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The Holocaust – We Must Remember – Michael Shermer – Why People Believe Weird Things

THE HOLOCAUST: WE MUST REMEMBER 

30-Hour Series of Interviews broadcast on the Roger Fredinburg Radio Program

3-4-1998 Nineteenth Program in Series

Guest: Michael Shermer

Book: WHY PEOPLE BELIEVE WEIRD THINGS:

Pseudoscience, Superstition and Other Confusions of Our Times

ISBN-10: 0805070893 and ISBN-13: 978- 0805070897

michael Shermerweird2

Roger: Welcome once again, ladies and gentlemen. I’m glad to continue this series. We’re about through with the series. I think there’s may two more weeks left, as I recall. It’s just been a joy for me to be able to go into this in such detail as we have; to talk to survivors and story tellers of history; fascinating, exciting, fun. As we reach a climax here, we enter into another realm and issues become a little more convoluted.

Tonight we have a really incredible guest; someone I’ve been looking forward to having on the program for some time now. His name is Michael Shermer. He’s the editor of Sceptic Magazine, the director of The Skeptic Society and he’s written an incredible book. We’ll get into more of the details of the book in the 3rd hour of the program this evening. He’s written a wonderful book called, “Why People Believe Weird Things.” He talks about pseudoscience and superstition and other confusions of our time; but, right now, because it is the holocaust series, we’re talking about pseudo-history; what people deny—and many people do deny the holocaust— and what is the truth about the subject. Michael Shermer, welcome to the program!

Michael S: Good evening.

Roger: Nice to have you here, sir! Listen, Michael, I want to focus on the  surrounding the holocaust, mostly I want to talk in-depth about this whole concept of denial which you cover quite nicely in your book.

First of all, who does say, as your chapter is entitled, that The Holocaust Never Happened and why do they say it?

Michael S: Right! Those are the two big questions! What I try to cover in “Why People Believe Weird Things,” is a lot of different subjects dealing with pseudoscience and its twin sister, what you’ve labeled as pseudo-history. I think that is a good title because pseudoscience is the attempt to use science to make it look like your claims are true even though you’re not really doing science. Pseudo-history is similar to that, in which you want to distort some past record for your present political or ideological purposes. But, you can’t just do that blindly because you want to make it look academic and scholarly.

So, the people who do this actually adapt the apparatus of scholarship by publishing in a journal called The Journal of Historical Review which sounds innocuous enough! It sounds like some academic journal. But, when you look at it you realize, “oh, wait a minute! There’s something else going on here.” So, that’s the context in my book of why that’s in there.

The short answer to your question is lots of people deny it or revise it. There’s quite a variation amongst them like there is in any social movement or group. Within the members they have their own disagreements about what they believe, their own doctrinaire arguments. But, we can kind of boil down their arguments which we’ll do in a minute. But, let me just finish answering that question.

Roger:  Michael, we’ve got two hours here. Don’t boil things down too much! I want all the details, Michael! Go ahead!

Michael S: Sure! The central group is out of Newport Beach, California. It’s called the Institute for Historical Review. They’re the ones that publish the journal, as I told you, The Journal of Historical Review. They’re in southern California, I’m in southern California, the Skeptic’s office here is in Altadena –they’re in Newport Beach –it’s an hour drive. So, like we do with anything we investigate here at Skeptic Magazine, I really want to meet the people and talk to them. I want to sit down and look them in the eyes and really get to know them as a way to find out that question of who, why and so on! Most people who have dealt with holocaust deniers would never meet them because they’re so infuriated by their claims, they feel it would be an insult to even be in the same room with them. I understand that because many of these people are survivors and there is an emotional component. For me, I felt like I wanted to get inside their head, sit down and have lunch and dinner and spend the weekend at their conference.

Roger:  Good investigative journalism!

Michael S:   Yes, I think so. Gosh! I even had one of these guys up to my house. We sat and ate pizza and talked about this stuff. Then the barriers start to break down and they start saying things that they’re never going to say on a talk show. You know, saying “those Jews, they do this and they do that!” They’ll never say that on a talk show; but, they may say it after a beer and a couple of slices of pizza.

Then a weekend of chit-chat at the conference where there’s the lectures then the interesting stuff; the break time conversations with people where you mill around the room and work your way into a little circle of people having conversations. Then you hear things like, “well, you know, there’s this Jewish conspiracy, the cabal, the cabal in England.” This is like David Irving in England, for example, the British historian who has slowly converted into becoming a holocaust revisionist or denier. I overheard him telling a couple of his fans about the Jewish cabal that was operating covertly to squelch his book sales and his book distribution in bookstores in England. You’ll never hear that written down anywhere! He’s certainly not going to say that on a talk show!

You have to actually get inside to find out what’s going on. I didn’t do it covertly. I just went in and said, “I’m Michael Shermer of Skeptic Magazine. What’s this all about?” They actually embraced me initially because they consider themselves skeptics. They’re skeptical of the holocaust.

Okay, fair enough! Anybody can be skeptical of anything they want in America. That’s fine! That’s what America is all about! But, they soon found out that skepticism isn’t a position you take on something just for grins. You have to actually investigate it. If the claims hold up with evidence, then you become skeptical of the skeptics, which is what I ended up becoming. I didn’t really know that much about what they were doing or even that much about the holocaust. I mean, I knew what most people know; but, not much beyond that. To actually understand what they’re doing, it’s not enough to understand the holocaust, you have to understand their particular claim.

Roger:  Is this Institute established around the single theory that the holocaust didn’t happen the way history depicts it?

Michael S:  That’s their main focus. In principle, no! In principle, they’re willing to investigate any interesting historical event. For example, they occasionally have articles about who really killed Lincoln or did Roosevelt and Churchill know about Pearl Harbor before it happened? That kind of stuff!

Roger:  So, it’s conspiracy-oriented?

Michael S: But, that’s really rare. Every issue has two or three articles on the holocaust, on the Jews, on Israel. There’s always that theme.

Roger: Is there that big a market for that stuff?

Michael S:  Ha, ha! Well, it’s not a huge circulation journal. As near as I’ve been able to figure, it’s around 4,000 to 5,000 people who get this journal. There is, in a sense, probably a lot of right-wing money, some neo-Nazi money, some old German money—-there’s a lot of grumpy old white guys that don’t like what they see in the world and it’s convenient to blame Jewish groups. It’s easy to target them because they’re very visual in the media, in films, on the news, in holocaust museums and Israel’s in the news a lot. So, it’s an easy target for them because they see it and read it every day. Once you have the conspiracy mindset — think of the film “Conspiracy Theory” with Mel Gibson where the guy clips newspapers every day. It’s easy to do that once you have the theory in your head to look at the newspaper and just clip things, “Oh, look! This bank hired “Goldstein”! You see? See those Jews? They’re running the banks, just like they always said!” It’s easy to find evidence to fit your theory once you have the theory. That’s what they do!

So, every issue of The Journal of Historical Review has a number of articles, even when they’re not directly related, they’re at least indirectly related. They’ll have articles that pertain to some other historical event; but, somehow the Jews are involved either directly or indirectly, and it still comes back to that. They had one last year on the Inquisition; that the Inquisition wasn’t really as bad as we’ve always heard it to be.

(Reader)          What?   Who says that?

(TJHR)            We do!

(Reader)          Why?

(TJHR)           Because the Jews have portrayed this as a much worse event than it really was!

(Reader)          What does that have to do with anything?

(TJHR)            Because the Jews are always exaggerating the traumas and miseries of history because they use that for their moral leverage against the rest of us just like they do today in order to gain moral authority for support for Israel.

That’s their line of reasoning.

Roger:  Who are some of the people involved and do they have any real impact on others around the country?

Michael S:      The major figures involved are the Director of the Institute for Historical Review is Mark Weber. He has a master’s degree in history. He’s a pretty thoughtful, intelligent and very well read individual. He’s got a huge library. His partner is a guy named Greg Raven who is pretty amateur at the whole thing. Weber’s really the brains behind it. That’s who kind of runs the show down there in Newport Beach.

Around the country and elsewhere, Ernst Zundel in Toronto is a sort of “free speech” guy. Anytime he can get media attention for his cause— You see, what happens is in Canada they don’t have the freedom of speech quite as liberally as we do so they have these “hate” laws. Most countries have “hate speech” laws and Canada has one too. It’s more liberal than Europe; but, nothing like Americans. So, they’ll nail Zundel on hate speech things because he’s got a webpage, or he publishes a newsletter, or his literature or whatever. What they don’t realize is that Zundel really likes that! That’s what he gets attention from!

The worst thing that could happen to these holocaust revisionists is if they were completely ignored. They like lawsuits and controversy! That’s how they get attention for their cause. It’s sort of an interesting thing. If somebody boycotts them or firebombs them or whatever, they use that to their advantage. For example, two years ago somebody firebombed Zundel’s house. He has a home office in Toronto. I’ve been there. It’s a two-story place. I was there right after the firebombing. When I went there a couple of big goons came to the door. Honestly, they were a couple of 6’2” blond haired, blue-eyed Aryan-type studs, his bodyguards. Ha, ha!

Roger: Ha, ha!

Michael S: They’re looking at me and I’m looking at them thinking, “Whoa! What am I getting myself into here?” They were his protectors, his bodyguards. It’s really kind of interesting. But, he was utilizing the fact that his house burnt down, getting a lot of publicity.

They were getting mass mailings out to their supporters. The mailings had a #9 postage paid return envelopes with a form to fill out with a check box to indicate how much money you wanted to donate to the cause. The cause is not just the generic issues of what really happened in the holocaust; but, now the Jews are trying to stop us! The Jews are firebombing our houses! We’ve got to do something about it! They were waving the red meat, as politicians like to say, in order to get the troops in support.

Roger: What is their basic theory. I mean, it must center around something. Is there some evidence in history I’ve overlooked that would cause people to believe that the holocaust didn’t happen the way it is depicted?

Michael S: Their theory is around a three-pronged axis. You have to really get into their literature to understand what’s going on. It’s not enough to know a lot about the holocaust to debate or argue with these guys. For example, I’ve seen historians–an historian was on Montel Williams’ show with Mark Weber and a couple of the other ones— they just ate this guy alive. He looked like an idiot and they were coming up with these obscure little minutiae points about the holocaust in camps and gas chambers. He just didn’t know! I mean, why should he?

Little points like, for example, the door on the gas chamber at u doesn’t lock. So what? Well, their argument is that if it doesn’t lock, how would they have kept the victims in there once they started pouring the gas in? Wouldn’t they try to escape? Yes. But, until you go there and investigate that particular question, which I did, and it took me six months to find out that it isn’t the original door. After the war parts and bits and pieces of the camp were dismantled. Decades later it was all put back together as a museum. You go there now and the camps are museums; sort of like monuments and museums to go pay your respect. They’re not reconstructed to be exact replicas! That door is not the original door! The original door was lost back in 1947! So, they just stuck another door there that kind of fit. That’s why it doesn’t lock.

But, if you don’t know that, and this guy on Montel’s show didn’t, you’d be sitting there on national television going, “Aw, gee! I don’t know!” and the extrapolation from that point of view is that if they couldn’t lock the door, then obviously, that wasn’t a homicidal gas chamber. That was a gas chamber probably used for delousing.   This is one of the three points.

So, point one is that the gas chambers and crematoria found at the camps were not used for mass homicide. They were used for delousing purposes only. Now, obviously, you can’t deny gas chambers and crematoria! There they are! They’re still there! You can go there right now and see them, so how can you deny that? They don’t! They just say that they had a different purpose. Let’s be honest, there’s no video tape or film of Nazis herding victims into gas chambers and gassing them! They didn’t make those kinds of films. There’s no photographs of this per se, that are really clear and it’s obvious what’s going on. There’s no order from Hitler to do this. So, proving it is more indirectly, which is what most history is, proved indirectly. You know, it’s a past event. So, that’s their first point.

The second point of the three axis is that there was no intention on the part of the Nazis to exterminate European Jewry. Yes, lot’s of them died and the revisionists all argue amongst themselves about what that number is; but, it wasn’t 6 million, they say. It was a low as half a million and as high as maybe 2 million. That’s the range they give. But, significantly lower enough that the 6 million figure looks suspiciously like a made-up conspiratorial figure constructed to make the holocaust look much worse than it really was in order to have this moral leverage over people, and so on. So, they say there was no intention on the part of the Nazis.

For example, David Irving, back in 1977 after the publication of his book, “Hitler’s War,” which is a fine piece of scholarship—this was in Irving’s early days before he’d really gone over into holocaust revisionist side—he kind of made Hitler out not to be a “good guy” or not even a “not bad guy” just a sort of incompetent fellow who really didn’t have the kind of control and power he’s always been given in the history books; that people were doing things behind the scenes that he didn’t know about. At that time Irving said, “The holocaust happened without Hitler’s approval” Goebbels did it, Goering was part of it, and Himmler, and so on; but, Hitler really didn’t know what was going on. He was out of it! He was busy with other things. So, he was kind of exonerating Hitler in a way. And, that was in the early stages!

In 1977 he put out $1,000 challenge to anybody who could find a document with Hitler’s name on it in which he orders the extermination of the Jews. Well, nobody has found such a thing.   We think we know why! Because Hitler was smart enough to know not to put things like that in writing. We know, for example, that in 1936 he did put out a written order to euthanize mentally retarded Germans! Not Jews, but actual mentally retarded Germans as part of a eugenics program of the whole Aryan program they had going! That came back to haunt him later in the courts. He got big legal hassles about that because you’re not supposed to euthanize people without the permission of the families. Sterilization also!   From that point on, he just didn’t put those things in writing. So, that’s one answer to that. That’s the second prong.

The third one is the 6 million figure. That it wasn’t 6 million. It’s the 6 million figure they doubt, the intentionality question and the mechanism, gas chambers and crematoria.

Roger: Do you know how the 6 million figure is arrived at? And, why it is that they refute it?

Michael S: I do! It’s actually a pretty interesting question. It’s far more complex than I ever would have imagined. I thought it would be something where a short chapter in a book explains it. It’s not! There’s volumes and volumes written about this.

