I recently finished reading the memoirs of chauffeur Erich Kempka.
As you might imagine, a chauffeur has a number of interesting stories to tell about his passengers. In Kempka’s case, they were often quite famous. As the narrative unfolds, you feel like you are riding shotgun while the chauffeur relates anecdotes about the monumentally important man for whom he works. A man who is, for Kempka, the very best of employers: fair, honorable, and reasonable.
Only here’s the thing: his employer was Adolf Hitler.
Kempka’s memoir, published in Germany in 1951 and in Britain in 2010, is as fascinating for what it doesn’t say as it is for what it does. Kempka isn’t a deep thinker. He isn’t a historian, a moral philosopher, nor even an especially good writer. These things cannot be held against him. But you’d think that such a memoir would address, oh, things like aggressive warfare, the innerworkings of Hitler’s personal world and that of his cronies, and maybe a word or two about the Holocaust and other crimes against humanity.
Instead, we read about Kempka’s lifelong love affair with automobiles, especially those of German make, and the various models in his fleet:
It was always my pleasure to watch over the new vehicles as they were being manufactured. Under my supervision and in close cooperation with the Daimler-Benz factory not only were the well-known Führer-cars built but also cross-country vehicles for manoeuvres, later used for drives in the mountains …
Largely apolitical and seemingly oblivious to who his employer was and to what he was doing, for Kempka it’s a story about faithfully getting mein Führer from Point A to Point B and their adventures together. He describes Hitler as a thoughtful man who was “friendly” and “cheerful” during drives:
One of [Hitler’s] kindnesses was to prepare a snack for the chauffeur to ward off tiredness at the wheel. The road map on his knees, Hitler did all the navigating himself, working out the various times to ensure he always arrived on the dot. All the chauffeur had to do was drive safely and keep precisely to the timetable.
“One of his kindnesses …” There were others? How sweet. Did the two of them play “I spy with my little eye”? Did Hitler chip in for gas? Did he prefer neck pillows and the bathrooms at Cracker Barrel? This reads like Driving Miss Daisy. I picture the two Nazis in a big Mercedes, top down. They are dressed in lederhosen. Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries is playing on the Blaupunkt. They are smiling, the birds are singing, and the wind blows gently through their hair (and Hitler’s little mustache) as they wend their way through the Alps. On the rear bumper of the Mercedes a sign reads: CAUTION: FÜHRER ON BOARD.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. Kempka blames Hitler’s entourage for the sad conclusion to this German Camelot. For him, these people were very annoying. Here are a few memorable quotations:
“Hermann Fegelein had his brains in his scrotum.”
“Whenever Magda Goebbels was around Hitler, one could hear her ovaries rattling.”
“There was no mean trick to which [Martin Bormann] would not stoop to prise me away from Hitler.”
This one is my favorite:
“[Hitler] was concerned that Bormann might be using intimidation to force people off their property, and so told the adjutancy to warn Bormann that at the first complaint he would put a stop to it.”
Here he is talking about the seizure of property in Obersalzberg to build Hitler’s mountain retreat, the famed Berghof and Eagle’s Nest (a.k.a. Kelsteinhaus). Hitler was concerned that German farmers were being driven out? It seems to have escaped Kempka’s notice that Hitler forced the whole of Europe off of their property.
This is all fascinating commentary on the human condition. Kempka ignores the broader narrative of evil—he makes not a single mention of the “Final Solution” to kill the Jews of Europe—but he is quick to note a personal slight. In his telling of it, Hitler was a genuinely nice guy who was a victim of the conniving people around him. War? What war? Extermination camps? Where? He judges Hitler on the basis on how Hitler treated him, and Hitler was the cheerful guy who made him snacks, remember?
* * * * *
Last week, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) released the report of their investigation into the secret activities of founder Ravi Zacharias. I confess that I have not read it. I knew Ravi only slightly and it feels voyeuristic, and, frankly, it’s much too depressing. But enough of what is contained in it has come across my social media and in emails asking my opinion of it.
