Monday, May 2, 2016

Ash & Ruin

From the News Chronicle, May 2, 1945, as posted to Facebook page of "Grandchildren of Holocaust Survivors," fair use and or public domain claimed.  Full citation in the sources.  

Greetings All:

On April 30, 1945, a man who had spent 56 years and ten days on Earth ceased to breath, to live, by his own hand.  That man was Adolf Hitler.  His name is synonymous with World War II and the horrors associated with it.  When I saw the photo above on Facebook, it brought a smile to my face.  I fully recognize and accept that it is not consistent with my Catholic/Christian upbringing to take glee in this anniversary, yet I do.  

Well, perhaps glee is not the most accurate or most precise term.  I do recall feeling the smug smile forming on my face when I saw the photo.  It was a visual reminder that the man who proclaimed, "A thousand year Reich!" made it only twelve.  Hitler had promised German domination over all of Europe and deep into Russia.  At the time the bullet smashed thru his skull, his precious "empire" had dwindled to a few city blocks.  All that had been his domain had been reduced to ruin.  He lost.  We won.  Thank God.

History is full of dates that recall some event or occurrence.  This is a big one.  The death of this man symbolized the end of Nazism.  The Third Reich officially ended nine days later.  While the war waged on the Pacific and many more would have to die, the death of Hitler meant the end of the war in Europe.  When it was all over, millions were dead.  Stalin, I believe, is credited with the line, "When one dies, it is a tragedy.  When it's a million, it's a statistic."  Although I fervently disagree with such an assessment, the point is not lost on me.  As some point, the capacity to appreciate, to understand the sheer numbers of souls perished in that war challenges basic comprehension.

Hitler's death was significant in that even the most committed "true believers" knew the war was over.  In the movie Downfall, the last days of "der Furerer" were played out by some brilliant acting from Bruno Ganz as Hitler.  The culminating scene is when Hitler learns that he's toast.  Here's the link to it on YouTube, fair use and/or sharing authorized:

I suppose it was only a matter of time before someone came up with the idea do do a parody of this scene.  By writing over the subtitles, one can create an alternative universe.  I have a link in the credits to one I remember from about seven years ago when the University of Northern Iowa upset Kansas in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.  One might take issue with such an action and I can understand why.  To equate Hitler's bracket being busted with his other horrific and genocidal crimes is not "the highest and best use" of free speech.  Yet damn if it's not funny...

Back to the subject at hand, Hitler's demise.  I am listening to a great book by Ian Kershaw, The End.  It gives a comprehensive critique on how Nazi Germany was able to continue (more or less) an effective resistance to the massive weight of the Allied war effort after June, 1944.  I was intrigued by this book as I always wondered why there was not an effort by the Nazis to sooner sue for peace, at least with the Anglo-Americans.  

Kershaw offers a compelling argument why the Nazis fought on in the face of certain defeat:  Hitler made them.  After the failed assassination attempt of July 20, 1944, the Nazi vice was ratcheted even tighter on the military and civilian population.  Outward displays of unquestioned loyalty to the state and the war were demanded and the more fanatical, the better. 

At the top of the food chain in Nazi Germany were the henchmen of Hitler.  They all knew that their purpose and power were tied to both him and the war waging on.  They recognized their complicity in the Reich's war crimes and acquittal was impossible.  Defeat would mean death, likely by suicide.  Besides, already on the Eastern Front, the Soviet Red Army was already offering "coming attractions" of what retribution would be visited upon Germany and its people.  So, they fought on.

Finally, it was over.  Before the sun sank on Berlin on April 30, 1945, Hitler and his then-wife Eva Braun, were dead, their bodies burning in the courtyard of the bunker complex.  All around, Soviet artillery and tanks were smashing Berlin to bits.  Smoke and fire and ash and ruin were the orders of the day.  The smell of death and the sight of ash that had been done by the Nazis was now being done to them.  

It took the world a couple of days to learn this news.  I suspect that sales of spirits and beer spiked at bars and pubs across the free world.  Who knows, perhaps some Germans poured the last of their remaining rationed Schnapps and toasted that at least he was gone. 

The Stars and Stripes newspaper reporting Hitler's death on May 2, 1945, from Wikipedia, fair use/public domain claimed, full citation below in the sources.

Last night was our local Yom HaShoah observance.  This is an annual remembrance for those who perished in the Holocaust.  The committee who puts on this event does it with dignity and historical accuracy.  It was particularly painful to listen to an eye-witness account of Treblinka.  Painful, yet important.  

One of the committee members made the insightful point that those who would re-write history will argue that the Holocaust was not "as terrible" as it truly was.  This is why remembrace events are so important.  "Never again!" requires knowledge of the past to be on guard of the origins of behavioral evil in the present.  Sadly, there are signs, both far and near, that such thought and actions are still with us.

The program from last night's observance, photo by J. Berta.
 As I sat in the audience, I looked out the windows to my right.  It had been raining all day and as the evening went on, I saw water running down a part of the building.  Water is often connected with life, with renewal, with cleaning.  Tears are, I suppose, a first cousin of water, liquid and symbolic.  How many gallons of tears were cried due to Hitler and his lackeys' actions?  Much I suppose, yet not enough to quench the fire of ruin or wash away the evidence of the ash.

Yet that is a good thing.  There needs to be a record, there needs to be evidence preserved of the evil perpretrated upon the world.  While it is understandable to celebrate Hitler's death, it is more important to reflect on the record of his life and all that occurred in his 56 years and ten days.  

Ash and ruin indeed.

To all those who opposed evil, however they could, for as long as they could, if only in their thoughts, this blog post is dedicated.  To remember is to honor.

Be well my friends,


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