Sunday, December 04, 2016

Kicking Off the Holocaust - Part 2

As Yale University Professor Timothy Snyder reminded us in Thursday's post, the Nazis created or waited for crisis situations, then took advantage of them to take drastic actions. The day after the Reichstag fire, nearly all civil liberties were suspended in Germany: freedom of speech, freedom of press, habeas corpus, etc.

Professor Snyder's cautions hit home with me because for more than a year I've been immersed in 1930's Germany. I'm working on a book about Emily's family's escape from Mannheim, Germany, and because of that, parallels between that time and our own come screaming out at me.

It's scary.

The Hauptsynagogue in Mannheim, roofless after being set ablaze on Kristallnacht.

The Holocaust began with Kristallnacht, an orgy of thuggery across Germany in early November 1938.  Jewish men were arrested and taken to concentration camps, Jewish businesses were vandalized and ruined, and 1000 synagogues in Germany and Austria were destroyed. As the elimination of civil liberties was "justified" by the Reichstag fire, the destruction and arrests associated with Kristallnacht were "justified" by the assassination of a German diplomat. Interestingly, the assassination was in revenge for the deportation of immigrants.

I have a section in the book about it:
Most mornings a barber visited the Rosenberger apartment in Mannheim. Opa Freiberg had a standing appointment – not for a trim, but to have his head shaved. Heinrich Freiberg's grandchildren thought he was mostly bald anyway, but he actually had a full head of hair; he just preferred a shaved head. Because it was not safe for the barber to serve Jewish customers in his shop, he came to the Rosenberger apartment, where he would not be observed.

On the morning of November 10, 1938, a Thursday, Emil was lying in bed when the barber arrived. Emil had a cold, and his mother decided it was best to keep him home from school. As he was lying there, he might have been thinking ahead to his bar Mitzvah, planned for later that month.
But on that morning, he heard the barber arrive with a terrifying warning: During the night mobs had burned down the Rosenberger's synagogue, he said, and now the SS were going from door to door, arresting all Jewish men.


Just two weeks before the barber’s warning, 17,000 Polish Jews (called Ostjuden, or Eastern Jews), including many living in Mannheim and attending synagogue there, had been rounded up and expelled from Germany without warning.  The deportation was the culmination of a German/Polish tit-for-tat of legislation and decrees, each government determined to reduce the number of Jews within its borders.

In March 1938 the Polish legislature passed a law, targeted primarily at Jews, which revoked the citizenship of any person who had lived outside the country for 5 or more years without being in touch with the Polish government.  According to Nazi estimates, there were up to 70,000 Polish Jews living within German borders. If the Polish law  applied to them, they would be rendered stateless – with no country that would accept them – and thus permanent residents of Germany. At first, little action was taken by the Poles to implement their law, allowing the Germans to make a move of their own.

On August 22, a German police order announced that all residence permits for foreign nationals would expire by March 31, 1939. Although foreigners could request new residence permits before the end of 1938, the permits would be issued only to those considered “worthy”.  In the Nazi state, no Jew qualified as “worthy”.

The Polish government understood that the result of the German legislation would be the return of tens of thousands of Polish Jews, and moved to quickly cut off that possibility. On October 15 an order was published by the Polish Ministry of the Interior requiring citizens living outside the country to present their passports at a Polish consulate within the next 15 days. If, upon inspection, the provisions of the March legislation concerning 5 years’ absence from the country were found to apply, the presenter’s citizenship would be immediately revoked.

After seeking assurances from the Polish government that Polish Jews resident in Germany would be allowed to return to their native country regardless of the Ministry’s order – and receiving no such assurance – the German government took action. On October 27, Polish Jews were arrested throughout the country – including at least 75 men, women, and children from Mannheim. They were forced to leave all their possessions behind and transported to the border, where they were unceremoniously, and with great resistance from the Poles, deported.

North of Mannheim, in Hanover, a Polish family named Grynszpan was one of those arrested. Sendel Grynszpan and his wife, Rivka, had lived in Hanover for more than 25 years. At the trial of Adolph Eichmann in 1961, Sendel, a tailor, described his family’s deportation:
On [Thursday] October 27, 1938, in the evening, a policeman came to my home and asked us to go to the 11th precinct with our passports. He assured us that we would be returning directly and that it was unnecessary to take our belongings with us. When I arrived at the precinct with my family, we found many people there, seated and standing, and some of them in tears. A police inspector was shouting at them, “Sign this paper. You are expelled.”

