Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Conscience in Revolt

Watching America collapse inward, morally, financially, and politically, I am reminded of this powerful book that I read some years ago: Annedore Leber's Conscience in Revolt: Sixty-Four Stories of Resistance in Germany, 1933-1945.  It is out of print now, of course, because it is a book better suited to a serious society, not a post-literate sewer like America.  As I observed a few years ago, before this country decided that greed, selfishness, lust, and intoxication were the highest virtues that it could aspire to:

Annedore Leber, trans. By Rosemary O’Neill, Conscience in Revolt: Sixty-Four Stories of Resistance in Germany, 1933-45 (San Francisco: Westview Press, 1994).

I found this paperback clearance priced at $5. This is a book that is part history, and partly inspirational. It tells in a series of vignettes the stories of 64 Germans who resisted the Nazis and paid the ultimate price for it. Some are famous, some are not. Many of these sketches quote from their letters and diaries as they faced death: Eastern Front soldier Michael Kitzelmann was horrified by what he saw done in Poland after the German invasion, and quickly became an opponent of the regime. He was eventually executed for undermining morale. From his diary, as he awaited execution:
I pray to Jesus the Crucified, who has led the way through the most bitter pain. And He answers me: "If you will be My disciple, take up your cross and follow me.!" But I appeal to Him: "Lord, I am still so young, too young for such a heavy cross; I have not lived my life, all my hopes, plans and aims are unfulfilled." And he says: "Behold, I too was young, I had yet to live my life, and as a young man I carried to cross and sacrificed my young life."….

Now I live the life of a hermit. My day’s work consists of praying, reading the Bible, occasionally scribbling something in my diary or writing letters. It is very painful, this separation from life, from the past, from all fond hopes and plans and particularly from my nearest and dearest. It is terribly hard to submit wholly to God’s will in such agonising circumstances; but the only attainable comfort is to hold out to the end despite all suffering….[pp. 30-31]
Motivations were varied: some were young socialists; some were conservatives, appalled by the horrors of what the Nazis were doing in the name of the German government; most were Christians who recognized the Nazi movement for what it was. From the Nationalist Party’s Ewald von Kleist-Schmenzin’s 1932 pamphlet against the Nazis:
Religion alone stand between us and National Socialism, and always will. We believe that faith in God and obedience to His Word must permeate our public life; National Socialism holds a fundamentally different view, and let me say that questions of dogma have nothing to do with it. What it comes to is that Hitler regards as the basis of policy— the fact that he may occasionally say something else does not alter the case—the race and its demands. This is a crude form of materialism, and quite incompatible with Christianity. According to his theories, it is the duty of the state to encourage not ability, but racial characteristics. He reduces the state to the level of a cattle-breeder, and shows that he is quite incapable of understanding its character and obligations….

What have we in common, spiritually, with National Socialism?[p. 168]
Many of these were men and women whose only crime was to speak against evil, but many were men and women of action as well. Some were participants in the von Stauffenberg plot against Hitler. One of the socialists, Anton Schmaus, expected problems from the SA (brownshirts) early in the Nazi regime:
[T]he SA forced their way into the house late that evening. They kicked his mother, who barred their way, and knocked her down. Anton was woken by her cries for help and found himself at the top of the stairs confronted by the SA. He told them to get out of the house, otherwise he would shoot. They took no notice, and closed in on him; and so as a last resort he pulled out a pistol. According to the police report of 5 July 1933, File No. IAdVI, three storm troopers were badly wounded and later died in hospital and a fourth was fatally wounded by a shot from one of his companions.[pp. 4-5]

Schmaus turned himself into the police, hoping for a proper trial. The SA demanded Schmaus from the police, who still had the courage to refuse the SA demand. The police escorted Schmaus to Berlin police headquarters, but along the way, 30-40 SA surrounded Schmaus and his police escort, and shot and killed him.

The individual steps forward from the ranks to sacrifice himself for others: this is the theme which emerges from the photographs taken at the trial, which underlies this whole story of resistance to tyranny, which is the embodiment of the Christian spirit and which finds expression in the great part played by the Christian Churches in the struggle with National Socialism.
After describing the formation of a movement that called itself "Protestant National Socialists" or sometimes "German Christians," Leber describes how the Nazis took advantage of a widespread desire within Protestant Germany to unify the existing denominations:
But it soon became clear that [the Nazis] regarded the Churches as useless bourgeois institutions and merely hoped to exploit them for their own purposes and to present the picture of the progressive assumption of power in a pseudo-Christian frame.... In May 1934, at a synod in Barmen, the Confessional Church was founded. This was not a territorial Church, but a movement within the Protestant Church to counter the false doctrines which threatened it. At this point the regime dropped even the "German Christians" and from then on state measures were directed not at the reconciliation of the Church with the National Socialist Weltanschaung, but at the subordination of all things Christian.

The attempt to oppress the Catholic Church was at first a little more circumspect and the negotiations which followed the Reich Concordat of 1933 gave some protection for the time being. But attacks on the Church, and the persecution of those who professed allegiance to it, steadly increased; and the Papal Encyclical With Grave Concern, which was read to the faithful from the pulpits in 1937, was tantamount to a declaration of war. Both Churches suffered confiscation, restriction and persecution, and both challenged the policies and ideologies of the state. They opposed the biological creeds and the idolising of the German people. They protested against the Oath of Allegiance and its claim to impose unconditional obedience not to God, but to man, and against the anti-Christian teaching given to the young, the arbitrary methods of the Gestapo, the horrors of the concentration camps and the ill-treatment of the population of occupied territories. They also protested most violently against the murder of incurables.[pp. 187-188]
Annedore Leber was there. She was the widow of the prominent Social Democrat leader Julius Leber, executed by the Nazis.

This is a fascinating and powerful work, well-written (or at least well-translated).  It is history, and it is inspiring -- evidence that even in the darkness of Nazi Germany, where the full weight of the propaganda machinery of modern media was turned to the task of enforcing ideological conformity, there were those willing to do to fight against an evil that did not personally threaten them.  We owe it to those who died in the defense of human dignity to not let these courageous men and women be forgotten.  BUY THIS BOOK!

UPDATE: A reader reports that the full text is available online although it does not look like a very pleasant way to read it.

UPDATE 2: I missed the "See Other Formats" button -- it is available for many other formats, including Kindle.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

It appears that the entire book is available online:

http://www.archive.org/stream/conscienceinrevo006977mbp/conscienceinrevo006977mbp_djvu.txt

asdf said...

"According to his theories, it is the duty of the state to encourage not ability, but racial characteristics".

Sounds like some American professors.

Anonymous said...

At that same link you can download a pdf of the book.

TMLutas said...

Click the other formats button and you will get it in most popular forms. Thanks for the pointer. I will be downloading to my kindle to read