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Genocide: Ch 5 The Process of Desctruction


The Cemetery

My brother and I were hiding by the old cemetery next to the gravel pit. Suddenly, around ten o'clock, we were startled awake. In the distance, we could hear the rumble of field wagons approaching, and the voices of a great number of People. Some seemed to be crying, and some were shouting orders, and over all this were shots and screaming and screaming, and more screaming.

The sounds came nearer and we held on to each other, uncertain whether to run or hide. Then we shrank lower into the grasses as we realized that the sounds came from the roadway leading to the cemetery. The terrible procession was coming here! When it passed the gates, we stood up among the bushes to peer over the wall at an unbelievable sight.

The women and children of Eisiskes were being herded along the road by the Lithuanian police, whipped and beaten to move them faster. Farm wagons were loaded with children and with the dead and dying bodies of women who had rebelled at their captivity. As we watched, the whole grisly procession turned in at the farthest entrance to the gravel pit.

Then began a day I can never forget, for every detail is drawn on my memory as if it had happened only yesterday.

Over the cries and moans of this mass of defenseless creatures, Lithuanian police barked orders, then pushed and prodded to separate the women from their children. Benjamin and I desperately scanned the lines of women to find our mother, grandmother, and sister, but we couldn't see them. There was my aunt and my cousin, and that neighbor lady and the woman from the newspaper kiosk ... but we couldn't see our own family. We were afraid to hope that they had escaped.

"What are they going to do?" Benjamin hissed in my ear. But we both knew in our hearts what was going to happen.

The women were taken in groups of a hundred or so down the path into the gravel pit. When they reached the point where the bushes that grew there would hide them from the sight of the others, they were made to strip naked, and pile their clothing nearby. The young were separated from the others and dragged into the bushes to be raped and raped again by soldier after soldier and policeman after Policeman. Then they were dragged off, marched to the bottom of the gravel pit, lined up, and coldly shot to death by the Lithuanian killers.

I clung to the edge of the cemetery wall, as horror welled up within me. I wanted to hide, to run screaming from the cemetery, to make this hideous thing end. Didn't they know what they were doing? These were human lives! These were people, not animals to be slaughtered! My mouth opened to scream, but I could not. I wanted to close my eyes, but they wouldn't close. "Don't look, Leibke! Don't look!" Benjamin sobbed, and pulled at me to make me leave the wall.

I didn't want to look, but I couldn't stop looking. I saw the Lithuanians shoot the breasts off some women, and shoot others I . n the genitals, saw them leave others with arms and legs mutilated to die in agony, and some to smother as the next load of bodies fell upon them. I saw my aunt die in a volley of gunfire. I saw my beautiful cousin raped and raped until death must have been the only thing she longed for.

My fingers slipped from the wall and I fell beside my brother retching and sobbing. He clung to me.

"Don't watch anymore, Leibke," he pleaded. "Stay here!"

I wanted to, but I couldn't. It was as if I had no will of my own, as if I had to memorize every crime and horror, and the face of each murdered. Weeping, Benjamin sat on me, trying to hold me down. I heard hopeless screams for mercy. Shrieks of terror and agony. And gunfire. I felt each bullet enter my brain.

"No!" I whispered and fought to get up . "I've got to!" And I returned to the wall....

The German Bureaucracy and the Holocaust

In his earliest recorded remarks on the Jews, Hitler emphasized the superiority of "rational" Antisemitism over "emotional" Antisemitism. The latter found its outlet in pogroms, while the former promised a "systematic legal opposition" to achieve "removal of the Jews altogether." Thus, despite the low regard in which Hitler held civil servants and jurists, the German bureaucracy was an essential component of the machinery of destruction which, in the words of Raul Hilberg, "infused" the other participants "with its sure-footed planning and bureaucratic thoroughness."1

Clearly, the anti-Jewish legislation produced by various ministries of the German government contributed significantly to the persecution of the Jews. Even before Hitler's assumption of power, schemes were being hatched in the Interior Ministry to purge the civil service, end the naturalization of Ostjuden (eastern European Jews), and prohibit the changing of names to disguise Jewish identity. Thus, the first major anti- Jewish legislation of the Third Reich, the Law for the Restoration of the Civil Service, enacted in April, 1933, was not forced upon a reluctant Interior Ministry by the triumphant Nazis but represented a convergence of their interests. This law, with its "Aryan paragraph" excluding Jews from the civil service, became the model for a continuing flow of legislation restricting Jewish participation in other professions and organizations. It was also significant in another way: By authorizing the dismissal of all officials whose behavior "did not offer the guarantee" of loyalty to the new regime, the law inhibited officials who were not particularly sympathetic to the Nazis from using their positions to obstruct the new regime and induced many to take out "employment insurance" in the form of party membership. The law was an effective weapon for nazifying the bureaucracy, thereby facilitating further legislative persecutions of the Jews.