The 6 million figure is arrived at by a triangulation process of looking at demographic figures of towns and cities and counties throughout all of Europe before the war— 1930, 1935,1940. Then looking at demographic figures after the war taken in consensus by the Allies as part of the repatriation program. They also look at, as part of the third prong of the triangulation, is shipments/exportations of people out of towns. There are some good records of this. The Nazis kept decent records of the shipments of Jews from one town to another and out of this country and into another country. Then you can also double and triple check these figures by looking at the camp records to see how many people entered any given camp, how many people escaped, how many people were deported to another camp, how many people were left upon liberation of the camp in 1944-1945. You piece all this together and it’s a complex story! Nobody actually knows how many died! So, what you end up with is a range of anywhere from 5.1 million on the low side by Raul Hilberg who is very conservative in these figures to as high 6-7 million on the more liberal estimates of that.

Roger: Alright. We’ve got to take a break. Hang on! Michael Shermer is our guest, ladies and gentlemen. He’s the editor of Skeptic Magazine. He’s the president of “The Skeptics Society”. His book which is really awesome and goes well beyond this issue is, “Why People Believe Weird Things.” We’ll come back and continue this discussion and take phone calls as this shows progresses.

COMMERCIAL BREAK

Roger:   Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen. The holocaust special continues! Our guest is Michael Shermer. I want you all to pay attention when we tell you how to get this book because you’ll find, as we move into the third hour, it goes well beyond this subject; but, it’s really cool!

Really cool! “Why People Believe Weird Things” by Michael Shermer.

Michael, as I look at these issues around the holocaust— you know, being on radio over the years we get a lot of calls from really interesting people, as you might well imagine–and one of the common threads or themes seems to be this component of Christianity that the people first identify themselves as Christians and then deny the holocaust. What’s the parallel there?

Michael S:  Ah! Right! Now, the psychology gets even more interesting. There’s a long history of Christian persecutions of Jews all the way up to and including the holocaust! The Pope has only recently acknowledged that the Catholic church really should have had a bigger role in doing something to help the Jews or at least acknowledged that this was happening. It goes all the way back to who killed Christ and all this kind of stuff. You’ll sometimes see in extreme…. we’ve got to be careful here, I don’t want to say a majority of Christians think this at all; but, extreme right-wing Christian groups, particularly those that are affiliated with the Christian Identity Movement, a lot of militias, right-wing millenial cult-type groups, that’s where you see this!

Roger: Yes! These folks say, “I am a patriot!” Then you probe a little further and you find out they’re part of the Christian Identity Movement. What the hell is that?

Michael S: The holocaust denial stuff is only a small part of a much larger anti-semitic general persecution of Jews. That’s what it’s really part of. They actually don’t know that much, nor care that much about the holocaust.

Roger: But, they say the Jews are not the Jews. They say the Jews aren’t the Jews! That they’re some other race that sneaked in and claimed they’re the Jews! What is that stuff?

Michael S: Yes, that’s right.   Different groups have different versions. Degeneration, a degenerated human race, not one of the original tribes of God’s people and this sort of thing.

Roger: Is there evidence to support those arguments?

Michael S: No! Absolutely none! Actually, when you talk to a lot of these people they’ve never even met a Jew. They’ve never even sat and talked to a Jew. They have no clue what the Jewish community or culture or life is like. They get all of this from newsletters, from webpages, from gossip and rumors. They don’t know the first thing about this. It’s like this neo-Nazi fellow that came out of the closet two years ago with his book, I forget the title, something about “Fuhrer.” He was head of a neo-Nazi group in Germany and then he realized how idiotic it was and he kinda quit! They all hate him now! But, one of the things that struck me while reading his book is that he said, “I never even met a Jew, I’d never even seen a Jew and I hated Jews! When I met one I realized that this guy is just like me. He’s just a person. None of this stuff that they say is true. It’s just nonsense!” Ha, ha! It was really revealing and intellectually honest of him to say that.

Roger: Listen, I’ve got to do a couple of ads here. Then I want you to tell me, what is the best weapon to use that you’re aware of? I know you’ve been on Oprah and Donohue and all these programs. Maybe you can give us some tools to use to defend against some of this. Then we’ll take some calls. Hang on just a bit and we’ll be right back.

COMMERCIAL BREAK

Roger: Alright, Michael, just give us a few tools that we can use to combat this insanity!

Michael S: First of all, it’s a terrible idea to get into a debate with one of these very knowledgeable revisionists without learning their literature. They really know their history quite well. It’s not enough to know a lot about the holocaust, you’ve got to know their stuff as well. Again, those three specific claims can be refuted with specific answers.

For example, on the 6 million figure, we went through just how that’s calculated. They claim the people are simply not missing. They’re still alive out there somewhere. They were shipped off to Peoria or Siberia or wherever. You just simply ask, “Well, where are they?” Why aren’t they making themselves known? It’s like saying the angels exist. The burden of proof is on you to show me where they are! You can’t just say they’ve disappeared. We do have good records for that.

In the case of the intentionality question, I showed why there is not written letter from Hitler. But, we have lots and lots of indirect evidence! Cumulative evidence from SS guards, for example, who after the war, we have their letters and diaries and their own confessions in which they said, “Yes, it was really disgusting! It was gross! It was awful, the things that were going on in the camps.” They describe Auschwitz as the anus of the world! It was a horrible, horrible place–these purges and mass exterminations! They talk about that kind of stuff!
In my book I actually reproduce this letter because David Irving and I got into this big discussion, this big debate about the meaning on “ausrottung” which is the German word for extermination. According to Irving, it doesn’t really mean extermination, it means “to get rid of,” as in “shipping off to Siberia” or something like this, not “to kill”. Well, I found a letter from an SS doctor talking about lice, in which he said, “we must ausrottung the lice.” What was he talking about—shipping the lice off on little mini-trains somewhere?

Roger: Ha, ha, ha!

Michael S: No! He was talking about killing them! I also got a memo from one of the generals involved in Bastogne, you know the Battle of the Bulge, the surrounding of the American troops in Bastogne. He sent this telegram to the Nazi general there saying, “We must ausrottung the troops! One by one, ausrottung them!” Well, they’re not talking about transporting Americans back to America. KILL THEM is what they meant! So, “ausrottung” means what it means. It means to exterminate, to kill.

They get into these kind of word games so you really have to study in advance, what they’re doing. I’ve done that. In my book I’ve outlined, point by point, if this is their claim, this is the answer.   The answers are there but you have to look for them in specific cases. A holocaust historian won’t know a lot of the answers to these questions because they are irrelevant questions. Irrelevant to everybody but them.

Roger: Right, okay! So, I can take those pages out of your book I suppose and copy them off to have them handy to fight some of this stuff when it comes up. Ha, ha! Because it’ll drive you crazy, believe me! And, there’s a lot more of them out there than I thought there were. I mean, they’re out there! These little newspapers and newsletters are everywhere!

Michael S: Yes! And, webpages proliferate the information even more. See, they only have to plant a seed of doubt in people’s’ minds. They don’t have to construct a history, they just have to plant a seed of doubt about some of the historical record to get people thinking along those lines.

Roger: Let me ask you the ultimate question, then we’ll go to phones. Do these people present any danger to the rest of us or are they just nuts?

Michael S:  Oh, no! They’re not nuts! No, when you get to know them you see they’re pretty smart, regular folks–regular in a generic sense. They’re not crazy. Are they dangerous? Well, it depends what you mean by dangerous. I think in a country like America where people are free to do what they want, we’re free to refute them! That’s a good way to operate, in the light of facts, they will collapse! I’m against the idea of censoring them or locking them up or preventing them from publishing their stuff simply because that’s how they get more miles out of their cause. Just go ahead and let them publish it and we’ll refute it. That’ll be that and eventually they’ll just go away.

Roger: So, don’t make a big issue out of it is what you’re saying?

Michael S: I don’t think you need to make a big issue about it. Okay, here’s an analogy: The Flat Earth Society, right? We don’t have to bother with them. There’s like 12 people on the entire planet who think the earth is flat. No big deal!

Roger: I’ve been accused of belonging! Ha, ha!

Michael S: Ha, ha! But, when a claim gets big enough that it’s in the public eye; where there are news stories, trials, lawsuits or whatever, trying to get it into the public schools –that’s when it should get the attention of us skeptics and we want to do something about it! They are big enough to pose a threat in the sense that somebody needs to step up and refute their claims.

Roger: That makes sense to me! Real quick–how do people get your book? I know you have a new one coming out. How do they find those?

Michael S: “Why People Believe Weird Things,” is carried in virtually every bookstore in America. All the chains carry it. It’s published by W.H. Freeman. The same stores carry Skeptic Magazine and we deal with lots of different controversies, not just the holocaust stuff. That’s how they can get it, or they can order from the Skeptic Magazine office. We have a book catalogue. Our phone number is 626-794-3119 . Anyone can call and order the book or magazine or just order general information and we’re happy to send it out.

Roger:  I’ll talk to you off the air about an order, I want to get a magazine or two. Ladies and gentlemen, we’ll be right back with Michael Shermer. Hang on!

COMMERCIAL BREAK

Roger:  Micheal Shermer is here with us, ladies and gentlemen. Michael, are you ready to take some phone calls. Let’s go to Adrian in Coquille, Oregon.

Caller-Adrian: Okay, guys! Here’s from Simon Wiesenthal. I was in the 11th Armored Division when we liberated Mauthausen. “On May 5, 1945 at 10:00 am the first tanks of the 11th Armored Division of the U.S. Army arrived at the Mauthausen concentration camp. I was an inmate of the death block of the warden of the camp.”

Michael S: You were?

Caller-Adrian: No! Simon Wiesenthal was imprisoned in various ghettos and camps, the last one being u. He was put on the death block where they received no more than a cup of soup and a tiny crust of bread every day. “Some of the prisoners on the block died of starvation on the day of the liberation. Some of the soldiers of the 11th Armored Division tried to help us in every way they could, giving prisoners food from their own rations. Having found several hundred dead bodies in Mathausen, the Nazis had no longer been able to burn them in the crematorium. The Americans organized a burial in a mass grave. They rounded up all the Nazi Party members from Mauthausen and the surrounding area and made them dig trenches and bury the dead.”

Roger: Alright, Adrian, what’s the point? What are you saying?

Caller-Adrian: This is Simon Wiesenthal.

Roger: Yes, the Simon Wiesenthal Foundation. We’re all familiar with it.

Caller-Adrian:  This is the man and he says that every year they have a sort of a shrine thing over there at Mauthausen to bestow a gold medal on him. He thought it was a great thing and he spoke mainly about the liberation day at Mauthausen and their gratitude to the U.S. Army and the 11th Armored Division for liberating them. His speech was very well received by all who were present.   I was there and I saw it.

Roger: You saw it! So, you’re pretty sure it happened, Adrian? Ha, ha!

Caller-Adrian: Oh, you’d better believe it!   I was there!

Michael S: I’ll tell you what the holocaust revisionists would say to that. They’d say, “Look, we’ve never denied that hundreds of thousands of Jews died in these camps due to starvation, disease, overcrowding, overwork, and so on. Any time you see pictures or films or testimony like you just heard, that can easily be explained as part of the several hundred thousand that we’re willing to go along with that they say were killed or died.”

In fact, the revisionists even have this weird, twisted argument in which they say that the Jews were actually fairly well taken care of in the early stages of the war; but, as the war turned bad for Germany and the Allies started bombing the railroad lines, they were no longer able to get supplies to the camps and that’s when all the deaths occurred. So, it’s really the fault of the Allies for preventing the Germans from properly feeding and taking care of their prisoners.

Roger: Oh, boy! They’ve got this down, don’t they? Ha, ha, ha! Let’s go to Sam in Sarasota, Florida. Hello, Sam!

Caller-Sam: Hi! This is something you guys might find interesting. I’ve lived most of my life on Long Island. I lived in an area that was 40% Jewish. A lot of people didn’t like Jews there so later on I moved to Florida. There’s almost no Jews here; but, most people like Jews. Do you think that a little bit of familiarity breeds contempt?

Michael S: Oh, yeah. Absolutely! Of course!

Roger: I thought the Jewish population of Florida was fairly significant.

Caller-Sam: Oh, they’re down in the southeast about 7 hours from here.

Roger: Go down there to hang out in the sun, all those rich Jews who made their money in the media lying to the rest of us, right Michael? Ha, ha!

Michael S: There you go!

Caller-Sam: But, also isn’t it true that according to the Bible, the Jews persecuted the Christians before the Christians persecuted the Jews?

Michael S: Well, that’s debatable.

Caller-Sam: Skeptic Magazine is very atheistic. You guys don’t believe in the Bible. I’m talking about Roger. Does Roger believe what the Bible says?

Roger: Sam, you know where I come from on this. I think that a lot of this is Satanic or occultic and that…

Caller-Sam: No, I’m talking about the Bible, where it says that when Paul was called Saul he persecuted the Christians. Then he became a Christian…

Roger: Yes. That’s biblically accurate, Sam. Yes.

Caller-Sam: Okay, but, the guy from Skeptic Magazine is atheistic, don’t forget that.

Roger: He’s a skeptic. We’re going to talk about that when we break away from the holocaust and go to a number of other subjects that touch on Creation vs. Evolution, too. We’ll get into that, okay Sam?

Caller-Sam: Sounds good to me.

Roger: Sounds like good entertainment? That’s what I thought. Ha, ha!   Now, Michael, would you give your numbers again, please, so people can get the magazine and the books that are available in all the stores. Is your new book out yet? What is the title of it?

Michael S:   “Why People Believe Weird Things,” has only been out since June, 1997. The next book, the sequel is, “Why People Believe in God.” That won’t be out until about a year from May because I’m still finishing it.

I’m definitely not an atheist! We are not an atheist organization— by no means! In fact, just yesterday I got a 15 page single spaced typed letter from the president of Atheists United excommunicating me and my organization from the Atheists ….

Roger: Really?

Michael S: Yes, because we don’t take a hard enough line!

Roger: The Christians excommunicated me in the last few days because I cussed on the radio!

Michael S: There you go! Ha, ha!

Roger: We’ll have to start our own crowd, Michael! Losers and Loners Unite! Ha, ha!

Michael S: That’s pretty amazing!

Roger:  Michael Shermer has been our guest, ladies and gentlemen. Run down to your bookstores and get “Why People Believe Weird Things.” It’s an incredible book! Not only will you have a great laugh about some of the idiotic things people believe in; but, you’ll also learn some things that are very important will help you conduct your life in a better way, I think.

Transcription is from MP3 file converted from original cassette with minimal editing by Chey Simonton.

Errors, if any, may be due to unintelligible sections of original 1997 audio technology. Unknown/unintelligible words are spelled phonetically.)

