Auschwitz and Contemporary Politics

A blogger who publishes his content using the moniker of The Catholic Traveler recently shared his observations on social media about his recent trip to the former concentration camp of Auschwitz. I visited the former concentration camp of Dachau when I was stationed in Germany back in the late 1980s, so I read his post with interest. After reading his post, I made an observation that I thought was worth sharing, but first - I have to put things in perspective. To do so, I will repost the full contents of his original blog, with full credit given to Mountain Butorac (aka "The Catholic Traveler") as its author.

I visited Auschwitz for the first time the other day. I'm not sure how I feel about it. It's one of the most awful places in the world, yet they sell donuts at the snack bar.

Many people traveling with me posted things like "no words." That's how I felt at first too. It's why I often wait a while before commenting on things - to be sure I have the right words, rather than just emotions.

During our visit the sky was grey and there was a steady cold rain. We trudged through thick mud to get from barracks to gas chambers to crematoriums. Everything about the visit was uncomfortable, even the guide.

She spoke English with a heavy German accent and an even heavier lisp. She showed no emotion at all, even when saying...

"These people are being separated from their families. They are told they are going to shower after the long journey, but they are being sent to die. Their family will never see them again."

"Kids and the elderly couldn't work. They were stripped naked and sent to the gas chambers to die. Here's their hair."

"Pregnant women and twins were used in medical experiments. Their screams could be heard across this courtyard."

She was great, I would use her again, but it was all very creepy. As it should be, I suppose.

Two things that struck me...

How often the guide stressed the proof of what happened there. I've heard of Holocaust deniers, but assumed it was a small group of people like those who think Elvis is alive.

I also never considered how many people thought what they were doing was right and just. They felt these people were a threat to their way of life. An inconvenience. A burden.

In interviews with SS guards after the war, they were asked how they could justify killing babies who were of no threat. Their answers were that they were useless, needed the attention of the mother to survive, and would eventually grow to be a threat.

When asked how they could do such horrid experiments on people, they responded that it was essential for improving their medical system. Doctors and nurses felt it was completely ethical to drown newborn babies and inject all sorts of things into people to further their science.

Just incredible. I'm still processing it.

I think it's a place you must visit. But don't get the donuts.

 

-- Copyright 2022 by The Catholic Traveler.

My personal experiences at Dachau evoked the same emotions that Butorac tried his best to explain, but words failed me as they did for him. When you are standing in a place where unspeakable evil was committed on a daily basis, it is hard to fathom how someone / anyone could allow themselves to torture and kill their fellow human beings without so much as a second thought.

And yet, as I considered recent political events in the United States and re-examined some of Butorac's statements after I removed his references to World War II, I was left with the following excerpt:

"I also never considered how many people thought what they were doing was right and just. They felt these people were a threat to their way of life. An inconvenience. A burden. In interviews ... they were asked how they could justify killing babies who were of no threat. Their answers were that they were useless, needed the attention of the mother to survive, and would eventually grow to be a threat [to their way of life]."

The remaining verbiage that we are left with is just as incredible - and just as creepy - when compared to the arguments that I hear in sound bites on the daily news. The devaluation of innocent lives whom people regard as an inconvenience, or a burden, or a threat to the way of life to which they have grown accustomed has apparently not been limited to history or geography.

The Inevitable Demise of Dictators

Today is the 69th anniversary of Josef Stalin's long overdue demise, which means it's time to re-watch one of my favorite dark comedies: The Death Of Stalin. However, given recent events in Ukraine, it's nice to have a reminder that Russian dictators - like all dictators - will eventually wither and die and become nothing more than worm food.

The Death of Stalin Movie Poster

Facing the Horrors of War

Like many of my colleagues from the 511th MI Company, I visited the Dachau Concentration Camp during my tenure in Fulda, and it was a sobering experience. It is difficult for any rational individual to come to terms with the sheer magnitude of horrors that took place in that single camp. On that note, I just read the following article from HistoryNet, which describes the retributory actions of US soldiers during the liberation of Dachau:

I have to admit, I find it difficult to find fault with soldiers who retaliated against the guards that were still defending the camp with the US Army arrived. It is easy during a time of relative peace to passively judge the actions of soldiers who exacted vengeance upon unarmed guards several decades ago, and it is likewise easy during peacetime to believe that any of us might have behaved differently in a similar circumstance. Nevertheless, none of us trod the path those soldiers walked, and I am willing to bet that coming face to face with Dachau's camp guards - whom we now perceive as inhuman monsters - could alter anyone's sense of morality.

 


ADDITIONAL REFERENCES:

More information about the Dachau Concentration Camp and the reprisals that were taken by US soldiers is available in the following WikiPedia articles:

Those Who Do Not Study History

In the 1980s, the Mujahedeen forces in Afghanistan beat the USSR by simply outlasting them. The USSR withdrew its forces in embarrassment after failing to achieve its military objectives despite a decade of fighting, and the USSR imploded a few years later.

