Previous posts in this discussion:
PostWhat If There Had Been No Hitler? On Stauffenberg and the Other Plotters (Anthony J Candil, USA, 07/25/13 5:48 pm)
Just a few comments on the "If no Hitler" thread.
History is full of "ifs," but that's not history, it's pure speculation. However, it's nice always to guess.
It's difficult to imagine what would have happened if the July 1944 plot had been successful, but as Professor Richard Evans, from Cambridge, wrote, "Had Stauffenberg's bomb succeeded in killing Hitler, it is unlikely that the military coup planned to follow it would have moved the leading conspirators smoothly into power." So perhaps either Goebbels, Goering, or Himmler would have just stepped in. I think that's the reason why Stauffenberg wanted to catch all of them together.
Nevertheless, let me make some comments precisely on some of the main military officers involved.
Count von Stauffenberg was mainly motivated by the impulsive passions of the disillusioned military man whose eyes had been opened by the defeat of German forces. Stauffenberg had shifted to the rebel side only after Stalingrad, in 1943, and subsequently asked for a field command position. He went to the Afrika Korps, where he was assigned as a staff officer to the 10th Panzer Division, being wounded in Tunisia just a few months later and then evacuated back to Germany.
Between May, 1940 and February, 1943 he was comfortably seated in Berlin, at the OKH (Army General Staff), within the Organization Branch. And he joined again the OKH after recovering from his wounds in Africa. So, he was an officer of limited combat experience if I'm allowed to say. It looks however that he took part in the Polish Campaign and in the invasion of France, but always as a staff officer with the rank of Hauptmann (captain), and never commanding directly a combat unit. Probably that's why he wasn't decorated with the Knight's Cross; however, he got an Iron Cross (1st Class) after the fall of France.
While living in London between 1985 and 1991, I met Stauffenberg's son Berthold, who was then a brigadier general in the German Bundeswehr and military attache in London. We didn't see each other much, but I asked him once why his father didn't make an attempt against the Fuhrer much earlier, e.g. in 1940 or even earlier, and his answer, while polite, was elusive. He said that situation wasn't ripe, and so on. In other words that only when Germany was on the verge of losing was it correct or convenient to get rid of the Fuhrer. I'm fully convinced that if Germany hadn't been losing the war, probably nobody would have dared to rise against Hitler, which in my view takes away much value from the attitude of the coup's perpetrators.
General Ludwig Beck--in my view superbly characterized by Terence Stamp in the Tom Cruise movie--had been removed from the Werhmacht at the time of the Czech crisis, in 1938, and replaced by general Franz Halder, so he had no influence whatsoever among the German population and even within military ranks. I doubt very much the German people would have followed him. Generals Fromm and Olbricht were mediocre officers, just pure bureaucrats (both were rejected and removed from field commands in the Afrika Korps by Field Marshall Rommel himself). The truth is that no key relevant military officer joined the mutiny in a direct way, and perhaps that's why the plot failed also.
As I said before, too many "ifs"...
By the way, Brigadier General von Stauffenberg's predecessor in London at that time was BG Speidel, son of general Speidel, who was chief of staff of Rommel at the time of D-Day. We got along well, although we didn't discuss the July 20, 1944 plot ever, in spite of his father being aware of what happened and very close to the "rebels." When together we talked about Normandy and he shared some interesting remarks from his father's diary. I will share them with you in due time. In 2001 I came to meet a grandson of von Stauffenberg too but I never talked to him about the past. He was a young man then working for the German defense industry in Spain (I believe it was the Rheinmetall company).
JE comments: The July 20th plot never ceases to fascinate. I thank Anthony Candil for sharing these interesting personal encounters.
Stauffenberg and the July Plotters
(Nigel Jones, UK
07/26/13 4:32 AM)
I too thank Anthony Candil for his reflections on the July plot against Hitler (July 25th), though I think he's being a little unfair to the plotters--especially to Stauffenberg. Let me explain why.
While it is true that Stauffenberg always held staff positions in the Army, and never led a unit in combat, this in no way detracts from his personal courage--which was enormous. While a latecomer to the conspiracy, once on board his charisma and driving energy galvanised his co-conspirators, who had rather lapsed into a state of fatalistic apathy after the repeated failure of earlier plots against Hitler's life.
As Chief of Staff of the Reserve Army following his combat injuries in Tunisia in 1943, Stauffenberg was in a key position, not only to use the existing plan "Operation Valkyrie" (to put down a hypothetical rising by the enormous number of foreign workers inside Germany) as a cover for an anti-Nazi putsch, but also to use his regular access to Hitler's military conferences to assassinate him.
That is why, despite his appalling injuries--he had lost an eye, a hand and all but three fingers of his remaining hand--he decided that he personally was best placed to plant the bomb to kill Hitler. In short, this one man was, as I say in my book Countdown to Valkyrie: "the heart, the head and the hand" of the conspiracy--at once its leader, its inspiration, and its hitman.
The subtext of Anthony's post is that the conspirators only took action against Hitler once he was clearly losing the war--but this is far from the case. Two notable conspirators whom he does not mention are Colonel Hans Oster, the deputy to Admiral Canaris, head of the Abwehr, the German military intelligence service; and Brigadier General Henning von Tresckow, Chief of Staff at Army Group Centre in Russia.
Oster attempted to organise a putsch against Hitler as early as September 1938 when he was threatening Czechoslovakia, and only the cave-in of Chamberlain and Daladier at Munich aborted the plan. He also warned both the Danish and Norwegian military attaches in Berlin of Hitler's plans to attack their respective nations--to no avail. Falling under suspicion, he was dismissed and placed under house arrest in 1943, and arrested following the July plot. He was executed along with Canaris and Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Flossenberg concentration camp in the last days of the war.
Tresckow recruited a team of young officers at the Army Group Centre HQ to deal with Hitler. Their "nearest miss" was when they managed to smuggle a bomb disguised as two Cointreau liquor bottles on to Hitler's plane after he visited their HQ near Smolensk. Unaccountably, the bomb failed to explode on schedule, and one of Tresckow's team, Fabian von Schlabrendorff, had the tricky task of flying to Berlin to retrieve the bomb before it was discovered. He succeeded in doing so--substituting two real Cointreau bottles--and risked his life in dismantling the bomb in the toilet of a train.
Tresckow committed suicide in the wake of the failure of the July plot. Schlabrendorff was arrested, brutally tortured and condemned to death by the notorious "hanging Judge" Roland Freisler in the Nazi People's Court. The appalling Freisler was actually holding Schlabrendorff's case file when he was killed by an Allied bomb in the courtroom. Schlabrendorff appealed against his sentence on the grounds of his torture and, amazingly, his appeal was successful and he survived the war--one of the very few conspirators to do so. Ironically, he eventually became a judge of Germany's supreme constitutional court--the Verfassungsgericht.
Another rare survivor whom Anthony does mention, was Maj. General Hans Speidel, Rommel's Chief of Staff in Normandy, who tried to get Rommel to join the conspiracy. Apart from a few grumbles, the "Desert Fox" declined, though doubts about his loyalty were enough to persuade the Nazis to force Rommel to kill himself as an alternative to going before the People's Court. I believe that Speidel became NATO's top commander in Europe after the war.
Rommel's successor in Normandy after the Desert Fox, seriously injured in an Allied air strike, was Field Marshal Gunther von Kluge. When Kluge had been commanding Army Group Centre, Tresckow had repeatedly urged the Field Marshal to act against Hitler, earning the nickname "the clockmaker" for having repeatedly to wind up his rather irresolute boss to action, though in the end Kluge did nothing.
In the wake of the July plot's failure, Kluge, too, like Rommel, came under Hitler's suspicion of disloyalty (when he "disappeared" for a day while inspecting the Normandy front, the Fuhrer thought he had defected to the Allies). Late on July 20 Kluge had been visited at his Normandy HQ by General Karl Heinrich von Stulpnagel, military commander of occupied France, who tried to persuade him to join the plot. By then, Kluge had heard the news that Hitler had survived the bomb and remarked "I would--if only the swine were dead." He advised Stulpnagel to vanish.
Paris, in fact, was the only place where the Valkyrie putsch was completely successful. Stulpnagel and the plotters in Paris succeeded in arresting all the SS and SD men in the capital and detaining them. When the news came through that Hitler had survived, they had to release them--amidst many embarrassing excuses.
Both Kluge and Stulpnagel were recalled to Berlin to face the music and both attempted suicide by shooting themselves en route in the vicinity of the old battlefield of Verdun (where Stulpnagel had fought in WWI). Kluge succeeded, while Stulpnagel only succeeded in blinding himself. He survived to be tortured, tried at the People's Court, and hanged--the same grim fate that awaited the majority of the conspirators.
