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April 16, 2014 / 16 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘SS’

Minnesota Nazi Uniform Party Was Just an ‘Historical Exercise’

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

The owner of a Minneapolis, Minnesota restaurant has defended a private party in which men dressed up in SS uniforms and said it was only an exercise for actors who play historical roles and was not meant to praise Hitler.

No one outside of the restaurant knew about the party, or the “event” as the actors called it, until the local City Pages website posted on line a picture of the men in Nazi uniforms in the restaurant, called Gasthof zur Gemutlichkeit.

“By no means do we glorify the edicts of the Third Reich,” said Scott Steben, who characterized himself as a history buff who has landed movie parts as a German soldier. “I understand the sensitivity of the subject matter and everything but it did occur and it is history,” according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Steben doesn’t see any difference between actors dressing up as Star Trek characters and as Nazis. It’s all in a day’s work, but where have we heard that before?

The party was held on – are you ready for this – Martin Luther King Day, in late January. Steben said that the event was actually the group’s annual Christmas party, which was booked on a Monday because it is the only day the restaurant is closed.

Wouldn’t it have been interesting to hear the reaction of the actors if they had dressed up as KKK members, not for any reasons of racism, God forbid, but just to act out a bit of American history.

The party was photographed by one of the restaurant’s workers who showed them to his friends. The restaurant owner promptly fired the worker, and it remains to be seen if that is reasonable grounds for dismissal.

The photos showed four Nazi banners hanging in one dining room, and another picture reveals a staff member receiving a black T-shirt with a swastika – all for the sake of history, of course.

Local Jews were understandably upset. “Glorification and/or celebration of Nazi Germany and its military would appear to be incongruous with the nature of a family restaurant and its surrounding neighborhood,” wrote Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas Executive Director Steve Hunegs in a statement.

Two Jewish organizations said they are offering to help the restaurant find a way to honor Minnesota’s World War II veterans and Holocaust survivors by not associating with German military re-enactors.

The restaurant owner Mario Pierzchalsk, a native of Poland, said he has hosted the party for six years. Following the bad publicity, he will not allow the group to stage a similar party next year but said the people who attended “are very peaceful” and are “just actors.”

He was angry at the negative reaction. “We live in a free country…but from the comments I see, a lot of people they don’t see what freedom is. If I break the law, punish me. But we did this for so many years and everything was fine,” he was quoted as saying by the newspaper.

However, he did apologize on Wednesday.” On behalf of everyone who participated in a World War II reenactment dinner last January, I apologize,” read a statement issued by Steben and published in the Star Tribune. “We understand that some of the items we displayed at the dinner have made people feel uncomfortable. That was not our intent.”

Below is the local CBS outlet’s report.

Report: Croatia Probes Former US Citizen on Auschwitz War Crimes

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

Croatian authorities are investigating a 90-year-old man suspected of committing war crimes as an SS soldier and guard at the Auschwitz death camp.

Germany’s Special Prosecutor’s Office for Investigation of Crimes during the Period of National Socialism last month alerted Croatian authorities to the presence in Croatia of Jacob Dencinger, the Croatian news outlet Jutarnji reported.

Dencinger reportedly was flagged by the United States  for having lied in applying for American citizenship, which he received in 1972, according to Jutarnji. He had moved to the United States nearly 16 years earlier and left in 1989, after his citizenship was revoked.

Born in Cepin, Dencinger is reportedly an ethnic German who allegedly joined the Waffen SS elite Nazi unit during World War II, when Croatia had a pro-Nazi government.

The Croatian State Attorney’s Office confirmed receiving the information but gave no further information. Additional information was requested from the United States, Jutarnji reported.

The Dencinger listed by German authorities joined the Waffen SS at the age of 18, and served as a guard in at least five concentration camps, including the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex of labor and death camps, where 1.5 million Jews were murdered.

Sasa Cvetkovic, vice president of the Jewish Community of Zagreb, said in a statement last week that the community was “closely monitoring the investigation by the Croatian authorities.”

Tags: Breaking News, jacon dencinger, Nazi war criminals, war crimes in croatia, Germany’s Special Prosecutor’s Office for Investigation of Crimes during the Period of National Socialism

Failed Assassins

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009


Between 1920 and 1944 there were nearly fifty attempts on the life of Adolf Hitler. Many of the would-be assassins sacrificed their own lives as a result of their determination to free the world of one of history’s worst monsters.


Hitler’s uncanny ability to survive convinced him he was protected by Divine Providence so that he might fulfill his “heroic destiny” and save the fatherland.


“I am invulnerable; I am immortal,” he gloated.


Ambushed several times early on in his political career, he understood the dangers he faced. Security measures were continuously reorganized and tightened. He surrounded himself with thugs.


“I want men of brutality,” he declared.


He recruited a unit of zealously loyal bodyguards – Nordic-looking men of indisputable Aryan ancestry. These were the Schutzstaffel or SS, “who would . . . even march against their own brothers.”


The expanding SS eventually came under the leadership of Hitler’s most loyal associate, Reichsfuhrer Himmler, who would be tasked with organizing the Final Solution.


Hitler took exceptional precautions and was seldom where he was expected to be. Over time, he limited his public appearances. He often changed his traveling plans at the last moment, making certain to arrive and leave early. He wore a bulletproof vest and carried a pistol.


The Fuhrer was, with good reason, especially wary of the German army, the Wehrmacht. He regularly transferred important officers from one post to another so they would be too engaged to devise plots on his life.


His armor-plated cars were outfitted with bulletproof tires and thick glass windows able to withstand gunshots and bomb explosions. He retained a fleet of airplanes and an SS pilot who never disclosed the flight’s destination. Every departure was preceded by a test flight. His personal train was constructed of reinforced steel.


Those who tried to kill Hitler came from all stations of life; they were officers, patriots, idealists, enemy agents, Germans, Poles, Jews. None succeeded.


The details of some of these extraordinary efforts have been told in articles, books and movies, with perhaps the most comprehensive and compelling account being Roger Moorhouse’s Killing Hitler (Bantam, 2006). Drawing on those sources, particularly the Moorhouse book, these are some of those stories.

 

* * * * *


In 1933 Beppo Romer, an armed communist, was apprehended by the SS when he entered the Chancellery. Convicted of conspiring to assassinate Hitler, he was sent to Dachau and executed.


Also in 1933, a man carrying a revolver and wearing the brown-shirted uniform of the Sturmabteilung, or SA, infiltrated Hitler’s residence at Berchtesgaden. He was seized by the SS.


The SA had played a crucial role in Hitler’s rise, but once he secured power he no longer needed them. The entire leadership of the SA was arrested or shot in a bloody purge. All SA functions and powers were taken over by the SS.


In 1936 a former Nazi officer who headed the anti-Hitler Black Front organization conceived a plan to kill Hitler. He persuaded 20-year-old Helmut Hirsch, a Jewish architectural student from Stuttgart who was studying in Prague, to carry out the mission.


