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March 18, 2011

Dutch Jews killed at Mauthausen Concentration camp

Filed under: Buchenwald, Dachau, Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 11:52 am

The murder of Dutch Jews during the Holocaust has been in the news a lot lately due to the trial of John Demjanjuk in Germany.  I decided to do a little research on this subject and came across a blog titled “Inconvenient History” which I have read many times in the past. I love this blog because the articles are so erudite, not like my dumb blog posts.  I especially love the name: Inconvenient History.

This blog post on the “Inconvenient History” blog is about the speeches of German writer Thomas Mann on the BBC during World War II; it mentions Dutch Jews who were allegedly gassed at the Mauthausen concentration camp, according to Mann.

Here is a quote from the article on the blog “Inconvenient History”:

Two months later, in the speech from January 1942, Mann had an astounding tale to tell his listeners:

”The news sounds implausible, but my source is good. In numerous Dutch-Jewish families in Amsterdam and other cities, so I have been informed, one mourns deeply for sons, who have suffered a horrible death. Four hundred young Dutch Jews were brought to Germany to be used as guinea pigs for poison gas. The virulence of this chivalrous and through and through German weapon of war, a true weapon of Siegfried, has proven itself against the young subhumans. They are dead, dead for the sake of the New Order and the military ingeniosity of the Master Race. At least for that they were good enough. After all, they were Jews.”[5]

A bit later in the text Mann refers to the above alleged event as ”the trial gassing [Probevergasung] of four hundred young Jews”.[6]

In his speech from June 1942 Mann returned to the subject of the gassed Dutch Jews:

”In one of my earlier broadcasts I made myself guilty of a regrettable mitigation of the truth. I spoke of Nazi atrocities and mentioned that 400 young Dutchmen of Jewish blood had been brought to German to be killed with poison gas. Now I hear via indirect channels from Holland, that the number of victims mentioned by me was nearly half that of the actual figure. It was almost 800 people who were arrested at that time, brought to Mauthausen and gassed there. The exact figure has meanwhile been published by the Dutch government [in exile?], but since I do not believe that this report has yet reached you, I do well to pass on to you this privately received information.”[7]

Mauthausen and the nearby Gusen camp had been designated, in January 1941, as the only Class III camps in the Nazi system. Later, Gusen became a sub-camp of Mauthausen. Dachau and Sachsenhausen were designated as Class I camps and Buchenwald became a Class II camp.

The Class III designation meant that Mauthausen was the worst camp in the Nazi concentration camp system; it was a punishment camp for resistance fighters who had been accused of sabotage, and for Allied POWs who were categorized as spies or commandos, Russian POWs who had previously escaped, and German criminals who had been condemned to death.  As the worst of the concentration camps, Mauthausen also became the source of the worst atrocity stories told by the Allies, including the stories about the Dutch Jews.  I previously blogged about stories told by a Dutch survivor here.

I visited the Mauthausen Memorial Site several years ago after doing a lot of research about the camp. I learned that, from 1941 to 1943, there were around 1,350 Dutch Jews who had been brought to Mauthausen because they were accused of resistance activities during the Nazi occupation. The first to arrive were 361 Jews from Amsterdam who had been transferred from Buchenwald to Mauthausen after it became a Class III camp in 1941. These Dutch Jews were from the group of 425 young men who had been arrested in the Jewish quarter of Amsterdam in reprisal for what the Nazis considered an act of resistance on February 19, 1941 when German occupation soldiers were sprayed with ammonia in a tavern, which was run by Ernst Cahn, a Jewish refugee from Germany. In his book entitled Holocaust, Martin Gilbert claimed that the alleged attack was accidental.

In June 1941, there had been more arrests of Jews in Amsterdam after an explosion, caused by the Dutch Resistance, in a villa where German Army officers were living.

Here is another quote from the “Inconvenient History” blog:

The reality behind this allegation is described by Raul Hilberg as follows: In early February 1941 German Security Police men were attacked by Jewish members of the resistance. On 25 February the Higher SS and Police Leader Rauter proclaimed that 400 Jews in the age group 20-35 had been sent to a German concentration camp. A total of 389 youths were in fact sent to Buchenwald, where a tenth of them perished in the next months. The survivors were sent on to Mauthausen. In June another 291 Amsterdam Jews were sent there directly. The Dutch Jews in Mauthausen were set to carry out heavy work in a stone quarry, and many who did not perish from exhaustion or illness reportedly committed suicide. Following concentration camp routine, the Mauthausen command sent death notices to the families of the deceased.[8] No Holocaust historian has ever asserted that the Dutch Jews deported to Mauthausen in 1941, or even part of them, were killed with poison gas. According to the foremost defender of the Mauthausen gas chamber legend, Hans Marsalek, the alleged homicidal gas chamber of that camp was not put in operation before May 1942, and of the either 526 or 726 victims supposedly gassed (on a total of five occasions) up until 9 September 1944, all were either Soviet, Czech or Polish citizens.[9] Thus none of the approximately 640 Dutch Jews sent to Mauthausen in 1941 could have been gassed there, even from an exterminationist viewpoint.

Note that this quote from Raul Hilberg mentions that the Dutch Jews, who were sent to work in the quarry at Mauthausen, “committed suicide.”  This contradicts one of the favorite atrocity stories about Mauthausen, which is that the Dutch Jews were forced to jump off a cliff by the German guards, who jokingly called this “parachuting.”

Robert Abzug wrote about this allegation in his book entitled Inside the Vicious Heart. According to Abzug, hundreds of Dutch Jews were forced to jump to their deaths from the high cliff overlooking the quarry floor.

However, Martin Gilbert wrote the following in his book Holocaust:

On the third day after the arrival of the Dutch deportees at Mauthausen, the camp guards began machine-gunning the climbers on the steps. On the fourth day, some ten young Jews linked hands and jumped to voluntary death.

The ledge from which Dutch Jews jumped at Mauthausen

Note the pool of water below the cliff.  One of the stories is that some of the Dutch Jews survived and were forced by the German guards to jump off the cliff again.

So were the Dutch Jews pushed, or did they jump off the cliff to commit suicide?  If you live in the Netherlands, it would be better to go with the story that the Jews were pushed off the cliff.  The Jews in the Netherlands are cracking down on Holocaust denial, according to this news story.

March 17, 2011

Demjanjuk is back in court — testimony from the dead will be heard

Filed under: Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 9:33 am

Good news!  John Demjanjuk is back in court, after two days in a hospital, and a request by his attorney to hear testimony given by Dov Frieberg has been granted.  Freiberg is now dead, but a written statement that he gave in 1976 will be read in court.  In his statement, Freiberg said that he was assigned to clean the Sobibor barracks where the Ukrainian guards were housed, but he does not remember Demjanjuk being there.

