Yours in the Dharma:  Essays from a Buddhist perspective by Sandy Garson

This blog, Yours in the Dharma by Sandy Garson, is an effort to navigate life between the fast track and the breakdown lane, on the Buddhist path. It tries to use a heritage of precious, ancient teachings to steer clear of today's pain and confusion to clear the path to what's truly happening.

Friday, December 25, 2015

The Buddhist Santa Claus

Santa Claus gets most people's attention on Christmas Eve, but Chenrezig always gets mine. Somehow this particular night seems the most exquisitely perfect moment to pray to the noble Bodhisattva (aka Avalokiteshvara) who--like his East Asian female counterpart Kwan Yin-- sees and tries to heal the vast suffering of this world. At a time like this, it's so easy to conflate Santa's tossing packages of joy down chimneys to kids with Chenrezig's promise of happiness for all.

While kids are busy tracking Santa on NORAD, I with great enthusiasm always do Chenrezig practice. When I get to the mantra--om mani peme hung, may all beings be freed of suffering, I enunciate the words in slow singsong for the entire first round of the mala. The slow down gives me time to imagine pure white Chenrezig flying over the various people I know, delivering to each one hope for joy. Just like Santa. To hell with another purse or sweater.

My mind flies with Chenrezig over Europe and dips down for my two ex loves, my French friends, my German Dharma sister. We cross the Atlantic and swoop low over Halifax, home to two courageous young Nepalese women I know. We soar over Maine where I visualize so many friends and neighbors. We go down the East Coast, cross to Kansas, drop to Texas, glide over Arizona into California and come up the coast, continuing to Vancouver, Canada before crossing the Pacific to end up at Rinpoche's monastery in India.

I have 108 chances to visualize sanity and joy raining down on my chosen people. May they be calm and bright. I really love this part.  And then, even though the mantra rhythm is deliberately slow, my good intentions derail. Flashing the next face on the new Om becomes farce. It's a mess. I am already down in DC when I realize I forgot Brooklyn. I am halfway across the continent when I remember while whizzing over Maine I left out my protegé and her husband. OMB, I'm already on the Pacific rim when I think of the ex-monk and his family I passed over in Germany. Backtrack. Disgust. How can I be so stupid? Am I cursing whoever else I forget? Like the Passover Angel? Now, urrgh distraction!

Even worse, sometimes in the split second of Om, I visualize people who have been naughty instead of  nice. To me, that is. Wasting a perfectly good mantra on them pisses me off. My enthusiasm sputters. I apparently believe in this idea of the "deserving" just as much as all the smarting but not smart middle/lower class Americans pinning their hopes on the demagogue's tale of that jackass, Donald Trump. Besides, tossing blessings to bastards leaves less for the nice people I want to reward.

Still, truth told, since I do households instead of individuals, there always seems to be enough mantra recitations to go round my world. Sometimes I even end up with a few I can't assign. This year I gave the extras to faceless, nameless Syrian refugees who didn't ask to be bombed, poisoned, beheaded and shot--especially those beautiful children who are are now going to suffer forever. This last charitable giveaway--one year it was to all the long suffering people of Nepal who don't revolt against their abominable governors, always makes me feel particularly righteous. I really feel like Chenrezig. I feel insanely happy.

For a moment anyway. Frankly, when all's said and done, I end feeling ridiculous. Tricked again by my own delusions. There's a huge Dharma lesson right there when the naughty faces pop up and I'm stuck donating one mantra to them. There's a huge lesson when I run out of households or monasteries. I am praying for my friends, the nice people, because they're familiar to me. Notice family in familiar?  I'm happy to toss blessings to people I know. There are probably millions more equally nice people who deserve to be blessed by Chenrezig too. I just don't happen to know them. How narrow is my view! Eek! How judgmental I am: you but not you. What kind of Buddhist am I?

The Buddha said: everyone. He said "every single, last being." The Bodhisattva vow that makes Chenrezig Chenrezig and a role model says: "for all sentient beings without exception." My Christmas Eve Chenrezig ritual is actually anti-Dharma. Picking and choosing is the root of infinite suffering. Yikes. My midnight Christmas Eve ride is just an ego trip.  And I still haven't quit it. What a holiday ho ho no.

~Sandy Garson "Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"

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Thursday, December 24, 2015

Dark Time of Year Wisdom from my Rinpoche friend

 Faith makes all things possible;
Hope makes all things work;
Love makes all things beautiful.

 --Tulku Damcho Rinpoche

~Sandy Garson "Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"

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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Another holiday ho ho ho

while I avoid writing...

~Sandy Garson "Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"

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Saturday, December 19, 2015

A Little Ho Ho Ho for the Jolly Season

~Sandy Garson "Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"

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Thursday, December 10, 2015

Reposting from Move On.Org

~Sandy Garson "Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"

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Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Guns or Butter: the same Samsaric cycle called history

Everything changes, as the Buddha said, but nothing really changes, as the French like to say, unless as the Buddha said, we change our own minds. To change the world, change the way you react to it.  It's encouraging that the world now has more yogis and meditators and compassionate helpers than ever before, but the rising tide hasn't yet drowned the horror of what Brecht called "man's inhumanity to man."  Man oh man. It's still out there in spades.

We live in a transitional time of uncertainty. Not knowing for sure, not being in control, not feeling comfortable all the time, into the vacuum created by not having no brainer black and white answers rushes fear. And people will do anything to get rid of that. Look at today's headlines everywhere.

