Standing in Solidarity as One

My heart stopped a beat as news poured into my busy day. A synagogue attacked in my home country Germany. The Holocaust memorial I know well desecrated by anti-Semitic hate symbols. Fear poured over me like waves of hurtful remembrance of times we thought were long gone. The nightmare of history repeating itself increasingly haunts my mind.

As I shared this anxiety with a friend, she politely wanted to diffuse my fears through words ascribed to Mark Twain: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rimes.” No matter, if it rhymes or repeats in a new version – the reality is a increase of anti-Semitic and racist hate crimes. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups across the U.S. has climbed from 954 in the year 2017 to staggering 1,020 in the subsequent year. In Germany the rise of right-winged extremism and hate has significantly risen from 2017 to 2018: a sum of 25.250 citizens have been involved in hate groups, right-winged political institutions and structures. This sum has risen by 100 in the following year according to the governmental organization protecting the German constitution (Verfassungsschutz) .

When I received the invitation to a Interfaith vigil in White Plains, Westchester on short notice, there was no holding back. As a descendant of a Nazi perpetrator and a German citizen I am committed to not hide in fear, but to stand strong against anti-Semitism, racism and other hateful actions against minorities. Yes, my grandfather fought as a marine in Hitler´s army. Yes, my home town had welcomed Julius Streicher and send innocent Jews into the Holocaust. Those opposing these hateful actions, went into hiding or out of fear. Numerous in contrary became part of a cheering crowd welcoming Hitler.

It is this legacy of remembrance, which drives me as I will not be silenced, driven into hiding because of fear or even changed to join a criminal group, which does not see all humans as the images of God.

The German Lutheran Theologian Martin Niemöller once put it into fitting words:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
” (1)

His question is vital and real for anyone of us. Systems of hate gradually and first silently build up. As they do not face backlash, they will spread their evil influence in a increasing manner. As the US is becoming a Nation, where minorities are becoming the majority (2), numerous Jews came up to thank me for my participation. This gratitude moved me to tears as I as a descendant of a Nazi grandfather shook hand after hand.

After the Interfaith Vigil, I stood at the Holocaust memorial with my colleague Jim O´Hanlon explaining the different mentioned places of horror, which are located in Germany. A lady interrupted our thoughtful exchange and shook our hands in gratitude while explaining that her grandfather had fled Germany due to the Nazi crimes. Her hand was warm and soft as she embraced mine for what felt like a long time. It felt as if she wanted to warm me through her friendly embrace.

I wish, our grandparents would have met in this warm fashion. I wish, my grandfather would have never been part of a Nazi regime that killed millions. As she spoke about her fears pondering if she should go into hiding, I looked firmly into her eyes.

No!

We will not be silenced by hate.

We will not hide driven by fear.

We will stand in solidarity as one with her and any other person, who is targeted by hate.

When they come for you, dear Jewish friend, we will stand strong and will speak justice in the name of the one God, in whose image we are made.

_____________________________________________

(1) Gerlach, Wolfgang. And the Witnesses were Silent: The Confessing Church and the Jews . Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2000, p. 47.

(2) Jim Wallis. Christ in Crisis. Why we need to reclaim Jesus. New York 2018, p. 57.

The Nightmarish Reality of Evil Imagination

It may be mentioned beforehand that the author is a animal friendly person. The cause of this blog post is to have a closer look at symbols, their manifestations and dangerous abuse in history to make the reader aware of epistemic dangers.

“… By the way, there is nothing better than a good old fashioned German Shepherd …”

My hands held the remote control in a tight grip as memories flooded into the dark living room as enthusiastically spoken words poured out of the TV.

Vivid memories took ahold of me and in an instance took me back to my ten-year-old self. The trembling of my hands extended into the living room many years later. As I wanted to open the dark and heavy metal garden gate to my late grandfathers house, I halted in an instance as I saw the aggressive German Shepherd speeding towards the gate like a gray-black-and brown lightening bolt. His massive body shook as he let out a deep barks gnashing his huge teeth. I retreated, clinging to my school bag as the German Shepherd rested his muscular paws as a additional sign of aggression on the dark fence while trying to get his teeth into what he perceived to be a dangerous enemy.

My grandfather came running out, calling his “good boy” back to him. The German Shepherds were Opas the whole pride. As they had served a full life in the German Police force, he made it his calling to give them a good retirement in his home. These dogs had many privileges. They sat at the table. Were fed high quality food. Took the best spot on the sofa. And they rewarded my grandfather with unconditional love combined with a aggressive form of protection towards anyone, who seemed to be an enemy.

Opa shook his head as he saw my ten-year-old self shaking heavily. Then he opened the gate while having a good grip on his dog. “He doesn’t mean it. Right, my boy? You are such a good boy!” Only slowly the adrenaline in my body subsided as I entered my grandparents´ home and the smell of homemade German food wove me into a blanket of sweet expectations for a good meal.

