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* Lew’s comments on I.J. Singer’s “The Family Carnovsky”

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 9, 2015

Family Carnovsky & An Untitled Novel

I.J. Singer (the older brother of Isaac Bashevitz Singer) tells the story of three generations of a Jewish family, from Poland to Berlin to New York, from the early 1900s to the 1930s.

German Jews thought they were safe, with careers and sufficient wealth to live comfortably, to work, marry, have children and pray. They assimilated and they had become, as Singer puts it, “Jews in the house and Germans on the street.”

Then came the Nazis and everything was turned upside down.

The scenes describing the impact of the brutal, ignorant Nazi beasts are frightening and difficult to read, but impossible to put aside. In their minds in the German Jews of Singer’s novel were as good as any other German, but in public, in the “streets,” they were not Germans at all, but simply despicable Jews, to be robbed and beaten at will. They had done everything they thought was right and they had succeeded in building satisfying and productive lives, and now they were nothing, barely able to stay alive, with nowhere to turn for help.

I read this as a library copy, but immediately my purchased own, to read again as I write my still untitled story of how Hitler came to power, who supported his rise and why, who stood aside, and my young fictional characters who tried to resist.

***

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* Lew’s talk at the Key West Library … 2/24/15

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 24, 2015

 speech #1

I’ll be speaking today about …

  • my novel-in-progress
  • the blending of history & fiction
  • the blending of historical & fictional characters
  • how I keep track of all the research

 TIME FRAME

  • my story begins in 1923 and ends in 1946
  • VOL I – today’s topic … begins with the Munich beer hall putsch in 1923 and ends when Hitler came to power in 1933       
  • VOL II – will cover the years from 1933 to 1946
  • there are going to be two volumes because …
    • after 3 years, I’m still in 1933
    • and already on page 491 

UNDERLYING THEME

Why did Germans – and others – promote, facilitate or simply stand aside and allow Hitler to come to power?

  • There were so many opportunities to stop Hitler before he gained power
  • everybody has an answer, and most are right … but not complete

this novel requires research in many different topics …

  • German & Polish history
  • history of Jews and antisemitism
  • the Catholic Church’s relationship to Hitler
  • the Nazi Party
  • World War II
  • resistance in Germany & Poland
  • the Holocaust
  • Nuremberg War Crimes Trial

and for me, it requires a lot of research

Hitler village

  • books on my research list … 2307
  • books read (in whole or part) … 365
  • # research notes … 15,875
  • for me, the history has to be correct

the major characters in my novel are Berthold Becker & Anna Gorska

  • Berthold Becker … is a German Catholic boy who becomes a Nazi
  • Anna Gorska … a Polish Jewish girl, born in the shtetl where my grandparents lived
  • Anna comes from Ciechanow, where my grandparents lived
    • Pat and I visited Ciechanow
    • the Jewish section no longer exists; all the homes have been demolished
    • all of my family who stayed there were murdered
  •  this monument was constructed from recovered gravestones; the pre-WWII cemetery was also demolished

DSCN8353-Ciechanow cemetery

  •  Anna Gorska’s great uncle in my story is Edel Evantash – who was my grandfather

 grandpop & me

  • Grandpop Evantash worked in a shoe shop in Ciechanow … which we “saw”
  • he left Poland … family legend says he “walked” to London … never mind the English Channel along the way
  • then to America … Camden NJ … sent for my grandmother … became a successful home builder
  • I was fortunate to know him and wish I had asked him many more questions
  • BTW … that’s me in my grandfather’s arms … Nov 1941

one of the major challenges in a historical novel is to link fiction & history

  • what is true? … what is fiction?
  • next are some examples of how truth and fiction are blended in my story

 Dietrich Becker & the beer hall putsch

putsch march - cropped

  • Dietrich Becker is a fictional character … Berthold’s brother
    • Dietrich returns from WWI a bitter man, angry, unemployed … a perfect candidate for Hitler’s rhetoric … he becomes a Nazi and then Hitler’s driver
    • Dietrich marches with Hitler in the ill-fated 1923 beer hall putsch
    • I imagine him in the second row, behind Goering and Hitler
  •  FACTS …
    • after roughly 15 minutes, Hitler & his rag-tag group are fired upon
    • someone falls on Hitler and saves his life
  •  FICTION …
    • I make Dietrich Becker the one who saves Hitler and thus becomes a Nazi martyr
  • IMPORTANCE TO THE STORY …
    • years later, Berthold, who finds Hitler despicable, becomes an unwilling Nazi hero radiating in his dead brother’s light

Marshal Josef Pilsudski 

pilsudski cover

  • Grandpop Evantash …
    • left Ciechanow in 1908 … apparently in a hurry 
    • So I made my grandfather a member of Pilsudski’s train robbing gang …
  • Josef Pilsudski …
    • was a Polish revolutionary in 1908
    • organizing guerrillas to fight the Russians
    • needing money to equip and train his men
    • he decides to rob a train carrying Russian tax money from Poland to Vilnius in Lithuania
  • The Pilsudski-Evantash connection
    • is a critical element in my story, as it many years later allows Anna to build a relationship with Pilsudski, who by then is the “de facto dictator” of Poland.
      • this relationship furthers Anna’s career as a journalist
      • and also allows me to have her learn many things not otherwise easily knowable

Ernst Franz Sedgwick Hanfstaengl … aka “Putzi”

putzi waving

  • Putzi was …
    • born in Munich
    • educated at Harvard, where he was friends with FDR
    • ran his family’s art store on 5th Avenue in NYC
    • returned to Munich and became enamored with Hitler
    • worked with Hitler for well over a decade
      • known as “Hitler’s piano player “
      • Hitler had Putzi install a piano on the train that ran between Berlin and Munich
    • when Hitler turned on him in 1937, Putzi escaped to Switzerland and then London
    • when war was declared, the British arrested him as an enemy alien
    • from prison, he convinced FDR he could be valuable to the American war effort
    • Putzi spent the war years in Washington DC listening to German broadcasts and providing his evaluations to Roosevelt
  • I created a fictional connection between Berthold & Putzi
    •  once Berthold becomes a Nazi hero, he comes to Putzi’s attention
    • for reasons that I won’t disclose today, Berthold works that relationship to get from Putzi an unending stream of information and delicious gossip

 Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber

Faulhaber

  • Putzi is comic relief … now it’s time to get serious
  • Michael von Faulhaber was …
    • the revered archbishop of Munich from 1917 until his death in 1952
    • he wielded enormous influence over the framing of Church politics and also the shaping of public opinion in Bavaria and throughout Germany

 here’s what Faulhaber said in 1932 & 1933 before Hitler became Chancellor…

  •  he forbade Catholic priests to take part in the Nazi movement
  • he spoke scathingly about Nazi methods, radicalism and vulgarity
  • he was so outspoken about Nazi persecution of Jews that he was labeled the “Jewish Cardinal” by Munich university students
  • he called National Socialism a “heresy” that “cannot be brought into harmony with the Christian worldview”
  • Cardinal Faulhaber’s views were shared by an overwhelming majority of German Catholic bishops and Catholic voters

here’s what Faulhaber said a few months later

  •  After the signing of the Concordat between the Nazi regime and the Roman Catholic Church in 1933 Faulhaber sent a note of congratulations to Hitler
    • “What the old parliament and parties did not accomplish in sixty years, your statesmanlike foresight has achieved in six months.”
    • He ended his letter: “May God preserve the Reich Chancellor for our people”

 What happened in between?

  •  Cardinal Secretary of State Eugenio Pacelli is what happened in between, as Faulhaber and the other German bishops were pressured to change their tune about Hitler

Pacelli

  •  Pacelli, later Pope Pius XII, has been fiercely criticized for his lack of resistance to Hitler during WWII and the Holocaust.
  • A decade earlier, he played a major role in bring power to Hitler.

Pacelli’s Concordat obsession

  • by January 1933, Cardinal Pacelli had been obsessed for a decade with the desire to negotiate a Concordat with the German state
    •  The Concordat was a treaty between the Vatican and the German Reich, spelling out the rules under which the Catholic Church would operate in Germany
  • Pacelli finally realized that the Catholic Center Party in the German parliament (Reichstag) could never assemble enough votes from the Socialist, Communist, Nazi and Nationalist delegates to pass a Concordat
  •  Hitler, however, if he achieved sufficient dictatorial power, would be able to deliver a Reich Concordat

significant events in 1933

  • on January 30, 1933, Hitler was appointed Chancellor by President Hindenburg
  • on March 23, 1933, an Enabling Act was passed in the Reichstag, eliminating civil rights in Germany and giving Hitler dictatorial powers
    •  the Catholic Center Party cast its votes for the Enabling Act, which would not have passed without those votes
  • on July 20, 1933, a Reich Concordat was signed between the Vatican and the Third Reich

WAS THERE A DEAL? 

  • did Cardinal Pacelli trade a Reich Concordat for the Enabling Act which gave Hitler dictatorial powers?
  • there is no known documentation to prove that
    • unless documents are still hidden in the Vatican archives
  • but most (not all) historians say … YES
  • I will write my answer over the next several months

 NEW TOPIC  … how do I use 15,875 lines of research notes?

  • remembering is clearly impossible
  • my system for finding what I need involves several large connected spreadsheets

 Research Sources

research sources for Jan 1933 scenes

  • these are the major sources for the scenes for 1 month – Jan 1933 – that I will begin writing tomorrow
    • some are broad histories … Evans, Kershaw, Fest
    • others are tightly focused … Turner’s history of Jan 1933
    • diaries & memoirs … Goebbels … Putzi … what can we believe?
    • archives … TIME, NYT, JTA

a few of the 15,875 lines from the RESEARCH spreadsheet

research notes by author & title-cropped

  • column headings … date … topic … notes … author, book, page
  •  having all this in one spreadsheet allows me to sort (say by date) and to search on any search term
  • so I can find anything I need in a matter of seconds

Scenes for Jan-Apr 1933 (not yet written)

scenes Jan-Apr 1933

  • column headings … Chapter # … Scene # … date … topic … location … characters
  •  the list changes frequently … scenes are added, dropped, and re-sequenced

 research & story line notes for 1 scene

research & S notes for a scene

  • research notes are assembled into scenes where they may provide relevant historical context …
    • sort/search items from RESEARCH spreadsheet
    • copy from RESEARCH spreadsheet to SCENES NOTES spreadsheet
    • story line notes (“S” notes) are my thoughts about what my characters might say and do

January 1933 was a strange and momentous month

 on Jan 1, Hitler’s rise to power was over

  • he had taken an “all or nothing” political gamble
  • and lost
  • the Nazis were fighting among themselves
  • they were broke
  • President Hindenburg had said he would never appoint that “Austrian corporal”
  • Hitler was not going to be Chancellor
  • he was talking about suicide

30 days later, Adolf Hitler was the Chancellor of Germany

I am ready to write the January 1933 scenes …

  •  the story unfolds mainly with Berthold in Germany, which is where the events take place
  •  but also with Anna in Poland where Marshal Pilsudski is the only European leader who seems to understand and fear the threat of Hitler and a rearmed Germany
  •  my challenge is to bring the reader inside these events

the first Jan 1933 scene begins with Putzi taking to Berthold

Putzi had the look on his face he always got when he was about to say something he knew he shouldn’t. But he was bursting to tell someone.

“I was with the Fuhrer at the opera the other day,” he began.

  •  and you are right there, inside the action as it happens

 Now we have a few minutes for Q & A

  • NOTE: feel free to ask your questions here on my author blog

***

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* Lew’s review of “POPE AND DEVIL – The Vatican’s Archives and the Third Reich” by Professor Hubert Wolf

Posted by Lew Weinstein on September 10, 2014

to see more of Lew’s research for his new novel, click …

 ** RESEARCH for Lew’s NEXT NOVEL

***

Pope and Devil & Untitled Novel

.

POPE AND DEVIL is, of course, research for the novel I am currently writing, set in Germany and Poland during the Nazi years. The role of the Catholic Church in facilitating the rise of Hitler is an important theme in my book. My comments are at the bottom of this post.

Prof. Wolf has done a sterling job of assembling details of the Catholic Church’s attitudes and actions before and during the Nazi era. So far I have focused on the chapter regarding a group called Amici Israel (Friends of Israel), formed in 1926 and disbanded in a humiliating way by Pius XI in 1928.

Amici Israel was initiated by Cardinal Faulhaber of Munich (and others) and grew in two years to include 1800 cardinals, bishops and priests. In 1928, they produced a document called Pax super Israel (Peace over Israel) which, among other things, recommended eliminating the pejorative word “perfidious” from the Good Friday liturgy. The Vatican’s most respected liturgical scholar reviewed the recommendations contained in Pax super Israel and gave all of them his approval.

Then … a Cardinal named Merry del Val, the head of the Holy Office of Inquisition, reviewed the document at the request of Pius XI and rendered an excoriating judgment.

Cardinal Merry del Val

Cardinal Merry del Val

 

Cardinal Merry del Val wrote …

*** The entire attitude of this little book is decidedly positive toward the Jews with rather adverse imputations about the Church and its servants. It is as if the bride of Christ stood accused of negligence, or even worse of unjustified aversion toward the people which is called the Chosen.

*** the activities of the “so-called Friends of Israel” must be stopped once and for all

*** the reform of the Good Friday prayer is completely unacceptable and nonsensical, not even a matter for discussion

*** the liturgy aptly (and correctly) expresses “the abhorrence for the rebellion and treachery of the chosen, disloyal and deicidal Jewish people”

*** the Good Friday prayers are not about individual Jews; they are about stiff-necked jewish people burdened with the curse that they as a people (properly) bear for having spilled the blood of the holiest of the holy

Cardinal Merry del Val’s recommendations were adopted …

The Holy Office of the Inquisition then rejected the reform of the Good Friday prayer and all the other Amici Israel recommendations with very little discussion, repeating Merry del Val’s demand that Amici Israel be disbanded.

Pius XI very quietly issued a decree incorporating Merry del Val’s recommendations and dissolving Amici Israel. He later asked his close associate Enrico Rosa, publisher of the more or less official journal of the Catholic Church called Civilta Cattolica, to write a public defense of his actions.

