From a German Dissenter’s Diary Comes a Sense of What Ordinary Germans Knew about the Holocaust

Jan. 16 2018

In 1939, Friedrich Kellner, a German opponent of Hitler, began to document his impressions of the Nazi regime and its crimes. The resulting diary was published in German in 2011, and will soon become available in English. Among other things, the text offers evidence of what ordinary citizens of the Third Reich knew about their government’s activities. Matt Lebovic writes:

Kellner . . . wrote 676 entries [in the diary], drawing from numerous sources and a formidable knowledge of history. . . . Some of Kellner’s information came from sources that were widely available, including the Nazi-party broadsheet and illegal radio broadcasts. To gather other [information], Kellner questioned people and sifted through gossip, attaching more than 500 newspaper clippings along the way. A potent sense of anger fills Kellner’s diary, directed not only at the Nazis but also [at] his fellow citizens and the world for allowing Hitler to rise.

As the Nazis spread terror across Europe, Kellner documented atrocities the regime sought to hide. To put current events in context for future readers, he made pointed references to Hitler’s tome Mein Kampf, on which he was an expert. Among other crimes, he wrote about the “mercy killings” of disabled Germans at Hadamar and “retribution” killings carried out against civilians in occupied countries.

Kellner’s accounts of the Holocaust were concise, including his report on an early Jewish “action” in Poland. “A solider on leave [in the small central German town where Kellner lived] said he personally witnessed a terrible atrocity in the occupied part of Poland,” wrote Kellner in 1941. “He watched as naked Jewish men and women were placed in front of a long deep ditch and, upon the order of the SS, were shot by Ukrainians in the back of their heads, and they fell into the ditch. Then the ditch was filled in as screams kept coming from it.”

A few weeks later, Kellner wrote about “Jews being transported somewhere” and “treated worse than animals” along the way. In another entry, he reported on the deportation of specific Jewish families from his town.

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More about: Germany, History & Ideas, Holocaust, Nazism

No, Israelis and Palestinians Can’t Simply Sit Down and Solve the “Israel-Palestinian Conflict”

Jan. 17 2019

By “zooming out” from the blinkered perspective with which most Westerners see the affairs of the Jewish state, argues Matti Friedman, one can begin to see things the way Israelis do:

Many [in Israel] believe that an agreement signed by a Western-backed Palestinian leader in the West Bank won’t end the conflict, because it will wind up creating not a state but a power vacuum destined to be filled by intra-Muslim chaos, or Iranian proxies, or some combination of both. That’s exactly what has happened . . . in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. One of Israel’s nightmares is that the fragile monarchy in Jordan could follow its neighbors . . . into dissolution and into Iran’s orbit, which would mean that if Israel doesn’t hold the West Bank, an Iranian tank will be able to drive directly from Tehran to the outskirts of Tel Aviv. . . .

In the “Israeli-Palestinian” framing, with all other regional components obscured, an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank seems like a good idea—“like a real-estate deal,” in President Trump’s formulation—if not a moral imperative. And if the regional context were peace, as it was in Northern Ireland, for example, a power vacuum could indeed be filled by calm.

But anyone using a wider lens sees that the actual context here is a complex, multifaceted war, or a set of linked wars, devastating this part of the world. The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy to see if you pull out a map and look at Israel’s surroundings, from Libya through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.

The fault lines have little to do with Israel. They run between dictators and the people they’ve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and medievalists; between Sunnis and Shiites; between majority populations and minorities. If [Israel’s] small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is now.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East