The banality of evil

Discussion in 'The Holocaust' started by ltdan, Jun 24, 2020.

  1. ltdan

    ltdan Nietenzähler

    This is an interview I did many years ago with someone who admitted to having been a guard in a concentration camp. It is not edited or commented. Nor have I questioned the actual truth.

    Original text here:

    Memories A. F. Born 1920, Interview taken in July 2001

    I come from an old Social Democratic family. My father was a worker. We were 10 children, 7 of them boys. One brother was in the Reichsbanner. From 1929 to 1933, I witnessed the great unemployment. My father and the brothers were also unemployed. Then came Hitler in 1933. He promised work and bread. We soon got work on the construction site. Then the preparations for the war began. In 1934 the barracks in Delmenhorst were built and in 1936 the airport in Adelheide. I wanted to learn the profession of a carpenter. But then came the war. Four brothers were drafted. I myself on 10.01.1940 at the age of 19. After the basic training I was transferred to the flying school in Jüterborg. From there to Warsaw Airfield. I wanted to become an aircraft pilot and passed the relevant examinations. For a while I had to go twice a week to a Polish laundry in the Warsaw Ghetto to bring and pick up laundry. In the summer of 1940 the Jews could still move freely there. Then the ghetto became fuller every week, so that we had to walk in front of the car to clear the way. I also saw the trucks that drove the corpses out of the ghetto. Then within four months three of my brothers in Russia, including the youngest, fell. That was the decisive event for me, which changed me fundamentally. I lost my initial enthusiasm and submitted a request for a transfer back home, which was granted. Towards the end of the war my fourth brother was also killed. In April 1942 I served at the Adelheide airfield. Afterwards I served at the sham airfield in Uhlhorn. There I got to know my wife. At the airfield there were five large halls and many dummy planes. If bombs fell there, we had prepared wood piles to light up, so that the following bomber crews could believe in the success of the attack. In 1944, the Luftwaffe personnel was reduced to be used in the ground combat. 14,000 men from the Luftgau Hamburg were first assembled at the Varrelbusch airfield near Cloppenburg and then in Bergen (Lüneburger Heide), where they received infantry training. I was there too. My wife visited me in Varrelbusch. I told her: "The war is lost for us, but I will be back. It can be, since you are no longer in the house when I come. So leave a message in a preserving jar buried by the little pear tree". On July 20 we were loaded and transferred to an SS training area in the Niederlausitz. Of the 14,000 men, all but about 250 were sent to France for the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler. I had cheated myself to the 250, because I did not want to join the SS. But this rest was assigned to guard the Sachsenhausen-Oranienburg concentration camp. There were about 40,000 prisoners there. New ones were constantly being added. Even today I can still hear the marching music played every noon by the cleanly dressed prisoners' band at the main gate. In front was the music and in the back the people were shot, beaten to death and left to starve. In the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, when we were on external command at Stubbenroden, I met the KPD area leader for Oldenburg-Bremen, Adolf Lenzer. At these occasions one could also talk to the prisoners. Lenzer asked me if he could fetch potatoes from a farmer. I said yes. Lenzer said to me, "When I get through, you'll hear from me." I never heard from him again. In the forest in Sachsenhausen there was an armaments factory where the prisoners made hand grenades, among other things. A Polish prisoner, who could move freely, invented the bazooka there. Later he tinkered with a grenade that would explode several times.

    The SS men threw their caps over the cordon and then ordered prisoners to fetch them. Once they had crossed the chain of command, they were shot by the SS men because they were supposedly fleeing. In 1941, about 20,000 Russian prisoners of war were shot and laid on top of each other with their uniforms in the woods on cart tracks, doused with petrol and burned. The bodies could not be burned in the crematorium because it was overloaded. In Sachsenhausen, three small barracks stood next to the electric fence, separated from the camp. In one of them the former Austrian Chancellor Schuschnig lived with his wife and two daughters. The women had a free exit. In the other barracks Pastor Niemöller and six Englishmen. The Englishmen disappeared one day. They had dug themselves a tunnel. The crematorium burned down continuously. The air stank of burnt human flesh. Once my wife came to visit me. I wasn't allowed to tell her what was going on there. Both brothers had fallen from her. I was always thinking of escaping. I had sworn the oath of allegiance to the Wehrmacht, not the SS. But an escape would have meant clan custody for my wife. Then I was transferred to Neuengamme to have better escape and hiding places at home. Neuengamme had the same conditions as Sachsenhausen. There I was assigned to the guard, just like in Sachsenhausen, which lasted for four hours. I wore the SS uniform, but instead of the skulls on my collar, the SS men who came from the Wehrmacht had swastikas. My rank was Rottenführer. You could only openly exchange your feelings and thoughts with very trusted comrades. One comrade from BlumenthaI, with whom I had made escape plans, stayed in Sachsenhausen. I never sat down at a table with the block leaders, who were SS men. Prisoners served the food. Then I slipped them toiletries, such as razor blades, which I hid between the plates. Not much more could be done. They were always watching you. Once a freight train full of people came from a village in Czechoslovakia, women, men, children. They had been told that they would be evacuated and could take things with them. I stood in the dark and could observe the events, which were illuminated by spotlights. Icicles of urine were hanging from the freight cars. With blows from rifle butts the people were driven into the camp. What they had taken with them was thrown into a large pile. One stood there and could do nothing. Another scene also remained in my memory. A small prisoner, a German, was missing both hands and had to urinate, which was of course difficult for him. Next to him stood a man dressed in dark clothes. I asked him if he was a priest, which he answered yes. Then I asked him to help the prisoner without hands to urinate, which he also did behind my back. On the left side of the crematorium in Neuengamme lay the piles of corpses and on the right side the ashes, which were poured into old brickworks pits by prisoners in wagons. An SS-Unterscharführer, who had torn out the gold teeth from the corpses in Auschwitz, boasted of this and showed me a handful of gold teeth. All the women's hair was used for mattresses that were delivered to the Navy. Once I was standing near the crematorium when some trucks with dead prisoners from a subcamp drove up. The corpses were unloaded by prisoners and burned one by one. I never entered the crematorium.

