Saturday, March 21, 2015


            Seventeen months after the end of World War II, what came to be known as the “trial of the century” convened in the historic German city of Nuremberg. There before a military jury of some of the Allies’ most carefully selected legal “Brains”, a group of Nazi Germany’s most infamous surviving wartime leaders assembled behind the dock of room number 600 in that city’s Hall of Justice.
            There were 21 Nazis accused of having committed “crimes against humanity”; crimes of such an enormity that there was no other legal term in common use with which to describe them. Together these prisoners-of-war had presided over a political system and war machine which had set as its goal to rid the world of an entire racial group guilty only of having been born with the “wrong” genealogy, national origin, “deviant persuasion”, or political party, including Jews, Christians and other “Non-Aryans”.
To place Nuremberg in proper perspective it should be pointed out that there had been or would be a total of 1676 other Nazis tried in 462 other trials; with death sentences passed on 36 for Dachau alone.
            With Herman Goering perhaps seen as having the “starring role”, the men held in these 13 by 6.5-foot cells under the 24-hour observation of highly-trained military police guards of the U.S. Army’s 6850th Internal Security Detachment were in a league apart. They were largely the decision-makers who either authored or supervised the execution of the orders and policies which brought about the so-called “final solution” and the murder of millions.
            It was not unusual to provide religious counselors for military prisoners, and ordinarily civilian pastors from the surrounding German communities would be recruited. But once again, the Nuremberg situation was unique because of the requirement of “absolute security” especially in view of a well-grounded fear of outside aid in carrying out suicides   
            At the center of today’s story is a 50-year old military chaplain named Henry Gerecke, a Lutheran pastor from Missouri whose sense of patriotism led him away from a devoted pastorate of under-privileged and overlooked members of society, and into the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps, at the  same  time as his two older sons were also serving in Europe. Having grown up in a home where German was spoken, Gerecke was a perfect fit for the job General Eisenhower had in mind, and he was soon on his way to Nuremberg to minister to the 21 prisoners and many of the 200 witnesses, most of whom were of Lutheran background. Together with Fr. Richard O’Connor, a Franciscan who would labor with the several Catholic inmates, the two would be the only individuals to have total and confidential contact with those charged with the world’s most heinous crimes for the year leading up to the executions; it would be the first time in history America had ever provided such a service for its enemies.
            What makes this story so notable is the unusual rapport which developed between an “old school” Doctor of Divinity steeped in the Christian ethic of repentance and forgiveness and a congregation of men heavy with unimaginable guilt who knew already they were going to be executed. And that very realization shook Hank Gerecke to the depths of his soul. Gerecke however was a man possessed of a rare level of love for his fellow humans, and within a short period of time, he managed to penetrate the defensive shell erected over a lifetime by most of these reluctant “parishioners”. His fellowship with Goering led to tearful baptism and eventual communion eligibility. (Goering though managed to commit suicide to save his beloved family from the ignominy of the hangman’s noose.) Gerecke continued to minister to each of his charges right up to the instant of execution, and to their families long afterward.
            At one point, the U.S. Commander at Nuremberg was about to accede to the demands of Mrs. Gerecke to release her husband to return home after three years of painful absence. When the prisoners got wind of it they drafted a letter of appeal bearing the signatures of all 21 which changed her mind; an unprecedented expression of the extent to which the love of one devoted man of God had touched the hearts of men – most of whom – would die within a span of 90 minutes on a rainy October day in 1946

  In a much-publicized photo of the time, Nazi leaders being tried for “crimes against humanity” sit in their assigned places behind the dock in Nuremberg’s Hall of Justice. The first person wearing headphones on the left is Herman Goering, seen as the most senior of the 21.  To his immediate left is the hapless Rudolph Hess. Number five in that row is Ernst Kaltenbrunner, a man so brutal and sadistic that even Himmler – his boss – feared him. All but four of these Nazis would meet the hangman’s noose.                                                                                                                                                U.S. Army Photo.

Friday, March 20, 2015


For one week each year or so, we trade in our views of Zion’s red rock country for a cottage on Maine’s mid-coast, with the open Atlantic at our doorstep, and where we awaken each day to the sound of breaking surf, circling gulls, and nearby lobster boats.  For seven days, our comings and goings are geared to the life of the harbors and coves we haunt.  And so it has been a ritual with me over the years, to construct, and carry with me on a pocket card, the local tide tables which govern so much of that life.
At some point in the formation of that part of the Milky Way Galaxy we call our solar system, a Mars-size planetesimal collided with the infant earth in what would have been an astronomical event of catastrophic proportions.  The collision changed forever the destiny of our planet, slowing its rotation, altering the atmosphere, increasing the mass and density, setting the stage for the formation of the oceans, and ejecting 5 billion cubic miles of earth’s outer shell into space.
In another eon of time, that halo of orbiting debris coalesced into a satellite we call the Moon.  At one time, the moon was thirteen times closer to earth than it is today.  It is fortunate for us that that spiraling journey (which continues) took place, since it leaves us with a near-perfect relationship between two heavenly bodies which act upon each other in a kind of harmony which affects literally every aspect of earth life.  And that brings us back to the subject of ocean tides.
While the Sun because of its immense size, as well as the Moon because of its proximity both influence tidal action on earth, the moon is the primary gravitational partner when it comes to time and tides.  In fact, it is only when we think of the earth and the moon acting together as a single gravitational system that an understanding of tidal dynamics becomes clear.   Most days, there will be two high tides and two low tides except for several deviations each month owing to the fact that it takes the moon just under 25 hours to make its circuit of earth.  Because the earth’s greater gravity also plays a big role, the centrifugal forces generated by earth’s rotation “throw” the seas outward on the side of our planet opposite the moon-side producing similar (although slightly lesser) tides on that side as well.  The highest tides occur when the sun, the moon and earth are in a direct line, as at a full moon, a new moon, or during a lunar or solar eclipse.
There are many other factors at play such as the depth and shape of the sea floor and the narrowing of tidal approaches.  Most of New England’s harbors experience tide depths of 8 feet to 12 feet, while the Bay of Fundy between Maine and New Brunswick will see miles of muddy sea bottom when out-flowing tides of 50 feet or more leave boats high and dry as far as the eye can see.  At the reverse end of this cycle, the volume of the incoming tide can push mountains of seawater – called a tidal bore – into those same narrow harbors and estuaries.  Dangerous whirlpools and unpredictable current surges are all part of coastal navigation and small-boat handling challenges for “Down East” fishermen, in addition to some of the most violent storm activity anywhere on our planet. (One unforgettable day I was caught standing on the low-tide shore when an approaching bore pushed an unexpected “wind” of such force before it that I was almost swept aside before I could reach high ground!)
It is worthy of note that every lobster we harvest, every clam we dig, and the very circadian rhythm which allows us to sleep soundly during the long hours of restful darkness at the end of each earth-day, are gifts of time and tide.
Each and every time I stand at the tip of my favorite rocky peninsula, and view with never-ending awe the spectacle of land and sea there at the continent’s edge, I give a silent thanks to be a citizen of Planet Earth.

  West Quoddy Head, the eastern-most tip of continental America near Lubec, Maine, just 3 months after the author had photographed  the lighthouse at Cape Blanco, Oregon – the continent’s westernmost point.                                                                                                                                                  Al Cooper Photo

  “Old Sow” whirlpool showing tidal power in Bay of Fundy.       Courtesy Jim Lowe,