The Holocaust – We Must Remember-The Holocaust Odyssey of Daniel Bennehmias-Sonderkommando

THE HOLOCAUST: WE MUST REMEMBER – THE HOLOCAUST ODYSSEY OF DANIEL BENNEHMIAS- SONDERKOMMANDO

30-Hour Series of Interviews broadcast on the Roger Fredinburg Radio Program

1-14-1998 Ninth Program in Series

Guest: Rebecca Fromer, Co-founder of the Judah Magnes Memorial Museum

Author of the Books:

THE HOLOCAUST ODYSSEY OF DANIEL BENNEHMIAS- SONDERKOMMANDO

daniel

ISBN-10: 0817350411 and ISBN-13: 978-0817350413

THE HOUSE BY THE SEA: A Portrait of the Holocaust in Greece

ISBN-10: 1562791052 and ISBN-13: 978-1562791056

Roger Fredinburg interviews Dr. Rebecca Fromer, co-founder of the Judah Magnes Memorial Museum and author of the book: The Holocaust Odyssey of Daniel Bennehmias – Sonderkommando and The House by the Sea. (Sonderkommando was one of the prisoners who had to put gassed bodies into the crematoriums).

Roger:   Good evening, ladies and gentlemen! Welcome back to our continuing saga her, the 9th program in the ongoing series. I spent the afternoon holding back tears and anger and frustration as I read through our guest’s book. It never fails that each week as we continue uncovering some of these almost unbelievable stories, it seems harder and harder to just choke back the tears. Man’s inhumanity to man is the worst thing you can imagine, especially as it relates to the holocaust.

Tonight we’re going to speak with Dr. Rebecca Fromer. She’s the co-founder of the Judah Magnes Memorial Museum. The book of hers I am reading that has me so intrigued is, “The Holocaust Odyssey of Daniel Bennehmias: Sonderkommando”. I’d like to bring Dr. Fromer up and just get started right away! Dr. Fromer, how are you?

Dr. Fromer: Good evening! Thank you, I am fine!

Roger: Would you mind giving the audience a little biographical about yourself and who you are? The Reader’s Digest version?

Dr. Fromer: The Reader’s Digest version is that I am a person who takes an interest in the quality of life that we have. I have been a teacher. I love teaching! I have done many things and the museum is one of them.

At a certain juncture I began to write about the holocaust because I felt certain stories were really important and I was in a position to get to know many survivors. Some of the stories were particularly poignant and of tremendous historical significance. With a lot of patience — and it did take a lot of patience, many years of patience – it was possible to get Danny’s stories and his experience as a sonderkommando in Birkenau, I felt it was obligatory, once I knew these individuals and Danny in particular, to bring forward a story that was really not meant to ever get out. I’m quite sure that the Germans hoped they would have been victorious and that none of what eventually became known would have been public knowledge. As long as their victory was not total and I had this opportunity, I went ahead.

Roger:   You start out talking about Danny being taken from Greece. What you maybe could do because it dovetails with your other book, “The House by the Sea,” is tell us a little bit about Greece. When was it taken under the power of the Nazis? Were the Jews in Greece Sephardic Jews?

Dr. Fromer: That’s right, yes!

Roger: Were they seen as similar to all the other Jews of Hitler’s…?

Dr. Fromer: I’m so afraid that they were! I’m afraid that every Jew, no matter where he come from, what his education was, whether he was rich or poor, a peasant or a pious individual, a child, a woman, a girl, an elderly person, a sage….. it didn’t really matter. There were many games that were played, many deceptive steps that were taken to keep people calm. Very many euphemisms were used to cover up the actual intent of the holocaust. All of these were just staggering the process of the annihilation. So, yes, outwardly it might seem that the focus was on Polish Jews or the focus was on Lithuanian Jews or the Jews of Germany or France or whatever; but, the purpose was truly genocidal. There was a maniacal stress toward gathering them from wherever they were in hiding or where they sought refuge and annihilating them as quickly as possible, up to the very last days of the war! This had tremendous priority in the German mentality!

Roger: Greece was quite at the extreme tentacle of Hitler’s regime at that time. It wasn’t his primary consideration, was it?

Dr. Fromer: I don’t know what the German intention was! I had assumed they wanted to conquer the world and they were very well on their way to doing that. I don’t think Greece was any less or any more of a target. Salonika was the main city in Greece and it had many resources which they began to strip with great methodical talent.

Roger: They knew how to find things of value, didn’t they?

Dr. Fromer:  Well, they used many means of doing that! They confiscated things. They had a system, whether it was in Salonika or Athens or elsewhere, across any nation that they conquered, capturing by different kinds of raids vulnerable people who could be put to some kind of slave labor. Then they tried to extort the community for everything it could possibly raise so that they could free these so-called incarcerated individuals. Instead of ransoming them, they were actually shipped out. Anything was a means to strip the individual of lifesavings or businesses or goods, his home, his apartment, his furniture, his job, his capacity to work. His associations with others had to be curtailed. The purpose seemed to have been the exploitation of all the resources of the individuals who were meant to be their victims and then they were to be disposed of!

Roger:  Yes….

Dr. Fromer:  But, not simply to be disposed of! Once you took all of the goods that they had worked so hard to accumulate, that really constituted their life; their little apartment, their home, whatever it was, their tiny little grocery store or shop, they then transported them to various concentration camps if they weren’t killed outright. There they were starved and exploited through slave labor. So, the process what not just to kill them! The process was to squeeze everything, every ounce of energy out of them to work for the war industries as well.

Roger:  So, you just drain them completely and then kill them?

Dr. Fromer: Yes, that’s right!

Roger:  Boy, that really….

Dr. Fromer:  And sometimes, you see, they chose what were called “Kapos”, individuals that were taken out of the prison who were known for their brutality; murderers and sadists, they chose these individuals specifically to be guards over the Jews. We are primarily talking about Jews although there were other cultural and ethnic groups that were involved. They were chosen for their cruelty and their baseness. This was a sadistic turn in the genocidal motif! It wasn’t just — we’ve decided this is the genocidal mode and we’re going to go ahead with it— it was extorting, draining, exploiting everything.

Roger: In other words, rather than recharge people with nourishment and proper care, let them work themselves completely to death…

Dr. Fromer:   Absolutely!

Roger: Because there’s another trainload coming, right?

Dr. Fromer: Thank you! You’ve go the message right!

Roger:   There’s another trainload coming so we don’t need to recharge this group! Just completely drain them of everything, throw them in the gas chamber and bring on the next trainload! We’ll work them until they’re going and there’s another trainload to take they place!

Dr. Fromer:  That’s right! The German motif was even more diabolical than this because immediately the old, the young, the young mothers with children were all—- not all, but generally, all of these vulnerable types were immediately put into the gas chambers, if we’re talking about Birkenau.

cream2

The above photo is of Auschwitz early crematorium before the advanced ones were built in Birkenau.

Roger:  Those that couldn’t produce!

Dr. Fromer: That’s right!

Roger:  It would be wasting a lot of food and water! Oh, boy! So, in your book, “The Holocaust Odyssey” Danny shows up. His parents were immediately terminated?

Dr. Fromer: Yes, right. They were transported for many, many days. I think the transport was about eleven days. I think there were possible about 80 persons in this railroad car. That was very typical conduct. There was only one little window with bars in it. There was a slop pail and that was it! They had no water, no amenities, they were crushed together in the car.

Roger:  How did people survive eleven days without water?

Dr. Fromer: Not all of them survived. There were quite a few who died on the train. The will to live is extraordinary! This is one of the inexplicable, in the category of miracles, that the will to live could survive that kind of ordeal.

Roger: Only the strong survived. I suppose it was just a sorting method to the Germans.

Dr. Fromer: Oh, who knows!

Roger:  I mean, I don’t know; but, hey! The people who lived through this are still alive, so just give them some water and bread and put them to work! I don’t know! So, Danny survived this because he was young and strong and able to work?

Dr. Fromer:  Well, actually he was on the verge of death when he was liberated by the Allied troops, but that’s way at the end of the story.

Roger: What I want to talk about is, when the train ride is over and they were at Auschwitz?

Dr. Fromer: Auschwitz, yes. The Greek Jews primarily went to Auschwitz. I think that since the crematoria were functioning at optimum capacity, they went directly into the most up-to-date mechanism up to this point.

About 95% of the Jews of Salonika were killed and overall about 89% of all the Jews of Greece were exterminated by this means. The first transports began in 1943. There were 19 transports that virtually cleared Greece of all its Jews. I think perhaps there were about 1,900 Jews left after the war. It was a catastrophic event!

Roger: Genocide!

Dr. Fromer:  Yes, well, yes! Of very beautiful people! I’m not saying that individuals who were gypsies or homosexuals or ministers and people who spoke out against the regime were not beautiful people; but, there was beauty in every one of the individuals who was exterminated.

In terms of the Sephardic culture it was a particular debacle because they weren’t as numerous as the Ashkenazic Jews of eastern and central Europe so when you think of 95% of the Jews of Salonika and 89% of Jews overall of Sephardic individuals, that’s a very heavy toll!

You come to understand that approximately 60% of the French Jews were Sephardic and 40% of the Dutch Jews were Sephardic and about 50-60% of the Italian Jews were Sephardic and 40% of the Yugoslavian Jews were Sephardic and you come to see that the attrition is major, very major! 

Roger: Where does the term “Sephardic” come from, Rebecca?

Dr. Fromer: Sephardic comes from the Hebrew word, Sepharad, which means Spain. These individuals had a history that took them from Israel or Palestine from antiquity to Spain. And over the course of the years they lived amicably with Christians and Muslims; but, particularly bonded with Muslims. They were philosophers in Spain. They were physicians, navigators, lion tamers, cavaliers. They were poets! Women were bankers in some cases. There were military people. There was a lot of diversity. They did not live in the kind of situation that was known in eastern or central Europe. They had no shtetls or anything like that. They lived basically…

Roger: In harmony?

Dr. Fromer:  Well, yes and no. There were episodes from 1391 to 1492 where there were extensive massacres by various Catholic regimes. When we’re looking for who the Sephardim are, they are the Jews of Spain who chose to remain Jews when there were forced conversions under Ferdinand and Isabella and they were pronounced under the Edict of Expulsion. Many went to Portugal for a period of about five years until about 1497 when Portugal instituted its own inquisition and forced conversions. So, you had many people who did not want to convert or who converted for the moment and strove to reclaim their identity as Jews started to find ways to make their exit from Spain.

These are the ones which we call the Sephardim. They went to the Ottoman Empire. They were welcomed by the Sultan. The Sultan was very wise from the point of understanding that Spain’s loss was going to be a very big gain for him and for the empire. And he was correct! They brought a vibrant lifestyle and a lot activity there. So, they retained the language of the Sephardim, the language of 15th Century Spain which is called Ladino. They retained the ballads of Spain. They retained a lot of the stories that emanated out of Spain. Even though they were expelled, the connection with Spain was very, very strong. These are the people who we call the Sephardim.

So, whether they lived in Yugoslavia, or Bulgaria, or France, or Morrocco, or Egypt, or Italy, or Greece, they all spoke Ladino in addition to whatever their national language was.

Roger:  You talk i, “The House by the Sea” about the language and how they had a distinct accent so they could be recognized as different than the other Greeks even though they lived quite a bit around the Ottoman Turks or people who were in the Turkish Empire.

Dr. Fromer:   Well, what happened…. In Salonika there were different periods; between one half and one-third of the population were so comfortable with Ladino and the Ottoman Empire was so accepting, that by degrees, Ladino became the language in which you did commerce. So, everybody really knew Ladino. It was a very fascinating thing to see that! But, the fact of the matter is that the Jews of Salonika also knew Turkish, they knew French, they knew Italian! It wasn’t just a one-sided thing.

Roger:   But, they still were distinguishable from the others….

Dr. Fromer:   They were, if they were from Salonika. The answer is both “yes” and “no”. If they were from Salonika, they were distinguishable from other Jews who were also Greek Jews with a Sephardic background because Ladino is a very soft language, very much like Italian. But, if they came from the villages where the opportunity to speak Ladino was not so pronounced, and most of their neighbors were Greek Orthodox as distinct from Greek Jews, then their accents were not to be distinguished from the other Greek people.

So, you have a situation where in small towns the Sephardic Jews spoke Greek as any other Greek person; but, in Salonika where you had such a large Sephardic population, that’s where the Ladino inflections dominated and they were recognized very easily by how they spoke. You can recognize a Texan, can’t you?

Roger: Absolutely!

Dr. Fromer: That’s the idea!

Roger:   So, these folks were rounded up when the Germans came in. Now, did the people of Greece, were they conquered by Hitler or did they surrender to Hitler? How did the Greeks….?

Dr. Fromer:  They were attacked by the Italians first. Yes, they were conquered by Germany! Sure! In very little time!

The Italians were waging a war in Albania a little bit before 1940; but, they were losing that war. Then they began to venture forward rather than retreat. They decided to attack Greece from the Albanian border. In five months they proceeded to lose that war as well; but, by that time, Mussolini were Axis powers and allies, so Hitler made a deal with the Bulgarians who very land hungry. The Bulgarians were non-combatants. They decided that if they could get part of Yugoslavia and Macedonia, part of Crete and part of eastern Thrace; why, they would just let the German armies go through their country. That’s precisely what happened! Part of Hitler’s aim was to extricate the Italians who were in a mess and also to attack Greece. With Bulgaria as the access point, on April 6, 1941, Monastere, Yugoslavia and Salonika were attacked.

Roger:   Yes. We’ve got to take a quick break. Dr. Rebecca Fromer is our guest, talking about her books, “The Holocaust Odyssey” about Sonderkommandos and, “The House by the Sea”, very informative! We’ll be right back, please stay tuned!

COMMERCIAL BREAK

Roger:  Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen! Our special Holocaust series continues. Our guest, Dr. Rebecca Fromer, is with us this evening. We were talking about Hitler finally taking Greece…

Dr. Fromer:  Yes, he did that in three days! On April 6, 1941 he attacked Salonika and on April 9th Salonika fell.

Roger: You describe in your book, the Italian rush first. Now, the Italians essentially just went in and surrendered…

Dr. Fromer: They surrendered in 1943, September of 1943. So, yes, the Italians really did not have a heart for killing. They really did not. Mussolini had the ambition to instill the discipline of the German into the Italian. He had great aspirations and it was his primary motive for linking with Hitler; but, the Italian people are not this kind of people. Just listen to their music and you’ll know that’s so! They not only did not want to fight, they detested the Germans! They had contempt for the Germans! The Germans had contempt for the Italians.

