Posts Tagged ‘Germany’

Gas Chamber – An American Idea

May 9, 2010

The Nazis’ Murder of Jews, Communists and Gypsies In Gas Chambers Was an AMERICAN Idea

Believe it or not, the Nazis’ murder of Jews, communists and gypsies using gas chambers was actually an American idea.

As the San Francisco Chronicle wrote in 2003:

the concept of a white, blond-haired, blue-eyed master Nordic race didn’t originate with Hitler. The idea was created in the United States, and cultivated in California, decades before Hitler came to power. California eugenicists played an important, although little-known, role in the American eugenics movement’s campaign for ethnic cleansing.

Eugenics was the pseudoscience aimed at “improving” the human race. In its extreme, racist form, this meant wiping away all human beings deemed “unfit,” preserving only those who conformed to a Nordic stereotype. Elements of the philosophy were enshrined as national policy by forced sterilization and segregation laws, as well as marriage restrictions, enacted in 27 states. In 1909, California became the third state to adopt such laws. Ultimately, eugenics practitioners coercively sterilized some 60,000 Americans, barred the marriage of thousands, forcibly segregated thousands in “colonies,” and persecuted untold numbers in ways we are just learning. Before World War II, nearly half of coercive sterilizations were done in California, and even after the war, the state accounted for a third of all such surgeries.

California was considered an epicenter of the American eugenics movement. During the 20th century’s first decades, California’s eugenicists included potent but little-known race scientists, such as Army venereal disease specialist Dr. Paul Popenoe, citrus magnate Paul Gosney, Sacramento banker Charles Goethe, as well as members of the California state Board of Charities and Corrections and the University of California Board of Regents.

Eugenics would have been so much bizarre parlor talk had it not been for extensive financing by corporate philanthropies, specifically the Carnegie Institution, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Harriman railroad fortune. They were all in league with some of America’s most respected scientists from such prestigious universities as Stanford, Yale, Harvard and Princeton. These academicians espoused race theory and race science, and then faked and twisted data to serve eugenics’ racist aims.

Stanford President David Starr Jordan originated the notion of “race and blood” in his 1902 racial epistle “Blood of a Nation”, in which the university scholar declared that human qualities and conditions such as talent and poverty were passed through the blood.

In 1904, the Carnegie Institution established a laboratory complex at Cold Spring Harbor on Long Island that stockpiled millions of index cards on ordinary Americans, as researchers carefully plotted the removal of families, bloodlines and whole peoples. From Cold Spring Harbor, eugenics advocates agitated in the legislatures of America, as well as the nation’s social service agencies and associations.

The Harriman railroad fortune paid local charities, such as the New York Bureau of Industries and Immigration, to seek out Jewish, Italian and other immigrants in New York and other crowded cities and subject them to deportation, confinement or forced sterilization.

The Rockefeller Foundation helped found the German eugenics program and even funded the program that Josef Mengele worked in before he went to Auschwitz.

Much of the spiritual guidance and political agitation for the American eugenics movement came from California’s quasi-autonomous eugenic societies, such as Pasadena’s Human Betterment Foundation and the California branch of the American Eugenics Society, which coordinated much of their activity with the Eugenics Research Society in Long Island. These organizations — which functioned as part of a closely-knit network — published racist eugenic newsletters and pseudoscientific journals, such as Eugenical News and Eugenics, and propagandized for the Nazis.

***

The most commonly suggested method of eugenicide in the United States was a “lethal chamber” or public, locally operated gas chambers. In 1918, Popenoe, the Army venereal disease specialist during World War I, co-wrote the widely used textbook, “Applied Eugenics”, which argued,

“From an historical point of view, the first method which presents itself is execution . . . Its value in keeping up the standard of the race should not be underestimated.”

“Applied Eugenics” also devoted a chapter to “Lethal Selection”, which operated “through the destruction of the individual by some adverse feature of the environment, such as excessive cold, or bacteria, or by bodily deficiency.”