I got much of my information on these events when I too, like Anthony, met Stauffenberg's eldest son, General Berthold Count von Stauffenberg, at his home near Stuttgart and interviewed him at length for my book. I also spoke at length about the plot with the late great writer Ernst Junger when I was staying at his house--also near Stuttgart in 1983. (His house in the village of Wilflingen, now a Junger museum, had once been the property of the Stauffenberg family.) Junger was friends with both Speidel and Stulpnagel--in fact he had been due to dine with the latter on the very evening when he was recalled to Germany and his death. Junger himself was on the fringes of the conspiracy and was retired from the army in semi-disgrace, though, as with Rommel, the Nazis felt it would be a PR disaster to put such a decorated war hero on trial.
My own view is that while the majority of the Army officer corps remained--however reluctantly--loyal to Hitler until the bitter end, and others, such as Fromm, Kluge, and Hoepner, were opportunists who would only join the winning side, there was a small and dedicated number who, often motivated by their Christian consciences, became convinced that Hitler's regime was evil incarnate and actively plotted to dispose of the Fuhrer and end the war. In doing so, they were not only committing treason, but breaking the personal oath of loyalty to the Fuhrer that all had been required to swear. In doing so they risked not only public disgrace and a horrible death for themselves, but for their families--under the Nazis' notorious "Sippenhaft" ("Kin punishment") decree--also. The courage needed to do all this should not be underestimated, and it does a disservice to their memory not to acknowledge it.
JE comments: Two thumbs up for Nigel Jones's Countdown to Valkyrie. As I pointed out a few weeks ago, one of my favorite sections of Nigel's book deals with the "Lone Wolf" Georg Elser's one-man plot against Hitler in Munich, whereby he painstakingly placed a bomb over the course of days and at great personal risk. If only Elser had succeeded...
- Stauffenberg and the July Plotters (Istvan Simon, USA 07/26/13 5:20 AM)
I disagree with Anthony Candil (25 July). Field Marshal Rommel was a German hero and he joined the plot to kill Hitler. He had considerable following and authority within the Wehrmacht, and even more importantly, he was a legend with the German people.
By 1944 the Nazi regime had lost much of its popular support within Germany. Stalingrad and the successive defeats of the Wehrmacht, the bombing of the Allies that the Luftwaffe was unable to stop or deter, the savage totalitarian persecution of everyone who did not toe the Nazi party line--all of this contributed to the idea that being the supposedly superior and invincible "Ubermensch" just was not as much fun anymore as when the Nazis came to power, and that these Nazi ideas were ultimately insanity that just did not conform to the hard realities of defeat. So, to anyone with half a brain, it was by then clear that Germany had lost the war, and that there was no upside at all, nor any reason for the subsequent slaughter to the bitter end. The 1000-year Reich was to last only 12 years, and the only question was how to stop the German population itself from going down in flames with Hitler.
Furthermore, this was clear to most of the top Nazis themselves, and many started to plan for their escape and survival after the war would be over. So I do not believe that Hitler's regime would have survived him, had the plotters been successful in July 1944.
JE comments: Nigel Jones (26 July) wrote that Rommel had declined to join the plotters, even though he was implicated and forced to commit suicide.
No High-Level Nazis Escaped
(Nigel Jones, UK
07/27/13 4:03 AM)
If, as Istvan Simon claimed on 26 July, "many of the top Nazis recognised that the war was lost and started to plan for their escape and survival after the war," it is very odd that not a single one managed to achieve it.
Sir Ian Kershaw's most recent book The End is dedicated to asking the question of why the Third Reich, facing defeat, did not collapse--and went on functioning and resisting until the bitter end.
In fact almost all the senior Nazis, far from recognising reality and planning their escape, chose like Hitler either to go down with the ship and killed themselves, or passively awaited their arrest. Here's a list in rough order of seniority:
Hitler: committed suicide in the Berlin bunker.
Goering: surrendered to the US Army at his Austrian castle. Tried at Nuremberg, sentenced to death but cheated hangman by swallowing cyanide two hours before his execution.
Himmler: Swallowed cyanide pill after being arrested by British troops.
Goebbels: Committed suicide with his wife in the Berlin bunker.
Bormann: Killed by Russian fire after leaving the Berlin bunker.
Ribbentrop: Arrested, tried and hanged at Nuremberg.
Kaltenbrunner: Arrested, tried and hanged at Nuremberg.
Ley: arrested, hanged himself at Nuremberg awaiting trial.
Rosenberg: arrested, tried and hanged at Nuremberg.
Frank: Arrested, tried and hanged at Nuremberg
Sauckel: Arrested, tried and hanged at Nuremberg.
Speer: Arrested, tried and jailed for 20 years at Nuremberg.
Von Schirach: Arrested, tried and jailed for 20 years at Nuremberg.
Hess: Already in Allied custody: jailed for life at Nuremberg.
Keitel: Arrested, tried and hanged at Nuremberg.
Jodl: Arrested, tried and hanged at Nuremberg.
Raeder: Arrested and jailed for 10 years at Nuremberg.
Doenitz: Arrested and jailed for 10 years at Nuremberg.
The two notorious figures who did manage to get away--the Auschwitz "doctor death" Josef Mengele and the SS bureaucrat Adolf Eichmann, who both escaped to South America, were by no stretch of the imagination leading Nazis, and probably never even met Hitler.
JE comments: It is surprising that no one in the Nazi upper hierarchy managed to elude the victors. Perhaps this is why so many urban legends were invented after the war, of Hitler living in Paraguay and the like.
What we can conclude is that Siegfried Ramler and his colleagues at Nuremberg did an extremely thorough job!
High-Level Nazis Post-WWII
(Istvan Simon, USA
07/28/13 4:18 AM)
Nigel Jones (27 July) said that he finds it odd that most of the top Nazi officials did not escape after the war, if they had recognized that the war was lost, as I had claimed. I think this is not so strange given their notoriety, and that all the armies that occupied Nazi Germany were looking for them. He then gave a list of top Nazis and their fates. Still it is worth looking into this question in more depth than just assuming that their deaths or capture gives the whole story.
Nigel accepts the German government's conclusion of 1973 that Martin Bormann was killed by Russian fire in 1945. Bormann, like Goebbels, was loyal to Hitler to the last moment. So he is not a good example for my thesis. Nonetheless, Bormann's death was never accepted by Simon Wiesenthal nor some other notable authorities, like Hugh Trevor Roper, so there is a possibility that indeed Bormann may have escaped to South America and his fate is still unknown. Axmann, the director of Hitler Youth, did escape to South America. It is partly based on Axmann's account that he supposedly saw Bormann's dead body that the theory of his death by Russian fire was born. But as Trevor-Roper has noted, Axmann was an unrepentant Nazi and had good reason to lie, and his account should not be accepted. There is also the DNA match with a relative of Bormann's, which was claimed to establish that the skeletal remains of one of two corpses that were disinterred in 1972 was Bormann's. Nonetheless, Simon Wiesentahl and many others were not satisfied that this conclusively established Bormann's identity. According to the doubters, the skeletal remains could be of a Bormann relative, and so the theory of Bormann's fate is still controversial today. If the doubters are right, Bormann is the most senior Nazi who escaped. Whatever his true fate, he was a monster responsible for the deaths of millions. But something else that is relevant to my thesis should be still mentioned: he reportedly did try to negotiate his escape with the surrounding Russian forces.
It is well established that Himmler tried to negotiate his escape. That he did not succeed and died in custody through suicide is no evidence against my thesis. Hitler was so enraged by Himmler's disloyalty that he ordered him arrested, and Himmler's deputy was indeed caught and shot by the Nazis. Hitler had little control of the situation by that time, and so Himmler escaped Hitler's wrath and his pursuers and went into hiding. But in any case, this clearly shows that being disloyal to Hitler while he was still alive carried its own obvious grave risks to life and limb, and the behavior of the top Nazis must be examined in the light of this fact. In the totalitarian regime that they helped create, they were in the end between a rock and a hard place, and there were severe limitations on what they could or could not do.
Goering and Bormann were in competition for power within Nazi Germany, and hated each other. Goering had been designated the successor of Hitler at the beginning of the war. But gradually he lost favor with Hitler. Fearful that when Hitler would kill himself Bormann would take over, he asked Hitler to be designated responsible for Nazi Germany at the end of the war. Bormann intercepted this letter and convinced Hitler that Goering had committed treason. Hitler stripped him of all his Nazi titles and expelled Goering from the party. Thus it could be argued that Goering does not conform to my thesis. Nonetheless, Goering surrendered to American forces, apparently expecting favorable treatment. However, his ruthlessness, lack of any decency, in short his crimes were both so numerous and heinous that he was sentenced to death by hanging at Nuremberg. He cheated the executioner's noose with poison, and committed suicide a day before being hanged.
