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“It Deviated Not From Human Norms:” The Nazi Crimes, Robert Jackson’s Closing at Nuremberg, Part Two

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The crimes of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime may seem like the happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, we would all like to believe that. However, they are only as far away as the next time. That is why we must continue to show them in their awful reality. Yehuda Bauer, a historian of the Holocaust whose family escaped from Czechoslovakia the day it was annexed by the Third Reich wrote:

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

This is an eternal truth. The Red Chinese in Tibet, the Cambodian Killing Fields, the Serbians massacring Bosnians under the noses of Dutch Peacekeepers in Srebrenica, the Tutsis of Rwanda butchered by their Hutu neighbors shortly after Easter, as well as the crimes of the Islamic State against Kurds, opposition Sunnis, Shia, Yazidis, and Christians in Iraq and Syria.

Besides genocide we can add the crime of aggressive war against weaker neighbors or nations committed Russia in Georgia and the Ukraine, and the United States against Iraq. Then there is the assault on minority groups within various nations, the rejection of refugees, and rise in anti-Semitism across Russia, Europe, and the United States have all produced myriads of victims, perpetrators, and bystanders.

The crimes committed by the Nazis against their own citizens and the nations that they victimized are not completely unique to them. While the Nazi Genocide committed against the Jews is unique, what motivated them is far more common than we would want to admit. The Holocaust and the Nazi war for Lebensraum is not an aberration from the norms of human nature, it is the norm. That is why continuing to expose those crimes, the men and women behind them, and those who stood by, doing nothing while their neighbors were being marched away, or stood by as other men marched men, women, and children to massive pits and shot them one by one, up close and personal, by the tens of thousands.

I would like with all my heart to consign the crimes of the Nazis to the depths of history, but I cannot. That is why I, a man born thirteen and a half years after the major Nuremberg War Crimes ended with ten of the defendants hanging from the gallows continues to write about it.

Over the past week I have been writing about the Nuremberg Trials and the American Chief Prosecutor, Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson. Last night I wrote about the introduction of his closing arguments before the Tribunal which followed his opening address by nine months. I now continue with Justice Jackson’s closing arguments against the Nazi war criminals sitting in the dock of Nuremberg’s Palace of Justice.

So until tomorrow, I leave you with Jackson’s words.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

THE CRIMES OF THE NAZI REGIME

The strength of the case against these defendants under the conspiracy count, which it is the duty of the United States to argue, lies in its simplicity. It involves but three ultimate inquiries: First, have the acts defined by the Charter as crimes been committed; second, were they committed pursuant to a common plan or conspiracy; third, are these defendants among those who are criminally responsible? The charge requires examination of a criminal policy, not of a multitude of isolated, unplanned, or disputed crimes. The substantive crimes upon which we rely, either as goals of a common plan or as means for its accomplishment, are admitted. The pillars which uphold the conspiracy charge may be found in five groups of overt acts, whose character and magnitude are important considerations in appraising the proof of conspiracy.

1. THE SEIZURE OF POWER AND SUBJUGATION OF GERMANY TO A POLICE STATE The Nazi Party seized control of the German State in 1933. “Seizure of power” is a characterisation used by defendants and defence witnesses, and so apt that it has passed into both history and everyday speech. The Nazi junta in the early days lived in constant fear of overthrow. Goering, in 1934, pointed out that its enemies were legion, and said:

“Therefore, the concentration camps have been created, where we have first confined thousands of Communists and Social Democrat functionaries.”

In 1933 Goering forecast the whole programme of purposeful cruelty and oppression when he publicly announced:

“Whoever in the future raises a hand against a representative of the National Socialist movement or of the State must know that he will lose his life in a very short while.”

New political crimes were created to this end. It was made a treason, punishable with death, to organize or support a political party other than the Nazi Party. Circulating a false or exaggerated statement, or one which would harm the State or even the Party, was made a crime. Laws were enacted of such ambiguity that they could be used to punish almost any innocent act. It was, for example, made a crime to provoke “any act contrary to the public welfare”.

The doctrine of punishment by analogy was introduced to enable conviction for acts which no statute forbade. Minister of Justice Guertner explained that National Socialism considered every violation of the goals of life which the community set up for itself to be a wrong per se, and that the acts could be punished even though it was not contrary to existing “formal law”.

The Gestapo and the SD were instrumentalities of an espionage system which penetrated public and private life. Goering controlled a personal wiretapping unit. All privacy of communication was abolished. Party Blockleiter appointed over every 50 householders spied continuously on all within their ken.