Eugenic breeders believed American society was not ready to implement an organized lethal solution. But many mental institutions and doctors practiced improvised medical lethality and passive euthanasia on their own. One institution in Lincoln, Ill., fed its incoming patients milk from tubercular cows believing a eugenically strong individual would be immune. Thirty to 40 percent annual death rates resulted at Lincoln. Some doctors practiced passive eugenicide one newborn infant at a time. Others doctors at mental institutions engaged in lethal neglect.

***

Even the U.S. Supreme Court endorsed aspects of eugenics. In its infamous 1927 decision, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote,

“It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind . . . Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

This decision opened the floodgates for thousands to be coercively sterilized or otherwise persecuted as subhuman. Years later, the Nazis at the Nuremberg trials quoted Holmes’ words in their own defense.

Only after eugenics became entrenched in the United States was the campaign transplanted into Germany, in no small measure through the efforts of California eugenicists, who published booklets idealizing sterilization and circulated them to German officials and scientists.

Hitler studied American eugenics laws. He tried to legitimize his anti-Semitism by medicalizing it, and wrapping it in the more palatable pseudoscientific facade of eugenics. Hitler was able to recruit more followers among reasonable Germans by claiming that science was on his side. Hitler’s race hatred sprung from his own mind, but the intellectual outlines of the eugenics Hitler adopted in 1924 were made in America.

During the ’20s, Carnegie Institution eugenic scientists cultivated deep personal and professional relationships with Germany’s fascist eugenicists. In “Mein Kampf”, published in 1924, Hitler quoted American eugenic ideology and openly displayed a thorough knowledge of American eugenics.

“There is today one state”, wrote Hitler, “in which at least weak beginnings toward a better conception (of immigration) are noticeable. Of course, it is not our model German Republic, but the United States.”

***

During the Reich’s early years, eugenicists across America welcomed Hitler’s plans as the logical fulfillment of their own decades of research and effort. California eugenicists republished Nazi propaganda for American consumption. They also arranged for Nazi scientific exhibits, such as an August 1934 display at the L.A. County Museum, for the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association.

In 1934, as Germany’s sterilizations were accelerating beyond 5,000 per month, the California eugenics leader C. M. Goethe, upon returning from Germany, ebulliently bragged to a colleague,

“You will be interested to know that your work has played a powerful part in shaping the opinions of the group of intellectuals who are behind Hitler in this epoch-making program. Everywhere I sensed that their opinions have been tremendously stimulated by American thought . . . I want you, my dear friend, to carry this thought with you for the rest of your life, that you have really jolted into action a great government of 60 million people.”

***

More than just providing the scientific roadmap, America funded Germany’s eugenic institutions.

By 1926, Rockefeller had donated some $410,000 — almost $4 million in today’s money — to hundreds of German researchers. In May 1926, Rockefeller awarded $250,000 toward creation of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Psychiatry. Among the leading psychiatrists at the German Psychiatric Institute was Ernst Rüdin, who became director and eventually an architect of Hitler’s systematic medical repression.

Another in the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute’s complex of eugenics institutions was the Institute for Brain Research. Since 1915, it had operated out of a single room. Everything changed when Rockefeller money arrived in 1929. A grant of $317,000 allowed the institute to construct a major building and take center stage in German race biology. The institute received additional grants from the Rockefeller Foundation during the next several years. Leading the institute, once again, was Hitler’s medical henchman Ernst Rüdin. Rüdin’s organization became a prime director and recipient of the murderous experimentation and research conducted on Jews, Gypsies and others.

Beginning in 1940, thousands of Germans taken from old age homes, mental institutions and other custodial facilities were systematically gassed. Between 50,000 and 100,000 were eventually killed.

Leon Whitney, executive secretary of the American Eugenics Society, declared of Nazism, “While we were pussy-footing around … the Germans were calling a spade a spade.”

A special recipient of Rockefeller funding was the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics in Berlin. For decades,

American eugenicists had craved twins to advance their research into heredity.

The Institute was now prepared to undertake such research on an unprecedented level. On May 13, 1932, the Rockefeller Foundation in New York dispatched a radiogram to its Paris office: JUNE MEETING EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE NINE THOUSAND DOLLARS OVER THREE YEAR PERIOD TO KWG INSTITUTE ANTHROPOLOGY FOR RESEARCH ON TWINS AND EFFECTS ON LATER GENERATIONS OF SUBSTANCES TOXIC FOR GERM PLASM.