Hirsch traveled to Nazi Party headquarters in Nuremberg with two suitcase bombs, but he was arrested when he tried to cross the German border. Hirsch acknowledged at his trial that if given the opportunity, he would have tried to assassinate Hitler. He was later beheaded.


Hirsch had been distraught by his family’s unsuccessful attempts to leave Germany. Perhaps he was also motivated by a 26-year-old Yugoslav Jew, David Frankfurter, who earlier in 1936 had succeeded in killing a German-born Swiss Nazi leader and activist.


After reading the anti-Semitic paper Der Sturmer and learning about the concentration camps, Frankfurter, the son of a rabbi, was determined to assassinate Hitler. But when he couldn’t cross the frontier into Germany, he targeted Wilhelm Gustloff instead. Frankfurter purchased a revolver and practiced his marksmanship. He imprinted in his mental retina the Nazi leader’s photo and scrutinized his routines.


Finally, the blue-eyed Aryan-looking Frankfurter went to the man’s house in Davos and rang the doorbell. He was shown to a study and asked to take a seat. When Gustloff appeared, Frankfurter stood and fired five bullets into his body. He then telephoned the police and surrendered.


“I fired the shots because I am a Jew,” he told them. “I am fully aware of what I have done and have no regrets. The bullets should have hit Hitler.”


Frankfurter was tried and incarcerated in a Swiss prison for the duration of the war, after which he relocated to Palestine.


A Swiss Catholic theology student, Maurice Bavaud, read Hitler’s Mein Kampf and concluded the Fuhrer was the “incarnation of Satan” and a danger to all humanity. He resolved to kill him. He bought a pistol, practiced diligently and made plans.


In November 1938 Bavaud traveled to Munich to attend a Nazi commemoration ceremony during which Hitler would be speaking. He carefully selected his position and prepared to fire, but Hitler was flanked by SS units and blocked by the outstretched right arms of the huge, ecstatic crowd – a lost opportunity.


Three days later he requested a meeting with Hitler at Nazi Party headquarters but was denied. Bavaud decided to return home. Detained at the train station carrying a gun and several maps, he was turned over to the Gestapo and tortured until he confessed his plans. Switzerland refused to intervene on his behalf and Bavaud was executed.


In November 1939, at the yearly celebration held at the site of the Nazis’ unsuccessful 1923 Munich beer hall putsch, Hitler began his speech approximately half an hour earlier than expected and then left immediately. Fifteen minutes later a bomb exploded, killing three people instantly and wounding dozens of others (five of whom would eventually die of their injuries).


George Elser, a German carpenter who resented the Nazi suppression of labor unions, had built the bomb. For three months he ate at the beer hall and hid in a cupboard at closing time. He furtively carved a hole in a pillar near the dais for his bomb and sneaked out in the morning when customers arrived. It was set to explode in the middle of Hitler’s speech.


Elser was arrested when he tried to cross illegally into Switzerland carrying tools, bomb sketches and other suspicious items. He confessed after being tortured and was sent to Dachau where he was shot.

 

* * * * *

Soon after Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, the Poles created the largest and most successful underground organization in occupied Europe. Comprised of military and civilian groups, it was relentless in its retaliation against Nazi savagery.


Though Polish Jews were largely abandoned by their countrymen and close to three million would be murdered by the Germans and their collaborators, thousands of Poles hid and sheltered Jews at great peril to themselves and their families.


When Hitler visited Poland in September 1939, evidence of a planned ambush was discovered and he had to change his itinerary. The Polish air force then targeted his train, which had to be relocated. Polish snipers shot at his convoy.


During Hitler’s visit to Warsaw, Polish soldiers concealed a powerful bomb along his victory parade route, but it failed to detonate. Undaunted, Poles persisted in their attempts to kill Hitler.


Unlike the Poles, the British were conflicted about assassinating Hitler.


In 1940, Revisionist Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky, who was in London trying to form a Jewish army to fight the Germans alongside the Allies, proposed a plan to assassinate Hitler.


Jabotinsky suggested targeting any famous Nazi whose state funeral would likely be attended by Hitler. The body would be switched for explosives which would be detonated during the service, killing the Fuhrer and many top-ranking Nazis. His plan was promptly rejected as unfeasible.


In 1942 a British double agent offered to blow up Hitler in a suicide mission. He was deterred by MI5 (British Security Service) and asked “not to undertake any wild enterprises.” Subsequent assassination plots were mostly discouraged or aborted.


A year later, an American Secret Service officer who was a German émigré and Hitler’s godson volunteered to kill the Fuhrer. President Roosevelt rejected the offer. The idea of assassinating a head of state was unacceptable.


In November 1944 American fighter planes raided a Milan hotel where Hitler was rumored to be staying. The Fuhrer was in East Prussia. Five months later the RAF bombed Berchtesgaden; they lost two planes and four men. The Fuhrer was in Berlin.

 

* * * * *


A number of conspiracies were mounted against Hitler from within the Wehrmacht and the Abwehr (German Military Intelligence Service).


Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, an anti-communist who never joined the Nazi Party, was appointed Abwehr head in 1935. He carefully selected senior staff members who were resolute opponents of National Socialism. No member of the SS or Nazi Party was admitted to this section.


Canaris turned a blind eye to all plots to assassinate Hitler and provided cover for the conspirators.


The deputy head of the Abwehr and member of the senior staff, General Hans Oster, also loathed the SS and Hitler (he referred to him as “the pig”) and became the indomitable force of German resistance.


“My duty is to free Germany and with it the world of this pestilence,” he said.


Oster planned to stage a coup and kill the Fuhrer in 1938 if Hitler ordered an invasion of Czechoslovakia. He facilitated the travel of Abwehr emissaries to England to persuade the British to stand firm against Hitler over the Sudetenland. But on September 28, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain accepted the betrayal and division of Czechoslovakia. Hitler had achieved a diplomatic victory; the coup was foiled.


In 1941, after the invasion of the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa and the continuous slaughter of Jews by the Einsatzgruppen (SS execution squads), the Abwehr resistance group established contact with the resistance unit of Army Group Center. Together they built an effective network and would henceforth collaborate in several attempts on Hitler’s life.


In 1943 Oster and the Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer – a participant in the Abwehr resistance movement to assassinate Hitler – helped fourteen German Jews flee to Switzerland disguised as Abwehr agents. When the Gestapo discovered the attempt to rescue Jews, Bonhoeffer was arrested. The Abwehr came under the surveillance of the SS.


Some months later the Abwehr was disbanded and in 1944 the SS arrested Canaris, Oster and thousands of others. When the diaries of Canaris enumerating the 1938 September Conspiracy and the barbaric actions of the SS were found, Hitler ordered the execution of many of the conspirators.


Canaris, Oster and Bonhoeffer were hanged in Flossenburg concentration camp.


It was Wehrmacht Colonel Henning von Tresckow (awarded three Iron Crosses), an opponent of National Socialism, who formed the conspiratorial circle in the military headquarters known as Army Group Center and recruited like-minded officers.


Tresckow had been based in Belorussia and was shocked by the genocidal operations against Jews he witnessed.