Upon the strength of this spying individuals were dragged off to “protective custody” and to concentration camps without legal proceedings of any kind1and without statement of any reason therefore. The partisan political police were exempted from effective legal responsibility for their acts.

With all administrative offices in Nazi control and with the Reichstag reduced to impotence, the judiciary remained the last obstacle to this reign of terror. But its independence was soon overcome and it was reorganised to dispense a venal justice. Judges were ousted for political or racial reasons and were spied upon and put under pressure to join the Nazi Party. After the Supreme Court had acquitted three of the four men whom the Nazis accused of setting the Reichstag on fire, its jurisdiction over treason cases was transferred to a newly established “People’s Court” consisting of two judges and five Party officials. The German film of this “People’s Court” in operation, which the showed in this chamber, revealed its presiding judge pouring partisan abuse on speechless defendants. Special courts were created to try political crimes, only Party members were appointed judges, and “Judges’ letters” instructed the puppet judges as to the “general lines” they must follow.

The result was the removal of all peaceable means either to resist or to change the Government. Having sneaked through the portals of power, the Nazis slammed the gate in the face of all others who might also aspire to enter. Since the law was what the Nazis said it was, every form of opposition was rooted out and every dissenting voice throttled. Germany was in the clutch of a police State, which used the fear of the concentration camp as a means to enforce non-resistance. The Party was the State, the State was the Party, and terror by day and death by night were the policy of both.

2. THE PREPARATION AND WAGING OF WARS OF AGGRESSION From the moment the Nazis seized power, they set about with feverish but stealthy efforts, in defiance of the Versailles Treaty, to arm for war. In 1933 they found no air force. By 1939 they had 21 squadrons, consisting of 240 echelons or about 2,400 first-line planes, together with trainers and transports.

In 1933 they found an army of 3 infantry and 3 cavalry divisions. By 1939 they had raised and equipped an army of 51 divisions, 4 of which were fully motorized and 4 of which were panzer divisions. In 1933 they found a navy of one cruiser and six light cruisers. By 1939 they had built a navy of 4 battleships, 1 aircraft carrier, 6 cruisers, 22 destroyers, and 54 submarines. They had also built up in that period an armament industry as efficient as that of any country in the world.

These new weapons were put to use, commencing in September, 1939, in a series of undeclared wars against nations with which Germany had arbitration and non-aggression treaties, and in violation of repeated assurances.

On 1st September, 1939, this rearmed Germany attacked Poland. The following April witnessed the invasion and occupation of Denmark and Norway, and May saw the overrunning of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. Another spring saw Yugoslavia and Greece under attack, and in June, 1941, came the invasion of Soviet Russia. Then Japan, which Germany had embraced as a partner, struck without warning at Pearl Harbour in December, 1941, and four days later Germany declared war on the United States.

We need not trouble ourselves about the many abstract difficulties that can be conjured up about what constitutes aggression in doubtful cases. I shall show you, in discussing the conspiracy, that by any test ever put forward by any responsible authority, by all the canons of plain common sense, these were unlawful wars of aggression in breach of treaties and in violation of assurances.

3. WARFARE IN DISREGARD OF INTERNATIONAL LAW

It is unnecessary to labour this point on the facts. Goering asserts that the Rules of Land Warfare were obsolete, that no nation could fight a total war within their limits. He testified that the Nazis would have denounced the Conventions to which Germany was a party, but that General Jodl wanted captured German soldiers to continue to benefit from. their observance by the Allies.

It was, however, against the Soviet people and Soviet prisoners that Teutonic fury knew no bounds, in spite of a warning by Admiral Canaris that the treatment was in violation of International Law. We need not, therefore, for the purposes of the conspiracy count, recite the revolting details of starving, beating, murdering, freezing, and mass extermination admittedly used against the Eastern soldiery. Also, we may take as established or admitted that the lawless conduct such as shooting British and American airmen, mistreatment of Western prisoners of war, forcing French prisoners of war into German war work, and other deliberate violations of the Hague and Geneva Conventions, did occur, and in obedience to highest levels of authority.

4. ENSLAVEMENT AND PLUNDER OF POPULATIONS IN OCCUPIED COUNTRIES

The defendant Sauckel, Plenipotentiary General for the Utilization of Labour, is authority for the statement that “out of five million foreign workers who arrived in Germany, not even 200,000 came voluntarily”. It was officially reported to defendant Rosenberg that in his territory “recruiting methods were used which probably have their origin in the blackest period of the slave trade”. Sauckel himself reported that male and female agents went hunting for men, got them drunk, and “shanghaied” them to Germany. These captives were shipped in trains without heat, food, or sanitary facilities. The dead were thrown out at stations, and the newborn were thrown out the windows of moving trains.

