Freemasons in The Trenches

Freemasons in The Trenches

I recently attended an M.P.S. Meetup where the topic was “Has War Ever Led to Good?” The presenter had a distinctive bent: absolutely not. The viewpoint was of a passionate pacifist and could only see the negative in war time situations. I felt I should be looking at the bigger picture – how war affects humanity – and the smaller picture – how it affects the individual. While many see the horror of war, there must be something good to also be found, right?

After this M.P.S., I attended a bluegrass festival, John McCutcheon played “Christmas In the Trenches,” based on a letter written by a WWI English private named Edgar Aplin, this song depicts a moment in a bitter and bloody war where two sides came together for a beautiful moment of humanity. John’s song brings about that moment of clarity that everyone thinks about: we’re killing other humans that are just like us. In a tragic war that left millions affected, there is a humanity that we can remember. The lyrics to the song are found here.

Prior to the recent M.P.S. meeting above, and then again after hearing this song again, I looked for incidents of this occurring amongst Freemasons; after all, who else thinks about humanity and the perfecting of it more than Freemasons? Not many. There are many ways in which Freemasons make it known that they are brothers, and perhaps there are moments of “truce” that exist, even if they are not as famous as the U.K. Sainsbury Ad that idealizes the Christmas Truce of 1914.

Some of the most deeply moving stories of Masonic fraternity are from the American Civil War. Author Greg Stewart has written a wonderful article on the American Civil War and Freemasons, found on the Sojourners website. I would encourage anyone who has an interest in history or Freemasonry to read it. He does cite his sources, which is helpful.

In short, the American Civil War tested our country’s ability to fight for what we believed in and at the same time show compassion to our fellow human beings. While it brought out some of the worst fighting, it also inspired the greatest passion to ease the suffering of individuals. Masons strive to erase that which divides us as people. For the fighting Brothers of this war, the inner turmoil must have been great.

The annals of WWI do not have much to say about Freemasonry’s involvement. In an interesting article on skirret.com, we have one author’s exploration into the world and Masonic view of the War. In the article we are given much about how the Lodges felt about the war, but we see little in the way of anecdotal evidence that the war was anything but divisive within the Fraternity. From the loss of recognition to the outright revoking of charters and hostility, even within Lodges in America, we see the seeds of bureaucratic response to the war rather than a human response.

During WWII, Freemasons were one of the persecuted groups under the Nazi regime. A truly wonderful article on this is noted here. Not only does it talk of the secret meetings of Freemasons, after the disbanding of traditional Freemasonry in Germany, but it also describes one of the Lodges that existed within the wire fences of a concentration camp. Another paper, titled “Masons At War: Freemasonry During World War Two,” by Mark Stanford, also documents the Masonic Service Centers that came into being during the war, to care for Service Members at home and overseas. Freemasonry has solidly moved to the larger good works of caring for the members of the armed services, but we rarely hear about the individual’s experience. While acts of heroism show up in small ways by European Freemasons, some documented in various places noted above, the North American experience seems small in comparison.

In looking toward Vietnam, the only real evidence of Freemason’s involvement has to do with, again, the care of wounded soldiers and care packages to military overseas. Military Lodges having long been either frowned upon or banned altogether, there seems to have been very few during WWI and none during the Vietnam era.

From Vietnam forward to today, there seems to be no further evidence of widespread Masonic response to war time situations, either in the form of relief for troops or support of overseas military. While they undoubtedly exist, there is little to record their greater-than-local involvement in war efforts.

A first thought was that the Morgan Affair changed how Americans view Freemasons. It certainly changed how Freemasons viewed themselves and their fraternity. However, we find evidence of individual Masonic charity examples all over the American Civil War, which took place after the Morgan Affair. While anti-Masonic sentiment was still high at this time, it did not seem to affect the person relationships that each man had with Freemasonry and how it affected his actions during the war. Freemasonry overcame bitter rivalry and hatred, and still burned an ideal in the hearts of these men.