… On Friday night they put us in police vans, 20 to a van, and took us to the station. The street was full of people chanting, “The Jews to Palestine!” We were taken to Neu-Bentschen, the last German city before the Polish frontier, arriving at 6:00 a.m., Saturday the 29th.

… At the border we were searched and our money taken from us. They left us with only 10 RM each. German law forbade the export of capital. They said to us, “When you arrived, you only had 10 RM; there’s no reason for you to leave with more than that.”
Arrested and deported with Sendel Grynszpan were his wife, a daughter, Berta, and probably others of the couple’s six children. A son, 17-year-old Hershel, was in Paris for schooling.

Herschel received a note from his sister Berta on Thursday, November 3, describing what was happening to his family. On Friday he pored over lengthy and graphic accounts of the deportations in Paris’s Yiddish press, becoming increasingly agitated. Sunday Herschel purchased a pistol, and on Monday morning, November 7, he appeared at the German embassy, intent upon assassinating the German ambassador to France in revenge for what had been done to his family. Instead, he shot and wounded the first embassy officer to appear, a third secretary named Ernst vom Rath.

Vom Rath died on the afternoon of November 8. Reaction from Berlin was swift in coming.  All Jewish periodicals in Germany were ordered to cease publication immediately. On Wednesday, November 9, inflammatory articles in the non-Jewish newspapers quoted Joseph Goebbels as saying, “The German people are entitled to identify the Jews in Germany with this crime.”
 And that night, using the excuse of a murder by a Jewish immigrant, Kristallnacht began.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Kicking Off the Holocaust – Part 1

The Reichstag Fire, 1933. Hitler used it as justification to suspend civil liberties.

To be clear: we are not predicting that America will become a fascist state. But we will not say it couldn't happen, either.

Timothy Snyder, a professor at Yale University and a scholar of the Holocaust, is disturbed enough about the President-elect that he offers "twenty lessons from the twentieth century, adapted to the circumstances of today."

A number of items on his list are chilling, like:
15. Establish a private life. Nastier rulers will use what they know about you to push you around. Scrub your computer of malware. Remember that email is skywriting. Consider using alternative forms of the internet, or simply using it less. Have personal exchanges in person. For the same reason, resolve any legal trouble. Authoritarianism works as a blackmail state, looking for the hook on which to hang you. Try not to have too many hooks. 
17. Watch out for the paramilitaries. When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching around with torches and pictures of a Leader, the end is nigh. When the pro-Leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the game is over.
19. Be as courageous as you can. If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die in unfreedom.
 One item, number five, touched on something I've been meaning to write about for months:
5. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that all authoritarians at all times either await or plan such events in order to consolidate power. Think of the Reichstag fire. The sudden disaster that requires the end of the balance of power, the end of opposition parties, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Don't fall for it. [My emphasis.]
Professor Snyder mentions the Reichstag fire, but he may just as well have mentioned the assassination in Paris of the German diplomat, Ernst vom Rath, the event that Joseph Goebbels seized upon to launch what became known as Kristallnacht, the first pogrom of the Holocaust.

More about that tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Henri Huet – A Guest Post

On Memorial Day I happened to call my eldest brother, Mike.  ("Eldest" sounds better than "oldest", doesn't it?) In the course of the conversation he mentioned that he was dedicating his Memorial Day to the memory of a photographer he met in Vietnam, Henri Huet. The more he talked, the more interested I became, and I eventually told Mike I would write a Sempringham post about Huet.

Then the Republicans nominated a megalomaniac as their candidate for President, and ambition went out the window.

Happily, Mike picked up the torch and wrote the post for me, in the form of an email to our siblings. He has given me permission to edit it slightly to make it more like a blog post, and to publish it here:
It's interesting: you can find many of Henri Huet's photographs in Wikipedia but little of his life. He was born in Vietnam of a French father and a Vietnamese mother. He was sent off to school in France at about the age of five. He studied art while in France and one observer wrote his photos were composed like paintings rather than photos. I can't comment one way or another on that but I do know that he was called "the best photojournalist of the Vietnamese war" by the Saigon AP bureau chief.
Henri Huet
I met him on only one or two occasions at the press club in Danang, Vietnam. One of his bureau chiefs wrote that it was enjoyable working with Huet because he always had a smile on his face. I observed that smile, and even then I thought it was not a smile of a happy man but of one who had seen so much that he felt it was better to smile.
The Marines of the Third Battalion, who were stationed in and around Danang then, thought highly of him. He had been in Vietnam during "The First War". He was in the French Navy, where he learned the basics of photography. He stayed in Vietnam after the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu. Henri had a wife in France and a mistress in Vietnam.
Medic Thomas Cole, wounded himself, assists a wounded soldier from the First Cavalry Division.
The Marines thought highly of him for several reasons. First, because he was the "old man"; he had seen this war back when it was a French war and now it was an American war. He had seen much carnage and death. Second, because he really immersed himself in the life and ways of  the Marines in "I Corps", unlike many photojournalists who were there to "cover the war". It was these people that I saw angrily pushed away by the Marines who didn't want "a goddamn camera" pushed into their faces while they were recovering the bodies of their buddies. I remember distinctly a group of college kiddies from some school in Ohio who came out to report on how horrible the war was. I was seriously afraid that we would have to get those kids out of there before the Marines slit their throats. You don't preach antiwar stuff to Marines who have just finished a firefight. Third, Henri could speak French, English, and Vietnamese, which made him useful. And interestingly, most of all the Marines considered Henri a good luck charm, since he always seemed to come back from even the worst battles with whatever group he went out with. I realize that I met Henri only once or twice but he made an impression on me that lasts until this day.

