Sunday, September 22, 2013

Reckonings by Mchael D'Antonio

In Sex, Priests, and Secret Codes (2006) Richard Sipe, Thomas Doyle & Patrick Wall traced the Roman Catholic struggle to control sex back to the year 309 and document more than ten centuries of crimes committed by priests against children. In conducting research for this book, and for later projects, the three men targeted the Servants of the Paraclete, who had established the first treatment program for priest sex offenders.  Founded by a priest named Gerald Fitzgerald, the center in Jemez Springs, New Mexico, first admitted priests who molested and raped minors in the early 1950s. Fitzgerald, who originally intended to treat alcoholism, reluctantly agreed to deal with these men but from the start he held out little hope that they could change.  In fact, he became the first whistleblower of the modern crisis when he began warning bishops, and even the Pope, about the men guilty of “tampering with the virtue of the young.”

The line about tampering was in a letter sent to the bishop of Reno, Robert Dwyer, in 1952. In it he urged that priests who abused be defrocked and cast out because “leaving them on duty or wandering from diocese to diocese is contributing to scandal or at least to the approximate of scandal. Of course “scandal” was, and continued to be, the preferred euphemism for sexual abuse and despite Fitzgerald’s many warnings to his superiors, they did let hundreds of these men wander about as priests.

Fitzgerald’s letter to Dwyer was found in a box of documents that the Paracletes had sent to an attorney in Santa Fe named Stephen Tinkler, who had sued them on behalf of people abused as children by men the order had sent into local communities while they were in treatment. It was discovered when Doyle, Wall and Sipe went to New Mexico to conduct research for their book. As they read Fitzgerald’s papers the three men found a kindred spirit who doubted that priests who abused children could ever be allowed to return to ministry. Among the more compelling finds were letters noting that Fitzgerald intended to discuss the issue of clergy abuse with Pope Pius XII in 1957 and his plan to house offender priests, whom he called “vipers,” on an isolated island.  Fitzgerald actually paid a &5,000 deposit on an island that was for sale in the Caribbean, but he never completed the purchase. As his papers showed, Fitzgerald became more alarmed the longer he served. After discussing the problem with Pope Paul VI he followed up with a letter that said, in part:

“Personally I an not sanguine of the return of priests to active duty who have been addicted to abnormal practices, especially sins with the young. However, the needs of the church must be taken into consideration and activation of priests who have seemingly recovered in this field may be considered but is only recommended where careful guidance and supervision is possible. Where there is an indication of incorrigibility, because of the tremendous scandal given, I would most earnestly recommend total laicization.”

Along with his correspondence, Sipe, Wall and Doyle found photos of Fitzgerald with the Pope and documentation showing that high-ranking officials from many dioceses, including the archdiocese of Los Angeles, had sent abusive priests to New Mexico for treatments long before the current crisis erupted. Altogether, the Fitzgerald documents contradicted Catholic leaders who said the Church was ill-informed on the problem and only came to understand it in the 1980s or 1990s. Fitzgerald’s repeated warnings were delivered to responsible men at every level, including the Vatican, in the 1950s and 1960s. When Los Angeles attorney Anthony DeMarco persuaded a judge to release them, they became key documents in future lawsuits.

In every major case where lawyers forced the Church to divulge documents, they showed that bishops followed roughly the same practices to avoid scandal. Priest offenders were sent to new postings, laypeople were discouraged from speaking publically about their offenses, and settlement payments came with demands for confidentiality agreements. Sometimes bishops sent problem priests to different states and foreign countries, without informing locals of their history. Similar practices had been seen in Ireland and would emerge around the world. The global nature of the scandal was apparent to anyone who cared to look.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Saul Bellow by Greg Bellow

Saul Bellow’s Heart; A Son’s Memoir by Greg Bellow; Bloomsbury, N.Y. 2013

In 1987 Allan Bloom published The Closing of the American Mind, in which he argued that overly liberal attitudes had actually closed the American mind in the name of openness. After careful reading, I found the book so closely paralleled views I was hearing from my father that I considered it a joint intellectual venture by two friends who had grown ideologically close. Bloom put forth views that appealed to social, cultural, and political conservatives in the Reagan White House, and Saul did not protest being included among thinkers with whom he often agreed. When Saul and I discussed the book I expressed distress that it was filled with “aristocratic notions.” I took his silence about my characterization as tacit agreement and as a measure of the extent to which my father’s mind had closed to anything but “superior” forms of culture, an attitude that bordered on the elitism I found in Allan’s book that was the exact opposite of my understanding of ‘young Saul’s” views. Bloom went after his enemies in public as much as Saul had to me in private, with venom, ridicule, and contempt designed to obliterate opposing views rather than to consider any potential worth in them or offering a contrasting position.

