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INTRODUCTION The small men would not have become murderers and accomplices to murder without the bigger ones. The bigger ones, however, wouldn’t have been able to commit their crimes without the small. —Regional Court Judge Rudolf Gottlebe, from the verdict in the Düsselfdorf Treblinka trial, September 3, 1965 Sometime in the final months of 1941, when the heat of late summer mellowed and the leaves stirred in the freshening breaths of approaching autumn, Adolf Hitler relayed an order, most likely verbal, as he was averse to written orders in matters of such grave consequence, to SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler for the extermination of Europe’s Jews. The order would have passed between the two men against the backdrop of slaughter in Eastern Europe committed by the German Army, native auxiliary groups, and operational units of shooters from the ranks of the security police, security service, and order police. By August 1941, mass-shooting operations had proven unsatisfactory to Nazi leaders; they were both too public and too psychologically burdensome for the killers. Once the decision was reached to extend the murder program in the East to all of Europe’s 11 million Jews, the Nazis devised a solution to the twin problems of public exposure and psychological trauma borrowed from their experiences in killing the mentally handicapped and imprisoning their political opponents in concentration camps. Their solution was the product of malicious syncretism , as wildly outlandish as any idea incubated in the fevered mind of a raving madman. They combined, on one hand, the idea of murdering mental patients using poison gas in chambers disguised as shower rooms with, on the other, the concentration camp employed to segregate and brutalize the regime’s political enemies. The result of their lunatic inspiration was the death camp. The death camp was the most radical outgrowth of Nazi Jewish policy, which from the beginning had sought to rid the German Reich of its Jewish population. Through the 1930s, that policy had moved in spasms from curtailing Jewish civil liberties to marking and segregating Jews from “Aryan” society to confiscating their property.1 By the summer and fall of 1941, the penultimate stage of this policy, calling for Jewish expulsion and resettlement in places such as Nisko near Lublin and the French island colony of Madagascar, had become Introduction 2 impracticable. In September, the decision was to solve this self-imposed “Jewish problem” through the physical extermination of every Jew within reach of the Germans.2 It is a cruel coincidence of history that the decision was taken shortly after Hitler had ended the “euthanasia” program in August 1941. In the two years prior to its official stoppage, the Nazi leadership had administered through Hitler’s personal chancellery a program for the mass murder of the mentally disabled, administered at six primary killing sites within the German Reich.3 A gas chamber disguised as a shower room, complete with phony shower heads unconnected to any waterline, was installed at each of these sites. Some thirty patients could be gassed within twenty to thirty minutes by means of bottled carbon monoxide released into the hermetically sealed room. The Nazis also waged their war of extermination against the disabled in the Wartheland (the portion of Poland annexed to Germany) and East Prussia , where a unit under SS Sturmbannführer Herbert Lange gassed the handicapped in vans disguised as commercial vehicles. Lange’s unit bundled the victims into sealed compartments in the rear of these vans, into which pure carbon monoxide was pumped as the van was driven away. In late spring of 1940, Lange’s men murdered 1,559 German mental patients and 400 Polish patients at the transit camp of Soldau in East Prussia.4 Between the onset of the campaign against the mentally ill and its termination in August 1941, a cadre of experienced killers was groomed, possessing not only the will to carry out their orders unswervingly but also the technical know-how—the malignant science—of mass extermination. When Hitler decided to kill all the European Jews within his grasp, his underlings harnessed the expertise of these T-4 murder technicians5 to a series of separate yet interlocking programs that in their totality formed the substance of the “Final Solution.” One of the early programs targeted the Jews in the Lodz ghetto and other parts of the Wartheland. Himmler dispatched Lange in the fall of 1941 to search for a death camp site. He chose a Polish hamlet of...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781621900702
Related ISBN
9781621900498
MARC Record
OCLC
883663767
Pages
328
Launched on MUSE
2014-08-06
Language
English
Open Access
No
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