I previously wrote this about Freiberg in another blog post:

In his book entitled “The Holocaust,” Martin Gilbert wrote about another survivor of Sobibor, Dov Freiberg, who was a 15-year-old boy on a transport of 2,750 Jews from the town of Torobin in Poland on May 12, 1942. The Jews were assembled in the town square and told that they were going to be “resettled in the Ukraine,” according to Freiberg. They were then taken to the nearest railroad station at Krasnowka, where they were joined by Jews from other nearby towns and villages. When their train arrived at the camp, the story of resettlement seemed to be coming true: a sign at the entrance to the camp said “SS Sonderkommando Umsiedlungslager.” which means “SS special unit resettlement camp” in English.

According to Freiberg, there was a band playing at the entrance. The women and children “went straight to the gas chambers,” but since the gas chamber “didn’t really operate in the night,” the men “stayed there on the spot during the night.” Freiberg was one of 150 Jews from this transport who “were sent to work” in the camp itself, sorting the belongings of the victims.

It turns out that it was a big mistake for the Germans to select young Jewish boys to work in Sobibor, which was one of the 6 Nazi death camps.  Even if the Nazis expected to win the war and they thought that they would never be charged with Crimes against Humanity for the genocide of the Jews, the Nazis should have anticipated that the German people would eventually turn against them and some of the young boys would have survived to testify against them. They should have selected older men, who would soon be dead, to be the helpers in the Sobibor death camp.

The Nazis should have anticipated a possible revolt by the Jewish helpers and that some of them would survive to testify against them.  Yesterday I blogged about Philip Bialowitz who survived the revolt at Sobibor and is still alive; he is touring the USA now, telling his story of how 250,000 Jews were gassed at Sobibor. (Bialowitz was 17 when he was sent to Sobibor.)

The Germans called Sobibor a “transit camp;” their cover story was that the Jews were being “evacuated to the East.”  Treblinka and Belzec were also called transit camps by the Germans.  But why did they need transit camps in German-occupied Poland?  Why not just put the Dutch Jews on a train in Amsterdam and take them all the way into the Ukraine, instead of stopping at Sobibor for a shower?

The Bug river was very shallow and not very wide

The reason that the trains to the East had to stop at Sobibor and Belzec is because there were no train bridges across the Bug river; the train tracks were a different size in Eastern Europe.

There were more Jews killed in the three Operation Reinhard camps (Treblinka, Sobibor and Belzec) than in Auschwitz.  Why weren’t all the Jews sent to Auschwitz to be gassed?  Auschwitz was the main railroad hub in Europe.  Trains could start from almost any place in Western Europe and go all the way to Auschwitz.  Even Majdanek would have been a better choice for gassing the Jews. The Majdanek camp, with its 4 Zyklon-B gas chambers, was a few miles west of Sobibor, so why send Jews to Sobibor to be gassed with carbon monoxide from diesel engines?  That doesn’t make any sense at all.  The Majdanek camp also had ovens to burn the bodies, which Sobibor didn’t have.

The map above shows the General Government (German-occupied Poland) in dark brown and the former Soviet occupied zone in jade green.  The black line which divides these two zones is the Bug river. Note that Sobibor is very close to the Bug river, but also very close to Majdanek. Note that Auschwitz (shown in the tan section of the map) is not in the General Government, but in the Greater German Reich. Chelmno is another death camp that was also located in the Greater German Reich.

At the time that the three Operation Reinhard camps were set up in 1942, the Germans had taken the area that is shown in jade green on the map.  Why would they have killed the Jews right on the banks of the Bug river when they could have just sent them into the Ukraine and on into Russia?

I have been watching an ad on TV that asks for a donation of $25 to be sent to the starving elderly Holocaust survivors in Russia.    How did all these Holocaust survivors wind up in Russia?

March 16, 2011

Will war criminal John Demjanjuk live long enough to get his “just deserts”?

Filed under: Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 2:25 pm

Today I checked up on the progress of the trial of John Demjanjuk which has been ongoing since November 2009 and I learned that the trial has been delayed until May 2011 because Demjanjuk has been hospitialized.  Demjanjuk is being tried in a German court on charges of being an accessory to the murder of around 27,900 Jews, based on the testimony of two survivors that it was the Ukrainian guards who herded Jews into the gas chambers at the Sobibór death camp in German-occupied Poland.  Demjanjuk is Ukrainian but he denies that he ever worked at Sobibór.

Demjanjuk is now 90 years old and very ill; will he survive long enough to be convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison for his alleged crime? The survivors and the children of the survivors certainly hope so.  They want Demjanjuk to live long enough to be convicted so that he can die alone in prison without the love and support of his family.

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March 14, 2011

A house with big old shade trees — one of the things I never had

Filed under: California — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 8:20 am

A song recorded by Kay Star back in 1956 has been on my mind lately. The lyrics had the lines “a house with big old shade trees” and “the things I never had.”

Governor's mansion in Sacramento, CA

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March 13, 2011

The mystery of the “standing cells” at Dachau

Filed under: Dachau, Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , , , , — furtherglory @ 7:01 pm

Tour guides at the Dachau Memorial Site tell visitors about the “standing cells” which were allegedly located inside the “bunker,” as the camp prison was called.  The bunker is still there, but according to the staff at the Memorial Site, the standing cells were torn down by the Americans who liberated the camp on April 29, 1945.

It would have made sense if the Nazi administrators of the Dachau concentration camp had torn down the standing cells to get rid of the evidence of their crimes, but why would the American liberators of the camp destroy the evidence of one of the worst atrocities at Dachau?  The decision to try the Germans as war criminals had already been made, even before their war crimes had been committed, so why would the Americans destroy the evidence before the men were put on trial?

With all the evidence of the standing cells gone, how do we know that these cells realy existed?

Our knowledge of the standing cells comes from the former prisoners, who testified about them under oath at the American Military Tribunal, which started in November 1945.  Why couldn’t the Americans have waited for a mere six months before destroying the evidence?  They could have at least taken a photo of the standing cells, which could have been shown as proof during the trials conducted by American Military Tribunal at Dachau.

A film, which was made by the Americas on May 3, 1945  showed the Dachau gas chamber. This film was used as proof of the Dachau gas chamber at the Nuremberg IMT.  I know that film was scarce during World War II, but was film so precious that the Americans couldn’t even take one photo of the standing cells?

I took the photo below in the Dachau bunker in May 2001. It shows one of the regular cells and a poster which shows how three regular cells were divided into standing cells. The red color on the walls is paint.

Poster shows how the standing cells were created in the bunker

The walls of the alleged standing cells were made out of wood and each standing cell was 2 ft. 6 inches square. Prisoners who had been condemned to this punishment were put into a standing cell for 72 hours at a time with no light or air.

