German Soldier Sympathy For Jews During The Holocaust
World War I has led to the establishment of the League of Nations under the Treaty of Versailles. The said League set up the mandate system to provide colonies with a transition period to independence. The Treaty also disarmed Germany, taking away its colonies and held it liable for huge damages caused during the war. Upon Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, he vowed to destroy the said treaty altogether. Adolf Hitler was the son of a Customs official, Alois Hitler, and his wife Klara (nee Poelzl). He was an aspiring artist who was denied admission by the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna.
During his early adulthood, Hitler joined the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, more commonly known as the Nazis. Through what he perceived as nationalism and determination, he was able to rebuild the said party after his incarceration in Munich for treason. In his manuscript, Mein Kampf (My Struggle), Hitler came up with his own social stratification system, discriminating people on the basis of physical appearance and their culture. He believed in the immense superiority of the Aryan race, which by his definition was a Germanic man with blond hair, blue eyes and fair skin.
In his mind, Hitler also perceives the Aryan race as culturally superior, being responsible for most of the cultural developments at that time. The complete opposite of the Aryans, meanwhile, are the Slavs and the Jews. Any cross between races, according to Hitler, would never be at par with the actual superiority of the parent of the higher race. The spread of Hitler’s belief that other races, specifically the Jews, were poisoning the blood of the Aryans, leading to the death of creative geniuses has given rise to the prosecution of Jews which was later termed as the “Holocaust. ”
In January 1942, fifteen Nazi officials, none of whom were heads of any government ministries, held a meeting outside of Berlin, in a place called the Wannsee District. The agenda for the conference was the expulsion of Jews from Germany and the ways to deal with people of mixed descent. There were no specific records of any plan of genocide or the concentration camps. All that was revealed by the record of the meeting was the plot to remove eleven million Jews from German territory by any possible means. Before the Wannsee Conference, though, the mass killing of Jews was already taking place upon the German invasion of Poland.
The “final solution” or Endlosung took shape sometime in 1942 after SS commanders conducted experiments on several methods to carry out the plan. Several groups openly opposed such violations of human rights by resorting to drastic measures, an example of which would be the assassination attempt against Hitler in 1944. Colonel Klaus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, with the German conservative elite and German General Staff, conspired to overthrow the Nazi regime. German theologians were also arrested and executed for opposing the regime. Not all opposition, however, was in the form of violence.
Several Germans who were against the mass murder of Jews tried to smuggle them out of the country or tried to free them by using their political connections. Examples of these Germans would be the infamous Oskar Schindler and Albert Goering, brother of Hitler’s trusted comrade Hermann Goering. There are others who have not achieved such popularity, including a few German officers who were assigned to the concentration camps. These Germans have, at one point or another, shown sympathy for the Jews and have tried to help them escape death at the hands of the Third Reich.
Author Michaela Kipp observed from letters of German soldiers that most of them were unaware of the massiveness of the crimes committed. Kipp notes: … the actors and perpetrators of many genocide actions had no consistent, homogeneous idea of what was going on. They participated in single actions often without a clear picture of the total amount of murder and destruction, and sometimes without being able to imagine, at least, that there was a real plan for a systematic extermination of the European Jews.
Most of the letters examined by Kipp for her article reflect the effective Wehrmacht indoctrination and remarks that there is a need for the German soldiers to make sense of their experiences through the Nazi beliefs. There is a difficulty in the interpretation of these letters, considering that the communications between the soldiers and families were censored and the soldiers made use of euphemisms in referring, if at all, to the persecution of Jews. Kipp also came across a few rare letters which provide more concise description of the situation of the Jews.
One of the letters was by a reserve officer who mentions the practice of beating up the Jews and executions conducted by the guards. The officer expressed his concern about the lack of food and the hard labor that the Jews are subjected to. However, no mention is made if such soldier did anything to alleviate the pain felt by the Jews. Another soldier’s letter revealed the hostility of the residents of Dunaburg, Latvia toward German soldiers, assuming a connection between the reputation of the Germans and their treatment of the local population.
While these letters do not disclose any aid given to Jews, several prominent officials have been known to use their power and influence to try and save as many Jews as possible. One of these officials was Kurt Gerstein, head of the Waffen SS Technical Disinfection Services. Gernstein joined the Waffen SS after his sister-in-law’s mysterious death at a psychiatric hospital, suspecting a plot by the Nazis to systematically exterminate mentally ill patients. He joined the SS in order to gain access to the death camps so that he could reveal such atrocities to the world.
