Hitler's European Holocaust Helpers

Just for example, on June 27, 1941, a colonel in the staff of the Germany's Northern Army Group in the Lithuanian city of Kaunas passed a petrol station surrounded by a crowd of people. There were shouts of bravo and clapping, mothers raised their children to give them a better view. The officer stepped closer and later wrote down what he had seen. "On the concrete courtyard there was blonde man aged around 25, of medium height, who was taking a rest and supporting himself on a wooden club which was as thick as an arm and went up to his chest. At his feet lay 15, 20 people who were dead or dying. Water poured from a hose and washed the blood into a drain."

The soldier continued: "Just a few paces behind this man stood around 20 men who -- guarded by several armed civilians -- awaited their gruesome execution in silent submission. Beckoned with a curt wave, the next one stepped up silently and was (…) beaten to death with the wooden club, and every blow met with enthusiastic cheers from the audience."

Orgy of Murder Like a Lithuanian National Ceremony

When all lay dead on the ground, the blonde murderer climbed on the heap of corpses and played the accordion. His audience sang the Lithuanian anthem as if the orgy of murder had been a national ceremony.

How could something like that happen? For a long time now, this question hasn't just been directed at the Germans, whose central responsibility for the horror is undisputed -- but also at the perpetrators in all countries.

What led Romanian dictator Ion Antonescu and his generals, soldiers, civil servants and farmers to murder 200,000 Jews (and possibly twice that many) "of their own accord," as historian Armin Heinen puts it. Why did Baltic death squadrons commit murder on German orders in Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine? And why did German Einsatzgruppen -- paramilitary "intervention groups" operated by the SS -- have such an easy time encouraging the non-Jewish population to wage pogroms between Warsaw and Minsk?

It's completely undisputed that the Holocaust would never have happened without Hitler, SS Chief Heinrich Himmler and the many, many other Germans. But it's also certain "that the Germans on their own wouldn't have been able to carry out the murder of millions of European Jews," says Hamburg-based historian Michael Wild.

It's a perception that many survivors never doubted. When the Association of Surviving Lithuanian Jews convened in Munich in 1947, they passed a resolution that bore an unmistakable title: "On the guilt of a large part of the Lithuanian population for the murder of Lithuania's Jews."

In the Third Reich with its well-functioning bureaucracy, there were comprehensive registers of the Jewish population. But in the territories conquered by the German army, Hitler's henchmen needed information of the type supplied in the Netherlands by registry offices whose staff went to a lot of trouble to compile a precise "Register of Jews."

And how would the SS and police have been able to track down Jews in the cities of Eastern Europe with their broad mix of ethnic groups if they hadn't had the support of the local population? Not many Germans would have been able "to recognize a Jew in a crowd," recalls Thomas Blatt, a survivor of Sobibor who wants to testify as a witness at Demjanjuk's trial.

Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...