At the time of Rockefeller’s endowment, Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer, a hero in American eugenics circles, functioned as a head of the Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics. Rockefeller funding of that institute continued both directly and through other research conduits during Verschuer’s early tenure. In 1935, Verschuer left the institute to form a rival eugenics facility in Frankfurt that was much heralded in the American eugenics press. Research on twins in the Third Reich exploded, backed by government decrees. Verschuer wrote in Der Erbarzt, a eugenics doctor’s journal he edited, that Germany’s war would yield a “total solution to the Jewish problem.”

Verschuer had a longtime assistant. His name was Josef Mengele.

***

Rockefeller executives never knew of Mengele. With few exceptions, the foundation had ceased all eugenics studies in Nazi-occupied Europe before the war erupted in 1939. But by that time the die had been cast. The talented men Rockefeller and Carnegie financed, the great institutions they helped found, and the science they helped create took on a scientific momentum of their own.

As Michel Crichton wrote in 2004:

Its supporters included Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Winston Churchill. It was approved by Supreme Court justices Oliver Wendell Holmes and Louis Brandeis, who ruled in its favor. The famous names who supported it included Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone; activist Margaret Sanger; botanist Luther Burbank; Leland Stanford, founder of Stanford University; the novelist H. G. Wells; the playwright George Bernard Shaw; and hundreds of others. Nobel Prize winners gave support. Research was backed by the Carnegie and Rockefeller Foundations. The Cold Springs Harbor Institute was built to carry out this research, but important work was also done at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford and Johns Hopkins. Legislation to address the crisis was passed in states from New York to California.

These efforts had the support of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Medical Association, and the National Research Council. It was said that if Jesus were alive, he would have supported this effort.

All in all, the research, legislation and molding of public opinion surrounding the theory went on for almost half a century. Those who opposed the theory were shouted down and called reactionary, blind to reality, or just plain ignorant. But in hindsight, what is surprising is that so few people objected.

***

The plan was to identify individuals who were feeble-minded — Jews were agreed to be largely feeble-minded, but so were many foreigners, as well as blacks — and stop them from breeding by isolation in institutions or by sterilization.

***

Such views were widely shared. H.G. Wells spoke against “ill-trained swarms of inferior citizens”. Theodore Roosevelt said that “Society has no business to permit degenerates to reproduce their kind.” Luther Burbank” “Stop permitting criminals and weaklings to reproduce.” George Bernard Shaw said that only eugenics could save mankind.

***

Eugenics research was funded by the Carnegie Foundation, and later by the Rockefeller Foundation. The latter was so enthusiastic that even after the center of the eugenics effort moved to Germany, and involved the gassing of individuals from mental institutions, the Rockefeller Foundation continued to finance German researchers at a very high level. (The foundation was quiet about it, but they were still funding research in 1939, only months before the onset of World War II.)

Since the 1920s, American eugenicists had been jealous because the Germans had taken leadership of the movement away from them. The Germans were admirably progressive. They set up ordinary-looking houses where “mental defectives” were brought and interviewed one at a time, before being led into a back room, which was, in fact, a gas chamber. There, they were gassed with carbon monoxide, and their bodies disposed of in a crematorium located on the property.

Eventually, this program was expanded into a vast network of concentration camps located near railroad lines, enabling the efficient transport and of killing ten million undesirables.

After World War II, nobody was a eugenicist, and nobody had ever been a eugenicist. Biographers of the celebrated and the powerful did not dwell on the attractions of this philosophy to their subjects, and sometimes did not mention it at all. Eugenics ceased to be a subject for college classrooms, although some argue that its ideas continue to have currency in disguised form.

***

The scientific establishment in both the United States and Germany did not mount any sustained protest. Quite the contrary. In Germany scientists quickly fell into line with the program. Modern German researchers have gone back to review Nazi documents from the 1930s. They expected to find directives telling scientists what research should be done. But none were necessary. In the words of Ute Deichman, “Scientists, including those who were not members of the [Nazi] party, helped to get funding for their work through their modified behavior and direct cooperation with the state.” Deichman speaks of the “active role of scientists themselves in regard to Nazi race policy … where [research] was aimed at confirming the racial doctrine … no external pressure can be documented.” German scientists adjusted their research interests to the new policies. And those few who did not adjust disappeared.