The tsunami of Syrians fleeing for their lives, the selection of Angela Merkel by TIME as Person of the Year, the defeat of any rational gun controls, the fascist rhetoric of Donald Trump, Benjamin Netanyu and Marine le Pen fast gaining adherents, the mass explosion of resentment by marginalized Muslims in Europe and the Middle East, by economically deprived Americans desperate to blame....we were here before in the 1920s. And it got us  fascism, Nazism, Stalinism, Whatever you name it, it was all certainty all the time: all guns, no butter, all macho me first to hell with you all the time.

Maybe I see the parallels because in the mid 1980's I did extensive research on what actually happened to people inside Nazi Germany/Austria. Or to be precise, on what made people resist the lure of Hitler's ideology, which boiled down to guns or butter: guns will make us powerful, butter will only make us fat. With feint hope that it might be of benefit in changing a world view or two by explaining what's really happening behind the horrible headlines, here's a summary--it's a bit long for a blog post--of what I learned.

Guns or Butter? What's It All About?

At precisely 6 AM on Saturday, February 27, 1943, a fleet of trucks flying Hitler’s Waffen SS flag zoomed across Berlin’s deserted boulevards and screeched to a halt at weapons factories. In less than a minute, Death’s Head soldiers swarmed inside and emerged with uniformed laborers snatched so brusquely breakfast dribbled down their chins. Brutally, they were stuffed into the trucks which then boomeranged back across Berlin. Grossaktion had begun.

So-called “privileged” Jews-- longtime husbands of Aryan women or mixed-race sons, were culled into a group craftily relocated several times over the next dozen hours. Joseph Goebbels was that determined to prevent any interference with his plan to give the Fuhrer a cheery birthday present: totally Jew-free Berlin. Yet despite these precautions and his enormous power, Sunday morning’s sun rose on a mob of middle-aged German women standing outside his ad hoc prison of the moment shouting: “Free our men!”

Long before dawn, the women started showing up at what had been a Jewish Community Center on Rosenstrasse. Many carried hastily assembled food parcels the armed guards snatched as they ordered the women to go home. They didn’t. Defiantly they stood in front of the building. Before long, 6,000 German women were packed into tiny Rosenstrasse, screaming: “Give us back our husbands! Free our men!”

By that morning, more than one million “Aryans” who’d dared to question, comment against or quarrel with the Nazi regime had been bustled off to a concentration camp, tortured to death, maimed, hung, shot or decapitated. Four months earlier, the exorbitant casualties of Germany’s first military defeat, Stalingrad, had accelerated the reign of terror: 19 guillotines chopped around the clock. Just the weekend before, authorities in Ulm had arrested 22-year-old Sophie Scholl and her brother Hans, summarily beheading the students before their parents even knew anything was amiss. The commandant of the Rosenstrasse detention center, Sturmfuhrer Krell, ordered his SS guards to point their weapons and advance. The men locked and loaded, hollering: “Clear the streets or we’ll shoot!” Sheer masculine heft got the women pushed toward Spandauer Bridge but, like taffy, they snapped back into Rosenstrasse and fearlessly resumed chanting: “Give us back our husbands! Free our men!”

Tuesday morning the sun rose on a city physically devastated by massive overnight Allied bombing to avenge the decimation of Coventry. Whole sections of Berlin had collapsed, 160,000 homeless residents were wandering dazed, and thousands of women were still crowded in Rosenstrasse chanting: “Free our men!” For six days the shouts of their unrelenting protest carried across Berlin, until the Interior Ministry ordered the SS to do something, anything to shut them up. Unable to find a Nazi rabid enough to shoot an unarmed crowd of middle-aged hausfraus, the frustrated SS released every man claimed by a woman in the crowd. Word sped so fast, a divorced socialite raced to Rosenstrasse and walked away with her ex, scion of the Ullstein publishing clan.

That afternoon, another protest erupted when Grossaktion’s finale began at a Jewish home for the aged. Dozens of women threw themselves on the sidewalk in the Gestapo’s path. “Unfortunately,” a distressed Goebbels wrote in his diary, “there have been a number of regrettable scenes at a Jewish home for the aged, where a large number of people gathered …I ordered the SD not to continue Jewish evacuation at so critical a moment.” 

A month later, an insurrection SD files described as “tremendous” erupted in Dortmund after a Wehrmacht captain greeted a foot soldier on the street. The soldier’s unenthusiastic, almost leery, response to the captain’s hale greeting made the officer so suspicious, he needed only a question to realize he’d found a deserter. The captain shackled the lad and had started to lead him away when a mob of 350 women converged, tightening their ring until the terrified Wehrmacht officer abandoned the deserter and fled. The women pursued him, shouting: “Here is real Revolution! Give us back our young! Give us back our men!”

