Tag Archives: Reinhard Heydrich

Mass Murder and Genocide up Close and Personal: The Einsatzgrüppen and Ordungs Polizei in Poland 1939-1940

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Friends  of Padre Steve’s World,

I am a bit late posting today as we have a niece, nephew and their children visiting for the Labor Day holiday. Since I posted a new article about Hitler’s attack on Poland yesterday I am following it up with an older article dealing with Hitler’s use of the Einzastzg

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

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

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

Peace

Padre Steve+

himmler1

Heinrich Himmler

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

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

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

generaloberst johannes blaskowitz

General Johannes Blaskowitz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ordungspolizei

Ordungspolizei Battalion preparing for Mass Murder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

poland murders

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

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

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

To be continued….

Notes

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

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

84 Ibid. Hohne. Canaris p.347

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

86 Ibid. Manstein. Lost Victories p.29

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

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

89 Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.13

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

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

92 Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.13

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

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

97 Ibid. Giziowski Blaskowitz p.120

98 Ibid. Witte. The Wehrmacht p.100

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

100 Ibid. Giziowski Blaskowitz p.120

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

102 Ibid. Witte. The Wehrmacht p.100

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

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

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

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

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

108 Ibid. Witte The Wehrmacht p.102

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

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

113 Ibid. Witte The Wehrmacht p.102

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

115 Ibid. Witte The Wehrmacht p.102

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

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

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

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Eichmann, and the Ever Present Reality of Endlösung

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

On June 1st 1962 Adolf Eichmann was hanged in Israel for his crimes of mass murder and genocide. His appearance in the court where he portrayed himself as a functionary and bureaucrat who was repulsed by bloodshed and only following orders. So convincing was his act that Hannah Arendt wrote of him:

“The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together, for it implied — as had been said at Nuremberg over and over again by the defendants and their counsels — that this new type of criminal, who is in actual fact hostis generis humani, commits his crimes under circumstances that make it well-nigh impossible for him to know or to feel that he is doing wrong.”

Unfortunately there are people such as Arendt described, but Eichmann was not one of them. She wrote her commentary having only attended parts of the trial, but what she saw convinced her that Eichmann was ordinary and normal. She was convinced by his appearance and presentation at the trial that he was not the man who ran roughshod over Jews as well as German officials in order to execute the Final Solution. That phrase, “the banality of evil” has often been used to provide an alibi for men and women who wholeheartedly participated in the extermination of the Jews and others deemed to be less than human regardless of whether they were desk bound bureaucrats in Berlin, managers of the extermination camps, or the members of the Einsatzgruppen, the Ordungspolizei, or the Wehrmacht who systematically exterminated millions of people up close and personal.

Eichamnn was a true believer in the Nazi system and its desire to exterminate the Jews from the earth and he enjoyed what he did. He not only acted on orders but he anticipated them, as he told William Sassen in an interview while living undercover in Argentina in the 1950s:

“If we would have killed 10.3 million Jews, then I would be satisfied and would say, good, we annihilated an enemy. … I wasn’t only issued orders, in this case I’d have been a moron, but I rather anticipated, I was an idealist.”

Eichmann began his career by persecuting the Jews of Vienna but following the Wansee Conference he was entrusted by Reinhard Heydrich with overseeing the mechanics of implementing the Final Solution. He was only an SS Lieutenant Colonel but he wielded his power with such effect that he could ensure that Nazi functionaries senior to him did his bidding in regard to the Jews, He told Sassen:

“They knew me wherever I went. Through the press, the name Eichmann had emerged as a symbol…. In any case, the word Jew … was irreversibly linked with the word Eichmann. Much more power … was attributed to me than I actually had.”

Eichmann summed up the attitude of many when he said regarding his work to deport hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz in in just a few weeks during the fall of 1944, “Whether they were bank directors or mental cases, the people who were loaded on those trains meant nothing to me.” Speaking to Willem Sassen in 1957 Eichmann reveled in that accomplishment, “It was an achievement that was never matched before or since.” Eichmann also enjoyed leading his victims on, pretending that he might listen, and they might change his mind. Eichmann was proud of what he did. He told his staff, “I will leap into my grave laughing because the feeling that I have five million human beings on my conscience is for me a source of extraordinary satisfaction.”

