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The Tank Commander

Harry Reynolds

About forty years ago, it fell to me to question a former Nazi tank commander who had been in Berlin in 1943 when Europe was in the Hell of World War II. A chess tournament in Berlin attracted the eye of the tank ommander as it had that of complete chess unknown, Rudolph Wolf. Wolf entered the tournament and drew the eyes of everyone as he moved from one level to another, ultimately capturing the championship. Unfortunately, the Gestapo investigated him and discovered that Wolfwas, said the tank commander, a “submerged Jew”, for he had “Jewish blood” in his history. Wolf was promptly imprisoned in a concentration camp.
The tank commander, in relating the story to me, seemed to re-enter the war as if he and I were in a holy place. He painstakingly described Berlin in detail, the eternal fires, the dead everywhere, many of them hanging in apartment closets in which they had hidden. One could see them, he said, hanging like mannequins in the upper floors of buildings whose walls had collapsed. His voice almost became inaudible as, in relating the details of mass destruction, his arm ever so slowly moved up and down and sideways as if he were conducting an orchestra of the dead.
He said that Wolf survived the camp and in 1948 Wolf became his client. He told Wolf that he had watched him playing in the tournament and that there was an eerie quality about him, as if he were playing calculatedly with the air of a nobleman. No, said Wolf, he naturally felt the anxiety in running the risk of discovery, but it all dissolved when his chess skill enveloped him, gently taking possession of him and making him oblivious to the world about him. “My chess art”, he said, “made a self-destructive move in me that I could not have foreseen.” “What of the record of your championship”, asked the tank commander, “It was destroyed by the Gestapo. How did that make you feel?” Wolf looked at the tank commander and smiled. “They gave me a better record of what happened. Germans are born obsessives. They make a record of everything. They leftarecord of the fact that they had destroyed my record.”
I was so taken aback by the tank commander’s story that I briefly left the room. I needed the space in which I could recapture the facts behind my interrogation, facts that had absolutely nothing to do with Wolf, Berlin, its forgotten dead, all of whom had been incanted by the tank commander. When I returned to my room, I found the tank commander not in the seat where I had left him but standing in the far corner of the room, his only arm extended over a table on which I kept a chess set. He looked up, holding a chess piece, and said, “I like this chess set you have, Mr. Reynolds. Where did you get it?” “From someone in Moscow”, I said. He smiled sadly, pointing to his empty sleeve. “I almost reached it”, he said. “I know”, I said, shaking his hand, “My Russian mother told me when I was a boy.”

Rudy Giuliani, Quick Change Artist

Reviewed by Harry Reynolds

Grand Illusion

The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11

By Wayne Barrett and Dan Collins HarperCollins New York, N.Y. 390 pages $25.95


Rudolph Giuliani was sworn mayor in 1994 within a minute’s walk of the World Trade Center bombed in 1993. Reviewing Giuliani’s mayoralty in 2000, Wayne Barrett, one of America’s great investigative journalists, saw Giuliani as a cruel, unstable, destructive hypocrite, a man judged by the press to be barely human and inwardly empty. Rudy! An Investigative Biography of Rudolph Giuliani (2000)

In September, 2001, the arc of Giuliani’s political life was in the descendant; his second marriage had crashed publicly and his senatorial plans had been aborted by prostate cancer. With an eye on the approaching end of his mayoralty, he had begun planning a consulting business, a natural refuge for unskilled, former office holders.

On September 11th, Giuliani was at breakfast in a midtown hotel when two planes that had just flown overhead made him speed downtown to a Hell where he would see men and women, not long from their breakfasts, holding hands and jumping to their deaths from the flames of the110-story towers of the World Trade Center. There 2,150 would be killed in the Twin Towers alone. Three hundred forty-three firemen would die. We, transfixed by our television screens, stunned by what it all portended, would be calmed by Giuliani’s words, credit for which, few know and let history note, belongs to Michael Cohen, a psychologist expert in handling crisis communications who was summoned the night of 9/11 and early the next morning carefully instructed Giuliani on what to say and not to say to the public, after which Giuliani appeared before the media and spoke to us.

And so it was that Giuliani, for a brief moment in our extremity, became us, and we, him. Thus out of 9/11 arose the myth of Giuliani, a myth exhaustively challenged in Grand Illusion, by Wayne Barrett and Dan Collins, who by daunting proof show that the myth of Giuliani arose out of a Hell in the creation of which he himself had had a hand, a myth from which he now profits, for he travels the nation, self-declared expert on terrorism, redemptor of New York City, receiving tens of millions in his expanding consulting business, eagerly seeking the Presidency with a genuinely commercial smile. If the facts in Grand Illusion are true, a beguiled public may see that their mythical Giuliani is a quick change artist given to the practice of an economy of truth.

Though Giuliani claims to have been obsessed with terrorism almost eight years prior to 9/11, and to have held many meetings concerning it, we know of no one with whom he shared his obsession and no one who recalls having met with him about it, though it was their business to do so. Giuliani had acted during those years as if the 1993 bombing had never happened. As John Miller, an acute City Hall observer of Giuliani, said of Giuliani’s claims, “Hello, history. Give me rewrite.”

When Giuliani claims that the police and fire departments had been prepared prior to 9/11 to act in coordination in a terror attack, we wonder first over his memory, and then over his integrity, for the operational chiefs of those departments do not recall it, to say nothing of the 9/11 Commission’s finding that as of 9/11 those departments “were not prepared to comprehensively coordinate their efforts in responding to a major incident.” As Giuliani must recall, the city did not even have a formalized Incident Command System. Bizarre as it sounds, the city on his watch actually suffered from mutually antagonistic fire and police departments, an ongoing scandal in itself . If the police and fire departments had had a joint post, the fire chiefs would have received the police helicopter warnings of the imminent collapse of the South Tower and many lives would have been saved in those nine minutes.

