The Commandant by Rudolph Hoess (Book Review)

Rudolph Hoess was the SS Commandant over the concentration camp at Auschwitz during World War II. Under his direction well over a million would die (Eichmann claimed 2.5 million!). These were not primarily enemy combatants but civilians – men, women, and children (primarily Jews).

Hoess wrote about his time at Auschwitz, not only what he did but how he thought and felt. This particular edition has been edited by Jurg Amann for length and clarity. It is a small volume of only 111 pages.

I found it highly disturbing, anxiety inducing, stomach churning – in other words, just what is needed. It is a prophylactic against future genocides, may God save us. It is an inducement to action in the present against ongoing genocides, God help us.

“But I must admit openly that the gassings had a calming effect on me…Up to this point it was not clear to me, nor to Eichmann, how the killing of the expected masses was to be done. Perhaps by gas? But how, and what kind of gas….Now I was at ease.”

– Hoess, pg. 70.

Let me digress for a moment and speak as an American Christian. I suspect that someday when God reveals to us the true nature of the good and evil which we have done in our lives we will find that our apathy stands far above and beyond so many of the sins we endeavor so faithfully to avoid today.

Further, I suspect that our myopic dedication to these rote sins is an endeavor to distract our consciences from the true nature of our own selfishness.

Lord, save me from my apathy. From my righteous indignation over the sins of others that I use to assuage my burning conscience.

Conflicts: Operation Barbarossa and Conflicts: D-Day (Android Phone Games)

Angry Birds? Who cares. Tetris? Blahh. Minesweeper? Please. Solitaire? Okay. I’m pretty specific in my gaming tastes. I like historical computer wargames. No, not that RTS-stuff “who-can-click” faster genre, but the real stuff that emphasizes mind over eye-finger response time. While there are some exceptions (e.g. the Total War series), I’m generally a fan of turn-based strategical or tactical war games.

There is a fair plethora of these games available for the PC – though still a lack in comparison to the games available in most other genres…but when it comes to mobile games for use on one’s phone…well, until recently you were out of luck. But then came along Joni Nuutinen with two games in quick succession which have single-handedly turned the corner for Android strategy gaming: Conflicts: Operation Barbarossa and Conflicts: D-Day.

While these games are World War II (a historical period I find to be heavily over-simulated), a wargamer can’t be picky when there is nothing else available in the field. Nuutinen has created an intuitive yet challenging series of games on what appears to be a similar engine and this gives me great hope that over time there will be additional releases in the series and perhaps even in other historical eras.

In Operation Barbarossa one takes command of German forces as they launch the initial invasion into Soviet Russia during World War II. One is able to command a variety of units including reconnaissance groups (able to extend line-of-sight), air fleets (able to bombard enemy units), infantry, special forces (e.g. Waffen-SS), tanks, and mobile units.

Over time units earn experience, suffer fatigue, and gain specific abilities (e.g. better resistance to mud when traveling, or an ability to stand firm after losing a battle rather than retreating from the field). Supply plays a key role in the game and new units and special abilities are doled out based on one’s holdings. At key points in the game one is able to trade Victory Points (VPs) for reinforcements.

The D-Day game is very similar, except one is command Allied forces in this case instead of German forces. The number of units has increased – there are now minesweepers, paratroopers, and so on. The variety of abilities one can secure has expanded (e.g. air support), but overall it is a very similar game with a different scenario.

Both games are challenging, yet intuitive. If you read the instructions you’ll fully understand how to play within a few minutes – or if you are like me, you’ll play first and read later. In either case, it isn’t hard to understand the game – though there are a few nuances you may not pick up on immediately if you don’t read the instructions, for example:

  • Resting one’s units is key. Unlike in many other games, new units are somewhat rare, so protecting and replenishing beat down units is extremely important.
  • Some resources (like special orders) are applied to a unit but only applicable for that turn, the next turn the unit will be back to normal.
  • Partisans will appear and interfere with your supply lines.

The Operation Barbarossa game is available in a lite version.. This is the same as the full version except it provides only a limited number of turns – but more than enough to get a thorough feel for the game. While the games are of significant depth and quality, their price is exceptional and I’d encourage any wargamer to go buy them right now – even if you don’t intend to play them. Supporting Joni and folks like him will ensure that similar games are designed in the future. The price is $2.99 per game! Try and find a quality turn-based strategic/tactical wargame for anywhere near that price!