Enrico Rosa wrote …

*** the Church must protect against the appearance of friendship with the Jews, to which Amici Israel has fallen prey

*** the danger emanating from the Jews should never be underestimated

*** Jews have become presumptuous and powerful since their emancipation at the turn of the 19th c

*** Jews have come to dominate large portions of the world’s economic life and to build up their hegemony in many sectors of public life

*** Jews have manipulated all revolutionary activity from the French Revolution of 1789 up to the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution

*** Jews are forging plans for world hegemony

.

LMW COMMENT:

THESE WORDS OF CARDINAL MERRY DEL VAL AND ENRICO ROSA, ENDORSED BY POPE PIUS XI, ARE OF COURSE PRECISELY THE SAME JEW-HATING MESSAGE OF HITLER AND THE NAZIS, ADOPTED WITH ENTHUSIASM BY THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN 1928.

Amici Israel was a huge opportunity for the Catholic Church, upon the recommendation of high-ranking Cardinals and approval by its own foremost liturgical experts, to change the whole tone of antisemitism that had pervaded Catholic liturgy and sermons for centuries. This change, if adopted in 1928, would have sent a message to Germans and others that Hitler’s hysterical Jew-hatred was unacceptable to the Church, and perhaps there is every reason to speculate that Hitler would not have come to power in 1933.

The bishops of Germany, led by Cardinal Faulhaber, were pleading for support in their efforts to hold back the Nazi surge. The Vatican in Rome sent exactly the opposite message: Hitler’s Jew-hatred was fine with them.

In my view, Pius XI deserves to be condemned for this clear act of antisemitism and its awful consequences.

AFTER NOTE … The elimination of the word “perfidious” and all of the other changes recommended by Amici Israel, which had been rejected in 1928, were adopted by the Catholic Church in 1965  in the conclave known as Vatican II.

 

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* Lew’s review of Dragon’s Teeth (part I) by Upton Sinclair … research for “An Untitled Novel”

Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 24, 2014

 

Dragon's Teeth & Untitled Novel

I have read only that part of Dragon’s Teeth which carries the story to the spring of 1933, which corresponds with the time frame I am currently researching for my new novel. It is a spectacular book, showing through a very involved fictional family the horrors of Hitler achieving power.

I was less interested in Dragon’s Teeth as a novel – although it is a very well and powerfully told story – than I was in the observations the novel’s characters make about Hitler and the Nazis. Since the novel was published in 1942, these come close to being contemporaneous. Here are some of those observations …

… It was an atrocious thing that anybody should be permitted to organize a private army as Hitler had done

… One must admit that Hitler is sincere … so are most lunatics

… If you let the German Republic fall and you get Hitler … how will that help you? … (LMW: yet that is exactly what the other political parties and the Catholic Church did)

… after he became Chancellor, Hitler had total control of propaganda … every statement he made was on the front page of every newspaper … Goering was Prussian Minister of the interior I could say what he wanted over the radio … Goebbels was Minister of Propaganda and Popular enlightenment … Nazi propaganda covered Germany like an explosion … Goebbels could say anything he pleased about his enemies and suppress their replies

… The head of the Berlin fire department had observed gasoline on the floors of the Reichstag … immediately after the fire and announced that the police had carted away a truckload of unburned incendiary materials … immediately after making this announcement he was dismissed from his post

… Hitler wanted two things … to get complete mastery of Germany … to be let alone by the outside world while he was doing it … (LMW: The Catholic Church, in passing the Enabling Act and signing the Concordat) were of inestimable help to Hitler in achieving both objectives)

***

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* Lew’s review of “Hitler’s Thirty Days to Power” by Henry Turner

Posted by Lew Weinstein on June 9, 2014

30 days & untitled novel

***

This is probably the last major research I will do before beginning to organize and write Part Two of my new novel. It is a superb place to finish. Turner has done a magnificent job reporting the events and capturing the feelings of so many of the participants in the momentous events of January 1933. 

It is a fascinating, day-to-day, person-by-person review of the 30 days that ended with Hitler being appointed Chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933.

Turner’s conclusions in the final chapter pull no punches. He assigns culpability and guilt, making it clear that it was the ignorance, ineptitude, personal grudges, mendacity, and ambition of the characters in power (mainly Hindenburg, Schleicher and Papen) who gave Germany to Hitler and thus Hitler to the world. Those who supported democratic government in Germany simply gave it up without much of a fight, often because they were fighting with each other. It is true, Turner asserts, that Hitler played the weaknesses of the others brilliantly, but he was only playing the cards he was dealt.

***

Here are a few extracts from Turner’s work …

… at the beginning of January, Hitler was judged to be finished … Frankfurter Zeitung – Jan 1, 1933: The mighty Nazi assault of the democratic state has been repulsed. The republic has been rescued.

… There was widespread disillusionment in the Nazi ranks. Many who had joined in expectation of sharing quickly in the spoils of victory were beginning to despair: resignations occurred daily; dues arrived irregularly.

… If the Nazis had to face the voters again, they would have no resources to do so. Goebbels: “it must not come to another election”

… Then the ambitions of former-Chancellor Papen and current Chancellor Schleicher, and the gross incompetence of President Hindenburg, re-opened the door for Hitler. Papen convinced Hindenburg that Hitler was ready to join with conservative forces in a coalition cabinet [this was not true!]. Hindenburg concluded that Hitler’s involvement precluded Schleicher, which made Hindenburg part of a conspiracy to depose the chancellor (Schleicher) he had just appointed.

… Hitler maintained his composure in 2nd half of January; he betrayed no loss of nerve, retaining his unshakable belief in his calling to lead Germany.

… on Jan 30, after a dizzying series of events well reported by Turner … Papen led the assembled group up the stairs to Hindenburg’s office. At about 11:30, Hindenburg administered the oath of office to Hitler.

… Hitler had not seized power or won it at the polls. It had been handed to him.

… Turner’s sad conclusion … Those who favored republican government failed to realize that an unconstitutional interlude under a general like Schleicher would be a far lesser evil than the constitutional installation of a dictatorial fanatic like Hitler. It was one of the greatest political blunders of all time

***

 

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* Lew’s review of SOLDIER OF CHRIST in which Robert Ventresca presents Eugenio Pacelli (later Pope Pius XII), in part knowingly and in part naively, playing a major role in Hitler’s coming to power.

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 12, 2014

soldier of christ & untitled novel

***

NOTE: This review deals only with the first 86 pages of Ventresca’s biography including the events of 1932-33 which are the background to the next section of my novel-in-progress which I hope to write this summer.

***

In his Prologue, Ventresca states “Pius XII has become an intensely polarizing figure … to some he is a venerable saint … to others he is a damnable silent witness to unimaginable atrocities.” Ventresca chooses to focus on what Pacelli/Pius XII did or did not do, and why, rather than what he could have or should have done. This is a very useful focus.

As the quotes below indicate, there was much to damn in Pacelli’s behavior long before the Holocaust became a reality.

Ventresca presents Pacelli’s underlying FEELINGS ABOUT JEWS in his own words, beginning with Pacelli’s time in Munich during the communist uprisings of 1918-19 … *** in his reports to the Vatican … Pacelli often referred to the Jewish origins of the revolutionary leaders … many in Munich viewed Bolsheviks and Jews as indistinguishable … described Max Levien, leader of the Munich communists, as Russian and Jewish, pale, dirty, repugnant, yet intelligent and sly … the new government’s offices are overrun by young women of dubious character – Jews with provocative airs and shady smiles … the leader was Levien’s lover, a young divorced Russian Jewess (Roza) who acts like the boss … Pacelli had clearly adopted the cultural biases of his Munich circles who saw the revolutionary period as a scourge brought on by foreign Jews.

Ventresca clearly reports Pacelli’s DECISION TO SUPPORT HITLER and the Nazis rather than the democratic process favored by the German Catholic Center Party and the German bishops *** Pacelli had reservations about the Center Party’s propensity to collaborate with the moderate parties of the left … even when the resulting coalition government was headed by a Catholic (Bruning) *** Pacelli realized he and the Vatican needed to come to terms with the newfound prominence of Hitler’s National Socialists *** Pacelli started to talk about the possibility (previously unthinkable) of a coalition government between the Catholic parties and the Nazis *** correspondence between papal representatives in Munich and Berlin with Pacelli in Rome reflect these thoughts *** Pacelli’s expectations were hopelessly naive *** Pacelli: Hitler is the first statesman to speak publicly against the Bolsheviks. Up until now, the pope has been alone in this *** former Chancellor Bruning, a Catholic, accused Pacelli of betraying the German Catholic political tradition at a decisive point in the life of the fragile Weimar system *** Bruning (in his memoirs): Pacelli and Kaas were so eager to finalize a treaty (Concordat) that they muted what should have been a moral caution to German Catholics about the true nature of Hitler and the Nazis *** Bruning: Pacelli would sacrifice everything for the sake of a Concordat *** Bruning: Pacelli and the pope despise democracy and the parliamentary system

Ventresca reports HITLER’S GLOATING REACTION TO PACELLI and the Concordat which Pacelli forced through at the expense of the German Catholic Center Party *** Papen’s communication to Hitler on the Vatican concession (regarding political activity of the clergy) … suggests that Hitler had exceeded his expectations *** Hitler urged his cabinet to see the great success the Concordat would give the Reich … an area of confidence … particularly significant in the urgent fight against international Jews

Ventresca also clearly presents PACELLI’S UNTRUTHFUL RESPONSE TO CRITICISM after the Enabling Act had been passed and the Concordat had been signed … *** Pacelli reacted defensively [LMW: and lied!] when word spread in Catholic circles in Holland that the Vatican had sacrificed the German Catholic parties for the sake of reaching a deal with the Nazi state *** Pacelli wrote to the papal nuncio at The Hague: “the Center party and the Bavarian People’s Party dissolved themselves “entirely of their own accord and completely independently of the Holy See” *** Pacelli rejected the charge that the parties were dissolved at the Vatican’s instigation as a precondition for successful ratification of the Reichsconcordat *** Pacelli added that the Vatican had taken its lead from the German bishops [LMW: another lie], who agreed that the Concordat was the “last hope” for the church in Germany

Ventresca reports what I regard as PACELLI’S SELF-CONDEMNATION *** Pacelli knew exactly what he was dealing with in Hitler *** in the weeks immediately after concluding the Concordat, he told British representative Robert Clive that he “deplored the antisemitism of the German government, their treatment of political opponents, and the reign of terror to which they have subjected the whole nation” *** “the Vatican,” Pacelli said, “had agreed to the treaty as a lesser evil to the virtual elimination of the Catholic Church in the Reich”

***

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* Germany’s Pursuit of Death Camp Guards

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 10, 2014

auschwitz - train tracks

Germany’s Pursuit of Death Camp Guards

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* Lew’s review of “The Rise and Fall of Communism” by Archie Brown … the relevance of this communist history to Lew’s new novel

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 9, 2014

rise of communism - my novel

 

***

I only read the first few chapters, dealing with the origins of communism (surprise: read Acts of the Apostles 4:32) and its history in the 1920s and early 1930s.

I am trying to understand the oft-stated argument that the Catholic Church’s support and tolerance of Hitler and his agenda was primarily driven by a fear of international communism and the positioning of Hitler as an ally of the Church in the fight against it.

Here are Brown’s points relevant to my question …

*** the post-war period from 1917 to 1920 was indeed fraught with the threat and reality of communist-led insurrection throughout large swaths of Europe and Russia

*** in Germany, the radical communists (led by Karl Liebknecht & Roza Luxemburg) split from the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) … revolutionary uprisings took place in different parts of Germany in November 1918 … these were brutally suppressed by the socialist-led government, supported by paramilitary groups … Liebknecht & Luxemburg were murdered on Jan 15, 1919 … unrest continued through April 1919, when a Soviet republic was established in Bavaria

*** the Bavarian Soviet Republic was soon suppressed and by 1923 it was evident that Communists were not about to come to power in any European country apart from the Soviet Union.

RELEVANCE TO MY NOVEL …

So why was the threat of Communism so overwhelming that it drove the Vatican into Hitler’s hands? The facts about the actual Communist threat don’t seem to support it.

It could be argued that the Church’s perception of the communist threat in 1932-33 was related to Pacelli’s experience in Munich in 1917-1920, when as the newly appointed Papal Nuncio he saw first-hand the terror in the streets and had no idea where it might stop. But … Pacelli stayed in Germany through 1929 and he knew full well that the German Communist Party had no chance of ever coming to power. This reason has no resonance with me.

So what was the real reason? Consider the following POSSIBLE SCENARIO …

1. Hitler of course knew that the Communist party in Germany was a paper tiger, but he exaggerated its strength so he would have targets for his SA thugs to attack and for Goebbels to direct propaganda against. In other words, Hitler was using the over-stated threat of the Communists to frighten people into seeing the Nazis as the lesser of two evils. This tactic succeeded very well.

2. One of the Church’s main goals in the 1920s and early 1930s was the execution of a Reich Concordat, but Pacelli had come to understand that this could never happen so long as Germany remained a democracy. An agreement between Germany and the Vatican just did not have the votes in the Reichstag.

3. To get the Concordat, the Church needed Hitler to be Chancellor with dictatorial powers, thus eliminating the representative Reichstag as a factor.

4. The Church’s series of actions in 1932-33 helped Hitler become Chancellor and then, by means of the Enabling Act, become an absolute dictator. For this to happen, the Vatican pressured the Center Party, over the objections of the German bishops who understood the implications of a Hitler regime and who communicated their fears to the Vatican.

5. Under this pressure from the Vatican, the Catholic Center Party (a) refused to make a collaborative relationship with the Socialist Party and others that could have denied Hitler the Chancellorship, and then (b) cast its votes in favor of the Enabling Act which made him a dictator, an act which could not have passed without those votes.

The Church thus accomplished both of the prerequisites to a Reich Concordat … while paying no attention whatever to the consequences of Nazi violence and terror which it had been fully advised would ensue. The dissolution of the Center Party and the establishment of one-party rule in Germany soon followed.

Where do the Communists fit in all this?

The Church repeatedly articulated a fear of Communism and positioned Hitler as the Vatican’s ally in the struggle to keep communism from taking over in Germany (something that probably had no chance to happen with or without Hitler). By exaggerating the threat of Communism, the Church thus justified an alliance with Hitler which it traded to achieve the elusive Reich Concordat. In other words, the Church, like Hitler, was using the threat of the Communists to frighten people into seeing the Nazis as the lesser of two evils. (Why did the Vatican so desperately want the Reich Concordat? A topic for another review.)