High-Level Nazis Post-WWII: Martin Bormann's Remains
(Nigel Jones, UK
07/29/13 4:08 AM)
I am sorry to keep correcting Istvan Simon (July 28) about Nazi history, but it is a subject which I know a fair amount about. I can assure him that there is no possibility whatsoever that Martin Bormann escaped to South America--though rumours that he did (along with Adolf Hitler himself) persisted for decades. They lasted, in fact, until Bormann's skeletal remains were discovered in 1972 by workmen digging very close to where he had last been seen alive near the Lehrter rail station after escaping the Berlin bunker on May 1st/2nd 1945.
After being examined by the German authorities, the remains were identified as those of Bormann based on his dental records and a broken collarbone sustained in a riding accident. With the advance in DNA forensic science in the 1990s, the remains were again positively identified as those of Bormann by a DNA comparison with some of his many children, including his son Fr. Martin Bormann, a Roman Catholic priest, (Bormann senior was, ironically, a fanatical anti-Christian.) Fr. Bormann conducted the subsequent burial at sea of his father's ashes in the Baltic. (Incidentally, this identification was accepted in 1998 even by Simon Wiesenthal, who had vehemently denied it until such denials finally made him appear ridiculous.)
The two "authorities" cited by Istvan who refused to accept that Bormann had not died in Berlin have themselves been completely discredited. The British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper (Lord Dacre) ended his distinguished career in ignominy in 1984 when he positively identified the grotesque forgeries of Konra Kujau as the authentic diaries of Adolf Hitler. The so-called "Nazi hunter" Simon Wiesenthal' s reputation was comprehensively demolished in my friend Guy Walters's book Hunting Evil (2009), which I strongly recommend to Istvan, in which Walters proved that Wiesenthal had lied repeatedly about his own experiences in World War II--doubling the number of camps he had been detained in from five to eleven, for example. Moreover, a drawing reproduced in one of his contradictory memoirs which he claimed he made in Mauthausen concentration camp, was in fact based on photos of Mauthausen that appeared in Life magazine. He also wildly exaggerated his part in tracking down Adolf Eichmann, which was a function of Mossad professional intelligence rather than the delusions of Mr Wiesenthal.
I interviewed Wiesenthal in Vienna in the early 1990s and I have to say that I found him a catankerous and self-publicising braggart, whose reputation as a "Nazi-hunter" is undeserved, and based on his own lies, fantasies and exaggeration.
JE comments: Randy Black (next in queue) also writes on the DNA tests which proved the identity of Bormann's remains.
Simon Wiesenthal died in 2005. He hasn't appeared on the pages of WAIS since that time, but Nigel Jones's appraisal of Wiesenthal goes against the popular view (in the US at least) that remembers SW in hagiographical terms.
Should we begin a discussion on Wiesenthal's legacy? Did anyone else in WAISworld have the chance to meet him?
- Martin Bormann's Remains (Randy Black, USA 07/29/13 4:25 AM)
In his 28 July post, Istvan Simon puts forward unfounded but persistent theories that have survived the decades after WWII that Nazi Martin Bormann might have survived WWII and escaped to South America.
In researching the facts, I found many conspiracy theories regarding the death of Martin Bormann. Adding to the conspiracy matters are statements from Joseph Stalin, who was apparently convinced that the Nazi escaped and may have told others on several occasions after the war.
Others claimed that, notwithstanding the DNA testing more than 50 years later, the body found in the German grave in 1972 was not Bormann's but was that of a body double. This, despite eyewitness testimony of Artur Axmann, who had escaped the bunker with Bormann and Dr. Stumpfegger.
Istvan surmised, "According to the doubters, the skeletal remains could be of a Bormann relative, and so the theory of Bormann's fate is still controversial today. If the doubters are right, Bormann is the most senior Nazi who escaped."
Those "doubters" who are not identified are mostly likely neo-Nazis and Nazi hunters, according to everything I could find on the Internet.
However, the widely publicized 1997 DNA test on remains long identified as Bormann's that were discovered in 1972, demonstrated beyond doubt that the body tested in Germany by Swiss and German forensic examiners was the Nazi leader.
The DNA test did not offer any possibility that the remains were those of a Bormann relative. The DNA test was conducted on Bormann's skull.
Also used during the DNA testing were Bormann's dental records and eyewitness testimony regarding where Bormann was said to have died, according to dozens of sources including the UK's Independent and the LA Times (May 6, 1998).
From the Times: "The bones discovered in Berlin were widely thought to be those of Bormann after dental records and injuries found on the remains matched those of Hitler's henchman, but rumors of his escape and survival continued.
"The DNA test 'rules out any further speculation over the death or survival of Martin Bormann after 1945 for any serious reporter,' the family said in a statement."
JE comments: Nazis are both repugnant and endlessly fascinating in the popular imagination, which explains the proliferation of conspiracy theories about disappearances after the war. How about the theory that Hitler escaped to Japan in a specially equipped submarine?
Martin Bormann's Remains; on Simon Wiesenthal
(Istvan Simon, USA
07/30/13 11:35 AM)
In response to Randy Black (29 July), I did mention in my post the 1973 DNA results. I was unaware of the DNA tests in the 1990s, and so I am for one glad that Bormann died as originally proposed.
I disagree with Nigel Jones's assessment of Simon Wiesenthal. To me it is largely irrelevant what Nigel wrote about flaws in his character. These flaws may be true or not, but nonetheless I think that it does not detract from his contributions in hunting down Nazis, for which he deserves both honor and credit.
JE comments: I wonder if our own Siegfried Ramler met Simon Wiesenthal. If so, we'd love to hear from you, Siegfried!
(Nigel Jones, UK
07/31/13 4:00 AM)
Since Istvan Simon told me off-WAIS that he would read the book Hunting Evil by Guy Walters, in which Simon Wiesenthal's lies are laid bare, I am slightly surprised that he has made his mind up about Wiesenthal (July 30th) without looking first at the abundant evidence presented in the book that the man was a lifelong liar and a fraud.
Istvan concedes that Wiesenthal may have had "character flaws"--but we all have those. What I am talking about is something far more serious: a pyramid of lies built up over decades to conceal his true wartime record which--as Guy Walters is forced by the evidence to conclude--was most probably that of a Kapo, or camp collaborator with the Nazis. Only this can explain his otherwise "miraculous" survival in the camps. I think that it was guilt over this, not zeal for the truth, that fueled Wiesenthal's post-war career as a "Nazi hunter" (a hunter, by the way, who conspicuously failed to catch many Nazis).
Wiesenthal's own contradictory accounts of his life were so riddled with inconsistencies that, as Walters writes: "Wiesenthal's reputation is built on sand. He was a liar, and a bad one at that. From the end of the war to the end of his life in 2005, he would lie repeatedly about his supposed hunt for Eichmann as well as his other Nazi-hunting exploits. Wiesenthal would also concoct outrageous stories about his war years and make false claims about his academic career. Indeed, there are so many inconsistencies between his three main memoirs, and between those memoirs and contemporaneous documents that it is impossible to establish a reliable narrative from them alone.
"These accounts are also strewn with numerous inaccuracies, which make it hard to reconcile the unreliable figure that emerges with that of the brilliant sleuth. In addition, Wiesenthal's scant regard for the truth makes it possible to doubt everything he ever wrote or said."
Doubts about Wiesenthal's veracity are not confined to Guy Walters--a scrupulous researcher and former Times journalist who makes something of a specialty of demolishing "false history." (And no one has yet come forward to refute or dispute the charges against Wiesenthal in Walters's book.) They fueled the famous feud between Wiesenthal and the late socialist post-war Chancellor of Austria, Bruno Kreisky, a non-practicing Jew forced to flee Austria by the Nazis. Kreisky went so far as to accuse Wiesenthal of being a Gestapo agent--a charge found by an Austrian court to be defamatory.
It is, however, extremely important to nail Wiesenthal and his life of lies since, as I wrote privately to Istvan:
"I think its doubly important for those who call themselves 'Nazi hunters' like Wiesenthal to be squeaky clean and whiter than white, so that they do not inadvertently give neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers any ammunition. The trouble is, that SW has been exposed as a liar so that rather devalues his life's work. Now his lies may--probably were--caused by confusion, memory lapses, inadequate records and sheer human vanity rather than malice, but lies they were. No one doubts that he had a terrible time during the war, but the experience made him into a pretty terrible person. Rather than the hundreds he claimed to have hunted down, the Nazis he nailed can be counted on the fingers of a lumberjack's hands. In the case of Eichmann, for example, he hindered rather than helped the hunt by putting up false hares. In another case cited by Guy Walters he misidentified a Canadian as a Nazi, ruined his life, and refused to admit he made a mistake. I cannot respect a person like that, even though I can understand how his suffering might have deformed his life."
