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Posts Tagged ‘Nazi Germany’

* 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)

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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

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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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* 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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* a review of Melita Maschmann’s memoir … “Account Rendered: a Dossier on my Former Self”

Posted by Lew Weinstein on March 14, 2013

hitler youth

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FROM THE FLY-LEAF … Melita Maschmann’s memoir (publ 1964) … without self-exculpation or self-pity … she changed from an ordinary 15 year old schoolgirl in 1933 into a high-ranking member of the Nazi elite … blindly dedicated … she remained loyal to National Socialism against all protests of truth and justice … imbued with the latent antisemitism of her parents’ generation … when she saw Jews, Poles and others suffer she switched off her feelings … because to think for oneself or to make moral judgments was immoral in the time of Germany’s need.

BEFORE READING THE BOOK … I am going to hate this woman … but will certainly understand more about the sickness that so many ordinary Germans welcomed and allowed to control their lives.

NOW I HAVE READ THE BOOK … My conclusion is that, despite her protestations to the contrary, Maschmann’s memoir is a self-justifying lie! So must be many (most?) of the claims of Germans that they never knew. Perhaps they didn’t want to know and looked the other way, but that is a very different thing. Nevertheless, Maschmann’s writings provide significant insight into what a young Nazi was thinking, and perhaps why. Here are a few of her reflections …

… we thought the Nazi’s violent antisemitism was a passing phase, a propaganda stunt 

… the fact that I was involved in something greater than myself relieved me of any sense of guilt … I wanted to attach myself to something that was great and fundamental

… Maschmann’s mantra … I would repeat these same verses 10 or 15 times over … “You must believe in Germany as firmly, clearly and truly as you believe in the sun, the moon and the starlight. You must believe in Germany, as if Germany were yourself; and as you believe your soul strives towrd eternity. You must believe in Germany – or your life is but death. And you must fight for Germany until the new dawn comes.” 

… I never allowed any of my experiences to prompt me to come to grips with the so-called “Jewish Question” for myself … my antisemitic attitude seemed to me to be a natural part of my National Socialist outlook … basically the problem did not interest me … LMW: it is thus vital to understand why antisemitism was so natural for Germans. My own view is that it was largely the centuries-long persecution and denigration of Jews by the Catholic and Lutheran churches.

… on Kristallnacht … I forced the memory of it out of my consciousness as quickly as possible … on the night of the broken glass our feelings were not yet hardened to the sight of human suffering as they were later in the war

… as the years went by I grew better at switching off quickly … it was the only way to avoid the onset of doubts about the rightness of what had happened … and serious doubts would have torn away the basis of my existence from under me 

… on the invasion of Poland … I was utterly convinced of our superior moral position

… on the news of ‘Bloody Sunday’ at Bromberg … the German press reported that 60,000 German nationals had been murdered in an appallingly savage manner … my clear recollection was that we had invaded Poland after the news of Bloody Sunday had reached Berlin … in point of fact the events happened in reverse order … but my version, which I held until a few months ago, was much better for easing our political conscience.

… our noble, refined and intellectual German qualities were in danger of being suppressed by the brutality of the primitive Poles

… England had conquered a world empire … France had acquired colony after colony … now at last Germany’s historic hour had come … the dream of her greatness would become a reality in the Reich of our Fuhrer

… there was an irresistible fascination with the words ‘Reich’ and ‘Fuhrer’

… we had no idea there was evidence at Nuremberg that Hitler really had murdered millions of people … and (in 1946) we never thought to ask: what if the American allegations about the concentration camps are true after all?

… many former Nazis still say … how much better it was in Hitler’s day … in those days, they believed in something that roused them from their humble existence

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* Lew’s reviews … research reading for my new novel CHOOSING HITLER

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 17, 2013

Reviews on this site

(Click to read my review)

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Weimar Germany by Eric D. Weitz

Good Germans by Hal Marienthal

A History of the German National Railway Volume 2, 1933-1945

Justice Imperiled: The Anti-Nazi Lawyer Max Hirschberg in Weimar Germany

Backing Hitler by Robert Gellately

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reviews on Goodreads

(click to read my review and others)

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The Jews and Their Lies    by Martin Luther

