When Senator Joe McCarthy Defended Nazis | History

Good long read over a lessor known incident near the end of WW II and how the role of former Senator Joe McCarthy in undermining the truth, not without parallels today:

Annihilate the enemy. That was Adolf Hitler’s standing order to his elite Waffen-SS as the Wehrmacht sought to break the Allies’ tightening grip in late 1944 by crashing through enemy lines in an audacious counteroffensive that would become known as the Battle of the Bulge. The Führer’s edict was enforced in the ice-encrusted fields outside the Belgian city of Malmedy. On the afternoon of December 17, a battle group of the armored First SS Panzer Division ambushed a band of lightly armed U.S. troops. The overwhelmed American GIs’ only option was to raise white flags.

The Nazis accepted their surrender and assembled the American prisoners. Most, they mowed down with machine guns. They used their rifle butts to crush the skulls of others. Those seeking refuge in a café were burned alive or shot. Earlier that day, outside the nearby town of Honsfeld, an American corporal named Johnnie Stegle was randomly selected from a line of captives by an SS soldier who summoned his best English to yell, “Hey, you!” Then he raised a revolver to Stegle’s forehead, killing him instantly. By day’s end, the toll exceeded 150, with 84 murdered at the deadliest of those encounters: the ill-famed Malmedy Massacre.

The remains of American prisoners of war murdered in December 1944 near the Belgian city of Malmedy. The bodies were identified by number for use in war crimes trials brought against more than 70 Nazi soldiers by the U.S. military.
The remains of American prisoners of war murdered in December 1944 near the Belgian city of Malmedy. The bodies were identified by number for use in war crimes trials brought against more than 70 Nazi soldiers by the U.S. military. (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Courtesy NARA)

The Allies saw Malmedy as a metaphor for Nazi heinousness and American justice. The frozen corpses of slaughtered POWs had been retrieved and carefully autopsied. Intrepid U.S. investigators gathered evidence and conducted in-depth interviews of survivors from both sides. Military prosecutors laid out a vivid portrait not just of this act of barbarity, but of the modus operandi of the SS, the most savage of Hitler’s war-makers.

An alternative telling of the story arose during and after the proceedings, however, that made it the most controversial war-crimes trial in U.S. history. The new version of the incident flipped the script, casting as malefactors the Army investigators, prosecution team and military tribunal. In this story, American interrogators cruelly tortured the German defendants—they were said to have kicked their testicles and wedged burning matches under their fingernails—and the German confessions were coerced. The United States was out for vengeance, this theory held, which shouldn’t have been surprising given that some of the investigators were Jews. Yes, war was brutal, but any atrocities committed that December day in 1944 should be laid at the feet of the Nazi generals who issued the orders, not the troops who followed them. Yes, America had won the war, and it was imposing a classic victor’s justice. The primary advocates of this alternative narrative were the chief defense attorney, the convicted perpetrators and their ex-Nazi supporters, some U.S. peace activists and, most surprising, the junior senator from Wisconsin, Joseph R. McCarthy.

The trial, held from May to July 1946 in the former concentration camp at Dachau, Germany, charged German generals along with rank-and-file soldiers. All but one of the defendants was found guilty; within a decade, all walked free.
The trial, held from May to July 1946 in the former concentration camp at Dachau, Germany, charged German generals along with rank-and-file soldiers. All but one of the defendants was found guilty; within a decade, all walked free. (Ullstein Bild via Getty Images)

Three years after the verdicts, the Army appointed a commission to sort out the conflicting interpretations of the Malmedy prosecutions. That probe spawned more lurid news accounts of alleged coercion of testimony and mistreatment of the German inmates, which led the Army to name yet another review panel. With political pressure building, in March 1949 the Senate convened a special investigatory subcommittee made up of Raymond Baldwin of Connecticut, Estes Kefauver of Tennessee and Lester Hunt of Wyoming. McCarthy, who’d been intensely interested from the start, was granted special authorization by the panel to sit in as an observer.

At the time, McCarthy was less than halfway through his first term in the Senate, and he hadn’t yet launched the reckless crusade against alleged Communists that would turn his name into an “ism.” Relegated to the status of a backbencher after Democrats took control of the Senate in 1949, McCarthy was thirsting for a cause that would let him claim the spotlight. The cause that this ex-Marine and uber-patriot picked—as an apologist for the Nazi perpetrators of the bloodiest slaughter of American soldiers during World War II—would, more than anything he had done previously, define him for his fellow senators and anybody else paying close attention. But so few were paying him heed that no alarms were sounded, and in short order his Malmedy trickery was overshadowed by his campaign against those he branded as un-American, an irony that lends special meaning to this forgotten chapter in the making of Joe McCarthy.

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Source: When Senator Joe McCarthy Defended Nazis | History

Construction of Austrian Holocaust victims’ memorial begins

Long overdue:

Construction of Austria’s first public monument naming all the country’s Holocaust victims began on Monday, a further step by Adolf Hitler’s native land towards confronting an issue it has long struggled with.

For decades after World War Two, Austria denied responsibility for crimes committed by the Nazis, arguing that it was their first victim despite the enthusiasm with which many citizens had welcomed annexation by Hitler’s Germany in 1938.

The country now recognises that Austrians were perpetrators as well as victims of Nazi crimes but it has not confronted that chapter of its history as openly or directly as Germany.

“Berlin has one. Paris has one. Vienna had none. But the day has finally come today,” Oskar Deutsch, president of the Jewish Community (IKG), the body officially representing Austria’s Jews, said at a ceremony marking the start of construction work.

The new monument, located in a park next to Austria’s central bank, will comprise a ring of upright stone slabs around an island of trees, and will name all 64,259 Austrian victims of the Holocaust. It is due to be inaugurated in a year’s time.

“Remembering means commemorating the victims of the Shoah. This remembering and our history increase our responsibility, the responsibility daily and together to do everything to ensure that something like this never happens again,” said Deutsch.

Ironically, the project was first backed in 2018 by a previous coalition government of current Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s conservatives and the far-right Freedom Party (FPO), which was founded in the 1950s by former Nazis and whose first leader had been an SS officer.

Although the FPO says it has abandoned its anti-Semitic past and now denounces the Holocaust, it has been plagued by racism and anti-Semitism scandals, and the IKG still refuses to deal with party officials. The FPO crashed out of government last year and Kurz now governs in coalition with the Greens.

There are Holocaust memorials in Vienna but the only one naming the Jews who lived in Austria and were murdered is in the city’s main synagogue.

