RACISM BEGINS AT HOME

“I’m sorry coach, but I can’t play this game.”

A star quarterback had pulled Coach Norbert Ehrenfreund aside just as the championship game was about to kick off.

It was autumn of 1945. The war in Europe and Japan was over, and U.S. soldiers were still stationed in Germany, waiting to acquire enough points to go home. The 71st Infantry Division commander organized a football league to keep troops occupied and had uniforms sent over from the United States. Winners would get a week’s leave and free trip to the French Riviera.

Nuremberg Stadium was the site for this championship game, now renamed Soldiers’ Field. This was the site of Hitler’s annual Nazi party rallies, where cheering masses saluted wildly during his bombastic speeches on the “master race.”

A gold-plated swastika adorned Zeppelinfield grandstand until the U.S. Army conquered Nuremberg in April, 1945.

Now in the U.S. zone of occupation, Soldiers’ Field hosted everything from the summer G.I. Olympics to baseball games, headline entertainment, and these army football games in the autumn of 1945.

Hitler arriving for the Nazi Reichsparteitag (Reich Party Day) ceremonies c. 1937 (left) and Jewish American entertainer Jack Benny performing for U.S. troops in the same venue, summer of 1945 (right).

“Why can’t you play, you injured?”

Norbert led the quarterback away from the line to speak privately. Everyone wanted to win that trip to the French Riviera, the stakes were high.

The quarterback hung his head. “There’s a guy out there on their team. He’s a (N-word). I can’t play with him.”

Norbert looked over the opposing team. Despite army segregation (until 1948), there was indeed a Black player on the opposing team.

“So what? What if he is?” The referee was getting impatient, signaling to hurry up.

Then it all came out. The quarterback came from a small town in Georgia. He fought in combat against the Nazis and distinguished himself as a good soldier, but he was a racist through and through. His parents had prohibited him from playing with Black people.

Norbert pleaded with him, “He is an American, just like all of us. He risked his life for our country. Think of the American flag, the American constitution, what do they stand for — a country that respects people of all colors and creeds! We fought this war so people could be free from prejudice, free from being despised and abused because of their race and religion. To refuse to play based on your own racial prejudice, would be to say that it didn’t mean anything that Americans who died here died for nothing.”

Norbert pointed to the huge platform at the top of the stands.

“That’s where Hitler stood when he made his speeches spouting Nazi propaganda of racial hatred.  If you refuse to play in this game based on racial prejudice, it would be like saying he was right, and all those Nazis were right and his spirit would be up there, smiling and cheering your decision.”

Norbert recalled, “I can’t remember all I said at times, I got out of control and was perhaps too emotional, but I know it was a good speech. Maybe the best speech I ever made because I was speaking from the heart.”

Gradually, the quarterback began to listen earnestly, he was softening.

“If I play, will you promise me you will never let this get out to my hometown or my parents?” Norbert then asked what would happen if it did get out.

“My dad would beat me. He would beat me real bad.“

Program booklets from U.S. Army football games in Nuremberg, 1945.

The game went on, but the 71st Infantry Division did not win and go to the Riviera. They lost 20-14. Turns out, that Black quarterback was a star.

Across town the Nuremberg trial, which would show the world the terrible consequences of racial prejudice, was just about to start. Norbert Ehrenfreund was discharged to begin his civilian job as a cub reporter for The Stars and Stripes, an Army newspaper. His assignment: covering the trial.

Norbert Ehrenfreund, back to camera, at work in “the slot” at The Stars and Stripes news desk in 1948, Pfingstadt, Germany. He served as both reporter and copy editor for the American newspaper during the Nuremberg trials. Photo from The Nuremberg Legacy (Palgrave Macmillan, ©2007).

Twenty two years earlier in a small German town, eleven-year-old Gustave Schwenke was in his father’s tailor workshop doing homework.

It was 1923, five years after the end of WWI, and Germany could no longer make reparation payments from having started the war. Hyper-inflation had brought on political instability, just as Adolf Hitler was just beginning to rise in power.

