At its narrowest definition, The Holocaust entailed the destruction of 150k-300k disabled people, between 200-500k Roma & Sinti, 3.3. million Soviet POWs, and about 5.5-6 million European people categorized as Jews by Germany or her allies. At its broadest definition, The Holocaust encompassed the more than 5 million Polish and 20 million Soviet (Latvian, Lithuanian, Estonian, Belarussian, Ukrainian, and Russian) civilians killed to prevent or in retaliation for partisan attacks, indirectly through the seizure of food or clothing or housing desired by Axis forces, or for no particular reason. Note that these figures overlap, such as the 90% reduction in Poland's pre-war Jewish population of 3 million.
The "Undesirables" targeted in the narrowest definition can be more or less divided into three categories: state welfare dependents within the German Empire, foreigners who (supposedly) threatened to undermine Axis military operations in the occupied territories, and no-longer usable slaves harvested from across Europe to increase German industrial production and free up Germans for The Front. Germany utilised more than 13 million slaves during the war, and in 1944 Germany's 6 million slaves accounted for a third of the entire German workforce having freed more than a million low-skilled Germans for military service. Moreover, the elimination of Undesirables not or no longer (after overuse) useful as slaves kept them from being a drain upon the German Empire's increasingly strained food supplies, forestalling greater resistance to German rule in the annexed/conquered territories. The Holocaust was also key to Germany's attempts to establish and maintain control over its occupied territories, as the gross insufficiency of German counterinsurgency assets made pre-emptive actions to neutralise potentially troublesome demographics a "military necessity" (kriegsraison) in strategic terms.
Wartime killing also reduced the workload in the (planned) post-victory period. For although the specific programmes of the Holocaust were rooted in short-term practical benefits, in the long-term these genocides were means to greater ends: the purging of 'sick' elements from and promotion of 'strong' elements within the national body politic, and the consolidation of ethnic claims to greatly expanded national territories. Of all the Axis powers, Germany's programmes were the most extensive, as German ultranationalists' vision of a Drang nach Osten or 'Drive to the East' had long inspired them to conquer and replace the entire population of eastern Europe with Germans. In time, this would empower Germany to lead the European peoples in a grand crusade against the Asiatic Hordes of the Barbarous Orient and destroy the last bastion of the 'Judeo-Bolshevik' puppetmasters (North America) making Germany not just the undisputed master of the European world, but of the world entire. Today, Adolf Hitler is the best-known person to have held these hopes for Germany's wartime killing programmes.
The centrality of The Holocaust to Nazi Germany's 'War Aims' in World War II and its sheer scale make it one of the most important events of the 20th century.
The terms "Vernichtungspolitik" (Annihilation Policies) and "Holocaust" are now used as umbrella terms for these genocides. Famously, several genocidal policies were couched in innocuous or bureaucratic termsnote . The perpetrators had no general term for the totality of their genocidal programs because they were planned and executed separately by a number of agencies working with and against each another (together with local agents and partnership with domestic industry) towards general war goals. note
Some Jews call the measures taken against their people the Ha Shoah or Shoah ("the catastrophe"). Some Roma & Sinti call the measures taken against their own the Porajmos ("the devouring"). The Greek word holocaust (hólos, "whole" and kaustós, "burnt") actually refers to an animal sacrifice to the Gods, though a European tradition of using the word to describe massacres in historic chronicles had existed well before World War II. The inadequacy of prior words to succinctly describe these actions led to the contemporary creation of the noun "genocide", from the Greek genos (γένος, "race, people") and Latin caedere ("to kill"). The Rwandan Genocide of 1994 later led to the creation of a noun for one who perpetrates genocide, génocidaire.
Like the rest of the world, Europe had ancient traditions of in-group promotion and out-group destruction which were strengthened and radicalised by the European Colonial Period. By the time Europe entered the modern era, its major in-group out-group distinctions had crystalised into the concepts of Religion/Ideology, Nation, and Race.
Since antiquity, Christians' relationship with Jews had been marked by an unstable dichotomy of inferiority/superiority, with some rare instances of tolerance. Hatred of Jews, which was later termed 'Anti-semitism', had at the very least been part of Christian culture since The Middle Ages between The Crusades and the Black Death (11th-13th centuries). At that time, Europe's largest Jewish community in the Rhineland was expelled by the Holy Roman Empire and fled to The Kingdom of Poland (their language, Rhineland-German, becoming known as 'Yiddish'). This mentality faded over time and in the wake of the Thirty Years' War and The Enlightenment, religion, while important, was no longer the sole cause of anti-semitism. This pre-modern state of affairs was filled with instances of persecution and violence, but for the most part, the medieval era was characterised by acceptance and favour, albeit as second-class citizens constantly pressured or even coerced into conversion.
In the 19th Century, anti-Semitism evolved in the nationalist, imperialist, and racist climate of the times. Indeed, this was when the term 'Anti-Semitism' was invented. It had the appearance of being 'cold' and 'rational' since it was upon the, now-discredited, principles of Scientific Racialism the classification and distinction of 'racial' groups based upon identifiable differences. For you see, Scientific Racialism was predicated upon the idea that races existed. It was not until the early 20th century that anyone started serious enquiries into whether they actually did (spoiler: they don't). Ironically, this era of renewed anti-Semitism was in part a backlash to an era of even greater acceptance. Emerging nationalism in the newer European states (such as Serbia and other Balkan States) insisted upon exclusive religious-ethnic definitionsnote . However, others, like the Austro-Hungarian Empire did not, since it simply couldn't because it was just so heterogenous. In the wake of The French Revolution and the conquests of Napoleon, Jewish de-ghettoization had been achieved in Western Europe, even in places such as Austria, where it was legally possible for a Jew to be a full citizen of a nation. Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, and the USA were the four countries in which Jews' treatment improved the most during the 19th century. But the anti-Semitic backlash became even more extreme as a result, with some feeling disempowered and oppressed by the elevation of ethnic minorities such as Jews to full citizenship, since it wiped the sheen of "first-class citizenship" and was a harbinger of full equality.
Friedrich Nietzsche, who was misappropriated by antisemites, was a vociferous critic of anti-semitism, and he wrote an analysis of why it had taken on a new and more problematic form:
Racism was also a very old concept given new form in the 19th centurynote . There were some general trends within the new field of 'Scientific Racism'. The rare types of skin (pale), hair (non-black), and eye colour (non-brown) which distinguished Europeans from the rest of the world were seen as indicative of Europeans' uniqueness and superiority, with Scandinavian Scientific Racialist studies (unsurprisingly, given the prevalence of these unique characteristics among their people) asserting this very strongly and Anglo-American-Germanic studies (more surprisingly, given that only a minority of their peoples had all those features) generally falling into line with these assertions. And the non-European races were seen as an existential threat to the European races by virtue of their vast numbers (90% of world population), and of course their vast numbers alone.
One of the two radically different and incompatible theories about race and race-mixing was 'Corruption' or 'Pollution' Theory, also known as 'One Drop' Theory. This theory proposed that all it took to produce a degenerate human was a single element of inferior racial stock mixed in with otherwise perfectly superior European blood. This theory was only popular in the USA and to a small extent in South Africa, where the Pencil Test was much more popular in the "breed the races apart over generations" 'plan' it focused on phenotype over genotype. note In both countries, the 'Corruption/Pollution' theory was codified in a series of laws about who was legally 'non-white' and therefore could be enslaved. Even after they abolished formal slavery, both democracies continued to use laws to de facto enslave 'non-white' citizens through the prison systemnote (USA) and creation of nominally independent 'ethnic homelands' ('Bantustans', South Africa) economically dependent upon the motherland and restrict them to lesser (and vote-less) categories of citizenship. The USA 'officially' provided equal protection under the law with the 14th Amendment (1868), but serious efforts to enforce that mandate did not begin until the post-World War II era. South Africa repealed Apartheid following a Referendum in 1990.
The second theory was 'Blood Majority' or 'Dominant Blood Theory', which held that the type of blood which predominated most would 'win' in the heart and soul of the person. A person with 63/64 parts European blood and 1/64th African could, for instance, be regarded as a regular European with all the attendant superiority and rights to reproduce unless, of course, they were to demonstrate particularly degenerate behaviour (indicating 'regression' caused by their blood-taint). But a person with three African grandparents would of course be African, though their intellect and morality might well be better than that of the average African by virtue of the influence of their superior blood. The problem came when there was a 'balance of blood' when a person had an equal number of ancestors of superior and inferior blood types. Here the theory required careful study of personality, positing that half-blooded people who 'acted as degenerates' should essentially be treated as if they were fully of lesser racial stock.
Related to Racism, especially in the USA and Britain, there was Eugenics. This new and most modern of Sciences, which was studied at all good and most of the best universities in the world, was invented by the Briton named Francis Galton, who was the cousin of Charles Darwin and the person who introduced the earliest concepts for proper IQ testing. The term Eugenics comes from the Greek for 'good birth'. Eugenics was a well-respected discipline in its day. Sterilization Legislature modeled on that of Scandinavian countries was enacted in the USA in 1907, and Winston Churchill notably attempted to pass Eugenics legislature in the UK as well. Interestingly, though Eugenics as a Science was a creation of the 1870s, Eugenic principles had actually been part of European culture ever since the Ancient Greeks in general and the warrior-state of Sparta in particular:
The paranoia for heritable disabilities appears to have been replicated in Roman culture, which was influenced by that of Greece. Latin used the same word for disability (monstrum) as it did for beasts, and seems to have had a cultural tolerance of post-birth abortion due to religious beliefs that the just-born had no souls/immortal-spiritual essence.
The science of Eugenics was based upon the (not unreasonable at the time) assumption that everything was 'in the genes' hereditary traits from one's ancestors, such as inheritable diseases (susceptibility to heart disease, various cancers, mental illness, dementia, and so on) are everything that's responsible for the physical and cognitive/intellectual characteristics of a person, no matter the upbringing or environmental context. In France and the USA, this conflicted with the (Christian-inspired) belief that all people were fundamentally very similar, and that nutrition and education and parenting played a more important role in shaping people's personalities. From Eugenics, we get the concepts of 'Hereditary Criminality', 'Moral-Physical Degeneracy', and 'Racial Degeneration'. At the root of these ideas is that the reproduction of people should, for the good of society, be considered in the same terms as the breeding of lesser beings: those with desirable traits (most often Intelligence) should produce many offspring, and those with undesirable traits should not reproduce. This would ensure the continual betterment of society through a process of 'Reasoned Selection' of desirable traits, in contrast to the societally self-destructive tolerance of Darwinian 'Natural Selection' which would produce a preponderance of lower-class/degenerate stock which would dilute and corrupt that of the superior (i.e. middle-upper) classes.
Darwin himself notably shied away from what his cousin, Galton, would say was the logical conclusion of his work as applied to humanity if one had the moral courage to do what was right in the name of the public's welfare: sterilization and euthanasia of the 'unfit'. Darwin wasn't alone in this, as the vast majority of academics and the learned public shied away from euthanasia all actual Eugenics Laws passed in Sweden, the USA, etc concerned sterilization alone.
Eugenics was, of course, fundamentally flawed in that it assumed that most or even all traits were inheritable when, in fact, they were not. The new science of epigenetics proved that though the genetic code can't be changed, its expression can be switched on or off by the environment. Moreover, it also continued the medieval Christian tradition of equating physical appearance with morality. The children of prostitutes generally did not go on to become prostitutes unless they had no other choice, the children of murderers were not particularly renowned for murdering people themselves, and so on. Likewise, people who had grown up on the verge of starvation were not, for instance, short and brittle-boned because they were somehow eviler and less moral than their well-fed counterparts, but because of general malnutrition and Rickets (a condition caused by insufficient calcium intake).
This leads us into Social Darwinism, a philosophy created by the Briton Herbert Spencer. 'Nations' were a social entity created in the 19th century (see Political Ideologies) promoted by states with sufficient ethnic, cultural, or linguistic homogeneity amongst their citizens to claim 'nation-state' status and so encourage loyalty and sacrifice towards said states. 'Social Darwinism' held that 'nations' competed for survival in the same way that species of animals did so in nature: the strong would prey upon the weak, and eventually the world would have an 'apex predator nation' or perhaps the world was ultimately only big enough for just one nation. The addition of a spiritual and competitive element to inter-state wars meant that defeat or victory was no longer a mere military and political event: it was an indicator of national 'strength' or 'weakness' which signalled one's place in the Hierarchy of Nations and perhaps the eventual fate (Sole Survivor, Predator, or Prey) of one's Nation. This made wars very, very Serious Business.
World War One and its aftermath radicalised European politics and fractured it along ethno-national lines.
Ever since the 1878-9 Russo-Turkish War, the European powers had promoted religious-ethno-national dissent in the Ottoman Empire as a way of creating conflicts which required outside mediation. This was done to secure concessions from the Ottoman government, which agreed to trade terms and the establishment of government offices supervised and staffed by foreigners. These religious and ethnic conflicts instilled increasing paranoia and fear in the Ottoman Empire's Turkish minority as their Christian citizens rebelled against them, instituted religious and ethnic cleansing to create homogeneous nation-states, and sought to liberate and cleanse yet more territory from the Ottomans and one another. With their ultimate defeat in the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, the Ottomans lost virtually all of their European territory and the capital of Istanbul and the Turkish homelands themselves were under threat. The Greek minorities on the Ottomans' Mediterranean coastline gave them claims over that region, the eastern borderlands of Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) were as infested with Kurds and Armenians, and the Syrian and Palestinian territories were almost completely devoid of ethnic Turks. In an age of religious and ethnic exclusivity, the pluralistic Ottoman Empire, it seemed, was doomed.
However, there was a solution.
Perhaps The Ottoman Empire was doomed to become a tiny rump-state for Turks. But if there were only some way to break the foreigners' strictures on the persecution of minorities, the Turks might yet take their collective destiny into their own hands and determine just how big 'Turkey' would be. After all, the Balkan States had already demonstrated the wisdom and widespread international acceptance of 'demographic engineering'.
Joining the First World War on the Central Powers' side gave them the Ottomans this opportunity, removing all non-German foreign interference in their country as German military bureaucrats took over the offices (rail, telegraphs, post office) which still required their expertise. In March 1915, the revolutionary Young Turk government tested the Germans' commitment to their pre-war insistence upon the tolerance of minorities with anti-minority propaganda and the deportation of minority ethno-religious leaders. In response, the German military and diplomatic missions to the Ottoman Empire signalled their ambivalence. The massacres of male minorities and deportation of females and children to the Syrian desert which began in the Spring resulted in the military mission declaring its support for all such actions wherever they fulfilled counter-espionage and counter-partisan goals, and protests from the diplomatic mission on the grounds that Germany's diplomatic reputation could be dealt a huge blow by association with such actions. In response, on the 17th of December, the German Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg replied:
However, the missions did successfully argue that the extermination of the Greek population could seriously harm relations with Greece and lead to that country's intervention in the war on the Entente Cordiale's side. This resulted in Berlin applying pressure upon the Young Turks, forcing them to abandon their plans to commit genocide upon the Greeks and instead deporting them to under-supplied camps in central Anatolia where many survived. Otherwise, the Germans sought to completely elide the actions of their military mission (in administering the deportations) and distance themselves from the Ottoman Empire's genocidal acts by deploring the barbarity of the acts themselves while saying that they were powerless to intervene because of their respect for the principle of 'national sovereignty' (the right of countries to do whatever they liked within their own territory). Of course, this respect had not kept Germany from bullying the Ottomans into good treatment of their Christian minorities as recently as 1913 or indeed the non-genocide of the Greeks (just occasional massacres and generally high death rates in captivity) during the Armenian Genocide itself.