Appendix 1, State of Fear (Avon 2004).

Note: Obviously, not all Americans bought into crazy eugenics theories.

http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2010/02/nazis-murder-of-jews-communists-and.html

European Union, the Euro and Germany

April 5, 2010

By Peter Zeihan

The global system is undergoing profound change. Three powers — Germany, Iran and China — face challenges forcing them to refashion the way they interact with their regions and the world. We will explore each of these three states in detail in our next three geopolitical weeklies, highlighting how STRATFOR’s assessments of these states are evolving. We will examine Germany first.

Germany’s Place in Europe

European history has been the chronicle of other European powers struggling to constrain Germany, particularly since German unification in 1871. The problem has always been geopolitical. Germany lies on the North European Plain, with France to its west and Russia to its east. If both were to attack at the same time, Germany would collapse. German strategy in 1871, 1914 and 1939 called for pre-emptive strikes on France to prevent a two-front war. (The last two attempts failed disastrously, of course.)

As much as Germany’s strategy engendered mistrust in Germany’s neighbors, they certainly understood Germany’s needs. And so European strategy after World War II involved reshaping the regional dynamic so that Germany would never face this problem again and so would never need to be a military power again. Germany’s military policy was subordinated to NATO and its economic policy to the European Economic Community (the forerunner of today’s European Union). NATO solved Germany’s short-run problem, while the European Union was seen as solving its long-run problem. For the Europeans — including the Germans — these structures represented the best of both worlds. They harnessed German capital and economic dynamism, submerged Germany into a larger economic entity, gave the Germans what they needed economically so they didn’t have to seek it militarily, and ensured that the Germans had no reason — or ability — to strike out on their own.

This system worked particularly well after the Cold War ended. Defense threats and their associated costs were reduced. There were lingering sovereignty issues, of course, but these were not critical during the good times: Such problems easily can be dealt with or deferred while the money flows. The example of a European development that represented this money-over-sovereignty paradigm was the European Monetary Union, best represented by the European common currency, the euro.

STRATFOR has always doubted the euro would last. Having the same currency and monetary policy for rich, technocratic, capital-intensive economies like Germany as for poor, agrarian/manufacturing economies like Spain always seemed like asking for problems. Countries like Germany tend to favor high interest rates to attract investment capital. They don’t mind a strong currency, since what they produce is so high up on the value-added scale that they can compete regardless. Countries like Spain, however, need a cheap currency, since there isn’t anything particularly value-added about most of their exports. These states must find a way to be price competitive. Their ability to grow largely depends upon getting access to cheap credit they can direct to places the market might not appreciate.

STRATFOR figured that creating a single currency system would trigger high inflation in the poorer states as they gained access to capital they couldn’t qualify for on their own merits. We figured such access would generate massive debts in those states. And we figured such debts would contribute to discontent across the currency zone as the European Central Bank (ECB) catered to the needs of some economies at the expense of others.

All this and more has happened. We saw the 2008-2009 financial crisis in Central Europe as particularly instructive. Despite their shared EU membership, the Western European members were quite reluctant to bail out their eastern partners. We became even more convinced that such inconsistencies would eventually doom the currency union, and that the euro’s eventual dissolution would take the European Union with it. Now, we’re not so sure.

What if, instead of the euro being designed to further contain the Germans, the Germans crafted the euro to rewire the European Union for their own purposes?

Germany and the Current Crisis

The crux of the current crisis in Europe is that most EU states, but in particular the Club Med states of Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy (in that order), have done such a poor job of keeping their budgets under control that they are flirting with debt defaults. All have grown fat and lazy off the cheap credit the euro brought them. Instead of using that credit to trigger broad sustainable economic growth, they lived off the difference between the credit they received due to the euro and the credit they qualified for on their own merits. Social programs funded by debt exploded; after all, the cost of that debt was low as the Club Med countries coasted on the bond prices of Germany. At present, interest rates set by the ECB stand at 1 percent; in the past, on its own merits, Greece’s often rose to double digits. The resulting government debt load in Greece — which now exceeds annual Greek gross domestic product — will probably result in either a default (triggered by efforts to maintain such programs) or a social revolution (triggered by an effort to cut such programs). It is entirely possible that both will happen.

