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Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy – Eric Metaxas

 

DietrichThe Second World War remains one of the most studied and brutal conflicts in the history of man.   The rise and fall of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich have become a case studies for history buffs and students learning about a war that nearly resulted in the complete destruction of Germany and the continent of Europe. It is true that Hitler had many supporters but he also had large numbers of detractors, some of whom were serving in his own army.  The attack of personal liberties and treasured institutions, caused shock and consternation across Germany.  The persecution of the Catholic church by the National Socialists is among Hitler’s darkest deeds.  Throughout the war, Hitler would ramp up his attacks on the church and his bloodthirsty purge of religion knew no bounds.  The horror with which the clergy watched the rise of the Third Reich spurred many to action and they were determined to rid Germany and the world of the man they saw as the very incarnation of evil.  Among them was Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), the man who became a pastor, martyr, prophet and spy.

Before reading this book, I had never head of Bonhoeffer.  I did know of Hitler’s persecution of the church and his never ending attacks on anyone deemed to be against the Reich.  This excellent biography by author Eric Metaxas came as a recommendation on Amazon and encouraged me to revisit Nazi Germany.  From start to finish, the book is seductively intriguing and it caused me to wonder why Bonhoeffer’s story is not more widely known.  In history classes, his name was never discussed and in none of the specials I watched regarding the war, was he ever mentioned.  But having finished the book, I can say with certainty that his story and that of the resistance by the Catholics opposed to Hitler, is a side of the war that needs much further exploration and exposure.

History continues to examine how and why Adolf Hitler was able to seize control of Germany and plunge the world into yet another major conflict.  By nearly all accounts, he was initially viewed as a mere distraction in politics and his group of brown shirts were seen as thugs determined to interfere with important elections.   The Beer Hall Putsch nearly cost Hitler his life but even that was not enough to deter the Austrian menace.  Hitler had a sharp eye with regards to social changes and human nature.   As Paul Von Hindenburg (1847-1934) saw the end of his life near,  he made one decision that change the course of world history and for the German people, cast upon them a stain that Germany may never be able to remove.   Some Germans saw the writing on the wall and left the country before Hitler unleashed his wave of tyranny and insanity.  Others remained and for those of Jewish heritage, the genocidal Final Solution would result in a horror that one will ever be able to forget.

Hitler’s promotion to Chancellor of Germany was the moment the Austrian had been waiting for and the Nazis wasted no time in enforcing new laws based on racial ideology.  The Nuremberg Laws and others that not only stripped Jews of their rights but in the process made them second class citizenst shocked many Germans.  The persecution of the Jews eventually reached the church, which would have to make a decision regarding the growing menace from Berlin.  Bonhoeffer had come to embrace the teachings of the church and his beliefs would lead him on a course that no one thought possible for a man of the cloth.  But his story is among of the most fascinating that I have ever read.  Metaxas presents his life beautifully here and includes many of Bonhoeffer’s writings to show the mindset and the very personal side of a man who followed the path of God while at the same time joined several plots to assassinate Hitler.

The thought of a pastor assisting in an assassination plot is simply astounding.  But Bonhoeffer was not living in ordinary times and Germany was under siege and caught in the grip of a madman whose only goal was world domination.   Metaxas does an incredible job of not only capturing Bonhoeffer’s life but also revisits key moments in the advancement of Hitler’s agenda.   The two sides are on a collision course and the plotters knew they would have to act at some point in time.  Bonhoeffer is firmly entrenched in it all while at the same time, holding on to his convictions and proving to many why he was such a beloved figure by those who knew him well.

As the author told Bonhoeffer’s story, I found myself in amazement at the things that I learned.   Bonhoeffer was multi-lingual, an excellent writer, world traveler and a strong advocate for civil rights as a result of his two visits to America.  His experiences in Harlem were surely eye opening for a New York such as myself.  But what really struck me the most was his calm ability to accept the fate that he knew awaited him.   His prophetic nature is on display early in his writings and his final act is a testament to his commitment to the word of the lord.  His words are touching and uplifting.  And his observations about the world he embraced are still relevant today.   Long before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Bonhoeffer saw the direction that would be needed for true change to occur in America and for Black Americans to have equal rights under the law.  How ironic it is that the horrors he saw in America were slowly being replicated and in some cases surpassed by the devious and sadistic officials of Hitler’s inner circle.

