Tag Archives: Jews

A Simple Explanation to a Complex Problem

Taught by Dennis Prager and explained in 5 1/2 minutes.
http://https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=8EDW88CBo-8

Course Description

The Middle East conflict is framed as one of the most complex problems in the world. But, in reality, it’s very simple. Israelis want to live in peace and are willing to accept a neighboring Palestinian state. And most Palestinians do not want Israel to exist. As Dennis Prager explains, this is really all you need to know. In 5 minutes, understand how Israel was founded, and how, since that auspicious day in 1948, its neighbors have tried to destroy it, again and again.
Prager U gratefully acknowledges the generous support of the Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation, who sponsored this video.

The Holocaust – We Must Remember – Dr. Michael Steinlauf – Bondage to the Dead

THE HOLOCAUST: WE MUST REMEMBER 

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

3-18-1998 Twenty-First Program in Series

Guest: Dr. Michael Steinlauf

Book: BONDAGE TO THE DEAD: Poland and the Memory of the Holocaust

ISBN-10: 0815604033 and ISBN-13: 978- 0815604037

Roger Fredinburg interviews Dr. Michael Steinlauf about his book: Bondage to the Dead. This is the last of the “We Must Remember” interviews.

bondage

Roger: Welcome, ladies and gentlemen! Once again, this is our final program in this very long series on the holocaust. It’s been quite a learning experience for me and I know for many of you. We’ve heard some incredible stories and learned some incredible things about man’s inhumanity to man, and beyond that, man’s triumph over that! It’s been a powerful series and I just want to thank all of you who have stayed with us for these 21 weeks. It’s been a real pleasure to do it!

Tonight we take a look at the Polish-Jewish relations in Poland up to, during and beyond World War II and the Holocaust. To help us get a grip on this particular area of interest, ladies and gentlemen, is a wonderful scholar joining us tonight. We have Dr. Michael Steinlauf with us. Michael, welcome to the show!

Dr. Steinlauf: Thank you very much, Roger.

Roger: It’s a pleasure to have you here, sir. I did not receive your book, so I am at a disadvantage this evening, but, I do know basically what your book is about. We’re just going to have to go at it from that angle. If you could first of all tell us a little bit about yourself and what it was that brought you to write on this issue of Poland, I’d be grateful.

Dr. Steinlauf: It all started about 15 years ago. In 1983 I was graduate student in Jewish studies at Brandeis University. I had the opportunity to go to Poland for a year as a Fulbright Scholar. I came to Poland expecting to trace the history of ghosts, you might say, and I discovered that they were in the middle of —- that was the period of “Solidarity” in fact it was in martial law, “Solidarity” had just gotten banned. It was a very exciting time and also a time all kinds of things were happening among living people as well. I slipped into this strange world where the memory of the Jews seemed to be very, very important, not just the stuff of history; but, for living people.

That got me thinking about the issues. Then some years later I had the opportunity to write an article about what it was that witnessing the holocaust had done to Poles. The article became a very long piece. I suddenly realized around six or seven years ago that I had more than an article, I had a book! The article was published in a recently published anthology called, “The World Reacts to the Holocaust” edited by David Wyman, where 21 or so countries are covered in terms of how the memory of the holocaust had been constructed over the last 50 years in those countries. My focus, of course, was on Poland which is a very unique situation in itself.

Roger: You know, in history they say that to the victor go the spoils? And, that he who wins the wars writes the history books for the future generations? Do you find that makes it difficult to go back and research the events of the holocaust?

Dr. Steinlauf:   My motto has always been the opposite! There’s a literary critic and philosopher who wrote in the 1920s and 1930s, a German-Jewish writer by the name of Walter Benjamin. His motto was “brush history against the grain.” What he meant by that is don’t accept the fact that to the winner go the spoils. Go back into history because precisely what may be most important about history and in history is what has been silenced for one reason or another.

Roger: I think that is really at the pinnacle of the discussion about the holocaust. Has there been anything silenced?

Dr. Steinlauf:  Well, in many ways. Look, you’re talking about, and I’m sure I don’t need to elaborate at this point if this is your 21st program, even today simply consulting the facts of what happened is well-nigh unbelievable! Incredible! It just boggles the imagination! It boggles the mind! It boggles the human spirit that people could have done this, that human beings could have done this to other human beings! Then imagine that we don’t have this 50 years and imagine people all over the world, and of course, all of the Jews themselves experiencing this, the Germans and Nazis and all the various levels of bystanders having to deal with this unbelievable reality that’s just only partially assimilated. 50 years ago we have this kind failure to fully witness this, with everyone involved no matter how close or how distant. Now, 50 years later we know what the facts are; but, what do the facts mean? In that sense, I think, we’re just beginning to deal with the events because they transformed the kind of world we live in.

Roger: I started out on this journey, Michael, because I really wanted to have a deeper understanding of what it must have been like to be a Jew during the time of the holocaust in Europe and in America and other places. It was last week or maybe the week before; but, last week in the 20th week of this series, I finally understood what it was like to be a Jew. I broke down in tears. I really finally got it! It took that much absorption and that many authors and that many stories, of which there’s been thirty-some, before I finally got it! You can’t explain it. It’s just the most amazing thing to me; but, I understand it!   I told my boss I’d rather be anything but a Jew.

Dr. Steinlauf: Well, you see, this is why–the nature of the material is such that it lends itself, you see, and the nature of the truth is such that it lends itself to holocaust deniers also because people say, “yes, it’s unbelievable! It never happened!” That’s such a danger!

Roger:  Since you work at the YIVO Institute, I know that you look at issues relative to the Jewish condition. I have had, and I might as well be up front about this, a lot of really strange email and mail and packages I didn’t want to open, if you know what I mean…

Dr. Steinlauf: Yup!

Roger: … as a result of doing this series. I have found a hatred that exists out there that is so powerful, so unbelievable in our modern time that I’m astounded by it, even though I knew it was there when I began! It’s almost impossible to relate to people some of the things that are said to me. The reason, of course, why I asked you this question about history; there are people who honestly believe that history has been revised so that some conspiracy of the Jews can take over the world–or whatever! When I dig into the historic evidence that exists and I look in the past and the current time and I research the books and the stories, I’m compelled to think that it’s quite reverse of what you might call the anti-Semites out there think that there’s so much more that hasn’t yet been told, that it’s mind-boggling!

Dr. Steinlauf: Well, this is people who refuse to look at the facts of history, find themselves in cause and effect in history. Some people find that they have to create myths and create conspiracies in history. Let me just tell you that the minute you talk about conspiracy, even if you’re not talking about the Jews, you’re talking something that potentially is going to involve the Jews because the oldest, oldest conspiracy that people have mythologized and created in their minds is that of the Jews, so that conspiracy theories are very tricky, dangerous things.

Roger:  We’ve gone into the origins of anti-Semitism and talked about this catalyst in the Christian realm that brought forward this concepts, these conspiracies. There are a lot of people out there today who read the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, they read The Lector Report, they throw these concepts into newsletter, the newsletters begin to circulate in copies that have been watered down to the place you can barely read them. People read that stuff and take it verbatim! They’ll believe that over the Bible! How does that happen?

Dr. Steinlauf: Well, it happens because people are not rational creatures, after all. You know, we think we’re rational. As far as I’m concerned, what that means is that despite all the trendy kind of talk about deconstruction and how do we know what’s true, and historical knowledge is relative; there’s all this trendy talk that I’m sure you’ve come across, some things and certainly in relation to the holocaust, here is something that is true!

There are some things in history that are black and white. We have to just state that! We have to state that over and over and over again! The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is fake, as false a book as can possible exist! That has to be stated over and over again, as often as is necessary. It’s a struggle! It’s a struggle because there’s a lot of unbelievable stupidity and bad faith in the world.

Roger: Yes, I interviewed a gentleman, in fact we didn’t even get it on the air yet, his name is Cohn. He’s over in England.

Dr. Steinlauf: Norman Cohn, of course!

Roger: Right! He wrote a book about that (Warrant for Genocide: The Myth of Jewish World Conspiracy and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion) and dedicated several chapters in the book to the actual origin of the Protocols. I ask people when they call now and start throwing that at me, I ask me to name a couple of those elders for me. Ha, ha!

Dr. Steinlauf: I don’t even argue with dyed-in-the-wool anti-Semites. These people who believe in the Jewish world conspiracy are people who have a psychological need to construct a certain image of the world. You’re not going to shake that! I think it’s useless to argue with anti-Semites. Of course, you find yourself in that position because you have a talk show and these people call up a lot.

On the other hand, most of the people who listen are open-minded people who simply want to know the truth.

Roger: I think one of things that people are not seemingly able to relate to, and maybe you can help with that, they don’t understand why 50 years after the fact, they still keep hearing about the poor downtrodden Jews —”there are lots of people who’ve been persecuted in the world!” and they go on to talk about Stalin or Mao Tse Tung or whoever.   Maybe you could address that for us, why this concept of genocide, set apart from the others is quite different and, more important, why we should pay attention to it.

Dr. Steinlauf: We’re not saying— I don’t think anyone is going to say — at least I certainly won’t and most historians won’t — that what happened to the Jews is somehow incomparable to any other mass murder or horrendous oppression that’s happened in history. There are certain things about what happened to the Jews that makes it worthy of our attention and our knowledge.

For me, one of those things is that it is not something that happened centuries ago in some out-of-the-way and supposedly barbaric corner of the world, that’s one thing. Above all, you might say that it not only happened in the modern world, in a certain way it’s the result of the harnessing of all those wonderful technological powers that seemed to have made our world so good in a lot of ways, so to me that seems a rather important issue.

Think of this! 150 years ago we had a factory system and all of that technology transformed our world. Come the Nazis who create factories–factories of what — not factories to produce things that people could use; but, factories to create death, to create death as effectively and expeditiously as possible! And to process, literally that’s how they said it, to “process” human beings from something alive into something dead, something that just gets plowed into the soil! To do this in such a way that millions and millions of people are “processed” (that horrible word!) in this way, within months, is something that talks about the potential in our modern civilization, I think. It suggests that we have to be on our guard because we have this potential even though we also have the potential of transforming for good. So, that’s one way I look at it.

The Jews, for better or for worse, found themselves at the center of this, at the center of this attempt in the modern world to take a group of people, simply because they were a group of people, and wipe them off the face of the earth! Now, that doesn’t mean we’re not going to talk about other genocides and attempted genocides. It doesn’t mean that one cannot talk about the millions and millions of people who were murdered in the course of being brought over to this country and other countries as slaves.

Roger: Yes, but, it is different because of the genocide effect, isn’t it?

Dr. Steinlauf: It’s different because it somehow ties in with our modern world in a really, really scary way.

Roger: Now, in Poland, I’ve heard some stories about Poland during the holocaust. What were the relationships like between Jews and Poles up to the point of the holocaust?

Dr. Steinlauf: Well, it’s very complex, first of all, because regardless of what’s out there. Let’s talk about the situation before the war. We have to remember that Jews lived in this huge area that was Poland. We’re not just talking about the area of this Polish nation-state today. Historically, for hundreds of years in the Middle Ages and in the early modern period, Poland was a huge area that included what is today the Ukraine and Belarus and Lithuania as well as Poland and even more than that! In those territories Jews have lived for centuries and centuries. In comparison — in fact, they’d immigrated from Germany when there incredible persecutions that you’ve no doubt heard about in the Middle Ages. Compared to the kinds of persecutions that were going on in Germany, there was relative tolerance in these Polish lands.

Jews lived there and other people lived there. It was a kind of loose, decentralized world, an old-fashioned kind of feudal world where there were landowners and peasants, and there were Jews who performed things that people needed; making things, crafts, artisan’s and commerce in the small towns. They were very economically important given that kind of economy. Now, things went on, it’s not to say that people loved each other; there were great differences between the local Polish peasants and the landowners and the Jews; but, they kind of accepted each other in the differences because they were able to live in a decent way for centuries and centuries.

The problem starts, what we call political anti-Semitism, begins at the end of the 19th Century, that’s about 100 years ago when you start getting nationalists movements. You get various kinds of nationalist movements in Poland. One of those nationalist movements is very hostile, not just to Jews but to all minorities. Their idea was that you must have a Poland that’s ethnically Polish and Roman Catholic. These people were called the National Democrats in Poland, called the “ND”. They don’t actually ever come to power. There was not Poland in the 19th Century. There was no Polish nation-state. It was part of the Russian Empire and part of the Austrian Empire; but, after World War 1 you do get a Polish state. In that state, these nationalists, these very anti-minority and anti-semitic nationalists become increasingly more popular. So, one could say that the worst moment in Polish-Jewish relations in hundreds and hundreds of years happens–this is a tragedy— in the period just before the holocaust.

I have to say, it doesn’t necessarily follow that because a whole lot of Poles weren’t crazy about Jews and would have like to have them out of Poland because most of the Polish political parties had platforms that said Jews should leave. Not forcibly; but, that there were too many Jews in Poland. This doesn’t mean that these people wished to see these Jews murdered! That’s very important to say. Just because you don’t like someone, even if you hate someone, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you would have them murdered in some horribly brutal way! We need to say that because now that the holocaust has happened, we also kind of tend to think the minute there’s any kind of hatred that it could escalate. It can, but, it also can’t. Every situation is different. That’s important to realize.

On the other hand, there was a great deal of anti-Jewish feeling in Poland. There was the sense that there were too many Jews, a lot of Poles felt. A lot of Poles felt that too much economic power was in Jewish hands so these Polish nationalists said that what they had to do was free the country of the Jews by pushing them out of the economy and eventually out of Poland. This led to some violence as well.

The Roman Catholic church in Poland during this time basically supported the nationalist position with the proviso of “no violence.” Violence was not okay; but, everything else in terms of pushing the Jews out of the economy was a fine thing. Again, this has to be seen in the context of what was happening in Europe, throughout eastern Europe, throughout Europe as a whole, throughout the world! As you know, there was an upsurge of Jew-hatred and anti-Semitism of all kinds, most obviously in Germany; but, everywhere in Europe. That’s how I might characterize the situation.

Roger: Well, it’s a perfect place of transition. I need to take a break, so just hang on for a minute. Dr. Michael Steinlauf is our guest, ladies and gentlemen. His work, his book is about the relationship between the Polish folks, the Germans and as it trends through the holocaust. We’ll continue our discussion right after this.