On 9/11, there was no central command position to control our reaction to the attack, for, mysteriously, Giuliani, against all advice and in a highly questionable exercise of judgment, had insisted that the Office of Emergency Management be located within walking distance of City Hall in the predictably targeted 47-story 7World Trade Center, 23 floors over a Con Ed substation and its 106,000 gallon fuel tank, the world’s first bunker in the sky that was instantly evacuated on 9/11 and that collapsed, leaving the city without any command center and, as the 9/11 Commission noted, without any “backup site”. Picture the mayor stumbling through a choking, blinding chaos looking for his police commissioner, the learned Bernard Kerick, who in the police department had never been higher than a third grade detective, thereafter chauffeur and bodyguard to Giuliani, later to be unforgettably recommended by Giuliani to President Bush as the head of Homeland Security and overseer of its billions of dollars, such is the nature of chance and opportunity in our wonderful democracy. Giuliani looked too, for his politically selected fire commissioner, Tom Von Essen, once head of the firefighters union who had never achieved any rank above that of a uniformed fireman but had thoughtfully delivered firefighters as political campaign workers for Giulianni in 1993. As fire commissioner, Von Essen failed to create a substantial plan for the handling of high-rise fires. These intellectual stars wound up in Giuliani’s post-9/11 consulting business.

As for the hundreds of our dead firemen, they and their wives and children must haunt Giuliani, for he knew that they were equipped by his administration with notoriously ineffective”walkie-talkies” condemned as dangerous to firemen and public as early as 1990. They caused the deaths of those firemen and many others in the towers. The departmental brass did not know that civilians below the fires were told to stay in place after the chiefs had ordered full evacuations. One cannot but think that there was a glacial silence when Giuliani before the 9/11 Commission said that the command and control breakdown on 9/11 “was not a major problem”, a breakdown in which fire chiefs relied on runners for messages. He even suggested before the Commission that it was “unpatriotic” to discuss mistakes. This from the mayor whose heroic firemen were sent to their deaths to extinguish fires that their superiors knew were uncontrollable. This mayor in his uniquely hidden eight-year obsession with terrorism never had room for a plan for handling mega fires in one of the largest citys on earth, no plan for aircraft striking the towers, no holding of even one multi-agency coordinated drill for a mega high attack, no systematic approach for the rescue of the 200 people trapped in elevators where they died. This the mayor who, as his myth widened, thoughtfully wrote a book entitled “Leadership”, the leader who failed to inform workers at Ground Zero, and the public, of the hazardous toxicity of the air proved by the city’s own test results.

Grand Illusion marks the point at which Giuliani’s political life should have been over, when the piano player stops, the lights are turned out, and the fat lady sings.

However, since this review was written in 2007,  one cannot turn on a television news  program without seeing  the grining Rudy Giuliani dancing with the fat lady on one arm, and his client, the morally deranged President-elect Trump, on the other. Still,   as every monk knows,  goodhearted fat ladies go to heaven but  coldhearted conartists  linger in the  Hell of despair.


Lester, My IRA Hero


Harry Reynolds

It was the spring of 1935, or was it the autumn, when my uncle Lester, bachelor brother of my father,  tenant by sufferance in our Lower East Side cold water flat, despised for his drinking by my deaf mother, made me a member of the Irish Republican Army.

I was proud of it all, all of it, the rifles Lester said he stored in my uncle Charlie’s pigeon loft around the corner, the escape map  he drew for me, tied round by a rosary, on which he had me hurriedly swear an oath against England on the steps of St Brigid’s Church across the way from Tompkins Square Park. I inhaled the purity of the adventure of it all. I was eight and the magic of the new and unexpected had its hold on me.

Unlike my friends in parochial school, who didn’t seem to have uncles, Lester took me everywhere. Regularly on Wednesdays we went to  Esther’s apartment on Avenue C where he gave her catechism lessons that took a good twenty minutes with me sitting alone in the kitchen reading  comic books he bought me, while Esther giggled in the next room, once calling  out “Oh my Jesus”, a sign to me that Lester was converting Esther, and then we would traipse over to Vazac’s Club for an hour with me sitting in the rear booth with Heshie Horowitz, our numbers man, waiting for the 3 p. m. numbers call, and  then across the way to Berkowitz’s Bakery where with three Irishmen, Lester, his elegant vest thrown on a post and his sleeves rolled up,  would help to unload cases from a covered truck all the way from New Jersey while Berkowitz kept a lookout for robbers, Lester said, and with that done and a  fistful of money he would call a cab and go to Times Square to a real theater, not a movie, where I would sit in the  backrow and watch  girls dancing in lines, chewing gum and kissing Lester’s face as he dramatically chose one of them to meet him “in church”, he said, with all the girls laughing away and poking at his fat stomach, and then we would walk fast to St Patrick’s where Lester would take  holy cards from a rack and we would rush down the steps to a cab and back to the Lower East Side where Lester would run up to Charlie’s pigeon coop and  take a swig out of a bottle stashed in a feed bag. Then he would comb my hair and take me home around the corner, giving me to my startled  mother as I handed her the St Patrick holy cards. Sticking  a five dollar bill in my knickers, he would turn and run down the steps to an emergency IRA meeting,  telling  me with a wagging finger to answer all my mother’s questions but to say nothing because she was Russian and not one of us in the IRA.

Then, late at night, when all were asleep in the flat, Lester would tip toe into our bedroom , kiss the picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus hanging on the wall above my head, and slip next to me in bed, whispering  me to be quiet as he told me of the English freighter he had just left, soon to leave port with something, he couldn’t say what, set to go off when she was at sea.

With that, I fell contentedly asleep as did Lester, the red candle light in front of the picture of Jesus sending us off to sleep in a grand soft light that aureoled the room.

Copyright 2016

Harry Reynolds

Martin Niemoller’s Famous Statement

           Martin Niemoller’s Famous Statement

When at the age of ninety-two Martin Niemoller died in 1984, he was internationally known as an extraordinary personality in twentieth- century Christianity. As a German U-boat commander he had been a hero in World War I. Thereafter, he became a Christian minister and held one of Germany’s most prestigious pulpits.  His confinement as Hitler’s “personal prisoner” from 1937 until 1945 is a dramatic fact known to many. After World War II, he became president of the World Council of Churches. He was a prominent spokesman for civil rights and peace. Indeed,  he participated in a meeting that framed the Stuttgart Declaration of Guilt. It was during his post-World War II tour of the United States that, in speaking before many audiences, he concluded his addresses with this famous statement:


“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out -because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.”