To say the book is well-written would be an understatement. If you are curious about the Third Reich and the impact it had on German religion, then this book is a good place to start. Further, the book is not only Bonhoeffer’s story but that of many others including Hitler himself.  World War II buffs will absolutely love this book.  Bonhoeffer’s story is inspiring yet tragic but one that is integral to the history of Nazi Germany.  And in this soul-reaching biography, Eric Metaxas has given Bonhoeffer his rightful place in the annals of Germany history.

ASIN: B003GY0K48

Ribbentrop: A Biography – Michael Bloch

20190202_003914On September 1, 1939, the Second World War began as the German army invaded Poland as part of Adolf Hitler’s quest for world domination.  Britain had warned Germany that any military action against Poland would result in England coming to the aid of its ally.  Interestingly, Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) did not want to go to war with England, preferring to accomplish the annexation of Poland through diplomatic methods after having successfully partitioned Czechoslovakia in what is infamously referred to as the “appeasement at Munich”.  But if Hitler did not want to wage war against Britain, knowing their intention to save Poland, then why did he give approval to the invasion that plunged the world into a major conflict?  The answer to that question lies in the story of his Foreign Minister and Nuremberg defendant, Ulrich Friedrich Wilhelm Joachim von Ribbentrop (1893-1946).

In the annals of the Third Reich, perhaps no other figure is as glanced over as Joachim von Ribbentrop.  Standing next to nefarious characters such as Hermann Goering (1893-1946), Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945) and Heinrich Himmler  (1900-1945), he is often an afterthought.   Semi-illiterate but able to speak fluent English, he was one of the few officials in the Third Reich with extensive exposure to the culture of the west. And the time he spent in London early in his life, made him the right choice by Hitler for the position of Ambassador to Great Britain.  By all accounts, no one found him to be enjoyable company but incredibly, he maintained a position close to Hitler’s ear with the Führer listening intently and in some cases implementing Ribbentrop’s suggestions.  Their unusual relationship would have dire consequences in 1939 at Hitler set his sights on Poland. It is here in this phenomenal biography that we learn another part of the story behind the Poland invasion and Ribbentrop’s critical role in the events.

At first glance, it is easy to write of Ribbentrop as “non-essential” to the story of the Third Reich.  And although he is mentioned in many books about the Nazi regime, his role is typically minor in the grand scheme of events.  But make no mistake, his advice and misconceptions about foreign nations, played pivotal roles in the rise and fall of the Third SS Reich. Bloch has capture Ribbentrop’s life beautifully in this biography that tells the story of the former Foreign Minister for all to see.  In comparison to the other figures of the Nazi regime, his personal life could be considered average.  But his entry in the Nazi party and actions thereafter, helped changed the course of history.  As I was reading the book, I could not help feeling mystified as to how a figure such as Ribbentrop maintained the confidence of Hitler as each blunder piled up.   Admittedly, Hitler did not consult him on every foreign policy matter, apparently realizing his many shortcomings.  But he did trust Ribbentrop enough on some of the most important decisions to be made, many of which changed the course of world history and produced a mark on the history of Germany which can never be erased.

Notwithstanding his restricted voice in Hitler’s government, he was an important figure in Hitler’s vision of a Anglo-German unification.  In fact, Ribbentrop’s actions towards and with the British government are the crux of the book.   Naturally, his positions as Ambassador and later Foreign Minister, resulted in his constant communication with the Ambassadors of England, Italy and Japan.  However, his close position to the Führer did not earn him the envoy of others but rather their wrath.  Hitler was known to pit subordinates against each other, using the divide and conquer technique.  Their fights and attempts to sabotage each other take center stage in the book as they compete for Hitler’s approval, the elimination of enemies and advancement in rank.   The story reveals a terrible cast of characters drunk on power and filled with venom for competitors and the Jews of Europe.  Standing center among these characters was the sad Ribbentrop, the man often the butt of jokes and contempt, who was rarely seriously.  Having finished the book, I am dumbfounded as to how Hitler’s administration functioned at all.  The decisions they reached and methods used were simply surreal and Ribbentrop plays a direct part in many of them.

