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My Friend The Nazi

I've known worse anti-Semites

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, March 30, 1994.

Boulder County finally got its own actual Nazi, a Waffen SS concentration camp guard, no less, and the media has been ecstatic. Peter Mueller, one of nature's lesser intellectual triumphs, joined the Waffen SS when he was 19. After the war he lied about his military history and came to the US where he lived a life of unexceptional merit till our razor sharp Office of Special Investigation discovered the criminal 40 years after he arrived here.

I do not exhibit sarcasm when I call him a criminal. The Waffen SS was a racially pure cult of super Nazis run by Himmler, who combined the Gestapo and storm trooper mentality with the finest weapons Speer could provide in elite regiments of German soldiers. They ran the concentration camps and led the attacks in Russia and France. They selected who would work, die, be imprisoned. They were not only entirely volunteer, they were strictly screened for politically correct views and heritage. When most people think of the Nazis, they are thinking of the SS, and not of the normal German soldier or the General Staff composed of professionals, often from the last war. The SS wore the black uniforms, and one of its regiments wore the death's head emblem. For Peter Mueller to claim he never killed, never knew, was only following orders, may or may not be true. But if it is true, than he lied to the SS, and nobody lied to the SS and lived. And if he volunteered for the SS, he knew what they were about. He could not have been ignorant.

How he got into this country remains a puzzler, how he lived here for 40 years with nobody noticing is curious, why he is nailed now is puzzling, but it is deserved, new wife or not. There are some things in life mea culpas do not exonerate.

When I worked in Europe in the late 60's, I labored - if that is the word - for an American family with a maid and butler who were, respectively, former and current Nazis. Sort of. The wife was a fine cook and a wonderful person who could not have been over 15 when the war ended, but she still regarded the early years of Nazi rule as quite fine in her south German town. The Nazis brought jobs, organization, pride to the small town, all of which was important after the first world war and the fall of the Weimar republic and it literally took wheelbarrows full of money to buy a bread loaf. Her disquiet over everything else could, I felt then - and now -, be forgiven. She couldn't have known and couldn't have done anything anyway. Anti-Semitism was alien to her.

The husband was a member of the German army and had been involved in a canine corps. He was captured at Normandy. He was then 17, he said, but by the date on his passport he could not have been that old at D-day. Nonetheless, he still felt Hitler was a great and misunderstood man, that Jews ruined Germany, that the Nazis would rise again, and that I slammed the car door much too loud at night when I got home, which woke him up. He couldn't sleep well, and he looked far older than his years.

Here was a former child ripped away from normalcy and slipped into the army by the pull of his uncle. Here was a kid who was indoctrinated into the Nazi mythology, and who was not old enough to be assigned into a combat unit then, although within the year the Nazis, like Khomeni, would send 12 year olds to the front. He had been captured by the British and had to admit he was treated far better in prison camp than in basic training. He missed his dogs. He liked dogs. There was no displacing his anti-Semitism, and there was a great deal of anger there.
He loved soccer, and we organized games with the neighborhood children, who - depending upon the year - were French or Spanish and often Jewish as well, which he knew and didn't bother him and he never seemed to treat them different, although I looked for it. I don't understand his thinking, never did, and I wonder how he managed to weigh his values. I tended to think he had to buy and defend the whole Nazi line in order to justify his past life as a loyal soldier and not a prisoner at the age of 15, which he was at D-day.

He is the only Nazi soldier I have known well, and I have to say that, all in all, I liked him, even respected him to a point. That he may have not approved of my eventual wife, who was Jewish, can be assumed, but he was far from the worst anti-Semite I ever knew. Members of my extended family, people here in Boulder, people I've met at KGNU have, in moments of emotion, blurted out far worse things than I ever heard from the real Nazi.

And so I return to the story of Peter Mueller and his deportation, in the middle of the Schindler's list frenzy. And the press courageously heralds the demise of a 75 year old man. They love it because it's a black and white issue and can be reduced to incredibly foolish coverage. Yet the real scary aspect of Naziism is this: it is somewhat surprising that it arose in Germany, because France and other countries had far worse anti-Semitic elements. It is scary because its tendrils are visible everywhere, in all lynch mob mentalities, in all groupthink actions, in condescending social snubs. If the local press wanted to find a real story of evil bigots, they need not look far beyond the city limits and among our home grown variety. They aren't skinheads, don't think of themselves as bad or bigoted, but they notice if someone is Jewish, or acts Jewish, or looks Jewish, or sounds Jewish, or might be Jewish all by criteria that make no sense and are often just blather of the sort that sounds so much more frightening in German.