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Book Review: The Third Reich at War (Richard Evans)

Reading this third volume of Richard Evans’s massive study of the Third Reich, scenes from the TV show The Man in the High Castle kept flashing before my eyes.  That show (based on a Philip K. Dick book) posits a Nazi victory in World War II, and depicts how the postwar Greater German Reich affects the people who live under it.  The problem with Evans’s book is that it fails to paint such scenes for the actual Third Reich.  Rather, it is an endless litany of dead innocents and how they were killed, mixed with occasional talk of political and military happenings, along with a tiny bit about daily life for average civilians.  And while listing how millions of innocents were killed is certainly a task that could fill many, and longer, books, after a while it becomes a chronicle of atrocity, not a work of synthesized history.

Thus, I will not specifically review this book, because if you want to know more details about Nazi crimes, you now know where to go, and there is little analysis to add.  At times I had to force myself to return to the book, not because the writing is bad (it is very competent), but because it was depressing.  This emphasis on innocents killed by the Nazis is a change from older writing.  For example, if you read Robert Ergang’s Europe Since Waterloo, 800 pages, published in 1954 and a standard textbook of the 1950s and 1960s, there is no talk at all of the Holocaust—not by name, certainly, since the name is a neologism first widely used in the 1970s, nor by any other mention.  The 1935 Nuremberg Laws are mentioned in passing, but no other mention at all is made of the Jews, or of any other group that was the focus of Nazi persecution.  The 1946 Nuremberg Trials are covered, but there is little discussion of the charges, other than “war crimes, atrocities, and acts of aggression on a vast scale.”  Some of this difference in emphasis is due to many new sources of evidence since 1954, based on efforts made since the 1960s; some of it is due to changing fashions.  William L. Shirer’s classic The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, published just a few years later (in 1960), covers the Holocaust in some detail.  But Evans’s book swings the pendulum too far to the other side; it drowns broader history, and critical history, in a sea of undifferentiated blood.

Of course, there is theoretical societal value in the feeling of being overwhelmed by atrocity—it impels the reader to a visceral conclusion of “Never Again.”  Unfortunately, there is little indication that theoretical value is ever transformed into action.  From Rwanda to Syria, millions of people are slaughtered all the time.  Even in Europe, a lethal combination of Muslim dominance and supine Europeans has created a resurgence of anti-Semitism that has led many of Europe’s remaining Jews to flee, justifiably afraid of the future.  Never again is, very often, instead right now, and that is true in no time or place more than America today, where every year millions are killed through abortion.  We have met the Nazis, and they are us.

My purpose here is to draw the analogy, exact in all relevant ways, between the modern American system of abortion and similar Nazi killings.  The parallel is not to the Holocaust itself.  It is true that the Holocaust (correctly defined as the attempt to exterminate Jews) is generally analogous to our abortion practices, differing most obviously in that more people have been killed by abortion (although it is idle and foolish to rank evils based on the number of dead, as if we were grading on a curve).  But the Holocaust is not the most direct Nazi analogue to our abortion program.  That non-honor goes to the earlier Nazi efforts to kill the mentally and physically handicapped, generally labeled the “Aktion T4” program, which in the late 1930s killed something more than 100,000 people, many children, and laid the groundwork for the subsequent Holocaust.

The T4 program was strikingly similar to the abortion regime currently imposed on the United States.  It used ideological justifications, language, procedures, and practices remarkably similar to our abortion industry, and it was participated in and defended by the same types of people, using much the same arguments, as our abortion regime.  While superficial differences arising from time, place, and victims exist, there were are only two material differences.  First, the ideological justification of the Aktion T4 program was an unhinged emphasis on collective national purification; for those who imposed and impose abortion on America, the ideological justification was and is primarily an unhinged emphasis on individual autonomy, so-called “choice” (with a side order of collective purification, through killing “populations that we don’t want to have too many of,” as Ruth Bader Ginsburg recently slipped up by commenting).  And unlike abortion, which has lasted for decades, the Aktion T4 program was stopped relatively quickly, by effective action taken at great personal risk by Catholic bishops, whose successors today, with a few exceptions, are mealy-mouthed, weak and fearful men.

