their varied backgrounds and talents, were joined with the efforts of other conspirators not now in the. dock, who played still other essential roles: They blend together into one consistent and militant pattern animated by a common objective to reshape the map of Europe by force of arms. Some of these defendants were ardent members of the Nazi movement from its birth. Others, less fanatical, joined the common enterprise later, after success had made participation attractive by the promise of rewards. This group of latter-day converts remedied a crucial defect in the ranks of the original true believers, for as Dr. Siemers has pointed out in his summation:

“… There were no specialists among the National Socialists for the particular tasks. Most of the National Socialist collaborators did not previously follow a trade requiring technical education.”

It was the fatal weakness of the early Nazi band that it lacked technical competence. It could not from among its own ranks make up a government capable of carrying out all the projects necessary to realize its aims. Therein lies the special crime and betrayal of men like Schacht and von Neurath, Speer and von Papen, Raeder and Donitz, Keitel and Jodl. It is doubtful whether the Nazi master plan could have succeeded without their specialized intelligence which they so willingly put at its command. They did so with knowledge of its announced aims and methods, and continued their services after practice had confirmed the direction in which they were tending. Their superiority to the average run of Nazi mediocrity is not their excuse. It is their condemnation.

The dominant fact which stands out from all the thousands of pages of the record of this trial is that the central crime of the whole group of Nazi crimes -the attack on the peace of the world -was clearly and deliberately planned. The beginning of these wars of aggression was not an unprepared and spontaneous springing to arms by a population excited by some current indignation. A week 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.”

The propagandist incident was duly provided by dressing concentration camp inmates in Polish uniforms, in order to create the appearance of a Polish attack on a German frontier radio station. The plan to occupy Belgium, Holland, and Luxembourg first appeared as early as August, 1938, in connection with the plan for attack on Czechoslovakia. The intention to attack became a programme in May, 1939, when Hitler told his commanders that:

“The Dutch and Belgian air bases must be occupied by armed forces. Declarations of neutrality must be ignored.”

Thus, the follow-up wars were planned before the first was launched. These were the most carefully plotted wars in all history. Scarcely a step in their terrifying succession and progress failed to move according to the master blueprint or the subsidiary schedules and timetables until long after the crimes of aggression were consummated. Nor were the war crimes and the crimes against humanity unplanned, isolated or spontaneous offences. Apart from our undeniable evidence of their plotting, it is sufficient to ask whether six million people could be separated from the population of several nations on the basis of their blood and birth, could be destroyed and their bodies disposed of, unless the operation had fitted into the general scheme of government. Could the enslavement of five millions of labourers, their impressment into service, their transportation to Germany, their allocation to work where they would be most useful, their maintenance, if slow starvation can be called maintenance, and their guarding have been accomplished if it did not fit into the common plan? Could hundreds of concentration camps located throughout Germany, built to accommodate hundreds of thousands of victims, and each requiring labour and materials for construction, manpower to operate and supervise, and close gearing into the economy -could such efforts have been expended under German autocracy if they had not suited the plan? Has the Teutonic passion for organization suddenly become famous for its toleration of non-conforming activity? Each part of the plan fitted into every other. The slave labour programme meshed with the needs of industry and agriculture, and these in turn synchronised with the military machine. The elaborate propaganda apparatus geared with the programme to dominate the people and incite them to a war which their sons would have to fight. The armament industries were fed by the concentration camps. The concentration camps were fed by the Gestapo. The Gestapo was fed by the spy system of the Nazi Party. Nothing was permitted under the Nazi iron rule that was not in accordance with the programme.

Everything of consequence that took place in this regimented society was but a manifestation of a premeditated and unfolding purpose to secure the Nazi State a place in the sun by casting all others into darkness.

COMMON DEFENCES AGAINST THE CHARGE OF COMMON RESPONSIBILITY

The defendants meet this overwhelming case, some by admitting a limited, responsibility, some by putting the blame on others, and some by taking the position, in effect, that while there have been enormous crimes there are no criminals. Time will not permit me to examine each individual and particular defence, but there are certain lines of defence common to so many cases that they deserve some consideration.