Sauckel ordered that “all the men must be fed, sheltered and treated in such a way as to exploit them to the highest possible extent at the lowest conceivable degree of expenditure”. About two million of these were employed directly in the manufacture of armaments and munitions. The director of the Krupp locomotive factory in Essen complained to the company that Russian forced labourers were so underfed that they were too weakened to do their work, and the Krupp doctor confirmed their pitiable condition. Soviet workers were put in camps under Gestapo guards, who were allowed to punish disobedience by confinement in a concentration camp or by hanging on the spot.

Populations of occupied countries were otherwise exploited and oppressed unmercifully. Terrorism was the order of the day. Civilians were arrested without charges, committed without counsel, executed without hearing. Villages were destroyed, the male inhabitants shot or sent to concentration camps, the women sent to forced labour, and the children scattered abroad. The extent of the slaughter in Poland alone was indicated by Frank, who reported:

” If I wanted to have a poster put up for every seven Poles who were shot, the forests of Poland would not suffice for producing the paper for such posters.”

Those who will enslave men cannot be expected to refrain from plundering them. Boastful reports show how thoroughly and scientifically the resources of occupied lands were sucked into the German war economy, inflicting shortage, hunger, and inflation upon the inhabitants. Besides this grand plan to aid the German war effort there were the sordid activities of the Rosenberg “Einsatzstab”, which pillaged art treasures for Goering and his fellow-bandits. It is hard to say whether the spectacle of Germany’s No. 2 leader urging his people to give up every comfort and strain every sinew on essential war work while he rushed around confiscating art by the trainload should be cast as tragedy or comedy. In either case it was a crime.

International Law at all times before and during this war spoke with precision and authority respecting the protection due to civilians of an occupied country, and the slave trade and plunder of occupied countries was at all times flagrantly unlawful.

5. PERSECUTION AND EXTERMINATION OF JEWS AND CHRISTIANS

The Nazi movement will be of evil memory in history because of its persecution of the Jews, the most far-flung and terrible racial persecution of all time. Although the Nazi Party neither invented nor monopolised anti-Semitism, its leaders from the very beginning embraced it, incited it, and exploited it. They used it as “the psychological spark that ignites the mob”. After seizure of power, it became an official State policy. The persecution began in a series of discriminatory laws eliminating the Jews from the civil service, the professions, and economic life. As it became more intense it included segregation of Jews in ghettoes, and exile. Riots were organized by Party leaders to loot Jewish business places and to burn synagogues. Jewish property was confiscated and a collective fine of a billion marks was imposed upon German Jewry. The programme progressed in fury and irresponsibility to the “final solution”. This consisted of sending all Jews who were fit to work to concentration camps as slave labourers, and all who were not fit, which included children under 12 and people over 50, as well as any others judged unfit by an SS doctor, to concentration camps for extermination.

Adolf Eichmann, the sinister figure who had charge of the extermination programme, has estimated that the anti-Jewish activities resulted in the killing of six million Jews. Of these, four million were killed in extermination institutions, and two million were killed by Einsatzgruppen, mobile units of the Security Police and SD which pursued Jews in the ghettoes and in their homes and slaughtered them in gas wagons, by mass shooting in anti-tank ditches and by every device which Nazi ingenuity could conceive.

So thorough and uncompromising was this programme that the Jews of Europe as a race no longer exist, thus fulfilling the diabolic “prophecy” of Adolf Hitler at the beginning of the war. Of course, any such programme must reckon with the opposition of the Christian Church. This was recognized from the very beginning. Defendant Bormann wrote all Gauleiter in 1941 that “National Socialism and Christian concepts are irreconcilable”, and that the people must be separated from the Churches, and the influence of the Churches totally removed. Defendant Rosenberg even wrote dreary treatises advocating a new and weird. Nazi religion.

The Gestapo appointed “Church specialists” who were instructed that the ultimate aim was “destruction of the confessional Churches”. The record is full of specific instances of the persecution of clergymen, the confiscation of Church property, interference with religious publications, disruption, of religious education, and suppression of religious organizations.

The chief instrument for persecution and extermination was the concentration camp, sired by the defendant Goering and nurtured under the overall authority of defendants Frick and Kaltenbrunner.