“Hitler must be shot down,” he said.


Tresckow developed a scheme to kidnap and kill the Fuhrer when Hitler visited Army Group Center in August 1941, but the security apparatus was overwhelming. The plan unraveled.


Tresckow and Oster then colluded to kill Hitler and stage a coup during the Fuhrer’s visit to Smolensk in March 1943 by putting explosives disguised as two cognac bottles wrapped as a gift in his luggage. Tresckow attended Hitler’s Smolensk conference and escorted him to the airport for his return trip to Germany. But the bomb did not go off and Hitler’s aircraft landed safely.


Several days later, in Berlin, he made another attempt to assassinate Hitler at a Heroes’ Day Celebration. Heavy security made it impossible to set the bomb where Hitler was scheduled to speak – another plan thwarted.


In the years 1943 and 1944, with the likelihood of Germany’s defeat escalating, there were at least six failed attempts by military conspirators to get close enough to the reclusive Hitler to kill him with guns, hand grenades or bombs.


Around this time, Count Claus von Stauffenberg, a young Wehrmacht colonel whose promotion to chief of staff to the Reserve Army commanding general enabled him to attend Hitler’s military conferences, joined the resistance movement.


Stauffenberg had initially embraced Nazism and came late to the cause of the resistance. But as he watched Germany gorge on a feast of destruction and murder, he became convinced the removal of Hitler was imperative. He took responsibility for a new conspiracy – Operation Valkyrie – to assassinate Hitler.


Twice in July 1944 Stauffenberg carried explosives in his briefcase to briefings with Hitler, but, for reasons never made clear, did not detonate them. On July 20, 1944, Stauffenberg attended Hitler’s military conference at Wolfschanse (Wolf’s Lair) with another bomb in his briefcase. He placed the briefcase under the table where Hitler and many officers had assembled and quickly left the room. The bomb exploded.


Four people were killed and ten seriously injured. Hitler was wounded, but he survived. He regarded his escape “a divine moment in history.”


The Gestapo rounded up almost everyone linked to the July 20 plot. About 7,000 Germans were arrested including the relatives of the chief conspirators. Wives and children were sent to concentration camps.


More than 200 people were executed. Many of the conspirators, including Tresckow, took their own lives. Stauffenberg and three others were shot by firing squad. The resistance movement was effectively destroyed.



On April 30, 1945, his world collapsing around him and his “Thousand-Year Reich” reduced to rubble, Hitler placed a gun to his head and accomplished what all the assassination attempts had failed to.



Leslie Bell, Ph.D., is a writer and adjunct professor at the City University of New York (CUNY).

Justice And Jewish Slavery: Daimler-Chrysler’s Final And Inevitable Collapse

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in the March 9, 2007 issue of The Jewish Press. In light of last week’s filing of Chapter 11 by Chrysler LLC, we thought it would be appropriate to reprint it.

On its face, it would surely be foolish to blame Daimler-Chrysler’s extraordinary woes on the very dark history of Daimler-Benz. On its face, the combined company’s deep decline is manifestly a function of bad economic judgments. After all, from the very start, the 1998 decision by Germany’s Daimler-Benz to merge with Chrysler simply made no financial sense.

And yet, there are sometimes factors that play an important or even decisive role in explaining all aspects of human life – including the collective “lives” of nations and corporations – that are neither tangible nor measurable. The sad history of this iconic American automobile company may well have been determined, at least in part, by factors that we can’t really identify or clarify in the Management 101 textbooks.

The humiliating fate of the Chrysler Corporation cannot be detached entirely from the sordid history of Daimler-Benz. It might have been different perhaps, if there had ever been some acknowledgement of the German parent company’s enthusiastic wartime use of Jewish slave labor, but no such acknowledgment was ever made. Although not distinctly testable in science, silence can sometimes have genuinely frightful consequences.

Justice must always have a decipherable voice, and there can never be any such voice without memory. At the time of the 1998 merger, no public mention was ever made of Daimler’s Nazi involvement.

It was conveniently assumed by Chrysler’s top executives, that a murderous Daimler-Benz history could be shoved under the rug. And the insistently seductive calls for corporate wealth in America would drown out the increasingly weak cries for justice.

These assumptions were not merely sinister; they were also wrong. What we witness today, in Daimler-Chrysler’s now evident corporate collapse, is the ineradicable stain of unpunished and unapologetic Daimler-Benz wartime crimes against humanity.

Justice always requires a voice. Even today, someone must still speak for those who can no longer speak for themselves. Someone must speak for those endless railway cars of Jewish slave laborers whose seemingly inexhaustible supply in Nazi Germany and occupied lands had actually made them less than slaves. Even today, someone must speak for those starved and brutalized victims dehumanized by a venerated German corporation during World War II.

In 1998, the business world was all aglow, about a “marriage made in heaven” – the mega-merger of Chrysler with Daimler-Benz. Lost in this grand celebration of new fortunes to be made was the buried history of one corporate partner.

During the war, hundreds of thousands of Jews were coerced into forced labor by many major German industrial firms under conditions, which the judges at Nuremberg said “made labor and death almost synonymous.”

The victims were barely bits of sandpaper, rubbed a few times by their masters, judged useless and then burned – literally – with the garbage. Daimler-Benz was one of these firms.

Where did Daimler-Benz operate in the vast complex of slave enterprises? As documented authoritatively in The International Encyclopedia of the Holocaust (pp. 1037 – 1039) Natzweiler-Struthof, a concentration camp established by Albert Speer because of nearby granite deposits, was expanded. In 1944, Daimler-Benz moved some of its work from the Berlin-area to the new satellite camp at Neckarelz.

Here, the company used several thousand slaves in a joint project with Reich Security Main Office (RSHA) and the Ministry of Armaments. The Natzweiler main camp, although small, had its own gas chamber.

Together with other privileged German corporations, Daimler-Benz traded and transported Jewish forced laborers with nary a hint that they were dealing in human beings. They were purchased from the SS, with the understanding that they should not be kept alive for too long (so as not to slow down the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question”).

The bewildered and tortured slaves were often housed in tiny animal kennels or underground chambers before “selection” for the gas chamber.

After the war, when some very small number of Jewish claimants called upon Daimler-Benz and other criminally responsible German firms to make some sort of restitution, the victims and their survivors were cruelly rebuffed.

On November 5, 1997, a German court upheld its government’s policy of rejecting compensation claims by Nazi-era slave laborers.

The judges based their decision in part on the fact that the pertinent German companies had already paid the Nazi SS for the forced laborers they had “employed” and that therefore no “further compensation” to Jewish victims was owed by the companies.

Most of these companies, of course, including Daimler-Benz, remained in business. Not one of these companies, including Daimler-Benz, ever made more than a token payment to their former Jewish slaves or to associated claimants.

In his book The Germans (St. Martin’s Press 1989) Financial Times correspondent David Marsh indicates that it was not until June 1988 that Daimler made a DM20 million payment to the U.S. Jewish Claims Conference “to ease consequences still ensuing from those times.”