Did this scenario actually happen? Is there sufficient evidence to support it?

There is some, but the complete answer, to prove the scenario or refute it, to unequivocally explain why the Church helped bring Hitler to power, may never be known. It’s a good bet, however, that some of the relevant materials are still locked in Vatican vaults.

***

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* Lew’s review of David Kertzer’s “The Popes Against the Jews”

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 7, 2014

kertzer

Kertzer presents a comprehensive, methodical, unemotional, fact-based examination that utterly destroys the assertions of the Catholic Church during and after the Nazi years regarding the links between the antisemitism of the Catholic Church and the indifference of many Germans and others to the extermination of Jews in the Holocaust.

NOTE:  Kertzer does not set out to prove that had the Church done differently, Hitler would not have murdered the Jews. It might have been more difficult. It might have been less complete. It might not have happened at all. But that is all speculation. Proving any of that, or even asserting it, is not part of Kertzer’s thesis.

Kertzer begins his case with the 1998 report of a Vatican Commission titled “We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah.” Pope John Paul II had asked the Commission to determine what responsibility – if any – the Church bore for the Holocaust. The Vatican report predictably denied any link between the attitudes of Christians toward the Jews promulgated through many centuries and the subsequent destruction of Europe’s Jews by the Nazis.

Kertzer says NOT SO. 

He asserts that the Church’s version is what many in the Church may have wished had happened, but it is not what actually did happen. Then he proves his damning assertion with the record of the Church’s own statements, in Papal and other high-level communications and in the Catholic press. He cites repeated Catholic denunciation of the the Jews as evil conspirators against the public good, Catholic lamentation of the baleful effects of the emancipation of the Jews, and Catholic warnings of the harm done by giving the Jews equal rights.

*** in 1880 Civilta cattolica published a series of 36 fiercely antisemitic articles … over 40 months … claimed that Jews were obligated to hate all non-Jews … that Christian societies had to protect themselves from the Jews … we told you to keep Jews in their ghettoes … you ignored our warnings and look what has happened! … Christian religion is everywhere threatened by the Jews and social disorder spreads … if the Jewish race is left free, it becomes the persecutor, oppressor, tyrant, thief and devastator of the countries in which it lives.

*** more from Civilta cattolica in the 1890s … the Jews thirst for world domination … Jews are always a foreign nation, a sworn enemy of their hosts’ well-being … Jewish civil equality (the emancipation of the 19th c) must be immediately revoked 

*** countering the Church’s assertion that it put forward a religious antisemitism that was not the same as the racial antisemitism preached by Hitler, Kertzer again cites from Civilta cattolica … the notion that Jews belonged to a separate race was introduced in the first article (of the 1880 series) … it is a grave error to believe that Jews are just a religion … they are Jews especially because of their race … because they are born Jews, they must remain Jews.

Civilta cattolica

All of these Catholic denunciations of the Jews were printed in a Jesuit biweekly called Civilta cattolica, founded at the request of Pius IX and supervised by a series of Popes and their Secretaries of State. According to Kertzer, it was, during the relevant years, the most influential Catholic periodical in the world, widely regarded as the unofficial voice of the Pope himself. Before publication of the cited articles, proofs were sent to the pope and his secretary of state for approval.

Friends of Israel (1926-28)

Kertzer’s history of the short-lived Catholic association called Friends of Israel is particularly illustrative. [NOTE by “Israel” is meant the people of Israel, the Jews, not the State of Israel which did not yet exist.]

*** Founded in Rome in 1926, its aim was the conversion of Jews. But Friends of Israel believed that – before conversion – changes had to be made in how the Church treated the Jews. They summarized their views in a booklet titled Pax super Israel (Peace Upon Israel), stating …

  • Jews should no longer be stigmatized as the “deicide people,” with all Jews for all time held guilty of the murder of Christ

  • stories of Jewish ritual murder should be dismissed as old wives’ tales

  • the Church should not support antisemitic movements (ie, Hitler’s Nazi movement)

  • the words “perfidious Jews” should be removed from the Easter liturgy

It is more than interesting that all of these Friends of Israel suggestions were later adopted by Vatican Council II in 1965 and are now consistent with Catholic doctrine.

How different might things have been if this tolerant view of Jews had been allowed to stand in 1928 and thus inform subsequent Vatican actions vis-a-vis Hitler?

But that was not to be.

*** The Holy Office of Inquisition (of which Archbishop Pacelli, later Pius XII, was a member) had apoplexy at the Friends of Israel’s suggestions, dissolved the group in 1928 after just two years of existence, and specifically forbade any further writing on the subject.

Kertzer has none of the bombast of Goldhagen’s A Moral Reckoning, but he makes many of the same points by carefully documenting the record of Catholic antisemitism and showing how this provided the foundation for actions later taken by the Nazis. It is very hard to deny your own words, endlessly repeated.

*** Kertzer shows how the Nazi’s 1935 Nuremberg Laws restricting Jewish behavior were modeled on measures the Church itself had enforced when it was in a position to do so

The Church claims of lack of responsibility for the antisemitism that made the extermination of Jews in the Holocaust possible by claiming that the Church never called for, or sanctioned, the mass murder of Jews

*** Kertzer grants that this assertion is true (if you ignore the Spanish Inquisition and the events leading up to it) but shows conclusively (to me at least) how the teachings of the Church, specifically including those of the Popes themselves, helped make the Holocaust possible. He calls this a sad truth the Vatican Commission fails to admit. 

*** Kertzer asserts, based on the more than ample evidence he has assembled, that “the transition from medieval antisemitism to the modern racial antisemitism of Hitler found in the Church one of its important architects.”

***

Untitled Novel - cover

***

RELEVANCE FOR MY NOVEL

One of the important themes of my novel is to show how the Church’s policies, positions and actions, well documented by Kertzer and others, influence my novel’s characters into first supporting or at least accepting Hitler’s rise to power and allowing his program of persecution of the Jews to go forward. Of course the Catholic Church was surely not alone in this. The Protestant churches, the French, British and US governments, the German political parties, and even US Jewish organizations can all stand in line to take their share of responsibility.

All of those who might have opposed Hitler more effectively were facing a foe whose capacity for evil was beyond their imagination. Even when he said what he was going to do, in those instances when he did not lie, it did not seem believable.

… and all of us, myself included, need to try to imagine what we would have done were we in the shoes of those who had to decide what risks to take and what consequences to be willing to accept for themselves and others they cared about.

It is my goal to put my readers in those shoes.

***

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* Lew’s review of Nerin Gun’s “The Day of the Americans” … plus relevance for my new novel

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 5, 2014

Nerin Gun & An Untitled Novel

Nerin Gun was a Turkish reporter who ended up imprisoned at Dachau. His book, published in 1966, offers stunning first-hand images of the day Dachau was liberated by American forces

*** three SS men are still on their turret … they have pivoted their machine guns in the other direction, away from us, and they are peering into the distance … a single man emerges from behind a cement mixer parked at the edge of the camp … wearing a helmut embellished with leaves and branches … he moves cautiously forward, submachine gun in one hand, grenade in the other … he is still far away but I imagine I see him chewing gum … he comes cautiously, but upright, stalwart, unafraid …I almost expect him to be followed by a pure white charger … we knew America only by its films … this first image of the liberation was truly out of an American western … this soldier of the 3rd Battalion, 45th Combat Division was the very incarnation of the American hero … we will never forget those first few seconds … the memory of the unique, magnificent moment of your arrival … you had come at the risk of your life, into an unknown country, for the sake of an unknown people, bringing us the most precious thing in the world, the gift of freedom …

Gun is also quite critical of Pope Pius XII’s silence and inaction …

*** it is said that Pius XII saved a great many Jews who lived in Rome … no one denies this … but did not the Jews of Poland and other countries have the same right to stay alive?

Gun cites a legend of Saint Peter and applies it to Pope Pacelli …

*** Peter was fleeing Rome when he met Christ going in the opposite direction … Peter: Where are you going? Christ: I am going to Rome to be crucified in your stead … Peter turned back … I have wondered if Our Lord had ever appeared to Pius XII and said: I am going to Dachau to be crucified in your stead … but perhaps Pope Emilio Pacelli was no Saint Peter.

***

RELEVANCE FOR MY NEW NOVEL …

My main German and Polish (fictional) characters will end the war in a concentration camp, which I had intended to make Ohrdruf. Now I am thinking of changing this to Dachau. Having learned that Gun had earlier written about the Warsaw Ghetto, I am also going to see if I can create plausible fictional interactions between Gun and Anna in the Warsaw Ghetto and then again at the Dachau concentration camp. There is also the possibility of Anna, shortly after the war, reading what Gun wrote about Dachau. I could include the quote above and give appropriate credit.

***

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* Lew’s review (and quotes from) HITLER’S POPE … and the relevance to my novel-in-progress

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 30, 2014

 

Hitler's Pope & An Untitled Novel

Cornwell has written a devastating condemnation of Cardinal Pacelli (later Pius XII). So far, I have read the chapters describing Pacelli’s role in bringing Hitler to a position of dictatorial power by passage of the Enabling Act in 1933.

To summarize Cornwell’s argument …

Pacelli was fixated on reaching a Concordat with Hitler that would implement the 1917 Code of Canon Law he had been instrumental in drafting … He was totally unconcerned with Hitler’s destruction of human rights, social ethics and Jews … He was determined to destroy the power of the Catholic Center Party and the German bishops, who had vehemently opposed Hitler … His primary objective seems to have been to establish conditions under which he could rule imperiously from Rome without opposition … and to have Hitler in power in Germany as a bulwark against Communist expansion

Hitler knew exactly what he was gaining from Pacelli’s ambition *** nearing completion of the Concordat, Hitler wrote: the treaty shows the whole world that the assertion the NS is hostile to religion is a lie *** and then Hitler reported to his cabinet: a sphere of confidence has been created that will be especially significant in the urgent struggle against international Jewry

This is Pacelli’s record until 1933. Then, of course, there was his reprehensible silence during the Holocaust.

Here are a few more of the many points Cornwell makes to support his conclusions …

*** Hitler was wary of Catholic resistance to National Socialism … in Mein Kampf he wrote that a confrontation with the Catholic Church in Germany would be disastrous

*** Catholic criticism of National Socialism was vehement and sustained … open warfare … a parish priest at Kirschhausen gave guidance to his parishioners: no Catholic may be a Nazi, no Nazi may participate in parish activities, no Nazi may receive sacraments … promptly confirmed by the vicar-general of Mainz that the priest was speaking in accordance with diocesan thinking

*** the Bavarian bishops (Faulhaber) directed their clergy to warn against National Socialism … incompatible with Catholicism

*** a Catholic Reichstag representative – Karl Trossman … published “Hitler and Rome” … described Nazis as a “brutal party that would do away with the rights of the people” … would drag Germany into a new war which would end even more disastrously than the last 

*** Catholic author Alfons Wild: Hitler’s view of the world is not Christianity but a message of race that proclaims violence and hate … Catholic journalists: NS means hatred, fratricide and unbounded misery … Hitler preaches the law of lies

*** Pacelli was not inclined to take the least notice of advice from German Catholic leaders … maintained that satisfactory relations between Germany and the Church (by which he meant the Vatican) could only be achieved with a new concordat

*** as 1932 proceeded … decisions about the fate of the Catholic Church in Germany were being made entirely by Pacelli in the Vatican

*** in order to achieve the Reich Concordat … Pacelli needed the German bishops to reverse their denunciations of NS … and have the Center Party give legal force to the passage of the Enabling Act to grant Hitler dictatorial powers

***

RELEVANCE TO MY NEW NOVEL  …

The role of the Catholic Church (among and in conjunction with other actors) in enabling Hitler’s rise to power and his later annihilation of the Jews is a central element in my novel-in-progress, set in Germany and Poland in the Nazi years.

Although this is only a thought for now, I have in mind contrasting Pacelli/Pius XII with Cardinal Faulhaber of Munich …

  • Faulhaber was one of the leaders of a Catholic organization called Friends of Israel, devoted to better relations between Catholics and Jews, until the group was ordered to dissolve in 1928 by the Vatican Holy Order of which Pacelli was an important member. The group was dissolved because it had recommended eliminating the phrase “perfidious Jews” from the Easter liturgy.

  • Faulhaber was among the many German bishops and lay Catholics who were vehemently and vocally opposed to Hitler before 1933 until Pacelli effectively squashed all opposition by demanding in the Reich Concordat he negotiated with Hitler that German Catholics must support their Fuhrer.

Pacelli and Faulhaber both came to Munich in 1917. Pacelli of course moved on, but Faulhaber remained in Munich through the war and after. I am picking up hints that they did not like each other, personally or professionally.

I am also thinking about possible scenes where Berthold Becker, my main fictional German character, could interact with Faulhaber.

Cornwell’s is one of many sources that will guide this part of my writing.

***

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* Lew’s review (and thoughts for new novel) after reading Legacies of Dachau

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 30, 2014

 

Legacies of Dachau & An Untitled Novel

Marcuse provides an excellent detailed study of Dachau when it was a concentration camp from 1933-45, and its continuing role as a reminder of the German depravity. 

There were several points regarding the postwar use that fit well with the observations my wife and I made at the “Terror and Fascination” exhibit in Nuremberg, which to our eyes was in many ways a glorification of Hitler. I am still frustrated that I have not been able to induce any reputable historian or journalist to visit the exhibit and see if they agree with the serious deficiencies I summarized on my author blog at … https://lewweinsteinauthorblog.com/201…

One quote from Marcuse regarding Dachau is almost identical to a video we saw in Nuremberg … one housewife exonerated Hitler … most Germans weren’t involved … Der Fuhrer couldn’t have know about it … he would not have permitted such suffering.

Marcuse also reports how the 1979 TV documentary HOLOCAUST brought challenges and changes to the three German myths of IGNORANCE, VICTIMIZATION & RESISTANCE … making possible a change in West German’s recollection of their Nazi past … the impact of HOLOCAUST reflected changes that had been building for several years as younger Germans increasingly questioned their parents and doubted their rationalizations.

RELEVANCE to my new novel …

Thoughts provoked by Marcuse’s book have turned into potential scenes and conflicts involving the characters in my novel-in-progress. Although the “story” of my book takes place between 1923 and 1945, the main characters are also involved in 1990 through what I am calling “interludes.” These interludes allow knowledge beyond the story and reflection by the characters on what they, Germany and the world learned from the Nazi experience.

