Bill O’Reilly’s Terrible Book About the SS – Part One
by Hadding Scott
Political Rhetoric and Profit
KILLING THE SS by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard is a book inspired by motives other than the quest for truth.
The birth of the idea for this book may have occurred on The O’Reilly Factor, 9 March 2016 when Bill O’Reilly did a program with guest Bernie Goldberg, with the theme of debunking invidious comparisons that likened presidential candidate Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler, and his supporters to Brownshirts. Goldberg goes beyond merely defending Trump and his supporters, and throws the hot potato to the other side by suggesting that campus leftists are the ones who resemble Brownshirts, and O’Reilly of course agrees (because, apparently, Communists have no reputation for censorship or violence).
With this book, on the premise that the SS epitomized evil, O’Reilly could present himself as an authority on the question of who is evil and who is not, and who is a Nazi and who is not, and that would be rhetorically useful. The book would also serve as a useful prop for anyone anxious to demonstrate that Republicans are not Nazis (because look, Bill O’Reilly called them evil). In that regard, the book is similar to Dinesh D’Souza’s execrable Death of a Nation, which appeared as a motion picture on 3 August 2018, just two months before Killing the SS appeared on 9 October.
This book could very well have been slapped together in two months to ride The Death of a Nation‘s modest wave of success just in time for the Christmas buying season. (Coauthor Martin Dugard was a corporate marketer before he became a published writer.) The obvious mistakes and half-baked arguments in the book strongly indicate that it was rushed.
Despite some ridiculously obvious flaws, the book has been successful. Upon release in October 2018 it quickly topped the New York Times’s best-seller list, and remained Number One for some time. As of 1 February 2019 it was still on the Hardcover Nonfiction list, at Number 15.
Conservatism vs. Amnesia
For purposes of virtue-signaling it was appropriate to portray Nazis and the SS as negatively as possible, so as to avoid any conceivable resemblance to or association with Republicans.
This extreme portrayal of the SS requires a certain amnesia.
For example, the fact that some members of the German team of rocket scientists who put American astronauts on the moon were members of the Schutzstaffel is never mentioned in this book. Wernher von Braun, the leader of the Peenemünde rocket team, and Kurt Heinrich Debus, who became the director of the Kennedy Space Center from 1962 to 1974, were both at least nominally members of the SS. Debus in particular had been an ardent member of the NSDAP and a literal Brownshirt. (K-H Karisch, Frankfurter Rundschau, 15 July 2009)
Instead of acknowledging a change of attitude about this matter, O’Reilly and Dugard project current prevailing attitudes onto the past, and assert that the rocket scientists had been brought to the United States secretly:
On September 3, 1946, President Truman had signed a top-secret order permitting German scientists into America to help develop the nation’s new rocket program. Known as Operation Paperclip, this presidential decision would allow more than one thousand former Nazis and Nazi collaborators to work in the United States. (Killing the SS, ch. 7)
The fact that the U.S. Government was importing German scientists was never a secret. Eleven months earlier, on 1 October 1945, the War Department announced somewhat circumspectly that “certain outstanding German scientists and technicians” were being brought to the United States who had been selected “from those fields where German progress is of significant importance to us and in which these specialists have played a dominant role.” (AP, 24 January 1946).
By the end of 1946 – not long after Truman’s “top-secret order” – the War Department was boasting of the benefits that the German scientists, especially the rocket-team, had brought to the United States, and unabashedly declared the intention to recruit more Germans:
In its first public account of the work of German scientists and technicians who have come voluntarily to this country since V-J day, the war department estimated that in basic research in rockets alone they had saved American taxpayers more than $750,000,000. […] It does not, however, include their contributions in electronics, jet propulsion and other scientific fields which were put at “many millions” additional.
Thus far 270 top-flight scientific experts have been brought from Germany and the number is to be increased to 1,000 as soon as transportation is arranged. (AP, 4 December 1946)
There were telegrams of protest to President Truman, one of them from a committee organized by James Waterman Wise (son of Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, president of the World Jewish Congress), but to no avail.
In the realm of the arts, two noteworthy expressions of that Jewish discontent are satirist Tom Lehrer’s venomous song, Wernher von Braun, and director Stanley Kubrick’s movie Dr. Strangelove, where the title character was a German scientist who exerted an unsavory influence on the president of the United States, whom he always addressed as mein Führer. There have also been numerous inflammatory books and quasi-documentaries attacking Operation Paperclip, whereby the rocket scientists were permanently settled in the United States. Until the 1970s this resentment was like Typhon smoldering under Mount Aetna: it was detectable but had little effect.