What made us look at this in a new light was an interview with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble on March 13 in which he essentially said that if Greece, or any other eurozone member, could not right their finances, they should be ejected from the eurozone. This really got our attention. It is not so much that there is no legal way to do this. (And there is not; Greece is a full EU member, and eurozone membership issues are clearly a category where any member can veto any major decision.) Instead, what jumped out at us is that someone of Schauble’s gravitas doesn’t go about casually making threats, and this is not the sort of statement made by a country that is constrained, harnessed, submerged or placated. It is not even the sort of statement made by just any EU member, but rather by the decisive member. Germany now appears prepared not just to contemplate, but to publicly contemplate, the re-engineering of Europe for its own interests. It may not do it, or it may not do it now, but it has now been said, and that will change Germany’s relationship to Europe.

A closer look at the euro’s effects indicates why Schauble felt confident enough to take such a bold stance.

Part of being within the same currency zone means being locked into the same market. One must compete with everyone else in that market for pretty much everything. This allows Slovaks to qualify for mortgage loans at the same interest rates the Dutch enjoy, but it also means that efficient Irish workers are actively competing with inefficient Spanish workers — or more to the issue of the day, that ultraefficient German workers are competing directly with ultra inefficient Greek workers.

The chart below measures the relative cost of labor per unit of economic output produced. It all too vividly highlights what happens when workers compete. (We have included U.S. data as a benchmark.) Those who are not as productive try to paper over the problem with credit. Since the euro was introduced, all of Germany’s euro partners have found themselves becoming less and less efficient relative to Germany. Germans are at the bottom of the graph, indicating that their labor costs have barely budged. Club Med dominates the top rankings, as access to cheaper credit has made them even less, not more, efficient than they already were. Back-of-the-envelope math indicates that in the past decade, Germany has gained roughly a 25 percent cost advantage over Club Med.


3-15-10-Eurozone_labor_costs_400.jpg

The implications of this are difficult to overstate. If the euro is essentially gutting the European — and again to a greater extent the Club Med — economic base, then Germany is achieving by stealth what it failed to achieve in the past thousand years of intra-European struggles. In essence, European states are borrowing money (mostly from Germany) in order to purchase imported goods (mostly from Germany) because their own workers cannot compete on price (mostly because of Germany). This is not limited to states actually within the eurozone, but also includes any state affiliated with the zone; the relative labor costs for most of the Central European states that have not even joined the euro yet have risen by even more during this same period.

It is not so much that STRATFOR now sees the euro as workable in the long run — we still don’t — it’s more that our assessment of the euro is shifting from the belief that it was a straightjacket for Germany to the belief that it is Germany’s springboard. In the first assessment, the euro would have broken as Germany was denied the right to chart its own destiny. Now, it might well break because Germany is becoming a bit too successful at charting its own destiny. And as it dawns on one European country after another that there was more to the euro than cheap credit, the ties that bind are almost certainly going to weaken.

The paradigm that created the European Union — that Germany would be harnessed and contained — is shifting. Germany now has not only found its voice, it is beginning to express, and hold to, its own national interest. A political consensus has emerged in Germany against bailing out Greece. Moreover, a political consensus has emerged in Germany that the rules of the euro zone are Germany’s to refashion. As the European Union’s anchor member, Germany has a very good point. But this was not the “union” the rest of Europe signed up for — it is the Mitteleuropa that the rest of Europe will remember well.

http://www.marketoracle.co.uk/Article17922.html

PBS presents ‘God on Trial’ in Auschwitz

March 20, 2010

By Tom Tugend

The prosecutor reads the charges against God: murder, collaboration with the enemy, breach of contract with His chosen people.

Setting: A barrack in Auschwitz, with some 20 Jewish prisoners, half of whom will be gassed in the morning.

Time: evening, sometime during the Holocaust.