When I visited Dachau in 1997, the bunker was not open to tourists. It was not until the year 2000 that the bunker was opened to visitors.

According to information in one of the exhibit rooms in the bunker, a Soviet prisoner named Yuri Piskunov, was confined to one of the standing cells for 10 days in October 1944, but there is no mention of what crime he had committed. He had previously been a prisoner in the Mauthausen concentration camp, but was transferred to Dachau in November 1943.

Mauthausen was the only Class III camp in the Nazi system; it was for prisoners who were the worst offenders by Nazi standards. Dachau was a class I prison and was considered much more lenient than Mauthausen.

Piskunov survived and was still alive when the bunker exhibit opened in 2000.  As far as I know, Piskunov did not testify before the American Military Tribunal in 1945; maybe he couldn’t speak German or English, and they didn’t have a Russian translator.

As far as I know, Dr. Neuhäusler, a Catholic Bishop who was a “special prisoner” with a private cell in the Dachau bunker, did not testify in any of the post war trials either.  Dr. Neuhäusler was allowed to leave his cell in the bunker and walk around outside, so he must have known about everything that was going on, inside and outside the camp prison.

Dr. Neuhäusler wrote a book in which he said this, regarding the standing cells:

“the prisoner was compelled to stand for three days and three nights and was given only bread and water; every fourth day he came into a normal cell, ate prisoner’s fare and was allowed to sleep for one night on a plank bed. Then three days’ standing began again. Such were the abominations which the prisoners had to bear from the sadistic Nazis.”

Dr. Georg Konrad Morgen, who was an SS judge, did an investigation of the Dachau camp in May 1944 and found everything in order, according to Paul Berben, a prisoner in the camp who wrote the Official History of Dachau. The standing cells must have been built some time after this inspection, as Dr. Morgen would not have tolerated such abuse of the prisoners. Dr. Morgen had arrested 5 of the concentration camp commandants after his previous investigations, and two of the commandants had been executed by the Nazis.

Martin Gottfried Weiss had previously been the Commandant at Dachau and he was the acting Commandant when the Dachau camp was liberated; the new Commandant had left a few days before, with a transport of prisoners, who were taken to a sub-camp in Austria. On November 1, 1943, Weiss had been transferred from the Dachau camp to the Majdanek camp in Poland; he replace Karl Otto Koch, who had been arrested and brought back to Buchenwald to stand trial in a special court conducted by Dr. Georg Konrad Morgen.

Dr. Franz Blaha identifies Martin Gottfried Weiss on the right

Dr. Franz Blaha, a former Dachau prisoner who is shown on the left in the photo above, testified at the American Military Tribunal about the standing cells inside the bunker at Dachau. In the photo, he is shown as he identifies Martin Gottfried Weiss in the courtroom.  Note that Weiss is unshaven and looks haggard while Dr. Blaha appears to be in good condition.

Dr. Blaha said that the standing cells were so small that one could not sit down in them, but could only stand up, and possibly just bend the knees a little. Dr. Blaha testified that he himself had never been punished in the standing bunker, but he had brought the dead bodies of Russian and Polish prisoners out of the standing cells several times during 1944 and 1945.  Dr. Blaha also testified at the Nuremberg IMT that he had done autopsies on the bodies of thousands of prisoners who had been gassed at Dachau.

In a pretrial hand-written statement, Emil Mahl, a Dachau Kapo who was on trial himself, corroborated Dr. Blaha’s testimony. According to Mahl’s statement, imprisonment in a standing cell meant eight took place for ten hours during the night, and in some cases, for two to three nights without food or drink.

At the American Military Tribunal, Martin Gottfried Weiss was finally called to the witness stand to defend himself on December 10, 1945, almost a month after the trial began. Under direct examination by American defense attorney Douglas T. Bates, Weiss told about how he had improved conditions at the Dachau camp when he became the Commandant in 1942. He said that he had abolished the cruel punishment where prisoners were hung up by their arms, and also the standing punishment where prisoners had to stand outside for days without food.

In his testimony, Weiss claimed that he was not responsible for the “standing bunker” and that he had heard this term used for the first time at the trial.

According to the Dachau Museum, the Dachau bunker was used to imprison suspected German war criminals between June 1945 and August 1948; as many as five German prisoners were put inside each prison cell in the bunker. Each of these cells was intended to be big enough for only one man, and had only one bed.

The most famous prisoner, among the German war criminals who were held in the bunker after World War II ended, was Erhard Milch, a Field Marshall who was the number 2 man in the German Air Force. He was brought to the Dachau bunker the day after he testified on behalf of his superior, Hermann Göring, at the Nuremberg IMT. Milch was a prisoner at Dachau between 1946 and 1947; his crime was that he had refused to testify against Göring.

Johann Kick, the chief of the political department at Dachau from May 1937 to April 1945, was in charge of registering prisoners, keeping files and death certificates, and notification of relatives. It was also his job to see that executions ordered by the Reich Security Main Office were carried out at Dachau. He was one of the 39 others who were tried by the American Military Tribunal, along with Martin Gottfried Weiss.

Rudolf Wolf, a prominent witness for the prosecution, testified that, after being interrogated by Kick, prisoners were sent to the standing bunker. In answer to a question about the bunker, put to him by American prosecutor Lt. Col. Denson, Kick testified that he “never knew such a thing existed. I found out about it only here.”  Kick also testified that he had been tortured by the American interrogators, but apparently even after being tortured, he would not admit to the existence of the standing cells.

The infamous extermination camp at Auschwitz did have standing cells in the basement of the prison building called Block 11. They were removed after a short time by Arthur Liebehenschel, who was the Auschwitz Commandant from November 10, 1943 to May 19, 1944, but have been reconstructed for the benefit of tourists. The standing cells at Dachau, if they ever existed, have not been reconstructed.

The photo above shows a punishment cell at the Natzweiler-Struthof camp in Alsace. This cell was big enough for a prisoner to sit in, but not big enough for a prisoner to stand up or lie down. Prisoners who broke the rules in the Natzweiler camp were put into these cells for three days with nothing but bread and water. After the Natzweiler camp was closed, some of the political prisoners were brought to Dachau, including the British SOE agent Albert Guerisse, who became the leader of the prisoners group known as the International Committee of Dachau.

After Dachau was liberated, the former concentration camp was turned into War Crimes Enclosure No. 1 and Dr. Georg Konrad Morgen became one of the prisoners. He told historian John Toland that he was tortured by the Americans in an effort to get him to say that Ilse Koch, the wife of the Buchenwald Commandant, had made lampshades out of human skin, but he refused, even after several beatings.

