Let’s face it…2020, doesn’t seem to have a lot in it to be thankful for. It has been a tough year in many ways. With Covid-19, quarantines, lock downs, job losses, business losses, election struggles, riots, protests, and homeschooling…by choice or not, things looked pretty grim. Many people have lost loved ones, or friends, or friends and family of friends. Still, we have survived…those of us left, and many of us have contracted Covid-19, and still we have survived. This has been awful, and we will always miss those we have lost, but we Americans are a strong breed. We built this nation on God’s ways, and while some would disagree, that is a fact. Our forefathers came to this country to escape religious persecution, and founded this country on the principle that we should all have freedom to worship as we see fit. They knew that people would disagree on religion, but each person should have the right to choose for themselves.
This year has tested us in so many ways, but we are Americans, and we don’t give up. We are patriots, and we love God and country. As we are faced with new challenges, we have a chance to prove once again that we are fighters. We might be down right now, but we aren’t out, and we don’t quit. America is still the land where dreams come true, and it’s because we never give up. This year has been harder than any in my lifetime…maybe harder than any in the lifetimes of most of us, but we have come through it together. That is something to be thankful for, even with all the worry, loss, and fighting. Thanksgiving is a time to think back on the past year, and on our lives, and to be thankful for all we have been given.
This year may have been a really hard one, but our loved ones who have gone on before us, would never want us to give up…or quit. They would want us to live on and be happy. They would want us to be thankful, and to live our lives in such a way as to make them proud. We could have given up this year, but that was never really an option…now, was it? Thanksgiving is our day to celebrate this land that was founded on our love for God. So whether you are in quarantine, in a city where gathering together is only allowed in small groups, or just far away from your family, remember to take a few minutes to thank God for all we have been given. We are among the most blessed people in the world, and we need to remember that. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!! God bless you all and God bless America!!
Now that Election Day is here, our thoughts have turned from campaign speeches, fact checking, and stressing out over the polls, to getting out and voting, and then sitting back to watch the election night coverage…unless you are so tired of the whole political process, that you just want the whole thing to be over with!! Even if you are very intent on the election, you are most likely very tired of the political process. Still, the elections are very important…especially this year.
This year isn’t the only critical year we have ever had either. The November 3, 1948 Presidential election was really an important one too. President Harry S Truman was the incumbent, running against New York Governor Thomas Dewey. Truman was very much pro-Israel, and whether people realize it or not, that is important. That fact isn’t always considered important in an election, but in 1948, I believe it was, and that it made the difference. Nevertheless, many of America’s major newspapers had predicted a Dewey victory early on in the campaign cycle. A New York Times article editorialized that “if Truman is nominated, he will be forced to wage the loneliest campaign in recent history.” Maybe that was true, but it was not a deterrent. In fact, that may be the reason Truman chose not to use the press to get his message across. Truman decided in July 1948, to head out on an ambitious 22,000-mile “whistle stop” railroad and automobile campaign tour. Truman’s message was simple…”Help me keep my job as President.” As time went on, things looked worse and worse for Truman. The polls were against him. Nevertheless, the common voters warmed to his simple message, and although he was a political “underdog,” and at the end of one speech, the crowd could be heard yelling “Give ’em Hell, Harry!” It didn’t take long for the phrase to catch on and become Truman’s unofficial campaign slogan.
Then came the Chicago Tribune’s issue stating that Dewey had won the election. In reality, the Chicago Tribune severely jumped the gun. I’m sure the final outcome of the brought with it as much confusion as did the mistaken prediction of a Dewey win. Be that as it may, the “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline was a serious “egg on the face” moment for the Chicago Tribune. On Wednesday morning there was a new headline showing a picture of re-elected President Harry S Truman holding the Chicago Tribune issue that had wrongfully predicted his political downfall. In the end, Truman beat Dewey by 114 electoral votes. All I can say is beware of those early predictions.
It was a long time coming. An actual house for the President of the United States was a long time coming. Prior to establishing the nation’s capital in Washington DC, the United States Congress and its predecessors had met in Philadelphia (Independence Hall and Congress Hall), New York City (Federal Hall), and a number of other locations (York, Pennsylvania; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; the Maryland State House in Annapolis, Maryland; and Nassau Hall in Princeton, New Jersey). Then, it was decided that our government needed a permanent home. Washington DC was selected.
