The Sin of Complicity — FDR, Auschwitz, and the Lilliput Troupe

The world is so much clearer in hindsight.  That’s why historians practice what’s called the “fifty-year rule”.  The rule is a tacit acknowledgment that it is virtually impossible to judge history objectively until the consequences of historical events have played out and been realized.  The downside to this however, is that many of those involved, who could provide first hand evidence and be considered primary sources, are dead.  In this case though, fifty years may not be adequate to judge the ramifications of decisions made, policies enacted, and—perhaps more importantly—evidence denied.

Jay Winik in 1944: FDR And The Year That Changed History attempts to provide prospective for what is arguably the most complex and important event in the modern history of mankind—the Second World War.  He does so in an engaging and readable history that skillfully presents Franklin Delano Roosevelt as a man as well as the leader of Allied efforts to prevent fascist domination of the entire globe.

While 1944, presents a history which includes damning evidence of Allied complicity—both active and passive—in the Nazi genocide against the Jews, Giants: The Dwarfs of Auschwitz by Yehuda Koren and Eliat Negev provides a much closer, more human face to the genocide.  I must point out though that the dwarfs were atypical of the Jews interred at Auschwitz.  Dr. Josef Mengele, infamous for his medical experimentation, took a special interest in the dwarfs and made sure his “lab rats” survived, while others quickly went to the ovens.

In both books, the burning question on the tongues of the Auschwitz prisoners was, “When will the Allies come?”  The answer to that question was that they did, but almost too late.  Although there is compelling evidence that FDR and Churchill were aware that thousands of innocents were being exterminated daily, the bottom line of the Allied effort was beating fascism, not saving the Jews.

In many ways, the same policies and programs that condemned millions of Jews, Gypsies, LGBT, and mentally disabled to die in Nazi gas chambers, remote woods, and town squares are still being carried out today.  The past, they say, is prologue, and these books—especially 1944—demonstrate that the world has little changed since the murder of millions during WWII.

And since we’re on the subject of death and murder, Hung, Drawn, and Quartered: The Story Of Execution Through The Ages by Johnathan J. Moore, is a delightful look into the history of murder in the name of justice.  The good and bad, those that went well and those that didn’t—the search for the perfect way to kill those deemed by the state to be worthy of death. 

This is the perfect read for the start of a brand new year.

© Copyright 2018 by Kevin Fraleigh

So Begins The Revolution!

Okay, so here’s the scenario: You’ve had enough. You’re motivated to action. The country is falling apart. The people are ready for a change, but no one is strong enough to lead the revolt. So you have an idea, just as clear as glass. What the revolution needs is a leader. But more than that, they need a martyr―a martyr sacrificed to the cause, someone crushed by the oppressor’s hand. So you pick a target that represents the ruling authority. You gather your weapons. Then, you charge against them.

You catch them by surprise. Waving your flag, you yell something memorable like, “so begins the revolution!” You cut them down. They are dead, but you are still living. It was too easy. You throw upon them a small flag with the symbol of the revolution on it, so everyone will know what will happen to enemies of the revolution.

You don’t stop there. You run through the streets shooting every authority figure you see. Any moment you are prepared to die in a hail of bullets, your flag pierced and bloodied, but still standing as testament to the revolution. But it doesn’t happen, you live. Thousands flock to support you, killing more thousands in the name of the revolution. They look to you. You have not become the martyr of the revolution, but the leader of the revolution.

After long months, or even years, more have been killed than have survived and those who have survived declare that the revolution is over. The objectives of the revolution have been achieved. Those with cooler heads consolidate power. While revolutions tend to be very exciting, establishing a new government tends to be painstakingly tedious, not something hot-headed revolutionaries are very good at. You see others arrested. You see others disappear. It suddenly becomes apparent that the first victims of the new regime are the revolutionaries themselves.

As you sit in your lonely room waiting to hear the sound of boots echoing through the hallways, you have time to think. You wonder if you have another night to live. You wonder about your parents―oh, yes, you had them shot. You wonder about that girl you met, the one with the beautiful tattoo―wasn’t she offered forced labor instead of death?

But you accomplished the revolution. You can take some solace in that. You’ve come a long way from that first morning when you shouted, “so begins the revolution!” But you didn’t become the martyr you so desperately desired to be. And when children sing patriotic songs, your name will not be remembered as a hero of the revolution. After you are tried and shot you will be erased from the history of the revolution, erased from the history of the state. It will be as if you have never existed.

And it is that thought, that single overwhelming thought that pushes you to the brink of madness. And that is because in a few minutes, hours, days, or even years―whenever they get around to arresting, then executing you―you will cease to be. You will finally achieve death, but it will be meaningless.

You will not have died a hero, but as an enemy of the state you created. You are now nothing. And that nothingness folds in upon you, pulling you deeper into the dark and horrible inner core that first drove you to commit murder. Because that’s what it was, wasn’t it? It wasn’t a political act. It wasn’t meaningful. It was murder in charade. Murder.

Those men you murdered were just men. They wore uniforms, but they had fathers and mothers and wives and children. They had lives. You took their lives from them. You said it was in the name of the revolution, but the surprise on their faces, the complete look of innocence. You never even gave them a chance, you just killed them. Cold blooded murder. And now their murder hangs over you. You murdered them and someone else will murder you. They will call it a trial and an execution for the good of the social order, but it will be murder. There will be no defense. There will be no words said on your behalf. Anyone who might have spoken in your favor is either dead or in forced labor―and you put them there. You denounced them because you believed that the state would recognize your loyalty. But your next act of loyalty will be to walk obediently in front of a firing squad.

So ends the revolution. The darkness that is your soul finally claims you fully. And you wait for the revolution to begin.
© Copyright 2014 by Kevin Fraleigh.