His greatest accomplishment of genocide was in Hungary between March and May of 1944 when he orchestrated the “evacuation” of 437,000 Jews to Auschwitz, of which nearly 400,000 were exterminated in that camps massive gas chambers. His greatest regret was that Himmler and others, realizing that the war was lost were now trying to find ways to deal with the Allies using the Jews as bargaining chips. They put an end to his campaign leaving half of Hungary’s Jews alive, something that he detested to the end of his life for his superiors had taken away his reason for being.

Eichmann twisted language in a perverse manner to both glorify and justify his inhumanity. Bettina Stangneth, wrote in her book Eichmann Before Jerusalem:

“The language becomes entirely perverted where Eichmann turns metaphors on their heads, talking about expulsion and murder using gentle images of life. An institution for forced emigration was his “first child,” where he was able to “be creative in my work.” All the individual acts of robbery and expulsion that took place in Austria were committed to “provide [the country] with injections of Jewish solutions.” Even exterminations and deportations were “born”. This was why he felt so superfluous in Budapest, when he was forced to stop deporting people to Auschwitz: “As far as I know, I couldn’t have done anything fruitful anymore” … In Eichmann’s language, he didn’t send people to the death camps; the camps were “fed with material”.

Adolf Eichmann went to his death unrepentant and there is nothing to be mourned on this anniversary of his death, other than the fact that there are people who are much like him today. That is the terrifying reality. Some may be those faceless bureaucrats, but too many others would easily become killers. As Timothy Snyder noted:

“The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.”

Christopher Browning wrote in his book Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Holocaust in Poland:

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

In such a world it is all too important that we never forget, especially now when we could be watching it begin all over again. Eichmann may be dead but he lives on and we must always remain vigilant, or the specter of the Holocaust will rise again, quite possibly in countries that are considered civilized and freedom loving, like the United States.

Never forget,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Genocide Up Close and Personal: The Einsatzgrüppen in Poland

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Friends  of Padre Steve’s World

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

Please note, that all of this took place before the first extermination camps began operations. This killing was done up close and personal by  the men of the Einsatzgruppen and the Police battalions. In all just a few thousand troops massacred hundreds of thousands of Polish Jews as well as the Polish gentile elites.

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

Peace

Padre Steve+

himmler1

Heinrich Himmler

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

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

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

generaloberst johannes blaskowitz

General Johannes Blaskowitz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ordungspolizei

Ordungspolizei Battalion preparing for Mass Murder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued….

Notes

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

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

84 Ibid. Hohne. Canaris p.347

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

86 Ibid. Manstein. Lost Victories p.29

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

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

89 Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.13

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

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

92 Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.13

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

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

97 Ibid. Giziowski Blaskowitz p.120

98 Ibid. Witte. The Wehrmacht p.100

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

100 Ibid. Giziowski Blaskowitz p.120

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

102 Ibid. Witte. The Wehrmacht p.100

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

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

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

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

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

108 Ibid. Witte The Wehrmacht p.102

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

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

113 Ibid. Witte The Wehrmacht p.102

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

115 Ibid. Witte The Wehrmacht p.102

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

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

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

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“We Have to Show the World That Not All of Us are Like Him…” Resistance or Acquiescence?

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Major General Henning Von Tresckow 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I wasn’t planning on writing anything new until sometime next week, but after President Trump’s off the cuff decision to meet with the North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un and the speech that he gave in Pennsylvania on Saturday night I must share a couple of thoughts.

Last night (Saturday) I watched the movie Valkyrie which is about the July 20th 1944 attempt to kill Adolf Hitler, and tonight the movie Conspiracy which is about the bureaucratic workings of the decision to eradicate the Jews from earth by the Nazis in the decision now known as The Final Solution. 

It is interesting the the British actor Kenneth Branagh stars in both. In Valkyrie he plays Major General Henning von Tresckow, a key member of the the anti-Hitler movement; and in Conspiracy he plays SS General Reinhardt Heydrich who helped engineer the Final Solution against the Jews.