The first president who would have an actual government-owned home in Washington DC was President John Adams, and he would only live there for the last year of his only term in office. President John Adams, in the last year of his only term as president, moved into the newly constructed President’s House on November 1, 1800. The President’s House was the original name for what is known today as the White House. Adams and his wife had been living in temporarily at Tunnicliffe’s City Hotel near the half-finished Capitol building since June 1800, when the federal government was moved from Philadelphia to the new capital city of Washington DC. When Adams first arrived in Washington, he wrote to his wife Abigail, who was still at their home in Quincy, Massachusetts, that he was pleased with the new site for the federal government and that he had explored the soon-to-be President’s House and liked it.
Although workmen had rushed to finish plastering and painting walls before Adams returned to DC from a visit to Quincy in late October, the construction was still unfinished when Adams rolled up in his carriage on November 1. However, the furniture from their Philadelphia home was in place and a portrait of George Washington was already hanging in one room. It was a decent start. The next day, Adams sent a note to Abigail, who would arrive in Washington later that month, saying that he hoped “none but honest and wise men [shall] ever rule under this roof.” I wish that had always been the case, and of course the idea of good and bad presidents are often a matter of opinion.
The President’s House though new had its issues. Adams was initially very pleased with the presidential mansion, but he and Abigail found it to be cold and damp during the winter. Abigail wrote to a friend saying that the building was tolerable only so long as fires were lit in every room. She also said that on a funny note, she also said that she had to hang their washing in an empty “audience room,” which is the current East Room. Now, that’s quite a thought. During the War of 1812, the White House was set on fire by the British, and had to be repaired.
Absaroka…have you ever heard of it? No…I hadn’t either, but it was of some importance to the United States, and it would have been of some significance to me and my family had it not been a temporary situation. You see, when President Franklin D Roosevelt put “The New Deal” in place, there were a lot of people who didn’t think it was such a good deal…much like “The Green New Deal” of today. “The New Deal” was a series of programs, public work projects, financial reforms, and regulations enacted by Roosevelt in the United States between 1933 and 1939. The idea was to “help” by responding to needs for relief, reform, and recovery from the Great Depression. The plan created major federal programs and agencies, including the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the Civil Works Administration (CWA), the Farm Security Administration (FSA), the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 (NIRA) and the Social Security Administration (SSA). They provided support for farmers, the unemployed, youth, and the elderly. The New Deal included new constraints and safeguards on the banking industry and efforts to re-inflate the economy after prices had fallen sharply. The New Deal programs included both laws passed by Congress, as well as presidential executive orders during the first term of the presidency of Roosevelt.
The New Deal failed because Roosevelt misunderstood the cause of the Great Depression. When a doctor misdiagnoses the symptoms that present themselves, the doctor cannot prescribe the right medicine to cure the disease of a patient. Similarly, Roosevelt prescribed “The New Deal” to cure the economy of the United States from the Great Depression. Roosevelt’s “medicine” did not work because his administration failed to recognize the true causes of the Great Depression and therefore prescribed the wrong medicine. Roosevelt assumed that the free market, and not the government caused the Great Depression. Roosevelt believed the Great Depression was partly caused by poor investments and stock manipulations by rich people. To complicate matters, he blamed the Great Depression on bankers, speculators, and journalists. In reality, the causes of the Great Depression boiled down to three major causes…which explain why there was a banking crisis, why the stock market declined, why exports vanished, why trading partners were upset, why major industries collapsed, and why there was uncertainty on the administration’s policies. These three explanations of the causes contrast with Roosevelt’s assumption that the private, not the public sector caused the problem. First, the negative consequences of World War I, increasing debt from less than $2 billion to over $20 billion, while at the same time, US loans to Europe amounted to over $10 billion. Second, the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act…the highest tariff in US history, which affected over 3,000 imported items and even increased taxes on some items. As a result of those high tariffs, foreign goods became less competitive and similar domestic goods more competitive. Third, the Federal Reserve did not prevent a banking crisis, but rather helped cause one. It was argued that the economic contraction was exacerbated because of the bank failures and the massive withdrawals of currency from the financial system while the Federal Reserve did not provide the necessary liquidity that the system required.