A customer came to call for his suit which had been ordered a week earlier for 8,000 Reichmarks. Now just days later and with hyper-inflation at a peak, 8,000 Reichmarks would buy only one pound of butter. When Gustav asked what caused the inflation his father said, “the Jews,” so Gustav hated the Jews, even though he didn’t know any.

Germany, 1923: banknotes had lost so much value that they were used as wallpaper. Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-00104 / Pahl, Georg / CC-BY-SA 3.0.

Unemployed at twenty, Gustav became a Nazi and joined Hitler’s SA police force, the paramilitary group responsible for burning down synagogues, smashing and looting Jewish stores, and violence toward the Jews throughout Germany, in November, 1938. 

Gustav’s father, whose tailor business had collapsed, got him the job. He was also in the SA.

Both Gustav and the quarterback in that division championship game had learned about racism at home. They adopted their fathers’ prejudices, as many young people do.

SA policemen break Jewish store windows on Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass,” November 8-9, 1938. Photo from Yad Vashem.

My first exposure to racial integration came in seventh grade. After six years of uniforms and Catholicism, I begged my parents to let me go to public school. At 12 years old, I knew there was more beyond this small school and parish community that I wanted to be a part of.

The campaign began at our nightly dinner table. I argued that I could learn to play the guitar and be in theater productions, or any number of extracurricular activities not offered in our Catholic school. Eventually, I won my case.

What came next was eye opening: race riots—in Boca Raton, Florida. By the mid-1970s, tensions escalated with a federal busing mandate. Black students from the neighboring town of Delray Beach were bused in, and they were not happy about it. These kids had to get up an hour earlier and take a much longer ride to and from school every day, for starters.

On the day this 1975 riot occurred, Black kids in the high school arrived to racial slurs painted on gymnasium walls. Violence and fear spilled over to the middle school where I was in 7th grade. Everyone was sent home early.

That year, my mother had been volunteering weekly in the middle school clinic. She told me some of the Black kids who were sick, came to school without breakfast and couldn’t be picked up to go home because their mother had to work. My mom felt sorry for them. By recounting her experience, she helped me start to see just how fortunate I was. This was my first real understanding of white privilege. My mom asked how I would feel if it was me in those shoes.

The world needs more people like Norbert Erhrenfreund—and like my mother.

Norbert Ehrenfreund was a witness to the Holocaust in the 71st Infantry Division, coached their football team after the war, then had a front row seat at the Nuremberg Trials as cub reporter for the U.S. Army newspaper, Stars and Stripes.

He was so taken with the rule of law at Nuremberg that upon returning home, changed careers and went to law school. Drawing on his legal background as a San Diego Superior Court judge for more than 30 years, Ehrenfreund reveals how the precedents set at Nuremberg continue to affect human rights, race relations, medical practice, big business, and modern war crimes trials. The Nuremberg Legacy (Palgrave Macmillan, ©2007).

Gustav Schwenke’s family story is recounted in American journalist Milton Mayer’s “They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933-1945,” (The University of Chicago Press, ©1955).

Seven years after the end of World War II, Mayer spent a year in Germany getting to know and interviewing ten ordinary citizens about their views of Nazism in its aftermath.

Nine of these men, Mayer wrote, “did not know before 1933 that Nazism was evil. And they do not know it now.”

“As an American, I was repelled by the rise of National Socialism in Germany. As an American of German descent, I was ashamed. As a Jew, I was stricken. As a newspaperman, I was fascinated.”

In the 1966 reprint of his book, Mayer wrote, “Nazism was finished in the bunker in Berlin and its death warrant signed on the bench at Nuremberg. It had gone out with a bang. Hitler attacked the civilized world, and the civilized world had destroyed him.”

But today, Nazism is not dead. Camp Auschwitz t-shirts can be seen in airports. Neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups spread hate and antisemitic slurs in efforts to attract attention—and followers.

Education is the only way to fight back. With the continuing rise of antisemitism and conspiracy theories that glorify Hitler and Nazism, teachers and young people need trusted resources that allow them to see how the past impacts the present day. This is where Courtroom 600 can make an impact.

Learn more about our approach.

Support our work.

Contact us to get involved.

