Superhumanly Inhuman

This is a transcript of a podcast Hardcore History: Addendum by Dan Carlin, episode 28, about Holocaust, evil governments, and about people of various nature.

Audio link: EP28 Superhumanly Inhuman Dan Carlin's Hardcore History: Addendum podcast

List of all books mentioned in the episode can be found in Footnotes [1]

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Introduction and a warning


We're going to issue one of our rare pre-show warnings before the conversation we're about to have here concerning the nature of the material that's going to be discussed.

Now, obviously, when you have a show entitled hardcore history, nobody should be expecting much in the way of rainbows and unicorns.

That is understood.
But sometimes the material gets even darker than normal, and today is going to be one of those times.

I don't think it's as heavy duty or as intense as the painful attainment show we did on public executions and public violence and all that sort of stuff, but maybe not because the material is any lighter because it isn't, but perhaps because the show isn't quite as long and doesn't hammer you for quite as significant a duration, maybe you could say.

But it's heavy duty stuff, and I'm warning you now that maybe it's not for you.

You'll have to decide.

The show today came about as the result of a communication between the people who publish a book that's just about to come out in the United States and yours truly.

The publishers of Dan Stone's, historian Dan Stone's new book[1:1] on the Holocaust, got in touch with me and said, "We'd like to talk to the professor about the book."

Now, Stone, for those who don't know, is one of the foremost historians of the Holocaust in the Second World War.

He's the director of the Holocaust Research Institute at Royal Holloway at the University of London.

He's written a lot of books and articles on the subject, and the new book, believe it or not, after all these years, still breaks new ground and ties the Holocaust into modern times in a way that's valuable and important.

When this offer was presented to me, I thought to myself, "I don't think we've actually addressed the Holocaust straight on."

Maybe having such an august researcher and professor on the subject is a great idea, but I did think that there was one thing missing in a discussion about this between a host and an interview subject, and that is the emotional content to a degree, because when you have an interview, there is an educational/classroom sort of feel sometimes to things.

A high-minded discussion on a subject that is much more bloody and muddy and horrifying and traumatizing than can often be brought out in a straight conversation.

No fault of the interview subject or the host, it just doesn't lend itself to the level of color that a conversation between myself and you, where I can bring in things like eyewitness accounts and whatever, can do.

The way I thought maybe we could have this is to try to re-inject the emotion back into the story before the interview starts, and maybe sort of reconstitute, if you will, the dried blood a little bit and remind ourselves what we're talking about before we start talking about it.

I mean, there's a legitimate point to be made about how long the memory of a terrible historical event remains fresh enough to emotionally impact us, because we can think, I'm sure you can, I know I can, of terrible historical tragedies from time immemorial, and they don't all affect us with the same level of visceral reaction.

We can talk about things, if you will, like the destruction of the Assyrians in 612 when Nineveh falls, which is a Holocaust if you happen to be Assyrian and living there, doesn't really move the needle very much, does it?

But if we talk about the genocide, for example, in a place like Rwanda, which is a recent event historically speaking, it's a lot more likely to get your blood boiling and maybe make you a little sick to your stomach.

So there's a question of how long these sorts of events bother us before they slip into a category where they're more something we think about dispassionately.

The Mongol conquest was a long time ago, right?

But once upon a time that was the worst thing that had ever happened to anybody.

But we write books today about this subject and talk about the upsides of the Mongol Holocaust, if you will.

So things change, right?

So injecting a little bit of the original horror that comes with a subject like this before we talk about a subject like this seemed to be a good way to set the conversation up before we talk to Professor Stone about his new book.

A genocide and a persecution

The Holocaust is an endlessly fascinating subject.

It's one of those sorts of occurrences where it holds a mirror up to humanity in a way that, well, I don't know about you, but that bothers one and makes us ask fundamental questions about ourselves as a species and the sorts of structures we create for our, you know, arranging our societies, if you will, and what they're capable of doing to us if they fall into the wrong hands or they're not carefully managed.

The word genocide is important here.

It's a word you see used all the time now, but a lot of people don't know its origin.

Genocide is not an old word.

It's an old practice, but it's not an old word.

Genocide was a term coined in the 1940s by a writer who was writing about what the Nazis were doing during a time period when it wasn't altogether clear exactly what was going on.

The term itself essentially means, I mean, there's a very legalized, formalized version of the term now, but when it was originally coined, it essentially means an attempt to destroy whole peoples, right?

Wipe them out, exterminate them.

It was an attempt to come up with a term for what Winston Churchill in 1941, when the Soviet Union was invaded by the Germans, called a crime which has no name.

Now he didn't know that this was a crime against Jews specifically.

At the time, Churchill was talking about what the German army was doing in the Soviet Union where they were depopulating whole districts and it wasn't just Jews, it was all kinds of people.

We had already seen this happen at the start of the war in Poland where what had happened to the Poles, if it wasn't genocide, it was something damn near genocide.

And perhaps what's so shocking about it is not that it happened because as I said, we all understand that the attempts to wipe out whole peoples is, I mean, you can go back to biblical times and every time in between.

I mean, it is not an uncommon occurrence, but what seems so strange is when it happens in the modern world, right?

It's one thing to say that once upon a time, you know, a people like the Huns or the Assyrians or I mean, you just, you can fill in the bike, right?

Once the peoples tried to wipe out peoples nearby them, it doesn't surprise us at all.

But at a certain point, you think that societies and civilization has moved past a point where you do that or where the international structures, the laws, the agreements, the collective morality of us all has moved to a point where that sort of thing shouldn't happen anymore.

And instead of that occurring, it in fact becomes somehow worse where the modern organization of sophisticated States, right?

In the case of Nazi Germany, 20th century States harnesses the organizational and industrial power of these modern States and applies it to the job of trying to exterminate peoples.

This is part of the problem of trying to talk about the Holocaust in the context of when it happened, because it happened during a time period where mass industrial killing and death was going on at a pace that is probably unprecedented in humankind.

Sometimes you can point to certain times and places.

China, for example, had certain rebellions where if you actually look at the death rate and how many people died, I mean, it might be comparable to certain world wars.

But by and large, what was going on in the Second World Wars on such a scale that when you talk about a particular people may be losing five or six million of their members, this is a crazy thing to say, but it might not even be that noticeable.

At the post-war war crimes trials where the victorious allied powers were all involved, the Soviet Union, which of course was one of the victorious allied powers and it suffered mightily maybe the worst of all, if not them than China, but probably them of any of the combatants in the war.

They sometimes sort of resented the idea that anyone would focus on a Jewish Holocaust specifically, because their point was it's just entirely wrapped up in the greater Holocaust entirely, right?

The horrific things that Nazi Germany and their allies did to everyone that they fought, right?

Six million Jews was the Jewish price that was paid.

But look at what happened to the Poles.

Look what happened to the Russians.

Look what happened to them over and over and over again.

All these peoples that were devastated.

It was only after the Second World War that it started to seep in exactly what the Holocaust meant.

In the early 1960s, after the founding of the State of Israel, when Israel was going out and finding war criminals, Nazis that had diluted capture and had gotten away, and they got their hands, for example, on Adolf Eichmann in South America where he was hiding out, and they brought him back.

I think they drugged him and they flew him back and they put him on trial in the early 1960s in Israel.

And so much of the world's attention was focused on this.

And by that time, the world had sort of internalized some of the, you know, what the Soviets were talking about, the greater death that everybody had to suffer and brought out the specific attempts on the parts of the Nazis and their allies to wipe out Jews, at least Jews in Europe, but maybe Jews everywhere at a certain point.

And Eichmann's testimony and what came out of that trial was so outrageous and had so many implications for modern humanity as a whole that that began to build the knowledge and understanding and to some degree the fascination and intense examination of the Holocaust in a way that had been building up till that time, but really took off then.

And then in the 1970s, there was quite a bit of work in popular culture and everything.

And of course, now we have it where the Holocaust is, well, you d have to be obviously living under a rock and not be particularly educated to not have heard or know about it, but you might not know a lot about it.

And hopefully we can add a little bit of information to that today.

I imagine many of you know a great deal about it already, though.

It's one of those modern sorts of occurrences that's hard to ignore.

It is one of the ultimate examples of the literary theme of man's inhumanity to man.

And just when you think it can't get any worse, there's a story or a remembrance or a document or something else, maybe even sometimes film footage that comes into play where you just shake your head and can't believe that humanity ever went there in Winston Churchill's history of the Second World War[2].

And if you really are interested in that series, by the way, don't buy one of the abridged versions. Go get your hands on one of the original works because they include all the appendices. Churchill throws in a lot of letters that he wrote during the war itself and communications that he had with other people.

For example, in 1944, Churchill wrote a letter or a communique, and in it he talked about what was happening to the Jews in Hungary.

Now in 1944, even though ever since the war, people have been trying to figure out how much the Allies realized what was or wasn't going on in the occupied territories and in the places where Jews were being persecuted and killed.

Churchill in 1944 in this communique shows that they know something's going on and listen to how he refers to it.

It's in the appendix of volume six of his history of the Second World War, the volume entitled Triumphant Tragedy.

It is a communique from him to the foreign secretary in Britain dated July 11th, 1944.

