O dia D do ponto de vista dos alemães

Sim, foi ontem, mas só hoje vi este vídeo – que não tem som.

Leitura para o fim-de-semana: o último procurador de Nuremberga

No final da II Guerra Mundial, 22 membros das SS germânicas foram julgados em Nuremberga. Benjamin Ferencz tinha apenas 27 anos. Mas foi ele, como procurador, o principal responsável pela acusação e condenação dos responsáveis pela morte de mais de um milhão de pessoas. Agora com 95 anos, conversou com uma repórter da The Atlantic sobre a sua vida, os julgamentos, o direito e a história.

Foto: Reuters

Foto: Reuters

“The Last Man at Nuremberg

By Emma Green

Benjamin Ferencz was 27 when the Einsatzgruppen trial began in 1947. There were 22 defendants, all men, all members of the German SS. “One of the counsel has characterized this trial as the biggest murder trial in history,” the military tribunal wrote. “In this case, the defendants are not … charged with sitting in an office hundreds and thousands of miles away from the slaughter.… These men were in the field actively superintending, controlling, directing, and taking an active part in the bloody harvest.” Put simply, the Einsatzgruppen were exterminators: Their squads traveled to towns throughout Eastern Europe, rounding up Jews and shooting them with mechanized efficiency. Some mass graves were filled with hundreds of bodies; others, thousands.

Otto OhlendorfPaul Blobel, and almost two dozen others led these divisions of Hitler’s army; after the war, they were indicted for crimes against humanity. Benjamin Ferencz was 27, and he was the chief prosecutor responsible for convicting 22 men on trial for murdering 1 million men, women, and children.

In the nearly 70 years since he took part in the trials at Nuremberg, Ferencz has lived a remarkable life. He led efforts to return property to Holocaust survivors after the war and participated in reparations negotiations between Israel and West Germany. He wrote multiple books, including a hefty, two-volume tome outlining his ideas for the body that would later become the International Criminal Court. He fathered four children.

Now he’s 95, and tired. “I’m getting old,” he said. “I’m running out of steam. I need help from young people.”

To be clear, nothing about Ferencz’s demeanor indicates a deficiency of steam. I met him outside of a convention center in Washington, D.C. on a sunny spring day, and as we went through a metal detector inside, he happily showed off his suspenders for the security guard to check. “How old are you? You get around pretty well,” the guard said. “For an old guy,” Ferencz replied. He pointed a thumb at me. “This is my girlfriend,” he added.

We sat on a bench in the sun, and there, he told me about the bodies at Buchenwald. “I saw crematoria still going, the bodies starved, lying dying, on the ground. I’ve seen the horrors of war more than can be adequately described.” He spoke clearly and without much emotion. I heard familiar phrases that stuck out from previous interviews I had read in preparation for our conversation. This was how he had learned to tell his story: straightforward, detached, honest but without too much detail. This, I think, is how he has survived 70 years of recalling exactly what it looks like when thousands of murdered Jews are laid out side-by-side, stacked in piles.

After fighting with an anti-aircraft artillery battalion in the U.S. army during World War II, Ferencz was assigned to General George Patton’s office and tasked with helping to establish a war-crimes division. This was not a typical mission, for one good reason: The army had never had a war-crimes division before.

As part of this effort, Ferencz joined the forces that liberated a number of concentration camps in what was then Germany, including Buchenwald and Mauthausen. He collected documentation: the number of bodies, and where they were located; the sanitary conditions of the camps; the files left behind by army officials, including ledgers recording who had died, and when. It was this evidence that eventually led to the speedy conviction of the Einsatzgruppen commanders. “I was able to rest my case after two days without calling a single witness—the top-secret documents were indisputable,” Ferencz said.

But without his intervention, these men may have never been taken to trial. “The case had not been planned,” he said. “When we discovered this evidence, I brought it to General [Telford] Taylor, and I said we have to put on a new trial, and he said we can’t.” The Pentagon had already planned its schedule of trials, Taylor said, and the war-crimes division faced staffing shortages and budget limitations.

“I said, ‘We can’t let these mass murderers go free—I have the evidence here in my hands’. And he said, ‘Can you do it in addition to your other work? OK, you be the prosecutor.’”

