America’s Zyklon B Moment

America’s Zyklon B Moment
May 6, 2020 – David R. Weiss

Flannery O’Connor explained the overdrawn characters in her short stories by explaining that she was writing for readers unfamiliar with her world, so she used these characters to shout. Today I am shouting.

I’ve listened to GOP politicians justify reopening the economy before their states have even met the four key criteria outlined by the White House administration. They openly state they are making a deal built on death. They are willing to pay for economic vitality with body bags. (They’ll also likely pay for it with a second and third wave of infections and deaths, although they don’t talk so openly about that.)

I understand there are people who are economically hurting, and I’ll address that in another essay. But we need to grapple with this one thing today. These politicians are choosing death over life. Proudly.

We’re witnessing a “Zyklon B moment” in America.

Used Zyklon B canisters in Auschwitz museum – image: Alex Morley

Zyklon B was the pelletized gas the Nazis used to kill Jews in the gas chambers. They chose it because it was cheaper than bullets or carbon monoxide (both of which they also used). They chose it because German companies were ready to bid competitively on the lowest cost for the weakest dose that would “do the job.” After the war, executives from the companies pleaded innocence. After all, they just made the pellets; they didn’t carry out the mass executions. Several of them were ultimately executed. (I studied this in a course on the Holocaust, Radical Evil, and Theology, taught by a rabbi in 1984—but refreshed my memory online last night.)

Zyklon B became a symbol for bureaucratic evil, for the near unimaginable perversity of letting market forces provide immoral murderous answers to political evil.

We are caught right now in a moment of political evil, in which Trump and the GOP, abetted by corporate financiers (or is it the reverse?), are intent on entrenching capitalist white supremacist homophobic xenophobic misogynistic class and ecological war as the shape of our shared future. (That’s the other essay—to follow in a day or two. That’s why these “Re-Open” protests are so foolish, so dangerous, and so complicit in something radically evil.)

In this moment (that is, before there is clear evidence that the conditions for safeguarding the public health have been met), choosing to re-open the economy is akin to choosing Zyklon B.

Zyklon B: when you let the market do the murdering for you. That’s today in America. Cheered on by flag-waving, gun-toting “patriots.” God help us.

*     *     *


David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at Read more at where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community Supported Theology at

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