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