Events

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

"this most savage single act of repression": the Washington Post reports the Lidice massacre, June 1942

Today, in a world in which the West knows only limited wars, and in which many journalists and commentators lack both military experience and historical perspective, it is common to see terms such as "war crimes" and "atrocities" and "massacres" tossed around with abandon. It can therefore be salutary to be reminded of what real crimes against humanity were like: specifically, the sort that inspired the laws and conventions so often and and casually invoked today.

One example, whose anniversary I mark every year, may suffice.


"this most savage single act of repression in the history of German occupation of continental Europe"

In revenge for the assassination of Nazi governor of Bohemia and Moravia Reinhard Heydrich by Czechoslovak paratroopers, the Nazis exacted a terrible price, taking--all told, it is estimated--some 5,000 lives.

The most notorious reprisal occurred on the night of 9-10 June 1942, when German forces wiped out the Czech village of Lidice, near Prague, which, they wrongly charged, had sheltered the parachutists. Of the 503 inhabitants, 173 adult males and several women were shot, and some 200 women were deported to concentration camps (143 survived). A handful of the nearly 100 children were given to “Aryan” families to be Germanized, and the rest were deported and later gassed at Chełmno (17 adoptees could be located by 1947). The entire town was then burned and obliterated, a process estimated to have consumed some 20,000 man-hours of labor by 100 workers, and lasting until July 3. (read the rest)

The crime was so horrible that Churchill planned to bomb three German villages into oblivion as retaliation; only the resistance of his cabinet prevented him from carrying out this desire. (UK National Archives document release)

The Nazis were determined to erase Lidice from memory as well as the earth, but plazas, districts, and towns around the world were renamed Lidice in order to deny Hitler that victory. Shortly after the end of the war, in June 1945, the Czechoslovak government decided to rebuild the village. The cornerstone was laid in 1947. 

Among the things that were so striking about Lidice was not just the brutality, but the fact that the Nazis openly proclaimed their actions (in contrast, for example, to the murder of the Jews, which was to be kept secret). The news was therefore almost instantly public knowledge.

Here, for example, is how the Washington Post covered the story only a day after the assault. Note that it received prominent billing second only to emerging reports of the epochal Battle of Midway:



Czech Town of 1200 Wiped Out to Avenge Death of Heydrich

Community Razed, Men Slaughtered

Women and Children Sent to Other Areas; Population Accused of Harboring Killers

By the Associated Press

London. June 10.--German vengeance squads utterly wiped out Lidice, a Czech village of 1200 persons today, killing all the men and deporting the women and children on the ground that the population harbored the two assassins of Reinhard Heydrich, the late German ruler of Bohemia-Moravia.

  Completing this most savage single act of repression in the history of the German occupation of continental Europe, Gestapo and German soldiery razed the village, leaving nothing but rubble: the German-controlled radio announced from Prague. Then the Nazis removed the name of the village from their records.

  Lidice is--or was--a village of coal miners and woodworkers a few miles west of the Czech capital and not far from where Heydrich "the hangman" was fatally wounded by two patriots while driving along a winding road two weeks ago.

Assassins Still at Large

   The assassins, who leaped upon Heydrich's car with automatic pistol and bomb, have not been caught.
  Shortly after Prague and Berlin radios had announced the fate of Lidice "as the hiding place of the Heydrich murderers," German authorities in Prague disclosed that 25 more Czechs had been executed today in the capital and 6 in Brunn for a total of 306--exclusive of the Lidice dead--to be slain since the attack on Heydrich.
  In London, authorities of the Allied and exiled governments estimated that nearly 300,000 persons had been shot or hanged in all Europe since the beginning of the German conquest.
  Only yesterday, during Heydrich's elaborate funeral rites in Berlin, Gestapo Chief Heinrich Himmler vowed complete revenge on his killers. The slaughter of Lidice was his macabre sequel.
  The Prague broadcasts did not give the number of men of the village who were shot. It said the women had been sent to a concentration camp and the children to "educational centers."

