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February 06, 2012



The thesis put forward here is not accurate. Whilst it's true that some Germans had partial knowledge of the Holocaust, many didn't, as they had no way to, it was carried out almost entirely outside of Germany, was not advertised or reported (Hitler's vague threats proved nothing and preceded by up to 2 years the actual final decision), and such information as worked its way back to Germany was fragmented and uncertain, and many had no contacts with those who had participated. The full information was available only to those high in the loop of the security apparatus. Most others had only rumors to go on if that, and even many soldiers never were privy to the program, and were busy fighting at the front.

In short it is false to argue on the basis of individual cases that knowledge was widespread in a situation where there was no basis for that to have been the case. Many knew in part at least, but most didn't beyond the vaguest rumors if at all, (and I have known Germans who did not know at all, beyond the earlier harassment thst preceded the Holocaust). What they knew more about was the bombing of their homes and towns.


I urge you to read Longerich's book and try to refute the evidence that he presents. A crime of that scale involved the active participation of tens of thousands of Germans at all levels.


I don't disagree, I would say that hundreds of thousands had some involvement and participation, but you have to consider that many of them were involved peripherally with partial knowledge, and that beyond them knowledge was far more limited still. And certainly there were many who had no solid knowledge at all, of the Holocaust as opposed to the general situation in Germany then with some persecution of Jews. I have spoken to some. What I argue against is the false notion that all knew and consented, that's far from the truth.

I will read the sources you give when I can obtain them nevertheless, but I have come across some of that sort of argument before and find it wanting in some regards.


I would also recommend Bacque's Crimes and Mercies as well as De Zayas' books on the expulsions for valuable insight and balance to the view that only Germans did wrong in those times, quite apart from the wider literature on Soviet (and other's) crimes.


Nobody is saying that only the Germans did wrong. But only the Germans made a systematic attempt to eliminate an entire "race" of people from the face of the earth.

Here's another book I recommend you read (I assume you can read German).

Bajohr and Pohl:"Massenmord und schlechtes Gewissen: Die deutsche Bevölkerung, die NS-Führung und der Holocaust"


Some come pretty close. But I don't agree that "only the Germans made a systematic attempt to eliminate an entire "race" of people from the face of the earth." Firstly one must distinguish in this between the Nazis and "the Germans" as a whole, many Germans were of course opposed to the Holocaust in one way or another, or at least not supportive. Also, there are examples like the Armenian genocide and Rwanda, which were also attempts to annihilate an entire "race", (on the first case see A Shameful Act by Taner Akcam for example), if by different means to some degree. Historically there are probably other if lesser examples too. Even during the Russian civil war there were massive pogroms against the Jews that were perhaps an attempt to annihiliate the Jews there, if less well organized. Perhaps you mean during WW2, which would be strictly correct, although people of other nations also carried out substantial massacres on an ethnic basis.

Heinz Hintermayer

It seems quite obvious, that most Germans knew nothing about the horrors of Auschwitz and others.
Obvious, because allied forces showed the concentration camps to the average population after the war. To show them what crimes had been done. Why would they show them if they already knew about?
Secondly, the Jews, when deported from Germany have been deceived by
selling them train tickets for a travel to "a better future". They have been deceived up to their last moment by make them take a "shower" which was the gas-chamber. So, why, should the average German know more about the ultimate fate of the Jews than the Jews themselves?


Peter Longerich documents that knowledge of the "Endloesung" was widespread among the German population. If you disagree, I suggest you write to Professor Longerich and tell him that his sources (all original) are all false.

In his 1939 speech before the Reichstag - reprinted in every German newspaper - Hitler promised "die Vernichtung der juedischen Rasse in Europa." Only an idiot would not understand what he meant.


This is not correct and cannot be. The 'Final Solution' was NEVER announced as such to the public, it was mentioned only in secret documents and high level discussion, and early versions discussed forced emigration rather than extermination. Hitler's '39 threat was vague and at the time practically meaningless, as Germany did not even control most of Europe. To argue that from that the average person had knowledge of the Holocaust which did not even start as such until late 1941 is absurd. You are confusing 20/20 hindsight with what it was possible for the average person to know at the time, in a wartime dictatorship. It's a common but pernicious error. As it is to generalize from individual exceptional examples, which is the usual method employed in this area.


Also a distinction needs to be made between some knowledge of persecution of mainly German Jews, as was fairly widespread in peacetime, and the state-secret wartime extermination measures. These very few outside the apparatus were in a position to have any real knowledge of, and until someone presents evidence that such information was widely publicised and confirmed there is no basis to argue otherwise. Above all as the general public were not witnesses to events in places like Auschwitz.


