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A Need for Religious Self-Reflection in Memorializing War

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NEED FOR RELIGIOUS SELF-REFLECTION--Mother of Suicide Bombers, Jim Jones, Hamas, Israel, Vietnam, Ira, Hitler-like Love, and Frankie Goes to Hollywood

By Kevin Stoda
Wiesbaden, Germany
 

Nearly twenty residents have publicly left the Catholic church in Wiesbaden, Germany this month in the wake of Pope Benedict's inability to apologize (and admit the fallibility of a Pope) after the blunder of his Papacy recognizing a holocaust denier (named Williams) amongst the members of the Pius Brotherhood.  That is--those questionable groups of Catholic separatists who were recently allowed to rejoin the church last month. Click here.
 
Meanwhile, during these last weeks in Wiesbaden in January and February 2009, there have been a series of reflective remembrances on both the 76th anniversary of the Nazi's seizure of power (Jan. 30) and on the 65th anniversary of the freeing of Soviet Army's capture of Auschwitz (Jan.27) and the subsequent freeing of Polish, Jewish and other surviving inmates. (See Appendix 1 below for further German history memories and commemorations being recognized this year.)
 
For example, in mid-January 2009, the Aktives Museum in Wiesbaden opened with an exhibition,  which recognized the stories of  the few German Luftwaffe members, like the Israeli recognized righteous gentiles.  This exposition focused on a German named Karl Flagge.  Flagge was working for the Nazi Luftwaffe (Air Force) during WWII in Lithuania. at the time he took the advantage of his position to save at least one-hundred Jews, who would have otherwise been the  victims of pogroms and Nazi-inspired massacres.
 

STOLPERSTEINE 

In January, there was a presentation on the Warsaw Ghetto at the Wiesbaden Courthouse as well as a whole set of presentations, discussions, and films on how a society like Germany ought to continue to go about remembering the past.  For example, there were numerous showings of a famous documentary on the Stolpersteine Project. Click here.
 
"Stolpersteine"  means "stumbling block in Germany and Wiesbaden has  been participating in this national art and commemoration project to recall and remember the victims of the Nazi-era in each community in Germany (as well as-so far-in Austria, the Netherlands, and Hungary. 
 
The names of victims are researched by local residents and bricks (stolpersteine) paid for by individuals in each city.  Then the names, birth and death location of these victims are placed on walkways in different parts of each city. In Hamburg, Germany alone as of April 2007, "there were in Berlin along 1,800 Stolpersteine in front of former residences or in the case of the homeless homosexuals in front of the shelter (Pik As), which were initiated by district's and victim's initiatives. There's another stumbling block in commemoration of a former senator, 15 paces to the right of the entrance of Hamburg's town hall. Many papers report about the project and expand the investigations. Between 1941 and 1945 10.000 Jews were deported from Hamburg."
 
The artist's first Stolpersteine were placed in Cologne in the early 1990s by the artist, Gunter Demnig.   The Antoniter Church was the first church community to support Demnig. Soon the project moved to Kreuzberg in Berlin. Click here.
 
Soon local communities all over Germany, Austria and elsewhere were investigating the names of local victims of the Third Reich and commemorating them by their name under foot throughout their cities and communities.
 

THE WHITE ROSE 

On the 2nd of February, I went again to the Wiesbaden City Courthouse to hear a presentation on the "Motives and Practices of the Members of the White Rose."  According to the Spartacus website:

"The White Rose was formed by students at the University of Munich in 1941. It is believed that the group was formed after the Archbishop of Munster, spoke out in a sermon against the Nazi practice of euthanasia (the killing of those considered by the Nazis as genetically unsuitable)."  

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The group sent letter out all over Germany indicating that overthrowing Hitler and standing up for what was right was in the German people's hands. "[I]n 1943 the group explained the reasons why they had formed the White Rose group: 'We want to try and show them that everyone is in a position to contribute to the overthrow of the system. It can be done only by the cooperation of many convinced, energetic people - people who are agreed as to the means they must use. We have no great number of choices as to the means. The meaning and goal of passive resistance is to topple National Socialism, and in this struggle we must not recoil from our course, any action, whatever its nature. A victory of fascist Germany in this war would have immeasurable, frightful consequences.'" 

Naturally, most The White Rose group was tracked down and executed by the Nazis and their followers within the next month, i.e. February 20, 1943.  This talk on the "Motives and Practices of the Members of the White Rose" was sponsored by Martin Niemoller's Gegen Vergessen Fuer Demokratie (Against Forgetting-For Democracy).  Click here.
 