“… By the way, there is nothing better than a good old fashioned German Shepherd …”

Other memories flooded my mind as I sank deeper into the sofa. It was last summer, that the sight of German Shepherds at a memorial send shivers of fear down my spine combining the memories of my ten-year-old self with the experiences of those targeted in the protests of the Civil Rights Movement.

The Sculpture in Birmingham, AL, captured the horrible scene of suppression, brutality, and racism in a lively way – warning of instruments of hate. Durning the Birmingham campaign students flooded the prisons, causing the racist police commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor to turn to a very different tactic as prisons had to be shut down. He used fire hoses and sicced trained police dogs on the “Foot Soldiers” of the movement that had fought for equality and freedom in a world of separation and injustice.

The pictures of the aggressive German Shepherds went around the world. Setting a spotlight on the racial injustice and oppressive system, which could no longer be ignored or downsized. As the obedient dogs did their duties for their masters the heartbeat of the world skipped in grief as once again injustice showed its evil grimace.

“… By the way, there is nothing better than a good old fashioned German Shepherd …”

“The dogs are here at Dora, as in all camps. Held on leashes by their masters, they grow ferociously whenever a prisoner is near. One word or gesture from the SS and the dogs will tear the prisoner apart. They are really more efficient than their masters; a prisoner seeking death could cross the line without worrying too much about a bullet in the back or head, but the dogs are a terrifying, visceral fear.”

Yves Béon, Planet Dora, A Meomoir of the Holocaust and the Birth of the Space age, trans. Yves Béon and Richard Fache (Boulder, Colo.: Westvieew Press 1997), p. 43.

In German concentration camps the German Shepherd was widely used as a guard dog and instrument of horror. While the breed was a relatively recent creation accepted in 1899 by the German Kennel Club, it became the distinctive German breed very popular amongst the Nazi officials. Max von Stephanitz saw his breed as distinctly German. Breeders and owners in other countries venerated the dog for its purity of blood, bravery and loyalty, a dog soldier. This back then much admired breed soon became a symbol for its owners rootedness in Aryanism.

Hitler playing with a German Shepherd
(https://warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/wwii/the-madman-of-the-mountain-adolf-hitlers-personal-life/)

“The German is a real dog-lover, for it is part of his nature … to enter into the spirit of the Aryan mysticism, which makes us feel at one, interiorly, with clouds, trees, lake and heath, and with all living creation…. This appears in his religious beliefs, for the eagle and the wolf were dedicated to All-Father Wotan, King of Battlefields, Bestower of Victory…. [H]is wolves … roam the battlefields, crouch at his feet, and are cared for by the Lord of the World himself…. [T]wo stones with bason-like hollows were erected to the right and the left of the ancient altars of sacrifice, from which poured the blood of the sacrifice which had been offered in honour of Wotan, so that his wolves could feast on the entrails of slaughtered enemies.”

Max von Stephanitz, The German Shepherd Dog in Word and Picture, 1923.

It must be pointed out, that the German Shepherd itself like most dog breeds follows his instincts of bonding to his owner. As one should maybe discuss at another point the underlying Nazi thoughts the proclaimed scientist and nobel prize winner Konrad Lorenz must have had, it is interesting to point towards the psychological mechanism in bonding between dog and master.

“Lorenz […] explains that a dogs youthful attachment is an important milestone in development, because “love for the mother is transformed into love for the human master. Their main focus was not to be a rampaging killer, but to please their master. By being trained and rewarded in a certain fashion, they became horrible instruments of destruction.”

Robert Tindol, Animals and War, BRILL, 01. Nov 2012, p. 111.

Their actions therefore reflected the intention of their Nazi-Masters, who dehumanized and killed Jews and other incarcerated. The German Shepherd therefore is a specialized example of human cruelty. A pars pro toto for a system of pure evil.

”… By the way, there is nothing better than a good old fashioned German Shepherd …”

Childhood memories , memories of important happenings in the Civil Rights Movement, and memories of the cruelty my ancestry had inflicted on others during the Nazi-terror, hit me with full force as I heard the speech of the President Trump at a rally in El Paso, Texas on Feb 11.

Donald Trump spoke admirably of the German Shepherd in the context of the war on drugs. for him they seemed better weapons than any intelligent machinery. Cold flashes of fear and hot flashes of anger raced through my body as I tried to make sense of the most powerful man of the world talking admirably about a dog, who well through history had become a instrument of fear and destruction. A loyal, unreflected soldier, whose only target is to impress and please his owner, no matter whom might suffer.

The Holocaust, the Civil Rights movement, the many usages for suppression and domination, made the marveling words of Trump into a grotesque scene of simplistic thoughts or even worse: showed a vivid and very well alive expression of “fantastic hegemonic imagination”, which with the Nazi-regime become not only a imagination, but a manifested weapon made out of flesh and blood.

”… By the way, there is nothing better than a good old fashioned German Shepherd …”

In many respects, the German Shepherd is a living and breathing symbol of what Emilie M. Townes calls the “fantastic hegemonic imagination”. A manifested weapon of devoted hate and suppression.

