E.4. Eugenics and Racial Mass Murder
For a “virtual” archive of Holocaust sources, see World War II Archive: Holocaust. The Simon Wiesenthal Center also is a good address with information on the Holocaust and related topics. It has a useful glossary of the Holocaust and a special list featuring the biographies of Jewish children who became victims of the Holocaust.
Preconditions: Anti-Semitism and vulgar Darwinism:
Next to its role in starting the Second World War, the Third Reich is remembered most for its unprecedented organized crimes, particularly against the Jews of Europe. The “removal” of Jews and other peoples belonged intrinsically to Hitler’s racial utopia to be realized by the SS in Eastern Europe. Although other peoples — together with Germans who were handicapped, resisters, homosexuals or criminals — were executed or slanted for execution, the killing of the Jews was in terms of numbers and Nazi ideology the most important mass murder.
As mentioned before, Germany in my opinion was not an unusually anti-Semitic country before 1933 and even less so before 1914. Anti-Semitism intensified toward the end of the First World War and in the aftermath of defeat, particularly on the German right. The misunderstood and traumatic defeat in 1918, the economic plight of the middle class during the First World War and the hyper-inflation of 1923, and the confusion of values perceived by many Germans during the Weimar years fostered an irrational and aggressive outlook that often blamed Jews for trials and transformations of modernity such as the increasing concentration of retail industries that put small workshops and traders out of business, or the commercialization of agriculture, which was considered a “Jewish plot” to exploit the hard-working farmer. Aversion to Weimar culture, which was often associated with Jews, contributed to popular anti-Semitism.
Anti-Semitism in the lower middle classes was particularly widespread because it seemed to reconcile contradictory elements: the lower middle classes felt left out and overrun by the big industries; the big companies seemed to be run by the industrial bourgeoisie and labor. Although industrialists and workers often appeared as antagonists, they both represented industrial modernity to the threatened lower middle classes, and they both could be identified with “Jewishness.” Many labor leaders, particularly among the Communists, were Jewish, and Jews also were strongly represented in the German economy (as in most of Europe). This represented an arbitrary view, of course, as many non-Jews worked side by side with Jews, both in the labor movement and in international business. Weimar culture was produced by non-Jewish Germans too.
But the Nazis’ anti-Semitic propaganda combined the contradictory elements in the image of the “hostile Jew” effectively. The image of the Jew as capitalist frightened farmers, workers, and small businessmen, whereas the image of the Jew as Socialist or Bolshevist frightened almost everybody. The SA’s anti-Semitism, in particular, had been an economically motivated anti-Semitism along rather traditional lines (though amazingly primitive ones). But the anti-Semitism of Hitler and the SS drew from a racist world view, which was rooted in a crude pseudo-Darwinism. It put much emphasis on the survival of the fittest and argued that genetic selection should be practised deliberately. This included the breeding of a racial “elite” and the extermination of racially “inferior” or “damaging” groups. Slavs, Gypsies, and Africans were considered racially inferior to a supposed race of German Aryans – a race that the Nazi ideologues believed to be weakened by what they called “the Jewish cancer.”
This crude Darwinism also implied hatred of handicapped people, physically weak individuals, people with genetic defects, and homosexuals (who were considered genetically deficient). Before 1933 only a minority of scholars in Europe and the United States advocated a racist Darwinism; general scholarly opinion had moved beyond it a while ago, but Nazism brought in to the forefront again and declared it official teaching after 1933. SS academies, in conjunction with university professors, tried to prove that races develop physical characteristics that can be directly linked to modes of behavior. In an attempt to “purge” the German population of “unworthy” members, about 400,000 men and women were sterilized (criminals, prostitutes, some poor people, alcoholics, members of mixed races, and others). On the same grounds, some people were forced to have abortions and many were killed within the so-called euthanasia program.
