Hitler's European Holocaust Helpers

At the time, Blatt was a blonde-haired boy and tried to pass for a Christian child in his Polish home town of Izbica. He didn't wear a yellow star and tried to appear self-confident when he ran into uniformed people. But he was betrayed a number of times -- the Germans paid for information on the whereabouts of Jews -- and he always escaped with a lot of luck.

Denunciation Was Common

Denunciation was so common in Poland that there was a special term for paid informants "Szmalcowniki" (previously a term for a fence). In many cases, the denouncers knew their victims. And while the French, Dutch or Belgians could submit to the illusion that the Jews deported to the east from Paris, Rotterdam or Brussels would be all right in the end, the people in Eastern Europe learned through the grapevine what lay in store for the Jews in Auschwitz or Treblinka.

For sure, many counter-examples can easily be found. A senior officer in Einsatzgruppe C, responsible for the murder of more than 100,000 people, complained that the Ukrainians lacked "pronounced anti-Semitism based on racial or ideological reasons." The officer wrote that "there is a lack of leadership and of spiritual impetus for the pursuit of Jews."

Historian Feliks Tych estimates that some 125,000 Poles rescued Jews without being paid for their services. It's clear that the perpetrators always made up a small minority of their respective population. But the Germans relied on that minority. The SS, police and the army lacked the manpower to search the vast areas where the Nazi leadership planned to kill all people of Jewish origin. Across the 4,000 kilometers stretching from Brittany in western France to the Caucasus, the Nazis were bent on hunting down their victims, deporting them to extermination camps or to local murder sites, preventing escapes, digging mass graves and then carrying out their bloody handiwork.

Of course only Hitler and his entourage or the army could have stopped the Holocaust. But this doesn't invalidate the argument that without the foreign helpers, countless thousands or even millions of the approximately six million murdered Jews would have survived.

In the killing fields of Eastern Europe, there were up to 10 local helpers for every German policeman. The ratio is similar in the extermination camps. Not in Auschwitz, which was run almost entirely by Germans, but in Belzec (600,000 killed), Treblinka (900,000 deaths) or in Demjanjuk's Sobibor. There, a handful of SS members were assisted by some 120 Travniki men.

Without them, the Germans would never have managed to kill 250,000 Jews in Sobibor, says former prisoner Blatt. It was the Travniki who guarded the camp, drove all the Jews from the railway wagons and trucks after their arrival in the camp, and who beat them into the gas chambers.

Was the Holocaust a European Project?

Such a stupefying number of victims raises disturbing questions, and Berlin historian Götz Aly already started asking them a few years ago: was the so-called Final Solution in fact a "European project that cannot be explained solely by the special circumstances of German history"?

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