COMMERCIAL BREAK

Roger:  Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen. Our guest this evening is Dr. Michael Steinlauf, senior research fellow at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York, a Fulbright Fellow in 1983-1984, one of the first students ever allowed to study Jewish history in Poland. He’s taught at the University of Michigan, Brandeis University and Franklin and Marshall College. He joins us this evening to talk about his incredible book, “Bondage to the Dead: Poland and the Memory of the Holocaust.”   We’ll tell you how to get that in a few minutes, folks.

Michael, we’re back! I just wanted to take an aside here. You talked about the Catholic Church and how they didn’t necessarily give an endorsement of violence; but, they certainly didn’t mind picking on the Jews.

Dr. Steinlauf: Right.

Roger: Today’s church is trying to remedy that, reconcile with their past, so to speak. Are they going to be successful?

Dr. Steinlauf: Well, they’re certainly making efforts in that direction. Certainly I can speak that the Polish church has changed quite a bit, not entirely — this is a very slow process— but, certainly the initiatives that I’ve seen of John Paul are certainly moving in the right direction.

Roger: Why can’t the Catholic church just come forward and say, “We’re sorry! We really blew it! We screwed up! We were wrong! We shouldn’t have been on the other side!” Why?

Dr. Steinlauf: Well, the most recent thing that just came out the other day tries to say something like that. The problem, I think, is that one of the stickiest points of papal infallibility. The issue that they really find tricky to address is what the pope back then was and was not doing because the pope is supposed to be infallible. You cannot question what the pope does and does not do. On the other hand, the fact that a lot of Catholics should have helped or should have protested and did not has been addressed. I would like to hope that this issue will be addressed as well. On the other hand, they will have to confront some of their own doctrine, I think.

Roger: Alright. I know it was an aside from where we’re going; but, I just was curious given this recent….. Going back to the Poles, I have interviewed folks who were on those trucks driving down the Polish roadways as thousands of Poles stood by the roadside applauding, “Kill the Jews! Kill the Jews!”

Dr. Steinlauf: Yes.

Roger: That clearly wasn’t part of their nature prior to Hitler’s Nazi Germany, was it?

Dr. Steinlauf: Well, you see, we have a situation. Let’s try to put ourselves—- you were talking about trying to put yourself in the situation of a Jew.   Let’s try to put ourselves in the situation of a Pole now. You have a situation where the Germans have created an environment where it is okay to have the most vile, the most awful feelings towards these people who used to be your neighbors come out. On the other hand, it’s not okay to manifest publicly any feelings of sympathy. Furthermore, and this is an important thing to remember, Poland was just about the only country in occupied Europe where helping Jews was punishable by death, not just your own death; but, there were cases that involved the death of your family as well.

So, we have a situation where only the most bestial kinds of responses are what are going to be encouraged in public. Okay? The reality was that there were Poles who did more than clapped when Jews were put on those trucks. There were Poles who helped kill Jews, who denounced them, who blackmailed them. There were also, and I think given the situation this is totally extraordinary, there were thousands of Poles who risked their lives to save Jews! That’s a fact, too!

Now, it’s a very complicated situation because here we have to try to grasp because in the most general situation, the most average Pole probably didn’t applaud and certainly didn’t help kill Jews–not the average Pole! The average Pole certainly didn’t help save Jews; but, watched this whole thing happening!

It creates a very, very problematic feeling inside one. Imagine that you have these neighbors. You don’t like them very much and that’s a fact. In fact, you wish there were gone! Then what happens? Somebody comes from outside, from far outside and before your eyes — you’re not even involved in this — before your eyes, murders these people in the most awful, bestial, horrendous possible way! Then what happens? You don’t even have to do this — then what happens is these people leave, they’re gone and you, because you live in that country, inherit all the property, all the things that were once Jewish; the buildings, everything from the homes and offices down to the bed linens and clothing!

Now, this is going to create, I would submit, a real problem! A real problem that has to do with guilt, that has to do with things that are not resolved. In a sense it’s easier for a German because in Germany you can punish a handful of guilty people, as in fact happened after the war, and say, “Okay,we’ve dealt with it!” But, the Poles didn’t do the holocaust! And yet, it was a kind of wish-fulfillment in terms of getting rid of the Jews and then they’re kind of rewarded with all this property! This whole world that used to have Jews in it is now in their hands.

So, that creates a very, very complex problem that works itself out in various ways over the past 50 years. That’s just summing up, a kind of looking at a subjective experience of witnessing for the Poles who watched the whole thing from beginning to end. They watched the ghetto walls going up and their Jewish neighbors put behind them, they watched the deportations and they watched and were close to the death camps. Of course, they smelled the smoke of the crematoriums! So, they were witnesses of the whole thing. That’s what makes their experience so unique.

So, the question is, how does the experience — that’s what my book tries to look at — how does this experience then affect the subsequent course of Polish history and consciousness?

Roger:  Well, tell me, Dr. Steinlauf, how did it affect them?

Dr. Steinlauf: In many ways. There were periods here that can be looked at.

Roger: Let’s look at the 20 years beyond the war. What happened there?

Dr. Steinlauf:  Right after the war there were some really horrendous things that happened in Poland and this time it’s not somebody else doing the violence, it’s the Poles themselves. In the years immediately after World War II — and again, this has to be put in context too — there was what amounts to nearly a Civil War between the communists who were taking over and the people resisting them, generally the nationalists and democrats of various kinds. There was a lot of violence going on, a lot of random violence, too! Within this over-all violence there were attacks on survivors; surviving Jews who appeared and the worst of these were actual pogroms, in other words mass attacks! The worst civil one on July 4, 1946 in the City of Kielce in Poland, 42 holocaust survivors who lived in one particular building where they were preparing to emigrate, are murdered and several hundred were wounded by an attack that began—- I’m sure in one of your programs where you studied the history of anti-Semitism you discussed the blood libel, the accusation that arose in the Middle Ages, that absurd nonsense that Jews used the blood of Christian children to bake matzos! In 1946 such an accusation was made when a child disappeared, a child that turned up the day after the pogrom. That kind of accusation led to a mob murdering 42 Jews! That was the worst! There were other attacks and about 1,500 to 2,000 Jews were killed because they were Jews.

Roger: Dr. Michael Steinlauf is with us this evening, ladies and gentlemen.   Remind me, Michael, to tell people how to get your book, “Bondage to the Dead: Poland and the Memory of the Holocaust.” We’ll entertain a call or two after the break, ladies and gentlemen. Please stay tuned.

COMMERCIAL BREAK

Roger: Dr. Michael Steinlauf, senior research fellow at YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York joins us. His book is, “Bondage to the Dead: Poland and the Memory of the Holocaust.”

This is our last program in our Holocaust Series, ladies and gentlemen, although we’ll continue to dabble the subject from time to time. Michael, really quickly, how do people get your book?

Dr. Steinlauf: You can order it from Syracuse University Press 1-800-365-8929.

Roger: Alright, really quickly and then I want to take a couple of phone calls, just bring us up-to-date. How did Poland turn out after all of this?

Dr. Steinlauf: Well, crucial was this new way of defining who they are. That had to do with the Solidarity Movement that, of course, helped overthrow Communism; but, also started talking about a new way of thinking about being Polish. What that meant was including differences, that it was okay not to be Roman Catholic, that it was okay to be something else. So the memory of the Jew started being thought of in a different way.   What happened, interestingly enough, anti-Semitism still exists in many corners of the society, but, beginning in the 1980s there was also a renewed kind of interest, especially by young people in universities, in the Jewish past and who these Jews were, these millions of Jews who once lived in Poland. So, there’s both this fascination with the past in certain corners of the society and holdovers of this antipathy to Jews. It’s a very complex situation; but, again, I happen to be optimistic. I believe that gradually more and more of this past of dislike and enmity will be left behind and more Poles will appreciate and value this part of their history.

Roger: So, time and education….

Dr. Steinlauf:  Yes! And there’s also a very small emerging Jewish community in Poland now, too! Not three and a half million which was the community before the holocaust. It’s vastly smaller, 20,000 to 30,000 at most; but, it’s there and it’s making it’s presence felt.

Roger: Alright! We’re taking a couple of phone calls. Bob in St. Louis, Missouri, you’re on.

Caller-Bob: Hi, Roger and Dr. Steinlauf! I’m part Jewish from my Hungarian ancestry; but, I’m concerned that almost like a second holocaust is occurring. You were talking about the impact of modern Jews, what the thinking is in terms of Jewry today. Since World War II, I heard a report about six months ago from Jerusalem saying that the Israeli military had scoured the entire world, looking to find every Jew they could, hoping to find more young Jews for soldiers. All they could find was a maximum of 12.5 million Jews and most of those were elderly, above age 50. So, they’re too old to be soldiers.

They were saying that at least theoretically, before World War II there were 25 million Jews which was the most of any time. Right after the holocaust in 1945 there were 19 million Jews. The problem is, with abortion and contraception, the Jewish population has plunged from 19 million down to 12.5 million. They’re predicting that in another 25 years there will be only 2 or 3 million Jews left in the whole world! Meanwhile, the world’s population has gone up about 200 %! It seems like the Jews are almost causing a second holocaust by not having babies. I’m wondering, especially with such constant focusing on the holocaust, why aren’t Jews having babies?

Dr. Steinlauf: First of all, the problem you refer to is hardly a problem, only among Jews. I mean, most advanced industrial societies, and Jews mainly live in such societies, the birthrate has either been maintaining or declining. Indeed, the injunction to have many children is still followed by certain Jews, Orthodox Jews!   They have very large families. I think the demographics of the Jewish community in future decades is definitely going to shift to a larger proportion of Orthodox Jews. That’s clear! On the other hand, secular Jews are hardly going to die out, certainly not in the next hundred years, that’s about as long as I can predict!

Caller-Bob:  Are there going to be massive conversions? What they were saying is they couldn’t find any Jewish women of child-bearing age left. Most Jewish women are post-menopausal and that means you’d have to have a massive conversion of gentiles if you’re going to have an increase in the Jewish population.

Dr. Steinlauf: I doubt there’ll be a massive conversion of gentiles! But, on the other hand, statistics show that fully one-third of the mixed marriages in the United States, marriages between gentiles and Jews, in fully one-third of those the gentile partner converts to Judaism.

Caller-Bob: So, pro-abortion liberal Jews marrying pro-abortion liberal gentiles….

Roger: Bob, you’re really messing things up for me because there won’t be enough Jews to run the world when they take over if it’s true what you’re saying! Ha, ha, ha!

Dr. Steinlauf: Ha, ha, ha!

Caller-Bob: Seriously, what the Israeli government was saying is there won’t be any Jews left at all by the year 2023 because there are almost no Jewish women of child-bearing age. All the old Jews are dropping like flies.

Dr. Steinlauf: That’s a little extreme! I’ve never come across the idea that there won’t be anymore Jews after 2023. I think that certainly, compared to figure before the holocaust, we’re looking at a greatly diminished proportion of Jews in the world. On the other hand, for thousands and thousands of year the proportion of Jews in the world was very, very small. Somehow Jews have gone on. I personally am not worried about the survival of the Jewish people, given to fact that we survived the holocaust and many parts of the world seem to be undergoing a renewal.

Roger: Dr. Michael Steinlauf, ladies and gentlemen! “Bondage to the Dead: Poland and the Memory of the Holocaust.” Michael, real quick, give us your number before you go.

Dr. Steinlauf: My number to order the book is Syracuse University Press 1-800-365-8929.

Roger: Michael, thank you! God bless! Absolute pleasure to make your acquaintance!

Dr. Steinlauf: Same to you, Roger! And God Bless for this series!

Roger: Alright, folks! That’s the end of the Holocaust Series. I know for some it means applause and for others it means tears. For me it means a rest for my mind.

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.)

Memory

The Holocaust – We Must Remember – Daniel Goldhagen – Hitler’s Willing Executioners

THE HOLOCAUST: WE MUST REMEMBER 

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

3-11-1998 Twentieth Program in Series

Guest: Dr. Daniel Jonah Goldhagen

Book: HITLER’S WILLING EXECUTIONERS: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust

ISBN-10: 0679772685 and ISBN-13: 978- 0679772682

goldhagen

Roger: Welcome, ladies and gentlemen! Thank you once again for joining us on our continuing Wednesday night series. We’re just about through this series on the holocaust. It’s been a long and arduous process, trying to get all this information out to you. I think we’ve focused quite a bit on the tragedies of Europe during World War II, the horror of the holocaust. We’ve heard the stories of people who were themselves the victims of some of the most incredible evil that mankind has ever bestowed on his fellow-man. We’ve heard numerous stories about the victims; how they survived, why they survived, those kinds of things.

Tonight we explore something quite different than we’ve talked about in the past. There is a wonderful, wonderful book, ladies and gentlemen, outlining some of the more intricate details about the people who actually did the killing, a wonderful book written by Daniel Goldhagen, titled “Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust.” Powerful stuff! I want to bring Professor Goldhagen up right now. Daniel, how are you?

Dr. Goldhagen: I’m fine, how are you?

Roger: I’m really good tonight. Listen, could you tell the folks just a little bit about who you are and where you come from, Daniel?

Dr. Goldhagen: Professionally, I’m a professor at Harvard University. I’m a political scientist. I grew up in the Boston area and lived most of my life here. I lived for about 3 years in Germany studying and doing research for my work.

Roger:  Thank you very much! The book takes a little different slant on the issue of the holocaust, as you’re well aware. It’s quite a controversial book; but, compelling! It’s won a lot of awards and comes highly recommended. What were you trying to accomplish? I mean, the title is fairly broad; but, “Hitler’s Willing Executioners”? Tell us about that! Who were they?

Dr. Goldhagen:  First, let me tell you the reason I wrote the book was to fill in a gap in our knowledge. When I began this study in the mid-1980s, you could read the entire scholarly literature on the holocaust and you would have learned almost nothing about the people who were the killers! It seems obvious that until you know a great deal about these people; who they were, where they came from, what their lives were like in the institutions of killing, what they thought about what they were doing, why they acted as they did, what choices they made, and many other things, you can’t possibly explain how and why the holocaust happened. So, I just set out to learn whatever I could and this book is the result of that.