In the past few days I have thought of the words of Von Tresckow, Heydrich, and General Ludwig Beck, another of the conspirators who attempted to kill Hitler and lost his life in the process.

Heydrich was the ultimate opportunist, who had he not been assassinated two months after the Wansee Conference might well have been a participant in the anti-Hitler conspiracy; not because of any ethical or ideological purity, but for the sake of his own power and survival. Heydrich was not an ideologue but a pragmatist, and many historians think that he would have joined a movement against Hitler in order to preserve his ideal of Germany. In Valkyrie Branagh played Major General Henning von Tresckow who was a Christian and opponent of the Hitler regime. Branagh played both parts very well, and was believable.

Ever the pragmatist Heydrich told a young SS Major at the Wansee Conference: “Politics is a nasty game. I think soldiering requires the discipline to do the unthinkable and politics requires the skill to get someone else to do the unthinkable for you.” Sadly I have to admit that he was correct. Since I have served in the military for nearly 37 years I can understand the comment, thankfully I have never been a politician so I cannot imagine having the skill to do the unthinkable for me.

That being said I have taken to hear the words of General Ludwig Beck who resigned from his position as the head of the German Army in 1938 over the planned invasion of Czechoslovakia and lost his life in the attempt to overthrow Hitler:

“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.” 

Von Tresckow would note in words that I would hope that Americans would heed today in terms of the current President: “We have to show the world that not all of us are like him. Otherwise, this will always be Hitler’s Germany.”

The question is: Will Americans simply roll over and do the unthinkable or will they decide to show the world that we are not like him?

That is the question. How we answer it is another matter.

Until tomorrow and my third installment of the six part series on Dan Sickles,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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From Ordinary Men to Willing Executioners: Holocaust Remembrance 2018

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

We live in troubling times and I believe that we are at a point in world history where the not so distant specter of a horrifying past is is rising before our eyes and all too many people cannot see it.

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day. On that day seventy-three years ago the Soviet Red Army liberated the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, the centerpiece of the Nazi Death Camp machine. To be sure, in his panic to save his neck Heinrich Himmler had started in the Fall of 1944 began to switch from his tactic of extermination to using the Jews as bargaining chips., but by then most of the Jews under Nazi control were dead. Those that remained, emaciated and dying by the thousands to starvation, and unchecked disease, as they were marched in ghastly conditions to camps deeper inside Nazi controlled areas.

About this time last year two things happened in the United States that caused me to shake my head and wonder if we are becoming a place that will turn its eyes away from current atrocities, genocide, ethnic and religious cleansing, and walk away. Likewise they were events the presaged even worse.

Last year President Trump issued a proclamation to observe Holocaust Remembrance Day, a statement that did not mention the Jews. How one remembers the Holocaust without mentioning the Jews is beyond me, but some of the President’s advisers, including the now fired and disgraced Steve Bannon, are closely connected to the self-proclaimed Alt-Right, a movement of white supremacists and neo-Nazis looking for respectability. The second thing the President did was to issue an Executive Order halting the immigration of refugees from certain Muslim majority countries, and to cap the number entering. I’m not going to go into details about that but it is not the first time that the United States stopped refugees from entering the country on national security grounds, as in the 1930s and 1940s one of the reasons used to keep German Jewish refugees out of the country was exactly that, they might be Nazi spies and saboteurs.

But since those early days the President, members of his administration, members of Congress, and his supporters in the Right Wing media have increased the rhetoric of racism and race hatred. In addition to Muslims who has often insinuated are terrorists, or sympathetic to terrorists, the President has defamed and dehumanized whole classes of other immigrants, those from Africa, Central America, and the Caribbean as being from “Shithole countries.” Likewise, after Charlottesville, the President stated that neo-Nazis and White Supremacists are “very good people” and even though his son-in-law and daughter are Orthodox Jews he has frequently disparaged Jews in public and private.  Of course as so often is the case much of what the President is saying being sold under the label of Patriotism. Hannah Arendt wrote:

“The antisemites who called themselves patriots introduced that new species of national feeling which consists primarily in a complete whitewash of one’s own people and a sweeping condemnation of all others.”