JE comments: I am particularly intrigued by the possibility that Wiesenthal may have been a concentration-camp Kapo, although this status did not ensure one's survival in the camps. Often the Kapos were singled out for execution after they were no longer "useful" to their overlords.
Of relevance here may be the experience of Calel Perechodnik, a Jewish Pole who collaborated with the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto police. His book Am I a Murderer? is one of the most brutal--and brutally honest--memoirs of the Holocaust. Among other things, Perechodnik personally placed his wife and child on a train bound for Treblinka. He did not survive the war.
Guy Walters on Simon Wiesenthal
(Istvan Simon, USA
08/01/13 4:30 AM)
I do not know Guy Walters, who is a friend of Nigel Jones, but I assume he is a meticulous journalist, just as Nigel says he is (31 July). Nonetheless, I am compelled to respond to Nigel's post. I do not want to confine this to a discussion about the lies or not of Simon Wiesenthal. I want to respond to something more general, an attitude that I sense in Nigel's post when he talks about Kapos and concentration camps.
Mr. Walters may be a great journalist and a magnificent truthful human being. But no matter what his character or training is, there is something that he cannot change, and which will impair his ability to make judgments, particularly moral judgments, about people who were persecuted during World War II and thrown into concentration camps for no other reason than they were Jews or Roma or just did not agree with Hitler and his terribly inhumane Nazi Reich.
What Mr. Walters cannot change is that he was born in 1971. And no one, and I mean no one who did not live through what people that were actually in those camps can make moral judgments about those that were in the camps. That includes myself. I was born after the war, and so even though my own father was taken to Germany and my grandparents were murdered at Auschwitz, for more that I try, I will never be able to fully comprehend what it was like to be there. Only those who lived through that dark and horrible period of history can.
JE comments: I understand Istvan Simon's outrage, but if we limit historical judgments on the Holocaust to those who experienced it, we're almost at the point where no more commentary is possible.
"Who Are We to Judge our Ancestors?"
(Luciano Dondero, Italy
08/01/13 5:03 AM)
If one were to accept Istvan Simon's line of reasoning ("who are we to judge what our ancestors did or did not?", there would be almost nothing people could discuss. I'm afraid it would also means negating the whole of historically based research, thus invalidating the fact that advances in technologically put us and our descendants in a position to understand certain things better that eyewitnesses or contemporaries ever could. To cite just one example, DNA-based analysis of human rests helped settle the issue of Thomas Jefferson's "family."
JE comments: Luciano Dondero is referring to Sally Hemings, an enslaved woman on the Jefferson estate. TJ most likely fathered all or most of her six children:
Luciano raises an important point: eyewitnesses often have only a partial understanding of the events they are experiencing.
"Who Are We to Judge our Ancestors?"
(Istvan Simon, USA
08/02/13 10:04 AM)
Both Luciano Dondero's response and JE's comment (1 August) seem to indicate that they misunderstood what I said in my post of earlier that day. In contrast, Bienvenido Macario understood the proper context of my remarks.
One can discuss history, one can research it, one can publish it. New technology, like DNA, can and should be applied where appropriate. I said nothing in my post that impedes any of that.
What I said is something completely different: what one should not do is to make moral judgments about those who had to deal with savage, inhumane, and unprecedented persecution without having experienced on their own skin any remotely similar situation. For someone to attempt to make moral judgments about not the perpetrators of the persecution, but their victims, without having faced the same challenges, having been born decades later, is profoundly inappropriate and wrong, and smacks of a severe case of "holier than thou" attitude. That is what I said originally, and that is what I reiterate today.
Can anyone here, who was born after the war, if they were given the severely limited choices that the victims of Nazi persecution had, say that they would not have become Kapos? On what basis can they make such a determination? How can they answer such a question about their own character and reactions, having never experienced anything remotely similar themselves? And if they cannot say so, as I believe to be the case, how can they possibly make moral judgments about those who had to face such inhumane persecution?
JE comments: Istvan Simon reminds us of the horrific choices that faced many of the victims of Nazi persecution. What would we have done in their place? We don't have to answer that question, for which we are blessed.
"Who Are We to Judge our Ancestors?"
(Leo Goldberger, USA
08/03/13 3:41 AM)
As someone old enough to have suffered at the hands of the Nazi persecution, I emphatically second Istvan Simon's admonishment (2 August) against making any moral judgments about human behavior under extreme circumstances, such as concentration camp captivity under the Nazis.
For an instructive, if not most gripping, account of a Hungarian youngster who survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald, the WAIS readers might be urged to read Imre Kertesz's novelistic autobiography, Fatelessness (a publication dating back to 1975, but only available in English in 1992). It won the literature Nobel Prize in 2002, "for writing that upholds the fragile experience of the individual against the barbaric arbitrariness of history."
It is my view is that the subjective narratives of survivors (despite the inherent problems of veracity requiring careful checking) are nevertheless key to our full understanding of historical events, and ought to be considered in unison with the so-called objective account, so much valued by today's historiographers who tend to dismiss the subjective side as less "factual" than the stuff they dig up in the official archives.
JE comments: My thanks to Leo Goldberger for joining our conversation, and for the mention of Imre Kertesz, Hungary's greatest living author. I'm sure Istvan Simon knows Kertesz's work well, and could send us a further comment.
Best wishes to you, Leo!
- "Who Are We to Judge our Ancestors?" (John Heelan, UK 08/03/13 4:00 AM)
JE commented on 2 August: "Istvan Simon reminds us of the horrific choices that faced many of the victims of Nazi persecution. What would we have done in their place?"
Istvan and JE are correct to highlight the eternal ethical conundrum--can one make moral judgements on the behaviour of others without having stood in their shoes? But equally can the violent actions of Afghans and Palestinians in their own lands, which the West labels as "terrorism," be dismissed as immoral without recognising that to them they are facing seemingly insuperable challenges to life every day?
As Istvan rightly says, "what one should not do is to make moral judgments about those who had to deal with savage, inhumane, and unprecedented persecution without having experienced on their own skin any remotely similar situation." To borrow JE's comment, if we were exposed to similar overwhelming attacks by superior forces and drones, "What would we (do) in their place?"
JE comments: Istvan Simon will certainly not accept John Heelan's comparison of today's Palestinians with the Holocaust victims of 70 years ago, as it implies the moral equivalency of the Israeli government with the Nazi regime. I also think such a comparison is misguided. However, the "what would we do in their place" yardstick, basically a call for empathy, should apply to all situations where injustice and inequality prevail.
"Who Are We to Judge our Ancestors?" Further Thoughts
(John Heelan, UK
08/04/13 5:56 AM)
Of course JE is correct (3 August) when he cautions against the comparison of "today's Palestinians with the Holocaust victims of 70 years ago, as it implies the moral equivalency of the Israeli government with the Nazi regime."
It was not my intention to compare at a macro-level (i.e. quantity) the sufferings of Afghans and Palestinians with the Holocaust. However, at the micro-level (i.e. at the level of the individual), I suspect that similar "never forgive, never forget" feelings against the West and Israel are just as strong and it is at the individual level that attacks are carried out in retribution (e.g. suicide bombers).
My intention was to support Istvan Simon's and JE's argument that one cannot judge the morality of such actions without personally having experienced the factors that have led to those actions.
JE comments: A generation ago when I studied in Granada, Spain, it was common to see "Star of David=swastika" graffiti throughout the city. I never understood who could make such a horrific comparison, even under the cloak of darkness. Not that this has to do with John Heelan's very valid point, but has anyone in WAISworld seen similar graffiti in Spain or elsewhere?
Swastika Graffiti in Catalunya
(Henry Levin, USA
08/04/13 1:17 PM)
I have just returned to New York from Spain after most of four months in Catalunya. I have not seen the swastika in any graffiti regarding Israel, but have seen it many times: swastika = Espanya.
The view towards the Arab and Islamic world is made complex by the large Moroccan immigrant population, periodic arrests of alleged Islamic terrorists, the need for investment from the Gulf, ostentatious displays of Saudi and Gulf wealth in Marbella flaunting large retinues among desperate hordes of unemployed, and the close proximity of whatever is happening in North Africa. There is mild prejudice in the common use of referring to all of the above as Moros rather than specific national origins.