On October 14, 1946, Ribbentrop was the first to be executed after Goering committed suicide in his cell the night before.  He left behind a widow and four children, all of whom are still alive today.  Decades have passed since their father’s death and in the passage of time, their lives will also reach a conclusion.  But they remain witnesses to a time in history in which the world was on the brink of complete anarchy as Adolf Hitler set out to dominate the planet.  Next to him was his fanatically dedicated Foreign Minister.  This is the definitive biography of the life and death of Joachim von Ribbentrop.

ISBN-10: 0517593106
ISBN-13: 978-0517593103

The Architect of Genocide: Himmler and the Final Solution-Richard Breitman

41yjtx-tdml-_sx331_bo1204203200_In modern history, the Holocaust ranks among the worst atrocities committed against a group of people by another.  The systematic segregation and later extermination of over 6 million Jews throughout Europe brought shame, anger and retribution upon Germany.  Today the Holocaust is a distant memory and survivors of the crime are now in their advance years with the number of living survivors declining each year. Recently, Elie Wiesel, the best-selling author of the classic ‘Night’ died  at the age of 87. His story, and that of Kitty Hart-Moxon, the star of the 2015 documentary ‘A Day in Auschwitz‘ are just two of the many stories written and told by survivors of the many concentrations camps erected by the Third Reich.

One of the burning questions has always been, how did the decision to murder the Jews come about?  To this day, debate continues about how much Adolf Hitler either knew about the camps or how much influence he had in their construction and operation.   While no notes have survived to shed light on Hitler’s thoughts or decisions, the notes of some of his underlings did survived shedding light on how the Final Solution became a reality.  At the helm of the plan to eradicate Europe of its Jewish citizenry was a former chicken farmer from Munich, Heinrich Himmler.  The feared former chief of the notorious SS,  is considered by many to be the mastermind behind Hitler’s plan to rid Germany and the conquered territories in Europe of all Jewish people or in Hitler’s words, judenfrei.

In this close look at the development of the Final Solution, Richard Breitman has carefully reconstructed the plans of Hitler and his administration, revealing how and why the Final Solution came to be a reality.  Drawing upon diaries and other correspondence that survived the war, Breitman does a masterful job of exposing Himmler for the psychotic murderer that he truly was.  Blinded by his belief in Aryan supremacy and his devotion to the Führer, the fanatical Himmler takes on the role of a menace in his own right and the ease at which he and other members of the Third Reich causally planned their actions are sure to leave the reader in shock and asking even more questions that can be answered.  In spite of the overwhelming evidence against Himmler, there just isn’t enough credible evidence to prove that Hitler gave the final order for murder as Breitman points out. But the reality is, he didn’t have to.  The evil genius Himmler and his henchmen, most notably Reinhard Heydrich, carried out the wishes of their leader with unquestionable loyalty displaying a devotion that bordered on the insane. 

A chilling aspect of the Holocaust is that while Himmler and the many perpetrators of the crime planned these heinous acts, they were also husbands and fathers.  And this is one of the most disturbing parts of the book.  Murders against men, women and even children occurred with not only the knowledge, but with also the blessing of the supreme architect of murder himself.  And while Himmler himself was far from the image of aryan supremacy he like to project, his devious and cunning ways,  struck fear in his enemies and his closeness to Hitler earned him the protection, encouragement and loyalty of the Führer. And with this trust, he carried out the extermination of millions of innocent men, women and children.  His murderous rampage is unparalleled in modern history and his name continues to live in infamy.  He is without a doubt, the architect of genocide.

ISBN-10: 0874515963
ISBN-13: 978-0874515961

Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany-Hans J. Massaquoi

20180602_234529On January 19, 2013, Hans J. Massaquoi,  the former editor of Ebony magazine and writer for Jet magazine, died at his home in Jacksonville, Florida at the age of 87. Born in Hamburg, Germany in 1926, the late Massaquoi is famously remembered for this critically acclaimed autobiography recounting his memories of his childhood in Adolf Hitler’s Nazi controlled Germany.  The result of the union between a German mother and Liberian father, the young boy grows up in a tyrannical web of racial discrimination and systematic extermination of the members of society considered to be undesirable.  This is his story and the memories he shares are vivid, shocking and ultimately tragic.  Germany has come a long way since World War II. And although it still struggles with right-wing Neo-Nazi extremist groups, the days of the Third Reich are long gone.  But as Massaquoi shows us, there was a time where hate and racial ideology ruled society and made life for any non-Aryan, a living nightmare composed of daily humiliation and suffering.