The Italians, in every way, tried to sabotage what the Germans were doing to the Jews. It’s amazing; but, a very credible story that I am proud to convey to you in terms of the morality of the Italians during this episode. Although they were in every way technically allied with the Nazis and the Germans, they did everything in their power to save the Jews! They went to great lengths, not just in Greece; but, wherever any Italian troops were, whether in France or Italy or elsewhere, they did their best to extricate the Jew with passports, actually shipping them out of harms way, protecting them in every way, feigning ineptitude so they would not have to deliver the Jews to the Germans because they knew very well what the Germans would do to these human beings.

Roger:  That’s right. It’s hard for me to remember which book; but, I think it was “The House by the Sea,” where you describe they would give fake I.D.s.

Dr. Fromer:   Oh, sure! Not only that, there’s a terrific story about Captain Mercy who was in the Diplomatic Corps in Salonika who not only saw to it that various individuals escaped; but, in one instance, one of the survivors was actually present when he collared a Greek and told him to absolutely give these individuals asylum, and if he did not, he would kill this individual himself! He didn’t want the Jews he was turning over to him to be turned over to the Germans, he didn’t want them to be extorted for the privilege of being safe for a little while. This is the kind of mentality that the Italians had. They went to great lengths. They didn’t have to do it, but they did it! It was the only nation that actually used its own army to help protect Jews. So, on the surface there was this link with Hitler and world conquest, but underneath, they played the role of the fool. They canceled meetings and did everything in their power to send subordinates to very top-level meetings which Germans considered an effrontery; but, it also stole the actual deportation of thousands of Jews!

Roger:   Now, in “The House by the Sea,” you actually have the text of a radio propaganda piece…

Dr. Fromer: That’s right!

Roger:  ….where they are recruiting Greek men to come to Germany? Did I understand that they wanted them to come to Germany?

Dr. Fromer:   Oh, no! The ruse, if I remember the ad which you are referring to, the ruse was to let them know what a wonderful life they would have if they would only volunteer for work in the “east.” That was a euphemism.

Roger:   So, it was a recruitment thing? Recruiting Greek men into the cause, so to speak?

Dr. Fromer:  Well, yes; but, it was just one of many games. You know, they had this dialogue where you’re going to be well-fed, you’re going to have a good job, everything’s going to be hunky-dory, we have playgrounds and you’ll be taken care of. We know from Theresienstadt that they carried this face to great extent.

Roger:   What wasie?

Dr. Fromer:   That was a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia where they had a model camp so whenever the Red Cross or other individuals came to see what was going, they would find beautiful shops and music, vegetables growing in the ground, children at play. This was just like a puppet show because everyone was under penalty of death if they didn’t do this. So, you know, to various institutions the presentation of safety in  was in place. But, the moment the officials left, all of that was dismantled.

Roger: So, they actually went to that extent? They actually put up a theatrical set to show the world that their concentration camps were safe and secure, that nobody was being harmed….

Dr. Fromer: …they had their own library, they were playing the violin…..

Roger:   Oh, my God! Masters of deception!

Dr. Fromer: Rocking in a rocking chair at leisure…. it was pure theater!

Roger:   I’ve heard of e in reading; but, I didn’t realize that was going on!

Dr. Fromer:   That was their “model camp”. Of course, the whole idea was to prevents the others from exploring the other camps.

Roger:   It makes now. Boy!

Dr. Fromer:  It really does depend! Westerbork was also a “model camp.” There was no slave labor done in Westerbork which was in Holland; but, these people never really knew what was happening. Every Wednesday the trains would come and take hosts of people away; but, it wasn’t too clear where they were going for the longest time. Meanwhile, the kommandant who loved theater would encourage all the artists to make their own plays or operettas, their own stage settings, costumes, etc. They had a symphony. They had a hospital. They had just incredible performances, incredible medical staff. So, in these two areas, the SS and the Nazis from across the globe would come either to the theater or to have their medical problems tended to.

But, for the privilege of practicing physicians or the privilege of engaging in the life of the arts, they were supposed to go quietly to their deaths when they were called to the transports! That was the one thing the kommandant would not tolerate! He would not tolerate disrespect or ingratitude because he was so nice! He wasn’t allowing them to be slave laborers, and for that they should be grateful when they went to their deaths, quietly!

Roger:   Oh, boy! Listen, we’ve got to take a quick break here, Rebecca.   Just hang with us for a few minutes. Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t think we’ll take any calls in this hour. You might just write your questions down and we’ll open the lines up for calls later as the program progresses. Our guest is Dr. Rebecca Fromer.

COMMERCIAL BREAK

Roger:  Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen! Our guest this evening on The Holocaust Special is Dr. Rebecca Fromer talking about her books, “The Holocaust Oydssey” and “The House by the Sea” focusing on the Sephardic Jews and their demise, 89% of them in all of Europe were eliminated during the Holocaust.   Dr. Fromer, something you may be best suited to help me with, when you see modern day depictions of Auschwitz and the other camps, you don’t see much. Auschwitz was quite a bit bigger! I thought what you might do is describe Auschwitz for us. 

Dr. Fromer: Good! There are quite a few misconceptions and I’m very happy to tell you about this. It was a very vast complex. Most people think it was one camp. It was not. There was a main camp and it was actually called either the Main Camp or Auschwitz I. Here you had the Gestapo headquarters, you had the political wing which kept the records of all those who were killed in the camp; but, not a record of those who went straight to the gas chambers. 

In the Main Camp you had Mengele’s so-called hospital where he did some of the most brutal experiments on humans known to man. You had a prison, you had various torture wings and you had a core of slave laborers. That was the Main Camp. It did have one crematorium; but, it was not to scientifically designed and it became rather malfunctioning early in the game. It was certainly not suitable for the ambition of the Nazis. That is the first camp, Auschwitz I. 

Roger: How big was that? I mean, territorially, how many people, what concentration of population? 

Dr. Fromer: Well, it changed a lot because you had transports coming in and out all the time. I could not be accurate about how many…. 

Roger: As big as a small city? 

Dr. Fromer: Oh, for sure! I can give you an idea on one of the camps in just a moment. 

You have Auschwitz II which is Birkenau. That was the killing center. That was actually in three divisions; you have a Womens’ Camp, you have a Mens’ Camp, you have a Gypsy Camp, you have a Czechoslovakian Family Camp. Then you have the area that was the actual killing center where there were four crematoria and five huge pits for burning people alive in many cases! 

Then there is Auschwitz III which was in Monowitz. The distance from Auschwitz I to Auschwitz II was two miles. The distance from Auschwitz II to Auschwitz III was about five miles. 

You ask about how many? Auschwitz III at Monowitz had 60,000 slave laborers. That’s more than a little town! 

Roger: That’s the size of the community I live in. 

Dr. Fromer:  You had hundreds of thousands in Birkenau! But, I don’t know too much about the complements of Auschwitz I because there was so much of the Administrative Department was in that particular encampment. We have to be talking about hundreds of thousands of people! 

Further, what most people don’t realize is that each one of these camps had approximately 300 satellites. These satellites were like slave labor industries. So, the individuals in the Main Camp, or in Birkenau, or in Monowitz, not only did slave labor work in those camps or work designed to humiliate and torment and decimate the soul in these camps; but, were also exploited in these slave labor sub-camps where there were many war industries. 

We’re really talking about what might have been, between the three camps, a fifteen mile to twenty-mile complex. 

Roger: So, this was like a huge city with hundreds of thousands of people with a robust industry! They were making leather goods, uniforms, boots, and hats, and coats, and gloves, and weapons…. 

Dr. Fromer: Not only that, you see, the statism here was very manifest because when ambition grew greater and the genocidal impulse became more than a passion; but, an obsession… what you have to is actually make those who can do roofing, those who can do architectural work, and so on…. you have them building Birkenau which will exterminate them as soon as they’re finished! So, have the Jews who are the victims creating the buildings and the edifices that will facilitate their own demise. The Germans, of course, were very cynical here. They worked these people to death and then they killed them! They had very little choice because they were under machine guns at all times. Protest was impossible because you were machine-gunned or, in desperation, you threw yourself on electrically charged wires! This was not the easiest kind of thing to survive. Anyone who survived did so because of enormous moral strength combined with the circumstances, pure chance!

Roger: We’ve got to take a top of the hour news break, Rebecca. When we come back we’ll talk about Danny’s story and the sonderkommandos. Okay? Ladies and gentlemen, our guest this evening is Dr. Rebecca Fromer talking about her books, “The Holocaust Odyssey of Daniel Bennehmias: Sonderkommando and “The House by the Sea: A Portrait of the Holocaust in Greece.” Facsinating stuff! Please stay tuned. We’ll come back and tell you about the sonderkommandos. This will absolutely blow your mind! I don’t think you should even have children in the room for the next segment!   We’ll be back.

COMMERCIAL BREAK

Roger: It really is quite an honor, ladies and gentlemen, to be able to take all these historically relevant stories and bring them to you here on the radio. I know that many of you appreciate it. I get your letters and emails. Thank you very much for the encouragement and support! 

Our guest this evening is Dr. Rebecca Fromer. Her book, “The Holocaust Odyssey” about the sonderkommando, Daniel Bennehmias— Rebecca, how do you say that name? 

Dr. Fromer:  BEN-NAH-MI-AS 

Roger: I think what we should do now, since we’ve talked about Greece, and the different kinds of Jews, and the size and dimension and the incredible events of Auschwitz, I’d like you to just tell Danny’s story. 

Dr. Fromer:  Well, he was a very young man when the war broke out in 1941. There’s a little bit of explanation we have to give here because up until 1922, Salonika was part of the Ottoman Empire. There was a transfer of population at that time and Salonika reverted back to the Greeks who had been jurisdiction prior to 1453. When, in 1922, the Greeks reclaimed, through one of many of the Balkan wars, their former city of Salonika, they gave the option to remain a Turkish citizen or retain Spanish citizenship which some did have, or Italian citizenship which some did have. Some immediately became Greek citizens, some retained their Turkish citizenship and some retained Italian citizenship because they had sojourned in Italy some 150 or 200 years earlier and never relinquished that citizenship. 

Danny was of this last group where the retention of Italian citizenship was what the family had opted for. They felt close to Italy. They didn’t particularly mind reregistering every year as foreign nationals. It was a little ludicrous, but, that’s what they had to do. Most of the family officially Greek citizens as a result of the new government and Danny’s was Italian.   

He went to an Italian school and he spoke Italian. He spoke Ladino (Judeo-Spanish), he spoke French, he spoke Turkish and he spoke Italian. He was very interested in science. He was very interested in music. He loved music! It was a revelation to him that Beethoven’s music had the grandeur that it had. All of that was a tremendous experience for him so he was growing culturally as he grew into young manhood. 

When the war broke in 1941, as a person with Italian citizenship, he did not come under the same kind of category that the rest of his family came under as Greek citizens. The Greeks in his family— you must understand everybody was born in Greece; but, this is now technical. 

Roger: Right! 

Dr. Fromer: The Greeks in his family were considered enemies of the state. The Italians were considered allies. So he and his father and mother were not among the first to be incarcerated. They were considered allies and were not privy to a lot of the things that were happening to the rest of the family.   

The rest of the family, and actually the rest of the Jews in Salonika, were being ransacked! They were subject to relinquishing their homes, their apartments, their little shops, their groceries. They were not allowed to transact business. They couldn’t go on trolleys. They couldn’t have intercourse with other individuals in the normal course of the day. They could not have telephones. There were many, many restrictions. 

The first call for labor was in July, 1942. After the first pressures to ransack the nation, of the Greek Jews particularly, there was a period of quiet. At some point, the Greek strength was so much stronger than the German strength in certain areas, so the Italian citizenship was of no avail. He and his father were taken to what was supposed to be some kind of a detention camp. But, instead of a camp, it was under guard of Greeks who were very generous and good. They were housed in a hotel. They paid for their own imprisonment. They couldn’t even make sense of their imprisonment because they had a very easygoing kind of existence for about six months. Then they were released and they went back to Salonika. 

Very soon the situation changed radically. The family made every effort to get out of Salonika, out-of-the-way of the Germans. They realized that the so-called technicality of their Italian citizenship was of very little use and they made their way to Athens, which was under the jurisdiction of the Italians. There they were able to live very openly as Jews among Christians. The situation was entirely different. The Italians were far more relaxed. There was no persecution of Jews under the Italian administration of the southern part of the mainland. That’s the way it was!

They rented a little apartment, and when it got too costly, they rented a room. In that room Danny and his father and mother were in the same room with his aunt and uncle. His aunt and uncle had a daughter and a three year-old child. The daughter was about fifteen. They separated the children just in case things got worse. Each child was in a different household. They supported themselves and they supported the children, always thinking of the children’s safety. 

While they had a room in this household of Greek Christians, they were able to invite their friends. Other Christian neighbors knew that they were Jewish, knew they were more or less hiding, because even though the Italians were in control, there was certainly a German presence in southern Greece. So, the family had a reasonably okay existence as long as the Italians were in control of that region. 

When the Italians capitulated, everything changed radically! There was a Jewish collaborator who turned in the family, found out where the two children were in their separate hiding places, and the two children were also rounded up! Danny and his family were incarcerated by the Gestapo for several days. Danny was beaten severely. The purpose was to help him reveal other Jews in hiding. Of course, he would not do such a thing! From this torment — five of them were locked in the bathroom for about three days—so, that was a very difficult thing; but, he alone was beaten. 

From this prison in the bathroom kind of incarceration, they were sent to Haidari which was a concentration camp. There was an overseer who was known by the name of Napoleon who would be rather kind. He would bring from the mother’s side of the encampment–whatever food she salvaged from her own diet and used Napoleon as a courier to give it to her son and husband. She always worried if they had enough food and gave of her ration to them. Napoleon was not German, obviously! 

The German overseers in Haidari were quite brutal and Danny began to see his father being tormented. His father was made to do all kinds of very, very arduous physical labor and brutalized because he could not be forthcoming on the level of expectation of the Germans. 