The Catholic Church And Nazi Germany

A Thread of Grace 

Rabbis and Wives

Rome’s Most Faithful Daughter: The Catholic Church and Independent Poland, 1914-1939

The Family Moskat: A Novel

In the Garden of Beasts

The Good German

The Fox in the Attic

Jean-Christophe: Dawn, Morning, Youth, Revolt  by Romain Rolland

Shadow and Light (Berlin Trilogy, #2)

The Sorrows of Young Werther

Love and War in the Pyrenees: A Story of Courage, Fear and Hope, 1939 – 1944

Shtetl: The Life and Death of a Small Town and the World of Polish Jews

Everyday Jews: Scenes from a Vanished Life

When Nationalism Began to Hate: Imagining Modern Politics in Nineteenth-Century Poland

State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda

Night  by Elie Wiesel

The Persecution of the Catholic Church in the Third Reich

Difficult Heritage: Negotiating the Nazi Past in Nuremberg and Beyond

The Jews of East Central Europe Between the World Wars

Poland’s Threatening Other

 Jodendom, Christendom, Germanendom    sermons by Cardinal Faulhaber

 Jews in Independent Poland 1918-1939

The Papacy, the Jews, and the Holocaust

The Catholic Church and Antisemitism … Poland 1933-39

Bitter Glory: Poland and Its Fate, 1918-1939

Mila 18  by Leon Uris

Awakening Lives: Autobiographies of Jewish Youth in Poland before the Holocaust

Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power

The Lost Wife

The Earth Is the Lord’s: The Inner World of the Jew in Eastern Europe

Poland, 1918-1945: An Interpretive and Documentary History of the Second Republic

The Third Reich: A New History

The Kings Depart: The Tragedy of Germany: Versailles and the German Revolution

Pilsudski: A Life for Poland

Hitler

A Suitable Husband

Wallenberg: Missing Hero

Eye of the Needle

Pilsudski’s Coup d’Etat

The Brothers Ashkenazi

The Jews Of Poland Between Two World Wars

Rosa Luxemburg: A Revolutionary for Our Times

Wolf Among Wolves  by Hans Fallada

Munich 1923: The Story of Hitler’s First Grab for Power

All Quiet on the Western Front

Storm of Steel

When Money Dies: The Nightmare Of The Weimar Hyper Inflation

The Statement  by Brian Moore 

The History Of An Obsession: German Judeophobia And The Holocaust

There Once Was a World: A 900-Year Chronicle of the Shtetl of Eishyshok 

From Shtetl To Socialism: Studies From Polin

The Clash of Moral Nations: Cultural Politics in Pilsudski’s Poland, 1926-1935 

Rosa (Berlin Trilogy, #1)

Address Unknown

Germans and Jews

The Manor

Life is With People: The Culture of the Shtetl 

Children of a Vanished World

Straight into Darkness

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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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* research reading for CHOOSING HITLER … Good Germans by Hal Marienthal

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 30, 2013

Good Germans-cover

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I have read about 80 pages. It is a poignant, illuminating memoir written as a novel. A powerful description of the early Nazi years (up to 1936) seen mainly through the eyes of a young boy. Marienthal was adopted by a Chicago couple in 1936 and went on to a brilliant academic and film career in the U.S.

There are many insights into what was happening and why; here are two …

… contempt, indignities and malice grew throughout the country, suffocated all hope, distorted everyone’s daily life, stripped away personal identity

… the Nazis had gotten to him … it wasn’t the uniforms or the parades or the trappings of power … what attracted him was the Nazi promise of knowing where one belonged in society … he shared an ethos in common with millions of Germans – he loved conformity, while idiosyncrasy was inimical to his sense of well being

I have put the book aside but will return. For now, it is a few years ahead of my timeline in researching and writing CHOOSING HITLER.

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* research for CHOOSING HITLER … A History of the German National Railway Volume 2, 1933-1945

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 28, 2013

german railway vol 2

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It is likely that no one else would be as excited about this book as I was. I have long had in mind having the major German character in my novel-in-progress (tentatively titled CHOOSING HITLER) make his career in the German Railway. 