The present day reminds us that this is a day that we should never forget. The horrors perpetrated by the Nazi regime, all in the name of “race purity” and the extermination of the Jews and others deemed by the Nazis to be “sub-human” or untermenschen is something that is hard for most to imagine.

A couple of years ago I read Bettina Stangneth’s book, Eichmann Before Jerusalem: The Unexamined Life of a Mass Murderer. While I am very well informed and educated on the lives, writings, actions, and statements of many of the Nazi war criminals, this new book on Eichmann is the most troubling that I have ever read. In particular it is the accounts of his writings and interviews with other pro-Nazi, or former Nazis in Argentina, particularly the Sassen Interviews, which span hundreds of hours of tape and thousands of pages of transcripts.

I am a Christian, a gentile, and a historian, as well as a nearly thirty-seven year military who served alongside our advisors and the Iraqis who fought alongside of us. I have lived in Germany, read, speak and write German and have many friends in that country, including members of the German military, retired and active duty.  My study and association with Holocaust survivors goes back to my college days at California State University Northridge when as an undergraduate history major I spent much of my time studying Germany from the first unification and the Kaiser Reich, the First World War, Versailles, Weimar and the Hitler Regime. My professor, Dr. Helmut Heussler, whose family left Germany in the late 1920s, served in the U.S. Army in World War II and was an interrogator at Nuremberg. I took a number of classes from Dr. Heussler, including Hitler’s Germany and the Holocaust. In the latter I had the chance to meet Holocaust survivor Mel Mermelstein, who was later played by Leonard Nimoy in the TV movie Never Forget. 

Since my college days I have continued to read and study, and to get a second Masters Degree in History in which much of my work dealt with the Nazi regime. I have visited the sites of former concentration camps including Dachau and Bergen-Belsen. I have been to the sites of the Nazi Party rallies in Nuremberg, the courtroom where the Nuremberg Trails were conducted and to the T4 Euthanasia complex at Hadmar. One day, God willing I will get to Auschwitz and some of the other sites.

The Nazis had begun their persecution of the Jews shortly after Hitler took power in 1933. Later in the year the Enabling Act gave Hitler and his henchmen the legal means to begin their persecution of the Jews and others. These were followed by the Nuremberg Laws and other laws that targeted the Jews. Persecution increased throughout the 1930s, and sadly most countries refused to accommodate increased Jewish immigration. Then came Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, when on 9-10 November 1938, a series of orchestrated attacks on Jewish businesses, Synagogues, institutions and individuals. On that night close to 200 synagogues, 7000 Jewish businesses and 29 major department stores were destroyed or damaged. Over 30,000 Jews, mostly men, were arrested and sent to concentration camps, 91 people were killed outright, and several thousand died in the aftermath.

mass killing einsatzgruppen

When the Nazis invaded Poland, its Jews were rounded up and placed into ghettos where many died of starvation and abuse even before the ghettos were liquidated and the people who lived in them were deported to the extermination camps. In 1941 as the German military seemed to be assured of victory in the Soviet Union the Nazis decided to exterminate the Jews of Europe. In the Soviet Union four Einsatzgruppen followed each of the German Army Groups and systematically began to massacre the Jews of every city and village which German soldiers captured. Over a million and a half Soviet Jews were killed by the Einsatzgruppen, Ordungspolizei battalions, Army Security Divisions and locally recruited units.

At the Wansee Conference of January 20th 1942 the specifics of the “Final Solution” were mapped out by Himmler’s number two man, SS General Reinhard Heydrich. What followed is beyond the comprehension of most people, but the perpetrators were for the most part men and women who were terrifyingly normal.

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

When you read their writings, listen to them when they were interviewed, or watch footage of them during or after the war, you find that they had absolutely no empathy for their victims. When confronted about the evil that they engineered they invariably blamed their victims, just as many like them do today.