One of the prisoners at Dachau, when the camp was liberated, was a woman named Eleanor Hodys, who had formerly been a prisoner at Auschwitz.  The story of E.H. was told in Chapter 5 of the Official History of Dachau, written by the Americans. (Her identify was protected in the Official History by using only her initials, not her name.) All of the events described by E.H. happened at Auschwitz, not at Dachau, so why was this included in the history of Dachau? Maybe it is because she mentioned the “standing cells” in Block 11 at Auschwitz. Did the Americans learn about the “standing cells” for the first time from E.H. and decide to include them in the list of atrocities at Dachau?

E.H. told the American liberators that she had once been put into a standing cell herself — for NINE WEEKS.  How could anyone survive for nine weeks in a standing cell like the cells that have been reconstructed at Auschwitz?

Eleanor Hodys allegedly had an affair with the Auschwitz Commandant Rudolf Hoess, who was removed from his job because of the claims of Eleanor Hodys.  Hoess returned to Auschwitz in May 1944 in time to supervise the gassing of 400,000 Hungarian Jews in only 10 weeks, according to Holocaust history.

The photo below shows a reconstructed standing cell at Auschwitz.  I took this photo in 1998 when I was there with a private guide and there was no one else there, so I could take all the photos that I wanted.

Reconstructed standing cell at Auschwitz

The 1998 photograph above shows the reconstructed entrance to one of the 4 standing cells (Stehzellen) in prison cell #22 in the basement of Block 11. These 4 cells were 31.5 inches square; there was no light coming in at all, and no heating or cooling system.

Prisoners had to crawl into the standing cell through a tiny door, as shown in the photo above. Metal bars at the entrance allowed guards to open the door and look inside the cell. There was no room to lie down nor to sit down in the cell; prisoners had to stand up. The floors of these cells were covered with excrement left by the occupants.

Prisoners who were being punished were allegedly put into these cells at night, and in the morning taken out to perform a full 10-hour day of work. The reconstructed door, which is shown in the picture above, opens into Cell #2; there is another cell to the right of the door, which you can see in the photo. To the left in the picture above, you can see the edge of the door into Cell #1 on the left, which gives you an idea of how small these cells were. Imagine the problem of removing a dead body through the tiny door of one of these cells!

After Arthur Liebehenschel replaced Rudolf Hoess as the camp commandant on December 1, 1943, he ordered the standing cells to be torn down.  Or did he? Were the standing cells at Auschwitz allegedly torn down because they weren’t really there, just like the non-existent standing cells at Dachau were allegedly torn down by the Americans?

I’m suspicious about everything told about the concentration camps.  I’m from Missouri, the Show-Me state.  I want to see the proof!

March 11, 2011

Was it wrong for the Nazis to trick prisoners into going into the gas chamber at Dachau?

Filed under: Dachau, Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , — furtherglory @ 10:50 am

This morning, I read a very interesting blog post, written by a young student who went with a group of students on a guided tour of the Dachau Memorial Site in February this year. I haven’t been back to Germany in a couple of years, so I was very interested in what the tour guides tell students now about the camp and how the students react to the information.

In reading this particular blog post, I was struck by the fact that this young student thought that it was “disgusting” the way the Nazis had gassed prisoners at Dachau by fooling them into thinking they were going to take a shower.  Was that so wrong?  Would it have been less cruel if the prisoners had been told that they were going into a gas chamber?  Was it because the Nazis had such a low opinion of the prisoners, as this student wrote, that they tricked them right up to the last second of their lives?

Here is a quote from the blog post, in which the student writes about how the tour guide explained the gassing process at Dachau to the student tour group:

The guards would pick the prisoners that were too weak to be of working-value anymore, or prisoners that were out of line in general. They would tell them that they were being moved to a better area, and take them to the crematorium. Here, they would strip the prisoners of their uniforms and shuffle them into the gas chamber. But not without one last pathetic attempt of trickery. Over the entrance to the gas chambers, they painted the German word for “showers.” So the prisoners entered believing they were going to get nice, warm showers, and instead they got asphyxiating poisonous gas. While I do think knowing what they were going into would have been scary for the prisoners, and some maybe would have rather stayed in the dark about what was happening.. I just think it’s disgusting that they would think so lowly of these people that they’d trick them to the last second of their lives. They even installed traditional shower heads in the room, even though they were unnecessary to the distribution of the gas to the prisoners. The gas could have come out of bare, open pipes. But instead, they chose to fool them til the last second. I can only imagine the terror they experienced when the warm shower they were looking forward to turned out to be lung-burning gas.

The usual explanation given by Holocaust historians, for the gassing of the prisoners, instead of shooting them, was that gassing was done in order to spare the feelings of the SS men who had to kill the prisoners.  The tour guide should have mentioned this important point.

The quote from the blog, about the gassing of the prisoners at Dachau, continues with this:

Stepping into the first room, where the prisoners undressed and prepared for their ‘warm shower,’ I saw the writing over the doorway. “Showers.” Such a cruel, low, final blow. I can only imagine that they laughed at the foolishness of the prisoners as they walked through that threshold with hope of a better future.

Did the tour guide forget to tell these students that the prisoners were handed a bar of soap and a towel before going into the gas chamber?  This detail is usually added to the story.  Maybe the tour guide wanted to spare the feelings of the students by not telling them of this added cruelty.

One thing that I learned from this student’s blog was that the last remaining shower head is now gone.  I was fortunate to be able to see Dachau in 1997 and again in 2001 when there was still one shower head left after the souvenir hunters had taken all the other shower heads.

Here is this student’s description of how the gas chamber at Dachau looks now:

I stepped down into the gas chamber, my foot hitting the tiled floor with a loud tap. And I was completely underwhelmed. It was an empty room, without a single showerhead in sight. I could see the remnants of the pipeline used to transport the gas, but that was all. It was just empty and dark. I remember thinking something would hit me, a wave of emotion, a feeling of dread, anything.. but I got nothing. It was too much when I started to force myself to imagine standing there and having it happen to me.. so I moved on to the next room.

I don’t recall that there is a step down into the Dachau gas chamber.  I have been in the gas chamber at Dachau several times, but I was never able to see “the remnants of the pipeline used to transport the gas.”  If I ever get back to Dachau, I am going to take a photo of one of the holes in the ceiling with the flash gun pointed right into the hole.  I hope that this will be enough to get a photo of the pipes.

I remember the first time that I stepped into the Dachau gas chamber. I was completely confused about how the gas entered the room so I asked a Memorial site staff member who was in the room.  She pointed to one of the light fixture boxes on the wall; I didn’t yet know that this information came from the film shown at the Nuremberg IMT.  At that time, I didn’t yet know that the gas was in the form of pellets, the size of peas. I was curious about how the gas came through an empty light fixture box, but I didn’t want to show my stupidity by asking dumb questions.