I think most adults, if they are honest, understand natural (i.e., man and woman) sexual temptation and (consensual) sexual sin. If they haven’t actually done it, they have thought about it. When news broke of a scandal at RZIM, I had expected something of that garden-variety: office shenanigans, an affair, or maybe online hookups. Sinful, yes, but between the white lines, so to speak. But rape? Coercion? Hundreds of women? Criminal activities? No, I had not expected that. It is unnatural, and I find it hard to reconcile with the man with whom I had lunch, shared the platform, and whose books I read. Is it all true? Most of it? We may never know. Ravi is dead, and it will never be adjudicated.
How are we to process it?
At the end of Kempka’s book we find a little gem of a statement. It is an oblique reference to the evils committed by the Nazi regime and Kempka’s proof of his own innocence regarding them:
“Nobody bothered about me—perhaps recompense for never having intentionally done anybody any harm in my life.”
The way we think of sin is largely a work of the devil. We divide sins into categories of big sins and small sins; those sins from which one can never recover (e.g., murder) and those that aren’t really sins worth mentioning (gossip). We take comfort in our categories. They serve as a kind of law by which we reckon ourselves righteous. Christians are conditioned to say that they are sinners, but one often gets the impression they don’t really believe it to the degree that the Bible means it. Clutching their lapels, they consider the “big” ones and say, “I’m a good person because I haven’t done that.” Somewhere deep in our psyche we think that God judges on a curve. It’s the “I may not be better than some, but I’m better than most” mentality.
Condemning Ravi is easy (and, no, I am not comparing him to Hitler). There is nothing subtle about the sins he is alleged to have committed. We even take a measure of satisfaction in condemning him. We feel better about ourselves. Whatever we are, we aren’t that. But that is to miss the point. Our capacity for evil—even for unnatural evil—is no less than his or, for that matter, Hitler’s. The Bible warns: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) It is what philosopher Hannah Arendt called “the fearsome, word-and-thought-defying banality of evil.”
But there is a corollary. Most of the evil committed in this world is of a subtle nature. It’s committed by the Kempkas, that is, the many people who aren’t the architects of evil, they are just indifferent to it unless it affects them at a personal level. Who are, I wonder, the army of people who don’t actually kill babies, they just make the abortion clinics run efficiently? What of the myriad bureaucrats who daily obstruct, ignore, or inflict hardship on the people they are meant to serve? This is evil, subtle, but evil nonetheless. How many of us who have “never intentionally done anybody any harm” turn a blind eye to the poor, the sick, the elderly—those whom Jesus called “the least of these”? How many of us ignore the larger narrative of evil—the persecution of our Christian brothers and sisters, the wicked curriculums being taught to our children in our public schools, the systematic suppression of dissenting voices—but are quick to note a slight?
I am convinced that there will be more Kempkas in hell than Hitlers. So, before you comfort yourself with the devil’s poison that you are really not so bad after all, let me remind you that you are applying the wrong standard. The jarring spiritual truth, a warning really, is that you can go on your InstaTwitFace accounts and condemn Ravi Zacharias in the most absolute of terms—
—and still go to hell.
The only solution, the only hope, for any of us is the same: repentance and the grace of Jesus Christ.
 As a writer, I can’t help but wonder who the editor was and what he was doing when I read books like this. A managing editor’s job is not simply to correct spelling and grammar, it is to help you tell your story better and to save you from yourself. How the editor could allow Kempka to prattle on about Mercedes automobiles, Hitler’s snacks, and Bormann’s pettiness while saying nothing, not one word, about the Holocaust and a war that led to the deaths of no less than 50 million people is simply mind-blowing.
 Unfortunately, so confused are the times in which we live, I feel I must define what I mean by “natural.”
Larry Alex Taunton is the Executive Director of the Fixed Point Foundation and a freelance columnist contributing to USA Today, Fox News, First Things, The Atlantic, CNN, Daily Caller, and The American Spectator. He is also the author of The Grace Effect, The Gospel Coalition Book of the Year The Faith of Christopher Hitchens, Around the World in (More Than) 80 Days. (Available to order now) You can subscribe to his blog at larryalextaunton.com and find him on Twitter @larrytaunton.
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