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Discovering a New Circle of Hell

There is an understandable buzz when a historical event as well known and deeply investigated as  the Holocaust has suddenly been found to have been underestimated by an order of magnitude.

From The New York Times:

The Holocaust Just Got More Shocking 

….As early as 1933, at the start of Hitler’s reign, the Third Reich established about 110 camps specifically designed to imprison some 10,000 political opponents and others, the researchers found. As Germany invaded and began occupying European neighbors, the use of camps and ghettos was expanded to confine and sometimes kill not only Jews but also homosexuals, Gypsies, Poles, Russians and many other ethnic groups in Eastern Europe. The camps and ghettos varied enormously in their mission, organization and size, depending on the Nazis’ needs, the researchers have found.

The biggest site identified is the infamous Warsaw Ghetto, which held about 500,000 people at its height. But as few as a dozen prisoners worked at one of the smallest camps, the München-Schwabing site in Germany. Small groups of prisoners were sent there from the Dachau concentration camp under armed guard. They were reportedly whipped and ordered to do manual labor at the home of a fervent Nazi patron known as “Sister Pia,” cleaning her house, tending her garden and even building children’s toys for her.

When the research began in 2000, Dr. Megargee said he expected to find perhaps 7,000 Nazi camps and ghettos, based on postwar estimates. But the numbers kept climbing — first to 11,500, then 20,000, then 30,000, and now 42,500.

The numbers astound: 30,000 slave labor camps; 1,150 Jewish ghettos; 980 concentration camps; 1,000 prisoner-of-war camps; 500 brothels filled with sex slaves; and thousands of other camps used for euthanizing the elderly and infirm, performing forced abortions, “Germanizing” prisoners or transporting victims to killing centers.

In Berlin alone, researchers have documented some 3,000 camps and so-called Jew houses, while Hamburg held 1,300 sites.

….The lead editors on the project, Geoffrey Megargee and Martin Dean, estimate that 15 million to 20 million people died or were imprisoned in the sites that they have identified as part of a multivolume encyclopedia

Read the rest here.

Perhaps some of you will recall the controversy in the late 1990′s surrounding the release of Hitler’s Willing Executioners by Daniel Goldhagen where Goldhagen argued that Nazi genocide was only possible with the widespread complicity and often enthusiastic participation of “ordinary Germans” who were not themselves Gestapo agents or Nazi fanatics.  One of the primary charges against Goldhagen by academic historians was his generalizing indictment of a generation of Germans for Nazi policy that was, for all intents and purposes, officially a state secret.  After all, the closest thing to a “public” discussion in the Third Reich of the Final Solution was a terrifying speech by SS-Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler at the Posen Conference to an assembly of Gauleiters  and Reichsleiters who constituted the aristocracy of the Nazi Party.

The sheer geographic density and social ubiquity of the Nazi machinery of repression and genocide documented by researchers severely undermines the critics of Goldhagen. While it is well documented that most Germans, unless they were political opponent or social misfits, did not personally feel the heavy hand of the Gestapo in the way Soviet citizens experienced the NKVD, Germans during the war years irrefutably lived cheek by jowl with the miserably wretched slaves of the Reich.

Some of the shock produced by this investigation is due to an artificial “parsing of genocide” by historians into distinct categories of death-dealing instead of looking at Nazi democide as a whole cloth or continuum.

In the immediate aftermath of the war, there was little interest beyond the Nuremberg  Tribunal in delving into the depths of Nazi crimes. Reconstruction of Europe and “getting on with life” or the exigencies of the Cold War and the ominous threat of the Soviets took far greater precedence. Even among Holocaust survivors themselves, there was initially an effort to “move on” from the unimaginable, or to make a anguished pretense of so doing, as expressed in the critically acclaimed Rod Steiger film, The Pawnbroker. When historians began more serious examinations of Nazi crimes in the 1960′s and 1970′s, there was a tendency to separate the Holocaust from related or similar atrocities due in part to the overriding ideological emphasis the most extreme Nazis placed upon the total and absolute elimination of all Jews – every last one – at all costs,. Even over and above winning the war.

However, that genocidal crusade by the SS against the Jews also facilitated the deaths of millions of others – including the Gypsies (marked for nearly complete extermination), the “useless eaters“, some 700,000 Serbs to please the Ustase puppet regime, political opponents who disappeared into the Night and Fog, and a vast democide of Slavic peoples to feed the Third Reich’s inexhaustible need for slave labor. Albert Speer wrote that Himmler coldly planned a further massive reduction of the Russian and Ukranian populations west of the Urals to build a post-war Nazi racial empire in vanquished Russia.