And he writes:

"There is no doubt that this persecution of the Jews in Hungary and their expulsion from enemy territory is probably the greatest and most horrible crime ever committed in the whole history of the world.

And it has been done by scientific machinery, by nominally civilized men in the name of a great state and one of the leading races of Europe.

It is quite clear that all concerned in this crime who may fall into our hands, including the people who only obeyed orders by carrying out the butcheries, should be put to death after their association with the murders has been proved.

I cannot therefore, feel that this is the kind of ordinary case which is put through the protecting power as, for instance, the lack of feeding or sanitary conditions in some particular prisoner's camp.

There should therefore be, in my opinion, no negotiations of any kind on this subject.

Declaration should be made in public so that everyone connected with it will be hunted down and put to death."

Let's recall that this is before the finding of the concentration camps, the death camps, the camps that the Nazis themselves refer to as annihilation camps.

What are the nazis?

I should probably address something right now that's already going to get me some feedback so that we make the distinction between Nazis and Germans.

I've heard, for example, from Polish people over the years that they resent us referring to the Germans as Nazis as though that somehow exempts them from their crimes, that there are Nazis and Germans and that they're not the same.

I think we should point out that this is the Nazi period of German history and that that is a unique period in German history.

Even if German troops, for example, in the First World War were exceedingly harsh with the civilian populations in some places, the Germans are famous for collective punishment in the war.

If some partisan shoots at a German soldier in the First World War, it is not unusual for the Germans to line up a bunch of civilian hostages and put them up against a wall and shoot them.

But that's not Nazi activity.

That's just, well, a lot of countries would do that, but the Germans and before them the Prussians specifically were very harsh about that kind of stuff.

But making a distinction between that and putting people in concentration camps and gassing them is a very different thing.

That is the Nazi era specifically.

What Dan Stone's book[1:2] talks about, and we'll get into it with Professor Stone himself, is that you just can't write it off to Germans in any case because there were a lot of other Europeans whose anti-Semitic ideas were tapped into and who became willing accomplices in all this.

But maybe we should talk for a second about who the Nazis were because the Holocaust becomes something difficult to imagine without them.

Trying to describe the Nazis is difficult.

It's like a moving target and there's a reason for that, but certainly they are fascinating to us even today.

I've heard it said that if you are a writer and you want to increase book sales, all you need to do is figure out a justification for slapping a swastika on your book cover and you can be assured of increased book sales.

That says something, doesn't it?

That's indicative of something.

The Nazis are a very strange group and you can contrast them with their great geopolitical and ideological opponents, the communists, and in many ways they're opposites from each other.

The communists of the Bolshevik movement, the Mensheviks, the Maoists later, all these groups were filled with communist intellectuals who killed bazillions of trees to use paper to make these arguments that even today make the heads of doctoral candidates in political science departments all over the world's head spin, talking about the dictatorship of the proletariat and the historical dialectic and all these arguments that divide communism into all sorts of factions that disagree about that specific element of the ideology or not.

You didn't see this in Nazism because Nazism believed in something called the Führer Princip, the leader principle.

What that meant is these little discussions over what things like the word socialism meant didn't matter because all that mattered is what the leader said it meant.

If it changed tomorrow, that's okay too.

When you listen to Hitler talk about socialism, you get a really interesting glimpse into the idea that what he thinks socialism means doesn't sound anything like what somebody today would describe it as, but he didn't have to be consistent and he didn't have to be accurate.

It didn't matter.

The Nazis are a strange group of what we would today call conspiracy theorists.

They are made possible by the disruption caused by the First World War and ironically the communists in the Soviet Union were too.

It's not a movement that makes any sense without talking about the First World War and the loss in the First World War was something that Hitler and many people like him considered to be the greatest tragedy in German history.

And he blamed it on certain people, people he called the November Criminals.

The November Criminals were socialists and Jews, both of whom were almost the same in Hitler's mind sometimes.

The Nazis came to power in an era where the idea of radical extremes was particularly in vogue because there wasn't a widely admired sort of moderate choice for the German people.

The government at the time, the Weimar Republic was seen as corrupt.

It was seen as ineffectual.

It was seen as something that was installed by Germany's enemies and at the time that the Weimar Republic was falling apart, the two extremes on the political spectrum, the far left with the communists and the far right with the Nazis were at an open warfare in the streets against each other.

And so if you were an average German voter, your choices were the far left, the far right, or the discredited moderate government in the middle, which many people saw as no choice at all.

There is an attitude in the United States, especially today, that the Germans were a left-wing movement like communists and socialists.

This bears a little bit of discussion, although I've done a whole Hardcore History Addendum show about it with Daniele Bolelli, where we talked about why this isn't so.

But the bottom line is that when you talk about things like right-wing or left-wing and political spectrums, these are all human constructs.

And if you change the criteria you're using, you can put any sort of political system anywhere you want.

But if we're playing the game here comparing apples to apples, well, then you have to use the political spectrum that was in vogue from the beginning, which is like 18th century France up until about the 1980s when people started creating their own political spectrums with different criteria.

If you want to say that the Nazis are a left-wing movement, you have to use a criteria that only bases where you place systems on something like freedom, in which case, oh, you can lump all totalitarian regimes on the left and all free regimes on the right and call the Nazis anything you want.

But traditionally, there's a list of criteria that's been used from time immemorial.

And if you use that one, the Nazis fit firmly on the right.

Let me show the differences very quickly between, say, the far left and the far right.

The far right is nationalistic, right?

They believe in a country, a nation, or a race.

They're not internationalist.

It's an us and them kind of philosophy.

The far left is internationalist.

Their belief is class-based, which means that people in other countries can be allies or countrymen just as much as people in your own country.

I mean, the old communist line and socialist line was workers of the world unite.

Well, that's not something people on the far right would say because they don't want people from other countries uniting with them generally.

They believe in their country.

Workers of the world unite is an internationalistic phrase.

The far right regimes often harken back to a glorious past, a mythological past, a romanticized past that they want to take the people back to, right?

Whereas the far left are looking forward to some sort of glorious future, which has never happened before and is only made possible by things like the progression of systems, right?

So the communists believe that capitalism eventually would destroy itself from its internal contradictions and when it did, it would naturally progress to the next stage of economic human development communism.

So it looked forward to some sort of glorious untested utopian future.

The communists and the far left believed in the proletariat, the working class, the far right believed in the Volk or the folk, the racial society and community.

The far left had an academic sort of patina on top of their systems.

In other words, a whole bunch of intellectuals debating this aspect or that aspect.

Guys like Lenin or Trotsky or Kamenev or Zenoviev or Bukharin and all these people that were economic theorists.

The far right's mystical and in the Fuhrer principle believes in the idea that the charismatic leader can determine all this for himself.

Both the far right and the far left can be considered populist at times.

And if you're somebody that thinks that the name, the Nazi Party, which is officially the National German Socialist Workers Party or the National Socialist German Workers Party, proclaims that they are socialist, you have to dig a little deeper into what that means.

First of all, never take movements or the names of nations at face value because there's always some marketing going on.

So for example, if you look at a place like North Korea today, North Korea is a hereditary dictatorship, right?

A hereditary dictatorship.

They are an autocratic society, but what's their official name?

They are the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea.

So they have both the words Democratic and Republic in their name, even though they're nothing like either one of those systems.

The communist Chinese are the People's Republic of China.

The Islamic dictatorship of Iran is the Islamic Republic of Iran officially.

So these are all marketing terms and Hitler made it very clear in Mein Kampf[3] that they would often laugh at the fact that they would choose these phrases that would confuse the German public about what they were all about.

So if you go read Mein Kampf[3:1], by the way, which is Hitler's, let's call it a manifesto written when he was in prison and he was sentenced to prison because he was part of a failed coup.

And when he was in prison, he dictated this book to his followers.

It was meant to be a political document.

It's propaganda, but it does tell you quite a bit about his thinking.

And in it, he talks about choosing symbols that are normally associated with the far left, but doing it deliberately.

And in Mein Kampf[3:2], Hitler writes,

The red color of our posters in itself drew them, meaning the communists and socialists, to our meeting halls.

The run of the mill bourgeoisie were horrified that we had seized upon the red of the Bolsheviks and they regarded this as all very ambiguous.

The German national souls kept privately whispering to each other the suspicion that basically we were nothing but a species of Marxism, perhaps Marxists or rather socialists in disguise.

For to this very day, these scatterbrains have not understood the difference between socialism and Marxism, especially when they discovered that as a matter of principle, we greeted in our meetings, no ladies and gentlemen, but only national comrades and among ourselves spoke only of party comrades.

Let me stop for a minute and just say what he's basically saying is they were using even the terminology that communists use when they greeted each other, comrades.

And they found this even more confusing.

the Marxist spook seemed demonstrated for many of our enemies.

How often we shook with laughter at these simple bourgeois scare cats at the sight of their ingenious witty guessing games about our origin, our intentions and our goal.

We chose the red color of our posters, he writes, after careful and thorough reflection in order to provoke the left to drive them to indignation and lead them to attend our meetings, if only to break them up in order to have some chance to speak to the people.