Looking back, this anecdote seems outrageous, suggesting that the trials following the most extensive genocide in human history were haphazardly assigned to young, newly minted prosecutors. But this is what’s so remarkable about Ferencz’s career: Again and again, he has been asked to establish law and order in situations that had never been dealt with before on such a large scale. If it sounds like the army was making up trial procedures as it went along, that’s because, well, it was.

The Einsatzgruppen case was fairly straightforward, but since then, Ferencz has dealt almost exclusively in ethical ambiguity. Sorting out stolen property and reparations for the victims of the Holocaust after the war proved particularly difficult. “We first had to establish the principals: Who is entitled for the restitution of property? If parents were dead and they owned a house, what happened to the heirs? What happened to the repairs if the house had been bombed? What happened to the mortgage?” he explained. “We had to prove the injuries to each individual victim and evaluate how much they were worth. If a person had lost his arm, it was easy. If a person had lost his mind, it was not so easy.”

This is the challenge of litigating mass atrocities. Terror cannot be quantified. Years of life cannot be paid back in dollars, and sanity cannot be restored through prison sentences. Ferencz used secret records to secure a conviction against 22 mass murderers, but what if there are no cleanly written ledgers to capture the fuzzy outer boundaries of evil?

The law is a blunt tool for this task, but after a lifetime of confronting war crimes, it’s Ferencz’s tool of choice. He is incredibly optimistic about the potency of courts and prosecutors and statutes. Seven decades after liberating concentration camps, he still believes international law can eliminate war.

“The capacity to destroy life on earth has grown incredibly in the course of my lifetime, which increases the need to set up a mechanism to try to prevent that from happening,” he said. “There are perpetrators of crimes, and there are victims of crimes. They are ready to fight and die for their ideals; they cannot have a fair judgment. You need a third party—a court—in order to determine the facts.”

This goes far beyond the scope of the International Criminal Court, which Ferencz was instrumental in establishing in 2002. To date, that body has indicted only 36 people and opened investigations in eight countries, all of them African. Several countries, including the United States, refuse to recognize its authority. It exists to prosecute war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity in cases where national governments are unable or unwilling to do so themselves. In its 12 years of existence, the court has convicted only two people.

Despite the current limitations of international law, Ferencz believes that a court with a more extensive mandate could help prevent future conflicts by adjudicating transnational disputes and deterring aggression. He has also proposed that national governments and regional alliances criminalize the illegal use of force in accordance with the way it is defined by the United Nations. This, he believes, would change the very nature of war.

“Of course it will change! The present system is too stupid,” he said. “If two heads of state are unable to agree, they send young people from one country to kill other young people who they don’t even know, for reasons they don’t understand, in places they’ve never heard of.

“I’ve written books on all this,” he added. “Nobody reads them.”

Ferencz has spent his entire life documenting, litigating, and trying to prevent mass atrocities, but he’s still hopeful that war—all war, everywhere—can end. He is also one of the last witnesses of the world’s most extensive genocide—the only living prosecutor left from Nuremberg. Among those who know him, there’s a palpable sense of urgency about capturing his memories—the Holocaust museum has done extensive interviews with him, and even his son got involved in helping me set up a conversation with his father. Eventually—in a matter of years, not decades—the world will only have secondhand knowledge of the Holocaust.

“I can tell you why I’m optimistic: I have no choice,” he told me. “I’m 95. I don’t have much time before I die.”

O suposto mistério do ouro português no The Wall Street Journal

O ouro nazi recebido por Salazar durante a II Guerra Mundial como pagamento pelos carregamentos de volfrâmio – também conhecido por tungstênio – chegou às páginas do The Wall Street Journal, num artigo de opinião de Neill Lochery, autor do livro Lisbon: War in the Shadows of the City of Light”.

No texto, intitulado Portugal’s Golden Mistery, Lochery compara o ouro guardado nos cofres do Banco de Portugal à arte roubada pelos nazis – e como que defende um inquérito que poderia levar justiça às vítimas do regime de Adolf Hitler. Leia-se: a devolução desse ouro. O texto completo está aqui.