When ‘young Saul” became “old Saul,” my father changed from a young man full of questions to an old man full of answers. Virtually gone was Saul’s early optimism about making the world a better place. Worse, from my point of view, was the loss of his puzzlement about human nature, which I shared and treasured. “Old Saul” now took everything, including himself, so seriously that he lost the ability to laugh at himself or at the comic side of life’s contradictions. In earlier years, his pointed questioning of abstract solutions that offered little help to suffering human beings had seemed to me a form of leveling that brought great thinkers down to earth. My father was now siding with the thinkers he had once challenged, promulgating a set of answers and solutions to problems, both social and personal, that I found distinctly patriarchal, authoritarian, and hierarchical. My gut impressions of Saul’s reversals –that what he was backing away from was the basic fairness of the family ethos with which I had been raised –never wavered. I was and remain saddened by the toll Saul’s disillusionment and pessimism took on him and us. .  .

Saul’s last work, Ravelstein, is a magnificent memoir of Bloom, barely disguised as a novel, so filled with actual events, feelings Saul shared, and matters the entire family spoke about that I take the book as largely a work of non-fiction.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Lili Marlene by Liel Leibovitz and Mathew Miller

Hans Leip, the poet who had given birth to “Lili Marlene” [ “Song of a Young Sentry”- 1915], was angry. Like  the singer  Lale Anderson, he too watched with futile rage as his life was torn apart by the Nazi ascent and the all-encompassing war.  After the heady days of the 1920s, with costume parties and love triangles and instant literary fame, the 1930s were bleak.  He struggled to find work, his celebrity working against him. Every artist who wished to retain a high profile had to join the Nazi party, and Liep would not do that.

“I said no,” he told an interviewer many years after the war. “Me as a Hamburger, a free Hambuger, you know, I do not become a party member.”

His principles pushed Leip even further into a corner. Now earning his living almost entirely from writing brief cultural reviews for small newspapers, and forced to scrutinize every sentence he wrote for anything that mighty cause even the faintest displeasure to the bureaucrats of the Culture Chamber, Leip was offered a flattering and lucrative deal. One of his old acquaintances, remembering the poet in his golden days, was involved in Ufa and entrusted to produce a script for a new film. An added incentive was the fact that the film was to star Emil Jannings, a revered actor who had gained international fame when he starred opposite Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angle. Leip always loved Jannings, was intrigued by the way the actor, who often portrayed men who had fallen from grace, managed to embody at once the searing hurt of being humiliated by his environment and the fundamental, perennial dignity that made life, even at its darkest hours, worth living. The theme of the film appealed to Leip as well.  It was  be a nautical adventure, capturing the struggles of a German battleship fighting the British in the First World War. Leip saw the film as a chance to relive his childhood dreams of life on the high seas. If he wasn’t fit to serve in the navy on board submarines, he could at least now live vicariously by creating a fictional world of sea battles, brave ensigns, and nautical drama a plenty.  However, his enthusiasm soon faded.

It being 1938, with Germany and Britain engaged in a tortuous power play that would shortly lead to war, the film’s plot shifted dramatically as did world events: as soon as Britain ceased to be a friendly appeaser, Ufa’s sovereigns were instructed by Goebbels to change the film from an innocent story of peril at sea to a bombastic piece of anti-British propaganda. Instructions along these lines were conveyed to Leip, who was expected to amend the script accordingly. He, however, refused.

Bowing out of the film did little to tarnish the reputation of Jannings, but it took its toil on Leip. Already viewed with a jaundiced eye for refusing to pledge his allegiance to National Socialism, he was now an outcast, with all but a handful of courageous editors keeping their distance and refusing to publish his contributions. Having amassed some money as the author of a best-selling novel, Leip had enough funds to live in modest comfort for a few years. With a wife and two children in tow, he prepared for a few lean years. Optimistic by nature, he was certain that the impending war would turn out much like the one that preceded it, with the fanatical fires of nationalism burning furiously for a few years and then dying down, giving way to another Weimar, to another Renaissance of art and enlightenment. At least this time around, he told himself, he was too old to be sent to the front. He wrote sporadically, sketched from time to time, and did his best to ignore the world outside.