Source: Construction of Austrian Holocaust victims’ memorial begins

Vatican minimised Shoah reports due to antisemitism, researchers find

Having access to the Vatican archives was a long-term objective for many Holocaust researchers and good that these are being opened up with not surprising evidence of antisemitism and arguably wilful blindness and rejection of evidence:

German researchers working in the Apostolic Archive have found that the Vatican was handed reports about the extent of the Holocaust in 1942, but dismissed some of the information they contained.

The seven-person team from the University on Münster found that the Vatican had minimised information on the massacres of Jews, considering that Jewish and Ukrainian sources could not be trusted.

The conclusions hinge on a 1942 American démarche to the Holy See.

The team found that on September 27, 1942, the Holy See was passed a report by the American envoy to the Vatican, detailing the murder of Jews in occupied Poland and asking if the Catholic Church could independently confirm the crimes it outlined.

The report outlined how Jews were being taken out of the Warsaw Ghetto, and murdered outside of the city in camps.

The report, read by Pius XII on the day that it was received in Rome, said that 100,000 Jews had been murdered and that 50,000 had been murdered in Lviv, in what was then eastern Poland, and is now western Ukraine.

The report added that there were no Jews remaining in eastern Poland, and that Jews from Germany, Slovakia and the Low Countries had been transported to Eastern Europe where they were murdered.

The Vatican Apostolic Archives, which until October were known as the “Secret Archives”, contain up to 2 million pages of documents from Pius XII’s papacy. The Vatican threw open their doors, which were due to remain closed until 2028, on 1 March.

The researchers, led by priest and professor Hubert Wolf, a historian of the Catholic Church, spent a week working in the Apostolic Archive from March 2 before it was closed due to coronavirus restrictions.

Mr Wolf’s team found documents showing that the Holy See had received two letters independently confirming reports of massacres of Jews from Warsaw and Lviv.

In August 1942, it had received a letter from the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Archbishop of Lviv, Andrey Sheptysky, who wrote of 200,000 murdered. The following month, an Italian businessman spoke of “butchery” of Jews in Warsaw.

Despite these reports, the Vatican informed the American envoy that it was unable to confirm the reports.

Internally, a rationale justified that the information remained “to be verified”, in the words of a Papal adviser, as Jews “exaggerate” and that “Orientals” – referring to the Ukrainian Uniates – “are really not an example of honesty”.

Pius XII’s papacy ran from 1939 until 1958, and he never publically condemned the Holocaust, despite historians agreeing that the Vatican was aware of the murder of Jews across Europe.

Debate hinges on whether the Vatican remained too silent during the Holocaust and newly uncovered documents in the Apostolic Archive will contribute to peeling back a curtain of uncertainty on the role and knowledge of the wider Catholic Church during the Holocaust.

Documents from Pope Pius XII's pontificate have been opened to historians since March 1
Documents from Pope Pius XII’s pontificate have been opened to historians since March 1 (Photo: Getty)

Professor Wolf suggested that documents such as those his team had uncovered had been left out of the official Vatican compendium of Pius XII’s wartime role in a bid to preserve his legacy.

“This is a key document that has been kept hidden from us because it is clearly antisemitic and shows why Pius XII did not speak out against the Holocaust,” Wolf told Münster’s Catholic Kirche + Leben.

Mr Wolf noted in an interview with German Catholic newswire KNA that there was also potentially embarrassing information on the Church’s participation in the ‘Rat Lines’, networks that spirited high-ranking Nazis to Italy and on to Latin America.

Mr Wolf suggested, based on reports from the Papal Nuncio in Argentina, that the “the Vatican might have been able to get them passports,” and wondered whether “the nuncio was the middle man?”

Source: Vatican minimised Shoah reports due to antisemitism, researchers find

Amazon in Holocaust Row About ‘Hunters’ Series, Anti-Semitic Books

I am more concerned about the anti-semitic books and items that Amazon sells than the fictionalized series “Hunters” but others may disagree:

The Auschwitz Memorial criticized Amazon on Sunday for fictitious depictions of the Holocaust in its Prime series “Hunters” and for selling books of Nazi propaganda.

Seventy-five years after the liberation of the Nazi German Auschwitz death camp by Soviet troops, world leaders and activists have called for action against rising anti-Semitism.

“Hunters”, released on Friday and starring Al Pacino, features a team of Nazi hunters in 1970s New York who discover that hundreds of escaped Nazis are living in the United States.

However, the series has faced accusations of bad taste, particularly for depicting fictional atrocities in Nazi death camps, such as a game of human chess in which people are killed when a piece is taken.

“Inventing a fake game of human chess for @huntersonprime is not only dangerous foolishness & caricature. It also welcomes future deniers,” the Auschwitz Memorial tweeted.

“We honor the victims by preserving factual accuracy.”

The Auschwitz Memorial is responsible for preserving the Nazi German death camp in southern Poland, where more than 1.1 million people, most of them Jews, perished in gas chambers or from starvation, cold and disease.

The Memorial also criticized Amazon for selling anti-Semitic books.

On Friday, the Memorial retweeted a letter from the Holocaust Educational Trust to Amazon asking that anti-Semitic children’s books by Nazi Julius Streicher, who was executed for crimes against humanity, be removed from sale.

“When you decide to make a profit on selling vicious antisemitic Nazi propaganda published without any critical comment or context, you need to remember that those words led not only to the #Holocaust but also many other hate crimes,” the Auschwitz Memorial tweeted on Sunday.

“As a bookseller, we are mindful of book censorship throughout history, and we do not take this lightly. We believe that providing access to written speech is important, including books that some may find objectionable,” an Amazon spokesman said in a comment emailed to Reuters. Amazon said it would comment on “Hunters” later.

In December, Amazon withdrew from sale products decorated with images of Auschwitz, including Christmas decorations, after the Memorial complained.

Separately, prosecutors launched an investigation into a primary school in the town of Labunie, which staged a reenactment of Auschwitz with children dressed as prisoners being gassed, local media reported.

The school is accused of promoting fascism in the performance in December. It could not immediately be reached for comment.

Putin at the World Holocaust Forum

Of note:

Earlier this month, some ten days after the World Holocaust Forum held at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem to commemorate the 1945 liberation of Auschwitz, the museum issued an unusual apology for a film presentation that contained “inaccuracies” and “created an unbalanced impression”—by, among other things, memory-holing the 1939 division of Poland between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union and the Soviet occupation of the Baltics in 1940.