"Other Hostile Acts" Charged

  Besides being accused of hiding Heydrich's slayers, the population of the village was accused in the broadcast of having "committed other hostile acts, such as keeping an illegal dump of ammunition and arms and maintaining an illegal transmitter."
  Meanwhile, it was apparent from German advices received today in Switzerland that a new wave of

[p. 2]

punitive measures was on the way, not only in Czecho-Slovakia but in other occupied countries.
  Prague, Paris, Amsterdam, all Poland and Yugoslavia probably will be the first to feel the chill of this new terror campaign, it was indicated.
  Of the approximately half-million Europeans already believed dead by the hand of the Nazi executioner, approximately 5 per cent were wiped out in mass "reprisal" killings of hostages. The remainder, including many women, were executed on various charges, such as sabotage, plotting, and aiding the enemy.

Increased Resistance Seen

  The Norwegian, Belgian and Netherlands governments and the Free French Committee here said the increased tempo of executions in the last few weeks indicated resistance to the Germans was increasing in direct ratio to the shootings.
  The governments, in estimating the number killed, did not consider "the countless thousands who have died in concentration camps or from ill treatment and hunger as a result of the 'New Order.'"
  The Yugoslav government estimated 350,000 killed in Yugoslavia, alone, and the Polish government said 90,000 Poles had been executed. They attributed the stupendous totals to German massacres of "entire villages in their attempts to wipe out guerilla [sic] activity."
  Incomplete totals picked up from German broadcasts tell a grim story of their own, with the best compilations showing nearly 7000 shootings and hangings reported by the Germans themselves.
  A majority of the executions were never broadcast. Some were published in local papers which never reached London. One Czecho-Slovak official said:

Germans Don't Tell All

  "A vast number of those killed was never made public at all, but we hear of them eventually via underground routes. For example, last November the Germans said nine students were executed as a result of riots in Prague, but we know of 120 who were killed."
  In Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Czecho-Slovakia, and lately in France, the list of those shot reveals the Gestapo is following a definite pattern of wiping out "intellectual" leaders. Teachers are frequent victims in Norway, while professors, students and "liberal" officials have fallen in other countries.

[There follows a brief tabulation of executions announced by the Germans vs. estimated real figures established by the Allies.]


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

From the Vaults: Amherst Town Meeting: The View from 2011 (April 1--but no joke)


From the Vaults

As I mentioned in the previous post, I thought I would resurrect a few older pieces in order to provide some perspective on the new debate that seems to be shaping up around the issue of Town Meeting and Amherst's form of government.

This first piece, from four years ago, notes the popular frustrations with Town Meeting but strikes an overall optimistic stance. Some of the details were intended as historical background. The rest have now become such. Readers can decide for themselves to what extent any of this is still of interest or use.

Laughing to Keep From Crying

But there is also some humor, and that, at least, is enduring. One factor that can make politics so needlessly unpleasant is people who take themselves and the game too seriously.

Two lighter pieces on the foibles of traditional New England government in our small towns included in that old post:
1) "I Hate Town Meeting" from New Hampshire Magazine.

2) A segment from "All Hail the Councilman," an episode from the "Newhart" show (which some of you may remember--or have discovered through new media outlets), in which Bob Newhart plays the owner of a Vermont country inn.
Neither one represents our system of government--but I'd wager that Amherst residents could nonetheless spot some resemblances. See whether you can see yourself (or all of us) there.

* * *


From the Vaults.  Town Meeting: Do They Hate Us For What We Do or Who We Are?:

As I recently noted, the low turnout in Tuesday's local election gives one pause for thought. At a moment when protests against dictatorship and for participatory government (whatever the complexities of the specific political constellations and possible outcomes) are rocking the Middle East in a spectacle captivating the attention of the world, the vast majority of us here in the safety of Amherst did not bother to vote (a mere 8.47%).  Aside from the fact that there were few contested races or hot issues, it is of course more generally true that voter turnout tends to be lower in societies with long-established traditions of democracy and elections.

Still, one wonders about the lack of candidates as much as turnout. It could well be that what Select Board Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe said of that office and contest applies here too: "the lack of challengers either indicates" that the incumbents "are doing a good job or no one else wants to do the job." And yet, it seems more problematic when applied to a 240-person Town Meeting than a 5-person Select Board.