If the wave of 1933 legislation meant a "civic death" for the German Jews by depriving them of equality before the law, the 1935 Nuernberg Laws (the Reich Citizenship Law and the Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor and the decree defining the Mischlinge, or persons of mixed blood) constituted a "social death" by inhibiting contacts between Jews and non-Jews. Thereafter, the center of anti-Jewish legislative activity within the German bureaucracy shifted from the Interior Ministry to the Ministry of Economics. In 1938 the "economic death" of the German Jews was enacted. In April, the Jews were required to register their property. They were expelled from one area of the economy after another. "Compulsory Aryanization," forcing the Jews to liquidate businesses and assets at a fraction of their real value, was in reality expropriation. Finally, in 1939, all Jewish organizations were abolished and the Reich Union of Jews-subordinate to Reinhard Heydrich, deputy of SS Reich Leader Heinrich Himmler-was established as the sole Jewish organization in Germany. The German bureaucracy had, thus, ultimately delivered the German Jews into the hands of the SS. The "systematic legal opposition" advocated by Hitler as early as 1919 and pursued by the German bureaucracy after 1933 had indeed prepared the way for the "removal of the Jews altogether."

Legislation was, however, not the only way in which the German bureaucracy contributed to the persecution of the German Jews before the war. The German Foreign Office, perhaps the most prestigious and least nazified ministry before 1938, became the self appointed apologist and defender of Nazi Jewish policy abroad. In the opening months of the new regime, and on its own initiative, the Foreign Office solicited antisemitic material from Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels. This material, which endorsed the Nazi theory of the Communist-Jewish world conspiracy in the crudest terms, was then distributed to German diplomatic missions abroad to help them provide a better "understanding" and defense of German Jewish policy. Not content to serve as apologist, the Foreign Office also proceeded to lobby against any amelioration of Germany's treatment of its Jews as an inadmissable sign of weakness to foreign pressure.2

What mentality prevailed among the bureaucrats of the German ministries to explain their complicity in Nazi Jewish policy? The upper echelons of the ministerial bureaucracy were products of preWorld War I Imperial Germany. Buffeted by defeat and national humiliation, by revolution, economic chaos, and the apparent collapse of traditional values, they longed to return to a bygone era. However disdainful these patricians were of the Nazis as social upstarts, they fully shared the Nazis' determination to reassert internal order through authoritarian measures and return Germany to the rank of a great power through national revival and rearmament. If the Nazis could be identified by the Old Guard of the German bureaucracy with these cherished goals, the Jews could be identified with all that was feared and opposed-liberalism and Marxism, internationalism and cosmopolitanism, financial speculation and economic disorder. The Old Guard perceived the Jews as aliens who had exploited German weakness after World War I to infiltrate and dominate German life. The reversal of this Jewish penetration was, therefore, part of a larger "restoration process." If the Nazis could be assured of Foreign Office defense of their Jewish policy by draping it in the flag of German patriotism, they could be assured of the participation of the Old Guard in a nostalgic "national revolution."3

The lower-echelon officials were of a younger generation, shaped by the turmoil and insecurity of post-World War I Germany. When the Nazis came to power, they rushed to gain party membership. For some, it was a chance openly to declare long-held political sympathies. For others, it was a matter of expediency, the most tangible demonstration of loyalty to the new regime that was now essential for successful career prospects. For many, it was undoubtedly a happy coincidence of conviction and self-interest. If the motives were mixed, the results were not. The civil servants soon reached the highest percentage of Nazi membership of any profession in Germany.

It was this younger generation of easily nazified civil servants that provided the cadres of "Jewish experts" (Judensachbearbeiter) to staff the Sections for Jewish Affairs, which became a mandatory feature of practically every governmental and party organization in Germany after 1933. The mere existence of a corps of Jewish experts created a certain bureaucratic momentum behind Nazi Jewish policy. Even when deportations and mass murder were already underway, decrees appeared n 1942 prohibiting German Jews from having pets, getting their hair cut by Aryan barbers, or receiving the Reich sports badge!4 It did not require orders from above, merely the existence of the job itself, to ensure that the Jewish experts kept up the flow of discriminatory measures.

The German bureaucracy adapted to the evolution of Nazi Jewish policy from legislative discrimination and expropriation to deportation and extermination. In fact, the bureaucracy proved itself capable not only of "systematic legal opposition" but also of mass murder. Himmler's SS and police, the primary instrument after 1939 for carrying out Jewish policy, was an amalgamation of party and state organizations, not just a collection of party fanatics. Himmler and Heydrich themselves had long supported a thorough and systematic handling of the Jewish Question, as opposed to violent outbursts by party radicals. Thus, SS ascendency did not mean the eclipse of the administrative-bureaucratic approach; it merely meant that ministerial bureaucrats were superseded in importance by police bureaucrats, many of whom had been civil servants long before the amalgamation of the police with the SS gained them SS rank.

Moreover, the SS could not carry out mass murder single handedly. At the Warmsee Conference of January 20, 1942, Heydrich assembled the state secretaries of the German ministries to coordinate their participation in the Final Solution. Adolf Eichmann, head of the Jewish section in the Reich Security Main Office, testified that prior to the conference, Heydrich was apprehensive about their reactions but subsequently was pleased and surprised by their readiness to cooperate. This cooperation was not insignificant. Even a single transport of German Jews required the involvement of many municipal authorities other than the local police. An assembly and loading area, usually in the cargo depot, had to be made available by local railway authorities. Officials from the Finance Office collected property inventories from the deportees, liquidated the property, and turned the proceeds over to the Tax Office. Personnel from the Labor Office collected work books, and the Housing Office disposed of vacant apartments. On a wider scale, officials of the Relchsbahn (German railroad) provided transport for deportations from all over Europe. The Foreign Office, anxious to preserve its dwindling influence within the Nazi regime, intensified its activity on behalf of Nazi Jewish policy by pressuring their allied and satellite countries to cooperate and by smoothing out complications involving Jews with foreign citizenship. This widespread participation in Nazi Jewish policy, even in the killing phase, has led Raul Hilberg to conclude: "The machinery of destruction, then, was structurally no different from organized German society as a whole; the difference was only one of function. The machinery of destruction was the organized community in one of its special roles."5

