The Makings of History / A Dark, Ongoing Attraction

The Shoah Memorial museum in Paris is currently hosting an exhibition to mark the 50th anniversary of the Eichmann trial, and it is drawing a large crowd. The most surprising item on exhibit is a photograph of Eichmann in Ramle prison: The image is a well-known picture, the work of a photographer from the Government Press Office, but the print on display is in color.

Color photos of the heads of the Third Reich are so fascinating because they seem to put Nazism into the context of the present, as though they were taken from last night's news broadcast. Actually, Hitler does, in fact, star in the news all the time today. Indeed, the History News Network website tells us that his name appears in a news item somewhere at least once every day. Winston Churchill is also popular.

shoah - Courtesy - June 24 2011

Also at present, a 1919 letter by Hitler is on display in New York, containing a first anti-Semitic declaration; an auction house in England is offering for sale a set of drinking glasses that belonged to Hitler; a town in Austria revoked the honorary citizenship it had bestowed on Hitler in his day; one of his bodyguards granted "an absolutely final" interview to an English newspaper, which could have reveled in the scoop had not another English paper beat it with a scoop of its own: an interview with a man who entered Hitler's bunker a short while after the latter shot himself to death, who said that his feet were drenched by the Fuehrer's blood. In addition, a new study claims that the British could have won the war as early as 1942; documents and photographs have surfaced that shed new light on Churchill's nephew: He was a Nazi; Maj. Gen. John Alison, U.S. Army Air Corps ace and a hero of the war, died earlier this month in Italy; and the body of an American B-17 pilot whose plane was shot down during the war has been found.

The ongoing, obsessive preoccupation with Nazism and World War II may reflect not only the formative nature of the war, but also a dark attraction to the ultimate evil and a need to vicariously experience the victory over and over again. And perhaps it also reflects a longing for the types of statesmen who made history.

In Russia, recently, a diary was discovered that belonged to an aide of Rudolf Hess, Hitler's deputy who flew to Britain in 1941. The diary reveals that the Fuehrer was apparently in on the secret of Hess' flight - the object of which was to obtain a separate peace with Britain. Joe Clifford, 94, has died: He guarded Hess after the latter landed in Scotland. That was shortly before the Germans invaded Russia in Operation Barbarossa. This week the 70th anniversary of that invasion was marked in a conference at the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. Among other things, one speaker presented the thesis that it was Operation Barbarossa that started the Holocaust.

Indeed, the Shoah continues to arouse interest and generate news nonstop. Yad Vashem's website logs about a million new hits each month, and some 300,000 hits were registered within about a month on the new site of the American Joint Distribution Committee's archives, which holds about half a million names of occupants of displaced persons camps. The Polish government reminded us once again that the death camps were set up by the Germans, not by the Poles; the Auschwitz museum has reaffixed the sign "Arbeit Macht Frei" that was stolen last year; and in a complicated engineering operation, the largest World War II bunker, weighing 50 tons, has been moved to a Czech war museum.

Holocaust survivors are once again suing an Italian insurance company; an Italian court handed down life sentences to three Germans, one of them 94 years old, for massacring civilians in a town near Florence in 1944. New documents chronicle the aid that the Vatican and Red Cross extended to Nazi criminals after the war. The pope, in a rare occurrence, mentioned his past in the Hitler Youth.

A 98-year-old Nazi criminal wanted in Croatia died in Vienna this week; the state of Bavaria has refused to extradite a Nazi criminal to Holland; and a 96-year-old Dutch woman confessed that it was she who shot a man who was accused of collaborating with the Nazis, thus finally solving the mystery of a murder that took place in 1946. In Holland the media had a field day with the story of a contractor who was accused of responsibility for the demise of a chestnut tree mentioned in Anne Frank's diary.

A hotel in Germany that once served as a Nazi detention facility has announced it is offering guests "prison parties." A company in Australia removed from store shelves T-shirts bearing a picture of Hitler. A new study has revealed that Hitler believed that dogs are clever animals, and that the S.S. had set up a special school in an attempt to teach them to speak.

All these items are only a sampling of what was published during the four weeks since the end of May - and it was not an unusual month in terms of news items.