For about a month this is the way it was in Haidari, then the transport to Auschwitz took place. That was an approximately nine to eleven day journey. I don’t remember which; but, arduous enough! The last two days were the most horrendous of all because his mother was terribly afraid of death. She wasn’t afraid of dying; but, death itself was something that traumatized her. Whenever anyone in her family died or whenever she learned of anyone who had died, she would light the house full of candles and burn the lights so there would be no shadow, no dark space in the house. It was almost as if she had this light chasing away the darkness of death. Unfortunately, on the train transport, they were so locked in place that if one person moved, everyone had to move. They were jammed together! The woman next to his mother died. She died pressed against his mother’s chest! So, for the last two days, this woman’s putrefying body was next to her chest! His mother never moved. Those last two days she turned her head to the side and never moved! His father and he could say nothing to her… and these were the last two days of her life! He never did forget that! 

When they disported at Auschwitz, his parents were taken off in trucks. Within 2 hours they were dead! They were dead! That was it! He was immediately put in confinement. 

You have to understand that the Greek Jews were from a sunny country, a warm country, its people played tennis, they danced the tango, they swam, they sailed little sailboats, they worked, they studied. They had a physical life. They had a cultural life. They went to the theater. They loved music. They were healthy, they ate vegetables. They had lots of sun! They were quite strong! 

So, he and quite a few of the younger men were placed in quarantine for about a six-week period. At the end of that six-week period, which was rather tortuous– they were doing meaningless tasks, very hard tasks, stupid tasks– moving bricks from one corner to another corner, repairing one thing then disassembling what they repaired so they could repair it again– really totally empty kinds of work!   Of course, they detested it and thought it was the worst possible existence. 

Then by design, in this area of quarantine, very deliberate design, there was a rumor that there was going to be a really good job where they’d be able to have better food— a permanent job for them! That was the first ray of hope for these young men. Not all of them were Sephardim; but, there was a handful of Sephardim involved, maybe fifteen. One day Mengele came with two other SS men inspecting these young men and Danny was one of them, never knowing that he had been selected, and I use that word loosely, used by the Germans to be a sonderkommando. From there on in began the greatest nightmare of, not only his lifetime; but, in all of known mankind! I hope that your listening audience heeds you very much when you warn them not to have their children nearby if we’re going into this further. 

Roger: I think they listened to me. 

Dr. Fromer: I hope so! 

Roger: Why don’t you go ahead and describe Danny’s first walk down the corridor? 

Dr. Fromer:   Well, that was early on in his experience in this special detail. The music that had meant so much to him— he had been introduced to Beethoven through the 2nd Symphony and that started his passion for Beethoven. One day, in the midst of the hell that he saw all about him, literally the inferno, out of one of the rooms of a Gestapo individual came the strains of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony came to him and he doubled over! The juxtaposition between what was happening there and the reminder of a life that included music and beauty and freedom just about devastated him. It was very hard! 

But, there was something else that happened that was even more extraordinary because at one time Danny was working near the ovens themselves. The area always needed to be cleaned. One of the SS individuals recognized a woman who came up the gurney… There were two processes that were practiced. When a transport came in, everyone was gassed at the same time. But, there were always individuals who were hunted down specifically. These people would be shot, not gassed. They wouldn’t waste the gas for one or two individuals. They preferred to use the chamber for 3,000 individuals. One day, as Danny was near the crematoria, he sees a woman comes up the list. She’s a very beautiful woman! The SS man who was guarding them recognized her and he said, “Aren’t you So & So, the opera singer?” She said, “Yes, I am.” Danny heard the SS man say, “I’ve heard you perform. I love your singing. It’s just wonderful and I enjoyed how you depicted this character!” He sat her down by the bench that was right in front of the ovens and spoke to her about the life of culture. When he was finished, he shot her! And that was that! These were the kinds of things that were everyday occurrence! 

Roger:  Wow!   We’re going to have to take a break here. When we come back I want you to give a detailed description of what a sonderkommando is, what their job is. I want to remind the folks out there that they won’t want to have little ones listen to this. Ladies and gentlemen, we’ll be back with Dr. Rebecca Fromer in just a minute. 

COMMERCIAL BREAK 

Roger:  Ladies and gentlemen, welcome back! Our guest this evening is Dr. Rebecca Fromer talking about the Sephardic Jews and the odyssey of one gentleman, Danny, about his life as a sonderkommando.   Rebecca, Danny’s new permanent job, describe it for us, will you please? 

Dr. Fromer: He and the other crew that was selected by Mengele had no preparation. They had been instilled with this rumor of a good job waiting for them. That encouraged them because in quarantine they thought they were in hell, and they experienced it as hell. So, they were very relieved moving away from quarantine into this new job situation, which turned out to be, of course, another manipulative ploy. 

They had almost no introduction! They were brought to a particular area in Birkenau which was behind double electrically wired fences, closed off from the rest of the camp.   There’s no way of escaping unless they throw themselves on the electrically charged wires. They’re given a crust of bread and, perhaps two hours later, they are gathered together. They are brought into a room that is filled with clothing; shoes, clothing, prosthetic limbs, arms and legs. Everything was in turmoil! One of the SS officers said, “You can take whatever you want,” but, nobody touches anything. They are brought before this huge black door and told to grab a cane and begin extricating the individuals who were contorted in the death throes of the gas chamber. This was their first introduction to their “good job”. Then they realized what the clothing, shoes and prosthetic limbs were all about. Danny fainted some five or six times.

Roger:  Describe the room, Rebecca.

Dr. Fromer: The dressing room was very, very long and narrow. On either side there were hooks for clothing; but, there was so much clothing that it was in heaps all around the room. To one side was the gas chamber, to the left of the dressing room.

Roger:   Which was behind the black door?

Dr. Fromer: Yes.

Roger:  So, what did they see when they went beyond the black door?

Dr. Fromer:   Well, the first thing they saw were the bodies because the room was filled.

Roger:   Filled with people who had just been gassed?

Dr. Fromer:  Oh, yes! They had just been gassed! They did not know this then; but, the previous sonderkommando group had been executed. They soon learned this was the ritual, that every crew of the sonderkommando unit would be killed periodically so that no word of what this work was, what the genocide was, would ever make it to the outside world.

Roger: When they opened the door, were there hundreds of bodies?

Dr. Fromer: Thousands! 3,000!

Roger:  What did they do with those bodies?

Dr. Fromer:  They had to use the canes or belt straps and disentangle them. After they disentangled them, some were assigned to shave the hair from the heads or pubic areas. Some were assigned to pull out gold teeth and some were assigned to drag them to the lift that would take the bodies up to the next level where the crematoria were.

Roger:  What did they shave the hair for?

Dr. Fromer:   The hair was used for several purposes. I learned that one of the purposes was that for certain munitions, the filaments of the hair was very useful. They used hair for matting in pillows and things like that; but, also used as filaments …. I’m not sure if it was bullets or things like that, or what kind of armaments it was; but, it was for mechanism of destruction that required the hair as a filament.

Roger:    When Danny walks in and see these thousands of bodies and begins untangling them and shaving them and taking out the gold teeth….

Dr. Fromer:  He doesn’t do all of those things….

Roger:  No, I mean the group he was with, the sonderkommandos!

Dr. Fromer:   That’s right! The unit has to do this! He fainted six times. The man who was in charge, the Jewish guy who was the labor leader; but, he was the senior living Jew there, was a very kind person. He only knew Polish and they only knew Greek and French and Italian. He tried very hard to grab hold of Danny, to beg him to stand on his feet or he would be shot immediately! He gestured with his finger from ear to ear and kept saying, “Kaput! Kaput!” Finally Danny got the idea that he was a goner unless he could pull himself together. Of course, from that time on he could never pull himself together! His life was a nightmare!

Roger:  So, although he thought it was hell doing these menial and empty tasks in quarantine, that was just designed to get him mentally ready to do some of the worst work….

Dr. Fromer:   You can never be mentally ready to do what the sonderkommandos had to do. There is no such thing! As a matter of fact, in time he became, along with others, a large contingent of the Sephardim were definitely part of the individuals in the sonderkommandos who tried to do everything in their power to try to destroy the crematoria. They wanted to blow them up! There were two attempts at revolt. The first attempt had to be canceled because a huge group of German troops came to Auschwitz and it would have been counterproductive. The second was abortive; but, many, many hundreds of sonderkommandos were killed in that!

Roger:  How many sonderkommandos were there? How many people were shaving heads and pulling gold teeth from all these dead bodies and then sending them up to the crematorium?

Dr. Fromer:  They varied. First of all, you have to understand that there were four crematoria. Between One/Two and Three/Four was the Birkenau forest. That’s where Birkenau gets its name, from the forest. Each crematorium could handle 10,000 bodies a day. They would cram them, 12-15 bodies at a time, to a given oven. There were approximately, though it varied from time to time, there were between 1,200 to 1,500 men in the sonderkommando unit.

Roger:  It took a lot of people to handle all those bodies, didn’t it? We’ve got to take a quick break, Rebecca. Ladies and gentlemen, if you want to ask any questions, we’ll open the lines up. We just have time for a few questions. We’ll be right back.

COMMERCIAL BREAK

Roger: Welcome back, folks! Rebecca Fromer is our guest. We’re going right to phones, are you ready? 

Dr. Fromer: Sure! 

Roger: We’re going to start with a sixteen-year-old in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Hello, Andy! 

Caller-Andy: I have some questions for Rebecca regarding the Italian situation in WW II. I came on in the middle of the program and you were talking about how the Italians used military forces to rescue Jewish populations. Is that true? 

Dr. Fromer: Yes, that’s true. They used military personnel. 

Caller-Andy: Another thing I want to add is that I think it’s great you’re doing the story about Danny because I think it’s really important to add the personalization factor about the holocaust. Most people hear 5.4 million Jews or 6 million Jews or whatever, it doesn’t really hit home. 

Dr. Fromer: I’m so proud of you! I’m really proud of you because putting a face on it is exactly what my purpose was. It’s very hard! Six million is an abstraction, in fact, it’s not even an accurate count. There were more than that. Thank you for making this observation because you are totally correct. 

Roger: Andy, thank you very much.   We’ve got Owen in Culver City, California. Hello, Owen! 

Caller-Owen: I’m fascinated at hearing the details of this. It reminds me of Nicaragua in South America. I heard that when the Sandinistas took over Nicaragua the first thing they did was drive the Jews out of Managua and burn down the Jewish temple. Rebecca, do you know anything about that? 

Dr. Fromer: No, I don’t know anything about that particular period because at the time I was doing my research. I’m not surprised. In order to generate a certain amount of cohesion for tyranny, you’ve got to pick your target and in many cases it’s the Jew, in other cases it’s the Black or the Italian. We have to really be careful. We have to really watch out for this phenomenon. 

Roger:   I think it’s not necessarily well-known; but, we let these things go on in the world today. I mean, we would think that as sophisticated and modern and cultured as we’ve become, especially Americans…. you’d think that things like what happened in Rwanda,or the multiple years of devastation in the Balkans might not happen in today’s world after what we learned in WW II! 

Dr. Fromer: Well, we’re not doing a good job of learning, are we! 

Roger:   Yes! 

Dr. Fromer: We’re not! I’m terribly afraid, as we get more and more technological, that we’re going to lose the faces, lose the personalization that this young sixteen-year-old made as a very keen observation. We really have to somehow remember how vulnerable each person is! How each of us is a minority of one and extend ourselves to the beauty of our diversity instead of being threatened by it. 

Roger:   Yes. Robert in Jackson, Mississippi is an eighteen-year-old. It’s great we’re hearing from young people tonight! Robert, hello! 

Caller-Robert: I wanted to ask you, after all the time you spent in the camps, did you ever see any German guards who against what was going on? 

Dr. Fromer: First of all, I was never in the camp. But, there were German guards in the camps, of course! The guards were in control. They patrolled. They shot helpless people with machine guns! 

Caller-Robert: What I’m trying to ask you is, were they ever against, you know, treating them like lower human beings or anything? 

Roger: In other words, did the guards ever stand up for the Jews? 

Dr. Fromer:   No, not at all! They didn’t treat them as human beings. They thought they were “things”! They were very sadistic! They would punish them! They would have them at a roll call, standing still practically naked in 60 Below Zero weather and kill them if they twitched or moved. No! They were very sadistic. 

Roger:   You know, you say that and it reminds me, I talked to a survivor who described it somewhat this way, he said, “you get a can of soda and you suck all the good out of the can, then you crush the can.” He said that’s how he felt; that once they sucked all the good out of him, then he was just an empty vessel to be destroyed! 

Dr. Fromer:   It’s interesting and a paradox; the emptying took place and also something remarkable took place, they did not forget. By and large, they did not lose sight of their humanity and they did try to help one another and help other victims as well. So, even thought they were victims, they tried so hard to help one another. In order to do that, they had to forget their past lives. They had to forget there was such a thing as a mother cooking, a father…. they would never see them again! They knew that! Rhey had to forget that you could read a book, you could listen to music, that you could walk the streets freely! They had to forget their classes at the universities. 

Roger:   Rebecca, we’ve run out of time. How do people get your books? 

Dr. Fromer: They can get, “The Holocaust Odyssey” from the University Distribution Center. That number is 1-800-621-2736 or their bookstores. “The House by the Sea” will be coming out in bookstores in March or April, 1998.   

Roger:   Rebecca, God bless! It’s been a wonderful couple of hours of radio. I’ve really enjoyed it! Keep doing the research! 

Dr. Fromer: Thank you! I’ll try! 

Roger:   Good night folks! God bless you all and God bless America! 

(Transcription is from MP3 file converted from original cassette with minimal editing by Chey Simonton.

Errors, if any, may be due to unintelligible sections of original 1997 audio technology. Unknown/unintelligible words are spelled phonetically.)

 

 

The Holocaust – We Must Remember – Dr. Charles Sydnor -Soldiers of Destruction

Holocaust -Sydnor-Soldiers of Destruction

THE HOLOCAUST: WE MUST REMEMBER

30-Hour Series of Interviews broadcast on the Roger Fredinburg Radio Program

12-03-1997 Fifth Program in Series

Guest: Dr. Charles W. Sydnor, Jr.

SOLDIERS OF DESTRUCTION: SS DEATH’S HEAD DIVISION 1933-1945

In this show Roger Fredinburg interviews Dr. Charles Sydnor on the topic: Soldiers of Destruction – SS Death Head Division.  Here is a video clip from this wonderful interview.

http://https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NYKnRFc-up8&feature=player_detailpage

ISBN-10: 0691008531 and ISBN-13: 978-0691008530

Roger: Welcome to the program, ladies and gentlemen! I am Roger Fredinburg, radio’s regular guy. Our presentation tonight is Part 5 of our ongoing series, The Holocaust: We Must Remember. I once again want to thank Chey Simonton and Kelleigh Nelson for all their help in putting together this incredible array of guests we’re having during this series. It’s just unbelievable, a mind-boggling group of folks who have incredible stories to tell us! So far, it’s been very fascinating! I’m really enjoying it and I hope you are too.