When I went to Germany to do the research, the principal source of which is the testimony of the killers themselves, the perpetrators. Most of my book is told in their own words. I discovered things that led me to conclude that we needed to revise our understanding of the holocaust in central ways. I’ll just tell you of three of the things very quickly.

One is that many of the killers were not SS men, contrary to how they’ve often been presented. They were ordinary Germans from every walk of life.

A second fact is that, contrary to how they’ve often been represented, the number of killers was by no means small. There were at least 100,000 Germans who were intimately involved in the slaughter of Jews. The number may have been far higher.

The third fact is that in the history of the holocaust, never was a single German perpetrator himself ever killed, sent to a concentration camp, jailed or punished in any serious way for refusing to kill Jews. It simply never happened! Many of the killers knew they didn’t have to because their commanders told them they did not have to!

All of this together conveys a portrait of the perpetrators as a large number of ordinary Germans who essentially chose to slaughter Jews and chose to brutalize them as well. The question of the book is ‘Why did they do it?”

The answer, which I’ll just say briefly now, is that it is clear that it was because they were Hitlerian anti-Semite–anti-Semites of the sort that Hitler was; who really believed that Jews were evil, that they had to be eliminated, in this case exterminated, if Germany was to survive and prosper.

Roger: Let’s start at the beginning of your book and talk about what you term as “recasting” the view of anti-Semitism. I’m not even sure people realize what anti-Semitism is. It’s the hatred of Jews; but, it’s more than that!

Dr. Goldhagen:  Right. What I’m going to say about anti-Semitism pertains to other kinds of prejudice as well; so we can think about prejudice against African-Americans, prejudice against Latinos, prejudice against any other group. We have a linguistic problem, a conceptual problem which is that even though anti-Semitism or other kinds of prejudice has enormously wide ranges and differences, we only have one term to describe all the different kinds of antisemitism and that term is “anti-semitism”.   So, a person says that “Jews are stingy”, a common stereotype; unflattering, but not the worst thing in the world, you could say.

Roger: Powerful enough to have adjectives in popular society like, “he jewed me down.”

Dr. Goldhagen:  Yes, but this person is called an anti-Semite and so is Hitler. Now, a person who thinks Jews are stingy and Hitler are worlds apart in what they believe about Jews and the things they would do. Yet, we only have this one term. We use the term racism, too. A person who makes a prejudicial remark is called a racist. Someone like David Dukes is a racist.

So, we have to get beyond this initial terminology and try to focus more on the content of people’s anti-Semitism. Always ask what exactly do they believe about Jews. What do they believe the Jews alleged evil nature is and why do they believe Jews are the way they say Jews are? We can ask these questions about racism of other kinds, too. Only when we do that will we begin to understand the character and nature of anti-Semitism in a given society.

Roger: When I think of anti-Semitism I always think of the Nazis. I mean, that’s the first thing that flashes through my mind. anti-Semite = Nazi.

Dr. Goldhagen. Sure!

Roger: But, you’re saying that comparison is not necessarily accurate.

Dr. Goldhagen: I see. You’re saying when you meet an anti-Semite, when you hear of one in the U.S., you think he’s a Nazi. Is that what you’re saying?

Roger: Right.

Dr. Goldhagen: You know, it’s not entirely fair. Well, fair is not the issue. It’s not entirely accurate because there are people who think, “I don’t like certain characteristics of Jews.” You know, there are lots of group prejudices in our country. There are people who don’t like certain characteristics of Italian Americans. This can be a mild form or prejudice, bad as it is; but, a mild form. But, these same people would abhor what the Nazis did.

Roger: How could someone go from, “Gee, those bad, dumb Jews” in Germany in 1937 – to killing Jews in 1942? How could someone evolve to that level?

Dr. Goldhagen: Because in 1937 they already had very deep prejudices, I mean they had a really enormous hatred for Jews which they didn’t really act upon because there was not opportunity to act upon them. When Hitler began a program of extermination and these people found themselves in institutions of killing and were told that the Jews have to be killed, then they usually accepted these orders, believed they were right and acted upon them.

Let me give an example from American history that will make this a bit clearer. In the American south before the Civil War, whites, the vast majority of whites, believed that blacks were inferior and fit to be slaves. Right? Subhuman! Fit to be slaves! A deeply racist view of blacks that led them to do terrible things! After all, that’s almost as bad as it gets! So, this first indicates how beliefs can motivate people to do really terrible things. Then you could say, “Look, there are a lot of whites who didn’t have slaves.” They still shared the views— they just didn’t have the opportunity to have slaves, to be slaveholders, they didn’t have the money. When the opportunity arose, perhaps, when they got more money, then they were happy to own slaves.

Germans in 1937 who hated Jews had no opportunity to kill them because their leadership was not persecuting Jews in this way; but, when a program of persecution began they found they had no difficulty participating in it.

Roger: This had to be fairly gradually implemented. I mean, they didn’t just all of a sudden one day decide they were going to kill Jews! There had to be some psychological process…

Dr. Goldhagen: No, it’s not really so! The fact is that the radical persecution of Jews began in 1933 with all kinds of laws to remove them from German life, with attacks on them, but no systematic killing. The killing systematically only began in 1941, so there was a gradual escalation of the persecution. However, what you finally say about the killers, which is what my book is mainly about, you find that most of these guys were drafted into the units, they were given no particular training for the killing and they were suddenly told by their commanders one day that their job was to slaughter Jews! We have their own testimony that indicates that they did it willingly, without any process of habituation where there was ever more psychological involvement.

Roger: Alright. Try to explain to me how they viewed Jews. How did they see these people?

Dr. Goldhagen:  Okay. As I was saying before, whenever you confront anti-Semitism or another kind of prejudice or racism you should always ask— the first question should always be what exactly do they believe about Jews. That’s what you asked me.

There was a basic model of Jews which existed in Germany that most Germans accepted, not all Germans. In fact, there are exceptions to everything I’ll probably say this evening. The model had the following properties:

  1. First, Jews were believed to be fundamentally different than Germans. They were not Germans of the Jewish religion. They were deemed to be Jews, not Germans.
  2. Second, their differences were believed to reside in their biology, conceptualized in terms of race, what people today would call genetic. This meant that the nature of Jews could not be changed. They genuinely believed that Jews were the way they were because of their biology.
  3. The third element of this model was that Jews were evil, essentially devils in human form.
  4. The fourth element was that they were enormously powerful and therefore capable of doing   great harm, and were responsible for many of the harms that had befallen Germany.

When you put all this together you have a fearsome image of Jews which says that they are extremely powerful, malevolent by nature and can never be changed. If you believe this about a group of people, you think first, “We’ve got to somehow get rid of them” which is what Germans were for a long time thinking of doing. Then when someone said that the only way to do it effectively– permanently — finally, is to kill them; you could see how this could make sense to people who held these views.

Roger:  But, where does that hatred, that antisemitism, that death to the Jewish people come from?

Dr. Goldhagen:  Initially, the principal source of anti-Semitism in the Western world has been Christianity. This is very well documented. In medieval Christian society anti-Semitism in Europe was virtually universal. It was preached that Jews were Christ-killers, everyone has heard this old canard before, that they were in league with the devil, actually the servants of the devil, that they were responsible for many of the ills that befell European society. This was really axiomatic. It was preached from virtually every pulpit in Christian society. Jews were ghettoized. They were not allowed to be citizens or take full part in the life of the places where they lived.

Why Christianity developed such a deep hatred for Jews has to do with the ancient history of Christianity and the psychological need, if you want to put it that way, of the early Christians to differentiate themselves from Jews, to deprecate Judaism because the Christian claimed and believed that Christianity was supposed to replace Judaism. It was a contest, they had a common tradition, a common set of sacred texts, a common God and so built into the fabric of Christianity was a deprecation of Jews. So, this is the original source. Of course, I’m giving you a very brief account of it because it would take a long time to lay it out thoroughly.

In the modern world, this modern racial anti-Semitism which I described was a somewhat transformed form of this medieval anti-Semitism which had been pan-European. So, it’s really Christianity which produced this deep-seated, long lasting hatred in the Western world, although in the modern times this hatred of Jews has taken on its own life aside from and divorced from Christianity.

Roger: Well, I don’t know if people realize just how prevalent that it is out there. It’s unbelievable to me! It’s part of the reason we’re doing this series. I’m amazed that in 1990s America these kooks are sitting around with their little newsletters and write back and forth to each other as though they are authorities on some subject and carry on this concept of anti-Semitism to very great extremes. I don’t know how or why in the modern world when we have so much information, so much history, so much knowledge and ability, that we still find these fairly large pockets of the same kind of anti-Semitism.

Dr. Goldhagen: Well, you know, I concur with what you say. I would just want to broaden it a bit which is, when you think about the world you think, “There are people who hate another person just because his skin is darker than theirs, or hate another person because he looks different, or hate another person he happens to go to a different kind of religious building and they have different texts that they use to worship God.” As you said, when you think about it in those terms and it’s just kind of hard to believe on some level, that people actually hate for these reasons. But, as you say, the sad fact is that many do. A fundamental thing to be said about that and about the nature of prejudice is that people are prejudice not because of any real characteristics of the people who are hated; but, because of characteristics of them, the people who hate, which lead them to hate.   Most people who hate Blacks, who hate Jews or hate other groups don’t really know very much about Blacks and Jews. The hatred comes from sources within themselves and within their own groups or cultures. So if you want to try to understand the source of this hatred, you don’t look to Jews for anti-Semitism, you don’t look to African-Americans for racism to try to understand it, you don’t look to Hispanics to try understand anti-hispanic hatred, you look to the hearts and minds of the people who hate.

Roger:  Which brings us back to the core subject in your book which is those people who actually perpetrated the acts against other people in Germany. I think we’ve laid a fairly good foundation as to how the hate originally developed and carried on into the modern age; but, it still doesn’t explain to me –when you have a country, and I think Germany was widely known as a very Christian country in the 1920s and 1930s, I think even far more civilized than the United States in some ways at that time— lots of culture and theater and art and dance–Dr. Goldhagen: The pinnacle of Western civilization.

Roger: Absolutely! So, to me it just confounds the mind that those people who were really quite sophisticated and modern ended up in this incredible moral abyss that we call the holocaust.

Dr. Goldhagen: Yes; but, you see, when you live in a society where these kinds of views are the common sense of the society, where most of the people believe it, you find that what we would like to believe, mainly that education is an inoculation against prejudice, we find that it is simply not true. Many of the people who were the killers, the leaders of the killing operations were people with PhD’s, people who were lawyers, doctors were deeply involved in this, highly educated people!

If we think of the American south in our own country, we see again how this is possible. So many slave owners, white southern society had many highly cultivated, literate men and women, many of whom were slave owners, many of our founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and others held slaves.

Roger: It was part of the culture!

Dr. Goldhagen: Part of the culture–they shared many of the views that were common in their time. Some of them came to reject it ultimately because, fortunately in the U.S., there was another view of slavery, a view that existed in the North and grew ever stronger, that such was an abomination.   In Germany there was no view that contested the dominate anti-semitic one which also had powerful institutional support. Therefore, most Germans were not exposed to views which would lead them to doubt the anti-Semitism they learned at home and all the institutions of society.

Roger: I understand that; but, since we’ve brought up American history, I want to look at another aspect of American history, that is the way in which we treated the American indians.   The American indians were certainly the recipients of certain acts of genocide. No question about that! But, I don’t know that there was an ingrained, religious-based hatred of indians!

Dr. Goldhagen: Well, it doesn’t have to be religious-based. There are many things that can motivate people to kill other people. I mean, hatred also means a variety of different things. The American indians or native Americans were deemed to be non-Christian heathens who were barbaric–so there was often a religious component to it. This is what was believed. And, who were a threat to the well-being of the settlers and also an impediment to the settlers desires to settle territory, farm and do whatever else they were going to do. Killing of people, genocide, is often motivated by the belief that another group is a threat that has to be eliminated. That’s what was believed about indians.

Roger:  Okay, Daniel, we’ve got to take a break here. When we come back I want you to tell some of the stories in your book; but, first I want you to talk about fear. I hear that word used a lot to describe some of the anxieties in our society, whether it’s the gay population or whatever. I’m not sure that’s an accurate depiction of the reality so I want you to address that as well. Ladies and gentlemen, Professor Daniel Goldhagen is with us this evening. His book, “Hitler’s Willing Executioners” is fascinating! We’ll tell you how to get the book later in the program. We’ll be right back.

COMMERCIAL BREAK

Roger: Welcome back! We’re here with Dr. Daniel Goldhagen. His book is “Hitler’s Willing Executioners” is fascinating suff! Daniel, on the subject of fear, we hear that people are “phobic”; homophobic or whatever the case may be. But, I don’t find in my encounters with people who there’s an underlying fear. I wonder if you’d found that in your investigative work.

Dr. Goldhagen: You don’t find there’s an underlying fear of…..whom?

Roger: In other words, when someone says you’re homophobic, I don’t find that there’s a phobia.

Dr. Goldhagen: You know, those terms are very loosely put together. When the term homophobia, a term that has just come to be used for people who don’t like or hate people who are gay. There’s some whose obsessive hatred borders on a phobia; but, there are many who hate without having this kind of obsessive quality.

As it happened in Germany, there was a great deal of phobia that existed towards Jews, I mean the kinds of things said about Jews, the hallucinations–things that sound hallucinatory to us, which were just taken to be common sense at the time, can accurately be described as being “phobic.” Believing that Jews controlled all the levers of power in the world! The ran the Soviet Union, so it was believed! They ran the capitalist countries, so it was believed! It was said they lured German Christian children — unsuspecting girls –to defile them and use their blood for ceremonies! This kind of thing!   So there was really a phobic quality in Germany of the kind that we don’t find that often in our own society, even among people who are deeply prejudiced, though in certain groups you find it, like among the militia groups sometimes, the KKK.

Roger:  The guy waiting in the garage in his camouflage for the mailman because he knows he’s a spy! Ha, ha, ha!

Dr. Goldhagen: Yes! So, we know it exists here too.

Roger: So, take me, if you can, on a journey through the minds of some of these people in your book; what they were about, what did they care about, what did they believe in? Did they have standards of morality? Did they have convictions and ethical beliefs and those kinds of things? I’m curious about that.