In 1939 he took a small house on Lake Constance, located on the Rhine and bordering Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. It was a quiet and pastoral place, he imagined, in which a poet was likely to find inspiration. By summer’s end, however, Leip’s hopes of winning the Muse’s favor evaporated when he learned that a poem he had written many years before, was set to music and was now, thanks to the military radio station in Belgrade, a hit all across Europe with soldiers and civilians alike. More than anything, it was unbearable for him to think how little had changed since he had given life to the two women who had captured his imagination in 1915. Back then, he thought, he imagined Lili as a promise: guarding the barracks, watching the invalid soldiers in the hospital and the oblivious men at the officers’ quarters, he conjured Lili as a force stronger even than the madness that drove men to the battlefield. The war will be over, he thought, and the men will return to their own Lili Marlenes. His Lili seemed to assure him, a young and anxious soldier about to be shipped to war, that love will triumph over death.  But now, less than two decades later, here again were men marching en masse to their death, again fighting a gratuitous and pointless war. Leip found little comfort in the thought that millions of men looked forward to the song each night or that his words brought soldiers to tears, reminding them of loved ones left behind and of lives interrupted by war. 

Leip was horrified to learn that a poem so personal, a poem he considered to be a strong statement against war, was put to march-like music and made popular by an army radio  station. “Lili Marlene”, he thought bitterly, would now forever be thought of as a soldiers’ song, when he had imagined it to be everything but. And he, the song’s lyricist, the poet and humanist, the bohemian intellectual and a man of peace, was now linked in the popular imagination with the soundtrack to so many bloody battles. If that wasn’t enough, his original poem, his original poem was robbed of its male voice, the voice of a soldier pinning for his sweet heart, and given a new, female voice instead. And what a woman’s voice it was! That harsh tone, that strange diction, that literal interpretation that shied away from any vocal flourishes, all those maddened Leip even further. If the song had to be interpreted by a female singer, he thought, why not someone who could actually sing? And yet there was little he could do about it. By early 1942, Leip, like Anderson, realized that the popularity of “lili Marlene” was unstoppable.

Not surprisingly, Goebbels and his henchmen in the Culture Chamber recognized the anti-war sentiment in the song and put everyone involved in its creation under tighter watch. With Anderson recruited by Hans Hinkel for his elite artists tour and the composer Schultze a registered member of the Nazi Party and a prolific tunesmith in service of the army, Leip was the next logical target. Pressures increased on him to join the party. He continued to refuse. Veiled threats were made, but he wouldn’t budge. He did not believe in anything the Nazis represented and would not declare himself one of their ranks merely for expediency’s sake.

One day, sometime in 1943, he received a telephone call; it was a Nazi high official, a key player in the Culture Chamber’s division for writers and poets. Curtly, the man said that while he was a patriotic German, he couldn’t stand to see the way the Chamber was persecuting anyone who did not succumb to its will. And Leip, he said, was about to  be its next target, having incurred Hinkel’s anger. “My dear Hans Leip,” said the man, “you have to see to it that you get away a little bit so you are not drawing attention, because they want to interrogate you by the SS and, as I know, you will tell them exactly how you feel. And then you re finished. You know, then you will be imprisoned.”

Stunned by the man’s unexpected candor, Leip took his advice. He bid farewell to his wife and children and moved to his summer house on Lake Constance, sinking into a routine of artistic infertility.

                                                            .  .  .

There are many plausible explanations for the popularity of “Lili Marlene.” Most of them are obvious and come back to the same basic point: as the war divided the world into different ideologies, different nationalities, different visions of the future, the song reminded the young men at the front and their dear one’s back home of the one virtue that, ultimately, binds the entire world together, the one virtue that travels across time and trenches, the one virtue that matters most of all – love.

But these explanations, we believe, are missing a large part of the point, and ignore the very thing that made “Lili Marlene” popular and keeps her and her mutations) popular still. The best war songs, John Steinbeck noted in his observations, are not about war at all; instead, they are about the things that make war bearable, the things that await at its end, the mundane and wonderful little pleasures of the everyday. These pleasure – a sweetheart’s kiss, say, or a country sunset –are too elusive for ordinary speech. They evade even the most sensitive writers. Put them in a sentence and they sit listlessly, deflated of all meaning. But put them in a song and they glow. The music changes the words, guiding simple images to those compartments of the mind that store wild emotion. It is there that a song’s significance and its potency lie.

As Lale Anderson herself witnessed when she toyed with alternative compositions, it was only Norbert Schultze’s music that made “lili Marlene” a crowd pleaser, only his tune, a wedding of folk songs, military marches, and a children’s ditty, that managed to capture the true spirit of the poem Hans Leip’s words alone weren’t enough; “Lili Marlene” needed a melody and a memorable voice to translate its essence from the private language of one man to the international idiom that captured the hearts and minds of men of all cultures and tongues. This is the true essence of every great song, and it is certainly true in the case of Lili Marlene.”  The secret of the song’s universal appeal, then, may lie just there, in its bars, stating its case in a sublime musical language that transcends the artificial constructs that men have built to separate themselves from other men.  Beethoven, quoting from Schiller, addressed this pleasant joy directly in the choral finale of his Ninth Symphony: “Thou shining spark of God . . ./your magic reunites those/Whom stern custom has parted/All men will become brothers/ Under your protective wing.”

