The Germans – What Did They Know – and When Did They Know It?

Adolf Hitler in the Reichstag during his speec...

Hitler addressing the Reichstag

An unresolved question that remains unanswered – but, for sure, far more than they would admit!

Since the end of the World War 2, reporters, commentators, writers and historians have been locked in a controversy that will probably never be resolved.

How many Germans knew what was happening to the Jews?

And , more importantly, when did they know it?

A few months ago, I was involved in an exchange of posts on a talkback forum that I contribute to. Whilst the main argument was initially centred on the issue of the culpability of the “average” German in the treatment of the Jews, the focus changed to the question of their degree of knowledge.

This caused me to re-visit some of the literature on the subject. It is clear that, for the civilians, the main line of defense was denial. Feigned ignorance.

For the military the I was just following orders defence was more prevalent.

A little background

Dust jacket of the book Mein Kampf, written by...

Image via Wikipedia

In 1932 the National Socialist Party secured 43% of the popular vote and became the largest political force in the Reichstag. British Prime Ministers get elected with much less support!

Unquestionably, Hitler and his party had the massive backing of the population. The people knew about, and supported the various laws that were enacted, depriving Jews of their civil rights, businesses and property.

None of this is really disputed. The differing interpretations start in a later period. Whilst this article refers to Germans, it can equally be applied to Poles, Ukrainians and a whole host of other nationalities.

The people of many nations willingly helped the Germans

to achieve their goal of extermination. And equally denied that involvement after the war. I am not embarking on an in depth treatise, comparing one historical narrative with another.

In trying to form a conclusion, I just want to deal with the practical realities:

  • The Germans were good at organisation and kept meticulous records.
  • This alone involved thousands of administrators and other workers.
  • Simply rounding up hundreds of thousands of Jews required the compilation of lists.
  • There was the distribution of work rotas for the police and army units involved.
  • The logistics of transportation.
  • The trucks and trains needed drivers and mechanics. The trains stations needed staff, signal operators, level crossing keepers.
  • The transports passed through hundreds of towns and villages.

The camps

were situated near other towns and villages,and received supplies and maintenance from them. In the vicinity of the death camps the air was filled with the stench of burning flesh and white powdery flakes from the chimneys coated everything within a radius of many miles. And these camps had thousands of guards. And these guards had families and friends, as did all the other people listed above. Hundreds of thousands involved directly, or indirectly, or related to those involved.

And yet, after the war, few admitted to knowing anything!

Camp guards – and they had families and friends……..

The second line of defence, if the feigned ignorance didn’t work, was “yes we knew that the Jews were deported but we thought it was only to labour camps”. As if the labour camps were like holiday camps!

As I have said, this is not a historical document. It isn’t meant to be. But just look closely at this picture of happy, smiling German camp guards. They appear not to be too disturbed with the nature of their “work”. I don’t see too much evidence of a “we were forced to do it” defence.

I just think that there are a few questions that need answers.

And a world that no longer suspends belief when it considers this question:

What did the German people know – and when did they know it!

Andyboy – Telling it as it is!


     **********  Update May 2012  **********

This is an extract from an article just published by the London Daily Mail:

A controversial new book encourages young Germans to quiz their grandparents about how much they knew about the horrors of Nazism in World War Two.

In his new work ‘My Grandfather in the War’ historian Moritz Pfeiffer claims that a staggering 20 to 25 million German citizens and 10 million soldiers were aware of the Nazi extermination programme.

According to the German magazine Der Spiegel Mr Pfeiffer said his goal was to smash the last taboo in society so families across the country acknowledge the guilt of grandparents who supported Hitler.

 He added: ‘Grandfather wasn’t lying outright in his interviews, but merely doing what millions of Germans had done after the war — engaging in denial, playing down their role to lessen their responsibility.

It led to the convenient myth in the immediate aftermath of the war that the entire nation had been duped by a small clique of criminals who bore sole responsibility for the Holocaust — and that ordinary Germans had themselves been victims.

Read more

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One comment on “The Germans – What Did They Know – and When Did They Know It?

  1. Pingback: Deja – Vu in Frankfurt Airport « andyboy

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