This book provides incredibly relevant detail for that purpose, including … the educational background he would need … the sequence of positions he might hold … the relationship between the German Railway, the Reichswehr, the SS, and Hitler … the role of the Railway in support of Hitler’s wars … and the role in transporting Jews to the ovens. 

What did railway officials and workers know about the ongoing Holocaust? Plenty. 

What did they care about the Jews being taken to murder? Most of them, not at all.

***

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* research reading for CHOOSING HITLER … Justice Imperiled: The Anti-Nazi Lawyer Max Hirschberg in Weimar Germany

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 28, 2013

Justice Imperiled

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Fascinating detail of the major cases of a Jewish lawyer who fought for justice in Munich during the Weimar years. Max Hirschberg was the premier courtroom lawyer in Munich during the Weimar Republic, representing Munich’s Social Democratic Party in its most important political trials. He also took on numerous cases where the right-leaning criminal justice system had resulted in what he saw as a miscarriage of justice.

Right at the top of Hitler’s list, Hirschberg was arrested by the Nazis in the early morning hours after the Reichstag fire in February 1933. He was held in “protective custody” for over 5 months and then inexplicably released. He fled to Switzerland, then to America, and lived into the 1960s.

The lingering feeling I get from this book is the critical importance to a civilized society of the rule of law, how impossible life must be when this no longer applies, and how much we should appreciate those who fight to maintain it.

I have written about the perversion of the rule of law in my novels A Good Conviction  and Case Closed: … why the FBI failed to solve the 2001 anthrax case.

And of course Hirschberg’s cases raise yet again the question of how educated Germans could have failed to see what they were getting with Hitler, or if they knew, why they were willing to make the bargain.

I am thinking of imagining and writing a dinner conversation between Max Hirschberg and Munich’s Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber, in 1930, where these issues and questions will be discussed. Faulhaber had been outspoken against antisemitism in the 1920s, became far less so when the position of the Catholic Church became one of accommodation to Hitler in the 1930s, then again adamant in the Church’s successful campaign against Nazi euthanasia in the early 1940s … while never mentioning the mass murder of Jews of which he surely knew. 

I think Faulhaber’s evolving positions are fertile material for my novel-in-progress, tentatively titled CHOOSING HITLER.

But … my wife tells me it is not possible that the Cardinal would come to dinner at a private home, especially that of a Jew. I’ll have to find another way.

***

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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”.

******

Posted in * A FLOOD OF EVIL ... Lew's novel-in-progress, ** NAZI CENTER - Nuremberg | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

* 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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* Lew’s review (ongoing) of “Backing Hitler” by Robert Gellately … It is getting harder for me to reconcile the horrors of the totalitarian state graphically described by Gellately with his contention that “a huge majority of Germans supported Hitler’s policies and thought Hitler was good for Germany.”

Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 12, 2012

In his introduction, Gellately sets the premise that Hitler was well received in 1933 by most Germans who applauded his goals of “restoring the grandeur of the Reich” and “cleaning out undesirable aliens.” He argues that this widespread support for Hitler did not waver substantially until more than a decade later when it was obvious that the war Hitler had sought was clearly lost.

He states that the Nazi regime, while selectively brutal with its chosen enemies, did not create a universal terror for most Germans, and that most Germans supported brutality against people for whom they had little sympathy. He further asserts that a vast array of material regarding the concentration camps was published in the media of the day, and that the German people knew very well what was going on. He does not, at least in the introduction, deal with what the German people knew about the death camps of the 1940s and the mass murder of the Jews.

The most shocking quote so far is from a well-spoken middle class German woman who, looking back, says, “We had wonderful years.” The footnote sources this quote to a book by Alison Owings called Frauen: German Women Recall the Third Reich.

Now we’ll see what proofs Gellately assembles regarding these premises, which have enormous potential significance to my novel-in-progress.

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Lew’s comments on Gellately’s Chapter 1 … “Turning Away From Weimar.”

Gellately’s conclusion is that a huge majority of Germans supported Hitler’s policies and thought Hitler was good for Germany. This is especially damning in light of the evidence Gellately presents. Consider the following, all of which took place during 1933, all of which Germans knew, and despite which they supported Hitler …

… “In less than six months (after Hitler became Chancellor in January 1933) the Nazis undermined the parliamentary system and had begun the destruction of justice by suspending civil and legal rights.”