The scale of murder by totalitarian governments in the 20th century approaches the mythic, a phenomena for which the Holocaust has become a totem.

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10 Responses to “Discovering a New Circle of Hell”

  1. Edward Spalton Says:

    From Edward Spalton (My name appears not to register properly in the window)
     
    There was also a much more reasonable-seeming face of Nazism which sought to bring other European nations into their project as part of “The European Economic Community” . They actually called it that! Established soon after Dunkirk in June 1940, the idea was marketed at a Berlin conference of the same title in 1942. Translations of the introduction (by Prof-Dr Heinrich Hunke) and the lead paper (by Reichsminister Walther Funk – Minister for the Economy, Post War Planning and President of the Reichsbank) are available on http://www.freenations.freeuk.com under the title “The EU’s Evil Pedigree”. The policy lines laid down by Funk were implemented in the 1962 Common Agricultural Policy of the then “European Economic Community” (same name!). I have just written a short paper on its effects on Britain which has been commended by the long – serving Labour parliamentarian, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, as “Interesting, accurate, short and succinct”. If you would like a copy, email me at the address I have provided or contact me through the website of the Campaign for an Independent Britain (www.freebritain.org.uk )
     
    My friend, Professor Arthur Noble (emeritus Professor of German at the Universities of Metz and Nancy), has recently published an article in the British Church Newspaper which covers the post war career of Prof-Dr Hunke, who became prominent in the politics and administration of Lower Saxony. Funk was let out of jail early and gravitated to Hunke’s political base in Hannover where an institute for “European Regional Spatial Planning”  was founded after the war.
    The pre war British ambassador to Gernany, Sir Nevile Henderson, characterised Funk as a member of the “peace party” in the Nazi hierarchy. Perhaps this is why he evaded the hangman unlike his subordinate colleague Sauckel, the Labour Commissioner.
     

  2. seydlitz89 Says:

    As to Goldhagen, don’t follow.  That the Nazis set up hundreds of Wilde Konsentrationslagern after February 1933 is well known.  That they had serviced tens of thousands of various industries, institutions or even private individuals (particularly farmers) with slave laborers during the war is also nothing new.

    The extent of the Wilde Konsentrationslagern actually goes against Goldhagen’s “average German” notion, since if the German people were such “willing executioners”, how come so many had to be terrorized in these make shift “camps” (often enough simply a basement under an SA Kneipe)?  Goldhagen was rightly trashed by academic historians because he wrote a bad book of history . . .

    Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism remains the best book on the phenomenon imo . . .   

  3. joey Says:

    I read Goldhagens book,  and I believe one of the takeaways was that the Holocaust was only possible in Germany, because the Germans had a unique brand of anti seminism which enabled ordinary Germans to accept and aid the slaughter that there government was engaged in.
    The rest of Europe had a kind of brutish  anti seminism which triggered the occasional pogram,  but only the Germans had the kind of rational anti seminism that allowed the industrial slaughter that occurred.

    It was thrash,  but I was young when I read it, so I was about 2/3′s of the way through before I realized it. 

  4. zen Says:

    Hi Gents,
    .
    Edward,
    .
    The Nazi regime was factionalized, it is true and their ideas on economics flowed from, originally, an autarkic program to promote rearmament, evade the restrictions of Versailles, counter the protectionist trade barriers of the British and French empires and America’s hawley-Smoot and conserve precious gold reserves. It has been a long while since I delved into this, but Hjalmar Schacht was also key figure, particularly with creative managed trade policy and internal financing. not as familiar with the extent of Funk’s influence, so I will have to look at your friend’s paper.
    .
    I’ve read henerson’s memoirs. He was a sincere but extremely credulous figure who did not understand Hitler or the Nazi regime; he and Halifax and Chamberlain desperately wanted an accommodation with Berlin but not on terms that Great Britain could not live with which the House of Commons would not support,, which was something that all three failed to communicate to the Nazi leadership. Which is why discussions about colonial compensation (Hitler and Ribbentrop hinted that Portugal’s colonies would have been satisfactory) for lost German territory went no where. Hitler, for his part severely misread Chamberlain and did not expect that him to follow through on Britain’s guarantees to Poland when it was so disadvantageous to do so. hitler genuinely seems to have expected a short, local, war with Poland would ensue followed by some kind of Franco-British ratification of German gains.
    .
    Seydlitz and joey
    .
    The “wild concentration camps” of the SA did make an impact at the time, and were directed at local opponents of the SA rowdies. Most Germans disapproved, or from what I have read, seemed to, and Hitler shut those down and eventually decapitated the SA leadership ( that was far more popular, at least with the junker – Reichswehr elite). Otherwise, for a dictator, Hitler remained, until the last year or so of the war, remarkably sensitive to German public opinion on many issues – many issues pushed by hardline or radical Nazis like total war mobilization or neo-Paganism/Reich church protestantism, anti-Catholicism, himmler’s mystical mummery – hitler dragged his feet on or rebuffed. The Jews were another question – there Hitler tended to side with the extremist anti-semites most of the time, being himself one of them.
    .
    Whether the Germans always antisemitic in a unique way I think is dubious. Arguably Wilhelmine Germany was considerably less antisemitic than either Tsarist Russia or the French Third Republic. What I think is true is that the Nazi regime managed to inculcate a fairly radical brand of racial antisemitism into German culture in a relatively short period of time and that was unique

