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The Empty Noose


The Empty Noose

Oct 16 1946








WOMAN, of the city


WOMAN, of the country

MUSIC: [A very heavy motif, slowly rhythmical, as though symbolizing a procession of hangings, which after the third repetition, drops behind: 

ANNOUNCER: Columbia and its affiliated stations present a special broadcast for Wednesday, October 16, 1946, a day that will long be remembered at Nuremberg and throughout the world. The Empty Noose. 

MUSIC: Music comes up as before and suddenly segues into a quiet passage suggesting the early dawn and its hush and sadness, which is the cue for: 

EYEWITNESS: Goering, Ribbentrop, Keitel, Kaltenbrunner, Rosenberg, Frank, Frick, Sauckel, Jodl, Streicher and Seyss-Inquart. [Pause.] You should have seen them die, seen all but one who arranged it by his own schedule, walk in the early morning of a gray cold day while most of Europe slept; seen them hanged one by one in the gymnasium under the electric lights. The ghastly ten who were left behind to where the hangman waited. Like those who watched, he knew, there was no payment large enough for what they had done. [Music out.] This was not a reckoning. This was the token answer (no more than that) of the united people of America, of Britain, France and Russia to those who had made a mockery of human decency, a charnel house of human culture, a spittoon of human feelings. [Pause.] What we were doing, we felt (for each of us sprung the traps), was very little against what they had done. Yet it was something--it meant something. There were eleven of them, their crimes in duplicate and triplicate. Looking back over the pattern of the darkness and ruin that was their handiwork, there are five to focus upon, five who sum it up and show it whole. 

MUSIC: [The Goering theme, pompous and fat, dropping behind: 

EYEWITNESS: Who is this one--the first who died, flabby in blue pajamas--the fragments of glass in his mouth--who cheats again--this time the thirteen steps. He died for committing the crime of aggressive war, for committing criminal acts in the conduct of war and for crimes against humanity. With Hitler he was the planner, the inciter, the leader. He was a man of station who did not soil his hands with blood, he was expert at using lesser murderers as his tools. He can be remembered as the patron of the ballet--he can be remembered as the collector of fine paintings--he can be remembered with medals and natty uniforms. He can be remembered, "for his record," said the verdict, "is unique in its enormity." Hermann Wilhelm Goering. You may remember an earlier Goering--the vandal, the incendiary . . . 

MUSIC: [Surges shrilly and briefly stays with: 

SOUND: [Healthy fire crackling underneath: 

EYEWITNESS: That was the start of the conspiracy, thirteen years ago, the burning of the Reichstag. It is well to remember beginnings, starting points. What did you think then, when the story broke that the Communists had set fire to the Reichstag? That was the Nazi story--it wasn't true, but truth was already a casualty. There are Germans who remember that morning [music and sound and voice fading], the morning after the fire. 

WORKER: I was in the ball-bearing plant, in Stuttgart then, a small place--sixty men. We were talking about it when the whistle blew. "We lined up in the square and the owner came to speak. He said the Reds had burned the Reichstag. Herr Hitler, the new Chancellor, said it was a plot of the Reds and the unions for revolution. He asked how many had their union cards with them. "You can tear them up," said the boss, "from now on I run the plant--I alone." Some tore up their cards and after a while went back to work, some of us joking: If the little Austrian Corporal wanted us to tear up our cards, we'd tear them up. The union was strong. We laughed and went back to work. 

EYEWITNESS: As the unions died, so died their laughter--as Goering ran the show. In the hysteria created by the fire, the Communists were outlawed. In the next breath unions were declared illegal. The Nazis met a phantom revolution with a real one--trade unions were dead in Germany. Step one in the Nazi conspiracy to wage aggressive war was done. "Shackle labor first," said Goering.