In fact, however, when in 1937 the Nazis came for Niemoller, he was opposed to any political resistance to Hitler. He simply saw Hitler as an intruder into that part of German life reserved for the church. In fact, as Harold Marcuse’s “Legacies of Dachau” shows, Niemoller tried to avoid arrest by assuring the Gestapo that he was an anti-Semite.

Professor Franklin H. Littell in “Exile in the Fatherland” writes of Niemoller:

“By the time he was arrested and imprisoned, first in Moabit and later in Sachsenhausen and Dachau, where he was held without trial or charge on direct order of the Fuhrer, the basic lines of the Christian resistance were set: the Nazi regimwas resisted for invading the church’s area of competence and for idolatry – not for breaking the law or for its brutal breach of the rights of human beings. Niemoller, who was at the time a religious and political conservative, was in any case opposed to political resistance.”

What “Exile in the Fatherland” does not tell us is that Niemoller, even as a Christian minister imprisoned by the Nazis, was probably an anti-Semite as he sat there in his cell. For example, in 1935 Niemoller, then forty-three years old, delivered a sermon that described his conception of a Jew. James Bentley writes:

“For centuries Christian churches had dedicated the tenth Sunday after Trinity to remembering the destruction of the Jewish temple and the fate of the Jewish people. Niemoller habitually preached on this theme on the appointed day, introducing into his sermon such notions as that of the “Wandering Jew’, who has no home and cannot find peace. He spoke(in 1935) of a ‘highly’ gifted people which produces idea after idea for the benefit of the world, but whateverit takes up changes into poison, and all that it ever reaps is contempt and hatred. The reason, he explained, was not hard to find. The Jew was cursed for crucifying Jesus, and Jews since then have carried about with them as a fearsome burden the unforgiven blood-guilt of their fathers. The sumptions behind this thinking not only offered no practical guidance for coping with the Jewish question during the Third Reich but actually played into Hitler’s hands.”

Bentley reports that in 1933 Niemoller in an accommodation of Nazi Aryan belief actually suggested the idea of separate congregations for Jews who had converted to Christianity. Of this corrupt idea Bentley writes:

“It is…important to realize that Martin Niemoller was prepared to contemplate such proposals. This makes all the more impressive his development as a defender of the Jews – a development that was not complete until the end of World War II.’

Surely, it is a curiously compassionate thing to congratulate a fifty-three year old Christian minister for his impressive achievement in 1945 in having finally developed into a defender of Jews at the end of the Holocaust.

Last, and most tellingly, Niemoller was in prison on Kristallnacht, that November 9th day in 1938 when, among other appalling anti-Semitic acts, Stormtroopers set afire 119 synagogues, 91 Jews were killed, and more than 30,000 Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps. Niemoller admitted to his briographer, Bentley, that “It became clear only then that the Jews were to be eliminated not simply from the church but from human society.” Now, although Niemoller saw in Kristallnacht the death of all Jews, knew of Germany’s anti-Semitic laws that preceded and followed Kristallnacht, and was aware of the overwhelming evidence of public Nazi barbarity towards Jews that accompanied Hitler’s exercise of power, Niemoller nevertheless, upon Hitler’s invasion of Poland in September, 1939, and the ensuing declaration of war between Britain and Germany, volunteered “to fight for Adolph Hitler’s Germany”. In that September, Niemoller, a forty-seven year old Christian minister, who was then still Hitler’s “personal prisoner”, wrote to Admiral Raeder, “offering, as a reserve officer, to serve his country ‘in any capacity’ “. His letter was released by the Nazis to the world’s press.

This offer to serve the Nazis was made by a man whose famous words, uttered after the defeat of Germany, so appeal to us. This offer to serve the Nazis “in any capacity” was made by a man who, when “they came for the Jews”, failed to speak out because he was a common variety of anti-Semite. This offer to serve Hitler “in any capacity” was made by the man who, “after they came for me”, spoke out for himself by offering to bear arms for them, for those who, had they won the war, would have killed every Jewish man, woman, and child.

Harry Reynolds

A Spring Evening in 1957

A Spring Evening in 1957

By Harry Reynolds

On a spring evening in 1957, I walked down the steps of the U.S. Courthouse in Foley Square, where, having recently graduated from NYU Law School, I was clerk to a judge. On impulse, I decided not to take the bus but to walk to my Lower East Side home. When I reached Chinatown, I stopped at a traffic intersection and while waiting for the light to change I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned and saw a 6 foot 4 vagrant standing at an angle to the pavement, obviously in an alcoholic mist. He had very long hair of a style not yet popular. Indeed, he looked like someone who had just trudged out of the Kentucky woods. To avoid disclosure, I will call him “Eddie’’.

I had known Eddie, a sad Irish lad, when we were boys in a Lower East Side parochial school, but I had not seen him for years. In school he had told everyone that I was his older brother. As he stood there, seeming as defenseless as he seemed as a boy, I saw that he didn’t recognize me.

“Eddie”, I said, “what are you doing here?” He said, drunkenly, that he needed money “to gas up” his imaginary car. I took out my wallet and gave him all the money that I had. I was stunned. He turned and staggered into the passing crowd.

Several months later, I received a call from Eddie. He said that he believed he had seen me on the Bowery. Was that true? I said yes. He said he was calling from a VA hospital. A few weeks after meeting me he was found by a foot patrolman at night lying on a pavement in the Bowery. He had been thrown off a roof. The police officer examined him and concluded that he was dead. The officer called for an ambulance. It arrived and an attendant leapt out and quickly examined Eddie whom he, too determined was dead. He called for the morgue van. On its arrival, a body bag was drawn out, Eddie was slid into the bag, the bag was heaved into the van, and the van drove off for the morgue at Bellevue Hospital. There the bag was heaved onto the loading platform.