We Amherst residents have something of a love-hate relationship with Town Meeting and our larger political culture (which, if you study Amherst history, seems to have its own tradition [1, 2] ). Twice in recent years (the first time in 2003), voters attempted to scrap our current  charter, with its system of Town Meeting and Select Board, in favor of one based on a mayor and council (that's the difference between a "town" and a "city" in Massachusetts law). The second time, in 2005 (1, 2), it was only narrowly defeated in an election that brought out 35.2 percent of the electorate. The so-called Charter Reform attempts arose because of a frustration with Town Meeting: its tone, its slow pace, and its outcomes (or lack thereof).

And yet the issue was complicated. I always recall what one ardent Town Meeting supporter, a refugee from Nazi Germany, told me.  He compared the lack of civic spirit and willingness to stand up for justice and democracy (what Germans call Zivilcourage) in his native Germany with his adopted New England's tradition of active participation and debate.  He had no illusions about the flaws of Town Meeting but cautioned against abandoning it as earlier generations had overthrown "messy" democracy in the name of fascist "efficiency." Each step away from broad-based democracy, he warned, reduced the opportunities for public participation in government, and in the process, not just citizen involvement but also citizen interest in public affairs. We had already gone from an open town meeting—in principle embracing every adult resident—to an elected town meeting, restricted to 240 members (24 from each of ten precincts), plus the dozen-odd officials. Now to reduce the number of citizens making decisions about the fate of the town by some 96%, to a nine-member council and mayor (with veto power) seemed to him a regression that could not be justified. It was a powerful argument.

I have to say that I think the last Charter referendum squeaker turned out to have a salutary effect all-around. It made clear to Town Meeting diehards just how deep the popular dissatisfaction and even anger ran. It made clear to Town Meeting opponents that, despite considerable popular sympathy for their complaints about the political culture, residents were not prepared to abolish this venerable political institution. And it thus conveyed the message to all:  we have to live together, so we'd better get our act together.

On balance, I'd say, we have learned that lesson well:  Town Meeting has become more efficient. It manages to get its business done while occupying fewer days on the calendar, thus reducing the demand on members' time (an oft-cited obstacle to greater participation, especially for families with young children). The tone is generally civil, the debate more focused and productive. There has of late been at least hypothetical talk of reducing the size of town meeting, so as to increase competitiveness and thus the actual representativeness of the representatives (empty seats and unopposed candidacies were among the issues that motivated Charter reform supporters), but for the time being that remains just talk.  For now, we work with what we have.

This is not to say that Town Meeting form of government (any more than Congress) cannot still be the source of silliness and frustration.  The piece from New Hampshire Magazine that I recently cited on the history of the hog reeve happened to be entitled, "I Hate Town Meeting":

I hate town meeting.

Town meeting is a laboratory sink for psychologists.

Every dreadful facet of human nature reveals itself at these gatherings. One must have the emotions of a sociopath to escape town meeting with one's soul intact.

I remember a town meeting in Temple years ago where the Police Chief, Russ Tyler, was attacked for using his cruiser too much. Poor Chief Tyler used his own car as the cruiser. He saved the town a lot of money using his own car.

But the mob at the meeting was sure he was getting away with something.

I remember thinking, "You people are crazy to be yelling at the Chief like this. He has a gun."

But Chief Tyler also had great heart. He was a straight shooter and a nice guy (although he did look like that sheriff in the old TV ad who says, "Boy, you're in a heap of trouble.")

In the end, the meeting vented itself and the Chief got his budget. But what heroic self-restraint that man showed.

Towns are made up of people who do not trust one another. It is and has always been "us and them."

The "new" people settle here with an idyllic view of living in a small town. They come from places where no one knows each other. Here they expected to find love.

What they find, of course, is resentment. The old Yankees don't trust the newcomers. Usually the newcomers are Democrats.

Some newcomer always stands up at the meeting and says something like, "My name is Ralph Lumpman and Loraine and I moved up here last fall from Darien. We bought the old Cosgrove place on Swamp Road. And I'd like to say that our moderator tonight is doing a bang-up job and I think we should give him a round of applause."