Author Laurie Pasler on the cover of the Boca Raton News c. 1980 with Cowboy Bert, who scrubbed racial slurs from Boca Raton High School walls before sunrise, so students wouldn’t see them.

WHY NUREMBERG MUST BE TAUGHT, NOW

WHY NUREMBERG MUST BE TAUGHT, NOW

A school district in Wisconsin said the First Amendment prevented it from punishing students in this picture, in which many are making what appears to be a Nazi salute. Source: Peter Gust, via Associated Press

Dave Fript
History Teacher Emeritus, Latin School of Chicago
Teacher Fellow, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Educational Advisor, Descendants Media Group/Courtroom 600 Project

The group of high school boys giving what appears to be the Nazi salute might have intended it as a joke, but maybe not. However, the young men marching with Tiki torches in Charlottesville were not joking; they were true believers.

White supremacy, ethnic nationalism, and racial hatred have returned and seem to be almost respectable once again in Europe and America. As David Leonhardt wrote in a New York Times op-ed, “Overt racism is on the upswing. White supremacists are hanging banners and spray-painting graffiti. Anti-Semitism has surged on social media.” He continues more hopefully, explaining that the majority of young people are opposed to racism.

Nevertheless, if the high school students above think it’s a joke and if some young people think Nazism is good, we as educators need to find as many different ways as possible to help the next generation understand the extraordinary evil of Nazism and everything it contains.

This is why I chose to endorse and to be a consultant to Courtroom 600: largely because of the young people in these photographs and many more that I have met in the United States and Europe.

 

Neo-Nazis, alt-right, and white supremacists chant at counter protestors around the base of a Thomas Jefferson statue after marching through the University of Virginia campus with torches in Charlottesville, Va., USA on August 11, 2017. Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

When I look at this picture of young men at the 2017 Charlottesville Unite the Right Rally, I can only wonder how they do not know about the evils of Nazism.  Between 1933-1945, the Nazis murdered millions of people whom they believed to be racially inferior, but the calamities they inflicted on Aryans, those they thought to be racially superior, were just as overwhelming.

The German people were not innocent victims of the Nazis; however, they still suffered because of Nazi ideology. The war was not an accident; it was planned and implemented by the leaders of Nazi Germany, and when they lost it, the consequences to the German people were disastrous.   Nine million Germans died in the war compared with 550,000 French people.  Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States lost under a half million each.

The suffering of German women was extreme. They too paid for their support of a state that intended on stealing the lands of others and enslaving and murdering the people living on those lands.  The war was catastrophic for Germany and all of Europe. This is what those young people in the photos just don’t understand.

They were not taught about the war in depth.  They did not see the pictures of boys and young men, looking very much like themselves, being marched out of Stalingrad to starve or freeze to death in captivity.  No one showed them what Hitler brought upon the German people.  They did not see the evidence and or learn the lessons of the Nuremberg Trials. Had they done so, they might have known that Nazi Germany was not a joke, and that the German people were among Hitler’s greatest victims.  Somehow, they missed one of life’s great truths: when you do great evil to others, it usually comes back to you.

Had those Baraboo, Wisconsin students been Aryan boys their age throwing up that salute in a 1939 German classroom, and had the young men marching at Charlottesville been marching in Nuremberg rallies in the 1930s, at least half of them would be dead by 1945, and they would have died in horrific ways.

Teaching the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials is not new to me.  I taught a class on Nazi Germany that simulated the Nuremberg Tribunals as a final examination.  But in one way or another, all of my classes contained a focus on morals and ethics: How should we treat one another?  Even when I taught the overviews of American, European, or Contemporary Middle East history, I wanted my students to wrestle with their values.  I taught the history of Nazi Germany and the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials for over forty years, but my audience was limited. The world has changed dramatically, and the truths learned at those trials still need to be taught and to a much larger group of students.

This is why I believe that we need projects like the Courtroom 600 learning project.

 

From the Courtroom 600 Photo Analysis Pilot website, featuring over 300 images, documents, and artifacts.

Courtroom 600 will provide educators with access to primary source photographs, documents, and artifacts from the Nuremberg trials, presenting them in context with people and events using storytelling as a teaching method.