There was no denying the simple fact that the Ottoman Empire had accomplished in one year what Prussia had not in one hundred: solid claims over its borderlands. At Versailles, the Germans' failure to do likewise resulted in the loss of territories with German minorities to neighbouring states including Poland, a Slavic (and therefore part-Asiatic/Mongoloid) nation-state. While many German intellectuals in the Interwar Period deplored the "Asiatic barbarity" of the Ottomans' methods, their successful institution of demographic engineering was considered an admirable proof of concept. Many also drew parallels between this process, those instituted earlier by the Balkan States, and those of the settlers of North America. This brings us back to Germany's own wartime actions and plans.
In the 1910s, it had been a longstanding dream of German nationalists to expand into eastern Europe and secure their borderlands there by Germanising or expelling the native inhabitants, particularly the Poles. Prussia, the precursor state to Germany, had first acquired large numbers of Polish citizens in the 1772 Russo-Austro-Prussian Partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. These numbers were bolstered by the Second and Third partitions, which totally removed Poland-Lithuania from the map of Europe by 1795◊. In 1809 Napoleon Bonaparte granted independence to a Polish puppet-state, the Grand Duchy of Warsaw, but this was annexed again in 1814 and most of its territories went to the Russian Empire. Prussia's hopes of eastward expansion had been dashed, though hopes were renewed by realisations of Russian military weakness in the Crimean War of 1853-6 and particularly the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5. On both occasions French and Habsburg opposition to Prussian expansion had, however, been a significant constraining factor.
Germany's Grand Strategic situation in World War One threw this all out the window, with Germany being as free to pursue eastward expansion as she liked provided she could actually win those territories from the bumbling but formidable Russian Empire. Germany's largest political party, the Social-Democratic Party (SPD) was irrevocably opposed to any annexations of territory on principle: they had only given the war effort their approval on the condition that there would be no annexations. However, most other parties also opposed annexations on practical grounds (since they would make a negotiated peace more difficult). For all that, civilian opposition made little difference in the practical administration of the Imperial Russian territories Germany occupied from mid-1915 onward, which fell to The Oberste Heeresleitung (OHL, Army Supreme Command) headed by Generals Hindenburg and Ludendorff.
The OHL's plans for the east were just a tad megalomaniacal, and meshed well with those of Germany's ultranationalist parties. Large territories would be annexed and ethnically-cleansed to make room for German settlement in the short-medium term, and the northern Baltic states and Ukraine would be puppet states under German political and economic domination. The Baltic States were seen as an excellent place for further expansion in the medium-long term, given lower population-density in those areas, there being a definite sense that Germany should not bite off more than she could chew by trying to Germanise too many territories at once.
Europe's Interwar Period was marked by serious national security concerns thrown up by the presence of (supposedly) subversive minority groups. Europe had been divided by identity politics during the Thirty Years War of the 17th century, and so was not new to the concept of subversion and threat from within. However, the new nation-based paradigm of the post-Versailles settlement made the perceived threat posed by 'outsiders' particularly acute. The losing powers felt that their tolerance of minorities had led to the disastrous loss of their territories at Versailles - most famously, virtually every district of Hungary which contained minorities was carved off and given to other countries. The victorious powers feared for their new territories, as they contained minorities who might seek national reunification with their own ethnic homeland - most egregiously, more than a third of Romanian and Polish territory contained such large minorities that their ownership of those territories was barely justified and very much constituted the spoils of victory.
Throughout central-eastern Europe, the aftermath of World War One made Racism and fear of Socialism mainstream. The liberal "centrists" all but disappeared in the face of pressure from the revolutionary left and the justifiably paranoid right. More specifically, the inter-war period saw the rise of a new kind of anti-Semitism which was explicitly tied to racism and Socialism. Imperial Germany had treated Jews reasonably well and the Habsburgs' Austro-Hungarian Empire had treated their Jews better than anyone, but by the early 1930s anti-Semitism was part of mainstream political discourse in Germany, Austria, and Hungary and was a significant fringe element in Czechoslovak politics.
Before the events of World War One, there was nothing particularly remarkable about German eugenics, racism, or anti-Semitism. In each field she was soundly outstripped by a host of more radical countries, ranging from Sweden (eugenics) to the USA (eugenics, racism) to Romania (racism, anti-Semitism). The war changed all this.
The racially degenerative or 'dysgenic' effect of the war renewed interest in eugenics internationally. However, of all the combatant countries Germany had been the only one to allow the loss of worse-than-useless citizens. Despite imposing a lethally low official ration upon the German-occupied territories of the Russian Empire and regularly stripping those areas of grain to feed her national homeland, Germany was ultimately unable to provide an official ration generous enough to ensure the long-term survival of her own citizens. By early 1918 the nutritional value of the official ration for citizens of the Kingdom of Poland (a puppet-state controlled by the German Army) had fallen to just 800 kilo-calories per day (of the 2000 required for long-term survival), but the official ration in Germany itself was worth just 1600 kilocalories. Half the population of Germany's Asylums (for mentally ill people) died by December 1918, most of them in the war's final months. This was because none of them had recourse to the Black Market, and even families which wanted to save them by supplementing their rations had incentives to prioritise the survival of family members capable of work instead.
These Nationalistic measures, under which Germany was fed through the deprivation of occupied territories, set a precedent for the treatment of occupied territories in World War II. Perhaps more importantly, they made it clear that the German people at large were willing to accept the death of 'worse-than-useless' German citizens if it was 'necessary' to advance national goals. Accordingly, in the mid-to-late 1930s German medical associations were encouraged to make plans for the 'euthanasia' of 'useless eaters' in the event of a wartime blockade which would once more place a strain upon food supply.
But of all the problems World War I created, the biggest of all was related to Nationalism and Social Darwinism.
You see, when Germany lost World War I there were only two ways to go about rationalising that. Either:
- Germany had tried her utmost to win and had lost anyway. This meant she was an inferior nation, destined to be dominated or even destroyed.
- Germany had tried her utmost to win and would have, if she weren't cheated out of her victory. This meant she was a superior nation, destined for greatness or even ultimate survival at the expense of all others.
The latter view was relentlessly promoted by Generals Hindenburg and Ludendorff, who had seized power from the civilian government in 1917. As chiefs of the OHL (Oberste Heeres Leitung, Army High Command) they were responsible for Germany's failure to defeat the Entente Cordiale in the early 1918 Spring Offensives and Germany's defeat in the Hundred Days' Offensive of autumn 1918. As such they had very good reasons to ensure that people blamed others for Germany's defeat. Together they created the myth that the German Army 'had never been defeated in the field' (Im Feld Unbesiegt) and allowed the blaming of a number of scapegoats including the Social-Democratic Party (which the OHL had allowed to surrender so they themselves wouldn't have to do it), Pacifists, The Disabled ('Useless Eaters' who had wasted the country's food resources), and 'The Jews' (if you believed the more 'out-there' explanations). Hindenburg continued to be a popular and well-respected figure in German politics, and even managed to secure the presidency from 1925 until his death in 1934. This gave him a particularly powerful platform from which to continue propagating his views.
The war and its aftermath also resulted in a direct association of socialists and Communists, mentally ill and disabled, non-'white' races, and Jews with Germany's defeat and the establishment of the German Republic of 1918. In no particular order:
- The Socialist Party surrendered to the Entente Cordiale and founded the Republic.
- The Communists briefly took over Bavaria and Hungary, and had attempted to take over Austria and Germany - only being stopped by the combined efforts of the Army, Police, and paramilitary groups including the Freikorps.
- Jews had been prominent amongst said Socialist and Communist groups.
- Jews had been granted full citizenship in the new German Republic they helped found.
- Non-'white' troops had helped defeat and occupy parts of Germany. These included African Frenchmen.
- Many of the 'best' Germans had died in the war, and many of the 'worst' had survived to reproduce.
German and Austrian politics was radicalised to an unprecedented degree by this turn of events, though other countries continued to outstrip them (the dictatorships of Poland and Hungary were more anti-Socialist and racist respectively). Racist, eugenicist, and anti-semitic views became mainstream among political right, and even the German "left" subscribed to some notions of eugenics and racism. All the worst fears of Germany's xenophobic paranoiacs seemed to come true at once as their racial inferiors colluded with the Dirty Commies and the Jews to oppress, pollute, sicken, and weaken Germany. In their minds Germany was terminally ill, not least because of the Great Depression ('caused by Jews, bankers, and Jew-bankers') of 1929-33... and it needed a Doctor. note
Finally, on a personal/personnel note, about half the leadership of Revanchist parties dedicated to reclaiming lost national territory in wartime/postwar Turkey (and prewar Young Turk movement), Hungary (most famously the Arrow Cross Party), Austria (chiefly the NSDAP), and Germany (chiefly NSDAP, obviously) had been born in areas which had subsequently been conquered by other countries. This revelation has fascinated psychological historians, who have fallen back upon the tropes of Immigrant Patriotism and Fighting for a Homeland to explain their prominence and dedication.
The institutional origins of the Holocaust boil down to Adolf Hitler's vision for rebuilding Germany into a world superpower and his subordinates' attempts to increase their own power by drafting policies which would make it a reality. Hitler's perennial laziness and heartfelt desire for others to do the hard work of actually running Germany for him is why there is no "signed order" from Hitler defining and initiating the Holocaust as a policy, yet there is no doubt that Hitler had verbally asked for and approved the genocides as they were implemented. note
When the Nazis took power as part of a coalition in 1933, they immediately set about strengthening the country and curing it of its sickness. They used a terrorist attack upon the Parliament to eject the Communists and Socialists parties from it, and urged their associated paramilitary groups to imprison their greatest political enemies (on the pretext of going after the ones responsible for it): the leaders of the Communist (KPD) and Social-Democratic (SPD) parties, and various anarchists and outspoken anti-Nazis. Most of these impromptu 'camps' - often based in disused buildings in the cities and towns - were disbanded shortly thereafter, but the whole exercise served as an immediate and effective demonstration of their power which would improve their standing in the years to come.
More important for future developments was the appointment of Nazi party faithfuls to head Germany's various police forces, and the subordination of said forces to organisations associated with the Nazi party. During the Weimar period the political character of the police as a whole had been profoundly anti-Communist and more generally anti-leftist, not least because they had fought on the front lines against the Communists during the 1920-1 revolutions, so they found it relatively easy to adjust to the new regime and appreciated the chance to pursue their enemies more vigorously. The relatively small Kriminalpolizei (Criminal Police, responsible for national-level detective work) were immediately merged with the Nazi party's bodyguard service, the Schutzstaffel (lit. 'protection squadron). While the Prussian Geheimestaatspolizei (Secret State Police, or "Gestapo" for short) were initially brought under the control of Hermann Göring, his lacklustre performance (relative to the Kriminalpolizei-Schutzstaffel) in combating the regime's political enemies enabled Himmler wrest control of it from him in 1935. Continued good performance allowed Himmler to secure nominal authority over the Ordnungspolizei (the Order Police, or Orpo, were Germany's national police force) in 1936, although the Orpo's huge resource base and good performance relative to the Schutzstaffel meant that in practice it continued to exercise a considerable degree of political independence. While there were a number of smaller police forces, such as those operating in the depths of the German countryside, these were tiny and simply didn't have the resouces to play a substantive role in politics.
While Ernst Röhm's paramilitary Sturmabteilung group still had a relatively large membership, it lacked the subtletly and restraint needed to compete with the Or'po' and SS in National Security Policy. More than anything else, the Nazi leadership want to avoid rocking the proverbial boat too much at this early stage.
In the period 1933-35 US-style laws were passed criminalising miscegeneation (disadvantageous race-mixing which degraded the nation's biological health), notably the production of German-African and German-Jewish mixed-race individuals. New laws also mandated the sterilization of 'Asocials', people Science indicated were likely to pass on inheritable physical defects and mental illnesses (and disproportionately affecting prostitutes, the long-term unemployed, and the Roma). Despite being closely based upon the USA's sterilization legislature (enacted in 1907 and repealed in 1945), the German version covered roughly thirty times more people. Only 80,000 US citizens of a total population of more than 200 million citizens who lived under those laws were sterilized, versus about 400,000 of Germany and Austria's 80 million citizens. 320,000 of these were sterilized in the period 1935-39 and the remainder were seen to during The War. This number included more than 5,000 'eugenic' abortions of all pre-birth terms of pregnancy.
Nazi policy towards homosexuals was at once similar and different to that of other 'Asocial' elements in that it sought to prevent their 'reproduction', though in this case this was only seen as possible through the imprisonment and isolation of the so-called 'predatory gays' from the general population to prevent them from spreading their unique form of Sexually Transmitted Disease. Politically, the prosecution of so-called 'predatory' gays/paedophiles (they were synonymous, or at least thought very similar) was an excellent means of destroying the moral authority of the Catholic Church - whose priests genuinely were guilty of a great deal of the sexual misconduct they were charged with. Culturally, the prosecution of 'predatory' gays/paedophiles was seen as a key step to removing the feminising (i.e. weakening) taint of homosexuality from German society. Consequently, only gays associated with religious groups or considered to be actively 'transmitting' the spread of homosexuality were actually prosecuted and imprisoned: the rest were left at large in the hope that they would be intimidated into 'not being gay anymore'. By and large this worked, with only 20,000 people of a mostly or exclusively gay or active-paedophile German population of at least 1.6 million (of 80 million, assuming the universal average rate of c.2%) being imprisoned for it. The resultant death of half of these people was due to a combination of the universally poor nutrition and overwork, and mistreatment by the various staff members of various police organisations and German companies.
Despite Germany having more than adequate resources to take reasonably good care of her mentally ill and disabled people, as she had in the period 1920-32, the German Civil Service encouraged state-run Asylums to reduce their budgets. In turn, these institutions tended to cut down the hours of their staff and to reduce the budgets for living space, sanitation, food, and medical care. This initiative was justified in terms of benefiting the majority through monetary savings made, but the real goal was to promote the death those who lived 'lives unworthy of life' through malnutrition and disease.
One of the first (and among the most notorious) concentration camps, Dachau, was opened in 1933. It was initially used as a re-education camp for political enemies and undesirables, who would be "worked to death" note . Germany steadily eroded the civil rights of 'Asocials', 'Foreigners', and 'Jews' during the 1930s, including the exclusion of Jews (who had not served in WWI) from university professorships, courts, the civil service, and the military. The Nürnberg 'Preservation of Blood Purity' Laws of 1935 forbade all sexual relations between Germans 'racial inferiors' including Jews, Asiatics, and Africans.note In 1935 Nazi Germany ended up implementing policies criminalising race-mixing with non-Europeans note
This era of pre-genocide was characterized by some amount of flexibility within the Nazi hierarchy. For instance, about 300,000 (of 500,000 German and Austrian citizens who met the legal definition of 'Jews' under the 1935 Nürnberg Blood-Laws) emigrated from Germany-Austria by 1939 with 'encouragement' from the SA and SS; a third left in the year of 1935 and another third left in the years 1938-9. The rest remained because 1) They were confident of the generally civilised and moral nature of Germanic-European society and were sure that things wouldn't (and couldn't) get any worse, 2) they couldn't afford the 'minimum wealth requirements' of entry into countries such as the USA, 3) they refused to leave their homes and (until 1938-9) believed the NSDAP would lose the next election. Himmler's SS effectively acquired a majority share over 'Jewish Policy' when they managed to remove the bulk of the Jewish population of Austria within a year at minimal cost. This was done by carefully analysing the remaining Jews' motivations for staying on, realising the second factor (insufficient wealth to meet entry requirements) was actually the most important, and implementing a scheme whereby rich Jews were forced to pay the emigration and immigration costs of poor Jews. Envious of this "success", Josef Göbbels attempted in 1938 to usurp the SS's control over Jewish policy, as part of the Nazi tendency towards extreme measures to attract Hitler's patronage.