"very few outside the apparatus were in a position to have any real knowledge"

How the hell would you know? Have you done any research? Or are you just parroting what "historians" like de Zayas have written?

Longerich is a highly respected scholar(read the reviews of his recently published biography of Himmler).

He cites a multitude of private and public sources and comes to the conclusion:

In der deutschen Bevökerung waren generelle Informationen über den Massenmord an den Juden weit verbreitet.

(General information concerning the mass murder of Jews was widespread in the German population.)

Read his book and then respond. Or can't you read German? I guess that makes you an expert then.


For one thing I have spoken to people who were there, and also read widely on the period. What's more it's a fair and sound inference from the known facts, that the subject was NOT publicised, was treated as a state secret with commands of concealment even at the top level, eg by Himmler and Bormann, and the extermination was carried out in locations far from most Germans, in other countries' territory mostly. Also there was a special effort and operation to later remove traces, and for example the 'Reinhardt' camps were closed before even the Allies with their copious intelligence sources far beyond those available to most Germans knew much about them. The statement of Longerich you quote is on the face of it nonsense, if by widespeard is meant a majority or anything like it, I previously gave you the example of Helmut Schmidt who claims not to have known despite multiple points of proximity to the issue, and I know others who were no better informed. I will read Longerich when I can but I am not impressed by attempts to indict the whole people on account of exceptional cases, Der Spiegel once made the ludicrous claim that because one public servant (with some access to state secrets etc) wrote in his diary of his partial knowledge of the matter that therefore somehow anyone could have known if they had wanted to. If you have the book handy why not quote some convincing evidence if there is any (ie of general knowledge rather than limited hearsay) rather than merely use it as a clublike appeal to authority to support a claim that does not stand to reason on its own merits?

And again, de Zayas is indeed a legitimate historian in his area, though I have not read his latest book. You seem to have a bias against the idea that many Germans could have been innocent of complicity in the Holocaust let alone themselves victims of crimes against humanity (de Zayas' main area of work) which many most certainly were, even by the Nuremberg principles and Atlantic Charter promulgated by the Allies. One does not need to be right wing to accept that these are legitimate facts borne out by copious evidence. Have you actually read de Zayas? Or do you dismiss him simply because he apparently goes against your preconceived views?


I also note that in your review here you mention that "the details were often obscured" and "Bits and fragments of the truth came out, but few had a picture of magnitude of the crime." And you give the examples of soldiers reporting shootings and the businessman on gas. Not all soldiers who witnessed (a likely large majority based on the numbers involved) reported, and most witnessed a single incident at most. Only select security units participated on a regular basis. The businessman was in a relatively privileged position and still got 'the details' wrong, thus was dealing with rumor rather than factual knwoledge. 'Few had a picture of the magnitude of the crime' is indeed correct, and to that must be added, many had no picture at all, as to killing, mostly average citizens not privy to specific information. The same ones who were mostly the victims of bombing etc.

This is an important topic and not one to be treated loosely or sloppily, especially when making moral judgements as to guilt etc, and from a privileged position of safety and knowledge in the 21st century. Only those who can be shown to have known real and verified information can be rightly accused of it, unconfirmed rumor and hearsay are something else, in the dangerous circumstances especially. And the complete ignorance of many (as to mass murder) must also be acknowledged. The tendency to say 'they knew and are therefore guilty' without proper qualification is unsound, unfair and unjust.


By this 'Not all soldiers who witnessed (a likely large majority based on the numbers involved) reported' I meant that in fact the large majority of soldiers witnessed no mass shootings of Jews at all, of many millions on campaign, most were never at the locations of the shootings, and were either fighting at the front or on leave at home (if not dead wounded or captured, well over 10 million by the end).


And lastly, many individual mass shootings were concealed as 'anti-partisan' reprisals etc even in internal documents, and did not necessarily confirm to a one off witness that a general program of ethnic extermination was underway. Some or even many may have inferred it, but the actual official fact was again a state secret discussed 'openly' in closed conference only for the most part, and even then with some obfuscation.


Your hero DeZayas is not taken seriously in Germany by any respected historians - not after he relied on Nazi propaganda sources in his book "Die Wehrmacht-Untersuchungsstelle".

However, DeZayas is admired by Holocaust Deniers. Here is something from the NY Daily News last month:

" De Zayas is not a Holocaust denier. But he is a hero to them. His publications and lectures are promoted on websites such as “Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust.” It’s easy to see why.

One of his key themes is that hardly any Germans knew what was happening to their Jewish compatriots."