Massaquoi begins by tracing his heritage on both sides of his family before he enters the world in January, 1926.  As a kid, he has German friends, classmates and relatives whom he greatly adores.  But as Adolf Hitler becomes Reichskanzler in 1933 and the Nazi regime places Germany in a stranglehold, he finds himself labeled as an outcast and is faced with daily reminders of the prevailing myth of Aryan supremacy.  His memories are sometimes heartbreaking and for most kids today, his experiences will seem surreal.  But under the Third Reich, there was nothing surreal about it, it was his daily reality.  His childhood is composed of a mix of characters,from fanatical Nazis, love interests, American G.I.s and others, some of who were stringent proponents of racial equality.  And as the war rages, he continues to grow up without a present male figure but under the tutelage  and wisdom of his mother who served as his protector and guide in the only ways she knew how.

Lon before the surrender of Berlin, many Germans knew the war would end in defeat and never-ending embarrassment and prosecution of those responsible for the war and the murder of millions of Jews.  As the allies came closer to victory and nearly obliterated Germany with air raids,  the Nazi infrastructure began to collapse and after Hitler’s demise and the liberation of Berlin, many Germans breathed a sigh of relief, including Hans and his mother.  But his story doesn’t end there, in fact, it is there that is picks up even more speed and we follow him as he befriends American troops while boarding American ships and even becomes an unofficial entrepreneur as he hustles on the street.

Unsatisfied with life in post-war Germany, Hans makes his move, first to Liberia, where his father re-enters the story and finally, to the United States of America where he would live out the rest of his life.  Serving in the military, majoring in journalism and becoming a husband and father, Massaquoi achieves what is considered to be the American dream.  He made a return to Germany to see his homeland after 18 years and the emotions he goes through reinforce the notion that no matter where we go in life, our home will always be where we trace our beginnings.  For many like Massaquoi, it’s bitter-sweet in that the very placed he called home, almost caused his extinction.  This memoir pulls at our moral compass forcing us to confront our own prejudices and reminds us that less than 100 years ago, a brutal tyrant and a racist regime nearly conquered Europe and threatened the safety of the Western Hemisphere.  And as Hans points out, there were so very few black people in Germany that they were disregarded on most occasions leaving them destined to witness.

ISBN-10: 0060959614
ISBN-13: 978-0060959616

 

Survival In The Shadows: Seven Jews Hidden in Hitler’s Berlin-Barbara Lovenheim

ShadowsThe Holocaust remains one of the most regretful moments in the history of mankind.  The Final Solution, engineered by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi government, resulted in the deaths of over six millions Jewish men, women and children.  The many concentration camps became factories of genocide and symbols of the Third Reich’s relentless efforts to remove all Jewish citizens from Germany and the occupied territories of the Reich.  As Hitler made his rise to power, many Jews fled Germany fearing the worst under the rule of the tyrannical dictator from neighboring Austria.  Others were forced to seek refuge in Germany and survive in any way possible.  But still there were other Jews who found help among non-Jewish Germans and were able to hide themselves right in Berlin, under the eyes and ears of the N.S.D.A.P.

This is the story of seven men and women who found refuge and protection in Berlin during the war and how they lived to tell their tales.  They’re now deceased, but before their deaths, Barbara Lovenheim conducted interviews with them, allowing them to recount their incredible stories of fear, survival and eventual happiness  after moving on with life and building lives outside of Germany.   Their stories truly exemplify what it means to hide in plain sight. Through each of them, we are able to see the resiliency of the human spirit and are reminded that even in the worst of times, there will always be those of us who refuse to give in to evil and truly understand what humanism really means.