Ilustração: Ken Fallin

Ilustração: Ken Fallin

As quatro ilhas que mantém Japão e Rússia em guerra

A disputa sobre quatro pequenas ilhas impediu a Rússia e o Japão de assinar um tratado de paz que, formalmente, ponha fim à II Guerra Mundial. Sim, é verdade. Oficialmente as duas nações ainda estão em guerra passados 68 anos do fim do conflito. Agora, durante a visita do primeiro-ministro japonês, Shinzo Abe, a Moscovo, os interesses económicos (com o líder japonês vai uma delegação de mais de 120 empresários) podem fazer os dois Estados chegar a um acordo. A Al Jazeera dedicou uma edição do programa Inside Story à visita de Estado. Como era bom ter televisão assim em Portugal: discussão com substância, directa e que não serve para substituir um potente soporífero.

Operação Cartago

Durante a II Guerra Mundial, a Gestapo tinha a sua base num edifício no centro de Copenhaga. Chamavam-lhe “Shell House”. Para impedir os bombardeamentos, os alemães prenderam no sótão do edifício os prisioneiros da resistência dinamarquesa. O objectivo era que servissem como escudos humanos a um eventual ataque.

No entanto, a necessidade de destruir o quartel-general nazi na Dinamarca tornou-se demasiado forte e a resistência teve de pedir à Força Aérea Britânica para preparar um raide aéreo cirúrgico: destruir um edifício apenas no meio de uma cidade sem afectar os que o rodeiam. Na época ainda não havia misseis teleguiados e muito menos drones.  Era uma das missões mais arriscadas da guerra. O documentário The shell house raid conta a história da Operação Cartago, pela voz de Martin Sheen.

A guerra como nunca tinha sido vista

É uma das fotografias mais importantes do jornalismo norte-americano. Durante a II Guerra Mundial, os jornais e revistas estavam proibidos de publicar imagens de soldados mortos. A ideia era que a força gráfica das fotografias poderia desmobilizar a nação do esforço de guerra. A censura do Pentágono durou mais de dois anos. E só teve um fim quando, em Setembro de 1943, a revista Life publicou uma imagem de página inteira com três soldados norte-americanos mortos durante um ataque japonês, na praia de Buna Beach, na Papua Nova Guiné.


A guerra tinha começado em 1939. Desde então, o público americano nunca tinha visto nenhuma imagem de soldados mortos em combate. E esta fotografia de George Strock só foi publicada após uma longa batalha do então editor da revista Life, Cal Whipple que, desde Fevereiro desse ano lutou para que a imagem passasse pela censura do Gabinete de Informação da Guerra.

A história desta fotografia – e de como George Strock quase morreu para a conseguir – foi recordada pelo blogue do The New York Times, Lens, a propósito da morte de Cal Whipple. Vale a pena ler. Aqui.


George Strock/Time Life Pictures via Getty Images

O ataque que acabou com o isolamento americano

A guerra na Europa durava há dois anos. As forças de Hitler avançavam em força. Em Setembro de 1940, Alemanha, Itália e Japão tinham assinado um pacto tripartido que criou as chamadas “Potências do Eixo”. Do outro lado do Atlântico, os Estados Unidos mantinham a sua política de isolamento e afastamento em relação aos conflitos no “Velho Continente”. Mas a 7 de Dezembro de 1941, tudo mudou.

Às 7h55 entre 50 e 150 aviões de guerra japoneses lançaram um ataque à base americana de Pearl Harbour, no Havai. O raide durou 35 minutos e provocou enormes danos à frota norte-americana. Por volta das 9h, uma segunda vaga com pelo menos 100 aviões atingiu a base durante uma hora. No final, seis navios de guerra tinham sido afundados, 112 veleiros danificados ou destruídos e 164 aviões dizimados. Por sorte, três porta-aviões normalmente estacionados em Pearl Harbour escaparam: estavam em missão noutro local.
Durante o raide, foram mortos menos de 100 japoneses. Do lado americano as contas foram outras: 2400 mortos e 1178 feridos. Nas semanas seguintes, o Japão invadiu o sudeste asiático. No entanto, o ataque japonês, além de ficar para a história como a primeira vez que os Estados Unidos foram atacados no seu território – a segunda foi a 11 de Setembro de 2011 – acabou por mudar o rumo da guerra na Europa: Washington acabou com a sua política de isolacionismo, entrou na guerra nos dois palcos, venceu-a e assumiu-se como a super-potência que iria dominar o século XX.