Ghosts from the Past


Meg and I are recently back from a vacation in Central Europe.  Landing in Prague we picked up our rental car and headed immediately to Nuremberg, Germany.  I’ve always wanted to visit Nuremberg, not for the beer or food, the castle or the historic architecture rather to pay a visit to the Palace of Justice.  Between 1945 and 1949 thirteen trials, over a hundred defendants and several different courts, took place in Nuremberg.

The two most noted defendants during this post war period were Hermann Goering and Rudolph Hess.

Goering was perhaps the most influential person, next to Hitler, in the Nazi organization. He was one of only 12 Nazis elected to the Reichstag in 1928. He orchestrated the Reichstag fire on February 27, 1933 and, with Goebbels assistance, used the fire as a propaganda tool against the communists. In the mid-1930’s Goering was in charge of the Aryanization of Jewish property, a policy which extended to Jews throughout Europe.

After the events of Kristallnacht, November 8 and 9, 1938, Goering (under instructions from Hitler) called a high-level meeting of the party, on November 12, to assess the damage done during the night and place responsibility for it. Present at the meeting were Goering, Goebbels, Reinhardt  Heydrich, Walter Funk and other ranking Nazi officials. The intent of this meeting was two-fold: to make the Jews responsible for Kristallnacht and to use the events of the preceding days as a rationale for promulgating a series of anti-Semitic laws which would, in effect, remove Jews from the German economy.

“Gentlemen! Today’s meeting is of a decisive nature,” Goering announced. “I have received a letter written on the Fuehrer’s orders requesting that the Jewish question be now, once and for all, coordinated and solved one way or another.”

Kristallnacht turned out to be a crucial turning point in German policy regarding the Jews and may be considered as the actual beginning of what is now called the Holocaust. Following that meeting, a wide-ranging set of anti-Semitic laws were passed which had the clear intent, in Goering’s words, of “Aryanizing” the German economy. The path to the “Final Solution” had been chosen.

Hermann Goering was sentenced to death by hanging. He evaded the sentence by committing suicide in his cell.

Rudolph Hess served as Hitler’s deputy minister and was next in line if Goering should be unavailable for any reason.

Vera Laska, editor of Women in the Resistance and in the Holocaust: The Voices of Eyewitnesses, details information about the “killing schools” established by Rudolph Hess for the future extermination of undesirables.

These preparatory schools for murder offered the training course for the roughnecks who learned by killing thousands of Christian, German and Austrian individual victims and, thus insensitized, graduated to the main task, which was to be the genocide of millions of Jews, and eventually of Gypsies, Poles, Russians, Czechs and other less worthy Slavs. The program was administered under Rudolf Hess and, after his departure, under Martin Bormann. Medical supervision was under Werner Heyde, M.D., professor at the University of Wurzburg; 100,000 people were dispatched this way. They experimented with various gasses and injections; they photographed the effect, clocked the speed of death by a stopwatch, filmed it in slow motion and then dissected the brain—all as an undergraduate course preparatory for genocide.

Rudolf Hess was sentenced to life imprisonment. He served over 40 years of that sentence at Spandau Prison in West Berlin, Germany and committed suicide in 1987 at age 93. The Spandau Prison was demolished after the death of its last prisoner Rudolph Hess.

Nuremberg, the favorite city of Adolf Hitler, the city that hosted mass rallies for the Fuhrer and willing decimated a once vibrant Jewish community, was forced to become the epicenter of restorative justice and human rights.