The Nazis' mass murder of the European Jews was not only the technological achievement of an industrial society, but also the organizational achievement of a bureaucratic society. The frictionless operation of the machinery of destruction required that the victims be dehumanized in the eyes of the perpetrators. This was achieved in part by ideological indoctrination that portrayed the Jews as vermin and bacilli, to be treated accordingly. But it was also achieved by a bureaucratic mode of operation, in which depersonalized and dispassionate behavior unprejudiced by human emotions was a fundamental and positive value of the civil service.' Many Germans viewed the Jews as aliens whose influence, and even presence in Germany and Europe, had to be curtailed or eliminated. But they also clung to deeply embedded values of law and order. Incidents, such as the boycott of 1933 and the Kristallnacht pogrom of 1938, meant a conflict of values between solving the Jewish Question and preserving law and order, which could only dissipate support for and acquiescence in Nazi Jewish policy. The bureaucratic approach of systematic but orderly discrimination was far more congenial, both to the bureaucracy and to the German public at large. Germans could take pride in their "legal revolution" and still deal with the Jews.

Moreover, when Nazi Jewish policy evolved into mass murder, fragmentation of responsibilities and routinization of operations enabled the German bureaucracy to continue its participation.7 "Desk murderers" could shuffle papers, set rations, draft telegrams, schedule trains, and dispatch personnel, resulting in the deaths of millions, without once seeing their victims or perceiving themselves as involved in the taking of human lives. The German bureaucrats' involvement in the Holocaust revealed pervasive Antisemitism, political myopia, opportunistic careerism, and the keen desire to preserve their bureaucratic "turf" against rivals. It also revealed the potential for depersonalized violence inherent in modern, bureaucratically organized society.


1. Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews (Chicago: Quadrangle Press, 1961), p. 39.

2. Christopher R. Browning, The Final Solution and the German Foreign Office (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1978), pp. 12-13.

3. On Germany's traditional elites and Hitler's "national revolution" see Karl Dietrich Bracher, The German Dictatorship (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1970), pp. 191-199.

4. Uwe Dietrich Adam, Judenpolitik im Dritten Reich (Duesseldorf: Droste Verlag, 1972), pp. 339-340.

5. Hilberg, Destruction, p. 640.

6. Richard Rubenstein, The Cunning of History: The Holocaust and the American Future (New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1975), Chapter 2.

7. George Kren and Leon Rappoport, The Holocaust and the Crisis of Human Behavior (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1980), pp. 140-141 .

For Further Reading

Adam, Uwe Dietrich. Judenpolitik im Dritten Reich. Duesseldorf: Droste Verlag, 1972.

Browning, Christopher R. "The Government Experts." In The Holocaust: Ideology, Bureaucracy, and Genocide, edited by Henry Friedlander and Sybil Milton. Millwood, NY: Kraus International Publications, 1981.

Hilberg, Raul. The Destruction of the European Jews. Chicago: Quadrangle Press, 1961.

"German Railroads, Jewish Souls." Transaction, Social Science and Modern Society (1976): 60-74.

Rubenstein, Richard. The Cunning of History: The Holocaust and the American Future. New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1975.

Schleunes, Karl. Twisted Road to Auschwitz. Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1970.

The SS and Police

The SS and the police implemented the so-called Final Solution of the Jewish Question. The development and role of these two organizations, and their relationship to each other, have often been misunderstood. The Schutzstaffel (Protective Squads) of the Nazi part), was created in 1925 to serve as a praetorian guard for part), leaders. At first, under the authority of Ernst Roehm's Storm Troops (Sturmabteitungen, or SA), they became virtually independent in about 1930. The name of the Schutzstaffel was abbreviated as SS, which was represented by two silver symbols on a black field: stylized SS resembling Teutonic runes and copied from the sign representing electricity.

In contrast to the plebeian brown-shirted SA, the black-shirted SS became an elite formation with a strict process of selection based on racial purity and physical stamina; this became especially pronounced after the appointment of Heinrich Himmler as Reich Leader of the SS (Reichfuehrer SS, or RFSS). After the liquidation of Roehrn and his associates in 1934, the SS also replaced the SA as the private army of the Nazi party.

Most SS members belonged to the General SS (Allgemeine SS). Like the SA from which it grew, the General SS was a part-time formation, requiring service-for ideological and military training, collection drives and guard duties, demonstrations and paradesonly for limited periods and special occasions. Members in the General SS held regular jobs and donned their uniforms only after working hours. Organized along regional lines, this large General SS army provided a manpower pool that could be mobilized in times of need. Only a relatively small number of SS leaders held regular fulltime SS appointments in central offices or regional headquarters. Still, the General SS was structured along military lines, with units and ranks equivalent to those of the armed forces; only the names of units (e.g., Standarte instead of Regiment) and ranks (e.g., Stan dartenfueh rer instead of colonel) differed from those of the Wehrmacht.