If historians talk at all about Widerstand, resistance, during the bloody reign of National Socialism, they talk about clandestine political groups organized to overthrow it. This allows them to compare what happened in the terrifying dark inside Germany with the shining heroism of the Danes and Dutch, even the Beethoven beaming French. It also forces them to whittle vast possibilities down almost exclusively to the aristocratic conspirators who came together in an attempt to assassinate Hitler on the evening of July 20,1944. Their failure to do it is how historians learned about Operation Valkyrie. The perpetrators were immediately punished, their gruesome garroting gleefully recorded in Nazi archives. After the war, German historians conveniently conflated this documented effort by military men to rid Germany of Hitler with the Allied effort to destroy his military, presto chango! turning the conspirators into postwar Germany’s “heroic martyrs.” What is now called the Attentat, meaning assassination as well as attempt, pumped West Germany with enough pride to claim kinship with Denmark, Holland and France. Left out of the Allies D-Day 40th anniversary commemoration, the Bonn government arranged its own gala on July 20, 1984 to mark the attentat’s 40th anniversary.

As an invited foreign reporter, my itinerary included a visit to the Institute for Political Education, then the government agency charged with distributing to schoolchildren and scholars all material accumulated on every aspect of life in the Third Reich. When I asked the director how women isolated at home with no access to weapons, warriors or policy found ways to sabotage the Nazis, he dismissed me. “It’s hard to say because the resistance of women isn’t notable. Of course many important ones did go into exile with their husbands.” Politely I explained I had uncovered many stories of female derring-do and dropped names I suspected he would recognize. One was the outlandishly courageous 20-something Hiltgunt Zassenhaus of Hamburg who plotted and plodded to singlehandedly save Hitler’s Scandinavian political prisoners from the guillotine by finding a way to smuggle them out of the country in the nick of time. She had already been awarded the Danish and Norwegian Red Cross medals, the St. Olaf’s Award and knighthood, and in 1974 Norway nominated Zassenhaus for the Nobel Peace Prize. Even West Germany in 1969 gave her its highest civilian award: the Cross of the Order of Merit.  “Well, yes,” he finally allowed. “There were probably more women fighting Hitler than there are today involved in our politics.”

According to statistics tabulated from documents found after the war, the Nazis hung or beheaded 1,100 “Aryan” women for treason, impelled another 22,000 to flee that fate, and consigned more than 225,000 to one of the three all-female concentration camps set up inside Germany to severely punish disobedience. Crimes against National Socialism ran a gamut from greeting a passerby with the traditional “Guten Tag” instead of the mandated “Heil Hitler!” to refusing to spit in the face, kick in the groin or otherwise denounce your Jewish father. Caritas courier Gertrud Luckner of Freiburg ended up in Ravensbruck concentration camp for carrying messages, counterfeit papers and cash to Switzerland to support émigrés and refugees. Six East Prussian farmwives were imprisoned for pretending eight “non-Aryan” babies were their own.  Frieda Fischer of Hamburg died in the Wilhemsburg camp after she refused to work in a munitions factory. Emma Granget was executed for writing to her son at the Front to feign illness to save his life. Gertrud Seele, a young nurse and single mother, was beheaded for commenting at a party that being forced to save old newspapers full of propaganda only prolonged war.  

According to Winston Churchill, what passed for German resistance was visible only in terms of its dead. Indeed, I learned about these female “traitors” for the same reason historians learned about the aborted assassination: they got caught. Reading Nazi archives led a Princeton scholar to conclude only middle-aged men tried to help Jews, nobody else. Dead bodies are such conveniently indisputable evidence, strict reliance on Nazi documents has made the official version of Widerstand essentially Hitler’s: a forlorn story of failure.

History is of course the original spin, what Napoleon supposedly called “the lies that are no longer disputed.” Well, here is one that can be because neither Churchill nor Sara Gordon nor modern professional historians obsessed with documentation ever admit successful resisters were never included in Widerstand precisely because there is no written Nazi record of what they did, and there is no written record precisely because they got away with it. The secrecy, singularity and spontaneity of women’s wiles not only saved thousands of other lives, but saved thousands of them from being one for the books. Their untold stories of disobedience and sabotage inside the German police state are exciting, fresh and ever relevant news that a disenfranchised, unarmed individual need not feel hopeless in wanting to rebel against a terrifyingly totalitarian system.

From Churchill’s perspective, the Allies went to war not to stop slave Slav labor, rescue Jews or protect Communists, let alone end a reign of brute criminality or restore to women basic rights of existence. They went to war to crush the German military. Period. So there is no equation mark between the valor of Ruth Andreas-Friedrich risking her life in Berlin every night to tune into the BBC on a clandestine shortwave to deliver potential escape news to Hitler’s hunted hiding in her basement with, say, the courage of Anne-Marie Bauer listening in France to the BBC and storming Castres prison with a troop of Boy Scouts to free a Resistence agent. The French resistance was integral to the Allied military effort. Ruth Andreas-Friedrich never got a chance to be.  

History has little noted and not remembered the driving fuel that pumped and pulsed through Nazism was not so much the rabid anti-Semitism at the end as the even more bloodthirsty misogyny at the get-go. Hitler and his thuggish Brown Shirts were masters of resentment who began in the Bavarian heartland by blaming metropolitan Weimar Republic’s liberation of women for Germany’s insurmountable postwar chaos. “It is clear,” the Party’s leading theorist Alfred Rosenberg said, “the continued influence of women in the affairs of state must be the beginning of public decadence.” Economically marginalized working class men rallied to the agitprop that women had debilitated the nation with their catastrophic “feminine” attributes: compassion, pacifism, and concern for the weak-- the elderly, ill and young.