JE comments: I was uncomfortable even mentioning my sightings of "Star of David = swastika" graffiti in 1980s Spain, but it has inspired a number of interesting responses. Since the 1980s, Spain's view of the Muslim world has probably worsened, which may explain a decreased level of sympathy for the Palestinians vis à vis Israel. But as Henry Levin reports, the swastika is alive and well as the Catalan "spraypainters in the street" express their discontent with Madrid.
Great to hear from Hank Levin, by the way.
Swastika Graffiti in Catalunya
(Jordi Molins, Spain
08/05/13 3:31 AM)
Henry Levin wrote on 4 August:
"I have just returned to New York from Spain after most of four months in Catalunya. I have not seen the swastika in any graffiti regarding Israel, but have seen it many times: swastika = Espanya."
I am surprised by this, since I have never seen any graffiti like "swastika = Espanya" in Catalonia. I have Googled for "swastika = Espanya" and "Espanya = swastika," and there are 0 entries. I have Googled for "Espanya swastika" in Catalan, and I have been unable to find even one entry arguing for Spain being represented by the swastika.
Instead, if I Google "nazionalismo" or "nazionalista" (the combination in Spanish of "nacionalista," i.e., nationalist, and Nazi) I find hundreds of thousands of entries arguing that we Catalans are Nazis.
The data from the Google search matches my intuition: for some unknown reason, Spanish nationalism, highly tainted historically by its incestuous relationships with Nazism, argues that Catalans are Nazis. (Recall the Catalan President Companys was arrested by the Gestapo, delivered to the Francoist rebels, and shot; as far as I know, President Companys is the highest political representative killed during the combination of the Spanish Civil War and WWII.)
If Henry had said the "swastika = Espanya" had been told to him as a verbal expression, I would have thought some Catalans were trying to convey the message of Spain being totalitarian vis à vis Catalonia, with a concept (Nazism) that would resonate with a US visitor.
If I may add my personal view, and despite the wealth of data some highly recognized historian WAISers have published showing the strong relationship between Francoism and Nazism, I tend to think Spanish nationalism is much more akin to extremist Islam than to Nazism. Either way, Catalans play the role of the Jews.
JE comments: Interesting. For what it's worth, I did find this image of a "nationalist Spain" flag on Wikimedia commons. I know nothing of its provenance, but it looks like a photo-shop job:
Perhaps Henry Levin snapped a photo of the graffiti?
Swastika Graffiti in Catalunya
(Henry Levin, USA
08/06/13 3:45 AM)
I wish the subject of graffiti had come up while I was still in Catalunya because I could have invited Jordi Molins (5 August) to take a walking tour of graffiti in our town or taken photos of the graffiti for WAIS viewers. I did not realize that there was an interest in that subject. In any event, I suspect that the best survey of graffiti in a town is to do a walking tour rather than to surf Google.
Here there may be two assumptions on Jordi's part that seem to lead to his strong reaction. The first is the assumption that I did a systematic survey. I did no survey, but just responded casually to JE's question about whether the swastika was still evident in graffiti in Spain. My observations were limited to casual walks in towns on the Maresme just south of Mataro, and were not represented as a survey of all of Catalunya or Spain. The second assumption is that I saw graffiti with the word "swastika." The graffiti that I saw had the symbol of the swastika, not the word, so any word search might not be appropriate. JE's request was for the symbols that he had seen in Andalusia many years before. However, to give a little more detail, I also saw the symbols (not the words) of hammer and sickle = espanya and the words, puta espanya. The latter was far more common than the communist or nazi symbols.
Jordi says much more about the treatment of Catalunya by "Madrid," and we, too, heard much of this by our many nationalist friends. But, since we had no horses in this race, we didn't take sides. This frustrated and angered our friends who had a visceral defense of their claims. We found it difficult to get beyond the emotions and establish a discourse on the subject. Even the mere request for accurate information by an outsider simply raises suspicions that one is an Espanyol, as my wife was accused when asking for data on the distribution of tax revenues and expenditure categories among regions as well as the basis for the principle that regions should receive in return exactly exactly what they paid in taxes.
In the US many states pay more in federal taxes than they receive in benefits per capita, and many states pay much less than they receive. See http://taxfoundation.org/tax-topics/federal-taxes-paid-vs-spending-received-state for detail. These differences do not seem to be major sources of contention because they are consistent with national commitments to provision of services wherever the need for services is located as well as fulfillment of other national goals. For example, a poor state with a low-income population receives more in Medicaid (health care for the poor) than a rich state relative to its population; one that has large senior populations receives more per capita from Medicaid (health care for the old). This does not seem to be a source of contention in the US and is widely accepted. States with large federal installations such as military training or research facilities (national laboratories) such as the National Institutes of Health in Maryland will receive large amounts of spending for these facilities. States with large amounts of federal contracting will experience substantial transfers of federal funds in their direction. National sources of tax revenues and national commitments are not equally distributed.
We asked our friends for the data that showed what regions sent to "Madrid" and what they received back and the tax and expenditure categories that these entailed. We also asked for the breakdowns of expenditure categories to see if there were explanations as we have for the US. Although we saw some numbers on "disparities" between what regions contributed in taxes and what they received back, we could find no detail breakdown of what they included. For example, there are large differences among regions in unemployment, so one might expect to see greater unemployment benefits in some regions than in others. We were unable to get breakdowns at this level. Basically, the argument was that Catalunya sends more money to "Madrid" than it receives back and that "they are stealing our money." We have no doubt about the latter claim since politicians all over Spain and from every party have been implicated in stealing from the public treasury. But, as outsiders in the debate on nationalism, it is best just to refrain from participation in any form, including requesting accurate and detailed information on claims.
JE comments: Politicians "stealing our money"--perhaps bankrupt Detroit relocated to Spain?
Catalan Fiscal Balances vis-a-vis Spain
(Jordi Molins, Spain
08/06/13 9:36 AM)
Henry Levin (6 August) asks for information on Catalan fiscal balances vis à vis Spain. Here is an official document by the Catalan regional government, using official data from the Spanish Treasury:
--Under the accounting method of Monetary Flow (there is another method, called Flow of Benefit, which shows similar results), in 2010 (the last year with final, official budget execution figures) Catalonia provided 19.4% of Spanish tax revenues. Catalonia received 14.2% of Spanish public expenditure; if one excludes Social Security payments (which are not discretionary by the Spanish central government), Catalonia received 11.3% of Spanish public expenditure (which is basically discretionary by the Spanish central government)
--The resulting fiscal balance of Catalonia vs Spain was -€16.5bn, i.e., about -8.5% of Catalan GDP. In other words, 8.5% of all Catalan production of goods and services went out from Catalonia and never returned. Seen in another way, each Catalan pays more than €2k per year in taxes which are never reinvested in Catalonia. This fiscal deficit of around -8% / -9% has been maintained since 1986 (the first year with official data since the reinstate of the Catalan regional government).
It is natural for wealthy regions to pay more taxes than poor regions. Probably there should be some kind of regional balancing among regions within a country. However, there should be limits.
One limit could be, as in Germany, to preserve the ranking of wealth per capita before and after the redistribution: in Germany, after the redistribution, individuals from the wealthy region remain wealthier on average than citizens from the poor region, but less so than before the redistribution.
In Spain, this ranking is not preserved, and due to the massive spoliation that Catalonia suffers, Catalonia loses systematically several places in the ranking (in favor of Spanish nationalistic regions).
My personal opinion is that Spanish nationalistic governments take the big picture view that Catalonia (and Valencia, and the Balearics) should be punished as much as possible for not being "Spanish enough." In the past, military methods were used to accomplish that goal. Currently, everything is about taxes and spending.
There have been so many examples of this attitude, so many personal experiences, that I cannot effectively communicate them all through WAIS. Probably the most egregious example is the squandering of a city like Barcelona. For example, a recent MasterCard reports shows Barcelona is in the top ten of the Global Destination Cities Index, and third in Europe, just after London and Paris:
Madrid is not even in the top 20. Instead, Spanish governments massively invest in Madrid and avoid investing in Barcelona, despite the fact that probably it would be much easier for Barcelona to reach the status of "capital of Southern Europe" if the government of its country were rational and not extremely nationalistic as the Spanish governments are.
A model for this could be the US: despite Washington being its capital city, Americans in general and American politicians in particular have no problem in letting non-capital cities like New York or Los Angeles becoming bigger and more important than the capital of their country, if their city characteristics allow them to do so.
In Spain, this is utterly impossible: Madrid has to be bigger, better connected, more important than anything else, by definition. Despite the fact Spain has a unique city like Barcelona, which many other countries would dream of having and transforming it into their capital city.
JE comments: Even if we allow for Jordi Molins's (justifiable) pride in his native city, he makes an excellent point about overcentralization in Spain. (We could say much the same thing about Latin America's tendency to focus government, finance, and culture in one metropolitan center.) Is the United States model preferable for a nation's well-being? As Jordi points out, neither New York or Los Angeles (or Chicago or Houston or Miami) is the capital of anything.