During the 1950s Wernher von Braun became a major celebrity, presenting his ideas about space exploration in episodes of The Wonderful World of Disney. There are famous photographs of Wernher von Braun in the company of President John F. Kennedy (Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove resulting, apparently, as an irritated reaction to this). Everybody knew that Wernher von Braun and his team of German rocket scientists enabled America to put a man on the moon. Their past associations did not prevent them from being generally regarded as heroes. At the Kennedy Space Center in Florida there is a giant conference center that bears the name of Kurt H. Debus.
From a strictly American perspective there was no reason to maintain any grudge about the Second World War, because Germany had been utterly defeated and there was a new number-one enemy, Communism.
Eventually Typhon broke loose. In the 1970s, after the defeat in Vietnam and the resignation of President Nixon, Jewish-controlled mass media succeeded in creating a new Zeitgeist wherein the government and the people of the United States were expected to say mea culpa about many past events, and the official attitude of the U.S. government toward alleged Nazi war-criminals also changed. It is not coincidental that the first U.S. president to speak of “inordinate fear of Communism” (Jimmy Carter, 1977) was also the one to establish the “President’s Commission on the Holocaust” (1978) and the Justice Department’s “Office of Special Investigations” (1979) for hunting down and prosecuting persons who could be accused of having done anything nefarious on behalf of Germany during the Second World War.
One of those targeted by the Office of Special Investigations was the man who had supervised the creation of the Saturn V rocket that enabled the United States to put a man on the moon. During the war Arthur Rudolph had worked in an underground V-2 factory where forced labor was used, and in this connection some accusations were made against him. Under threat of prosecution, Arthur Rudolph in 1984 gave up his U.S. citizenship and returned to the Federal Republic of Germany — where senior public prosecutor Alfred Streim could find no evidence (“keine belastenden Erkenntnisse”) that Arthur Rudolph had committed any crime (Der Spiegel, 29 October 1984).
In Killing the SS, the OSI is presented in an entirely positive light. By necessity, therefore, the name Arthur Rudolph does not appear anywhere in its pages. Neither are OSI’s dubious actions against Slavic and Baltic immigrants mentioned.
Conservatives like William F. Buckley and Patrick J. Buchanan criticized this so-called Nazi-hunting. Pat Buchanan took a stand for Arthur Rudolph, and for others similarly accused, most famously for John Demjanjuk. In 1987, upon the deportation of Karl Linnas to the Soviet Union, Buckley expressed a general disapproval of such vendettas. He pointed out that all the postwar war-crimes prosecutions were based on ex post facto law, which has no validity in the United States, and opined:
… it suits the Soviet purpose to publicize a fictitious difference between the conduct of Soviet camp-keepers and Nazi camp-keepers. (William F. Buckley, 19 May 1987)
In other words, Communists were really not better than National-Socialists, and Nazi-hunting created useful material for Communist propaganda. (A similar observation could have been made about Zionist propaganda, but this was beyond the pale for Buckley.)
The conservatives were unable to prevail, partly because the infusion of simplistic moralizing into history and foreign policy in the era of Jimmy Carter was followed by the rise of Neoconservative influence in the Republican Party. The Neocons were all about portraying the world simplistically as good vs. evil.
The Reagan Administration thus accepted Nazi-hunting as part of the new normal. One of the themes of Reagan’s presidential campaign, along with anti-Communism, had been that America should stop apologizing. Nonetheless, in 1983 the Reagan Administration apologized to France for the fact that the U.S. Army Counterintelligence Corps had employed Klaus Barbie after the Second World War – largely due to his expert knowledge about French Communists.
O’Reilly’s general style, portraying the world in simplistic terms of unambiguous moral antitheses, conforms very well to Neoconservative requirements. The myth of the Good War against Evil Hitler has been invoked over and over by the Neoconservatives as a way to persuade Americans that they should assent to new wars that have no obvious relationship to American interests (but may happen to serve some Israeli interest). The Neoconservatives need this kind of simplistic bad history for their war propaganda, and Bill O’Reilly has made a career out of interpreting events through that kind of distorting lens.