Tonight we speak with a gentleman who has spent a lifetime really dedicated to service to his community and to bringing forth educational principles that will forever endure and help Americans and other learn the lessons of the past. He’s been assigned and appointed to numbers of boards and commissions, had numerous appointments, was a college professor, was the President of Emory and Henry College from 1984 to 1991, was assistant to the Governor of Virginia and has had a remarkable career in television documentaries and radio. He’s certainly no stranger to the medium. We’d like to welcome Dr.Charles Sydnor to the program this evening. We’re going to talk about his book, “Soldiers of Destruction: SS Death’s Head Division.” It has been continuously in print for 20 years now. Dr. Sydnor, welcome to the show!

Dr. Sydnor: Roger, thank you! It’s an honor to be with you!

Roger: It’s a real pleasure to have you here. I know I didn’t do you any justice with your biography; but, it’s so incredible, I didn’t know where to begin!

Dr. Sydnor:  Well, thank you. I heard what you said and that’s just fine! I have probably changed careers, I think nine times now, more than the average person my age. I’m in my mid-50s. Through all of this; as a college professor, as a college administrator, a gubernatorial assistant, a college president, and now a general manager in a public broadcasting operation,the continuous thread that runs through all of this has been my training as a professional historian. I was trained in modern German history at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN, completed my graduate education at the University of Fribourg in the Federal Republic of Germany in the late 1960s. While I completed my graduate education, I spent a year and a half in the archives of the West German National Archive system doing research in the original records of the SS. I worked in the Himmler files; the surviving records of Himmler’s office that are deposited in the West German National Archives in Coblenz, the records of the Waffen SS which are deposited at Fribourg, the records of the concentration camp expectorate, part of those records are in Munich at the Institute for History and the rest of them are up in Coblenz, and on and off, about four different times over a period of about four months, in the Berlin Document Center which houses all of the surviving personnel records of the SS Officer Corps.

Over that period of time, from 1968 to 1976, I put together the research that became the book, “Soldiers of Destruction,” which Princeton University Press first published in 1977. It’s a history of one of the original three Waffen SS Divisions; the SS Totenkopf or Death’s Head Division, that was created in the fall of 1939 from three regiments of SS guards from the concentration camps in Germany. The man who was the first commander of the SS Death’s Head Division, Theodor Eicke, is one of the still unknown, or less well known, major perpetrators of the holocaust. It was Eicke who built the concentration camp system, trained the men who administered it and instilled in the SS camp guards, in the period before the Second World War, the ethos of brutality and harshness that became the basis on which the extermination of the European Jews in Auschwitz and other concentration camps was carried out.

Roger: Maybe you can help us out here because we hear a lot of definitions and things regarding the Nazis; but, I’d like you to explain what the SA was, what the SS was? What were the different branches of Hitler’s army?

Dr. Sydnor:  Neither the SA or the SS were part of the German Army. The apologists for the SS after WW II claimed the SS was simply another military branch of the German Armed Forces which was not the case! The SS was an affiliate and an agency of the Nazi Party. Briefly, the distinction between the SA and the SS is this: the SA was the original brown-shirted storm trooper Nazi Party army created in the 1920s that were used to demonstrate in the streets of Germany the Nazi political muscle. Most of the political parties in Germany in the 1920s had paramilitary formations; that was an outward visible sign of the political strength and might, was the nature and discipline and size of your paramilitary unit. The SA was the Nazi Party’s paramilitary unit.

The SS was created in 1925, originally as a very small group of men who were very highly trained and disciplined and served their original purpose performing security duty as Hitler’s personal body guards. That group of men, from the outset, were very elite. In 1929 a young man named Heinrich Himmler, who had joined the Nazi party in 1922, had been a member of the SA and at one time was secretary to Gregor Strasser, one of Hitler’s original confederates. Heinrich Himmler became the chief of the SS, which was still a very small unit within the SA. It was part of the SA. It remained part of the SA until after Hitler came to ower in 1933.

By the time Hitler came to power in 1933 the SA brown-shirt, storm trooper army had grown to nearly 4,000,000 men. The rapid growth of the SA caused disciplinary problems. There was a sort of breakdown of Hitler’s authority and control over it . The leader of the SA, a man named Ernst Rohm, wanted the brown-shirted army to become the new army of Nazi Germany, the political Nazi army of Nazi Germany. The old traditional officer corps and the military establishment in Germany which had survived after WW I did not want this radical mob of undisciplined bullies to take over the military functions of the state. In 1934 the leading figures in the military basically gave Hitler a choice. He had been in power about a year and a half. He was trying to consolidate a totalitarian system with an internal political and repressive apparatus that would do away with other political parties, control the press, media, universities, schools, etc. He needed the military establishment for his long-range goals of re-armament and eventually making war. A brown-shirted army of storm troopers was not in any way qualified for that mission.

The leaders of the military establishment said, ‘look, you’ve got a choice. You can either deal with Rohm and the SA and bring the SA under control and get rid of Rohm or we’ll take matters into our own hands.” Hitler needed the military so he arranged, with the assistance of Herman Goring who at that time was probably Hitler’s closest paladin, and the two principal figures in the SS, Heinrich Himmler and Reinhardt Heydrich, Hitler arranged to have Rohm and the leadership of the SA murdered. This is the notorious Night of the Long Knives, June 30, 1934. Basically, they decapitated the SA! They murdered all the leading figures in the SA with Hitler’s blessing and on his orders. Subsequent to that, Hitler issued a decree that separated the SS completely from the SA and the SS became a separate and distinct institution.

At that time, Hitler had also sanctioned the beginning of a process by which Himmler was taking control of the police forces in Germany. Between the Night of the Long Knives at the end of June, 1934 and the middle of June, 1936, Heinrich Himmler and Reinhardt Heydrich consolidated control over all the police forces in the German states and basically merged the police forces of the country with the SS as a Nazi Party institution.

himmler

Heinrich Himmler

heydrich

Reinhardt Heydrich

Roger: Oh, boy!

Dr. Sydnor: In June of 1936, Germany had for the first time what it had never had in it’s history, it had a National Chief of Police. The German system at that time was a federal system like ours with police powers reserved to the states. The police forces were regional and localized police forces; in states, communities and counties, like here in the United States. Himmler consolidated police power at the national level in June of 1936 under himself as the chief of the German police in his capacity as   of the SS. From 1936 on, the police forces in Germany worked outside the normal standards of law.

At the same time, one of the other principal figures involved in the decapitation of the SA in June, 1934 was this man, Theodor Eicke. Eicke, in 1933, had been appointed as second commandant of a detention complex that had been hastily erected outside Munich at a little town called Dachau. Himmler had a great deal of confidence in Eicke’s organizational ability. He had a nasty, mean, brutal streak; he was just the kind of man to organize a permanent detention center or concentration camp for political prisoners in Bavaria. By June, 1934 Eicke had made Dachau into what quickly became known as a model concentration camp. It was Eicke, acting on Himmler’s orders with Hitler’s blessing, who actually shot Ernst Rohm to death in his cell behind Stadelheim Prison in Munich. As a reward for murdering Rohm, and because of his achievements at Dachau, in July of 1934 Himmler appointed Eicke to the new post of Inspector General of Concentration Camps and ordered him to create a permanent system of large concentration camps staffed and guarded by SS soldiers who would be trained by Eicke. The system that emerged by 1938 was based on four and then five large concentration camps; Dachau, Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald- the notorious camp near Weimar, Ravensbruck — that became the concentration camp for women. After the Anschluss which was the incorporation of Austria in March of 1938, the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp near Linz, Austria.

Theodor Eicke

Theodor Eicke

It is noteworthy that four or five of the most notorious mass murderers of the SS, people associated in the minds of victims, survivors, students and historians, as principal SS perpetrators, served in the SS concentration camps at one time or another and were proteges of Theodor Eicke. They were trained by him! They were taught the business of brutality and mass murder by Theodor Eicke. They included:

Adolf Eichmann who served as a guard at Dachau in 1934;

  1. Rudolf Hoss, the later commandant of the Auschwitz extermination complex who served at Dachau and also at Oranienburg under Eicke,
  2. Odilo Globocnik, the SS General who ended up as the central figure in Operation Reinhardt (the code name for the extermination of the Jews of Poland). Globocnik had served briefly as a guard in a concentration camp unit.
  3. Paul Werner Hoppe (sp?) who became the commandant of the Stutthof concentration camp near Danzig in Poland, was a protegé of Eicke.
  4. Karl Otto Koch, the commandant of Buchenwald.
  5. Anton Kaindl was commandant of the Sachsenhausen
  6. Friedrich “Fritz” Hartjenstein, also a camp commandant at Auschwitz/Birkenau and later at the Natzweiler concentration camp.

Berkenau

The generation of hand-on camp administrators, perpetrators, murderers were the proteges of Theodor Eicke and their experience in the SS all went back to the early history of the concentration camp system in the 1930s, from 1933 on.

Roger: So, when these initial concentration camps were established, what was the objective?

Dr. Sydnor: The objective was two-fold. Hitler’s objective, which Himmler and Heydrich understood from the first, was to create a detention center, a prison (which they preferred to call a concentration camp) into which they could throw anybody who potentially was any kind of threat to the Nazi Party or Hitler’s regime, or anybody who might conceivably challenge the new Nazi state in any way. That included people who were Communists, Socialists, members of the Catholic Center Party, Democrats, Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Nazis had a particular distaste and dislike for Jehovah’s Witnesses because they refused to recognize the secular authority of the state and the Nazis believed they were particularly seditious, Catholics, Protestant clergymen and, of course, Jews in larger and larger numbers.

In Germany in the 1930s a concentration camp was not a prison that was under the control of the Ministry of the Interior or a state agency like the Dept. of Corrections here in Virginia. The concentration camps were under the jurisdiction and command authority of the Inspector of Concentration Camps who was a senior officer in the SS. So, the concentration camps existed outside the normal confines of authority and accountability to any state agency.

Roger: Now prior to this…..

Dr. Sydnor: …There’s another essential thing that needs to be explained.

Roger: Go ahead!

Dr. Sydnor: In 1933 the Nazis very quickly developed a special kind of arrest procedure that was illegal. They used that special arrest procedure on people they specifically wanted to throw into concentration camps. That procedure was called “Protective Custody” or “Protective Detention”. The Gestapo, the secret state police, came into existence at the same time. It was also an agency of the SS after 1936. The Gestapo issued the protective custody warrants. If you got picked up on a protective custody warrant, you were hauled into the police station, fingerprinted and shipped off immediately to a concentration camp and held there indefinitely. You had no right to make a phone call, no right to summon a lawyer, no right to an appearance in court! You could be held, originally for 30 days, subsequently for 60 days and then 90 days. After the war broke out, if you were in concentration camp you could be held indefinitely. Only the Gestapo decided whether you got out, or when you got out. So, everything involved, using the camps as instruments of terror, was based on the procedures that were outside the normal laws, the checks and balances of a legal system in a civilized state.

Roger: Now, before Hitler, there was the Weimar Republic. It was a republic, just like the Republic of the United States of America?

Dr. Sydnor:  It was a federalized system in which the national government and the individual state governments of Germany shared powers. The federalized system that existed in the Weimar years was an outgrowth of the merged state system of the German Empire between 1871 and 1918. Germany was a collection of individual states; Prussia, Schleswig-Holstein, Hanover, Wurtemburg, Baden, Bavaria, Saxony and a whole collection of smaller states.

Roger:  Hold it right there. We’ve got to take a quick break. We’ll come back and develop this whole evolution of the Waffen SS group that you’ve studied. Ladies and gentlemen, our guest this evening is Dr. Charles Sydnor. His book is “Soldiers of Destruction.” He follows the evolution of one of these groups right through to the bitter end, so to speak. Fascinating reading! Fascinating book! Our phone lines will not be open until we get a little deeper into the discussion.

COMMERCIAL BREAK

Roger:  Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen! Dr. Charles Sydnor is our guest this evening. We’re discussing his incredible book. Charlie, are you with us, my friend?

Dr. Sydnor: Yes, sir! I’m right here.

Roger: I want to develop this story a little bit. First of all, on the front of your book it says, “the SS Death’s Head Division.” What does that mean?

Dr. Sydnor:  “Death’s Head” in German is “Totenkopf.” The Death’s Head is the “skull and crossbones” symbol that is on the bill of the peaked cap worn by the officers, it’s the little silver symbol in front of the cap. The Death’s Head units that guarded the pre-war concentration camp had the Death’s Head emblem on the right collar tab of their tunics. After the three SS units were formed into the Death’s Head Division and trained for combat in 1939, it became the name of the Waffen SS Death’s Head Division. The German name is the SS Totenkopf Division.

WaffenSS_police_ghettoWaffen SS outside Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

Roger: Let me see if I’ve got this format understood. This would be like a charismatic Democrat or Republican or Libertarian leader coming into power by way of building a giant paramilitary group. It would be like Bob Dole had his army and Bill Clinton had his army. If Bob Dole had a bigger army then he’d be president, right?

Dr. Sydnor: That’s partially correct as an analogy. In the Weimar period, all political parties had paramilitary groups, even the Social Democratic Party had a paramilitary group, a marching army. Germany was a country that placed deep faith in the traditional military values. It was a country that had millions of men who served in the ranks of the army or navy in the First World War. It was a country full of demobilized veterans. Using paramilitary groups was one way to flex political muscle. Once Hitler was in power, the militarized SS who were heavily armed and trained became the political shock troops. The SS Death’s Head Units, between 1934 to 1939 guarded and administered the concentration camps, into which all the political and ideological enemies of the regime were thrown, the people who were rounded up and arrested by the Gestapo. And their numbers grew as the years went by. There were also a couple of regiments of SS recruits that were trained as Special Service troops. They were to be used if there was an attempted coup or a domestic insurrection. They could be deployed to defend the regime.

There was another special militarized SS group that was Hitler’s bodyguard. It achieved regimental strength by the beginning of the war. It was called the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler that translates to the Lifeguard of Adolf Hitler.

