Roman Calendar

Random Greco-Roman Image

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The 3rd Reich,Germany and the Holocaust: understanding Evil.

By Richard John Neuhaus

In fact, says Kershaw, things were much more complicated than that. The Nazi exterminationists, who really went into high gear after German setbacks on the eastern front, had reason to believe they were acting in accord with Hitler’s wishes but were not acting under his direct orders. As for ordinary Germans, many of them knew more about what was happening to the Jews than they would later admit, but they “had many more things on their minds” than the fate of an unpopular minority. The key to their essentially passive role, says Kershaw, is explained better by “moral indifference” than by active malice.
Kershaw writes, “Whether the passivity of the majority reflected moral indifference, bad conscience, suppression of uncomfortable knowledge, fear of the consequences, or tacit approval of what was being done seems to me, truth to tell, impossible to establish. I have the feeling . . . that interpretations of the German population’s stance on the Final Solution cannot be taken any further. Sometimes historians simply have to accept that they cannot find the hard and fast answers they seek in the inadequate remnants of the past with which they have to deal.”


The decisive factor was the nature of a new kind of ideology, which, whatever its varied form and expression, was absolutist in its total claim to determine who should have the right to inhabit the earth in the building of a mooted coming utopia.
“To be a Jew under Hitler, a Kulak under Stalin, or an intellectual under Pol Pot was tantamount to a death sentence. The Nazi state, however, produced the most absolutist form of ideology of all in that the biological exclusion of Jews was more lethally uncompromising than the often brutally arbitrary socially deterministic exclusivism of Stalin or Pol Pot. And this most extreme manifestation of absolutist ideology thoroughly permeated the most advanced state machinery and exploited the most developed technology in Europe. The Final Solution arose from this unholy combination.”

MUNRO’s COMMENTARY: Kershaw is right that a complete and total understanding of the reasons for the Holocaust and the German complicity may be beyond us.

But there is this: Let us say once more that Germany was one of the best educated and most technically advanced societies in Europe. Of course, we all know that. But this same society demoralized by the Great War, hyperinflation and the Depression was also the society most needing hope. In my opinion as a very secularized society Germany had become hope-less. The God-fearing man has hope and optimism about the future. He knows good will triumph over evil. He knows God is good. A God-fearing man KNOWS we ALWAYS HAVE A MORAL CHOICE, we always have free will and so we have a moral responsibility. We all live with the tension between our selfish (sinful) response and God’s will.

The Germans in their fat, smug materialism just didn’t care about others or think about others. That was THEIR problem. Why they weren’t even Germans! They did not think of Leviticus 19:18 which teaches us we have a covenant with God that establishes bond of loyalty, and responsibility between ALL MANKIND, ALL HUMANITY and GOD. We are –whether we realize it or not- bond together in our common humanity. We are –however riven our race and lines- a community. We must maintain a profound humility for what we are, for what we have done and what we fail to do. We must keep a profound respect for the worth and lives of others. The Germans, in their hubris were not humble. The Germans in their hubris did not consider the bonds of humanity they had with the Jews –even those Jews who were deeply part of German culture! And when it was clear the war was lost, the Germans became even more fanatical in their pursuit of the Final Solution out of a savage vengeance against the Jews whom they considered at some level the cause of all Germany’s woes. I think we come closer to the answer when we realize that for most Germans-indeed many Europeans- the bank and the barracks were their cathedrals. But the Germans, and in particular the Nazis, took DELIGHT IN POWER, took DELIGHT in CRUELTY AND TERROR for their own sake. Their inhumanity, their godlessness, their intoxication with the false god of Victory, led the Germans –most Germans- into that nightmare area where there were lives ‘not worth living’ so the Master Race could decide who to snuff out and when. In the end what was amoral and sadistic, immoral and criminal just blended together in a most poisonous brew. We focus on the Holocaust –as we should- but we should not forget the millions of slave laborers –including Russian and allied enlisted men- who were literally worked and starved to death. So even Germans who did not know what was happening in the Death Camps had to know that their factories and quarries were humming with foreign laborers and POW’s. Officers and men HAD to have seen the prisoners executed and the civilians including women and children killed or left without food and shelter and left to die.