The Point of No Return for Jewish policy is generally regarded as the Kristallnacht of 1938. This was Joseph Göbbels' last and most desperate attempt to encourage the remaining Jews to leave the country by inciting the SA and party faithfuls to attack Jews en masse. Hershel Grynszpan was a Polish Orthodox Jew who was born in Germany, but had resided in France for several years. As a result of Germany's anti-semitic laws and Poland's bureaucratic chicanery, he was rendered stateless. The racist laws also made it difficult for him to contact his family or access his money in German banks. He eventually marched up to the Germany Embassy in Paris and assassinated ambassador Ernst vom Rath, then turned himself in for arrest. Vom Rath was given a state funeral; at this funeral, Hitler and Ribbentrop referred to the assassination as a declaration of hatred from Jews to Germans. Göbbels saw this as an opportunity for him to wrest control of Racial Policy from Hermann Göring and Heinrich Himmler by devising a series of Party-directed series of pogroms where Jewish shops were smashednote and 1,200 synagogues across Germanynote were smashed or destroyed. The official reported death count was 91, but it is believed to have been much higher. Contrary to general belief, these pogroms were deeply unpopular among the German public. The general reaction was one of outrage and shock: many German business had accidentally been targeted in the riots, and the wholesale looting and destruction had resulted in a drastic rise in insurance premiums. The campaign was an abject failure resulting in very little emigration of Jews and a great deal of public discontent. Kristallnacht, while shocking to international observers, internally discredited Göbbels and handed control of anti-Jewish policy to the Göring and Himmler.
So far, Nazi policy did not differ greatly from 'racial integrationist' policies encouraging Poles to assimilate into Prussian culture in Prussia and Imperial Germany, or Europe's medieval pogroms against Jews. Across Europe, Jews were often segregated into ghettosnote and expelled at various times from England, France, and eventually even Castile-Leon (despite its strong Moorish cultural ties) in the 16th and 17th centuries. Pogroms were common in Russia and Poland well into the 19th century. The Holocaust was called "The Final Solution" for a reason: when Hermann Göring, who was in charge of Jewish Policy, authorised the SS to organise a 'total solution' to Jewish issues they were unable to resist the opportunity to advance themselves as an institution. SS agencies' previous drives towards ethnic cleansing and deportation had been frustrated by the Gauleiters (German district governors) and Generalgouvernment, but this time the Sicherheitspolizei had the upper hand. And they intended to keep it.
Germany invaded Poland on the first of September 1939, and the resultant Franco-British declaration of war upon Germany marked the official start of the Second World War. Immediately following the declaration of war on Poland, Hitler responded to the Allied blockade with eugenic measures to guarantee the German nation's Rassenhygiene or 'racial hygiene' - namely ridding Germany of the most egregious 'Useless Mouths', whom many blamed at least in part for the (food) situation on Germany's Home Front in the last war. Issued as a written Emergency Order in his capacity as Reich Chancellor, the euthanasia programme for Germany's remaining asylum population was later termed "Aktion T-4". It marked the first move from indirect to direct killing in German policy. Unusually by the standards of the actions to follow, it was carried out on Hitler's personal authority as the German Chancellor and using doctors and ordinary personnel hired by the Chancellory. His personal physician Doctor Karl Brandt headed the entire T-4 programme. It killed somewhere between seventy and eighty thousand German people, including at least five thousand children. We're not really sure about the numbers, given the general secrecy of the program and the number of 'ordinary' deaths within asylums in 1939.
The personnel hired by the Chancellory included doctors, nurses, various skilled personnel to build and maintain the facilities and equipment, and unskilled workers. All of these either secured employment in the programme through their friend and family networks, who recommended them on the basis of their ideological commitment to Science and the German nation. In the rare cases when they had need of 'unknowns', recommendations from superiors and vetting by the Ge'stapo' also sufficed. All the personnel were volunteers, as the progamme never hired anyone who didn't believe in the fundamental importance and goodness of what they were trying to accomplish. To the best of our knowledge the programme's personnel were either idealogues who believed in the power of Science to advance and benefit humanity, or idealogues and committed Nazis. The doctors came up with their own terminology for the killed - desinfiziert or "decontaminated" - and those who killed - heizer or "stoker". "Stokers" were so called because they also stoked the cremation furnaces. They were entitled to a free ration of 250ml of Schnapps per day of Decontamination work, and in practice many seem to have used their good wages to buy more alcohol on the side. Drinking on the job was permitted.
T-4 personnel experimented with a number of different methods for killing people. Lethal injections were literally quieter than shooting and involved less struggling and general hassle. The experiments with vehicle exhaust and poison gas proved promising, as these had the twin benefits of requiring fewer personnel and resulting in less panic. This was important to the Reich Chancellory, as the relatively high wages of their personnel were their chief expense, but it was only used in the later stages of the original programme.
Although the programme was supposed to be secret, a number of bureaucratic mistakes note eventually added up to the families of the remaining disabled people catching on and protesting. These people enjoyed close, loving relationships with their families: the less-loved disabled people had already died by this point as they had not received extra food, medicine, and care from their families to make up for the more crowded and unsanitary conditions, reduced rations, and reduced staff hours.
Hitler's personal link to the programme was leaked, resulting in direct criticism, and in 1940 he was forced to publicly renounce the programme. He then seems to have ordered Himmler to finish the job in secret. After the bulk of Germany's disabled adults and children were disposed of, T-4 was wound down and reduced to a minimal staff for the war's final years to handle the steady trickle of disabled children that continued to crop up. Most former T-4 personnel went on to work for the Concentration Camp Directorate (Totenkopfverbände) or SS Main Business & Administration Office (Wirtschafts- und Verwaltungshauptamt, or WVHA) as these organisations valued personnel who demonstrably knew how to keep quiet, could work with people who were to be killed, or could kill people. Others joined the Waffen-SS department, which was forming conventional combat units (with heavy weapons and regular combat training) to serve in the field alongside the German Army.
The area of Poland which Germany conquered and claimed was home to some twenty million people, including two million Jews. Parts of western, north-western, and northern Poland were incorporated into existing German districts/provinces (Gaus) and a new district (the Warthegau) was created. Originally the Poles and Jews in these districts were to be evicted and resettled in a rump-state for Poles, Hans Frank's Generalgouvernement, but in practice the repatriation of Jews from and Germans into these districts took priority. Moreover in early 1940 the Generalgouvernement successfully halted all further deportations into their territory by the Ministry for the Promotion of Ethnic Germandom and Race and Settlement Office (both were SS institutions) on the grounds that their territory was already far too overcrowded and further immigration was likely to result in open revolt.
A key part of this process was the creation of temporary Ghettoes in the urban centres to concentrate and accommodate the Jewish population, particularly in the Generalgouvernement. This was done to ease the later deportation of the Jews to the south-easternmost corner of the Generalgouvernment, the Lublin district. The Generalgouvernement's objections resulted in this deportation being temporarily deferred until after the war. Within the ghettos the Gauleiters often organised the establishment of Jewish Councils by various means. These were committees of community leaders selected and tasked with the daily running of the ghettos. The Gauleiters and SS gave the councils weapons for use in their Police Forces and rations to be distributed to their populaces at their own discretion. Uncooperative Council Members could be and were tortured or executed by Sipo troops without trial, and many committed suicide or were murdered. Rations were generally inadequate, resulting in Ghetto members not useful for war work receiving egregiously inadequate rations and dying in greater numbers.
Various policies using Jews as Slave Labour and killing at least some of them were conducted, but the exact policy was determined by how the Gauleiters (County-governors) interpreted the "Führer's will" as regarding Jews and Poles in their area of responsibility. In some Gaus Undesirables were forced into labor camps, where they were deliberately worked to death. However, most Gauleiters were unable to resist the temptation to keep their Undesirables alive so they could exploit their labour to line their own pockets. Famously, Albert Speer would later rent slaves from the SS-WVHA for the production of V-2 rockets at Mittelbau-Dora and various armaments around the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp complex. The V-2 Rocket camps were directly under the purview of Wernher von Braun, who was "de-Nazified" as part of the USA's "Operation Paperclip" (the rescue, blanket-pardoning, and employment of Nazi Germany's best technical specialists) after the war. After the Germans defeated and occupied the low countries, France, and Yugoslavia the organisation responsible for overall German National Security in each region (e.g. the Wehrmacht in France and Serbia, the Reich Main Security Office in the Netherlands) took care to imprison communists and socialists and closely monitor the activities of the Jewish and Romani communities.
At this point, von Ribbentrop's Foreign Ministry seems to have gotten Hitler's approval for their plan to make use of their relationship with France and deport the Jews to French Madagascar. This plan was seen as a more thorough solution than deporting them to the Lublin province of the Generalgouvernment because it was much further away from Germany, which had the dual benefits of greater distance and far higher mortality en-route. If the Lublin-deportation Plan had only been 'partially' genocidal, the Madagascar Plan was 'mostly' so. Of course, in a classic display of Nazi Bureaucracy at work, an SS Agency (likely the Race and Settlement office) swiftly developed its own Madagascar Deportation Plan once word got out.
However, Germany didn't have the ships to transport that many people, and the French were leery on lending them the ships they needed, so the Foreign Ministry banked on the British Royal Navy to either replace or enlarge Germany's naval forces enough for the plan to go into action once England had been conquered. Hitler had probably already re-focused on the Soviet Union by the time Operation Sea Lion was postponed and later cancelled.note After another year of business as usual, with nowhere to send the Jewish population—and the SovietGerman War somewhat embarrassingly not quite over yet within two months of the 22nd of June 1941— the Generalgouvernement's impending Food Security emergency was coming to a head.
The war with the Soviet Union changed everything.
If the OHL's plans for eastern Europe had only been at a tad megalomaniacal, Nazi Germany's were the real deal. Where the OHL had envisaged the existence of German puppet-states while she focused on cleansing and settling a limited set of territories, Nazi Germany's various military and civilian planning agencies saw room for only one country in eastern Europe: Germany. While in 1917-18 the OHL had been careful that Germany should not 'bite off more than she could chew' by trying to settle too many territories at once, Nazi German planners saw no point in such restraint. Indeed, most thought that in the long-term Germany was in something of a race against the rapidly-modernising Asiatic Hordes and had to 'populate or perish'.
In 1940-41 planners did not shy away from what had only been implicit in the OHL's planning, and early-WWII planning for the districts annexed from Poland (before the Generalgouvernement vetoed it) - that the ethnic cleansing of those territories would result in mass deaths. The mass-death of the civilian population of the occupied territories was an explicit part of all agencies' planning for dealing with the eastern territories. There were fierce debates about speeding up Germany's population growth and economic development through the 'Germanisation' of non-Jewish and non-Romani natives (who would be expelled into Soviet Asia in the expectation that most if not all would die as a result). Some including the Ministry for the Promotion of Ethnic Germandom opposed it completely, and others such as Alfred Rosenberg's Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories thought that large parts or even the majority of certain races might prove fit breeding stock which would not (egregiously) degenerate German blood. Most agencies, including the Wehrmacht, split the balance - advocating the deaths of most natives in the long-term (and the survival of most in the short-term) but accepting that certain elements could prove redeemable.
After the war former Wehrmacht members, German nationalists, the Anglo-American military establishment, and numerous Anglo-American politicians and public figures often claimed that the Wehrmacht had been innocent of the crimes of the Nazi regime. This was demonstrably untrue, but it is worth noting that the Wehrmacht's hopes and dreams of playing the leading role in German Vernichtungspolitik in the east were never realised. The Wehrmacht had hoped to reduce the population of the Reichskomissariats Ostland, Muskovien, and Ukraine (the three governments of the occupied USSR) by a third acting totally on its own, ideally by 'requisitioning' food from Soviet civilians and so avoiding the need for too much direct confrontation. Moreover its control of the railways and possession of the vast bulk of the manpower in those territories would also have allowed it to obstruct the activities of the Ministry for the Promotion of Ethnic Germandom and the Race and Settlement Office, potentially allowing the Wehrmacht to play the foremost role in the ethnic cleansing and settlement of ethnic Germans in the former USSR. The same factors would also allow it to play the primary role in maintaining Law and Order there, not least because its troops would be far better equipped and trained to deal with semi-organised resistance than those of the Order Police.
Unfortunately for the Wehrmacht, they only had the manpower to take a supporting role in Vernichtungspolitik in the occupied Soviet Union. The Wehrmacht had planned for an occupation force of just 200,000 troops (this is why it only had that many Deep Subzero Uniforms in-stock as of June 1941), but continued Soviet resistance meant that all Wehrmacht combat forces were need on the frontlines - and, worse, the 120,000 troops of the Sicherheitsdivisionen (Security Divisions) were needed to deal with Soviet troops stranded behind the frontlines! This gave the Regional Security Chiefs (Shutzstaffel und Polizei Führers, or SSPFs) and Einsatzgruppen free reign to deal with Undesirables on their lonesome, though the Wehrmacht managed to obstruct their operations by dumping them alongside their own Security Divisions and thereby forcing them to deal with stranded Soviet troops rather than Undesirables. However, after September 1941, the SSPFs and Einsatzgruppen had managed to recruit enough 'Hiwi' manpower to begin eliminating Undesirables in earnest, dominating Security Policy in Reichskomissariats Ostland and Ukraine. Even after requesting Order Police reinforcements these organisations only managed to muster a force of about 38,000 Germans, as against 200,000 Hiwis from the Army's Soviet POW camp population.
The Army's 'Barbarossa Regulations' did however authorize them to handle 'retaliatory security' in any manner which they saw fit, with the retaliation ratio being almost universally set at 100:1. While in 'The West' (the Netherlands, Belgium, France) this was generally interpreted to mean the enslavement of 100 natives for every 1 German killed, in 'The East' (the Generalgouvernment, Reichskomissariats Ostland and Ukraine) this was generally implemented in the form of executions. That said, considerate German commanders would consult with local authorities to ensure that the least valuable natives (Undesirables, 'outsiders' to the local community, vagrants, disabled, elderly, or children in roughly that order) were used to fill these quotas. Interestingly. the term "partisan" itself was forbidden in official documentation; "bandit" and "terrorist" were used in its place.
