Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Late Glory, Late Justice

 
1200px-Wwiimemorial
National WWII Memorial by Lipton sale at English Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0.

When I was growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, finding someone of the WWII generation was as easy as calling my grandmother. Veterans of either the European or the Pacific wars regularly marched in county parades, and it wasn’t too uncommon for one of them to come and speak to our class. I recall one gentlemen in particular who flew bombing missions over Germany, and who told us about the time they came under attack by the Luftwaffe. It isn’t surprising that there were so many veterans around, 50 years after the war: More than 15 million Americans served in and survived the Second World War, and they had an outward influence on the country for decades.

But now, some 71 years after the end of the war, those people are mostly gone, and those who remain probably won’t be with us much longer. In 2013, CNN estimated that there were about 1.7 million WWII veterans left. That number is significantly smaller today. Some actuarial estimates suggest that the world might still have a couple of WWII veterans kicking around into the late 2030s, but I doubt many of them will be marching in parades or speaking to students. To the children of my generation, those folks will be as knowable as veterans of the First World War were mine: technically possible, but only just.

But while the sun is setting on the WWII generation, the light isn’t quite gone, yet, as a number of recent items reminded me. First, a friend forwarded me this spectacular feature from The New York Times about Justus Rosenberg, a 95-year-old professor at Bard College, who helped smuggle thousands of people out of occupied France. Rosenberg, is, amazingly, still teaching and has been talking more about his war experiences of late. For God’s sake, read it; you’ll feel a little better about this world.

Second, at my parents’ insistence, we watched My Italian Secret, a 2014 documentary about Italians who saved Jews from the SS. It followed some of the Jewish survivors who returned to the villages they left 70 years ago. It’s not a perfect documentary — the title would have been more appropriate for a date-night romantic comedy, and the framing narrative disappeared without a trace for about 40 minutes — but it’s an arresting one that I highly recommend.

First, it sheds some light on Italy’s bifurcation during the latter years of the war, when the Americans and the British invaded the South while the Nazis invaded from the North. I knew of the Allied invasion — though I didn’t (and don’t) know much about about it — but I was almost wholly ignorant of the Italian Civil War prior to this.

Second, and more importantly, it underscores just how precious and vital (literally) personal integrity and courage are. What really got to me wasn’t just people risking their own lives to save their friends, neighbors, and fellow men — something we can only hope that we would do if called to — but the way they risked the lives of their own families and charges. That’s a much harder, much scarier proposition, and the fact that there are so relatively few heroes in any conflict likely stems from this. There didn’t seem to be much else connecting the people the documentary covered (a professional cyclist, a hospital administrator, an abbess, a noblewoman, neighbors, a few priests), but I suppose that’s not surprising or necessary: Courage and conscience are rare and beautiful enough in combination that no more comment is needed.

But as wonderful as it is to give this much attention to the heroes and the good among us — they cannot get enough — I couldn’t help but think of the wickedness and evil of those who joined the SS and committed a methodical, paperwork-heavy genocide unique in human history. Amazingly, even now, some of the last of these murderers to have thus far escaped justice, like Reinhold Hanning. He is being prosecuted on tens of thousands of counts of murder.

It’s easy to see the temptation of wondering what’s to be gained from prosecuting and incarcerating a man of 95 years for crimes committed so long ago, and often after an otherwise fruitful life of many decades. At one level, it is absurd, truly. But, to me, My Italian Secret makes an implicit case that if it’s worth praising the memories of the heroes — regardless whether they’re still with us or long-passed — it’s equally important to bring what little justice we can to the villains.

Even if Herr Hanning is convicted, he’ll still likely end his days in a bed surrounded by doctors trying to extend his life when, what he deserves at a minimum, is a noose around his neck.

There are 21 comments.

  1. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor

    Justus Rosenberg saved my grandparents. I’m here because of him.

    • #1
    • May 9, 2016, at 9:03 AM PST
    • Like
  2. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:Justus Rosenberg saved my grandparents. I’m here because of him.

    Folks, I seriously did not know this until about five minutes ago.

    • #2
    • May 9, 2016, at 9:11 AM PST
    • Like
  3. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:Justus Rosenberg saved my grandparents. I’m here because of him.

    Folks, I seriously did not know this until about five minutes ago.

    You can read a bit about it here. Rosenberg was part of Varian Fry’s team.

    In 1934–35 Berlinski applied for French citizenship, which carried with it the obligation of military service in the French Foreign Legion. Though he never did obtain his citizenship, he later recalled with pride his participation at the Belgian border when German army units broke through; and he always took great satisfaction in being “one of the few Jews with the opportunity to have a machine gun in my hand and shoot at them.”