Counsel for many of the defendants seek to dismiss the charge of a common plan or conspiracy on the ground that the pattern of the Nazi plan does not fit into the concept of conspiracy applicable in German law to the plotting of a highway robbery or a burglary. Their concept of conspiracy is in the terms of a stealthy meeting in the dead of night, in a secluded hide-out, in which a group of felons plot every detail of a specific crime. The Charter forestalls resort to such parochial and narrow concepts of conspiracy taken from local law by using the additional and non-technical term, “common plan”. Omitting entirely the alternative term of “conspiracy”, the Charter reads that “leaders, organisers, instigators, and accomplices participating in the formulation or execution of a common plan to commit” any of the described crimes “are responsible for all acts performed by any persons in execution of such plan”.

The Charter concept of a common plan really represents the conspiracy principle in an international context. A common plan or conspiracy to seize the machinery of a State, to commit crimes against the peace of the world, to blot a race out of existence, to enslave millions, and to subjugate and loot whole nations cannot be thought of in the same terms as the plotting of petty crimes, although the same underlying principles are applicable. Little gangsters may plan who will carry a pistol and who a stiletto, who will approach a victim from the front and who from behind, and where they will waylay him. But in planning war, the pistol becomes a Wehrmacht, the stiletto a Luftwaffe. Where to strike is not a choice of dark alleys, but a matter of world geography. The operation involves the manipulation of public opinion, the law of the State, the police power, industry, and finance. The baits and bluffs must be translated into a nation’s foreign policy. Likewise, the degree of stealth which points to a guilty purpose in, a conspiracy will depend upon its object. The clandestine preparations of a State against international society, although camouflaged to those abroad, might be quite open and notorious among its own people. But stealth is not an essential ingredient of such planning. Parts of the common plan may be proclaimed from the housetops, as anti-Semitism was, and parts of it kept under cover, as rearmament for a long time was. It is a matter of strategy how much of the preparation shall be made public, as was Goering’s announcement in 1935 of the creation of an air force, and how much shall be kept covert, as in the case of the Nazis’ use of shovels to teach “labour corps” the manual of arms. The forms of this grand type of conspiracy are amorphous, the means are opportunistic, and neither can divert the law from getting at the substance of things.

The defendants counted, however, that there could be no conspiracy involving aggressive war because (1) none of the Nazis wanted war; (2) rearmament was only intended to provide the strength to make Germany’s voice heard in the family of nations; and (3) the wars were not in fact aggressive wars but were defensive wars against a “Bolshevik menace”.

When we analyse the argument that the Nazis did not want war it comes down, in substance, to this: “The record looks bad indeed -objectively -but when you consider the state of my mind -subjectively I hated war. I knew the horrors of war. I wanted peace.” I am not so sure of this. I am even less willing to accept Goering’s description of the General Staff as pacifist. However, it will not injure our case to admit that as an abstract proposition none of these defendants liked war. But they wanted things which they knew they could not get without war. They wanted their neighbours’ lands and goods. Their philosophy seems to be that if the neighbours would not acquiesce, then they are the aggressors and are to blame for the war. The fact is, however, that war never became terrible to the Nazis until it came home to them, until it exposed their deceptive assurances to the German people that German cities, like the ruined one in which we meet, would be invulnerable. From then on, war was terrible.

But again the defendants claim: “To be sure, we were building guns. But not to shoot. They were only to give us weight in negotiating.” At its best this argument amounts to a contention that the military forces were intended for blackmail, not for battle. The threat of military invasion which forced the Austrian Anschluss, the threats which preceded Munich, and Goering’s threat to bomb the beautiful city of Prague if the President of Czechoslovakia did not consent to the Protectorate, are examples of what the defendants had in mind when they talked of arming to back negotiation.

But from the very nature of German demands, the day was bound to come when some country would refuse to buy its peace, would refuse to pay Dane-geld,

“For the end of that game is oppression and shame, And the nation that plays it is lost.”