Six million union men were marched into the Labor Front and the Fuehrer principle was established in all factories. The battle against the working class was won before the working class knew it was a war. Labor was chained behind the chariot of Aggression, and now the Great Conspiracy could roll. It rolled over Austria, over Poland, Belgium, France, over Europe, but first it rolled over the bodies of the German workingmen. The octopus that step by step squeezed life from the small businessman, the farmer, the professional, the secretaries of a continent, first ground into bondage the miners, steel workers, truck drivers, mechanics of Germany. [Pause.] This is what we condemned, this prelude to aggression, with the death of Hermann Goering. 

MUSIC: [Almost a dirge, behind: 

GI VOICE: Did we finish it, this technique of fear and violence and oppression, when we condemned Goering? Did we get rid of it all--everywhere? 

MUSIC: [Segues immediately into the Rosenberg motif behind: 

EYEWITNESS: The next dead Nazi, to the right of Goering, an intellectual. His proudest title was Herr Doktor. Doktor Alfred Rosenberg, founder of the Nazi Party, charter member--philosopher. His were the words, the poems, the choruses that sang of Aryan supremacy. What he did can be understood, perhaps, [fading] by listening to a letter dated 1936. 

SALESMAN: Liebe Emma: I lost the order yesterday that would have been good for 2,000 marks at least, and lost it to whom? A Czech: Why? Why do I work to sell my product (surely as good as any shoe in Europe) to be undersold and cheated by a fraudulent Czech? I was dressing tonight before the mirror when I looked at myself. (Of course you know all this, but I am telling you the way it happened.) I am six feet one-half inch, blond; I have blue eyes--and yet a runt wins over me. They are smaller than I, all of them, weaker than I, darker than I--yet because their brains are cunning they win out and you, my doll, will spend the next winter with your old overcoat, while they will have new furs. 

Yes, it is so clear--what we can do, Emma. I feel strong tonight, my doll. We shall do it, liebchen, under our glorious new banners. Thinking of you always, my doll, my love. Erich. 

MUSIC: [Cheap German waltz under.

EYEWITNESS: The heat from the Reichstag fire flushed them. They grew bold, these Erichs, and guided by their master, Herr Doktor Rosenberg, they became the New Attilas, Gods of the North, blond gods sweeping the world with a cleansing sword. When the life of Jesus placed God above Hitler, and the Sermon on the Mount above Mein Kampf, they tore down the Cross of Mercy and put their twisted cross in its place. 

MUSIC: [Crash and out.

They shattered the stained-glass windows and made a science of annihilation. How much pain could a Pole, say, stand before he died? How often could a Russian child be bled before she died? Seven times? Nine? A dozen? And the writings, the paintings, the poetry and sculpture of these apes? They made a urinal of the Greek Orthodox Church in Poltava: in Poland one day their tanks were stopped by a mud patch; so they paved the road with Bibles from the Warsaw library; the manuscripts of Leo Tolstoi and Tschaikowsky they used to wipe their shoes. [Pause.] The Doctor was a writer, a thinker--he never fired a pistol; he never so much as slapped a Jew in his life. From this philosopher's chair came the words that bred violence, the myth that preached aggression. 

MUSIC: [The dirge again under.

GI VOICE: Is it dead--this idea that one man's better than another because he's Aryan or white or--is that dead? Or is the idea still around? 

MUSIC: [Segues into Streicher theme and behind: 

EYEWITNESS: The body swinging next is that of Julius Streicher: the anti-Semite, hung for crimes against humanity, hung for his part in the murder of six million Jews. He was the editor, just that, the editor of Der Stuermer. He said at the trial: "But I am just an editor." As Rosenberg was "just a philosopher" and Keitel "just a soldier," Streicher was "just an editor." In the beginning, when Der Stuermer first appeared, it attracted a lot of attention. [Fading.] There was one reader for example, a clerk in a haberdashery in Frankfurt . . . 

MUSIC: [Out.

