Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Aktion Reinhard

In the eleven months from March 1942 to February 1943, a minimum of three million Jews were killed.

Speed and secrecy. The two watchwords. The speed is apparent. As for secrecy, well, two people can keep a secret if one of them is dead. Ultra and Enigma were the speakers for the dead, then -- spitting out Nazi mysteries both secret and profane. By the latter part of 1941, mass shootings were well known to the British. Seven thousand in such and such a meadow, thirty thousand by such and such a railroad siding, a hundred Jews here, four thousand there.

On August 24, 1941, Churchill broadcast that "Whole districts are being exterminated. Scores of thousands -- literally scores of thousands -- of executions in cold blood are being perpetrated by the German police-troops upon the Russian patriots who defend their native soil. Since the Mongol invasions of Europe in the sixteenth century, there has never been methodical, merciless butchery on such a scale, or approaching such a scale. ...we are in the presence of a crime without a name." It had a name, though, in German. Aktion Reinhard.

To broadcast details would have tipped the Nazis off to the fact that their code was broken. The Jews died in a sort of silence. To the Jewish Chronicle on Novemeber 14, Churchill was slightly less circumspect: "None has suffered more cruelly than the Jew, the unspeakable evils wrought on the bodies and spirits of men by Hitler and his vile regime." The Jewish Chronicle was more specific, reporting in January of '42 that 52,000 Jews had been killed in Kiev; in February that 18,000 had been killed in Poltava and 15,000 in Borisov; in April that 1,200 had been killed in KZ (Concentration Camp) Mauthausen by "poison gas".

The Polish Government in Exile was aware in May of '42 of the methods and efficiencies of the Nazis. In June, the Jewish Chronicle wrote that "News is filtering through of recent ghastly massacres of Jews in Nazi Europe. Some 85,000 men women and children are mentioned in reports to hand." The London Daily Telegraph reported that the Germans were planning to murder all Jews, detailing the use of "mobile gas chambers". The Jewish Chronicle commented that: "The hideous details ... read like tales from the imagination of some drug maddened creature seeking to portray a nightmare of hell. The average mind simply cannot believe the reality of such sickening revelations, or that men, even the vilest and most bestial, could be found to perpetrate such disgusting orgies of sadistic mania." Only such florid writing was thought to communicate the horror. That, or silence. But you can't see silence, in print.

The United States Office of Strategic Services knew at that same time that "Germany is no longer persecuting the Jews. It is systematically exterminating them." A British officer who escaped and hid in the Warsaw Ghetto reported that Himmler said that the Jews were not disappearing fast enough to please the F├╝hrer. The Jews were to be "virtually exterminated" by a specified date. Preliminary attempts to meet the schedule resulted in Polish farms being abandoned. The stench of mass machine-gunned victims, left unburied, was unbearable.

By November the NY Times reported the existence of Treblinka and Auschwitz, with estimates that two million Jews had already been murdered.

Shot, starved, gassed, electrocuted, clubbed.

Szmul Zygelbojm, another Jewish member of the Polish National Council in London, said, "It will be a disgrace to go on living, to belong to the human race, unless immediate steps are taken to put a stop to this crime, the greatest that history has known." Said Leon Feiner of the Jewish Bund, "Let not a single leader of the United Nations be able to say that they did not know that we were being murdered in Poland." During the war years, "the United Nations" was the term used to describe those countries allied against fascism.

Anthony Eden, British Foreign Secretary, told his Ambassador in Washington that he had "little doubt that a policy of gradual extermination of all Jews, except for highly skilled workers, is being carried out by the German authorities." "Little doubt" -- because some doubt is necessary, in the face of the impossible.

Thus, in August 1943, Roger Allen, of the British Foreign Office, wrote to the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, that "It is true that there have been references to the use of gas chambers in other reports; but these references have usually, if not always, been equally vague, and since they have concerned the extermination of Jews, have usually emanated from Jewish sources. ... These stories may or may not be true, but in any event I submit we are putting out a statement on evidence which is far from conclusive, and which we have no means of assessing." He was a man with a fine feel for the weight of evidence.

Likewise the Chairman: "In my opinion it is incorrect to describe Polish Information regarding German atrocities as "trustworthy". The Poles, and to a far greater extent the Jews, tend to exaggerate German atrocities in order to stoke us up. They seem to have succeeded. ... I do not believe that there is any evidence which would be accepted in a Law Court that Polish children have been killed on the spot by Germans when their parents were being deported.... As regards putting Poles to death in gas chambers, I do not believe that there is any evidence that this has been done."

The US State Department was riddled with anti-Semitism, which took the form of indifference and actual stonewalling of efforts to save lives. Breckinridge Long, head of US refugee policy, wrote in an internal State Department memorandum in June 1940 -- after persecution and war had already started in Europe -- "We can delay and effectively stop for a period of indefinite length the number of immigrants into the United States. We could do this by simply advising our consuls to put every obstacle in the way and -- to resort to various administrative devices which would postpone and postpone and postpone the granting of the visas."

US opinion polls taken throughout the war showed that only Japanese and Germans were considered a greater threat to America than the Jews.

After the Nazi camps were open to the newsreels and the film showed in movie houses, the Times of London pondered about whether such displays were in good taste. The BBC called its correspondent's report from the Majdanek camp a "propaganda stunt" and refused to broadcast it.

So then. Fact, and fiction. The edges blur, whether as by blood that obscures the clarity of some formerly sharp image, or something more innocuous. The question always lingers, how are we to know?

Today the world screams, just as it always has. Fascism is reinvigorated under a new name -- but we need not look to movement to find atrocity. The human soul is itself an abomination. A dark judgment, yes, but take up any objection with God, in whose image we were originally made, but which has been desecrated since the Fall. How do we repair it, the world? -- the people in it? -- their willingness to do evil?

Jesus asked, Do you want to be healed. One would suppose so, but must ask, at what price? That's how it is with the world.

History is a Bible.


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