In 1931, the SS began the process of specialization that would eventually make it the formation that possessed the greatest power and inspired the greatest fear. Himmler created a party intelligence apparatus and appointed Reinhard Heydrich to head it. The SS Security Service (Sicherheitsdienst, or SD) was designed to gather and interpret information about the enemies of the Nazi movement and to inform the party, leadership about the intentions and capabilities of their opponents; it was prohibited from engaging in intelligence operations inside the Nazi party, but it obviously provided its chiefs with invaluable information that could be used in intraparty struggles. Heydrich built his SD along regional lines-but separate from the General SS-and staffed it with full-time officers as well as a large army of part-time intelligence agents.

After the seizure of power in January, 1933, the SS served to protect the achievements of the Nazi revolution. Like members in the SA, those in the SS served as auxiliary policemen and concentration camp guards; but while the SA was eliminated from these jobs after the murder of Roehm in June, 1934, the SS continued and enlarged its service to the Nazi state.

The SS Verfuegungstruppe (SS Troops for Special Disposition) was created as a military force to quell domestic disorders. Members enlisted for long periods, were quartered in barracks, and were trained for combat. The Verfuegungstruppe was viewed as a reserve army for use during civil war; the Wehrmacht accepted duty in these SS units as equivalent military service. Its most prominent unit-the Practorian Guard (Leibstandarte) Adolf Hitler, commanded by Sepp Dietrich-served as headquarter guards in Hitler's Chancellery.

The SS Death Head Units (SS Toten kopfverbaende) were created to staff and guard the Concentration Camps. Like members of the Verfuegungstruppe, those in the Death Head Units were volunteers who enlisted for long periods and underwent combat training; however, duty as concentration camp guards did not excuse them from military service.

The seizure of power in 1933 led to a struggle among the Nazi leaders for control of the offices of the German state. The SS leaders infiltrated the police. Eliminating all rivals, the SS centralized and absorbed the police. In 1936, Heinrich Himmler completed the process by assuming command of the entire police, thus combining the offices of Reich Leader of the SS and of Chief of the German Police. This method of Personal union (the union of two offices under one person) merged a party office, paid from party funds, and a government office, paid from the state budget.

The regular uniformed police-the metropolitan Protective Police (Schutzpolizei, or Schupo) and the rural Constabulary (Gen darmerie) - retained their organizational structure on the local level, but were combined on the national level to form the Order Police (Ordnungspolizei, or Orpo). The Central Office of the Order Police, headed by Kurt Daluege, assumed command over the uniformed police throughout Germany; it belonged to Himmler's growing empire of SS and police central offices. Although it was not a requirement to join the SS, most senior officers and large numbers of the rank-and-file joined; failure to do so made advancement less likely. Still, the police officers who joined the SS also remained civil servants (Beamte). In the uniformed Order Police, members of the SS continued to wear their green police uniforms, adding only a small insignia to indicate SS membership.

Alongside the uniformed police, there had always existed the nonuniformed detective squads. The Nazis transformed them into an instrument of terror. Himmler appointed Reinhard Heydrich to command the nonuniformed police. Heydrich, thus, headed the Central Office of the Security Service (Sicherheitsdienst, or SD) and the Central Office of the Security Police (Sicherheitspolizei, or Sipo). In doing so, he combined a party formation (the SD) and a state agency (the Sipo) in Personal union.

Two agencies made up the Security Police. One was the Criminal Police (Kriminalpolizei, or Kripo); the other was the Secret State Police (Geheime Staatspolizei, or Gestapo). The Kripo, headed by the Prussian police officer Arthur Nebe, was the traditional detective force for the investigation of regular criminal offenses. The Gestapo, headed by the Bavarian police officer Heinrich Mueller, was a newly created political police. But both the Kripo and the Gestapo were staffed by regular police officers who had to pass civil service examinations to occupy their positions permanently. Although combined into the Security Police, the Gestapo and the Kripo retained their independent existence; the Central Office of the Sipo was only an administrative device symbolizing centralization.

The Kripo continued to fulfill the traditional tasks of fighting crime, and it thus took a number of years to separate it from the uniformed police on the precinct level. But at the same time, the Kripo began to use the methods of the Gestapo in accomplishing its goals, and the exchange of information and personnel between the Gestapo and Kripo increased. Slowly, the difference between the control of crime and the suppression of political opposition disappeared. Further, as the Gestapo and Kripo assumed the job of investigating and containing the enemies of the Nazi regime, the SS Security Service, which had previously attempted to do this job with fewer resources and men, no longer had an essential function to perform. Thereafter, the SD became the SS formation most-attractive to academics; it served as a research institute to survey public opinion and formulate policy.

Like the members of the Orpo, those in the Kripo did not have to join the SS or the Nazi party, but most found it advantageous to do so; in the Gestapo it was virtually compulsory. But even when they joined the SS, members of the Security Police remained civil servants and retained their civil service ranks (for example, inspector or commissar) in addition to their SS ranks. They wore their SS uniforms only on parade; on duty, members of the Gestapo and Kripo wore only civilian dress.

In 1939, Heydrich combined his two central offices to ensure greater coordination and total control. The result was the Central Office for Reich Security (Reichsicherheitshauptarrit, or RSHA). The RSHA was a mixture of party and state agencies, combining party and state budgets in one bureaucratic structure. Departments I and 11 dealt with administrative, technical, and legal matters. Departments IV and V were the Sipo: the former was Mueller's Gestapo; the latter was Nebe's Kripo. Departments III and VI were the SD: the former, headed by Otto Ohlendorf, was responsible for domestic affairs; the latter, headed by Walter Schellenberg, dealt with foreign intelligence. After the assassination of Heydrich in 1942, Ernst Kaltenbrunner headed RSHA as chief of the Sipo and the SD.