Like all fascisms, Nazism erupted as the collapse of the established order crushed conceits of masculinity. At least one historian actually calls fascism a massive male identity crisis, and that does explain why it invariably gives the reins to the most obsessively brutal alpha males, marginalizing women. (Its rise again today in Europe, Russia and ISIS does nothing to disprove this.) The Weimar Republic that emerged from the ashes of World War I readily acknowledged women’s value by giving them the right to work, the right to speak up and vote, and the crucial right on which these depended: the right to control their own bodies. Then as soon as Hitler was named Chancellor, the Nazis systematically began to banish women from every conceivable public realm and usurp their decision making. “The German woman from now on will live in a state formed and led by the masculine spirit, in a non-parliamentarian and conservative state in which, for a long time, she will not have any direct influence as formerly.”

In the words of its great propaganda mastermind, Goebbels, National Socialism was “a masculine movement.” It was the nuclear option in the battle of the sexes. Lust for violent conquest as the declared apotheosis of manhood handily ignited a war to isolate and imprison every last woman in the Reich in silent domesticity. Otherwise Hitler could not hope to conquer the world; somehow they would get in the way of letting Germany be great again. Goebbels’ coined the phrase guns or butter as the uttered essence of the Third Reich, saying, “Guns or butter? We can do without butter but not without arms. One cannot shoot with butter but only with guns.” Himmler then justified the obsession by continually proclaiming: “Guns will make us powerful; butter will only make us fat.”

Butter was the despised sissydom of culture, childcare, cooking and charity—code for women, now so reviled, high-ranking officials referred to them as “nanny goats” who existed only to produce babies for the Reich. To revitalize their war devastated country, the Nazis launched a massive public works program that did not allocate so much as one Reichmark for family housing, public clinics, playgrounds, parks, public schools-- nothing without immediate military merit-- dream come true for the wealthy industrialists backing them. Butter was code for social spending, anathema to those industrialists, so factories and farms were all converted from consumer to military production. Germany was such a massive military industrial complex, stitching army uniforms instead of baby clothes dried up one quarter of all small business by 1939. In their relentless drive toward macho mightiness, Hitler and his henchmen squandered all resources on palatial chancelleries and monumental bureaucratic warrens, arsenals, labor camps, military training grounds, soldiers quarters, weapons development, death chambers and invincible bunkers for the bigwigs. Clothing, food and baby needs got hard to come by.

Categorically deprived of voice or vote, access to arms or organization, even decisions about what to eat or name their kids, German women had absolutely no way to launch a unified rebellion. They also had no incentive to crush a military machine fueled by their sons and husbands. Their sole option for action was the home front to which they were confined as prisoners of war. Quickly they figured out that stuck here where they could not save Germany, they could at least save others from Germany, and became ingeniously adept at snatching every opportunity. As early as 1935, women in the Berliner Osramwerk protested their exploitation in Hitler’s rush to armaments by setting up a subtle assembly line slowdown: every day every seventh women failed to report for work. To help hunted Communists, Jews and homosexuals of the arts community escape, Ruth Andreas-Friedrich worked the black market, counterfeited papers and charmed targeted seemingly sympathetic bureaucrats to get prisoners freed. In Plauen near the Czech border, Margarete Kummerlow befriended two conscripted Slavic laborers, a doctor and her orderly, and secretly got them into her house every few days to listen to forbidden Allied broadcasts that gave them impetus to escape. A Countess ferreted food to a rabbi.

The prominent Vogt family that owned the newspaper in Osnabruck was always suspect, granddaughter Luise Stratton said, because they were bilingual, educated, and entertained foreigners and intellectuals. Secretly they tuned into whatever foreign radio stations they could, except Sundays when local Nazi officials would check what they were having for dinner. “Every house had to leave the door open so they could just walk in. Two idiotic brown or black uniformed men would look at what was on the table. You were not allowed to have butter or roasts.” Nothing but a casserole of pork and potatoes or you had to pay a fine. Decades later, Mrs. Stratton still found that scenario frightening but her grandmother, she said, was never perturbed. She was always exceedingly charming, relaxed and gracious because in the basement of their 300-year-old house, usually under the coal pile, she was hiding “enemies of the Reich” that she would then smuggle across the nearby Dutch border. One was family friend Erich Maria Remarque whose books had been burned. “I am quite sure my grandmother was the mastermind of everything that allowed us to survive and help others escape during those years,” Luise Stratton said. “Her diplomacy, charm, good looks and incredibly good judgment were something to behold. She had a way about her in the face of all situations that was something to marvel at even to this day.” After her death in 1939, her daughter Frau Vogt-Hahn continued her mother’s work and secretly nursed downed British pilots in that basement, then smuggled them to the Dutch border where her brother Karl got them on to England.  Eventually she was caught, sent to a concentration camp and freed after the war so broken, she died within a year.

Testament to the width of women’s Widerstand was the bizarre occupation army Hitler needed to fight on this home front: 40,000 Gestapo agents, about 20,000 SD (Security Service), and massive network of block wardens and unidentified paid informers, along with overcrowded jails like the Charlottenburg women’s prison in Berlin, and an expanding supply of forced female labor camps for “traitors to National Socialism.” With it all, the Gestapo never questioned how many young German women rushed to marry conscripted foreign laborers, how many families filled churches after Hitler said God was not in charge of Germany any more, or the enormity of food gardens and chicken coops that suddenly appeared in the backyards of women who claimed they were just trying to feed their children when in truth they were either hiding the hunted or secreting food to prisoners. The Security Police didn’t even notice the influx of nannies, cooks and housemaids into affluent urban households where matrons loudly complained that the absence of men left them unable to manage everything.