- Swastika Graffiti (John Heelan, UK 08/04/13 3:43 PM)
JE asked on 4 August whether graffiti that equates the Star of David with the swastika are seen in other countries. Regrettably, such daubings are sometimes seen on Jewish tombstones in UK graveyards. It is usually the work of anti-Semitic UK neo-Nazi groups. The 2012 report by the (Jewish) Community Security Trust reports such anti-Semitic incidents.
In Egypt there was a cartoon that demonstrates a swastika changing into a Star of David:
And in Poland, vandals rearranged bushes at Bialystok cemetery to transform the Star of David into a Nazi swastika.
JE comments: This is not an isolated trend; Eugenio Battaglia reports that "Star of David = swastika" graffiti are common in Italy. (I've used the plural verb here: one graffito becomes many graffiti.)
The Bialystok incident is especially alarming, given that city's rich Jewish heritage. Among other illustrious individuals, Ludwig Zamenhof, inventor of Esperanto and one of my personal heroes, was a Bialystok native.
- Swastika Episodes (Luciano Dondero, Italy 08/04/13 5:25 PM)
In reference to our discussion on Swastika graffiti, you will probably find this intriguing:
JE comments: The first link discusses a swastika banner that was flown over the beaches of Long Island last summer, in observance of "Swastika Rehabilitation Day." That's certainly a tasteless holiday to propose for Long Island.
Angell Hall, one of the landmark academic buildings on the U Michigan campus, has a subtle swastika motif in its marble ornamentation. The building was constructed in the 1920s, and there are occasional calls to remove the offensive design.
Then there was Detroit's short-lived K-R-I-T Motor Car Company, defunct in 1916, which used the swastika in its logo:
(Nigel Jones, UK
08/05/13 4:00 AM)
The Swastika, as is widely known, is an ancient Hindu sun symbol. As such it adorned a handsome edition of the India-influenced collected works of Rudyard Kipling, including the Just So stories and the Jungle Book published in the 1920s!
In Germany it was used as a symbol by the extreme Right before the Nazis were properly up and running. Photographic evidence from the failed right-wing Kapp Putsch of March 1920 shows the swastika painted on the helmets of the Putschist Ehrhardt Brigade Freikorps. I reproduced one such picture in my book Hitler's Heralds: the story of the Freikorps 1918-1923. Hitler flew from Munich to Berlin to support the putsch, and it may have been on this occasion that he first saw the swastika.
JE comments: Could Hitler have picked a more chillingly "catchy" symbol than the Swastika? Other fascist symbols (those of Spain, Italy, Hungary, etc.) just don't convey the dynamism or the sinister power of the Swastika, which has become the single most hated symbol in history. A distant second would be the hammer-and-sickle of the other extreme of the political spectrum.
Most Hated Symbol in History?
(David Duggan, USA
08/06/13 10:58 AM)
I would say the cross is the single most hated symbol in history, if you are weighting the scales by 1) the percentage of people who hated it, and 2) the length of time that it has been hated.
"For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God." I Corinthians 1: 18. Second, of course, would be the crescent moon and pentagram star symbol of Islam, originally used by the Moabites in the second millennium before the Common Era. Moabites were the descendants of the incestuous relationship between a drunken Lot and his eldest daughter (not named in the text), described in Genesis 19: 31-37. Hmm. Were the geo-political entities adopting the star and crescent symbol in their flags and seals (e.g., the Ottoman Empire in 1793) purposely trying to rile the Jews? Medieval troops fought under a flag bearing only the crescent moon.
JE comments: If we go by David Duggan's criterion 2, then the swastika will never catch up with the Christian cross. So I'll stand corrected on my original claim that the swastika is the "most hated symbol in history." I should have said in modern times.
Most Hated Symbol in History?
(Roy Domenico, USA
08/07/13 4:40 AM)
I'm not sure I follow David Duggan's case (6 August) that the cross is the most hated symbol in history. Doesn't this assume that every non-Christian--or many of them(?), or a lot of them(?)--hated the cross? Certainly a lot of Muslims hated the cross at certain times in history, but that can't be quantified in any real sense. Did all Muslims in what is today Indonesia hate the cross during, say, the 17th century? What about Buddhists? What about the peoples of the Americas before Columbus (or after Columbus for that matter)? And on and on.
JE comments: Excellent point. For hated symbols, I'm still going to go with the swastika.
A question on Muslim theology: given Islam's great veneration for Christ, wouldn't this also carry over to a respect for the cross? Perhaps Vincent Littrell can give us an answer.
The Cross Symbol and Islam
(Vincent Littrell, USA
08/07/13 5:00 PM)
On 7 August, John Eipper posed the following question:
"Given Islam's great veneration for Christ, wouldn't this also carry over to a respect for the cross?"
This is an interesting question, and not one I'd thought about from a broad perspective.
Indeed Islam accepts Jesus Christ as a Messenger of God. Meaning, Muslims do view Christ as a prophet of God, a revealer of God's holy word and a being of high spiritual station in relation to normal mankind. However, they don't view Jesus Christ as God Incarnate, as Trinitarian Christianity does.
Within Islam there is the widely held opinion that Jesus Christ did not die on the cross. This stems from Qur'anic verses 4:156-159, "That they rejected Faith; That they uttered against Mary a grave false charge; That they said (in boast): 'We killed Christ Jesus The son of Mary, The Messenger of Allah.' But they killed him not, Nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjunction to follow, for of a surety they killed him not. Nay, Allah raised him up Unto Himself; and Allah Is Exalted in Power, Wise. And there is none of the people of the book (Jews and Christians) But must believe in him (Jesus) Before his death; And on the Day of Judgment He (Jesus) will be a witness Against them."
Within Islam there is debate on precisely how Jesus ended up dying, but there is general agreement that he was not killed because of the crucifixion.* For example the Ahmadiyyih sect of Islam believes that Jesus died a natural death in Kashmir.
Now to the sign of the cross in Islam. I am not aware of formal theological doctrine stemming directly from the Qur'an or Hadith (traditions of sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) regarding the symbol of the cross and its meaning. I am no expert on Muslims in history regarding the cross as a sign of aggressive barbarism exemplified by the Muslim view of the Crusades. I can say that puritanical Salafists over the last few years have presented anti-Western propaganda videos on the Internet of US military chaplains using the cross in Christian worship service, in order to portray the US military as crusaders bent on destroying the Muslim world and as being mystically linked to the medieval crusaders of the past through the sign of the cross.
However, I'm not sure that much of mainstream "day-to-day" Islam views the sign of the cross in a negative light. During my time living in Qatar and Afghanistan, I can say that in souks, shops, and bazaars, Muslim merchants seeing me as a Westerner made efforts on a few occasions to sell me cross pendants and necklaces (this might be of course associated with a business-oriented pragmatism as opposed to a respect for the cross). I did however have an Afghan Muslim co-worker who wore a cross necklace that that he was happy to show me hanging under his shirt when working with Westerners, to show an affinity with us. Also, Muslims of my acquaintance recognizing that the sign of the cross is connected to Christianity and that they view Christians as God-sanctioned "peoples of the book," view the cross in the positive light of representing God's allowance for Christianity, which is to be respected. Of course in the realm of formal interfaith dialogue between Christians, Jews, and Muslims on Internet sites and documents representing joint statements of those religions' representatives, the cross is to seen co-located with the crescent representing Islam and the star of David representing Judaism. In fact, those who follow the World Parliament of Religion activities will always find these religious symbols and those of other faith traditions and religions on display together, to reflect the underlying essential unity of the world's religions.
*A quick side note: Of interest the Baha'i Faith, a religion believing in post-Islamic revelation and accepting of the Qur'an as the word of God, confirms the Baha'i belief that Jesus was indeed crucified, which then points to the question of how does one interpret Qur'anic Surahs 4:156-159? A possible Baha'i perspective on this might be that the spirit of Jesus transcended any notion of crucifixion, and as Jesus Himself once stated, "Let the Dead bury their Dead" (Luke 9:60). As such, concepts of life and death in Holy Scripture whether Biblical, Qur'anic or Baha'i, have meanings deeper than literal physical meanings. Thus Jesus, despite the crucifixion of his physical body, could never be killed. This points to the broader question of what death means in the spiritual literature.
JE comments: To sum up Vincent Littrell's interesting post, Islam accepts the cross as an iconic symbol of Christianity, even without acknowledging the crucifixion itself.
Edward Jajko (next in queue) has sent his thoughts on the topic of religious symbols in the modern Muslim world.
