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Just Following Orders

Adolf Eichmann would seem to be the mentor for Saskatchewan politicians, crown attorneys and police

Editorial: October, 2003

I thought they were supposed to be taking their orders from us! This is a democracy after all… or is it?

Adolf EichmannI had occasion to watch a biography of Adolf Eichmann this week-end. He was the prominent Nazi who escaped the Nuremberg trials in 1947-48 and, tracked down in Argentina, was taken to Israel where he was tried and found guilty of crimes against humanity and hanged. Throughout his trial, he claimed to have been "just following orders" as had his predecessors. The diligence with which he followed his orders -- the supervision of the deportation of over 300,000 Jews -- and the confiscation of all their property -- and then his part in devising "The Final Solution" which was the efficient scheme for killing huge numbers of people quickly and making money from every single part of their bodies and their lives which could be salvaged -- and his coldbloodedness have been the subject of much literary and psychological speculation over the years. He acknowledged his role in the genocide and saw nothing wrong with it. He withstood four weeks of intensive cross-examination from survivors of those he had helped kill -- without bending.

The Klassen/Kvello civil trial, which now awaits a judgment, showed in 2003 how stubborn is a certain mindset

Superintendent Brian Dueck, Matthew Miazga, and Sonja Hansen all gave variations of the "just following orders" defence. They were neither apologetic nor did they show any shame. They withstood several days of cross-examination. Hansen had one emotional outburst where she claimed to have been affected by the psychic pain she witnessed young Michelle Ross go through. Hansen's flash of pity for Michelle crying on the stand did not extend to removing her from the clutches of her brother, who was routinely raping her and her sister. But it was not my job to place the children, she said.

Doing our jobs, following procedures, not my job. This is the civil service of the 21st century.

In their final arguments, both defence lawyers urged the court to blame the children. "It was not our clients who manufactured these stories," they said. "It was the Ross children."

I don't know how those attending the Nuremberg trials, or Eichmann's trial, responded to the defence lawyers who distanced their clients from the holocaust. I do know that the defences chosen by these respondents in 2003 caused me concern and alarm. The leap from "Believe the children" to "Blame the children" seemed crass, even from this lot. But then, one should not be surprised when only short months ago, a Queen's Bench judge in Tisdale allowed that grown men had been tricked and seduced by a twelve year old Cree girl.

We all know children who are engaging, who tell tall tales, who have imaginary friends, who imagine the heroes of their bedtime stories or Saturday morning cartoons really exist. Some of us were those children. Now the Ross children were not especially imaginative. Or convincing, for that matter. Michael had early on been busted by social workers who wrote on his file that he told lies and this was communicated to Anita Klassen when she and her husband agreed to foster the children when Michael was 8. (Dale and Anita had specifically told Social Services they did NOT want children who had been sexually abused. We know for sure that they Margaret Graham Woloshyn had suspected they were sexually abused before they placed them.) Dale and Anita thought they could handle lying and all evidence shows they gave it a good shot. It is unlikely that Michael cleaned up his act and became such a cunning conniver within three years that he was able to convince a several educated and experienced adults that he was telling the truth about orgies he had witnessed and participated in at the Klassen households. The adults who claim to have believed him chose to use his stories, and use the "believe the children" line in a protocol and spin themselves several days/weeks/years of lucrative work.

The human race is in disrepute.

Not that we have ever been that reputable. Our living memories are littered with examples of just how little separates us from the Barbarians.

Terry Hinz testified at the Klassen/Kvello trial that he felt he had been transported back to 17th century Salem, Massachussets. According to Arthur Miller's play, The Crucible, based largely on the actual transcripts, this was a case where some girls explained their lascivious behavior by blaming it on witches in the community. The trials were not fair or logical by any standards -- hold her head under water and if she drowns, she's innocent. If she does not drown, she is clearly a witch. Miller wrote this during the Joseph McCarthy communist witch hunts of the 1950s. It is a play which sheds light on many kinds of witch-hunts. At least it shows us how to recognize them when they are happening. Stopping them would seem to be a much more daunting task.

--Sheila Steele, November 17, 2003

The Reichstag

Christo and Jeanne Claude's wrapped Reichstag

May 2020: Aged 84, Christo the artist who wrapped the Reichstag in 1995 died of natural causes at his home in New York City.