Caught in the Act

Timeless Truth Off 67

It is a sad reality that after World War II, hundreds of Nazis shed their previous identities and avoided capture by Allied forces. Aided by the willing conspirators, including some members of the clergy and the Red Cross, these notorious criminals were spirited out of Europe to find safe haven in other countries. However, there were a number of top Nazis who were captured as a result of some stunning twists of events.
Julius Streicher was the mastermind behind the Nazification of prewar Germany. If the Third Reich was a poisonous snake, he was the venom. In 1924, he launched Der Stürmer, a newspaper solely committed to spreading vile anti-Semitism and libel against the Jews. Not since The Protocols of the Elders of Zion did a publication so effectively pollute the minds of millions of people. Not satisfied with an adult audience, Streicher also published an anti-Semitic book for children called Der Giftpilz, which means “The Poisonous Mushroom.”
Streicher was a radical even by Nazi standards. Before the war he was successfully sued several times by Jews for allegations he made in Der Stürmer. He would intimidate local officials in his hometown of Nuremberg, striding through the streets while cracking a bullwhip. He was loathed by several other top Nazis, especially Hermann Göring. However, whenever his excesses threatened to swamp him, he would seek refuge in the shadow of Hitler, who declared that Der Stürmer was his favorite newspaper.
In 1945 he fled before Patton’s advancing army to Bavaria, where he disappeared. Knowing that American soldiers were issued photos of wanted Nazis, he did his best to blend in among the local farmers. Several days after the German surrender, a group of officers from the US 101st Airborne Division passed by on patrol. Major Henry Plitt, a Jewish officer from New York, stopped by a farmhouse for some milk. A man with a shaggy white beard and blue striped shirt sat by the doorway, dabbing at an easel with his paintbrush. Speaking in his native Yiddish, Plitt asked him if he was the farmer. “No,” said the man. “I only live here; I’m an artist.”
Plitt asked him what he thought of the Nazis, and the man claimed to have no interest in politics.
“But you look just like Julius Streicher!” joked Plitt.
Not fully understanding Plitt, the old man stared at him and blurted out, “How did you recognize me?”
Quickly realizing his mistake, Streicher tried to extricate himself, but it was too late.
He was convicted at the Nuremberg Trials, and remained defiant until his last moment. It was he who uttered the words “Purimfest 1946” just before his execution. Although this remains a wonder to many, it is actually a reflection of Streicher’s knowledge of Jewish literature, which he studied well for his twisted propaganda.
Sometimes the resourceful Americans used the Nazis against themselves when they did not cooperate. Robert Ley was a politician who headed the German Labour Front and an ardent follower of the Führer. He grew up near poverty, so when he rose through the Nazi hierarchy he was quick to abuse his power by embezzling large amounts of money. Rivaling the corruption of Hermann Göring, Ley’s luxuries included amenities such as gold-plated bathroom fixtures. But of course, his real crimes were against humanity, overseeing the vast labor operations enslaving millions of Jews and Russian POWs.
In the last weeks of the war, he too made his way to Bavaria, where many believed that Hitler would make his last stand. Acting on a tip from the locals, a group of soldiers stormed a hut on the outskirts of the town, weapons at the ready. Inside, they found a man wearing pajamas, climbing boots and a Tyrolean hat, who claimed that his name was Dr. Ernst Distelmeyer. He was hauled off to US Army HQ and placed in a room for further interrogation. The US intelligence officer opened the door and brought in another captured Nazi, who immediately blurted out, “Well, Dr. Ley, what are you doing here?” and the game was up.
As time passed, hunting these criminals became more daunting, although trials of former Nazis have continued well into this century. While it is certainly worthwhile to bring them to justice, I think it’s important to remember that ultimately Hashem will mete out their sentence with exacting precision as only He can.

About the author / 

Rabbi Sholom Friedmann

Rabbi Sholom Friedmann is a Talmid of Rabbi Leib Bakst זצ"ל, of Yeshivas Ateres Mordechai, Detroit, Michigan. After learning in the yeshivah and kollel, Rabbi Friedmann moved to the British colony of Gibraltar and studied in the Gateshead Kollel for three more years, at which time he received rabbinical ordination. From there, Rabbi Friedmann moved to London, England. In London, Rabbi Friedmann taught in the Menorah Grammar School, and was appointed the communal Rov of Kehilas Kol Yaakov, Edgware, London. Rabbi Friedmann was awarded Qualified Teaching Status by the British Board of Education in 2002, and a diploma in educational psychology by the Tavistock clinic (London) in 2006. In 2005, Rabbi Friedmann was accepted as a Fellow in Holocaust Education by the prestigious Imperial War Museum, London. Rabbi Friedmann relocated to New York in 2008 to become the Director of Zechor Yemos Olam, the Holocaust education division of Torah Umesorah. While occupying that position, Rabbi Friedmann created teaching materials, videos, and teacher training programs, including the ZYO Holocaust education fellowship program. In April 2012, Rabbi Friedmann was appointed as the director of the Amud Aish Memorial Museum. The museum founded by Elly Kleinman will carry on the legacy of holocaust history. For more info about when it is expected to open read this article.

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