NOTE:  I think Americans need to have such organizations set up to remember and educate on crimes against human right and human beings. Explicitly, there should be memorials and commemorative art work in every city and town.  I say this because in all my travels in the USA, I recall only observing the occasional black and white MIA (Missing in Action) flag as the single common reminder found in villages and cities in America the Vietnam War.
 
Those flags which focus primarily on U.S. soldier victims in war are the only artifacts which come close to commemorating the 14-plus year war with the Vietnamese (and other nations in Southeast Asia).

Later, on the first Friday night this same February, I arrived home to watch Germanys ARD-TV present a program called TATORT that claimed "it has discovered the fate of one of the 'most wanted' Nazi criminals, Doctor Aribert Heim" who had "worked at Mauthausen concentration camp during the Second World War, conducting sadistic experiments and killing hundreds of inmates, earning him the nickname 'Doctor Death.' The television report details Heim's movements since fleeing Germany in the 1960s, concluding that he died, while living under a pseudonym, in Egypt in 1992." Click here

That particular ARD- TV program almost every single week takes time to report on Nazi crimes using investigative journalist techniques to track down facts and rumors from the Third Reich era. Click here

Overall, I am fairly impressed by the way Germans are currently handling and debating their past, especially their ancestors' experiences and crimes.  In short, not a day goes by when one doesn't find at least one or more lengthy documentaries on the subject of the Nazi Germany of their forefathers.  Click here
 
On the one hand, some of these memorials focus only on German soldiers and families. However, in recent decades these memorial locations have seen a whole new culture of alternative memorials and commemorations, such as the Stolpersteine movement described above. 
 
I will never forget my first visit to the new Holocaust Memorial in the center of Berlin some years again.  This is because juxtaposed with what the memorial location is the topography of the area around the Holocaust Memorial and Museum.  For example, that particular memorial is situated where the Wall between East and West Berlin used to run.  Moreover, arriving at the monument by way of the park across the street from the new memorial, I observed that there was an ancient statue of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe looking in the direction of the new monument.  Click here.
 
The fact that the Goethe commemorative statue or monument was allowed to continue to quietly peer through the greenery at a monument to genocide (perpetrated by his great-great grandchildren) left me both amused and thoughtful at the way monuments juxtaposed across from one another over generations share a much fuller sense of history than singular commemorative events and holidays, such as the U.S. holiday for veterans or a holiday for presidents.
 
Moreover, in Germany there are numerous monuments galore to the stupidity of war and to the memory of genocide are prolific. Click here and here.
 
For example, the fire bombings of Hamburg under Britain's Operation Gomorrah destroyed most of the city in 1943 but left the third largest church tower in the country of Germany, the Nikolai Church, still standing.  This church tower was subsequently dedicated as a monument against the stupidity of WWII.  Click here.
 
All these monuments, certainly make me ponder what the world would be like today if Americans had had  to daily face on their TV screens and in their daily experience critiques of the wars of our fathers (and mothers), for example of the Vietnam War or of the Filipino Occupation. 
Why doesn't most every city memorialize victims of crimes and war which Americans have been involved in dating at least back to the U.S. Civil War? 

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If I look at American TV, even the number of critical documentaries dissecting U.S. wars in Central America, the Middle East and in East Asia over the last 50 years are not shown on TV very much anymore. (There is a growing number of websites, though.  See NOTES, below.)
 
Sure, I might find in the U.S.A. a few TV channels, like the History Channel or a few public broadcasting stations, playing documentaries and leading discussions, but most Americans don't have their nose shoved into criminal home country history like many in Germany have had as a living and growing up experience on a daily basis all of their lives-i.e. monuments  or Stolpersteine in the street, articles in the press, or in commercial and public media on at least a weekly basis
 
NOTE:  On the one hand, this constant barrage of news of and from the past leaves some German youth quite disaffected and sometimes even hardened.  It is emblematic of Germany that when the Martin Niemoller Society sponsored the discussion of the few famous Germans who opposed Hitler and his War in early February, not a person in the Wiesbaden County Court hall discussion room under the age of 40 years. (Of course, university exams were being taken the following week.)  On the other hand, despite the fact that many youth feel this focus on the past is overdone, most know quite a bit more about their nation's past than do Americans as a whole. 

JIM JONES' STORY IN GERMAN--& Frankie Goes to Hollywood 

Then on a recent Saturday night, for a change of pace, I was surprised to come across one German channel, ZDF-TV, showing the 2006 documentary Jonestown: Life and Death of the People's Temple
 
This Stanley Nelson documentary on the People's Temple and Jim Jones is insightful and places the concepts of (a) suicide, (b) victimhood, and (c) the role of peer pressure as well as (d) the power of crazy or misguided charismatic leader in an entirely new American context.
 
However, these four concepts are assuredly well-known in Germany.
 