As people became more and more agitated about the unsuccessful New Deal, an idea began to form…secession. One of the leaders of the secessionist movement was A R Swickard, the street commissioner of Sheridan, Wyoming, who appointed himself “governor” and started hearing grievances in the “capital” of Sheridan. The new state was to be called Absaroka, which means “children of the large-beaked bird.” They planned secession in 1939. This region largely belongs to the Crow people and the Sioux, according to the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1851). Absaroka is also the namesake of the Absaroka mountain range. The area involved was the entire northern part of Wyoming, the western part of South Dakota, including the Black Hills, and the southeastern corner of Montana. Increasing tourism to the region was a motivation for the proposed state because Mount Rushmore (constructed 1927–1941) would be within Absaroka according to some plans.
The region’s complaints came from ranchers and independent farmers in remote parts of the three states, who resented the New Deal and Democratic control of state governments, especially the government of Wyoming. In preparation for state secession, state automobile license plates bearing the name were distributed, as well as pictures of Miss Absaroka 1939. The movement was unsuccessful and fairly short-lived. The chief record of its existence comes from the Federal Writers’ Project, which included a story about the plan as an example of Western eccentricity. Oh those eccentric Westerners!! Imagine wanting to limit government, high taxes, and strict laws and mandates!! What were they thinking? Freedom, limited government, capitalism vs socialism…yep among other things, that’s what they were thinking.
For anyone alive and of an age to remember it, the 1950s and 1960s brought with them a strange new reality. I can’t say that I fully understood it all at that time, but I remember our school having a “Fallout Shelter.” They were also called a “Bomb Shelter” in some places, and the purpose was to protect the population from exposure to the fallout from a nuclear explosion. I suppose that if I had understood more about what these were, I might have been scared, but I just remember thinking it a strange idea, and highly unlikely. It did occur to me that if a bomb to explode, it would be unlikely that we would all have time to get to the school for protection.
Apparently, President John F. Kennedy, agreed with me on that thought, because, when he was speaking on civil defense on October 6, 1961, he advised American families to build bomb shelters to protect them from atomic fallout in the event of a nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union. We were, after all, in the middle of the Cold War, and neither side really knew if the other side would decide that they needed to start that latest, deadly type of war with the other side. Looking back, many people aren’t sure that a home-made bomb shelter would really be able to protect the occupants from the fallout of an atomic bomb. No one can really say for sure that the government-built shelters in schools and churches could either, in retrospect.
Still, prudent minds assumed that something needed to be done. Kennedy also assured the public that the United States civil defense program would soon begin providing such protection for every American. What seemed like science fiction, became a grim possibility just one year later, when true to Kennedy’s concerns, the world hovered on the brink of full-scale nuclear war when the Cuban Missile Crisis erupted over placement of nuclear missiles in Cuba by the USSR. Of course, panic ensues. The crisis lasted for 13 days, but some Americans prepared for nuclear war by buying up canned goods and completing last-minute work on their backyard bomb shelters. In the end, of course, it all ended without. After several days of tense negotiations, Kennedy and Khrushchev reached an agreement. Publicly, the Soviets would dismantle their offensive weapons in Cuba and return them to the Soviet Union, subject to United Nations verification, in exchange for a US public declaration and agreement to avoid invading Cuba again. The Kennedy administration had been publicly embarrassed by the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion in April 1961, which had been launched under President John F Kennedy by CIA-trained forces of Cuban exiles. Afterward, former President Dwight Eisenhower told Kennedy that “the failure of the Bay of Pigs will embolden the Soviets to do something that they would otherwise not do.” He was right, but for now, disaster was averted.
As kids, we have all played hide and seek. It’s a common game, and it’s a lot of fun. At least the version we all played as kids, was a lot of fun. There is a version of hide and seek that was not only “not” fun, it was not a game. It was during World War II, when the Jewish people, and any other race not considered the Aryan race by Adolf Hitler, were forced to go into hiding or face slavery and deportation to the death camps. The only real difference between these two “games” was that one was for fun and one was life and death.