32 years after the USSR’s humiliating defeat in Afghanistan, the Taliban forces have beaten the USA by simply outlasting them. The USA is withdrawing its forces in embarrassment after failing to achieve its military objectives despite two decades of fighting, while the USA is slowly imploding for its own reasons…

Coloring Historical Photographs - February 13th, 2021, Edition

A year ago I made one of my first attempts a colorizing a photo, and the results were not very good. The photo in question was a boyhood photo of my father-in-law, Terry Wetmore, and the final outcome of my colorization efforts was so bad that I'd rather not share it publicly.

However, I've colorized a few dozen photos since then, and I've picked up a few skills along the way. With that in mind, I thought that I would take another pass at his photo to see if I could do a better job the second time around, and here are the results.

Terry-Wetmore-Boyhood-Photo-before-and-after

This image is certainly better than last year's attempt, but I still have lots of room for improvement. I think I'll try again after another year or so to see what the results are like.

Coloring Historical Photographs - January 16th Edition

I found another interesting photo in an aviation forum that looked like a good candidate for colorizing, in this case it was the crew of the "Blue Dreams" B-17, which looks like they're celebrating after a successful mission.

B17-Blue-Dreams-Before-and-After

As I have done in the past, I tried to discover any information that I could about this photo or the aircraft. The best that I could do was to find a page that mentioned the ball turret gunner having completed 25 missions in this aircraft. In World War II, that usually meant the crew would rotate stateside, and for his sake I hope that happened.

That being said, I found another web page that mentioned the aircraft as having completed 29 missions before it crashed. The pilot noticed that the aircraft was leaking fuel after takeoff, and he set the aircraft down without lowering the landing gear. The aircraft was a total loss, but the crew was able to escape without harm. Still - that was a sad fate for a beautiful aircraft.

Tucson's Chicago Music Store was an Institution

Tucson's Chicago Music Store recently celebrated its centennial, and I must admit - I have a special place in my heart for that store. Growing up as a young musician in Tucson, I was intimately familiar with it.

tucson-chicago-store-1920s

Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I used to visit the Chicago Store all the time and haggle with Joe (who ran the place) over pieces of vintage gear that clearly had no actual value to Joe whatsoever. Joe always seemed cranky, and on one occasion he threw me out of the store when I called him a thief for starting his half of the negotiation far too high and refusing to budge.

tucson-chicago-store-1950s-portrait

However, on a different day, I had been haggling with Joe for several minutes when he had to take a phone call. After he walked away, his brother, Phil, walked over and explained the following to me: the Chicago Store had already made Joe a rich man (in 1980s money), and Joe didn't actually need the work. Phil continued by saying that Joe simply loved to haggle, and if I was willing to put in the time and give Joe a good fight, I could eventually get a good price.

tucson-chicago-store-2000s

This changed my whole world, and I started to budget several hours per trip to the Chicago Store just in case I found something that was going to require a little more time to negotiate. Over the years I bought a lot of great gear from the Chicago Store, and to this day I still own several items that I bought there. But more than that, I learned how to give Joe a "good fight," and I walked away with dozens of great deals.

tucson-chicago-store-2010s

Joe and I never grew close enough to be friends, of course, because I was never more than a customer to him, but I'd say beyond a shadow of a doubt that I had become one of Joe's "regular customers," and he always greeted me with a huge smile every time I entered his store - whether I bought anything at all.

I was terribly saddened when Joe and Phil both passed away several years ago.


POSTSCRIPT:

Here are a few articles about the Chicago Store's and it's future.

Coloring Historical Photographs - December 22nd Edition

A friend of mine posted a link to an article titled Deconstructing the Reconciliation Narrative of the Civil War, which was a fascinating article that presented an interesting look at a difficult time in the United States' troubled past: the period of Reconciliation that followed the post-Civil War Reconstruction. If you're into history as I am, it might be worth your time to read.

That being said, the article contained a wonderful photograph of General George H. Thomas that I thought would make a great candidate for colorization. With that in mind, here are the before and after views of that photo.

General George H. Thomas.before-and-after

One interesting item of note about the final image: as I have always done in the past, I had edited all of the imperfections from the original photo; the scratches, discolorations, tears, etc. However, the fully-restored image of General Thomas over a flat background looked so unnatural that I decided to overlay my "finished" image over the original to add back a few imperfections. In the end, I think this looked photo looked far better with a few problems in it.

