Saturday, November 10

What did ordinary German Soldiers think about the Holocaust?

An absolutely fascinating research paper came to hand. I am taking the liberty to quote it liberally.

This article details research about the knowledge of German soldiers concerning the mass executions of Jews in Eastern Europe during the Second World War, as it can be discerned from their letters.1 It examines the soldiers' perceptions and justifications of criminal missions committed by their own comrades or in which they were actually involved, and their interpretations of the facts and rumours they heard about the extermination of the Jewish population.


Up here you see many prison camps assigned to do construction work and other things. There are Jews coming here, that is to say, to Auschwitz, seven or eight thousand a week who die a "hero's death" before long. You see, it's quite good to get around a great deal.

There's not much new to tell from here; during the last couple of days the ghetto got smoked out. Unfortunately some of the Jews managed to skedaddle; and from time to time we have some minor shoot-outs

You know our mood isn't improved very much by all these actions, nor by the lack of work. Currently a new action against Jews is making some impression on us; I prefer to spare you the details of what I saw today while walking past the affected quarters

In the old citadel 1000 Jews will be shot dead on this day. This is a reprisal for the 2800 Ukrainians who were shot in Bolshevik times. In return, 5600 Russians will now give their lives. Two officers, whom I sent out searching for wire and iron, reported that the Jews died without making any sound. After this human tragedy, which is unfortunate but a necessary measure to discourage the uprising insurgents, we experienced over the following days how a large section of the looters simply left their stolen goods on the street.

Here the Jewish issue is solved somewhat differently. The Romanians drove all the Jews together and shot them dead regardless of whether they were men, women or children. At the beginning it was the other way round.

The many hundred kilometres we have covered showed us the roughness and the cruelty of this battle. It is impossible to describe all the details, but it is a matter of life and death. The deeper we got into Russia, the more we met Jews. These guys are just as cheeky as in the most peaceful times. One should put even more of these guys against the wall than has been done so far.

One just notices here how beautiful our home country is. The social deficiencies are impossible to describe. Dirt and mud. A great percentage of inhabitants are Jews.

And then the "solution" follows:

All the more urgent was the solution of the Jewish question. It is now pushed forward energetically by the Hungarian government according to the German model. A complete elimination is just necessary to give the miserable Russian people better living conditions.

The thing a physician needs to accomplish must be the complete elimination of the Cholera, what our people need to accomplish must be the complete elimination of the Jews

I am concerned about the nutrition of our Polish civilians whose work efficiency is decreasing rapidly. We only get so much food for them as to provide for a meagre soup five times a week with 60 hours of labour. The extra supply they get from the city's civil service is absolutely insufficient. It is even worse for the Jews, some of them just collapse of hunger during urgent street construction. No flogging or shooting will solve that.

The people here do not mean well to us Germans. The city of Dünaburg is half in ruins. 75% of the population used to be Jewish. They themselves - mostly before the Germans arrived - blew up or burned down their houses. Subsequently 30 000 Jews were shot not far from the city. In addition we executed other people over nothing. For these reasons, the population don't like to see the Germans anywhere. People are suspicious.

In Bereza - Katuska, where I stopped at noon, they had just shot 1300 Jews the day before. They were taken to a pit outside the city, then men, women and children had to take off all their clothes and were finished by shots to the neck. The clothes were disinfected and then reused. I am convinced, if the war lasts longer, it will become necessary to make sausages out of the Jews and feed them to the Russian prisoners of war or the trained Jewish workers

Remember these are ordinary Germans. And in an email exchange I had with some Canadian Muslims, I found the similar feelings, if you were a Jew, you were automatically thought to be anti-Muslim or anti-Iran. Evidence to the contrary like the Iranian Jews was ignored totally. But sadly familiar, the Jews have indeed seen this before and are seeing it again. The tragedy is that these Muslims will face the same behaviour very soon from the Christians in the West.

Ironical and sad.

JO - Journal of Genocide Research
PB - Routledge
AU - Kipp, Michaela
TI - The Holocaust in the letters of German soldiers on the Eastern front (1939–44)
SN - 1462-3528
PY - 2007
VL - 9
IS - 4
SP - 601
EP - 615

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Anonymous said...

WWII WAS CRAZY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Doug said...

The German soldiers were egotistical maniacs that in the end faced the same fate at the hands of the Soviets as they had inflicted upon the Jewish people. Penance if you will. Arrogance and superiority was only in their minds, not based on reality.

Historian said...

The ordinary German soldier did not know much about the Holocaust other than that jews were working in concentration camps alongside political prisoners. A few of your examples seemed as if theyd been written by camp commandants or the like. They were obviously not the common frontline German soldier. The propoganda used against wwii era Germany is somewhat deserved but grossly overused. Please try for a less biased account next time.

BD said...

Historian, well, if peer reviewed papers arent to be trusted then I dread the state of historiography :)

Anonymous said...

The "average" German soldier knew what was going on. It was all around. Friends, relatives, neighbors,,, all were involved in the killings and people talk. Don't kid yourself.