Dr. Goldhagen: Sure. They had morality, just not the same morality that you and I share. They had moral views of the world, it’s just their moral views, that means that their views of what was right and wrong, were simply different from our own because they had a different map of the world, map of the social world. So, those who believed that Jews were really evil could at once be good Christians at home, treat their families well, treat their neighbors well, live most of the time good Christian lives, yet also say, “We have to get rid of the Jews and even violence and killing is permissible!”

Again, just like in the American south, there were many God-fearing people – or so they thought—who were slave owners. They just didn’t see the Blacks, the Africans, to be deserving of the same moral respect that other people were. So, you even have, for example, and this was exceptional–it wasn’t the norm; but, it’s worth presenting because it highlights this, you have the example of seven regional protestant churches in 1941 Germany putting out a public proclamation which said, “The Jews are the born enemy of Germans and mankind.” They could not be saved, therefore, by baptism because they were racially evil! Think of what a radical renunciation of fundamental Christian tenet this is, to renounce the power of baptism! They then went on to urge that the state take the severest measures against the Jews. It’s clear that these people knew that the German government had already begun to slaughter Jews systematically! So, what you have with this proclamation is something which is probably unique in the history of Christendom which is that major Christian leaders are endorsing the slaughter of other people! There were exceptions. There were many Christian leaders who disapproved of this. I just point to this as an indication of how people can at once believe that they are God-fearing, even live by their principles in regard to their own group; but, treat people who are deemed to be not in their group, or deemed to be inferior, or deemed to be an evil danger in ways that are profoundly anti-Christian!

Roger: It just absolutely stands the hair up on the back of my neck, trying to visualize this good German soldier heading home at night for a pot roast and potatoes, hanging out with the family, saying table grace, going to Bible study or church and then going back to the camps and killing Jews! I just can’t imagine what kind …. the dichotomy in the thinking process! I don’t get it! I just can’t get it!

Dr. Goldhagen: Yes, but you know it happened. It doesn’t make sense to you because you find it hard to imagine that people who were God-fearing could believe such things about Jews and then be willing to act upon them. But, I think you know…. I mean, tell me if I’m wrong; but, I think you know that these things existed, not just in Germany; but, in the American south.

Roger: My greatest fear is that we don’t learn the lesson of history. I’m afraid, Daniel, looking at the world as I view it, we haven’t learned much. When I think about…. and I’ve asked this question before, had the President of the United States and the mass media told the American citizenry what was happening in Germany, no one would have cared!

Dr. Goldhagen: Well, I don’t know about that….

Roger: It would not have been enough, it would not have been the catalyst to drag us into the war. It took Pearl Harbor and then the Japanese was the enemy and the War was fought in the south Pacific and we continued to ignore, even with the knowledge of what was going on in Hitler’s Germany.

Dr. Goldhagen: I’m not so sure that nobody….that most Americans wouldn’t have cared in some sense; but, I think your general point is well taken, or that your point is well taken and that it can even be generalized. It’s not just during the holocaust; but, in every genocide that has occurred since then, that the nation states of the world, including our own country, have done little or nothing to intervene in order to put an end to the systematic killing of men, women and children.

Roger: Alright. But, does that bring about a greater question which is; is it our place to do that? Is it our obligation to humanity?

Dr. Goldhagen: Well, you know, I certainly think that when a state or a group of people is slaughtering other people by the tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, including little children, it is the moral obligation for all people to use whatever means they can in order to stop that. Yes, our obligation is to….

Roger: Alright!   Now having said that, the obvious question is; why don’t we?

Dr. Goldhagen: Why don’t we? Because the decision to do so is taken by a very small number of people; the President, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State and so on. These people act upon what they consider to be our “ national interests” and if a few hundred thousand people in Africa are being slaughtered, that doesn’t intrude into our “national interest”— or in Asia or lots of other places in the world. It is because our leadership has a very cold, calculating, self-interested view of the world that what I assert to be actually necessary moral action on the part of anyone who wants to consider himself to be a good Christian, a good Jews, a good moral being, that such action is not taken!

Roger: We first heard a term which was talked about in right-wing circles today called the New World Order. Adolf Hitler really spurred on this concept of a global power being the global governing nucleus of the world.

Dr. Goldhagen: That’s right.

Roger: When I look at the world today I see us heading in that direction. Of course, if we were a global community we would probably react differently to these circumstances, right?

Dr. Goldhagen: Sure.

Roger: So there’s a motivation by some to move us in that direction, and yet there’s this concept of sovereignty, especially if you’re an American, a country founded on principles far different from any other place in the world, no one wants to let go of their individuality as a nation, as a sovereign person. So, how do we hope….. because at any time in history when people have tried it’s been referred to as Machiavellian or whatever, when people have tried to conceptualize this global government where these problems might be handled differently. We always end up in great wars and things kind of collapse as we approach that concept.

Dr. Goldhagen: Right.

Roger: And yet, I think people make a legitimate argument when they say if we don’t let go of that sentiment like “this is America, it’s none of our business—- who the heck cares if a half million Rwandans are killed today,” then we’ll never get past the very thing that we object to with regard to Nazi Germany.

Dr. Goldhagen: Well, you know, you’ve raised very difficult problems. First, let me emphasize a point that you said or what you implied when you said….

Roger: We have to take a break, Daniel. Can you hold on and we’ll get back to it on the other side of the break. Don’t lose track of where we’re at here!

COMMERCIAL BREAK

Roger:  Alright, ladies and gentlemen, the book Dr. Daniel Goldhagen is a wonderful book, “Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust.” We’ll just barely get to this subject tonight, Daniel, as you can well imagine; but, we started in a direction and I want to go back there.

Dr. Goldhagen: Okay. I was just going to say that people should ask themselves why the life of a Rwandan child, a member of the Tutsi people in Rwanda, is any less valuable than the life of an American child.

Roger: Well, that’s a real hard question to ask yourself because we’re so detached from that.

Dr. Goldhagen: Well, one has to ask it in these terms; is that child’s life any less valuable?

Roger: Let’s go back into the minds — In your book you point out that a lot of these people who were killing agents for Hitler were not just SS officers; but, they were battalion policemen and all kinds of different …

Dr. Goldhagen: Just guys who were drafted to the duty….

Roger: Yeah! Just people! They got the orders to kill, “Hey! It’s okay to kill! We’re supposed to kill ’em!” Boom! We’ll kill them, okay?

It’s sad and hopeless; but, is there some kind of mindset where we find ourselves seeing the uselessness of other people? In other words, if I can identify — let’s say I’m a German battalion policeman with this order — if I can identify the Jew as a “useless eater” — they’re just garbage, they’re not even really people. If that now transfers through time, evolves so to speak, that subtle thinking process; now I’m an American in Hoboken and I’m watching my television set hearing about a half million colored folks in Rwanda killing each other machetes, do I find myself with that sentiment in the back of my mind? That they’re just useless people? 

Dr. Goldhagen: Well, if one does, then one is deeply prejudiced against those people. We should just say….

Roger: But, how could we sit back and watch that and not think that, and yet react, respond and act upon…

Dr. Goldhagen: But, many people do see that and they think this is an enormous, grave crime; but, the capacity of isolated individuals in this country to do much about it is really very small. If people would rouse themselves and clamor for the decision-makers in Washington….

Roger: Daniel, I’ve been here on the radio for years and I was certainly on the radio when the Rwandan incident came up, the Bosnian and the Balkan crisis. I am not at this moment recollecting any great moment of worry or calls of concern from the American people. They just didn’t seem to respond to it.

Dr. Goldhagen: You know, it’s not clear how much most people knew about it. I don’t know when you’re talking about your radio station.

Take Somalia, for example. When it became clear that there was mass starvation going on in Somalia, when we saw it every night on the news, a lot of pressure began to develop on Washington to do some intervention. Then a halt was put to it when the American soldier was dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. Nevertheless, when people were confronted by the horror, they said this is something that is just abominable!

Part of the problem is that news organizations, opinion leaders, politicians simply don’t work to inform the American people about the horrors taking place in many countries around the world. I’m not saying that if they did, everybody would immediately say that we should do something about it. In fact, many people don’t want to do anything about it. But, there are still many people in this country who would be willing to back some kind of action.

Roger:  You know, Daniel, in almost every major city in our country we have horrible inter-racial and cross-racial killings of people every day! We have the gang bangers. We have the drug culture. We have this whole new strange kind of urban jungle that’s developed in the inner-cities of America. The people that I talk to really consider that when Blacks drive by and kill each other in gang-related shootings as the “good riddance” factor! Is that something that comes from hatred? Or have we just determined, as these German men that you talked about in your book, we’ve just determined for ourselves that these people are useless anyway?

Dr. Goldhagen: First of all, there again are distinctions. Sometimes people are deemed to be “useless eaters” as the Germans put it; but, in Germany it was actually something different. The Jews were not considered to be “useless eaters.” They were considered to be a powerful force of evil who actually needed to be destroyed.

Roger: Alright, but; how would we treat inner-city blacks in America if they were on top of the obvious lack of concern for their well-being, thought of them also as evil?

Dr. Goldhagen: If they were thought of as evil, that’s a big “If” that would be acted upon. Let me ask you, do you actually think that if the government drafted just some cross-section of white American society and told people, “Go slaughter children!” Black children, Hispanic children, whoever they’re prejudiced against, any group, do you find that most people would just do this if they knew they had an option not to do it?

Roger: I think people charged with the duty would.

Dr. Goldhagen: Everyone?

Roger: I think people charged with the duty would do it.

Dr. Goldhagen: Even if they were told they didn’t have to do it?

Roger:  I think whether it’s the BATF or FBI man in Waco, Texas….

Dr. Goldhagen: Not a BATF or FBI….

Roger: Or a sniper in Ruby Ridge, Idaho….

Dr. Goldhagen:  I’m talking about regular guys who are just drafted into the duty.

Roger: Well, you know, I don’t know. I should know! I should say to you flatly, No Way! Never in America! But, I don’t know that I believe it. I believe that some would, many would.

Dr. Goldhagen: Okay. But, many would not, right?

Roger: I think that’s true.

Dr. Goldhagen: Don’t you think there would be a large segment of the American population who would be outraged by this?

Roger: I would hope so!

Dr. Goldhagen: Well, I’m convinced of it!

Roger: I think we’d probably end up in Civil War over it which would be the same thing.

Dr. Goldhagen: Look at the scenario we’re spinning.

Roger: No! I mean because when I see these things, I’m trying to look at the whole world and put it in perspective with what I can touch, feel and see in my own country. We could care more about each other, Daniel.

Dr. Goldhagen: Um hum.

Roger:  And if we could find a way to care more about each other than these things wouldn’t ever happen; but, I’m afraid, my friend, as I’ve been through about 18 weeks of this now, that it could happen again.

Dr. Goldhagen: We’ll it has happened again, not to Jews but to other people.

Roger:  To any segment of the world that someone decided to set aside.

Dr. Goldhagen: You know, there are many groups that are vulnerable because there are great hatreds and because they have enemies who contemplate doing these kinds of things.

Roger: Yes, we have our work cut out for us. Daniel, we’ve run out of the hour here, my friend. Could you tell folks real quickly how to get your book?

Dr. Goldhagen: My book is available at www.amazon.com and at every Barnes & Noble. It’s called, “Hitler’s Willing Executioners.” It’s really very, very widely available in paperback from Vintage Books.

Roger: Alright. Thank you, sir. God Bless! It’s been great to have you here. Continue of with your good work. It’s a wonderful book.

Dr. Goldhagen: Thank you! You’re doing a wonderful job, too! I enjoyed it, bye-bye!

Roger:  Ladies and gentlemen, that will conclude this week’s presentation of The Holocaust: We Must Remember. Thank you so much for participating and being here tonight. Dr. Goldhagen’s book really is a worthy read because it takes a close, intricate look into the minds of the people who actually did the killing in Nazi Germany. Whew! Powerful stuff!

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 – Daniel Goldhagen – Hitler's Willing Executioners