Then all the people, who recently moved to town, clap.

And there is always someone who informs the moderator that the flag is on the wrong side of the stage.

Town meeting gives people license. No one is expected to practice restraint.

Everyone is there to tell it like it is.

For 24 years of my life I was a small-town newspaper reporter and did news on the radio station in Peterborough.

I have attended over three hundred town meetings.

In my 50-plus years of going to town meetings I've seen a lot of changes. Years ago most towns were controlled by the families who owned the mills. In Milford it was Charlie Emerson; in Jaffrey it was D.D. Bean; in Wilton it was the Abbots; in Dublin, Robb Sagendorph.

If you didn't work for these men, someone in your family did. I used to watch D. D. Bean sit in the front of the hall at the Jaffrey Town Meeting.

Mr. Bean owned the match factory, in Jaffrey. When an article important to him came up he would turn and look back over his seat and note who voted "for" and who voted "against" the article.

Robb Sagendorph was the publisher of Yankee magazine and the Old Farmer's Almanac up in Dublin and he had double clout. Robb Sagendorph was also the moderator. If he didn't like an article he would close down discussion.

"We have had enough jawing about this matter," he'd say. "It's time to vote."
Of course, the system of mayor and town council is hardly perfect, either. The following episode of the old "Newhart" show seems somewhat confused in that it speaks in places of both "town council" and town meeting, but seems to depict the workings of the latter (perhaps the author was not familiar with the intricacies of New England government). In any case, no matter: the dilemmas and foibles can be universally appreciated. In episode 3 (full video here) newly arrived innkeeper Dick Loudon (Bob Newhart) complains about a dangerous intersection in front of his establishment and wants the town to install a stop sign.  Local political honchos persuade Dick that, as a man of civic spirit who does not only complain but also proposes solutions, he should run for Town Council. In the clip below, he attends the first meeting:



It's nice to be reminded that things could always be worse.

Town Meeting: Pinnacle of Participatory Politics--or The Terror of Tiny Towns?

the light at the end of the tunnel--or just someone's headlights?

Yes, we made it again, as the sign at the High Horse brewery congratulated us Town Meeting diehards. Or did we?

That is, we got through another annual Town Meeting, and it didn't go on for an inordinate amount of time: 22.5 hours vs. 27 last spring, so I am told (though by most reckoning, it could have been at least a day shorter). Admittedly, we were not dealing with multiple complex pieces of zoning legislation, as in some past years, so the increase in "efficiency" might in part just reflect the fact that our tasks were more modest.

But one has to wonder about the fate of the institution. As Amherst residents know, complaints about Town Meeting arise as regularly as the spring flowers and then fade with the same regularity--and yet this year somehow feels different.

One item at last night's Select Board agenda was the annual Town Meeting debriefing: a chance to reflect on our performance and the overall tenor and success of the endeavor.


Our main concerns--above all, wasted time and "incivility"--were not new, but they seemed to acquire new urgency.  The coming adoption of an electronic voting system might do a good deal to alleviate the former. The cure for the latter is less obvious. We expressed our regret that, both in formal remarks on warrant articles and in audible background chatter, Town Meeting members repeatedly, and often without reprimand from the Moderator, violated the rules of the body (Section V D, pp. 17-18 [33-34]) by imputing motives to individuals and in particular impugning Town staff, elected officials, and members of citizen boards. At Town Meeting, we heard the repeated insinuation that Town boards and staff were somehow colluding with developers at the expense of the common weal. Only slightly more subtle was the implication that those "at the front tables" (i.e. Select Board, Finance Committee, Planning Board) were somehow the adversaries of Town Meeting rather than partners in a system.

Town Meeting: attendance and attention uneven
It is a shame. A mere four years ago (see the next post), I thought the various factions, having survived a contentious "charter" referendum that sought to eliminate Town Meeting, had accommodated themselves to political coexistence. I am no longer so sure. The discontent expressed by some members as well as citizens at large is the highest that I can recall since that last Charter vote in 2005. Again, it may dissipate, but it is a worrisome sign.

