The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Shofar FTP Archive File: documents//reviews/good.old.days

Newsgroups: alt.revisionism,soc.history
Subject: Holocaust Almanac - The Good Old Days (Review)
Summary: New York Review of Books on "The Good Old Days"
Followup-To: alt.revisionism
Organization: The Old Frog's Almanac, Vancouver Island, CANADA

File: holocaust good.old.days
Last-modified: 1993/04/14 

Strategies of Hell 
New York Review of Books, October 8, 1992 
Istvan Deak

Among the more recent studies discussing the personal lives and
character of the murderers, "The Good Old Days" is particularly
informative, in part because it is based on letters, diaries, and other
documents that have been intelligently selected by three German
compilers: a young writer, a jurist deeply involved in the investigation
of National Socialist crimes, and a historian.

The photographs in the book tell even more about the behavior of the
German soldiers than the documents. Wartime hangings with the
executioners grinning under the gallows have long been a favorite
photographic subject, but never was there more demand for such snapshots
than during World War II. Scores of amateurish photographs depict SS and
Wehrmacht soldiers posing beneath people hanging from a rope, or they
record, in monotonously repetitive sequences, the mowing down of rows
upon rows of shivering, half-clad women and children. The pictures were
taken in spite of official orders not to do so, or to talk about what
had taken place. It is true, as the records in "The Good Old Days" show,
that the German murder squads sometimes delegated the job of execution
to local East Europeans, but more often they did the work themselves.

In the accounts of mass murder, satisfaction over a job well done often
mingles with self-pity over having had to perform such a demanding and
unappreciated task. In fact, the murder assignments were unrewarding: 
policemen complained of not having received the cigarettes, schnapps,
and sausages given the SS men following a successful joint massacre.
Many members of the Einsatzgruppen, or murder squads, were not from the
SS but were professional police and other middle-aged men drafted into
the police forces. They were generally neither well paid nor well fed; 
not all had the opportunity to rob their victims. Few among them
belonged to the Nazi Party and not all were convinced National

As the documents show, these men killed to please their superiors; or
because they knew that there were plenty of volunteers in regular army
units ready to take their places, or because they feared to appear as
weaklings. The SS man or policeman who did not like the idea of
machine-gunning defenseless adults and smashing the heads of infants
found that it was easy to say no. The worst that could happen to such
recalcitrants was transfer to another unit. Others were sent home for
being soft ("wegen zu grosser Weichheit"). In none of the vast
literature on the Holocaust is there, so far as I know, the record of a
single case of a German policeman or member of the SS having been
severely reprimanded, imprisoned, or sent to the front - much less shot
- for his refusal to participate in mass murder.

"Today gypsies, tomorrow partisans, Jews and suchlike riff-raff," notes
one diarist. What both murderers and German military onlookers often
objected to was not the killing itself but the methods used. Hence the
gradual progression from pogrom-like clubbings and axings, which were
usually left to Latvian, Lithuanian, or Ukrainian civilians, to
machine-gunning by Germans and their uniformed auxillaries, and,
finally, to the setting up of death camps where efficient industrial
killing could be carried out.

During the first months of the war in the East, when killings still took
place in public, German sailors from the Baltic ports and soldiers from
far away garrisons indulged in what "The Good Old Days" describes as
execution tourism. These visitors raised objections to the officers in
charge only when they observed that arms and legs, some of them still
moving, were sticking out of the makeshift graves. The ground above the
graves, some of the spectators noticed, continued to heave for several
hours after the executions.

In perhaps the most distressing account in "The Good Old Days," two
German divisional chaplains, one Catholic, the other Protestant, report
on their investigation undertaken at the request of two lower-ranking
military chaplains, again one a Catholic and the other a Protestant, who
were themselves acting upon the request of some soldiers, into the case
of ninety Jewish orphans, in a Ukrainian village in August 1941. The
children's parents had been killed by the SS at the request of the local
army command only a day or two earlier. The two divisional chaplains,
like the two other clerics before them, visited the house in which the
starving and thirsty children were locked up, but left without offering
them even a cup of water. They were scandalized by the atrocious
conditions in which the children were held, but even more by the fact
that the incessant wailing of the children could be heard by both
soldiers and civilians. In their separate reports to the chief of staff
of the 295th. Infantry Division, the divisional chaplains insisted that
the locals not be allowed to enter the house "in order to avoid the
conditions there being talked about further," and "I consider it highly
undesirable that such things should take place in full view of the
public eye."

Because two army divisional chaplains, i.e. high-ranking officers, were
involved in the affair, there was a thorough investigation by the
divisional general staff. Finally, the commander of the Sixth Army
himself, Field Marshal von Reichenau, ruled that the execution of the
children should be carried out as planned, although of course in an
orderly manner. In a remarkable act of interservice cooperation, the
Werhmacht dug the grave, the SS arranged the executions, and the local
militia were ordered to do the shooting. "The Ukrainians were standing
round trembling," noted the SS lieutenant supervising the affair. ("I
had nothing to do with this technical procedure"), and when they finally
fired, they did so poorly. "Many children were hit four or five times
before they died," reported the lieutenant.

What strikes one is the full cooperation offered by regular army units,
the high proportion of Austrians in the murder squads, and how lightly,
if at all, the murderers and their accomplices were punished after the
war. (On the National Socialist fanaticism, murderous activities, and
postwar self-acquittal of the German regular army from generals down to
ordinary soldiers, read Omer Bartov's devastating but scholarly
indictment: Hitler's Army: Soldiers, Nazis, and War in the Third Reich.
Oxford University Press, 1991.) The two Catholic chaplains who reported
on the Jewish orphans were both ordained as bishops in the German
Federal Republic.

Members of the SS and police murder squads were recruited from every
sort of occupation. Several unit commanders were doctors of law; others
had risen through the ranks. Many officers and men suffered accutely
under the stress of their assignment: "The wailing was indescribable. I
shall never forget the scene throughout my life... I particularly
remember a small fair-haired girl who took me by the hand. She too was
shot later," complained the SS lieutenant supervising the execution of
the children in the Ukrainian village. Others, however, remained
steadfast: "Strange, I am completely unmoved. No pity, nothing. That's
the way it is and then it's all over," wrote the Austrian Felix Landau
in his diary on July 12, 1941. He was more worried, however, about his
"Trudchen" cheating on him during his absence.

Home ·  Site Map ·  What's New? ·  Search Nizkor

© The Nizkor Project, 1991-2012

This site is intended for educational purposes to teach about the Holocaust and to combat hatred. Any statements or excerpts found on this site are for educational purposes only.

As part of these educational purposes, Nizkor may include on this website materials, such as excerpts from the writings of racists and antisemites. Far from approving these writings, Nizkor condemns them and provides them so that its readers can learn the nature and extent of hate and antisemitic discourse. Nizkor urges the readers of these pages to condemn racist and hate speech in all of its forms and manifestations.