As it happened, I attended the main July 20, 1984 observance in the company of Berlin-born Sybil Niemoller who had been invited to the honors less as the widow of the famed Gestapo-baiting pastor Martin Niemoller than as a surviving relative of Operation Valkyrie conspirators. Her cousin Werner Von Haeften had carried the bomb for the lead assassin, Colonel von Stauffenberg, and was instantly executed beside him. Before the first war, her father, Freiherr Ulrich von Sell, had been Kaiser Wilhelm’s personal factotum and later served as a district administrator. He was recruited into the conspiracy along with her uncle Walther von Brauchitsch, dismissed as Commander-in-Chief of the Reich Armed Forces on the eve of the Nazi invasion of Poland, Since her 1971 marriage to the legendary Niemoller, Sybil had been living in the Bundesrepublik, yet she clung tenaciously to her postwar American passport and was visibly anxious about attending these public ceremonies in her hometown. She told me she’d reluctantly decided to come because she wanted to honor her beloved father, also perhaps to remind the world not every German had been a Nazi. Plus she could stand next to me, an American: a reminder she was now safe. While we stood under panning TV cameras, waiting for the last dais dignitaries to take their seats, memories were flooding in and she told me how everyone who came to the von Sell house in Dahlem always talked in muffled tones, how as a teenager at the time, she was chased away from all the hushed conversations. After the Attentat failed and she was hauled into Gestapo custody, she understood why. As an innocent schoolgirl who knew nothing, she was released-- adding with a faint laugh, along with three other girls she knew who, it turned out, had each been arrested as the fiancée of her handsome cousin Werner.

As the widow of Martin Niemoller, Sybil had just completed a state trip to East Germany. She said it gave her a huge shock because she found herself wondering how it was she’d never visited certain of its well-known places before when every well-bred German child would have. That’s when she realized for the first time how skillfully her mother had moved her around the Berlin school system. She had never visited these jewels of Germany because she had never been enrolled in the girls’ version of Hitler Youth.

“You know,” she blurted just as the music started,  “yesterday, thinking back to prepare myself for this and realizing what my dear mother went through to protect me, I quite suddenly remembered Frau Thiele. Can you imagine! I haven’t thought about her for more than 30 years and suddenly she comes back. As clear as you are standing here, I could see her sitting at the sewing machine in the corner of the front room.” At some point after the wars started, her mother and four neighboring matrons of upper class Dahlem hired Frau Thiele as their family seamstress. The woman spent one week of every month sleeping and sewing in each household, a good worker-- inconspicuous and very polite. “One of those women,” Sybil said, “was married to a high ranking officer of the SS. She really put that one over on him.” Indeed Frau Thiele made it to the end. As soon as the Russians liberated Dahlem, the seamstress stepped onto the street and loudly announced she was Frau Wittenberg, a Jew whose husband had been lost in Poland, and a Communist who disapproved of Dahlem’s wealthy having servants. She immediately fled to England and was never heard from again. Sybil was genuinely disturbed, as she put it, “to have so thoroughly forgotten about her. Of course, my mother trained us to forget. We would’ve been killed if Frau Thiele had been discovered. We had to take her for granted, especially after they took my father away. My mother saw to it that I didn’t know who she really was until that day she announced it on the street.”

A compulsory boarder could be a spy; the garbage man could denounce you for eating English roast beef; under emergency anesthesia, a child could blab. When one women told a Blockwart who entered her house she was perfectly capable of getting her children educated without outside meddling, she was sent to the police for thought correction. The dragnet was so tight a mother and daughter sharing the last two non-commandeered rooms of their family house could not risk telling each other what they did during the day because knowing was as criminal as acting.  “If we talk, plan, and recruit allies,” Ruth Friedrich wrote in her secret diary, “we are hanged; among ten people there is always one who is treacherous or loose-mouthed. Yet if we are silent, and only vent our indignation within our own four walls, then we still keep the Nazis.” The only solution, the final solution, was to trust no one and strike out alone, spontaneously and in secret. Insolence like keeping handy a pile of heavy looking packages to carry on the street to avoid having to salute “Heil Hitler!” Insurrection like getting reconnaissance on the impending path of forced labor marches and under cover of night scattering along the route scraps of food to look like randomly strewn garbage. Sabotage like author Luise Rinser marrying a homosexual Communist writer who’d already maimed his hand to avoid the draft. “It was a difficult decision for me,” she admitted, “because I was seriously endangering myself, but I did it to save his life.” And revolt: in Berlin normally shy librarian Fraulein Danziger bursting into tears as she presented her Jewish roommate’s faked suicide death certificate to the Gestapo and staged an ersatz funeral to deflect them in their house-to-house Final Solution search. “They weren’t looking for us,” elfin Gertrud Luckner told me. “They didn’t believe anyone could act on their own without some organization’s backing.”