***

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* Lew’s comments on “The Holocaust and the Church” … and Cardinal Faulhaber

Posted by Lew Weinstein on March 30, 2014

Scolino-cover

Sciolino provides a useful overview of a truly despicable history. In particular, he shows how the Catholic Church supported the Enabling Act of 1933 which gave Hitler dictatorial powers, and that the Church never objected to the deportation and murder of Jews in the 1940s, of which they were well aware.

For my purposes, there were several references to Cardinal Michael Faulhaber of Munich which will be helpful to me in my novel-in-progress.

Cardinal Faulhaber

Cardinal Faulhaber … is a fascinating character. In the 1920s he appears to have been openly supportive of Jews, tolerant and opposing Nazi street violence and other forms of persecution. He was a member of a group called “Friends of Israel” until it was disbanded by the Vatican. In the 1930s, however, Faulhaber and other German bishops were forced by the Vatican to collude with Hitler, both before and during the Holocaust, so long as Church property and other assets were not taken.

It is of course the height of hypocrisy to claim to be a moral force in the world and yet to sit by without saying a word while millions were murdered simply for being Jews. For this the Catholic Church has never, in my opinion, sufficiently atoned. After the Holocaust, the main action of the Church was to ferociously keep hidden Vatican archives which described what it did and did not do. Even today, much of this record remains secret.

In my new novel … 

I look forward to exploring how Cardinal Faulhaber, who I believe was actually a quite decent person, might have felt about the Vatican-generated facade in which he participated. He lived through it all, as Archbishop of Munich from 1917 to his death in 1952. Little is written by or about Faulhaber. Who, if anyone, was his confidant?

To show Faulhaber’s thoughts in the context of my story, I am creating a fictional young priest (Fr. Johannes) who will, through his discussions with Faulhaber, recognize the Church’s hypocrisy and the consequences of Church inaction for the Jews and the world. Fr. Johannes’ interactions with my main German character (Berthold Becker), if I can write those scenes the way I hope to, will be heartbreaking and damning.

Ah … the power of historical fiction.

***

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* Thank you early readers … the first comments on the draft of part one of my new novel are just spectacular … and much appreciated

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 13, 2014

nuremberg-war-crimes-trial

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Thank you early readers!

I have so far received “early reader”comments form three readers. The depth of their observations is truly impressive.

I asked specifically for “dead spots” that might be eliminated to improve the pace of the novel, and several of those have been identified. However, it is far more the case that early readers have asked for more, not less, most often with respect to deeper understanding of characters’ motivations.

This gives me much to consider as I work on revising my draft, which I will do after I have received feedback from the other early readers.

***

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* early readers take on Part One of “An Untitled Novel”

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 7, 2014

nuremberg-war-crimes-trial

***

THANK YOU, EARLY READERS.

I have completed a draft of Part One of my novel set in Germany and Poland during the Nazi years. The first early reviewer was my wife, who is an excellent reader and who I encouraged to be critical, although such encouragement was not really necessary since Pat often describes herself as my “harshest critic.” After that, I did my own re-edit of the roughly 200 pages of Part One, then sent the latest revised draft to friends who have agreed to be “early readers.”

Some of these early readers are Goodreads and Facebook friends, others are people I met in Germany while doing research, some are friends from Key West, others are people who have been early readers on my previous novels.

Here’s what I’ve asked early readers to pay particular attention to …

1. First of all is your sense of the flow of the book. Does it pull you along? Are there dead spots where your interest flags? Are there scenes or parts of scenes which you don’t think are necessary?

2. This is harder. Are there things missing? For instance, do you feel you need a transition link between scenes or to set the scene? Or do you need a prior foundation for something you are reading and don’t fully understand?

3. Reaction to major characters … What is your view of Berthold and Anna? Do you think you have gotten to know them as young people? Are you interested in finding out what happens to bring them to Nuremberg?

4. Prologue and Interludes. Do you like the opening, with the Nuremberg charges and sentences? Do you like the way Marissa and Abraham frame the story at the beginning and then re-appear in the interludes? Do you like meeting Anna and Berthold in “real time” in the interludes?

Within two days, I have already received some really perceptive comments, enough to make the whole process worthwhile, and I am sure there will be many more.

***

THANK YOU, EARLY READERS.

***

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* writing in a Paris cafe … a scene in my new novel … tentatively titled NO EXIT

Posted by Lew Weinstein on September 27, 2013

La favorite (1)

Here I am at one of our favorite cafes, called La Favorite, a few steps from our apartment, having morning coffee and croissant, working on my novel. What I’m doing is watching the 1930 movie “All Quiet on the Western Front,” while taking notes for the scene I’m working on.

***

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* new tentative title for my novel on progress … NO EXIT

Posted by Lew Weinstein on September 21, 2013

nuremberg-war-crimes-trial

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NO EXIT

***

I’m writing a historical novel about events in Germany and Poland in the Nazi years. The major characters are a German boy who becomes a Nazi and a Polish girl who becomes a victim. Their story, and their relationship, unfolds against a background neither can escape.

The title is taken from a powerful play by Jean Paul Sartre written in 1944.

***

What do you think?

***

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* the article reproduced below describes incomprehensible acts of murder against innocent civilians committed by the German people. The question I am addressing in my new novel-in-progress is why they were capable of such behavior.

Posted by Lew Weinstein on September 7, 2013

glorification of Hitler (2)

***

Inside the Nazi Mind at the Nuremberg Trials

 http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/09/07/inside-the-nazi-mind-at-the-nuremberg-trials.html?utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&utm_campaign=cheatsheet_afternoon&cid=newsletter%3Bemail%3Bcheatsheet_afternoon&utm_term=Cheat%20Sheet

 ***

At Nuremberg, 24 of the highest-ranking Nazis were put on trial, but behind the scenes they were also being analyzed by leading American psychologists to figure out the root of their evil. Thomas Harding on what they discovered.

by Thomas Harding  | September 7, 2013 4:45 AM EDT

Why do men commit evil? Were the kommandants who ran the Nazi death camps psychopaths? Did they have subnormal intelligence? Were they just ordinary men who made appalling decisions?

I have been thinking about these questions ever since I found out that my great-uncle, Hanns Alexander, a German Jew, was a Nazi Hunter. At the end of the Second World War he tracked down and caught one of the worst mass murderers of all time, Rudolf Höss, the Kommandant of Auschwitz.

These were also the questions that a team of American psychologists and psychiatrists were directed to answer during the Nuremberg Trials that opened on November 20, 1945, six months after the war’s end.

Charges of crimes against humanity were read out against 24 of the highest-ranking Nazis then in captivity, including Ernst Kaltenbrunner, chief of the Reich Security Main Office and the highest-ranking SS officer after Himmler’s death.

With so many senior Nazis held in one place at the same time, the Americans instructed a panel of psychologists to conduct exten­sive interviews and tests with the defendants. Such horrific crimes were committed surely by damaged men, men different in some fundamental way from the rest of humanity.

Among the defendants examined was Rudolf Höss, the Kommandant of Auschwitz. Unlike the others held in Nuremberg, Höss had been intimately involved in the design and day-to-day operations of the extermination camps.

First he was visited by Gustave Gilbert, a New Yorker born to Jewish-Austrian immigrants. Gilbert later wrote about his meeting with the Kommandant in his 1947 book Nuremberg Diary.

Gilbert asked for a brief career summary, and was surprised when Höss admitted in an unemotional tone that he had been responsible for the deaths of more than two and a half million Jews.

The American asked how it was possible to kill so many people. “Technically,” answered Höss, “that wasn’t so hard—it would not have been hard to exterminate even greater numbers.” Gilbert then pressed him for an emotional response, but Höss continued in a similar tone: “At the time there were no consequences to consider. It didn’t occur to me that I would be held responsible. You see, in Germany it was understood that if something went wrong, then the man who gave the orders was responsible.” Gilbert started to ask, “But what about the human—” before Höss interrupted, “That just didn’t enter into it.” After a few more questions, Höss said, “I suppose you want to know in this way if my thought and habits are normal.” “Well, what do you think?” Gilbert asked. “I am entirely normal,” said Höss. “Even while I was doing the extermination work, I led a normal family life.”

Relying on the often-discredited Rorschach ink-blot test, Gilbert concluded that “one gets the general impres­sion of a man who is intellectually normal but with a schizoid apathy, insensitivity, and lack of empathy that could hardly be more extreme in a frank psychotic.”

Two days later, a U.S. Army psychiatrist, Major Leon Goldensohn, came to visit Rudolf Höss. Thirty-five years old, Goldensohn was, like Gilbert, a Jew who had been born and raised in New York. Goldensohn had arrived recently in Nuremberg to replace Douglas Kelley, another American psychiatrist who had conducted interviews with many of the prisoners (and would later publish his findings in a 1947 book Twenty-two Cells in Nuremberg.)

Goldensohn made detailed notes of his encounter with the kommandant, which were posthumously published in 2005 in the volume The Nuremberg Interviews.

When he arrived in the cell, sucking at a pipe dangling from his mouth, Goldensohn found the prisoner sitting on the edge of his cot with his trousers rolled up, bathing his feet in a tub of warm water.

Through an interpreter, Goldensohn asked him how he felt mentally. Rudolf Höss replied: “I feel less nervous now than I did.” He was then asked if he felt upset over what he had done in Auschwitz. “I thought I was doing the right thing,” said Höss. “I was obeying orders, and now, of course, I see that it was unnecessary and wrong. But I don’t know what you mean by being upset about these things because I didn’t personally murder anybody. I was just the director of the extermination program at Auschwitz. It was Hitler who ordered it through Himmler and it was Eichmann who gave me the orders regarding transports.”

When Goldensohn asked if he was haunted by nightmares—by images of the executions, gas chambers, or burning corpses—Höss replied: “No, I have no such fantasies.”

Overseeing the murder of over a million people had left him unhaunted by “fantasies.”

In a letter, written on 20 May 1946, Goldensohn gave his assess­ment: “His character is that of the amoral psychopath, which in itself, and correlated with his personal development history, indicates a dearth of parental love and unconscious hostility toward the father.”

On 15 April 1946, Rudolf Höss provided his testimony at Nuremberg. In its candor and detail regarding the mechanics of the Final Solution it changed the course of the trial.

Rudolf Höss’ testimony was reported around the world. The New York Times described it as the “crushing climax to the case.” In Britain, The Times of London went further. They said of Höss’ signed testimony: “its dreadful implications must surpass any document ever penned.”

A few days later, Rudolf Höss was handed to the Polish authorities to face his own trial. In April 1947, the former kommandant was hung on the gallows next to the old crematorium in the Auschwitz concentration camp.

The conclusion of the psychologists and psychiatrists at Nuremberg was clear: they both decided that though Rudolf Höss was intelligent, he was mentally ill: a psychopath, psychotic, amoral, lacking empathy.

But Rudolf flatly denied this to be the case. He declared himself to be normal.  He regretted, at most, doing something unnecessary.  Overseeing the murder of over a million people had left him unhaunted by “fantasies.”

The impression of the mental health professionals was also contradicted by two of the intelligence officers who interrogated Rudolf Höss.

First, there was the British war crimes investigator, Captain Hanns Alexander, my great-uncle Hanns, the German Jew turned British soldier, who had arrested the kommandant. Alexander had expected Höss to be a monster and was surprised to find him to appear “normal.”

Then there was Whitney Harris, the American prosecutor (and member of the OSS) who took Höss’s affidavit in Nuremberg. Harris said that Höss appeared like a “grocery clerk,” someone you would pay no attention to if you met him on the street.

This view that Höss was “normal,” no different essentially from other human beings, is supported by the kommandant’s own daughter, Brigitte, who said in a recent interview that her father was “kind” to her as a child, indeed he was “the nicest father in the world.” Brigitte even recalled that he looked “sad when he came back from work.” Brigitte was also clear that, as far as an 11-year-old would be able to tell, her father was sane.

An alternative theory of what underlies the character of the men and women who executed the Final Solution is put forward by Hannah Arendt. She argued that these men and women were typically not psychopaths or two-dimensional monsters. Rather they were ordinary men, who made a series of terrible decisions with horrific consequences.

To paraphrase Hannah Arendt—as portrayed in the recently released movie of the same name—the Nazi war criminal’s actions stemmed from her well-known phrase “banality of evil,” not as a result of mental illness but as a result of a lack of thinking. Their greatest error was delegating the process of thinking and decision-making to their higher ups. In Rudolf Höss’s case, this would have been his superiors, particularly Heinrich Himmler.

To many this conclusion is troubling, for it suggests that if everyday, “normal,” sane men and women are capable of evil, then the atrocities perpetrated during the Holocaust and other genocides could be repeated today and into the future.

Yet, this is exactly the lesson we must learn from the war criminals at Nuremberg. We must be ever wary of those who do not take responsibility for their actions. And we ourselves must be extra vigilant, particularly in this day of accelerated technological power, heightened state surveillance, and global corporate reach, that we do not delegate our thinking to others.

© 2013 The Newsweek/Daily Beast Company LLC

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* Prologue to Lew’s novel-in-progress … tentatively titled “Choosing Hitler”

Posted by Lew Weinstein on June 20, 2013

nuremberg-war-crimes-trial

Defendants at War Crimes Trials in Nuremberg

 ***

NOTE: The prologue has been modified so I deleted the earlier version.

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* research for my novel-in-progress tentatively titled “CHOOSING HITLER”

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 12, 2013

CHOOSING HITLER - cover

Several friends have expressed an interest in the research I am doing for my novel-in-progress, tentatively titled CHOOSING HITLER.

I organize my books on Goodreads.

  • The books I have read or plan to read are listed in my book category “ch-research.” …

http://www.goodreads.com/review/list/2231715-lewis-weinstein?format=html&shelf=ch-research. 

  • Those I have reviewed are listed in the category “ch-reviews.” … 

http://www.goodreads.com/review/list/2231715-lewis-weinstein?format=html&shelf=ch-reviews

I welcome additional suggestions.