Most of the men who coordinated the massive effort to exterminate the Jews of Europe following the Wansee Conference of January 20th 1942 approached their jobs dispassionately. This was a common attitude among the civil service, military and police officials that oversaw the Holocaust. They simply did their jobs and followed the law, and for most of them, their victims meant nothing.

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Hungarian Jews being sent to Extermination Camps

Adolf Eichmann summed up the attitude of many when he said regarding his work to deport hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz in in just a few weeks during the fall of 1944, “Whether they were bank directors or mental cases, the people who were loaded on those trains meant nothing to me.” Speaking to Willem Sassen in 1957 Eichmann reveled in that accomplishment, “It was an achievement that was never matched before or since.” Eichmann also enjoyed leading his victims on, pretending that he might listen, and they might change his mind. Eichmann was proud of what he did. He told his staff, “I will leap into my grave laughing because the feeling that I have five million human beings on my conscience is for me a source of extraordinary satisfaction.”

Hannah Arendt wrote of Eichmann:

“The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together.”

This was what made the Holocaust committed against the Jews of Europe by Nazi Germany a phenomenon different than other genocides. Many of the perpetrators were not driven by centuries old hate as in the Balkans, tribal blood lust as occurred in Rwanda, or the products of Soviet Communism or Communist Chines Maoist regimes, but a profoundly racial ideology.

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It was the racial ideology of the Nazis which deemed the Jews and other non-Aryans to be sub-human. That ideology undergirded the German treatment of the Jews, and the conduct of the war, especially in the East. But the execution of the plan required the bureaucratic, administrative, technical and legal skills brought to the table by ordinary men. These were men who sought promotion, advancement, and economic security for their families. Individually many would have never killed, but they ran the rail networks, the factories, the banking and finance industries and supported the war effort, most not thinking much about the evil that they abetted or if they did finding a way, be it social, scientific, religious, patriotic, legal or simply in the name of efficiency.

Survivors of Auschwitz

That is what makes the evil committed by them so terrifying. It is the product of “normal” people in an advanced Western nation. Make no bones about it, their actions were evil. They aided and abetted the genocide of the Jews, the disabled, other “sub-human” races, particularly Slavs, as well as those that they deemed less than suitable. Sadly, human beings, even Americans have that same capacity to commit genocide.

I think that the most chilling thing about the Holocaust was that the greatest atrocities were committed by ordinary men, sometimes well educated, decent family men. These were men who simply executed orders and often went home at night. Arendt wrote that “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.” She was right, there was an ordinariness to the evil perpetrated by the Nazis, at the same time there are those who consciously decide to participate in evil.

It is important that we do not forget the Holocaust. It is also important to recognize that the instruments of that horror were on the whole “ordinary” men who as they saw it were simply doing their job. It is something that everyone needs to remember. Bettina Stangneth wrote “Systematic mass murder is not just the sum of isolated instances of sadism but the result of a political thinking that is perverted from the ground up.”

So many of the perpetrators saw nothing wrong in what they were doing, in fact at his trial in Jerusalem Eichmann said, “To sum it all up, I must say that I regret nothing.”

The men and women who committed these crimes believed that their victims were less than human and like so many people even today, they had no empathy. Gustave Gilbert, an American Army Psychologist at the major War Criminal Trials at Nuremberg said it so well: “Evil is the absence of empathy.”

Today we have to be very careful. Christopher Browning wrote in his book Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Holocaust in Poland:

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

In such a world it is all too important that we never forget, especially now when we could be watching it begin all over again.

I’ll write more on this tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Eternal Precedent of the Holocaust

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Saturday is Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is the anniversary of the day that the Red Army liberated the Nazi extermination and slave labor camp at Auschwitz.