O’Reilly’s description of Killing the SS during interviews has been extremely crass. He tells us that the book is to teach us about “evil,” and that the SS, those guys in the black uniforms, are the embodiment of evil:
The crux of Killing the SS is, we as Americans have an obligation to our country and ourselves to understand evil. And what better example of evil, than the actual people who perpetrated the Holocaust, which killed at least six million innocents, and then in the war more than 50 million? So the people behind this were the SS. (Bill O’Reilly, Wayne Allyn Root Show, 10 October 2018)
He says that Americans must beware a similar “rise of evil in this country.” In a later interview, O’Reilly alleges that all this evil is caused by the loss of belief in God, and that manifestations of belief in God were suppressed in National-Socialist Germany. He says that any Catholic priest in Hitler’s Germany who said that it was “not right to massacre innocent people” would be killed. (The Eric Metaxas Show, 29 November 2018) This is an extreme caricature! Think of what kind of society Hitler ‘s Germany would have had to be, for that to be literally true!
Of course he gives no example. O’Reilly apparently does not know that Bishop Galen of Münster forced an end to the euthanasia program in 1941 with a sermon, and suffered no official repercussions from it; much less was he killed.
On the other hand, one of the effects of O’Reilly’s endorsement of the Jewish and Communist vendetta against veterans of the SS is that it casts the Catholic Church in a very bad light, because O’Reilly’s book indicates that the Church was heavily involved in helping such veterans, like Adolf Eichmann, to escape persecution in Europe. This is one of the “five things worth remembering” from the book that James Endrst listed in his review for USA Today.
What kind of Catholic conservative does Bill O’Reilly think he is?
Glaringly Flawed But Little Criticized
The fact that the work of O’Reilly and Dugard is considered unworthy of scholarly attention has spared the book much critical scrutiny. Non-scholarly readers will infer from the presence of end-notes and the lack of public criticism that everything in the book must be verifiably true.
The half-dozen reviews that I have seen offered mild criticism at best. The most severe criticism that I saw came from James Endrst, writing for USA Today, who said that the book had a “decidedly cut-and-paste quality” and was “made for TV minds.” Fair enough, but then Endrst endorsed the book’s essential content, presenting “five things worth remembering” from the book. He gave it 2½ out of 4 stars, which would make the book mediocre but not terrible.
In fact, it is a terrible book. The characterization “decidedly cut-and-paste” amounts to a euphemism for the reckless manner in which this book’s contents were slapped together. Following are a few of the simpler examples.
A glaring mistake that anyone can recognize (but not noted by any reviewer that I have read) appears in Chapter One, where our authors introduce one of their heroes, Nuremberg prosecutor Benjamin Ferencz. They cannot decide where he was born. He is called a “New York native” but then in the next paragraph we are told: “Benny Ferencz was born a Jew in the Transylvania region of Romania.” Then again on the same page he is called a “Brooklyn native.” According to Wikipedia, Ferencz’s family came to the USA when he was 10 years old and settled on Manhattan’s lower east side (not in Brooklyn).
Some other mistakes can be recognized with a bit of relevant knowledge. O’Reilly and Dugard claim in Chapter Seven that the Red Army, entering Berlin in May 1945, “will avenge Germany’s invasion of Russia five years ago.” They seem to be ignorant of the chronology of the Second World War, and to assume that France and the USSR were invaded at the same time. In fact it was a little less than four years earlier (June 1941) that Operation Barbarossa had commenced.
O’Reilly and Dugard are careless in their assertions about the so-called Holocaust too.
Chronological ignorance becomes evident in Chapter Fifteen when we are told that a witness at the Eichmann Trial, Heinrich Grüber, was arrested “on December 19, 1940, as he made ready to travel to a death camp to offer encouragement to the afflicted.” According to the mainstream authorities on the Holocaust there were not yet any death camps (in the sense of extermination centers) in 1940.
In general, these authors do not seem to make any distinction between extermination camps and concentration camps. In Chapter Five they call Bergen-Belsen a “death camp.” Mainstream historians Martin Broszat in 1960 and Olga Wormser-Migot in 1968 have stated categorically that there were no homicidal gassings at Bergen-Belsen nor at any other site within the pre-1938 boundaries of Germany (nirgends im Altreich, according to Broszat) – and this was a retreat from the propaganda of 1945, which had represented every concentration camp as a death camp. The map in the 1971 book SS and Gestapo: Rule by Terror by Roger Manvell and Heinrich Fraenkel thus distinguishes eight alleged “extermination camps” from the majority of mere “concentration camps.” In O’Reilly’s book however, the map of “Major Nazi Concentration Camps” in the Prologue makes no distinction. O’Reilly and Dugard seem to believe, in agreement with the incautious old war-propaganda of 1945, that every concentration camp was a death camp.*
In Chapter One we are regaled with an account of brutal but ostensibly just vengeance, told by Jewish hero Benjamin Ferencz:
The camp at Ebensee has left the most haunting impression. Upon liberation, “some inmates caught one of the SS guards as he was trying to flee; judging by the violence of the assault, he may have been the camp commandant. First he was beaten mercilessly. Then the mob tied him to one of the metal trays used to slide bodies into the crematorium. There he was slowly roasted alive, taking him in and out of the oven several times.”