While bombs were falling on Berlin, Ruth Andreas-Friedrich crouched in her basement and wrote in her diary. “…it’s enormously important for people abroad to learn that even in Germany there are human beings, not merely Jew baiters, disciples of Hitler, and Gestapo Cossacks. The rest of the world knows far too little of that.” It turns out only 3% of the German population were actively committed to National Socialism-- Austrians were far more enthusiastic, while between 2-3 percent of the population is estimated to have participated in some form of Widerstand. That perfectly matches the percentage of the French population whose much lionized resistance efforts have papered over the abysmal horrors of their own Vichy collaboration. I don’t know what percentage of the French percentage belongs to women like the seemingly bumptious rural hairdresser who cleverly created wigs that disguised hunted British airmen and French resisters enough to get them to safety or the amazing “Hedgehog”, the woman in charge of nearly all of it. I do know an astounding number of females across the continent threw themselves in harms way and two in Paris weren’t French at all. One was a middle-aged British Red Cross nurse named Mary Lindell who took to posing as a Countess. She greeted the newly appointed, elaborately uniformed Paris Commandant and his entourage when they burst in to the elegant offices of the Red Cross to commandeer them after their triumph at Dunkirk, by rising from her desk chair full blown like a cobra, exquisitely regal, head high, and scolded him with her finest countess accent. “How dare you! Have you no manners? No breeding? A gentleman does not just walk in on a proper lady! And take that damned hat off! You are in the presence of a lady, not some scullery maid! Did you check your shoes? A proper gentleman does not soil carpets! Where are your manners? Have you none?” The Commandant was so flummoxed, he stammered an apology, said he’d come back later and fled, giving Lindell time to get the downed Dunkirk pilots out of her closets and on their way back to Britain.

At the same time, a painfully shy, sixty-something American widow, Etta Shiber, living in Paris with a British friend made during earlier shopping trips, decided the two better evacuate. En route, the elderly widows stopped at an inn hoping to get food and found a British airman left behind after the fiasco at Dunkirk. They tried to help him out by hiding him in the trunk behind their suitcases, but when the Germans intercepted the long column of fleeing cars and trucks to force everyone back to Paris, the aviator was still in it. The little old ladies had no choice but to hide him in their apartment until the more gregarious of the two, Kitty, found the resistance underground that could get him out. That’s when they unwittingly discovered nearly 1,000 other starving British soldiers were still hiding in the woods around Concy-sur-Conche and found themselves enmeshed in a major rescue network. By preparing false papers while her friend made arrangements with the underground, Etta was on her way to saving more than 150 British soldiers when the Gestapo intruded. Her British friend was instantly executed, but since the Nazis weren’t yet at war with America, Shiber was imprisoned, then usefully exchanged for a notorious German spy in New York City.

Three of the women in Widerstand inside Germany weren’t German either. One was Mildred Harnack from Wisconsin, who had married a German and used her English classes to recruit resisters to help those who needed to flee. Her friendship with the American ambassador’s daughter, Martha Dodd, gave her access to scarce American visas and she saved lives, just not her own. She was caught after America joined the war and went to the guillotine reciting Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom.” 

The other two were middle-aged British spinsters whose passion for opera and fawning over its divas eventually took them regularly to Munich where they were warmly welcomed into the cultural community. Since this was just the moment the Nazi began their demonic attacks on artists, homosexuals and Jews, two mousy English sisters who wanted only the romantic glories of Aida and Ezio Pinza’s voice found themselves pressed into ferretting out of Germany first fur coats and jewels hopeful refugees would later claim for sustenance and eventually the hunted themselves—all successfully. “Again and again, we used to ask ourselves,” the younger sister said, “who are we, that the mere fact of our having a little time and money and sympathy to spare transforms us into figures of overwhelming importance …?” 

Like Etta Shiber, one of the Cook sisters got to write a book about her reluctant exploits and a historian in her native Wisconsin eventually wrote about Harnack’s heroism. The Germans who sabotaged Hitler got no publicity at all and their story still has a heavy lid on it. Not acknowledging women’s heroism is more or less to be expected, but not acknowledging “good Germans” of any sort was the crux of Allied postwar strategy. World War II was spun into an airtight Manichean narrative of how the blare of absolute righteousness--with a touch of cockeyed optimism, triumphed over the glare of absolute evil. Tiny, frail Gertrud Luckner told me, while in Ravensbruck concentration camp she prayed for an Allied victory, thinking: “When the fighting has ended and at last everybody sees what has happened, they will understand what we have tried to do. But no!!” I turned out to be the first person she dared tell about the outright hostility of the British as she was marching west along the road from liberated Ravensbruck in her black and white prisoner uniform, emaciated and half dead. “The British! I thought with real joy. And they spit on me!”  

After V-E Day, no German dared to incriminate himself as a card carrying Nazi, which made counterfeiting affidavits of innocence—what one resister called the German equivalent of America’s Fifth Amendment –a booming business. Almost every woman resister I met told me the Americans never bothered to question these phony statements, never bothered to vet or probe anyone beyond their actual workaday skills. They just wanted to get down to business without the complications of justice. “The Americans were quite uninterested,” a woman who saved 62 people told me. “I was working for them because they needed my medical skills and all those years, nobody ever once asked what I’d been through.” The expedient return of Nazis to their former jobs in industry, administration and security inevitably re-ignited the lethal animosities of the home-front war. Desperate to squelch any notion they’d ever had an option not to obey, re-empowered Nazis set about destroying any trace of what resisters called “the other Germany.” Spite was the name of their game as they viciously persecuted women suspected or known to have questioned or sabotaged the Nazi system. Many resisters immediately emigrated, seeking asylum. One was Hiltgunt Zassenhaus who lived and died simply as Dr. H. Margaret Zassenhaus, MD in Baltimore. Over and over I was told America betrayed “the other Germany” by creating the double jeopardy of reprisals and punishment designed to keep surviving resisters as marginalized, fearful and silent as Hitler had.