Marsh notes that by June 1988, the actual victims of Daimler-Benz enslavement were no longer alive.

In 1998, according to Marsh, Daimler-Benz admitted to using 29,500 slaves at the end of 1944. (This was around half of its entire work force.) They sought – via its merger with Chrysler Corporation – to become a new and important giant in American industry.

Although certainly never to be acknowledged by Wall Street analysts, the now-imminent failure of this giant is due in some immeasurable way to the infamously unclean side of Daimler-Benz.

During the War, Daimler-Benz did pay salaries for their slaves, but the payments were made directly to the SS, which naturally kept the money. The ties between the German industrialists at Benz and other companies to the SS were more intimate than is generally realized.

The industrialists were all heavy contributors to SS leader Himmler’s personal fund. For a Christmas celebration in 1943, Himmler invited these magnates to his own headquarters. An SS film on eradicating Jewish “vermin” was screened, and the “distinguished group” was entertained by an SS all male chorus.

How did the victorious allies mete out justice to the German industrialist murderers? No corporate director or manager was compelled to stand before the International Military Tribunal. Not one.

In subsequent trials against certain leading directors, several defendants were found guilty of crimes against humanity for exploiting Jewish slave labor. Although many were sentenced to long prison terms, by January 1951, not a single corporate criminal was still in jail.

An act of “clemency” by John J. McCloy, United States High Commissioner, gave all of these Germans their complete freedom. A mere half-dozen years after the war, all of the criminal German business leaders were free to regain huge personal fortunes.

The Jewish slaves, who had endured the unendurable, were left only with abject poverty, crippling illness, limitless pain, and incessant nightmares.

So the Nazi-era crimes of Daimler-Benz had been forgotten or forgiven on Wall Street. After all, there was presumably a lot of money to be made in the merger with Chrysler, and no reasonable investor wanted to be limited by what was done and cannot be undone. Yet memory, not forgetfulness, is indispensable to justice. And justice – even on Wall Street – is what America is ultimately all about.

For Daimler-Chrysler, the past is irremediably present, still silent perhaps, but unforgiving, dark and thoroughly inescapable.

Copyright The Jewish Press, March 9, 2007. All rights reserved.

LOUIS RENE BERES, professor of Political Science at Purdue University, was born in Zurich, Switzerland on August 31, 1945. Educated at Princeton (Ph.D. 1971), he is the author of nine major books on international relations and international law. Professor Beres’ Austrian-Jewish grandparents were murdered at the SS-killing grounds in Riga, Latvia.

The Cousins Bielski

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008
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Yehuda Bielski on the right with his ensemble (Novogrudek 1937)

“You survive for a purpose that’s bigger than yourself.”

- Lt. Yehuda Bielski

In September I attended a special screening of the movie “Defiance” at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan. The film attempts to depict the formation of the Bielski partisans and some of their early exploits in the dense forests of Belorussia during the Holocaust.

The daylong event was held for Bielski family members and hosted by Robert Bielsky (he spells his name with a “y” rather than an “i”), the affable son of Bielski partisan leader Tuvia. Some 150 people were on hand, while many others were unable to attend because of age, illness or distance.

Why the Bielskis? There were, after all, other Jewish partisan groups that fought bravely and heroically against their Nazi oppressors. And they too must be honored. Yet the Bielski name resounds.

Perhaps it is because their story of survival against all obstacles – slaughter, flight, hunger, fear, intramural rivalries, assassination, execution and murder, ambushes – provides an awesome inspirational message about Jewish resistance and hope.

The Bielski triumph is a moral victory of heroic dimension, and it is a testimony to the invincible human spirit in the face of monstrous evil and demonic barbarism. Extraordinary times create extraordinary people.

It was one of the darkest periods in human history, when European anti-Semitism – always hissing, spluttering and periodically bursting for over a thousand years – finally exploded. In 1933 Hitler established his dictatorship and a new Germany arose with a new kind of war. Europe was to be made Judenrein with not even the possibility of future Jewish life. The evolution of mechanized mass murder was expedited. Every single Jewish man, woman and child was in peril.

By the time the master race invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941 in Operation Barbarossa, many of Poland’s 3,250,000 Jews were dead, dying or locked up in ghettos waiting to die. The combination of German deception, indifferent bystanders and ferocious hatred of local collaborators doomed the Jews.

Those trapped – like my mother, Lola Hudes, who escaped from German-occupied Lodz – fled eastward to the Russian sector. The Soviet-German non-aggression pact that divided up Poland and enabled Hitler to wage war on September 1, 1939 would afford some measure of safety in the still neutral Russian sector.

Drunk with power and conquest, the Nazis turned against their Slavic allies with frenzied ruthlessness, fury and savagery. In 1941 Hitler told his generals that the war against Russia “is one of ideologies and racial differences that will have to be conducted with unprecedented, unmerciful and unrelenting harshness.”

With the rapid advancement of German forces into Russia came a new policy against the Jews – the systematic destruction of every single Jewish person and community. No village, town or city was to be spared. No place was too far. No conditions were too difficult. And no exceptions were to be made.

In conjunction with the German army, four special mobile SS execution squads – Einsatzgruppen – were formed to follow the Wehrmacht into Russia to carry out the slaughter in which combat troops also participated. They were enthusiastically aided and abetted by local collaborators as well as Lithuanian, Latvian and Ukrainian militias and policemen who were noted for their sadism and brutality toward Jews.

Massacres began immediately and the killing was continuous. Most of the slaughter was done by mass shootings of people into trenches and pits. Sometimes little children were not shot – they were caught by their legs, their heads were smashed against trees and they were then thrown into the pits still alive.

* * *

There were hundreds of Bielskis living in the Belorussian city of Novogrudek and surrounding towns and villages. My father, Yehuda “Yudl” Bielski, was the youngest of seven siblings. His three brothers had immigrated to America long before World War II, when he was still a little boy. Two married sisters with growing families remained in Novogrudek.

A third sister had been killed as a teenager when her head was bashed in with a rock. The incident was hushed up, but Yehuda’s father wrote a letter to his sons in New York with the sensitive details.

Yehuda attended the Tarbut Zionist school and learned to play the violin and guitar. He was an excellent dancer and a superb athlete. Cleanliness and good grooming were important to him and he coined the term “malbushim” for those who neglected such matters. He was fluent in Yiddish, Polish and Russian, and spoke Hebrew and German.

Yehuda

In 1939 Yehuda was fighting at the front as a lieutenant in the Polish army. Badly wounded, he made his way to a Warsaw hospital. He had barely recovered when the good nuns there helped him escape the SS sweep. Yehuda returned home to Novogrudek, having witnessed many German atrocities along the way, and resumed a more or less normal life for the next two years.

And then, suddenly, the Final Solution arrived at Yehuda’s doorstep.

The Germans first bombed Novogrudek. Then German troops entered followed by the Einsatzgruppen. Violent assaults and shootings of Jews in the streets began immediately. They were taken into forced labor. The Germans confiscated their jewelry, money and goods. Killing and looting were widespread.