“I watched it happen and did nothing,” Ferencz will later write. “It was not my duty to stop it, even if I could have. And frankly, I was not inclined to try.”
O’Reilly and Dugard should have checked some facts. The last commandant of the labor camp at Ebensee, Anton Ganz, was not roasted to death in 1945; he died in 1973. Wikipedia and other sources state that the SS guards left Ebensee on 5 May 1945, the day before the Americans arrived. Thus, Ferencz’s story that inmates at Ebensee roasted an SS guard to death after the Americans arrived is literally impossible. (This demonstration of Ferencz’s sadistic imagination and untrustworthiness is highly significant, because he happened to be the chief prosecutor in the Einsatzgruppen Trial, where the chief defendant complained of the prosecution’s dishonesty.)
In Chapter Three O’Reilly and Dugard present a supposed exchange between Otto Ohlendorf and prosecutor James Heath at the Einsatzgruppen Trial (October 1947 to April 1948). They call it “a classic courtroom Q and A” where “James Heath destroys the SS killer.” Unfortunately for our pontificating authors, the exchange is not from the Einsatzgruppen Trial at all, but from the International Military Tribunal about two years earlier, where Ohlendorf was being questioned by the Soviet judge, General Iona Nikitchenko. The switch is very important, because Ohlendorf’s testimonies at the two trials were partly contradictory. The passage that O’Reilly and Dugard quote from the IMT includes these statements:
THE TRIBUNAL (Gen. Nikitchenko): And in what category did you consider the children? For what reason were the children massacred?
OHLENDORF: The order was that the Jewish population should be totally exterminated.
THE TRIBUNAL (Gen. Nikitchenko): Including the children?
OHLENDORF: Yes. (IMT transcript, 3 January 1946)
Two years later at the Einsatzgruppen Trial, however, Ohlendorf was saying something very different:
Q. Did you know about plans or directives which had as their goal the extermination on racial and religious grounds?
A. I expressly assure you that I neither knew of such plans nor was I called on to cooperate in any such plans. (Trials of War Criminals before the Nuernberg Military Tribunals, Vol. IV, p. 245)
Thus, Ohlendorf’s statements from the Einsatzgruppen Trial might not have been as useful for O’Reilly’s and Dugard’s purpose, neither for propping up the demonization of the SS nor for spuriously glorifying their hero, the liar Benny Ferencz. Certainly, the presumption of a moral polarity between a Soviet judge and an alleged “SS killer” would have been open to question. It served the thesis of this book to misrepresent this questioning by a Soviet judge of the IMT as an exchange with an American prosecutor from the Einsatzgruppen Trial.
Is this a blunder or a deliberate misrepresentation? I posted something about this misidentification on Bill O’Reilly’s Twitter page but he has never commented on it.
It seems that the misrepresentation might have been deliberate, because the name Nikitchenko was almost entirely removed from the exchange as it was reproduced in the book – except on one line (at the top of the second page of the exchange) where it was left in. That is how sloppily this book was assembled.
The small and obvious mistakes in this book only hint at the larger problem, which is a manifest lack of serious concern about whether what is said in this book is true or false. What has been lacking is an explanation for the non-scholarly public, for the kinds of people who would buy a book because Bill O’Reilly recommended it, that this book is no good at all.
That is what I intend to give here – and so far I have only scratched the surface.
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*Somewhat in these authors’ defense, it seems that in recent years there has been an effort to muddle Broszat’s and Wormser-Migot’s categorical finding, and to allow that there could have been some gassings in Germany proper. French Wikipedia now claims that Wormser-Migot made “historiographic errors that are questioned today.” (Note the ambiguity: are they really errors, or only questioned?) The removal between May 2001 and May 2003 of the sign at Dachau stating in five languages since 1965 that the alleged gas-chamber there was “never used as a gas chamber” (Scrapbook Pages: Gas Chamber at Dachau) seems to reflect this backtracking trend.
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Source: Author and CODOH