As we are introduced to the characters, the Nazis begin to step up the effort to remove all Jews from the Fatherland.  Reaching out to friends and acquaintances, the men and women in this book, Erich Arndt, Ruth Arndt, Charlotte Lewinsky, Ellen Lewinsky and Bruno Gumpel, manage to survive the Final Solution through determination, luck and in some cases, superb methods of deception. Faced with starvation, sickness and in most cases, desperation, their will to survive is inspiring and heartbreaking.  But as we make our way through the book, we see trust is also a large factor and underscores every move that each of them make to stay alive.  Enemies appear with smiles and looks are sometimes very deceiving.  And what we learn painfully in the book is that in some cases, not even fellow Jews could be completely trusted making each word spoken and each offer accepted, a matter of life and death.

Their stories are the main objective of the book, but a sub-story also exist in the form of the many non-Jewish Germans who risked their lives and well-being to save their Jewish friends and others threatened with death at a concentration camp.   Oskar Schindler’s story is well-known and he was immortalized by Liam Neeson in the classic ‘Schindler’s List’.  But throughout the war and even in Berlin as we see here, many ordinary German citizens took great strides to protect Jews from extermination at the hands of the Gestapo.  And following the war, the formerly persecuted Jews made it clear to Allied forces that their saviors were to be protected and left alone.  Others we know turned a blind eye to the crimes of the Third Reich and some even turned in Jews to the authorities.  But the efforts of the upstanding citizens serves as an example of the good that humans can do even in the face of overwhelming death, destruction and despair.

There are many stories about the Holocaust from writers such as the late Anne Frank, Elie Wiesel and Rena Kornreich Gelissen.  The stories of these seven survivors stands among the greats as a historical record of a horrific time in world history.  And although more than 70 years have passed since the Allied victory over the Axis powers, the horror and pain of the survivors of the Final Solution stay fresh in our minds as a reminder of why it’s important to never forget our history.

ISBN-13: 9781504039987

My Battle Against Hitler: Faith, Truth, and Defiance In The Shadow of the Third Reich

51ilnnwz87l-_sx331_bo1204203200_The tyrannical reign of Adolf Hitler stands as one of the worst the world has ever seen and has been the subject of countless documentaries, films, specials and books.  The Third Reich and it’s final solution, produced upon Europe, a dark cloud that it had never seen before.   Hitler’s rise to power and rule over Germany is a well-documented story that has been told over and over again. But what isn’t often told are the stories of those who opposed Hitler.  Tom Cruise starred in the sensational film ‘Valkyrie” which depicts the failed assassination attempt on Hitler by Claus Von Stauffenberg on July 20, 1944.  The attacked injured Hitler but he escaped death and continued to rule until the Allied forces closed in on Berlin on April 30, 1945.

Among the many voices in opposition to Hitler was Dietrich Von Hilderbrand, editor of the journal Der Christliche Ständestaat which became a voice for anti-Nazi beliefs.  His outspokenness earned him the wrath of Hitler and his associates forcing Dietrich to flee Germany and Austria.  Though pursued by the Nazis, he never abandoned his stance in opposition to the racial ideology of the Third Reich and the antisemitism that was widespread at the time.  His voice and beliefs were so well-respected that he was once considered the biggest threat to the survival of National Socialism. In this look into his life, writings and beliefs, we come to know Von Hilderbrand and understand why he was so important to the large number of critics of the Third Reich and its infamous practices.

Catholicism and philosophy are central themes in the book and shed light on the many contradictions and faults that lie in nationalistic ideology.   His words resonate with those of us who find ourselves opponents of racial discrimination and the destruction of the moral compass of society.   Von Hilderbrand reminds us of the importance of humanity and our individual duty to reconcile our beliefs and actions in accordance to what is not only divine but morally correct.  And although his words are more than 70 years old, they are still relevant today.   Throughout history there have been many versions of Adolf Hitler surrounded by regimes determined to enforce totalitarian rule through violence and intimidation.  In contrast there have always been voices in opposition, some stronger than others.  For Nazi Germany, Dietrich Von Hilderbrand serves as one of history’s most important voices against a brutal dictator that disrupted world peace and nearly destroyed the Fatherland.