I wanted to know the reason for the little windows on the east wall of the gas chamber, but I didn’t want to sound stupid, so I didn’t ask.  Some of the Dachau tour guides now tell tourists that the Zyklon-B gas pellets were thrown into the gas chamber through these little windows, which were not included in the film that was shown by the American prosecutors at Nuremberg.

The last thing on this student’s blog post is a short video in which the sounds of the bell outside the Catholic chapel can be heard.  Apparently this student didn’t question why this bell was tolling.  (“Ask not for whom the bell tolls…”)  The Catholic chapel and the bell at Dachau were put there in honor of the Catholic prisoners; the majority of the prisoners at Dachau were Christians.  Most of the prisoners at Dachau were non-Jewish political prisoners which is a euphemism for Resistance fighters and illegal combatants.

But according to this tour guide, there were selections at Dachau, in which non-Jews who could no longer work, were sent to the gas chamber, and to top it all off, they were cruelly tricked into thinking that they were going to be transferred to a better place after they took a shower.

March 8, 2011

New book about Dietrich Bonhoeffer tells about his sad last days

Filed under: Buchenwald, Dachau, Germany — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 12:03 pm

I am currently reading the new best-selling book by Eric Metasas, entitled Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.  The book is long; life is short.  So I decided to skip ahead to read the ending.

Caution: Spoilers ahead.  If you don’t want to know how the book ends, don’t read any further.

Before I started reading this book, I knew that Dietrich Bonhoeffer had spent some time as a prisoner at the Buchenwald concentration camp, but what I didn’t know was that he had met Dr. Sigmund Rascher who was also a prisoner at Buchenwald.

On page 508, the author mentions that Dr. Waldemar Hoven and Dr. Sigmund Rascher shared the last two months of Bonhoeffer’s life, meaning that Dr. Rascher and Dr. Hoven were prisoners at Buchenwald in the Spring of 1945. I quickly checked the notes for the book and learned that this information had come from the book entitled The Venlo Incident written by Captain Payne-Best.

Dr. Sigmund Rascher was the SS doctor who had conducted medical experiments for the Luftwaffe at Dachau, starting in May 1942, with the consent and approval of Himmler. Then in May 1944, Dr. Rascher and his wife were arrested because they had registered, as their own, a child that was not their’s.  This information comes from an affidavit signed by Dr. Friedrich Karl Rascher, the uncle of Dr. Sigmund Rascher, which was entered into the proceedings of the Nuremberg IMT.

The following quote is from the book entitled The SS, Alibi of a Nation, 1922 – 1945 by Gerald Reitlinger:

Rascher remained at work in Dachau til May 1944, when Freiherr von Eberstein, higher SS and police leader for Munich, came to arrest him — but not for his experiments. It had been discovered that the children whom Frau Rascher had borne after the age of forty-eight had in reality been kidnapped from orphanages. The camp commandant and the chief medical officer at Dachau thereupon discharged a flood of complaints against Rascher, whom they described as a dangerous, incredible person who had been under Himmler’s personal protection for years, performing unspeakable horrors. Himmler naturally refused to have the Raschers tried, but they were confined in the political bunkers of Dachau and Ravensbrueck, the fate under the Third Reich of people who knew too much. Captain Payne-Best met Sigmund Rascher during the southward evacuation of the Dachau political bunker at the beginning of May 1945. He found Rascher garrulous and sympathetic. One of Rascher’s boasts to Captain Payne-Best was that he had invented the gas chamber. Perhaps that was why Sigmund Rascher disappeared soon afterwards, and likewise Frau Rascher who was last seen in Ravensbrueck.

So, acccording to Reitlinger, a highly respected historian, Captain Payne-Best did not meet Dr. Rascher until both were on the evacuation trip from Dachau to the South Tyrol.

According to Freiherr Von Eberstein, the SS officer and Police President of Munich, who arrested Dr. Rascher, he was sent to a prison in the city of Munich.  Munich is 18 kilometers from Dachau, so it makes sense that Dr. Rascher would have been sent to Dachau, not to Buchenwald.

Metaxas points out in his book that a group of prisoners, including Bonhoeffer, were taken from Buchenwald to Flossenbuerg in a van with a “wood-fueled engine.”  Along the way, they encountered bridges that had been destroyed and bomb damage along the roads. With such scarce transportation near the end of the war, why would Dr. Rascher have been moved from the Munich prison to Buchenwald, which was over 200 miles away?

Captain Payne-Best wrote that he arrived at Dachau on April 9, 1945, the same day that Dr. Rascher arrived there.  But were they on the same bus or train?  Captain Payne-Best was with a group of prisoners from Buchenwald, but Dr. Rascher had been in prison in Munich. Was Dr. Rascher first transferred from Munich to Buchenwald before being sent to Dachau?  April 9th was the day that Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed at Flossenbuerg, where he had been transferred from Buchenwald.

Dr. Sigmund Rascher was allegedly shot on April 26, 1945 inside a prison cell at Dachau on the direct orders of Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, but according to Gerald Reitlinger, Dr. Rascher had been sent from Dachau to the South Tyrol, along with Captain Payne-Best.

Captain Sigismund Payne-Best was a British intelligence agent; he was arrested on November 9, 1939 as a suspect in an alleged British plot to kill Hitler. Before he was moved to the Buchenwald concentration camp in August 1944, Captain Payne-Best had previously been a prisoner at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp where Georg Elser, the man who had tried to kill Hitler with a bomb planted at the Bürgerbräukeller in Munich on November 8, 1939, was also a prisoner.

Both Elser and Captain Payne-Best were awaiting a trial during which Hitler expected to prove that the British intelligence service (MI6) was involved in Elser’s failed assassination attempt.  Georg Elser was allegedly killed at Dachau on April 9, 1945 during an Allied bombing raid. All the other prisoners in the bunker were taken to a bomb shelter and Elser was the only one who was killed. Wait a minute!  Did Captain Payne-Best arrive at Dachau on the day that there was a bombing raid?

The story of Georg Elser’s execution, according to Captain Sigismund Payne-Best, is that either Adolf Hitler or Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler had ordered the head of the Gestapo, SS-Gruppenführer Heinrich Müller, to deliver a letter, authorizing the execution of “special prisoner Georg Eller” during the next Allied air raid, to the Commandant of the Dachau concentration camp, Obersturmbannführer Eduard Weiter, on April 5, 1945.

Eller was a code name for Elser so that the other prisoners would not know his true identity. By some strange coincidence, Captain Payne Best had come into possession of this letter in May 1945 shortly before the end of World War II.

In my humble opinion, Captain Payne-Best made up some of the stories in his book, The Venlo Incident, including the story that Dr. Rascher was a prisoner at Buchenwald. But why would he do that?  I think that it was because he wanted to tell the story that he had met Dr. Rascher in a washroom at Buchenwald and that Dr. Rascher had told him all about the gas chamber at Dachau.