The apology letter, signed by Professor Dan Michman of Yad Vashem’s International Institute of Holocaust Research and published in Haaretz, referred to this assault on historical facts as a “regrettable mishap.” But the presentation was actually part of a much bigger problem: the degree to which the forum was turned into a showcase for Russian President Vladimir Putin, his revisionist history, and his friendship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The January 23 forum—funded mostly by Russian Jewish billionaire, European Jewish Congress president, and Putin ally Moshe Kantor, and organized in partnership with the Israeli government—more or less channeled the Kremlin propaganda narrative of World War II, in which Soviet Russia was virtually the single-handed victor over the Nazis and rescuer of the Jews. There was no mention of Soviet collusion with Nazi Germany in 1939–1940 under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, or of Soviet war crimes such as the massacre of 22,000 Polish officers and elite professionals—including, by the way, about 900 Jews—at the Katyn Forest.

No one questions the importance of the Soviet Union’s role in the defeat of Nazi Germany after 1941. Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz and were the first witnesses to its horrors. But nor is there any serious dispute about the darker side of the USSR’s role in World War II. In his prime-slot forum speech, Putin not only asserted that it was the “Soviet people” who “liberated Europe from Nazism”; he also attempted to position Russia, in seamless succession to the Soviet Union, as having a special role in Holocaust remembrance. (Along the way, he made the blatantly false claim that about 40 percent of Jews murdered in the Holocaust were Soviet citizens, which quickly drew protests from historians: The actual figure is estimated at 15 to 25 percent.)

What Putin conveniently left out is the Soviet regime’s long record of covering up and minimizing the genocide of Jews in order to keep the focus on Nazi war crimes against the Soviet people—as well as Stalin’s persecution and murder of Jewish anti-Nazi activists in the postwar years. At first, after the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, the Soviet leadership was anxious to mobilize prominent Jews—particularly cultural and intellectual figures—for propaganda purposes to win foreign support for its war effort and its alliance with Western democracies. In August 1941, two dozen Soviet Jewish writers, journalists, and artists, led by actor and theater director Solomon Mikhoels, issued an appeal to Jewish communities around the world to support the Soviet Union in its fight against Germany. (As the YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe notes, “To allow Jews to appeal to their fellow Jews was an extraordinary step for the Kremlin.”) They formed the core of the Jewish Antifascist Committee, officially created in April 1942. In 1943, Mikhoels and fellow JAC member poet Itzik Feffer went on a seven-month tour of the United States, Mexico, Canada, and England; they met with Jewish leaders as well as renowned public figures such as Albert Einstein, Marc Chagall and Charlie Chaplin, headlined a rally of 50,000 in New York, and raised millions of dollars in aid.

But as the war drew to a close, with Soviet forces victorious and Western alliances secured, the Jewish “antifascists” had outlived their usefulness—and their work to collect evidence of the Nazis’ targeted extermination of Jews was met with barely disguised hostility. The Soviet leadership’s attitude toward this issue is can be gleaned from the fact that the Soviet special report on the “monstrous crimes in Oświęcim” (Auschwitz), issued on May 8, 1945, did not contain a single mention of Jews. It referred to Auschwitz as a “camp for the extermination of captive Soviet people” and described the victims as “citizens of the Soviet Union, Poland, France, Belgium, Holland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Rumania and other countries.”

When JAC completed the “Black Book” documenting German atrocities against Jews on Soviet territory, compiled by journalists Ilya Ehrenburg and Vasily Grossman, the volume was reluctantly approved for publication in early 1946 after revisions to ensure that it followed the party line. But before a single copy could be printed, it was banned for “grave political errors,” and the typeset galleys were destroyed. (The book did appear in English in New York the same year; its first Russian-language edition was published in Israel in 1980.) Meanwhile, the Ministry of State Security, or MGB—the KGB’s predecessor—was sending reports to Communist Party leadership accusing JAC of “bourgeois nationalism” and contacts with foreign intelligence.

JAC was disbanded in November 1948; Mikhoels had been murdered by MGB agents several months earlier, his death officially blamed on a hit-and-run accident. There soon followed a massive anti-Semitic campaign against “rootless cosmopolitans.” This coincided with the Soviet leadership’s reversal of its initially friendly stance toward the new state of Israel, a turnabout due to several factors—from Israel’s pro-American position and failure to embrace Soviet-style socialism to suspicions of disloyalty among Soviet Jews, particularly after tens of thousands turned out to see Israeli envoy Golda Meir on her visit to Moscow’s Choral Synagogue. (Meir’s request to Stalin to permit Jewish emigration to Israel added more fuel to the fire: no one could seek to exit the workers’ paradise.)

In the general persecution of Jews, former members and staffers of the JAC were especially hard hit: over a hundred were arrested, and more than a dozen, including Feffer, were executed in 1952. Prominent Jewish doctors were accused of deliberately murdering patients; even the Jewish wife of Politburo member Vyacheslav Molotov, Polina Zhemchuzhina, was arrested as a “Zionist agent.” There were rumors of a planned mass deportation of Soviet Jews to the “Jewish Autonomous Republic” in Siberia (ostensibly to save them from the wrath of the people).

Stalin’s death in March 1953 brought a halt to the Soviet war on Jews, but Soviet virtual silence about the Holocaust continued. There was no commemoration, for example, of the massacre at Babi Yar, the site near Kyiv where some 33,000 Jews were slaughtered in two days in September 1941 (an event mentioned in Putin’s speech). In 1961, Yevgeny Yevtushenko briefly broke this silence with his poem “Babi Yar,” published in the weekly Literary Gazette; it explicitly identified the victims as Jews and described the murders as part of the long history of anti-Semitic violence. In response, the poet was viciously trashed in the Soviet press for fomenting ethnic division, and the editor who had accepted and printed the poem was fired “for insufficient vigilance.” At a meeting with writers and artists, then-Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev himself assailed the author for his ideological lapse. While Yevtushenko eventually found his way back into the regime’s good graces, “Babi Yar” was not included in any of the Soviet-era editions of his poetry except for one three-volume collection. (Incidentally, the poem’s opening line—“No monument stands over Babi Yar”—remained true until the fall of the Soviet Union. The first memorials on the site were built in an independent Ukraine.)

All that history was missing from Putin’s speech. So was the well-known role of Soviet propaganda in fomenting anti-Jewish vitriol—under the guise of “anti-Zionism”—from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s. Putin did, however, find the time to take swipes at ex-Soviet republics that currently refuse to march to Russia’s orders—Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia—by pointedly noting their populations’ complicity in the Nazi slaughter of Jews. (Nazi collaboration in Russia and in mostly Russia-friendly Belarus got a pass.) He may have also subtly taunted Poland by referencing the Nazi massacre at the Belarusian village of Khatyn—a name almost identical to Katyn. Many historians believe the Soviets deliberately amplified the Khatyn tragedy in the late 1960s because of the name similarity, in the hope that the confusion would distract from the matter of Katyn.