Two ghettos were established at each end of the city. They were surrounded by barbed wire and closely guarded by Lithuanians and Ukrainians. “Selections” were routine and people disappeared. They were usually taken to the nearby woods, forced to undress and shot. After one of the ghettos was liquidated, those who remained alive were transferred to the other one. The terror resumed.

Yehuda, a prisoner in the ghetto, received a letter delivered by a Christian friend from his older first cousin Tuvia, who had recently fled with his three brothers, sister and several relatives.

“We are hiding in the forest,” wrote Tuvia, “and we do not plan to submit to the Germans. Bring your wife, a few good men and we will build something together. Please do not hesitate. I hope to see you soon in the forest.”

Yehuda immediately began to plan the escape he’d been thinking about for some time. On a dark night, he led nine people to the ghetto fence surrounded by guards. Silently, fence boards were broken and the escapees crawled through a hole and then across an open field to the surrounding woods. They walked all night.

When Yehuda finally met up with his cousins, the development of the Bielski group took a new turn. It would now include non-relatives. The Bielskis decided not to turn away any Jew who came to them seeking refuge.

At a meeting held shortly after his arrival in the forest, Yehuda stood up – confident, daring, urbane – and spoke: “We have come here into the forest, my dear ones, not to eat and drink and enjoy ourselves. We have come here, every one of us, to stay alive. We must think only of one important thing: revenge and revenge again on the murderers.”

He then outlined his plan to secure weapons and attack the enemy. When it was agreed upon, Yehuda continued: “We must choose a commander and we must give our unit a name. For the responsibility of commander, I nominate my cousin, Tuvia Bielski.”

The group now included a definitive military focus. Thus the Bielski partisans emerged.

Led by the charismatic, courageous and cunning Tuvia, who had grown up with his large peasant family in a tiny rural Belorussian village, the Bielski partisan camp expanded as more and more Jews, ranging from young children to the elderly, arrived. A base camp was established surrounded by smaller camps.

People slept in camouflaged bunkers built underground. They dug wells, built a synagogue, bathhouse, makeshift hospital, school, theater, and workshops where tailors made clothes, cobblers resoled shoes and craftsmen repaired guns. A primitive forest village evolved.

People worked, quarreled, prayed, married, and conceived babies. A strict hierarchy existed and everyone knew his place. Challenges to the authority of the Bielski brothers were at times resolved through the end of a gun barrel. But despite hunger, exposure to severe winters, collaborators and German patrols, those who came under the orders and protection of the Bielskis survived while tens of thousands were massacred around them.

Meanwhile, the military unit of the Bielski partisans smuggled Jews out of ghettos; procured weapons, food and supplies any way possible; sabotaged German supply trains; retaliated against collaborators who turned Jews over to the Germans; and fought a guerilla war against German troops.

Yehuda Bielski, partisan (Belorussian Forest 1942)

Yehuda Bielski, partisan (Belorussian Forest 1942)

In Belorussia, Red Army partisan formations had also begun fighting in the forests behind German lines. Everyone was suspect to the paranoid dictator Stalin, and from the beginning these formations were put under control of the dreaded NKVD (secret police). The NKVD not only shot Russian officers suspected of disloyalty but actively targeted Polish officers regarded as enemies of the Soviet regime.

For the Bielski partisans, this presented another dangerous predicament. The necessity of cooperating with the Russians and being accepted as allies of the Red Army (which could supply them with weapons and ammunition) was vital. Though they were never Communists, it was crucial for the Bielskis to convince the Russians this was both a Soviet and Jewish struggle toward the same goal – victory over the Germans.

Subduing his quick temper and flying fists, Tuvia managed to persuade the Russians that the Bielski fighters were comrades essential to Soviet success.

Pro-German enemies surrounded them everywhere in the forest. Fighting against both the Russians and Jewish partisans were anti-Soviet and anti-Semitic Polish partisan units, the Armia Krajowa (Polish Home Army), Cossacks, and Belorussian soldiers. The appreciative Germans even allowed them to lead their own regiments.

In the vortex of this abattoir, Tuvia made it his business to shield Yehuda, the former Polish officer, from the NKVD. Though very different by education, experience and temperament, the two cousins worked well together in the forest. Both understood the nature of their enemies and the tactics required to deal with them. Tuvia also needed Yehuda’s military expertise.

And they shared something else in common. “The worst day in the forest was when we lost Ida and Sonya [the wives of Yehuda and Tuvia] in a German ambush,” a partisan tearfully recalled years later.

Yehuda became known as “the mystery man.” Somehow, he was never around when the Russians showed up. It was only after being liberated by the Soviets in 1944, when about 1,200 Jewish men, women and children walked out of the forest, that the NKVD finally caught up with him.

When Yehuda returned to Novogrudek he was summoned to NKVD headquarters, where he was interrogated. Afterward he was warned: “We know who you are. We know where you are. And we know what you did during the war. When we’re ready for you, there’s no place you can hide.”

That night, he and Lola (whom he married after she joined the Bielski partisans), wearing their darkest clothes and carrying a few meager possessions, climbed atop a coal train heading west. Hanging on for dear life to the slippery coal, they arrived in Hungary where Yehuda was recruited by the Palestinian Jewish underground.

Avoiding British patrols, he escorted 200 Holocaust survivors in a dilapidated vessel to British-occupied Eretz Yisrael. “We have to build a Jewish country,” he declared.

* * *

Once again Yehuda became “the mystery man” when he joined the Irgun underground, engaging in activities that could have ended with his neck in a British noose. About a year later Tuvia and his wife, Lilka, arrived in Palestine where they eventually moved next door to Yehuda and Lola. Both couples became parents of a daughter and two sons. Yehuda, the only Bielski to be commissioned an officer in the Israel Defense Forces, fought with distinction and honor for the creation of the new Jewish state.

Lt. Yehuda Bielski leading his men on parade (Israel 1949)

Lt. Yehuda Bielski leading his men on parade (Israel 1949)

The two families were close in form but not in substance. In some ways they could have been living at opposite ends of the globe. Lola had grown up in a cultured home with private schools, skiing holidays, doormen, and servants, and she could never reconcile herself to the profane language of the Bielski brothers, their affinity to vodka and their less positive pursuits during the war.

Underwear, for example, was a much needed and prized possession in the forest. Lola – who survived interrogation by Adolph Eichmann, escaped from the Stolpce ghetto and endured in three partisan groups – was shocked when the Bielski leadership demanded hers as the price of admission. “They gave the women’s underwear they collected to their wives and girlfriends. This was so ugly and low,” Yehuda lamented.

Lola had also witnessed the shooting of a Jewish partisan by Tuvia in the forest. And then there was the matter, mentioned earlier, of Yehuda’s dead teenage sister back in Novogrudek. According to Yehuda and the letter his father sent to his three sons in New York, Tuvia was involved in that heinous incident. So Lola and her family remained aloof, and contact was kept to a minimum in Israel and later in America.