To this day, tour guides at Dachau tell visitors that the gas chamber at Dachau was not used for “mass murder” but it was used a few times to test different kinds of poison gas.

March 7, 2011

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

Filed under: Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 10:10 am

I am reading the new book by Eric Metaxas, entitled Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy with the sub-title: A Righteous Gentile vs. The Third Reich.  The book might be difficult for some people to understand if they are not well-versed in what went on in Germany in the 1930s. In my opinion, Metaxas does not explain everything adequately, but the book is so rich in the details of Bonhoeffer’s early life that readers can easily understand what made Bonhoeffer into the man that he became.

My first impression was that this biography would make a great movie, and I fully expect that it will be made into a movie. I have some ideas for a movie about Bonhoeffer:  The early scenes should show his childhood, as told by Metaxas in the book, but there should be scenes of Hitler’s childhood interspersed with Bonhoeffer’s childhood, so that people can understand that Hitler and Bonhoeffer lived in two different worlds, based on their family history.

The book starts out with a long detailed section about Bonhoeffer’s illustrious ancestry on both sides of his family.  He came from a long line of upper class Germans on his mother’s side; his father’s side was originally Dutch.  In 1531, Caspar van den Boenhoff left the Netherlands and settled in Germany, where the family name became Boenhoffer, which means “bean farmer.”  By 1800, the family had dropped the umlaut from the first syllable of their name and changed it to Bonhoeffer.

The maiden name of Bonhoeffer’s mother was Paula von Hase.  The Germans who had a von in their names were like minor royalty that did not associate with the lower class Germans who didn’t have a von in their name.  (Metaxas didn’t explain that in his book, but I know this from reading books by Thomas Mann.)

Both sides of Bonhoeffer’s family had been rich professional people for centuries.  They were the complete opposite of Hitler’s low-class family.  In an interview with Glenn Beck last year, Metaxas referred to Hitler as “vulgar.”  I immediately concluded that Metaxas is upper-class, in the same social class as the Bonhoeffer family.

A movie about Bonhoeffer should first establish the great divide between Hitler and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Hitler was a “man of the people” while Bonhoeffer was an upper class intellectual who had many Jewish friends.  The only Jew that Hitler ever met in his childhood was the doctor who treated his mother when she was sick. As a young man, Bonhoeffer lived in Berlin in a rich neighborhood where he socialized with his Jewish neighbors; his best friend was a Jew named Franz Hildebrandt.

One thing that Hitler did was to bring all the Germans together and make the lower class people feel that they were equal to the upper class Germans.  The two classes of Germans were working side by side in the work projects that all Germans were required to do.  There were Germans marching, with shovels on their shoulders, alongside the German soldiers at the Nazi rallies.  The reason that the German people worshiped Hitler was that he instilled pride in all the Germans and made them feel good about themselves.  All this was lost on the Bonhoeffers who were against Hitler from the very beginning.

In his book, Metaxas includes a photo of one of the homes where Bonhoeffer lived as a child; the house is still standing, but it has been converted into EIGHT APARTMENTS.  In other words, Bonhoeffer lived in a house big enough for 8 families.  According to the book, the Bonhoeffer family had “a governess, a nursemaid, a housemaid, a parlor maid, and a cook.”  The girls in the family had a dollhouse — which was an entire room in the house.  Another room in the house was a classroom where the mother home-schooled the children for their first years. The dining room table could seat 20 people.  I could go on and on, but you get the idea: the Bonhoeffers were rich and upper class. Besides their huge home, they also had a summer home where they stayed for the entire summer, with their servants in attendance, of course.

When the family moved to Berlin, they lived in the Grunewald section where they socialized with their Jewish neighbors and the Bonhoeffer children went to the best schools where they never came into contact with vulgar, low class people like Hitler.  The way Metaxas tells it, the Bonhoeffer family did not suffer at all during the years following the first World War.  They did have a minor problem because food was scarce, but they didn’t go hungry; they had a huge estate where they could grow vegetables.

In his book, Metaxas wrote that “By November 1923 a dollar was worth about four billion marks” in Germany and that young Dietrich had to write home for money while he was a student at the University.  Dietrich was forced to spend one billion marks for every meal and he didn’t have enough money on hand because he had spent 6 billion for bread.  Not to worry — his father was a psychiatrist who had patients who paid in foreign currency.  Metaxas pointed out in his book that it was in November 1923 that Hitler attempted his Bierhall Putsch, but he didn’t mention how the lower class Germans, who didn’t have access to foreign currency, were suffering.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer didn’t have to worry about his future; he only had to decide if he wanted to be a doctor like his father, or a lawyer, or a musician.  At 14, he decided to become a minister; he didn’t have to worry about where he would get the money for college.

In 1924, while the whole country of Germany was in dire straits, 18-year-old Dietrich was off to Rome for the traditional upper class trip to broaden his knowledge in another country. It was at Mass in St. Peter’s Catholic church in Rome that Bonhoeffer had an epiphany about “What is the Church?” The idea of the “universality of the Church” came to him when he saw white, black, and yellow members of religious orders, all wearing clerical robes, united under the Church.  Metaxas wrote that in Rome, Bonhoeffer “saw a vivid illustration of the church’s transcendence over race and national identity.”

This quote from the book sums up how Bonhoeffer’s idea of “the Church” differed from Hitler’s ideas:

For him, ideas and beliefs were nothing if they did not relate to the world of reality outside one’s mind.  Indeed, his thoughts on the nature of the church would lead him into the ecumenical movement in Europe, causing him to link hands with Christians outside Germany, and therefore to see instantly the lie at the heart of the so-called of creation theology, which linked the idea of the church with the German Volk.  This idea of a church defined by racial identity and blood — which the Nazis would violently push and so many Germans tragically embrace — was anathema to the idea of the universal church.

Chapter 10 is probably the most important chapter in the book.  The title of this chapter is “The Church and the Jewish Question.”  Metaxas does not explain that the “Jewish Question” was “Should the Jews assimilate into German society, or should they have their own state or state-within-a-state?”  Bonhoeffer was clearly on the side of assimilation.  When this question was first discussed in Germany, the people who were on the side of assimilation were called “anti-Semites” because they were against the Jews having their own state.  That term means something completely different today.  On page 152, Metaxas used the expression “hate-filled anti-Semites.”  Back in the days when the Germans were discussing the “Jewish Question” the term “anti-Semite” meant a person who loved the Jews and did not want them to leave Germany and form their own state in Palestine.

In March 1933, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote an essay entitled “The Church and the Jewish Question.”  This was only a few weeks after Hitler had been sworn in on January 30, 1933 as the Chancellor of Germany.  One of the Bonhoeffer girls was married to a lawyer who worked at the German Supreme Court, so the family had some inside information about the new regime.  They knew that the “Aryan Paragraph” would be put into effect on April 7, 1933.  This was a new law that would prevent Jews from having jobs in the German government.  Bonhoeffer anticipated that the new law would soon extend to the German church and that his Jewish friend, who wanted to be a Christian pastor, would be discriminated against.