Who said he's my hero? I just said his work on the expulsions was legitimate, and it is, try reading it first before dismissing it out of hand. You're the one who attacked him from the start. According to the Wiki entry on his Wehrmacht Untersuchungsstelle book, it seems to be a legitimate treatment of their extant files and procedures (the point of the book) also, with positive reviews from writers such as Benjamin B. Ferencz the Nuremberg prosecutor, Professor Christopher Greenwood, and Professor Riedlsperger. What's more, "The book was positively reviewed in the German Press, including in the Historische Zeitschrift, in the leading weekly DIE ZEIT and in the SPIEGEL". And the files apparently concern mainly real atrocities by the Soviets et al such as Katyn, as well as some German war crimes. A quote "De Zayas was head of a working group specialising in international humanitarian law, the "Arbeitsgruppe Kriegsvölkerrecht", at the Institute of International Law at the University of Göttingen. Together with a Dutch colleague from the University of Amsterdam, Walter Rabus, he undertook the evaluation of the recently declassified records, as well as related records of the Wehrmachtführungsstab, Fremde Heere Ost, and Kriegstagebücher (war diaries of army units). The project was financed by the University of Göttingen and by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft. Between 1975-1979, the project involved the interviews of hundreds of witnesses who had given testimony before the German military judges in 1939-45, and more than a hundred of the judges who had been involved in the investigations. Two international conferences were held to discuss the project, one at the Institute of International Law in Göttingen, and the other at the Institute of International law at the University of Cologne.[1] attended by international experts, the Director of the German Bundesarchiv, witnesses, and judges.[2]" And another "In the Preface to the first German edition of the book, the Director of the Institute of International Law of the University of Göttingen, Professor Dr. Dietrich Rauschning (subsequently a judge in the Human Rights Chamber of Bosnia and Herzegovina under the Dayton Accords) wrote about the close supervision of the project by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft and the experts of the five principal archives where the research was conducted, and about the distance and care taken by de Zayas and the members of his team in evaluating the records of the Wehrmacht-Untersuchungsstelle."

Nor did I say hardly any Germans knew what was happening to the Jews (at all), but that most (other than those directly involved) did not know they were being killed, from late 1941, least of all systematically. Regarding Hitler's 1939 threat, Karl Schleunes writes "Did Hitler mean actual physical annihilation? Probably not yet", and the official policy until late 1941 with many renewed efforts and proposals was expulsion not extermination. Browning cites Goebbels in March 1942 still talking in such terms, noting that even he was not fully aware until later of the change (a Nazi bigwig and Minister no less). He also concludes that "the practice of Nazi Jewish policy until 1941 does not support the thesis of a long-held fixed intention to murder the European Jews", and that many in the bureaucracy were not fully informed if at all.

My and presumably de Zayas' arguments are founded on solid facts in agreement with arguments and conclusions by respected scholars, if not always identical with them. If the best you can do in response is to associate it with 'Holocaust denial', a common and despicable smear tactic (not that that was necessarily your intention), then you have no argument of worth at all. Facts are facts, whether they suit a particular preference/prejudice or not.


Also your link mentions Goldhagen, who has been excoriated by various respected scholars for his shoddy work, far more than de Zayas.


On the "Wehrmacht-Untersuchungstelle" I refer to this piece in Die Zeit:


I am reading some studies by the historian DIeter Pohl who has researched this topis thoroughly. Check back soon for a review.

I guess you can't read German, but you should check out this Wikipedia article:


I'll just cite one sentence here:"Neueste Untersuchungen deuten zudem darauf hin, dass trotz mangelnder Detailkenntnisse über den genauen organisatorischen und technischen Ablauf spätestens im Sommer 1943 die große Mehrheit der Deutschen damit gerechnet hat, dass alle im NS-Herrschaftsbereich lebenden Juden umgebracht werden sollten.[17] Use Google translator since I don't have time just now to write a translation


I can read German and will read the piece in Die Zeit later, but it would have to be balanced against the positive reviews I cited. Regarding the use by de Zayas of 'Nazi sources', that in itself does not seem illegitimate given the topic (an analysis of those sources), though the degree to which the sources in question can be described as 'Nazi' is open to question, apparently they were standard Wehrmacht legal staff etc, which would mean part but not entirely 'Nazi'.

The footnote to the quote you give refers to a single book without further information. Again I would a priori disagree for all the reasons given, apart from the plausible idea that 'die große Mehrheit der Deutschen' did not even give much thought to the Jews by 1943 given the total war situation they were themselves in.