CLERK: [Excited.] I got a copy this morning. First time I ever saw it. You know, it's juicy. It's got the best pictures--girls and cartoons--you know the Jews with the beard and long noses, they're okay--but those jokes! There's one in this issue--a lulu. There was this woman, married, see, but her husband wasn't home much. So one morning there was this knocking on the door and she wasn't wearing much, but she figured [fading] she'd see who was at the door anyhow. So guess who it was--

EYEWITNESS: [Fading in and overlapping.] Then there was the one about the Jew in Garmisch on Passover night who caught a little Aryan girl and killed her and made a cake out of her blood. Remember that one? That was a hot one, too. Remember Warsaw--that was really something, wasn't it? On the front page of Der Stuermer, Streicher wrote it . . . some story! . . . Herr Streicher, for this, for your pornography, for your incitations, your lewdness, for setting an army against a defenseless people whose only crime was having been born Jewish, for this you were hanged. It is a fault of decency and justice that it does not know properly how to kill the body of Julius Streicher. But like the others, you are dead. In your last words, Julius Streicher--Heil Hitler. 

MUSIC: [Dirge again behind: 

GI VOICE: Is the idea dead, too? Is it all finished, because they strung up Streicher? Or have you seen the words on the walls of buildings?

MUSIC: [Segues to Kaltenbrunner theme behind.]

EYEWITNESS: Ernst Kaltenbrunner hangs beside Julius Streicher. Ernst Kaltenbrunner is dead, the Chief of the Security Police, the head of the Gestapo, the concentration camp man is dead beside the anti-Semite. With Himmler, he raised terror to the level of science. In his defense, he said he was a policeman, the guardian of the law, of private property and the state. [Pause.] In the beginning, early, he developed the technique of Night and Fog and suddenness. [Fading with music.] It worked wonders . . . 

WOMAN: [Young--breathless--the event has just happened.] They came in the night. It was half-past two, a quarter to three. They took papa and that was all. They told me nothing. Why? Where was he going? What had he done? Nothing. 

MAN: [In quickly: Easily reassuring.] Your father was taken for questioning--perhaps it was the income tax, or his license at the store (maybe he forgot to renew it). Are we such children we listen to old wives' tales? What was the story last week--young Brucker, they put live coals under his armpits? You believe that? This is the German Reich. This is 1936. Is this the Middle Ages? Have we a Spanish Inquisition? No, my dear, rest--rest and in the morning you will see. 

WOMAN: In the morning I went to the Gestapo. They slapped me in the face. I never saw papa again. An urn containing his ashes came a month later. There was a funeral charge of five marks. 

MUSIC: [Stings and briefly under.

EYEWITNESS: The beginnings were quiet, but the business of death grew noisy. First the rooms were made soundproof, then the camps were removed from the cities so the shrieks of the dying would not disturb the peace. The prisoners of war were brought into the special hospital. . . . 

MUSIC: [Mounts and under.

SOUND: Glass equipment; some water boiling; a laboratory

EYEWITNESS: For special injections of bacteria. Advanced techniques in chemical and biological warfare were first tried out on prisoners of war. 

MUSIC: [Mounts and under.

SOUND: Scraping of teeth; a drill

EYEWITNESS: Before the bodies were burned, the teeth must be inspected. All gold and silver fillings removed and forwarded to Warehouse D. 

MUSIC: [Mounts and under.

SOUND: Scissors snipping hair

EYEWITNESS: The hair of women should be cut off before disposing of the bodies in lime pits. The hair made excellent stuffing for mattresses. 

MUSIC: [Mounts and under.

SOUND: Ripping, as of skin; flaying

EYEWITNESS: The commandant's wife asked that the skin of all tattooed men be removed before the bodies are disposed of. Her lampshade of human skin had attracted a lot of attention and she was anxious to supply her friends with similar lampshades. 

MUSIC: [Mounts and under.