While the project is being funded and developed, the Courtroom 600 Pilot Website can allow teachers and students the chance to analyze primary source photos now. More than that, it allows students to do their own research, following their own interests and concerns. Using the pilot site, even middle school teachers have the ability to assign high school level research assignments.

The Lessons of Nuremberg are Relevant Today

Examples of extraordinary evil, racism, genocide, sexism, and kleptocracy are written in every chapter of every history text but nowhere is it clearer than in Nazi Germany.  The behaviors of the Nazis should provide all of us with a clear example of the worst of human behaviors, and they should provide a touchstone as to how to govern and to be governed. 

Nazi Germany was so deeply and utterly malicious that it provides the world with a baseline for moral reflection.  It was a state that was based on the belief of the inequality of mankind and that it was the obligation of the superior race to steal the lands of the “inferiors” and murder them.  Consequently, we need to examine the Third Reich deeply and seriously, because if we study their depravities, we may be able to avoid making similar mistakes.  There are basic moral guidelines disdained by Nazi ideology that we must consider as essential.

By examining the consequences of the actions of the Third Reich, students should know that the following are wrong:

  • Demonizing groups of people and treating them as disposable others
  • Setting ourselves up as the good “us” being attacked by the evil “other”
  • Justifying our actions with the same rationalizations used by the Nazis

US Chief Prosecutor Robert H. Jackson reads his opening statement to the International Military Tribunal on November 21, 1945 in Courtroom 600, Nuremberg.

As Justice Jackson, the U.S. Chief Prosecutor at Nuremberg, said of the defendants in his Opening Statement before the International Military Tribunal, “What makes this inquest significant is that these prisoners represent sinister influences that will lurk in the world long after their bodies have returned to dust. We will show them to be living symbols of racial hatreds, of terrorism and violence, and of the arrogance and cruelty of power. They are symbols of fierce nationalisms and of militarism, of intrigue and war-making which have embroiled Europe generation after generation, crushing its manhood, destroying its homes, and impoverishing its life. They have so identified themselves with the philosophies they conceived and with the forces they directed that any tenderness to them is a victory and an encouragement to all the evils which are attached to their names.”

The Nuremberg trials provide, as Justice Jackson stated in his opening, “the documentary evidence” of the racial hatred, genocide, aggressive war, and rabid ethnic nationalism that we see reborn today.  That is why we need to bring the trials up from the footnotes of our history texts and curricula and make them a focus of our classes.

Granted, racial and eugenic language is somewhat different today than in the past, but an underlying issue remains the same:  the primeval belief that our tribe is good and right while other tribes are evil; or, if not evil—at least worthy of suspicion and fear.  That is what the young men marching in Charlottesville meant when they shouted, “The Jews will not replace us.”  Perhaps some of those marchers would have thought twice about doing so if they would have studied Nuremberg in depth.  Learning who the Nazi leaders really were might have dissuaded some of those young men from carrying Tiki torches; as none of the men on trial were worthy of emulation.

Hermann Goering, the highest ranking official to be tried, started his Nuremberg cross-examination strutting, but was sweating and squirming by the end.  It is difficult to imagine any teenager looking at Goering, a bloated morphine addict, and saying, “That’s my role model.”

The rabid anti-Semite propagandist Julius Streicher was detested by his fellow Nazis at Nuremberg, and in the course of the trial, was shown to be a sadistic pedophile.

 

(L) Hermann Goering with Julius Streicher, and (R) after his surrender to the US Army May 8, 1945 in Augsburg, Germany. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

Studying the cases of Hitler’s henchmen and learning about their behavior before and during the trials, should influence most people to turn away from lure of neo-Nazi websites.

We should be looking to add a focus on the perpetrators without taking away from our study of the intended victims of Nazism.  The suffering of the Jews and other victims of Nazism need to be stressed, and Courtroom 600 facilitates that study; however, in a time when the Alternative für Deutschland won nearly 13% of the vote in Germany, we need to explain that Hitler and the Nazis did not do good things for Germany.

Far too many teenagers and young adults only know the Nazis as guys who wore cool uniforms and got to march in parades.  They need to know better, and as educators, we need to utilize all the tools available to teach them.