For Putin, such distortions and lies are business as usual. But abetting them was a shameful moment for the Israeli government—especially since, as Times of Israel editor David Horovitz noted, the Kremlin strongman was clearly “the dominant presence” at the January 23 event. Before the start of the forum, Putin was greetedon the tarmac at Ben Gurion Airport by Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz, who offered his personal thanks for the Soviet Army’s liberation of Auschwitz. He was the star speaker at the inauguration of a memorial to victims of the German siege of Leningrad, with Israeli president Reuven Rivlin and prime minister Netanyahu at his side. Then, arriving slightly late at the forum itself, he was introduced and escorted to his seat by Rivlin. He got, as Russian Jewish commentator Ilya Milshtein wrote on the independent Russian website Grani.ru, “a Tsar’s welcome.”

The indecency of this spectacle was compounded by the fact that Putin was allowed to posture as the savior of Kremlin hostage Naama Issachar, whom he pardoned after his trip. (The 26-year-old Israeli, arrested during a brief layover at a Moscow airport over a few grams of marijuana in her checked luggage to which she did not even have access on Russian soil, had received a draconian seven-year sentence; her release apparently involved Israeli concessions in a dispute over a valuable religious site, the Alexander Courtyard in Jerusalem.) Writing about Putin’s moment as “the Tsar-liberator of the Jewish people” in a blogpost widely reprintedin the Russian-language Israeli press, Ukrainian Jewish journalist Vitaly Portnikov called it “an abomination.” Strong language, perhaps. But the fact that Putin’s self-congratulatory spin was allowed to color an event commemorating the dead of the Holocaust deserves no less.

Netanyahu has long courted anti-liberal leaders, from Putin to Hungary’s Viktor Orban to Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, who are willing to support Israel in the face of growing antagonism from liberal democracies. One may sympathize with this quest, at least if one believes—as I do—that the current efforts to isolate Israel are unjust and rife with double standards. But the scandal at the World Holocaust Forum is a reminder that fraternizing with authoritarians has its price.

Source: Putin at the World Holocaust Forum

Albert Speer, the Hitler Henchman Who Enabled the Holocaust, Bears Another Look Today

A good look back on Speer and some general points on complicity:

The last of the Auschwitz survivors to revisit the extermination machine in Poland have left. Now very old men and women, they returned to mark the 75th anniversary of the infamous death camp’s liberation last Monday.

Memory inflicts no greater pain than is theirs. The day they were freed in 1945 was both an end and a beginning: the end of terror and the beginning of remembering.

And one of the things to remember is not just the vast horror of the Holocaust but the fact that it was conducted as an industrial enterprise by managers and bureaucrats with a chillingly impersonal attention to detail. Adolf Hitler’s demonic program of genocide would have come to nothing without his enablers.

On Feb. 6, 1944, SS Obergruppenfuhrer Oswald Pohl, who headed the part of the Nazi terror machine given the bland name Office of Economic Administration, wrote a report with the title “Utilization of Textiles: Used Clothes from the Jewish Resettlement.”

He complained about the condition of “material so far obtained from the Jewish resettlement in the camps in the Lublin area, and Auschwitz.” Much of it, “particularly for men, is much diminished by the fact that many clothes are rags…”

Speer’s story reminds us in a timely way that it’s not only the knowingly depraved who gather around a tyrant.
The SS controlled the distribution of the clothes and possessions taken from the Jews as they arrived at the death camps. Every train delivering prisoners left on its return journey loaded with those possessions. Items of value, like jewelry, gold, including gold teeth, and foreign currency mostly ended up in the Reichsbank in Berlin, their worth carefully noted in ledgers. The clothes, if at all serviceable, went to the “foreign workers” who were part of a gigantic program of forced labor producing weapons and munitions.

That program was designed and overseen with clinical efficiency by Albert Speer, the Reichsminister for Armaments and Munitions,

Five days later he wrote to Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS, complaining that he needed all the steel, wood and manpower he could get for building arms factories: “We must therefore carry out a new planning program for construction within the concentration camps… [that] will require a minimum of material and labor. The answer is an immediate switch to primitive construction methods.”

Pohl, not Himmler, replied with a furious reminder that Speer had himself signed off on all the plans for building the camps and said a switch to primitive materials was “unrealistic.” He continued: “…we have 160,000 prisoners and are constantly battling against epidemics and a disproportionately high death rate, both largely due to impossible sanitary conditions.”

Of all those involved in the Nazi terror machine, Albert Speer was, literally, the most elusive—elusive because he escaped a death sentence at the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals, and elusive because until the end of his life (he died in 1981) he was never able to display any guilt about his role as an accomplice to genocide.

Late in 1943, when Speer had brought about a dramatic revival of German arms production, the issue of Hitler’s succession was being discussed quietly by his generals and some lower level ministers.

At this point they were not talking about a coup, but a planned succession with Hitler’s consent. They ruled out the founding Nazi psychopaths, Himmler, Goebbels, Bormann and Goering. One minister told Speer he thought Hitler himself favored Speer—nobody else had such a close relationship with him. Speer did not disagree, but the moment never came.

Speer’s story reminds us in a timely way that it’s not only the knowingly depraved who gather around a tyrant. Equally dangerous are those, like Speer, who provide the system with their intellect while in denial about the consequences. Some people do this because the tyrant helps them to advance their own agendas; others do it just because being in the same room delivers the craved-for embrace of power.

Once Speer fell within Hitler’s spell he enjoyed his proximity to absolute power, no matter how vile its actions.

Speer had first endeared himself to Hitler as an architect.  They shared a taste for the Greco-Roman style of triumphal buildings. This culminated in Speer’s plan to replace Berlin with a new capital city called Germania for the thousand-year Reich. At its center—roughly where Berlin’s Reichstag now sits—there was to be a Great Hall with a massive dome nearly 1,000 feet high (the U.S. Capitol dome is 284 feet high).

Speer was always resistant to self-doubt. Once he fell within Hitler’s spell he enjoyed his proximity to absolute power, no matter how vile its actions. And Hitler clearly enjoyed his frequent communion with Speer. In these moments of spiritual kinship, talking of art and architecture, Hitler was flattered by Speer into thinking that he was an aesthete at the head of an Aryan empire purged of all racial impurities.

He claimed that he had not been present at a conference in 1943 when Himmler spoke of ‘wiping Jews from the face of the earth.’