    After France’s surrender to Germany and the establishment of the Vichy government, Berlinski determined to leave while he (and his wife) still could, and to head for America. His father had gone there earlier, and he also had a number of relatives who had emigrated directly from Łódź and were residing in New Jersey. In this he was assisted by a man named Varian Fry (“the American Schindler”), who had come voluntarily to France to facilitate the rescue and emigration of stranded European intellectuals.

    As both a German native and a veteran French Legionnaire who had fought against Germany, Berlinski was technically ineligible for an exit visa, since the cooperating French authorities were required to hand over all such individuals to the Germans. His illegally “purchased” exit visa still required an approval stamp. He obtained that only because the French official did not realize that Lipsk, shown as his birthplace on his passport, was simply the Polish translation for Leipzig, and thus assumed incorrectly that Berlinski had been born in Poland rather than Germany. There was still the problem, however, that Poland was occupied by Germany as well. Fry helped him invent a Russian identity, which finally qualified him for exit, since the Soviet Union was still technically neutral as a result of the infamous but soon-to-be-violated nonaggression pact. He left France and arrived in the United States only two weeks before the German invasion of the Soviet Union.

    I was thinking as I read this that one reason for our contemporary political insanity is that increasingly, people don’t know that generation. They had a moral authority when speaking about such things as fascism and socialism that younger generations can’t claim.

    • #3
    • May 9, 2016, at 9:23 AM PST
    • Like
  4. Susan in Seattle Member

    My dad turns 92 next week. He doesn’t see any of his actions in WWII as heroic at all – he regards it as ‘just doing my job.’ He was in a mortar unit of the 104th Infantry Division, also known as The Timberwolves. He’s been talking a little more about it lately.

    • #4
    • May 9, 2016, at 9:24 AM PST
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  5. Dad Dog Member

    Susan in Seattle: He doesn’t see any of his actions in WWII as heroic at all – he regards it as ‘just doing my job.’

    Yes, that seems to be a common thread. My Dad, who would’ve turned 93 next month, saw action in the Navy in the South Pacific. He was something of a self-centered man who sought the limelight. However, he never discussed those years in the service, even though they would have provided ample ammunition for his ego. He seemed to have that same attitude: he was just doing his job. In fact, I had to find out about his WWII service from other sources.

    • #5
    • May 9, 2016, at 10:14 AM PST
    • Like
  6. danok1 Member

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: I knew of the Allied invasion — though I didn’t (and don’t) know much about about it

    A decent starting point for the invasions of Sicily and Italy (at least for me) is The Day of Battle.

    • #6
    • May 9, 2016, at 10:25 AM PST
    • Like
  7. Hartmann von Aue Member

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:Justus Rosenberg saved my grandparents. I’m here because of him.

    Many thanks to Mr. Rosenberg for you, your brother and your nephew. Were these your maternal or paternal grandparents?

    • #7
    • May 9, 2016, at 10:28 AM PST
    • Like
  8. John Park Member

    A couple years ago, I went to the commemoration of the Battle of Midway at the Navy Memorial in DC. They had six participants there that day. That said, reunions of folks like the Bataan Death March survivors, the Doolittle Raiders, and the submariners no longer take place.

    • #8
    • May 9, 2016, at 10:57 AM PST
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  9. Johnny Dubya Inactive

    Time marches on. I just turned 55. My WWII-veteran dad died in 2012. He used to tell me stories about his great-aunt telling him stories about being a child in the South during the Civil War.

    • #9
    • May 9, 2016, at 11:25 AM PST
    • Like
  10. Profile Photo Member

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: more importantly, it underscores just how precious and vital (literally) personal integrity and courage are. What really got to me wasn’t just people risking their own lives to save their friends, neighbors, and fellow men — something we can only hope that we would do if called to — but the way they risked the lives of their own families and charges. That’s a much harder, much scarier proposition, and the fact that there are so relatively few heroes in any conflict likely stems from this.

    You want a ‘scary proposition’? Read the MSM and almost any Pop-culture piece to see who today folks call ‘heroes’ and what passes for the ‘worship’ those ‘heroes’ garner.

    • #10
    • May 9, 2016, at 11:59 AM PST
    • Like
  11. Gary McVey Contributor

    Credit where credit is due: it took two moderate liberals, Tom Brokaw and Steven Spielberg, to remind the culture what we owe to those men. They slapped the Nineties upside the head and we are all better for it.

    • #11
    • May 9, 2016, at 12:18 PM PST
    • Like
  12. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor

    Hartmann von Aue:

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:Justus Rosenberg saved my grandparents. I’m here because of him.

