Monday, March 24, 2014

Tim Townsend's "Mission at Nuremberg"

Tim Townsend, formerly the religion reporter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, holds master's degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and Yale Divinity School. He has written for the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and Rolling Stone, among other publications. In 2005, 2011, and 2013, he was named Religion Reporter of the Year by the Religion Newswriters Association, the highest honor on the "God beat" at American newspapers. He recently joined the Pew Research Center's Religion and Public Life Project as a senior writer and editor in Washington, D.C.

Townsend applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Mission at Nuremberg: An American Army Chaplain and the Trial of the Nazis, and reported the following:
In the summer of 1945, the Allies sent captured high-level Nazi officials to an interrogation center – a former hotel called The Palace – in the spa town of Mondorf-les-Bains in southeastern Luxembourg.

On page 99 of Mission at Nuremberg, we meet Colonel Burton Andrus, the commandant of the interrogation center, codenamed “Ashcan,” and get a description of Ashcan itself.

The former hotel, now stripped of anything luxurious, and equipped to stop suicides, held dozens of Hitler’s former lieutenants, including more than half the men who would, by fall, be standing trial in Nuremberg for crimes against humanity.
The war may have been over, but Andrus feared residual forces might try to free the Nazi leaders from Allied control, and he wasn’t satisfied with Ashcan’s defenses when he arrived. He requested floodlights, an airstrip, an electric alarm system for the outer fence, guns, and more guards, doctors, clerks, and typewriters. GIs carried out fine carpets and elegant furniture, replacing them with folding camp-beds and straw mattresses. Others removed chandeliers and replaced sixteen hundred of the hotel’s glass windowpanes with Pleixglas and iron bars.

“I was concerned about guards being bribed, snipers shooting at prisoners or gaining information, and suicide attempts,” Andrus later wrote. “I even feared murder within the enclosure; for deadly enemies were already, in some case, being confined together. Mondorf, no one had to tell me, was a powder-keg.”
On August 12, Andrus accompanied several of his Nazi charges to the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg, where he would spend the next year as commandant of the prison there. He requested two U.S. Army chaplains to fulfill the Geneva Convention mandate that prisoners of war be provided with spiritual guidance if they wanted it.

Those two chaplains – a Lutheran minister named Henry Gerecke, and a Catholic priest named Sixtus O’Connor – and their experiences with the major Nazi war criminals on trial there are at the heart of the book.

The two chaplains spent more time with the architects of the Holocaust – Hermann Goering, Albert Speer, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Hans Frank…21 in all – than any other members of the U.S. military. They listened to their confessions, met with their families and eventually accompanied them to the gallows, all the while attempting to bring men who were considered monsters, back to the faith they knew as children.

Mission at Nuremberg examines the way in which religion combats evil and asks whether some men are beyond forgiveness and redemption.
Visit the Mission at Nuremberg website.

--Marshal Zeringue