Here are a few small items I’d like to see Joni work on as he continues to develop these applications:

  • The ability to create multiple save games. The games save, but they maintain only one save file at a time. So, you can’t play multiple games simultaneously and even more important, you have to start the game over if you really botch things up.
  • The ability to play as either side. Currently it is only possible to play as the Axis in Operation Barbarossa and only as the Allies in D-Day.
  • The creation of additional games in other eras – such as the Napoleonic Wars, Civil War, World War I, Vietnam, and Korea.
  • The ability to play multiplayer.
  • In D-Day when one wins a victory it says that the Germans won, this is small typographical error.
  • The ability to undo a move if it does not involve combat. Occasionally I accidentally move a unit and there doesn’t seem to be a way to undo the move.
  • The ability to merge combat units rather than resting them.

For those who are interested, here are links to the applications within Android Market:

Movie Review: Downfall (Rating: R)

Cover of "Downfall"
Cover of Downfall

Downfall is one of those beautiful and disturbing historical epics that foreigners seem to do so much better than us Americans. It tells the story of Hitler and his closest compatriots during the last days of the Second World War as they hid out in an underground bunker. Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film it opened in theaters in February 2005. Yes, you’ll have to live with subtitles – but the passion and energy of the film make the subtitles fade into the background.

In addition to the films historical and cinematic merits it is also well-known for creating a meme surrounding the imagined outraged reactions of various famous personages or companies to disappoints. Many of these short films are quite memorable in and of themselves – in spite of occasional censorship by the implicit stars of said videos.

You can visit the official website here. Or if you are ready to buy the film, here is an Amazon link.

Ahh, did I forget to mention that the able Bruno Ganz plays the deteriorating Hitler? Ganz is one of those actors I don’t recognize by name but whom I always enjoy when I see in a film. In addition to his turn as Hitler he has played Luther‘s mentor in the remarkable film of the same name.

Seven Movies to Touch the Heart.

What defines beauty? How do we find things that touch over very souls? Today I want to look at several films that bring me to the brink of tears and stir my heart into a frenzy of passion and humility. These films cross genres and are beautiful for the agony they arise within us – not always because they have a happy or satisfying ending. Let me know the films that have touched your heart and called you out.

Hotel Rwanda – PG-13 – Released: 2004 – Tells the gut-wrenching story of the Rwandan genocide and one man who was willing to stand up to the oppression – while we as the world stood quiet. What is the role of the United States or any country in the world, especially when it involves genocide? This film brings that question straight into our hearts and refuses to let us go until we have wrestled deeply with it.


Something the Lord Made – NR – Released: 2005 – Dr. Alfred Blalock (Alan Rickman) hires an African-American carpenter, Vivian Thomas (Mos Def), to assist him around his medical offices. Vivian shows great ingenuity and becomes the forerunner in a partnership between Blalock and Thomas that lead to radical, life-saving medical innovations. All this occurs against a background of racism in which Thomas is unable to take credit for his own work due to his skin color and lack of a medical degree. An exciting film about the triumph of man over illness and oppression.

Life Is Beautiful – PG-13 – Released: 1998 – Roberto Benigni is an absolute genius. He creates and stars in this amazing film that does the impossible – creates a respectful and heart-warming comedy of the Holocaust during World War II. I know, it sounds impossible, but you will have to see this absolutely marvelous film to understand it.


The Passion of the Christ – R – Released: 2004 – Mel Gibson’s amazing vision of the torture and crucifixion of Christ. A painful, beautiful, disturbing portrayal of what Jesus suffered for the sake of mankind.


We Were Soldiers – R – Release Date: 2002 – Mel Gibson strikes again with this gritty film about the Vietnam War. Based on the true story of the 7th Cav. (carried by helicopters, not horses) this film is an epic solely on its war film merits alone. However, the reason it makes this list is not for its non-stop action but the interweaving of the stories of the wives who were left at home and the anguish they face waiting the news whether their husband has joined the every growing list of killed in action.


Awakenings – PG-13 – Release Date: 1990 – Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro star in this marvelous true story of one doctor who dared to find a cure for individuals left comatose for decades by encephalitis. The story is encouraging and heartbreaking and challenges us to remember the potential we have to discover new cures and better ways of living.


Luther – PG-13 – Release Date: 2003 – Martin Luther was one of the most significant leaders of a movement known as the Reformation which birthed the division between Protestant and Catholic churches. Luther’s personal struggle with faith and battle to reform the excesses of the church are marvelously displayed and recitations of some of Luther’s most famous words by Joseph Fiennes are enough to send shivers down the spine.