Did these defendants then intend to withdraw German demands, or was Germany to enforce them and manipulate propaganda so as to place the blame for the war on the nation so unreasonable as to resist? Events have answered that question, and documents such as Admiral Carl’s memorandum, earlier quoted, leave no doubt that the events occurred as anticipated.

But some of the defendants argue that the wars were not aggressive and were only intended to protect Germany against some eventual danger from the “menace of Communism”, which was something of an obsession with many Nazis.

At the outset this argument of self-defence fails because it completely ignores this damning combination of facts clearly established in the record: first, the enormous and rapid German preparations for war; second, the repeatedly avowed intentions of the German leaders to attack, which I have previously cited; and third, the fact that a series of wars occurred in which German forces struck the first blows, without warning, across the borders of other nations.

Even if it could be shown -which it cannot -that the Russian war was really defensive, such is demonstrably not the case with those wars which preceded it.

It may also be pointed out that even those who would have you believe that Germany was menaced by Communism also compete with each other in describing their opposition to the disastrous Russian venture. Is it reasonable that they would have opposed that war if it were undertaken in good faith in self-defence.

It is sought to balance the frivolous self-defence theory against the facts, as advocates often do, by resort to a theory of law. Dr. Jahrreiss, in his scholarly argument for the defence, rightly points out that no treaty provision and no principle of law denied Germany, as a sovereign nation, the right of self-defence. He follows with the assertion for which there is authority in classic International Law, that:

“… every State is alone judge of whether in a given case it is waging a war of self-defence”.

It is not necessary to examine the validity of an abstract principle which does not apply to the facts of our case. I do not doubt that if a nation arrived at a judgement that it must resort to war in self-defence, because of conditions affording reasonable grounds for such an honest judgement, any Tribunal would accord it great and perhaps conclusive weight, even if later events proved that judgement mistaken.

But the facts in this case call for no such deference to honest judgement because no such judgement was ever pretended, much less honestly made.

In all the documents which disclose the planning and rationalisation of these attacks, not one sentence has been or can be cited to show an honest fear of attack. It may be that statesmen of other nations lacked the courage forthrightly and fully to disarm. Perhaps they suspected the secret rearmament of Germany. But if they hesitated to abandon arms, they did not hesitate to neglect them. Germany well knew that her former enemies had allowed their armaments to fall into decay, so little did they contemplate another war. Germany faced a Europe that not only was unwilling to attack, but was too weak and pacifist even adequately to defend, and went to the very verge of dishonour, if not beyond, to buy its peace. The minutes we have shown you of the Nazis’ secret conclaves identify no potential attacker. They bristle with the spirit of aggression and not of defence. They contemplate always territorial expansion, not the maintenance of territorial integrity.

Minister of War von Blomberg, in his 1937 directive prescribing general principles for the preparation for war of the armed forces, has given the lie to these feeble claims of self-defence. He stated at that time:

“The general political situation justifies the supposition that Germany need not consider an attack on any side. Grounds for this are, in addition to the lack of desire for war in almost all nations, particularly the Western Powers, the deficiencies in the preparedness for war in a number of States and of Russia in particular.”

Nevertheless, he recommended: “a continuous preparation for war in order to (a) counter-attack at any time, and (b) to enable the military exploitation of politically favourable opportunities should they occur”.

If these defendants may now cynically plead self-defence, although no honest need of self-defence was asserted or contemplated by any responsible leader at that time, it reduces non-aggression treaties to a legal absurdity. They become additional instruments of deception in the hands of the aggressor, and traps for well-meaning nations. If there be in non-aggression pacts an implied condition that each nation may make a bona fide judgement as to the necessity for self-defence against imminent threatened attack, it certainly cannot be invoked to shelter those who never made any such judgement at all.

In opening this case I ventured to predict that there would be no serious denial that the crimes charged were committed, and that the issue would concern the responsibility of particular defendants. The defendants have fulfilled that prophecy. Generally, they do not deny that these things happened, but it is contended that they “just happened”, and that they were not the result of a common plan or conspiracy.