So opens “God on Trial,” an intellectual and emotional masterpiece, airing on PBS stations on Sunday evening, Nov. 9, the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht.

A half-Jew, once a respected judge in Germany, presides over the trial. A young prisoner is the prosecutor, while his father speaks for the defense. A rabbi, who has committed the entire Torah to memory, cites chapter and verse. Other inmates break in occasionally, drawing on their own experiences to accuse or defend the Almighty.

In his opening statement, the prosecutor recites the history of Jewish persecution, from Babylon to the Romans to Czarist Russia, to show that God has habitually broken his covenant with the children of Israel.

No, counters the defense, it is the Jews who are the contract breakers, because they forgot the Torah.

Prosecutor: Why did God disperse the Jews?

Defense: To spread knowledge of His word throughout the world.

The defense argues that God, like a surgeon, must occasionally remove the gangrene to purify the body and usher in the golden age.

Are you saying that Mengele and Hitler are doing God’s work? the prosecution asks. Do you say that only the righteous will survive? Not true. Only the cunning and shameless will survive — and will these build the nation of Israel?

A former physicist from France asks for rational reasoning. It’s not about faith, it’s about who has the power, he argues.

A cynical inmate notes that the buckles on the belts of German soldiers carry the motto “Gott Mit Uns” — God Is With Us — and suggests that the Almighty has decided to transfer his covenant to someone else.

The nonreligious judge tells the “jury” that the Nazis want to strip them not just of their lives, but also their dignity, and warns that “Now they also want to take away your God, even a foolish god.”

These few examples only hint as the depth and conviction of the give-and-take, which make our customary debates about the existence and belief in God sound like high-school exercises.

It would be wrong to give away the final verdict, or the heart-stopping closing scene, but suffice that both atheists and believers will find some satisfaction and solace.

“God on Trial” was first aired by the BBC and features a superb cast of mostly British actors, including Antony Sher, Rupert Graves, Dominic Cooper, Stellan Skarsgard and Jack Shepherd.

Persistent reports over 60 years have it that something resembling such a trial actually took place in Auschwitz, with Elie Wiesel frequently cited as the authority for the report.

Wiesel himself, speaking from New York, set the record straight.

“When I was in Auschwitz, the former head of a yeshiva and I worked together for about two weeks, carrying bricks,” Wiesel recounted.

When they had a chance to talk together, the rabbi would speculate on the idea of bringing God before a rabbinical court on charges of abandoning his people.

The verdict might be guilty or, at least, that God owed the Jews an explanation for the Holocaust, said Wiesel, who lost track of the rabbi, but presumes he was killed by the Germans. Wiesel doesn’t know whether the rabbi was ever able to realize his idea.

Executive producer Mark Redhead (“Bloody Sunday”) and writer Frank Cottrell Boyce (“Welcome to Sarajevo”) are Christians and, speaking from London, admitted to some trepidation in tackling so sensitive and Jewish a subject.

Cottrell Boyce, a devout Catholic, said, “I first talked to a number of rabbis and was assured that Jews had a long tradition of arguing with God. That impressed me, because Christians would never put God on trial.

“One point I wanted to make is that the spirit of the Jews was not completely crushed by the Holocaust, that they were more than walking skeletons.”

But, essentially, the teleplay is not about the Holocaust, but about God, he said. “Since 9/11 and the tsunami, God seems to be back on the scene again.”

Asked whether the arguments about God’s guilt had shaken his own Catholic faith, he responded, “Sure, it’s shaken all the time, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Redhead went one step further, proposing that the drama is not about the existence of God, “but more about the nature of faith, how we conduct ourselves in the face of savagery, how we try to find solid ground in a bottomless swamp.”

He added, “We are asking about the meaning of life, because if the Holocaust had no meaning, then nothing has any meaning.”

KCET will air “God on Trial” on Masterpiece Contemporary at 9 p.m. on Nov. 9.

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PBS presents ‘God on Trial’ in Auschwitz

By Tom Tugend

http://www.jewishjournal.com/ television/article/pbs_presents_god_on_trial_in_auschwitz_20081106/

The prosecutor reads the charges against God: murder, collaboration with the enemy, breach of contract with His chosen people.

