Tag Archives: Nazi

‘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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If only FDR had listened about Hitler

July 1, 2011

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Are you a World War II junkie?

Love history and politics?

Here’s a great read for you.

As Adolph Hitler was gearing up his Nazi steamroller, American diplomat William Dodd tried to warn the U.S. government.

The Holocaust and World War II are evidence that Ambassador Dodd failed.

“In the Garden of Beasts” tells how and why Dodd couldn’t convince either Franklin Delano Roosevelt — the president who appointed him — or the high-society members of the U.S. Foreign Service that Hitler shouldn’t be treated like the leaders of other countries.

The four short years of Dodd’s tenure as ambassador to Germany come alive in Erik Larson’s latest superb nonfiction work. The brutality of Hitler and his Nazi brethren is palpable. The internal politics of 1933-37  Germany are ruthless and bloody.

And the snooty wealthy class that populated U.S. consulates at the time played no small part in enabling Ambassador Dodd’s cautions to go unheeded.

Unlikely and disliked

Plucked out of the history department of the University of Chicago, Dodd may have been a third or fourth choice for the post in Berlin, an appointment FDR made under pressure of a deadline. Naive enough to have his family Chevrolet shipped to Germany when the world’s ambassador class generally used limos and chauffeurs, Dodd’s middle-class values put him at odds with the consulate staff in Berlin, made him the source of German leaders’ ridicule, and worst of all caused his reports to be disrespected by those in Washington who should have been listening to his warning cries.

Don’t be put off by the nonfiction character of “In the Garden of Beasts.” Larson has done amazing research here, but the way he fashions the change in Dodd and Dodd’s daughter Martha, too, from being lovers of all things German (Martha in more ways than one!) to a critical analyst of that country’s leadership and people is brilliant and makes for meaty reading.

As you’re reading, try to be aware of parallels in the social culture of 1930s Germany and some aspects of 21st century life. A word to the wise?– bz

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Best book you’ll read this summer has a quirky title

July 20, 2010

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Guernsey-cover

“The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society,”

by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

A delightful read for any time of year, this New York Times #1 bestseller is a perfect summer treat now that it’s out in paperback.

The use of a string of letters to tell the story doesn’t even seem like a gimmick once Shaffer and Barrows pull you into this gem.

In the novel, Juliet Ashton is a journalist and author who finds herself intrigued by a request she receives in the mail from a resident of Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands between France and England.

The setting is just a year after the end of World War II. Guernsey’s inhabitants had endured four years of occupation by the forces of the Third Reich, and woven through the novel is their telling what life was like as British citizens under German military rule.

Telling the story – all through “the post,” at Brits call the mail – are the members of the book club with the odd name, as cleverly drawn a group of characters as have ever won over your heart.

Not to give away the story, but there’s a bit of romance involved, a bit of drama, some must-turn-the-page excitement, but in a genteel, well-mannered, earlier-generations sort of way.

In the Dial Press small paperback version I picked up, this wonderful story is told in just 274 pages.

A yardstick I’ve come to use as my standard for good reading is if I don’t want a book to end. Suffice it to say that 274 pages were hardly enough. What a great work of literature. — bz

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Capture of Holocaust mastermind a must-read story

May 9, 2009

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“Hunting Eichmann,”
by Neal Bascomb

The story finally is told how Holocaust survivors and Israel’s spies found the mastermind of Nazi Germany’s “Final Solution,” the hideously well-organized plan that murdered six million Jews during World War II.

The subject of the quest, Adolf Eichmann, was the diabolical brain behind the extermination plan. It wasn’t until 15 years after the war ended that he was finally found and, after a lengthy trial that was front-page news around the world, hanged for his genocidal crimes.

It’s a helluva story, nonfiction that reads like a modern mystery with twists and turns, dead ends, near misses and tiny details that yield huge payoffs.

How Israel’s Mossad — helped by tips from survivors of the Nazi death camps — tracked Adolf Eichmann to Argentina and a miserable shack with no electricity or running water is nothing short of a miracle.

How Eichmann escaped Germany as World War II came to a crashing end around him could be seen as miraculous as well. How this wanted war criminal made his way to South America, however, includes a segment that will cause shame for members of the Catholic community.


Catholic collusion

Part of the network that helped Nazis escape, Bascomb’s research uncovered, included Bishop Alois Hudal, “an Austrian and a devotee of Hitler who proudly brandished his golden Nazi Party membership badge.”

Bishop Hudal personally wrote to Argentine dictator Juan Peron to request visa for 5,000 Germans and Austrians.

A string of monasteries and convents in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Italy served as refuge to hide and smuggle Nazis away from prosecution, and Eichmann took advantage, finally making his way across Europe to Genoa, Italy, and the Church of San Antonio. Franciscan Father Edoardo Domoter, a Hungarian sympathetic to fleeing Nazi’s, sheltered him in the rectory there while Eichmann secured a refugee’s passport from Red Cross officials and a visa from the Argentine consulate, and soon was on the passenger ship Giovanna C headed to South America with a number of other former Nazi bigwigs.

Bascomb notes that, while cardinals and priests were involved in helping war criminals escape prosecution, “Pope Pius XII did not officially approve of the Vatican’s involvement in the network, but he certainly turned a blind eye to it, primarily because of the church’s commitment to act as a bulwark against the spread of communism.”


Amazingly detailed research

The capture of Eichmann and especially the deception required to hide him and then spirit him out of Argentina to stand trial in Israel are as close to against-all-odds material as any fiction writer might dream up.

The fact that the Israelis were able to pull it off — find him, first of all, grab him off the street, secret him away for a number of days and whisk him off to Israel in the first El Al plane ever to visit Argentina — is terrific storytelling.

Pulling all the pieces of the story together through interviews and historical documents is truly the work of a gifted writer and team of researchers. The 327-page Houghton Mifflin Harcourt book includes an additional 27 pages of verifying footnotes and helpful bibliography and index. Photos taken with hidden suitcase cameras, maps of Eichmann’s Argentine neighborhood and even Eichmann’s Red Cross passport — using the alias Riccardo Klement — bring life and authenticity to the pages.

The world cannot forget

What Bascomb adds, though, as icing on the cake, is the reason that bringing Eichmann to trial on Israeli soil was so important for the Jewish people, especially for the younger generations of Israelis but even more importantly for the world. Bascomb writes in his epilogue:

“As for the rest of the world, the Eichmann affair rooted the Holocaust in the collective cultural consciousness. . . . The Holocaust was finally anchored in the world’s consciousness — never to be forgotten — by the outpouring of survivor memoirs, scholarly works, plays, novels, documentaries, paintings, museum exhibits, and films that followed in the wake of the trial and that still continues today. This consciousness, in Israel and throughout the world, is the enduring legacy of the operation to capture Adolf Eichmann.”

This is history every human should know. — bz

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