Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Thank You and Commentary from UAB History Professor Dr. James F. Tent

Dear Dr. Johnson:

On behalf of the UAB History Students and Faculty including Dr. George Liber (PAT Faculty Adviser), and eight of our students, I thank you and your colleague and PAT Advisor, Dr. Sandra Mendiola, for hosting us and explaining in detail today the incredibly powerful exhibit you and your colleagues and students at UAH have prepared on that Nazi slave/forced labor camp dedicated to producing vengeance rockets, “Camp Dora” near Nordhausen in the Harz Mountains of W. Central Germany, 1943-45. Winston Churchill had already warned his own citizenry of the stakes involved in the outcome of World War II, including one point in particular. He wrote in 1940: "if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age, made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted sciences."

Was Churchill ever right! The images you have provided of “Dora” and of the hapless victims who became ensnared in that terrible camp bring into bold relief the contrasts between theoretical scientists who once dreamed of interplanetary exploration on the one hand, and on the other hand the grim reality of the Nazis’ determination to employ slave labor in the mass production of military, ballistic rockets whose sole purpose was their use against civilians (Hitler openly called them “Vengeance Weapons.”). Further, he placed that “scientific” program directly under the dreaded SS in late 1943, an organization that, as usual, employed torture, murder, and enslavement every day in the production of what a later generation has come to call “weapons of mass destruction.” After all, that was what the SS did, no matter what the immediate task might be. This was exactly the “perverted science” about which Churchill had forewarned the public. In this instance, the Nazis employed it on a gigantic scale! Nearly 3,000 British civilians were killed outright in V-2 attacks, over 6,000 were wounded, a high percentage blinded since the 3.2 Mach rockets exploded 3-4 seconds before any sound indication of impact had occurred with the result that the victims had simply swiveled around to observe a flash of light and received vicious wounds from exploding debris. For many years, nstitutions for the blind ran a brisk business after World War II in Britain (and Belgium where many other V-2s impacted). In fact, there were many orphanages devoted entirely to the care of blind children after World War II, much of this courtesy of Hitler’s V-2 program, a program based heavily upon Camp Dora.

Your powerful and sensitive exhibit of “Dora” reveals in excruciating detail those horrors of that camp and of the rocket production facility in their many dimensions, some subtle and others… painfully obvious. Dora used – and murdered – many Jewish victims in the Holocaust. Equally instructive is the fact that the bulk of those slave laborers were not Jewish. The other victims came from all walks in European society: socialists, liberals, resistance fighters, “intellectuals” and anyone else caught up in the maw of the Nazi military/racist regime. This is a lesson to all of us of what might easily have happened if the Nazis had won World War II (which they nearly did in 1941). In short, the Holocaust that Hitler planned was not intended to end with our Jewish neighbors and friends. Not at all! Shame on all of the rest of us for not understanding the dreadful world Hitler that envisaged and that we had done so little to protect his first victims, our Jewish compatriots, colleagues, and fellow human beings.

The fact that you and your fellow UAH colleagues at your History Department, in Art and Art History, and in related disciplines could conceptualize, then win major funding from the Alabama Humanities Foundation bring to fruition so sensitive and timely a historical exhibit for the entire Huntsville Community and for Alabama in general commands the greatest respect from all of us in Alabama’s institutions of higher learning. I conclude by observing that it would be fitting and proper if your Exhibit could also be shown at other University of Alabama campuses - to the enlightenment of all of our citizenry.

Sincerely yours,

James F. Tent

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Audio Interview on WLRH

WLRH interview by Bobby Milk with UAHuntsville historians Molly Johnson, Stephen Waring, and photographer Jose Betancourt.

mental_floss Blog Morning Cup of Links: Cultural Neuroscience

The Dora website was featured in Mental_floss, "where knowledge junkies get their fix."

mental_floss Blog � Morning Cup of Links: Cultural Neuroscience

Friday, March 5, 2010

What's missing in the Dora exhibit at UAH?

What's missing in the Dora exhibit at UAH? - al.com

Coming around the corner of the exhibit in the UAH library about the Nazi slave labor camps and seeing a photo of the handsome Wernher von Braun in the gallery labeled "Perpetrators" took me aback.
Our Wernher, a "perpetrator"? Was he?
Was our good Nazi, the engineer of our modern Huntsville, the patron of the arts and the visionary of space travel really so involved in all that mess as to be labeled "Perpetrator"? I mean, we all knew his factories used slave laborers, but should we hold him accountable like he was the human resource staffer?
Von Braun himself didn't think so. He described his own work during the war with the Germans as "my duty," same as what other Germans did to support their country at war.
"An engineer in times of war is a soldier," he told a radio interviewer in 1963.
The implication is that soldiers do unspeakable things out of a wartime necessity that civilians could never understand.
Well, soldiers may do that. But true heroes will stand, alone if necessary, against societal insanity, even when it is defined as "duty," to try to save even just one piece of the world, as did Oskar Schindler or Anne Frank's Miep Gies.
But when duty comes to shove, where would most of us stand?
The defining of one of our leading citizens as "perpetrator," reminded me of Horst Kruger's 1986 memoir, "A Crack in the Wall: Growing Up under Hitler."
Kruger describes being a child in a regular middle-class German household, outlining how far away from his life the cruelties of the war seemed. Sure, some shop windows got smashed one night, and some kids disappeared from school, but all that gritty annihilation of human beings seemed far removed from his orderly childhood.
I don't remember many of the details of the book, but I'll never forget that it ends with Kruger's experience as a young reporter covering one of the war crimes trial. Hurrying to get to his seat on time, he sat down, opened his notebook, and only then realized that he'd blundered into a place among the accused.
It's a moment when he realizes all the tiny ways that his own obliviousness had helped to empower the system that had ground to death so many millions of people.
Kruger was not listed as one of the accused, but he knew he was one of the guilty.
Among the awful consequences of Nazi atrocities, I'm afraid, is that the sensational nature of their cruelty makes it too easy for us to classify the sins that made those horrors possible as actions beyond any that we ourselves could do.
The sins of the slave camps, though, are worth considering. At their root, they are sins committed by far more than just our handsome hometown hero: Sins of feeling entitled, of classifying people as more or less useful, of obliviousness to the ways our daily living helps grind other people into the dirt as we use the systems that prevent fair wages and safe working conditions both here and in our supplier countries.
The sins, in short, of all the ways, both little and large, that we neglect to do for others what we expect to be done for us and our children.
I left the exhibit thinking it was incomplete.
Next to von Braun, they should hang a mirror.
Kay Campbell, Faith & Values editor, may be reached at 532-4320, kay.campbell@htimes.com. Her column runs the first Friday of each month.
"Dora and the V-2: Slave labor in the space age" is free and open to visitors during the regular hours of UAH's Salmon Library through March 12. www.Dora.uah.edu.