By ROBERT BLOMGREN—
Your name is Johann and it is the early spring of ’42. The days are getting both longer and warmer in northern Germany and exciting news has arrived in today’s mail. Finally, at the age of 45, you are not too old to serve your Führer in the Nazi war effort. Your younger brother was called up a few years ago and he was a part of the victorious army as it marched into Paris. Now you get to serve the Third Reich in the Order Police, in particular as one of the 500 men, almost all from Hamburg, in Reserve Police Battalion 101.
Certainly, keeping order in the recently liberated areas of Poland is of value to the war effort. You would rather be marching toward Stalingrad, as your brother is now doing, but at least you are not languishing at home in Hamburg.
A couple of weeks ago your quickly trained battalion arrived in Bilboraj, Poland. Now in the early morning of July 13, 1942, long before the sun gets high in the sky, you and your fellow policemen are given extra ammunition and you board the waiting trucks and head out for your first police action, arriving in the typical Polish village of Jozefow, where among its inhabitants are 1,800 Jews. As you remember it:
“The village was totally quiet. The men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 climbed down from their trucks and assembled in a half-circle around their commander, Major Wilhelm Trapp, a fifty-three year old career policeman affectionately known as “Papa Trapp”. The time had come for Trapp to address the men and inform them of the assignment the battalion had received.
Pale and nervous, with choking voice and tears in his eyes, Trapp visibly fought to control himself as he spoke. The battalion, he said plaintively, had to perform a frightfully unpleasant task. This assignment was not to his liking, indeed it was highly regrettable, but the orders came from the highest authorities. If it would make their task any easier, the men should remember that in Germany the bombs were falling on women and children.
He then turned to the matter at hand. The Jews had instigated the American boycott that had damaged Germany, one policeman remembered Trapp saying. There were Jews in the village of Jozefow who were involved with partisans, he explained, according to two others. The battalion had now been ordered to round up these Jews. The male Jews of working age were to be separated and taken to a work camp. The remaining Jews – the women, children and elderly – were to be shot on the spot by the battalion. Having explained what awaited his men, Trapp then made an extraordinary offer: if any of the older men among them did not feel up to the task that lay before him, he could step out.”
To step out and return to Hamburg? How could he? Johann and most of the battalion had not read Mein Kampf but they all knew Hitler’s teachings – the Jews were leaches and had to be exterminated. After all, life was all about survival, survival of the fittest and the Aryans were the superior race. The race meant to rule.
But Johann had spent the first 12 years of his life in church. He grew up as a Christian. He had been taught, “Thou shalt not murder”.
My father was born in 1897, so he was 45 in 1942. If he had been born in Hamburg, instead of Montana, and had been called up to serve in Police Battalion 101, what would he have done? Would I be reading about my own father? If I was serving in Battalion 101 would I be brave enough to “step out”? Would you “step out”? Or would it be easier to “shoot”?
Of course, how could any one not step out? How could anyone shoot women, children and the elderly in cold blood? Certainly all but a sadistic few returned to Hamburg and the Nazis had to recruit harder to fill the ranks of the many police battalions covering Poland.
Alas, the records show otherwise:
“The battalion had orders to kill Jews, but each individual did not. Yet 80 to 90 percent of the men proceeded to kill, though almost all of them – at least initially – were horrified and disgusted by what they were doing. To break ranks and step out, to adapt overtly nonconformist behavior, was simply beyond most of the men. It was easier for them to shoot.”
Can I, can you, with confidence, claim we could never, never, not step out? Remember, 80 to 90 percent of these ordinary men stayed and did their job.
In the next months, the 500 men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 shot 38,000 Jews and deported 45,000 more to the Treblinka extermination camp. Between the police battalions and the SS troops a total of 3,000,000 Polish Jews met their death by the bullet, by starvation, or by the gas chambers.
586 BC The Babylonians lay siege to Jerusalem, the walls are breached and the city is plundered and the temple is burned. Daniel and Ezekiel, together with 10,000 Jews were exiled to Babylon in 597 BC.