As Evans relates, the genesis of the T4 program was the forced sterilization program begun by the Nazis as soon as they came to power.  That program was designed to eliminate “hereditary weakness,” and was no different in kind than the program being implemented at the same time and earlier in the United States, led by the Progressives and such people as Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood (“planned” there meaning “the elimination of the ‘feebleminded’ and of black people”).  The Nazi sterilization program included allowing abortions, otherwise illegal, for “racial health” (and Jews were actively encouraged to obtain abortions).  As always, fond of taking things to their logical conclusion and having the power to do so, the Nazis very early on considered expanding this to killing of mental patients and other “defectives,” using the same ideological justification as underlay the sterilization program.  By 1935, Hitler was telling his doctor, Karl Brandt, that he planned to radically expand the program during wartime, when it could be done without garnering attention.  Long before that, though, propaganda began to be disseminated about “life unworthy of life,” and the necessary administrative structure put into place, including pressure to transfer institutionalized patients to facilities run not by the Church, but by the SS.

As he had promised, as soon as war arrived in 1939, Hitler moved to implement his program of murder, under the aegis of the “Reich Committee for the Scientific Registering of Serious Hereditary and Congenital Illnesses.”  (Whether it’s handicapped people or guns, allowing grasping big government types to register anything is always a mistake.)  The killing program was run directly from the Chancellery, Hitler’s personal administrative apparatus, rather than through the Party or the civil service, in order to speed the process up and avoid inconvenient objections from those with moral qualms.  The focus initially was on children—those “suffering from Down’s Syndrome, microcephaly, the absence of a limb or deformities of the head or spine” and so forth.  Not children in institutions, though—rather those at home, living with their parents, who were told that their children were going to a “specialist clinic” to receive treatment to improve their condition—where they would die of “natural causes,” as their parents were informed, as they received random ashes from the crematoria identified as the remains of their child.

The ideological justification for this was, as I noted above, part and parcel of the Nazi program of “improving the race”—both in general, and to aid in fighting the war.  But ideology was only part of the T4 program.  Personal enrichment also entered into the picture.  Doctors and midwives were paid for reporting children to be killed.  They “sent lists of the infants in question to a postal box number in Berlin,” where bureaucrats arranged for the “nearest public health office [to] order the child’s admission to a pediatric clinic.”  True, the payments per head were a mere two Reichsmarks, a far cry from the luxurious enrichment of those who participate in America’s abortion industry.  As we learned in the summer of 2015 (not that it was much of a secret before), most of America’s abortion industry participates for personal gain, while mouthing, like the Nazis, propagandistic language of “women’s health” and “choice,” and arguing that their actions improve the lives of the nation as a whole.  Evil individuals running Planned Parenthood, such as Deborah Nucatola, hope to earn enough money by selling the body parts of dead babies to buy a Lamborghini.  So, as often happens, ideology shades into corruption, reinforcing the evil that men do.

Evans notes that within the medical community, the T4 program was no secret—the medical establishment was largely or wholly perverted, just as much of our medical establishment is perverted today with respect to abortion.  It is true that most American doctors refuse to perform abortions, but the medical establishment that controls medical schools enforces a radical pro-abortion line, and doctors are increasingly threatened with loss of licenses for opposition to abortion, or for refusal to arrange for someone else to do the killing if they will not.  “A large number of health officials and doctors were involved in the [T4] scheme, whose nature and purpose thus became widely known in the medical profession.  Few of them objected. . . . Virtually the entire medical profession had been actively involved in the sterilization program, and from here it was but a short step in the minds of many to involuntary euthanasia. . . . Many of those doctors involved spoke with pride of their work even after the war, maintaining that they had been contributing to human progress.”  We can only wonder whether the same will be true in a future post-abortion world.

The T4 program was quickly expanded to older children, adolescents, and adults.  Given the large numbers projected to be killed, starvation and other slow methods were not adequate, so the doctors in charge, such as Victor Brack and Werner Heyde, developed methods of gassing groups of people, later used on an even greater scale in the Holocaust, and then ways of burning the corpses en masse.  These methods were used to empty the mental asylums and other institutions, where there were no parents or guardians nearby to object to what was obviously happening (most parents objected to the T4 killings when they suspected their real nature, although some were happy to participate in “improving the race” and “making sure every child was wanted”).  Those who implemented the T4 program also showed the same ghoulish enjoyment of their killings as the Planned Parenthood employees we saw on video in the summer of 2015.  “At Hartheim [one of the asylums with crematoria newly built in] the staff held a party to celebrate their ten-thousandth cremation, assembling in a crematorium around the naked body of a recently gassed victim, which was laid out on a stretcher and covered with flowers.  One staff member dressed as a clergyman and performed a short ceremony, then beer was distributed to all present.”

