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April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Ervin Birnbaum’

The Lessons Of Lidice

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

By bus Lidice is a 35-minute ride from Prague. It is a ten-minute walk from the Lidice bus stop through the well-kept gardens to the main building and entrance of the Lidice Memorial Museum. In the season of bloom the gardens display thousands of roses. There is little that suggests the vast human tragedy that transpired there in the course of one night seventy years ago.

The visit – including the video that served as document No.379 at the Nuremberg Trials, the wall exhibits, a visitors’ center, a small bookshop, and the imposing children’s memorial – took us no longer than two hours, without rushing. For so little time spent, the visitor is left with a lasting impact.

Essentially, it is a small Yad Vashem that deserves a stop by all who visit Prague. Not because the number of those who perished in Lidice was large; all told, 340 citizens were murdered in the town by the Germans. Many more perished in hundreds of other places during those blood-soaked years. And many more perish weekly now in Syria.

But Lidice presents a clear picture of the cold-blooded, calculated slaughter of innocents.

Lidice certainly merits a visit by any who still doubt man’s inhumanity to man. It is a story in which Jews were not directly involved, though lessons concerning the Holocaust of the Jews can easily be drawn and, as we will see, it ultimately had a definite bearing on us, too.

When the Allies bowed to Hitler’s threat of war with the Munich Agreement and forced Czechoslovakia to yield the Sudeten territory to the German Reich, they essentially deprived the small country of all its defenses and much of its heavy industry.

Five months after Munich, despite Hitler’s promises and Anglo-French guarantees of the new Czech frontier, German troops marched on defenseless Prague. In mid-March 1939, Czechia ceased to exist. It became a German Protectorate.

In September 1941, Reinhard Heydrich, former head of the Gestapo, was promoted to the chief position of the Protectorate. On May 27, 1942, two British-trained Czech and Slovak freedom fighters lobbed a grenade at Heydrich’s Mercedes in the Prague suburb of Holisovice as he was being driven to his office. Heydrich died from his wounds on June 4.

Between May 27 and June 4, Heinrich Himmler, the head of the S.S., ordered the execution on consecutive days of 100 Czech intellectuals and 1,357 Czech citizens, while 657 more died under police “investigation.” On June 9, a day after Heydrich’s funeral, Hitler ordered that a community be selected and wiped out to “teach the Czechs a final lesson of subservience and humility.” Hitler, who reportedly had been grooming Heydrich, the man with “a heart of iron,” to become his successor, yearned for revenge.

The Germans discovered that two young men from Lidice served in the Czech brigade of the British forces. In the middle of the night of June 9, German troops entered Lidice. All the residents were hustled to the village square. Their houses were attacked and gutted after everything of value was taken from them.

After the Germans executed the members of the Horak family whose son served in the British forces, they ordered all men above age 15 to be driven to the Horak farm. Mattresses were placed against a wall to prevent bullets from ricocheting. The men were lined up in groups of ten, without blindfold, for execution. All 199 adult men of Lidice were executed in this manner.

When the massacre of the men was over, the women and children, who had been locked in the local school, were put onto lories and driven away. Eventually, 184 women were transferred to the Ravensbruck concentration camp. Of the 99 children, 17 with an “Aryan look” were selected for Germanization. They were shipped to Germany and handed over to trustworthy German families dedicated to the process. The other 82 children were gassed in Chelmno. A survivor still remembers her child yelling, “If you love me you can’t give me up!”

The Germans, known for their thoroughness, hunted down 19 people from Lidice who worked in the nearby coalmines for immediate execution. One document from the Lidice Museum sticks in my mind. Tracing every living soul linked to Lidice, the Germans learned that two were patients in Prague hospitals. They tracked them down and shot them on the spot.

70 Years Ago This Week: Turning Point Of The Holocaust

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Barely five weeks after the Wehrmacht’s onslaught against Russia, Reich Marshal Hermann Goering issued the following directive on July 31, 1941 to Chief of Gestapo Reinhard Heydrich:

I hereby commission you to carry out all necessary preparations with regard to organizational and financial matters for bringing about a total solution of the Jewish question in those territories of Europe which are under German influence…. I furthermore charge you to submit to me as soon as possible a draft showing the…measures taken for the execution of the desired final solution of the Jewish question.

