The Reich Stuff

Yesterday, Transterrestrial Musings contributed to the venerable April 1 tradition with the headline Pro-German Protesters Demand Ceasefire. That brought to mind something I’ve pondered recently: does the Third Reich seem so unique at least in part because we never had a chance to see what the Aztecs, Moghuls, ancient Mesopotamian civilizations, and other pre-industrial empires would do if they had mid-20th Century technology? I can imagine boxcars unloading people at Tenochtitlan…

12 thoughts on “The Reich Stuff”

  1. In a lifetime of reading at least one book I’ve read pointed out that the Nazis were the return to Europe of the ancient ways of Assyria. An observation I thought would have been a commonplace, and yet….

    Quick Question: when was slavery abolished in Europe? Short answer: 1945 for Western Europe and 1991 for Eastern Europe.

  2. I remember reading years ago on a subject that is rarely brought up: it was said that cynical historians ask “who killed more Russians? Hitler or Stalin?”

    I think what intrigues the world is not only how many people the Nazis killed but the way they did it

    I saw an interesting movie recently called “the zone of interest”.

    It’s based on a novel but the novel has to have been based on a lot of historical fact.

    It concerns the family of Auschwitz commander Rudolf Hoss and their family life, living in a house literally right next to the Auschwitz extermination camp

    And Hoss is treated as a doting family man when he’s not “at work”.

    He is known not so much as the commander of Auschwitz but the man who turned Auschwitz into a mass killing center

    At the Nuremberg trials a prosecutor asked him if he had been responsible for the killing of one and a half million people and he said matter-of-factly “no, it was closer to 2 million”.

    And on one of these YouTube history channels when dealing with the trial of Hoss he was said to have come to some regret when he realized how decently his polish captors treated him in prison while awaiting to be executed

    While I was surprised to learn somewhere the other day the Aztecs during a festival killed 80,000 prisoners, they did not have death camps.

    The Soviets I suppose had their own death camps called Gulags but they were trying to extract all the work they could out of their prisoners before they died from death or disease

    Only the Nazis put killing and extermination on an industrial scale

  3. Bill,

    A good book comparing the relative homicidal merits of Stalin and Hitler is Timothy Snyder’s “Bloodlands.” As you said, the reason for the Nazi extermination camps was efficiency but also to alleviate the psychological problems suffered by the Einsatzgruppen from actually shooting tens of thousands of Jews in 1941. To the Nazis they were doing holy work.

    To your other point, Snyder states that Stalin was no slouch. He crushed an incipient revolt in Ukraine by creating a man-made famine that killed 3 to 4 million Ukrainians. Snyder recounted trains carrying grain to the Black Sea for export passing through Ukrainian villages whose residents were dying from starvation. While not as efficient as the Nazis there was Stalin’s chief executioner Vasily Blokhin who individually shot 300 Polish officers a night (1 every 3 minutes) for weeks

    However for sheer murder, nothing beats the Khmer Rouge or Hutis

  4. Snyder argues that the conventional wisdom that most Holocaust deaths occurred in concentration camps is wrong. The Nazis killed more Jews by shooting. Also, Stalin far surpassed Hitler in mass-murder until the later years of the war. But Stalin received a great deal of positive coverage from corrupt journalists, and the Allies needed Russia to help defeat Germany. Many westerners are unaware even now of the horrible Soviet record in the Ukraine and the purges.

  5. In my darker moments, I imagine being the designer of the crematoria, since designing things is what I do. I imagine having to determine the amount of heat generated by the incineration of an average body. Having to multiply that by the desired “production” and then having to adjust downward because I’m not dealing with your average citizen but with someone living on the edge of starvation for years and women and children. Having to deal with the fact that my project doesn’t have the best refractory materials available because those are reserved for war production. How the boss with his gold party pin is; “Heinrich this and Albert that.” when we all know that if he was in the actual presence, it would be; “Yes! Herr Reichsführer, right away, as you wish.” Overseeing the preparation of plans and drawings, getting all the details just so. Possibly visiting the construction site to see the work being done by living skeletons, so weak and emaciated that it might take two or even three to do tasks that would not tax a normal workman. Then going home to the wife and children, wondering if the planes and bombs would come for us tonight. But most especially, not thinking about why we need to burn so very many bodies.

    For me, the banality of evil isn’t someone with a gun or even poison gas, it’s someone with a slide rule and pencil.

  6. For me, the banality of evil isn’t someone with a gun or even poison gas, it’s someone with a slide rule and pencil.

    Indeed. Or someone planning the logistics of large-scale underground tunnel construction.