The most threatening race to Hitler were the Jews, because he believed that they tended to infiltrate a “healthy” race and suck the life and strength out of it (hence the image of the “Jewish cancer”). There was no clarity, however, as to how anti-Semitic and racist ideology should be translated into action. Hitler had realized by 1923 that vicious anti-Semitism and violence against Jews tended to alienate more people than it attracted. He and his party came to power only after toning down their anti-Semitic message (with some notable exceptions, such as Julius Streicher in Franconia). Many voters supported the NSDAP at the end of the Weimar Republic in spite of its anti-Semitism, not because of it.
The implementation of Nazi policies against the Jews thus proceeded carefully and in different steps. It is debated whether extermination was planned from the very beginning or evolved in the course of events during the war. Hitler sometimes spoke of the extermination of the Jews and “racially unfit,” but even his most loyal followers did not consider going so far at the beginning. The Nazis’ Jewish policies assumed three forms that developed chronologically although with some overlapping:
1) Restriction and segregation: The Nazi state tried to reduce and stop Jewish immigration, limited the rights of the German Jews, and forbade them to intermarry with German non-Jews. Most specifically, this stage of policy meant to push the Jews out of Germany’s economic life so they would presumably stop “ruining” farms and small businesses, prepare revolution etc. Jewish specialists (physicians and lawyers) were allowed to practice only for Jews, who were thus defined as an entirely separate group in society.
2) Expulsion/Exclusion. In this stage the regime forced the target groups out of society and out of the country. It involved harder repression, and pogroms occurred to support emigration. In Eastern Europe, where expulsion proved nearly impossible during the war, the regime resorted to ghettoization.
3) Extermination. Murder by shooting, starving, or gassing.
The first phase of racist policies (1933-1938):
Until 1938 predominantly option 1) and indirectly 2) were realized. The Nazi regime made life more uncomfortable for Jews in Germany and removed them from most positions of power and influence. Jews were encouraged to emigrate but not forced to do so. The Nazis set up Jewish committees that prepared Jews for emigration to Palestine and took care of the formalities. Violence occurred only occasionally (most notoriously during the SA-directed boycott of Jewish stores on 1 April 1933). The Nürnberg Laws of 1935 restricted civil rights for Jews, made confiscation of Jewish property legal, and sanctioned the removal of Jews from government offices, from the military, and most professions. Economic motives, at least on the surface, still dominated this policy, but racial undertones became louder. About one forth of Germany’s 600,000 Jews emigrated in the period 1933-1938, but many early emigrants came back after the terror of 1933 had subsided.
Pogrom, resettlement, and expulsion of the Jews (1938-1941):
In November 1938 SA bands, supported by Gestapo and other party organizations, burned synagogues and Jewish stores all over Germany (Kristallnacht – night of broken glass). The police — under Nazi control — did not move. Jewish and many non-Jewish Germans were shocked by the senseless violence and destruction. Another 150,000 German or Austrian Jews left Germany after the Kristallnacht, many even after the beginning of the war. It was difficult for Jews to get visas to other countries, most of which adopted restrictive immigration policies in underestimation of future dangers. Hitler now increased his public anti-Semitism and put all racial affairs completely under SS control. Realizing that direct violence against Jews — despite years of indoctrination — still alienated many Germans, the Nazi leadership decided to carry out most of its future anti-Jewish measures without spectacular public action.
The beginning of the Second World War brought millions of non-German Jews under German rule, mostly in Poland. But still no clear concept existed about what to do with them. In Poland the SS often forced Jews to live in ghettos, most prominently in Warsaw and Kracow, and resettled them in big cities or along railroad lines. The official policy was still expulsion and exclusion from the rest of society, not extermination, but shootings occurred, and living conditions in the ghettos were so terrible as to produce a high mortality. Hitler and the SS pondered plans to resettle the Jews further east in Europe or in Madagascar (originally a Zionist idea). But how? No major resettlement seemed possible under wartime conditions, particularly after Britain (with its powerful navy) survived the German onslaught of the fall of 1940. The SS consequently closed all borders for non-German Jews. Surprisingly, the Nazi regime in this phase still let German Jews who could obtain a visa to a foreign country emigrate.