Here are some of the books I have so far found particularly useful in my research …

  • Warsaw: The Cabaret Years (Nowicki)
  • Awakening Lives: Autobiographies of Jewish Youth (Shandler)
  • The Shame of Survival: Working Through a Nazi Childhood (Mahlendorf)
  • Antisemitism and Its Opponents in Modern Poland (Blobaum)
  • Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy (Weitz)
  • Justice Imperiled: The Anti-Nazi Lawyer Max Hirschberg in Weimar Germany (Morris)
  • State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda (Bachrach)
  • The Catholic Church And Nazi Germany (Lewy)
  • Rome’s Most Faithful Daughter: The Catholic Church and Independent Poland, 1914-1939 (Pease)
  • Life is With People: The Culture of the Shtetl (Zborowski)
  • Stranger in Our Midst: Images of the Jew in Polish Literature (Segel)
  • Munich 1923: The Story of Hitler’s First Grab for Power (Dornberg)
  • When Money Dies: The Nightmare Of The Weimar Hyper Inflation (Ferguson)
  • Bitter Glory: Poland and Its Fate, 1918-1939 (Watt)
  • Address Unknown (Taylor)
  • There Once Was a World: A 900-Year Chronicle of the Shtetl of Eishyshok (Eliach)
  • Poland’s Threatening Other: The Image of the Jew from 1880 to the Present (Michlic)
  • Hitler (Kershaw)
  • Shtetl: The Life and Death of a Small Town and the World of Polish Jews (Hoffman)
  • The Catholic Church and Antisemitism … Poland 1933-39 (Modras)
  • On The Edge Of Destruction: Jews Of Poland Between The Two World Wars (Heller)
  • Why Hitler Came Into Power (Abel)
  • The Coming of the Third Reich (Evans)
  • The Face Of The Third Reich: Portraits Of The Nazi Leadership (Fest)
  • The Anguish Of The Jews: Twenty Three Centuries Of Antisemitism (Flannery)
  • Hitler And The Beer Hall Putsch (Gordon)
  • Mein Kampf (Hitler)
  • Hitler, Vol 1: 1889-1936 Hubris (Kershaw)
  • Where Ghosts Walked: Munich’s Road to the Third Reich (Large)
  • Adolf Hitler (Toland)
  • Justice at Nuremberg (Conot)

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* Lew’s review of … Weimar Germany by Eric D. Weitz

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 10, 2013

the new German woman (1924)

WEIMAR GERMANY by Eric D. Weitz is an excellent overview of major themes

in the Weimar years, connecting some of the dots to the subsequent Nazi takeover

1n 1933. Here are some fascinating (to me at least) items 

that will probably appear in one way or another in my new novel

******

The Threepenny Opera …

was the theatrical sensation of 1928 … the depraved, degenerate exploitative nature of capitalism … everybody lies, everybody cheats … the police are indistinguishable from the criminals … the Nazi’s Volkischer Beobachter called Threepenny Opera a noxious cesspool that the police should simply sweep away

Ideal Marriage …

published in 1926, after which the Dutch physician Theodor Hendrik von Velde conducted a lecture tour of Germany … his book and lectures were wildly successful … especially his explicit descriptions of sexual techniques

the new German woman …

short hair, slender, athletic, erotic … provoked loathing commentary … the notion that women could determine their own lives, might decide not to marry and to have a variety of sex partners, not all of them male, was fundamentally terrifying to traditional Germans, both men and women 

Germans danced as never before …

in hotels and cafes, using radio & phonograph as well as live bands … dances were held in the late afternoon (a startling innovation) and in the evening, when large dance halls were packed 

Catholic and Protestant churches thundered against the sexual revolution …

citing a scandalous number of abortions, rapid increase in venereal disease, premarital sex as the new norm, the “unblemished beginning of marriage” an exception … the social order has weakened and shattered, greatly endangering the protection and dignity of the female sex, and threatening the honor and responsibility that defines the male sex 

the Weimar Republic’s most dangerous antagonists came from the Right …

the army, Protestant & Catholic churches, state bureaucracy, industry, finance, schools & universities … none of them were committed to democracy and Weimar’s “liberal” agenda … these elements of the establishment Right were never coordinated until the Nazis absorbed most of the radical Right (violent, paramilitary, lower-class) in the early 1930s … the establishment elite was then willing to accept the violence and hatreds of the Nazis in order to overthrow the hated Weimar republic … the middle class, longing for order and stability, trusted the elite (including the churches) and formed docilely behind them to collude with Hitler and the Nazis to end Weimar democracy

the Catholic and Protestant churches made the Nazis aceptable …

the language of the radical right (including the Nazis) had many affinities with the anti-Weimar fulminations constantly emanating from the Protestant and Catholic churches … these similarities made the Nazis acceptable in polite society … Hitler’s theme that Germany was engaged in an existential struggle against its Jewish-Marxist enemies sounded much like the rhetoric that churchgoers heard regularly from their pulpits … coming from all sides was the notion of a vast world conspiracy against Germany, all of it the result of the Jew (der Jude)

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* A personal view of the exhibit “Fascination and Terror” at the Nazi Documentation Center in Nuremberg … a documentary glorification of the rise of Adolf Hitler … from the “heroic” march in Munich 1923 to “Our Fuhrer would never allow [the gassing of innocent civilians] to happen.”

Posted by Lew Weinstein on November 15, 2012

photos from Nazi Documentation Center in Nuremberg

******

My wife and I visited the Nazi Documentation Center in Nuremberg on June 28, 2012, as part of a research trip related to a novel I am currently working on, a novel that will focus on the reasons why German citizens came to support Hitler and the Nazi programs of unprovoked war and the murder of the Jews.

We walked through the exhibit called “Fascination and Terror” independently, each of us listening to the audio guide and viewing the panels. When we were about two-thirds through the exhibit, my wife asked me if I was receiving the same impression as she was. After a short discussion, we agreed that, to our eyes, the exhibit was very much a documentary glorification of the rise of Adolf Hitler, almost always presented without comment or criticism.

LMW: We were horrified.

Our feeling was amplified by the remaining panels in the exhibit and then by the concluding video, where a German woman says she was told by a friend who worked in a hospital about a patient who had a mental breakdown. She went on (paraphrase) … “He said he was the driver of a truck where Jews were gassed in the back of the truck. He said he couldn’t stand it anymore. But I don’t think this could be true. Our Fuhrer would never allow that to happen.

After leaving the exhibit, I wrote a description of what I had seen and heard that prompted our reaction, trying to remember the specific pictures and audio elements which had created the general overriding impression. I shared that description with several people and eventually my comments found their way to Dr. Hans-Christian Täubrich (the Museum Director), who responded to me by email. After an initial exchange of emails, Dr. Täubrich sent me a copy of the exhibit catalog, which I used to refresh my memory and also to read what we might have missed.

I am very impressed by Dr. Täubrich’s willingness to respond to my comments and by the depth and thoroughness of his responses, and as you will see below I have made several revisions to my initial comments based onDr. Täubrich’s comments and the museum catalog.

LMW: I remain, however, convinced that our initial fundamental impression

– that the exhibit glorifies the rise of Hitler

without adequate commentary and criticism –

is unfortunately valid.

It is my hope that historians and others who have seen the “Fascination and Terror” exhibit will comment on the impression it made on them and give their opinion of the impression received by my wife and myself. I think it would also be useful to make some effort to measure the response of the numerous viewers of the exhibit, particularly young German students, to learn what message they received.

What follows below is the dialogue which ensued between Dr. Täubrich and myself over the past several months.

  • What is marked LMW is a combination of my original comments with revisions and additions made after receiving Dr. Täubrich’s comments and the catalog.
  • Comments labeled HC Täubrich or HCT (in blue) are Dr.Täubrich’s comments 

This dialogue is admittedly very detailed and confusing to follow, but I think it is most honest to present Dr. Täubrich’s comments and my subsequent comments and revisions unabridged.

 

The dialogue …

LMW: My wife and I formed our virtually identical impressions while walking separately through the exhibit, carefully looking at most of the panels, reading most of the text, and listening to most of the audio. Some of the texts are a problem, which I will deal with specifically below. But the omissions are, in our judgment, far more serious.

LMW: It is the absence of interpretive comment that is disturbing. 

Hitler’s objectives and accomplishments are repeatedly presented in what we construed to be a positive light, without in the same panels and audios taking explicit note of the lies, violence and murder which made those accomplishments possible, and the horrendous consequences which resulted for Jews, for Germany and for the world. We were struck by the fact that Hitler is almost never directly criticized in the exhibit texts.

A viewer of the exhibit, particularly one of the young students who made up most of the audience the day we were there, might be left with the conclusion that Hitler’s goals and objectives for Germany were appropriate, and if only he had succeeded, Germany would have been just fine. I don’t say that was the intent of those who designed the exhibit, but that is the impression my wife and I very clearly received. 

LMW: The repeated failure to criticize Hitler leaves the impression

that there was nothing to criticize.

We are thus left with what we regard as a glorification of Hitler’s rise. We feel that this important exhibit thus failed to take advantage of a unique opportunity to convey so much more.

HC Täubrich: To be honest, I can hardly believe that you really kept a close view to our information panels. Your remarks are appalling considering the fact that six high ranking German historians and the then president of the Jewish museums in Europe, Dr. Judith Belinfante, formed the advisory board and that the final version of all texts were approved by the Institut für Zeitgeschichte. I wish that you had found the time to enter my office (directly besides the entrance hall and open to everybody at any time) to make your statements to me at first. 

Generally speaking your opinion is nearly unique.

Despite some criticism every now and then (too few informations about the war or the holocaust) most of the annual 200000 visitors from all over the world seem to understand the concept of our house, to be moved by the exhibit and content with the information they get. No one ever, not even a Neo-Nazi, who consequently should be proud then, has shown such a reaction like this. One look into the visitor’s book would have given you a proof for this. Anyway, let me give a short comment on your critics.

LMW: Our overall impression was that the museum glorifies the rise of Hitler without adequately presenting or commenting on either the means or the consequences of his demonic rule. 

HCT: I think the conclusion that the repeated failure to criticize Hitler must lead to the impression that there was nothing to criticize is simply unrealistic. There is no way to understand the presentation as glorification of Hitler as all visitors who come to this place do have already World War II and Auschwitz in mind: This is the unbeatable and omnipresent interpretative comment.

LMW: The use of the word “fascination” in the title of the exhibit

set a tone for us that was particularly troubling.

HC Täubrich: The word fascination in the exhibition title “Fascination and Terror” is, of course, by no means a glorification of Hitler. It simply states the fact, that – at least until 1940 – a majority of the German people were fascinated of what the Nazis achieved.

LMW: It seems to me that the many German people were terrorized into compliance with Nazi policies rather than being “fascinated” with Hitler. The means by which this terror was implemented by the Nazis are among the most important omissions from the exhibit. 

HCT: In the exhibition it is clearly described (The beginnings of the Dictatorship, catalogue pages 30-37) how the political system of the Weimar republic was put out of order and with additional political instruments (Enabling Act and other laws) the basis for the terror of the Nazis was implemented.

LMW: If your characterization that the majority of Germans were “fascinated” and thus implicitly approved of the means Hitler employed (before 1940) is true, that is a greater condemnation of the German people during the Nazi years than I believe is warranted. Unfortunately, the failure of the exhibit to portray the means by which Hitler enforced his rule does make it seem that the German people accepted those means as appropriate, including persecution and murder of Jewish German citizens.

HCT: Now, this is wrong. Why so impatient? Why can’t you try to see the development from the point of view the Germans had in 1933/34 – not knowing about the idea or even being able to anticipate another World War and the later genocide? THIS is what you have try to imagine to understand or, at least, to explain the wide-spread fascination for the new regime. There was terror, yes, but the slogan “Ab nach Dachau” (you come to Dachau) was also commonly used as a threat for children, who did not want to go to bed. It meant no threat to their parents as long as they, OF COURSE, were no socialists, communists, oppositional intellectuals, homosexuals or whatever that did not belong into a proper “Volksgemeinschaft”. (Nearly) all the others were content with the fulfillment of simple Nazi-promises – bread, work, security through a new army, revision of the Versailles treaty, no more political experiments and so on and so on.

HC Täubrich: They were proud to belong to the “Volksgemeinschaft” and did not care for the price this had, the exclusion of others.

LMW: The idea that most Germans were “proud” of what Hitler was doing and “did not care for the price this had, the exclusion of others” is to us a horrible thought.  Among those “others” who were to be excluded were Jews who were, and had been for many decades, German citizens. Is it true that the majority of Germans “did not care” about or even actively approved the treatment of Jews by the Nazis? With all my anger toward the Germans who murdered many members of my grandparents family, I still think it fair to say that many (maybe even most) Germans were afraid to express whatever reservations they had with Hitler, knowing that such expressions might well mean death for themselves and their families. That aspect of the rise of Hitler is not emphasized by the Center’s exhibits.

HCT: And yes, I think I have to disappoint you concerning the human qualities of many, definitively not all, but of too many Germans in the mid-thirties. I do not mean to judge about any other people. But they did hardly realize that the first victims of anti-Jewish laws already from 1933 on were Germans themselves. Propaganda made them – who now were “Aryans” – believe that those were “only” Jews, whose eviction from universities, chambers, offices or other businesses now simply offered themselves the chance for promising careers and – thinking of the so-called aryanisation – many people unscrupulously filled their pockets.

This was not only a matter of a handful of fanatic Nazis but rested on a broad level of acceptance. It went on via 1938 until 1941 when Germans queued before the pawn shops to acquire cheap pieces from former Jewish households – which had become “German property” because their owners had left the country: by being deported to the East into the gas chambers… Now, grudge and greed are of course by no means special German characteristics; but, together with some other bad manners, they were then given a space to unfold which they do not have in ,normal’ societies.

HC Täubrich: The exhibit has at first to explain, where this fascination came from and how it was fed, for example, during the party rallies in Nuremberg.

LMW: Should the exhibit not also simultaneously present and explain, in the same panels, the corrupt political means, the brutal violence, and the lies Hitler and the Nazis used to gain control before and after 1933? Is that not also an important aspect of the rise of Hitler? Would that not put what is shown in better balance?

HC Täubrich: Otherwise there is no way to understand the later developments. We have to acknowledge the fact that it was not Hitler and a small gang who committed the later mass crimes and genocide, but hundreds of thousands of people who believed the message from “Mein Kampf” and all the other madness.

LMW: The exhibit makes no attempt to distinguish Germans who supported Hitler and the murder of the Jews because they agreed with that policy from those who ‘went along’ because they were terrified not to. In this regard the exhibit misses a great opportunity to allow the young people who come to the exhibit to understand and come to grips with the decisions their grandparents made, often under great duress.