Monday, September 16, 2013

Rudolf Hoss at Nuremberg by Thomas Harding

This testimony is the only audio-visual record of Rudolf Hoss. As he answered the questions put to him by the prosecutor, Rudolf spoke in a high-pitched, nasal voice.

Colonel Amen: You signed that affidavit voluntarily, Witness?

Rudolf: Jawohl

Colonel Amen: And the affidavit is true in all respects?

Rudolf: Jawohl.

The prosecutor then read a section that described Rudolf’s career in the SS, working as a camp guard in Dachau, Sachsenhausen, Auschwitz and then Amtsgruppe D. He looked up from his papers, pausing for effect, and then read out the most shocking part of Rudolf’s confession:

“I commanded Aushwitz until 1 December 1943, and estimate that at least two and a half million victims were executed and exterminated there by gassing and burning, and at least another half-million succumbed to starvation and disease making a total dead of about three million.”

There was total silence in the court, as Amen briskly read on. Sitting in two rows at the center of the courtroom, the twenty-three defendants looked gloomily on.  The prosecutors knew that they had finally found their trump card. The reporters crowded onto the visitors’ gallery took notes. The four judges stared down from their elevated benches, grateful that the clarity of this testimony would help them deliver a definitive result at the end of the trial.

Colonel Amen: “This figure represents about 70 or 80 percent of all persons sent to Auschwitz as prisoners, the remainder having been selected and used for slave labor in the concentration camp industries,; including among the executed and burned were approximately 20,000 Russian prisoners of war who were delivered at Auschwitz in Wehrmacht transports operated by regular Wehrmacht officers and men. The remainder of the total number of victims included 100,000 German Jews, and a great number of citizens, mostly Jewish, from Holland, France, Belgium, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Greece, or other countries. We executed about 400,00 Hungarian Jews alone at Auschwitz in the summer of 1944.” That is all true, Witness?

Rudolf: Jawohl. It is.

Colonel Amen: “ I personally supervised executions at Auschwitz until 1 December 1943 and know by reason of my continued duties in the Inspectorate of Concentration Camps, WVHA, that these mass executions continued as stated above. All mass executions by gassing took place under the direct order, supervision, and responsibility of RSHA. I received all orders for carrying out these mass executions directly from RSHA.” Are those statements true and correct, Witness?

Rudolf: Jawohl. They are.

Once his cross-examination was concluded, Rudold removed his heavy black earphones, set them on the edge of the witness stand, and stepped back to a row of chairs to the rear of the courtroom. A few minutes later the proceedings were adjourned and Rudolf was escorted back to his prison cell.

Rudolf’s testimony was reported around the world. The New York Times described it as “the crushing climax to the case.” In Britain, the Times went further. It said of Hoss’s signed testimony: “Its dreadful implications must surpass any document ever penned.”

It was also clear to everyone in the courtroom that Rudolf’s testimony would have a profound impact on the proceedings, including the defendants themselves. At lunch in the prisoners’ canteen, Hans Frank, the former governor general of occupied Poland, told the psychologist Gustave Gilbert, “That was the low point of the entire trial – to hear a man say out of his mouth that he had exterminated two and a half million people in cold blood. That is something people will talk about for a thousand years.” Herman Goring also shared that he had been shocked by Rudolf’s confession, saying that it was only because Rudolf was from southern Germany that he had been able to commit such crimes – crimes of which a Prussian, such as himself, would never have been capable.

The next day, Frank took the stand and for the first time confessed his role in the atrocities. To the direct question: “Did you ever participate in the destruction of the Jews? He replied: “I say yes. And the reason I say yes is because I have been burdened by guilt for the five months of this trial, and particularly burdened by the statement made by Rudolf Hoss.”

Finally, the major war criminals had begum to admit their guilt.

For Hanns Alexander, who captured Rudolf Hoss, the anger he felt in 1945 as an investigator of War Crimes for the British Army always remained : “The number of murderers I had to dismiss made me sick. They made fools out of us. You know, the Russians were more efficient. When they heard such stories they found the accused and shot them. We could not do it, We did not do it.” But the war for him was never a topic for discussion.. “I would not talk to children about it because they should not be brought up to hate. I, however, am full of hatred.”

Rudolf Hoss was hanged at Auschwitz on April 16, 1947.