It may just be that it is nevertheless true, in a vague way, ie a majority or so if asked to give a free opinion on the matter may have surmised as much or something along the lines (though your original postwar poll mentioned rather less), from some point, though there's no way to know, but that is still a far cry from actual firm knowledge. However I think it was probably less, a recent Spiegel article claimed about 25% which I still think is too high, they also ran an interview with Richard von Weizsaecker who said that he did not know properly until after the war, although one officer he knew witnessed and told him of a single massacre, but again that is still not full knowledge of the Final Solution. It also has to be considered that enemy crimes were heavily propagandised by the regime and would have weighed as or more heavily in the minds of many, even by the 'laws of war' at the time 'retaliation' had some 'legitimacy'. My argument is not that many (though I doubt a majority) did not have some limited knowledge or suspicion, but that few knew the full picture or program (let alone were in a position to do anything much about it by the time they did come to such a conclusion).

For an idea however of the sort of thinking that was common enough then this may interest you, "a poll on London's streets taken by a London newspaper before D-Day, commented upon by two American reporters of the service newspaper Stars and Stripes. When queried: "If you could press a button and kill every German in the world, would you press it?" almost 50 percent of the British citizens "thought they would jump at the chance." (Quoted in "Bud" Hutton and "Andy" Rooney, Conquerors' Peace, p. 63.) So many may have thought something along similar lines without serious reflection or intent, especially given the regime's rhetoric and propaganda (which however did not generally openly discuss killing), and the total war conditions. Many doubtlessly believed that the 'Jewish-Bolshevik criminals' were a mortal danger that had to be 'ruthlessly combated', but again, serious intent and knowledge re the Holocaust are another matter, requiring serious proof. And I doubt it was any more overall than 'knew' in the USSR of Soviet mass-crimes, let alone really approved.


It should also be considered that in Germany itself quite a few Jews were still alive to the end, due to exemptions via intermarriage, or use in forced labor etc, and there would also have been some knowledge and evidence of this, eg work gangs etc. So whilst the regime may have intended to kill them all in the end (albeit with limited exceptions such as honorarily 'Aryanized' part Jews with records of loyal service), the average citizen would not necessarily know or even infer this from the available evidence.


I am reading the historian Frank Bajohr's book and will write a separate review. But Bajohr estimates that 200,000 Germans were directly involved in the mass killing, while 25 million Germans were aware that the regime was killing Jews on a mass scale.

Bajohr writes about the latent "schlechtes Gewissen" (bad conscience) that so many Germans had after 1942 and the constant anxiety concerning expected retribution. This explains the listless and resigned reaction of so many to Allied firebombing of cities - which W.G.Sebald wrote about in his book.


The first figure is within a credible range, the second isn't, again, for all the reasons cited. It would represent the majority of the adult population or close to it, in a situation where zero information on it was disseminated by the regime (or media), and there was no means of self education available either (eg internet). It just doesn't stand up to scrutiny, and to extrapolate from limited individual cases to such a scale is not valid. A smaller percentage of Americans say are aware of many things that are public knowlege and openly broadcast, yet somehow average Germans in 1944 were supposed to be aware of state secrets??? And again, hearing a rumor (for those that did) is not firm knowledge. Until this is grasped the argument will go in circles.

As for theories of 'bad conscience' they prove nothing. And if in world wartime cities are being firebombed, what are people supposed to do? The ones that are not casualties or bombed out still have to get on with life as best they can, it was the same everwhere, I don't see how the German reaction was different to that of people elsewhere in this regard.

There's no doubt some knew to a substantial degree, but there's no evidence it was more than a small percentage. Anything else is unevidenced and counter intuitive conjecture at best. And it was likely no more than 'knew' of Stalin's massacres say.

As for genocide itself, there are rather more cases than generally known, though many are on a smaller scale. The Mongols and various other pre-modern regimes carried out quite a few, and also there are cases such as the French in the Vendee and Haiti, the Russians in the Caucasus and civil war pogroms, and even the Spanish Americans and British against Indians (of both sorts), extermination was at times openly advocated and attempted, even by high ranking officials.


Coming in very late here, but what I can't understand is why the Germans postwar didn't simply wallow in shame and remorse. Instead, too many tried to rationalize their behavior, as I experienced living there in the 70's. And still there are these apologists, even so many years after the events. Is this because they must feel superior to all other peoples, even now?
I also understood that they figured they had outsmarted the Americans, whom they considered to be dumb and easy to fool, about what they knew and what they had participated in during the war.
They got away with it. But what a burden on the soul of a nation.
I'm glad that intelligent and conscientious historians have not ceased to re-examine this period; they continue to expose the shameful reality.
It's as if white Americans were to say, oh well,we didn't know what was happening with those Native Americans, or I had no idea slavery was so bad!

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