In his famous essay on the Jewish Question, Bonhoeffer wrote that there are three ways that the Church should act, with regard to the laws of the state.  The first way was for the Church to question the legitimacy of the laws of the state.

The second way was for the Church “to aid the victims of the state action.”  Here, he had in mind aiding the Jews who would be victimized by not being allowed to participate in Christian churches.

The third way for the Church to act “is not just to bandage the victims under the wheel, but to put a spoke in the wheel itself.”  By this, he meant that the Church should not just help the Jews who are being persecuted by the state, but the Church must also take action against the state to stop it from perpetrating the evil of discriminating against the Jews.

Bonhoeffer read his essay before an audience of German pastors and some of them walked out when he gave the second way that the Church should act.  They were gone before Bonhoeffer publicly hinted that the pastors should resort to treason, or even murder, to save the Jews from being persecuted by the state.

Hitler was not an “anti-Semite” in the original meaning of the word.  He wanted the Jews to have their own separate state rather than assimilate into German society. Hitler wanted the Jews to leave Germany.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer helped the Jews to leave, by sneaking them into Switzerland with fake passports.  The problem was that Switzerland didn’t want the Jews, so Bonhoeffer was committing a crime by bringing illegals into a country that had laws designed to keep them out.  Committing a crime in order to help his Jewish friends, or even participating in a plot to kill the leader of his country, did not bother Bonhoeffer.  He created his own laws when it came to helping the Jews.  That’s why he was executed for treason on April 9, 1945.

March 6, 2011

Were the Nazis pagans?

Filed under: Germany — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 10:56 am

There is a common belief today that the Nazis were pagans, or “neo-pagans” or a “pagan cult.”  There were, in fact, several of the top Nazi leaders who professed to be pagans: Heinrich Himmler, Alfred Rosenberg, Reinhard Heydrich and Martin Borman, who was Hitler’s deputy.

Hitler was “born and raised” a Catholic, and as an adult, he never officially left the Catholic Church.  Hitler was a nominal Christian all his life, although not a “practicing Catholic.”  As a child, Hitler lived across the street from a Catholic church, and undoubtedly he got enough of the Catholic religion to last him the rest of his life.

Hitler lived in the yellow house across the street from the church in Leonding, Austria

Hitler’s childhood home, which is still standing, is located directly across the street from the Catholic church and cemetery in Leonding, Austria. It is the yellow house shown on the right in the photo above. Adolf Hitler’s baby brother Edmund and his parents are buried in the cemetery.

Holy water font used in the Catholic baptism of  Adolf Hitler

Hitler was baptized as an infant in the Catholic Church in Braunau am Inn in Austria. The photo above shows the font from which water was used in Hitler’s baptism. Austria was a Catholic country, and Hitler was too smart to break away from the church completely, which would have virtually eliminated his support from the German and Austrian people.

The leading pagan Nazi was Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, who is now  considered to have been the #2 man in Nazi Germany. Yet, paganism was never officially endorsed by the Nazi party, nor by Adolf Hitler.

A German Christian movement was started in Germany in 1932, even before Hitler came to power. The German Christians coined the term “Positive Christianity” which basically meant that the German Christians wanted all Jewish influence to be removed from the Christian faith.  The Old Testament was thrown out because it was all about the Jews and Jesus was claimed to be an Aryan, not a Jew.  The symbol of the German Christians was a cross with a swastika in the center. There were approximately 17,000 Protestant pastors in Germany back then and 3,000 of them joined the German Christians.

The Catholics had the Pope as the top authority in the Catholic Church, and Hitler wanted the German Protestants to also have a high authority.  That’s why Hitler consolidated all the Protestant churches into one church and then appointed Ludwig Müller, a Nazi and a member of the German Christians, as the first Reichsbishop in 1933. The first thing that Müller did was to forbid converted Jews to be Protestant ministers.  The Nazis did not want Judeo-Christianity to be the German religion.

Protestant pastors, who protested against the new rules concerning the Jews, and against the unification of the Protestants under the authority of a Reichsbishop, were frequently arrested.  This was the reason that Pastor Martin Neimoeller created the Pastor’s Emergency League.  Seven thousand German pastors joined the League, including Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The purpose of the League was to help the Pastors who had been fired or arrested; this amounted to treason in the eyes of the Nazis.

Niemoeller, Bonhoeffer and several other members of the Pastor’s Emergency League founded the Confessing Church at Barmen, Germany in 1934.  The Confessing Church was against “Positive Christianity” which did not include the Jews. Both Niemoeller and Bonhoeffer were later arrested and charged with treason.  A couple of years later, a new charge of treason was brought against Bonhoeffer, when it was learned that he had been involved in the July 20, 1944 plot to kill Hitler.

A very important policy of Nazi Germany was called Gleichschaltung, a term that was coined in 1933 to mean that all German culture, religious practice, politics, and daily life should conform with Nazi ideology. This policy meant that there was total control of thought, belief, and practice in Germany and it was used to systematically eradicate all anti-Nazi elements after Hitler came to power.

Most people know that there were thousands of Catholic priests who were imprisoned at Dachau. But priests were not sent to Dachau just because they were priests. Catholics and Protestants alike were arrested as “enemies of the state” but only if they preached against the Nazi government or were involved in the Resistance movement.

There were around 20 million Catholics and 20,000 priests in Nazi Germany. The vast majority of the German clergymen and the German people, including the 40 million Protestants, went along with Hitler’s ideology and were not persecuted by the Nazis.

As I mentioned above, Heinrich Himmler, the leader of the elite German Army called the Schutzstaffel or SS, was the Nazi who is most associated with paganism today.  Himmler had a great interest in ancient German history and the occult. In 1933, when the Nazis came to power, Himmler began searching for a castle in the area where Hermann der Cherusker had fought a decisive battle against the Romans in the year 9 AD, saving the German people from being conquered; Hermann was a great hero because, as a result of winning this battle, the German tribes retained their culture and identity long after other tribes had been absorbed into the Roman Empire.

Himmler found the Wewelsburg Castle and made it into what is sometimes referred to today as Himmler’s Camelot.  The photo below shows the North Tower of the Wewelsburg Castle.  The grandiose plan, envisioned by Himmler, was for the axis of the North tower to be the “Center of the World,” or “Mittelpunkt der Welt” in German, after the “final victory” of Germany in World War II.