You take these three groups; the SS Death’s Head units that guard the pre-war concentration camps, the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler which was his big praetorian guard and the SS Special Service troops and after the Germans defeated Poland in 1939, units from these three groups were organized into field divisions and became the nucleus and origins of the Waffen SS or the wartime SS. Throughout the Second World War, from 1939 on, SS concentration camp guards remained part of the Waffen SS. The SS grew into a huge, enormous conglomeration of agencies, institutions and men.

Roger: This Totenkopf, am I’ saying that correctly?

Dr. Sydnor: Totenkopf or Death’s Head Division.

Roger: This group that you followed, what is their legacy?

Dr. Sydnor: Their legacy is a vast swamp of destruction everywhere they went. They were fanatically devoted Nazis. They were thoroughly indoctrinated ideologically. Theodor Eicke set the stamp of his personality upon the character of that division. He was a fanatically driven man. He was an absolute racist, a complete Nazi fanatic! He insisted that his men be like him and he drove himself as hard as he drove his men. He inspired tremendous devotion and loyalty from the SS soldiers who served under him, both in the concentration camps before 1939 and in the Death’s Head Division after 1939. He was not an educated man who possessed any great military skill. The SS hallmark was to simply attack and assault the enemy with the greatest vigor possible; never mind the casualties, take the objective whatever it is and expect to take heavy losses!

The Death’s Head/Totenkopf Division was first deployed in combat as a Division in the Battle of France in 1940. It distinguished itself in France, not militarily; but, for two of the most notorious early atrocities committed by German units. In late May of 1940 a unit of the Death’s Head Division murdered 100 British prisoners of war near a little village in Flanders called Le Paradis. Three weeks later in southern France, units of the SS Division systematically murdered Senegalese and Moroccan French troops, black soldiers serving in the French army. If they attempted to surrender to units of the SS Death’s Head Division, they were simply shot! The Division’s great fame came a year later when it fought in the assault of the Soviet Union. The Death’s Head Division fought exclusively in Russia from June, 1941 until the collapse of the Third Reich in April, 1945.
Roger: So, all the while, not only are they out on the battlefield; but, they’re back home running the concentration camps?

Dr. Sydnor: It’s interesting the way the system worked. The reserve and replacement units, their rear echelon units, continued to serve as guard units in the concentration camps. Men would be recruited to serve in a Death’s Head formation in, let’s say, the Buchenwald concentration camp. They would get military training at Buchenwald; learn how to guard prisoners and basic military tactics, how to handle weapons, how to march, learn the basics of military service. They’d serve in Buchenwald for several months, then be rotated out of Buchenwald if they were physically fit enough for combat duty, and sent to someplace in Poland.

Roger: We’ve got to take a quick break here! Ladies and Gentlemen, we’re talking to our guest, Dr. Charles Sydnor, about his book, “Soldiers of Destruction.” We’ll be right back! Don’t go away!

COMMERCIAL BREAK

Roger: Charlie, we’re back! You were telling us they had a pretty good system for training and replenishing these SS guys?

Dr. Sydnor:  Yes, sir! The guard units in the concentration camps served as a manpower pool, a replacement pool for the SS Death’s Head Division during the war. SS men came from other types of SS units; but, a number of them came from the concentration camp guard formations thoughout the war. In addition, the flow of personnel worked the other way, too. Officers and men in the Death’s Head Division who were wounded in combat or for some other reason became physically unfit to continue with the rigors of front line combat, were transferred back to rear area SS units. Most of those men ended up going back to the concentration camps because their experience in concentration camps was badly needed. The two most notable instances in this regard were Paul Werner Hoppe, Theodor Eicke’s adjutant in the SS Division. Hoppe was wounded in northern Russia in 1942. He had served as Eicke’s adjutant when Eicke was the Inspector General of the concentration camps. Hoppe was transferred to Auschwitz as commander of the guard company. After several months at Auschwitz, he was promoted to the position of Commandant of the Stutthof concentration camp near Danzig. He served for the rest of the war as commandant of that concentration camp.

Friedrich Hartjenstein who was a battalion commander in the Death’s Head Division in Russia was relieved for incompetence as a battalion commander and transferred to Auschwitz and was, for a time, the commandant of the Birkenau death camp in the Auschwitz complex. In 1944 he was tranferred from Birkenau to France and became the commandant of the Natzweiler concentration camp. There was a constant movement of personnel back and forth between the division, the concentration camps and the death camps during the Second World War.

Roger: The thing that has always bothered me, and I think it bothers a lot of folks,s how it would be possible…. you talked a bit ago about these troops killing the Moroccan black soldiers when they were surrendering….. they were brutal killers! How do you get people to think like that?

Dr. Sydnor:  It was easier to train men like that in the Death’s Head Division than anywhere else except the Einsatzgruppen, the special SS mobile killing commandos that operated in Czechoslovakia in 1938, in Poland in 1939 and in the Soviet Union in 1941 and 1942. It involved harsh discipline, a rigid code of conduct and ideological indoctrination. It involved exposing men to concentration camp inmates who were ragged, hungry, filthy, who looked the part of the sub-humanity that the Nazi ideology portrayed them to be. The ethos in the SS was that an “enemy behind the wire”, that’s a literal term that Eicke used with his concentration camp guards. Prisoners were enemies who just as potentially lethal and dangerous and insidious as any other enemy; racial, political or ideological, only they happened to be “behind the wire”. They had to be guarded very closely and carefully. They must not be shown any pity, any mercy. They had to be given no quarter. The regulations for punishing prisoners were totally within the authority of the concentration camp commandant. The commandant of a concentration camp could sentence a prisoner to death for an infraction of camp rules! That prisoner had no appeal, no recourse! There was no way any outside judicial authority could intervene in the camp. Once you were in a concentration camp, you were totally in the mercy of the SS Guards. The SS guards, basically, showed no mercy!

It’s very easy once you have trained, hundreds of men, thousands of men, to think this way about enemies of the state who were in concentration camps…it is then very easy to convince them with ideological training that when they’re in a combat division facing an enemy across the front line is the same type of racial sub-human, the same type of human garbage, he’s more dangerous now because he’s not locked up behind the wire and he’s got a gun in his hand! So, the object in war, the object for the men in the SS Death’s Head Division was not to defeat the enemy’s army, not to capture his military leaders, it was simply to destroy the enemy, to kill as many of them as possible!

Roger: Wow! We’ve got to take a news break. We’ll come back and talk about how this turned into an extermination experiment. Ladies and gentlemen, our guest this evening is Dr. Charles W. Sydnor, Jr. His book is “Soldiers of Destruction: the SS Death’s Head Division 1933-1945″ We’ll be right back!

2ND HOUR – COMMERCIAL BREAK

Roger: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to our 2nd hour of the program. I am Roger Fredinburg, radio’s regular guy. Nice to have you aboard. Our guest this evening in our continuing series, The Holocaust: We Must Remember is Dr. Charles W. Sydnor, Jr. His book is “Soldiers of Destruction: the SS Death’s Head Division, 1933-1945.”

We have a pretty good foundation laid, Charlie. I want to go back to something you said on the first hour of the broadcast. You talked about people being perceived as sub-human. You described them as ragged, tattered, filthy people. You mentioned indoctrination, the discipline and rigid training, all of those things that went into making these “killing machines” that were human robots, for lack of a better definition.

I know you were an expert witness for the Justice Department on a number of court cases. It never seems to be properly addressed as to how the human mind is altered in such a way that it could commit the evil we witnessed in Hitler’s Germany. I’m trying to figure out what people need to be aware of so that can never happen to them!

Dr. Sydnor:  I’m not sure we can really fathom that. I’m not sure that is a question that is susceptible to a clear and distinctive answer. Clearly, different things motivate different people to do murder. In the SS, years of racist education in Nazi schools with Nazi teachers using books that contained pornographic, stereotypical cartoons depicting Jews and other undesirable people (particularly gypsies) was followed by years of indoctrination in the SS. Having grown up and been surrounded by a massive state system, it gave the veneer of legality to what was going on. At some point, nearly everybody in that system crossed the line. The people who were in the SS were there because they wanted to be in the SS! They volunteered for the SS! It was the elite of the National Socialist Order! It was to be the cadre of the future of the Thousand Year Reich in Europe once Hitler won the war, defeated Russia and established a new Nazi millennium!

I’m not sure that the question is susceptible to an answer because that indecision lies at the heart of why it is so important to remember what happened. Not only to remember it generally; but, to remember it factually, to remember it specifically, to remember it accurately, not to enlarge it in some way or embellish it or embrace it! Heaven knows, it’s horrible enough in the dimensions that it actually took place in! In my estimation as an historian, it’s precisely because we don’t know the answer to that question, that we have to remember.

Roger: As an historian, you clearly are well aware of the old adage that if you don’t learn from history, it will repeat itself!

Dr. Sydnor: That’s George Santayana! That has been recycled so much that most of the tread’s off of it!

Roger: Ha, ha, ha!

Dr. Sydnor: Just because something is a cliche doesn’t mean it is not true! And that, of course, is very true! Many of us who are trained historians come to a point in our careers where we’re really not certain that people in government are capable of learning anything from history, or very much from history!

Roger: What I want, by the end of this series, is for people to look around and see the signs of indoctrination, of propaganda. What do the average citizens of the world look for? What are the signs that tells us we’re headed down a bad chunk of road?

Dr. Sydnor:  I think the clearest sign, the most unmistakable marker and the sharpest and shrillest warning is any situation in which people attempt to organize hatred into a political program; or any cause, or group, or association seeks to justify it’s own existence or perpetuate an agenda or develop and manifest a program based upon the presumed demonization or anathemetization of other peoples, individuals or groups. Whatever their motives and public manifestations, if hatred and prejudice and presumed projection of inferiority and intolerance of other human beings is the statement of their programs, that’s the first warning sign.

Roger: How about the KKK?

Dr. Sydnor: It’s interesting that after George Lincoln Rockwell was killed in 1957, the Klan and the American Nazi Party basically merged. The staple of the two programs really merged and the American Nazi Party lost its distinct identity after Rockwell’s death. The hangers-on in that movement, many of them ended up in the Klan.

Roger: How about the Nation of Islam?

Dr. Sydnor: It’s the same principle on the other side of the coin. Farrakhan is a little more difficult to typecast than Elijah Mohammed was a generation ago because he moved in a different direction. I’m not sure that’s any more convincing than David Dukes efforts were in Louisiana to portray himself as a kind mainstream American political conservative when his background had been in the American Nazi Party, the Klan and the White Citizens Councils in Louisiana.

I think the proposition boils down to this; in every society there are potential Hitlers, in every generation there are potential Hitlers. What keeps those people on the fringe, under the mattress of acceptable society, are conditions of relative normality. Bear in mind what happened in Germany in the 1920s and into the early 1930s, there was a remarkably unique conglomeration or collection of historical circumstances. If Germany had not gone through the trauma of defeat in the First World War, the French occupation, the inflation of the 1923, the huge upheaval of the Great Depression where there was no social security net, when one third of the country was unemployed and had no welfare, unemployment benefits, etc., those sorts of conditions radicalized an entire population into accepting Hitler as a legitimate politician. The closer a society comes to conditions like that, the graver the danger is that lunatic fringe people will be looked upon as credible, as people who have something legitimate to offer in a political program.

Roger: So, bad times seem to precipitate these events. Hard times…. people in despair!

Dr. Sydnor: There are historians who point out Hitler’s popularity really peaked after the Great Depression had begun to ease somewhat in Germany. The Nazi Party politically became popular before the worst part of the Great Depression hit Germany in 1930. The Wall Street crash in 1929 precipitated a chain reaction causing world economies to collapse. Germany fell like a domino about 19 months after the Wall Street crash. Hard times, unusual circumstances, economic and social turbulence and upheaval and chaos, are the stuff these types of movements, or “would be” Hitlers feed upon because they are circumstances ideally suited to getting across a message based on hate.

Roger: Capitalize on the anger, I suppose. Taking that into account, you and I spoke the other day about a project you are working on, the National Smokers Alliance. I had jokingly said to you that it was kind of fascist! There are people out there demonizing folks who smoke! If we see that if the dominant media culture doesn’t like somebody, they begin to “demonize”! I began to equate that with some of the techniques used by Josef Goebbels!

Dr. Sydnor: I don’t think the American media has been as focused as Goebbels was; but, the National Smokers Alliance with 4 million members in the association, it’s a group with one very simple objective; to promote accommodation and toleration of people who, as adults, choose to smoke. The Smokers Alliance is not interested in promoting the tobacco industry. It doesn’t want kids smoking; but, if adults make a decision to smoke, the Alliance feels they ought to have that right and ought not to be subjected to discriminatory regulations and ordinances that prevent them from doing that. 20% of the people who belong to the NSA are non-smokers!

Roger: It’s a freedom issue! The thing that concerns me, the smoking is one of those issues you’re “for” or “against”; but, it’s the way they demonize people for something they do or something they believe in. That bothers me! That seems like the same propaganda tools we want to avoid!

Dr. Sydnor:  Yes! There’s nothing to be gained for the stability of a free society in demonizing or anathematizing anybody! In recent statewide elections here in Virginia, I went to help a friend who was up for re-election to the House of Delegates. At a polling place a man who voted for his opponent really got in my face. He was consumed with anger and became irrational, spitting out this stream of invective, accusing my friend of being dishonest, saying he was guilty of everything except commiting unnatural acts with barnyard animals! My response was, you don’t need to be this way. You don’t have to demonize somebody to vote against them. All you have to do is disagree with them to vote against them. It’s not necessary to work yourself up into such a state.

Roger:  I just worry about the whole sentimentality that surrounds this concept that seems to be growing in this country. I’d like to see it stopped!

Charlie, are you ready to take some phone calls? Folks, the phone lines are open. We’re talking with Dr. Charles Sydnor about his fascinating book,, “Soldiers of Destruction: the SS Death’s Division – 1933 to 1945″ If you really want to know how the SS got to be what they became, how bad and nasty they really were, you’ll find it in this book! You can order the book from Princeton Publishing at 1-800-777-47261-800-777-4726 FREE.

Alright! We’re going to Brian out in Springfield, Illinois! Hello, Brian!

Caller-Brian: I heard that were French, Dutch, Danes, Norwegians and even some Russians that served in the SS.

Dr. Sydnor:  That’s absolutely correct. In fact, there was a Flemish legion in the Waffen SS led by a Belgian collaborator by the name of Leon Degrelle. There was Dutch SS unit, there were Norwegians and even some Swedish volunteers in the Waffen SS also. There was even a Moslem SS created in 1943 in the Balkans. There were Russians who served in the Waffen SS. There was a Ukranian, Latvian and Estonian legion created late in the war. By 1945 the Waffen SS was really a kind of multi-national fighting force.

