They Were Not Mindless Killers
It is easy to think about the individuals who took part in the murder of the Jews as mindless killers. We tend to forget that these people were humans and had feelings about what they were doing. Not everyone agreed with Nazi ideology, and many did not agree with the orders they received. As we discussed in class, many of these individuals had to find rationalization for their actions in order to stay sane. Major Wilhelm Trapp said that “if it would make their task any easier, the men should remember that in Germany the bombs were falling on women and children.”(1) By associating the Jews with the Allied bombing campaign in Germany, the men were able to rationalize why the Jews should be killed. Another reason these men killed when they may have wanted to run was the orders. The commandant at Auschwitz, Rudolf Hoess, reflected on his role in charge: he said that “in order to make my subordinates carry on with their task, it was psychologically essential that I myself appear convinced of the necessity for their gruesomely harsh order.”(2) Even when the ones in charge did not agree with the orders they were given, they had to follow through with them since they were orders from the Führer. The men who more than likely had families of their own had to commit these atrocious murders because the Führer ordered them to.
When I was younger I viewed the murderers of Jews as Nazis and horrible murderers. As I have learned throughout my life and from this class, not everyone who took part in the murders was Nazi; as the book we are reading shows, they were humans like everyone else. They could think on their own apart from Hitler, so they had strong feelings about the crimes they had to commit. I am not justifying their actions by saying this, but I am saying that they were not mindless killers. There were of course some individuals who enjoyed what they were doing because they strongly believed in Hitler’s ideology. As we discussed in class though, many of the individuals did not sympathize with the Nazis. I think it is depressing to read about how individuals were forced to kill people, sometimes up close, when their inner voice was telling them how wrong their actions were. I think this almost makes the murders more horrendous since there was rarely punishment on those who refused to kill other people. If more individuals did that, there may have been less people killed. The people who stepped away were brave for going against orders from not only their commanders, but from Hitler himself. It shows that there was humanity left in at least some of the Germans who took part in the Holocaust.
- Christopher R. Browning, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland (New York: HarperCollins, 1998), 2.
- Benjamin Sax and Dieter Kuntz, Inside Hitler’s Germany: A Documentary History of Life in the Third Reich (Lexington: D.C. Heath and Company, 1992), 445.