One of the chief reasons the defendants say why there was no conspiracy is the argument that conspiracy was impossible with a dictator. The argument runs that they all had to obey Hitler’s orders, which had the force of law m the German State, and hence obedience could not be made the basis of a criminal charge. In this way it is explained that while there have been wholesale killings, there have been no murderers.

This argument is an effort to evade Article 8 of the Charter, which provides that the order of the Government or of a superior shall not free a defendant from responsibility but can only be considered in mitigation. This provision of the Charter corresponds with the justice and with the realities of the situation, as indicated in defendant Speer’s description of what he considered to be the common responsibility of the leaders of the German nation; he said that … with reference to decisive matters, there was a joint responsibility. There must be a joint responsibility among the leaders, because who else could take the responsibility for the development of events, if not the close associates who work with and around the head of the State?

And again he told the Tribunal that … it was impossible after the catastrophe to evade this joint responsibility, and that if the war had been won, the leaders would also have laid claim to joint responsibility.

Like much of defence counsel’s abstract arguments, the contention that the absolute power of Hitler precluded a conspiracy crumbles in the face of the facts of record. The Fuehrerprinzip of absolutism was itself a part of the common plan, as Goering has pointed out. The defendants may have become the slaves of a dictator, but he was their dictator. To make him such was, as Goering has testified, the object of the Nazi movement from the beginning. Every Nazi took this oath:

“I pledge eternal allegiance to Adolf Hitler. I pledge unconditional obedience to him and the Fuehrers appointed by him.”

Moreover, they forced everybody else in their power to take it. This oath was illegal under German law, which made it criminal to become a member of an organization in which obedience to “unknown superiors or unconditional obedience to known superiors is pledged”. These men destroyed free government in Germany and now plead to be excused from responsibility because they became slaves. They are in the position of the boy of fiction who murdered his father and mother and then pleaded for leniency because he was an orphan.

What these men have overlooked is that Adolf Hitler’s acts are their acts. It was these men among millions of others, and it was these men leading millions of others, who built up Adolf Hitler and vested in his psychopathic personality not only innumerable lesser decisions but the supreme issue of war or peace. They intoxicated him with power and adulation. They fed his hates and aroused his fears. They put a loaded gun in his eager hands. It was left to Hitler to pull the trigger, and when he did they all at that time approved. His guilt stands admitted, by some defendants reluctantly, by some vindictively. But his guilt is the guilt of the whole dock, and of every man in it.

But it is urged that these defendants could not be in agreement on a common plan or conspiracy because they were fighting among themselves or belonged to different factions or cliques. Of course, it is not necessary that men should agree on everything in order to agree on enough things to make them liable for a criminal conspiracy. Unquestionably there were conspiracies within the conspiracy, and intrigues and rivalries and battles for power. Schacht and Goering disagreed, but over which of them should control the economy, not over whether the economy should be regimented for war. Goering claims to have departed from the plan because, through Dahlerus, he conducted some negotiations with men of influence in England just before the Polish war. But it is perfectly clear that this was not an effort to prevent aggression against Poland but to make that aggression successful and safe by obtaining English neutrality. Rosenberg and Goering may have had some differences as to how stolen art should be distributed, but they had none about how it should be stolen. Jodl and Goering may have disagreed about whether to denounce the Geneva Convention, but they never disagreed about violating it. And so it goes through the whole long and sordid story. Nowhere do we find a single instance where any one of the defendants stood up against the rest and said: “This thing is wrong and I will not take part in it.” Wherever they differed, their differences were as to method or jurisdiction, but always within the framework of the common plan.

Some of the defendants also contend that in any event there was no conspiracy to commit war crimes or crimes against humanity because Cabinet members never met with the military commanders to plan these acts. But these crimes were only the inevitable and incidental results of the plan to commit the aggression for purposes of Lebensraum. Hitler stated, at a conference with his commanders, that:

“The main objective in Poland is the destruction of the enemy and not the reaching of a certain geographical line.”