    When a celebrity was killed, the relatives received the news that he/she had died of heart failure, pneumonia, etc. If they asked for the ashes of the deceased to be sent to them, the SS placed some ashes from the large pile of ashes in the crematorium in a container and sent it to the relatives. Each concentration camp had a so-called "sex barrack"(Geschlechtsbaracke). In it lived women who had agreed to provide sexual services. Only prisoners of Aryan descent were allowed to visit this barrack. The inmates received small red vouchers for which they could go shopping in a canteen. If they had saved some of these, they could use them to pay for the services in the "Gender Barrack" . When I came to the canteen one day, it was full of people in field uniforms. I learned that German prisoners could report to a probation unit, the SS-Brigade Dirlewanger. They were to be deployed at the front. At the end of April 1945 the KZ-Neuengamme was dissolved. Before that, SS men from Auschwitz had been transferred to Neuengamme. White buses with the Red Cross sign drove up. We were told by our superiors that the prisoners would be transferred to the Swedish Red Cross. But this was not true. 28,000 prisoners were put on three ships in the Baltic Sea, one of which was the "Kap Arkona" with 15,000 prisoners. As is well known, the ships were bombed by the English and there were few survivors, who were then shot by the SS while floating in the water. At the beginning of May 1945 the "Wehrmachts-SS" wanted us to go to the front. We took up position at the Elbe dyke between Zollenspieker and Geesthacht. There I left the troops and hid for four days and nights in a summer house at the Elbe dyke. From the owners I received blue stuff. At dawn I rowed across the Elbe in a boat I found on the bank. The same day there was an armistice. After a five-day walk in rubber boots I arrived here. On the second day of the escape I saw a farmer with his daughter having breakfast around 9 o'clock in the heath, sitting behind a wall. A horse stood beside it in front of the plough. I asked in Low German if I could have some bread. The farmer said: "We won't give you anything." The daughter said: "Vadder gif en doch en Stück" (Father, just give him a piece). I was given some bread. I was so hungry that I believed, because I would have torn the bread from their hands if they had not given me anything. My parents' house had burnt down. It had been set on fire by a Canadian tank with tracer ammunition because a German gun had fired nearby. My parents and my wife lived in a self-built bunker. Since I had not been discharged by the Wehrmacht, I had to attend the commercial school in Delmenhorst in October 1945. An Englishman issued a discharge certificate which was to be sent to me, but which I never received. After that I had to go to Oldenburg to the horse market barracks. My wife accompanied me. An English sergeant demanded photographs to prove my statements, but I could not produce them because I had them at home. I was arrested. The day after next an officer, a Jew, questioned me. He asked me if my wife knew that I had been arrested. I denied it. He said, "Then go home." I was so happy. I had to get my release because otherwise I wouldn't get my ration card. A lot has been written about the concentration camps. But the reality was much crueller. I must have had a guardian angel. I never had to shoot at people during the whole war. I was never ordered to a firing squad. With everything I've experienced, that's reassuring.