More 511th History: That Time I Was a Russian Major

At some point during my tenure with the 511th MI Company, I was requested by some high-ranking US military officials to help review the readiness of 11th ACR troops. The time was in the late 1980s, and a delegation could show up at any time for a surprise inspection during the drawdown of nuclear armaments in Germany. This was important work, and our senior leadership needed to know that our troops would do the right thing when the time came. On the other hand, they also needed to know that our troops would prevent bad things from happening, too.

With that mind, I was dressed in a Soviet Major's Uniform (from the Tank Corps), assigned a Russian "translator," and I was asked to pretend to be a particularly "difficult" guest during a faux inspection.

Soviet Army Armored Corps Officer Uniform

To be more specific, these high-ranking officials asked me to try getting into all sorts of mischief in order to evaluate how the unsuspecting 11th ACR troops would react. I'm the kind of guy that you don't have to ask twice - I could get into lots of trouble rather quickly, and my victims probably would have been seriously ticked off if they ever suspected that I wasn't who my official escorts said I was.

My translator was SPC Meyers, who was a good friend of mine from the 511th. We were both passably fluent in Russian, which was more than was necessary to fool our unsuspecting victims. All of our personal conversations in Russian were about what was going on, how much fun we were having, where to go for lunch after we were done, what we should do to mess with people, etc. However, whenever I would say something in Russian, my friend would "translate" something entirely different (and often exasperating) to our hosts.

Here's an example:

Me [Saying something innocuous in Russian to my translator.]
Translator "The major would like to see inside an Abrams tank."
11th ACR dude "No, that's off limits."
Translator [Saying something innocuous in Russian to me.]
Me [Saying something innocuous in Russian, but louder and angrier.]
Translator "The major is very upset; he says that's part of his inspection duties."
11th ACR dude "I'm really sorry, and uh - can someone help me? What do I do now?"
Translator [Apologetically in Russian to me: "He'd kick our butts if he knew we were so full of crap."]
Me [Angrily in Russian: "Yeah, but this is so much fun. Still, we'd better not show our faces around here for a few weeks."]

Ah, good times.

Remembering Tucson's Bob Cooke

I grew up in Tucson, and I have fond memories of a local radio DJ that many people in town loved to listen to back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. However, to put things in perspective, radio isn't the same as it used to be; more and more of the contemporary radio programming is syndicated, playlists are dictated by countless business decisions, and - to be honest - fewer and fewer people are listening to radio as it fights to compete with satellite services, streaming apps, and digital audio. (I will admit, I personally listen to a collection of MP3s that are stored on a flash drive whenever I'm traveling in my car these days.)

But back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, radio was king. For most music fans, radio was usually the only way that you discovered new artists, and it was also how you learned that your favorite artists had released their latest albums. There was no Internet back then, and before MTV launched in 1981 there was generally no television coverage for rock music news. In short, if you liked music, there was radio - and that was it.

When I was in High School, there were two rock stations in Tucson: KWFM and KTKT-FM (which would later become KLPX). Each station had their fair share of DJs, and there was one DJ who drifted back and forth between those two stations: Bob Cooke. He was Tucson's premier funny man - he always had the best jokes, but he was never over the top. (Well, perhaps on occasion...)

I recall staying up late on far more nights than I will admit to finish homework assignments as my semesters came to an end, and Bob Cooke always played requests from students all over town who were engaged in similar last-minute pursuits. And Bob was freakin' hilarious about it. I would call and ask for something by Rush or The Doors, then someone else would call and ask for song from a different band, and so on. Bob played them all. He had a ball as he expressed his faux sympathies for all his listeners slaving away with their books and typewriters, and you knew he was glad that he wasn't working on all that homework.

Bob-Cooke-3

One of the particularly amusing parts of Bob's shows was when he was required to read advertising copy live while on the air, because he could never do it without messing with the scripts that he had been handed. I vividly recall one morning when he was reading the advertisements for Farmer John's Sausage Links, which Bob humorously changed to "Farmer John's Wieners." He kept saying the rest of advertising copy incorrectly, and therefore he had to keep starting over. However, restarting the script meant that he would eventually run out of the music that was supposed to play in the background, so he would have to start over - again and again. The entire episode was side-splittingly funny, and I laughed so hard I probably cried...

Bob-Cooke-4

People who grew up in the "Naked Pueblo" (as Cooke used to call Tucson) will remember that Bob was tragically killed by a deranged radio listener in August, 1982. (See https://bit.ly/2RswW5o.) People throughout the Tucson valley mourned his untimely death at the young age of just 28 years.

Bob-Cooke-1

It's hard to believe that it's already been 38 years since his murder, because I can still remember countless hours listening to Bob's priceless and bizarre sense of humor. I'm sure that he would have retired years ago if he had had the chance to live a full and happy life, which means both Bob and the classic radio format that made him famous might have been able to ride off into the Arizona sunset together.

route-66