He was accepted in March 1941 and appointed head of the Technical Disinfection Service, responsible for handling “poisonous disinfectant gasses. ” In 1942, Gernstein was sent on a mission to introduce Zyclon B gassing into the death camps in Belzec and Treblinka. He made a record of the same in 1945, in the hopes of alerting those outside German territory to the horrors that the Jews were made to suffer. Gernstein later reported the said incident to a Swedish diplomat, Goran von Otter but neutral states found Gernstein’s claims to be “too bizarre for credibility.
” Gernstein continued to try to inform the Allies and the church but his claims were ignored. He also destroyed shipments of Zyklon B, declaring it to be spoiled and ordering that it be buried. By the end of the war, Gernstein was unfortunately included among those labeled as war criminals and murderers despite his repeated efforts to stop the execution of Jews. Wilm Hosenfeld is another Wehrmacht officer who tried to spare a Jew’s life every instance that he could. He initially joined the Nazis out of idealism and was later jaded by the extermination of the Jewish population.
There have been several accounts of survivors that he has helped and the most prominent is that of Wladyslaw Szpilman, a renowned pianist and composer. In the fall of 1944, Szpilman’s hiding place was discovered and Hosenfeld brought him food and clothes and protected the latter from being discovered. Hosenfeld also helped several other Jews from execution by procuring false papers and providing them with shelter. His diary entries have revealed the deep compassion he felt for the Jews where he wrote, “I want to comfort all these poor souls and ask for their forgiveness because the Germans treated them so badly. ”
The scarcity of any literature or records of other German soldiers that have showed compassion toward the Jews strengthens a belief that most German officers have faithfully believed in the teachings of the Nazis on the inferiority of the Aryan race. As observed by Michaela Kipp, most soldiers have used these doctrines to justify their inhumane treatment of Jews, as they were made to believe that the race amounted to nothing and was contaminating a pure and supreme race. Some, meanwhile, have used what was labeled as “The Nuremberg Defense” which was that they committed horrifying acts because they were just doing their jobs.
German soldiers have been labeled as cruel because of the events of World War II. They have been considered as the most sadistic and inhumane of all war criminals and their crimes have given rise to the terms “genocide” and “holocaust. ” The few examples previously given constitute an exception to this general rule such as Gernstein, who was victimized by the Nazi party and wish to expose its cruel actions to the rest of the world and Hosenfeld who was disillusioned by the methods used by the Nazi as a cultural practice.
There are a few others, perhaps but the most salient figures are the civilians such as Schindler and Goehring who have both used their ability to persuade high ranking officials to turn custody of Jews over to them. Perhaps the scarcity of such kind souls is the reason that their names are so memorable because they are considered the brave people who stood up to the practice of brutality which has become the norm in those days, through their altruistic acts which could have cost them their lives. BIBLIOGRAPHY Bulow, Louis. “Kurt Gernstein: SS Officer with Conscience.
” The Holocaust Project. http://www. gernstein. dk (accessed December 5, 2008) Bulow, Louis. “Wilm Hosenfeld, A Man of Courage: Rescuer of the Pianist. ” The Holocaust Project. http://www. hosenfeld. dk (accessed December 5, 2008) Hitler, Adolf. Mein Kampf . New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1939. Jones, Andrew. SparkNote on World War II (1939-1945). SparkNotes from Barnes & Noble. http://www. sparknotes. com/history/european/ww2 (accessed December 5, 2008) Kipp, Michaela, “The Holocaust in the letters of German soldiers on the Eastern front (1939-44).
Journal of Genocide Research 9, no. 4 (2007): 601-615. Marvin Perry, A History of the World. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1989. Schwarzwaller, Wulf. The Unknown Hitler. New York: Berkley Books, 1990. “The Rise of Adolf Hitler” (1996), The History Place, http://www. historyplace. com/worldwar2/riseofhitler/kampf. htm (accessed December 5, 2008). United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. “The Holocaust. ” Holocaust Encyclopedia. http://www. ushmm. org/wlc/article. php? lang=en&ModuleId=10007332 (accessed December 5, 2008).Sample Essay of EduBirdie.com