The horrors of these iniquitous places have been vividly disclosed by documents and testified to by witnesses. The Tribunal must be satiated with ghastly verbal and pictorial portrayals. From your records it is clear that the concentration camps were the first and worst weapon of Nazi oppression used by the National Socialist State, and that they were the primary means utilised for the persecution of the Christian Church and the extermination of the Jewish race. This has been admitted to you by some of the defendants from the witness stand. In the words of defendant Frank:

“A thousand years will pass and this guilt of Germany will still not be erased.”

These, then, were the five great substantive crimes of the Nazi regime. Their commission, which cannot be denied, stands admitted. The defendant Keitel, who is in a position to know the facts, has given the Tribunal what seems to be a fair summation of the case on the facts:

“The defendant has declared that ‘he admits the contents of the general Indictment to be proved from the objective and factual point of view’ (that is to say, not every individual case) ‘and this in consideration of the law of procedure governing the trial. It would be senseless, despite the possibility of refuting several documents or individual facts, to attempt to shake the Indictment as a whole.'” I pass now to the inquiry as to whether these groups of criminal acts were integrated in a common plan or conspiracy.

THE COMMON PLAN OR CONSPIRACY

The prosecution submits that these five categories of premeditated crimes were not separate and independent phenomena but that all were committed pursuant to a common plan or conspiracy.

The defence admits that these classes of crimes were committed, but denies that they are connected one with another as parts of a single programme. The central crime in this pattern of crimes, the king-pin which holds them all together, is the plot for aggressive wars. The chief reason for international cognizance of these crimes lies in this fact. Have we established the plan or conspiracy to make aggressive war?

Certain admitted or clearly proven facts help to answer that question. First is the fact that such war of aggression did take place. Second, it is admitted that from the moment the Nazis came to power, every one of them and every one of the defendants worked like beavers to prepare for some war. The question therefore comes to this: Were they preparing for the war which did occur, or were they preparing for some war which never happened?

It is probably true that in their early days none of them had in mind what month of what year war would begin, the exact dispute which would precipitate it, or whether its first impact would be Austria, Czechoslovakia, or Poland. But I submit that the defendants either knew or were chargeable with knowledge that the war for which they were making ready would be a war of German aggression. This is partly because there was no real expectation that any power or combination of powers would attack Germany. But it is chiefly because the inherent nature of the German plans was such that they were certain sooner or later to meet resistance and that they could then be accomplished only by aggression.

The plans of Adolf Hitler for aggression were just as secret as Mein Kampf, of which over six million copies were published in Germany. He not only openly advocated overthrowing the Treaty of Versailles, but made demands which went far beyond a mere rectification of its alleged injustices. He avowed an intention to attack neighbouring States and seize their lands, which he said would have to be won with “the power of a triumphant sword”. Here, for every German to hearken to, were the “ancestral voices prophesying war”.

Goering has testified in this courtroom that at his first meeting with Hitler, long before the seizure of power:

“I noted that Hitler had a definite view of the impotency of protest and, as a second point, that he was of the opinion that Germany should be freed of the Peace of Versailles. ‘We did not say we shall have to have a war and defeat our enemies’; this was the aim and the methods had to be adapted to the political situation.”

When asked if this goal were to be accomplished by war if necessary, Goering did not deny that eventuality but evaded a direct answer by saying, “We did not debate about that at all at that time.” He went on to say that the aim to overthrow the Treaty of Versailles was open and notorious and that, I quote again, “Every German in my opinion was for its modification, and there was no doubt that this was a strong inducement for joining the party.”

Thus, there can be no possible excuse for any person who aided Hitler to get absolute power over the German people, or who took a part in his regime, to fail to know the nature of the demands he would make on Germany’s neighbours.

Until tomorrow…

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“I Never Knew it Would Come to That” the Eternal Excuse of Participants and Bystanders

Jewish Men being Rounded Up in Baden with Citizens looking on  

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer wrote: “Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.”  These words from his book Perpetrators, Victims, Bystanders: The Jewish Catastrophe 1933-1945 serve as a warning to members of a society where various minority groups are being labeled as enemies of the state and often less than human.

Over the past week we have watched as a rabid Trump supported sent pipe bombs to a dozen men and women who the President has personally attacked in speeches, interviews, or on his Twitter account. We have watched as a White man gun down two Black senior citizens in a Louisville, Kentucky Kroger store after failing to gain access into a Black Baptist Church. We have watched as a hate filled anti-Semite kill eleven Jews, mostly senior citizens in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, we watch as the President turns a caravan of Honduran refugees, mostly women and children, nearly 1,000 miles from the US border into a terrorist caravan full of MS-13 and ISIS killers.