ISBN-10: 0385347510
ISBN-13: 978-0385347518

My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family’s Nazi Past-Jennifer Teege

16923849739_a73717f925_bOn September 13, 1946, Amon Goeth, the former commandant of the Kraków-Płaszów concentration camp, is executed for his actions during World War II  after a trial and conviction by the Supreme National Tribunal of Poland.  Goeth was brought to life on the silver screen in Steven Spielberg’s classic film ‘Schindler’s List’ in which he is played by actor Ralph Fiennes.  The film is moving and one of the most haunting to have even been produced about the Holocaust.  Survivors of the Holocaust vividly recalled memories of the remorseless killing committed by Goeth and those under his command. Several decades later, his life is revisited, not by a random author, but by his granddaughter Jennifer Teege, a child of a German mother and Nigerian father who discovers her family’s past and struggles with her own identity in this biography that is bound to leave the reader speechless.

Jennifer’s story and those of other descendants of Third Reich leaders, most notably Gudrun Himmler and Niklas Frank, shed light on an often overlooked part of the second World War.  Following the Allied victory and occupation of Germany, the families of Nazi officials were often in turmoil.  Hunted by the Allies, many Nazis fled to other countries, some committed suicide, others were executed and under the CIA’s Operation Paperclip program, some were even relocated to the United States.  Their descendants were left to confront the individual’s past actions and the policies of the Third Reich under Adolf Hitler.  And it is this past which haunts not only Jennifer, but her mother Monika, Goeth’s daughter who was only 10 months old when he was executed.

The book begins in Hamburg, and we are with Jennifer in the library as she discovers a book about Amon Goeth. Recognizing the last name, she begins to ask herself questions and puts together the puzzle that is her past.  And as she learns about her grandfather, the man who struck terror in the hearts of thousands of Jews, she is faced with the grim reality that yes, her grandfather would have shot her during his reign of terror.  In her youth, the remaining link to her grandfather was her grandmother Irene, who until her own death from suicide in 1983, remained loyal to Goeth.  Having lived with Goeth at the camp, she conceived Monika while Goeth was still legally married to another German woman.  The inner battle she fights regarding her feelings toward her late grandmother whom she loved dearly, is heartbreaking and reminiscent of the struggle of many others whose parents and grandparents committed horrific crimes under the banner of the Third Reich.

Teege’s story is an amazing one,  filled with many trials and tribulations.  We follow her as she struggles with depression, how to tell her Israeli friends about her past, establish relationships with both of her biological parents, love, a family of her own and ultimately, her acceptance of her family name.  To the generation of today, World War II is something that’s mentioned in textbooks. But a large number of people around the world who are still alive,  memories remain fresh from a time in history when the security of the world as we know it, was in danger of being completely destroyed.  For people such as Monika Goeth and Jennifer Teege, the war always remains in the present in the form of Amon Goeth, whose deeds and name will continue to live in infamy.  And as we learn Jennifer’s story, we are forced to ask ourselves what would we do if we were in her place? It’s an answer I’m sure many of us would struggle to find.

ASIN: B00XGLGEMS

 

Hitler’s Hangman: The Life of Heydrich- Robert Gerwarth

51ft1ecdfql-_sy344_bo1204203200_

On June 4, 1942, Reinhard Heydrich died from injuries he sustained several days earlier in an assassination attempt carried out by Czech exiles trained by the British Operations Executive.  He is only thirty-eight years of age.  The former SS-Gruppenführer left behind a widow and four young children. His death sends shock waves through the Nazi regime and causes Hitler to erupt in a monumental rage.  Shortly thereafter, the small village of Lidice is seized by the Germany army and razed to the ground as retribution of Heydrich’s murder.  And as Hitler proclaimed, it was erased from the earth permanently.  Lidice is mentioned in documentaries and books about the Third Reich and serves as an example of the unrestrained barbarity used by the regime to crush any opposition to the expansion of German rule.  In death, Heydrich is turned into a martyr and is held in high regard as the poster boy for the Reich’s belief in racial superiority. Several years would pass before the Third Reich collapsed and Germany was forced to surrender to the Allied forces. The loss of the war and the exposure of the criminality of the leaders of the Reich, cast devastating blows to the supremacists rhetoric employed by the fanatical Hitler and his subordinates.  Heydrich had remained a martyr in the eyes of many Germans throughout the war but the reality is that his story is much darker and far more sinister than meets the eyes.