    Many thanks to Mr. Rosenberg for you, your brother and your nephew. Were these your maternal or paternal grandparents?

    My paternal grandparents. I heard that story about the Lipsk/Leipzig confusion a lot when I was growing up. I didn’t realize it was “history” until quite a bit later.

    • #12
    • May 9, 2016, at 12:57 PM PST
    • Like
  13. Front Seat Cat Member

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:Justus Rosenberg saved my grandparents. I’m here because of him.

    Folks, I seriously did not know this until about five minutes ago.

    Wow! This story was meant to come to light – Many of us are here because of great courage – your grandparents Claire – I want to read through the links. There was an excellent documentary on Turner Classic movies the other night about the actors, directors, writers, etc. that fled to the US – Most of Casablanca is made up of WWII Jewish and Christian refugees. They left with nothing, and tried to get jobs here – many that made it raised money to help more come over, housed them, fed them. I had no idea – it was a riveting story, including Billy Wilder who filmed the camps when the Allies stormed in. Worth watching – My dad went to Japan, uncles to Italy and Germany toward the end. We can’t let these lessons fade. Thank you for posting.

    • #13
    • May 9, 2016, at 12:57 PM PST
    • Like
  14. GrannyDude Member

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:Justus Rosenberg saved my grandparents. I’m here because of him.

    Suddenly, I got tears in my eyes!

    • #14
    • May 9, 2016, at 2:00 PM PST
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  15. Hypatia Inactive

    I just got back from The former German Democratic Republic. In Berlin, we walked by Checkpoint Charlie, the station where you could pass between East and West Berlin. I don’t know, maybe because I had just seen that Tom Hanks movie about Donovan, or more likely because the Berlin Wall was the first international event that ever entered my consciousness as a child, I found I was not indifferent to being on the site. I was moved, awed–at least till I saw the Germans who were running it as a tourist attraction, wearing American WWII uniforms and clowning around, putting an American military hat on anybody they could lure into taking a picture with them, precariously gesticulating with American flags that, inexplicably , looked fake to me.

    A line of Kipling’s “Recessional” ran through my mind, and when I got back to my Ipad I looked it up:

    “Far-called our navies drift away

    On dune and headland sinks the fire,

    And all our pomp of yesterday

    Is one with Nineveh and Tyre.

    As I’ve recently written elsewhere, it’s considered very bad taste in east Germany, at least on the part of a foreigner, to mention Hitler’s name. (I know, cuz I did so in a discussion group we attended, and it looked like the German women moderators were going to faint or maybe vomit).

    But whatever they feel about their own rôle in WW II, to the point of this post, they seem perfectly happy to trivialize our country’s rôle.

    And we let it happen, even collude in the interpretation that “disproportionate force” was used (I visited Dresden, too).

    This tarnishes the memory of the heroes–and there were Giants in the earth in those days–and, as you say, blunts the very correct impulse to punish any and all of the remaining villains.

    Let not their hoar heads go down in peace to the grave.

    • #15
    • May 9, 2016, at 4:15 PM PST
    • Like
  16. Front Seat Cat Member

    Hypatia:I just got back from The former German Democratic Republic. In Berlin, we walked by Checkpoint Charlie, the attraction, wearing American WWII uniforms and clowning around, putting an American military hat on anybody they could lure into taking a picture with them, precariously gesticulating with American flags that, inexplicably , looked fake to me.

    mention Hitler’s name. (I know, cuz I did so in a discussion group we attended, and it looked like the German women moderators were going to faint or maybe vomit).

    This is what shocked me when reading Menace in Europe. I didn’t know the indifference, and in some cases, contempt, that some in Germany feel toward Americans resulting from back then – how strange! If you haven’t read that book, it’s something. Especially among the youth – if that weird band in the book was any indication.

    Then there’s the re-emergence of this Nazi crap – horrible. I saw a young guy who works at our local grocer here in Fl. He has the shaved sides of his head, longer on top parted on the side, the little mustache – it’s very noticeable. I may get the nerve to ask him about it – but I am thinking this is a backlash against all the immigrants – the white supremacist thing. – I hope not. Claire’s new book will be interesting.

    • #16
    • May 9, 2016, at 5:49 PM PST
    • Like
  17. Gary McVey Contributor

    To be fair to Berlin, it should be pointed out to anyone who hasn’t seen it that the Checkpoint Charlie Museum is a strange mixture of sincere tribute to those who died trying to escape the GDR, and gigantic souvenir stand. It’s always been more of a small-time commercial enterprise more than a “real”, accredited museum with professional fact-checking standards. It’s got the virtues and flaws of not being official, but it’s been there for a very long time, so Berlin lets it be presented as if it were.