With “Defiance” soon to be released, some Poles and Lithuanians have emerged to defame and diminish the Bielski partisans, claiming they were no better than bandits and thieves who roamed the Belorussian forests killing innocent civilians. Some people will believe almost anything about Jews, so long as it’s negative. The calumnies of anti-Semites are legendary, and in some quarters anti-Jewish prejudice remains unabated.

So as I watched my brother Y.E. Bell, an online columnist for The Jewish Press, and four generations of my Bielski relatives – lawyers, teachers, military officers, homemakers, rabbis, artists, doctors, businesspeople – enjoying themselves during that special Sunday screening, I thought about how the Bielski partisans, with all their assorted human strengths, frailties and social differences, had frustrated and ultimately foiled Hitler’s plans to eliminate them.

They survived them all – the Wehrmacht, Einzatsgruppen, SS, collaborators, Red Army, NKVD – and now it is up to their descendents, who number in the tens of thousands, to live up to their legacy and never forget or forgive.

Justice And Jewish Slavery: Daimler-Chrysler’s Final And Inevitable Collapse

Wednesday, March 7th, 2007

On its face, it would surely be foolish to blame Daimler-Chrysler’s extraordinary woes on the very dark history of Daimler-Benz. On its face, the combined company’s deep decline is manifestly a function of bad economic judgments. After all, from the very start, the 1998 decision by Germany’s Daimler-Benz to merge with Chrysler simply made no financial sense.

And yet, yet, there are sometimes factors that play an important or even decisive role in explaining all aspects of human life – including the collective “lives” of nations and corporations – that are neither tangible nor measurable. The sad history of this iconic American automobile company may well have been determined, at least in part, by factors that we can’t really identify or clarify in the Management 101 textbooks.

The humiliating fate of the Chrysler Corporation cannot be detached entirely from the sordid history of Daimler-Benz. It might have been different perhaps, if there had ever been some acknowledgement of the German parent company’s enthusiastic wartime use of Jewish slave labor, but no such acknowledgment was ever made. Although not distinctly testable in science, silence can sometimes have genuinely frightful consequences.

Justice must always have a decipherable voice, and there can never be any such voice without memory. At the time of the 1998 merger, no public mention was ever made of Daimler’s Nazi involvement.

It was conveniently assumed by Chrysler’s top executives, that a murderous Daimler-Benz history could be shoved under the rug. And the insistently seductive calls for corporate wealth in America would drown out the increasingly weak cries for justice.

These assumptions were not merely sinister; they were also wrong. What we witness today, in Daimler-Chrysler’s now evident corporate collapse, is the ineradicable stain of unpunished and unapologetic Daimler-Benz wartime crimes against humanity.

Justice always requires a voice. Even today, someone must still speak for those who can no longer speak for themselves. Someone must speak for those endless railway cars of Jewish slave laborers whose seemingly inexhaustible supply in Nazi Germany and occupied lands had actually made them less than slaves. Even today, someone must speak for those starved and brutalized victims dehumanized by a venerated German corporation during World War II.

In 1998, the business world was all aglow, about a “marriage made in heaven” – the mega-merger of Chrysler with Daimler-Benz. Lost in this grand celebration of new fortunes to be made was the buried history of one corporate partner.

During the war, hundreds of thousands of Jews were coerced into forced labor by many major German industrial firms under conditions, which the judges at Nuremberg said “made labor and death almost synonymous.”

The victims were barely bits of sandpaper, rubbed a few times by their masters, judged useless and then burned – literally – with the garbage. Daimler-Benz was one of these firms.

Where did Daimler-Benz operate in the vast complex of slave enterprises? As documented authoritatively in The International Encyclopedia of the Holocaust (pp. 1037 – 1039) Natzweiler-Struthof, a concentration camp established by Albert Speer because of nearby granite deposits, was expanded. In 1944, Daimler-Benz moved some of its work from Berlin-area to the new satellite camp at Neckarelz.

Here, the company used several thousand slaves in a joint project with Reich Security Main Office (RSHA) and the Ministry of Armaments. The Natzweiler main camp, although small, had its own gas chamber.

Together with other privileged German corporations, Daimler-Benz traded and trans-shipped Jewish forced laborers with nary a hint that they were dealing in human beings. They were purchased from the SS, with the understanding that they should not be kept alive for too long (so as not to slow down the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question”).

The bewildered and tortured slaves were often housed in tiny animal kennels or underground chambers before “selection” for the gas chamber.

After the war, when some very small number of Jewish claimants called upon Daimler-Benz and other criminally responsible German firms to make some sort of restitution, the victims and their survivors were cruelly rebuffed.

On November 5, 1997, a German court upheld its government’s policy of rejecting compensation claims by Nazi-era slave laborers.

The judges based their decision in part on the fact that the pertinent German companies had already paid the Nazi SS for the forced laborers they had “employed” and that therefore no “further compensation” to Jewish victims was owed by the companies.

Most of these companies, of course, including Daimler-Benz, remained in business. Not one of these companies, including Daimler-Benz, ever made more than a token payment to their former Jewish slaves or to associated claimants.

In his book The Germans (St. Martin’s Press 1989) Financial Times correspondent David Marsh indicates that it was not until June 1988 that Daimler made a DM20 million payment to the U.S. Jewish Claims Conference “to ease consequences still ensuing from those times.”

Marsh notes that by June 1988, the actual victims of Daimler-Benz enslavement were no longer alive.

In 1998, according to Marsh, Daimler-Benz admitted to using 29,500 slaves at the end of 1944. (This was around half of its entire work force.) They sought – via its merger with Chrysler Corporation – to become a new and important giant in American industry.

Although certainly never to be acknowledged by Wall Street analysts, the now-imminent failure of this giant is due in some immeasurable way to the infamously unclean side of Daimler-Benz.

During the War, Daimler-Benz didpay salaries for their slaves, but the payments were made directly to the SS, which naturally kept the money. The ties between the German industrialists at Benz and other concerns to the SS were more intimate than is generally realized.

The industrialists were all heavy contributors to SS leader Himmler’s personal fund. For a Christmas celebration in 1943, Himmler invited these magnates to his own headquarters. An SS film on eradicating Jewish “vermin” was screened, and the “distinguished group” was entertained by an SS all male chorus.

How did the victorious allies mete out justice to the German industrialist murderers? No corporate director or manager was compelled to stand before the International Military Tribunal. Not one.

In subsequent trials against certain leading directors, several defendants were found guilty of crimes against humanity for exploiting Jewish slave labor. Although many were sentenced to long prison terms, by January 1951, not a single corporate criminal was still in jail.

An act of “clemency” by John J. McCloy, United States High Commissioner, gave all of these Germans their complete freedom. A mere half-dozen years after the war, all of the criminal German business leaders were free to regain huge personal fortunes.

The Jewish slaves, who had endured the unendurable, were left only with abject poverty, crippling illness, limitless pain, and incessant nightmares.