That is, for German historians, modern educators, and students, the story of Jim Jones and the Rise and Fall of the People's Temple  is not all that foreign as one reviews the 12 nasty years under Hitler ideology, a period of new nation building of  modern man and society or if one looks at either the story of East Germany under the Communists through the end of WWII through 1989. (One might even look at the popularity of Che Gueverra and the rise of the Baader-Meinhof Gang, too, to see that terrorism and revolution still find sympathetic ears in Germany-as is the case in America-when it comes to war or for fighting for justice.)
 
It was fascinating to watch this translated (into German) documentary and relearn or retrace the phases in the idyllic Rise and Suicide of Jim Jones and the People's Temple Community, i.e.  in the language of the evil Hitler (who was actually an Austrian).
 
As Jim Jones spoke about love and building a new society in America or on Earth (in German), I could imagine Hitler doing the same thing in his own way, i.e. Hitler and his Nazi cohorts created some of the same imagery of building a better and more modern society, especially as the charismatic Hitler and his henchmen had bonded with the Germanic peoples so well by playing on the theme of idealized love of/for any German to his country or his motherland--or tradition of the fatherland and its growing identity as a people and nation..
 
For many Germans in the 1930s, following a horrible period in their history in the wake of WWI and the Treaty of Versailles, love of family and love of one's society became the dominant national dream.
 
That same Nazi German leadership, in turn, gave (non-Jewish) German citizens not only positive dreams and ideals-but physical gifts, such as national work projects, roads, sports-centers, and even family beach resorts (for the masses). 
 
These gifts all came along with a sense of economic security--not witnessed in Germany for more than an entire generation. 
 
Naturally, the way Jim Jones talked of love in the German language reminded me, too, of the ironic TWO TRIBES song from 1980s Frankie Goes to Hollywood. 
 
This song and other Frankie Goes to Hollywood (TGTH) tunes and texts were popular in Germany in the early and mid-1980s, i.e. as both East and West Germany citizens felt like they were being served up politically and militarily to the Gods of NATO and the Warsaw Pact during the biggest arms build up in history.  The two tribes referred to were the West and the East during the latter years of the cold war.
 
In the live version of that (TGTH) TWO TRIBES song, one man carefully imitates the voice of Ronald Reagan and talks of love. 
 
This Ronald Reagan-voice spoke passionately of love as revolutionary and then also whispered of the wonderful love of heroes for a better cause. 
 
In this, the Reagan-voice specifically showed his admiration for revolution and the revolutionary love of a man, like Che Guevarra, who had died for his greater cause. Click here.
 
When I first heard that live version of the song TWO TRIBES, I had had to laugh because that voice of Reagan was not only done well , but  this Reagan's passion for ultra-patriotism and love of country had turned to praise a passion for love of all others-and the love of revolution.  Click here.
 
If you readers recall, back in the early 1980s Cold-War-era, a coalition of the West, i.e. NATO was positioning weapons in Central Europe ostensibly in order to preempt a long range nuclear attack on the USA from the Soviet Union. 
 
In those same 1980 years, I didn't see nor appreciate much love in the words of Ronald Reagan-but I do, indeed, know other Americans who felt Ronald Reagan was an honest and loving man.
 
Reagan was often called the "Teflon President", and for many Americans who loved the man, his deeds, and his words or ideals, he represented the Teflon persons they wanted to be.  There love for each other and their ideas would allow all rationale critique to bounce off their hero and their Weltanschauen (world view).  Click here.
 
The joke or irony in many of  the various songs from Frankie Goes to Hollywood were not lost out on by the Germans in that divided nations back in 1983, i.e. as the stationing of missiles in West Germany were soon to face off against the Soviets, Eastern Europeans and East Germans.  For Germans and other Central Europeans, this arms meant a suicidal gambling-with-their-lives.  (In summary, the stationing of medium ranged missiles in Central Europe meant for many a far from rosy few future for them and no-hope for their children.)
 
This, lack of hope in Germany and Western Europe at that time (1981-1988), could be contrasted with the apparently typical hope that many pro-Reagan Americans placed in the symbol of a U.S. President who was willing to blow up half the world to prove that his opinion of the universe and love of God and state were right. Click here.
 
 
MEMORY, LOVE & THE PEOPLE'S TEMPLE 

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http://eslkevin.wordpress.com/2009/07/09/3-big-paradigms-hol

KEVIN STODA-has been blessed to have either traveled in or worked in nearly 100 countries on five continents over the past two and a half decades.--He sees himself as a peace educator and have been-- a promoter of good economic and social development--making-him an enemy of my homelands humongous DEFENSE SPENDING and its focus on using weapons to try and solve global (more...)
 

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