We went to a very moving commemoration in London this week marking the 80th anniversary of Krystallnacht-- when thousands of German Jews were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. The opening salvo, as it were, of the Holocaust. But what I found most appalling–because of its relevance to today’s headlines --was not the description of those horrific events, but the motivation of a top Nazi official responsible for carrying out Hitler’s genocidal commands.
One of the speakers at the commemoration was Anita Lasker-Walfisch, whose prodigious musical talent as a a cello player in the Woman’s Orchestra at Auschwitz saved her from the Nazi gas chambers. The other speaker was Niklas Frank, son of one of Hitler’s top henchmen, hung at Nuremberg in October 1946 for the role he played in the Final Solution.
Anita’s description of the horrors she and her family faced was moving—particularly their incredulity that their Jewish family, so steeped in German culture and tradition, would be packed off to extermination by the leader of a country they felt so much a part of.
But to me most chilling was what Niklas Frank had to say about his father. Hans Frank was a German lawyer , an early supporter of Hitler, who rose through Nazi ranks to become Governor-General of occupied Poland during World War II. He would be directly involved in the deaths of millions of Polish Jews.
Born in Cracow in 1939, Niklas Frank was too young to fully comprehend his father’s role in the Holocaust. As he matured however, and became a reporter, his initial embarrassment at being the son of a war criminal turned into what he called a “burning hatred-- ” an obsessive need to research the dark corners of his parents’ life. The result was a searing book denouncing his father for his horrific acts—"The Father: A Settling of Accounts.”
What was so remarkable, was that, according to Niklas, Hans Frank did not particularly dislike Jews. Indeed, Niklas claimed to have no memory of ever hearing his father spout anti-Semitic venom at home, even as his day job involved sending millions to the gas chambers.
Nor, according to Niklas, was his father a fervid Nazi ideologue. Ideals had nothing to do with Hans Frank’s eagerness to enable Hitler. It was purely a question of building a career, reigning as the “Governor General” of Occupied Poland--of an obsession with position, prestige, and wealth, of having great (stolen) renaissance masterpieces hanging in his palatial home.
So, tell me: why should we not compare Niklas Frank’s blindly ambitious father with top Trump officials and the leaders of the Republican Party, most of whom denounced and derided Donald Trump when he was running for office, but now not only remain silent in the face of his increasingly outrageous acts, but actually seem eager to join his wrecking-ball attacks on America’s most hallowed democratic principles.
This is not to compare Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler. But Trump’s depredations don’t have to meet Hitlerian extremes for them to be heinous and a threat to all Americans.
Yet Republican leaders join him in claiming widespread electoral fraud without any evidence, rest silent when he dispatches thousands of American troops to the Mexican Border to defend against a totally fictitious “immigrant invasion”. They accept his denials of Russian hacking, turn their heads when he fills key government posts with corrupt and incompetent officials, pretend not to see the Trump’s family’s blatant self-dealing.
Supposed leaders like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Generals John Kelly and Jim Mattis, and all the other Republican Senators and Congressmen who remain head bowed and mute as an unprincipled, unbalanced President tramples America’s ideals and traditions.
And for what? To ensure the President won’t sic his base after them? To achieve another right-wing Justice on the Supreme Courts? An additional tax cut for the super-rich? Or the abolition of Obamacare?
At what point do they weigh such possible gains against the destruction of their own country’s basic institutions? Is there any red line left for Trump to cross that would finally spur them to action? If so, what is it?
Or in fact, are most of them basically interested in fostering their own careers? Feathering their own nests? enjoying the pleasures of power?
Nothing really to do with ideology or patriotism. More with craven cowardice.
Not that different, in other words, from Hans Frank.