The program was kept quiet by the Nazis, outside the medical profession—as with today’s abortionists, the program was kept hidden from the public by the use of pseudonyms, innocuous titles and nondescript buildings, and sloganeering in response to inquiries.  The press cooperated, of course.  Public objections were rare.  When one local judge, Lothar Kreyssig (a Confessing Church member) voiced his suspicions to the Justice Minister (here, of Brandenburg), the Justice Minister’s response “was to try once more to draft a law giving effective immunity to the murderers, only to have it vetoed by Hitler on the grounds that the publicity would give dangerous ammunition to Allied propaganda.”  Instead, as before, the program was run extra-legally by decree out of Hitler’s Chancellery.  Kreyssig continued to complain, including to State Secretary Roland Freisler (later the infamous chief judge of the “People’s Court”), and was forcibly retired and silenced as a result, while the Justice Ministry assured judges and prosecutors that Hitler was well aware and approved of the murder program, even though it was technically illegal, as well as extra-legal.  (Kreyssig’s silencing is directly analogous to the machinery of the American state currently being used against those who have exposed the true nature of America’s abortion regime, such as the heroic David Daleiden, who faces trumped-up criminal charges—more personal punishment than Kreyssig faced.)  The whole legal structure of involuntary euthanasia, therefore, was very like the program of unrestricted abortion we have in America, the most extreme in the Western world, which was similarly imposed illegally and extra-legally.  In our case it was not the party in power, but the unelected Supreme Court, which imposed abortion, through its creating out of whole cloth a phantom right to kill babies and reading it into the Constitution.  The only difference is that our equivalents to Roland Freisler, such as Harry Blackmun and William Brennan, took their actions publicly and to open accolades. And unlike Freisler, they died in their beds, though presumably to go to the same reward as Freisler.

We should not ignore the personal responsibility of many parents in both abortion and the T4 program, even if we recognize and acknowledge the possible emotional burden an unwanted or handicapped child places on a parent.  The initial steps in actually implementing the T4 program were internally justified by a 1939 letter from a father, Richard Kretschmar, to Hitler, wanting his infant son (“lacking a leg and suffering from convulsions”) killed, but his doctor refused, afraid not of the act, but of a possible prosecution for murder.  Similarly, while traditionally and rationally parents have been regarded as less morally culpable for abortion than the person who performs the murder for money, this distinction should not hold in all cases.  Sometimes, as was Richard Kretschmar, a parent who kills his baby is just as morally culpable as the abortionist, especially in this day of ultrasounds, where a heartbeat is clearly seen at less than five weeks after conception.

On the rare occasions that abortion proponents are actually willing to debate the substance of abortion, rather than chanting inane and meaningless slogans to drown out rational thought, you sometimes hear that one cannot compare abortion to the killing of someone able to appreciate what is happening to him, mentally deficient or not.  This, of course, ignores partial birth abortions, as well as tends to rely on politicized science about at what point an unborn child can feel pain.  But such arguments revolving around consciousness are, on a deeper level, profoundly stupid.  They suggest that there was nothing wrong when Jewish children were removed from Auschwitz, “between the ages of five and twelve,” and “taken on 20 April 1945 to a sub-camp at Bullenhuser Damm.”  There they “were injected with morphine, after which an SS man accompanying them hanged the sleeping children from a hook one by one, pulling on their bodies to make sure they would die.”  The reality is that the only difference between an abortionist today and that SS man is that the SS man knew for certain his victims couldn’t feel their own deaths.  The moral quantity is the same.