SOUND: A pounding and pulverizing machine at work

EYEWITNESS: In pulverizing human bones, it was important to separate the bones of the skull from the body bones. The former produced the highest grade fertilizer for cabbage, potatoes, radishes and carrots. [Pause.] Then there was Herr Kaltenbrunner's Height Machine. Killing prisoners by bullets was both wasteful and inaccurate, the order read. The Height Machine was recommended. A solid bar of iron was lowered over the prisoner's head. (He was told his measurements were being taken.) By a simple snap release, a sharp pin in the bar can be made to penetrate the skull. 

SOUND: A snap spring and thud for the height machine

MUSIC: [Stabs and under.

So. [Then.] Simultaneous action by Height Machines could kill two hundred in four minutes at a cost of sixty pfennig. [Pause.] For how many were you hanged, Ernst Kaltenbrunner? For the millions you murdered or just the Belgian child who, because he asked a question of your men, was crucified against the barn behind his farmhouse? 

MUSIC: [Dirge again behind.

GI VOICE: Are things that begin like that all finished? Terror that comes at night time and leaves the victim dead? Is that over--everywhere in the world? 

MUSIC: [Segue to Keitel motif behind.

EYEWITNESS: And on the end, the other side from Goering, is Wilhelm Keitel--Field Marshal, Chief of the German High Command. Keitel was, he said, a soldier who carried out his orders. The orders said: make aggressive war against the world; and Wilhelm Keitel carried them out--in his fashion. His was the crowning conspiracy. Down the chain of command went new orders for new techniques for overrunning land and destroying life. And Wilhelm Keitel asked, when the verdict of death by hanging was handed down, that he be shot, that he receive the honorable death of a soldier. We honored him by hanging him. Why? There are many answers . . . but one will do . . . 

WOMAN: Our prayers had been answered. Their soldiers were coming, but their guns had been aimed beyond our town, and our buildings were still standing. We were in the woods, watching close by, when they came, fast in their tanks and trucks, and they were speeding ahead, most of them. Maybe . . . maybe . . . we looked at each other with hope. The last group stopped suddenly in the square. And in an hour there was not a home or a shop, not even a barn, that was not burning to the ground. And then they came for us, beating in the woods, like for animals, rounding up our people one by one, dragging them to vans, loading them in, driving away. They did not find me. Later I saw the flames die down, I alone, and there was no town, and there will never be. About the people, my family, and my neighbors, I will never know. Ashes, everything; ashes, everybody . . . 

MUSIC: [In and under.

EYEWITNESS: These were the new techniques of aggression. And when they showed the movies at Nuremberg, of the floggings of prisoners of war, of burning of innocent civilians the German armies had captured, and the rape of homes and farms and churches--Keitel sat with his arms folded. His own orders were not news to him. And when the showing was over he whispered something to Schacht and then he laughed. [Pause.] Wilhelm Keitel, we hanged you. For these things we built a gallows for you. 

MUSIC: [The dirge theme expanded briefly behind: 

GI VOICE: I kept asking the questions: did they really die--all they stood for? You see, I've got a natural right to ask. I fought my way into Nuremberg; without me they wouldn't have got theirs this morning. 

MUSIC: [Out.

As those traps were sprung, I kept seeing something, not something I imagined, but something real--real as a German 88, to me, anyway--an empty noose still waiting for its final victim, waiting to choke off the last breath of the foulest thing we'll ever know--Fascism--that. Did that thing die? I don't know. But I don't think so. 

[Sneak the Goering theme lightly.

What I'm thinking of is the beginnings of that thing, the signs that people can see, in the world outside, and if they look deep enough, within themselves. In Germany there were those beginnings and they were laughed at, or they weren't recognized, or fought against. Sometimes we don't want to see them; we brush them off; call them just harmless. Still, that empty noose keeps coming back when I think of a guy like Joe, up the block. A union man, Joe, going on fifty. For all I know, he's a Republican. "I don't know," Joe says to me the other day, "guess what they're calling me now--a Red," he says, "that's right, me, Joseph Nelson." Joe Nelson's no Red, but that's not the point--the point is somebody's out to smash his union, so all the Joe Nelsons all of a sudden are Red. Is a thing like that dead, can you call it dead--or isn't it maybe one of those small beginnings, a sign pointing up the road to bigger things? 