Shortly thereafter, Eddie slowly started to become conscious. He smelled the natural rubber that lined the body bag and began to panic, terrified at his broken and bloody condition inside the darkness of that bag. He tried frantically to find an opening and, after feeling the metal underlining of the bag’s long zipper, he found a space at its top. There he inserted his finger and pulled down hard, for it resisted his pull on it. Nevertheless, he succeeded in drawing it down and, looking up, he saw . .the face of a doctor who had suddenly looked down at Eddie’s face and shouted, “Jesus Christ! This guy’s got bubbles coming out of his mouth! He’s alive!” He took Eddie’s hand and laughingly pulled him up as if he were the doctor’s creation. There was laughter and a clapping of hands among the morgue attendants as the doctor, his arms extended towards Eddie’s swaying body, slowly walked around him.

Eddie soon found himself in a V.A. hospital battling for his life. Unknown to Eddie, a young man who had been in a car crash and had been assigned the same doctor as Eddie, was dying on an upper floor as Eddie’s doctor strove to save that young man’s life. After death took that young man, who left a wife and children, the doctor told Eddie that, given Eddie’s history and lack of promise, if the choice of who would die were in his hands, he would have let Eddie die. Though Eddie did not tell me how it came about, Eddie met and married the dead man’s wife, a story I would not believe but for the fact that I later learned that it was true. When Eddie told me of the VA doctor’s cruel statement to him, I was quick to judge the doctor harshly. Eddie cautioned me against quick judgments. He said that he gradually became friends with the doctor and learned that the doctor was actually a kind man who, like Eddie,  had a monkey on his back. The doctor, said Eddie, was an alcoholic.

Though Eddie had been drinking heavily since he was sixteen, and had continued to do so in the Merchant Marine and in the Marine Corps, he never drank again. He became for decades a devoted member of AA, obtained a high school certificate, and became a senior vice-president of a substantial company.

Sometimes at night he calls me and we nudge one another in a play of words, “caffling” they call it in Ireland, a kind of jabbing in the ribs, nothing unusual for us to do, for we were like brothers in that grim parochial school, and I was the elder one.


Harry Reynolds

Copyright 2015

Father Cranly’s Confession

by Harry Reynolds


Father Cranly’s Confession


Father Ryan was trouble. This was his third parish in less than three years. He had been with me only four months but I could feel that everything didn’t seem right to him. He looked at me as if he knew something that I didn’t know.

The only time Ryan looked happy was when I gave him every other night off on weekdays. He would leave saying that he was going to go to that diner on 11th Avenue – “the one where all the queers hang out”, he would say – and have “something decent to eat.” He would stand in the doorway of my room and, with that kid’s look of his, smile at me and stick his hand straight up into the air limply and would slowly wave it up and down saying, “Goodbye, Father Cranly”,  as if he were a fag, and I would get up, and  stick my hand up into the air and  slowly wave it saying, just the way he did it, “Goodbye, Ryan. Goodbye.” And we would both laugh.

But that Saturday night when he was supposed to be in and I suddenly realized that he wasn’t in his room and it was midnight and he had the seven o’clock Mass the next day, I couldn’t sleep. I went down into the living room and sat in the rocker and looked out the window. I watched the  snow falling past the street light outside. It had been snowing heavily all day.

At 2 a.m. Ryan opened the rectory door. I was half asleep in the rocker and there he was standing in the hallway looking down at me, smiling, snow all over his head and his leather jacket, looking as if he had just arrived on a motorcycle. I jumped up and shouted at him:

“Where have you been? You’re  a 29-year-old priest, Ryan! You don’t come into the rectory at 2 a.m. without your collar on wearing that old leather jacket! Where are your brains?”

And he laughs, he laughs at me. I can smell the booze, and when I move close to him, I smell the perfume.  And he sees it! He sees that I smelled it. And he says, “So what? God damn, so what?”, he says. And we have a real go at it.

I told him he was a bum. He said I was a dry lump of shit and no wonder no one ever calls you or visits you and if I’m around when you die I’ll piss on your grave!” He was loaded to the gills.

I shouted back at him, “May God strike you dead, Ryan! If this is going to be your life as a priest, you might as well kill yourself tonight!”, and I got up and put on my galoshes. I didn’t even have my socks on.  I put on my sweater and coat and walked out into the snow and stood there on 48th Street in front of the rectory. I didn’t even have a hat on. I was trembling and muttering to myself like a screwball. I was trying to get ahold of myself.

When I couldn’t stand the damn snow any longer, I went back in and stood in the vestibule. I looked up and called out to him. He had the seven o’clock Mass and he was cockeyed drunk. He was in no condition to say Mass. “Ryan, Ryan, come down here!” No answer. “Ryan do I have to go up there, for God’s sake?” No answer, and then from the back of the building sounds coming from the cellar. He was trudging up the wooden cellar stairs. I walked through the dining room and towards the kitchen and called out towards the cellar door, “Ryan?” No answer…..I walked to the other side of the kitchen. I looked down the cellar steps. The light was on.

“Ryan?” No answer. Then I heard his footsteps going up the stairway above me. He must have put up speed going up the cellar steps and turned up the back steps. Now he was on the second floor. Then I heard him going up the third floor stairway and with that I heard him close his bedroom door. It wasn’t a slamming sound. It was a fast cracking sound, like lightning. That’s how I heard it, like lightning, and I didn’t like that sound, I didn’t like it at all. I felt right then that I should have gone up those steps, but I didn’t. Had I but known what was going to happen – who could have dreamt it? – I would have run up those steps but I didn’t. I was an old man and I was tired and I wanted a cup of tea. In that one instant, that millionth of a second, my life took a left turn into Hell, but I didn’t know it. I walked across the kitchen to heat the kettle for some tea. I took down a cup and saucer, opened the tea box for a bag of tea, took my shoes off, and sat down, waiting for the kettle to whistle.

As I sat there, I thought about Ryan’s room.

The day he arrived, I showed him the bedrooms on the second floor. First I showed him mine and then I showed him the other two. I suggested that he take the one two rooms away from mine if he wanted it. I said that way he would have more privacy. He looked around him and said that he would like the room on the third floor. I told him there was no bedroom on that floor. He said he knew that. He had been to the rectory earlier that day and a man doing some cleaning showed him about. He saw the third floor space and liked it very much. He would take the furniture from one of the second floor bedrooms and put it up there. He would use the bathroom in that second floor bedroom. I asked, “Ryan, out of sheer curiosity, why do you want the third floor storage room, big as it is, for a bedroom?” He said, “I love those two massive windows. You can sit anywhere in that room and look up into the sky and feel as if you were in the middle of nowhere. What a grand feeling it is, Father Cranly, to be in the middle of nowhere looking up at a sky brittled with stars.” I looked at him as he stared up through the window at the sky over 48th Street  and I saw my aged face in the glass next to his his handsome face,  and I envied him.