The terms “total solution” and “final solution of the Jewish question,” as found in the above quote, entered the Nazi vocabulary after the German invasion of Poland. Already on September 21, 1939, three days after Poland’s collapse, Heydrich informed the heads of the Wehrmacht of his initial plans for “the final solution.” The first step would be to concentrate all Jews into main cities, making them easily accessible for transfer, deportation and possible liquidation. Until details of the “housecleaning” plan would be worked out, “the final solution” must be kept “strictly secret,” he warned.

Much of this information became known from the meticulously kept journal of the governor general of Poland under German rule, Hans Frank, which showed up at the Nuremberg trials. Barely a year after the conquest of Poland, on October 7, 1940, Frank summed up the success of his first year’s effort to a Nazi assembly: “My dear comrades,” he perorated, “I could not eliminate all lice and Jews in only one year. But in the course of time, and if you help me, this end will be attained.”

A year later, Frank closed a cabinet session stating: “As far as the Jews are concerned, I want to tell you quite frankly that they must be done away with in one way or another…. Gentlemen, I must ask you to rid yourselves of all feelings of pity. We must annihilate the Jews.”

By the time Goering’s directive to Heydrich was issued, hundreds of thousands of Jews had been massacred by S.S. gangs and specially organized Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing units) that followed in the wake of the Wehrmacht’s invasion of Russia.

Hitler’s obsession with “the annihilation of the Jewish race throughout Europe” – a quote from his speech to the Reichstag on January 30, 1939, which he repeated five times, verbatim, in subsequent utterances – and his “disgust with the Jewish vermin” – from his book Mein Kampf – is well documented. To date, however, no written record has been discovered linking Hitler directly to the process of Jewish annihilation.

Nevertheless, at the Nuremberg trials the chief of the Reich Chancellery, Hans Lammers, testified: “I knew that a Fuehrer order was transmitted by Goering to Heydrich…. This order was called ‘Final Solution of the Jewish Problem.’ ”

Similarly, at his trial in Jerusalem, Adolf Eichmann, the director of Heydrich’s Jewish Office, testified that after receiving Goering’s orders Heydrich invited him for consultation during which he said: “The Fuehrer has ordered the physical extermination of the Jews.”

The journalist and author William Shirer also mentioned that in high Nazi circles the “Fuehrer’s Order on the Final Solution,” though not spelled out in writing, was well known. The term “Final Solution” carried only one explicit meaning: the annihilation of the Jews, and it was to this that Goering addressed himself in his July 1941 directive to Heydrich.

On the basis of Goering’s directive, Heydrich perfected a plan he was ready to present to the heads of national departments whose cooperation he deemed essential for the attainment of the ultimate goal. He convened a conference at Wannsee, a quaint suburb of Berlin, on January 20, 1942. Fifteen heads of departments attended for the purpose of agreeing on the proper methods to liquidate European Jewry in the most efficient manner possible.

Eichmann wrote up the report of the conference. It was clear to all those attending that the issue to be discussed was not whether Jews should be murdered but how to proceed with the task. According to Eichmann, to avoid any possible ambiguity, Heydrich announced in his opening remarks that the official policy of the German government regarding the Jews would now be their total annihilation and that he was delegated to accomplish that task.

At the time Goering issued his July 1941 directive, and by the time Heydrich called the Wannsee Conference several months later, the elimination of the Jews was already a regular daily occurrence – through starvation, disease, dislocation, concentration in ghettos, execution for non-compliance with Nazi rules (such as smuggling food, leaving the ghetto during curfew hours, moving without the yellow star), as well as being worked to death and cold-bloodedly machine gunned by the efficient Einsatzgruppen.

For example, barely ten days into the war in Poland, on September 10, 1939, Chief of Staff General Franz Halder noted in his diary that fifty Jews who worked all day on repairing a damaged bridge were herded into a synagogue at the end of their working day by a group of S.S. and massacred.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/front-page/70-years-ago-this-week-turning-point-of-the-holocaust/2012/01/19/

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