[Segue directly to the Kaltenbrunner theme.]

They died, but still I can't help seeing that empty noose when I think of this: Last month a vet just out of the Army a few hours was grabbed off a bus and his eyes were gouged with a club until he was blind--had to get out of uniform to lose his sight. Different skin--sure. Did that idea really get snuffed out at Nuremberg? Maybe there are little offshoots coming back--scattered, separated? Are they beginnings that will stay beginnings, or peter out--or maybe grow? (But growing, always growing?) 

[Segue directly to the Streicher theme.

Or a thing like the other night, the Jews having their high holidays, Rosh Hashana they call it, and what happens? Some kids throw bricks through the synagogue window and paint KILL THE KIKES on the sidewalks outside. Couple of weeks ago, not far from here. The idea dead? How many times do you hear things like, NEVER HIRE A NIGGER, CAN'T TRUST 'EM--AW, HE'S JUST A LAZY SPIC--GET OUT OF HERE, YOU SHEENY--TAKES HIS ORDERS FROM ROME--DAGO--SQUAREHEAD--BOHUNK. Everyday talk, isn't it? Everyday beginnings--maybe? 

[Segue directly to Rosenberg theme.

I get a handbill from an organization shouting this country belongs to white Protestants only--nobody else deserves anything; no rights no nothing--get the scum out of here and keep them down where they belong. That kind of thing still waits to be hanged . . . it's still on the hangman's agenda. 

[Segue to Keitel motif.

And what about the beginnings of war--not in exchanges of notes between diplomats--but in men's minds, the trigger-happy minds? Is everybody for a way of finding peace today? Or are there men walking around--men like a fellow I was listening to coming in on a train from Detroit, complaining: "What's the matter with us anyway? Biggest, strongest country there is left, and all those pineapples piling up at Oak Ridge--what are we messing around with treaties and conferences for? Why all the talking? Why not some action?" Maybe we didn't quite hang that one, did we? Sprouting again so soon after we finished the last one. 

[Segues directly to a more positive, mounting, determined theme which continues behind.]

But let's get one thing straight right here. Don't get the idea I'm talking only about America--I'm not. I mean everywhere in the world about these things, these beginnings, everywhere people are getting kicked around. Seeds, all over, and being watered. I only talked about America because I know my country best and love it best, and I've got to see these things snuffed out here--

The way I see it, that little part of all of us, that's only a seed, the tiny part that hates another fellow for his race or religion, that whispers of war, and is tempted to get the quick solution whether it means violence or not--that little part of every one of us should have died with them at Nuremberg. 

So what did we do at Nuremberg? 

We stuck up a big sign and said, TRY THIS AGAIN AND THE SAME THING WILL HAPPEN. We've established a new code among human beings; every crime that contributes to aggression is a crime against humanity. Yes, we said that, and it's something new and something we can be proud of--that's number one. 

Then, number two: the Big Four--Britain, France, Russia and we got together on this thing. That's right--we agreed--first time since the war ended we agreed on hanging the eleven of them. It shows we can agree on things: there are ways and we can find them. 

Now--what didn't we do at Nuremberg? Well, that empty noose is still swinging, and it's still empty. Until it's used, until it's choked the life out of Fascism--so far as I'm concerned this is no time, no place--there is no reason--to sit back relieved and calm. Tonight at Nuremberg--and tomorrow--there will still be one round coil of rope ready to be used. It's going to take a lot of self-examining, a lot of faith in what we believe in, a lot of willingness to fight for it, a lot of speaking out, for all of us, here and everywhere, before that empty noose is filled, and we can stand up and say we have won, we have conquered. [Pause.

I think we can do it. 

MUSIC: [Tags.]