The first extermination programs (1939-40):
Phase three (extermination) started not with the Jews but with handicapped and mentally ill Germans, including children. Already shortly before the beginning of the war the SS began killing thousands of hospitalized people by gas in a rehearsal for large-scale killings. Relatives began to wonder about the fate of hospitalized family members, and news about the extermination leaked out. The protests of many citizens and the Catholic church in 1940 stopped these extermination programs, which Hitler had ordered in writing.
Meanwhile, the SS started mass shootings of Poles with a higher education. Nazi ideology considered the Poles an inferior race predestined to serve as the slaves of the Aryan master race in Eastern Europe; no intellectuals were needed for that role, and Polish intellectuals, in any case, were considered dangerous as potential backbone of Polish nationalism.
The destruction of European Jewry (1941-44):
The Russian campaign again brought millions of Jews under German rule. It led to the most radical phase of the Nazi regime, since the conquest of living space and the creation of an “Aryan colony” in Eastern Europe were the most fanatical Nazi goals. The SS Einsatzgruppen, advancing in the footsteps of the regular army and shooting masses of Jews, Communists, prisoners, and civilians have already been mentioned. The terror of the Einsatzgruppen, however, initially lacked a clear concept. It seems as if the SS itself did not yet know what exactly it wanted to do with the millions of Jews in the areas conquered by the German army.
How exactly the decision for the systematic extermination of the Jews came about is unclear. Hitler seems not to have given a written order (or else it is lost). But in the fall of 1941 the SS constructed death factories with gas chambers. A Europe-wide extermination program started. In the following three years the remaining Jews from Germany and all occupied countries were rounded up, put into freight trains, and driven across Europe to the death camps in Poland, most notably Auschwitz, Maidanek, and Treblinka. There the survivors of the transports were led to a ramp on which Nazi doctors separated the most fit and sent them to the work camps right next to the extermination camps. The others were led into windowless chambers. After they had undressed (presumably to take a shower), gas dropped in from the ceiling and killed them within minutes. Most of those who had to work did not survive either.
Besides Jews, the “death factories” also killed opponents of the regime (German and non-German), Gypsies, Russian prisoners of war, and many other innocent people. The gruesome mass murder intensified toward the end of the war, as Hitler believed that the extermination of the Jews would be his lasting “achievement” in history and that future generations would be grateful. The Holocaust claimed roughly six million Jewish victims. Around five million other people were killed as well, including between two and three million Soviet prisoners of war, many gypsies, German resisters, communists, homosexuals, and other groups. The death machinery worked as long as German troops held Poland. When the Russians advanced in late 1944, the SS destroyed the death camps and the relating documents (making the task of historians to establish exact numbers and procedures more difficult).
The debate on the genesis of the Holocaust:
The decision-making process which led to the Holocaust is the subject of debate. The frequently mentioned Wannsee conference in January 1942 cannot have been the decisive meeting, since the death machine was already in place and had started to work in December 1941 (in a newspaper article, Eberhard Jäckel has argued that the conference served no more than SS leader Heydrich’s private purposes: he convened some members of the government to tell them about the extermination program in order to suggest that he, not SS-chief Himmler, was in charge). The debate on the genesis of the holocaust at one time pitted two camps of historians against each other: the intentionalists and the functionalists.
The intentionalists argued that Hitler always wanted to exterminate Jews and people he considered racially inferior. The Holocaust thus appeared as a logical consequence of Nazi politics, of Hitler’s world view, and of the dictatorship that gave him and the SS such a vast range of power. That Jews would ultimately be exterminated was only a matter of time and circumstance. The intentionalists were not troubled by the fact that no written order was ever found; they argued that Hitler made his intention so clear to his entourage as to make an explicit order unnecessary.
The functionalists emphasized that no long-term plans for extermination existed and that until 1941 expulsion was the official goal, although Hitler occasionally spoke of exterminating the racial target groups already shortly before the war. According to the functionalists, the Holocaust developed as a gradual radicalization process. They stressed that expulsion became impractical once there was no place to bring the Jews, and that extermination started in 1941 as spontaneous acts by local SS units, which did not know what to do with the Jews under their control.