World War II changed Himmler's SS empire. Its members put aside the black uniform (except for ceremonial occasions), and henceforth only wore field gray with special SS insignias. The Verfuegungstruppe, renamed the Waffen SS, served as a combat army; its divisions participated in all German campaigns. At the same time, the Concentration Camps increased in size and number, requiring an increase in the Death Head Units. Finally, members of the police served in special SS and Police Regiments (SS-und Polizei Regimente) to fight against partisans and pacify the conquered territories.

The large SS army of World War 11 needed soldiers. In Germany, the SS was prohibited from drafting freely; it was restricted by army rules to the pool of prewar volunteers. Thus, members of the General SS automatically entered the Waffen SS for combat duty. Additional men were recruited in the occupied countries where army rules did not apply. There, the SS drafted racial Germans (the Volksdeutsche) and other Germanic peoples (for example, Norwegians or the Dutch). In addition, the police recruited volunteers in the East to serve as SS auxiliaries: Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, and Ukrainians. These volunteer auxiliaries were known as Hiwis, or Askaris.

In the occupied countries, the SS achieved the ultimate amalgamation of party and state. In Germany proper, Gestapo, Kripo, and SD had still retained some of their independence at the local level. Heydrich created the SS Einsatzgruppen to follow the armies and pacify the conquered territories; in the West this meant terror, in the East mass murder. These mobile police units were staffed by Sipo and SD men; in the Einsatzgruppen party functionaries and government bureaucrats merged completely. After pacification, the Einsatzgruppen were transformed into stationary offices of the Security Police and Security Service, thus institutionalizing the amalgamation of state agency (Sipo) and party formation (SD). Moreover, members of the Gestapo and Kripo had worn no uniforms on duty in Germany. Outside Germany they had to wear uniforms; they were assigned SD uniforms even if they had never joined the SS.

Those who served in the SS could be assigned to any duty. It was common for individuals to be transferred from one SS unit to another. There was no real difference between the combat troops of the Waffen SS and the security troops in the police and Concentration Camps. Those wounded in combat were usually transferred to Security Police offices or Concentration Camps for duty behind the lines; at the same time, large numbers of camp guards and policemen served in the Waffen SS.

SS offices and units multiplied in the occupied territories. There were the Waffen SS, concentration camp Death Head Units, Sipo and SD offices, Orpo regiments and offices, SS courts, and a variety of other offices. To mediate between these competing units, Himmler appointed special representatives-SS and Police Leaders (SS-und Polizeifuehrer, or SSPF) and above them Higher SS and Police Leaders (Hoehere SS-und Polizeifuehrer, or HSSPF)-as coordinators. To supply and pay this growing empire, the SS built its own economic enterprises. These were managed by Oswald Pohl's Central Office for Economy and Administration (SS Wirtschaftsver- waltungshauptamt, or WVHA). It absorbed the office that ran the Concentration Camps and eventually operated a vast slave labor empire.

After the attempt to assassinate Hitler in July, 1944, the powers of the SS increased. The SS extended its authority over the POW camps; the SD seized control of military intelligence (the Abwehr). Himmler became commander of the home army and, thus, was responsible for all manpower reserves; after that the SS could finally draft Germans. At the end, the SS empire came to rival all other state and party agencies. After the war, the Allied judges at Nuernberg condemned the SS as a criminal organization.

For Further Reading

Hohne Heinz. The Order of the Death's Head. New York: Coward- McCann, 1970.

Krausnick, Helmut, et al. The Anatomy of the SS State. London: Collins, 1968.

Reitlinger, Gerald. The SS: Alibi of a Nation. New York: Viking Press, 1956.

The Perpetrators*

note: *Prior to reading this article, it is useful to read "The SS and Police," by Henry Friedlander, in this volume.

No adequate study exists about the perpetrators of the Holocaust as a group. We know a great deal about the process of destruction, but we know far less about the perpetrators. At present, it is even difficult to give a precise definition of the group; we do not even have basic statistics: age, birth place, occupation, party membership, etc. We possess little information about the social and economic composition of the group. Until we have this kind of information, we cannot attempt to construct a psychological profile. Sources for this type of investigation do exist at least in part: SS personnel records and war crimes trial records. But it takes time to analyze this data; so far, attempts to accomplish this have been rare.

We know most about the men who initiated the murder of the European Jews. They were Hitler and his associates: Goering, Hermann, Goebbels, Bormann, and a few others. A great deal is known about these Nazi leaders. Trial records, political biographies, even psychohistorical studies are available.

Much is also known about the senior officials who implemented Hitler's orders. We know the names, ranks, vital statistics, educational levels, and careers of the senior SS and police leaders: department heads in the Central Office for Reich Security; commanders of Einsatzgruppen and Einsatzkommandos; chiefs of Gestapo, Kripo, and Orpo offices. The data concerning these men can be found in Nazi documents, SS personnel folders, and the records of postwar trials. But there have been few biographies of these men, and studies about the SS or the police have only reached very tentative conclusions about these perpetrators.

They were, in general, professional men who considered themselves members of the middle class. They had made a career in party or government service and looked forward to rapid advancement. They were young; few were older than forty. Many were lawyers, some held Ph.D. degrees in the humanities. Those without university degrees had advanced in the police administration through civil service examinations. They were members of the Nazi party and of the SS; but some had joined only after Hitler's assumption of power.