HCT: This is not true. For example presents the room “The ,Führer-Myth’” the personal oath which soldiers as well as all state officials had to swear on Hitler himself (catalogue page 36) since 1934, later causing the loyalty problems you are missing.

LMW: The audio describing Hitler’s failed 1923 putsch in Munich

uses the word “HEROIC” to describe the march into the center of Munich,

a march which every other source I have read describes as

incompetent, almost comical, and certainly treasonous.

HC Täubrich: Wrong. The word “heroic” is on the panel and in the book put in quotation marks, because, this was of course the Nazi point of view. In the audio-guide this is stressed as well.

LMW: Here is what the exhibit book says (p.26) … “In the fall of 1923 Hitler decided that the time was ripe to topple the Reich government. On November 9, in a “heroic” action, he marched into the Munich government district …” The exhibit presents this “Nazi point of view” of the “heroic” 1923 putsch without interpretive comment. That is exactly my point. The putsch was clearly treason. It was also conducted in a thoroughly incompetent manner. These things should have been said, instead of leaving the word “heroic” to stand unchallenged and apparently attributed to the exhibit as well as to the Nazis.

HCT: It is not correct to quote just a part of the text and then complain about omissions. The failing of the putsch and its consequences are clearly described: “They were stopped by the Bavarian State police at the Feldherrnhalle. 15 rabble-rousers, four policemen and one by-stander were killed. The NSDAP was banned throughout the Reich. Later Hitler was to twist this fiasco (!) into a triumph…” This is the short and precise as possible description of an event you easily may write books about. I beg you at his point: Please try yourself to describe any important historic event with a maximum of 550 …

LMW: On p.26 of the exhibit catalog there is a paragraph about the Hitler trial. It says the trial was placed in the wrong jurisdiction, one that was enormously lenient with Hitler. What it does not say is why this happened, and who was responsible. I have read that important Bavarian officials were afraid their own role in the 1923 Nazi putsch attempt would be revealed in a proper trial, and they therefore took pains to assure that Hitler dominated the press throughout the trial, thus allowing them to fade into the background. This is not reported by the exhibit. The exhibit also does not ask why the Reich government in Berlin did not insist on proper jurisdiction for the trial.

HCT: Again you omit already mentioned facts. The description (catalogue page 26) clearly states that the trial was not performed before the Reichsgericht in Leipzig “but rather at the People’s Court in Munich (the birthplace of the movement as mentioned before), where he could reckon with the political sympathy of the judge. It gave Hitler the opportunity to use the trial … as a political platform … and so on.” WHAT exactly are you missing here regarding the demand for utmost brevity of description?

LMW: there is NO MENTION of the 1933 boycott of Jewish stores which began the unprovoked Nazi onslaught against Jewish German citizens

HC Täubrich: Wrong: There is a panel “The Boycott of the Jewish Businesses” in area 3.

LMW: You are correct. I believe the panel you reference is on p.33 of the exhibit catalog. BUT … the boycott is presented as a successful Hitler policy when I have read it was a total failure and was withdrawn after a few days. It was a failure because in 1933 many Christian German citizens did not go along; they continued to shop in Jewish-owned stores. This failure is not mentioned and as in the case of the “heroic” 1923 march, the exhibit presents the boycott as yet another step in Hitler’s glorious rise to total domination, thus leaving the “fascination” message intact and unchallenged.

LMW: There is but PASSING MENTION of the 1935 Nuremberg Laws and NO EMPHASIS on their well-known purpose of disenfranchising German Jewish citizens of all of their civil rights previously guaranteed by the German Constitution

HC Täubrich: Wrong: As the “Nuremberg Laws” are one of the main topics there are three panels describing their structure and consequences (Area 10)

LMW: In the exhibit book, there are 39 pages between the 10 line paragraph on the boycott of the Jewish businesses (p.33) and the section on the Nuremberg Laws (p.72). These pages present a generally positive panorama of the manner in which Hitler built his power: the Fuhrer’s idea of national community … the idea of a superior people who would eradicate their opponents, including Jews … the cleverly constructed Fuhrer myth … Hitler’s absolute authority … Nuremberg as the city of party rallies (4 pages) … the history of the building of the party rally grounds (12 pages) … the party rallies as ritual (12 pages) … the inadequate, indeed pitiful response to Hitler abroad (4 pages) … the filming of “Triumph of the Will” (2 pages).

HCT: Now, this seems to me to be an inadequate judgement. Again you quote only those phrases which – indeed – marked the successful steps to erect and cement the Nazi regime. The fact that they were successful does not mean that they were positive – from our point of view. You omit among others the section describing the price those Germans paid for the erection of the “Volksgemeinschaft, who were excluded (page 35): “Those who fell short of the ,racial’, political and moral norms were excluded from the community or even physically ,eradicated’: political opponents, Jews, Sinti and Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, so-called asocial elements, those with severe mental or physical handicaps.” Other sentences describe the dismantling of the federal structure of the Reich and destruction of all institutions/political parties embodying the former pluralistic-democratic order – how does this fit into a ,generally positive panorama’?? 

LMW: The pages describing forced labor in the later 1930s and during the war (50-53) do express the horror of the work camps … “forced labour camps for Jews, where prisoners were exterminated by work” … “owing to the inhuman conditions the death rate was extremely high” … but again fail to criticize Hitler directly for his role in establishing such camps. Hitler’s name, so prominent elsewhere, is never mentioned in these pages.

HCT: It was not Hitler who established the camps, it was the SS with leading figures like Theodor Eicke, who developed the ,master-camp’ Dachau, Heinrich Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich, Ernst Kaltenbrunner and many, many others.

LMW: So now, finally, after the mind-numbing 39 pages, we get to the pages (72-75) concerning the Nuremberg Laws. And here we read … “in a perpetual struggle for survival, the weak elements would be eradicated by the strong” … “this body of thought held the Jews to be a parasitic people, seeking to destroy from within the peoples of the greatest value” … “Bolshevism was an instrument of the Jews in their struggle to dominate the world.” … Does the exhibit offer any protest of these vicious Nazi slogans? Does it present moral objections to the legitimacy of a policy of eradicating the weak? Does it mention that Jewish Germans were actually loyal German citizens who had made numerous significant contributions, including army service in WWI? Not a word! … 

LMW: The Nazi condemnations of Jews are left unchallenged,

and thus seem to be endorsed by the exhibit.

Next we read that “the great highlight” of the 1935 “Party Rally of Freedom” was to introduce a “state citizenship law for Jews” and a “Law for the Protection of German Blood.” To justify these new laws, there is mention of “a wave of violent attacks against men and women accused of alleged race-defiling relationships.

HCT: Here you evoke the impression that we mention the racial laws as “the great highlight” of the Party Rally 1935. This is not true: We set the word in quotation marks (The great “highlight” at the end … was the convening of the German Reichstag in Nuremberg.) to underline the bitter reality that the proclamation of racial laws were the central event of this mass meeting. Concerning your valuation of the 39 mind-numbing pages it may be allowed to remind that the main topic of the documentation centre is the history of both the party grounds and the party rallies as one of the main propaganda instruments of the Nazis.

LMW: There is no mention that this violence against Jews did not just happen spontaneously, but was consciously planned and carefully carried out by the Nazis. There is no mention of the fact that German Jews had by 1935 achieved a very high level of assimilation into German life. There is no mention of the significant contribution of Jewish Germans to German cultural, scientific and business advances. There is no mention that the Protocols of the Elders which was used by the Nazis to create fear of Jewish world domination had already been publicly proven to be a total fabrication.

LMW: The impression we took from this blatantly one-sided presentation

was that Hitler moved forward quite logically and correctly

to protect the German nation from the “race-defiling” Jews.

That is surely the message Hitler wanted to convey, but is that the message this exhibit should allow even for one second to be perceived by young Germans in 2012? Should not this message be countered, in the same panels, by the truth? … In our view, the exhibit in this section again fostered the concept of German “fascination” with Hitler, missing the opportunity to present the disgusting nature of Hitler’s lies about the Jews, and not taking up the question of whether the German people believed those lies.

HCT: Again, it is not fair to omit totally the aspects we stressed in our view and to create the aspect that we thus simply transported Hitler’s ideas. The introductory text carefully describes the origins of anti-semitism in Europe as well as in Germany. Just for example, there IS MENTION that this violence against Jews did not just happen spontaneously, but was consciously planned and carefully carried out by the Nazis. Look at the passages on pages 72-77.

LMW: there is NO MENTION of the violent 1938 Kristallnacht attacks on German Jewish citizens all over Germany

HC Täubrich: Wrong: It is presented with three big photographs of burnt German synagogues and the text describes the events and the number of victims all over the Reich (Area 15)

LMW: The exhibit catalog has one photograph of a burned out synagogue but I’ll certainly take your word that there were two more photographs in the museum. I must have missed them. The word “Kristallnacht” is not mentioned in the catalog.

HCT: The words “Kristallnacht” or “Reichskristallnacht” stem from the use within Nazi-propaganda, aiming at the belittlement of just some glass being smashed. But: There were thousands of buildings destroyed – synagogues, shops, flats – and several hundred people murdered in that night. It was a bit more than some broken crystal. This is why in Germany one generally speaks of the pogrom night, thus involving the general violence against people.

LMW: Consider this direct quote (p.77) … “The reason for this pogrom during the night of November 9 to 10, 1938 was the assassination by a young Jew of the German diplomat Ernst von Rath in Paris.” REALLY? One killing, far away in Paris no less, was enough to set loose an immediate Germany-wide coordinated attack on Jews and Jewish property, which the exhibit allows to be called “spontaneous riots” that were then “escalated” by the Nazis. That false impression should have been corrected in the same panel. Rath was shot on November 7 and died on November 9, the night of the supposed countrywide “spontaneous riots,” which were obviously planned in advance by the Nazis.

LMW: It is unfortunately typical of the exhibit

that the Nazi version of Kristallnacht

(“spontaneous riots”) was left unchallenged.

HCT: Of course was the shooting of Rath not the reason in the meaning of “cause”, nobody says this; it was the reason in the sense of “being initiated” by  Goebbels’ orders given to the SA-quarters in that night.

LMW: There is NO MENTION of the newspaper and media campaigns against German Jewish citizens in Der Sturmer and other Nazi publications.

HC Täubrich: Wrong: The “Stürmer” and further anti-Semitic material is displayed in a showcase describing “Anti-Semitism in the Daily Life of the Third Reich” (Area 14)

LMW: You are quite correct. The Nazi media campaigns are mentioned. In the catalog there is one paragraph and one photo related to the Nazi propaganda against the Jews (p.75). The issue is proportion, in the catalog as well as in the museum. Why are there 39 pages on the rally grounds and just one paragraph on the unrelenting, untrue and often pornographic campaign against Jews ordered by Hitler (who is not mentioned on page 75), a campaign that set the stage for the systematic murder of 6,000,000 Jews?

HCT: There are 39 pages on the rally grounds as this is the main topic of the documentation centre and its exhibition, which is the key to the understanding of the remnants still lying outside. Streichers unrelenting, untrue and often pornographic campaigns against Jews were NOT ordered by Hitler though certainly welcomed. Streicher published his ,paper’ on his own and to his own profit. Coarse and rude as it was one can doubt whether ,cold’ intellectual functionaries like Heydrich oder officials like Eichmann really took their time to read it. The stage for the systematic murder of 6,000,000 Jews was set up by them, not by Streicher, who was deprived of his power already in 1939 due to his greedy attitude in connection with the ,aryansiation’.

LMW: The exhibit here misses the opportunity to discuss the impact of this propaganda on Christian Germans. Did they believe what they were being told? Were they pleased to see the Jews demeaned? Were they “proud” of the way Hitler was purifying their country? These questions, critical for today’s Germans seeking to understand how their grandparents committed such atrocities, are not raised by the exhibit. Hitler is not criticized for propagating lies about the Jews.

LMW: there is NO MENTION of the complicit role

of the hierarchies of the Catholic and Protestant churches

in supporting Hitler’s rise to power.

HC Täubrich: Wrong: It is, though short, but very well described how and with whose’ support Hitler came to power in the chapters “The Seizure of Power” and “The Beginnings of Dictatorship” (Area 1, 3)

LMW: … NOT WRONG! … I have read catalog pages 28, 29 & 30 very carefully. There is not a single mention of the Catholic and Protestant churches. Not a single word! The role of the German churches, in allowing Hitler to seize and exercise power, is, in my mind, an essential element of the Hitler years that needs to be emphasized today. The churches represented, or should have represented, the moral fiber of the German people, and yet church leaders stood by and never objected. Of course there are many examples of priests and nuns and religious Christians risking their lives to save Jewish lives. But where were the institutions, the leaders, the bishops and cardinals … and the pope? It is troubling to me that an exhibit which purports to show the rise of Hitler makes no mention of the complicity of the Catholic and Protestant hierarchies in permitting that rise. The exhibit also fails to mention the extent to which centuries of church-sponsored antisemitism laid the groundwork for hatred of the Jews without which many historians believe Hitler could not have succeeded. This is important for young Germans to understand, and the exhibit has again missed an opportunity to educate them.

HCT: Now, what do you want – the description of the German churches in allowing Hitler to seize and exercise power or mentioning the extent to which centuries of church-sponsored antisemitism laid the groundwork for hatred of the Jews without which many historians believe Hitler could not have succeeded. The last point is declared in the section “Racism and Anti-Semitism” (catalogue page 72), but I admit that the role of several social powers – churches, industry – are not entirely stressed.

LMW: There is NO MENTION of the many brave Christian German citizens, including many Catholic and Protestant clergy, who tried to resist Hitler’s madness and were often executed for their actions

HC Täubrich: Wrong: There are three panels describing the three phases of German resistance (“Worker’s resistance”, “The Interims Phase” and “Resistance during the War” (Area 17).

LMW: We missed these panels, but I see pages 84-85 in the exhibit book, so I do not doubt they were also on the exhibit walls. Looking at the pages now, however, they do not seem so impressive. There is a dominating picture of Hitler with a beard takes 1/3 of the space on the two pages … a focus on communists as the major source of resistance … one sentence about a failed assassination attempt in 1939 … a failed military putsch in 1944 which was directed at “ending a now senseless war.” 