Frank picked up the tune and suggested that when their usefulness was exhausted,

“… then, for all I care, mincemeat can be made of the Poles and Ukrainians and all the others who run around here -it does not matter what happens”.

Reichskommissar Koch in the Ukraine echoed the refrain:

“I will draw the very last out of this country. I did not come to spread bliss ….”

This was Lebensraum in its seamy side. Could men of their practical intelligence expect to get neighboring lands free from the claims of their tenants without committing crimes against humanity?

The last stand of each defendant is that even if there was a conspiracy, he was not in it. It is therefore important in examining their attempts at avoidance of responsibility to know, first of all, just what it is that a conspiracy charge comprehends and punishes.

In conspiracy we do not punish one man for another man’s crime. We seek to punish each for his own crime of joining a common criminal plan in which others also participated. The measure of the criminality of the plan and therefore of the guilt of each participant is, of course, the sum total of crimes committed by all in executing the plan. But the gist of the offence is participation in the formulation or execution of the plan. These are rules which every society has found necessary in order to reach men, like these defendants, who never get blood on their own hands but who lay plans that result in the shedding of blood. All over Germany today, in every zone of occupation, little men who carried out these criminal policies under orders are being convicted and punished. It would present a vast and unforgivable caricature of justice if the men who planned these policies and directed these little men should escape all penalty.

These men in this dock, on the face of this record, were not strangers to this programme of crime, nor was their connection with it remote or obscure. We find them in the very heart of it. The positions they held show that we have chosen defendants of self-evident responsibility. They are the very highest surviving authorities in their respective fields and in the Nazi State. No one lives who, at least until the very last moments of the war, outranked Goering in position, power, and influence. No soldier stood above Keitel and Jodl, and no sailor above Raeder and Donitz. Who can be responsible for the double-faced diplomacy if not the Foreign Ministers, von Neurath and Ribbentrop, and the diplomatic handyman, von Papen? Who should be answerable for the oppressive administration of occupied countries if Gauleiter, Protectors, Governors and Commissars such as Frank, Seyss-Inquart, Frick, von Schirach, von Neurath, and Rosenberg are not? Where shall we look for those who mobilised the economy for total war if we overlook Schacht and Speer and Funk? Who was the master of the great slaving enterprise if it was not Sauckel? Where shall we find the hand that ran the concentration camps if it was not the hand of Kaltenbrunner? Who whipped up the hates and fears of the public, and manipulated the Party organizations to incite these crimes, if not Hess, von Schirach, Fritzsche, Bormann and the unspeakable Julius Streicher? The list of defendants is made up of men who played indispensable and reciprocal parts in this tragedy. The photographs and the films show them again and again together on important occasions. The documents show them agreed on policies and on methods, and all working aggressively for the expansion of Germany by force of arms.

Hermann Goering

Each of these men made a real contribution to the Nazi plan. Each man had a key part. Deprive the Nazi regime of the functions performed by a Schacht, a Sauckel, a von Papen, or a Goering, and you have a different regime. Look down the rows of fallen men and picture them as the photographic and documentary evidence shows them to have been in their days of power. Is there one who did not substantially advance the conspiracy along its bloody path towards its bloody goal? Can we assume that the great effort of these men’s lives was directed towards ends they never suspected?

To escape the implications of their positions and the inference of guilt from their activities, the defendants are almost unanimous in one defence. The refrain is heard time and again: these men were without authority, without knowledge, without influence, without importance. Funk summed up the general self-abasement of the dock in his plaintive lament that:

“I always, so to speak, came up to the door. But I was not permitted to enter.”

In the testimony of each defendant, at some point there was reached the familiar blank wall: nobody knew anything about what was going on. Time after time we have heard the chorus from the dock:

“I only heard about these things here for the first time.”