  7. As barbaric as the Khmer Rouge and Hutis were, there is something even more soul-chilling about the similarities between the Holocaust and an exercise in operational/supply-chain planning right down to accounting for bottlenecks in rail transportation and crematoria capacity.

  8. @MCS in the movie Zone of Interest, there is a scene where Hoss is meeting with officials of Topf – the famous construction conglomerate that helped the Nazis so much – and they are discussing that very issue.

    I have read in several places that even some members of the SS were having issues with shooting and murdering so many people.

    Can you imagine the typical scene where the train is unloading 1000s of people – crying children, mothers, every spectrum of humanity – artists, scientists, business people, and you are sending them to be gassed?

  9. I’ve often thought that one of the unvoiced reasons that the post-war Nuremburg Trials of the Nazi perpetrators of war crimes and organized genocide got such attention from the Allies, and the Japanese wartime cruelties with regard to forced labor, prolonged torture of POWs and internees, as well as slapdash battlefield genocides got relatively little attention in comparison was because of racism.
    But not quite in the way that one thinks. Germany was part of the so-called civilized, western, cultured world. In giving way to industrialized, organized genocide, in the eyes of the rest of that world … they let the side down. They were us, in a lot of ways – after all, the British royals were of German origin. Our own Admiral Nimitz, and our General Eisenhower were German-descended. I think there was a sort of inchoate feeling that Nazi Germany hideously betrayed our own western values. But at the same time, Japan – which had done everything BUT industrially-processed genocide … well, they were barbarians, outside the pale, different and alien values/culture and all … what COULD you expect of them, really. Couldn’t possibly hold them quite to the same standard, could we?

  10. There were two big differences between Germany and Japan when it came to bringing war criminals to account.

    Possibly the most important was that essentially all of the Japanese atrocities had occurred far away from Japan. Nearly all of those places, and especially China that was in the midst of a revolution, could be most accurately described as completely chaotic with many obscure languages to make gathering evidence problematic. Few of the perpetrators were still alive, not a few dying by their own hand.

    The other was timing. In the months between V.E. day and when the Japanese occupation got established, remember that Germany was fully occupied on V.E. day by four armies while there were a bare handful of foreign troops on Japanese soil at the surrender. It was quickly becoming apparent that some sort of conflict with the Soviet Union was immanent. Japan was promoted from former enemy to strategic asset.

    This is a decent summary of the Asian war war crimes trials, including the now generally accepted charge that MacArthur and Truman allowed the members of Unit 731, the Japanese chemical and biological research organization to avoid prosecution for some of the most horrendous crimes imaginable in exchange for their research results.

    My father was a member of the intelligence unit given the job of viewing and documenting the films taken by the Japanese of the Bataan Death March with the possibility that they night be declassified. They weren’t then and I believe most still have not, while some were released in the ’80’s. The reason was that they were considered too provocative.

  11. @Sgt Mom – I think there is a lot of truth you said in regards to why we didn’t fully pursue Japanese war criminals

    I had a neighbor who was a Pacific Marine veteran and he made the same point that the Japanese got away with so much stuff that the Germans were held account

    If you read the book unbroken, it is a fascinating story of TrackStar and Army Air Force veteran Louis Zamperini, who floated in the Pacific with no provisions for 57 days before “rescued” by the Japanese and thrown into a POW camp

    And he describes a very sadistic guard nicknamed “the bird“

    And I can remember during the Tokyo Olympics the network openly interviewing him and he’s just as happy as can be

    I think part of that blame goes to MacArthur

    He wanted the Japanese on his side. I read enough about emperor Hirohito to believe that he could have been prosecuted also as a war criminal

    But I think too society, thinking the Germans were “one of us“ the following thought I read years ago, comes to mind: how could a country that produced Bach and Beethoven also produce a Hitler?

    Remember when I was stationed over there 50 years ago, talking to this well-dressed German couple in the first class train compartment about the war.

    To think that I am older than them now but time marches on….

    But they told me until Stalingrad they thought Hitler was pretty good

    I suspect most were at least cursory aware of the concentration camps, but chose not to focus on it or believe it.

    You look at the Nuremberg rally of what was it 1934? Or the picture from Leni Reifenstahl and you know there were quite a few Germans buying into the Nazi ideology

    But then you realize the conditions of Germany at that time beaten down even more by the Versailles treaty and along comes Hitler, who knew how to pass the blame.

Leave a Comment