Auschwitz Revisited

white rose resistance
Sophie & Hans Scholl with Christoph Probst summer of 1942 (White Rose Society)

The 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp by Soviet troops in WWII was commemorated on January 27, 2015. The Nazis operated a lot of concentration camps during their reign of terror, but the Auschwitz complex was where they perfected an efficient, factory-like system to exterminate large numbers of people. It’s estimated they murdered at least 1.1 million people at Auschwitz, most of them Jews

The horror of it was such that most people then, and still today, cannot mentally grasp what happened there. One question that’s often asked is: How could the German people allow it to occur? George Wittenstein was a German citizen during the Nazi regime and in 1997 he tried to explain what it was like:

“The government – or rather, the party – controlled everything: the news media, arms, police, the armed forces, the judiciary system, communications, travel, all levels of education from kindergarten to universities, all cultural and religious institutions. Political indoctrination started at a very early age, and continued by means of the Hitler Youth with the ultimate goal of complete mind control. Children were exhorted in school to denounce even their own parents for derogatory remarks about Hitler or Nazi ideology. My own teenage cousin, for instance, threatened to denounce his father; and I was barely able to deter him by pointing out to him that he himself might end up destitute, if his father were arrested and incarcerated.

Organized resistance was practically impossible. One could not speak openly, even with close friends, never knowing whether they might not be Nazi spies or collaborators. So well organized was the control and surveillance by the party, that each city block had a party functionary assigned to spy on his neighbors. This “Blockwart” was ostensibly responsible for the well being of the residents of his city block, but in reality had to monitor, record and report on activities, conversations, and remarks of each person, as well as on their associations. Even the privacy of one’s home was not assured: a tea cozy or pillows placed over the telephone were popular precautions against eavesdropping by bugging. Nor did one ever know what mail had been secretly opened.”

Remembering the White Rose Resistance Group

Despite this difficult situation, however, there were still Germans who dared to speak out against the Nazis. One of the most famous was the White Rose resistance group. (Wittenstein was a member.) The White Rose was a non-violent group of students and a philosophy professor from the University of Munich who conducted an anonymous leaflet and graffiti campaign against the Nazis beginning in the summer of 1942.

The first of their widely distributed leaflets caused a sensation in Germany. It read:

“Isn’t it true that every honest German is ashamed of his government these days? Who among us has any conception of the dimensions of shame that will befall us and our children when one day the veil has fallen from our eyes and the most horrible of crimes – crimes that infinitely outdistance every human measure – reach the light of day?”

They produced five more leaflets before two of their members were finally caught in February 1943 and the Gestapo began to identify and arrest others. Three White Rose student members, including a girl named Sophie Scholl, were tried in a Nazi kangaroo court called the People’s Court on February 22. They were convicted in less than an hour without any evidence being presented, then sentenced to death and immediately executed by guillotine. The court held another trial on April 19 and three more members were given a death sentence, including the students’ professor, Kurt Huber. Afterwards, his widow was sent a large bill for “wear of the guillotine.”

The final leaflet produced by the White Rose was smuggled out of Germany by Helmuth James Graf von Moltke, a founding member of the Kreisau Circle, another German group opposed to the Nazis. (Moltke was executed for treason by the Nazis in January 1945.) In 1942 Moltke smuggled a letter to a friend in Britain that read:

“Today, not a numerous, but an active part of the German people are beginning to realize, not that they have been led astray, not that bad times await them, not that the war may end in defeat, but that what is happening is sin and that they are personally responsible for each terrible deed that has been committed – naturally, not in the earthly sense, but as Christians.”

Millions of copies of the final White Rose leaflet, retitled The Manifesto of the Students of Munich, were dropped over Germany by Allied planes in 1943.

The efforts of the brave German citizens who opposed the Nazis don’t make up for what happened at Auschwitz, or for the millions of others the Nazis killed in the Holocaust. But they do restore a little bit of our faith in humanity, especially the German people.

Ideological Extremism

adolf hitler
Adolf Hitler (Wikipedia)

The 1930s, Nazi Germany: The Race and Resettlement Main Office (RuSHA)  of the SS began to implement Heinrich Himmler’s order to protect the purity of the Aryan race by regulating marriages.  Any SS member that wanted to get married had to provide genealogical documentation that he and his fiancée didn’t have any Jewish or other undesirable ancestors before he could obtain a marriage permit.

The 1990s, USA: Right-wing members of the Republican Party began using the pejorative term RINO – an acronym for Republican In Name Only. It described a member of their own party who didn’t exhibit sufficient conservative ideological purity in their political views. Right-wing Republicans began to purge candidates they deemed RINOs by actively campaigning against them in Republican primary elections. More recently, they have also ostracized Republicans that were discovered to have listened to their consciences and voted for Democrats in general elections.

Battle of the Bulge Begins, December 16, 1944

adolf hitler
Adolf Hitler (Wikipedia)

At 5:30 A.M. on December 16, 1944, Adolph Hitler launched Operation Herbstnebel, a massive surprise counter-attack by the German army against the American troops holding the line in the Ardennes along the Western front. Hitler’s goal was to split the Allied armies and capture their supply port of Antwerp, Belgium, forcing the Western Allies to negotiate a peace treaty.

“Your great hour has struck,” German Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt told his troops. “You bear in yourselves a divine duty to give everything and to achieve the superhuman for our Fatherland and our Führer.”

The 60-mile-wide German onslaught succeeded in punching a hole through the American lines and created a large salient that led to the battle becoming popularly known as the Battle of the Bulge. But fierce American resistance forced the German troops to switch to defensive tactics by the end of December.

Hitler tried to break this stalemate on the ground by launching a massive air attack, codenamed Operation Bodenplatte, against local Allied airfields on the morning of January 1, 1945. It was intended to achieve German air superiority over the battlefield. The Allies suffered about 305 aircraft destroyed and 190 damaged, while the Luftwaffe lost 143 pilots killed and missing, plus 70 captured and 21 wounded. The Allies, however, had the resources to quickly replace their losses, and Germans didn’t, so the attack’s primary result was to further weaken the already depleted Luftwaffe.

On December 31, the day before the air attack, Hitler had also launched a ground attack, called Operation Nordwind, to support his stalled ground attack in the Ardennes. The German army attacked Allied forces located on the southern portion of the Western front, where they had been weakened by sending troops north to help fight the Battle of the Bulge. The Germans made significant progress against the depleted Allied forces, but ceased their attacks on January 25, after the German units involved in the Battle of the Bulge had been forced to retreat to their start points.

The Battle of the Bulge Was the Largest Battle in U.S. Army History
Battle of the Bulge

The Battle of the Bulge was the largest battle in U.S. Army history, and the costliest too, with more than 19,000 dead and more than 23,000 taken prisoner. German losses were heavy too. But more importantly, the German forces on the Western front were left with no troop reserves, little fuel or ammo, and at least 700 fewer armored vehicles.

The military resources Hitler expended on this  surprise attack also left the German army more vulnerable on other fronts. On January 12, 1945, the Soviets launched their Vistula–Oder Offensive on the Eastern front. This Soviet attack destroyed most of Germany’s fighting capability in the East and brought Soviet troops to Berlin’s doorstep.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said after the Battle of the Bulge that there was, “no greater exhibition of power in history than that of the American Army fighting the battle of the Ardennes with it’s left hand and advancing from island to island toward Japan with its right.”

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