The stories of people who hid out during those tumultuous times, and those who hid them, are too numerous to tell, and the only ones we hear about are those about which someone kept a record, a diary, or lived through the events and was later able to tell the tale, but there are many unsung heroes, whose stories were never told, and yet those they helped will never forget their kindness. These were people from all walks of life, who turned their homes into hiding places by building a wall to make a tiny room, or turned their attics, basements, barns, or sheds into places of refuge for the many persecuted people upon whom Hitler had set his sites. Hiding these people would mean certain death, if they were caught, but they could not live with themselves, if they didn’t help their fellow man. Those in hiding knew that if they weren’t quiet, their host family would be killed right along side of those in hiding. They even managed to keep the babies quiet, some for years. The children seemed to instinctively know that their silence was imperative. And of course, God made a way for it all to work. Children are not instinctively quiet!! And yet these were. The was no coughing, sneezing, whispering, or moving around, when the Gestapo came calling. Those in hiding knew that their hosts were in just as much danger as they were, and they were forever grateful that their host family was willing to help them in their time of great need. Some were caught, and put to death, but many of the Jewish people and the others, managed to stay in hiding for years. Somehow, God made a way for some of the Jewish people, His chosen people, to survive….against all odds.
I can’t imagine finding myself in the position they did…the ones who hid the Jews, or the Jews being hidden. They had done nothing wrong. Their only crime was that they existed, and the only solution, in Hitler’s view, was their annihilation. I can’t imagine being so hated…even in these times of so much hate that we are on today. The people who hid these precious Jews are among the very best people ever to live, and they are owed a debt that can never be repaid. They used their imaginations to create hiding places where none had existed, and then protected their refugees, often with their own lives. It was a dangerous game of hide and seek, and those in hiding would pay for losing with their lives. Losing was simply not an option.
When Hitler took power in Germany, the first goal was to take away the guns from the people. He then dismantled the police, and set up his own police force…loyal only to him. This was the beginning of Hitler’s planned takeover…first of Germany, and then the world. That was his goal, but thankfully, the world fought back, and evil did not prevail.
World War II had gone on for almost five years…long years. Hitler’s forces were reeling from the devastating effects of D-Day, and Paris was next in line for liberation, The Allied machine was marching in to Paris to remove the Nazi Regime. Hitler was furious, and decided that if his army was to be forced out, they would take the best of the memories and landmarks of Paris with them. He planned to leave the city in smoldering ruins. Hitler issued the first of several orders to the German commander of Paris, General Dietrich von Choltitz, to destroy the city. What Hitler had not anticipated, was that von Choltitz would not blindly do his bidding. The last last commander of Nazi-occupied Paris in 1944, von Choltitz disobeyed Adolf Hitler’s orders to destroy the city, and instead surrendered it to Free French forces when they entered the city on August 25th. Choltitz later asserted that his defiance of Hitler’s direct order stemmed from its obvious military futility, his affection for the French capital’s history and culture, and his belief that Hitler had by then become insane, while other sources point to the fact that he had little control of the city thanks to the operations of the resistance, and could not have carried out such orders. Nevertheless, von Choltitz has since been referred to as “The Saviour of Paris.”
As I look at the current circumstances in the United States, I am reminded of the days of Hitler’s reign of terror. The riots in the streets, the calls for gun control and defunding the police, and the removal of the statues marking our past…good and bad, are all reminiscent of the days of early World War II. Just as in the days of Hitler’s National Socialist Party, Socialism would not be good for America either. While the Democratic Party voters should understand that their values are like Hitler’s and yet, often blame the Republican party for being like Hitler, they are wrong. If they would look at history, instead of trying to remove our memory of the past, they would see just how alike Socialism is to Nazism and Hitler’s ways. Truly, the people of the United States need to wake up…and quickly. The decision to try to change our country to Socialism, is a slippery slope to communism, and the removal of the freedoms we hold so dear. We need to approach our future with our eyes wide open about the past of other nations, as well as the greatness that the American system of Capitalism has provided our nation with in the past. We like our freedom to let our voice be heard…a right that is found only in Capitalism. Don’t let the rights and privileges we so enjoy, be stolen from us by a handful of radical Socialists and Communists. The time to stand against Socialism and Communism is now!! Wake up America!!