70 AD The Romans lay siege to Jerusalem and again the walls are breached and the city is sacked and the temple, magnificently rebuilt less than 100 years earlier, is destroyed. Thousands of Jews are killed, captured or fled.
1096 AD Emicho of Leisingen was a minor Rhineland count who responded to the pope’s call to crusade by assembling a small army of German knights. … Emicho led his forces to Worms. Here too the bishop took the local Jews into his palace for protection. But this time Emicho … broke down the bishop’s gates and killed about 500 Jews. The pattern was repeated … in Mainz … in Cologne, and again in Metz.
1543 AD Late in his life, Martin Luther wrote that the Jews are “a base, whoring people, that is, no people of God, and their boast of lineage, circumcision, and law must be accounted as filth. … full of the devil’s feces … which they wallow in like swine”. These “poisonous envenomed worms” should be drafted into forced labor or expelled for all time. This publication may be considered the first modern work of anti-semitism.
1941 AD In addition to the reserve police battalions set up to slaughter the Jews of Poland, the Nazis formed four Einsatzgruppen, the mobile killing battalions that followed directly behind the army as they invaded Russia for the purpose of killing the Russian Jews. Of the four battalions, one of the commanders was a Protestant pastor, theologian and church official; another had degrees from three universities and a doctorate in jurisprudence. In less than three months they killed 300,000 Jews. One small detachment of 22 men killed 10,600 in the town of Riga alone. In early 1942, a second sweep through the Nazi controlled area of Russia killed another 900,000; almost all of them shot and buried in mass graves.
Rudolf Hoss, commandant at Auschwitz, boasted that he could murder 60,000 men, women and children every 24 hours and that he had murdered 400,000 Hungarian Jews during the summer of 1944. Yes, this was definitely survival of the fittest; and this slaughter was proving that the Aryan people were by far the most fit.
But, certainly, after WWII anti-Semitism must have almost disappeared from the civilized world; at least in Europe where the evidence of the Holocaust was so obvious. Dachau, Auschwitz, Treblinka, … can not be hidden; but it seems that the memory is so short.
Is this how it could happen?
Your name is Johann and the headlines across the world have been screaming: Victory in Palestine! The Hamas and Hezbollah have finally defeated Israel and the Palestinians are ecstatic. Once again they rule the land they claim was given to their Patriarchs: Abraham and Ishmael. Peace has finally returned to the Middle East and once again the world has moved closer to Peace in Our Time!
Soon the call goes out for the establishment of an International Police Battalion to help the Palestinians in policing the Jewish settlements. For years you have been reading the Aftonbladet, your favorite Swedish newspaper, and you certainly remember how, based on Palestinian reports and without verification, journalist Donald Bostrom wrote in 2009 that the Israel army, the IDF, was caught harvesting Palestinian organs: “Young Palestinian men started to disappear from villages in the West Bank and Gaza. After five days Israeli soldiers would bring them back dead, with their bodies ripped open.” You remember from your Swedish history classes how in 1945, 96 percent of the population supported Sweden’s WWII neutrality, even though up until the last months of the war Sweden supplied critically needed iron ore and SKF ball bearing to the Nazi war effort. And you remember the 1923 quote from the eminent Swedish diplomat Torvald Hojer, “What is important is to bet on the right horse.” Once again Sweden has bet on the right horse!
You celebrate when your application to join the International Police Battalion 101 is accepted. Your employer grants your leave with pay and you set out for Palestine.
Upon joining the Battalion you are pleased to find so many others from Europe, America, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan and other countries from around the world that have also taken leave of their jobs to help the Palestinians in policing the Jewish settlements.