The cover-up continued. At the start of 1984, the Bonn government sent an exhibition about German resistance—the attentat, the Scholls, the Bonhoeffers-- to Lyon, hoping to stress a bond of shared experience. Just as it was about to open, the infamous butcher of Lyon, Klaus Barbi, was unexpectedly apprehended and rushed to trial, allowing the French to boycott and vilify the effort. A year later, when the winter of 1985 headlines were seized by the life and death of medical monster Josef Mengele, I was disinvited from addressing a New York synagogue seminar on the Holocaust. “They’ll stone you,” the organizer said, “if you even try to talk about the good ones.” Nobody else wanted to hear about them either.

Exactly 20 years before I unexpectedly found myself in Germany meeting Widerstand survivors, I was in an undergraduate Economics 101 class at the Wharton School of Business, where the University of Pennsylvania had revealingly stashed its considerable department of political science. Like every other Economics 101, we used the current edition of the legendary textbook, Economics, by MIT’s Paul Samuelson. Its early and most enduring theme was Guns or Butter, a jazzy counterpoint the venerated Samuelson used to explain the demands upon and allocation of a society’s resources. To a 19-year-old in the age of Elvis, guns or butter seemed an extreme, rather odd either or zero sum scenario, suspiciously typical of male thinking. But this was before the raised consciousness of women’s lib, so I just memorized, passed the tests and didn’t question the red flag. In fact I didn’t think about the phrase again until I started researching the flip from Weimar to Nazi Germany, and came upon it right out of Joseph Goebbels’s mouth.

What made this discovery that Paul Samuelson had plagiarized Nazi agitprop so startling was how it happened in that brief shining moment of the Reagan Revolution, of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, of Phyllis Shafly loud demands that women stay home. Endless headlines blared news of Reagan’s military adventuring and absurd defense spending along side draconian social cuts and the closing of longtime public institutions that sent a tsunami of homeless people over city sidewalks. In small print on Op-Ed pages, critics quoted Ike’s farewell warning: Beware the military industrial complex. On the streets, people protested women’s access to medical help and questioned their fitness to lead. As Guns or butter hit my ears from the two speakers of one stereo, it became so difficult to differentiate daily news from historic research, depression set in. Since nobody wanted the story anyway, I abandoned the material and moved on.

Now tightly held secrets of Nazi history are leaking in a trickle of new books. The material I stored away reminds us objects in the rearview mirror are closer than they appear.  The guns or butter mentality that was Nazism animates our culture war and polarized politics. The agitprop about the urgency of endless war, spending even more on defense than requested, draconian cuts for domestic needs including infrastructure, disparaging diplomacy as “weak,” the war on women, police violence against black skin and criminalization of immigrants that heartens economically disenfranchised white men, attacks on regulations and protections as “nanny state”, the unrelenting persecution of protestors and whistleblowers as not man enough, the defunding of public radio and public schools, and the NEA, unrestrained surveillance, the worship of sports brutality and political bullies, the bombing of abortion clinics and pseudo attacks on Planned Parenthood, the demonization of transgender women and gay men—a category the Nazis targeted for extermination, these are déjà vu all over again. Guns or butter is the comfortingly macho mentality that might makes right.

Early and often, discounted and disenfranchised German women recognized this. It’s not hard to see how their most obvious goal actually matched the Allies’ and the lionized attentat conspirators: to stop the war. The Fuhrer’s quest for endless violence endlessly killed their husbands, fathers and sons. It bombed homes and farms, created crippled bodies, took food and shoes from children. It left women no rights to lead their own lives. And for what?,  they asked with increasing disgust. For what?  In 1939, a group calling itself “Berlin women working in an arms factory” risked everything to issue a pamphlet entitled: “Advice for the Working Women.” The advice was not to sacrifice their health and self- determination to the nasty, pressured pace of Hitler’s defense factories since that would only increase their family’s danger of waking to the terrors of war. Hitler always demands more machine guns, munitions, tanks, submarines….so working women should immediately demand higher wages for this work because every Reichmark paid to them is one less for war itself.  Almost simultaneously a Koblenz group calling itself Rhineland Women and Young Ladies (Frauen und Madchen) surreptitiously released a flyer asking German women what they were allowing their sons to do in Spain, Abyssinia (Ethiopia) and Italy when they should be in the house, office, factory or on the farm. The real victims of World War I had been Germans: widowed women and crippled men. “Was all that blood spilled just to get us bigger weapons? …Think of hunger, the children left by themselves…Do you want this to happen again…? German women, as long as Hitler is at the helm, you will not have peace even for an hour. Hitler must be overthrown! …If you topple Hitler you can insure war will not be possible. Save the lives of your children!”  And shortly after, when war did break out, another anonymous flyer appeared. “You alone cannot stop the world war! But you can hasten freedom! You cannot expect to end the war for Germany but you can end it for yourself! Speak to soldiers! Protest forced labor! Protest the Nazi party!” Later, when the Reich was rapidly disintegrating under the pressure of the Allies’ pincer movement, the Nazis made a fierce last stand in Berlin. Crackdowns on its residents got ever more vicious, yet posters popped up all over the beleaguered city. “Women of Berlin! Stop the defense of the capital! ...You must be determined! Defend yourself against further war…. Women of Berlin! You are stronger than all the SS men and Gestapo when you make up your mind to take a stand!”