  5. Curtis Gale Weeks Says:

    No historian myself, and having never studied the extent of the Holocaust, still, my absorption in Nietzsche’s writings over this last year offered one major surprise related to the subject.  Apparently the rabid anti-Semitism elevated by the Nazis had a long, long history; anti-Semites were already fervent at Nietzsche’s time, back in the late 19C.  (Contrary to some mistaken pablum, Nietzsche despised anti-Semites and even wrote favorably of Jewish history/religion — especially when contrasting it with those anti-Semites and Christianity.)

  6. Curtis Gale Weeks Says:

    [Note & addendum:  I know that anti-Semitism existed for centuries before the Nazis and pogroms of one sort or another occurred during that time.  My surprise was simply in reading the threads of Nazism weaving through Germany 50 years or so before the Nazis actually gained power.]

  7. L. C. Rees Says:

    Nietzsche’s sister Elisabeth was a rabid anti-Semite. She controlled his papers, ran the Nietzsche Archive, published the first collections of Nietzsche’s unpublished works, and aggressively promoted her brother within Germany. So a Friedrich Nietzsche aggressively fostered German anti-Semitism, even if it was Elisabeth Forster-Nietzsche’s redacted Friedrich Nietzsche. She even bestowed Nietzsche’s imprimatur on the Nazis, serving a role not disimilar to that of Winifred Wagner (Richard Wagner’s daughter-in-law, though it helped that Wagner himself was a rabid anti-Semite. Jonathan Steinberg even accuses Wagner of inventing modern anti-Semitism in his recent biography of Bismarck, though that strikes me as overblown). 

  8. Curtis Gale Weeks Says:

    Nietzsche’s sister was married to a rabid anti-Semite, a man Nietzsche hated. Elisabeth was an opportunist, using Nietzsche as a springboard (in trying to create a type of cultish prophet of him after his mental collapse) and probably using her husband as well although how deeply her own anti-Semitism ran, I have no idea.  My general impression from reading Kaufmann’s commentary to his translations of Nietzsche’s works is that Nietzsche before his collapse was somewhat forgiving/loving of his sister even while despising her husband.  (Blood thicker than politics?)  The Nazis co-opted much that Nietzsche wrote while conveniently overlooking his several rather explicit diatribes against anti-Semitism and anti-Semites.

  9. Curtis Gale Weeks Says:

    On that last comment:  I’m not terribly concern about the extent of E.N.’s anti-Semitism, whether it ran deep or not. She seems to have been a rather terrible person either way.
    .

    The question about the populace of Germany and different “modes” or “types” of anti-Semitism does bring to my mind — again, I’m not a historian and have hardly looked into this — the difference between deeply felt anti-Semitism and what I might call functional anti-Semitism.   No doubt, as with any society, there will be opportunists who ride whatever wave seems to be cresting; they may not have been “authentic” anti-Semites in their hearts but functionally anti-Semitic in either their actions or their refusal to notice what was going on around them.  Just as there were no doubt many unsung heroes who might have acted in the shadows to protect Jews they knew, there were unsung villains who turned a blind eye.

  10. Mr. X Says:

    Dear Edward Spalton,

    Perhaps I have read your book and seen your brother on the tellie? Even if you are not that person it appears as if we’ve been reading his book together. 

    Zen, thank you for pointing out the evils of even pre-war Nazi economics, led by Hjalmar Schacht. It’s well to note that Hitler was in a BIG big hurry to go to war, much more so than Beck and the generals, precisely because without absorbing the industrial complexes and cheap to slave labor of Czechoslovakia and Poland into the Reich Nazism would’ve resorted to radical price controls to contain a new bout of severe if not Weimar level inflation by the early 1940s…and all of that in ‘peacetime’ conditions.


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