When Hitler talks about reds, by the way, he's talking about the communists.

When he talks about using terms like he's not using ladies and gentlemen, but he's using party comrades and all that, that's all communist sort of terminology, too.

But the Nazis were fanatically anti-communistic.

Those were their main enemies.

And they saw the communists as being a Jewish movement.

But being the conspiracy theories that they were and they're almost bipolar in their conspiracy theories because they could at the same time believe that the Jews were a subhuman species and yet they controlled the world right in the Nazi mind, right?

They control both the capitalistic societies, the banking centers of London and New York and places like that by pulling the strings like puppet masters.

But they also controlled the most anti-capitalist, most anti-democratic societies of the world, too, right?

The Soviet Union and the communists.

They were this subhuman group of people that controlled most of the world.

It's a strange sort of bipolar way of seeing these individuals.

The Nazis saw them as polluters of the blood and the blood was part of the Nazi philosophy that also goes into the late 19th century, mid 20th century ideas of things like social Darwinism and eugenics.

In his history of the Second World War, in the first edition of the series of books, The Gathering Storm[2:1], Winston Churchill tried his hand at describing the philosophy of the Nazis as outlined in Mein Kampf and Churchill wrote,

"The main thesis of Mein Kampf is simple.

Man is a fighting animal.

Therefore the nation, being a community of fighters, is a fighting unit.

Any living organism which ceases to fight for its existence is doomed to extinction.

A country or race which ceases to fight is equally doomed.

The fighting capacity of a race, depends upon its purity, hence the need for ridding it of foreign defilements.

The Jewish race, owing to its universality, is of necessity pacifist and internationalist.

Pacifism is the deadliest sin, for it means the surrender of the race in the fight for existence.

The first duty of every country is therefore to nationalize the masses.

Intelligence, in the case of individuals, is not of first importance.

Will and determination are the prime qualities.

The individual who is born to command is more valuable than countless thousands of subordinate natures.

Only brute force can ensure the survival of the race, hence the necessity for military forms.

The race must fight.

A race that rests must rust and perish,"

He then points out that the aristocratic principle, meaning the rule of a single individual like a king, is fundamentally sound and intellectualism is undesirable.

Then you get to the socialism part when it comes to Hitler's view of the party.

Now it should be pointed out that when people will talk about the Nazis as a socialistic left-wing movement, they often will quote things from the party very early on in the party's history, like the early 1920s, for example, which is a decade before Hitler comes to power.

Those sorts of ideas predated Hitler in a lot of respects, and by the time he comes to power in the early 1930s, he completely transformed the party and exiled or often murdered the people who believed in socialism as a real thing.

I've heard it described the Nazi party when Hitler took over as a corporate shell or the equivalent of a corporate shell, where he goes in and just takes the forms and then revamps it all to suit his viewpoint.

If you want to hear Hitler describe socialism, you have to decide which speech you want to try to pin him down on, because he changes his mind all the time.

Again, as part of the leader principle, the Fuhrer principle, that's just fine.

For example, in 1922, American journalist William Shirer, who was stationed in Germany as a news reporter during the entire rise of the Nazis, who went from speech to speech to speech watching Hitler talk, and never got his mind around what the heck the Nazis were all about.

Tried to understand it, spoke German.

Shirer quoted Hitler in a speech describing what socialism was in 1922.

This is a definition that would apply to Americans who believe in the Second Amendment, the flag, God, and the singing of America, the beautiful with your hand over your heart.

Shirer says in 1922, this is Hitler's description of what a socialist is, from a speech he gave and that Shirer attended.

Whoever is prepared to make the national cause his own, to such an extent that he knows no higher ideal than the welfare of his nation, whoever has understood our great national anthem, Deutschland-Uborales, to mean that nothing in the wide world surpasses in his eyes this Germany, people, and land, that man is a socialist.

Then there's the messianic leader side of this.

There is a religious or pseudo-religious belief in the almost God-chosen role of this Fuhrer figure in the country that defies rational analysis.

This is the mystical side of Nazism, and it's discussed in historian Stefan Melonowski, who was born in Berlin, by the way, he's at the University of Edinburgh now, historian.

He described it in his book "Nazis and Nobles"[4].

This is an important thing to pay attention to because, as one of my history professors said once, when you're trying to nail down the political allies, the place you would put someone on the political spectrum, right?

Are the communists far left or far right?

Are the Nazis far left or far right?

He said, don't listen to what they say, look at who they associate with, right?

Change them by the company they keep.

Although they certainly did not see eye to eye on every detail, the general thrust of the Fuhrer follower ideal, a concept that stood in stark opposition to the democratic and egalitarian social models, represented one of the most significant bridges that facilitated relationships between the different groups of the emergent new right.

There were two main reasons for this.

Firstly, the concept contained various diffuse but eminently powerful blends of irrational, messianic, pseudo-religious elements that were comfortingly similar to the new right's typical rhetorical and symbolic idiom.

And secondly, both the ideal and the reality of national socialist Fuhrerdom came to signify a system of charismatic personal rule that was worlds apart from democracy's anonymous elections and the cold mechanisms of modern bureaucracy.

Indeed, the Nazis ideal Fuhrer was a decisive warrior who had been annealed by the Stalgevitter, literally the storm of steel that was rained down by artillery fire and represented the antithesis of the feeble, desk-bound bureaucrat.

He says that this ideal of charismatic rule was a phenomenon that was rooted in irrational, religious and emotional forces.

And now based on this idea of judging a movement by the company it keeps, right?

So if the Nazis are socialists, then you would think of people who would talk about labor unions and trade unions, about the ownership of the means of production.

I mean, there's a whole lot of things that go into what socialism or communism is, but the Nazis didn't work with workers.

They worked with management.

They worked with the giant corporate firms that made Germany the industrial powerhouse that it was, and there was a partnership between the two.

In his fantastic book, economic historian Adam Tooze in "The wages of destruction"[5] talks about a very famous meeting between the Nazis when they first come to power and the great industrial firms in Germany on February 20th, 1933.

He talks about the amount of money that these giant firms gave and what the promises of the Nazis to these groups were.

And Toos writes,

the meeting of 20th February and its aftermath are the most notorious instances of the willingness of German big business to assist Hitler in establishing his dictatorial regime.

The evidence cannot be dodged.

Nothing suggests that the leaders of German big business were filled with ideological ardor for national socialism before or after February, 1933.

He quoted Hitler as cruppin company to sign up to an agenda of violent anti-Semitism or a war of conquest.

He continues,

but what Hitler and his government did promise was an end to parliamentary democracy and the destruction of the German left.

And for this, most of German big business was willing to make a substantial down payment.

How substantial are we talking about?

General Adam Toos runs down some of the big contributions from the big industrial giants of Germany to the Nazi Party to give them the crucial early support that allowed them to solidify their position.

And he writes,

the largest individual donations came from IG Farben, 400,000 Reichsmarks and the Deutsche Bank, 200,000 Reichsmarks.

The association of the mining industry also made a generous deposit of 400,000 Reichsmarks.

Other large donors included the organizers of the Berlin Automobile Exhibition, 100,000 Reichsmarks, and a cluster of electrical engineering corporations, including Telefunken, AEG, and the Accumulatory and Fabrique.

Again, if we are judging a movement by the company, it keeps the German Nazi Party as aligned with groups of military, paramilitary by this time, veteran soldiers like the Stahlhelm and the Freikorps who go after socialists and communists in the streets with their fists or worse.

Hitler is appointed chancellor initially the first time he gets in there by the old Field Marshal, the Prussian Field Marshal von Hindenburg, who was himself a devotee of the German army.

German emperor and was a virtual military dictator of Germany in the last couple of years of the First World War, no violent revolutionary he.

And if you look at the geopolitical allies of Germany in the Second World War, they're all right-wing regimes.

They all prosecute and persecute socialists and communists.

I mean, my goodness, by the standards of the traditional political spectrum, it would be hard to find a more right-wing regime than the Imperial Japanese of the Second World War era.

They worship a divine emperor, for goodness sakes, along with the persecution, jailing, and or worse of the socialists and communists in their midst.

Trying to get your mind around what Hitler and the Nazis did believe, though, is really difficult because it is wrapped up in the mystical.

As we said, I had a professor, my favorite professor in college, Robert Pois, wrote a whole book on what he called the "religion of nature"[6], which is how he described the Nazi belief system.

The main thing to focus on, perhaps, though, is that it is not economic at all, which is what's so weird about the way we think now, because we tend to think of political systems as rooted in economic questions.

Are you a capitalist?

Are you a socialist?

What do you believe?

Hitler's belief system focused on blood and soil.

William Shirer, in his book The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich[7], says that Hitler said on many occasions that his whole philosophy was rooted in something called the Volksgemeinschaft, which is a certain kind of racial community rooted in blood and soil.

But Shirer says he heard multiple Hitler speeches where Hitler said, "This is the whole key to understanding Nazism, and it never once sounded the same, and Shirer never understood it."

He did quote Hitler as saying, "The state has nothing at all to do with any definite economic conception or development," and then from later in the speech, "The state is a racial organism and not an economic organization."