So the Nazi-era crimes of Daimler-Benz had been forgotten or forgiven on Wall Street. After all, there was presumably a lot of money to be made in the merger with Chrysler, and no reasonable investor wanted to be limited by what was done and cannot be undone. Yet memory, not forgetfulness, is indispensable to justice. And justice – even on Wall Street – is what America is ultimately all about.

For Daimler-Chrysler, the past is irremediably present, still silent perhaps, but unforgiving, dark and thoroughly inescapable.

Copyright The Jewish Press, March 9, 2007. All Rights reserved.

LOUIS RENE BERES, Professor of Political Science at Purdue University, was born in Zurich, Switzerland on August 31, 1945. Educated at Princeton (Ph.D. 1971), he is the author of nine major books on international relations and international law. Professor Beres’ Austrian-Jewish grandparents were murdered at the SS-killing grounds in Riga, Latvia.

Prosecuting Auschwitz

Wednesday, December 13th, 2006

Verdict on Auschwitz: The Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial 1963-1965


First Run Features


Directors: Rolf Bickel, Dietrich Wagner


Germany, 1993, 180 minutes


Color & b/w, in German w/English subtitles



 

 


         “I had the bad luck to get tangled up in this horror. The crimes did not occur because it was my will,” a man in a dark suit with a striped tie says, matter-of-factly. He stands up straight, wears thick plastic glasses and continues to read from his notes. “My purpose was not to kill people. Blame for mass murder belongs alone to the political leaders. I am guilty of obedience; my subordination to duty and to wartime conscription; my oath of office; and service. The high command, to which I did not belong, issued the orders. As I see it, they deserve to be punished for the atrocities committed in following the orders from above. The subordinates of these superiors are now victims. I am such a victim, and it should not be forgotten.”

 

         So says Adolf Eichmann in his final statements at his 1961 trial in Israel after the Mossad captured him in Argentina – the “safe haven” for Nazi officers after the war. Eichmann’s final words are just a few of the many testimonies collected in filmmakers Rolf Bickel’s and Dietrich Wagner’s “Verdict on Auschwitz”. And although it is hard to believe, Eichmann’s insistence that he is a “victim” is not even the most outrageous claim of the Nazi defendants.

 

         Of the 85 SS officers who testified during the Frankfurt trial, which occurred shortly after the Eichmann trial and ended in 1965, none had “seen” anything that they could remember. In his closing statement, Victor Capesius, the pharmacist who was instrumental in the Nazis’ use of the Zyklon B gas, said unabashedly, “I did not cause anyone to suffer in Auschwitz. I was polite, friendly and helpful to everyone whenever I could. I am guilty of no crimes in Auschwitz. I ask the court for an acquittal.”

 

         Willi Stark even got a bit philosophical in his closing statements. “Esteemed court, I participated in many people’s deaths. I was totally honest about this fact from the very beginning,” he said. “Following the war, I often asked myself if this made me a criminal, but I have failed to find a valid answer for myself. I believed in the Fuhrer. I wanted to serve my people. I deeply regret choosing an errant path, but I can’t undo what is done.”

 

         Robert Mulka, adjutant at Auschwitz, tried a different strategy. He completely denied knowing about the trucks carrying people to the gas chambers.

 



The Auschwitz Gate, as seen in “Verdict On Auschwitz,” a First Run Features Release. Over the course of 900 days – from the beginning of 1942 until November 1944 – approximately 600 special transports arrived at the death camp via the German National Railway.


 

         The documentary of the first Auschwitz trial is based on 430 hours of audiotapes recorded during the trial, which included testimony from 360 witnesses who came from 19 countries. Of the 360, 211 were Auschwitz survivors who were seeing their Nazi tormenters (22 defendants) for the first time in 20 years. Many of the victims came to Frankfurt to testify – a challenge in its own right, for many never wanted to see Germany again – without any idea how to get to the courtroom or even money to pay for a cab.

 

         Bickel and Wagner had known they wanted to create a documentary commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Auschwitz trial. While searching in the basement of the State Archive in Hesse, Frankfurt, they discovered the audiotapes. Both filmmakers have a background in German media. Bickel specialized in current affairs features for Hessian Radio, while Wagner was an editor at the daily Frankfurter Rundschau and at a Hessian public television station. The DEFA Film Library (founded in 1990) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, a library devoted to German filmmaking, took on the project.

 

         “A basic assumption behind all the work of the DEFA Film Library is that film can be a means to stimulate an understanding of history,” says the DEFA release, which calls the questions to which “Verdict” responds, under-researched. ” ‘Verdict on Auschwitz’ addresses one of the most profound questions of justice in modern history.”

 



Fritz Bauer, as seen in “Verdict On Auschwitz,” a First Run Features Release. Fritz Bauer served as attorney general for the State Hesse. He helped in the capture and trial of Adolf Eichmann, and made the Frankfurt Auschwitz trial a reality.


 

         Since much of the footage with which Bickel and Wagner worked was in audio, the film juxtaposes sound footage with images of an empty courtroom. The eeriness of the empty room, which once was quite full and very much alive, evokes the shots of empty concentration camps, now ghost towns.

 

         Bickel and Wagner include their commentary on the Frankfurt trial. Perhaps the most interesting fact about the trial was the German judge’s trip to Auschwitz. At the time (it was during the Cold War)  there were no diplomatic relations to speak of between Poland and Germany; yet Poland allowed a German court with German judges to visit Auschwitz.

 

         But the real reason to see the film is to match voices and (sometimes) pictures with the characters in the trials. In his closing remarks, prosecutor Kugler underscores, once again, the horrors of the mass genocide. He also tells the German people that the Nazis robbed not only their victims, but also Germany’s youth – the next generation upon whom the sins of the parents were sure to be visited. The Nazis, Kugler continued, lacked the “imagination to fear” the outcomes of their actions.

 

         In later interviews, the International Auschwitz Commission’s former secretary, Hermann Langbein, accused Hans Laternser, the defense attorney who defended the SS men, of not only defending the Nazis (which is, after all, his job as attorney), but also of trying to paint their actions as right while working “quite nastily to discredit the witnesses” by insisting they recount exact times and locations for every detail of their testimonies. “There’s one thing he never understood,” Langbein said, “that… someone who has survived Auschwitz must be respected even if the testimony is false, even if they make mistakes. Naturally, some were made … there were no calendars. People did not take notes. You could only remember a date by chance if, for example, it happened on your birthday.” (Langbein, himself Prisoner #60355, testified at the trial about the conditions in the “gypsy” camp, where he was a secretary.)

 

        Laternser’s concluding remarks rehashed old Nuremberg arguments, but also added a degree of chutzpah. He admitted that all of his clients “found themselves face to face with a crime,” and he conceded that “every single person in a transport was to be pitied because they were unknowingly bound for certain death.”

 

         But his key interpretive move was a reversal of that, well worth quoting at length: “The selection on the platform in Birkenau in fact amounted to a reduction of the planned and authorized death toll. It averted total extermination. The selection of persons to be diverted to the camp was thus an act of mercy, which sabotaged the plan to liquidate all Jews of Europe. It saved those chosen from being murdered on the spot. This selection thus constitutes an obstruction of murder. You see, one can say that those who participated in selections in certain cases played the role of a savior of specific individuals by separating them from those headed for the gas chamber, and in such cases subverted Hitler’s plan.”