    • #17
    • May 9, 2016, at 5:59 PM PST
    • Like
  18. Robert Zubrin Inactive

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:Justus Rosenberg saved my grandparents. I’m here because of him.

    Folks, I seriously did not know this until about five minutes ago.

    You can read a bit about it here. Rosenberg was part of Varian Fry’s team.

    In 1934–35 Berlinski applied for French citizenship, which carried with it the obligation of military service in the French Foreign Legion. Though he never did obtain his citizenship, he later recalled with pride his participation at the Belgian border when German army units broke through; and he always took great satisfaction in being “one of the few Jews with the opportunity to have a machine gun in my hand and shoot at them.”

    After France’s surrender to Germany and the establishment of the Vichy government, Berlinski determined to leave while he (and his wife) still could, and to head for America. His father had gone there earlier, and he also had a number of relatives who had emigrated directly from Łódź and were residing in New Jersey. In this he was assisted by a man named Varian Fry (“the American Schindler”), who had come voluntarily to France to facilitate the rescue and emigration of stranded European intellectuals.

    As both a German native and a veteran French Legionnaire who had fought against Germany, Berlinski was technically ineligible for an exit visa, since the cooperating French authorities were required to hand over all such individuals to the Germans. His illegally “purchased” exit visa still required an approval stamp. He obtained that only because the French official did not realize that Lipsk, shown as his birthplace on his passport, was simply the Polish translation for Leipzig, and thus assumed incorrectly that Berlinski had been born in Poland rather than Germany. There was still the problem, however, that Poland was occupied by Germany as well. Fry helped him invent a Russian identity, which finally qualified him for exit, since the Soviet Union was still technically neutral as a result of the infamous but soon-to-be-violated nonaggression pact. He left France and arrived in the United States only two weeks before the German invasion of the Soviet Union.

    I was thinking as I read this that one reason for our contemporary political insanity is that increasingly, people don’t know that generation. They had a moral authority when speaking about such things as fascism and socialism that younger generations can’t claim.

    I think that is true. I am a member of a book club in Denver, and a couple years ago we had a meeting where we discussed a book, I forget the title. But what I remember was that at some point in the discussion, the young man chairing it – who was Jewish, and liberal – said ” Well, you know, the Allies committed plenty of atrocities too.” I practically fell out of my chair. And now, I am encountering people on web discussions who call themselves conservatives, challenging the merit of the Allied cause and/or the wisdom of America joining it. It seems that these people have no concept that there is or ever was any moral differences between the forces opposing each other in the world. They don’t understand or admit that we ever stood for anything, or against anything, or ever needed to. Maybe they have read about it in books, but they didn’t live through it or grow up among those that did, so they don’t seem to get that it was real.

    • #18
    • May 9, 2016, at 6:40 PM PST
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  19. Gary McVey Contributor

    If you ever see it listed, give “Varian’s War” a respectful look. Written and directed by Hollywood’s most acclaimed conservative screenwriter, Oscar-winning Lionel Chetwynd.

    • #19
    • May 9, 2016, at 6:43 PM PST
    • Like
  20. Hartmann von Aue Member

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Hartmann von Aue:

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:Justus Rosenberg saved my grandparents. I’m here because of him.

    Many thanks to Mr. Rosenberg for you, your brother and your nephew. Were these your maternal or paternal grandparents?

    My paternal grandparents. I heard that story about the Lipsk/Leipzig confusion a lot when I was growing up. I didn’t realize it was “history” until quite a bit later.

    Then thank you Mr. Rosenberg for David Berlinski as well.

    • #20
    • May 10, 2016, at 12:06 AM PST
    • Like
  21. Hypatia Inactive

    Along the same lines as the comment about Allied atrocities: a friend almost tearfully related to me that a demure young Japanese exchange student she was housing graciously assured her, when WWII was mentioned, “I bear no malice.”

    That’s big of you, tootsie, considering Japan attacked us.

    Then the recriminations about whether we really shoulda bombed ’em. True, they wouldn’t surrender, they armed every last man woman and child with a cheap bayoneted rifle to impale troops invading their mainland– but there were a few Jaoanese who seemed to be leaning toward surrender, and weren’t we hasty, impetuous, a, uh, bully! And isn’t that just like us!

    Male bovine excrement!!!!!!!

    This is “presentism” at its worst and most destructive.

    i recommend Paul Fussel’s “Thank God for the Atomic Bomb”.

    • #21
    • May 10, 2016, at 4:02 AM PST
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