The President blamed the intended victims for the actions of a very real terrorist who happened to be one of his most stalwart supporters. He ignored the racially motivated murder of Black senior citizens. He made jokes about having a “bad hair day” within hours of the massacre at Tree of Life on his way to a political rally where he again excoriated the press and his political opponents blaming them for the violent acts of his supporters or men who have fully bought in to the President’s racial conspiracy theories.

Many people wonder how this can happen, but it happens all too easily. All that is needed is a population that has been conditioned by propaganda, based on historical myth, untruth, a prevailing climate of fear, and in which the threat of crisis, real or imagined, can delude even good, able, and even extraordinary people to commit crimes that if they were not real, would be incomprehensible to the mind.

In such times decisions have to be made, difficult decisions, the decision to stand for what is right, even if the country’s leaders, and their most vocal followers threaten violence and the use of government force against those who dissent.

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

The excuse of just following orders has been shown to be no excuse. Men and women who follow such orders under a thin veneer of technical legality will be condemned by history. The men of the Wehrmacht who gave logistic, communication, and security support to the Einsatzgruppen that were committing genocide in the Soviet Union were as guilty as the trigger pullers.

Genocide begins when those who know better turn their backs on crimes committed against a few. The last lines of the classic film Judgement at Nuremberg are illuminating when it comes to understanding men and women who do just that. In the film, Burt Lancaster playin the convicted Nazi judge Janning asks Judge Heywood played by Spencer Tracy to visit him. In that closing scene Janning implored Heywood to understand that he never believed that things would go so far.

Ernst Janning: “Judge Haywood… the reason I asked you to come: Those people, those millions of people… I never knew it would come to that. You must believe it, You must believe it!”

Judge Dan Haywood: “Herr Janning, it “came to that” the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.”

Being a perpetrator is one thing, but being a bystander is worse. As Hannah Arendt noted: “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil. 

Until Tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Guard Your Soul Lest You Forget: the Relevance Of the Holocaust Today

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I took a few days of leave for the first time in months so that Judy and I could visit friends in the Washington D.C. area. Since Wednesday ended with me being called back in to work to deal with the workplace suicide of a young sailor stationed at one of the units on our base it was needed.

It is nice because the expectations that we have of each other are simply to enjoy the time together without expecting them to entertain us. Judy does crafts with Melissa, all of us talk, sometimes we play card games or watch television or a movies while our seven combined Papillon dogs hang out and play.

So yesterday I drove over to the nearest Metro station and went down to the Holocaust Museum. Since I study the Weimar and Nazi period, the Holocaust and the war crimes trials this was important. In Germany I have been to the Dachau and Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camps, the T4 Euthanasia Program Center at Hadamar, the Palace Of Justice in Nuremberg where the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials (as well as the Nazi era Nuremberg laws) were prosecuted, the Sophie Scholl White Rose Museum, and the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism; this was important. I will be continuing to visit Holocaust sites in Germany when I go there this Fall, but I finally was able to stake out the time to visit the U.S. Holocaust Museum.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today I truly believe that under President Trump that the United States is just a Reichstag Fire moment from entering a phase of history when not only Trump supporters, but even some Trump opponents would do nothing in a crisis and either become willing participants in tyranny, bystanders to it or victims of it. As I walked through the museum and remembered all of my visits to Holocaust and other sites in Germany I realized again that it can happen again.

When I finished with most of my visit I went to the Hall of Remembrance and sat for a long time in silence, a silence that made me realize again just how easy it would be to happen again and the choices that all of us if it happens in our time will have to make.

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

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

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“Most Evil is Done by People who Never Make up Their Minds to be Good or Evil.”

rolfeFriends of Padre Steve’s World,

I read and write a lot about Weimar and Nazi Germany as well as the Holocaust. They were the focus of my undergraduate major working under Dr. Helmut Heussler who served as a translator and interrogator at Nuremberg while I was a student at California State University at Northridge and later in my Masters of Arts in Military History. I read the documents, the histories, the narratives, and the reports both in English and German. I study the perpetrators, the victims, and yes the bystanders as well and there is not enough time in one man’s life to read all of them, but I will try.

Likewise I visit the sites where things happened in Germany, and every time that I make a trip to those places I learn more and believe me it is not comfortable.  When I visited the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg I saw a picture of Dr. Heussler doing his work. Back then he was very young and it would be a number of years before he finished college and went on to his doctorate. When I saw his picture I remembered just how important he was in opening my eyes to the dark side of humanity; even those people that are not truly evil; those like most of us who exist between the shades of gray between sainthood and the devil.