These men saw no evil, spoke none, and none was uttered in their presence. This claim might sound very plausible if made by one defendant. But when we put all their stories together, the impression which emerges of the Third Reich, which was to last a thousand years, is ludicrous. If we combine only the stories of the front bench, this is the ridiculous composite picture of Hitler’s Government that emerges. It was composed of:

A No. 2 man who knew nothing of the excesses of the Gestapo which he created, and never suspected the Jewish extermination programme although he was the signer of over a score of decrees which instituted the persecution of that race;

A No. 3 man who was merely an innocent middleman transmitting Hitler’s orders without even reading them, like a postman or delivery boy;

A Foreign Minister who knew little of foreign affairs and nothing of foreign policy;

A Field-Marshal who issued orders to the armed forces but had no idea of the results they would have in practice;

A Security Chief who was of the impression that the policing functions of his Gestapo and SD were somewhat on the lines of directing traffic;

A Party philosopher who was interested in historical research, and had no idea of the violence which his philosophy was inciting in the twentieth century;

A Governor-General of Poland who reigned but did not rule;

A Gauleiter of Franconia whose occupation was to pour forth filthy writings about the Jews, but who had no idea that anybody would read them;

A Minister of the Interior who knew not even what went on in the interior of his own office, much less the interior of his own department, and nothing at all about the interior of Germany;

A Reichsbank President who was totally ignorant of what went in and out of the vaults of his bank;

A Plenipotentiary for the War Economy who secretly marshalled the entire economy for armament, but had no idea it had anything to do with war.

This may seem like a fantastic exaggeration, but this is what you would actually be obliged to conclude if you were to acquit these defendants.

They do protest too much. They deny knowing what was common knowledge. They deny knowing plans and programmes that were as public as Mein Kampf and the Party programme.

They deny even knowing the contents of documents which they received and acted upon. Nearly all the defendants take two or more conflicting positions. Let us illustrate the inconsistencies of their positions by the record of one defendant -who, if pressed, would himself concede that he is the most intelligent, honourable and innocent man in the dock. That is Schacht. And this is the effect of his own testimony -but let us not forget that I recite it not against him alone, but because most of its self-contradictions are found in the testimony of several defendants.

Schacht did not openly join the Nazi movement until it had won, nor openly desert it until it had lost. He admits that he never gave it public opposition, but asserts that he never gave it private loyalty. When we demand of him why he did not stop the criminal course of the regime in which he was a Minister, he says he had not a bit of influence. When we ask why he remained a member of the criminal regime, he tells us that by sticking on he expected to moderate its programme. Like a Brahmin among Untouchables, he could not bear to mingle with the Nazis socially, but never could he afford to separate from them politically. Of all the Nazi aggressions by which he now claims to have been shocked, there is not one that he did not support before the world with the weight of his name and prestige. Having armed Hitler to blackmail a continent, his answer now is to blame England and France for yielding. Schacht always fought for his position in a regime he now affects to despise. He sometimes disagreed with his Nazi confederates about what was expedient in reaching their goal, but he never dissented from the goal itself. When he did break with them in the twilight of the regime, it was over tactics, not principles. From then on he never ceased to urge others to risk their positions and their necks to forward his plots, but never on any occasion did he hazard either of his own. He now boasts that he personally would have shot Hitler if he had had the opportunity, but the German newsreel shows that even after the fall of France, when he faced the living Hitler, he stepped out of line to grasp the hand he now claims to loathe and hung upon the words of the man he now says he thought unworthy of belief. Schacht says he steadily “sabotaged” the Hitler Government. Yet the most relentless secret service in the world never detected him doing the regime any harm until long after, he knew the war to be lost and the Nazis doomed. Schacht, who dealt in “hedges” all his life, always kept himself in a position to claim that he was in either camp. The plea for him is as specious on analysis as it is persuasive on first sight. Schacht represents the most dangerous and reprehensible type of opportunism -that of the man of influential position who is ready to join a movement that he knows to be wrong because he thinks it is winning.

These defendants, unable to deny that they were the men in the very highest ranks of power, and unable to deny that the crimes I have outlined actually happened, know that their own denials are incredible unless they can suggest someone who is guilty.