So perhaps this is where our problems develop as we try to understand a system using our modern lenses for how we evaluate things, trying to get our mind around a system that's rooted in late 19th century ideas of eugenics and social Darwinism and blood and soil and Volksgemeinschaft and a whole bunch of concepts that people don't talk about very much anymore because, well, in part they're pretty discredited because in part, well, we had things like the Second World War and the Holocaust.

In a book written about genocide called "Why Not Kill Them All?"[8], the authors Daniel Chirat and Clark McCauley run down the reasons for some of this idea connected to what the Nazis believed in about, well, what would make up the Volksgemeinschaft, the idea of a racial community?

Because in the Volksgemeinschaft, you could be in it if you were part of the people that met the criteria and if you didn't, you weren't a part of it.

The people that met the criteria weren't people who believed certain things.

They were people who had a certain ethnicity and ancestry.

Hitler had this weird idea about what Aryans were.

In his mind, they were Nordics.

So you think Scandinavians, red blond hair, blue eyes, those kinds of people, never mind what the word Aryan really means in history.

In Why Not Kill Them All, the authors point out that if you believe everything about a culture and people revolves around race, then the biggest threat to that reality is people that would dilute or pollute or breed the race out of existence.

The Nazis were worried about blood pollution and what they sometimes referred to as the Jewish disease and in Why Not Kill Them All, they point out that that can be a trigger for things like genocide.

The authors write,

"The most powerful fear is fear of extinction, the fear that our," in quotation marks, "people, our cause, our culture, our history, may not survive.

This fear will elicit the most violent and extreme reactions.

"Group identification, caring about what happens to our group, is what makes intergroup conflict possible.

Without such identification, individuals would be loathe to risk their own lives for the collective.

Yet we know that people commonly do take risks and sometimes invite almost certain death on behalf of their families, close friends, clans, tribes, religions, and nations.

Those groups developing the most powerful common identification are those that promise some kind of immortality.

Few are willing to die for their tennis club, but many are willing to die for a cause, religion, ethnic group or nation in which the individual can continue after death through the survival and success of the group."

They then point out this particular attitude that the Nazis had, which is rooted in things like the Folske-Meinzcheft, this racial community, and the fear that it might be "polluted" by inferior blood, and they write,

"Fear of pollution or contamination is a particular kind of survival fear, the fear that the group, as we know it, will not survive, even if many of its members do.

The group will exist in the future only by losing what is most important and distinctive about it, and being amalgamated with some other group.

The relevant emotion for this kind of survival concern combines fear with disgust.

Fear of pollution is not so much a threat to the physical continuation of the group as to the essence or nature of the group.

Hitler's obsession, with the Jewish disease and race mixing, fantastic as it may seem to those who do not take such pseudoscience seriously, was a deep fear that his idealized Germanic race would not survive, combined with disgust for what he perceived to be the increasing Judaization of the world."

So if this is your number one fear, and if you think Jews control the world, and if you're giving speeches saying that if the Jews, because they control the world, plunge the world into another world war, they're sort of going to reap the whirlwind, what do you do?

I mean, what's the logical answer?

What's the logical solution to that sort of problem?

Well, in Nazi Germany, it starts almost immediately.

Once the Nazis gain power, Jews have to start wearing identifiable symbols so people know who they are.

They quickly get banned from multiple kinds of professions, right?

We can't have them in positions of power.

Then the persecution starts, right?

The Kristallnacht type events, the pogroms, the smashing of windows, the destruction and boycotting of businesses.

Then all of a sudden, it moves to something that would be recognized by people, for example, in the Americas, because Hitler's reading about these sorts of things, and he likes the approach that the Americas took to the native indigenous peoples, right?

Put them on reservations.

He has, for a while, his people think about putting Jews and subhumans on specific reservations and keeping them isolated there.

Then they talk about things like exile.

They look to places like Madagascar, right?

The big island off the eastern coast of the African continent at one point as a place to maybe send all your Jews.

One can't help but think that if that had actually happened, we would be talking about some of the same sorts of problems in Madagascar today that they're talking about in the Levant right now.

And then eventually it moves from the idea of exiling all the Jews to a faraway place to simply killing them where they are.

Where did Jews came from, jewish peril through the centuries

Now we should point out that the idea of exiling the Jews was not about sending them away from their homes.

It was about sending them back to where they came from or getting them out of what was perceived to be a part of the world where they were the equivalent of an invasive species that had put down roots.

This is fascinating to me because it's almost the exact opposite viewpoint of one you'll hear from the Middle East sometimes today from Arab or Islamic societies who will say that the Jews in the Levant in Western Asia, in what's now the state of Israel, that they're an invasive species from outside the region, right?

So you can't be an invasive species in Europe and an invasive species in the Middle East.

You come from somewhere, don't you?

So when the Germans are thinking about sending Jews back to where they belong, the obvious question is, where do they belong?

Now to me, the obvious answer is if you've been living there multiple generations ever since the Middle Ages, for example, in a place like Europe, well, in my mind, you belong there.

But the Jews are one of those peoples that because they're from a different religious group and because they have ideas about marrying within the religion and they're so persecuted and there's so much prejudice against them that other people don't want to marry them that a lot of times they stay sort of a group apart, right?

It's tough to assimilate in a lot of these places.

So where do they come from is an interesting question.

I'm not going to go into a whole bunch of the history of the Jewish people, but we should just point out that the Jews, the Israelis, the Hebrews, whichever name you'd like to apply to them are an ancient group of people.

Despite the almost conspiracy theory that at least the Ashkenazi Jews, the ones in Europe, are actually European, right?

There are some people that believe that they're the descendants of a Turkish steppe tribe called the Khazars, and we talked about this in the Viking show we did a while back, because unlike most people around the world, to convert to Judaism as a group is rare and the Khazari nobility may have converted in the Middle Ages to Judaism.

It's still very controversial.

But if they did, they haven't really left their genetic markers on the Ashkenazi because the Jews are one of the most studied people in terms of DNA and genetics, and there's really no Khazari markers found in Jewish genetics from Europe.

There are, however, from the patrilineal line as I've researched it and understand it in my very narrow and shallow way, a patrilineal line that goes all the way back to the modern Middle East.

So the connection to the roots in the region where once upon a time there were kingdoms, Jewish kingdoms with Israeli and Jewish kings, the kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Judah, the Israeli kingdom in the north, Judah in the south.

If you know your history, you know that those arose in the early, early Iron Age, so think the 900s BCE, approximately 3,000 years ago.

These are the kingdoms that the, well, the Christians would call it the Old Testament.

The Jews would refer to it as the Tanakh, that the Old Testament of the Bible talks about, right?

King Solomon, King Saul, King David, those people and historians are continuing trying to figure out whether these kingdoms are glittering, rich, powerful, almost imperial type kingdoms, or whether they're much more, you know, rudimentary, small city states with, you know, clusters of villages that sort of have allegiance to them.

Regardless, the only reason that they can flourish in their golden age from about like 900-ish to the 700s and in one case 600s because Israel fell before Judah fell is because the superpowers in the region are particularly low ebb during that time period, right?

The superpowers being Egypt in the north, the Hittites in the east, in what's now Iraq, the Assyrians in the north, and the Babylonians in the south.

Normally all those guys are fighting over the territory that's now Israel.

And as a matter of fact, when the Egyptians run the place and they're the normal superpower that controls the region, this is going to be just an interesting aside, but they rule it from their command center in the city of Gaza.

And yes, it's the same place as the city of Gaza today.

Gaza has like a 4,000 year old history.

But during the time period when the kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Judah thrive, they're able to do so because the powers that would normally control them are, you know, at a low ebb.

That is a temporary situation.

And when those powers regain their strength, they take over those areas.

In the early 700s, the Israelis, the kingdom of Israel is destroyed by the Assyrians who go in there and level cities and take the Jewish people and move them around.

The Assyrians are great population transfer people.

Today we would call it ethnic cleansing.

And this becomes the first early time period where Jews are sent away from where they consider to be their homeland and moved all around.

In the late 500s, think the five eighties, the Babylonians who took over from the Assyrians as the big dog in what's now the country of Iraq, they went in and destroyed the southern kingdom, the kingdom of Judah, destroying Jerusalem, leveling the sacred temple of the Jews and doing the same things the Assyrians did, you know, scattering them all over, removing them to Babylon.

And it's in the early 500s, like the five thirties that Cyrus the great, right?

The guy who founds the Achaemenid Persian Empire gets such wonderful publicity in the Old Testament of the Bible, the Tanakh, when he supposedly or allegedly allows the Jews to return back to those areas, rebuild the temple and if not gain political control again, because the Persians weren't going to let anybody rule that area but themselves, then to sort of be the local governors in charge of their own destiny, as long as you pay your taxes to the great king of Persia.

Then of course, as we all know, right, that Persian Empire is destroyed and overthrown by Alexander the Great in the 300s.

When Alexander dies in 323 BCE, his many generals rip his empire apart and all rule their individual pieces like hereditary kings and the area that's now Israel and the West Bank and Gaza are all areas that are being fought over by two, you know, successor, they were called dynasties of Alexander's generals, the Ptolemies and the Seleucids.

The Jews are always, one would say, maybe a freedom-loving people, another might say an independence-loving people.