Most historians have since moved to a middle position: on the one side, it seems that the intention for drastic steps against Jews and other groups existed all along in the minds of Hitler and the leading Nazis, even if it was not refined at the beginning (“removal” of the Jews was an ambiguous term that could mean both, expulsion and extermination). It took time and specific circumstances for the implementation of radical destruction. Hitler seems to have closed all other options or convinced his followers that they were not practicable, and the dreadful scenario of total war with the Soviet Union may have been a necessary prerequisite for such a drastic program of organized mass murder.
And yet, the total destruction of the Jews does not seem to have been the regime’s policy from the beginning. Why would they have encouraged emigration of the German Jews even up to 1941? Did Hitler believe that he would conquer the world anyway and exterminate the Jews who emigrated sooner or later? Here, I think the functionalists have a stronger point. Hitler contemplated different “solutions” to the self-imposed “Jewish Question.” One possibility always was expulsion, which he in a way liked because he had frequently argued that Jews would destroy all viable states if one let them do so. Why not expel all the Jews, so that they would destabilize Germany’s potential enemies? Systematic extermination therefore seems to have been adopted only when other options had proven impracticable. The functionalists point out that even the Einsatzgruppen found it repulsive and demoralizing to shoot thousands of unarmed people all the time. From the point of view of the SS, the killings were inefficient, cost too much ammunition, and required too many men.
But, against the functionalists, I would stress that extermination did not come as a coincidence or improvisation of local commanders who did not know what else to do with the Jews. (One could also argue that the question for the Einsatzgruppen was not so much what to do with the Jews but how to kill them.) The “experiment” with hospitalized Germans in 1939-40 shows that extermination was considered a legitimate way to create a racially “pure” state, and the reshuffling of Eastern Europe according to Hitler’s ideology demanded huge resettlements and always implied the Holocaust as a real possibility.
What did people in Germany and elsewhere know about the Holocaust? Why did people participate in the Holocaust (not only Germans), and why did so few try to stop it?
First of all, it was difficult to believe what actually happened. The Nazi regime did not propagate the Holocaust and made an effort to suggest to Germans and others that the deported Jews were merely resettled to places where they could live more comfortably (see the film “Theresienstadt: The Führer Gives a City to the Jews”). It was difficult to believe the mere facts: how would a regime fighting a ferocious war requiring all available resources commission hundreds of trains and thousands of men to assemble, transport, and finally kill millions of innocent people who did not represent any threat at all? I once heard the Dutch historian Louis De Jong, who as a Jew had emigrated to England, say that he had reliable information about Auschwitz in 1942 and tried to convey the facts to the British government; nobody would pay much attention to him. When De Jong finally asked a government official whether he believed that De Jong was lying, the official answered: “I do not believe that you are lying, but I cannot believe what you say.”
Whoever outside of German-occupied Europe had knowledge about the Holocaust tended to repress it, sometimes out of disbelief, sometimes out of anti-Semitism, most often probably out of indifference. It is wrong to imagine the contemporary governments of the United States, Britain, or the Soviet Union as friendly to Jews. The question whether the United States Air Force could and should have bombed the death camps or at least the railroad lines still comes up again and again. President Roosevelt, who for a long time seems to have deliberately ignored the facts, did not consider the bombing of death camps a high priority even though it was militarily possible, at least after the conquest of Southern Italy in 1943.
In Germany itself, many people — particularly in the cities — were aware of the deportations, and the trains bringing Jews from Western Europe to Poland in 1942-44 did not go unnoticed. German soldiers in Eastern Europe observed mass shootings, and a sizeable number of them participated one way or another in the mass murder. Soldiers wrote home, and we know that some of them spoke frankly about the atrocities. Still, was it easy for Germans to put the bits and pieces together and understand that systematic race murder was occurring? Disbelief, confusion, and indifference mattered in Germany, too. The background of a ferocios war appeared to justify drastic measures. Propaganda painted a benevolent image while helping to create a national obsession with potential destroyers of the home front (memory of 1918) and partisans. Rumors of atrocities spread, but specific information about the death camps was kept secret by the regime, which felt almost embarrassed about its crimes in the face of outsiders.