The Sipo and Order Police troops of the SSPFs and Einsatzgruppen were however dependent upon the Army (for their transport, communications, and ammunition and so on), which enabled the Army to move them to use them for their own purposes. This was generally done by dumping them in areas with large concentrations of Red Army stragglers or even on the front lines themselves, much to the annoyance of many of the police troops. note The Einsatzgruppen were quite useful to the Army, not least because they were authorized to carry out 'preventative security' measures presupposing the guilt of certain demographics (intellectuals, Communist Party Members, Romani, Jews) and authorising their execution. Bar Army Group South, which authorised the execution of all Communists, Army troops were not authorised to execute these people and so relied upon the Einsatzgruppen to eliminate these demographics to forestall possible National Security issues.
Just 3000 SS Einsatzgruppen (special units under Himmler's direct command) members from the SiPo and OrPo were attached to Army Groups North, Centre, and South on 'security' duties when Germany invaded the Soviet Union on 22/6/1941. This was quite evidently grossly insufficient given that they had at least half a million people to dispose of, even if only committed communists and male Jews were targeted (as per unofficial understandings) and Army Group South's Wehrmacht forces helped out in accordance with their commander Gerd von Runstedt's orders to kill all communist party members. After a 16/7/1941 conference on security policy attended by Hitler and Himmler they were reinforced by a further 6000 SiPo and 11,000 Order Police troops, and recruitment of local auxiliaries for SS Einsatzgruppen and local militia was increased - 200,000 were recruited by the end of 1941.
This was accompanied by a large expansion in the target demographic. SSPFs in Ukraine had already 'jumped the gun' by killing all Jews and Communists they came across almost from the word 'go': competition there was pretty fierce given that the Germany Army CinC (Gerd von Runstedt) for Ukraine was also trying to kill all Communists. Together the Army and SSPF troops thoroughly outshone the Einsatzgruppen in Ukraine (who were far too few, and started killing Jews other than men of service age too late, to have much impact). But in the aftermath of personal inspections by Himmler in July-August, the Einsatzgruppen in Belarus and the Baltic States also widened their focus. The Einsatzgruppen were later dissolved to free up their manpower for security operations, with Order Police and Hiwi forces working together with the German Army to wage the 'partisan war' to pacify the occupied USSR after the Jewish population there was eliminated.
The Sipo (under Reinhard Heydrich) played little part in these measures and so had to act to preserve its own authority and independence. Up to this point the SSPFs of Reichskomissariats Ostland and particularly Ukraine had eliminated more than 100,000 Undesirables on their own, and the Einsatzgruppen had eliminated a further 100,000. Moreover the Generalgouvernment had eliminated 500,000 Undesirables in the newly-acquired provinces of Galicia and Podolia (in 1940 they had been part of the Ukrainian Republic of the USSR, and in 1918 they had been part of Austria-Hungary). In other words, the Security Police could only, at most, claim to have eliminated 50,000 of the more than one million Undesirables which had been killed so far through malnutrition and shooting.
More importantly, the continuation of the war meant that deportation beyond The Urals simply wasn't happening in the next year: Army High Command was talking about victory within 18 months at the least. In the meantime Germany's eastern Gaus and the Generalgouvernment would have to continue feeding more than a million unemployed foreign pensioners and children they didn't like and couldn't use for any kind of work, even as they tried to balance their budgets and make their districts profitable...
German companies' first informal, off-the-books enquiries into the possibility of acquiring or renting slaves date from early 1941 and the first actual deliveries took place towards the end of the year. Hitler's refusal to allow Polish Jews to work within Germany proper effectively ruled out most of the available labour pool in early-mid 1941, but most companies were unable to immediately capitalise upon supplies of cheap unskilled labour anyway. They needed to be sure that the SS could actually deliver the kind and number of slaves that they wanted, as they were wary of bad investments, and once this was done they needed time to build or extend the relevant facilities. State investment for this was forthcoming, but only a handful of companies - Volkswagen, I.g. Farben, Heinkel, and Steyr-Daimler-Puch - had braved the risks and begun using slaves by the end of 1941. When it became apparent that slaves were a sound investment after all, these companies looked for ways to make more use of slaves and other companies began making enquiries of their own. The pace of the whole affair was fairly rapid, and demonstrates the dynamism and competitiveness in German industry even under trying economic circumstances. For instance, Heinkel had only been making use of unskilled slaves for a few months when it decided to build its own Concentration Camp/Factory complex so it could make use of skilled and semi-skilled slaves in a secure context.
Of note in this period is the Franciscan Monk Father and (Canonised Saint) Maximilian Kolbe, an ethnic German. A notable dissident and opponent of the Nazi regime, he rejected honorary German status and was interned in the Auschwitz-I concentration camp for his opposition to the Generalgouvernement. When three inmates escaped from the camp, ten were sentenced to death by starvation as per regulations. Upon hearing one of those for death, Franciszek Gajowniczek, cry out "My wife! My children!", Kolbe volunteered to take his place. After fourteen days without food or water, Kolbe was still alive. On the 14th of August 1941, he was executed by lethal injection.
Roughly 50-70% of all the people killed in The Holocaust died between June 1941 and December 1942. This can be broken down into the elimination of fervent Communists among and deaths from neglect of Soviet POW (2 million+), Preventative Security demographic-elimination and anti-Partisan actions in the former Soviet Union (1.5m+), Romanian and German measures to cleanse their newly acquired Soviet territories (1m+), routine overwork and disease (unknown), and Operation Reinhard (c. 2m). From its inception at the Wannsee Conference of 20/1/1942 Operation Reinhard was designed to solve the food situation in the Generalgouvernement through the elimination of groups dependent upon state welfare. The Ghettoisation of the region's Jews had drastically reduced their capacity to work in their professions of expertise, not that most of these (artists, writers, teachers, craftsmen, shop-owners) were useful to the Generalgouvernment in any case. Consequently, for the previous two years their survival had been conditional on state food provision at levels low enough to promote mortality and allow the formerly food-importing region to export food, without being so low as to provoke rebellion as a result of widespread belief that the rations were not survivable.
At Wannsee it had been agreed that the non-'skilled' (those not in technical professions such as medicine, engineering, architecture etc) Jews of the Generalgouvernment could be killed indirectly through a forced labour scheme to build highways linking Germany to her new colonies in the former Soviet Union. However, the pilot scheme was a dismal failure: it transpired that after two years of insufficient rations, even the adult male workforce of working age was largely incapable of productive work. Consequently, sometime in the Spring-Summer of 1942 the Generalgouvernement, regional SSPFs, and Camp Directorate agreed that it was far more cost-effective to just dispose of the unwanted dependents directly.
The SSPFs managing the extermination facilities attached to the Sobibór (sow-bi-boor), Bełżec (bew-zhech), and Majdanek (Maiy-da-nek) work camps agreed to expand them in advance of a deportation scheme that summer. However, these were clearly insufficient to handle the work in a reasonable timeframe and so the Lublin SSPF (Odilo Globocnik) arranged for the establishment of a new facility to effectively double processing capacity, using the workforce at the pre-existing Treblinka labour camp to build the new facility. The Ostland SSPF also established a processing park at Riga using vans, as at Treblinka. Undesirables with German Blood were also to be processed, for the first time. The euthanasia of German disabled and mentally ill was not folded into Reinhard.
The Wannsee conference of the 20th of January 1942 was just one of many key meetings which determined overall German policy towards 'Undesirables', but the minutes of this meeting are the only ones to survive. Consequently, it was used to establish guilt during the Nuremberg Trials and this has led it to assume an exaggerated reputation as "the blueprint for the holocaust". In point of fact, it merely established the Security Police's temporary political triumph over the other SS departments (chiefly the Einsatzgruppen and SSPFs). At Wannsee Heydrich saw an opportunity to overstep the bounds of Göring's authorisation and secure for the Security Police authority over Jewish matters in all of Europe including Germany's eastern district/regional governments (Gaus), Hans Frank's Generalgouvernment (in Poland), and Germany's allies - and not just the USSR, France, etc as he had been authorised to do. Heydrich's coup de main worked perfectly, securing the Security Police a temporary ascendancy over all Jewish policy until 1943 - when the demands of Total War Mobilisation gave the SS-WVHA (which managed slave rentals), German Gaus, and Generalgouvernment the upper hand once more in German-administered territories. At Wannsee the Security Police (SiPo) made it known that Hitler had verbally approved their leadership.
The facilities at Chełmno (Warthegau) and Majdanek (Warthegau) had been approved in October 1941 by District SSPFs as ad-hoc solutions to local productivity problems caused by 'Useless Mouths' (Jewish elderly, women, children), and were the first ones used in the new campaign. Construction of a further three facilities began between February and April 1942, when SSPFs were informed of the change in the nature of the Deportation Plan and eagerly competed to participate in Reinhard (Sobibor, Bełżec, and Treblinka). The Lublin District SSPF Odilo Globocnik crowded out his rivals to play host to two of the five facilities - including the jewel of Treblinka, by far the most productive facility of the entire war bar Auschwitz-II. Treblinka handled about half (900k) of the individuals processed in Operation Reinhard (c. 2m). At most attached extermination facilities Carbon Monoxide was used, whether as a byproduct of industrial processes (as in the T-4 programme and early camps) or from modified vans designed to kill the passengers (as at Riga, Latvia, Reichskommisariat Ostland).
Notable in this period was the Jewish Council leader Chaim Rumkovsky. Rumkovsky had run a Jewish Orphanage from 1925 to 1939, when he was appointed head of the Jewish Council of the Łódź Ghetto in October 1939. He strove ceaselessly to make Łódź an indispensible part of the German war effort by working together with local captains of industry, district leaders, and the SS-WVHA. This was insufficient. In August 1942, the Warthegau SSPF began laying the groundwork for Reinhard in Łódź. On the 4th of September 1942, Rumkowski explained why the Jewish Council's had decided to deport all children under 10 and elderly over 65:
Rumkowski's motivations are ambiguous. It seems likely that on some level, he was genuinely convinced that he was doing the right thing by cooperating - especially in Reinhard. No amount of self-sacrifice could actually have saved all of the Łódź Ghetto's inhabitants given that the Warthegau was determined to kill its population through insufficient rations and poor sanitation. Yet Rumkowski and the Łódź Council do not seem to have done all it could to save their people, as he acquired his own motorcar. His issuing of a personal currency, the Rumkowski, and other trappings of wealth did not endear him to the Ghetto's inhabitants, who speculated that he had acquired delusions of grandeur or had begun slipping into megalomania.
Notable also was the head of the Jewish Council of the Warsaw Ghetto, Adam Czerniaków. Previous noncompliance issues had led the disctrict SSPF to take the precaution of holding at least one emotionally significant hostage for each Council Member to ensure compliance. Forced to choose between the torture and death of his wife, or organising the designation and deportation for euthanasia of people Unfit for Work, on the 23rd of July 1942 Czerniaków swallowed a potassium cyanide pill:
Notable also is the children's and parenting book author, and Medical Doctor, Janusz Korczak, the writer of King Matt the First and How to Love a Child. Korczak never had any children of his own, but dedicated his life to helping them. Born 'Henyrk Goldsmichdt', he volunteered as a doctor in no less than three wars (the Russo-Japanese War, World War I, and the Polish-Soviet War), and later dedicated his life to running two orphanages in Warsaw during the 1930s (including the Jewish Orphanage at 92 Krochmalna Street).
When the Jewish Orphanage was forcibly relocated to the Warsaw Ghetto, he moved in with them despite being under no obligation to do so (as a self-proclaimed Pole of only 1/4 Jewish descent). Czerniaków's successors arranged for the deportation of various demographics including Korczak's orphans. Even though he was not to be deported, and despite offers to safeguard him against future deportation from the Jewish Council and the Polish Resistance, and reputedly German Order Police who either understood the potential blow to Public Relations or whose own children loved his books, he voluntarily accompanied the 192 orphans to keep them calm and oblivious for as long as possible. His co-director of the Orphanage, fellow pedagogist, and longtime friend Stefania Wilczyńska went with him to help maintain the deception.
They were all processed by the Treblinka Extermination Facility on the 6th-7th of August 1942.
Korczak is the only person mentioned by name at the memorial.
Every shard represents a community.
With German strength in the east failing under a seemingly unending series of hammer-blows, and the western Allies gearing up to return to the continent, in early 1943 Germany needed slave labour more desperately than ever. Like many other Nazi slogans, Vernichtung durch Arbeit (Death through Work) had always been an open-ended slogan used to paste over massive disagreements rather than a definitive ruling in itself. From its very inception there was a fundamental disagreement on whether the emphasis should be on 'death' or 'work'. If in the pre-war period the emphasis had been on 'work', and during Operation Reinhard the emphasis had been on 'death', after Reinhard and the calamitous defeat at Stalingrad the emphasis very much returned to 'work'. Now that the Generalgournement's food situation had been resolved, and the manpower crisis in German industry had been worsened by the conscription of more than 400,000 factory workers to fill the 900,000-man shortfall the Soviets had made in the Army during the winters of 1941-2 and 1942-3, even ''unskilled' Undesirables were to be retained as long as they were Fit for War Work of some kind. Undesirables Unfit for work were euthanised. 'Used up'/'expended' (become Unfit as a result of exhaustion or under-feeding by the company they were being rented out to) slaves could exchanged for fresh ones, and were then euthanised. Since Siemens, Wolkswagon, Hugo Boss, Ford, etc were not legally required to give their slaves survivable rations they chose not to in order to minimise their overheads and maximise their profits.
The rental and 'expenditure'/'using-up' of slaves by German companies was both voluntary and something they earnestly desired of their own free will, though in the postwar period they claimed that the SS had forced them to use and mistreat slaves. Marck Spörer's recent survey of wartime Germany's 33 largest companies found that ten state-owned and sixteen privately-owned corporations initiated negotiations with the SS-WVHA regarding slave rentals, and the WHVA initiated the negotiations with the other seven. However, the managers of one company - the Akkumulatorenfabrik AG Stöcken factory, which manufactured the electric batteries used in the Kriegsmarine's U-boots - claimed that they were "pressured" to accept slaves 'by SS men'. The only evidence for that is the testimony of the firm's managers. Albert Speer controlled the Armaments Ministry and so was responsible for half of all war production. Together with the Kriegsmarine's Chief of Staff, he sent telegrams attempting to convince the firm to innovate and increase its production. They did this by citing Germany's pressing need for more of the product and the profitability of meeting that requirement, rather than issuing (empty) threats.
German state organs, state-owned companies, and private companies ultimately established some 15,000 camps and sub-camps to house the slave population of up to 6 million (in 1944), with slaves accounting for about a third of Germany's total labour force in that year. In that year about 2 million were Soviet civilians, 1 million were Soviet POW, 1 million were French civilians and POW, between .5 and 1 million were Undesirables, and the rest were a mix of civilians and POW from across Europe.
After Operation Reinhard had successfully met its goals, the Extermination facilities were destroyed and their personnel allocated to other tasks. In their place a single dual-purpose Concentration/Extermination Camp complex was established: Auschwitz-Birkenau, staffed by a roughly half-half mix of Ukrainian Hiwis and Concentration Camp Directorate personnel (including a typing pool to register and track the slaves). The complex consisted of a work camp (Auschwitz), an extermination camp which saw intermittent use (Auschwitz-II/Birkenau), and a secondary work camp utilising skilled personnel for coal-derived petroleum and rubber (Auschwitz-III/Monowitz). This complex handled both the selection of the entire Undesirable population in the period 1943-45 and the euthanasia of all its Unfit elements. Fit elements were enslaved and either retained at the complex for war work or, far more often, hired out by the SS's Main Business Office to every major German company. These included the local subsidiaries of several foreign companies, such as Ford.
