Special Report

Old Nazis, Nixon & Yom Kippur

Reflections on the persistence of evil -- and the instruments of Providence.

By 9.17.13

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Recently the last reputed survivor of Hitler’s Berlin bunker died, age 96. Rochus Misch was a fixture on cable television history channels. Always enthusiastic about recounting his eyewitness to history, one obituary recounts that in his final years he spontaneously would appear at the site of Hitler’s demise in Berlin and began exclaiming his memories to any tourists who would listen. He was a low level SS officer who, among other duties, ran the bunker’s telephone switchboard.

Misch personally saw Hitler’s body after the suicide, and his account greatly interested the Soviets, who detained him for eight years. His years after release were unexceptional until he eventually aged into notoriety as the last intimate survivor of Hitler’s final days. One obituary recounts that Misch acknowledged the Nazi regime’s horrible crimes but insisted Hitler, who was “friendly, nice” to his staff, could not have been responsible. He instead credited Heinrich Himmler.

Such denial was also present in a remarkable Washington Post account of the Auschwitz commander’s daughter, who lives quietly in a Washington, D.C. suburb, age 80, retired from a hair salon. The article withholds her married name, and she has always kept her sinister family connection secret, except from her children, and only then reluctantly. She and her family lived in the commander’s compound only yards away from some of history’s most despicable crimes. Only a child then, she professes to have been ignorant of what was happening over the fence. Her father, Rudolf Höss, was eventually executed after the war and is recalled as one of the vilest villains ever to have lived, having presided over the direct murder of over one million innocents.

The daughter retains fond memories for her father, “the nicest man in the world.” And while not disputing the Holocaust, she questions whether as many died as is claimed. Once again, a refusal to admit great evil by a monstrous man because of pleasant personal encounters. This woman worked for years at a Washington boutique, whose owner was Jewish, and to whom she indiscreetly confided her family history while drinking. The Jewish owner did not hold her responsible for her father’s crimes, and the woman’s son told the Post that his aged mother remains fond of her former employee.

Horror over Nazi Germany’s unparalleled atrocities against the Jews facilitated the restoration of Jewish Israel in 1947, which the Arab world never accepted, and which several Arab nations tried again to eradicate 40 years ago in the Yom Kippur War. In his always insightful column, Ben Stein recalls the prayer book at his local synagogue’s Yom Kippur service saying Nazi-led Europeans had persecuted the Jews because they had brought the Ten Commandments. Stein counters that Nazi purposes were not religious but motivated by “scientific,” arch-Darwinist racial theory.

Stein is right of course about Nazi racial theory, but he likely underestimates anti-Semitism’s religious dimension. Most anti-Semites have not relied on Nazi-like claims of racial superiority but persist in an animus of the soul that can only be ultimately spiritual. The Jewish prayer book’s surmising the Jews are hated because they brought God’s law seems on the mark. Christians and Jews understand the world to be fallen and in rebellion against its Creator. The Jewish people’s ongoing survival, especially as a geographic nation, is an unwelcome reminder to many about the God of the Jews.

Ruthless dictators and totalitarian movements are especially anti-Semitic or at least wary because they know Jews corporately have an identity rooted eschatologically beyond the confines of any nation state or secular ideology. This hostility unifies despots from ancient Pharaohs to 20th century Gauleiters and commissars, to Arab nationalists and radical Islamists of today.

Stein remembers the Yom Kippur War of 1973 when Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq caught Israel by surprise in joint attack. He recalls especially the U.S. special airlift of arms that helped save Israel from destruction, thanks to insistent orders from a sinking, Watergate-plagued Richard Nixon. “He was God’s hand stretched out for the Chosen People,” and the “greatest savior of Israel since the days of the Pharaohs,” Stein writes effusively of Nixon. “What an honor, what a gift, to have served this instrument of the Lord.”

As Stephen Ambrose wrote in his otherwise mostly unflattering biography of Nixon, the emergency airlift was virtually Nixon’s initiative alone. When Defense Secretary James Schlesinger dithered, Nixon tersely commanded the planes aloft and hung up the phone. Ambrose says Nixon decided to save Israel, knowing he’d receive little to no public credit. U.S. backing for Israel defeated invading Arab armies but also provoked an oil embargo and recession.

Thanks to the White House tapes, Nixon is often remembered for his unfortunate private trash talk about Jews and almost everybody else. One particular conversation disparaging Jewish media influence involved evangelist Billy Graham, also a friend to Israel, who profusely apologized publicly after the tape’s revelation in recent years.

Unlike Harry Truman, a Baptist who once likened himself to Cyrus the Persian king who returned the Jews to Zion, Nixon’s dramatic rescue of Israel seems not to have had any intense spiritual motivation. Adamant about preserving American power, and always sensitive to geopolitical shifts, Nixon would not permit Soviet-armed proxies to defeat a U.S. armed ally.

Instruments of Providence, whether Persian kings or U.S. presidents, don’t have to be pious to be useful. The passing of elderly former Nazis, and the moral quandaries of their progeny, should remind us that attitudes towards the Jewish people and Israel often reflect a spiritual mindset with ramifications for all.

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About the Author

Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. and author of Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth CenturyYou can follow him on Twitter @markdtooley.