Robert Gerwath has composed this outstanding biography of the officer Hitler called the man with the iron heart.  Following the invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, the Reich began to annex smaller neighboring countries typically by coercion but in some cases, through armed invasion. In the process, military commanders were appointed as as rulers in the newly acquired territory.  Heydrich, whose final post was as the Acting Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, served as the agent of death and is said to have been even more ruthless than his mentor, the infamous SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler.  He ruled with an iron fist and set an unwavering goal to expand Germany domination across Europe beginning with Czechoslovakia which he intended to make completely Judenrein (Jew free). His vindictiveness and insatiable thirst for blood lead propelled his ascension to the top of the Reich and earned him a position as an architect of the dreaded Final Solution.

I forewarn the readers that his story is not pleasant at times and there are many disturbing aspects of his life which are shown in the book.  The horrors of the Holocaust and the extreme ideology embraced by Heydrich are just one example of the campaign of death the Nazis unleashed across Europe.  But for those who are able to tolerate the facts as they are revealed, you will find that the book is a great examination of his life and career. He died several years before the war’s end and was not able to join his co-conspirators in the defendant’s section. Had he survived the war, I believe he would have been led to the gallows like other high-ranking officials.   More than 70 years have now passed since the world’s deadliest conflict raged but we can still look back at those who played critical roles in its development and execution.  And as we look back, we have stories such as this that show us what evil truly looks like.

ISBN-10: 0300187726
ISBN-13: 978-0300187724

What We Knew: Terror, Mass Murder and Everyday Life in Nazi Germany – Eric A. Johnson and Karl Heinz Reuband

what-we-knewIn April, 1945, allied troops moved through Germany as the walls surrounding Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) began to collapse. His suicide on April 30, allowed him to escape justice but helped to cement his place in history as one of mankind’s most tyrannical leaders.  Concentration camps across Germany and Poland were liberated, releasing thousands of Jews who had been imprisoned as the Third Reich began its Final Solution, the plan produced by the minds of homicidal maniacs such as Heinrich Himmler (1900-1945) and Reinhard Heydrich (1904-1942).  The emaciated figures that were once lively young men and women provided allied troops with a shocking sight that no one could ever forget. Even today, images and videos of bodies stacked upon bodies produces a feelings of disgust and anger toward those responsible for the crimes and others who feigned ignorance.

I have visited Germany twice and enjoyed my experiences there. Today it is hard to imagine that less than eighty years ago, one man plunged the world into war and oversaw the deaths of millions of Jews.  When Adolf Hitler seized control of Germany giving the N.S.D.A.P. the majority presence,  German society was transformed and turned upside down.   Many Jews fled Germany before the Third Reich began its campaign of genocide and some of them never returned. The actions of an unhinged Hitler, nearly brought Germany to the brink of collapse.  Widespread famine and lack of basic necessities made life in post-war Germany close to unbearable.  Some undoubtedly believed that Germans only had their selves to blame for the war and should suffer for what they did to other nations. The United States and Soviet Union stepped in to divide Berlin and the wall constructed remained in placed until 1989.  It was the end of two different German nations contained within one mass of land. The division is similar to the subject of this book entitled ‘What We Knew”.

Historians have always debated what ordinary Germans knew and did not know.  Surely, there were many Germans who sought to save their own lives and desperately avoided being linked in any way to Hitler’s failed regime.  Many claimed that they had no idea Jews were being systematically murdered in concentration camps.  For the Jews, it was hard to believe they could proclaim such ignorance when Antisemitism was a pillar of the Nazi ideology.  Americans and other foreign nations always pondered the same question. This book by Eric A. Johnson and Karl-Heinz Reuband has attempted to take on those questions in the search for the truth about how much the German people knew about the fate that awaited millions of Jews across Europe. Divided into two parts, the first half of the book contains interviews of German Jews who either fled Germany or survived concentration camps.   The second half contains interviews of non-Jewish Germans who witnesses the events that transpired.  What’s revealed in these pages is both eye-opening and enlightening.

