Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Invasion Of Poland 1939

Another milestone quietly passed by. It is more than a bit ironic because seventy years ago, most Americans were not paying much attention to far away Europe and its conflicts. The USA was still in the grip of the Great Depression and the disillusionment with the participation in the “War to end all Wars” left the nation profoundly isolationist. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

It is informative with our present hyper ventilations over domestic policies to remember how real fascists behaved almost four generations ago. Hitler’s Germany battered and brutalized Poland via the Blitzkrieg. Real cities got bombed, real people, mostly civilians, were killed. While no country in Europe was untouched by World War Two, Poland, more than most countries, was singled out for martyrdom. One third of all Poles would be dead by the time the war ended.

Poland got brutally squeezed by two authoritarian states during the war. At first, it was a cooperative effort by both the Germans and the Russians. The two nations conspired to erase the liberation of Poland during the Great War. Germany swallowed its portion and Russia swallowed its share. Germany allowed a farcical rump client state to operate in its area of control but this supposed independent entity was nothing more than a cruel joke.

Russia was a little more direct in its oppression of the Polish and their elites. The Red Army waded waste-deep in the blood of the Polish elite with the Katyn Massacre. When people these days talk about death lists and death panels they directly trivialize the 20,000 deaths the Poles suffered in the forests of Russia. Stalin drew up real death orders with real death panels (the NKVD) butchering real people.

The butchering of Poland was only a warm up though. Hitler, the failed Viennese postcard painter, drew up a death-list that targeted all of European Jewry. A little more than one year after the invasion of Poland, Hitler added the Russian people to the list of “sub-humans” to be erased from the face of the earth.

It is on days like the 5th of September that we remember the true actors of history and their actions. In the swirl of present day partisan and political bickering, it serves us well to truly remember the events that happened seventy years ago. It is critical because the last of the participants are fading from view. The “Greatest Generation” is now in its upper eighties and mid 90’s. Even the children of that great and cataclysmic event are now in their  70’s.

There is a very good chance then that when commentators claim a politician or world leader is akin to Hitler those commentators are talking nonsense. No politician, no world leader has been able to hijack a major industrial power and bend it toward evil and annihilation the way Hitler did in the mid twentieth century. No one has been able to combine the toxic witch’s brew of authoritarianism, bigotry, fanaticism, grievance, nationalism, anti-intellectualism, myth, kitsch, and vulgarity the way Hitler did. No one has had the charisma and the monomaniacal / megalomaniacal will to power that Hitler displayed.  Despite the best efforts of some, no one has been able to sell a facile, vicious and ultimately “final” solution the way that Hitler did.

Hitlerism and fascism are more than pejoratives to be lightly tossed about by glib commentators.  Totalitarian political movements have a mongrel pedigree of their own. Totalitarian states have a modus operandi of their own. It is critical that we understand the real fascist Italy and the real Nazi Germany and how they operated not some fun-house mirror reflection of the historical truth we picked up by watching a movie.

We must truly comprehend the end results of demonizing a sub-section of humanity, of letting our hatreds drowning out the better angles of our natures.  This type of eliminationist thinking, the type extolled by Gobles and the rest of the Nazi hierarchy, leads to an extra-ordinary criminal mindset. It turns an entire nation into a band of ravening thugs capable of the vilest behavior. The ancient Mongol hordes would blush to be compared to the depravity of the Nazi war machine; the Visigoths would be insulted to be mentioned in the same breath.

It is hard to understand our cultures need to trivialize just about everything. We seem to be constitutionally unable to keep anything sacrosanct. Gravitas escapes us. We either slip into maudlin hagiography or ridiculous over-reach. We stand rightly accused of intellectual laziness, incuriousness and emotionalism. Our political conversations have devolved into so many ad hominine abusive attacks. We level charges that even the most cursory reading of the facts would disprove.

Nazism, Hitlerism, Fascism, Authoritarianism, Communism and Socialism have very long histories. The last two movements also have very long and very dense intellectual underpinnings. Marx spent his entire adult life as an ink-stained wretch scribbling grand and impenetrable prose. The academics who followed him only added to the logorrheic miasma. You could sink an aircraft carrier by dropping the collected published academic works of and about Communism on top of the vessel. The “Socialism” bandied about by TV commentators in the employ of Fox News bears no resemblance to the movement founded in the fires of the French Revolution.

If the Glenn Becks and the tea-partiers of the world have a very vague idea about what Socialism really is, they have even less of a notion about how Nazism really worked. The Nazis had real death lists and acted on them in the most brutal fashion. Poland was subjected to a very real reign of terror. Real tanks rolled over real land and real people. Real bombs fell on real buildings and real people. Real artillery smashed into real earth and vaporized real victims. The destruction of Poland was the real beginning of a real hell on earth. After the conquest, real Jews and real Poles were rounded up and shipped off to real concentration camps never to return.

The mechanism for these real acts was out there for all to see. The hardware was in plain   sight, the troopers were marching down the street.  The whole structure of the Nazi regime was and is well documented; no detail is too obscure.  We have the technical specifications for the ovens.  We have the train schedules.  We have the lists of the people eliminated.  We have the flotsam and jetsam of the personal possessions of the victims.  On what was once the Eastern Front, we still have the fields of bones bleaching in the sun. We have the writings of the people who belonged to Hitler’s movement.  We even have Hitler’s writings on various subjects. While the writings of the Nazis lack the intellectual rigor of Marx, Lenin or Mao, they have a ferocious, reptilian appeal of their own. What Nazi writings lack in logic and coherence they more than make up in bile and hate.

History does not lack documentation of who the Nazis were nor does it have a deficit in outlining the excesses of the Soviet state.  The political and personal excesses of Mao are also well documented. We know the arc of the stories of Hitler, Stalin and Mao. We comprehend the political systems they created. Seventy years ago, the martyrdom not only of Poland began but also six million Jews and millions of Roma and Russians too.  Whole nations walked the Via Dolorosa. Russia lost the most in people and property; Poland lost the most by percentage. All of Europe and most of Asia suffered cruelly. No family was spared loss.  Many lost everything.  That loss, that tragedy of aggressive war began in September of 1939.

The tragic tales of the people who suffered under these leaders should be constant reminder of excesses of absolute power.  It should not be turned to facile way to score cheap political points.  It should not be trivialized by blowhards trying to rile-up unthinking partisan anger.  Is it too much to ask that we honor the memory of those who found themselves in harms way seventy years ago?  In these hyper-ironic, uber-secular times is it too much to ask that we still have holy martyrs? Is it too much to ask that the memory of those men, women and children be sacrosanct?
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