I recently listened to a book entitled, Treasures From The Attic, by Mirjam Pressler (in conjunction with Gerti Elias, wife of Buddy Elias, cousin of Anne Frank). I was not sure upon beginning the book, if it would hold any value concerning my interest in World War II and the Holocaust, but my concerns were quickly laid to rest as I listened to the story unfold. I’m not going to go into the story line really, except to say that the “treasures” that lay in the attic were partly about Anne Frank, but really more about the Frank family, and their torturous journey to learn the truth, and then to recover from it.
The many letters written to the various members of the family to other members of the family, told the tale of not just loss, but the tragic and horrific time of not knowing. It was the “not knowing” that most tore at my heart. First the fact that most of Otto Frank’s extended family had no idea that his little family; comprised of his wife, Edith and daughters Margot and Anne; had fallen into the hands of the evil Nazi Regime. As was the practice during the Holocaust, the family was separated, and Otto did not know of the fate of his wife and daughters at the time of his release from Auschwitz-Birkenau. Of course, we now know that Edith had passed away on January 6, 1945, of starvation. His daughter, Margot died sometime in February or March 1945 of Typhus, and his daughter, Anne also died in February or March 1945 of Typhus. The bodies of the girls were thrown behind a building and later into a mass grave as their burial. The Jews were considered no more important that trash, and so were treated as such. While this is horrific enough, worse was the fact that all too often no record was kept of the dead, or their place of burial.
It was here that I began to feel the horrible longing, dread, and finally grief that the Frank family was going through. As anyone who has lost a loved on and doesn’t know what happened can tell you, the not knowing is almost worse than the reality of what happened. Your mind can conjure up so many things, and for Otto, who had also been in the camp can readily attest, the reality of Auschwitz-Birkenau was beyond all human comprehension, unless you had been there, and then you could not get it out of your head. Still, the months of waiting for news of his family, followed by years of grief and heartache over what they had suffered, was beyond anything that most people can fathom. As I finished the book, I felt a tremendous sense of loss, not only for the Frank family, but for the many Jewish families, who suffered in the camps, and after the Holocaust as they endeavored to locate lost loved ones, or at least to learn their fate. Many searched for years, and some have never found out the fate of their loved ones at all. It was truly heartbreaking, and yet, that search and not knowing, was the reality that was faced by many Holocaust survivors.
During the Holocaust, the majority of known Jews in any given country, had a very slim chance of surviving the war, but the Denmark Jews somehow managed to hold an impressive 95% survival rate record. Much of that was due to one man, Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz, who became an unlikely hero of the Jewish people…mainly because he was a German diplomat serving as an attaché for Nazi Germany in occupied Denmark at the time. In fact, that is what makes what he did so strange.
Duckwitz was born on September 29, 1904, in Bremen, Germany. He was part of an old patrician family in the Hanseatic City. After college, he began a career in the international coffee trade. From 1928 until 1932 Duckwitz lived in Copenhagen, Denmark. Upon moving back to Bremen, November 1932 he met Gregor Strasser, who was the leader of the leftist branch of the German nationalistic Nazi Party. While talking to Strasser, Duckwitz found that “elements of Scandinavian socialism [were] connected with nationalistic feelings” and this led to his decision to join the Nazi Party, and subsequently on July 1, 1933, to join the Nazi Party’s Office of Foreign Affairs in Berlin.
What had at first seemed to him to be a party who’s values agreed with his, he soon became increasingly disillusioned by Nazi politics. In a letter written June 4, 1935 to Alfred Rosenberg, the head of the office, he wrote, “My two-year employment in the Reichsleitung [i.e. executive branch] of the [Nazi Party] has made me realize that I am so fundamentally deceived in the nature and purpose of the National Socialist movement that I am no longer able to work within this movement as an honest person.” That move in itself strikes me now, as scary, considering how the known Nazi party functioned. He may not have realized hoe dangerous his words were, but I think they could have gotten him killed. Around the same time the Gestapo (secret police) made its first notes on Duckwitz after he sheltered three Jewish women in his Kurfürstendamm apartment during a local anti-Semitic Sturmabteilung event. He later wrote that during this time period he became “a fierce opponent of this [Nazi] system”.
After 1942, Duckwitz worked with the Nazi Reich representative Werner Best, who organized the Gestapo. On September 11, 1943 Best told Duckwitz about the intended round-up of all Danish Jews on October 1, 1943. A horrified Duckwitz travelled to Berlin in an attempt to stop the deportation through official channels. When that failed, he flew to Stockholm two weeks later, saying he was going to discuss the passage of German merchant ships. While there, he contacted Prime Minister Per Albin Hansson and asked whether Sweden would be willing to receive Danish Jewish refugees. A couple of days later, Hansson came back with the promise of a favorable reception. On September, 29, 1943, Duckwitz contacted Danish social democrat Hans Hedtoft and notified him of the intended deportation. Hedtoft warned the head of the Jewish community CB Henriques and the acting chief rabbi Marcus Melchior, who spread the warning. Sympathetic Danes in all walks of life organized an immediate mass escape of over 7,200 Jews and 700 of their non-Jewish relatives by sea to Sweden. Duckwitz’ immediate action and the willingness of the Danish and Swedish citizens saved the lives of 95% of Denmark’s Jewish population. They were the only European nation to save almost all their Jewish population from certain death at the hand’s of Hitler’s evil regime.
Somehow, Duckwitz was never caught committing his act of “treason” against the Third Reich, and he stayed in good standing with the Nazi regime. After the war, Duckwitz remained in the German foreign service. From 1955–1958 Duckwitz served as West German ambassador to Denmark and later as the ambassador to India. When Willy Brandt became Foreign Minister in 1966, he made Duckwitz Secretary of State in West Germany´s Foreign Office. After Brandt became Chancellor, he asked Duckwitz to negotiate an agreement with the Polish government. Brandt’s work culminated in the 1970 Treaty of Warsaw. Duckwitz worked as Secretary of State until his final retirement in 1970. On March 21, 1971 the Israeli government named him Righteous Among the Nations and included him in the Yad Vashem memorial. He died two years later, on February 16, 1973 at the age of 68.
People aren’t usually evil. Nor are the easily accepting of evil. Usually, in order to get people to accept evil, it has to be hidden in a way. It has to be slipped in when they aren’t looking…slowly, so that it is accepted as normal…or a new normal. When Hitler ordered the systematic murder of the mentally ill and handicapped people in 1939, the people of Germany were outraged. Never before had any leader made such a boldly, callous move. Like throwing a frog in a pot of boiling water, they jumped…fought back.
Hitler moved too fast, and the people rebelled. The program, known as Hitler’s Euthanasia Department that began in 1939, came under the heading of unhidden evil. Hitler misjudged his people. He thought they would follow blindly along. When they began complaining about the T.4 program, which began as the systematic killing of children deemed “mentally defective,” Hitler had to act. He had been transporting children from all over Germany to a Special Psychiatric Youth Department and killing them. Later, certain criteria were established for non-Jewish children. They had to be “certified” mentally ill, schizophrenic, or incapable of working for one reason or another. Jewish children already in mental hospitals, whatever the reason or whatever the prognosis, were automatically to be subject to the program. The victims were either injected with lethal substances or were led to “showers” where the children sat as gas flooded the room through water pipes. The program was then expanded to adults. The program was heinous in every way.
Before long the outraged protests began mounting within Germany, especially by doctors and clergy. Some of them even dared to write to Hitler directly and describe the T.4 program as “barbaric.” Others circulated their opinions more discreetly. Heinrich Himmler, was the head of the SS then, and the man who would direct the systematic extermination of European Jewry. Himmler had only one regret…that the SS had not been put in charge of the T.4 program. He says of the protesting, “We know how to deal with it correctly, without causing useless uproar among the people.” Finally, in 1941, Bishop Count Clemens von Galen denounced the euthanasia program from his pulpit. Hitler was concerned that other nations would get involved with such publicity about his program. He ordered the program suspended on August 18, 1941…at least in Germany. But 50,000 people had already fallen victim to it.
Hitler was not to be deterred. He now knew that he had to keep his programs hidden, if he was going to be able to carry out his plans. So, he revived the program in occupied Poland. The people there already had no say in the matter, and he hoped that it would be far enough from Germany so that the German people would not know what was going on. It worked for a time, but in the end, the world would know about the evil he tried so hard to keep hidden, and in the end the number of murder victims was far more than a mere 50,000…it was more like 11 million people.