Saturday, August 18, 2007

Honoring an atheist in a foxhole

One of religionists' most egregious lies is that there are no atheists in foxholes. Tell this to the multitudes of unbelievers who are proud veterans of our armed forces. One of these, I learned today, passed away on August 9 at the ripe old age of 90. Hans Kasten was a genuine American hero, enduring unimaginable hardship at the hands of the Nazis in WWII. From the AA profile:

With his fluent knowledge of German, Hans Kasten was selected as a "chief man of confidence," the Hauptvertrauensmann, to interpret the instructions to prisoner and do what he can on their behalf.

Kasten also became the focus of rage by his Nazi captors, in part because of his full German name, Johann Carl Frederick. He was considered "worse than a Jew," a "traitor to the German race."

Not to politicize this, but this sounds to me disturbingly reminiscent of the way right-wingers in this country have been quick to yell "Traitor!" at anyone who dares to question the policies of the Bush regime — er, administration.

One of his first orders from the SS overseers was to identify and sort out Americans who were or "looked" Jewish. Kasten refused. The German camp commander then ordered an assembly where all "Jews" were told to step forward. None of the POWs moved. Several accounts, including one written by Littell reveal what happened next:

"A German officer stood on a platform, with the guards all around us, their guns at the ready," recalled Littell. "I can still hear these words from that infuriated officer: 'Alle Juden, ein Schritt vorfwarts!' ('All Jews, one step forward!') In view of Hans's earlier instructions, nobody moved. Obviously, this was of his doing. So angered was the officer that he leaped off his platform, grabbed a gun from a guard, swung it like a baseball bat and slammed Hans across the chest. Hans flew backward and hit the ground, gasping. For a moment he couldn't get back his breath...That's when we found ourselves in the boxcars to further hell..."

That's heroism. No gods required.

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