The histories, the documents, the narratives paint a dark picture of humanity and the fallibility of people. The portrait that they paint a disturbing picture of the true nature of what is in all of us. When I look at the pictures and see the films I can see that the lessons of that time have not been learned. Dr. Timothy Snyder wrote:

“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.”

In the age where men who admire tyrants and authoritarians like Trump, Putin, Farage, Erdrogan, Assad, and so many others it is important that we try to learn the lessons lest we fall into the same trap as our ancestors and become perpetrators, victims, or bystanders. The fact is that totalitarian regimes and events like the Holocaust are all too common in human history. Yehuda Bauer wrote:

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

The fact is that there are very few true saints and likewise very few truly evil people. Quite obviously Adolf Hitler and many of his associates fell in the latter category. The rest of us, and for that matter most of the people on all sides during from the Nazi seizure of power until the Gotterdammerung of the Third Reich in in the flames of Berlin in 1945 fell somewhere in the gray area between the truly evil and the saints and truthfully all of us given the right conditions are capable of becoming perpetrators, victims, or the worst, bystanders who turn their backs on evil because it doesn’t seem to affect us; but it does.

Admittedly this is a dark subject and as I always reminded my students “the one constant in history are fallible human beings.” 

During our recent blizzard and snow event my wife Judy was away, so one of the nights that I was alone I re-watched the film Judgment at Nuremberg. The film is profoundly disturbing not only because of the subjects that it deals with but also when we look at the great uncertainty time that we live and how similar it is to the world of the late 1920s and early 1930s. In one of the more disturbing scenes of the film, Maximillian Schell, who played Hans Rolfe, the defense counsel for Ernst Janning, played by Burt Lancaster gives a summation in the final defense of his client who has already admitted his guilt which is remarkable because he tells the truth about the guilt of everyone.

Rolfe’s summation of his defense following his client’s admission of guilt is damning. It is something that almost all of us do. It is how we look at the atrocities of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, the willful starvation of millions by criminal regimes; and then stand by saying little or nothing and doing nothing, sometimes even supporting the leaders or the regimes that commit these actions.

So please, no matter what your political point of view, take the time to watch clip or the whole film, and read the transcript of Schell’s speech below. It’s far easier than trying to do all the reading, study, and research that I have done.

“Your Honor, it is my duty to defend Ernst Janning, and yet Ernst Janning has said he is guilty. There’s no doubt, he feels his guilt. He made a great error in going along with the Nazi movement, hoping it would be good for his country. But, if he is to be found guilty, there are others who also went along, who also must be found guilty. Ernst Janning said, “We succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.” Why did we succeed, Your Honor? What about the rest of the world? Did it not know the intentions of the Third Reich? Did it not hear the words of Hitler’s broadcast all over the world? Did it not read his intentions in Mein Kampf, published in every corner of the world? Where’s the responsibility of the Soviet Union, who signed in 1939 the pact with Hitler, enabled him to make war? Are we not to find Russia guilty? Where’s the responsibility of the Vatican, who signed in 1933 the Concordat with Hitler, giving him his first tremendous prestige? Are we not to find the Vatican guilty? Where’s the responsibility of the world leader, Winston Churchill, who said in an open letter to the London Times in 1938 – 1938! Your Honor – “were England to suffer national disaster should pray to God to send a man of the strength of mind and will of an Adolf Hitler!” Are we not to find Winston Churchill guilty? Where is the responsibility of those American industrialists, who helped Hitler to rebuild his armaments and profited by that rebuilding? Are we not to find the American industrialists guilty? No, Your Honor. No! Germany alone is not guilty: The whole world is as responsible for Hitler’s Germany. It is an easy thing to condemn one man in the dock. It is easy to condemn the German people to speak of the basic flaw in the German character that allowed Hitler to rise to power and at the same time positively ignore the basic flaw of character that made the Russians sign pacts with him, Winston Churchill praise him, American industrialists profit by him! Ernst Janning said he is guilty. If he is, Ernst Janning’s guilt is the world’s guilt – no more and no less.”

Sadly, little has changed in the character of humanity. If we do or say nothing, if we support those who do such things, if we close our eyes and pretend that it is not our problem, then we too are the guilty party.  As Hannah Arendt wrote: “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“But the Jews Weren’t the Only Ones” How Ordinary and Terrifyingly Normal People Minimize and Accept Nazi Ideology

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have to admit that the amount of ignorance in the defense of evil that I see daily is simply mind blowing. It makes me shake my head. But then I cannot be surprised anymore. Over the weekend I saw a poll in which nine percent of Americans said that holding White Supremacist or Neo-Nazi views and ideology was okay.