The Germans of the 1940’s were so well educated, so prepared and yet they were a cold people. I have found the Germans tolerable only after a few beers. Yet I admire their classical music, their literature, their art. Even the professionalism of the Prussian academies and meticulousness of German scholarship I admire. I love German singers, German recordings –I have a large collection of Deutsche Grammafon recordings. Bach, Mendelssohn Thomas Mann, Werner Jaeger, Mahler, Heine, Goethe are writers, artists and thinkers I deeply love and admire.

I even admit I once dated and kissed a German girl –she was fond of the opera and was if not beautiful at least reasonably intelligent and pretty.

But she was a close to an android as I have ever known in my life. There was no truth, no passion, no real love in this person and above all NO COMMITMENT TO VALUES and no sense of tradition and respect. What struck me most was the horror this individual had when I mentioned casually that my father would like to talk to her about the opera stars she knew and the opera houses she had visited. She said, and I will never forget, “This is not the kind of relationship in which we will meet each other’s families. This is just for us. Just for now.” It was just about the most shocking thing a young woman ever said to me. She wanted now and I wanted commitment and a serious friendship. I was not buying a prostitute and neither was she. I admit that was the very end of my German education, essentially, but I have no regrets.

Generalizations are difficult to make and today we are afraid to make them but I do believe certain cultures and certain educations produce certain kinds of people.

If you don’t believe this take a trip to Frankfurt and then London and then Bristol and then Donegal and then South Uist. I would be very surprised if you didn’t find the people in Bristol, Donegal and South Uist to be kinder, more humane and friendlier. But even the people in London though urban are completely different from the people you meet in Frankfurt. In the same way Italians and Spaniards ARE visibly warmer and friendlier than Germans. The nicest and most friendly people I ever met in Munich, Germany were Poles and Italians. The Germans were polite but distant and to me an extremely post-modern people.

The German education of the 1920’s and 1930’s was a hollow, materialistic and atheistic education for death. I believe the Germans tried to be too disciplined and tried to regulate German behavior. The glue they used to hold their society together was falseness and phoneyness. The made elaborate rules about what is proper and right and so genuine spontaneous impulses were stifled. When truth is stifled and free expression is stifled when genuine responses are stifled (by propaganda and PC-dom), when persons live in fear and terror of being reported or of reprisals when humanity is stifled, a complete breakdown of society and civilization occurs.

Could it happen here? It already has and is happening right now in the USA on a localized scale in schools and universities and in gang-infested urban areas all over the country. Where it will lead in the end I do not know but America is a very different country today than what it was in 1962 or 1942 or 1912 and it is a less cohesive country. We are less frugal and more obsessed with grandiosity. We are less-family oriented. We have much less respect for marriage. We have less respect for human life. We are obsessed with physical beauty (always thin) and youth. We read less. We attend houses of worship less frequently but still much more and with more sincerity than the Germans of the 1930’s so we are not as far gone as they were , then.

I have visited Germany several times and have spoken with many Germans –including WWII veterans- since 1964. I even spoke with the daughter of Col. Von Stauffenberg’s nanny. She told me some interesting things about Von Stauffenberg’s family. How his mother was a volunteer nurse in WWI and how Col. Stauffenberg found time throughout his adult life to write to his nanny who used to say the rosary with him. This was a kind and humane thing to do and for me it gives me insight as to why Stauffenberg finally decided that Hitler must be eliminated for Germany to have peace. I think also, at some level Stauffenberg was fighting to redeem the honor of the German officer corps and German people. What would we think of them today IF NO ONE HAD EVER attempted to remove Hitler?

I recall a note in Haim Ginott’s book TEACHER AND CHILD- It was a note from a school principal (in Israel I believe) who wrote:

Dear Teacher:
I am the survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no man should witness:
Gas chambers built by learned engineers.
Children poisond by educated physicians.
Infants killed by trained nurses,
Women and babies shot and burned
By high school and college graduates.
So I am suspicious of education.
My request is: Help your students become human.
Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, educated Eichamanns.
Reading, writing , arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more humane.


That’s me with respect,

RICHARD K. MUNRO (June 29, 2008)

No comments: