Tag Archives: Nazi Germany

‘My Battle Against Hitler’

April 21, 2015

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My-Battle-Against-Hitler-Denied a professorship in Munich because of his stand against National Socialism, Dietrich von Hildebrand fled Germany when Adolf Hitler came to power. He was tipped that his arrest was imminent.

The Catholic philosopher subsequently narrowly escaped Vienna with a death threat over his head as the Nazis took over Austria. The SS missed him by four hours.

He went first to Switzerland and later to France, only to once again have to run for his life when German tanks rolled into France.

Considered by Hitler one of National Socialism’s greatest obstacles, von Hildebrand found his way to the United States in 1940 and taught for 20 years at Jesuit-run Fordham University in New York City.

What he stood for and why he had to flee come to life some three-quarters of a century later in a translation of von Hildebrand’s memoir from those turbulent times, “My Battle Against Hitler.”

John Henry Crosby — with the assistance of his father, John F. Crosby — translated and edited the Image book, which is subtitled “Faith, Truth, and Defiance in the Shadow of the Third Reich.”

By late 1921 von Hildebrand was already finding the political philosophy of National Socialism at odds with Catholicism — and earning the ire of some Germans, including German Catholic clergy, who saw it as a bulwark against communism.

By 1933, while Hitler was being appointed chancellor, the Reichstag being burned, the rule of law being disregarded by the government and Jews being arrested and hauled away, von Hildebrand was writing that one could not be both Catholic and a supporter of the Nazis.

“It was clear to me,” he wrote about that timeframe, “that I could no longer teach in a National Socialist country because I was convinced that I would be forced to make compromises, and that I would either have to keep silent about the injustices that would come or else risk the concentration camp.”

Compromise was something von Hildebrand couldn’t do when it came to what his Catholic faith taught. Nor could he be silent.

“His struggle against Hitler,” the authors note, “was above all carried out on the battlefield of conscience.”

Early on von Hildebrand warned those who thought Catholics could influence National Socialism for the better that that would not happen.

He warned Catholics, too, not to believe Hitler’s promises to respect Christian churches and to work with them, a warning that proved prescient when priests began being arrested and sent to concentration camps.

He railed against Catholics who put up with Nazi atrocities as long as the Catholic Church was not victimized.

Once safely in Vienna he launched a periodical that took on the Nazis from a Catholic intellectual perspective. It was a safety that was short-lived.

The last third of the book includes essays the von Hildebrand wrote for that Austrian journal he founded and led between 1934 and 1937, “Der christliche Standestaat” (“The Christian Corporate Standard”).

These are the persuasive writings of a philosopher who fought “at the level of first principles,” the authors explain. He argues for ethical choices and decisions, and goes point by point comparing the core principles of the Nazis against the teachings of Christ and the Church. In his writing:

• He calls nationalism the greatest heresy of the 18th and 19th centuries, justaposing it with patriotism, which he terms a love of one’s nation that acknowledges that every other nation is valuable and has rights, too.

• He lists Nazi sins, including racism, anti-semitism, the persecution and death of Jews, sterilization, regulating marriage, trumped up charges, “pharisaical trials,” defamation of individuals and murders, and warns against becoming “used to” or morally blind to them.

• Rather than politicizing Catholicism, “one must Catholicize politics,” he writes, and calls Catholics not to be silent or apolitical but to act, asking, “Are you for Christ or against him?”

In sum, von Hildebrand terms Nazism so unChristian and so unsound that it cannot be corrected or reformed, but must be destoyed.

His defense of the teachings of the Catholic faith is matched in this memoir only by his defense of Jewish people.

He defends Jews as a people of God, writing in 1937 with a Catholic heart in the very best sense:

“Above all, Catholics must all perceive the present-day attack against the Jews as something that directly threatens them. Did not Christ the Lord say, ‘What you have done to the least of my brothers, you have done to me?’

“Is not the defamation and degradation of the Jews a direct attack against the incarnate God, against human nature sanctified by the Incarnation? Indeed, what is happening today is not the special concern of a particular people. No, true for us all are the words, ‘Tua res agitur!’ — This concerns you!”

Bob Zyskowski writes the bobzbookreviews blog on
http://www.CatholicHotdish.com.

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Madonnas and memory

April 8, 2015

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Raphael's The Conestabile Madonna

Raphael’s The Conestabile Madonna

Lessons in history and humanity plus drama, unconditional love and insight into one of the most difficult to understand of all diseases — Alzheimer’s — make Debra Dean’s “The Madonnas of Leningrad” a superb, satisfying read.

There’s a sampling of an art appreciation class, too, and brief, maybe too brief snatches of modern family dynamics. But those glimpses into contemporary life form the perfect background to better contrast with the values of the Russians who survived — and even those who didn’t survive — the Nazi siege of Leningrad during World War II.

Da Vinci’s The Litta Madonna

With the war there is starvation and death and ruin, to be sure, but tremendous self sacrifice, too, and life, life so valued, life so amazing, captured so well in one scene, where women who have survived the siege learn that the story’s protagonist, Marina, is expecting and, after a winter of death, line up to touch her stomach and to feel the baby kick in her womb.

A tremendous sense of irony pours from the pages. In the godless Soviet Union the invaluable art collection of the Hermitage Museum, including precious images of the Blessed Virgin and the Christ Child, is crated and trucked away to be saved from ruin or confiscation by the approaching German army.

At the suggestion of another Hermitage tour guide, young Marina, who later in life cannot remember the names of her own family members, commits to memory of all these wonderful madonnas — the Rubens, the da Vinci, the van Dyck, the Rembrandt and more — storing in her “memory palace” not only the details of the works and the stories they tell but even where they hung on the walls of the czar’s former Winter Palace.

It’s an act of mutual benefit. Not only does Marina save the memory of the art to share with those who may never have the chance to see them, but doing so gives her a reason to live, to survive at a time when bombs, cold, starvation and illness take the lives of thousands during the siege.

van Dyck

van Dyck’s The Rest on the Flight into Egypt

And, while this isn’t an outwardly religious novel, as the situation worsens for those freezing, starving, cowering from the bombs and removing the corpses of those who die each day, even a strict non-believer decides a little prayer couldn’t hurt.

“The Madonnas of Leningrad” is not a new book. Published in 2006, it garnered a number of honors. But as timely as the topic of Alzheimer’s is, you would think someone would make a movie of this terrific story.

If you choose to read the book — and even if you don’t — you’ll find images of some of the famous works of art named within at this website, along with excerpts of how they were described in the book. Start googling the paintings and you could lose several hours of your day!

Dean also mentions the Jordan Staircase in her novel. Here’s why:

The Jordan Staircase in the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad.

The Jordan Staircase in the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad.

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Another chance to read — not see — ‘The Book Thief’

January 2, 2014

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200px-The_Book_Thief_by_Markus_Zusak_book_coverRecent release of the movie of the same title blessedly returned attention to Markus Zusak’s 2005 novel, “The Book Thief,” giving lovers of great writing a second chance at this superb read.

So many forms of the reality of the human character — the harmful, the hateful, the uplifting, the depressing, the heartwarming and the inspiring — pour from the pages of this World War II-based novel of a young girl’s experiences in a small German town.

It humanizes the German populace in ways few stories from that era do.

As good as the story is, it’s the way the book thief’s story is told that sparkles with creativity.

First, the narrator is unique: “Death,” who throughout the tale gathers souls when, well, when you might expect Death would

Sprinkled here and there are little bursts of bold type in a slightly larger size that serve to further explain or clarify — something like the narrator thinking aloud.

The book isn’t written in the typical story-within-a-story technique, but the text of little books or booklets do appear twice; both times Zusak uses them briefly and with just a perfect touch.

Amid the horror of Nazism, Zusak bring us characters fully human — mean at times and kind at others, foolish yet wise, smart-mouthed yet shy, downhearted yet hopeful. You’ll love the surprises.
Don’t miss another chance to read a great book.

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German Catholics in WWII play role in modern mystery

February 16, 2013

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“The German Suitcase”  (Premier Digital Publishing, 2012) is one more novel to feed my World War II addiction.
Greg Dinallo puts complex, likeable characters into an interesting plot with flashbacks to Nazi Germany to fill in the mystery.
Prescient readers may solve that mystery relatively quickly, but that doesn’t make “The German Suitcase” any less of a good read.

german suitcase coverThe fictional story includes a family of Catholics who assist Jews to escape the Holocaust. The fact that a contemporary author is writing anything positive about Catholics makes Dinallo’s bit of fiction unique today.

Of course, the page-turning story was going along swimminglywhen for some unknown reason there is a gratuitous reference to how the Vatican has handled the clergy sex abuse crisis. For the love of God I can’t understand why Dinallo included that in the novel; it doesn’t do one thing to advance the plot.

But here’s a theory: Major publishers think it helps sell books if there’s something in them to bash the church. Have you noticed, too? I’d love to hear from those who’ve found evidence in other novels that either prove or disprove my theory. — bz

 

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Hidden heroes of World War II given their due in entertaining format: Pulp history

October 30, 2010

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Remember “Classics Illustrated”?

The comic book-style versions of “The Count of Monte Cristo,” “Treasure Island” and “The Three Musketeers”, were my first taste of great stories.

Simon & Schuster taps into some of that cartoon format in “Shadow Knights: The Secret War Against Hitler,” one of the publisher’s “Pulp History” series.

First, though, these are great stories that keep you turning the pages.

  • A one-time school teacher is dropped into occupied France and organizes resistance groups that badger the Nazis. Will he survive?
  • A young female refugee parachutes into France to send wireless messages right under the noses of the Germans. Will she escape before she can be caught?
  • Norwegians face impossible odds and endure incomparable suffering to try to blow up the factory making heavy-water that the Allies fear the Germans will use to create nuclear bombs. Will they get there to place their explosives, and, if they do, will they get out alive?

Great writing by Gary Kamiya of these stories of the agents of the British Special Operations Executive makes for 163 pages of entertainment, and the illustrations by Jeffrey Smith would make great posters if any of these stories of behind-enemy-lines fighters were to become movies.

Archival photos and propaganda posters from both sides of the conflict and informative sidebars add to a unique fun read that’s educational as well.

Yet, as thrilling as the spy stories are, as exciting as it is to read about the hidden heroes that helped to win the war, the post-script of “Shadow Knights” makes this work of history something to make today’s reader think about the events of our own time.

It isn’t far-fetched to read about the deaths of innocent civilians when a spy blows up a Nazi boat and think of both the deaths of thousands of innocents at the World Trade Center and the leaked informaton about the deaths of thousands of innocents in Iraq due to the terribly named “collateral damage.”

“Shadow Knights” makes it clear that the stories of the SOE agents is a tribute to the power of humans to sacrifice for others and achieve incredible feats for a greater goal; they do not glorify war.

An excerpt carries that message. David Howarth, who helped run the legendary small-boat service between Scotland and Norway for SOE, wrote:

” To ascribe glory to the violent death of any yong man loving life is only to add further folly to the failure of human wisdom which is the cause of war.”

Amen. — bz

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Let Dietrich Bonhoeffer guide your prayer, but don’t get too comfortable

March 17, 2010

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Bonhoeffer cover

“Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Meditation and Prayer,”

edited by Peter Frick

The Lutheran Pastor who conspired to assassinate Adolph Hitler and lost his life as a result left a handful of writings that challenge Christians yet today to be Christian.

Peter Frick, a college educator, has drawn excerpts from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s works to be used to encourage the daily practice of meditation and prayer. It was a practice Bonhoeffer encouraged when, while part of the resistance movement, he directed an underground seminary in Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1937, before his opposition to Germany’s warring leadership led to his eventual arrest and hanging.

That activism, that engagement, that hard-core brand of following Jesus Christ — even when difficult — no, especially when difficult — permeates the 56 pages of this slim-but-powerful purse-sized paperback from Liturgical Press (www.litpress.org).

Bonhoeffer has gifts to share about self-reflection, about self-deception, about silence, about a community praying for one another, about temptation, about suffering. Frick invites his readers to absorb them one day at a time, focusing on one thought throughout the day or even for several days.