Caller-Brian: I’ll bet a lot of those SS men smoked cigarettes!

Roger: Ha, ha, ha! Brian, thank you very much!

Dr. Sydnor: Himmler was a cigar smoker. Ha, ha!

Roger: Matt in Eugene, Oregon, how are you?

Caller-Matt: Fine, Roger! Thanks for taking my call. Dr. Sydnor, it’s a great show!

Dr. Sydnor: Thank you.

Caller-Matt: I couldn’t help but call. I was listening to you talk about the Jews and how Hitler and his buddies had to first make this group of people somehow non-human and not entitled to the protection of the state. We hear over and over, again and again, that we need to keep this from happening again. Do you see any group of people in our culture that have lost the protection of the state?

Dr. Sydnor: Any group in our culture? None that I’m really familiar with.

Caller-Matt: Not even the unborn?

Dr. Sydnor: I guess you could make that argument.

Caller-Matt:  Do you agree or disagree? That’s a whole group of people who have lost their “human-ness”! They’re no longer human, they are blobs of tissue that no longer have the right to life! You have to first dehumanize them, of course! We’re doing that now! I agree with you! It was hideous what happened! But, we’re still doing it and we’re still blind to it, like we were then! We’re still blind!

Dr. Sydnor: If you’re asking if I believe in abortion, the answer is NO, I do not believe in it!

Caller-Matt: Okay.

Roger: Alright, Matt, I don’t want to turn this into an “abortion show”, folks, please! We’re talking about the Nazi SS here. We’ve got John on the line. He’s calling from Santa Rosa, California.

Caller-John: Good evening! I’d like to ask Dr. Sydnor, do these former SS officers and enlisted men get together like American veterans do? That seems pretty disturbing if they do!

Dr. Sydnor: Yes, they do. John, it’s a very interesting question! That has been a very controversial subject in Germany over the years. In fact, there have been reunions of veterans of the SS Death’s Head Division. It got to the point that the German press was very interested in this about ten years ago, so they began organizing these reunions under pseudonyms like the “Westphalian Hunting Club” or the “Sons of the Order of the Nibelungen” or something like that. They do get together from time to time.

Caller-John: Were any of the Waffen SS officers allowed to go into the West German Wermacht or whatever they called it after the war?

Dr. Sydnor: The Bundeswehr?

Caller-John: Whatever they called it.

Dr. Sydnor: No, not immediately.

Caller-John:  Adolf Gehlen (sp?) was an Ace, was allowed to go back in to the Luftwaffe. I was wondering….?

Dr. Sydnor:  Not that I know of. The Germans were pretty careful in the immediate post-war years. In the face of a pretty well-organized and highly financed campaign by Waffen SS veterans to rehabilitate the image of the Waffen SS, to create a kind of mythology about it…. of course, there were a lot of SS veterans after the war, a lot who survived the war. They became integrated into German society. Many of them emerged as prominent business figures in the 1960s when they were in their 50s, into the 1970s when they were in their 60s. They had a lot of political clout and and lot of political influence. They lobbied the West German parliament to restore benefits and to award pensions. It started out with enlisted men who served in the Waffen SS who became eligible for pensions, then NCOs and junior grade officers, then middle grade officers. Finally in the 1970s, they lifted the restrictions altogether. By that time there were only a handful of surviving colonels and generals who had served in the Waffen SS who qualified for pensions.

Caller-John: It’s kind of disturbing to me. I have nothing against the German Wehrmacht soldiers. They were just doing their duty. But, there’s something about the SS organization, a political organization. It was Hitler’s personal army, wasn’t it?

Dr. Sydnor: Well, it was; but, the longer the war went on, the more blurred that distinction became. One of the previous callers a few minutes ago raised a question about the multi-national character of the SS, the Waffen SS anyway. Keep in mind, that closely related and directly affiliated with the Waffen SS were the SS and police agencies that ran the instruments of repression in the conquered countries and occupied territories of Nazi Europe in the Second World War. The security police and the SD, armed SS units, were involved in the clearing of Jewish ghettos at Newvlene, Chestahova, Warsaw, Minsk, Bialystok. (all spelled phonetically) The SS was an all-purpose organization that was trained, equipped, ready, willing and able to serve the purposes of repression and persecution required them to do.

Roger:  All right, Charles, we’ve got to take a break. Ladies and gentlemen, we’re following the evolution of one of these Waffen SS groups, the Totenkopf. What an incredible story is told in the book! We’ll get back to it on the other side of the break!

COMMERCIAL BREAK

Roger:  Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen! Dr. Charles Sydnor’s our guest. “Soldiers of Destruction” is his book, an incredible story following the evolution of the Waffen SS!

All right, Charlie! We’re back! Let’s go to Mike in Tampa, Florida and then I have a quick question for you! Mike, hello!

Caller-Mike: Yes, sir! I’ve lived in Paris, France and I personally know a number of Frenchmen who were in the Charlemagne SS as volunteers for Adolf Hitler. Today, these older Frenchmen are writing books and being interviewed on French national radio. They are very proud that they volunteered to help Adolf Hitler to fight Communism. I assure you, if you know them the way I know them, and you listen to them, you will see the whole war very differently and that we Americans have been lied to by the television networks about current events ever since WW II. These men are very proud about what they did and they believe Hitler was doing the right thing in fighting communism. They say they would do it again! They’re very proud of what they did!

Roger: Do you want to respond to that, Charles?

Dr. Sydnor: The Charlemagne Regiment in the Charlemagne Division was a unit of French SS Legionnaires that has less than an admirable record in the way they conducted themselves, particularly in the Battle of Berlin. That, in fact, was the unit that defended the government quarter of the city against the Red army in April, 1945. They didn’t exercise any particular care in who they killed. They killed a number of German civilians along with Russian soldiers.

France is still deeply troubled, and I think in some respects, still politically split by the lingering issues of whether one collaborated or whether one resisted. There are older men in France now, many of whom were never in the SS, who were collaborators or committed supporters of the Vichy French regime. They are not ashamed of their wartime service or what they did and make no apologies for it.

Roger: The question I had, because it was an obvious one when John called and asked about the SS getting together and having their reunions. How did those folks escape prosecution?

Dr. Sydnor:  The important point to make here is that everyone who served in the Waffen SS was not a war criminal. There were men who served in the Waffen SS who did not murder Jews, who did not shoot gypsies, who never worked in concentration camps. There were a lot of men in the Waffen SS who did. There were a lot of men in the Waffen SS who never shot civilians. or burned villages. or massacred groups of innocent civilians, or looted or plundered or did any of the other terrible things that some Waffen SS units did. We can’t stigmatize the whole group of the whole institution. The SS itself, the entire organization, was condemned as a criminal organization by the Nuremburg Tribunal in 1946; but, I interviewed a number of men in Germany in 1969, 1972 and 1976 who were veterans of the Waffen SS. I interviewed a number of men who served in the SS Death’s Head Division. Two of the most interesting and upright people I ever met were Otto Baum and Karl Ulrich, both veterans of the SS Death’s Head Division. They were not war criminals.

The point to Roger’s question is that many of the individuals who were responsible for atrocities, committed crimes and were war criminals were never identified, or prosecuted or held accountable for what they did. They got away with it!

Roger: You were state’s witness for US vs. John Demjanjuk. Just two or three days ago, he asked for his US citizenship back. Do you have any reflection on that?

Dr. Sydnor: Yes! I have a very specific and vigorous reflection on that! First, I served as an affiant. I did an affidavit for the court in Cleveland, Ohio in the second Demjanjuk case which was a deportation proceeding. Mr. Demjanjuk was de-naturalized and ordered deported from the United States legally under the law; the Holtzman Amendment and the Supreme Court’s Federenco Judgement which holds that anyone who served as a concentration camp guard and engaged in the persecution of human beings on the basis of race, religion, national origin, social status or economic station was never eligible for citizenship in the United States.

What’s happened is Mr. Demjanjuk’s extradition was requested by the Israelis subsequent to the deportation hearing. The Israelis tried him solely on the charge that he was Ivan the Terrible who operated the gas chamber at Treblinka. Subsequent to his trial in Israel and the collapse of the Soviet Union, there were documentary records that became available; interrogation protocols that the Soviets had conducted after the war when they were looking for former Soviet citizens who had served as death camp guards. Ivan the Terrible was high on their Most Wanted List. There was conflicting testimony about who Ivan the Terrible was. The Israeli Supreme Court came to the conclusion that they could not execute a man based upon event the faint shadow of a doubt about his past identity. Given the specific charge on which he had been tried, they were forced to turn him loose. If Mr. Demjanjuk was not, in fact, Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka, he was Ivan, the slightly less terrible, of Sobibor because his identity card, which is an authentic document from the period verified by historians, handwriting experts,chemists, forensic experts; his identity card as a Ukrainian Auxiliary serving as a Trawnicki guard places him in the Sobibor death camp.

Mr. Demjanjuk is not entitled to have his citizenship back! He should never have been let back in to the United States. He was allowed back into the United States because one of the appellate judges in the Sixth Court of Appeals saw fit to exercise judicial activism and take the law into his hands and let Mr. Demjanjuk back into the country! Mr. Demjanjuk is not entitled to have his citizenship back because, under American law, he was never entitled to it in the first place!

Roger: Now, I was under the impression he was vindicated. You’re telling me he has not?

Dr. Sydnor: He absolutely has not been vindicated! Absolutely not! This man was a death camp guard. He was a Ukrainian serving in the Red army who was captured by the Germans in 1942. The Germans trained him to be an SS auxiliary. They took him to a place in Poland called Trawnicki where they trained eastern European collaborators. He was trained, armed and deployed for the purpose of killing civilians, rounding up Jews and guarding camps. There is evidence now that after he served….. In point of fact, I myself believe that he was Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka!

Roger: Oh! Man!

Dr. Sydnor: The identity card places him in Sobibor. There’s evidence now that suggests that he was also a guard at the Flossenbürg concentration camp late in the war.

Roger: We’ve got to take a quick break! We’ll go to calls right on the other side, folks!

COMMERCIAL BREAK

Roger: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome back! Dr. Charles Sydnor is with us. You can order his book “Soldiers of Destruction” from the publisher at 1-800-777-47261-800-777-4726 FREE. Charlie, we’ve got more phone calls! Are you ready?

Dr. Sydnor: Yes, sir!

Roger:  Kelleigh in Tennessee, you’re on the radio!

Caller-Kelleigh: Thank you, Roger! Dr. Sydnor, I wanted to mention two short questions. One, I have a difficulty in finding anything on the White Rose Society or the Odessa Files. Two, I recently watched a 3-hour program on Discovery Channel regarding the CIA that mentioned the CIA was responsible for bringing former Nazis to this country. I’m wondering how many, like Demjanjuk, sneaked in or were helped to get into this country? Perhaps that has something to do with the Odessa Files. I’m not sure because I have nothing on it. I’m interested in how many were brought over here because I know it is documented that a lot of them got into America.

Dr. Sydnor: Let me answer your questions in the order you asked them.

First, there are two or three books that deal with the White Rose Society, the student anti-Nazi movement during the Second World War at the University of Munich; the movement around the brother and sister, Hans and Sophie Scholl. Let me suggest a book by Canadian scholar, Peter Hoffman. It’s called, “The History of the German Resistance.” The bibliography is excellent for a whole range of sources on the different resistance movements in Germany during the war. I cannot remember the author’s name, but there is a book written in English on the White Rose Society.

Secondly, the Odessa is largely a figment of post-war fictional imagination. The SS veterans organization in Germany, the Waffen SS veterans which, I presume, served for the book and movie called “The Odessa File” is called HIAG, a German term that means a self-help organization. That’s the acronym for the SS veterans organization.

Thirdly, most of the men who had been SS guards at concentration camps or SS policemen got into the country after the war by posing as displaced persons, or lying about, or concealing the material facts about what they had done during the Second World War. However, it is true that some got in with the active assistance, sponsorship or support of the Army Counter-Intelligence Corps after the Second World War, and perhaps with the CIA. With the CIA I can’t even give you an educated opinion because whatever records there may be are, to the best of my knowledge, not available. I would assume there is the basis for a correct assumption, that some of these people did get in that way.

What I think is even more reprehensible in this vein is the active assistance that counter-intelligence gave to people like Klaus Barbie. There’s no question they helped him evade identification and capture, helped him get out of Europe to Latin America! It was not until the Bolivian military government was overthrown and civilian rule was re-established in the early 1980s that Klaus Barbie was finally extradited back to France and stood trial.

Caller-Kelleigh: Okay! Thanks!

Roger: Thanks, Kel! Slim in Salem, Oregon, hello!

Caller-Slim:  Good program, Roger! Dr. Sydnor, I wonder if you could make a comment or two about the event that led up to all the events you’re talking about….maybe start with the Versailles Treaty and how the Federal Reserve banks, known over there as the central bank or the Riechsbank…

Dr. Sydnor: Yes, the German Reichsbank, that’s correct!

Caller-Slim: Could you make a comment about their part in it and how they totally destroyed the economy and issued all those worthless marks?

Dr. Sydnor: The real issue for the historian is the huge collection of blunders that were involved in ending the First World War and imposing an absolutely ruinous peace on the Germans. Some of the circumstances of the First World War made that understandable. The French wanted revenge, the British didn’t want the Germans to ever regain the type of military strength that would enable them to inflict that kind of destruction on the world again. In brief, the Treaty of Versailles and the conditions the Germans were forced to accept sowed the seeds for all of the later upheaval and chaos that developed.

The great inflation of 1923 which was the effort undertaken by the banking authority in Germany to deliberately inflate the currency in order to de-value what the Germans were having to pay the French and British in reparations for war damages was deliberately allowed to get out of control. As you know, the currency became virtually worthless in a matter of months. You could take a bushel basket of 100,000 reichmark notes into a butcher shop and buy a couple of pounds of sausage with it.

Roger:  Dr. Sydnor, we’ve run out of time, my friend! I really appreciate your spending the evening with us tonight!

Dr. Sydnor: Roger, it’s been an honor to be with you and your listeners, thanks!

Roger: Thank you, sir, and God Bless!

(Transcription is from MP3 file converted from original cassette with minimal editing by Chey Simonton.

Errors, if any, may be due to unintelligible sections of original 1997 audio technology. Unknown/unintelligible words are spelled phonetically.)