THE HOLOCAUST: WE MUST REMEMBER 

30-Hour Series of Interviews broadcast on the Roger Fredinburg Radio Program
3-11-1998 Twentieth Program in Series
Guest: Dr. Daniel Jonah Goldhagen
Book: HITLER’S WILLING EXECUTIONERS: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust
ISBN-10: 0679772685 and ISBN-13: 978- 0679772682
goldhagen
Roger: Welcome, ladies and gentlemen! Thank you once again for joining us on our continuing Wednesday night series. We’re just about through this series on the holocaust. It’s been a long and arduous process, trying to get all this information out to you. I think we’ve focused quite a bit on the tragedies of Europe during World War II, the horror of the holocaust. We’ve heard the stories of people who were themselves the victims of some of the most incredible evil that mankind has ever bestowed on his fellow-man. We’ve heard numerous stories about the victims; how they survived, why they survived, those kinds of things.
Tonight we explore something quite different than we’ve talked about in the past. There is a wonderful, wonderful book, ladies and gentlemen, outlining some of the more intricate details about the people who actually did the killing, a wonderful book written by Daniel Goldhagen, titled “Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust.” Powerful stuff! I want to bring Professor Goldhagen up right now. Daniel, how are you?
Dr. Goldhagen: I’m fine, how are you?
Roger: I’m really good tonight. Listen, could you tell the folks just a little bit about who you are and where you come from, Daniel?
Dr. Goldhagen: Professionally, I’m a professor at Harvard University. I’m a political scientist. I grew up in the Boston area and lived most of my life here. I lived for about 3 years in Germany studying and doing research for my work.
Roger:  Thank you very much! The book takes a little different slant on the issue of the holocaust, as you’re well aware. It’s quite a controversial book; but, compelling! It’s won a lot of awards and comes highly recommended. What were you trying to accomplish? I mean, the title is fairly broad; but, “Hitler’s Willing Executioners”? Tell us about that! Who were they?
Dr. Goldhagen:  First, let me tell you the reason I wrote the book was to fill in a gap in our knowledge. When I began this study in the mid-1980s, you could read the entire scholarly literature on the holocaust and you would have learned almost nothing about the people who were the killers! It seems obvious that until you know a great deal about these people; who they were, where they came from, what their lives were like in the institutions of killing, what they thought about what they were doing, why they acted as they did, what choices they made, and many other things, you can’t possibly explain how and why the holocaust happened. So, I just set out to learn whatever I could and this book is the result of that.
When I went to Germany to do the research, the principal source of which is the testimony of the killers themselves, the perpetrators. Most of my book is told in their own words. I discovered things that led me to conclude that we needed to revise our understanding of the holocaust in central ways. I’ll just tell you of three of the things very quickly.
One is that many of the killers were not SS men, contrary to how they’ve often been presented. They were ordinary Germans from every walk of life.
A second fact is that, contrary to how they’ve often been represented, the number of killers was by no means small. There were at least 100,000 Germans who were intimately involved in the slaughter of Jews. The number may have been far higher.
The third fact is that in the history of the holocaust, never was a single German perpetrator himself ever killed, sent to a concentration camp, jailed or punished in any serious way for refusing to kill Jews. It simply never happened! Many of the killers knew they didn’t have to because their commanders told them they did not have to!
All of this together conveys a portrait of the perpetrators as a large number of ordinary Germans who essentially chose to slaughter Jews and chose to brutalize them as well. The question of the book is ‘Why did they do it?”
The answer, which I’ll just say briefly now, is that it is clear that it was because they were Hitlerian anti-Semite–anti-Semites of the sort that Hitler was; who really believed that Jews were evil, that they had to be eliminated, in this case exterminated, if Germany was to survive and prosper.
Roger: Let’s start at the beginning of your book and talk about what you term as “recasting” the view of anti-Semitism. I’m not even sure people realize what anti-Semitism is. It’s the hatred of Jews; but, it’s more than that!
Dr. Goldhagen:  Right. What I’m going to say about anti-Semitism pertains to other kinds of prejudice as well; so we can think about prejudice against African-Americans, prejudice against Latinos, prejudice against any other group. We have a linguistic problem, a conceptual problem which is that even though anti-Semitism or other kinds of prejudice has enormously wide ranges and differences, we only have one term to describe all the different kinds of antisemitism and that term is “anti-semitism”.   So, a person says that “Jews are stingy”, a common stereotype; unflattering, but not the worst thing in the world, you could say.
Roger: Powerful enough to have adjectives in popular society like, “he jewed me down.”
Dr. Goldhagen:  Yes, but this person is called an anti-Semite and so is Hitler. Now, a person who thinks Jews are stingy and Hitler are worlds apart in what they believe about Jews and the things they would do. Yet, we only have this one term. We use the term racism, too. A person who makes a prejudicial remark is called a racist. Someone like David Dukes is a racist.
So, we have to get beyond this initial terminology and try to focus more on the content of people’s anti-Semitism. Always ask what exactly do they believe about Jews. What do they believe the Jews alleged evil nature is and why do they believe Jews are the way they say Jews are? We can ask these questions about racism of other kinds, too. Only when we do that will we begin to understand the character and nature of anti-Semitism in a given society.
Roger: When I think of anti-Semitism I always think of the Nazis. I mean, that’s the first thing that flashes through my mind. anti-Semite = Nazi.
Dr. Goldhagen. Sure!
Roger: But, you’re saying that comparison is not necessarily accurate.
Dr. Goldhagen: I see. You’re saying when you meet an anti-Semite, when you hear of one in the U.S., you think he’s a Nazi. Is that what you’re saying?
Roger: Right.
Dr. Goldhagen: You know, it’s not entirely fair. Well, fair is not the issue. It’s not entirely accurate because there are people who think, “I don’t like certain characteristics of Jews.” You know, there are lots of group prejudices in our country. There are people who don’t like certain characteristics of Italian Americans. This can be a mild form or prejudice, bad as it is; but, a mild form. But, these same people would abhor what the Nazis did.
Roger: How could someone go from, “Gee, those bad, dumb Jews” in Germany in 1937 – to killing Jews in 1942? How could someone evolve to that level?
Dr. Goldhagen: Because in 1937 they already had very deep prejudices, I mean they had a really enormous hatred for Jews which they didn’t really act upon because there was not opportunity to act upon them. When Hitler began a program of extermination and these people found themselves in institutions of killing and were told that the Jews have to be killed, then they usually accepted these orders, believed they were right and acted upon them.
Let me give an example from American history that will make this a bit clearer. In the American south before the Civil War, whites, the vast majority of whites, believed that blacks were inferior and fit to be slaves. Right? Subhuman! Fit to be slaves! A deeply racist view of blacks that led them to do terrible things! After all, that’s almost as bad as it gets! So, this first indicates how beliefs can motivate people to do really terrible things. Then you could say, “Look, there are a lot of whites who didn’t have slaves.” They still shared the views— they just didn’t have the opportunity to have slaves, to be slaveholders, they didn’t have the money. When the opportunity arose, perhaps, when they got more money, then they were happy to own slaves.
Germans in 1937 who hated Jews had no opportunity to kill them because their leadership was not persecuting Jews in this way; but, when a program of persecution began they found they had no difficulty participating in it.
Roger: This had to be fairly gradually implemented. I mean, they didn’t just all of a sudden one day decide they were going to kill Jews! There had to be some psychological process…
Dr. Goldhagen: No, it’s not really so! The fact is that the radical persecution of Jews began in 1933 with all kinds of laws to remove them from German life, with attacks on them, but no systematic killing. The killing systematically only began in 1941, so there was a gradual escalation of the persecution. However, what you finally say about the killers, which is what my book is mainly about, you find that most of these guys were drafted into the units, they were given no particular training for the killing and they were suddenly told by their commanders one day that their job was to slaughter Jews! We have their own testimony that indicates that they did it willingly, without any process of habituation where there was ever more psychological involvement.
Roger: Alright. Try to explain to me how they viewed Jews. How did they see these people?
Dr. Goldhagen:  Okay. As I was saying before, whenever you confront anti-Semitism or another kind of prejudice or racism you should always ask— the first question should always be what exactly do they believe about Jews. That’s what you asked me.
There was a basic model of Jews which existed in Germany that most Germans accepted, not all Germans. In fact, there are exceptions to everything I’ll probably say this evening. The model had the following properties:

  1. First, Jews were believed to be fundamentally different than Germans. They were not Germans of the Jewish religion. They were deemed to be Jews, not Germans.
  2. Second, their differences were believed to reside in their biology, conceptualized in terms of race, what people today would call genetic. This meant that the nature of Jews could not be changed. They genuinely believed that Jews were the way they were because of their biology.
  3. The third element of this model was that Jews were evil, essentially devils in human form.
  4. The fourth element was that they were enormously powerful and therefore capable of doing   great harm, and were responsible for many of the harms that had befallen Germany.