The defendants have been unanimous, when pressed, in shifting the blame on other men, sometimes on one and sometimes on another. But the names they have repeatedly picked are Hitler, Himmler, Heydrich, Goebbels and Bormann. All of these are dead or missing. No matter how hard we have pressed the defendants on the stand, they have never pointed the finger at a living man as guilty. It is a temptation to ponder the wondrous workings of a fate which has left only the guilty dead and only the innocent alive. It is almost too remarkable.

The chief villain on whom blame is placed -some of the defendants vie with each other in producing appropriate epithets -is Hitler. He is the man at whom nearly every defendant has pointed an accusing finger.

I shall not dissent from this consensus, nor do I deny that all these dead and missing men shared the guilt. In crimes so reprehensible that degrees of guilt have lost their significance they may have played the most evil parts. But their guilt cannot exculpate the defendants. Hitler did not carry all responsibility to the grave with him. All the guilt is not wrapped in Himmler’s shroud. It was these dead men whom these living chose to be their partners in this great conspiratorial brotherhood, and the crimes that they did together they must pay for one by one.

It may well be said that Hitler’s final crime was against the land he had ruled. He was a mad “messiah” who started the war without cause and prolonged it without reason. If he could not rule he cared not what happened to Germany. As Fritzsche has told us from the stand, Hitler tried to use the defeat of Germany for the self-destruction of the German people. He continued the fight when he knew it could not be won, and continuance meant only ruin.

Speer, in this courtroom, has described it as follows:

“… The sacrifices which were made on both sides after January, 1945, were senseless. The dead of this period will be the accusers of the man responsible for the continuation of that fight, Adolf Hitler, and the ruined cities which in this last phase lost tremendous cultural values and in which a colossal number of dwellings were destroyed …. The German people remained faithful to Adolf Hitler until the end. He betrayed them knowingly. He finally tried to throw them into the abyss ….”

Hitler ordered everyone else to fight to the last and then retreated into death by his own hand. But he left life as he lived it, a deceiver; he left the official report that he had died in battle. This was the man whom these defendants exalted to a Fuehrer. It was they who conspired to get him absolute authority over all of Germany. And in the end he and the system they had created for him brought the ruin of them all. As stated by Speer in cross-examination:

“… the tremendous danger of the totalitarian system, however, only became really clear at the moment when we were approaching the end. It was then that one could see what the principle really meant, namely, that every order should be carried out without criticism. Everything that has become known during this trial, especially with regard to orders which were carried out without any consideration, has proved how evil it .was in the end…. Quite apart from the personality of Hitler, on the collapse of the totalitarian system in Germany it became clear what tremendous dangers there are in a system of that kind. The combination of Hitler and this system has brought about these tremendous catastrophes in the world.”

But let me for a moment turn devil’s advocate. I admit that Hitler was the chief villain. But for the defendants to put all blame on him is neither manly nor true. We know that even the head of the State has the same limits to his senses and to the hours of his days as do lesser men. He must rely on others to be his eyes and ears as to most that goes on in a great empire. Other legs must run his errands; other hands must execute his plans.

On whom did Hitler rely for such things more than upon these men in the dock? Who led him to believe he had an invincible air armada if not Goering? Who kept disagreeable facts from him? Did not Goering forbid Field-Marshal Milch to warn Hitler that in his opinion Germany was not equal to the war upon Russia? Did not Goering, according to Speer, relieve General Galland of his air force command for speaking of the weaknesses and bungling of the air force? Who led Hitler, utterly untravelled himself, to believe in the indecision and timidity of democratic peoples if not Ribbentrop, von Neurath, and von Papen? Who fed his illusion of German invincibility if not Keitel, Jodl, Raeder, and Donitz? Who kept his hatred of the Jews inflamed more than Streicher and Rosenberg? Who would Hitler say deceived him about conditions in concentration camps if not Kaltenbrunner, even as he would deceive us? These men had access to Hitler and often could control the information that reached him and on which he must base his policy and his orders. They were the Praetorian Guard, and while they were under Caesar’s orders, Caesar was always in their hands.