North Tower of the Wewelsburg Castle

The North Tower is the place where Himmler constructed the “General’s Hall” which was planned to be the final resting place of the top 12 German Generals in World War II.  The Generals Hall was never finished and it was never used by the SS generals; the reconstruction of the North tower was stopped in 1943 at the time that Germany first started losing to the Soviet Union in World War II, and all work had to be concentrated on winning the war.

The Generals Hall in the North Tower   Photo Credit: http://www.usmbooks.com

Known as the Obergruppenführersaal in German, or the Hall of Supreme Generals in English, the room shown in the photo above is on the ground floor of the North tower; it was designed with 12 pillars arranged in a circle like Stonehenge in England. It was designed to be used as a ceremonial hall for the top 12 generals in the Schutzstaffel or SS, the elite army of Germany in World War II.

In the photo above, the dark green emblem on the gray-blue marble floor is called the Sun Wheel, or Sonnenrad in German. Since the end of World War II, this emblem has been known as the Black Sun Wheel.

Entrance to the “vault” in the basement of North Tower

The “vault” or “crypt” of the German Generals

In the center of the room, shown in the two photos above, is a bowl with a gas pipe embedded in the floor, where an eternal flame was supposed to be. There are 12 pedestals with wall niches where the ashes of the 12 top SS generals were to be placed when they died.

On the ceiling of the vault is a swastika, or Hakenkreutz in German. To the Nazis, the Hakenkreuz was “das Symbol des schaffenden, wirkenden Lebens” or “the symbol of the creating, acting life” in English. The Hakenkruetz was called the “Rasseabzeichen des Germanentums,” or the “race emblem of Germanism” in English. Today, the Hakenkreutz is banned in Germany and is considered, throughout the world, to be the universal symbol of evil.

In March 1945, when Himmler realized that the end of World War II was near, he ordered Heinz Macher to destroy the Wewelsburg castle so that the Allies would not be able to desecrate the site. When Macher and his company of 15 men ran out of explosives, they set the castle on fire. The castle was restored to its present condition after the war.

Hitler’s big complaint about Christianity was that the Christian religion put people at a disadvantage when dealing with others.  The Christian religion teaches “turn the other check” and “God loves the poor.”  Hitler thought that what Jesus taught was “un-German.”  He was a big fan of Nietzsche who coined the phrase “the splendid blond beasts” to describe the Germans. Nietzsche wrote about the Germans as übermenschen; Hitler referred to the Germans as the “Herrenvolk,” a concept that he got from Nietzsche.

Americans translate Herrenvolk as “the Master race,” and the British translate it as “the race of Lords,” as in the House of Lords.  Now the Nazi ideal of having strong German people is considered to be the ultimate evil.

March 4, 2011

Glenn Beck’s comment about Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Filed under: Germany, TV shows — Tags: , — furtherglory @ 9:24 am

Yesterday, I was watching Glenn Beck on his TV show, when he held up two books that he wants everyone to read.  One book was about Winston Churchill and the other was a new biography of German Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, entitled Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by New York Times writer Eric Metaxas.

In talking about Bonhoeffer yesterday, Beck said that “Bonhoeffer died before Hitler was killed.”  No, that’s not what happened.  Bonhoeffer was hanged at the Flossenbuerg concentration camp on April 9, 1945 because he was a traitor to his country. Like the other traitors who were involved in the July 20th plot to kill Hitler, Bonhoeffer was allegedly hanged with piano wire, not rope.  Hitler was not killed; he survived the attempt to kill him on July 20, 1944 and committed suicide in his bunker just days before World War II ended.

Before he was sent to Flossenbuerg, Bonhoeffer spent some time in the Buchenwald concentration camp.  At this camp, a sign painted on the wall of the gate house, read “My country, right or wrong” in German.  That sign has since been removed.

I don’t know why the “right or wrong” slogan at Buchenwald was removed, but maybe it was in deference to traitors like Bonhoeffer who did not believe in supporting his country, right or wrong.  The “Jedem das Seine” sign on the iron gate at Buchenwald is still there.  This is usually translated into English as “To Each his Own,” or “Everyone gets what he deserves.”

Beck did an interview with Metaxas in December, 2010. In this interview, Metaxas revealed that Bonhoeffer’s whole family was involved in the plot to kill Hitler. (One of Dietrich’s brothers and two of his brothers-in-law were executed by the Nazis; other family members were imprisoned but survived.)

Metaxas also said that Bonhoeffer’s “best friend” was a Jew who had converted to Christianity and wanted to become a Christian pastor. This was basically the reason that a group of Protestant ministers broke away from the German Protestant Church and started their own church called “the Confessing Church.”  (The Confessing Church allowed converted Jews to become Pastors.)

The Nazis wanted to unite the German churches under the German state; Metaxas pointed out that Germany was a “Christian nation.”  Hitler did not want Jews involved in the Christian Church in Germany.

The Nazis were Fascists and Fascism means a totalitarian state in which the government has total control over everything in the country.  The basic principle in a totalitarian state, whether it is Fascist or Communist, is that everything must be done for the good of the country, not for the good of the individual.  Bonhoeffer wanted the Christian Church in Germany to change for the good of his Jewish friend.

Hitler was a nationalist, not a racist.  He wanted to unite the German people under the concept of “ein Folk, ein Reich, ein Fuehrer.”  Hitler wanted the Jews to have their own church and their own country, and he didn’t want the Jews and the Germans to become racially mixed.  The Bonhoeffer family didn’t agree with these principles. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s whole family was against the Nazi principles; his twin sister, Sabine, was married to a Jew.

Bonhoeffer won in the end.  Germany is now a racially mixed, diverse country and converted Jews are welcomed in German churches.

Read my comments about the biography of Bonhoeffer here.

Update, Mar. 5, 2011:

The story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer being hung with piano wire might be one of those “Nazi myths and legends.”  Stories of prisoners being hung with piano wire were told to General Eisenhower by the survivors of the Ohrdruf sub-camp of Buchenwald when he visited the camp on April 12, 1945.

Gallows at the Ohrdruf sub-camp of Buchenwald

The photo above shows General Dwight D. Eisenhower viewing the gallows at Ohrdruf. Note that there is a short piece of something hanging from the gallows; I can’t tell if it is rope or wire. According to the survivors, prisoners were executed at Ohrdruf by being hung with piano wire, instead of rope.  An identical gallows was found at the Buchenwald main camp, but there were no claims that piano wire was used at the main camp.

Standing to the left of the general, and partially hidden by a pole, is Captain Alois Liethen, a German-American, who was General Eisenhower’s interpreter. The two men on Eisenhower’s right are survivors who are explaining the atrocities committed in the camp. The man on the far left, wearing a jacket and a scarf, is one of the survivors who served as a guide for General Eisenhower and his entourage. General Patton wrote in his memoirs that this guide was “killed by some of the inmates”  the very next day because the guide “was not a prisoner at all, but one of the executioners.”

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