Through the code word butter the Nazis resurrected the patriarchal Kaiser construct of women’s world as limited to church, kitchen, and children—and maybe culture since there was not one book-burner among them able to believe a pen mightier than a machine gun. In their world of guns, butter was also code for compassion, conscience, the consideration known as charity. These “female attributes” the Nazis derided as debilitating or decadent were exactly the traits that strengthened women, putting steel in their spine as they fought to reverse the adage, the way Abraham Lincoln once did, to Right makes Might. Attentat widow Annette Leber described Widerstand as “conscience in revolt.”  Someone else calls her story: When Compassion was a Crime. Luise Rinser said she only did “what my conscience dictated.” Many women, like Catholic Helene Jacobs, explained themselves by quoting the Talmud: “He who saves one life saves the whole world.” Others quoted the Bible. Hiltgunt Zassenhaus said her father told her when fear took hold to remember: “He who knows the good and refrains from doing it commits a sin.”

Seventy-five–year-old spinster Luise Folsche was so ashamed of how Germany had railroaded Christianity, she went over the border to Belgium and there finding the matron of the Bloch family for whom she’d worked more than 50 years, she managed to hide her through the entire occupation. Three hundred women and children threw themselves in front of a locomotive pulling out of Württemberg with a transport of forced laborers (the police report did not detail who they were) to disrupt all scheduled rail service and demoralize its engineers by publically demonstrating against what they called the “criminality of the regime.” The train did not roll over them. It has even been reported that Count Berthold von Stauffenberg told his brother Klaus on the eve of Operation Valkyrie: “The worst thing is knowing we cannot succeed and yet that we have to do it.”

Moral potshots became assault weapons for those recruited into the home-front war by what resisters called “conscience” or “character.” They defined their crusade in Biblical quotes and as the moral obligation to not commit the sin of complacency—“whatever.” Resistance was invariably described in such personal terms, I had to ask if what the survivors thought they had done was political, public Widerstand like the conspirators of the Attentat or menschlichkeit, privately perfecting your humanity. Guns or Butter? To a woman, everyone insisted under Nazi totalitarianism when what you ate was a political statement, Widerstand and Menschlichkeit became one and the same thing. “Menschlichkeit in those days,” Dr. Countess Maria von Maltzan said, raising her voice sharply, “meant you had to be in some way against the Nazis.”

As the youngest child of an extremely prominent noble family with great wealth and vast connections, she didn’t have to get involved and was the only von Maltzan to ever dare to. “We had in the little town by our castle a burgermeister,” she told me, “and he was uniquely a wonderful democrat without belonging to any party. He just said ‘to think and feel that all people are important is the right way of living’ and he’s been a very good mentor for me.” In 1925 von Maltzan was sent from Silesia to finishing school in Berlin where one day she found a Jewish classmate curled up crying in a dark hallway. Troubled enough to investigate, she discovered another classmate, Beatrice Farber, had plastered the Jewish girl’s room with swastika posters smeared with Dirty Jew! “I found this so abominable, I couldn’t find words but I did think of what to do,” von Maltzan told me. She invited Farber into her room and beat her with a riding crop, hollering: “You have no conscience! You have no decency! ...” The countess told me Beatrice Farber came to perfectly symbolize the Nazis, irrevocably merging in her mind the effort to help the hurt-- menschlichkeit, with outrage against Hitler for the hurting --widerstand. “Anyone who cared about people had to be against National Socialism.” Nobody did it better: swimming refugees across the Bodensee or guiding them through forests at night, being courier for treasonous Catholic newsletters, charming her Nazi relatives for information useful to the resistance, working with the Sweden Church on an underground railroad, hiding her lover in her apartment for three years—cannily inviting the Gestapo to go right ahead and shoot up the sofa he was in, knowing they would never do what a woman suggested. She even once plundered a Gestapo car and made the rounds of victims on the hit list in it, urging them to disappear immediately, as though she were merely playing a schoolgirl prank. “Well,” she said, “the Nazis forced an honest person to become a criminal. That’s all there was to it.”

In a eulogy for her White Rose brother and sister, Inge Scholl said: “Perhaps genuine heroism lies in deciding stubbornly to defend the everyday things, the trivial and the immediate, after having been bombarded by so much oratory about great deeds.”  Not one resister considered herself heroic, least of all Von Maltzan. She said, unlike some of the officers of Operation Valkyrie, she didn’t risk her neck for the promise of postwar glory. “You don’t go into action thinking you’re going to be heroic! On the contrary,” she said, “you are inexorably drawn in by your attitude and once you’re in, it’s not so easy to get out. I’m certainly not somebody who considers herself heroic. I’ve done what I found at the time was right for me.” Doctor Nelly Planck deflected admiration for her audacity dashing through Berlin’s exploding streets during Allied bombing raids to slip food and clothing into Lehrterstrasse prison, by saying: “Whatever else is said, I only acted like a normal human being.” Margot Mertens wrote to me from Vermont: “It was common human decency. It’s a sad world when you have to honor that as heroic.”

May all beings understand the causes of suffering and be free of suffering.

~Sandy Garson "Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"

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