Russell and Duenes

A Crime Without a Name

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“Americans and Britons had not yet fully grasped just how low the Nazi level in fact was.” William Manchester and Paul Reid, The Last Lion, 531. I don’t have a lot of philosophizing or moralizing to do about what I’m reading these days in the third volume of Manchester and Reid’s biography of Winston Churchill. But I cannot seem to get out of my mind certain realities about what went on during the war, and about how it all happened less than 75 year ago. Manchester writes, “For almost three years, far more disproportionate Nazi retaliation against civilians (such as one hundred hostages shot for each German killed) for wrongs against the Reich had been well documented in the West – photos of hanging bodies, firing squads, pushcarts in Warsaw full of emaciated corpses.” Id.

Were these hideous German monsters made of some kind of “other stuff” than the rest of us humans? One need not be a mass murderer to feel the discomfort. What brought men to such a fever pitch of sadism, sociopathy and murder? Manchester writes that the lesson of Nazi retaliation “was learned in London after Reinhard (“the Hangman”) Heydrich, genius behind the Final Solution and deputy chief of the Gestapo, was assassinated in Prague by the British-trained Czech resistance fighters whom the RAF had parachuted into the country five months earlier. The assassins struck on May 27, lobbing a bomb into Heydrich’s Mercedes coupe, shattering the Hangman’s spine. He lingered for a week before dying a ghastly death from blood poisoning and infections caused by festering tufts of upholstery that had blown into his gut. Germany’s minister of justice – Hitler – moved swiftly to punish the evildoers.” Id.

One need not possess much of an imagination to think of what horrendous evil Hitler might dole out in response. Indeed, he executed “more than 1,300 Czechs,” and sent “more than 3,000 Jews . . . to their deaths in the east.” Id. “Goebbels, on the day Heydrich was attacked, had 500 of the few remaining Jews in Berlin rounded up; more than 150 were shot the night Heydrich died.” Id. 

But things got worse. The Germans “surrounded the fourteenth-century Czech village of Lidice. Nobody was allowed to leave. The next day the men and boys over age sixteen of the village, 172 in all, were taken behind a barn in groups of ten and shot. Several women were shot, too, and the rest – almost 200 – were sent to slave labor camps. At the local hospital, the Germans found four women who had just given birth. The newborns were murdered, the mothers shipped off to labor camps.” Id. at 531-32.

How did the Nazi’s leave the city of Lidice? They “burned the village, dynamited the ruins and bulldozed the rubble into a flat, dead landscape, including the cemetery, where the interred had been dug up and bulldozed back into the soil. Berlin ordered the entire operation to be photographed. Goebbels called the result his Gemaldegalerie (picture gallery).” Id. at 532 And what was Goebbel’s assessment of the cold-blooded murder the Nazi’s had perpetrated? He said that “Lidice . . . was justice administered.” Id. Churchill said that “[t]he Fuhrer was outkilling even his Teutonic ancestors. And not since the Mongols came in the thirteenth century had Europe seen such ‘methodical, merciless butchery’ on such a monstrous scale. ‘We are in the presence,’ he concluded,’ of a crime without a name.'” Id.

Like I said, I don’t have much to add. The hideousness speaks for itself. All I can say is that this account washed over me, and pushed me into some sense that perhaps we are worse off than we think, that our human condition is dire, and all of our attempts to control our world by this gadget and that gizmo do nothing to restrain the utter wickedness in the human heart. The world is a more volatile place, filled with men and women who would perpetrate horrendous deeds beyond our wildest imagination. We are not made from different stuff than them, though we flatter ourselves.



Written by Michael Duenes

December 11, 2013 at 9:17 pm

Posted in Duenes, History

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