After the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the running of the concentration camps fell into the hands of Ernst Kaltenbrunner and Adolf Eichmann. Outside the ongoing Judenjagd ('Jew-hunts' for escaped Jews) and partisan war, killings were few and far between in 1943. Weeks could go by without the only remaining extermination facility, the recently-established Auschwitz-II/Birkenau, killing anyone at all. In 1944, however, the SiPo managed a series of diplomatic victories and the throughput of Undesirables for processing was so high at several points that a railway line was constructed into the interior of the Auschwitz-II/Birkenau Extermination facility of the complex to facilitate faster processing in these busy periods. The SiPo continued to press for and in some cases succeeded in implementing the extermination of Fit-for-work Undesirables, despite vociferous protests from economic agencies (the Four-Year Plan Organisation, Organisation Todt, Armaments Ministry, and Economics Ministry). The most prominent of these was the clearance of the Warsaw Ghetto, which was was preempted by the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of April-May 1943. Despite these limited victories, such as in Lublin, the overall trend was against the SiPo and in favour of War Work. With no 'Unfit' elements remaining, Himmler had no leg to stand on with regards to eliminating the remaining Jews despite his personal desires and Hitler's general prejudices.
The Auschwitz-II/'Birkenau' extermination facility had a peak processing capacity of 15k units daily and averaged 7-8k daily. However, this figure conceals long periods of little activity or inactivity and others of frantic activity as a German puppet (e.g. Belgium) or ally (e.g. Hungary) deported people the Germans wanted/that they wanted gone. At the facility, Concentration Camp Directorate personnel used Zyklon-B, a pesticide synthesized from minerals by the IG Farben chemical conglomerate (which was disbanded post-war for its use of slave labour and involvement in the Holocaust) instead of carbon-monoxide poisoning produced by the operation of vehicle engines (which consumed valuable synthetic petrol, produced from coal at great cost). Zyklon-B could service a packed chamber in 20 minutes, with one SiPo operator noting that the third closest to the vents died almost immediately upon exposure. After the chamber had been vented and was safe to enter without (expensive) protection, Sonderkommando personnel (lit. 'Special Unit') recruited from the slave population and housed at Auschwitz-I then unpacked the chamber and alerted security personnel to any miraculous survivors so they could receive personal attention. The Sonderkommandos then harvested hair, gold fillings, and teeth from the corpses before loading them into the crematoria for disposal.
The scale of the euthanasia programme initiated in September 1939 made secrecy impossible, with family members of the deceased realising its existence and lobbying for it to be halted by early 1941. Word of each new policy seems to have taken two years at the very most to become common knowledge, with word of the massacres in the Soviet Union being known by 1942 at the latest and word of the Work/Extermination camp complexes having reached everyone by 1944. Despite this, many Germans who lived through the Nazi period later said that they had little or no knowledge of the genocides. These people may not necessarily be lying: given the unreliable and constantly-changing nature of non-eidetic human memory, it's quite possible that many people eventually came to genuinely believe that they hadn't known about the genocides. News and evidence of slave labour and euthanasia activities steadily leaked out to the Soviet Union and the Western Allies. Indeed, the US Army Air Force identified and distinguished between the sections of the Auschwitz Complex to be targeted (the Auschwitz-III/'Monowitz' Synethetic-Petrol plant) and those to be left alone (everything else) in advance of their 'Oil Plan', which was put into effect that summer and resulted in losses to the Undesirables working in Monowitz.
Though there are signs that Churchill and Roosevelt eventually considered acting to disable the Auschwitz-II/Birkenau facility, the simple fact was that such an act was counterproductive in almost every respect. In practical terms, neither the Jews nor the Roma had national homelands or resistance movements to their name: supporting them would not earn either government the favour of any country. Worse, support could draw the ire of countries which hated them (e.g. Saudi Arabia, Romania). Saving Jews and Roma was also counterproductive for domestic propaganda and morale purposes as both groups were at best disliked within Britain and the USA: the act might win the fervent support of a handful of high-minded moralists, but could at best only elicit tepid support from the silent majority and would undoubtedly draw considerable disapproval and objection from many racists. More importantly, drawing attention to the fate of the Jews & Roma might lead to calls for wartime retaliation or postwar 'justice' against Germans in general or (worse) the specific perpetrators. Such 'politics of vengeance' could seriously undermine efforts to co-opt Germans against Communism in the postwar period. Finally, promoting a narrative of the war which incorporated The Holocaust was incompatible with the pre-existing narratives disseminated in national propaganda: the UK-USA-USSR as equal partners (UK), the USA-with-hangers-on (USA), or the USSR-with-hangers-on (USSR).
The 'humanitarian'/'good-guy' image of the British and Americans might have been dealt a blow if they failed to keep the nature and extent of German atrocities, and their own decisions to let them happen, secret. However, their exertion of informal influence over the Anglo-American media - encouraging self-censorship through appeals to national unity and pragmatism/'the greater good' - proved more than sufficient. note As long as The Holocaust remained largely unknown and little-believed, the Allies could not be criticised for doing nothing about it. German atrocities in the Great War (some of which had been fabricated or exaggerated) and ad hominem attacks on the honesty of the Polish Resistance (which would 'of course' be exaggerating the state of affairs re: genocides) proved useful in sowing doubt.
As always, it is interesting to note how - despite their vastly differing propaganda - the Anglo-Americans and Soviets decided upon the same course of action (non-interference at Birkenau) for the same reasons (national self-interest). Even for nation-states ostensibly founded upon abstract principles such as Freedom or Equality, national self-interest seems to have triumphed every time. In this respect these nation-states were of course not wholly different from the German nation-state, which also compromised its own principles (racial purity and exclusivity) in its own war effort through the employment of Slavic and Asiatic(-Muslim) combat soldiers.
In Spring 1944 Anglo-American efforts to avoid drawing too much attention to the goings-on at Auschwitz-Birkenau were blown to hell by the intransigence of Switzerland, which broadcast and published extracts from the VrbaWetzler report. Up to this point English-language publications had avoided publicising the figures processed by the facility, which at the BBC contrasted starkly with the (reasonably accurate) figures broadcast by the BBC's Polish-language service. But in May 1944 it became apparent that certain elements of the British and American publics were interested in hearing more about the facility, and that if Anglo-American news services continued to withhold details about Auschwitz then people might suspect that their governments had been exerting censorial pressure upon the media. To counter the impression that the British government had been influencing the BBC, the Ministry of Information pressured the BBC to make details of the facility known to the english-speaking world. Crucially, the BBC used the figures outlined in the Vrba-Wetzler report rather than the ones which had made their way, through the Polish Resistance and British SOE, into the BBC's polish-language broadcasts throughout the previous year. This was to give the impression that the BBC had distrusted the reliability of the Polish Resistance and largely been unaware of the true state of affairs at Birkenau.
Thankfully, the public was not overly concerned by the revelation and the few calls to action were assuaged by statements that action to halt the operations of the facility was being considered even though it seemed difficult. Neither claim was a complete falsehood as both powers did consider the operation briefly before ruling it out, and the low-level (treetop-height) bombing required probably could not have been accomplished at zero cost to Anglo-American life or - more importantly - at zero 'opportunity cost' to operations which the RAF and USAAF cared about. Winston Churchill's own move to deplore German conduct at Auschwitz in writing and thereby convey the impression (for posterity) that he had only just heard about it in May 1944, after actually having been verbally informed of its existence and activities a year previously, was as cynical as it was brilliant. He later reinforced that impression by implying that he had heard nothing (substantial) about operations at Auschwitz-II/Birkenau before that date in his memoirs. His Cult of Personality then effectively ensured that almost no-one was aware of his actual knowledge and decisions regarding the facility until the late 1980s.
By the summer of 1944, the tide of war had changed to the point that even ordinary Germans realised that defeat had become a matter of "when" and not "if": Germany was being bombed daily, rationing was beginning to bite, almost everyone knew someone who'd been lost fighting 'the Russians' (the Soviets), and the Western Allies had landed in Italy and France. The ministries and companies complicit in the Holocaust knew that their actions might be considered war crimes and recognised the possibility that they might yet pay dearly for them... if they were caught. They quickly took to destroying evidence by dismantling gas chambers, digging up corpses, asking farmers to plant crops over the fields, and forcing concentration camp survivors on so-called 'death marches' to new facilities (because stragglers were killed and survivors could be rare given the prisoners' exhaustion and malnourishment).
In the course of the third and final phase of Operation Bagration (October 1944), the Red Army captured the remains of three extermination camps almost totally destroyed by the retreating Germans (Treblinka, Sobibór, and Bełżec). In the third week of their January 1945 Vistula-Oder offensive, they liberated three more state-owned concentration camps (each of which serviced an archipelago of semi-private and private industrial camps) before the Germans had time to completely destroy them (Majdanek, Chelmno, Auschwitz-Birkenau). While the Soviets' claims were published and disseminated in the usual manner, many readers seem to have believed that they were (wildly) exaggerating German atrocities. Although Anglo-American intelligence agencies and top leadership were fairly sure that their ally's claims were accurate, it was against their interest to draw undue attention to the plight of the European Jews-Roma or validate the Soviets' spin on the findings - which stressed the suffering of eastern European people in general and Soviet citizens in particular.
Notable once again in this period is the leader of the Łódź Ghetto, Chaim Rumkovsky. Despite Rumkovsky's best efforts to make the Warthegau's Gauleiter (Arthur Greiser) a very rich man and render the remaining population indispensible to the German war effort by producing uniforms and munitions for the Wehrmacht, the Sicherheitspolizei used the pretext of 'National Security Concerns' thrown up by the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of April-May 1943 to override Greiser and the Warthegau SSPF (Heinz Reinefarth). In August 1944, all the survivors were deported for processing. Having spared some of his subjects from Chelmno, Rumkovsky was on the last train to Birkenau. Upon his arrival on the 28th of August 1944 the Sonderkommando deliberately left him alone in a room with ex-Łódź Ghetto members, who beat him to death.
Another notable figure in this period is the German-Jewish teenager Anne Frank. Although the civilian occupation of the Netherlands opened the door to the SiPo exercising direct control over the Dutch Police, the SiPo did not act against the country's Jews and Romani until 1943. Most of the Jewish population was concentrated in and around the capital city and economic hub of Amsterdam, and the combination of extensive local networking with this geographical boon allowed the SiPo to achieve remarkably high target-demographic identification rates. Anne's father, WWI Heer veteran Otto Frank, hid his family and several other Jews in an annexe connected to the Dutch headquarters of the German 'Opekta' pectin and spice company (which he had founded). After two years in hiding, on the 4th of August 1944 the Ordnungspolizei stormed the annexe, acting on a tip from an unidentified local informant, and deported them for processing. At Auschwitz-II Anne and her companions were deemed Fit for War Work and rented or allocated to a number of different civilian companies and government facilities. After six months in war work, during which Anne seems to have struggled with a number of the diseases then making the rounds due to malnutrition and inadequate sanitation, she 'reputedly lost the will to live' and died of typhus in February 1945.
The state-owned Buchenwald and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps were two of the main rental hubs in central-western Germany, and were liberated by the Americans and the British respectively upon their advance into Germany that April. Totenkopfverbände personnel managed to destroy three more major camps before they could be liberated. The last state-owned camp to be liberated, in May 1945, was also the first one created. Upon touring it the US Colonel William Quinn remarked of the facility, which contained the semi-intact remains of several months' worth of used-up and returned slaves:
After the war the four occupying powers of post-war Germany and Austria agreed to participate in and fund a series of IMT (International Military Tribunal) trials. However, what is not often appreciated are their reasons for funding it:
- The Soviets, who also acted on behalf of Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. They sought justice for the enslavement and execution of millions of their citizens, and wished to discredit the ideology of Fascism. They pressed for the greatest possible number of trials and harshest punishments. They wanted to publicly condemn and punish the perpetrators, but were less concerned with determining the perpetrators' motivations and intentions. They were willing to accept miscarriages of justice if it meant that no war criminals went unpunished.
- The USA. They pressed for trials according to abstract principles of Justice and Human Rights, and wished to discredit dictatorships in general. They pressed for widespread trials and non-trivial punishments. They wanted to publicly condemn and punish the perpetrators, and were equally concerned with determining the perpetrators' motivations and intentions.
- The French. They sought justice for the enslavement and execution of hundreds of thousands of their citizens, and like the Soviets, they wished to discredit Fascism as an ideology. They pressed for trials according to abstract principles of Justice and Human Rights.
- The British. They sought to appease the other occupying powers and domestic voters with left-wing sympathies.
The occupying powers also had compelling reasons to pursue a more limited trials process:
- The war had devastated the Soviet Union. They wanted to save money by conducting trials which only determinated "guilt", not "motivation" or "intention".
- The Office of Military Government, United States (OMGUS) had a limited budget. They wanted to save money by limiting the number of trials. More cynically, they had a vested interested in fewer trials as this would avoid antagonising the Germans.
- The war had damaged the French economy. They wanted to save money somehow.
- The war had damaged the British economy. They wanted to save money, curry favour with the Germans, and avoid trials which could lead to accusations of No, You with regards to the British war effort and her management of her own colonial empire. Insisting on the maximum possible judicial rigour (full explorations of "guilt", "motivation", and "intent") and limiting the number of trials fulfilled all of these goals.
The IMT trials at Nürnberg resolved the gross insufficiency of their funding by limiting the number of defendants (ultimately to just 200) and conducting only the most basic investigations. The trials relied in large part upon official documents and defendant testimony. This led to numerous distortions such as the belief that the Wannsee Conference had constituted 'a blueprint for genocide' and a general blindness to institutional rivalries within the Nazi political system. Notable oversights of the trial system included:
- No trials of Ordnungspolizei leaders or condemnation of the organisation as a 'criminal' one.
- No trials of any of the 47 HSSPFs in their capacity as regional security leaders or condemnation of the organisation as a 'criminal' one.
- No condemnation of the Wehrmacht organisation as a 'criminal' one.
- No special attention to the fates of the European Roma & Sinti or Jews. Of course, this was a continuation of the wartime policy of non-intervention and non-publicity.
Each allied occupation authority was authorised to conduct trials in its own zone of responsibility until 1950:
- The Hungarian People's Republic charged more than 40,000 citizens and executed more than 19,000.
- The Soviets charged at least 14240 German officers with Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes, officially executed 138, officially assigned 13060 "other punishment", and acquitted 142.
- The Polish People's Republic charged more than 5450 German citizens. The sentences passed are unknown, though there were many executions.
- The French charged 2107 Germans, executed 104, sentenced 44 to Life in Prison, imprisoned 1475, and acquitted 404.
- The USA charged 1857 Germans and freed them all by 1952 after having sentenced 450 to death (but not executed them), sentenced 219 to Life in Prison, sentenced 889 to five years in prison or less, and acquitted 1416.
- The UK tried 1085 Germans and freed all survivors by 1952 after having executed 240, sentenced 549 to various times in prison, and acquitted 348.