On the night of Oct. 16-17, 1946, ten of Hitler’s closest associates were hanged in the gymnasium of Nuremberg prison, having been found guilty of war crimes. Speer was there and heard their names being called out. But he was spared, given a 20-year sentence to be served in Spandau. (Oswald Pohl was executed in June 1951.)

Afterward it emerged that the principal American judge, Francis Biddle, and the Soviet Union’s judge, General Iona Nikitchenko, had voted to sentence Speer to death, but another American judge, John Parker, and a British judge, Norman Birkett, argued for clemency, apparently because he seemed to them too refined to be a mass murderer. Also taken into consideration was his cooperation with Allied intelligence. The jail sentence was a compromise reached after a two-day argument among the judges.

Speer was released in 1966. He published a self-serving best-selling version of history, Inside the Third Reich, and became wealthy, considered by many as the rare “Good Nazi” who had done what he could to curb the worst of Hitler’s instincts. He had always acknowledged that his industrial plan had depended on slave labor, including many Jews, working under appalling conditions, often dying on the job, but denied any knowledge of the scale of the Holocaust.

He claimed that he had not been present at a conference in 1943 when Himmler spoke of “wiping Jews from the face of the earth.” But 25 years after his death a newly discovered cache of letters revealed that he had, indeed, been present. The master dissembler was finally exposed as the monster he was.

It’s always questionable to introduce the Nazi regime as a caution when looking at our own present carelessness with the values of our republic. The Holocaust was a crime of such enormity and singularity that we can too easily trivialize it by invoking any historical comparison.

Nonetheless the message from Auschwitz was reinforced by its anniversary: Ronald Lauder, head of the World Jewish Congress, said he was worried that the lessons were being forgotten: “Auschwitz is a beacon of where anti-Semitism can lead, we can’t rewrite history but we can be much more forceful today.”

A wave of anti-Semitic attacks and hate crimes in the U.S. has followed the massacre of 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue in October 2018. Three people were killed last December in a shooting at a kosher grocery in Jersey City and at least 10 anti-Semitic incidents took place in the New York area over Hanukkah.

One issue raised by several of the Holocaust survivors at Auschwitz was how such a barbaric crime could happen in a country that, until then, was regarded as both civilized and an intellectual powerhouse. It seemed all too easy for the Nazis to operate with the silent consent of a majority of the German people.

Speer addressed this in an interview with the British journalist Gitta Sereny, who spent 10 years studying his life for a riveting book, Albert Speer: His Battle With Truth. He was responding to a charge that he tried to present himself as the prototype of the new technological man while he had conveniently overlooked the connection between technology and a program of mass extermination. He argued that the machinery of murder had nothing to do with technology, it was too primitive. And then he said:

“Eighty million people were not persuaded to follow Hitler because they knew he was going to murder people in lime ditches and gas chambers; they did not follow him because he seemed evil, but because he seemed extraordinarily good. And what convinced them of this was Goebbels’ brilliant propaganda, his unprecedented use of modern means of mass communication.”

It’s terrifying to think what Goebbels could have done using today’s means of mass communication. But perhaps we already know

Source: Albert Speer, the Hitler Henchman Who Enabled the Holocaust, Bears Another Look Today

Germany under fire over reform of Nazi citizenship rules

Ongoing:

Germany’s federal government has been criticised for taking a bureaucratic and contradictory approach towards restoring citizenship for Holocaust survivors and their descendants.

On Wednesday, Bundestag president Wolfgang Schäuble told a special parliamentary sitting, attended by Israeli president Reuven Rivlin, that Germany would never forget its historical responsibility to Holocaust victims and survivors – and their descendants.

Meanwhile, back at work a day later, the federal government used its parliamentary majority to block an opposition proposal to bed down in law liberalised procedures for people who either lost or were stripped of their German citizenship in the Nazi era.

Article 116 of the postwar Basic Law states that “former German citizens who between 30 January 1933 and 8 May 1945 were deprived of their German citizenship on political, racial, or religious grounds may have their citizenship restored. This generally also applies to their descendants.”

But some who have applied for German citizenship say a gap exists between theory and practice.

The issue has grown in significance since the 2016 Brexit vote in the UK. Where just 43 applications for citizenship restitution were filed in 2015, that had jumped to more than 1,500 annually in 2018. The growing number of applications mirrored a rise in complaints that restitution rules were problematic and applied narrowly.

Reasons for rejection

The UK’s Association of Jewish Refugees has a sizeable file of people denied citizenship, although family members fled Germany after persecution on political, racial and religious grounds. One common reason for rejection was a requirement that the person who fled – the relative of the applicant – is a man, reflecting rules on the transfer of citizenship by fathers only until postwar reform.

Other applicants tell of being refused citizenship because, though their Jewish grandparents saved their lives by fleeing Nazi Germany, they left too soon, in the eyes of today’s German authorities, to qualify as persecuted and thus eligible for restoration of citizenship.

Source: Germany under fire over reform of Nazi citizenship rules

We must not forget the Holocaust. But the way we remember will change

From the conclusion of Erna Paris’ excellent long read and analysis of the various stages of coming to terms with the Holocaust:

As though Holocaust denial and museum controversies were not sufficient challenges to the narrative of memory, disputes of a different nature have divided the community of survivors, themselves, some of whom have preferred the commemoration of their unprecedented life tragedy over professional history.

In retrospect, commemoration was perhaps destined to conflict with the dry pursuits of scholars combing through archives, since personal recollections may, or may not, correlate with the rigours of historical fact.

In his 1961 book, The Destruction of the European Jews, the first archival work on the Holocaust, historian Raul Hilberg paid a heavy price. When he told the world that his research indicated that the number of murdered Jews may have been closer to five million than six million, anger erupted. The six-million figure was already settled. It mattered to commemoration. Dr. Hilberg, who was himself a refugee of Nazi Germany, was called an accomplice to Holocaust denial.

I, too, was led to a misunderstanding about history versus commemoration. In the 1990s, I was invited to lecture on Daniel Goldhagen’s provocative book, Hitler’s Willing Executioners, which claimed that ordinary Germans were “willing executioners” because they had been indoctrinated into what Dr. Goldhagen called “eliminationist anti-Semitism.” I had reservations about the fairness of this thesis and had already published my views in a book review in The Globe and Mail. I had barely begun to speak before a woman jumped up and said, “You should be ashamed of yourself!”

What followed was a shouting match among the audience, some attacking me, others defending me, while I sat down in amazement. Yet, all these years later, two remarks from that evening have never left me. A man seated at the back of the room said pointedly, “We don’t need history. We were there.” With sorrow in his voice, someone else said, “In 30 years you can say this. When we are all dead.”