If you happen to be the ones ruling them, you might call them a troublesome rebellious people, but they're always rebelling against the local rulers in the 160s.

You have something called the Maccabean Revolt, where they revolt against the Seleucid government and they gain control of the region again for a while until the Romans come in in 64 BCE and sort of conquer the place for good.

That doesn't mean that the Jewish folks aren't rebelling against them because they have all kinds of problems, the Romans with them, and in 70 CE AD the Romans finally give the Jewish people in the region the Roman treatment, which is one Roman writer once described it, they create a wasteland and call it peace.

That's where you get things like the saga of Masada and all that, but nobody knows in all these conflicts how many Jews died, but it's probably in the millions.

When you realize how many Celts the Romans just under Julius Caesar killed, it's not a hard thing to imagine, but when the Romans give them the final treatment, they create a genocide, they kill tons of Jews, the banning of Jews from the region begins, the great exodus and diaspora that sends Jews all over the known world.

If it hadn't already started, it really takes hold.

This is where if you look at history, you can start to trace the movement of Jewish people up from originally this ground zero in the Holy Land to, first of all, the Roman Empire.

You'll see them in Italy, you'll see them in Spain, all the areas around the Mediterranean, and then you can almost trace the movements northwards over the generations.

By the Middle Ages, they're all over Europe, but if you know your history, you know that they are always a minority in all these countries.

They are often persecuted, they're almost always discriminated against.

There are then occasional times where they're thrown out of countries, England, Spain.

Pogroms and mass killing sprees are common.

In the First Crusade, there's mass killing of Jews.

Any time that there's sort of the taking of cities, the Jews in them are often killed.

What's interesting is if you study the anti-Semitic actions of, for example, European governments, the Germans are not considered to be one of the particularly bad ones.

Now, take that with a grain of salt because there's anti-Semitic activity everywhere, but the Russians have maybe the worst reputation up until the Second World War with tons of pogroms and many of the Jews that immigrated to the United States in the Golden Age of Jewish immigration did so coming from places like Russia due to the persecutions and pogroms.

But of course, the Nazis take over the lead spot in the anti-Semitic nations of Europe when Hitler gains control and by the early 1930s, Germany is becoming a very dangerous place indeed to be Jewish.

We should point out that at no time were Jews not a part of the Middle Eastern population and because of that, people like the Nazis and a lot of other European governments at times considered sending them back where they came from.

Although if you're a Jewish person whose family's been in a place like Russia or Germany for 10 generations, 12 generations, something like that, does it really seem like you belong in a place thousands of miles from where your family's from, where they speak a language you don't know?

Well, if that doesn't sound like a good idea to you now, maybe after the Holocaust it might.

Witness accounts of superhumanly inhumane

At the start of this show, I felt the need to give a warning about what was to come.

And the warning was because there's a need when discussing something as horrific, as genocide to step back and take emotional stock in the subject matter.

You can have an intellectual discussion and those are important.

Engaging the mind and reason when discussing these things is key.

But if you do that without re-injecting the psychological trauma into the conversation, then you run the risk of having a sterile dialogue or monologue which is not a whole lot different than what some of the perpetrators of a genocide like the Holocaust were having in conference rooms where people served coffee and showed documents and discussed logistics and challenges and numbers.

In other words, one needs to fuse the intellectual with the emotional in order to be in the right frame of mind.

I mean when Heinrich Himmler, as recounted in Nora Levin's book "The Holocaust"[9], tells his underlings who are setting up these annihilation camps that he expects them to act in a super humanly, inhuman way, well that's easy to say in the conference room.

It's a whole different situation when you're actually on the ground acting in a super humanly inhuman way.

We also need to understand that, as I say about all of the past, there's no way for us to understand it.

There's no way to put ourselves in the shoes of the people here.

All we can ever hope for by engaging the intellect and the emotions is to have a better view of this than we had beforehand, right?

Sometimes subtly better, but better nonetheless.

And the real challenge was how to use the atrocious material in a way to accomplish that goal.

There is no lack of atrocious material.

There is no lack of eyewitness accounts.

There is no lack of documentation.

There were tons of this stuff when I was a kid.

And there's so much more now, the fall of the Soviet Union, multiple sorts of conferences and educational seminars and museum exhibitions since then have exploded the amount of information we have about the Holocaust, including tons more photographs and accounts and diary entries.

I mean, if you're a Holocaust denier, your work is a lot harder than it was in the past.

And it was difficult, you know, in the 1960s to deny the Holocaust, especially when you had participants in it sometimes bragging about it.

I mean, Adolf Eichmann was not ashamed of his role in the Holocaust, right?

So you have difficult to deny that this happened ever, much more difficult now with so much more stuff, but how to use that stuff in a way that's helpful in understanding is difficult.

And look, I'm not a historian, as I say all the time, but this is a classic problem that historians have, which is you have a ton of information.

How do you organize it and use it in a way to accomplish the goal of helping to illuminate the past even a little bit?

So the way I did it, and I hope I did it well, I mean, or usefully anyway, I tried to bear in mind what Dan Stone said in his book[1:3], talking about this a little bit.

And he wrote,

no doubt it is right to say that there is something numbing about recounting a seemingly endless sequence of atrocities.

It is also a reflection of what happened, leaving the victims numb.

And sometimes, it is important to Terry with a tiny atrocity, tiny in the grand scale of the murders, but the whole world to those who were affected.

That's sort of the Anne Frank approach to looking at the Holocaust, right?

Choose a single individual and show what the impact is on them.

So I did that also, but I also show some of these very large incidents where your mind almost explodes at the scope.

One of the things that gets lost in conversations or portrayals of the Holocaust and something that Dan Stone's latest book tries really hard to reemphasize is how much of the Holocaust actually was done by hand with bullets and guns and shooting as opposed to the image we more usually have anyway of gas and annihilation camps and all this.

It was much more dirty and grimy and old fashioned.

If you want to look at this as something that Genghis Khan would have understood when he destroyed whole cities and executed whole populations, it's very similar to that.

And a lot of people witnessed it.

So there are accounts.

Years ago, I marked one of these accounts that I go back to occasionally.

So I just sometimes when I feel like I need a refresher infusion of soul crushing psychological trauma to remind me of exactly what we're talking about here, I go back to this account.

I call it 23 and you'll understand why when you hear it.

I actually read it when I was a kid.

It was in a book called "The Holocaust" by Nora Levin[9:1] written in the late 1960s, but it's an eyewitness account of one of these mass killings.

The eyewitness account came out in the Nuremberg trials where a German civilian construction engineer had watched the annihilation of a Jewish ghetto in Ukraine.

The man's name was Herman Friedrich Grebe and his affidavit Nora Levin says froze the Nuremberg court with pity and horror.

She writes that it is a document which must stand as one of the most terrifying in the literature of the Holocaust.

And it absolutely destroys me every time I read it.

It is an extensive one.

And I hope you'll pardon some of the long quotes in this, but I feel like breaking them up is to lose some of the impact.

Herman Friedrich Grebe's eyewitness account of what he saw goes like this:

on fifth October 1942 when I visited the building office at Dunbow, Monaikis and I went directly to the pits.

Nobody bothered us.

Now I heard rifle shots in quick succession from behind one of the earth mounds.

The people who had got off the trucks, men, women and children of all ages had to undress upon the order of an SS man who carried a riding or dog whip.

They had to put down their clothes in fixed places, sorted according to shoes, top clothing and under clothing.

I saw a heap of shoes of about 800 to a thousand pairs, great piles of under linen and clothing.

Without screaming or weeping, these people undressed, stood around in family groups, kissed each other, said farewells and waited for a sign from another SS man who stood near the pit with a whip in his hand.

During the 15 minutes that I stood near the pit, I heard no complaint or plea for mercy.

I watched a family of about eight persons, a man and a woman, both about 50 with their children of about one, eight and ten, and two grown-up daughters of about twenty to twenty-four.

An old woman with snow-white hair was holding the one-year-old child in her arms and singing to it and tickling it.

The child was cooing with delight.

The couple were looking on with tears in their eyes.

The father was holding the hand of a boy of about ten years old and speaking to him softly.

The boy was fighting his tears.

The father pointed toward the sky, stroked his head, and seemed to explain something to him.

At that moment the SS man at the pit shouted something to his comrade.

The latter counted off about twenty persons and instructed them to go behind the earth mound.

Among them was the family which I have mentioned.

I well remember a girl, slim and with black hair, who as she passed close to me, pointed to herself and said, "Twenty-three."

I walked around the mound and found myself confronted by a tremendous grave.

People were closely wedged together and lying on top of each other so that only their heads were visible.

Nearly all had blood running over their shoulders from their heads.

Some of the people shot were still moving.

Some were lifting their arms and turning their heads to show that they were still alive.

The pit was already two-thirds full.

I estimated that it already contained about a thousand people.

I looked for the man who did the shooting, he testified.

He was an SS man who sat at the edge of the narrow end of the pit, his feet dangling into the pit.

He had a tommy gun on his knees, and he was smoking a cigarette.

The people, completely naked, went down some steps which were cut in the clay wall of the pit and clamored over the heads of the people lying there, to the place where the SS man directed them.

