On the 67th anniversary of May 7, 1945,
when 3rd Reich death marches ended
By Charles J. Mouratides
Executive Director, CHI – Circle for Hellas & Israel
Especially because it is a question asked by a friend who is not Jewish, the question demands the repetition of the basic account and its depressing details.
I was in a coffee shop in Chicago’s Greektown when this question was posed to me
unexpectedly: How is it possible, and why, that an entire cultured nation would suddenly organize and commit mass murder of civilians – in the millions?
We refer to a nation because in much of what happened civilians participated in plain sight, as on Kristallnacht (1938) in Germany and in Austria. That “Night of the Broken Glass” resulted in concentration camps for 30,000, death and destruction even before the declaration of war.
Indeed! Exactly because it is incredible in its barbarism, and unimaginable in its inhumanity, it is especially important to understand how the path to Holocaust evolved and cost the lives of 6 million civilian Jews.
The fact is, nothing happened suddenly. The Holocaust was the collective nadir of German policies, actions, and killings tested incrementally almost over a century. In 1938-45 they morphed into the collective use – on an unprecedented scale – of old and new atrocities by the German military, politicians and public.
Methodical, disciplined Germany (officially Prussia until the mid-20th century) began preparing itself for the Holocaust almost 80 years before it took place. Germany experimented with social policies and pseudo-science even before the birth of the Nazi Party in 1920.
First came intellectual justification for annihilating civilians systematically.
Then came experimentation with, and the development of the processes.
Finally, the Holocaust.
Mass killings of “undesirables” during four wars were justified by the greedy aspirations and perceived needs of the German nation. The wars against Africans and Eastern Europeans, and World War I were used as the laboratory for much of what occurred in World War II. But the poisonous gas and the crematoria were new killing methods used in the last world war.
“(War) is not merely an act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse..,” stated the leading war doctrine in Europe’s foremost handbook War, written by the foremost authority, Prussian General Carl von Clausewitz.
Thus, innovations in brutality against innocents characterized as “unworthy,” in order to reach political goals, gradually became acceptable, even heralded. In the 19th century, Africans were considered the lowest on the scale of Homo Sapiens. Similarly, Germany developed the concept that East Europeans – particularly Slavs and Russians – were also inferior. Hitler referred to the Ukrainians as “Negroes.”
Extreme hate against the Jews as “undesirable” people living a middle class life in Germany became justification for looting their possessions and properties. Imperial Germany followed the same approach in Africa to usurp tribal land for use by settlers.
It is true: All European colonial powers enforced their own exploitation of Africans.
But, “…for (Germans), colonizing Africa was a giant experiment to test a racial theory. …According to the theory of ‘social Darwinism’ (not developed by Charles Darwin himself), Africans were biologically inferior, an inconvenient obstacle to the development of Africa by more advanced White Aryans,” asserts Niall Ferguson, Britain’s renowned historian and a lecturer at Harvard.
“….No one turned that theory into colonial practice more ruthlessly than the Germans in South West Africa,” Ferguson states about the period 1884 to 1915.
Fortified by pseudo-science, anthropometric experiments and eugenics, German practices in Africa became part of the long-term intellectual justification for genocide.
One brutal South West Africa Governor was Heinrich Gοering, father of Hermann, the head of Luftwaffe under Hitler. The elder Goering, even after local wars ended, created African concentration camps designed to become death camps. He approved “race hygiene” experiments, and sent thousands of prisoner skulls to Germany for research. The son surpassed his father with World War II crimes and committed suicide after being sentenced to death in the Nuremberg trials.
General Lothra von Trotha killed 65,000 from a total of 80,000 in Herero/Nama African tribes, and poisoned their Omaheke desert waterholes, to give German settlers “living space.” That’s the ideology coined Lebensraum in 1901 and later applied by Hitler and others in East Europe. The Herero genocide (1904-07) has been recognized by the U.N. and the German Federal Republic, but Germany has refused to pay reparations.
Joseph Mengele, Auschwitz’ “angel of death,” was a student of racial theorist Eugene Fischer who honed his skills in South West Africa. Fischer later became director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology and Genetics, and a Gestapo scientist.
Racial theories cultivated in Africa continued in World War I and during the Great Depression which fanned German paranoia against Jews and other minorities.
When the Allies’ victory became inevitable in WWII, the Nazis sent concentration camp prisoners on death marches which ended just 20 days before Germany’s surrender on May 27, 1945. The death march was a tactic implemented earlier in Africa’s Shark Island, site of the first extermination camp. Just as with the extermination camps during the 3rd Reich, victims were transported by train or marched to Shark Island. Those who were sick or starving were shot before they reached destination.
The same method was taught by German military advisers to Kemal Ataturk’s Turkish officers as the way to wipe out all Armenians and Greeks. Obviously, the Jewish Holocaust did not occur suddenly or by people who improvised temporary methods.
Brutal practices and murder, originally rehearsed on a much smaller scale, led in World War II to the extermination of 6 million civilian Jews and many other minorities. The Holocaust did not just happen by some misguided, fanatic soldiers and officers. It was gradually, systematically, carefully, engineered by a nation. ###