These senior officials did more than implement orders; they were efficient, inventive, and even zealous in the job of mass murder. None refused to cooperate, and none asked to be excused. Why did they do it? Some were undoubtedly fanatic Nazis who killed from ideological commitment. But most probably participated in mass murder only for one of the following reasons: opportunism (the desire for career advancement); obedience (the tradition of following orders); or peer pressure (the fear of being different).

Another group of perpetrators involved in the killings occupied a different social position. These were the concentration camp commanders. Unlike the majority of the senior SS and police officials, the camp commanders had no formal education and did not occupy higher civil service positions. They were usually veteran Nazis who had joined the SS before the assumption of power; after 1933, they drifted into the Death Head Units guarding the camps. During World War 1, they had served as noncommissioned officers in the army; in the postwar period they had worked in blue-collar jobs, and many had been unemployed during the Depression years. In the SS, they rose from the ranks to the office of commandant; they considered that job the pinnacle of their careers. Trained to obey, they followed orders without hesitation. At the same time, they combined cruelty with sentimentality, and were capable of almost any crime. One of them-Rudolf Hoess wrote a revealing memoir before his execution in Poland; others testified at their postwar trials. Their personnel dossiers have survived, and they provide a great deal of information about them.

The commanders of the extermination camps of Belzec, Chelmno, Sobibor, and Treblinka were younger versions of the concentration camp type. They came to their Jobs of killing suddenly at the start of World War 11, but they efficiently built and ran the killing centers. They came from similar social, educational, and economic backgrounds as did the concentration camp commanders, but they were younger and had no previous experience as soldiers. They had served in the police, and had been members of the Nazi party. They had been selected almost at random for work in the Euthanasia program (killings of German nationals deemed incurably ill, disabled, or mentally insane). From there, they had been sent to the extermination camps, probably because they had shown the required mixture of obedience and initiative. They ranked lower than the older concentration camp commanders: The former were usually colonels, the latter did not rise above captain. We know little about these men from documents; even their personnel records provide little information. All that we do know is based on postwar trial testimony. But we possess a penetrating analysis of one such commander, Franz Stangl; written by the journalist Gitta Sereny and based on interviews, it is the best available study of a perpetrator.

Aside from the SS, there were those who supported the killings and without whose aid genocide would have been impossible. These included civil servants, army officers, and industrialists. The senior civil servants directed the vast bureaucracy of the German state, essential for the success of the killings carried out by the SS and police. The Foreign Office, for example, negotiated with satellite leaders about the deportation of the Jews; the Railroad Administration provided the trains to carry the Jews to the extermination camps; the Ministry of Armaments issued the orders for Jewish concentration camp labor; and the Ministry of Finance collected the valuables from the murdered Jews.

The officers in the High Command of the Armed Forces similarly collaborated with the SS and police in the killings. They turned over to the SS execution squads large numbers of Russian POWs; ordered the shooting of thousands of Jews as hostages in Yugoslavia; and permitted the Einsatzgruppen to kill millions in areas under the control of the Wehrmacht.

The industrialists participated in the killing process by exploiting the labor of millions. Using the camp inmates supplied by the SS, they disregarded all civilized forms of conduct in search after quick profits. They built factories near Auschwitz and other camps; there they used inmate labor and, when the prisoners were no longer able to work, they permitted the SS to exterminate them.

Some of these perpetrators bureaucrats, officers, and capitalists were tried by the Allies, but even those convicted were usually released before they had served their sentences. Most never faced any judges. They argued that they were innocent; they claimed that they had only done their duty. In the end, they retained their pensions and their properties.

Least is known about the rank-and-file perpetrators: the guard at Buchenwald, the policeman at Babi Yar, the Ukrainian auxiliary at Treblinka. These were the men and women who did the actual killings. After the war they disappeared; only a very small percentage were ever tried. The data to write a composite biography of this group do not exist at this time. Only isolated individuals are known from their postwar trials.

Feodor Fedorenkc, was one of these perpetrators. Captured as a Red Army soldier, he escaped from the harsh conditions of the POW camps by volunteering to serve as an SS auxiliary. Trained at Trawniki, he was eventually stationed in Treblinka. There, he participated in the murder of almost one million Jews. Surviving inmates later identified Fedorenko as one of the Ukrainian guards who tortured victims before they were gassed.

After the war, Fedorenko concealed his Treblinka record, and was thus able to enter the United States illegally as a displaced person (DP). He settled in Connecticut and found employment as a factory worker. In more than two decades of residence, he never broke the law and received only one parking ticket. Those who knew him in Connecticut described him as a "good neighbor" and as a "diligent worker." No one suspected his Treblinka past. He retired to Florida and lived peacefully there until the Supreme Court, ruling that he had entered the United States illegally, stripped him of his citizenship [Fedorenko v. United States, 449 U.S. , 101 S.Ct. 737, 66 L.Ed. 2d 689 (1981)].

For Further Reading

Arendt, Hannah. Eichmann in Jerusalem. New York: Viking Press, 1963.

Dicks, Henry V. Licensed Mass Murder: A Socio-Psycho logical Study of Some SS Killers. New York: Basic Books, 1972.

Hoess, Rudolf. Commandant of Auschwitz: The Autobiography of Rudolf Hoess. New York: World Publishing Co., 1959.