Germans did not automatically know the whole truth, but it would have been possible for most of them to learn it. Few people, however, cared to find out. Jews were not a central concern in their minds, and there were few left in Germany proper. The priority of most Germans during the war was to survive; they got increasingly worried about the course of the war and could see no alternative to the Nazi regime except a communist invasion, which almost everybody dreaded.
The bystander mentality, which had helped the establishment of the Nazi dictatorship, also helped the implementation of the Holocaust. The repressive potential of the regime, finally, made every protest a life-and-death risk, even though repression often worked more as a deterrent than as a real threat in the question of the Holocaust: the regime rarely punished people who refused to participate in the extermination program. In Hamburg, for example, concerned citizens once protested in front of the Gestapo office after the SS had rounded up half-Jews; against all expectations, the SS backed down and sent the half-Jews home. For those Germans who suspected that terrible things happened to the deported Jews the “Hitler Myth” often served to exculpate the dictator; they believed that Hitler could not possibly have allowed such atrocious things to happen and that the Holocaust must be a special policy of Himmler or others in opposition to Hitler.
There is no reason to believe that a vast majority of Germans actively condoned the Holocaust and the regime’s racist agenda. The regime tried to propagate this agenda but kept the atrocities secret for fear of raising opposition. Occasional resistance and small-scale help for Jews (such as hiding) existed in Germany as in all other countries occupied by the Germans. Memoirs of Jews from Nazi Germany usually draw a complex picture: some non-Jews gave little signs of solidarity and support, others showed hatred, still others (the majority) did not want to look.
Two shades of opinion about the attitute of the Germans have emerged: In his study of public opinion in Bavaria 1933-45, the British historian Ian Kershaw writes: “I should like to think that had I been around at the time I would have been a convinced anti-Nazi engaged in the underground resistance fight. However, I know really that I would have been as confused and felt as helpless as most of the people I am writing about.” More critical views assign passive complicity to the Germans (and often to other peoples as well), point to the widespread anti-Semitism in the Nazi years and before 1933, and see the Holocaust taking place in a conspiracy of silence. A most radical view, recently expressed by Daniel Goldhagen, states that an “eliminationist” anti-Semitism had taken root in Germany long before 1933 and — with some help from Nazi propaganda — made the vast majority of Germans approve of the Holocaust and willing to kill Jews. Most professional historians on both sides of the Atlantic have criticized and rejected this interpretation and shown the book to be fatally flawed by almost every standard of historical analysis. (For reviews of Goldhagen’s book, see H-German: Discussion of D. J. Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust. and Norman G. Finkelstein and Ruth Bettina Birn, A Nation on Trial: The Goldhagen Thesis and Historical Truth, New York: Henry Holt, 1998.)
Goldhagen undertakes no comparative analysis of anti-Semitisms. He brushes aside manifestations of eliminationist anti-Semitism in other countries by arguing that Germany implemented the Holocaust, not any other country. His study thus rests on a gigantic circular argument: why did the Holocaust happen in Germany? Because Germany had for centuries been a pathologically anti-Semitic culture. Why had it been that way? Because the Holocaust shows it… If one accepts that Germans were demonologically possessed anti-Semites, then even philo-Semitism can be interpreted as a hidden form of eliminationist anti-Semitism, as Goldhagen does. His refusal to differentiate between Germans in general and the most radical Nazis makes almost every German into a rabid Nazi anti-Semite. This argument is insulting and grossly generalizing, and it undercuts every effort to explain the Holocaust. If Germans were as Goldhagen depicts them, the Holocaust hardly needs an explanation. What does need an explanation, however, is Goldhagen’s startling thesis that Germans after 1945 suddenly lost all the terrible anti-Semitism that had so deeply been ingrained in their culture and “cognitive structure” for centuries. Goldhagen also dismisses the importance of the cooperation of non-Germans in the Holocaust, which was often completely voluntary. Finally, he downplays all the other victims of Nazi terror; against all evidence, he argues that “Germans” killed Jews with much more brutality and glee than they killed Russian prisoners of war, partisans, gypsies, homosexuals, resisters. In short, it appears to me that the public reception of the book is much more interesting than its argument: why did this book get so much applause in the United States and even in Germany despite the devastating critique of professional historians?