Ryan was right. You did feel relaxed in that room. The storage room originally was a room used for social meetings of priests in the Hell’s Kitchen area. The walls were a good 12 feet high. The priests from nearby parishes used to go there and let off steam. They would have a few beers, turn on the radio, play cards, or talk their heads off about anything they wanted without worrying about their parishioners or other priests in their rectories hearing what was said. In the 1980s the churches began to close one by one. The room became a storage room for old Mass vestments. Two tall, massive bureaus were  built for them. They were nearly three feet apart along one wall with a step ladder between them. Each of those vestments was sewn by hand, painted by hand, and cared for by hand – all the hands of Irish nuns and old Irish widows on the West Side. When you looked at them with all those hues of green and red and blue and orange and burnished gold you thought you were standing inside the hearts of those old ladies who probably got only a cup of tea and a bun to help them along in their work. And so I turned to Ryan and said yes, Ryan, take the room if that will make you happy.

When the kettle whistled, I got up and was just about to pour myself a cup of tea when I heard Ryan shouting out:

“Hey, Cranly, come on up. Come on up. I want you to see something!”

I went up the steps slowly, wondering why God in this late time in my life had singled me out for this pain in the ass. Why me?

Just before I was ordained, I heard one of the priests say of me, not knowing that I was in the next room, “Cranly? Oh, he’ll never be a bishop. He’s too ordinary, if you know what I mean. With a bit of luck he might be a monsignor but not a bishop. No, Cranly’s a good man, of course, but nothing more than that.”  When I reached the third floor, I had a slight angina pain. I stopped for a minute in front of Ryan’s room and then opened his door. There standing on a chair spread between the tops of the bureaus was Ryan, a thick rope around his neck, running from behind his head up to the big pipe that ran across the ceiling.

“My God! What are doing, man!”, I shouted. How did you get up there? Why are you dressed for Mass? Did you take that vestment from one of the drawers? Are you crazy?”

“Not crazy at all, Cranly. You said kill yourself if I couldn’t be a good  priest!” His lips quivered and he rolled  his teary eyes up at the ceiling like an old woman.

“You’re drunk as a pig, Ryan. Come down like a good fellow,” I said. “Come on, come down now.”

“I’m not coming down until you hear my confession!,” he shouted.

“You’re not in a state to confess, Ryan. You’re high as a kite. Come on down, come on, Ryan, down, come down.”


“Cranly, I’m not coming down.”

“Do as you please, but take that rope from your neck. Where did you get that rope?”

“From the cellar,” he said. “I got it from the cellar and I won’t take it off. It’s my costume for the confession I’m going to make whether you hear it or not, Cranly.”

He then slowly and dramatically made the sign of the cross.

“Are you kidding, Ryan? Have you been having intercourse with some prostitute over at that diner?”

“She’s not a slut!”, he said.  He then slowly made the sign of the cross again. “She’s not a slut!  She’s Irish-American”

“God, Almighty! I think you’re possessed, Ryan! “\

“I’m drunk but not possessed”, Cranley answered.

“Ryan, how could you get involved with that kind of human shit ?”

“Careful, you old bastard! Careful! I loveAlice. You better watch your tongue, you old fuck of a wreck. Watch your tongue!”

“Watch my tongue!”, I shouted.” You bum! What do you know about love humped over a drag queen in an alley on 11th Avenue?”

“We use her apartment”, he yelled. “We don’t use an alley. And she serves tea, Cranly,Barry Tea, the Irish tea you like. Who knows, Cranly, maybe with another pound of Barry Tea and you’ll be eating over at the diner with me.”

“There’s no love in your life, Ryan,” I said. “You don’t have to kill yourself. You have to be alive to kill yourself,” I shouted.

And with that I turned to go and it was then he said the words that set my head on fire.


“There’s more love in her hot tongue, Cranly, than there is in the whole God damned Vatican on Christmas Day!”

I whirled about and with all my might jumped on the step ladder in front of one of the bureaus and with both my hands grabbed ahold of a leg of his chair and pulled it. He tottered there for a second like a frightened mannikin and fell back, his arms outstretched, grasping at the air like a big bird and dropped straight down and I saw his head jerk forward – all in a second he was hanging like a turkey on a hook in a butcher’s window. It was so swift, as if God had struck him down.

I opened my mouth to scream but I couldn’t make a sound. I remember sticking my arms out the way he did as I ran to the wrong end of the room for the door, and then turned and ran to the door and down the steps. I found my shoes under the kitchen table and put them on and got my coat and went straight out of the rectory. I had to breathe. I couldn’t breathe. I was trembling and talking to myself, trying to get ahold of myself. I don’t know how far I walked…. I was so tired, I wanted to hail a cab but I had left my wallet in the rectory. I had to walk back and when I walked in I suddenly felt that I had to speak to Ryan. I thought I couldn’t let the night pass without speaking to him, so I went up to his room and actually knocked and knocked and knocked and when there wasn’t any sound I tried the door and opened it and there he was, hanging from the pipe, his head bent towards the door as if he had been waiting for me to ask me “Why?”

And I knew then I was going mad. I had killed him. He had never intended to kill himself. He had said he would come down after he made his confession.

In a rush I ran down to the kitchen for a knife and then, out of breath, walked slowly up to Ryan’s room and started to cut the god damned thick rope, calling out Ryan’s name over and over, looking at his swollen face, his eyes popped out, his tongue sticking out. Finally I cut the rope, and he collapsed to the ground like a rag doll and when I saw that he had shit in his pants I burst out crying like a baby in the dark.


What happened next, I can’t recall. They say I dialed 911. When the police arrived, I was sitting on the rocker, mute, staring straight ahead, deaf to all questions, sitting as if I were in a great fog in a vast and empty field. I was that way in Korea when Freddy Jackson fell on top of my feet, the top of his head blown off by a shell fragment, his brains all over my jacket and boots, his eye hanging out of its socket. That time I didn’t speak for a week.