Setting: A barrack in Auschwitz, with some 20 Jewish prisoners, half of whom will be gassed in the morning.

Time: evening, sometime during the Holocaust.

So opens “God on Trial,” an intellectual and emotional masterpiece, airing on PBS stations on Sunday evening, Nov. 9, the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht.

A half-Jew, once a respected judge in Germany, presides over the trial. A young prisoner is the prosecutor, while his father speaks for the defense. A rabbi, who has committed the entire Torah to memory, cites chapter and verse. Other inmates break in occasionally, drawing on their own experiences to accuse or defend the Almighty.

In his opening statement, the prosecutor recites the history of Jewish persecution, from Babylon to the Romans to Czarist Russia, to show that God has habitually broken his covenant with the children of Israel.

No, counters the defense, it is the Jews who are the contract breakers, because they forgot the Torah.

Prosecutor: Why did God disperse the Jews?

Defense: To spread knowledge of His word throughout the world.

The defense argues that God, like a surgeon, must occasionally remove the gangrene to purify the body and usher in the golden age.

Are you saying that Mengele and Hitler are doing God’s work? the prosecution asks. Do you say that only the righteous will survive? Not true. Only the cunning and shameless will survive — and will these build the nation of Israel?

A former physicist from France asks for rational reasoning. It’s not about faith, it’s about who has the power, he argues.

A cynical inmate notes that the buckles on the belts of German soldiers carry the motto “Gott Mit Uns” — God Is With Us — and suggests that the Almighty has decided to transfer his covenant to someone else.

The nonreligious judge tells the “jury” that the Nazis want to strip them not just of their lives, but also their dignity, and warns that “Now they also want to take away your God, even a foolish god.”

These few examples only hint as the depth and conviction of the give-and-take, which make our customary debates about the existence and belief in God sound like high-school exercises.

It would be wrong to give away the final verdict, or the heart-stopping closing scene, but suffice that both atheists and believers will find some satisfaction and solace.

“God on Trial” was first aired by the BBC and features a superb cast of mostly British actors, including Antony Sher, Rupert Graves, Dominic Cooper, Stellan Skarsgard and Jack Shepherd.

Persistent reports over 60 years have it that something resembling such a trial actually took place in Auschwitz, with Elie Wiesel frequently cited as the authority for the report.

Wiesel himself, speaking from New York, set the record straight.

“When I was in Auschwitz, the former head of a yeshiva and I worked together for about two weeks, carrying bricks,” Wiesel recounted.

When they had a chance to talk together, the rabbi would speculate on the idea of bringing God before a rabbinical court on charges of abandoning his people.

The verdict might be guilty or, at least, that God owed the Jews an explanation for the Holocaust, said Wiesel, who lost track of the rabbi, but presumes he was killed by the Germans. Wiesel doesn’t know whether the rabbi was ever able to realize his idea.

Executive producer Mark Redhead (“Bloody Sunday”) and writer Frank Cottrell Boyce (“Welcome to Sarajevo”) are Christians and, speaking from London, admitted to some trepidation in tackling so sensitive and Jewish a subject.

Cottrell Boyce, a devout Catholic, said, “I first talked to a number of rabbis and was assured that Jews had a long tradition of arguing with God. That impressed me, because Christians would never put God on trial.

“One point I wanted to make is that the spirit of the Jews was not completely crushed by the Holocaust, that they were more than walking skeletons.”

But, essentially, the teleplay is not about the Holocaust, but about God, he said. “Since 9/11 and the tsunami, God seems to be back on the scene again.”

Asked whether the arguments about God’s guilt had shaken his own Catholic faith, he responded, “Sure, it’s shaken all the time, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Redhead went one step further, proposing that the drama is not about the existence of God, “but more about the nature of faith, how we conduct ourselves in the face of savagery, how we try to find solid ground in a bottomless swamp.”

He added, “We are asking about the meaning of life, because if the Holocaust had no meaning, then nothing has any meaning.”

KCET will air “God on Trial” on Masterpiece Contemporary at 9 p.m. on Nov. 9.

http://www.jewishjournal.com/ television/article/pbs_presents_god_on_trial_in_auschwitz_20081106/