Saturday, January 20, 2007

Witness to Barbarism

I took Klund's advice and made use of the inter library loan system last night. Not just because I wanted some of the Terry Pratchett books the Dakota library system doesn't carry, but because a number of books in my Amazon list aren't things I can get at Dakota County (not surprisingly, a few of them I can't get in Minnesota at all), and because I read the first Sandman collection (by Neil Gaiman), Preludes and Nocturnes, and wanted to get my hands on the other nine collections my own library doesn't carry. Yes, I am reading a comic book (eff that graphic novel stuff - Cain and Abel are mixed in, and I read enough old House of Mystery/House of Secrets comic books as a kid, courtesy of the flea market, that I know those weren't classics of literature), and one that's almost 20 years old now, but it's interesting to see where Gaiman did some of his early work.

On a more interesting note, I recently read Witness to Barbarism, by Horace R. Hansen, St. Paul lawyer (well, he was, he's passed on), and chief prosecutor of the Dachau war-crimes trials. My brother-in-law bought it for me last Christmas, and I've finally moved deep enough into my bedside shelf to tackle it.

First off, my apologies to Horace, but he's a horrible writer. More than a little bad. He details how people finish speaking (He folded his arms. We were all done speaking for the day), and not just once, but a couple hundred times, and often at the end of a chapter, when you'd know they were done because the chapter ends. But that's just nitpicking. His first-hand account of his experiences as a prosecutor at the end of the war is fascinating. Near the beginning of the book he talks about U.S. units engaged in raping locals and their trials and execution. Not one or two, but what sounds like large portions of certain units (he doesn't give exact numbers). There's also interesting bits about General Eisenhower ordering Germans to bury burnt concentration camp victims at Gardelegen, one German to dig each grave and to appoint a successor in perpetuity, and another bit where Eisenhower orders that German officer POWs are not to be allowed execution by guillotine (considered a more honorable way to die, and used extensively in Nazi Germany), but were to be hanged. I had also never heard the phrase Sitzkrieg, although it was apparently characteristic of a whole stage of WWII (also called the Phony War or Twilight War).

The pictures are incredible, many of them from Hansen's collection and the collections of the Germans he met, and as long as Horace sticks to his first-hand accounts, and not the accounts of the German recorders for Hitler's staff meetings, which take up a sizeable portion of the book, exceptional. It's the level of discussion of the recorders' interviews which make them not as interesting, as they mainly detail high level politics and events, not their day-to-day lives, or the lives of those they were in contact with. Whenever Horace swings back to the actual trial and his personal contact with those from the camps, both victims and victimizers, being told history stops, and listening to Horace live history begins. His personality peeks through when he refuses to stay for two months to run the trials when he gets enough points to go home (he's obviously sick of what he sees), and when he feels a pang of guilt about the American rapists because German soliders get one to three years for rape, while U.S. soldiers get immediate life imprisonment or death. That's something that certainly highlights the changes in our country when conservatives note that we need to fight on the same level and with the same rules as terrorists.

In that same vein, I close with a good quote (p. 146):

"He disliked professionals, like teachers, journalists, engineers, and lawyers, because they were trained to look at both sides of an issue and might come out in a gray area and take no stand," ends Reynitz.

"That's very interesting. Shows his character. How did he use propaganda?" I ask Krieger.

He always takes time to answer, and he speaks calmly now: "Hitler and his close associates used propaganda to take a position on an issue. By constantly repeating a position, even if false, the propaganda took on credibility. The Americans and British were saying in their newspapers that this was use of the Big Lie. He was good at it."

1 comment:

klund said...

I also read the Gaiman "comic book". Very interesting, but it's hard as hell to find any of them, much less get them, even using inter library loan. So I gave up and moved on.