Volume 1
Issue #2
Sept. 1997
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ONLINE MAGAZINE FOR POST-HOLOCAUST ISSUES
ALEXANDER KIMEL - HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR
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The Verdict MAGAZINE
Vol.1 - Issue #1
   

HOLOCAUST BYSTANDERS - THE GERMANS

by Alexander Kimel

The idea of collective responsibility and collective superiority served the Germans well during the initial victorious stages of the war. German soldiers killed many hostages in reprisal for attacks against the Wehrmacht, they committed many atrocities on the Jews; Jews were robbed, killed, ridiculed, maimed, humiliated by German soldiers of the Wehrmacht. During the war German industrialists used extensively slave labor supplied by the SS, and literally worked them to death, making fortunes on their misfortunes without the slightest compassion or sense of responsibility. Some firms like AEG, realizing that starving people do not produce, gave their slaves an additional bowl of soup, to keep them alive for longer period of time. Other firms like Krupp Enterprises did nothing of this sort, just worked them to death. German farmers used and abused slave laborers, without any remorse. Small German firms operating in the ghettos of Warsaw, Lodz and Krakow, got rich on the almost free Jewish labor and in addition cooperated with the German authorities in inducing the Jews to resettle to the death camps.

At the end of the war, when the war fortunes changed, the German changed the rules, the collective responsibility was substituted with individual irresponsibility. Individually the Germans did not know about the atrocities or could prevent them. The Germans were not responsible for the atrocities they did not commit, the individual murderers were not responsible for all the murders committed on orders from above. An order cannot be refused. Suddenly each SSman saved some inmates, each German had a Jewish friend.

The lack of response from the German public at the brutalization and humiliation of the Jews, gave Hitler the green light in proceeding with his policies of terror, brutality and bloody conquests. The enthusiasm of the people, the wild cheering of the masses during the numerous parades, gave Hitler the consensus needed. Hitler lived for the adulation of the masses and any sign of discontent or disapproval in the first stages would put a brake on his plans. The only power that could put the brakes on Hitler's adventurous policies were the German people; the euthanasia program of gassing the German cripples and retarded was cancelled by the negative reaction from the German people, and all the letters written by German clergy. The intervention of the German population stopped the repression of the so called "Mischlinge", people of mixed parentage.

It is true that the majority of the German people were not engaged in the persecution of the Jews, and either it was not aware of the extend of the crimes committed or individually could help it. It is also true that the all the Germans had the knowledge of the persecution and mistreatment of the Jews, being told by the German Propaganda and mass media. Pictures of Jews being forced to scrub the pavements of Vienna, pictures of the burning synagogues during the Cristal Night were flashed all over Germany. The Germans were aware of the mistreatment of inmates of the concentration camps, because they were scattered all over Germany, they were aware of the slave labor used extensively in the German Industry and Farming, and they chose to deny the knowledge and remain silent. Mr. Waldheim, the Austrian President accused of war crimes made a statement to the effects that he knew about the crimes and knowledge itself is not a crime. Knowledge itself was not a crime but the silence and acceptance of the crimes is a crime, at least in the moral sense.

The tragedy lies in the fact that the German people participated actively or passively in the crimes, and kept silent, giving Hitler a green light to escalate the atrocities. In the film "The World at War" an interesting scene is shown: Two old women return home and viewing the total destruction of their homes, express anger at Hitler: "He promised us to conquer half of the world and this what we got". They did not feel the responsibility for the mass destruction inflicted on Europe, by the German Luftwaffe. In another scene a German woman expresses outrage at the unnecessary, spurious bombing and destruction of Dresden. What about the destruction of Warsaw, Leningrad, London, this was not spurious, this was the outcome of war!

Eugene Kogon, a former Buchenwald prisoner, later Professor of Political Science at the University of Munich commented on the German participation in his book "Der S.S. Staat (The Theory and Practice of Hell:

...And yet, there wasn't even one German who did not know of the camps' existence or who believed they were sanatoriums. There were very few Germans who did not have a relative or an acquaintance in camp, or who did not know, at least, that such an one or another had been sent to a camp. All the Germans had been witnesses to the multiform anti-Semitic barbarity. Millions of them been had been present - with indifference or with curiosity, with contempt or downright malign joy-at the burning of synagogues or humiliation of Jews and Jewesses forced to kneel in the street mud.

Not a single German could have been unaware of the fact that the prisons were full to overflowing, and that executions were taking place continually all over the country. Thousands of magistrates and police functionaries, lawyers, priests and social workers knew generically that the situation is grave. Many businessman who dealt with the camp S.S. men as suppliers, the industrialists who asked the administrative and economic offices of the S.S. for slave-laborers, the clerks in those offices, all knew perfectly well that many of the big firms were exploiting slave labor. Quite a few workers performed their tasks near concentration camps or actually inside them. Various university professors collaborated with the medical research centers instituted by Himmler, and various State doctors and doctors connected with private institutes collaborated with professional murderers. A good many members of military aviation had been transferred to S.S. jurisdiction and must have known what went on there. Many high-ranking army officers knew about the mass murders of the Russian prisoners of war in the camps, and even more soldiers and members of the Military Police must have known exactly what terrifying horrors were being perpetrated in the camps, the ghettos, the cities, and the countryside of the occupied Eastern territories. Can. you say that even one of these statements is false.

In my opinion, none of these statements is false, but one other must be added to complete the picture: in spite of the varied possibilities for information, most Germans did not know because they didn't want to know. Because, indeed, they wanted not to know. It is certainly true that State terrorism is a very strong weapon, very difficult to resist. But it is also true that the German people, as a whole, did not even try to resist. In Hitler's Germany a particular code was widespread: those who knew did not talk; those who did not know did not asked questions; those who did not asked questions received no answers. In this way the typical German citizen won and defended his ignorance, which seemed to him sufficient justification of his adherence to Nazism. Shutting his mouth, his eyes and hears, an accomplice too the things taking place in front of his very door.

Knowing and making things known was one way (basically then not all that dangerous) of keeping one's distance from Nazism. I think the German people, on the whole, did not seek this recourse, and I hold them fully culpable of this deliberated omission.

It is true that the majority of Germans supported Hitler and accepted or tolerated his insanity and enjoyed his successes. It is also true that the Germans that opposed Hitler were helpless in an environment of a Totalitarian regime. The guilt of the German people lies in the fact that they placed submission to authority above civilized behavior, and did very little to sabotage the insane orders. Sabotaging the orders and simple behaving in a human way could have saved thousands of victim. A German industrialist, Schindler, saved hundreds of Jews through his daring acts.

In 1945 a transport of Jewish women from the ghetto of Krakow was released from Auschwitz, into the custody of Arthur Schindler, a German Industrialists. In was the only time that Jewish victims were released from a Death Camp. Schindler moved by the tragedy of the Jewish people, went single-handedly on a crusade and saved a few hundred Jews through bribes, impersonations, and persuasion. Schindler was arrested by the Gestapo on a few occasions, accused of black marketeering, put up a whole phony factory employing a thousand of Jewish specialists and buying the spare parts on the black market. Schindler a the best example of the inventiveness and resourcefulness of the human spirit in the service of humanity. By association it shows the depth of guilt of the German people and the absurdity of their claim that thy could not help it. Help was possible by not executing the inhumane orders, by sabotaging them. It was not done.


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