They lay down in front of the dead or injured people, some caressed those who were still alive and spoke to them in a low voice.

Then I heard a series of shots.

I looked into the pit and saw that the bodies were twitching, or the heads lying already motionless on top of the bodies that lay before them.

Blood was running from their necks.

I was surprised that I was not ordered away, but I saw that there were two or three postmen in uniform nearby.

The next batch was approaching already.

They went down into the pit, lined themselves up against the previous victims, and were shot."

When you read account after account of these incidents, part of what was called the Holocaust by Bullets before the Holocaust by Gas really got going, it's just as organized sometimes, and just as mechanized and institutionalized, but there are crazy aspects to it.

If you try to imagine being a victim in this case and living through it, there are certain parts that, and it's stupid, but bother me more than others.

For example, there's an account by a German general who went to one of these mass killing sites, and he talked about all these people having to wait in long lines, like up to a mile long as they inched their way towards the killing pits, as the people in front of them slowly but surely were wiped out, and that there were stops along the way, and at this stop you take off your clothes, at this stop you drop off your valuables, and the people knew what was going on.

In the book "Soldaten"[10] by Sanka Nitzel and Harald Weltzer, they quote German Major General Walter Brunn's description, his eyewitness account of one of these, as he says, "lining up for death" sort of incidences, and the general says:

Six men with Tommy guns were posted at each pit.

The pits were 24 meters in length and three meters in breadth.

They had to lie down like sardines in a tin, with their heads in the center.

Above them were six men with Tommy guns who gave them the coup de gras.

When I arrived, those pits were so full that the living had to lie down on top of the dead.

Then they were shot, and in order to save room, they had to lie down neatly in layers.

Before this, however, they were stripped of everything at one of the stations.

Here at the edge of the wood were the three pits they used that Sunday, and here they stood in a queue," he says, one and a half kilometers long, that's about a mile long, "which approached step by step, a queueing up for death," he says.

As they drew nearer, they saw what was going on.

For here they had to hand over their jewelry and suitcases.

All good stuff was put into the suitcases, and the remainder thrown on a heap.

This was to serve as clothing for our suffering population.

And then, a little further on, they had to undress, and 500 meters in front of the wood stripped completely.

They were only permitted to keep on a chamois or knickers.

They were all women and small two-year-old children.

Then all those cynical remarks.

If only I had seen those Tommy Gunners who were relieved every hour because of overexertion carry out their task with distaste.

But no, nasty remarks like, "Here comes a Jewish beauty.

I can still see it in all my memory.

A pretty woman in a flame-covered chamois talk about keeping the race pure.

At Riga, they first slept with them, and then they shot them to prevent them from talking."

So he says, even at the end, as these people are about to be shot, as they've been waiting and lining up to be shot, as they're approaching the gunman, the gunman make comments like, "Here comes a pretty beauty."

And things, I mean, it's humanity to quote Johnny Thunders in a song once, "Society makes me sad."

Of course, probably the most famous mass shooting of the war of Jews is the one that occurred in the famous Babi Yar ravine outside of Kiev in Ukraine on the 29th and 30th of September 1941, where between 30 and 40,000 Jews were shot into the ravine over a weekend.

The ravine, by the way, continued to be used to kill people for the entire time that the Germans controlled that region.

And there may be as many as 100,000 bodies buried there, or they were cremated eventually and pounded into dust, but the entire area is a giant charnel house.

There was a horrible story Nora Levin told in her book, "The Holocaust"[9:2], where the guy who was in charge of the killings was giving a tour in the spring right after Babi Yar's occurrence.

And the person who was with the architect of the killings said that he was shown the ravine itself, and he said during the spring thaw, small explosions were exploding the dirt up into the air, and that was a result of the spring thaw bringing the gases in all of the bodies buried underground to the surface.

And the architect of the killing who was with him, a man named Paul Blobel, said to him, "Here my Jews are buried."

And Babi Yar, by the way, is not even the worst of the mass killings of Jews during the war.

There are at least two that are thought to be larger than that.

But sometimes what the mass killings do is overshadow the regular amounts of death that are occurring continually as the machine just grinds on.

It's not as overwhelmingly powerful as stadiums full of people being shot over a weekend, but the numbers add up quickly and give a greater sense of the death machine as it operates.

For example, there was an operation called Operation Jew Free.

It only lasted two months, from October to December 1941, and it was only happening on one relatively small part of the front.

But when you look at the records of the numbers of Jews killed over this two-month period, it's every day or every two days, a thousand killed in this village, three thousand killed in this village, two thousand killed in this village.

And within two months, it's like 70 to 90,000 Jews.

It's a stadium of people, but they're all killed as their towns or villages or ghettos are overrun and taken over, wiped out as the machine continues to move forward.

And a lot of this stuff, by the way, is well cataloged.

Some of the most damning evidence, as you might imagine, are the official reports by German officers to their superiors about carrying out these mass killings.

During the 1990s, there was a very important museum exhibition which intended and succeeded in overthrowing what was called the Myth of the Klinvermacht, this idea that the killings were all done by the SS and the Einsatzgruppen and the Gestapo and allies of those people and not the proud German military.

And in this exhibition, all kinds of reports and photographs that had been kept by soldiers that they either took themselves or bought and kept forever, a lot of them found in attics and places like that, showed the reality of what was going on and that in a lot of cases, these soldiers were willing participants in operations.

Several books came out of these museum exhibitions, by the way.

One was called War of Extermination, the German Military in World War II, 1941 to 1944, with every chapter written by a different expert on the chapter of the killings that went on, especially of Jews in occupied Yugoslavia, University of Vienna Professor Walter Manaschek writes,

"The execution squads were comprised mainly of soldiers from units that had suffered losses in skirmishes with partisans.

The soldiers regarded the mass executions of Jews and gypsies as a legitimate tactic.

The eyewitnesses confirm that the execution squads consisted of volunteers.

When a native of Vienna, who belonged to the 521st Army Intelligence Regiment, returned from leave to Belgrade, he was greeted by his comrades with the Jovial Challenge, 'Coming along to shoot some Jews?'

Two reports of the shootings of Jews and gypsies yield insight into the soldiers' mentality."

When we arrived at a spot some 1.5 to 2 kilometers from the chosen place, the prisoners got out of the trucks and marched to the place.

While the trucks were being sent back at once, in order to give the civilian drivers the least possible grounds for suspicion, then I ordered the street blocked for reasons of security and secrecy.

The place of execution, the report states, was secured by one light machine gun and 12 woman, one, to prevent escape attempts by the prisoners, two, to guard against the possible attacks of Serbian gangs.

Digging the graves, takes most of the time.

The shooting itself goes quickly, 100 men in 40 minutes.

Luggage and valuables, were collected earlier and transported in my truck for turning over to the NSV.

Shooting Jews is simpler than shooting gypsies.

One has to admit that the Jews die stoically, standing quietly, while the gypsies howl, scream and are in constant motion even when they're already standing in place to be shot.

Some even jumped into the grave before the salvo and played dead.

Initially, my soldiers were not impressed.

On the second day it was becoming apparent that some did not have the nerves required for carrying out extended shootings.

My personal impression is that one does not experience inhibitions during the shootings.

These first manifest themselves after several days, when one thinks about things quietly in the evening."

Signed, Walter Oberleutnant.

This is actually a part that I find super interesting and I think I think about it more than even the position that the victims found themselves in.

I think it's natural to think what would happen if I was standing in line a mile long waiting to die with my family.

But there's something about being a perpetrator, not the victim, but the victimizer that makes one curious about humanity.

Because these people in the line waiting to die, the victims, there's no choice in there.

There's no agency and there's no thinking about it for decades afterwards.

But what about the guy who has the submachine gun sitting on the edge of the pit with a cigarette in his mouth dangling his legs off the side of this horrific scene?

Well it's interesting because it kind of goes both ways.

You have the people that are really bothered by it and the people that actively enjoyed it and it's really like two sides of humanity's coin, right?

Let's start with the people who seem to enjoy it.

In his book "The Holocaust and Unfinished History"[1:4], Dan Stone talks about the willing collaborators, as he calls them.

And it is a sign that you did not have to be a Nazi to be anti-Semitic.

And he talks about an incident that was recounted, it's famous and there are photos I believe, that happened in Conus in Lithuania.

Dan Stone writes,

"Across the occupied areas of the Western Soviet Union, local collaborators willingly took part.

Some did so out of hatred for the Jews, wrapped up in the anti-communist belief in so-called Judeo-Bolshevism.

Though again, it should be stressed that this was a form of anti-Semitism first and foremost, since one did not need to hate Jews to be anti-communist.

But the combination of these two hatreds made a ferocious synthesis.

One of the most famous examples, he writes, is the so-called death-dealer of Conus, who beat Jews with an iron rod in Conus as onlookers stood and watched the rivers of blood run higher.

The report of an astonished German soldier who photographed the scene is instructive."

Now the account from the German soldier, and as I think I said, photographs do exist.

"A young man, he must have been a Lithuanian, with rolled up sleeves, was armed with an iron crowbar.