Now nine percent doesn’t sound like a big number or anything to worry about until you extrapolate that percentage into the numbers of people who hold that view. Based on the population of the United States that nine percent equals about thirty million individuals. Now I’m sure that many of these patriotic Americans are not card carrying Klansmen or Nazis, but the fact that they would turn a blind eye to the evil of both in the name of some incomprehensible moral equivalence as did President Trump after Charlottesville is quite disturbing. Perhaps it is his example that enables them to be so open about their acceptance of evil.

Yesterday on my Facebook page a friend of a friend commented on an article which discussed new research that indicates that the Nazis in their occupation of the Ukraine killed perhaps a half million more Jews than previously believed. That woman made the comment that there were others, and yes that is true. Had the Nazis won the war tens of millions more of the Jews as well as the Slavs who they referred to as Untermenschen or subhumans would have been killed, either directly or through a policy of intentional starvation. But make no bones about it, from the months that Hitler spent in Landsberg prison for his role in the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923 writing Mein Kampf until the end of the war as the Red Army closed in on his bunker in Berlin, the Jews above all were the object of his personal hatred.

Close to six million Jews and millions of others were killed by the Nazis. Millions of Africans were enslaved in the United States and even after emancipation were by law treated as less than full citizens. Under Jim Crow they were discriminated against at every level of government including states that were neither a part of the Confederacy or not even States when the Civil War was fought, they were impressed as forced labor under the Black Codes and thousands were murdered, often in public by people who brought their children to watch Black men die.

But these people were not just numbers. It’s all to easy to blur them into a mass of dehumanized humanity by talking about the millions, when every single one was a human being, yes, I believe created in the image of God. We have to see their faces and we have to recognize their essential humanity as men and women, children, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, husbands and wives, whose lives were in the case of the Jews obliterated as if they never existed, and others like African slaves who were simply property.

I explained that in quite a few fewer words and told her that she shouldn’t challenge me on the subject, which of course she did. So I went into more detail and shot her argument down in flames, to the cheers of other commentators on the post. When you have spent much of your academic life studying a subject it really gets old hearing people make excuse for evil by trying to minimize that evil, especially against the targeted people.

It’s like Confederate apologists saying that the institution of slavery which enslaved millions of Africans was actually worse for White people. Yes it is true that many poor whites benefited little from slavery, but they were not bought and sold as chattel, sold away from their wives and children, whipped, and marched across country in chains to new owners, or yes even killed simply because they were not considered human beings but property.

Sadly, as Dr. Timothy Snyder wrote “The history of the Holocaust is not over. Its precedent is eternal, and its lessons have not yet been learned.”

So there are about 30 million Americans who believe that holding Nazi and White Supremacist beliefs is okay. A few years ago I would believed that the number was lower, but after seven months of living in Trump’s America I believe that it might be even higher than the poll indicated. I only say this based on the postings I see on various social media platforms, news comment pages, the proliferation of websites that cater to these beliefs, and the lack of real condemnation of such individuals by the majority of the GOP Senate and House majorities, and the outright defense of them by other GOP representatives at the Federal and State level. These people have not learned the lessons of the Holocaust, nor American slavery.

Again I don’t believe that the majority of these people are real card carrying Nazis or Klansmen. Most would probably be considered great citizens: they work, they raise families, they go to church, and many would claim that they have “a Black or Jewish friend” so obviously they cannot be racists. But that being said they turn a blind eye to the evil of race hatred and White supremacy, and sometimes join in on social media meme wars where they mock the victims. But no matter what, not condemning the purveyors of White Supremacist or Neo-Nazi ideology, or by using the arguments of moral equivalence to minimize those crimes against humanity makes these people as complicit in the past, present, and future crimes of Naziism as if they were.

They may be ordinary people, as seemingly normal as anyone else, but as Hannah Arendt noted about Adolf Eichmann and other Nazis who advanced the destruction of the Jews was that they were so normal. She wrote:

“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.”

That my friends is as true as the day she wrote it after Eichmann’s trial, as it is today, and why we must constantly educate people in every forum possible that it is all too easy to become either a perpetrator or evil or a bystander. As Snyder wrote: “It is less appealing, but morally more urgent, to understand the actions of the perpetrators. The moral danger, after all, is never that one might become a victim but that one might be a perpetrator or a bystander. It is tempting to say that a Nazi murderer is beyond the pale of understanding. …Yet to deny a human being his human character is to render ethics impossible. To yield to this temptation, to find other people inhuman, is to take a step toward, not away from, the Nazi position. To find other people incomprehensible is to abandon the search for understanding, and thus to abandon history.”