When you put all this together you have a fearsome image of Jews which says that they are extremely powerful, malevolent by nature and can never be changed. If you believe this about a group of people, you think first, “We’ve got to somehow get rid of them” which is what Germans were for a long time thinking of doing. Then when someone said that the only way to do it effectively– permanently — finally, is to kill them; you could see how this could make sense to people who held these views.
Roger:  But, where does that hatred, that antisemitism, that death to the Jewish people come from?
Dr. Goldhagen:  Initially, the principal source of anti-Semitism in the Western world has been Christianity. This is very well documented. In medieval Christian society anti-Semitism in Europe was virtually universal. It was preached that Jews were Christ-killers, everyone has heard this old canard before, that they were in league with the devil, actually the servants of the devil, that they were responsible for many of the ills that befell European society. This was really axiomatic. It was preached from virtually every pulpit in Christian society. Jews were ghettoized. They were not allowed to be citizens or take full part in the life of the places where they lived.
Why Christianity developed such a deep hatred for Jews has to do with the ancient history of Christianity and the psychological need, if you want to put it that way, of the early Christians to differentiate themselves from Jews, to deprecate Judaism because the Christian claimed and believed that Christianity was supposed to replace Judaism. It was a contest, they had a common tradition, a common set of sacred texts, a common God and so built into the fabric of Christianity was a deprecation of Jews. So, this is the original source. Of course, I’m giving you a very brief account of it because it would take a long time to lay it out thoroughly.
In the modern world, this modern racial anti-Semitism which I described was a somewhat transformed form of this medieval anti-Semitism which had been pan-European. So, it’s really Christianity which produced this deep-seated, long lasting hatred in the Western world, although in the modern times this hatred of Jews has taken on its own life aside from and divorced from Christianity.
Roger: Well, I don’t know if people realize just how prevalent that it is out there. It’s unbelievable to me! It’s part of the reason we’re doing this series. I’m amazed that in 1990s America these kooks are sitting around with their little newsletters and write back and forth to each other as though they are authorities on some subject and carry on this concept of anti-Semitism to very great extremes. I don’t know how or why in the modern world when we have so much information, so much history, so much knowledge and ability, that we still find these fairly large pockets of the same kind of anti-Semitism.
Dr. Goldhagen: Well, you know, I concur with what you say. I would just want to broaden it a bit which is, when you think about the world you think, “There are people who hate another person just because his skin is darker than theirs, or hate another person because he looks different, or hate another person he happens to go to a different kind of religious building and they have different texts that they use to worship God.” As you said, when you think about it in those terms and it’s just kind of hard to believe on some level, that people actually hate for these reasons. But, as you say, the sad fact is that many do. A fundamental thing to be said about that and about the nature of prejudice is that people are prejudice not because of any real characteristics of the people who are hated; but, because of characteristics of them, the people who hate, which lead them to hate.   Most people who hate Blacks, who hate Jews or hate other groups don’t really know very much about Blacks and Jews. The hatred comes from sources within themselves and within their own groups or cultures. So if you want to try to understand the source of this hatred, you don’t look to Jews for anti-Semitism, you don’t look to African-Americans for racism to try to understand it, you don’t look to Hispanics to try understand anti-hispanic hatred, you look to the hearts and minds of the people who hate.
Roger:  Which brings us back to the core subject in your book which is those people who actually perpetrated the acts against other people in Germany. I think we’ve laid a fairly good foundation as to how the hate originally developed and carried on into the modern age; but, it still doesn’t explain to me –when you have a country, and I think Germany was widely known as a very Christian country in the 1920s and 1930s, I think even far more civilized than the United States in some ways at that time— lots of culture and theater and art and dance–Dr. Goldhagen: The pinnacle of Western civilization.
Roger: Absolutely! So, to me it just confounds the mind that those people who were really quite sophisticated and modern ended up in this incredible moral abyss that we call the holocaust.
Dr. Goldhagen: Yes; but, you see, when you live in a society where these kinds of views are the common sense of the society, where most of the people believe it, you find that what we would like to believe, mainly that education is an inoculation against prejudice, we find that it is simply not true. Many of the people who were the killers, the leaders of the killing operations were people with PhD’s, people who were lawyers, doctors were deeply involved in this, highly educated people!
If we think of the American south in our own country, we see again how this is possible. So many slave owners, white southern society had many highly cultivated, literate men and women, many of whom were slave owners, many of our founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and others held slaves.
Roger: It was part of the culture!
Dr. Goldhagen: Part of the culture–they shared many of the views that were common in their time. Some of them came to reject it ultimately because, fortunately in the U.S., there was another view of slavery, a view that existed in the North and grew ever stronger, that such was an abomination.   In Germany there was no view that contested the dominate anti-semitic one which also had powerful institutional support. Therefore, most Germans were not exposed to views which would lead them to doubt the anti-Semitism they learned at home and all the institutions of society.
Roger: I understand that; but, since we’ve brought up American history, I want to look at another aspect of American history, that is the way in which we treated the American indians.   The American indians were certainly the recipients of certain acts of genocide. No question about that! But, I don’t know that there was an ingrained, religious-based hatred of indians!
Dr. Goldhagen: Well, it doesn’t have to be religious-based. There are many things that can motivate people to kill other people. I mean, hatred also means a variety of different things. The American indians or native Americans were deemed to be non-Christian heathens who were barbaric–so there was often a religious component to it. This is what was believed. And, who were a threat to the well-being of the settlers and also an impediment to the settlers desires to settle territory, farm and do whatever else they were going to do. Killing of people, genocide, is often motivated by the belief that another group is a threat that has to be eliminated. That’s what was believed about indians.
Roger:  Okay, Daniel, we’ve got to take a break here. When we come back I want you to tell some of the stories in your book; but, first I want you to talk about fear. I hear that word used a lot to describe some of the anxieties in our society, whether it’s the gay population or whatever. I’m not sure that’s an accurate depiction of the reality so I want you to address that as well. Ladies and gentlemen, Professor Daniel Goldhagen is with us this evening. His book, “Hitler’s Willing Executioners” is fascinating! We’ll tell you how to get the book later in the program. We’ll be right back.
COMMERCIAL BREAK
Roger: Welcome back! We’re here with Dr. Daniel Goldhagen. His book is “Hitler’s Willing Executioners” is fascinating suff! Daniel, on the subject of fear, we hear that people are “phobic”; homophobic or whatever the case may be. But, I don’t find in my encounters with people who there’s an underlying fear. I wonder if you’d found that in your investigative work.
Dr. Goldhagen: You don’t find there’s an underlying fear of…..whom?
Roger: In other words, when someone says you’re homophobic, I don’t find that there’s a phobia.
Dr. Goldhagen: You know, those terms are very loosely put together. When the term homophobia, a term that has just come to be used for people who don’t like or hate people who are gay. There’s some whose obsessive hatred borders on a phobia; but, there are many who hate without having this kind of obsessive quality.
As it happened in Germany, there was a great deal of phobia that existed towards Jews, I mean the kinds of things said about Jews, the hallucinations–things that sound hallucinatory to us, which were just taken to be common sense at the time, can accurately be described as being “phobic.” Believing that Jews controlled all the levers of power in the world! The ran the Soviet Union, so it was believed! They ran the capitalist countries, so it was believed! It was said they lured German Christian children — unsuspecting girls –to defile them and use their blood for ceremonies! This kind of thing!   So there was really a phobic quality in Germany of the kind that we don’t find that often in our own society, even among people who are deeply prejudiced, though in certain groups you find it, like among the militia groups sometimes, the KKK.
Roger:  The guy waiting in the garage in his camouflage for the mailman because he knows he’s a spy! Ha, ha, ha!
Dr. Goldhagen: Yes! So, we know it exists here too.
Roger: So, take me, if you can, on a journey through the minds of some of these people in your book; what they were about, what did they care about, what did they believe in? Did they have standards of morality? Did they have convictions and ethical beliefs and those kinds of things? I’m curious about that.
Dr. Goldhagen: Sure. They had morality, just not the same morality that you and I share. They had moral views of the world, it’s just their moral views, that means that their views of what was right and wrong, were simply different from our own because they had a different map of the world, map of the social world. So, those who believed that Jews were really evil could at once be good Christians at home, treat their families well, treat their neighbors well, live most of the time good Christian lives, yet also say, “We have to get rid of the Jews and even violence and killing is permissible!”
Again, just like in the American south, there were many God-fearing people – or so they thought—who were slave owners. They just didn’t see the Blacks, the Africans, to be deserving of the same moral respect that other people were. So, you even have, for example, and this was exceptional–it wasn’t the norm; but, it’s worth presenting because it highlights this, you have the example of seven regional protestant churches in 1941 Germany putting out a public proclamation which said, “The Jews are the born enemy of Germans and mankind.” They could not be saved, therefore, by baptism because they were racially evil! Think of what a radical renunciation of fundamental Christian tenet this is, to renounce the power of baptism! They then went on to urge that the state take the severest measures against the Jews. It’s clear that these people knew that the German government had already begun to slaughter Jews systematically! So, what you have with this proclamation is something which is probably unique in the history of Christendom which is that major Christian leaders are endorsing the slaughter of other people! There were exceptions. There were many Christian leaders who disapproved of this. I just point to this as an indication of how people can at once believe that they are God-fearing, even live by their principles in regard to their own group; but, treat people who are deemed to be not in their group, or deemed to be inferior, or deemed to be an evil danger in ways that are profoundly anti-Christian!
Roger: It just absolutely stands the hair up on the back of my neck, trying to visualize this good German soldier heading home at night for a pot roast and potatoes, hanging out with the family, saying table grace, going to Bible study or church and then going back to the camps and killing Jews! I just can’t imagine what kind …. the dichotomy in the thinking process! I don’t get it! I just can’t get it!
Dr. Goldhagen: Yes, but you know it happened. It doesn’t make sense to you because you find it hard to imagine that people who were God-fearing could believe such things about Jews and then be willing to act upon them. But, I think you know…. I mean, tell me if I’m wrong; but, I think you know that these things existed, not just in Germany; but, in the American south.
Roger: My greatest fear is that we don’t learn the lesson of history. I’m afraid, Daniel, looking at the world as I view it, we haven’t learned much. When I think about…. and I’ve asked this question before, had the President of the United States and the mass media told the American citizenry what was happening in Germany, no one would have cared!
Dr. Goldhagen: Well, I don’t know about that….
Roger: It would not have been enough, it would not have been the catalyst to drag us into the war. It took Pearl Harbor and then the Japanese was the enemy and the War was fought in the south Pacific and we continued to ignore, even with the knowledge of what was going on in Hitler’s Germany.
Dr. Goldhagen: I’m not so sure that nobody….that most Americans wouldn’t have cared in some sense; but, I think your general point is well taken, or that your point is well taken and that it can even be generalized. It’s not just during the holocaust; but, in every genocide that has occurred since then, that the nation states of the world, including our own country, have done little or nothing to intervene in order to put an end to the systematic killing of men, women and children.
Roger: Alright. But, does that bring about a greater question which is; is it our place to do that? Is it our obligation to humanity?
Dr. Goldhagen: Well, you know, I certainly think that when a state or a group of people is slaughtering other people by the tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, including little children, it is the moral obligation for all people to use whatever means they can in order to stop that. Yes, our obligation is to….
Roger: Alright!   Now having said that, the obvious question is; why don’t we?
Dr. Goldhagen: Why don’t we? Because the decision to do so is taken by a very small number of people; the President, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State and so on. These people act upon what they consider to be our “ national interests” and if a few hundred thousand people in Africa are being slaughtered, that doesn’t intrude into our “national interest”— or in Asia or lots of other places in the world. It is because our leadership has a very cold, calculating, self-interested view of the world that what I assert to be actually necessary moral action on the part of anyone who wants to consider himself to be a good Christian, a good Jews, a good moral being, that such action is not taken!
Roger: We first heard a term which was talked about in right-wing circles today called the New World Order. Adolf Hitler really spurred on this concept of a global power being the global governing nucleus of the world.
Dr. Goldhagen: That’s right.
Roger: When I look at the world today I see us heading in that direction. Of course, if we were a global community we would probably react differently to these circumstances, right?
Dr. Goldhagen: Sure.
Roger: So there’s a motivation by some to move us in that direction, and yet there’s this concept of sovereignty, especially if you’re an American, a country founded on principles far different from any other place in the world, no one wants to let go of their individuality as a nation, as a sovereign person. So, how do we hope….. because at any time in history when people have tried it’s been referred to as Machiavellian or whatever, when people have tried to conceptualize this global government where these problems might be handled differently. We always end up in great wars and things kind of collapse as we approach that concept.
Dr. Goldhagen: Right.
Roger: And yet, I think people make a legitimate argument when they say if we don’t let go of that sentiment like “this is America, it’s none of our business—- who the heck cares if a half million Rwandans are killed today,” then we’ll never get past the very thing that we object to with regard to Nazi Germany.
Dr. Goldhagen: Well, you know, you’ve raised very difficult problems. First, let me emphasize a point that you said or what you implied when you said….
Roger: We have to take a break, Daniel. Can you hold on and we’ll get back to it on the other side of the break. Don’t lose track of where we’re at here!
COMMERCIAL BREAK
Roger:  Alright, ladies and gentlemen, the book Dr. Daniel Goldhagen is a wonderful book, “Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust.” We’ll just barely get to this subject tonight, Daniel, as you can well imagine; but, we started in a direction and I want to go back there.
Dr. Goldhagen: Okay. I was just going to say that people should ask themselves why the life of a Rwandan child, a member of the Tutsi people in Rwanda, is any less valuable than the life of an American child.
Roger: Well, that’s a real hard question to ask yourself because we’re so detached from that.
Dr. Goldhagen: Well, one has to ask it in these terms; is that child’s life any less valuable?
Roger: Let’s go back into the minds — In your book you point out that a lot of these people who were killing agents for Hitler were not just SS officers; but, they were battalion policemen and all kinds of different …
Dr. Goldhagen: Just guys who were drafted to the duty….
Roger: Yeah! Just people! They got the orders to kill, “Hey! It’s okay to kill! We’re supposed to kill ’em!” Boom! We’ll kill them, okay?
It’s sad and hopeless; but, is there some kind of mindset where we find ourselves seeing the uselessness of other people? In other words, if I can identify — let’s say I’m a German battalion policeman with this order — if I can identify the Jew as a “useless eater” — they’re just garbage, they’re not even really people. If that now transfers through time, evolves so to speak, that subtle thinking process; now I’m an American in Hoboken and I’m watching my television set hearing about a half million colored folks in Rwanda killing each other machetes, do I find myself with that sentiment in the back of my mind? That they’re just useless people? 
Dr. Goldhagen: Well, if one does, then one is deeply prejudiced against those people. We should just say….
Roger: But, how could we sit back and watch that and not think that, and yet react, respond and act upon…
Dr. Goldhagen: But, many people do see that and they think this is an enormous, grave crime; but, the capacity of isolated individuals in this country to do much about it is really very small. If people would rouse themselves and clamor for the decision-makers in Washington….
Roger: Daniel, I’ve been here on the radio for years and I was certainly on the radio when the Rwandan incident came up, the Bosnian and the Balkan crisis. I am not at this moment recollecting any great moment of worry or calls of concern from the American people. They just didn’t seem to respond to it.
Dr. Goldhagen: You know, it’s not clear how much most people knew about it. I don’t know when you’re talking about your radio station.
Take Somalia, for example. When it became clear that there was mass starvation going on in Somalia, when we saw it every night on the news, a lot of pressure began to develop on Washington to do some intervention. Then a halt was put to it when the American soldier was dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. Nevertheless, when people were confronted by the horror, they said this is something that is just abominable!
Part of the problem is that news organizations, opinion leaders, politicians simply don’t work to inform the American people about the horrors taking place in many countries around the world. I’m not saying that if they did, everybody would immediately say that we should do something about it. In fact, many people don’t want to do anything about it. But, there are still many people in this country who would be willing to back some kind of action.
Roger:  You know, Daniel, in almost every major city in our country we have horrible inter-racial and cross-racial killings of people every day! We have the gang bangers. We have the drug culture. We have this whole new strange kind of urban jungle that’s developed in the inner-cities of America. The people that I talk to really consider that when Blacks drive by and kill each other in gang-related shootings as the “good riddance” factor! Is that something that comes from hatred? Or have we just determined, as these German men that you talked about in your book, we’ve just determined for ourselves that these people are useless anyway?
Dr. Goldhagen: First of all, there again are distinctions. Sometimes people are deemed to be “useless eaters” as the Germans put it; but, in Germany it was actually something different. The Jews were not considered to be “useless eaters.” They were considered to be a powerful force of evil who actually needed to be destroyed.
Roger: Alright, but; how would we treat inner-city blacks in America if they were on top of the obvious lack of concern for their well-being, thought of them also as evil?
Dr. Goldhagen: If they were thought of as evil, that’s a big “If” that would be acted upon. Let me ask you, do you actually think that if the government drafted just some cross-section of white American society and told people, “Go slaughter children!” Black children, Hispanic children, whoever they’re prejudiced against, any group, do you find that most people would just do this if they knew they had an option not to do it?
Roger: I think people charged with the duty would.
Dr. Goldhagen: Everyone?
Roger: I think people charged with the duty would do it.
Dr. Goldhagen: Even if they were told they didn’t have to do it?
Roger:  I think whether it’s the BATF or FBI man in Waco, Texas….
Dr. Goldhagen: Not a BATF or FBI….
Roger: Or a sniper in Ruby Ridge, Idaho….
Dr. Goldhagen:  I’m talking about regular guys who are just drafted into the duty.
Roger: Well, you know, I don’t know. I should know! I should say to you flatly, No Way! Never in America! But, I don’t know that I believe it. I believe that some would, many would.
Dr. Goldhagen: Okay. But, many would not, right?
Roger: I think that’s true.
Dr. Goldhagen: Don’t you think there would be a large segment of the American population who would be outraged by this?
Roger: I would hope so!
Dr. Goldhagen: Well, I’m convinced of it!
Roger: I think we’d probably end up in Civil War over it which would be the same thing.
Dr. Goldhagen: Look at the scenario we’re spinning.
Roger: No! I mean because when I see these things, I’m trying to look at the whole world and put it in perspective with what I can touch, feel and see in my own country. We could care more about each other, Daniel.
Dr. Goldhagen: Um hum.
Roger:  And if we could find a way to care more about each other than these things wouldn’t ever happen; but, I’m afraid, my friend, as I’ve been through about 18 weeks of this now, that it could happen again.
Dr. Goldhagen: We’ll it has happened again, not to Jews but to other people.
Roger:  To any segment of the world that someone decided to set aside.
Dr. Goldhagen: You know, there are many groups that are vulnerable because there are great hatreds and because they have enemies who contemplate doing these kinds of things.
Roger: Yes, we have our work cut out for us. Daniel, we’ve run out of the hour here, my friend. Could you tell folks real quickly how to get your book?
Dr. Goldhagen: My book is available at www.amazon.com and at every Barnes & Noble. It’s called, “Hitler’s Willing Executioners.” It’s really very, very widely available in paperback from Vintage Books.
Roger: Alright. Thank you, sir. God Bless! It’s been great to have you here. Continue of with your good work. It’s a wonderful book.
Dr. Goldhagen: Thank you! You’re doing a wonderful job, too! I enjoyed it, bye-bye!
Roger:  Ladies and gentlemen, that will conclude this week’s presentation of The Holocaust: We Must Remember. Thank you so much for participating and being here tonight. Dr. Goldhagen’s book really is a worthy read because it takes a close, intricate look into the minds of the people who actually did the killing in Nazi Germany. Whew! Powerful stuff!
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 – Rachel Hager- When They Came to Take My Father

THE HOLOCAUST: WE MUST REMEMBER 

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

2-18-1998 Sixteenth Program in Series

Guest: Rachel Hager

Book: WHEN THEY CAME TO TAKE MY FATHER: Voices of the Holocaust

ISBN-10: 1559703059 and ISBN-13: 155970355

Roger Fredinburg interviews Rachel Hager, an editor at Parents magazine, about the book: “When they came to take my father.” This book is a compilation of stories and photgraphs from 50 survivors.

rachel hager

Roger: Welcome to the program, ladies and gentlemen! It’s a pleasure to bring you this series. It’s been a remarkable number of weeks now. It just gets better and better each and every week! It’s amazing, the things we learn when you talk to people who actually experience some of the worst nightmares of humanity; and to still have some of theses folks around to tell the stories is quite a blessing, indeed!

This week we’re going to talk to Rachel Hager who is senior editor with Parent’s Magazine. She edited the book, “When They Came to Take My Father: Voices of the Holocaust.”  The book is incredible in itself because of the many stories that are told; but, one of the unique aspects of the book are photographs by Mark Seliger. The photographs tell stories that the words couldn never tell. You can see in the faces of these honorable people, the pain, the suffering, the joy and the fascination with life! It’s amazing to see them in this light!

What a wonderful book, Rachel! Welcome to the show!

Rachel H: Thank you! Thank you for having me.

Roger: Now, Rachel, for the sake of the audience, would you please give us a little biographical background—what you’re about?

Rachel H: I am actually a child of survivors myself. The title of the book is taken from the interviews I did with my father who was born in Vienna and experienced Kristallnacht which was a terrible night for all of the Jews in Vienna and Germany. It was also the night his father was taken to Dachau concentration camp.

As a child of survivors, you sort of see life through different eyes because everything that you experience is really experienced through the eyes of your parents, through their experiences. I think that Benjamin Mead, President of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors, really sums it all up when he says that, “When survivors get together they can be talking about carrots or flowers and inevitably the talk comes back to the holocaust.”

That’s certainly the way it was for me growing up — everything was before the war—during the war — after the war.   I had a strong sense of the holocaust without every having been told much about it; as a child –there would be snippets of conversation gathered here and there that would suddenly work their way into my subconscious. I remember riding the subways at a very early age in Brooklyn and was completely terrified of being in the front car where I could see the tracks because although I had no real concept of what cattle cars were, that was instinctively what the subway cars reminded me of.

