Might and Fog

Neither my wife nor I remember ever hearing the German phrase “Nacht und Nebel” (“Night and Fog”) in our World War II history classes. And yet, this directive from Hitler was brought up at the Nuremberg Trials, so it was certainly no secret at the end of the war, nor by the time our history classes were put together some twenty to thirty years later.

Basically, Nacht und Nebel was a policty of Hitler’s that broke the rules of the Geneva Convention in which those working against the Reich, most often in occupied countries, were arrested and subsequently put in camps or executed without any information about their fate sent to family or others. It was as though they never existed–they had been, as some novels put it–“disappeared.” Often the letters NN would be shown on any paperwork.

The phrase been around for a long time before Hitler, and especially Himmler used it and made it a part of the German war machine’s policy. NN not only stood for Nacht und Nebel but also for “nullus nomen” (without name) which indicates that such people were removed from the face of the earth physically and in every other way possible.

As I re-read Pam Jenoff’s novel The Lost Girls of Paris, about British agents sent to occupied France to cause trouble and send information back to Britain via wireless, I am noticing this phrase more than I did the first time through the book. I find it haunting and so unfortunately apt considering the fears and dangers of night and fog.

I generally do not like the tactics of the FBI, NSA, and CIA because we keep seeing evidence and innuendo about their spying in all the wrong places. Before all that was known, I’d always thought I’d make a reasonably good CIA agent. And yet I wonder if I ever would have had the grit and courage to do what the SOE (Special Operations Executive) agents did during World War II. Most of them didn’t last very long before they were caught.

I wonder about that, so perhaps that’s why NN bothers me in addition to the fact it “broke the rules of war.” Before I was conscious of the Night and Fog directives, I liked fog, probably because I saw so much of it as a child in San Francisco. Fog was part of the romance of San Francisco (as Tony Bennett sang in his famous song, The morning fog may chill the air, I don’t care). But now, I cannot get the Nazi practice of torturing and killing agents–or suspected agents–out of my mind.

Partly, that’s because I think it still happens in unexpected places. And from neo-Nazi regimes and groups what still prescribe the old ways.