Passing in Review … a series of modeling reviews by Ned Barnett
Series: Third Reich from Original Sources
Paperback: 376 pages
Publisher: Pen and Sword; Ill edition (April 2014)
Pen & Sword Publishers (www.pen-and-sword.co.uk) © 2013
$24.95 USD, 14.99 UK Pounds.
The Gestapo, formed in Prussia in 1934 by Goering – who at that time was the Prime Minister of Prussia – was part of the war from the very first day. Twenty-one days before the invasion of Poland, the Gestapo was busy planning the faux attack on German border facilities by “Poles.” In reality, this “attack” was staged by civil prisoners in German custody. These men were dressed in Polish uniforms, then shot “in the act” of sabotaging facilities, without actually hurting the facilities. The dead “Poles” were first given lethal injections, then shot, before being displayed before the foreign press as “proof” that the Poles really started the war.
That minor atrocity began a war filled with atrocities, which continued until the last day of the war. As the Reich crumbled, the Gestapo vigorously executed any soldier separated from his (often non-existent) units on the theory that they had deserted their posts. The Gestapo was, if nothing else, consistent from first day to last.
The Third Reich is a source of endless wonder – proof that there is an attraction about evil that draws the best men and women to look in horrified can’t-look-away fascination, just as watching a fatal car accident unfold is something from which few can turn away.
One photo in this book tells in microcosm the story of the horror. It shows a group of Lithuanian men digging a trench at casual, off-hand gunpoint. They might have been digging fortifications – all sides used available civilian labor for that (some paid the laborers; others forced them to work at gunpoint). But the horror here is in the caption. These men were literally digging their own graves. I must have too vivid an imagination, for I can feel the desperate, hopeless terror those men must have felt. It wasn’t enough to kill them – they had to enlist these men in participating in their own deaths.
There were many more horrific things – murder by the millions is almost incomprehensible – but this photo of men in their t-shirts and sun-screening hats, digging away as if they were utility workers, is so apparently innocent, and so deeply horrific (when all is known), that I find it too compelling to overlook.
This book captures that history by telling the story of the Gestapo. The illustrations help tell that story – for instance, one map shows the number of Jews exterminated by one unit of the Gestapo in 1941, more than 200,000, and reports that while there remain 128,000 Jews in the Baltic states, Estonia is “Judenfrei” – free of Jews. There can be no misunderstanding, when faced with the visual evidence, about the purposeful intent of the Nazis with regard to the Jews, “Holocaust-deniers” to the contrary.
It is my personal opinion that Nuremberg, as well as in other trials in individual German-occupied countries, led to far too few convictions and – worse – far too few executions.
This book’s forward makes that point. It focuses on five prominent Gestapo leaders who were put on trial, along with the organization. All five were sentenced to death, but only one was executed. The others were released in 1951, 1952 and 1957, by Denmark and Poland (two countries on opposite sides of the Iron Curtain). One was scheduled to be re-tried decades later when new evidence was uncovered, but he was deemed “too sick” to stand trial. A once-convicted mass murderer was “too sick” to stand trial.
Just as incredible, the Nazis took photos of this incredible act of vicious murder, as if it was a “good thing,” and worthy of being captured for posterity.
Most of the war-criminal Nazis, as well as those who committed non-military crimes against humanity, got off light, for reasons I cannot fathom. The Japanese, who were at least as vicious – and who didn’t need a Gestapo to murder millions, got off even lighter – and for that, we can thank MacArthur and his desire to pacify Japan as a bulwark against Soviet Pacific-theater ambitions (and Red China).
Of course, in a “realpolitik” sense, I can understand how the Rocket Nazis like Werner von Braun were “excused” for working slave laborers to death – we needed them to beat the Russians into space, and to have a MAD solution to the Soviet’s German-inspired nuclear-tipped ICBMs, just as we “excused” those Japanese scientists from Unit 731 who used Chinese civilians as guinea pigs for biological and chemical warfare.
But that’s the historical background to this book, and to the trials. The book itself illustrates the horror with the very banality of the self-serving testimony of Nazi monsters, and it shows how far the Allies were prepared to go to honor the rule of law.
I would have lined them up, stripped them to their t-shirts, given them shovels and told them to get to work.
The Gestapo On Trial – Evidence from Nuremberg – The Illustrated Edition
This book is a bit off the beaten path for us here at My Hobby Info, as this doesn’t seem to lend itself (directly) to dioramas or kits – though the photo I describe below could become a hard-hitting vignette in the right hands. However, this book does document a small part of the massive history so many of us model – Germany, 1933-45, the era of Hitler and his Third Reich. That was the era of the Gestapo and its deadly oppression of all potential opponents of Hitler’s regime, as well as members of every group Hitler deemed “inferior” or “sub-human.”
Rather than cover all atrocities, or the entire Nuremberg Trial, this book focuses on one trial – the trial of the Gestapo itself.
In 370 large and tightly-printed pages, this book opens Western eyes to the Reich and its monstrous leaders, as it walks through Nuremberg trial of the Gestapo. This book is, in effect, the transcript of that specific trial. Yes, beyond trying and sentencing – or letting free – many horrific Nazis individually, several German organizations – including the Gestapo – were put on trial. These trials were held to determine if those groups represented institutionalized criminal enterprises. The Gestapo was tried, and found guilty of being an organization dedicated to the perpetration of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
This book is basically a book of testimony – lots of testimony – specifically focused on the Gestapo.
One of the real horrors that come out in this book (I use that word – horror – a lot in this review, but that’s what the Gestapo was all about – horror) is the very banality of the testimony, and the very inoffensive appearance of these monsters. They look like your next-door neighbor – unobtrusive, polite, even friendly – yet they murdered six-plus million Jews, many more millions of Soviet POWs (and all the political commissars they could grab), along with Gypsies, many Christian sects, and millions of others – including innocent Germans – all without rhyme or reason … or remorse.
As you read through this book, as you look at the illustrations and photos, and as you consider the horror, you won’t need a “judgment at Nuremberg” to try and convict the Nazis who so eagerly followed Hitler into Hell.
Modeler: As a modeler, the relevance of this book is to evoke the horror of Nazi Germany, and to discourage me from creating any “happy” vignettes of “brave German soldiers” who happen to be in the SS. There were many German soldiers, sailors and airmen who fought a brave and honorable war to defend their homes and families – but there were all too many sick bastards who joined the SS and the Gestapo for the sole purpose of letting their most vile impulses reign true.
This may upset some modelers, but frankly, this book gives me pause as I consider modeling the great pilot Hans Ulrich Rudel, an unreconstructed Nazi to the end of his days – or the great tank commander Michael Wittmann, a Waffen SS tank commander. Both were the best in the world at what they did, and as far as I know, neither has been linked (directly) to any personally-committed atrocities. However, neither was a lamb’s-wool innocent at a time when the Nazis and the SS were murdering millions for non-military reasons. Rudel remained loyal to Hitler even after the war, and Wittmann was in the (Waffen) SS.
So, if you model German WW-II subjects, read this book with caution – but if you have any humanity, by all means, read this book!
While this doesn’t have the emotional impact of Schindler’s List, it details atrocities and policies of atrocities, and no one serious about understanding the war in Europe should be ignorant of this. Yes, America put Japanese-heritage US citizens in concentration camps, and yes Stalin was every bit the monster in dealing with his own people (especially ethnic minorities), but none of that makes what Hitler’s henchmen did any less horrific.
“Passing in Review” is a series of modeling kit, accessory and reference material reviews, written exclusively for the MHISC Forum by Ned Barnett – IPMS Life Member and Former IPMS Quarterly Journal Editor.