The division of opinion over the merits of Town Meeting was amply expressed in two recent editorials.  I won't try to analyze the arguments here and will instead just offer excerpts with links to the full pieces. Read and judge for yourselves.

In the first, longtime Town Meeting member Jim Oldham defended the institution against the charge of inefficiency and obstructionism:

The wisdom of democracy borne out at Amherst’s Annual Town Meeting

excerpt:
This year’s Annual Town Meeting is a great example of effective democratic government. . . . While many individual members have maintained either pro- or anti-Town Hall positions, the body as a whole produced more complex outcomes, neither acquiescing to, nor rejecting out of hand, all proposals placed before it. . . .

Motions to end debate rarely contribute to better decisions . . .

Worst are suggestions, such as heard early on from a member of the Finance Committee (an appointed body intended to serve Town Meeting), that members shouldn’t second-guess the work of staff and committees. That actually is exactly the job Town Meeting is charged to do. Fortunately the majority of members continue to embrace that responsibility, as recent sessions demonstrate.
(full text: Amherst Bulletin, 20 May 2015)


In response, Professor Ray La Raja and graduate student Wouter Van Erve of the UMass Political Science Department urge residents,

Don’t romanticize Town Meeting democracy in Amherst

excerpt:
Thin deliberative democracy. Oldham argues that Town Meetings should have lengthy debate. He argues further that it is the job of members to “second guess” the work of policy committees. Both these views are contradicted by what research says about effective representational bodies. The most deliberative American legislatures are highly “institutionalized.” That is to say, when dealing with complex issues — especially those that divide a community — legislative bodies tend to divide the labor and defer to the expertise of policy committees. It is here where dialogue and compromise take place before a bill is sent for a full vote. Most of the time, the “debates” that ensue before a full legislative vote are purely symbolic because a winning coalition has taken shape beforehand.

Debates in Town Meeting appear largely symbolic rather than deliberative. Persuasion and compromise need to come earlier in the process. Otherwise, Town Meeting is simply a forum to affirm individual preferences and make sure allies outnumber the other side.
(full text: Amherst Bulletin, 3 June 2015)


Funny thing is: these pieces were in many ways a reprise of a similar exchange a year ago:


Ray La Raja and Wouter Van Erve:

How representative, really, is Amherst Town Meeting? 

excerpt:
Our data suggests that Town Meeting in Amherst is fairly unrepresentative both descriptively and substantively.

This would be less disconcerting if we had confidence that residents could effectively hold their Town Meeting members accountable. . . .

. . .Town Meeting elections lack even the most basic information that would help voters hold members accountable. Most residents don’t know who is running, what they stand for, or how they voted in previous sessions. So how does the voter make a decision? . . . .

In Amherst, those who vote tend to know those who are running for office. Our analysis shows, not surprisingly, that these voters share the same demographic and preference profile of Town Meeting members. In other words, the voters and members run in the same social circles, while non-voters do not.
(full text: Amherst Bulletin,  9 June 2014)


Jim Oldham:

Amherst Town Meeting is independent, not unrepresentative

excerpt:
The Around Town column in the June 13 Bulletin reported on the Select Board discussion of concerns about the length of time Town Meeting took this year and the supposed “level of incivility.” They seem to have overlooked that they themselves instigated the most inefficient use of time and the most uncivil behavior at Town Meeting this spring.

Faced with two citizen zoning petitions that could not be acted on for technical legal reasons, and which Town Meeting would have voted to refer to the Planning Board with little discussion, the Select Board chose instead to advocate for dismissal, an action with no practical benefit but more pejorative to the petitioners, thereby triggering close to an hour of unnecessary debate and several counted votes.

But rather then review the wisdom of that choice, they focus instead on raising general concerns about Town Meeting.

Meanwhile, University of Massachusetts professor Ray La Raja and grad student Wouter Van Erve assert that Town Meeting is unrepresentative (see essay, Page A5), based largely on the claim that Town Meeting members do not reflect the population at large.
 (full text: Amherst Bulletin, 20 June 2014)


The debate is not over. You can be sure that the topic will be back in the news--and maybe even the election booth.

In order to provide some perspective, I thought I would resurrect a few older snapshots of our Town Meeting experience in coming posts.