 

         The documentary is full of other testimonies, many too graphic to quote. The prosecution speculates that even if the victims had chosen not to testify, the case could have been made many times over with just the documentation, so careful were the Nazis to write detailed reports and follow-up reports. An early remark on the DVD talks of the Nazis’ “masterminded mass murder, committed with up-to-date technology.” Perhaps the DVD can counter this by using up-to-date technology for good, rather than evil.

 

        Menachem Wecker is a painter and editor living in Washington, D.C. He welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com

A Memory Of Justice – Chrysler’s Decline And The Third Reich

Wednesday, March 31st, 2004

There can be no justice without memory. In 1998, Chrysler entered into an ambitious merger agreement with Germany’s Daimler-Benz. Since that time, its economic well-being has generally and persistently deteriorated. Most recently, Chrysler’s woes of falling stock prices and shrinking cash reserves have been aggravated by widening product deficiencies and burgeoning vehicle recalls.

For financial and industry analysts, there is nothing mysterious here. In their assessments, they continue to find appropriately scientific reasons to explain this unpredicted case of corporate misfortune. But not every truth can be found in science, and there are also less tangible reasons to be considered. These reasons have to do with Daimler-Benz’s horribly tainted past, and with the unrelenting destiny of all those who would refuse to acknowledge this past or to honor its many victims.

At the time of the merger six years ago, no public mention was ever made of Daimler’s Nazi involvement. Rather, it was assumed by Chrysler’s top executives that a murderous Daimler history could simply be shoved under the rug, and that expressly seductive calls for enrichment in America would easily drown out the increasingly weak cries for memory and justice. These assumptions were not merely sinister; they were also all wrong. What we witness today, in Daimler-Chrysler’s devastating economic decline, is the ineradicable stain of unpunished and unapologetic Daimler-Benz crimes against humanity.

One must speak today for all those who can no longer speak for themselves. One must speak for those endless railway cars of Jewish slave laborers whose seemingly inexhaustible supply in Nazi Germany and occupied lands made them less than slaves. Someone must speak for those starved and brutalized victims of unspeakable horrors inflicted by a “respectable” and venerated German corporation during World War II. So I speak today for the speechless victims of Daimler-Benz.

Six years ago, the entire business world was aglow about a “marriage made in heaven,” the mega-merger of Chrysler with Daimler-Benz. Lost in this grand celebration of new fortunes to be made was the extraordinary history of one corporate partner. During the War, hundreds of thousands of Jews were coerced into forced labor by many major German industrial firms under conditions which the judges at Nuremberg said “made labor and death almost synonymous.” In actuality, the victims were barely bits of sandpaper, rubbed a few times by their masters, judged useless and then burned - literally – with the garbage. Daimler-Benz was one of these firms.

Where did Daimler-Benz operate in the vast complex of slave enterprises? As documented authoritatively in The International Encyclopedia of the Holocaust (pp. 1037-1039), when Natzweiler-Struthof, a concentration camp established by Albert Speer because of nearby granite deposits, was expanded in 1944, Daimler-Benz moved some of its work from Berlin-area to the new satellite camp at Neckarelz. Here, the company used several thousand slaves in a joint project with Reich Security Main Office (RSHA) and the Ministry of Armaments. The Natzweiler main camp, although small, had its own gas chamber.

Together with other privileged German corporations, Daimler-Benz traded and transhipped Jewish forced laborers with nary a hint that they were dealing in human beings. Purchased from the SS, with the understanding that they should not be kept alive for too long (so as not to slow down the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question”), the bewildered and tortured slaves were often housed in tiny animal kennels or underground chambers before “selection” for the gas chamber.

After the War, when some very small number of Jewish claimants called upon Daimler-Benz and other criminally-responsible German firms to make some sort of restitution, the victims and their survivors were cruelly rebuffed. On November 5, 1997, a German court upheld its government’s policy of rejecting compensation claims by Nazi-era slave laborers. The judges based their decision in part on the fact that the pertinent German companies had already paid the Nazi SS for the forced laborers they had “employed” and that therefore no “further compensation” to Jewish victims was owed by the companies.

Most of these companies, of course, including Daimler-Benz, remained in business. Not one of these companies, including Daimler-Benz, ever made more than a token payment to their former Jewish slaves or to associated claimants. As indicated by Financial Times correspondent David Marsh, in his book The Germans (St. Martin’s Press, 1989) it was not until June 1988 - when the actual victims of Daimler-Benz enslavement were no longer alive - that Daimler made a DM20 million payment to the U.S. Jewish Claims Conference “to ease consequences still ensuing from those times.”

Six years ago, Daimler-Benz which, by its own admission – according to Marsh - used 29,500 slaves at the end of 1944 (around half of its entire work force) became – via its merger with Chrysler Corporation – a new and important giant in American industry. Although certainly never to be acknowledged by Wall Street analysts, the resultant failure of this giant is due in no small measure to the infamously unclean side of Daimler-Benz.

During the War, Daimler-Benz did pay salaries for their slaves, but the payments were made directly to the SS, which naturally kept the money. The ties between the German industrialists at Benz and other concerns to the SS were more intimate than is generally realized. The industrialists were all heavy contributors to Himmler’s personal fund. For a Christmas celebration in 1943, Himmler invited these magnates to his own headquarters. An SS film on eradicating Jewish “vermin” was screened, and the distinguished group was entertained by a male chorus of SS men.

How did the victorious allies mete out justice to the German industrialist murderers? No corporate director or manager was compelled to stand before the International Military Tribunal. In subsequent trials against certain leading directors, several defendants were found guilty of crimes against humanity for exploiting Jewish slave labor. Although many were sentenced to long prison terms, by January 1951 not a single corporate criminal was still in jail. An act of “clemency” by John J. McCloy, United States High Commissioner, gave all of these Germans their complete freedom. A mere half-dozen years after the War, all of the criminal German business leaders were free to regain huge personal fortunes. The Jewish slaves who had endured the unendurable were left only with abject poverty, crippling illness, limitless pain, and incessant nightmares.

So the Nazi-era crimes of Daimler-Benz had been forgotten or forgiven on Wall Street. After all, there was apparently a lot of money to be made in the merger with Chrysler, and no reasonable investor wanted to be limited by what is done and cannot be undone. Yet, memory, not forgetfulness, is indispensable to justice, and justice – even on Wall Street - is what America is all about. For Daimler-Benz, and now for Daimler-Chrysler, the past is irremediably present, silent perhaps, but unforgiving, dark and inescapable.

Copyright © The Jewish Press 2004. All rights reserved.

LOUIS RENE BERES, professor of political science at Purdue University, was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and is the author of ten major books on international relations and international law. His Austrian-Jewish grandparents were murdered at the SS-killing grounds in Riga, Latvia.

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