The British and Americans honoured many Polish, Czechoslovak, etc extradition requests before the re-institution of the German court system on the 1st of September 1948. However, in at least one instance the British falsified the submission date of such a request until after the expiration date so they could refused to deliver the accused. This was the Polish request for the Wehrmacht's Befehlshaber Ost (supreme military authority in the occupied USSR) Generalleutnant Walter Braemer, supposedly submitted on the 1st of September 1948 but actually submitted two days earlier. The British argued that the Poles wouldn't give Braemer a fair punishment for the crime of killing twenty hostages (which the Nuremberg "Balkan Generals' Trial" had implied could be excused) on top of the crime of klling several hundred people, of which the British military court agreed he was undeniably guilty (and for which the Polish punishment was execution). Accordingly the British falsified the date on the Polish extradition request, refused further Polish extradition requests, and let Braemer go free. He died of natural causes in 1955.
Interestingly, during the post-war Nürnberg Trials many of the defendants tried to claim that they had been Just Following Orders in implementing the genocides. This was because, somewhat stereotypically, under Weimar and Imperial German Law the worst category of murder was that committed for 'base reasons' such as hatred or greed. Claiming not to have been personally invested in the acts was their way of trying to avoid the most severe punishments. Because of their association with that philosophical and moral argument, it is now known as "the Nürnberg Defense". Unfortunately for them, it transpired that the Soviet and other judges were more interested in the 'what' and 'how' of their crimes than the 'why'.
Though they were far from the only ones to do so, T-4 personnel were uniquely suited to making the argument that they had been 'forced' into wrongdoing: it had technically been an act of treason to refuse a job offer from the T-4 programme, because it enacted a Reich Chancellor's Emergency Executive Order. Of course, this fact was a moot point since in practice no job offers were given to people who didn't want them and it was possible to leave the programme at any time (given two weeks' notice).
It is often neglected that the Trials were highly politicised at the time. Leftists everywhere and eastern Europeans in particular pushed for the trial of as many War Criminals as possible, and Rightists in general and western Europeans in particular pushed for leniency and clemency. As Winston Churchill put it at the time, The Battle For Germany was over - but The Battle For Germany's Soul had begun. Postwar policy was in many ways related to the countries' experiences of the war. Eastern Europeans, and particularly the Poles and Soviets, considered the Nazi German state as the barbarous and willing servant of a genocidal oppressor. Western Europeans, and particularly the British, saw the German state as the civilised and reluctant servant of a merely tyrannical oppressor. Unsurprisingly, no-one was happy with the actual outcome of the trials as a whole. The Soviets and Poles were intensely frustrated by British unwillingness to hand over alleged War Criminals, and the British felt compelled to compromise their principles (of 'chivalry' and 'gentlemanly conduct') and try some individuals despite intense criticism from the War Officenote and the damage this did to Anglo-German relations note . All imprisoned War Criminals were released from Anglo-American custody by 1956 at the very latest.
Less than half the perpetrators from all agencies actually survived to be captured by the Soviets or other Allied countries, the rest having died in combat or committed suicide. Reserve Order Police Battalion 101 had the greatest proportion of members who were put on trial, with fourteen of the (500-member) Battalion's 210 surviving members being charged with murder and other crimes by the West German government in the period 1962-7. Nine of these were convicted, with seven receiving no sentence and the remaining two serving 3.5 and 4 years in prison. German nationalists and Veterans, and British and American military leaders, decried what they saw as the 'Victor's Justice' and 'Politics of Vengeance' note behind putting the perpetrators on trial, dubbing them such things as 'atrocities of injustice' and 'crimes against freedom'. Despite their sincerity in many cases, these calls were somewhat ironic. For instance (Reserve) Order Police Battalion 101 shot at least 7500 people, supervised the shooting (by Hiwis) of at least 30 000, and deported 45 000 to the Treblinka Work/Extermination camp complex. Yet judging these people for their actions was apparently 'the real crime'.
In the period 1950-1992 West Germany instigated 103,823 criminal proceedings.
- 6487 individuals were convicted, of whom 6197 were imprisoned for the duration of the trial (which could take many weeks, months, or even years) or longer.
- 163 death sentences were passed upon the remainder of those convicted, all of which were dismissed except 13 - who were actually executed.
All 20 defendants in the Einsatzgruppen leadership trials were convicted and fifteen of them spent up to ten years in jail, the other five being executed. The leaders of one of the private sector organisations were also tried, with several of the I.G. Farben chemical conglomerate's executives spending several years in jail and the corporation itself being split up into its constituent companies. I.G. Farben wasn't singled out because its constituent companies used slave labor and work many of its slaves to death, as it would be both impractical to try the leadership of every major company which had done this (i.e. every major German company) and would generate massive moral indignation (as the use of slave labor and mistreatment of slaves had been entirely legal at the time). Rather, I.G. Farben received special treatment because it had manufactured the nerve gas utilised at the Auschwitz-II/Birkenau extermination facility, which made the Polish-Soviet calls for trials almost impossible to deny (as I.G. Farben had effectively helped murder numerous German citizens, a crime under German law at the time). Ultimately, 520 of The Holocaust's more than 10,000 surviving voluntary authority figures were executed, and many hundreds more served served prison terms of up to several years.
Before the widespread public exposure of the Holocaust, the image of the Nazis prominent in wartime films and cartoons had been silly fanatics in strange costumes. The actual evidence of Nazi brutality challenged that conception and, at least in Europe (where the Nazis were never exactly a joke), helped people realize how the scale of evil embodied in the Holocaust couldn't be restricted to a single man like Hitler or Heydrich.
The Holocaust was implemented by 300,000 opportunists, racists, anti-communists, anti-semites, sadists, and normal people who'd rather not have been involved in it. These included 9000 German and 'Foreign-born German' (Volksdeutsch) Security Police personnel, 11,000 Order Police personnel, and more than 200,000 'Hiwis' ('Volunteers' recruited from Soviet POW). Amongst the Order Police contingent were 2000 'Reserve' Order Police troops whom experts agree were a basically ordinary, representative cross-section of German society. Their conduct offers great insights into the behaviour of normal people in extreme circumstances.
Reserve Order Police Battalion 101 was unique in participating in anti-Undesirable actions before participating in the Partisan War or Frontline Combat. Order Police Battalion 310, one of the few other units studied in detail, had no difficulty carrying out actions against Undesirables after having fought Red Army troops and exterminated several villages in retaliation for partisan attacks (in accordance with the standard Retaliation Ratio of 50:1 for every wounded and 100:1 for every dead German). Even radicalised men, however, had difficulty killing women and children.
The Reserve Order Police troops of Battalion 101 were among the most ambivalent to Nazism to ever be fielded in service to the regime. Family men in their '30s and '40s who had grown up under Weimar and Wilhelmine Germany, their city (Hamburg) was infamous as a hotbed of Socialist and Communist sentiment. Despite having respect for authority and Law and Order, they had little respect for Nazism or right-wing politics in general. They were slightly racist (by modern standards), which was typical of the age they'd grown up in, but remained civil and law-abiding in their prejudice note . Propaganda encouraging racist, anti-leftist, and anti-semitic sentiment had been ubiquitous since the Nazis had come to power nine or more years ago, but these men found it lacklustre and uninspiring as it was aimed at a younger and more indoctrinated generation (egregiously, it touted some obvious lies as truth). They were not given any special training or instruction or counselling for killing, something most of them would never dream of doing in their normal lives and found repulsive.
In the summer of 1942 the Lublin District SSPF (Regional Security Chief) Odilo Globocnik successfully made a bid to fulfil the Generalgouvernement's desires for an earlier end to its food crisis. While Globocnik was already sure to make a name for himself by constructing two of the Operation Reinhard facilities, including the biggest one, he saw no reason to content himself with this victory. Globocnik boosted his district's productivity by using his garrison units for ad-hoc disposals of 'in-house' problems - freeing the specialist facilities to focus on imports. On the 20th of June 1942, Reserve Order Police Battalion 101 was transferred to the Lublin district. On the 11th of July, Globocnik ordered the Battalion's Commander - the fatherly Major Trapp - to clear the village of Józefów of Undesirables. He made the arrangements and got them to the village on the 13th, but upon arrival no fewer than eight witnesses testified that he had become extremely agitated and wept openly, saying something to the effect of "Oh, God, why did I have to be given these orders?" (testimony of Friedrich E.) Trapp managed to compose himself long enough to relay his orders to his assembled troops, which he said came from 'the highest authority'. He said that he understood totally if the men did not want to participate in the 'frightful business' of the action, and assured them that they would not be punished in any way if they took his offer. About a dozen of the Battalion's roughly 500 men, including Lieutenant Buchmann, opted out before the entire Battalion. A couple dozen more refused later on, before the action had started but when fewer eyes were upon them, or snuck away to avoid participating.
The Battalion made a number of mistakes in the action which followed. Firstly, the Reserve Order Policemen were explicitly offered the choice of opting out of the action, free of consequences - which made made those who stayed feel responsible for their actions. Secondly, the policemen made no use of Hiwis and handled the entire procedure by themselves. Thirdly, they were personally assigned to an Undesirable whom they would escort from the village to the site and then dispose of - a process which could take several minutes in close proximity, and was in some cases compounded by select Undesirables' ability to speak their language. Fourthly, and worst of all, there was no 'division of labour': the policemen were offered the choice of killing or opting out entirely. Fifthly, the quotas were far too high (20) and the timespan on execution duty far too long (several hours) - allowing ample time for anticipation of and reflection upon their actions. And finally, the Battalion's physician had advised that the most humane way to conduct the executions was to shoot the condemned in the neck - whether at very close range or (in the event of an attack of nerves which made aiming difficult) with their rifles' bayonets pressed against the victims' necks.
The results were predictable:
Very few were able to actually fulfill their quotas. Many professed missing their victims, whether out of nerves or on purpose. Because the action had been physically messy, particularly for those acting upon the physician's 'helpful' advice, the smell of blood followed them back to their barracks that night. The entire battalion was shell-shocked for days, and many turned to alcoholism. While many felt sorrier for themselves than for their victims, the reverse was true of others. In the weeks which followed, the conscientious objectors successfully applied for transfers back to Germany. Trapp did not immediately file his longtime friend Lieutenant Buchmann's transfer request, and managed to convince Buchmann to keep working with him and soldier on (and continue collecting field-deployment pay) by making special arrangements for Buchmann's subordinates to handle all further massacres without any involvement from him. But Buchmann's discontent with tasks "alien to the police" only grew as the massacres continued, and after several weeks he said something to the effect of "I won't do this shit any longer" (testimony of Heinrich E.) and wrote directly to Hamburg.
More than nine-tenths of the Battalion had killed someone in the Józefów Massacre. Why?
'Peer Pressure' is not a motivation you might expect to hear with regards to genocide. Genocide is a unique, rare, and incomprehensible thing done by equally strange people very far away whom you have absolutely nothing in common with. Peer Pressure is something felt by a real, actual, ordinary person who is very much like you. Perhaps this is why Daniel Goldhagen's ludicrous 'Eliminationist Anti-Semitism' thesisnote was so appealing in Germany and elsewhere: it claims that mass murder only ever happens where one group of people utterly loathes another. And that is a comforting thought, because genocidal hatred is rare. But Peer Pressure is everywhere.
The dynamics of Peer Pressure in a genocide are at once unique and universal. The greatest pressure is to participate. Unless you think you're 'too good' for us. Too high and mighty. Too pure. Too saintly. Or maybe it's because you're a snivelling coward? Weakling or not, you're supposed to be a soldier now. And a man. Are you not 'man' enough for this, is that it? A Real Man Is a Killer. So why aren't you? You're only here because you were too old and feeble to be a proper soldier in the military like everyone else. They're doing their part to defend their loved ones right now. Each and every one has probably killed a whole heap of enemies by now. And what'll you tell them when you get home? That you didn't kill anyone?
Once you've participated, there's the pressure to keep participating. There's no 'I' in 'Team'. Everybody has to do their part. You can't just slack off and expect everyone else to do your work for you. Sure, maybe you have an 'off' day every once in a while, when you can't quite pull through. That's okay, everyone has days like that. Everyone understands. But you can't keep shunting your work onto others. That's just not fair. You have to pull your weight and take one for the team. Or several dozen. You don't feel like doing the work? Well, screw you too. You don't like the company around here, you can go eat with the locals. All 40 million of them, who don't speak your language and would slit your throat first chance they get.
In many ways, asking 'why kill?' is an unnecessarily complicated question. To paraphrase Battle-Brother Artemis, perhaps we should be asking 'why not kill?' instead. After all, this is how the units which killed people in The Holocaust framed the kill/not kill debate. More egregiously, asking 'why kill?' also assumes that it is very difficult to make someone kill - or that the capacity to kill does not exist in human nature. The most difficult thing about killing is not the killing itself, but being okay with doing it. Many struggle to reconcile the belief that they are a good person with the knowledge that they have killed.
There are three ways someone can rationalise or excuse 'evil' deeds. The first is through absolving yourself of moral responsibility for your own actions and blaming someone else. The second is through convincing yourself that it was not 'evil' at all. The third is through convincing yourself that it was necessary. What destroyed the participants in the Józefów massacre was the fact that none of these justifications stood up to scrutiny. While about a third of them eventually convinced themselves that what they had done had been necessary, if not good, the majority simply tried not to think about what they had done and attempted to avoid all further participation in such actions. A silent minority, at most a fifth, thought that the massacre had been wrong but kept these beliefs to themselves - while they attempted to avoid participating, they did not try to stop others from doing so. This rough ratio of Willing:Reluctant:Unwilling matches up with that seen in the Stanford Prison Experiment.
The 'Reluctant' two-thirds nominally obeyed their orders, but didn't attempt to carry them out to the best of their abilities - whether out of caution, laziness, indifference, or personal objection. Most killed all demographics, but some notably and consistently refused to kill certain categories of targets - generally children or women. But just as notably they (and the 'objectors') refused not on moral grounds but by citing personal 'weakness' and 'cowardice'. Some of the 'indifferents' resented the objectors for having the courage to do what they secretly believed to be the right thing when they themselves did not.
Most of the silent minority of 'objectors' took advantage of Major Trapp's permissive attitude and refused to kill people, and some continued to refuse even when explicitly ordered to do so by von Trapp's subordinates. Some actually deliberately failed to implement official policy, such as when conducting a patrol with no 'keen' or 'go-getter' types who might pass on reports about them shirking their duties (to kill all suspected 'partisans' on sight).
While a handful of the 'willing' one-third were simple sadists or sociopaths, most were not. They coped with their actions by making themselves believe they had been justified or even good, and/or trying to make the whole business into a sort of game or joke and having fun with it. They had not killed Poles and Jews because they feared or hated them, but many came to fear and hate Poles and Jews because they had killed them. Callous indifference to human suffering and a delight in wanton cruelty had not characterised any of the Battalion's members upon its arrival in Poland, or its participation in the Józefów massacre, yet they were plainly evident within just a few months spent massacring Undesirables and conducting Anti-Partisan Warfare.