What I came to understand that evening, with compassion, was that the commemoration of experience was what mattered for some people – commemoration and its complement, commemorative history. My criticism of an approved-of book had been perceived, by some, as an attack.

Contested historical narratives provoke impassioned debate. My favourite example of this was an illustration from the French newspaper, Le Monde, showing a large history book open to the year 1943. On one side of the book are dozens of tiny people pushing to close the page. On the other side, the same number of Lilliputians struggle to hold it open.

So we should not be surprised that the Holocaust, which was unprecedented in so many ways, continues to engender argument even among those who would not dream of denying its existence. But today we must ask a new question, which brings me to the third stage of my timeline of remembrance. How will the Holocaust be remembered after the remaining survivors die and its specific horrors recede from living memory?

I could be wrong. But I can suggest a few possibilities, based on present trends.

First, the bad news. In her recent studies of what she calls collective or cultural memory, reputed German scholar Aleida Assmann has argued that the shelf life of front-burner historical memory is approximately 70 to 80 years. That’s where we are now with regard to the Holocaust.

What this means is that it will become increasingly important to keep a factual narrative of memory alive in the face of possible distortion, forgetfulness or both.

The good news is that much good work has already been done. There has been a concerted effort to record the testimony of Holocaust survivors. These recordings will benefit future generations.

Another piece of good news is the creation of excellent Holocaust museums and memorials around the world. But memorials, too, must be curated properly, for when they are not, the results may be appalling.

For example, in a residential neighbourhood of Berlin, I once came across a memorial, made of mirror glass, upon which were engraved the names of the deported Jews of the district. It stood in the middle of an open-air food market and from time to time the vendors squinted through the names of the dead to apply their lipstick.

Many schools around the world now include Holocaust education in their curriculum, but how the subject is taught matters. Teachers must be trained to present difficult material in ways that do not overly traumatize youngsters, while at the same time offering them ways of using this hard learning to make a difference in the world.

I came to this conclusion on a visit to Nuremberg, where I heard a survivor tell her horrifying story to a group of shocked high-school students. One youngster raised his hand and asked the survivor what German children like him could do to ease her suffering. “Nothing,” she replied.

From her point of view, she was right. It was not her job to smooth reality to make that child feel better. But my heart went out to that boy – that descendant of Nazi Germany. He needed not to feel helpless before the enormity of his inheritance.

Carefully calibrated school courses, museums and memorials must offer a way forward, psychologically. To believe that one can learn hard truths, then make a difference to one’s society, will help to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive in positive ways.

In pondering the future of Holocaust memory, we might wish to return to the seminal debate between Mr. Carter and Mr. Wiesel. Mr. Carter’s secular vision was that the Holocaust was a crime against the Jews, but also a universal crime against humanity at large. Mr. Wiesel’s view of the Holocaust claimed Jewish particularity and had a quasi-religious cast, as evidenced when he said, “One should take off one’s shoes when entering its domain; one should tremble each time one pronounces the word.”

How might this controversy unfold in the future? I think we can already see where it is going.

After the genocides in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda in the 1990s, in which similarities with the attempted Nazi genocide of the Jews were visible, Holocaust and genocide studies began to flourish in universities, including here in Canada. These studies are historical, but they are also interdisciplinarian in nature. The hope is that by incorporating the disciplines of psychology and sociology, for example, we will learn more about how and why such events occur and also how they might be prevented. A broader scope of study appears to be the new direction.

An interesting example of this widening scope took place just last summer. In the United States and elsewhere, people had used the phrase “concentration camps” to refer to the detention centres at the U.S.-Mexican border where children were separated from their parents and held in abominable conditions. In response, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum issued a statement in which it rejected any possible analogies to the Holocaust, or to the events leading up to it. The uniqueness argument, in other words.

What followed was most revelatory. Hundreds of scholars of the Holocaust signed a public letter stating that the museum’s position made learning from the past almost impossible – and was far removed from contemporary scholarship.

The survivor recordings, the museums and the monuments, along with the extensive scholarly research that has informed the consciousness of the world, will all help keep the memory of the Holocaust alive. So will events such as Holocaust Remembrance Week.

Yet, at the same time as we rightly fight to preserve historical memory, we must realistically knowledge the potential lifespan of collective remembrance, the time-related slide into forgetfulness, the incessant politics that have always surrounded Holocaust discourse, and the real challenges being faced by the liberal international institutions and values that came into being as a result of the Nazi genocide, including the European Union.

Article 2 of the EU states that the organization is founded on values of respect, freedom, democracy and the rule of law, yet the EU continues to fund the illiberal regime in Hungary that has vilified George Soros and his Open Society Foundations with Nazi-style, anti-Semitic tropes. Resistance to this must harden.

A continuing positive consensus about the Holocaust will require active vigilance in the effort to protect all liberal democracies – the open societies that value ethnic diversity and religious tolerance.

All the same, change, like taxes and death, is inevitable. Nothing remains the same. And given the current trends in Holocaust studies, for example, it is possible that 50 or 100 years from now the Holocaust may primarily be remembered as a “first among others,” within a context of other genocides.

This should not worry us, in my view, for the “lessons of the Holocaust” are both particular and universal. As the scholars who opposed the Washington museum’s narrow approach to Holocaust history pointed out, what is and will be important is the ability to learn from the past.

The core learning future generations must acquire, in addition to the facts of Holocaust history, will be to recognize the impulse to genocide, how and why it starts, the propaganda tools it employs to persuade, and the known consequences of silence and indifference. I think this learning must also include the somewhat rueful acknowledgement that most humans are susceptible to propaganda in various degrees, which is why early-stage vigilance is so crucial.

Viewed from this perspective, the Holocaust may one day be remembered not only as tragic, but also as transformative in our understanding of humankind’s darkest impulses.

Source: We must not forget the Holocaust. But the way we remember will change Erna Paris

Islamic leaders make ‘groundbreaking’ visit to Auschwitz

Significant:

Muslim religious leaders joined members of a U.S. Jewish group at Auschwitz on Thursday for what organizers described as “the most senior Islamic leadership delegation” to visit the site of a Nazi German death camp.

The interfaith visit came four days before the 75th anniversary of the camp’s Jan. 27, 1945, liberation by Soviet forces and as world leaders gathered in Jerusalem to commemorate the Holocaust.

The secretary general of the Muslim World League, Mohammad bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa, and the CEO of the American Jewish Committee, David Harris, led the tour to the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial in Poland. The Nazis operated extermination and concentration camps in Poland when Germany occupied the country during World War II.