The night of Ryan’s death, the Cardinal’s office sent an old monsignor to stay with me at the rectory. Several days later a homicide detective, a really fat man, came to talk to me. He was out of breath though he had only walked up the seven steps to the rectory door. He apologized saying the rules required that he speak to me. I asked him his name. He said, “Patrick Madden, I’m a Catholic”, and winked at me. Oddly enough, that made me feel safe, though all my life I had despised that kind of bullshit.

I told him that I was in bed when I thought I had heard a thud. I went downstairs to check the rooms, found no one, and on walking upstairs noticed a band of light across the third floor ceiling. I went up and saw that the light came from Father Ryan’s room. His door was ajar. I knocked twice but there was no answer. I opened the door slowly and there saw Father Ryan hanging. I cut him down and called the police. When I began to speak further, Madden held up the palm of his hand, signaling me to stop. He looked at his wristwatch, entered the time in his notebook, and said he was very sad about what had happened. “I’ve never seen anything in all the homicides I’ve had matching the sight of that young priest with a rope around his neck, dressed for Mass. I can’t get it out of my mind.” He bent over me as I sat in the rocker and said, “Father, if you ever need help for anything, call me. Understand, Father, for anything at all, you call me. He handed me his card, and left.”

Several days later, Madden suddenly appeared at night, without calling ahead.”Do you mind my coming without calling, Father?

“Not at all”, I said.

Madden drew some papers from his battered brief case and put them on his lap. “Father”, he said, “I want you to help me straighten out some facts. We have Father Ryan’s autopsy. No doubt about it, he was drunk. Second, before he came here we have reason to believe he was with a prostitute in her apartment on Fifty-first and Ninth. He had been with her in a diner on 11th Avenue and had left with her. She denies that she took him to her apartment. Next, I can’t figure out why he would kill himself in that way – dressed to say Mass. And so, Father, I have to ask you a question.

You told me you got out of bed when you heard a thud coming from his room above your bedroom, right?” “Yes, that’s right”, I said. “Then why didn’t you go right upstairs instead of downstairs?” I looked at Madden and sternly said, as if he were an altar boy, “Madden, I didn’t say it came from his bedroom. I heard the sound when I was asleep. I didn’t speak to you as if I were reading a blueprint. I left my room and without thinking went downstairs first. That’s where we keep church money and where there’s an entrance to the church. Anyhow, when I went into his room I saw a kitchen chair on the floor. Maybe that’s what made the sound.”

Madden looked at the palms of his hands. “Father”, he said, looking up at me, “that chair was found lying on its side across the space between the tops of the bureaus. It wasn’t on the floor. And now that you mention that chair, why would he take the chair up there? I don’t think he knew anything about the distance he had to drop to hang himself. Who the hell does? Incidentally, Father, if you ever want to hang yourself, do you know how to figure the feet you have to drop to do a good, clean job of it?”

“No, I don’t,” I said.

“Take,” Madden said, “1,260 and divide it by your weight. The result is the number of feet you need to drop.”

“How useful that is to know, Madden. I’ll mention it at Mass, Sunday.” Madden laughed loudly, too loudly perhaps. Suddenly, he said, “I think Ryan might have gone up there on that chair dressed that way to be seen by someone before he did anything. Father, did you that night go into Ryan’s room while he was alive and standing up there on those bureaus?”


“Did you speak to him when he came in?”


“What did he say?”

“I can’t answer that, detective.”

“Did he speak to you in confession?”


“O.K., Father”, Madden said, closing his notebook. “Sorry about the questions. That autopsy report, though, it’s interesting”, he said, turning the rim of his fedora. “He didn’t really hang himself. According to the autopsy, he died of asphyxiation. He didn’t fracture any vertebrae in his neck. He put the rope knot in the wrong place. It should have been on the left side of his head. He put it at the back of his head, and so, according to the pathologist, Ryan was hanging there strangling for oh, maybe, thirty minutes or so, cutting off the blood supply to his head, and that finished him off. I thought that that was what had happened when I looked at him lying on the floor. He had crapped in his pants and that usually happens when they die of asphyxiation, that and the eyes popping out, sure signs of a screwed up hanging.”

I was stunned. Instead of running out of the rectory in a panic and walking around in the snow, I could have cut Ryan down right away and he would have lived. Instead, I broke and ran, and he died.

Madden walked to the door, turned and said, “One other thing bugs me, Father. If Father Ryan intended to drop from the chair, he would have stepped forward. He wouldn’t have knocked that chair sideways…. unless he moved sideways for some reason and shifted the chair so that it fell sideways across that space between the bureaus. But why would he move sideways unless the chair moved him, but that doesn’t make sense, does it, Father?”

“No, it doesn’t, if I follow you. You know”, I said, “you have a very sharp brain, Madden. You should have been a priest.”

“Thank you”, he said, “but hell, what kind of priest would I have made, Father?”

“Oh,” I said, “I think you would have made a bishop, Madden, at least a bishop…” He smiled modestly and extended his hand. I shook it. “Goodbye, Madden. May I give you a blessing?”

“Oh, thank you, Father, thank you.”

Madden knelt down in front of me. Almost like a child he bowed his head and held his fedora in his two hands against his chest. I blessed him, slowly. He raised himself with great effort, trudged to the door, waved a salute towards me, and walked out, but not without stopping:

“You know”, he said,” your  Father Ryan’s girl friend was not a she. She was a shim, father.

“A what?” I asked.

“She was a he, a transvestite”, said Madden, triumphantly.  “A jack of all trades, you might say”, and with that he bent this head back and laughed louder and louder and louder, but I could see that as he turned up his laughter his cold half-closed eyes were steadily fixed on me. I had the sense that he and I at that moment  entered  into another time zone and had begun a slow dance towards a yet unknown exit.

You know, it wouldn’ t surprise me if I saw Madden again.