- Symbology, Israel, etc. (Edward Jajko, USA 08/08/13 4:15 AM)
In my years as a Middle East librarian in the Yale University Library and the Hoover Institution, I cataloged a couple of tens of thousands of books into those collections--Hebrew, Yiddish, and Arabic at Yale, and Arabic, Persian, and modern and Ottoman Turkish at the Hoover. I also trained catalogers and supervised their cataloging of hundreds, perhaps thousands of similar works.
Out of all those books, I wish I had kept author and title records of just two. One was an Israeli book in Hebrew that was shown to me by my superb assistant at Yale. We laughed at the book then and I still laugh at its recollection. But it is not relevant to the discussion of "swastika = Israel." The other was an Arabic book, published in Egypt and supplied by the Library of Congress PL-480 Program. I don't recall much about the book, other than that it was an anti-Israeli, anti-Zionist screed published during Nasser's Arab Socialist years. There was a Library of Congress catalog card that, in theory, made the cataloging job very easy. Put a temp slip in the shelf list, do a minimum amount of typing, print the call number in the book, put my initials in it and on the verso of the card along with the date, and send it along the production line.
But in this case it was clear that LC's cataloging was slapdash at best. It was likely done in the LC Field Office in Cairo, by Egyptian staff. A reviser should have caught the problem and corrected it. Instead, it was sent along. Production and statistics mattered. The cataloger had noted only that the book had illustrations. What the cataloger had failed to note, but I had immediately caught, was that the author--presumably--of the book had taken WWII cartoons by David Low (1891-1963), of the London Evening Standard, without attribution. These were anti-Nazi cartoons, very clearly so. The author--presumably--had removed Low's captions and replaced them with others about the State of Israel. The figure of Hitler in the cartoons became the representation of Israel.
The total absence of logic in this farce was made even more evident, in my recollection of a book I processed well over thirty years ago and have not seen since, in that in some cases the figures who stood in opposition to Hitler/Israel were clearly identifiable as either Churchill, John Bull, or the British bulldog, but were made to represent Arabs. If I recall correctly, in some cases the author had not removed all the original English captioning, so that some of the text within the cartoons remained.
I may be conflating two memories, of the purloined Low cartoons and WWII British propaganda cartoons that were in the Yale collections, intended for the Iranian audience, but I seem to recall the figure of the mythical Iranian king Zahhak, who was so evil that two devils popped up out of his shoulders, on either side of his head. In the cartoons, they were Mussolini and Tojo. Fudging these clearly identifiable faces as Israelis, Jews, or Zionists, well...
I added a note to the LC card identifying the source of the cartoons and an added entry for Low. I mention this book because it is highly unlikely that anyone else in WAIS has seen it or anything else like it, but I saw many items like it in my libraries and while I was a student in Cairo. In those latter years, just before the June '67 War, Israel was demonized and Nasser was glorified. The symbol of Egypt was the Nisr, the Eagle, and specifically Nisr Salah al-Din, the Eagle of Saladin, and Nasser was the new Saladin who would remove the Israelis as the Crusaders were removed. Well, not quite. Enmity and hate persist.
I haven't seem many publications from certain countries, like Yemen, but WAISers might be interested to know that some of the most virulently anti-Israeli and anti-Zionist material comes from Jordan, which has a peace treaty of sorts with Israel, made by the late King Hussein, friend of the West.
While I cannot recall any instance of "swastika =Israel," there is the book cited above. I remain puzzled by the crudity of a publication that, like most ordinary Egyptian books, was printed in a couple of thousand copies, tops, and would have been seen only by those with some education.
JE comments: Edward Jajko has shared a fascinating case of symbol "recycling." Given the anti-imperialist rhetoric of the Nasser movement, it's very strange that John Bull would be made to stand in for the Arabs. Or the bulldog for that matter, given Islam's disdain for dogs (versus cats, which are considered to be cleaner animals).
It would be very difficult to locate the book in question, but I'm sure the re-purposing of political cartoons has a long been a staple of the propagandist's toolbox.
- "Who Are We to Judge our Ancestors?" (Tor Guimaraes, USA 08/04/13 8:42 AM)
Keeping in mind that many Jews all over the world including Israel are very sympathetic to the Palestinian suffering at the hands of Israelis stealing and occupying their lands, John Heelan (3 August) stated as a rhetorical question:
"Can one make moral judgements on the behaviour of others without having stood in their shoes? But equally can the violent actions of Afghans and Palestinians in their own lands, which the West labels as 'terrorism,' be dismissed as immoral without recognising that to them they are facing seemingly insuperable challenges to life every day?"
Istvan Simon stated, "what one should not do is to make moral judgments about those who had to deal with savage, inhumane, and unprecedented persecution without having experienced on their own skin any remotely similar situation." So would he be contradicting himself to some degree by totally rejecting the comparison of today's Palestinians with the Holocaust victims of 70 years ago? Personally, I do not accept the moral equivalency of the Israeli government with the Nazi regime. However, my opinion and Istvan's are not important. We should ask the opinion of people presently suffering the "savage, inhumane, and unprecedented persecution" if they see any moral equivalency. Also, today's Israelis are much more dependent and sensitive to world opinion than the Nazis were. How much more of a moral equivalency would there be if the Israelis in power did not have to worry about world opinion?
JE comments: I'm confident that Istvan will find no moral equivalency here--but many in the world do see a parallel. In fact, I've received a number of responses to my comment from earlier today on the "Star of David = swastika" graffiti I encountered years ago in Spain. Stay tuned!
- Jewish Collaborators with the Nazis (Bienvenido Macario, USA 08/01/13 4:50 AM)
When commenting Nigel Jones's post of 31 July, JE wrote:
"I am particularly intrigued by the possibility that [Simon] Wiesenthal may have been a concentration-camp Kapo, although this status did not ensure one's survival in the camps. Often the Kapos were singled out for execution after they were no longer 'useful' to their overlords.
"Of relevance here may be the experience of Calel Perechodnik, a Jewish Pole who collaborated with the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto police. His book Am I a Murderer? is one of the most brutal--and brutally honest--memoirs of the Holocaust. Among other things, Perechodnik personally placed his wife and child on a train bound for Treblinka."
YouTube has an interesting documentary series about Nazi Collaborators. Episode 01 of 13 is about Chaim Rumkowski, who was definitely a collaborator and considered a traitor. He was handpicked to lead the Lodz Jewish Council to help the Nazis send his own people to the death camps. Later he volunteered along with his wife to be shipped to one of the camps. One account was that he was killed in Auschwitz by the Germans. In another version, it was his fellow Jews whom he sent over there earlier who killed him and his wife.
His Warsaw counterpart Adam Czerniaków collaborated in a similar capacity for two years, but when he realized what was happening and was asked to send children to their deaths, he committed suicide by taking a cyanide pill on July 23, 1942.
The question asked was whether collaborators like Rumkowski had any choice. Czerniaków's suicide didn't stop the deportation and slaughter, but is it possible his suicide inspired the Warsaw uprising on January 13, 1943? The uprising coincided with the resumption of the deportation after a four-month break.
See Nazi Collaborators--Episode 01 of 13--Chaim Rumkowski:
There were even German Jews who actually fought for Hitler. See: Nazi Collaborators German Jews-- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kX1hvGT-Oj0
I have not watched all of the Nazi collaborator series but so far, I know of no such collaborator who was not charged and tried for treason. It is only Filipino traitors and collaborators who were allowed to remain in power even after Japan, Germany and Italy were defeated. They even persecuted the genuine guerrillas who fought against the Japanese alongside the Americans.
JE comments: Bienvenido Macario raises a very important question: did these collaborators have any choice--beyond, of course, accepting a certain death? Calel Perechodnik, who didn't survive the war, grapples with this question in the very title of his book: Am I a Murderer?
- Simon Wiesenthal (Siegfried Ramler, USA 08/02/13 4:07 AM)
I am not in a position to make any additional authentic comment on the role played by Simon Wiesenthal as the most visible hunter of Nazi war criminals. When I gave a talk at the University of Vienna about two years ago in connection with the German-language version of my book Nuremberg and Beyond, his name did not come up during the discussion period. Neither the symposium panelists, history scholars at the university, nor I raised issues related to Simon Wiesenthal's role.
Whatever one might say about his personality, such as his ego and his preoccupation with publicity, there is no doubt that he made an important impact in locating war criminals and in bringing them to justice. Indeed he was widely and internationally honored for his contributions.
Simon Wiesenthal was both a victim and an avenger. Before making any judgment about his role in the camps, we need to be conscious of the terrible dilemmas faced by inmates confronting survival or death.