As to be expected each side has their own convictions about what each side knew.  Whether they were telling the complete truth is something we will never be able to answer.  But what is clear from the book is that the place in Germany in which one lived, played a role in what they knew or did not know.  The authors do not attempt to make any decisions about who is to be believed or not believed.  They simply present the statements for the reader to decide.  From a personal standpoint, I did find that denial is apparent in many of the interviews of non-Jewish Germans while the Jewish Germans unanimously agree that their neighbors definitely knew of the systematic extermination of the Jews and used it as an excuse to plunder and seize what was left over in houses and apartments.  Several of the Jewish survivors vowed never to return to Germany and believe that they never did.  But they were among the fortunate who were able to survive the Third Reich and tell their stories here.

The debate about the knowledge of the Reich’s atrocities by German citizens will continue for an eternity.  But what is clear is that there was much many had knowledge of but preferred not to know.  The stories of what really happened cannot be lost to history and to prevent another Holocaust requires that demons from the past are confronted.  These are the stories of Germany’s survivors who are here to tell you what they knew.

“To sin in silence while others doth protest makes cowards out of men.” – Ella Wheeler Wilcox

ISBN-13: 978-0465085712
ISBN-10: 0465085717

My Father’s Keeper: Children of Nazi Leaders-An Intimate History of Damage and Denial-Stephen & Norbert Lebert

20180602_234500May 1, 1945- The Allied forces are nearly at the entrance of Hitler’s underground bunker in Berlin.  Hitler and Eva Braun have been dead since the day before.  Others have fled Berlin in fear of their lives. The remaining members are forced with choosing between capture by the Allies or death.  Third Reich propaganda minster Joseph Goebbels and his wife Magda both commit suicide after having their six children poisoned.  Their children escape the fate of falling into Allied hands and do not witness the final collapse of the Third Reich and the division of post-war Berlin.  The fear of retribution by the Red Army and the revelations of the atrocities committed against Europe’s Jewish population have caused many Germans to prefer death rather than face justice at the hands of an Allied soldiers.  Goebbels’ children although deprived of their lives, escaped a fate that would effect the children of other Nazi party officials.  They would be faced to confront the truth of their parents’ actions during the rise of the N.S.D.A.P. and Hitler’s assumption of power in Germany.  This book contains the stories of some of those children.

Hitler never had any children of his own stating clearly that he had too much responsibility towards the people of Germany to think about his own family line.  Perhaps it is one of the saving graces of the war for I shudder to think about the amount of cruelty a child of Hitler would have faced had they survived the war.  The belief of the “master race” resulted in German men and women being encouraged to have as many children as possible. And in fact, many of the top members of Hitler’s cabinet were fathers.  Their children did survive the war and are still alive today . Stephen Lebert resumed the work of his father Norman in exploring the effects of the revelations upon the lives of the Nazi descendants.  And what father and son have found is remarkable and also tragic. They conducted interviews with the children of Martin Bormann, Hans Frank, Rudolf Hess, Herman Goering and Heinrich Himmler.  The interviews are revealing and the damage inflicted upon them is evident in many way.  Denial is a common theme in the interviews  and some of them refuse to believe what has been proven to be correct. The others have accepted it and have lived shattered lives unable to come to terms with what their father had done.   And incredibly, one in particular remains committed to her father’s standing as a Nazi and truly believes him to be innocent.

The most interesting part of the book is that there is no way to know beforehand which way the subject will go.  Their responses, thoughts and feelings vary highlighting the haphazard effect the war had upon them.  I had often wondered what happened to the children of the Reich. This book answers that question and more.  A truly tragic reality is that they were not allowed to have a normal childhood by any means.  The tyrannical rule of Adolf Hitler and the Reich’s illogical policies plunged Germany into a war and allowed its members to live out their own sadistic ideals as they pillaged, raped and murdered innocent people.  And the true irony is that these very same people who sent the children of Jews to their deaths, had families of their own. But I do not believe they ever thought of their children for if they did, they would have never placed them in such a position.

Today they continue to live their lives but the memories of the war and their parents are still fresh in their minds.  To their very last day, they will scary the mental and emotional scars inflicted upon them by the fallout from the second world war.  And as they think back on the family life they lost, they will have to ask the question if they are truly their fathers’ keepers.

ISBN-10: 0316089753
ISBN-13: 978-0316089753

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