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

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

Berlin, July 31st 1941

To: Gruppenfuhrer Heydrich

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

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

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

Goering

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Heydrich

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

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

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

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

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

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Einsatzgruppen in Action

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

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

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

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

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

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Himmler and his entourage 

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

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

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

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

arbeitmachtfrei

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

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

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

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

We cannot forget and we must always be vigilant or we too could easily succumb, it’s not that hard.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Trump and “Total Solutions” 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

On this day in 1941 it appeared to Hitler and his henchmen that the Wehrmacht would soon defeat Stalin’s Red Army and Complete Hitler’s conquest of the European continent. In the cold blooded calculations of the Nazis it was time to begin the planning to settle their accounts with the Jews. On that day, seventy-six years ago Herman Goering, acting on the orders of Adolf Hilter sent the following order to Reinhard Heydrich, the head of Himmler’s Sicherheitsdienst and the Reichssicherheitshauptamt or Reichs Security Main Office: 

Berlin, July 31st 1941

To: Gruppenfuhrer Heydrich

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

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

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

Goering

That order set the stage for the completion of a program of mass killing that had already began as Heydrich’s Einsatzgruppen followed the Wehrmacht into the Soviet Union killing hundreds of thousands of Jews up close and personal. The order would eventually form the basis of the final solution which would be fully implemented as policy after the Wansee Conference of January 20th 1942 and Heydrich’s killing by Czech commandos not long afterward. During that time men who had previously unblemished records of service sacrificed their sacred honor to carry out Hitler’s decrees, while many more remained as silent witnesses of their evil deeds. 

The German program of genocide was replicated by Stalin against Jews and other non-Russians of the Societ Union, without the Nazi’s racial bloodlust. 

Timothy Snyder in his book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin wrote something that we should be concerned with today as Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin each work to secure their greatness on the lives of others deemed to be their enemies: 

“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.”

So far only Putin has used a policy of mass murder to achieve his goals, but if actions follow words, then President Trump will not be far behind his Russian tutor in tyranny. The President has already named who he blames for his failures: liberals, Democrats, blacks, LGBTQ people, Mexican and other Hispanic immigrants, Muslims, women, the news media, educators, scientists, and more recently the former GOP mainstream headed by Senators John McCain, Susan Collins, Lisa, Murkowski, and his former chief of staff Reince Priebus. 

In the past few days I know of a number of politically liberal military officers, all junior chaplains, whose conservative chaplain superiors are threatening their careers and freedom to voice their faith online, simply because they and their churches stand against Trump’s latest attack on transgender military personnel. This, despite the fact that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has said that as of now there is no change in policy towards transgender personnel and the fact that chaplains may faithfully stand by and proclaim their churches or religions teachings, even if they conflict with the views of those in power. 

My question is simple: If the President continues threatening American citizens, will he finally decide that his opponents need to be liquidated to achieve his goals? In light of the President’s words and tirades against his opponents, which grow increasingly more violent on a daily basis, this is a fair, if still hypothetical question. But even so, since he, and many of his supporters openly speak of using violence against their opposition, and voice their admiration for Putin, Turkey’s Erdogin, and other dictators, it must be asked especially when a Fox News host, Jesse Watters, even said “A lot of people wish President Trump was a dictator…” 

A dictator? If I recall correctly our founders warned of us of this day as they debated the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

I just wonder, if the President were to give such orders, just who in his administration or among its allies will be the modern Goering and Heydrich? Who will be the men, or women, who given the chance would order, coordinate, and maybe even kill for the President to set the stage whatever final solution he is attempting to achieve. I wonder who will write the order after Trump tweets it, and who will sell their souls to execute it. Honestly, I don’t know who will eventually do that. All I know is that I take my lead from General Ludwig Beck who resigned his office rather than lead an invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1938 and who gave up his life in the attempt to overthrow Hitler in July of 1944: 

“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 do hope others will do the same if the President issues orders that are illegal, unconstitutional, or go against American values or international law. There was a time that I could not imagine that happening, but with every passing day of the Trump presidency I become less sure of that. 

Likewise, I wonder who will get the blame for the catastrophes unleashed by our President, but based on his past actions and current words, there is one person that will not accept any blame, and that is the President. He never has in done so in any private, public, or political venue. 

So in the midst of this I am reminded of the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and I must ask the question he did: 

“We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds; we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretence; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use? What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, and straightforward men. Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves remorseless enough, for us to find our way back to simplicity and straightforwardness?”

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

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