JE comments: Our colleague Paul Pitlick and his wife Jan have been visiting our home for the last couple of days, and last night Siegfried Ramler came up in our conversation. (Were your ears buzzing, Siegfried?) Jan especially enjoyed flipping through my copy of Nuremberg and Beyond--a marvelous book that should be in every WAISer's library.
David Pike knew Simon Wiesenthal well. David's comment is next in the queue.
- Sir Simon Wiesenthal (David Pike, France 08/02/13 4:18 AM)
I thought it best to wait a bit before entering the discussion on Simon Wiesenthal, or rather Sir Simon Wiesenthal, since he was knighted by the Queen.
I was Simon Wiesenthal's friend for more than 20 years. I first met him around 1980, in the experience that everyone had who wanted to meet him in Vienna. You would enter a draper's store, identify yourself to the satisfaction of the lady manager, who then gave you an address. Climbing the staircase to his office apartment, the visitor was confronted by a uniformed policeman with a sub-machine gun.
In the long course of our friendship, I proposed to my University's president Glenn Ferguson (formerly Lyndon Johnson's ambassador to Kenya) that Simon Wiesenthal be awarded the University's doctorate honoris causa. I presented the laudatio, which was recorded in audio and video, and this laudation was later translated and published in the Vienna press. I should like Nigel Jones (July 31) to explain the "false claims" made about Simon's academic career.
I was only too familiar with the quarrels between Simon and Chancellor Bruno Kreisky, and between Simon and the World Jewish Congress. I also know, because he told me so, that a good one-third of what was said and done by Rabbi Marvin Hier's Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles was abhorrent to him: "It belongs to Hollywood." I examined all the disputes carefully. I never had any reason to change my opinion, or temper my admiration for Simon. If I had less to do, I would reopen my archives.
I notice that this issue has drawn considerable attention. There is one side-issue to it that might be mentioned here, on the subject of academics and journalism. It was in 1962, when Ronald Hilton was addressing the HAS Seminar at Stanford, that he made a point that struck me by its clarity. He was incensed that some academic somewhere had said, "He's only a journalist." Ronald Hilton's response: "There are good journalists and there are hack journalists, just as there are good professors and there are hack professors."
I know nothing of Guy Walters. Does he actually write that Simon Wiesenthal "was most probably a Kapo"? Nigel Jones wrote, "Only this can explain [Wiesenthal's] otherwise ‘miraculous' survival in the camps. I think it was guilt over this, not zeal for the truth, that fueled his post-war career."
Simon Wiesenthal was indeed a survivor, that much is true. He even survived the 1945 death march to the last camp, KL Mauthausen, which has been my study for 28 years and is the background to my coming feature film. In my books, and in the film itself, Simon has made his way from the Death Block (Block 20, where death is by programmed starvation) to the Appellplatz, where the first Sherman tank of Patton's Third Army has just entered the gates. My books recount, and the film displays, Simon crawling towards the tank, "just to touch it," but he passes out before quite reaching it.
The matter of the Kapo designation requires some precision. In general, there is no greater term of abuse to level at a survivor than to call him a Kapo. Those who were privileged in a KL fall into two groups: the Kapos and the Prominenten. In most cases, the Kapos were in charge of work details, and priority was always given by the SS to those wearing Green triangles (the criminal class). The Prominenten were all those prisoners with a trade (clerks, doctors of medicine, photographers, masons, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, cooks, etc.). Together they represented 15 percent of the total. The remaining 85 percent were destined to die. It is obvious that every survivor did his best to win a "job," and the prisoners' "resistance" network was active in steering the "jobs" to those they favored politically (a story in itself). The Prominenten slept in separate blocks, and ate better than the mass, but not that much better, and not as well as the Kapos. The life of the Kapos, however, was more precarious, and if they fell out of favor with the SS and lost their Kapoship, they could expect to be beaten to death on their return to their blocks. The SS didn't care about that.
The term Kapo is therefore imprecise, but should not be confused with the role of a Prominenter. Far more important to look for is the designation (the color) of the Triangle. For the SS, there always had to be some prisoner responsible for the unit, under of course an SS NCO responsible for the unit.
And so to Simon Wiesenthal, and the abuse heaped upon him. I have too much respect for Wiesenthal the man, and the cause to which he devoted his life, ever to think that he needs to be defended against the forces of envy and malice.
JE comments: My thanks to David Pike for this fascinating portrait of Sir Simon Wiesenthal. Just to locate him in Vienna was an adventure in itself.
David's Mauthausen feature film Too Close, due for production in 2014, will definitely be an exciting event for WAISworld. I hope David will keep us updated on the film's progress, as well as its much-anticipated launch.
Mauthausen Film, "Too Close"
(David Pike, France
08/03/13 4:26 AM)
As a followup to my post of 2 August, I would be very pleased to share the attached film presentation for Too Close (A Love Story). The more WAISers interested, the better.
Ronald Hilton was my very first backer on this project, when I first hit pay dirt in Madrid in November 2006. There is a whole story about the progress and the regress of the film since that time. I don't think any theme could be more controversial than a love story involving two SS, and then the job of getting Austria to look at itself in the mirror. We are all in agreement: we shoot the film in Germany, but in English (no Art House movie, please!), with mainly German stars (apart from the two Spanish heroes) in order to secure the German film funding support.
I will certainly keep WAISers updated, and thank you all for your interest.
JE comments: Click here to access the film presentation. I'm very excited about the prospect that three of my favorite actors, John Malkovich, Viggo Mortensen, and Daniel Brühl, might be working together on the film. I loved Brühl's work in Goodbye, Lenin and Joyeux Noël, but I did not know until a Wikipedia check that he is fluent in five languages--German, English, French, Spanish and Catalan. Sign that man up for WAIS! (Viggo Mortensen is no language slouch either: he speaks perfect Spanish with an Argentine accent, as well as Danish. Viggo was even a Spanish major in college, at St Lawrence University in Canton, New York. Gotta be impressed by that!)
Too Close promises to be the WAIS film par excellence--I look forward to David Pike's updates on the casting, filming and production.
- on Concentration Camp "Kapos" (Robert Whealey, USA 08/03/13 5:30 AM)
WAIS should be happy to see David Pike's careful definition of a Kapo (2 August). I was one of imprecise abusers of the word Kapo in reviewing David's first book on KL Mauthausen. I hope he has forgiven my sloppy review of his excellent book, which did not get as much attention as it deserved at the time.
JE comments: I'm sure Robert Whealey's review wasn't sloppy--but I post Bob's note verbatim. If the review is available on-line, I'll be glad to publish the link.
To take the job of "kapo" in a concentration camp was a serious risk, as David Pike pointed out: although you received nominally better treatment, you were immediately despised by your fellow inmates.
- on Concentration Camp "Kapos" (Robert Whealey, USA 08/03/13 5:30 AM)
- Symbology, Israel, etc. (Edward Jajko, USA 08/08/13 4:15 AM)
- The Cross Symbol and Islam (Vincent Littrell, USA 08/07/13 5:00 PM)
- Most Hated Symbol in History? (Roy Domenico, USA 08/07/13 4:40 AM)
- Most Hated Symbol in History? (David Duggan, USA 08/06/13 10:58 AM)
- Swastika Graffiti (John Heelan, UK 08/04/13 3:43 PM)
- Catalan Fiscal Balances vis-a-vis Spain (Jordi Molins, Spain 08/06/13 9:36 AM)
- Swastika Graffiti in Catalunya (Henry Levin, USA 08/06/13 3:45 AM)
- Swastika Graffiti in Catalunya (Jordi Molins, Spain 08/05/13 3:31 AM)
- Swastika Graffiti in Catalunya (Henry Levin, USA 08/04/13 1:17 PM)
- "Who Are We to Judge our Ancestors?" (John Heelan, UK 08/03/13 4:00 AM)
- "Who Are We to Judge our Ancestors?" (Leo Goldberger, USA 08/03/13 3:41 AM)
- "Who Are We to Judge our Ancestors?" (Istvan Simon, USA 08/02/13 10:04 AM)
- "Who Are We to Judge our Ancestors?" (Luciano Dondero, Italy 08/01/13 5:03 AM)
- Guy Walters on Simon Wiesenthal (Istvan Simon, USA 08/01/13 4:30 AM)
- Simon Wiesenthal (Nigel Jones, UK 07/31/13 4:00 AM)
- Martin Bormann's Remains (Randy Black, USA 07/29/13 4:25 AM)
- High-Level Nazis Post-WWII: Martin Bormann's Remains (Nigel Jones, UK 07/29/13 4:08 AM)
- High-Level Nazis Post-WWII (Istvan Simon, USA 07/28/13 4:18 AM)
- Stauffenberg and the July Plotters (Istvan Simon, USA 07/26/13 5:20 AM)