He dragged out one man at a time from a group and struck him with the crowbar with one or more blows on the back of his head.

Within three-quarters of an hour, he had beaten to death the entire group of 45 to 50 people in this way.

The behavior of the civilians present, women and children, was unbelievable.

After each man had been killed, they began to clap, and when the national anthem started, they joined in singing and clapping."

John Stone points out that sometimes this isn't even anti-Semitism, sometimes it's just complete self-enrichment, and he quotes a Polish journalist who says,

"For the Germans, three-hundred Jews are three-hundred enemies of humanity.

For the Lithuanians, they are three-hundred pairs of shoes, trousers and the like."

There are some weird psychological things going on in all this too, and I don't attempt to speculate on what they were.

But when I was growing up, there was this feeling, because this was the sort of thing that was used as a defense at the Nuremberg war crime trials, that a lot of these people found themselves in positions where they just had to follow orders and do distasteful things.

On two types of people: who screamed at night and who enjoyed killing

But there's enough evidence out there to show that a lot of people enjoyed this.

A lot of people wanted to watch.

Execution tourism was such a problem that the German leaders often had to issue severe reprimands warning that, you know, "We can't have this happen again!"

But it did.

People would show up in their bathing suits, women would show up.

There's one incident recounted in the book "Soldaten"[10:1] by Sanka Nitzil and Harold Weltzer, where they talk about a group of Berlin police officers who were musicians and performers.

So you think of like entertainers who asked if they could take part in the execution, you know, just for the experience.

And in the book the authors write,

"Daniel Goldhagen, writing about one of the few known cases of this sort, concluded that Germans in general were motivated by a kind of exterminatory anti-Semitism.

Goldhagen focused on a Berlin police unit consisting of musicians and performers that was sent to the front to entertain troops in mid-November 1942.

They asked the commander of a reserve police battalion in the German town of Lukau if they could take a turn shooting Jews at an upcoming execution.

Their request was granted and the entertainers spent the following day amusing themselves by murdering people.

Holocaust historian Christopher Browning also mentions this incident, but the question remains, did the Germans in question need anti-Semitic motivation to find killing fellow human beings in entertaining pastime?"

And then one of the authors who's trained in social psychology goes into all the reasons a human being might find this an interesting option.

He says,

"The police officers in question enjoyed doing things they would never have been allowed to do under normal circumstances.

They wanted to experience what it felt like to kill without fear of consequences, to exercise total power and do something extraordinary and monstrous, free from the possibility of any negative consequences.

This is what sociologist Gunther Anders has called the "chance for an unpunished inhumanity."

For some people senseless murder was apparently a temptation that could hardly be resisted.

Violence of this nature needs neither a motive nor a reason.

It is its own motivation."

Well it's clear that there was enormous amounts of anti-Semitism in the German army.

It's also clear by the accounts that a lot of people enjoyed killing Jews, thought it was just right and proper to kill Jews.

There's also a lot of evidence because the German government was very concerned about the effects on their soldiers of carrying out these mass executions with guns.

One of the rationales for shifting from what's called the Holocaust by bullets to the Holocaust by gas in places like the annihilation camps of Auschwitz is to minimize not the effect on the victims, but the effect on the victimizers.

And while it is almost sacrilegious to have sympathy for the murderers of Jews and the perpetrators of the Holocaust, I always try to put myself in the shoes of the people who may have been caught in the gears of history.

Obviously the victims in the Holocaust are fatally caught in the gears of history, but there are people that had to, for the rest of their lives, live with what they did in the Holocaust, and I'm fascinated by that too.

And remember these are not armies where a person could have said, "You know, if you make me do these terrible things, I'm out. I'm just not going to do them."

Well you can do that, but that may be a one-way ticket to a concentration camp for you.

So that's what I mean about being caught in the gears of history.

There's a fascinating list of remembrances at the back of the book called "The German Army and Genocide"[11], which is edited by the Hamburg Institute for Social Research.

It's one of the books that came out of that groundbreaking exhibition in the 1990s that shattered the myth of the Klinvermacht.

But by shattering the myth of the Klinvermacht, you denied all of the children and grandchildren of these German soldiers an ethical place to hide for their loved ones.

Because if you were able to claim that it was only the Gestapo and the SD and the SS and the Einsatzgruppen that did all these killings, you could say that Grandad was clean, that he just fought in a noble effort as part of the military to defend Germany, or you could even say he didn't even want to do all these things.

He was just drafted.

He didn't take part in any of the bad stuff, and this exhibition forced Germans to confront that.

And some people were angry about it and offended and took offense and were upset at the exhibition and what it said, but others were chastened and it shocked them.

One of the accounts in the back of the book when they recorded the reactions of Germans to this exhibition involves a woman named Krista Nichols, who was in the government as a Green Party member, but her father was in the war.

And she's recorded as telling the researchers her reaction to this exhibition and having to come to grips with what her father did.

And she says,

I want to say that my father was not young when he went to war.

He was born in 1908 and died in 1991.

He was not a party member.

Later he was drafted.

My mother told me that in the 1950s, my father never slept with the window open and screamed terribly in his sleep every night about fire and children.

She said it was simply horrible.

Naturally, she says, I love my father very much.

He never told how it was when one shoots another person for the first time.

Today that surprises me.

She then mentions a famous, if you were alive, you remember in the 1980s, a famous meeting where Ronald Reagan met the German Chancellor at a German cemetery in Bitburg, and it became controversial because the press releases had said that they were just going to have sort of a reconciliation meeting.

But then it was discovered that at the cemetery in Bitburg, some of the SS people were buried.

So in other words, the people that at the time were thought to be the only people really guilty for the Holocaust.

And Miss Nichols says,

back then I noticed for the first time that my father, and the only photo of him that we have from that time is wearing a uniform that is black and has skulls on it.

At the time, I was already a representative of the greens in the Bundestag and didn't dare to ask my father.

It was incredibly difficult for me.

She then says that in 1989, she traveled to Warsaw and went to one of the death camps.

She says that during the travel to the death camp, she simply broke down because she was so shocked at what happened there.

But then she started to think, as any of us might do about a loved one that found themselves caught in the gears of history, as sacrilegious as it might be to think about them.

She says,

I was terribly shocked at what happened at the concentration camp, but just as much about what they did to the men, one of whom was my father.

They were for the most part men who loved life and children.

It is horrible what they made out of men in this criminal war.

Most of them didn't have the strength to extricate themselves from it.

All of them made themselves guilty of infinite atrocious wrongs.

The men, women and children, I am the daughter of such a German soldier, are still marked by that today.

What if you had found yourself in a position where you thought you were just a soldier and then one day you're standing on the edge of a pit where men, women and children are stripped naked, forced to lie down in the pit, head to toe, head to toe while you shoot them.

And then another batch comes in, lays down on the dying people and forms another layer of human sardines for you to shoot them.

Again, I have a hard time trying to put myself in their shoes.

And yet at the same time, I imagine that there must have been a lot of people in that position, some of whom never thought twice about it, some of whom bragged about it and enjoyed it and kept pictures in their wallets for the rest of their lives, showing what they did and then others who woke up screaming every night ranting about fire and children.

There's an almost heretical sort of way to view the transition of the Holocaust from killing people at the sides of pits with bullets to gassing them in facilities and mass.

And the heretical way to look at that is that you're trying to spare people the damage that this does to them.

And by the way, not necessarily the victims, but the victimizers.

I mean, how many people, especially women and children, could you kill before it bothered you?

It sounds like an obvious question, doesn't it?

Most of us are going to say any one, right?

Single person.

But I often wonder if the guy who clubbed those 45 or 50 Jews in Lithuania on the back of the head, one right after another ever woke up screaming about it later.

My dad used to say different strokes for different folks, but that also applies to whether or not you can kill people easily and sleep well at night.

But there are plenty of clues that the transition to this sort of relatively dispassionate and insulated method of wiping out lots of people by using gas was meant to spare the people who had to shoot the people otherwise in the Holocaust by bullets.

Like for example, what the guy who ran Auschwitz said, Rudolf Hess was executed after the war.

He ran Auschwitz for a couple of years, especially during the period where it really ramped up and got going.

Haas made statements that he was relieved that they were finally going to figure out a way to save the Germans who had to execute all these people from the fate of waking up at night for years screaming about children and fires afterwards.

Not so worried about the victims, but more the victimizers, although sometimes they talked about it as somehow sparing the victims, some of the psychological torment before they met their ends in the book "German Voices, Memories of Life During Hitler's Third Reich"[12].

Frederic C. Tubach quotes Hess talking about this.

And just so you know, it's not a direct quote because there's three dots between some of the statements, which means some of the intervening stuff, maybe cross talk with an interviewer has been excised, but I'm going to read it as though it's a single quote because it gives you an idea of how these people might somehow tell themselves that gassing large numbers of people was more merciful than shooting them at the sides of ditches.

And if not for the victims, then for the people that had to do the shooting in the book, Hess describes his promotion to commander at Auschwitz this way.

"There was no turning back.

With strange feelings I entered my new range of activities, a new world to which I was bound and chained.

I knew all about the life of prisoners, but the concentration camp was something new to me."