Roger:   Oh, that’s really strange! I mean, it’s bizarre that you would even make that correlation, not having lived it! 

Rachel H: Right! Interestingly enough, when I got to college I was very fortunate to have Helen Epstein as a professor who is the author of, “Children of the Holocaust.” In reading her book, I was very surprised to find that experience is actually shared by a number of children of holocaust survivors. They just have this instinctive “cattle car” feeling.

Roger: Maybe it’s from hearing those stories as a child. Now, were your parents pretty open about their story?

Rachel H: Yes, pretty much. Both of my parents were actually very fortunately not to have been in camps. My mother was born in Poland and was a child of two when her family moved to Antwerp, Belgium before the war. She was twelve when the war broke out. She and her family escaped to France. The train ride from Brussels to La Champs in the Pyrenees, normally a 1-1/2 hour train ride, took 7 days because of all the bombardment and the need to hide at various points. She and her parents spent the war on the run from one section of France to another. They had a number of close calls. In fact, when they were in Nimes, in the south of France, my grandmother had a dream one night that her father, who actually died before the war, and her brother came to her and said, “Raisa! Raisa! Close the shutters because there is going to be huge storm!” The next day they got word that the Jews in the area were going to be rounded up so they fled! In fact, the Germans came to their house about an hour after they had gone. The pots were still warm on the stove! So, there were a number of very close calls.

I grew up in a community of survivors, so for me this was not unusual. It was not unusual to have friends whose parents had numbers tattooed on their arms. I really thought that all Jews had been in the holocaust. It wasn’t until I got to college that I met any Jews whose families were not! So, it gives you a different perspective on life.

My father’s father, as I mentioned, was in Dachau and that severely affected him. My father says that when he got out, he could not sleep through the night for two years. He’d wake up screaming and shaking.   In marches outside around the camp in freezing, sub-zero weather with no clothes on, he’d suddenly see people tied alive to trees and left there to die! He could hear the wails and the screams in the barracks!

As a result of some of these experiences, he had a lifelong distaste of stripes. I remember as a child, my mother would never dress me in anything with stripes when he was visiting because it brought back memories.

Roger:  How was it your grandfather survived this, do you know?

Rachel H:   My father’s mother had a cousin in Switzerland who actually had an acquaintance who was like a “deep throat.”   They gave him the name, Shimon. I don’t know what his real name was; but, he was a friend of Himmler. So, this cousin used that connection and was able to buy a number of Jews out of Dachau.

Dachau was one of the earlier concentration camps that was set up and initially was one of the more severe ones. There were very few survivors from Dachau.

Roger: I didn’t realize that people were bought out of captivity.

Rachel H: It was not a common practice. It was a moral dilemma because you knew that on some level this money was going to finance the German war effort. At the time, if you had the ability to get people out, clearly, you would do everything that you could to save human lives. I guess it was at a time when that was still possible; but, it used up all of my grandfather’s money trying to get as many people out as he could.

Roger: Boy! What a story some of these folks have to tell in your book here. You’ve done a good job putting this book together, condensing the stories. The photographs! Tell me how you came to the conclusion that the photographs, which really are the major part of the book, would play such a significant role, because they do!

Rachel H:   Yes! Actually, that is really to Mark Seliger’s credit. He was the person who conceived of this book and really had always wanted to photograph survivors. He is Jewish, from Texas, an American for several generation so there was no direct correlation. But, these people always held a fascination for him and he felt he really wanted to capture them before it was too late! This generation is aging and they won’t be with us forever. He has a unique way of truly, as you pointed out in you introduction, of truly capturing peoples’ souls. I really think he did an excellent job of that!

Roger: Oh, yes! I’m looking at these pictures and the faces just tell it all! It’s unbelievable! You can see these people and know they are Jewish survivors before you read a word! It’s just amazing how much you can get from a photograph, or at least, how much Mark is able to put into these photographs.

Your folks just kind of bounced around and hid out apparently?

Rachel H: Right.

Roger:   They were able to escape some of the worst torment of the time; but, everyone in the book did not have that fortune.

Rachel H:   True.

Roger:  You have the Mengele twins in your book. What is their story?

Rachel H: That’s really an amazing story! They were among the youngest twins to have survived. In fact, Irene, one of the twins was devastated when people would kind of question her experience. Afterwards people would say, “you could not possibly have been a Mengele twin because you’re too young.” To have the double-whammy of going through the experience and then having it questioned is unimaginable!

I think the best way to tell her story is to just read some excerpts because her words —-the book is written in first person, that was intentional because of the way that we edited it. I really felt that nobody could tell these stories better than the people themselves.

Roger: Right!

Rachel H: Just to give you some background, Irene was actually the twin that was experimented on. Rene, her brother, was the control.

…We were with our mother for the first four months at Auschwitz, then one day, I guess, they decided we were old enough to do without her and we were separated. When it came time for them to take my Mom, she didn’t want to let go of us and we didn’t want to let go of her. We heard this horrible screaming and one of the guards just hit her and she fell to the ground. We never saw her again.

Rene and I were separated. Siblings of the opposite sex didn’t get to stay together. As part of Mengele’s great scientific plan to find a master race, he had a passion for studying twins. Usually one twin was the control and one was experimented on. I was the “lucky” one who got to go to the hospital for all kinds of experiments.

Could I pick Mengele out? Never in a million years! I only remember a doctor in a white coat. He once gave me candy. It was all so innocent. He was our savior and our demon.

You had this ambivalent feeling, wanting him to like you! I would think, “I’ll be really good and then he’ll be my friend and then he won’t hurt me.” But, it wasn’t like that! There were some things that I’ve never spoken about that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to speak about.

When you meet Irene, she is amazing; the fact that she’s managed to have a life at all after all of this!   Actually, she struggles with MS and her condition is deteriorating; but, she is such a strong, unbelievably strong person.

… I remember once hiding among dead bodies. I knew that these were dead bodies; but, to me it was what you had to do. I could see the chimneys day and night. I knew something terrible was going on; but, I figured when my turn comes, it will be my turn.

It’s very hard to find the right words to explain what I felt as a child. I lost my childhood. I had no childhood. I was so scared all the time and I felt so alone.

One night I had to go to the bathroom and then tried to come back inside. It was dark and I got confused. I didn’t know where my bed was. I was groping trying to find my way back and people were pushing me away. “This is not your place,” they said. Grown people pushing me away! I felt so rejected, I can’t explain it.   Finally somebody said, “okay, you can stay with me for the night.”

At the end she was, basically, just laying on the ground for days wondering what was going to happen. Finally she was taken by a Polish woman, a gentile, to her house. At that point, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee came to get her and she was adopted by a family on Long Island. When they found out that she had a twin brother, they really put themselves out trying to find him. As it turns out, when the war was over, he was in Czechoslovakia and they actually got him out in 1950, so they were reunited!

Roger: The stories that are told in the book, Rachel, are pretty hard, I think, for people to swallow without tears. I’m reading the book and just wondering how in the world something like this could happen. I was really fascinated with one of the quotes you highlights from Isaac Jarkowski,

“For each Jew that was denounced, people got 50 francs. 50 francs at that time was $1.00 – a Jew was worth $1.00”

I thought that was really a powerful statement! People would turn other people in, knowing they were going to be killed for a buck! It’s almost impossible to fathom that! I mean, really just unbelievable!

In this country, as you well know, people don’t really understand the holocaust. Really! It’s different, I suppose, in New York; but, out here in fly-over country, people really don’t get it!   What do you think are the lessons from the holocaust?

Rachel H:   Well, there are good lessons and bad lessons. I think that the…..

Roger: I mean, do you think humanity really learned anything from it?

Rachel H:   There is a part of me that… certainly, I hope so! There is a part of me that thinks that there are people who have learned from it and who learn from it every day. I have met countless young Germans and young Poles, children of Nazis and of Polish sympathizers, who truly will go to their graves trying to make up for what their parents or grandparents did. So, I think that there are people that certainly have learned! But, I think as a whole, we haven’t because it happens all the time in different forms, whether it’s in Bosnia or …. not to equate it all because I actually am of the mind that the holocaust was unique, that it was very organized, very orchestrated and basically, the world was silent!

It wasn’t happening far away in one country, it was direct.   Go to the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C.   You can see aerial photographs that American reconnaissance planes took. How do you explain that? I know that the response to that is, “we didn’t want to bomb the camps because we didn’t want to kill innocent people.” Well, guess what? People were being killed anyway! Maybe they could have stopped it sooner.   So, I fear that we haven’t learned.

Roger:   John Klein said this in the book, “Those who say we should forgive and forget, have nothing to forgive and nothing to forget. I cannot forgive and I cannot forget.” In my right-of-center political sphere, I’m always saying to political groups, “forgive and forget,” You know, move on! This put kind of a new spin on that for me. What do I have to forgive? What do I have to forget? Those are powerful messages that come from the heart and soul of those people that lived through this tragic time! Boy, I’ll tell you, you’ve done a wonderful job!

By the way, if people want to get the book, how do they do that?

Rachel H:  They can get it at any Barnes & Noble or major bookstore, or call Arcade Publishing in New York 212-475-2633. The title of the book is, “When They Came to Take My Father.” Mark Seliger is the primary name.

Roger: The photographs are wonderful! Rachel, hang on, we’ve got to take a break. Folks, Rachel Hager is our guest this evening. She is the senior editor for Parents’ Magazine and also one of the editors for this wonderful book filled with some of the most impressive stories and finest photographs I’ve ever seen! The photographs themselves just tell a story that can’t be told in any other way. You can ask Rachel some questions. We’ll take calls after the break.

COMMERCIAL BREAK

Roger: Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen! I’m Roger Fredinburg. Our guest this evening is Rachel Hager. She is senior editor for Parents’ Magazine and editor of this wonderful, wonderful book, “When They Came to Take My Father.” Photographic evidence of survivors and the pain, suffering and joy is all there in the pictures! Great stories with some incredible quotes; quotes that I think will give you whole new thinking on this issue — this one is from Irving Miltzberg, “The Poles had an expression, they’d say, “from now on soap is going to get expensive because there are no Jews from which to make it anymore.”

Tom Lantos, the democrat from California whose politics I have denounced here on this program many a time—- I did not know he was a survivor. Tom Lantos talks about being fortunate that he was a tall, blond Aryan-looking fellow. It kept him out of some trouble. He escaped 17 times from work camps! He describes situations where the Germans and SS would have you pull down your pants because only Jews were circumcised and then it was easy for them to tell—then they’d send you off to camp! Powerful stuff, Rachel!

Rachel H: Yes.

Roger: Now, Tom Lantos, I did not know he was a survivor. It’s a very interesting story, his wife is a cousin to Zsa Zsa and Eva Gabor? I always just disliked his politics, you know?

Rachel H:  Ha, ha!

Roger: But, having read the story about him it gives insight as to where he’s coming from!

Rachel H:   Does it make you regret denouncing his politics?

Roger:  Oh, not at all! No, no! America is built on good discourse on politics; but, it gives me insight to the man. In other words, where I might have really disliked the man, I have a whole different feeling for him now. And, I wouldn’t have had that had I not read the book and had the opportunity to share his life story. So, that in itself is kind of fascinating. Do you want to take a few phone calls?

Rachel H: Sure.

Roger:   Alright! Let’s go to John in Bemidji, Minnesota. Hello, John!

Caller-John: Hello, Roger! I don’t know a lot about this subject; but, from what I’ve heard, about half of the people who died in these death camps were part of the Jewish holocaust or genocide. When I was on a trip over there with my family, our one vacation to Europe, my kids wanted to go to Dachau so we went. I was looking in these books where they had the names of people who were inmates or prisoners there and their disposition; either they died, or they were transferred, or they were set free. I may have even been looking at her grandfather’s name there possibly! The clergymen were marked. I was wondering if you guest has and notion about how many of the inmates at Dachau were part of the Jewish holocaust, victims of the holocaust?

Rachel H:   I’m afraid I don’t have precise numbers; but, I would say in terms of the holocaust in general, that the number of victims who were Jewish is more than half.

Caller-John: Well, I was just going by what they seem to be saying on TV when they talk about this sort of thing.

The thing that struck me, looking at these books, is that almost all the clergymen—almost every one—in these books I was looking at in Dachau—were Catholic priests. You mentioned that it was one of the earlier camps. My daughter has a doctorate in history and I was talking to one of her associates who’s a history buff.   He said the Catholic centrist party in Germany resisted the Nazis, some of them resisted the Nazis—talked against them, along with other resistors or political dissidents.   Dachau was one of the first camps the Nazis opened up and they threw them in there.

Rachel H:  Um hum. That wouldn’t surprise me. Disagreeing with the Nazis would certainly be enough to get them placed there.

Caller-John:  I think that’s how they held on to power. They were hanging on by their fingernails in the beginning. If you were a communist or a monarchist or some kind of conservative, they just threw you in the camp and that was it!

Rachel H: I think that people forget that this was very, very organized, everybody thought that they were safe. They started with certain groups; initially it was only German or Austrian Jews; but, if you were a French Jew in France you were okay.   If you were a Belgian Jew who had run away to France you were not okay. It kind of kept people in constant guessing and constant fear of what would happen next!

Caller-John: Yes, I guess that’s true! You made a comment I thought was sort of disingenous, that the United States could have stopped that genocide earlier, almost implying like they chose not to!

I just disagree with that! The blood that was let, not so much by the United States; but by the English and the Russians fighting these Nazis — they saw tens of thousands of their people dying fighting these people! They poured the coal on and the United States poured the coal on; bombing every day! The British bombed every day and the Americans bombed at night.

Roger: You know, in the book….

Caller-John:   The blew up factories right beside these camps and didn’t bomb the camps! I’m not sure if they knew exactly that they were death camps though. Eisenhower said that he didn’t know until they over-ran them!

Roger:   John, thank you very much! I think they knew a lot more than they told. History, of course, will reveal some of the truths. We’re seeing that now with the Swiss gold and things that are going on, now finding out that American gold was melted down and recirculated in Nazi camps— a lot of things we did not know a few years ago. Now it’s really beginning to open up. It’s all most unusual; but, we’re seeing a lot more evidence and a lot more stories come to light, aren’t we Rachel?