Merkl, Peter H. The Making of a Storm trooper. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981.

Sereny, Gitta. Into That Darkness. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1974.


The physical removal of the Jews, in one way or another, was central to Nazi Jewish policy long before extermination. Until the outbreak of war, the Nazis sought to create a Germany "free of Jews" (Judenrein) through emigration. As expansion into Austria and Czechoslovakia increased the number of Jews in the German sphere, foreign countries raised even higher barriers against Jewish immigration, thus leading the Nazis to resort to forced emigration or expulsion. The techniques developed by a young SS officer in Austria, Adolf Eichmann, became the model for the rest of the Third Reich in this regard. The outbreak of war (in 1939) reduced Jewish emigration to a trickle, while German military successes once again increased the number of Jews under Nazi domination. Furthermore, German victories led to the recruitment of a growing list of subordinate Allies with large Jewish populations, especially in southeastern Europe. European Jews were now trapped on a continent under German control and constituted a "problem" the Nazis were ideologically committed to solve.

As the old solution of emigration, inadequate even in the last years before the war, was not viable in this new situation, the Nazis first turned to various schemes for the mass deportation and resettlement of the European Jews. In the fall of 1939, following the lightning conquest of Poland, plans were made to resettle the Jews and Poles of the "incorporated" territories of western Poland (those annexed directly to the Third Reich) as well as from Austria and the Protectorate (Bohemia) on the so-called Lublin Reservation in southeastern Poland. In the winter of 1939- 1940, some 200,000 people were deported, but the plans for the Lublin Reservation were canceled in the spring. The influx of vast numbers of deportees, without adequate housing or food supply, produced such chaotic conditions that the local Nazis prevailed upon Berlin to stop the deportations. Logistically, it would prove easier to murder than to resettle the European Jews, but this conclusion was reached only after the failure of a second and even more ambitious resettlement project-the Madagascar Plan.

The French territory of Madagascar had long attracted antisemitic polemicists, as well as various Polish, French, and German officials, as a possible resettlement area for Jews in the prewar period. When the conquest of France in June, 1940, placed the French Empire at Germany's disposal, a concrete plan for the resettlement of European Jews on the island of Madagascar quickly emerged, and was even discussed between Hitler and Mussolini. However, the prerequisite defeat of Great Britain and control of the seas never materialized, and the Madagascar Plan was shelved.

The decision to attack the Soviet Union raised the old dilemma that further military conquest would bring additional millions of Jews under German control, vastly increasing the magnitude of a problem whose solution had not yet been found. Hitler responded by ordering the extermination of the Russian Jews who fell into German hands. Systematic mass murder, now a reality in Russia, inevitably beckoned as a solution-indeed the Final Solution-for the European Jews as well, but the primitive mobile firing squad (Einsatzgruppen) methods used in Russia were not applicable in Europe. The European Jews could not be shot down on the spot in Amsterdam, Salonica, or even Warsaw. In a series of massive deportations they would have to be sent to secret assembly line killing centers in Poland. Half the intended victims were already concentrated in the Polish ghettos totally under German control. The administrative apparatus to carry out the deportations was in place; only the extermination camps remained to be built. But the rest of the intended victims were scattered among more than a dozen countries; some of these countries were occupied by Germany, while others enjoyed varying degrees of sovereignty. It was in these countries that the Nazis faced a problem not only of great magnitude logistically but also of immense complexity politically.

Direct responsibility for coordinating the deportation program outside Poland rested with the Gestapo's expert on evacuation and Jews, Adolf Eichmann, who had devised ingenious techniques for the forced emigration of Austrian Jews before the war. Eichmann was, above all, an organizer. He had only a handful of men directly under his supervision, and thus most of his work involved getting others to perform the functions vital to a successful deportation program. Eichmann's men, though small in number, formed an extensive, far reaching network. In the territories under German military occupation, Himmler had established his own police agencies, and Eichmann could maintain direct contact with the Jewish experts of the local Gestapo units. In the allied and vassal states, where the facade of sovereignty had to be preserved, Eichmann's representatives were lodged with the German embassies as "advisers" on the Jewish Question to the local authorities.

Eichmann's tiny agency was the nerve center of the deportation program, but several other agencies were also of crucial importance. One of these was the German Foreign Office. The Jewish Desk of the Foreign Office had long offered its advice concerning the foreign policy implications of Nazi Jewish policy, especially when foreign Jews were involved. It had also initiated the first concrete preparations for the Madagascar Plan. Now, it secured the right to be consulted by Eichmann concerning the Final Solution in all European territories occupied or influenced by Germany. The Jewish Desk of the Foreign Office subsequently worked zealously to facilitate the frictionless implementation of deportations. This was done by urging preparatory anti-Jewish legislation on the German model, negotiating agreements on the fate of Jewish property, exercising intense diplomatic pressure to assist Eichmann's representatives in attaining final agreement to deport, and smoothing out complications arising from the presence of large numbers of Jews with foreign citizenship, who required special consideration if embarrassing incidents were to be avoided.

Even more important than this expert assistance from the German Foreign Office was the logistical support of the German railway, the Reichsbahn, and its Polish auxiliary, the Ostbahn. Without rail transportation, the deportations were physically impossible, yet in wartime there were immense demands upon Germany's rail capacity. The ability of the Retchsbahn to provide the necessary rolling stock to ship nearly one million Jews into Poland and to shuttle another two million within Poland from ghetto to extermination camp was an extraordinary feat under the circumstances, demonstrating a determination and professional pride to overcome all obstacles and conduct business as usual, despite the most unusual business (three million one-way group fares!) at hand.