In her book “Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil” Emilie M. Townes explores the creation and cultural reproduction of structural evil as it is manifested in public policies and public policy making by highlighting this fact through examples within the US.

“Exploring evil as a cultural production highlights the systemic construction of truncated narratives designed to support and perpetuate structural inequities and forms of social oppression.”

Emilie M. Townes, Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil, New York 2006, p. 4.

Townes emphasizes that a passion for justice is not enough, but that we need to become aware of a system in which we all participate and therefore take in injustice through supposedly harmless appearing caricatures and images. She calls this “fantastic hegemonic imagination” (Ibid., p. 113.)

The German Shepherd was certainly for many Nazis a beautiful symbol of domination, superiority, and Aryan strength as we have seen above through the words of Max von Stephanitz. But while Townes refers to symbols like the Black Mammy woven into the conscience of society, this living and breathing symbol goes a step further: the imagination or Aryan-“dream” became a dangerous, complicit, and nightmarish reality for uncounted victims.

The dogs of the camps, after all, did not kill 6 million humans, or even a small fraction of those 6 million. Their handlers, even if they did nothing in the war but train animals, were not quite so innocent.

Robert Tindol, Animals and War, BRILL, 01. Nov 2012, p. 120.

The German Shepherds have been mirrors of their masters evil deeds, who themselves were bound into a demonic system of dominance and destruction.

Is there really nothing better than a good old fashioned German Shepherd? May the people in power choose their words and actions wisely while drawing on life giving imaginations, not manifested weapons of hate.

The Sound of Broken Glas under my feet

As my heels touched the sidewalk the sound of broken glas sent a cold shiver down my spine. The words of Ruth Zimbler, who had experienced Kristallnacht  as a ten year old Jew in Vienna, Austria, echoed through my mind: “The sound of broken glas under my feet haunts me every day.”

2018-11-04 09.05.22

Here I stood as a Lutheran pastor in front of our small German Lutheran Church in Chelsea and couldn’t move one bit as the nightmare of the Kristallnacht haunted me in a unexpected way on this bright and sunny Sunday morning. In not even a weeks time it would be 80 years since Germany exploded in an orgy of unbelievable violence. As businesses and synagogues were destroyed. “This night of horror, a retreat in a modern state to the savagery associated with bygone ages, laid bare to the world the barbarism of the Nazi regime. Within Germany, it brought immediate draconian measures to exclude Jews from the economy, accompanied by a restructuring of anti-Jewish policy […]” (1)

It took the Hitler´s regime over five years until it showed its ugly face of destruction and hate to the world. Up to this point hate crimes had been steadily on the rise. The acceptance of these incidences grew into the normality of a steadily increasing number of Nazi-supporters, who were numbed by Hitler´s words and perspectives of work and bread through a increasingly busy rearming economy.

The political underdog Hitler had at last succeeded. After Hindenburg had brought him into office in January 1933, he had steadily built up a system of expansion based on the suffering of millions. His speech in front of SS leaders in early November 1938 had sparked deep hate and named the blameworthy people: Jews, freemasons, Marxists, and the Churches of the world were the enemies of his system of expansion (and mass destruction). Hitler pointed towards the Jewry as the driving opponents against his plans of “German grandness”.

This speech unleashed the terrors of Kristallnacht over Germany and Austria, and marked the official begin of unprecedented suffering and terror. The SS, the fire services, the police and other instruments of law and order, looked the other way – becoming instruments of terror and murder themselves.

The signs had been there from the beginning as Hitler was instated as Reichskanzler bei Hindenburg. Back then, numerous politicians thought, they´d be able to contain him and influence his political actions through a strong system. On his sixth anniversary of his takeover of power, Hitler publicly announced his evil plans to the public, which were received with great joy. The derided prophet had at last succeeded: “I have very often in my lifetime been a prophet,” he declared, “and a mostly derided. In the time of my struggle for power it was in the first instance the Jewish people who received only with laughter my prophecies that I would some time take over the leadership of the state and of the entire people in Germany and then, among other things, also bring the Jewish problem to its solution. I believe that this once hollow laughter of Jewry in Germany has meanwhile already stuck in the throat. I want today to be a prophet again: if the international finance Jewry inside and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, the result will be not the bolshevization of the earth and thereby the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!” (2)

This political speech soon became a bitter reality as slow beginnings and normalization of hate numbed a whole nation. The “derided” prophet had at last succeeded in his evil doings.

May we be warned by history about those, who draw their diabolical strength and dehumanizing power as they gather followers for their evil deeds around them. May we be “upstanders” and not “bystanders”, as Ruth Zimbler had urges us to.

I tried to rub the shattered glas from my heels on the Church entrance, but with every new twist and turn of my foot they had dug themselves deeper into the shoe sole. I halted in my movement. Maybe they would be a fitting reminder for me as a German speaking pastor reminding me of the necessary commitment to stand against any hate crime in action.


(1) Ian Kershaw, Hitler. A Biography, New York 2008, p. 449.

(2) Ibid., p. 469.