Rachel H: Yes, unfortunately, that’s true. I’m very thankful to be in America. I am American. I am first generation American and very partiotic; but, I do think that each and every country knew a lot more than they…..

Roger:   I was just reading a quote by Max Jukers. I think the guy’s got a little bit of sense of humor here. He says, “After the war we went out into the streets of the city and couldn’t believe what we saw, so many dead bodies; in the water, everywhere! I had to carry my horse on my back! He refused to go because of all the dead bodies.”

Rachel H:   Right! He wasn’t kidding!

Roger: Ha, ha!

Rachel H: Ha, ha! Believe it or not! Beyond the bodies that were actually dead, there were countless Jews who went back to their lands of birth were greeted— my mother and her parents included, went back to Antwerp, Belgium and their neighbor looked at them and said, “What are you doing here? I thought Hitler killed all the Jews.” That’s a nice welcome home.

Roger: Isn’t that something? The spiritual aspects of this, the religious aspects — I know some Jews that really got more religious because of their experience; but, others became atheists because of it. In other words, if there was a God, how could this happen? What do you suppose the percentages are? I mean of the number of people that became more spiritual and those who denounced God?

Rachel H:  I think that probably a somewhat larger percentage of people probably denounced God, although it’s probably more even than some people think, in terms of people who got more religious.

Frederick Cherna is an interesting case in point. He grew up in a very kind of intelligentsia, not a very religious environment to begin with. The war soured him completely. He was in Theresinstadt and several camps after that. He made a point during my interview with him, consistently saying that he was a atheist, that he didn’t believe in God. Yet, every Saturday —-he was married for the second time to a younger woman and had a small child — every Saturday he took this child to synagogue. He would sit there. He wouldn’t pray; but, he would sit there and suddenly feel peaceful. I asked him. I said, “Why do you feel drawn to a spiritual place of worship if you don’t believe that there is a God?’ He had no answer!

Roger:   Maybe that was his answer.

Rachel Hager is our guest, ladies and gentlemen. She is senior editor of Parents’ Magazine and editor of this book, “When They Came to Take My Father: Voices of the Holocaust” photographs by Mark Seliger. What an incredible bunch of photographs they are!

We’ll be right back!

COMMERCIAL BREAK

Roger:   Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen. Rachel Hager is our guest. We’re talking about the book, “When They Came to Take My Father,” a wonderful book filled with just captivating stories about people who survived the holocaust with photographs by Mark Seliger, some of the finest photographs you’ll ever see in your life! Just amazing work!

Rachel, another wonderful quote, probably the one that was the most unsettling for me, was Flora Hagner’s quote, “I think I shut off all understanding. The only thing I knew was that my mother wasn’t there and I knew I wasn’t supposed to say I was a Jew. In some way, I guess I knew I wasn’t supposed to exist.” That’s a powerful statement because I think it really sums up the feeling that a lot of people must have had, that “we’re not supposed to exist!”

Rachel H: Right!

Roger:  And they almost didn’t exist! Powerful!

Rachel H:  But, these survivors are actually testimony to the fact that they do continue to exist and that Hitler was not successful! That was the driving force that really pushed a lot of people on. One man, Feldinger, said that the only thing that got him through was knowing that his father had said to him, when all this is over you have to go home. That was what kept him alive during Auschwitz.

Roger: Oh, boy.   Let’s go to Larry in Fort Smith, Arkansas. You’re on the radio, Larry!

Caller-Larry: Good evening, Rachel and Roger! Rachel, my mother-in-law who is 89 now and lives with us, was in a convent in Budapest Hungary in 1937 going to be a nun. She had not taken her vows yet. She was a family friend with some Jewish people. To save this Jewish man’s life, who is my father-in-law, she married him! The priest there helped with paperwork saying that he was Catholic. Unfortunately, my father-in-law’s sister died at Dachau. My mother-in-law saved my father-in-law, saved his ex-wife and his son. I guess there are stories all over the world where people have really done a lot of things to save these people Of course, thank God for me, I got to marry their daughter! He escaped from the communists in Hungary in 1956 with his son. My wife came over in 1960.

Roger, you might remember this! It was on the news when Douglas Edwards did the news; my father-in-law knew Garst in Iowa who Kruschev stayed with back in 1960. Does that sound right?

Roger: I wasn’t there, Larry.

Caller-Larry: Well anyway, he wrote him a letter in 1959 and Mr. Garst talked to Kruschev and they made a big deal about letting my mother-in-law and my wife who was 13 years old at the time. It was on Douglas Edwards news. For some reason or other, I remember it even though I was only 13 years old.

I guess I’m going to get your book because I’m sure your book is full of great stories of people pretty much committed everything, including their life, to save people.

Roger: This is the kind of book, Larry, that you put on the coffee table in the living room and everybody is going to spend hours thumbing through it. They won’t be able to put it down! Just because the photographs add so much to it. It’s really a compelling book!

Caller-Larry: Awhile ago, Roger, you were talking about having trouble, even though you’ve never been on a cattle car. My wife, right now, does not talk about things like that. If it hadn’t been for my father-in-law and mother-in-law I would never have known because, even though she was born in 1947, she knew what her father had went through. He’d lost everything! He was a very wealthy man back in the 1930s and between Hitler and the Communists, they took it all! It was a bad deal all around. Like I said, there’s a lot of people in the world that have the same story.

Roger: Larry, thank you very much! We appreciate you sharing with us. Rachel, one more time, give the publisher’s infomration so people can order it that way if they can’t find it in their bookstore.

Rachel H: Sure! The name of the publisher is Arcade Publishing. They’re in New York. It’s an imprint of Little Brown. The phone number is 212-475-2633.

Roger: Alright, let’s go to Brian in Central Point, Oregon. Brian, very quickly because we’re running tight on time.

Caller-Brian: I understand. I was reading Einstein’s biography and some friends mine too, discussing things that are similar to that time in Germany here in the United States. With Germany, you could go to another country and get away from it all. What do we do in this country when you see the government doing things like this creeping up? It’s not as bad as the holocaust; but, you can see it’s eventually going to come with Christians and the anti-semitism and things going on. What do we do?

Roger: Well, we have to fight against it, Brian. You know, that’s a good question! Maybe real quickly, Rachel, before you go—-do you find when you interview these folks, did any of them have regrets they didn’t see it coming soon and fight against it harder?

Rachel H: I think they all live with intense guilt complexes for having survived, for not having fought even through they couldn’t have fought. And, mostly for surviving when others did not. But, I think your point is absolutely correct. What we do is we fight against it when we see the early signs. I think that at the time it was unfathomable that any human being could do these things to another human being. The point was that Jews were not looked at as human beings. They were demoted to animal status in peoples’ minds. So, it didn’t matter.

Roger: And maybe in their own minds because of the conditions were horrible! Rachel, I appreciate your being here. It’s been a wonderful hour! Your book is wonderful! Your work is wonderful! Mark’s work is fantastic! I just want to thank you folks for leaving this legacy!

Rachel H: Thank you!

Roger: Thank you and God bless! Alright folks, that’s Rachel Hager. You can order it at your bookstore, “When They Came to Take My Father: Voices of the Holocaust,” photographs by Mark Seliger. I’ll tell you something, you could have this on the coffee table and everyone would want to look at it! It’s that good! It’s really good!

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.)

 

 

Don’t Joke About Obama or Islam

Daniel Greenfield is one of my all time favorite journalists, this is a spot on article by Daniel, and watch the video at the end of the article as well.

April 14, 2015 by  for FrontPage Magazine

When the Polk Awards decided to honor the murdered cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo, one obvious name came to mind. Gary Trudeau.

danielGary Trudeau

If there is one man who represents the opposite of what the Charlie cartoonists did, it’s Trudeau. They took risks, Trudeau takes none. They lived knowing that they could be killed at any moment. There is no person on earth who would bother killing Gary Trudeau even if it was Kill Gary Trudeau Day.

Trudeau is that paradoxical creature, the establishment cartoonist, the party satirist, the hack who dares to say exactly what he is expected to say. Imagine NPR in a few black and white sketches. That’s Trudeau’s Doonesbury. Republicans are bad. Liberals are good. And then insert a topical reference.

The Polk Awards were the best forum for Trudeau. George Polk invented heroic wartime exploits that got him a job at CBS. Unlike Brian Williams, Polk did serve, but he was not a fighter pilot, he serviced aircraft. In Greece, his dubious reporting attacking Truman and the Greek government was defended by his lefty colleagues by inventing even more imaginary heroics that he had never claimed for himself.

By the time they were done, Polk had singlehandedly defeated the Japanese.

After Polk was murdered by Greek Communists, American lefties went all out to prove that there had been a conspiracy by the Greek government to silence him. All it took to believe in the Polk Conspiracy was a willingness to disregard the entire history of Communist activities and how casually its armed bands, agents and guerrillas killed people across the entire political spectrum for minor offenses.

But these revelations have not in any way interfered with the Polk Awards. And the Polk Awards decided to make Gary Trudeau the first cartoonist honored with an award. Trudeau would join a seminar on “Dangerous Lines: Cartoonists and Other Subversives” featuring such dangerous subversives as a writer for The Onion and Obama sycophant Jules Feiffer. It was a seminar so dangerously and outrageously subversive it could have been held at Whole Foods.

Trudeau reciprocated by blasting the murdered Charlie Hebdo cartoonists as free speech absolutists and bigots. He claimed that the cartoons of Mohammed did not “challenge authority” and argued that “Satire punches up, against authority of all kinds, the little guy against the powerful.”

While the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists had challenged the authority of a system of theocracy over a thousand years old, Trudeau’s latest cartoon mocks people stockpiling gasoline.

Trudeau’s rant, published in The Atlantic as “The Abuse of Satire”, claims that Charlie had pandered to the Jews while offending Muslims, described Muslims arrested for supporting the attacks as having exercised their freedom of speech, and contended that by, “attacking a powerless, disenfranchised minority with crude, vulgar drawings closer to graffiti than cartoons, Charlie wandered into the realm of hate speech”.

Supporting killing cartoonists for drawing Mohammed is free speech. Drawing Mohammed is hate speech.

That’s certainly a subversive idea, but it subverts such things as Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion. It subverts the idea that a cartoonist shouldn’t be killed for challenging a theocracy.

But then what else can an establishment hack denied an administration he can oppose, subvert? When the establishment of the left is in charge, the only things left to subvert are the barriers to the absolute rule of the left.

Dangerous subversives become the destroyers of democracy fighting against free speech absolutists. The dangerous subversive stops dangerously subverting and instead lectures on the appropriate uses of satire. He becomes a commissar who censors with one hand and cartoons with the other.

Real satire exists to challenge the sorts of people who would set out appropriate uses of it. State satire isn’t satire. Soviet cartoonists in Krokodil churning out incessant cartoons of capitalists in top hats being thumped by Communists weren’t satirists. Like Trudeau, they were establishment hacks pimping out propaganda.

Their work was usually more talented than Trudeau’s, but it was just the establishment talking to itself.

The left has adopted “Punching up” and “Punching down” as the legitimate metrics for comedy and satire, but real ‘Punching down’ comes from the establishment. When an establishment satirist like Trudeau attacks satirists who risked their lives challenging a real authority with the power to kill them, what he is really saying is that satire should only serve the ends and agendas of the establishment.

That is the very definition of “Punching down”. When the establishment tells you what satire is supposed to be, then anyone following those rules is punching down.

The entire rhetoric of “Punching up” and “Punching down” limits comedy to a crude Marxist structural pyramid. The left “Punches up” by building alliances with “disenfranchised” groups in order to rule. It then uses them as shields to punch down. Establishment hacks like Trudeau do not refrain from “Punching down” by mocking ordinary Americans who lack their wealth and access to power. They claim that by doing so they’re really punching up on behalf of their disenfranchised shields.

But the model collapses altogether when we consider a segment of the population that believes that everyone must submit to its religion and is willing to back up that demand with lethal force.

Muslims are by no means Trudeau’s “powerless, disenfranchised minority”, but suppose they were. There was a time when the followers of Adolf Hitler were powerless and disenfranchised. Power is not just about the guy who wins an election. It’s also about his shadow who is willing to kill to take over.

Mocking him takes a lot of guts.

It takes no guts to throw another few barbs at Newt Gingrich or Rick Perry for the entertainment of your lefty audience. Not only won’t their followers kill you, but they can’t even disinvite you to any of the better establishment parties. Mocking them is actually a ticket into the cocktail party circuit. It’s as subversive as Mark Russell tinkling away on the piano.

We have a lot of “Punching up” satire in America which is as toothless as that tinkling. We have few satirists willing to mock Obama because that is a ticket out of every single cocktail party ever.

Saturday Night Live could mock every president, but it drew the line at Obama. It occasionally builds jokes around him, but it doesn’t draw an exaggerated ridiculous caricature of him the way that it did of Clinton and Bush. We’ve seen a drunken lecherous Bill Clinton. We’ve seen a drunken numbskull Bush.

There’s been nothing like that on the show for Obama. There can’t be. It would be too dangerous.

There is in fact an easy way to tell whether your satire is really punching up or down. Try it and see what happens. If you run into a gigantic backlash that impacts your career and your safety, then you’re actually punching up. Just ask a rodeo clown out of Missouri who went out wearing an Obama mask and ended having to go into hiding while the Governor, a Senator and the Kansas City Star called for his head. Bans were issued, blacklists were assembled and Obama fans threatened to burn down his house.

That’s what real “Punching up” looks like. Real punching up might mock establishment journalistic awards named after the world’s greatest fake fighter pilot not named Brian Williams.

To comedy cowards like Gary Trudeau that would be the reprehensible antics of free speech fanatics who don’t know that there’s good satire and abuse of satire. They don’t understand that there are jokes that you’re supposed to tell and jokes that you never should. They might draw Mohammed, and then in response to the outrage, draw him again and again.

What do you do with people like that? You shoot them. And when they’re dead, you smear them. Because if you don’t, their courage exposes you for the cowardly hack that you really are.

That’s what real establishment satirists do. Just ask the old dead Soviet cartoonists of Krokodil.

Don’t miss Shillman Fellow Daniel Greenfield on The Glazov Gang discuss The Real Meaning of ‘Allahu Akbar’.

http://https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQPks5t41M0&feature=player_embedded

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.)