Copyright  Harry Reynolds 2015










Welcome, Citizens, to Our Leaders

The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned  into a War on American Ideals     Doubleday   By Jane Mayer ( 2008 )

Reviewed by Harry Reynolds

Foreigners one day may visit this country to teach our children how our democracy decayed, drop by drop.  The text for the course will be Jane Mayer’s  The Dark Side. A classically  great work of investigative journalism, it is an  appalling, profoundly disturbing revelation of the Bush Administration’s war on terrorism.  It is a grim warning of the threat to us that exists in a President who sets himself against the Constitution in a parallel world that he secretly constructs in the name of security. When reading it, you may have the fleeting sense that you are in Berlin and the year is 1938.

The questions posed to our children will be whether   President George W. Bush, Vice-President Richard Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, together with other high office holders and military commanders, should have been indicted for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the violation of  federal criminal statutes described in The Dark Side, and whether, failing in that, we endangered ourselves to greater subversions of liberty.

In September, 2001, when the dust of the Twin Towers had not yet settled, Cheney, mentor to Bush and long fixated on his felt need to increase the power of a presidency weakened by Vietnam and Watergate, took charge of national security issues. President Bush authorized CIA Director Tenet  to use secret paramilitary death squads anywhere on earth  to detain and interrogate suspected terrorists. When  Congress, however,  would not give him unlimited war powers, he secretly obtained from a cadre of lawyers in the  Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel   bizarre, some said insane, legal memoranda  that in sum held that  Congress could not limit Bush’s conduct of warfare. This cadre  informally called themselves the “War Council”. They advised Bush that he could defend the nation as he saw fit and  ride over laws specifically designed to curb him. They assured him that he could set aside statutes prohibiting torture and secret detentions. Terrorists, they said, were outside the body of law, beyond the protection of the Geneva Conventions. They could be tortured.  They knew what Cheney, Bush and Rumsfeld wanted and accordingly advised Bush that he had inherent authority to use military commissions empowered to sentence illegal combatants to death, all without review by Congress or the courts. These legal memos, hidden from all but a select White House circle, were five-and-dime store stunts manufactured to create a paper world of authority where none existed and upon  which the principal actors, such was their contempt for the public,  were ready to rely in justification of their abhorrent conduct.  Indeed, these masters of self-deceit honed a memo stating that proof of torture required not only proof of the specific intent to inflict suffering but proof that the suffering was of “significant” duration.  In short, the world might condemn an act out of hand as painful torture, but the torturer could raise in defense the claim that he intended an objective that involved a result other than that pain.

And so it was that the natural passion to defend this country and punish those who had slaughtered our people was tragically placed in the hands of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld whose joint cunning and stupidity has caused one of the greatest horrors in our national history.

The nightmare CIA secret “extraordinary rendition” program sent detainees to Egypt, Morocco, Syria, Jordan, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan for torture. Bush and CIA Director Tenet knew that those renditions were  forbidden by the Convention against Torture. Suspects in our custody were held in CIA top-secret “black site” prisons. Thus, Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, Mayer contends, are prosecutable for war crimes and crimes against humanity, to say nothing of their  violations of our federal criminal law.

Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld  approved of “enhanced” interrogation techniques in violation of the Convention Against Torture.  After all, an Office of Legal Counsel  memo declared that Convention  unconstitutional because Bush, they said, had the power to order any interrogation technique. Indeed, the Office of Legal Counsel  declared waterboarding lawful. Sexual humiliation, hoodings, shackled 8-hour standing with arms extended overhead, slamming prisoners headfirst against walls, sleep deprivation, bright light bombardment , 24-hour a day ear-drum shattering noise for weeks, caging squatting men in dog crates, was the order of the day. One of the  Office of Legal Counsel scholars hypothetically suggested as lawful the gouging out of a prisoner’s eyes, “slitting an ear, nose, or lip, or disabling a tongue or limb”.  Among the barbaric cruelties was “Palestinian hanging” in which a man’s hands are secured behind his back and he is  suspended from behind like a carcass in a slaughter house. Examining such a corpse, Dr. Michael Baden, the noted  forensic pathologist  for the New York State Police,  found that “asphyxia is what he died from – as in a crucifixion”. Surely, to see a crucifixion where beatings, broken bones, and murder were commonplace might give pause even to a predatory animal passing  through  at night.

The International Committee for the Red Cross described the treatment of Abu Zubayda, an Al Qaeda logistics chief, as torture that constituted war crimes. The Los Angeles Times demanded a criminal investigation of the Bush Administration for war crimes. So dismissive was

Bush of lawful restraints that he himself ordered the waterboarding of  Zubayda. So in-your-face arrogant was the CIA that hundreds of hours of video tapes of the interrogation of Zubayda , including his extensive waterboarding, were withheld from the 9/11 Commission and, in defiance of a federal court, were actually destroyed by the CIA.

In 2002, one-third of Guantanamo’s 600 prisoners had no connection with terrorism, thus implicating Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld in committing war crimes. Bush had thoughtfully determined that they were all “enemy combatants”.  Rumsfeld was directly involved in the straight out of hell, unutterably inhumane savaging  of Mohammed al-Qahtani, the suspected “20th hijacker”  who had set out but failed to join the 9/11 hijackers. His torture produced nothing of substance except the Pentagon’s dismissal of the charges against him because his torture tainted his confession.  Military interrogators opened themselves to prosecution for the brutal abuse of detainees. Frightened by the criminality of military torturers, the FBI denounced them for fear of being implicated.   Alberto Mora, General Counsel of the Navy, warned that criminal charges from assault to war crimes were chargeable against Bush Administration officials. Incredibly, a March 2003 memo declared that federal laws prohibiting assault, maiming, and other crimes did not apply to military interrogators in Guantanamo.

The hell left by the Bush Administration is beyond ordinary imagining. The investigation of that hidden parallel world of perhaps thousands of uncharged men and women cut off from access to their families, tortured, humiliated, beaten, and kept off stage by the Bush Administration is the duty of President Obama. A failure in that duty could not but work the corruption of our onlooking children.

Governor Andrew Cuomo:New York’s Frightened Candidate


          During his first campaign for governor, Andrew Cuomo should have been reported to the police as a missing person, so much so that at one newspaper a wall clock was maintained showing the weeks and months during which he fled the prospect of press interviews. And so he is today. The reason? He is unable in fright to control his temper when questioned by the press and more so he seems to live in a state of anguish because intellectually he has a short stick.