… the Nazis won more than 80-90% of the vote, after eliminating all opposition parties.

… German police were increasingly empowered to act without restraint, but those who were “good Germans” knew they had nothing to fear.

… the Nazis trashed their opponents without restraint.

… “dead bodies were found in the surrounding forests, and no one dared to know anything about them.”

… “news published about the stream of people sent to concentration camps provided an obvious lesson to any potential opponents”

… “inequality before the law was an essential feature of justice under Hitler’s dictatorship.”

… new laws expanding the meaning of treason and setting up a People’s Court to mete out justice to offenders.”

… Germans accepted that their country would have a secret police.

… “the paramilitary SA, millions-strong, indulged in vigilante acts of violence that totally ignored the law.”

… Jews were systematically turned into outsiders with their legal emancipation reversed.

… Jews were driven from the professions, and “it appears beyond doubt that their expulsion was popular,” at least in part because it created employment opportunities for Christian Germans.

… doctors’ organizations were brought under Nazi control and Jews barred … “there was virtually no opposition to what happened.”

To me, there seems to be a huge disconnect between what the German people knew about Hitler’s approach and their wholehearted support of their new Fuhrer.

What kind of people, understanding what Hitler and his thugs did to those they classified enemies, and how easily and without appeal it was possible to become one of those enemies, and how Hitler had totally co-opted the police, the courts, the press, and the Catholic Church, would still support such a brutal leader?

I guess we must conclude (a) they didn’t care about the people Hitler was persecuting and (b) they didn’t think it would happen to them.

Also, to be fair, 1933 was also almost a decade before the mechanized mass murder of the Jews at Auschwitz and elsewhere, so support of Hitler in 1933, awful as his policies were even then, does not yet mean support for the death camps of the 1940s. Gellately’s views on whether the German people also supported the Holocaust are, I expect, dealt with in subsequent chapters.

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Lew’s comments on Gellately’s Chapter 2 – Police Justice

It is getting harder for me to reconcile the horrors of the totalitarian state graphically described by Gellately with his contention that “a huge majority of Germans supported Hitler’s policies and thought Hitler was good for Germany.” For one thing, as the net of repressive and arbitrary police procedures grew ever tighter, how is it possible to know if the German people continued to support Hitler or were terrified not to support him?

A review of “Backing Hitler” by Professor Conan Fischer, cites a prior book by Gellately, “The Gestapo and German Society: Enforcing Racial Policy 1933-1945” as demonstrating conclusively “that the much feared and allegedly omnipresent Gestapo in fact relied on widespread public support to function effectively. Denunciations of fellow citizens and relatives by members of the public initiated many Gestapo investigations, even though the whistleblowers understood that those denounced could suffer torture, be consigned to an uncertain fate in a concentration camp, or be executed without due legal process.”

To me this statement, and Gellately’s identical contention in “Backing Hitler,” flies in the face of common sense. In a world where the police can detain anyone in “protective custody” for “public criticism of the government or the Nazi Party, even if the remarks were made in private,” how could any denunciation of one citizen by another be construed as an expression of support for the regime, when it is far more likely to be a desperate effort to prevent one’s own denunciation for failing to denounce a fellow-citizen’s “crime?”

In a chapter where Nazi police are described as adopting a “preventive role, by which they meant arbitrarily arresting people who the police thought might commit a crime,” how is it possible to believe that any German citizen felt secure? How could any German be thought to support such a regime, no matter how much they publicly insisted they did?

These questions lead to other questions …

… Are those Germans who quite appropriately feared for their lives excused from culpability for the actions of a nightmarish government they outwardly professed to support?

… Who had the power and moral authority to combat such a regime from within or from without?

… Who could have acted but didn’t?

… And why does Gellately continue to insist that “a huge majority of Germans supported Hitler’s policies and thought Hitler was good for Germany?”

I’ll keep reading and looking for evidence that has not yet been provided … all the while trying to figure out how I will present these questions and choices in my new novel.

****** MORE TO COME ******

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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?

******

Posted in * A FLOOD OF EVIL ... Lew's novel-in-progress | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »