The subject of today’s Dr. Bob Prescribes post is doubly appropriate. Yesterday’s Music History Monday dealt with Carl Orff (1895-1982), a composer who thrived under the Nazi regime only to later claim (as did so many others in the post-war period) to have been a “victim” of the Nazis. Well, today’s composer was a victim – a real victim – of the Nazi terror: the Czech composer Pavel Haas (1899-1944), who was “selected,” gassed, and cremated at the concentration/death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau on October 17, 1944. Haas was a student and disciple of Leoš Janáček, whose own life and string quartets were celebrated in last week’s Music History Monday and Dr. Bob Prescribes posts.
“The Gathering Storm”
It still boggles the mind. Seventy-eight years after the end of World War Two, it still amazes us that so very many Germans – citizens of a great and modern nation – could descend to such depths of criminal depravity and sheer wickedness as they did between 1933 and 1945.
If it remains hard for us, here, today, to grasp the enormity of the Nazi evil, imagine how difficult it was to grasp for most Europeans in the early and mid-1930s. Most such folks believed that World War One had taught the European powers that modern warfare was a zero-sum gain, after which you could hardly tell the victors from the vanquished. Western Europeans living in the early and mid-1930s had no concept of continental genocide (the word “genocide” wasn’t even invented until 1944), and could no more have imagined such a thing in modern Europe than they could have imagined a smart phone. Neither could they have imagined a “total war” in which entire regions would be laid waste and their populations “put to the sword.” Such things hadn’t happened in Europe since the Thirty-Years War, and that war had ended in 1648.
No doubt, people both inside and outside of Germany heard the hatred in Hitler’s words, but most folks wrote it off to the rhetoric of demagoguery: to Hitler’s need to stay cozy with his base of ex-soldiers, nationalists, and the economically challenged. Besides, compared to the horrors being perpetrated by Stalin in the name of “progress,” particularly the great famine in Ukraine (1930-1933, italics due to the painful historical parallel with today), Hitler seemed not only the “lesser of two evils” but the single Western European leader most likely to stand up against the communist threat. The very few who understood the real menace Hitler and his Germany posed – like that loudmouthed back-bencher Winston Churchill – were written off as cranks and warmongers and saber-rattlers who were marginalized if not ostracized entirely.
With 20-20 hindsight, it’s easy now to see that France and Britain should have drawn a line in the sand in March of 1936, when Hitler reoccupied the demilitarized Rhineland and by doing so abrogated the Treaty of Versailles and the Locarno Pact. We now realize that Hitler’s remilitarization of the Rhineland was driven by domestic politics, not unlike our own invasion of Iraq: Hitler needed to shore up his relationship with the army leadership and his power base. We also now know that if France and Britain had acted in defense of the treaties, Germany’s generals were prepared to toss Hitler and his thugs out on their Ärsche (yes, “asses”). But France and Britain did not act; their populations were still traumatized by the “Great War” – the “war-to-end-all-wars” – a war they had presumably “won” in 1918. Besides, the French and English believed themselves to be safe from Germany, the French hunkered down behind their fortified barrier called the Maginot Line and the English behind their Channel.
Emboldened by international acquiescence, Hitler marched his army into Austria on March 12, 1938, the day after a well-planned coup d’état removed the legally elected Austrian government. Germany immediately annexed Austria, calling the whole she-bang “Anschluss”, meaning the “link-up.”
If England and France were going to stop Hitler, this was their last, best chance. But they did nothing. Further emboldened, Hitler contrived to occupy portions of Czechoslovakia in order to “protect” the ethnic German population that lived there. Negotiations over the fate of Czechoslovakia fell to the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940).…Become a Patron!