Who participated in the Holocaust and why so? Various explanations have been suggested, and I think that — given the complexity of the mass murder — no single one is satisfactory although most of them are valid in some respects. The Holocaust was a complex undertaking involving thousands of men and women who shared different degrees of responsibility and participated for different reasons. The train engineer or switchboard operator in a random small town was involved just as was the Einsatzgruppen member, the camp guard, the person denunciating hidden Jews anywhere in Europe, the industrialist using forced labor from the camps, the SS commander, or the doctor conducting human experiments. It seems to me that no single explanation can account for the variety of situations and motives of those involved in the killings, although some interpretations carry us further than others.
The political philosopher Hannah Arendt has pointed out that the Holocaust was implemented in a bureaucratic fashion and that the executors showed a technocratic mentality. Arendt claimed that the mass murderers were frighteningly “normal,” that the administrators of death in many ways looked like “normal” administrators. They believed to be doing something necessary and correct and tried to do it as they were told. Although it is probably safe to say that people who worked in the death machine had on average a stronger commitment to Nazi ideology than most others, they rarely had a totally different morality and system of beliefs. This observation was shared by the first incisive scholarly study of the Holocaust (by RaulHilberg) and by the findings of American prison psychiatrists who analyzed captured Nazi leaders in 1945-46.
Careerism often seems to have been a decisive motivation as well. Service in the SS became a fast alley to higher status and income for soldiers, policemen, administrators, physicians, and experts in different professions. Young physicians could advance quickly if they signed up for human experiments in a death camp. They considered eugenic policies as scientific modernity and progress. The regime, moreover, tried to imbue the participants with the spirit of being an elite at the very top of scientific and political-social progress. On a more opportunistic note, service in the extermination machinery was infinitely less risky for able-bodied men than service in the army on the eastern front. To be sure, the SS did have some battle units fighting on the most dangerous frontline spots, but the Einsatzgruppen and the host of administrative and camp guard personnel had relatively safe jobs, good food supplies, and decent living quarters, all of which were lacking at the eastern front.
The division of labor and the hierarchy of orders may have made it easier for people to carry out mass killings. One person could feel as only one wheel in a big machine: one was rounding up Jews without asking what would happen to them, another would run the deportation train, somebody else would open the doors of arriving trains, his (or her) comrade would lead the prisoners to the gas chamber after a physician had “examined” them, somebody else would close the doors of the gas chamber, another person would open the gas valves, and so on. Every single person could claim to have acted only on orders and to have done only small things in the whole process. But the decisive fact is that people overrode whatever misgivings they may have had toward what they were doing.
Not all people who carried out the Holocaust were radical anti-Semites, Jew-haters, or convinced Pseudo-Darwinists. Some did what they were asked to do with the detachment of bureaucrats. That emotional detachment was considered a strength becomes clear in Himmler’s famous speech to SS comrades in October 1943: “Most of you know what it means to see a hundred corpses lie side by side, or five hundred, or a thousand. To have stuck this out and — excepting cases of human weakness — to have remained decent persons [sic!], that is what has made us hard. In our history, this is an unwritten and never-to-be written page of glory.” The Nazi stigmatization of Jews as enemies, drawing from a long history of European anti-Semitism, made the killings more plausible to the considerable number of men and women who were involved in the mechanics of genocide.
But there is also evidence that many in the Einsatzgruppen, the army, and the death camps killed with pleasure and extraordinary cruelty. This applies to the murder of Jews, Polish elites, Russian prisoners, resistance groups, and cilvilians in German-occupied areas. Some shooting commandos tortured their victims in all ways their perverse fantasy suggested to them. They did more than their orders asked them to do.