Since they were human beings the Nazis were not unique to history. In every era of history human beings have committed atrocities, many in the name of some kind of ethnic, religious, or nationalist ideology of supremacy that held other people to be less than human. That may sound harsh, but it is all too true based on history.

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

In the movie Judgment at Nuremberg the judge played by Spencer Tracy noted something important about the defendants in the trial. His words need to be heard today as well:

Janning, to be sure, is a tragic figure. We believe he loathed the evil he did. But compassion for the present torture of his soul must not beget forgetfulness of the torture and the death of millions by the Government of which he was a part. Janning’s record and his fate illuminate the most shattering truth that has emerged from this trial: If he and all of the other defendants had been degraded perverts, if all of the leaders of the Third Reich had been sadistic monsters and maniacs, then these events would have no more moral significance than an earthquake, or any other natural catastrophe.

But this trial has shown that under a national crisis, ordinary – even able and extraordinary – men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination. No one who has sat through the trial can ever forget them: men sterilized because of political belief; a mockery made of friendship and faith; the murder of children. How easily it can happen. There are those in our own country too who today speak of the “protection of country” – of ‘survival’. A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient – to look the other way. Well, the answer to that is ‘survival as what’? A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult! Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, in our decision, this is what we stand for: justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.

It is high time that we learn that again and that we make up our minds to oppose the ideologies that made the Holocaust and Slavery possible. As Hannah Arendt observed: “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Understanding the Actions Ordinary Men: Perpetrators of Genocide

Ordungspolizei Executing Jews in Poland

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

I just finished re-reading Christopher Browning’s classic book on an often overlooked part of the Holocaust in Poland, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution  in Poland. As I read it I was reminded of Niebuhr’s words. The book details the actions of the men of a police unit that one would have expected to be the most unlikely perpetrators of violence and mass killing. Most of the unit’s men were not ardent Nazis or even party members, many were too old to have been drafted into the military, and most came of age long before the Nazis took control of the education system.  They were mostly from Hamburg, one of the least Nazified of all major German cities, and included was a contingent from Luxembourg, a country that was not part of Germany.

In their actions in Poland an estimated ten to twenty percent refused to take part in the mass killings of Jews. Unlike the people who manned the factory like death camps such as Treblinka and Auschwitz, these men killed their victims in an exceedingly personal manner. They stood at close range and fired pistol or rifle shots into the back of the skulls of their victims, who mostly were kneeling over pits or prostrate on the ground. The members of the unit killed a minimum of 38,000 Jews in this manner, and were instrumental in the deportations of about 45,000 more to the death camps. Very few were prosecuted for their crimes. Most went home, and some resumed successful careers in the police.

These men were very ordinary, and that is what makes what they did so troubling. One of the problems with human nature is that people in any time or place can participate in the very kinds of evil that the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 and other units like it did. We have to understand what allows normal people to take part in evil. As Timothy Snyder wrote in his book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin:

“It is easy to sanctify policies or identities by the deaths of victims. It is less appealing, but morally more urgent, to understand the actions of the perpetrators. The moral danger, after all, is never that one might become a victim but that one might be a perpetrator or a bystander.”

It is never easy to examine and understand the actions of the perpetrators. To understand them is not to justify them, but to ensure that we do not become like them, as Yehuda Bauer wrote:

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

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Perpetrators and Bystanders

Jewish Men being Rounded Up in Baden with Citizens looking on  

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer wrote: “Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.”  These words from his book Perpetrators, Victims, Bystanders: The Jewish Catastrophe 1933-1945 serve as a warning to members of a society where various minority groups are being labeled as enemies of the state and often less than human.

I the past couple of days I have written about the need to try to understand people who in the past have committed genocide, mass murder, starvation, and other crimes against humanity. I did this not to give any basis whatsoever to justify their actions, but so that we might not think ourselves so different that we make the mistake of believing that we are not capable of such crimes, or looking on and allowing them to happen.

It is all too easy for it to happen. All that is needed is a population that has been conditioned by propaganda, based on historical myth, untruth, a prevailing climate of fear, and in which the threat of crisis, real or imagined, can delude even good, able, and even extraordinary people to commit crimes that if they were not real, would be incomprehensible to the mind. In such times decisions have to be made, difficult decisions, the decision to stand for what is right, even if the country’s leaders, and their most vocal followers threaten violence and the use of government force against those who dissent.

Being a perpetrator is one thing, but being a bystander is worse. As Hannah Arendt noted: “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.

Until Tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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