The Nazis, as is well known and Evans discusses at length, were violently opposed to Christianity, and had by 1939 long been actively persecuting both the small number of Protestants uncooperative with the Nazi program (mainly embodied in the Confessing Church) and the much larger number of uncooperative Catholics.  The Pope had repeatedly and formally censured the Nazis, in this area specifically with regard to the sterilization program.  Nonetheless, most priests and bishops were afraid, for good reason, both of their personal safety and of further suppression of the Church, since many priests were already in Dachau.  And quite a few bishops supported other goals of the Third Reich.  But it only took a few months, until mid-1940, for the Catholic hierarchy to get wind of the murders being conducted under the T4 program, in part through the voiced concerns of parents and also through the Caritas Association, which ran asylums.

Bishop Clemens August von Galen led the Catholic response, initially through official channels, but he was stonewalled by the Ministry of the Interior and received limited support from other bishops, some of whom were afraid of further persecution of priests, especially those already imprisoned in concentration camps.  Nonetheless, in August 1941, he explicitly identified and publicly reviled the T4 program from the pulpit, and demanded that Catholics censure and avoid those involved in it.  Galen printed his sermons and distributed them widely.  “The sensation created by the sermons . . . was enormous.”  The Gestapo arrested the priests in charge of printing, as well as others who spoke out in response.  But other bishops took up the cry from the pulpit. “This was the strongest, most explicit and most widespread protest movement against any Nazi policy since the beginning of the Third Reich.”  And, notably, it took place at the height of the war and Nazi success in it, which was not the time most people were speaking out on topics the Nazis didn’t like.  Galen himself expected he would certainly be killed, or, more precisely, martyred.

But that didn’t happen, because “so huge was the publicity he had generated that the Nazi leaders, enraged though they were, feared to take any action against him.”  Despite pressure to hang him from Martin Bormann and others, Hitler and Goebbels simply didn’t dare to (although they had explicit plans to do so immediately after the war).  Given backbone and courage by Galen, Catholics across the spectrum moved to obstruct the T4 program, in ways overt and covert.  Anti-Nazi sentiment began to rise, and muttering directed at Hitler (who many believed did not know about the program, but they were beginning to change their minds) increased.  Thus, by August 24, the T4 program was shut down (although sub rosa killings on a smaller scale of “life unworthy of life” continued until the end of the war).  The lesson learned by the Nazis, though, wasn’t not to kill people—it was “just in case a future action of this kind against another minority ran into similar trouble, it was inadvisable to put such an order down in writing.”  The machinery of extermination, including the means to kill and dispose of large numbers of people, had been developed, and soon enough, the Nazis had a new use for it.

Such aggressive action as Galen’s has never been taken by American bishops on abortion, so we have no idea what effect it would have.  Probably, to be fair, less than it did in 1941, in these post-Christian times.  Occasionally our bishops used to criticize abortion, usually in a dry and formal manner, often (like the late Cardinal Bernardin) trying to diffuse the evil among other supposed moral equivalents, such as capital punishment and poverty.  Now, given cover by Pope Francis, they don’t even bother to do that.  Rather than excoriating, denying Communion to, and publicly excommunicating abortionists and the judges and politicians who enable them, they stay silent and inactive.  Yet if they did anything, they would risk little, other than exclusion from upper-crust society and insults from the leftist media/entertainment complex (which does its part, like the press in Nazi Germany, by suppressing pictures of tiny babies in the womb and of the corpses of murdered babies).  The bishops certainly would not risk martyrdom, like Galen.  Still, they do nothing, because they are a disgrace to the Church of Peter.

This is not all of the story, of course.  I could discuss Europe, where abortion is more restricted than in America (in part because there the rules are based on the democratic process rather than unlawful judicial fiat), but where involuntary euthanasia is much farther advanced.  I could talk about how Catholic hospitals in Belgium now kill children and old people without their consent.  But all this, and much more, is merely adding to the key point that for whatever reason, modernity tends to the killing of innocents.  Thus, to pretend that such evils were encapsulated in, and ended with, the Third Reich is willful blindness.  On the other hand, societies can return to virtue, or be replaced by virtuous societies built on the old.  The attitude that underlay Ergang’s failure to discuss the Holocaust has changed over time into one that created a Holocaust National Museum on the Washington Mall.  If there is any justice, in a future time our descendants will revile those who exalt the demonic idol of “choice,” just as we revile Nazis who exalted “pure Aryan blood.”  Our descendants will, we can only hope, build museums to the innocent victims of today, punish the guilty who are still alive, and spit on their memories if they have managed to die in their beds.

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