But even the SS, the Foreign Office, and the Relchsbahn together could not have carried out the deportations on their own. In the areas not totally under German control, the task of rounding up the Jews required manpower far beyond that directly at Eichmann's disposal. Often, the Germans had to rely upon native collaborators. Allied and puppet regimes in France, Slovakia, Hungary, and Bulgaria rounded up Jews and turned them over to the Germans. The failure of deportations in those countries which refused to assist, such as Denmark, the Italian occupation zones, and Russia and Bulgaria, regarding their "own" assimilated Jews but not foreign or alien Jews, demonstrated how essential such collaboration was to the Germans.

In July, 1941, Goering ordered Heydrich to prepare an overall plan for "a total solution of the Jewish Question in the German sphere of influence in Europe." The outlines of this overall plan deportation to extermination camps-emerged in the fall of 1941, but due to the time-lag between conception and construction of the extermination camps, the deportation program began in confusion. In mid-September, 1941, before either the plan or the camps were complete, Hitler suddenly ordered that Germany be cleared of Jews by the end of the year. Train loads of German Jews were shipped to Lodz, Minsk, Kovno, and Riga. At the last two destinations, the Jews were shot on arrival, and gas vans at Chelmno began reducing the population of the Lodz ghetto, but nonetheless the reception capacity was inadequate to achieve Hitler's goal of a Judenrein Germany by the end of the year. Only when the extermination camps went into full-time operation in the spring and summer of 1942 could the deportation program begin in earnest.

Beginning with deportations from Lublin to Belsec in March, the onslaught against the Polish ghettos began. It reached its climax with massive deportations from Warsaw from late July on, after Treblinka had "come on line." Simultaneously, the Eichmann network began deportations from other parts of Europe.

The Slovak government was requested in mid-February, 1942, to supply 20,000 strong, young Jews for labor in the East, a proposal it 11 eagerly snatched up," according to the German ambassador. In March, Eichmann requested the deportation of initially 1,000 and then an additional 5,000 Jews, from France, which also proceeded without difficulty. The first wave of full-scale deportations quickly followed. In late March, the Slovak government was informed of Germany's willingness to deport the rest of its Jews, and 56,000 were shipped to Poland by the end of the summer. In July, mass deportations from France, the Netherlands, and Belgium began. At first, they primarily were composed of foreign Jews to facilitate local cooperation and acquiescence. The deportations from these countries continued until 1944, but encountered gradually increasing difficulties. Collaborators became more reluctant, and native Jews themselves became aware of their impending fate and took desperate measures to evade the roundups. But, in the end, nearly 200,000 Jews were deported from France, the Netherlands, and Belgium. Small deportations from Norway and Croatia (where most of the Jews, however, were killed locally by native Fascists) also took place in 1942.

The second wave of deportations began early in 1943, as the center of German attention shifted to the Balkans. Bulgaria rounded up and delivered over 11 000 "alien" Jews of the newly acquired territories of Thrace and Macedonia, but subsequently backed out of an agreement to deport its "own" Jews from Old Bulgaria when domestic opposition surfaced and Germany's prospects of victory began to dim after Stalingrad. The Rumanians had cooperated with Einsatzgruppe and had carried out their own deportation of alien Jews to camps in Transnistria, where most perished, but they, too, backed out of the final steps of deporting their "romanized" Jews to Poland. In Greece, the Germans had only to contend with Italy's refusal to adopt common measures in its own occupation zone. Unfortunately, the majority of the Greek Jews lived in the German zone around Salonica, and some 46,000 were deported between midMarch and the end of May. The German military provided all the assistance Eichmann's experts needed. The attempt to deport Jews from Denmark in October, 1943, failed when neither the German military authorities nor the native government would cooperate, and the local population first hid and subsequently smuggled the Jews out to Sweden. On the other hand, in the same month the Germans succeeded in rounding up and deporting to Auschwitz over 1,000 Jews in Rome, following the German occupation of Italy.

In 1944, the Germans completed "mopping up" deportations from Slovakia, northern Italy, the former Italian zone in Greece, and the last major ghetto in Poland, Lodz. But 1944 also witnessed the most stupendous and tragic deportation of the Final Solution Hungary. In August, 1941, Hungary had handed over fleeing Galician Jews to the Germans for liquidation, but subsequently (like Bulgaria and Rumania) refused intense German pressure to deport its own Jews. Following German occupation of the country in March, 1944, however, Eichmann entire team of experts descended upon the country, found willing Hungarian collaborators to concentrate the Jews who remaitied unwarned by their leadership, and deported 437,000 between mid-May and mid-July.

In the end, two of the three million Polish Jews who eventually perished in the Holocaust had been deported from ghettos to the extermination camps. Nearly a million additional Jews were deported to extermination camps from other European countries. Deportations were, thus, an essential step in the deaths of half the victims of the Holocaust.

For Further Reading

Arendt, Hannah. Eichmann in Jerusalem. New York: Viking Press, 1963.

Browning, Christopher R. The Final Solution and the German Foreign Office. New York: Holmes & Meier, 1978.

Hilberg, Raul. The Destruction of the European Jews. Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1961.

Reitlinger, Gerald. The Final Solution. New York: Beechurst Press, 1953.

Chap 06


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