They are so meaty that you can. Each meditation is less than a page, but page after page I found myself stopping to internalize the thought there in black and white. Take Bonhoeffer’s warning against “cheap grace”:

“Cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without repentance; it is baptism without the discipline of community; it is the Lord’s Supper without confession of sin; it is absolution without personal confession.”

Bonhoeffer’s faith is a faith of meditation, prayer and then action or consequence. His is not a half-way Christianity. He preaches the Gospel put into action in the world. Check out these excerpts:

“…it is certainly never pious to close the eyes that God gave us to see our neighbor and his or her need, simply to avoid seeing whatever is sad or dreadful.”

“Nothing is more ruinous for life together than to mistrust the spontaneity of others and suspect their motives. To psychologize and analyze people . . . is to destroy all trust. . . . People don’t exist to look into the abyss of each other’s hearts . . . but to encounter and accept eath other just as they are.”

“It may be that the day of judgment will dawn tomorrow; in that case, we shall gladly stop working for a better future. But not before.”

There’s more where that came from. — bz

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Saving Europe’s art during World War II re-opens a part of history that should never be forgotten

February 10, 2010

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Monuments Men cover

“The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History'”

by Robert M. Edsel, with Bret Witter

In the middle of World War II, precious works of art — many of them objects of religious relevance — were saved by the efforts of a handful of soldiers. This is their story, one that really hasn’t been told before, and it’s a great read.

Many of the rescued art pieces were priceless and well-known in art circles. Others held value only to the townspeople who revered them. In some cases historic churches were saved; in other cases they were not, like the Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino. Some of the pieces were rescued from the hands of Nazi Germany’s thieving leaders; others were rescued from the bombs and shells of war.

Men from 13 nations, many of them volunteers, formed the new Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section of the Allied force. They hunted for, found, and preserved for posterity pieces like Michelangelo’s statue, the Bruges Madonna, Vermeer’s The Astronomer and a Rembrandt or two or three.

One-time museum directors, curators, artists, art scholars and archivists became The Monuments Men, as they came to be called. Author Robert Edsel explained that their job was simple: “to save as much of the culture of Europe as they could during combat.” It was the first time in history that an army fought a war while simultaneously attempting to mitigate cultural damage.

From the first efforts to protect a remarkable 16th-century Renaissance church in Normandy, to finding boxcars loaded with paintings the Nazis stole from the French, to sleuthing out where Hitler had hidden an enormous cache of art work in an ancient salt mine in Austria, the Monuments Men did an invaluable service to not just the cultural heritage of Europe but all of human civilization.

Incredible amount stolen

The Nazis had gone so far as to take the stained glass windows out of the cathedral in Strasbourg, France. They had transferred so many art pieces to the famous fairy-like castle at Neuschwanstein, Germany, that it took six weeks to remove them all.

In the salt mine at Altaussee the Monuments Men made an amazing discovery. Deep inside that Austrian mountain the Nazis had hidden, well, here’s the list:

  • 6,577 paintings;
  • 230 drawings or watercolors;
  • 954 prints;
  • 137 pieces of sculpture;
  • 129 pieces of arms and armor;
  • 79 boxes of objects;
  • 484 cases of what was thought to be archives;
  • 78 pieces of furniture;
  • 122 tapestries;
  • 181 cases of books;
  • 1,200-to-1,700 cases apparently of books or similar items.

Edsel has done remarkable work here, piecing together interviews and documents to tell this story, one he calls “a footnote” in the larger story of the war. He allows us into the humanity of the Monuments Men as they discover that the Nazis are not only brutal warriors, amoral killers, but, at the highest levels, simply thieves.

Yet, despite his obvious passion for the arts and culture that were saved and make this story, what I admired most in reading this work was a few lines where he put the horror of Hitler’s Nazi regime into perfect perspective:

“More than sixty years after the death of Adolf Hitler, we still live in a world altered by his legacy…the lasting impact of his bitter reign is best measure in more ephemeral ways: fifty million loved ones who never returned home from the war to rejoin their families or start one of their own; brilliant, creative contributions never made to our world because scientists, artists, and inventors lost their lives too early or were never born; cultures built over generations reduced to ashes and rubble because one human being judged groups of other human beings less worthy than his own.”— bz

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