The 'division of labour' was key to the Battalion's ability to carry out further actions. The 'willing' members of the Battalion saw it through the quiet periods in which only small parts of the Battalion were needed, whether for ordinary Police Work, smaller massacres, or Judenjagd (Jew-Hunts, typically involving the clearing of individual bunkers revealed by local informants). But for actions which required the participation of the entire Battalion, such as Anti-Partisan Sweeps or large-scale massacres, the 'willing' would volunteer to do the bulk of the killing. 'Indifferents' could be convinced to help out, but were generally left to Transportation and Cordon duties alongside the 'unwilling'. When combined with a quick tempo of killing and sufficient range, this formula was enough to see them through the next few months. However, just because the 'willing' could cope with killing for the time being didn't mean they could keep doing so indefinitely. The troops' ability to cope was important to Sipo and Order Police commanders because it was illegal to officially punish or execute a SiPo or OrPo trooper for refusing to kill someone:
And in practice neither the threat of unreasonable working hours nor unpaid overtime was sufficient to make troops determined not to kill innocent civilians do so. Given the already insufficient number of German troops (from both agencies) available for these duties, for a time the problem of how to kill such large numbers of people in such a small timeframe seemed insoluble...
...until someone got the bright idea to ask the German Army for use of some of the perishable assets which were literally wasting away in their possession. As they say: waste not, want not. The Army hadn't even been using them for anything!
The more than 200,000 'Hiwis' (short for 'Hilfswilliger' or 'voluntary helpers') utilised in The Holocaust were 'recruited' from the 3 million Soviet POW that the German Army left in open-air camps without shelter, clothing, or food between June 1941 and March 1942 (of whom 2 million died). The Army later followed the lead of the Police and Paramilitary organisations, recruiting several hundred thousand Hiwis of its own. Hiwis were vitally important team members for the Holocaust's perpetrators - not so much for the drive and sense of purpose which they brought to the job (which were lacking) as the fact that they could be punished or executed for refusing to obey orders. They shot people, looted their corpses, then burned or buried them under the supervision of SiPo or OrPo troops. After bad experiences acting on their own many experienced German commanders categorically refused to undertake clearing operations unless Hiwis were available, as without them there remained a very real risk of demoralisation over time. The mixed Factory-Extermination camp complexes created before and for Operation Reinhard in 1941-2 introduced a further step in the division of labour through the use of a new category of foreign auxiliary, 'Sonderkommando' ('Special Troops' recruited from the camp population) for the looting and disposal of corpses (generally through cremation). These were given the same offer of death-or-service and kept in line through comparably brutal discipline. This arrangement was continued at the Auschwitz-II/Birkenau facility after the successful conclusion of Operation Reinhard.
All Hiwis captured by the Soviets were regarded with a measure of scorn and contempt, and many were convicted of collusion with the enemy and sentenced to years of hard labour in the NKGB's 'GULAG Archipeligo' of farms and mines. However, others were spared because the Soviet Union as a whole was critically short of skilled labourers after the war, and even unskilled labours in a few key sectors. Most famously, although the German destruction of the entire mining infrastructure of central-eastern Ukraine - and particularly the Donbass region where coking coal and high-quality iron were mined - had been largely repaired by 1945 there was an acute shortage of experienced miners of all sorts and so these were almost universally acquitted or never brought to trial.
In sharp contrast to both reluctant men from the 101 and robotic, sociopathic men like Auschwitz' Rudolf Höss, those in charge with Aktion T4 and Operation Reinhard had been hand-picked form the start. The commandant of Death Camp Bełżec, Christian Wirth, had been a renowned brutal and sadistic policeman during his younger years and got selected for Aktion T4 for his reputation. Appointed Inspector of Operation Reinhard camps, his regime of terror extended to the Ukrainian Hiwis and SS guards as well: he did not hesitate to shoot on the spot the Hiwis for minor breaches and pointed his gun at German SS men threatening to do the same.
Successful high-level bureaucrats of the Nazi period were consistently people of great intelligence, creativity, and initiative. They were also disproportionately young by the standards of the age, many of them having been fired or simply unable to get good work during the Great Depression. Two-thirds of the top bureaucrats in the various SS sub-organisations (Criminal Police, Race and Settlement Office, Waffen-SS, etc) were in their thirties or younger, and a similar proportion had degrees. Degree-holders were a minority in most state institutions and the average age of their top bureaucrats was fifty-something, with most Army generals (to name but one example) being in their late fifties or early sixties.
This was because of the nature of Nazi bureaucracy, which was dynamic and highly competitive: Hitler rewarded results and nothing else. His erasure of distinct policy areas meant that any organisation could be authorised to implement any policy - if it managed to convince Hitler that its proposed policy was a good idea and that it could actually carry it out. If an organisation didn't develop good policies, or didn't implement them to Hitler's satisfaction, it could and would be sidelined. For instance, Hitler didn't care in the slightest if the German Army's Ministry of Armaments had organised the procurement of Anti-Aircraft Artillery shells for more than twenty years - if they didn't get it done quickly and cheaply, he would get the Luftwaffe's just-established Four Year Plan Organisation to do it instead. Successful organisations were very 'lean' by necessity, having virtually no 'red tape' and displaying very little of the obstructionism that one would typically expect of an organisation in government service.
National Security Policy was one of the most hotly-contested policy areas in German politics, and so it attracted much of the very best talent. If you were good enough, involvement in National Security Policy was an exceptionally fast route to wealth and power. Reinhard Heydrich went from being a low-ranking and relatively low-paid naval officer to an SS General with the equivalent ofa modern-day seven-figure salary, with perks, after just a decade of service. By that time his resume was resplendent with glowing accounts of his general competence, drive, openness to new ideas, and scientific approach to policy. Until 1942 his greatest accomplishment had been his 'Vienna Model' of deportation, which in 1938 had achieved the largest, quickest, and cheapest mass-removal of poor Jews from German territory in history.
High-level leaders like Reinhard Heydrich and Adolf Eichmann rose to their positions because they were extremely competent and dedicated individuals who exercised their powers of imagination and reasoning to develop and implement effective policies. What is less well-known is that this was also true of mid-level leaders, who ultimately aspired to rising to such positions. The Holocaust in eastern Europe was actually driven by lower- and mid-level leadership, acting with the approval of senior leaders but not actually obeying orders from them as such. The SSPFs of the Generalgouvernment and Reichskomissariats Ostland and Ukraine rightly saw the outbreak of war with the Soviet Union as a huge opportunity to prove their own competence and dedication in National Security matters, especially once the manpower that the Army had earmarked for the purpose proved unable to do so. The most triumphant example of such a mid-level leader is probably Odilo Globocnik, SSPF for the Lublin District of the Warthegau. The very first proposal for the construction of a purpose-built extermination facility to deal with 'excess' Undesirables (to be attached to the Lublin Ghetto) was submitted to Globocnik's office, and accepted sometime in mid-late 1941. In turn it seems that Globocnik's proposals to Hans Frank and Reinhard Heydrich shaped the change in the nature of the SiPo's 'Deportation Plan' (approved at Wannsee), and resulted in the bulk of Operation Reinhard (including Treblinka) being conducted in Globocnik's fiefdom and using his forces.
During Eichmann's 1961 trial for Crimes Against Humanity he presented himself as a Beleaguered Bureaucrat and exhausted and irritated his handlers and the prosecution using Meaningless Meaningful Words and more or less came off as a very stupid man who didn't seem to understand the gravity of his situation or the actions he was involved in. This stupidity and cluelessness was the subject of Hannah Arendt's famous, controversial and oft-misunderstood book Eichmann in Jerusalem. She was a political philosopher and in The '30s a German Jew exiled from France, who was briefly interned in the Gurs Camp before finding a visa to America. She was assigned to cover the trial by The New Yorker magazine and she followed it from the newsroom watching the video feed, basing her argument from how Eichmann came off in his public manner in the trial. Arendt's analysis of the events advanced a view which is often called the 'Banality of Evil' (after her rather theatrical closing final line of the essay). Her argument was that men like Eichmann were not exceptionally evil in the philosophical sense. That they weren't more than garden-variety anti-semites before the Nazizeit and that Eichmann carried out his plans out of a refusal, or perhaps incapacity, to think and reflect on his actions, merely projecting it outward to whatever people expected. This in her view made Eichmann and by extension, other Nazis not very different in mentality from the general bureaucratic mindset of pre-war Germany, and more importantly not exceptionally evil in the philosophical sense, which in her view also meant that "evil" was not an exceptional or special condition worthy of genius, it was simply borne in an incapacity to think and reflect.
Arendt's philosophical argument was highly criticized and controversial in its time and it remains controversial to this day. Historians and biographers point out Arendt's mistakes, and have revealed that Eichmann was in fact an exceptional anti-semite in his youth. Moreover they assert that her thesis unfairly reflects her contempt for government bureaucrats, in considering them all as uncreative automata without will or initiative. Arendt's own argument was also inspired by the the then-popular but today largely defunct 'Totalitarianism' thesis. In either case, Arendt never denied that Eichmann was an anti-semite but merely that he was unexceptional for being so. While critical of the context of the trial and the framing of the debates, she was also fully supportive of his conviction and execution. Finally, her book criticized the widespread network of complicity in the mechanism of the Holocaust - namely the Catholic Church (which aided via "rat tunnels" the escape and exile of many war criminals to Argentina, including Eichmann himself) and the mentality of supposedly "ordinary" Germans in participating the events, while also noting the extent to which Nazi war goals were shared by the junior officers who participated in the July '44 'Valkyrie' coup attempt.
Getting ordinary people to enable the killing of someone is easy, especially if they don't have to interact with the victim in any capacity. Getting ordinary people to be okay with it is practically a non-issue, especially if there is no interaction with them. If you don't have to see or hear or smell or feel anything, it is not physically disgusting or shocking and this makes it much easier not to think about it. Since you are just enabling the victim's death it is also very easy to place the bulk (if not the entirety) of the blame for their death upon the person who directly killed them, so it is much easier not to feel guilty about it either. All this, and the simple fact that it makes for a very boring story, is why there are no widely-published memoirs of German bureaucrats who express their disgust and remorse for their actions in indirectly facilitating various aspects of The Holocaust.
Self-perception as a heroic, victimised party defending themselves from evil oppressors is not just helpful to the mass-conduct of the greatest inhumanities which humanity is capable of: it is essential. As any salesman can tell you, negativity is fundamentally unappealing: people do not want to feel that they are bad people, or that the world is a bad place. On the other hand, a positive message is inherently appealing: people want to feel that they are good people, who are valued and loved for who they are. A positive message can tap into the best of humanity's instincts - the loving, the protective, the hopeful - in the service of incredible acts.
Nobody likes to feel that they are a bully. However, it is relatively easy to convince people that they are being bullied and need to stand up for themselves. While it is necessary for people to accept that they are being bullied by an enemy, it is unnecessary for that enemy to objectively exist. It is also unnecessary for people to subjectively believe that that enemy exists, because peer-pressure and personal gain can easily compel people to act as if it does. It does not matter whether the enemy is internal or external. All that matters is that people are willing to maintain the polite fiction that the enemy exists, even if they do not actually believe as much.
One of the fundamentals of the Nazi worldview was the idea that Communists and Jews were colluding to oppress any nation which might stand up to the Judeo-Bolshevik conspiracy. They encouraged people everywhere to believe that they were Freedom Fighters bravely taking a stand against the age-old oppressors of mankind and the hordes of inhuman mooks at their disposal - that they were the noble, self-sacrificing heroes of the greatest and grandest story of humanity, in which justice and freedom would prevail over the faceless legions of brown-skinned subhumans deceived and terrorised into submission and service by The Jew.
The motivations of parties who shared goals with the Nazis tended to be more cynical. Rather than being focused on huge, abstract problems they were troubled by immediate, obvious ones. While the idea of the Judeo-Bolshevik conspiracy still held a certain appeal for them, they were more focused upon the large ethnic minorities which potentially gave other countries spies in and claims over their lands. Egregiously, Romania and Bulgaria's voluntary deportation of Jews from their contested borderlands was not just done to please the Germans (as they later claimed), but was part of wider measures to remove ethnic minorities from those regions and so improve their own claims over them. Tellingly, no European government voluntarily deported Jews that they perceived as being 'theirs' (i.e. fully-integrated citizens) from within their countries' heartlands, such as Petain's French State - which only deported Jews who were not French citizens.
Fascinatingly, many Holocaust perpetrators later tried to claim 'victim' status. The example of the Akkumulatorenfabrik AG Stöcken executives has already been mentioned, but is by no means an isolated case among businesses which chose to rent and, through underfeeding and overwork, render Unfit and then return slaves from the SS Main Business Office. Wehrmacht officers claimed that they had been forced into helping the SS commit War Crimes, against their will. In a truly impressive feat of chutzpah, Waffen-SS officers also tried to claim that they had been oppressed into doing things against their will and so their organisation should not have been branded a 'Criminal' one because they had only been simple, honourable soldiers. note These ballsy claims were at least partially successful: revelations of Wehrmacht War Crimes and the voluntary nature of Germans citizens' participation in War Crimes came as a surprise to most Germans in the 1990s. These revelations are still somewhat novel in the Anglosphere, where they continue to shock people.
Moving on to those who could objectively be described as victims, the chief problem with describing the experience of 'The Holocaust Victim' is that there was no such thing. No one human did, or ever could have, experienced every programme of The Holocaust in its totality. The very expectation that there could be such a thing as a prototypical 'Holocaust Victim', representative of the totality of The Holocaust, results from the sheer imbalance of survivors' experiences: the vast majority of the survivors had very similar experiences as skilled or fit-for-work slaves. Of two million people, almost no-one survived Operation Reinhard - but half of Germany's 50,000 imprisoned political dissidents, gays, and paedophiles survived years of slave labour and everyday cruelty. Of half a million Hiwis only a handful survived the war, years of hard labour, years of guilt and self-loathing, and overcame the shame of admitting what they did and the pressures of censorship to write about their experiences - but all of the 6,000 Jews of Denmark were safely delivered to Sweden, and were both happy and proud to tell their tale. There was also an imbalance of skills among survivors, as not all of them knew widely-spoken languages and only a tiny minority were good writers, and neither skill was prevalent among survivors from impoverished backgrounds. The colossal imbalance of survivor accounts meant that from the outset in the 1950s the labour camps dominated personal histories of The Holocaust, and in the 1960s-70s onward the Ghettoes and Auschwitz-II/Birkenau took their place. This state of affairs remains the case to this day.
The best stories of heroism pit pure evil against pure good. Actual people are almost never either.
We can classify many rescuers as being 'limited' in their reasons for hiding people from the military and civilian security organisations of the Axis powers. Just because they did not approve of the enslavement or killing of targeted minorities did not mean that they viewed them as fully human, liked them, or wanted anything to do with them. Many of these people were either in love with or connected to minorities through family/communal ties. In some cases members of these minorities even seduced and/or married into majority families at least in part to save themselves.
Most rescuers could be characterised as having 'mixed' motives. The sympathy and willingness to help of these people was greater, but still limited. They might hide and feed their son's wife, for instance, but not her family - or her immediate/nuclear family, but not their extended family. And so on.
Rarest still are those who risked everything they had to be heroes. They were rare, but they existed. Most famously, the tiny southern French village of Le Chambon, populated by devout Huguenots under the leadership of a charismatic and exceptionally goodly priest, took it upon themselves to expend their life savings and risk their lives hiding and providing for 5,000 Jews. To quote an anonymous villager, whose words were recorded and rendered into English by Philip Hallie:
Another example of heroism was Salvadoran diplomat Jose Castellanos Contreras in conjunction with a Jewish-Hungarian businessman named György Mandl, helping save up to 40,000 Jews and Central Europeans from Nazi persecution by providing them with Political Asylum (Salvadoran nationality).
