Holocaust and Genocide Studies 17.2 (2003) 355-358
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Im Auftrag: Polizei, Verwaltung und Verantwortung im 20. Jahrhundert, Alfons Kenkmann and Christoph Spieker, eds. (Essen: Klartext, 2001), 372 pp., €19.90.
Researchers working with official German documents are familiar with the phrase "im Auftrag" (by instruction), or simply "i.A.," which, along with "in Vertretung" (deputizing), or "i.V.," was the usual signing formula for such documents. Both are symbolic for the specific nature of administrative desk work and policy implementation. Take for instance the request of the Security Police commander, addressed on May 11, 1942, to his colleague in Minsk, the Gendarmerie commander:
For the exact enumeration of the Jewish population in Weißruthenien [Belorussia], please identify as soon as possible via the Gendarmerie-posts the locations where there are groups of Jews. In the lists include their precise numerical strength according to location. In view of the urgency of this matter, please insure speedy completion.Im AuftragSS-Obersturmbannführer u. Kriminal Kommissar 1
Im Auftrag is a well-chosen title for a volume that deals with the police administration of the Third Reich, specifically the organization, function, and activity of the Order Police (Ordnungspolizei). As the editors point out, "im Auftrag" expresses the hierarchical and compartmentalized structure of the administrative process, whereby the separation of responsibility and action "made possible the implementation of a task so monstrous as the annihilation of European Jews."
Im Auftrag is, however, not a book in the radical "functionalist" mold of explaining the "Final Solution" in terms of bureaucratic structures, functions, and administrative actions. The very purpose of this unique work precludes such an approach. Im Auftrag serves as a reader that is companion (Begleitband) to the permanent exhibition at the commemorative site Villa ten Hompel in the city of Münster, Rhineland-Westphalia. From 1940 to 1945 the Villa housed the headquarters of the Order Police commander in what was then Military District VI. Yet, and this is the book's particular value to historians, it is far more than an ordinary guide to an exhibition.
The first two sections—Ausstellung ("Exhibition") and Bildteil ("Illustrations")— [End Page 355] deal specifically with the content and perspective of the Villa ten Hompel exhibition. Filling more than two-thirds of the book, section III—Beiträge ("Contributions")—comprises scholarly contributions that elaborate critically the five segments on display at the exhibition: technology and modernization; the policeman as "your friend and helper"; the Order Police in the Nazi state ("die grüne Polizei im braunen Staat"); "policing," "resettlement," and "cleansing" in occupied Europe; and the past and responsibility. The serious and well-documented studies corresponding to these exhibits present the history of the Schutzpolizei qua Order Police with a high degree of historiographical and methodological sophistication. Alert to current trends and issues in Third Reich and Holocaust scholarship, the authors conceptualize this history in terms of continuity and discontinuity; Alltagsgeschichte and genocide; center and periphery; biographical analysis and contextual interpretation; "ordinary men" and institutional hierarchies; regional focus and extraterritorial activity; and image and reality.
In their introduction, Alfons Kenkmann and Christoph Spieker emphasize that the central theme "is the inclusion of the police in the murderous racial politics of the National Socialist state" (p. 18). In this sense, the book and the exhibition itself are exercises in Vergangenheitsbewältigung, the "coming to terms with the past" through "memory, research, and learning" as an act of civic and moral responsibility. Im Auftrag is regional in orientation without ignoring the larger national and European context in discussing police administration and the question of responsibility. It addresses the obligation to educate the public about the past and draws attention to the failure of the region's "native sons" (and of the police in general) to recognize and accept their role as partners and perpetrators of National Socialist oppression and genocide abroad and at home.
The authors stress the extraordinary caesura of National Socialism in the history of the German police as well as the continuities that shaped police behavior, administratively and ideologically, during 1933-1945. They...