          He seems to prize cunning, feeding the public as if it were a dancing bear, laughing at them from backstage. His shallow voice coats his shallow thoughts. No scholar this one and surely no Spitzer is he. If ever these two were in a debate, Cuomo would end up like meat passing through your butcher’s grinder.

          How incredible that the Democrat Party, my party, would push him down the public’s throat, a person notoriously obsessed with becoming the president, a nervous walk-on character right out of The Sopranos, good when crouched over a deal in the dark, but in real life lacking the depth that evokes the respect of others. Give him a sneaky way to con the public, and he’ll kiss your feet. He is the hustler whose idea of a good faith offer is a pail of milk with a dead rat lying at the bottom.

          Read Cuomo’s words when he was caught lying about his self-serving intervention in the work of the Moreland Commission: “it’s my commission”..;”it is mine”…”it is controlled by me”. He had proposed setting  up the Commission as the high water ethical mark for our state government and then grievously wounded it in order to satisfy the whores who suck money out of their governmental positions.

 Would you lend Andrew Cuomo your lawn mower? If you died, would you rest in peace with Andrew Cuomo in charge of your estate or of your dog?


Harry Reynolds



 By Harry Reynolds       

            When in 2007 the  Office of Court Administration (OCA) unlawfully withheld  from the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court the modest 25 year record of Congressman Rangel’s failure  to register, was the cause of the OCA’s decision the fact that the OCA knew that there were New York State legislators who were as guilty as Rangel and that the OCA  had not referred them to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court?


            Who had the motive and arrogance to make those decisions?


            Did the then Chief Administrative Judge, Jonathan Lippman, now the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, our highest court, know of those decisions?


            Did Sheldon Silver, Speaker of the Assembly who was responsible for Lippman’s appointment in 2009 as Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, speak to Lippman about any of the guilty legislators?


            Who were the New York State legislators blessed by the happy disposition of the OCA towards them? How many guilty legislators since 2007 have left the OCA building in lower Manhattan wearing party hats?


            If the OCA was sensitive to the heady air of politics, did it extend to other matters such as delinquent attorneys sleeping in its records as “delinquent” for four, six, and eight consecutive years?


            Can you tell by looking at any OCA attorney registration list  the number of consecutive years a registered attorney has been “delinquent”?  Why doesn’t OCA list that information?


            Is it fair to state that the Chinatown lawyer, Stanley Chin,  was suspended in his eighties from the practice of law by a court that did not know that the OCA unlawfully refrained from referring legislators to that court for disciplinary action warranted by the conduct for which Chin was suspended?


Sister Ildephonse

                                     Sister Ildephonse


by Harry Reynolds

When I was eleven years old I was told, and I believed it to be true, that God punished evil people, but then I saw that he didn’t, and then I saw that sometimes he did punish them, but then I saw that evil people sometimes were good and sometimes good people changed in midstream in doing good and turned to evil while they were doing good. In the end, I saw that God had absolutely nothing to do with good and evil, that good and evil were, so to speak, none of his business.

And so, one day, at a Lower East Side school where I was educated by military officers disguised as German nuns, when Sister Ildephonse looked at the ceiling and said, as if to herself, “No matter who you are, children, you can always rely on God’s love”, at that moment the course of my life was changed when I snidely whispered to the class forger, Vladimir Petrov, “God owes us nothing”. Sister Ildephonse, upon hearing what I had said, swooped down the aisle, grabbed my red tie, and dragged me upright into the cloakroom, where she beat me about the head, left and right, left and right, with such force that for a moment I stood apart from her beating and wondered at her strength as she delivered her blows. That night, as I lay in my bed in our cold water flat, I rolled over and over thinking of a plan for vengeance on Sister Ildephonse but could think of no way in which I could conceal my identity. But then I prayed to God to help me, and so he did, and I saw that, though he did not owe me anything, he was just. I suddenly realized that the key for concealing my identity was by telling a priest in a confessional something evil about Sister Ildephonse. We had been told by Sister Ildephonse herself that a priest’s mouth was silenced forever, even by the threat of death, about what he had heard in the confessional from any penitent. I was, I may as well say it, transfixed by the joy that my plan for vengeance upon Sister Ildephonse came out of her own mouth. For the next week, I could think of nothing but the variety of lies that I could tell the priest without making him suspicious of me whose identity of course he would know by looking through the grill at my bent form.

And so, having selected Father Fleckenstein, the newest priest in the parish, who was young and nervous looking, I entered his confessional on a Saturday afternoon, the time when the priests every week were in their confessionals ready to deal with the sins of what I thought a surprising number of parishioners. “Bless me father, for I have sinned. My last confession…” “Get on with it, boy, no need to go into that recitation.”

I confessed about five or six sins, none of them extraordinary. Sins of disobedience of my parents, of a choice lie that I was somewhat proud of, of my dreaming of a naked girl, the oversized Sophie Wyzinski who lived in our tenement, and so on until, as if I were munching on a fact that I seemed to be concealing, I blurted out that I saw Sister Ildephonse, after class had been dismissed, in the cloakroom with Father O’Brien, the Pastor, and they were laughing. Father Fleckenstein said, after pausing at length, “There’s nothing wrong with that. Why do you even mention it?” “ I don’t know”, I said haltingly, “except that I could see Sister Ildephonse wasn’t wearing her skirt. It was on the floor.” This time there was a very long pause. “What else did you see?” asked Father Fleckenstein. When I heard that question, fright overcame me. I couldn’t breathe. I began to cry. I could have urinated in my pants. Father Fleckenstein said, “You are never to tell what you saw to anyone. Never tell anyone. God will strike you and even your family dead. Do you understand that… Tell me you understand that.” And I said “Yes, I understood that.”

At Christmas, we learned that Sister Ildephonse was now in the Phillipines. I heard my mother telling my father that the rumour in the parish was that Vladimir Petrov had seen Ildephonse in the cloakroom with one of the priests, which priest no one knew. I marveled at how the seal of the confessional was observed and how God was so right in pointing the way to me. In the end, I could see that he might not owe us anything, but he certainly knew how to be just without disclosing my identity. It was then, I recall, though I cannot be certain, that I began to believe that one day I might become a lawyer.