Rescuers could be found even within the camps. One POW, Roddie Edmonds, was ordered to tell every Jewish soldier under his command to identify themselves. Instead, he ordered every soldier under his command to identify themselves as Jewish. When the commandant threatened to shoot him, Edmonds calmy replied that this would be a war crime, and the commandant would be tried after the war. Edmonds survived the war, and he is credited with saving as many as 200 Jews under his command. He never took credit for this and never told his family about the incident. He became the first American officer, and one of only a few Americans, to be declared Righteous Among the Nations, an honorific given by the state of Israel to non-Jews credited with saving Jews from the Nazis at the risk of their own lives.
- Sterilize German Asocials, Romani, Disabled - various Medical Associations
- Promote death of German disabled - various Asylums
- Encourage Jewish emigration - SA, Order police, SS
- Sterilize German Asocials, Romani - various Medical Associations
- Promote death of Polish disabled - Wehrmacht Medical Services
- Euthanize Polish disabled/euthanize German disabled in secret - SS/various Asylums
- Use Jews in Poland for war production - Districts (Gaus) of Greater Germany, Generalgouvernement
- Hold French POW - Wehrmacht
- Sterilize German Asocials, Romani - various Medical Associations
- Promote death of Soviet disabled - Wehrmacht Medical Services
- Euthanise Soviet disabled - SS, Order Police, Wehrmacht
- Use Jews in Poland for war production/exterminate Soviet Jews - Gaus of Greater Germany, Generalgouvernement (Poland)/SS, Order Police, Wehrmacht
- Hold French POW/exterminate Soviet POW - Wehrmacht
- Encourage Rumanian, Lithuanian, Ukrainian, et al. extermination of Romani & Jews in occupied Soviet Union - Romanian Army, Foreign Ministry, SS
- Sterilize German Asocials - various Medical Associations
- Euthanize German disabled in great secrecy - various Asylums
- Exterminate German & foreign Jews, Romani without skills useful for war production - SS, Order Police, Wehrmacht
- Use French & Soviet POW for war production - Organisation Todt, Four Year Plan Organisation (Luftwaffe), Armaments Ministry (Wehrmacht), Some German companies
- Sterilize German Asocials - various Medical Associations
- Euthanize German disabled in great secrecy - various Asylums
- Exterminate German & foreign Jews, Romani unfit for war production - SS, Order Police, Wehrmacht
- Use POW, civilians, Undesirables for war production - Four Year Plan Organisation (Luftwaffe), Armaments Ministry (Wehrmacht), large German companies
Though it may be the best-documented series of mass atrocities to date, there are still some vagaries about the exact numbers of people killed and in what manner. Most of this is because the entire "Partisan War" in the occupied Soviet Union and Poland went virtually undocumented, with the sole exception of the Einsatzgruppen records which their department created in a desperate attempt to 'prove' that they were playing a major part in Security Operations - and subsequently misinterpreted at Nuremberg to mean that the Einsatzgruppen department really had been a major or even the sole player in the "Partisan War". The Concentration Camps Directorate, the HSSPFs, and the SSPFs also managed to destroy virtually all of their own records. No minutes of in-house meetings concerning "National Security" matters survived.
The Holocaust became prominent in the immediate aftermath of the war, but slowly faded in the wake of Cold War tensions of The '50s and regained widespread attention in the 1970s-80s. This was an era where anti-racism and violence to minorities occupied an important part of the discourse in the Western world, with much attention devoted towards humanizing and remembering the Jewish victims (For example: Anne Frank) who constituted the single largest minority group persecuted by the Nazis. Since the 1990s the focus has shifted towards the institutional apparatus, as well as the overall violence of the Eastern Front. This was aided by the end of the Cold War and availability of various archives in Eastern Europe to Western researchers. Greater attention was devoted to the non-SS agencies which contributed to and permitted the Holocaust (e.g. the Order Police, the Wehrmacht) and a more nuanced distinction between all the involved agencies and their policies, and a real interest in the individual on-the-ground killers' motivations and mindsets. Initially, the scholarship was flawed and occassionally inaccurate. Ironically, the least accurate proved to have the single most productive effect.
Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's 1996 book Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust was well-received by the reading public of Germany because it came in the aftermath of the Historikerstreit or 'History Wars', in which the '(re-)discovery' of Germany's wartime crimes in the late 1980s-early 1990s produced a national debate about whether Germany should sweep them under the carpet (to promote nationalism) or focus on the regime's crimes (to discredit nationalism). The general consensus was that German schools should not attempt to marginalise The Nazis, World War Two, and The Holocaust but instead focus upon them as the most important events in German history. Goldhagen's book sold well because it catered to this consensus by claiming that all German people had been evil, it was controversial, and it seemed to be a respectable academic book since it was written by a Harvard University Graduate (and later professor).
The entire academic community-- Sipo, Orpo, Wehrmacht, Jewish, German culture, and Psychological history specialists-- has panned David Goldhagen for deliberately (or, possibly worse[?], accidentally) misrepresenting evidence to support his pre-existing theory that ordinary German people were and always had been genocidally antisemitic maniacs until the postwar allied "De-Nazification" program of the late 1940s-50s made them relatively nice people virtually overnightnote . A whole host of academics who otherwise wouldn't have interacted with each other bonded over the experience of tearing Goldhagen's poorly-researched and deeply misleading thesis to pieces. The personal connections thus made caused them to share more information for their subsequent research, which appreciably improved subsequent general and inter-disciplinary studies of the Holocaust.
There are a variety of existing debates on these events. The most general and accesible debate in Academic studies of the Holocaust is known as "Functionalism versus Intentionalism", terms coined by the historian Timothy Mason. Intentionalism focuses on Nazi Ideology and the Nazi leadership, arguing that the Holocaust was the inevitable product of Nazi Ideology and/or Hitler's personal beliefs. This was the very first view articulated about the motivations behind the Holocaust in the 1950s, with a specific focus on anti-semitism and is the view which dominates Anglo-American popular understanding of The Holocaust. Functionalism focuses on the initiatives of German civil servants, arguing that the Holocaust was a series of solutions that amoral bureaucrats suggested to solve various practical problems thrown up by World War II. This view was articulated in the 1960s by philosophers concerned with the nature of 'modernity' and 'bureaucracy'. A variant of this view ('Weak' Functionalism) predominates in academic understanding of The Holocaust. 'Weak' Functionalism posits that low-level bureaucratic initiative defined the specific shape of The Holocaust, but notes that Nazi Ideology defined the 'Overton Window' of acceptable policy options and that Hitler ultimately approved or vetoed all major policies. This consensus is best summarised by Ian Kershaw's "Working Towards the Fuhrer" concept.
The other notable debates about the Holocaust are less accessible to the general public. There's the question of whether the Holocaust was a uniquely German or general 'European' genocide: the consensus there being that Germany played a leading role (how leading is the question) in a pan-European series of projects. Another is whether or not the Holocaust should be seen as a 'Colonial' genocide comparable to those implemented in The Americas and Australia, with the consensus being that while this describes German activities in eastern Europe very well it simply does not explain Germany's Western European policy. A related debate is whether the Holocaust should be seen as an extreme solution to National Security issues, though once again this argument is at its strongest regarding eastern and southern Europe and much weaker regarding the West.
A more philosophical debate is whether or not The Holocaust was "a product of modernity". This informed the debate among continental philosophers and artists on the implications of these events on notions of human progress and development. This sentiment is encapsulated by Frankfurt philosopher Theodor Adorno's statement that "poetry was impossible after Auschwitz", i.e. the events are a final judgment on the "illusions" of civilization, progress and culture. This gloomy vision informed the philosophy of Postmodernism and Existentialism and the many artistic works that sprung from these worldviews. Much of this rests on the observation that the events occurred in Germany, an intellectually and culturally advanced, socially and economically developed, nation. This argument was used by philosopher-historians such as Hans Mommsen, Hans Ulrich-Wehler and Jurgen Habermus to claim that the Holocaust was "unique" and beyond human understanding. In doing so they found themselves at odds with political and social historians of the regime who believed that The Holocaust was perfectly comprehensible when reduced to its component programmes. While the historians are undoubtedly right to say that The Holocaust is far from incomprehensible, whether or not The Holocaust is comprehensible from a philosophical perspective or is truly "a product of modernity" is an ongoing debate and not for us to judge.
Interestingly, at about the same time that the Holocaust became widely known (and cared-about), the Holocaust Denial movement started in the United States. With a largely (but not exclusively) anti-Jewish focus, it seemed to having the backing of a "respectable" historian in the form of Professor David Irving. But in the course of a landmark 1996 trial in which Irving sued someone for calling him an anti-Semitic Holocaust Denier who had systemically falsified and lied about historical evidence, the defendant called upon professional historians to help her—and the court ultimately determined that Irving was in fact all of those thingsnote . Sadly, the reading public has been slow to figure out just how extensively and blatantly Irving lied in his books, so it is not unheard of to find them on the shelves of older public libraries. Worse yet, his books have found a new lease of life in Arabic-language translations and hold a place of pride in the anti-Semitic pantheon alongside The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Mein Kampf.
Amusingly—and this is a refreshingly light note to finish this article on—Uncyclopedia has a brilliant article on David Irving which claims that his books are, in fact, "an elaborate hoax created by an international Communist-Jewish conspiracy" and ultimately denies that David Irving exists. No, really. See for yourself.
List of Works that Depict and Address the Holocaust
Anime & Manga
- Block 109: In this Alternate History comic book, due to Nazi Germany surviving longer than it did in real life, Jewish presence has been totally wiped out from Europe. Hochmeister Zytek, one of Hitler's successors at the head of the state, has all the main Nazi leaders gathered in a room and has them machine-gunned for planning and allowing the genocide, as well as for the countless other real life war crimes the comics turned Up to Eleven.
- EC Comics: Stories like Master Race (art by Bernard Krigstein) and Desert Fox and many others.
- X-Men: Erik Lehnsherr / Magneto is famously a Holocaust survivor and several issues by Chris Claremont deal with his memories in the camps. Despite being an Anti-Villain, Magneto detests Nazism and loathes the Red Skull.
- The Holocaust shapes Erik Lehnsherr's personality in the X-Men Film Series as well, fueling his hatred of mankind. Both the first X-Men and X-Men: First Class open in 1944 with him being deported to Auschwitz with his family, with his metal-controlling powers starting to manifest as he is separated from his parents. First Class expands this part of his backstory as it is a Nazi scientist and mutant, Dr. Klaus Schmidt / Sebastian Shaw, who kills his mother, triggering his thirst of revenge. In X-Men: Apocalypse, Apocalypse transports Erik to the empty camp to convince him to join his side.
- Judenhass, by Dave Sim, creator of Cerebus the Aardvark. It's a one-issue work that postulates that the Holocaust was the end result of a slowly-growing historical trend of anti-Semitism, and featured many recreations of photographs of the camps and their prisoners, done by Sim in the photorealistic drawing style he'd started working with in later issues of Cerebus.
- Sturmtruppen is a satiric comic featuring a German battalion during World War II, and a few strips feature the soldiers taking part into it-and showing how evil, pointless and stupid it had been.
- Au revoir les enfants
- The Big Red One
- Conspiracy (2001)
- The Counterfeiters
- The Day the Clown Cried
- Denial — about the libel trial between Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt (and her publisher) and Holocaust denier David Irving
- The Diary of Anne Frank
- Escape from Sobibór
- Europa Europa
- The Garden of the Finzi-Continis — the lead-up anyway, ends with the Jews of Ferrara being rounded up for deportation
- The Grey Zone
- Der letzte Zug (The Last Train)
- Genocide — 1981 documentary
- Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport — documentary about the rescue of German children to England in the months between Kristallnacht and the outbreak of war.
- Judgment at Nuremberg
- Kapo — A teenaged Jewish girl escapes Auschwitz only to become a despised "kapo" (prisoner guarding other prisoners) in a different labor camp.
- Life Is Beautiful
- Marathon Man
- Night and Fog
- The Pianist
- Schindler's List
- The Shop on Main Street
- Shutter Island
- Son of Saul
- Sophie's Choice
- The Sorrow and the Pity
- The Stranger
- The Unborn
- Visas and Virtue — about a Japanese diplomat in Lithuania who issued thousands of entrance visas to Jewish refugees from Poland
- The Diary of a Young Girl: Anne Frank's autobiography.
- Night: Written by Elie Wiesel, a survivor of Auschwitz.
- The Zone of Interest
- If This Is a Man: Written by Primo Levi, an Italian Jew who survived Auschwitz. Adapted into the one-man teleplay Primo by Antony Sher, broadcast on HBO and The BBC.
- Rose Under Fire: A novel about a young American woman who ends up in a concentration camp.
- The Book Thief
- The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
- Making History: A Holocaust survivor and a history student attempt to change history to prevent the Holocaust. Events at Auschwitz have a major impact on the plot.
- The Winds of War/War and Remembrance
- The Devil's Arithmetic
- The Reader
- Götz and Meyer
- Band of Brothers — One episode has Easy Company stumble across a concentration camp.
- Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter
- Soviet Storm: World War II in the East — The Soviets, during their advance into Poland, discover several concentration camps, including Auschwitz.
- The track "Dachau Blues" from Captain Beefheart's album Trout Mask Replica.
- The songs "Angel of Death" and "SS-3" by Slayer from Reign in Blood and Divine Intervention respectively.
- "Dance Me to the End of Love" by Leonard Cohen was inspired by the Holocaust, regardless of what the title might imply.
- "Herb Girls of Birkenau" by cello rock band Rasputina.
- "The Final Solution" by Sabaton.
- "Never Again" by Disturbed is a combination of a song about the Holocaust and an anthem about not letting something like it happen again.
- "This Train" by The Indigo Girls
- This is the setting of Canadian figure skater Roman Sadovsky's long program from the 2018-2019 competitive season, which features music from Schindler's List. His costume evokes the filth and blood of a concentration camp prisoner, and the jumps represent hard labour. It's the darkest program in the sport to date because Sadovsky maintains a haunting, grim tone throughout his performance. It ends on a hopeless note, as his character doesn't get rescued. His final pose consists of looking up to the sky (or the ceiling of his cell) with his arms outstretched as if pleading for help from the heavens, but the only response he receives is an ominous-sounding wind gust. It's Truth in Television because for nearly all victims of genocide, there is no happy ending.
Roman Sadovsky: My long is Schindler's List, which is a lot more of a darker program. It's all about the Holocaust, it's more painful and emotional.
- Charnel Houses of Europe: the Shoah, a supplement for Wraith: The Oblivion, outlines the Holocaust and describes its effects on the realms of the dead.
- Call of Duty: WWII— The epilogue has soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division discovering both concentration and labor camps during their advance into Germany.
- Wolfenstein: The New Order — Set in an Alternate History in which the Nazis won WWII, the player character is sent undercover to a forced labour camp, he mentions the camps of Auschwitz and Treblinka other examples of the place he is in.
- Bedtime Stories (YouTube Channel) has the episode "Secrets of Celle Neues Rathaus", which features the titular Haunted Headquarters used by the SS to torture and conduct unethical experiments on Jewish prisoners.
- The Footprint Of Mussolini — The Nazi efforts to exterminate the Jews are a major theme during the World War II segments.