Co-Masonry has been in existence in one form or another since the end of the 19th Century, beginning in France and spreading throughout the world. While the numbers were high in its first few decades, Co-Masonry began to decline by the start of WW2; in fact, the decline might have been there for all of Freemasonry. During the war, when Freemasonry was persecuted in Europe, many different Orders originating in Europe found themselves under scrutiny. Those Orders established in France had gone into hiding and Le Droit Humain, a co-Masonic order, was one of these Orders. After the war, Co-Masonry had found itself taken deeper root in countries outside of France and there was an interest in its alternative thought: women could be Freemasons along with Men.

The world was and is decidedly different since WWII. Women in American culture and perhaps in all cultures around the world are more often included rather than excluded. A balanced mindset, toward gender and equality, was perhaps creating a different view of what was needed in the perfection of humanity. In the cultural and societal churn that might be called the “dawning of the Age of Aquarius,” the world may be looking for new types of leaders who are finally inclusive of all humanity.

Warfare itself has changed. Gone are bayonets and buckshot, hand-to-hand fighting where the soldier met the face of their attacker. Warfare has become impersonal drones sending air strikes on faceless dots on a pixelated screen. While Freemasonry is perhaps becoming more inclusive while war is becoming more impersonal: a struggle perhaps looking for balance?

It seems we find ourselves at an interesting point in history: where the facelessness of war impacts our ability to counter it with “good.” Freemasons may need to look beyond the conventional methods of the Craft employed in the past to not only support humanity but find those things which unite rather than divide human beings. Freemasons perhaps need to look beyond the “care package” or “pancake breakfast” for the troops and train for “civil disobedience.” I do not disparage the good works for the service men and women that many fraternal groups supply. They are necessary and selfless, and inspire hope when there is none. However, perhaps Freemasons can do more. As seekers of Truth and proponents of education, they are uniquely suited to combat ignorance, fanaticism, and hatred which is the heart of war.

There will be another war. We are humans, after all. It seems to be as yet in our nature. Deciding to be a pacifist will not stop it. Deciding to hide from it or ignore our leaders will not stop it. The question is how can we prepare for it and will Freemasonry be there to shed Light? Learning to speak Truth is a far greater skill that may be necessary to counter modern military thinking. Perhaps learning to be wise philosophers is more important to stopping war before it starts.

Persecuted Masons: The Holocaust and Hitler’s Attack on Freemasonry

Persecuted Masons: The Holocaust and Hitler’s Attack on Freemasonry

As one of the deadliest genocides in world history, the Holocaust was the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of millions of individuals by the Nazi Regime. The word Holocaust comes from the Greek word Holókauston, which refers to an animal sacrifice offered to a god in which the whole animal, Olos, is completely burnt, Kaustos. The first recorded chronicler of the term Holocaustum in an English work was a 12th century British monk named Richard of Devizes.  In his political work of 1658, Discourse Urn Burial, Thomas Browne utilized the word “holocaust”  to denote “a great massacre.”

From 1941 to 1945, targeted individuals were systematically murdered in the Holocaust as part of broader acts of oppression of various ethnic and political groups in Europe by the Nazi party. While the Jews were the largest group targeted, other victims included the Gypsies, the Slavs, the disabled, homosexuals, Communists, and Freemasons. Over six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, while the total number of murder individuals is calculated to be over eleven million people. Historical scholars estimate that more than 80,000 Freemasons were executed by the Nazis and their collaborators. 

Nazi Propaganda: Connecting Jews and Freemasonry

Adolf Hitler’s hatred of Freemasonry, as well as his belief that Freemasonry supported the Jews, is well documented. In 1925, Hitler wrote of his plans to destroy Freemasonry in his book, “Mein Kampf,” stating: “Ourselves or the Freemasons or the Church: there is room for one of the three and no more. We are the strongest of the three and shall get rid of the other two.” Nazi party officials were given a “Guide and Instructional Letter” which outlined part of Hitler’s propaganda scheme against Freemasonry and Jews which stated,GermanCartoonAgainstJews1934 “The natural hostility of the peasant against the Jews, and his hostility against the Freemason as a servant of the Jew, must be worked up to a frenzy.”  