Was there no resistance by ordinary Germans because they knew what Hitler was doing was wrong? Was there no opposition by the military because they had been made into murderers of civilians instead of soldiers? Was there no effort by religious leaders to stop the mechanized murder of millions of Jews? If there was no such opposition, the exhibit should have taken note and tried to explain why. If there was such opposition, the exhibit should have shown it and applauded the courage of those who dared to express it, even secretly. That is what deserves to be glorified. Another missed opportunity.

HCT: It is clearly stated in the exhibit as well as in the catalogue (P. 84): “The German resistance was represented by the total political spectrum. It ran the gamut from far left to far right, included the young and the old, women and men, Christians and atheists. Yet it was a tiny minority. According to estimates by the Gestapo only two out of a thousand people were opponents of the German regime. (Text to be continued)” You can’t say it shorter as well as precise like this. In the exhibition the three phases (Worker’s resistance 1933-36, Interims Phase 1936-41 and Resistance during the war 1941-45 are precisely explained; the catalogue here brings only a choice of the first two items.

LMW: There is NO MENTION of Hitler’s unprovoked and brutal attacks on Poland, Belgium, France, England and Russia, including unprecedented attacks on innocent civilians (including Jews and non-Jews) in those countries.

HC Täubrich: Wrong: The war is, though not described in detail, clearly presented, beginning with “NS Foreign Policy 1933-39,” “Blitzkriege’ 1939-1941,” and “The war of annihilation and Genocide” (Area 15/16).

LMW: This is very interesting. Here are some of the words on those pages (p.78 and after) … “the Wehrmacht marched into Austria” … “the German territories of Czechoslavakia were taken over” … “German nationalism appeared in 1938 on the way to fulfillment (of the old dream of) a common Reich for all Germans” … “powerful German units marched into Poland” … “with rapid mobile armoured formations and fighter bombers, the Army advanced” … “the Germans occupied Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, Belgium and France in a series of rapid campaign” … “In only three months they ruled over almost all of Western Europe” … “Only Great Britain continued the war against the German Reich” … “Hitler hastened to the aid of his ally Italy” … “the Wehrmacht occupied Yugoslavia and Greece” … and then (p.79) … “Hitler’s popularity with the Germans rose to unparalleled levels.” 

LMW: The exhibit presents Hitler’s military triumphs as if intending

to quicken the heart of any patriotic German!

Germany, under Hitler’s guidance, marched on, conquering everyone. 

LMW: The word “unprovoked” is not to be found. The exhibit presents the Nazi view, without critical interpretive comment, and thus seems to endorse it. But are Germans in 2012 supposed to be proud of what the Nazis accomplished on the battlefield? Is that the bottom line of the exhibit’s “glorification” of Hitler’s conquests?

Are young Germans of today supposed to feel good that “Hitler’s popularity with the Germans rose to unparalleled levels?” We believe young Germans of today know better. We have spoken to some of them. They are very conscious that still, today, the German people are hated. And they know why. They don’t fly the German flag. That’s why a man who was a young boy in 1945 and took no part in Nazi affairs told me he feels guilt every day of his life for what his parents and their Nazi colleagues did. 

None of these issues is raised in an exhibit which states that one of its prime objectives is to present the consequences of Hitler’s rise. These were huge consequences, which are still felt by Germans today. Omission of these consequences is a huge lost opportunity of the exhibit.

HCT: Now, I think this goes a bit too far to assume that we here simply do blow into the trumpets for Hitler’s Blitzkriege to “quicken the heart of any patriotic German”. And it is not enough to stress just “some of the words on those pages”. Your quotation again is short cut and thus falsifying the content of the whole text (pages 78/79). For the first phase of foreign policy it is here clearly stated that it “was bent on war from the very outset. After the Wehrmacht marched into Austria and the Sudeten German territories were taken over, the latter with the approval of England, France and Italy, an old dream of German nationalism appeared in 1938 to be on the way to fulfillment: a common Reich for all Germans. The invasion of Czechoslovakia on March 15, 1939 (this WAS a provocation!) meant the change to an open policy of expansion.” And for the next phase of the “Blitzkriege” it is clearly stated that the Germans “marched into Poland without a declaration of war on September 1939.”

Concerning the “success” of the following military campaigns until 1940/early 1941 we cannot close our eyes before the fact that they led to the peak of Hitler’s popularity in the German people. You have to mention this because otherwise you fail to explain why the Germans now were bound to fulfill any further military action of Hitler and his gang of loyal generals.

LMW: there is NO MENTION of Hitler’s distortion and corruption of Germany’s once proud army and air forces into performing the tasks of Nazi murder and genocide

HC Täubrich: Wrong: There are two panels describing “The Role of the Wehrmacht” and “The Task Forces” (Area 16).

LMW: You are correct. I missed that panel, and it tells the story well.

LMW: There is but one small panel devoted to the Holocaust … there is NO MENTION of the death camps where millions of Jews (and others) were methodically murdered

HC Täubrich: Wrong: There is one panel devoted to the holocaust and there are two very large photographs showing the massacres of Babi Jar and Libau. A slideshow besides shows some 50 pictures of the deportation of German Jews. The Holocaust panel uses the icon picture for the holocaust, the Auschwitz-Birkenau gate. It restricts to this as – by full intention, the exhibit concentrates on the history of the rally grounds and the purpose of the rallies, the racial laws and the Nuremberg trials. This core story is embedded into a frame narration, describing shortly (!) where the Nazis came from and what the consequences of their message were.

LMW: You are correct that the death camps are mentioned. But this is a good example of what bothered us about the exhibit as a whole. Hitler’s wartime accomplishments are portrayed in the glowing terms quoted above, but the fact that Hitler directly ordered the death camps is not mentioned. Instead, the exhibit states: “Plans for the systematic murder of all European Jews were being hatched … the SS set up three single-purpose extermination camps.” No mention of Hitler.

LMW: Why does the exhibit refrain, again and again,

from directly criticizing Hitler and calling him the monster he was?

HCT: Now this is one of the opinions where you are definitively mistaken. There was no  “monster” named Hitler who did it all on his own and was responsible alone for it. This is the most dangerous attitude to have as it leads to the excuse of the countless people who were loyal to him and his plans throughout all the 12 years. He did NOT directly order the death camps; yes, he spoke of the extinction of the Jewish-bolshevist evil in the world every now and then. But when it came to terms during the war it was Göring (he had received Hitler’s request for a ,general solution’ – whatever this meant – of the Jewish question in 1938) who gave Heydrich in 1941 the order to work out a “final solution”; many, many more orders were developed and given by lower ranks, often in an anticipatory way. No one, for example, of the leading figures took part in the Wannsee conference planning and organizing the extermination of Europe’s 11 million Jews. And – it needed millions of obedient people to turn orders into reality – public servants and  officials for the organisation, policemen for the deportation,, train drivers and railway personal for transport, soldiers for mass shootings etc. etc. THIS is what the exhibition tries to explain: that there was no monster hovering above all, but a bit (more or less) of Hitler, i.e. of his ideas, in many, many Germans of that time.

LMW: There is also no mention of what Germans knew or did not know

about the death camps, a topic of vital importance

to Germany’s current generation struggling to make judgments

about the actions of their parents and grandparents.

LMW: There is NO MENTION of the horrendous beating Germany’s armed forces ultimately took at the hands of the Allied forces, including the total destruction of the German air force and the bombing of many German cities

HC Täubrich: Wrong: One panel describes “The result of the war”, three enlarged photographs show the ruins of Stalingrad and Berlin and, impossible not see this, the flattened medieval town of Nuremberg (Area 18).

LMW: I saw the photos, although why Stalingrad is shown as a price paid by Germany is not clear.

HCT: Stalingrad is a metaphor for the first massive defeat of the Germans as well as for the beginning of the end and the many high prices the Germans then still had to pay for their loyalty to the often dilettantish strategies of Hitler and his gang of loyal generals.   

LMW: But look at the language. The paragraph on the catalog page headed “The Result of the War” (p.83) says … “the Soviet Union was to be overrun in a lightning campaign” … “huge initial successes” … “German forces were not sufficient to complete Hitler’s programme of conquest” … “the allied invasion of Normandy opened a third front against the German Reich” … “Despite all Adolf Hitler continued the battle” … “all told the total loss of human life in this war is estimated at more than 50 million.” And not a word about Hitler’s personal responsibility for the Nazi program of mass murder, for the incompetent direction of the military, for the deaths of 50 million people. Despite all Adolf Hitler continued the battle.” The exhibit thus seems to present Adolf Hitler as a true German hero.

HCT: Honestly, I do fail to understand why – after the conclusion that “the total loss of human life in this war is estimated at more than 50 million” should mean to present Adolf Hitler as a true German hero. And once more: Hitler certainly was an incompetent leader of the military, but was surrounded and helped by a sheer mass of incompetent, but loyal military leaders himself.

LMW: There is NO MENTION of the help provided after the war (Marshall Plan, etc) which allowed Germany to become the proud, successful and democratic country it is today.

HC Täubrich: Correct: The exhibit ends with the Nuremberg trials and a short outlook on the later use of the former Nazi party rally grounds. This is the story of the “Documentation Centre Nazi Party Rally Grounds”. Museums cannot in each place tell the whole story, they have to be understood as a network. If you are interested in the country’s post-war history you may visit the “House of the history of the Federal Republic of Germany in Bonn.”

LMW: What Hitler brought to Germany was destruction and the hatred of the German people which continues (unfairly as regards current Germans) to this day. The exhibit might have emphasized these consequences of Hitler’s rise.

LMW: At the end of the exhibit, there is a video showing interviews with Germans who lived through the Nazi years. One woman says (paraphrase), “We had no idea what was happening to the Jews. We thought they were being taken away to Israel, where it would be nice for them since they would all be together. They would have everything they needed, all the doctors, tailors, etc. But I guess if there were only Jews, some of them would have to be street cleaners.” 

Another woman says she was told by a friend who worked in a hospital about a patient who had a mental breakdown. She said (paraphrase) … “He said he was the driver of a truck where Jews were gassed in the back of the truck. He said he couldn’t stand it anymore. I don’t think this could be true. Our Fuhrer would never allow that to happen.”  The exhibit presents these statements with no commentary, leaving the impression that what the ladies say is true: we knew nothing … we were not complicit. I find that very hard to take.

HC Täubrich: Wrong: These statements are at the end of a one and a half hours walk through the history of Nazi horror which is, at least, one of the commentaries. The witnesses’ statements are necessary to get an impression of how the people felt and thought in those days. And there are, of course, remarks of a commentator in this concluding film.

LMW: It is terrifying to us that the exhibit’s portrayal

of the rise of Hitler and the consequences of Nazi rule

would end with an uncontested statement that

“Our Fuhrer would never allow [the gassing of innocent civilians] to happen.”

HC Täubrich: Dear Sir, going through these remarks I am shattered and disappointed; not about the fact that seem you hardly to have noticed these crucial points, but that you concluded from your not-seeing that this might have been done by intent. Do you really think, that the citizens of a city like Nuremberg – which is once and for all brandmarked in the rest of the world firstly as “City of the Nazi Party Rallies”, the infamous “Nuremberg Laws” and finally the “Nuremberg Trials” after all would be able to open an institution glorifying Hitler?

LMW: I drew no conclusion as to intent. What I have tried to describe is the impression the “Fascination and Terror” exhibit made on my wife and I as we went through it. It does seem unbelievable to us that Nuremberg, of all places, would organize an exhibit that does far more to glorify Hitler’s rise to power and his military victories than to expose the brutal means and ultimate consequences of his madness. When these repeated omissions were followed by an uncontested statement denying that the German people even knew what Hitler was doing – “Our Fuhrer would never allow that”- the exhibit itself became terrifying to us.

HCT: This seems to be a bit short-sighted to me, short-sighted against/before the facts. The brutal means and ultimate consequences you mention – they are well known. As mentioned before: Everybody who comes here to the Documentation Centre Nazi Party Rally Grounds knows about the effects and consequences of World War II and the genocides. What we have to do is to understand how and why people behaved like the way they did – on whatever side they stood. 

The Germans committed a substantial break of civilization – not only with the erection of the gas chambers, but already years before by declaring members of the ,German race’ more worthy than other human beings, even of their own nationality. This is clearly emphasized throughout the exhibition “Fascination and Terror”. Its message is: Without the understanding of the fascination which the power and its nourishment for grudge and greed had for many people we will not be able to understand the signs of any other human catastrophe lying before us – and which will certainly not be caused by another “monster”.

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* CHOOSING HITLER … a new working title, possible cover, and extract from the draft Prologue

Posted by Lew Weinstein on November 4, 2012

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an extract from the Prologue of CHOOSING HITLER

“But the Nazi bastard didn’t die,” Abraham Weintraub said, his vehemence undiminished after more than four decades. “Of course it was the Polish woman. If she hadn’t suddenly appeared as a witness, Becker would’ve been sentenced to death … like he deserved … like Goering and Rosenberg and Streicher and the others.”

“Anna Gorski’s entire family was murdered by the Nazis,” Marissa said. “She was the only one who survived. It’s just incredible that she decided to testify in Nuremberg. Her reasons, and Becker’s story, must shed light on some very important questions.”

***

Dear Herr Becker,

I am a professor of history at Brandeis University, specializing in Holocaust studies. Despite the many books written on this subject, there is an aspect of the Hitler years to which I believe more attention could usefully be given. Specifically, I would like to explore why Germans supported Hitler at various stages in his career and what these supporters felt when they realized what Hitler was doing to the Jews .

The reason I come to you is that my father was the U.S. attorney in charge of prosecuting your case at Nuremberg. The surprising testimony of Anna Gorski at your trial suggests that your personal experience and feelings may provide very useful insight into both of the above questions.

I would like to come to Munich and meet with you as soon as possible. Please let me know if you are open to such a meeting.

Yours very truly,

Marissa Whitten

******

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* the Nazi mass murder of the Jews of Tykocin, a former shtetl in Poland

Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 5, 2012

one of 3 mass graves near the former shtetl of Tykocin

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2,500 Jews comprised 50% of the population of the Polish village Tykocin on August 25, 1941. Until that day they were a vibrant shtetl community full of the joy and learning of Polish Jewry. Two days later they were gone.

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mass graves of Jews murdered in a forest near Tykocin

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The Nazis first had Polish Christians dig large pits in a quiet forest about 3 miles from Tykocin.