The American Jewish Committee said that Al-Issa, who is based in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, led a delegation of 62 Muslims, including 25 prominent religious leaders, from some 28 countries during the “groundbreaking” visit. At one point, they prayed with their heads pressed on the ground at Birkenau, the largest part of the camp and the most notorious site of Germany’s mass murder of European Jews.

The AJC delegation included members of the organization, among them children of Holocaust survivors.

“To be here, among the children of Holocaust survivors and members of the Jewish and Islamic communities, is both a sacred duty and a profound honor,” Al-Issa said. “The unconscionable crimes to which we bear witness today are truly crimes against humanity. That is to say, a violation of us all, an affront to all of God’s children.”

Auschwitz was the most notorious in a system of death and concentration camps that Nazi Germany operated on territory it occupied across Europe. In all, 1.1 million people were killed there, most of them Jews from across the continent.

The visit comes as Saudi Arabia works to be seen abroad as a moderate and modernizing country following decades of adherence to a hard-line interpretation of Islam known as Wahhabism. The Muslim World League, under al-Issa’s leadership, has embraced the effort.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s strategy to modernize the kingdom is aimed in part at attracting greater foreign investment and fostering a national Saudi identity that is not founded solely on conservative religious values.

Al-Issa’s outreach to Jewish organizations also coincides with a broader alignment of interests and ties emerging between the Arab Gulf states and Israel, which share a common foe in Iran.

On Friday, members of the delegation will visit the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw and attend Muslim and Jewish religious services there.

Source: Islamic leaders make ‘groundbreaking’ visit to Auschwitz

The fight to get citizenship for descendants of German Jews

Good long read largely recounting one case:

A British lawyer is accusing the German government of violating the country’s constitution by refusing to restore the citizenship of thousands of people descended from victims of the Nazis. He argues that the law began to be misapplied under the lingering influence of former Nazis in the 1950s and 60s, and that it’s still being misapplied today.

James Strauss has lived all his life in New York but in the 1930s his family ran an inn and butcher’s business in the town of Gunzenhausen, south of Nuremburg. It was here that an event known as the Bloody Palm Sunday pogrom took place in March 1934, with the inn at its epicentre. As Nazis rioted in the town, two Jews were murdered and Julius Strauss, James’s father, was beaten unconscious and locked up in the town’s jail.

The pogrom is recognised by historians as one of the worst anti-Semitic incidents in Germany prior to the Kristallnacht attacks in November 1938.

The ringleader, Kurt Baer, a member of a Nazi paramilitary force known as the SA, was tried and jailed – but soon released by a Nazi-sympathising judge.

He then returned to the inn to take revenge, shooting and seriously wounding the 27-year-old Julius and murdering his father Simon. (Baer was later sentenced to life imprisonment, but pardoned after four years.)

As soon as he was able to, Julius fled Germany in fear of his life and settled in New York, where he met and married another German Jewish refugee. But he never fully recovered from the attack as the lead bullets could not be removed from his body, and he died as a result of his injuries in 1956, on his son James’s ninth birthday.

Almost 60 years later, in 2015, James Strauss decided to make a trip to Gunzenhausen. “There I met lovely young people from the junior high school and local officials who had worked hard to commemorate this terrible incident,” he says. “I was blown away by their knowledge.”

Strauss returned to the USA with “good feelings” about modern Germany and decided that “in honour of his father and the positive work that had been done in Gunzenhausen,” he would claim his right to have the family’s German citizenship restored.

He thought he had a watertight case when he made his application in 2017. “But when I arrived with the papers at the New York consulate, I was advised there was a problem,” he says. Strauss was told he was not eligible because his father became an American in 1940 – before he had been officially stripped of his German nationality.

While legislation was passed as early as 1933 allowing for German Jews to be stripped of their citizenship – simply by publishing their names in a newspaper – in many cases it only happened in the mass denaturalisation of all Jews who had fled the country, in November 1941.

Article 116 of Germany’s post-war constitution says descendants of people deprived of their citizenship during the Nazi era “shall on application have their citizenship restored”, but the German authorities are refusing the descendants of people like Julius Strauss on the grounds that they left “voluntarily”. It’s an argument that flies in the face of historical realities. Had Julius Strauss stayed in Germany he would have perished in the Dachau concentration camp, along with the other Jewish residents of Gunzenhausen.

Strauss is furious and is determined to challenge the rejection. “This is a betrayal of not only my family but the new Germany and the school kids who have worked so hard,” he says.

For the past year, London lawyer Felix Couchman has been working overtime, flying back and forth to Germany and putting together a case to persuade – or force – the German government to stop excluding various categories of Jewish people from Article 116.

James Strauss is one of more than 100 descendants of Nazi victims who have had their applications rejected and have sought Couchman’s help. Scattered across the globe in the UK, Australia, Canada, Colombia, Israel and the USA, they have come to together in Couchman’s pressure group, the Article 116 Exclusions Group, in order to fight their case, if necessary, all the way to Germany’s constitutional court.

While Strauss’s application was spurred on by an admiration for the new Germany, in the UK the 2016 EU Referendum prompted a sharp rise in applications.

In 2018 1,506 applications for German citizenship were made in the UK, compared to 43 in 2015. But Couchman says that while Brexit was the catalyst in galvanising collective action, it is not simply a Brexit issue. Brexit has served only to reveal a practice that is “morally and ethically wrong”, he says.

The way Article 116 has been interpreted has gone against the spirit of the constitution, he argues, and ignores “how much these people suffered under the Third Reich”.

Judith Rhodes’s mother, Ursula Michel, came to the UK in 1939 on the Kindertransport, an operation that brought thousands of Jewish children to safety while their parents remained behind. “Her life was fractured and she never got over the guilt of surviving,” Rhodes says. Her family all perished in the Holocaust.

Rhodes, who lives in Yorkshire, is now active in Holocaust education in her mother’s home town of Ludwigshafen am Rhein – she shows pupils the little suitcase that her mother was allowed to bring with her.

To make it easier to continue doing this after Brexit, Rhodes decided to apply for German citizenship. But she was refused.

Rhodes’s application was rejected on the grounds that she was born before 1 April 1953, to a German mother married to an Englishman. If it had been the other way round and her father had been German it’s likely that her application would have been granted.

“I am furious because I think the ruling discriminates against women. This is the 21st Century and this sort of sex discrimination should not be allowed,” she says.

“I think the attitude of the German government is that Jews should have stayed in the Third Reich and not fled to safety. It is like an insurance company saying to a homeowner they would not pay up as they did not stay in their house as it burnt to the ground, fighting the fire.”