    *** Translated with (free version) ***
    Lindele, Osborne2, von Poop and 3 others like this.
  2. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    Cheers for sharing that.
    Find myself looking through the .pdf wishing I could read German.
  3. ltdan

    ltdan Nietenzähler

    Never mind: rest of it is about war time experiences and some about post war times, all of local scale around a small hamlet near Bremen.
    Needed a tremendous amount of very careful approach to get his confidence. And believe it or not: He made the very convincing appearance of a nice and humble looking guy
    Important lesson for me: even as a seemingly normal guy you can easily become the accomplice of something really horrible, if the appropriate circumstances are given... and really couldn't say in good conscience I´d did better.
    Frightening idea.....
    Lindele, stolpi, canuck and 1 other person like this.
  4. canuck

    canuck Closed Account

    "You are far more likely to be a concentration camp guard than a dissident"

    ltdan likes this.
  5. canuck

    canuck Closed Account

    Ordinary Men

    ltdan likes this.
  6. ltdan

    ltdan Nietenzähler

    "My darling, you would have also kept your mouth shut"

    Very moving Interview. Should being told at school: I have lectured to school classes, and there, in history lessons, the impression is often given that all Germans suddenly decided in 1933 that torchlight processions, book-burning, concentration camps and wars of aggression were a great idea. And the pupils can't understand at all how this could have happened.

    Being "against Nazis" does NOT mean fighting them with a tank or a bomber. Then it's already too late.
    It also does not mean to visit memorials with a concerned face and to assure "with me this would not have happened".

    It means understanding - and explaining - under what circumstances and by what methods such systems came to power. Otherwise you will actually wake up one morning in a country where "being on the good side" means being in front of the barbed wire fence and not behind it.
    canuck and Osborne2 like this.
  7. canuck

    canuck Closed Account

    This sounds very similar to the old German veteran I knew in my teens. After a few drinks he once confided, "By 1938 I was a Nazi and if you had been there you would be too."
  8. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    Always had no doubts that were I a 20s/30s German I'd likely have been in the crowd saluting with the rest of them. Totalitarianism can do that to populations, the 'Total' seeping into all aspects of life.

    It's still a tricksy subject, obviously, as it's often pushed quite hard by those with darker agendas to completely absolve wartime Germany & Germans of blame, but those loonies can always be picked apart for assorted other reasons. Eventually in a regime like that, there comes a tipping point where it's infinitely harder for a majority to resist than to go along & hope for the best. A step further into enthusiasm even has potential tangible rewards.
    Those that held onto some humanity while being swept along deserve a modicum of consideration for simply being alive during a quite insane period.

    canuck likes this.
  9. JDKR

    JDKR Member

    ltdan, von Poop and canuck like this.
  10. canuck

    canuck Closed Account

    Germany & Germans were not an isolated example and it while the people of that generation are completely culpable it would be a dangerous mistake to ascribe those events as unique to Germans and Nazis. Stalin and Mao also found no shortage of willing accomplices. There are a myriad of historical examples from the last century where ordinary people, imbued with an ideology, slaughtered their own countrymen with considerable enthusiasm.
    Last edited: Jun 29, 2020
  11. ltdan

    ltdan Nietenzähler

    Typical historical revisionism. Here the cause-effect principle is often negated. But whoever tells me that nothing could be done, I refer to the Italians and how they disposed of their dictator

    (deleted by OP)
    Last edited: Jun 29, 2020
    canuck likes this.
  12. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    The trouble there, though, is no matter how hard we try to tolerate wider chat - this is a WW2 forum.
    Many of us might have a sense of civilisation toppling (in whatever direction one sees things), but the febrile state of online politics (I think exacerbated by all this virus cack) means it's near impossible to keep discussion of it in any way calm or measured of late. Lordy we tried, for years; but no.

    No idea if you're on Twatter, but it's even more batshit than it usually is - to a ridiculous degree. We had a tiny fraction of that when modern political chat was allowed, and it utterly poisoned the WW2 well.
    We specifically banned 'modern' politics, as it's obvious that you can't discuss the war without its political context, so while I can completely see what you're getting at & have a plethora of views thereof, everything even touching the subject here has to be kept as WW2 as possible, or experience tells us it's certain to turn to crap again.

    The Masonic Rule has an irritating side-effect of sometimes stilting the general chat, but on balance it's also really helped with stopping the place collapsing into internet bollockery - with those of us that theoretically run it (but mostly want to engage as normal members) just saying sod it & walking away.

    Believe me - I'm an intensely political animal, & in darker mood consider opening the taps & letting it burn, but know it just doesn't work here (Or, in my opinion: in almost any other 'subject orientated' forum). So we have to have these peculiar gaps in the discussion, no matter how people like Tim keep trying to fill them ;) .

    Anything that gets too 'modern politics', overt or covert, has to die an undignified death.
    Plenty of other places to hit these subjects

    Mind you, Politics got bad, but it was nothing compared to when religion kicked off (I still only have to hear the name of a certain bishop to experience a slight involuntary shudder).
    Thankfully most people found that a tad easier to put aside. :unsure:
    Tolbooth likes this.
  13. ltdan

    ltdan Nietenzähler

    It´s edited ;)

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