That defying orders to kill Jews or other victims would have led to punishment and possibly the death of the refusing person has been shown to be untrue with respect to some of the killing units. We could probably find examples of people whose refusal to take part in any action supporting the Holocaust would have had grave consequences, but we still have no comprehensive answer to this question. Of course, we would have to presume that these people would have wanted to stay away from all aspects of the mass killing, had they had a choice.
The “bureaucratic” view, argued by Arendt and others with persuasive originality, has found many followers. I believe it does elucidate important aspects of the Holocaust but is weak on others. The terror of the Einsatzgruppen and the killing of Jews on death marches in late 1944 and early 1945, for instance, were not bureaucratic but literally bloody and brutal in the most direct way. It is also not true that these people had to follow orders, since there was a possibility to refuse to kill without being punished. These people, often ordinary policemen, killed because they believed it was maybe an ugly but nevertheless a rightful task. They had absorbed enough Nazi propaganda to find justification in what was asked of them, even though many of them were not fanatical Nazis or SS members. Excessive consumption of alcohol often eased their task.
Policemen, whether Nazis or not, do not allow generalizations for a whole people, and I even know of NSDAP members who did not condone anti-Semitism and who helped Jews. This was a profoundly contradictory attitude, since Hitler’s ideology aimed at racial destruction, but contradictions and inconsistencies are a common find wherever historians scrape the surface of sweeping explanations.
One point often gets lost in the attempts of some historians to explain the Holocaust out of old anti-Semitic traditions in German culture: even though Germans (including Austrians) were undoubtedly the “movers” and organizers of genocide, the participants in the Holocaust were not only Germans. Without cooperation of many people in the German-occupied territories the Holocaust would not have been possible on the same scale. Outside Germany, local citizens and officials helped to round up Jews for transportation to the death camps. The camps employed many local people, and the order police shooting commandos often included large non-German units. In Latvia, a volunteer corps of Latvians did most of the killing. There was an endemic shortage of German personnel in the East, so that many camps in the occupied Soviet Union were staffed by a majority of local people. In one camp, only the commander was German (see Finkelstein/Birn, A Nation on Trial).
In short, the bystander mentality and anti-Semitic traditions facilitated the Holocaust not only in Germany, and if passive compliance or a conspiracy of silence apply to the Germans, they also mattered in the attitude of many French, Belgians, Croats, Slovenes, Poles, Ukrainians, and others. Significant resistance to the Nazi Jewish policies existed only in Denmark and Bulgaria and — with less success — in the Netherlands.
Finally, even though one may want to consider Austrians as Germans during the Third Reich, it should be noted that Austrians were overrepresented in the SS and the extermination camps. Whereas they made up 8% of Greater Germany’s population after 1938, 14% of the SS members and 40% of the camp personnel in Eastern Europe came from Austria.
It is often asked why the Jews were so passive in the face of the death camps, but I think that this question is rooted in some misperceptions: first, Jewish resistance existed. The uprising in the Warsaw ghetto is the most famous example, and there are many other instances of desperate and heroic Jewish defense. But, second, we have to consider that resistance was almost always hopeless because of the superiority of the armed SS squads and because Jews were usually unprepared for what happened. If others could hardly believe what was happening to them, the Jews were no different. Germans had been regarded as civilized people; that Germans could implement mass murder seemed impossible to believe. Jews in Eastern Europe had welcomed the German troops as liberators in the First World War.
The study of the origins and structure of the Holocaust may promise to reveal much about the genesis of genocides and their implementation. But we must not see the Holocaust as an isolated aspect of Nazi Germany. The several hundred thousands of forced sterilizations (mostly non-Jewish Germans – men and women in about equal numbers), the elimination of the Polish elites, discriminatory marriage laws, policies to increase the German birth rate, and the mass murder of Jews and Russian prisoners of war all belong to the most radical and brutal case of implemented racism that has occurred so far. The ultimate aim was to breed a new race of healthy and strong Aryan “supermen” and “superwomen” and to provide a vast living space for this new “master race,” derived from the actual Germans of 1933-45, in Central and Eastern Europe.
Go on to E.5.