If these dead men could take the witness stand and answer what has been said against them, we might have a less distorted picture of the parts played by these defendants. Imagine the stir that would occur in the dock if it should behold Adolf Hitler advancing to the witness box, or Himmler with an armful of dossiers, or Goebbels, or Bormann with the reports of his Party spies, or the murdered Roehm or Canaris. The ghoulish defence that the world is entitled to retribution only from the cadavers is an argument worthy of the crimes at which it is directed.

We have presented to this Tribunal an affirmative case based on incriminating documents which are sufficient, if unexplained, to require a finding of guilt on Count One against each defendant. In the final analysis, the only question is whether the defendants’ own testimony is to be credited as against the documents and other evidence of their guilt. What, then, is their testimony worth?

The fact is that the Nazi habit of economising in the use of truth pulls the foundations out from under their own defences. Lying has always been a highly approved Nazi technique. Hitler, in Mein Kampf, advocated mendacity as a policy. Von Ribbentrop admits the use of the “diplomatic lie”. Keitel advised that the facts of rearmament be kept secret so that they could be denied at Geneva. Raeder deceived about rebuilding the German Navy in violation of Versailles. Goering urged Ribbentrop to tell a “legal lie” to the British Foreign Office about the Anschluss, and in so doing only marshalled him the way he was going. Goering gave his word of honour to the Czechs and proceeded to break it. Even Speer proposed to deceive the French into revealing the specially trained among their prisoners.

Nor is the lie direct the only means of falsehood. They all speak with a Nazi double meaning with which to deceive the unwary. In the Nazi dictionary of sardonic euphemisms “Final solution” of the Jewish problem was a phrase which meant extermination; “Special treatment” of prisoners of war meant killing; “Protective custody” meant concentration camp; “Duty labour” meant slave labour; and an order to “take a firm attitude” or “take positive measures” meant to act with unrestrained savagery. Before we accept their word at what seems to be its face value, we must always look for hidden meanings. Goering assured us, on his oath, that the Reich Defence Council never met “as such”. When we produced the stenographic minutes of a meeting at which he presided and did most of the talking, he reminded us of the “as such” and explained this was not a meeting of the Council “as such” because other persons were present. Goering denies “threatening” Czechoslovakia. He only told President Hacha that he would “hate to bomb the beautiful city of Prague”.

Besides outright false statements and those with double meanings, there are also other circumventions of truth in the nature of fantastic explanations and absurd professions. Streicher has solemnly maintained that his only thought with respect to the Jews was to resettle them on the island of Madagascar. His reason for destroying synagogues, he blandly said, was only because they were architecturally offensive. Rosenberg was stated by his counsel to have always had in mind a “chivalrous solution” to the Jewish problem. When it was necessary to remove Schuschnigg after the Anschluss, Ribbentrop would have had us believe that the Austrian Chancellor was resting at a “villa”. It was left to cross-examination to reveal that the “villa” was Buchenwald concentration camp. The record is full of other examples of dissimulations and evasions. Even Schacht showed that he, too, had adopted the Nazi attitude that truth is any story which succeeds. Confronted on cross-examination with a long record of broken vows and false words, he declared in justification -and I quote from the record:

“I think you can score many more successes when you want to lead someone if you don’t tell them the truth than if you tell them the truth.”

This was the philosophy of the National Socialists. When for years they have deceived the world, and masked falsehood with plausibilities, can anyone be surprised that they continue that habit of a lifetime in this dock? Credibility is one of the main issues of this trial. Only those who have failed to learn the bitter lessons of the last decade can doubt that men who have always played on the unsuspecting credulity of generous opponents would not hesitate to do the same now.

It is against such a background that these defendants now ask this Tribunal to say that they are not guilty of planning, executing, or conspiring to commit this long list of crimes and wrongs. They stand before the record of this trial as bloodstained Gloucester stood by the body of his slain King. He begged of the widow, as they beg of you: “Say I slew them not.” And the Queen replied, “Then say they were not slain. But dead they are ….” If you were to say of these men that they are not guilty, it would be as true to say that there has been no war, there are no slain, there has been no crime.

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