A week later, all Jews were ordered to appear at 6:00 am in the old market square roughly half way between the synagogue and the Catholic church. German lorries arrived and heavily armed men sealed off the square. Jewish women and children were loaded onto the lorries and driven off to their burial pits. The Jewish men were formed into columns and marched after them.

The Jewish women and children were lined up in small groups at the edge of the pits and shot. Their bodies fell into the pits.

The Jewish men were held overnight and then marched into the forest the next day. They too were lined up along the pits and shot. Their bodies were dumped on top of the women and children murdered the previous day.

This incident, as described in a publication honoring those who died, raises many questions which are relevant for my novel-in-progress.

  • The Christian Poles of Tykocin obviously saw the Jews leave, and they certainly knew they did not return. Yet our guide insisted they did not know what happened to them. How can that be true?
  • “And if they did know,” the guide said, “so what? What could they have done?” I disagree with that characterization of impotence.There were many opportunities, other than committing suicide by confronting the Nazis, to protest the mass murder of the Jews.
  • Did the parish priest, for example, report the incident to his superiors, and if so, what did they do?
  • Did the Christian citizens of Tykocin report the incident to former Polish government authorities or resistance groups?

Either of these notifications might in turn have triggered a broader international public awareness

of what the Nazis were doing. They might have helped to mobilize international opinion and action

at a time when most of Poland’s 3 million Jews were still alive?

  • After the war, the mass graves were found, by whom and how I don’t (yet) know, but it seems likely that some of the Christians still living in Tykocin were the ones who identified the grave sites in the midst of dense woods 3 miles from town. Which means they very likely knew what was there.
  • The synagogue has been restored by Jewish sources including the Lauder Foundation. and is now a moving museum. The town bakery makes excellent challah bread. 
  • But other than the synagogue and a single marker at the old Jewish cemetery for those who were buried from 1522 until the day in 1941 when the mass execution took place, there are no memorials to Jews in Tykocin. 
  • The Christian Poles act as if the Jews were never there.

On the day of our visit, not a single Jew was living in Tykocin. Many Jews, however, visit every day. Within the two hours we were in Tykocin, there were four different tour groups with at least 30 Jewish young people in each group. Several groups prayed and sang in the synagogue.

  • What do the Christian Poles now living in the homes of the executed Jews think of all this? 
  • Do they ever reflect on the Jews who were their neighbors for over 400 years? 
  • Are these Jews ever mentioned by the priest in the large church just a few meters from where the Jews were collected for annihilation?

The synagogue at Tykocin is beautiful. Photos of it and the shtetl homes near it can be seen at our travel blog … 

http://patandlewtravel.wordpress.com/2012/07/05/the-polish-shtetl-of-tycosin-synagogue-homes-mass-grave-of-jews/

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* Courtroom 600 … the site of the 1945-46 Nuremberg War Crimes Trials

Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 1, 2012

Courtroom 600 in Nuremberg is one of the major focal points of my novel-in-progress. We have seen many of the movies that were set there. I have read the transcripts and several book length accounts of the trial of the major Nazi war criminals in 1945-46.

But actually being there … sensing the presence of prosecutor Jackson, Judge Biddle, and defendants Goring, Streicher, Shacht, Speer and the others … that was a whole different experience. I could even feel the presence of my fictional defendant Berthold Becker, sitting in the defendant’s dock, expecting a death sentence.

Nuremberg Courtroom 600 – now & then

Nuremberg defendants … story in Süddeutsche Zeitung (South German newspaper) … headline “The judgment in Nuremberg”

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* my novel-in-progress receives invaluable assistance from 3 Munich historians & archivists

Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 1, 2012

Dr. Andreas Heusler, Dr. Christian Hartmann (& family), Dr. Guido Treffler

I come asking uncomfortable questions, all of which are crucial to my novel-in-progress dealing with the Nazi years in Germany and Poland …

  • Why did so many Germans support Hitler?
  • What did Cardinal Faulhaber think when he retreated from his early positions opposing Hitler’s antisemitic programs?
  • Did the German population realize what was happening at the death camps?

These questions have no easy answers, and real evidence to support any answer may be difficult or impossible to obtain, and, to say the least, controversial. Yet each of these professional historians and archivists were generous with their time, their opinions, and their reference to sources previously not known to me. I truly appreciate their interest in my work, and hope to call on each for further asssitance as my novel-in-progress moves along.

Dr. Andreas Heusler works at the Munich State Archives, where he is a leading expert on the Nazi years. He is also the author of a major article on the history of Jews in Munich contained in a publication of the new Munich Jewish Center.

Dr. Christian Hartmann works at the Institut für Zeitgeschichte (Contemporary History), currently as leader of a project to produce a new annotated edition of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”. In addition to providing historical perspectives, he, along with his wife and daughter, provided Pat and me with a wonderful Bavarian dinner at his home.

Dr. Guido Treffler works in the archive section of the Archdiocese of Munich, where he has responsibility for the archival records of Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber, the Archbishop of Munich from 1921 to 1948, who was perhaps the dominant Catholic figure in Germany during the entire span of the Nazi years.

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* today we followed the 2.5 km route of Hitler’s march through central Munich in the failed 1923 beer hall putsch

Posted by Lew Weinstein on June 26, 2012

Hitler in 1923

In 1923, in Munich, Adolf Hitler led a putsch (coup d’etat) attempt to take over both the Bavarian state government and the national Reich government of Germany.

Shortly after noon on November 9, 1923, about 2,000 rag tag troops set off from the now demolished Burgerbraukeller beer hall. They marched to the Ludwigsbrucke bridge, where they overcame a small police force and continued toward the center of the city.

They reached the Marienplatz, where the City Hall was festooned with swastikas, and where they were cheered by a mostly supportive and raucus crowd.

Turning right at the City Hall, they headed toward the Odeonplatz, which they never reached. At the Feldherrnhalle, they were met by a large force of police and Army troops. A short but fierce firefight ensued, and 30 seconds later the putsch was over.

Hitler escaped that day, but was soon captured and brought to trial on charges of treason. Most Germans, who had viewed the putsch as an incompetent, almost comic, event, thought that Hitler and his Nazi movement were finished.

Pictured below are (1) the gate into the center of Munich, (2) City Hall in Marienplatz, (3) the view of the edge of the Feldherrnalle the marchers would have seen as they came down Residenzstarsse, and (4) the view the police and Army troops would have had looking toward Residenzstrasse.

Here’s what it might have looked like on November 9, 1923 as Hitler and the Nazis emerged from Residenzstrasse and faced the government troops, just before shots were fired.

The events of the 1923 putsch will be portrayed through the eyes of my characters in my as yet untitled novel-in-progress.

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* Sophie Scholl, almost 70 years after she was executed, is still a major presence at the University of Munich

Posted by Lew Weinstein on June 24, 2012

Sophie Scholl on the day she died … and her bust with a live white rose at the University of Munich

Sophie Scholl, along with others calling themselves The White Rose, learned what the Nazis were doing to Jews and other civilians in Russia and to tried to induce Germans to passively resist the Nazis. She and the rest of the White Rose group were arrested for distributing leaflets at the University of Munich on February 18, 1943. Four days later, they were found guilty of treason and condemned to death. They were beheaded a few hours later. Sophie was 21 years old. Her last words were …

How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause. Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?

On the day we visited the campus, a group was rehearsing for a night of readings and music in honor of the White Rose students.

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* scouting out settings at the University of Munich

Posted by Lew Weinstein on June 24, 2012

I have in mind that my fictional character Berthold Becker will study at the University of Munich, so we set out to see the main buildings of the university, hoping that some would look the same as they did in 1930. I had written to the university, and we were fortunate to have two guides, former students who were knowledgeable and also interested in my project. Pat and I met Simone and Viviane at 11:00 am Saturday at the fountain in front of the main building.

The first thing I learned was that Berthold would not be able to study engineering at this campus, since those courses are not and were not offered here. I believe it was Simone who suggested that perhaps philosophy would be a better choice for the kind of character I am trying to create. See how easy it is to change majors?

As we walked around, we identified many campus and classroom locations that fit scenes I already had in mind, and also several that suggested new ways to develop my characters.

And then, we had the great pleasure of a Bavarian lunch at our first Munich beer garden.

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* Research Report: Day One in Munich … German guilt, defying Hitler, Catholic opportunities lost, Jews who will not go away

Posted by Lew Weinstein on June 23, 2012

I had a remarkable telephone conversation with a German who has spent his entire life trying to come to grips with the fact that his parents were Nazis, his mother enamored with Hitler and his father a soldier on the Russian front. He was 10 years old when the war ended, and more years passed before he began to learn enough to ask questions which his parents would never answer. His entire life since has been devoted to learning the truth of the Nazi atrocities and living with “an overwhelming guilt over what we Germans did to the Jewish people.” This despite his obvious personal innocence.

Soon after this conversation, I read a memoir by Sebastian Haffner. Titled “Defying Hitler,” it was written in 1939 just after the author, then in his early 30s, had left Germany. Haffner powerfully presents what he characterizes as a nationwide nervous breakdown that paralyzed German opposition to Hitler. His own “defiance” was mainly in his mind, where he struggled to maintain a sense of personal morality.

Almost the precise age of my primary character in my new novel-in-progress, Haffner’s internal struggles offer rich pathways into the mind of my fictional Berthold Becker, although their lives were very different. Haffner was a passive Nazi. Becker was active (or will be when I write it), performing deeds evil enough to qualify him for trial at Nuremberg. What did he think as he committed those horrific acts? Did he, like Haffner, struggle to defend a personal, internal morality even as he was an important participant in the Nazi flood of mechanized, methodical death? That’s what I hope to be able to write.

Next came a conversation with Dr. Andreas Heusler, a highly regarded historian who directs the Jewish section of the Munich City Archives. Among many other topics, we discussed German guilt, which Dr. Heusler indicated was still pervasive but not often spoken of.

I asked Dr. Heusler whether there had been opportunities to stop Hitler, with particular focus on the capitulation of the Catholic Church before and after the 1933 Concordat. Dr. Heusler ‘s response was telling. He stated that Cardinal Faulhaber, archbishop of Munich during the entire period of Nazi ascendency and through the war years, was an “untouchable” figure who could have spoken out with personal impunity. Faulhaber, who had spoken forcefully against Hitler’s brutal anti-semitism in the 1920s,  later offered no criticism of even the worst Nazi atrocities against Jews.

The reasons for Cardinal Faulhaber’s reticence are, I believe, crucial to an understanding of why the attitudes of the fictional Berthold Becker, along with those of millions of actual Germans, developed as they did. I hope to pursue this line further next week in a meeting tentatively scheduled with a historian attached to the Munich archdiocese. As Pat often says, “Good luck.”

To conclude an exhausting two days, from Collioure to Barcelona and then to Munich – too many planes , trains and automobiles – Pat and I went to Friday night services at the new synagogue in Munich, escorted by our fascinating guide Chaim Frank.

Think about that. The predecessor Munich synagogue was destroyed by Hitler in 1938. All the Jews of Munich were later assembled and taken to death camps. And yet here, in 2012, almost 100 Jews prayed and celebrated the Bat Torah of a new generation of Jewish women. This in Munich, from whence Hitler originated his madness.

“We are a remarkable people,” I said to Chaim. “We simply will not go away.”

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* Why do you think so many Germans supported Hitler? One answer (of sorts) in a Collioure creperie.

Posted by Lew Weinstein on June 13, 2012

Nazis were among those who won legislative seats in 1932 elections

Now that I’m embarked on research for my new novel, I get into conversations I would never have had before. Pat and I had crepes this week at one of our favorite Collioure restaurants. The middle-aged couple sitting next to us spoke French and perhaps a little German, but as we each received “l’addition,” we were addressed in English. The couple turned out to be Swiss. When the conversation touched on retirement, I said I was busy in mine, writing novels. Which led to my current project and my new conversation-grabbing question.

“So why do you think so many Germans supported Hitler?” I asked.

There are so many ways to answer that question. First of all, what time frame are we talking about?

  • In 1923, the people who supported Hitler were mainly frustrated war veterans, unemployed, super-patriots, Jew-haters … looking to overthrow what Hitler repeatedly called the “Jew Communist Republic” in Berlin. Of course, the 1923 Munich putsch failed, and Hitler was sent to prison. But after he got out (his sentence was absurdly lenient) his supporters actually increased.
  • A second major time frame was the late 1920s to 1933, at the end of which Hitler actually achieved power. Who supported Hitler then? Who gave him the 25% of the vote that he manipulated into the Chancellorship and the ultimate power? Who allowed that political manipulation to succeed? Why?
  • Then there’s after 1933, as Hitler transformed Germany, built a war machine, improved the economy, and made Jews persecuted non-citizens. Who supported those actions? Why?
  • And finally, the Holocaust. Box cars heading east. No Jews returning. Who supported that? Why?

My new Swiss friend chose to talk about the early 1930s. “Hitler had a minority of the vote, a minority of legislative seats,” he said. “But he was able to block everything the government wanted to do. It was bad times, the Depression. Nothing was getting done. Finally, the majority made a deal with Hitler. He became Chancellor, with the Interior and Justice Ministries under Nazi control. Then, with that power, he made the other political parties illegal and took total control, using brute force as a political weapon.”

But that, it seems to me, begs the question. You can’t change 25% into total control without the compliance of the 75%. Who were those 75% and why did they go along? I didn’t get to ask that question before we left the table, and I have not yet read enough to suggest an answer. Perhaps next week in Munich and Nuremberg I will get other perspectives.

There is no simple answer. At different points in time, Hitler’s supporters came from different segments of the German population, and each had different reasons for playing their part in enabling Hitler to accomplish his clearly stated objectives.

What did those Germans think Hitler would do if he got power? He had been telling everyone who would listen for more than a decade, including endlessly repeating that Germany could never be great until all the Jews were eliminated.

In 1933, did the 75% believe him? Did they care?

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* research for a new novel

Posted by Lew Weinstein on June 10, 2012

Defendants in the beer hall putsch trial

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I’m busy trying to arrange appointments for our trip to Munich later this month. My goal is to talk with today’s Germans about how and why so many of their ancestors came to support Hitler and his program of exterminating the Jews.

In particular, I hope to speak with one or more Church leaders about the role of the Catholic Church in Hitler’s rise.

This is all research for my new novel, the first section of which takes place in Munich in 1923.

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