Nazi propaganda was directed to link the Jewish people and the Freemasons, where both groups were represented by the form of a snake. The German publication Der Stuermer, “The Assault Trooper,” published articles and cartoons that attempted to portray a “Jewish-Masonic” conspiracy. Freemasonry also became a particular obsession of Reinhard Heydrich, the Chief of the Nazi Intelligence Force, who stated that Freemasons, along with the Jews and the clergy, were the “most implacable enemies of the German race.” In 1935, Heydrich wrote that “a Jewish, liberal, and Masonic infectious residue that remains in the unconscious of many, above all in the academic and intellectual world.”

As part of their propaganda campaign against Freemasonry, the Nazis created anti-Masonic exhibitions throughout occupied Europe. The Nazi Gestapo seized the membership lists of the Grand Lodges and ransacked masonic libraries and lodges. The items stolen from Masonic buildings were exhibited in many anti-Masonic Expositions. The Nazi leader, Dr. Joseph Goebbels, created the first of these public displays  in Munich, Germany in 1937.  In October of 1940, the German occupied Paris erected an anti-Masonic exhibition. A similar event was hosted in German occupied Brussels in February 1941. Displaying Masonic tools, ritual, and regalia stolen from lodges, these exhibitions were intended to instill ridicule, hatred, and fear towards Freemasons. In addition, the displays were intended to establish a connection in public sentiment between the Jewish people and Freemasonry. German propaganda argued thaNaziPropogandaAgainstJewsandFreemasonst the Jews and the Masons had provoked World War II, particularly through the policies of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who the Germans identified as a Freemason. The Nazi Primer, The Official Handbook for the Schooling of Hitler Youth, attacked Freemasons for their “mistaken teaching of the equality of all men” by which these groups were said to be seeking power over the world.

Hitler’s Attack on Freemasonry

Adolf Hitler became Reich Chancellor in January of 1933, and he swiftly moved to seize power for the Nazi Party across Germany. On April 7, 1933, Nazi Leader Hermann Goering held a meeting with the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Germany, where he informed him that there would be no place for Freemasonry in Nazi Germany. That year, the Nazi Party created an intelligence agency, the Sicherheitsdienst (S.D.), within their larger Security Service, the Schutzstaffel (S.S.). The Inland S.D. (Office IIwas responsible for intelligence gathering and security within Germany, with a special section created to investigate and deal with Freemasonry. S.D. written documents and officers stated that Freemasonry exercised actual political power and shaped public opinion. Freemasonry was targeted for destruction and its members selected for extermination in part because the Nazi Party believed that the Masonic organization was powerful enough to provoke war, subversion, and revolution. The Nazi Party Court System issued an ultimatum to Freemasons that they must abandon their Masonic affiliation prior January 30, 1933 or be excluded from the protection of the Nazi Party.  

On October 28, 1934, Reich Minister Wilhelm Frick issued a decree defining Freemasonic lodges as “hostile to the state” and their property was subject to seizure by the state. Finally, on August 17, 1935, citing the authority of the Reichstag Fire Decree, Frick ordered all remaining organizations dissolved and their assets confiscated. Freemasons were required by the Nazi Party to publicly declare their Masonic membership, similar to the requirements of forced registration of the Jewish people. The Freemasons who were registered were later rounded up using the state’s registries and sent to concentration camps for extermination.FreemasonicLodgeDestroyedbyNazis

In August 1940, the Vichy Regime in France issued a decree declaring French Freemasons to be enemies of the state and authorizing police surveillance of them. The French wartime authorities created a card file that identified all members. That registry survived WWII and is now part of the holdings of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Archives. When France fell to the Germans, the Vichy government decreed the dissolution of  Masonic organizations, including the Grand Orient and the Grande Loge of France. The property of the French Masons was seized by the Nazis, confiscated, destroyed, or sold. 

Between 1941 and 1944, Nazi German authorities deported millions of individuals, including Freemasons, to ghettos and concentration camps where multitudes were murdered in specially developed gassing facilities. Across Europe, Freemasons were subjected to surveillance, persecuted, arrested and sent to extermination camps.  In Austria, members of the Vienna lodges were captured and sent to one of the most notorious concentration camps: Dachau in Bavaria. The Nazi Protocol was repeated when Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia, Poland, Holland, and Belgium.