Ursula Michel's kindertransport passportImage copyrightJUDITH RHODES
Image captionUrsula Michel’s Kindertransport passport

Felix Couchman’s mother also came to the UK on the Kindertransport. He set up the Article 116 Exclusions Group when, like Judith Rhodes, one of his brothers was advised by the German Consulate in London that he would not be eligible to apply for German citizenship. Even though Article 116 says that descendants of Germans deprived of citizenship “shall… have their citizenship restored”, the consulate argued that under German naturalisation law citizenship could only be passed on through the father, up until the 1970s.

Although Couchman had not considered applying for German citizenship himself, and had never been involved in campaigning before, this spurred him into action.

“Although my mother died in 2001, I was acutely aware of what she would have expected me to do,” he says.

“I think the German government started off thinking we were a bunch of little old ladies drinking tea,” he laughs, “but the moral backbone of our campaign means we are not going away. They have been surprised by our determination.”


How the German government interprets Article 116

Automatic right to citizenship is denied to people:

  • Born out of wedlock, before 1993, to a formerly German father with a foreign mother
  • Adopted by formerly German parents before 1977
  • Whose ancestor acquired foreign citizenship before being stripped of German citizenship
  • Born before 1 April 1953 to a formerly German woman (and a non-German man) who fled Germany before being stripped of citizenship
  • Born after 31 December 1999
  • Whose ancestors were Jewish members of German communities annexed by the Nazis during their military expansion, such as Danzig and Czechoslovakia (non-Jewish Germans in these areas were naturalised en masse, but Jews were not)

Interest in the campaign has snowballed. Couchman’s wife, Isabelle, deals with the hundreds of people who have contacted the group. “Some are very elderly and have suffered a great deal,” she says. “Some of them lost their entire families in the Holocaust.”

While Couchman and a Cambridge University PhD student, Nic Courtman, lobby political parties in Germany, Isabelle runs a support network. “People are very emotional and they often cry on the phone when they contact me,” she says. “It can take months for them to decide if they want to pursue their battle.” Some are elderly Holocaust survivors, for example Kindertransport children, who are still traumatised by their experiences.

Central to Couchman’s case against the German government is the atmosphere in which Article 116 was implemented. “We have been told from varying sources of Nazi influence on the way the law was interpreted in the 1950s and 1960s,” he says.

The head of the Interior Ministry department that dealt with residence and asylum was at that time Kurt Breull, a former Nazi who had made his anti-Semitic views clear during the 1930s.

It was in this period that people like Julius Strauss, who had fled the country and taken another nationality before they were stripped of their German citizenship, were deemed ineligible – and also Jews who had lived in eastern territories occupied by Germany, such as Danzig (now Gdansk, in Poland).

“We have to understand how these exclusions arose in order to fix them,” says Couchman.

Nic Courtman has studied the German government’s own investigations into the failure of de-Nazification, finding documents that show the Interior Ministry was aware of controversy surrounding Article 116 in the 1950s, when a commission was set up to examine possible reforms.

That commission was led by Prof Ulrich Scheuner, a former Nazi supporter who, the documents reveal, supported the practice of trying to exclude certain groups. “That influence still filters down and affects decisions today as it set precedents,” Couchman says.

In August, the Article 116 Exclusions Group won their first battle. Two decrees issued by the German government, after pressure from the group, permit some of the descendants of Hitler’s victims to apply for discretionary naturalisation under the Nationality Act.

The German government says the decrees facilitate the acquisition of German citizenship “for those claimants who suffered similar historical injustices to those set out in [Article 116] but are not entitled to restoration under that Article due to legal reasons”.

A statement provided to the BBC, says that the government “highly appreciates” the fact that descendants of victims of National Socialist persecution now wish to acquire German citizenship, and states that the new decrees “provide a swift, directly applicable rule… reducing citizenship requirements for eligible persons to a minimum”.

Judith Rhodes is one of those who might meet the requirements, but only if she takes a series of language and citizenship tests. She says this is still discriminatory and resents “being asked to jump through hoops”.

For Couchman the concessions are “a partial resolution but do not cover all the exclusions”. Adopted children, for example, are still not considered eligible.

“This is a discretionary act that you have to go in begging for,” he says. “What we want is our constitutional right under Article 116.”

Short presentational grey line

Couchman’s group has some powerful allies and has managed to gain the support of opposition parties – the Greens, Die Linke and the FDP – who are leading a parliamentary investigation into the issue. It is still seeking the support of the partners in Germany’s governing coalition, the CDU and the SPD.

Couchman points out that in September Austria’s parliament unanimously ratified a law that extends citizenship to the descendants of Nazi victims who fled Hitler’s Third Reich.

“If Austria is able to pass legislation to rectify the issues over the restitution of citizenship on cross-party lines, I do not see why this cannot be done in Germany,” he says.

The fight has taken over the Couchmans’ lives. The couple work weekends and late into the night. Their two teenage children make sure there is dinner on the table in between studying for their exams.

It is the family’s personal story that drives them forward. Couchman’s grandfather, Fritz Beckhardt, was a German flying ace and World War One hero, but after the Nazis came to power his war record was wiped from the history books.

Couchman’s mother, Suse Beckhardt, was born in 1930 in Wiesbaden. When she was seven, her father had an affair with an Aryan woman, which was a crime under the Nazis, and he was sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp.

“An Air Force chum, a prominent Jewish lawyer, Berthold Guthmann, decided to appeal to Herman Goering, one of the most powerful Nazi leaders, who was one of their wartime colleagues,” says Couchman.

Extraordinarily, Fritz was released from Buchenwald in 1940 and told to leave the country. Before he left, he promised his sister and parents-in-law that he would return. None of them survived the Holocaust. Nor his did his friend, Guthmann, who was sent to Auschwitz.

Beckhardt and his wife arrived in the UK in 1940 but were interned with other German nationals on the Isle of Man. It was not until 1943 that they were eventually reunited with their children, who had fled on the Kindertransport before the war.

Suse Beckhardt's Kindertransport paperImage copyrightFELIX COUCHMAN
Image captionSuse Beckhardt’s Kindertransport paper (she disliked her first name, Hilda)

Determined to keep his promise to his family, Fritz Beckhardt returned to Germany in the 1950s to fight for the restitution of the family property and their business.

“He fought and fought,” says his grandson, Couchman, whose mother remained in the UK. “The shop was not profitable because people still did not like to shop in Jewish shops in the 1950s but he did not close the business. You fight for what you believe is right.”

Source: The fight to get citizenship for descendants of German Jews