Infantrymen in a bomb crater search for snipers firing at them.
I don't know if any of you are familiar with his photographs. They made the front page of Life Magazine in the 60's. You might want to look some of them up, they are in Wikipedia. One I had never seen before was in the book that a brother sent me about photojournalists in Vietnam. You see a soldier dragging a wooden ammunition box up the bank of a river and in the background you see a 40 mm machine gun. I thought, "Gee it was pretty clever of them to set that machine-gun up on a sliver of soil in the middle of the Mekong River." And then you look more closely and you see that the machine-gun is being held up by one great big hand! Some soldier was crossing the river and didn't want to get the machine-gun wet so he was holding it up high over his head and that means the river water was over his head, he was walking on the bottom carrying an M60 machine gun (not one of those dinky AK47's)! This is an incredible photo.
Huet also captured this photo, similar to the one Mike describes above.
Henri's luck ran out in the early 70s – not with a bunch of Marines in a firefight but in a helicopter carrying several photojournalists and a Vietnamese general. The crash site was finally found after the second (i.e American) Vietnam War had been settled. They found small pieces of bone along with the helicopter wreckage. At that point there was no way of determining whose bones had been found and there was a big brouhaha about where to bury them. They were finally interred at the Newsmuseum in Washington, DC, in a small ceremony with about 100 attendees.
Huet took this photo of a chaplain administering last rites for photojournalist Dickey Chapelle as she died from a booby trap explosion.
Every Memorial Day I think about Henri and wonder if there are any people left in France who remember him and his accomplishments. Soon we will probably all be gone and people will have to look them up in Wikipedia.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016


J. Alex Halderman, Professor of Computer Science at the University of Michigan, explains why, though he does not believe the voting system in Wisconsin was hacked, it makes perfect sense to do a manual recount of the votes there.

For the record, I hope no evidence of hacking or otherwise miscounting is found. I hope they find that the votes were counted correctly. The Trump people just wouldn't be able to handle it otherwise.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Good-bye Public Schools?

Betsy Prince DeVos prepares for her confirmation hearing.
Here's a 2011 article about Trump's nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy Prince DeVos, and her husband, Dick DeVos. They have been campaigning for years to end public education in America.
The decades-long campaign to end public education is propelled by the super-wealthy, right-wing DeVos family. Betsy Prince DeVos is the sister of Erik Prince, founder of the notorious private military contractor Blackwater USA (now Xe), and wife of Dick DeVos, son of the co-founder of Amway, the multi-tiered home products business.


The conservative policy institutes founded beginning in the 1970s get hundreds of millions of dollars from wealthy families and foundations to develop and promote free market fundamentalism. More specifically, their goals include privatizing social security, reducing government regulations, thwarting environmental policy, dismantling unions -- and eliminating public schools.

Whatever they may say about giving poor students a leg up, their real priority is nothing short of the total dismantling of our public educational institutions, and they've admitted as much. Cato Institute founder Ed Crane and other conservative think tank leaders have signed the Public Proclamation to Separate School and State, which reads in part that signing on, "Announces to the world your commitment to end involvement by local, state, and federal government from education."
 Only they're not calling it public education:
Dick DeVos also explained to his Heritage Foundation audience that they should no longer use the term public schools, but instead start calling them “government schools.” He noted that the role of wealthy conservatives would have to be obscured. “We need to be cautious about talking too much about these activities,” said DeVos, and pointed to the need to “cut across a lot of historic boundaries, be they partisan, ethnic, or otherwise.”
The whole article is worth reading.