You remember back in January of 2009 when about 300 UK academics signed and sent a petition to The Guardian stating: “Israel must lose. It is not enough to call for another ceasefire, or more humanitarian assistance. It is not enough to urge the renewal of dialogue and to acknowledge the concerns and suffering of both sides. If we believe in the principle of democratic self-determination, if we affirm the right to resist military aggression and colonial occupation, then we are obliged to take sides… against Israel, and with the people of Gaza and the West Bank.” And now you find many of them have taken leave from their universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Essex, Belfast, Warwick, … and Ulster and joined the battalion. What a glorious gathering of the long time supporters of the Palestinian cause.
Of course, many students have followed their professors and have joined Police Battalion 101. As has been well known, there have been many US university students that have been active and vocal supporters of the Palestinian claim for the return of their land. And they have volunteered in such large numbers that it has been necessary to limit the number of US students to no more than 20 percent of the Battalion. What an inspiring group and what a privilege to be able to join the International Police Battalion 101.
Your battalion has gathered at the infamous city of Jenin, where in April of 2002 it was claimed that Israel’s actions were “every bit as repellent” as Osama Bin Laden’s attack on New York on September 11.
Two days later your battalion sets out early in the morning on its first “police” action. You head north and soon you arrive at the Orthodox Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu and your commander explains to you how “all of us have been shouting ‘Go Back to Auschwitz’ from our Freedom Flotilla” and “our sons are plundered of their organs.” He continues, “It is time to follow the teachings of Mohammad: There is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.” And quoting Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawa, “Oh Allah, take this oppressive, Jewish, Zionist band of people and kill them, down to the very last one.” So your battalion rounds up the 600 men, women and children of Sde Eliyahu and it doesn’t take long, soon it is over … and again it’s over …and over … and over.
If only we all would remember the cry of 1945: NEVER AGAIN.
Unfortunately, we seem to be Just Ordinary Men.
Are we condemned to be Just Ordinary Men? Under the Nazis, where were those that should have resisted the slaughter of the Jews?
Early in November of 1938, a seventeen-year-old German Jew walked into the German Embassy in Paris and shot and killed the third secretary of the embassy. This was in retaliation for the Nazis picking up his father, packing him into a crowded boxcar and deporting him to Poland. With this shooting as the pretext, Hitler gave the order for a “spontaneous” demonstration against the Jews of Germany.
The night of the ninth of November, 1938, is known in infamy as Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass. Jewish homes and businesses were destroyed and looted, synagogues were set aflame and Jews were beaten and killed.
Pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was traveling that night and did not hear about the carnage until the next day. In his Bible reading for that week he was reading Psalm74. There he found and underlined verse 8: “They have burned all of God’s houses in the land” and he wrote next to that 11.9.38. Author Eric Metaxas explains:
Bonhoeffer saw this as an example of God speaking to him and to the Christians in Germany. God was telling him something through his Word that day, and as he meditated and prayed, Bonhoeffer realized that the synagogues that had been burned in Germany were God’s own. This was when Bonhoeffer most clearly saw the connection: to lift one’s hand against the Jews was to lift one’s hand against God himself. The Nazis were attacking God by attacking his people. The Jews in Germany were not only not God’s enemies, they were his beloved children.
Therefore, Bonhoeffer saw, to lift one’s hand against the Jews was to lift one’s hand against God and to kill the Jews was an attempt to kill God.
Subsequently, Bonhoeffer joined the resistance against Hitler. Bonhoeffer knew he was now an agent working against his own government but he knew he was utterly obedient to God. This is where we all have to take stock, are we utterly obedient to God? Bonhoeffer had put his belief in action.
Bonhoeffer thought it the plain duty of the Christian – and the privilege and honor – to suffer with those who suffered. He knew that it was a privilege to be allowed by God to partake of the sufferings of the Jews who had died before him. Bonhoeffer was hung just three weeks before Hitler committed suicide and the war was over.
With fear and trembling, one can claim that to not be Just Ordinary Men, one must be utterly obedient to God. One must support the basic human rights, whether that be to oppose torture, to oppose suicide bombing or to oppose the “family honor” murder of young girls.