The author then says that with the impending arrival of the mass transports of Jews, Hess felt relieved that the efficient gas ovens were to be used rather than the traditional method of mass shootings.

Now quoting Haas again, "I was always appalled by shootings, particularly when I thought of the women and children.

Now I was relieved that we were going to be spared these blood baths.

Gruesome scenes are said to have taken place.

The running away of the wounded, the killing of the wounded, above all women and children, the frequent suicides in the ranks of the execution squads, because they couldn't stand wading through blood.

Some became insane."

Well, you kinda hope so, don't you?

Restores your faith in humanity a little to think that a cultured, educated, religious, seemingly moral people from a society that should know better were bothered by this.

At least some of them, you would hope so, right?

Annihilation camps

The annihilation camps, though, brought their own sorts of horrificness, of course, to the scene.

I mean, first of all, there was a big difference, as pointed out in many sources, between killing Jews where you found them, right outside the towns or the cities or nearby where they lived, and having to get them from one place to a centralized killing area where you could dispose of them, because sometimes they started off a long way away from where they were supposed to end up, and the trip itself could be a vision of hell.

In his book[1:5], Dan Stone talks about and recounts the story of a bunch of Jews that were packed into railway cars in Greece, where they were from, to be taken to the place where they would be annihilated, turned out they weren't destined to die in the gas chambers, they died on the way.

And he writes an account, a first-hand account, by a Viennese Jew named Simon Umshuev whose job it was to work for the Nazis and unload these railway cars transporting Jews to their death, and he's the one that in the case of the Jews coming from Greece found them already deceased when they got there, and he said,

"The wagons, were sealed and nailed shut.

As we opened them, we were presented with a terrible image.

Crammed in by the hundreds, the people squatted on their possessions.

Since they were unable to get out, their excrement remained in the wagon.

Everything was a stinking heap.

There was no one alive.

The air was so poisoned that comrades in our commando fainted.

We had to throw everything, the corpses, the possessions, and the filth, into huge pits which burned day and night.

The pits were eight meters deep and four meters square.

Children up to the age of four who had arrived on other transports were also thrown alive into these pits."

If you look at the infrastructure and the logistics of killing and wiping out and causing a genocide amongst an entire people, it's larger than we think it is.

We should recall that even though people like to argue about how many Jews died in the Holocaust, because six million was an estimate, we should note that the Germans were planning for far more, and had they won the war, they were planning on having some 11 million Jews available for them to kill, and the amount of infrastructure that goes into those kinds of genocidal-type logistics is a lot larger than most people think.

And Dan Stone points out in his book[1:6] that at the start of the war, there were six main concentration camps in existence.

He says by the end of 1943, that had become 260 main and satellite camps.

By July 1944, he said almost 600 camps, and by January 1945, more than 730 camps.

He says that there was a list compiled by Polish prosecutor Jan Sejn in 1950 that contained the names of more than a thousand camps.

Stone says that by some reckonings, the number of sub-camps was more than 1100.

So if you're going to try to kill 11 million people in your long-term plans, you're going to need a lot of locations to do it.

Dan Stone gives us a sense of the pace of the killings at times, and says it was probably the fastest rate of genocidal killing in world history.

And he says, "In December 1941 and March 1942, gassings began at Chelno and Belzec, respectively.

In May and July, Sobibor and Treblinka also began operating.

The Operation Reinhard camps were built to kill the Jews of Poland, although some Jews from the Netherlands, Czechoslovakia, and elsewhere were also murdered at Sobibor and Treblinka.

By 1943, they had accomplished their task, and Treblinka, the last to be closed, was dismantled in August.

In about 18 months, somewhere in the region of 1.7 million Jews had been killed at these three camps, with the rate of killing at its height in an extraordinary three-month period, from August to October 1942.

In this period of intense killing, over one million victims were murdered at the Reinhard camps, and if one adds in those killed by the Einsatzgruppen and at Auschwitz at the same time, then these three months saw the murder of approximately 1.47 million Jews, about one-quarter of the total killed in the six years of the war.

This rate of murder, he writes, makes this period of the Holocaust probably the fastest rate of genocidal killing in history."

We had mentioned earlier that great secrecy was employed to try to keep prying eyes from seeing what was going on here.

There's a reason the Allies did not know more about what was going on during the Holocaust, and it's because great care was taken to prevent people from knowing what was going on during the Holocaust.

When Germans in Germany said they didn't know about it, there's a reason that they might be able to claim that and mean it.

But it's kind of hard to keep the shootings of thousands and thousands of people in the open a secret, even though, as we read earlier, the accounts from the commanders on the scene of these executions, the first thing that they write is, you know, when they're writing to their commanding officers of the methods that they took to help maintain secrecy.

But it's a lot easier in some of these annihilation camps to keep prying eyes from knowing what's going on, because you can control access to them.

So the accounts of what was going on in them are rare.

The actual people whose job it was to handle the dead bodies and all those kinds of things oftentimes were inmates themselves in these death camps, and oftentimes they were killed every three or four months to make sure that what they knew died with them.

But occasionally information leaked out.

There's a famous report called the Gashtine Report, and it was written by an SS soldier named Kurt Gashtine.

Now, Gashtine's story is fascinating, and it is hard to know what to believe.

He claimed to essentially be an infiltrator, someone who lost a close relative, killed in one of these camps because they were one of those people who was deemed by the Nazis to be unfit to live because they were disabled.

And he says that was the moment that as a very religious person, he decided he was going to join the SS and find out exactly what was going on and expose it.

Again, I don't know if that's true or not, but that's his story.

And after the war, he wrote several different accounts in several different languages explaining what he saw, and then he hung himself.

But Gashtine's job was he was one of the people that was going to replace the way that they were killing people in these annihilation camps with a new way, because the way they started killing them was with the fumes from diesel engines, right?

They would back a truck up or a tank up to the gas chambers, connect a tube or something like it to the exhaust of these engines, and then pump in the diesel fuels into these enclosed rooms and kill everyone in them.

But it wasn't something that worked very well.

And Gashtine and others were part of the process of shifting it to something more efficient.

That turned out to be the famous Cyclone B cyanide gas.

And because of this, Gashtine was given a tour of one of these death camps, Belschitz in Poland, and shown how the process worked.

It is horrifying.

He says he arrived there for his tour in a hot August day.

He said he saw no corpses in the open, but he said just the smell of the whole region was stinking to high heaven, he says, and millions of flies were everywhere, so you got the gist of what was going on.

He describes the methods taken by the designers of the camp to sort of hide what the camp was all about.

And it's borderline diabolical.

I mean, they have signs that say things like "innolation and bathrooms."

They have geraniums planted.

They have a "Star of David," which he refers to as a clever little joke, in front of one of the buildings, and then there was an inscription on another building that said "Hackenholdt Foundation," which he didn't know what that meant initially.

He found out later what a cruel joke that was when he found out that Hackenholdt was the name of the guy who started the diesel engine that pumped the noxious fumes into the gas chamber.

He describes the experience of the victims as they arrived in the trains all the way to when their bodies were pulled out of the gas chamber.

It is horrible, but it is necessary to recount them.

It's a little long.

I'll break it up if I can.

But he writes, and like I said, there's a couple of different versions of this.

I got mine from the Jewish Virtual Library, but there's several online.

And he writes, "The next morning, shortly before 7 a.m., someone announced to me, 'In 10 minutes, the first transport will come.'

In fact, the first train arrived after some minutes from the direction of Lemberg, 45 wagons with 6,700 people, of whom 1,450 were already dead on arrival.

Behind the barred hatches, children, as well as men and women, looked out, terribly pale and nervous, their eyes full of the fear of death.

The train comes in, 200 Ukrainians fling open the doors and whip the people out of the wagons with their leather whips.

He says a large loudspeaker then gave further orders, and he quoted the loudspeakers, saying, 'Undress completely. Also, remove artificial limbs, spectacles, etc.'

He says that everyone undressed, and then he continues by saying,

'Then the procession starts moving, in front a very lovely young girl.

So all of them go along the alley, all naked, men, women and children, without artificial limbs.

I myself stand together with Helptman Virth, which is the commander, on top of the ramp between the gas chambers, mothers with babies at their breasts.

They come onward, hesitate, enter the death chambers.'

At the corner a strong SS man stands, who with a voice like a pastor says to the poor people, now quoting him,

'There is not the least chance that something will happen to you.

You must only take a deep breath in the chamber that widens the lungs.

This inhalation is necessary because of the illnesses and epidemics.'

He says on the question of what would happen to them, he answered,

'Yes, of course the men will have to work, building houses and roads, but the women don't need to work, only if they wish they can help in housekeeping or in the kitchen.'

He says,

'For some of these poor people, this gave a little glimmer of hope, enough to go the first few steps to the chambers without resistance.

The majority, are aware.

The smell tells them of their fate.

So they climb the small staircase and then they see everything.

Mothers with little children at the breast, little naked children, adults, men, women, all naked, they hesitate, but they enter the death chambers, pushed forward by those behind them or driven by the leather whips of the SS.

The majority, without saying a word, a Jewess of about forty years of age, with flaming eyes, calls down vengeance on the head of the murderers for the blood which is shed here.

She gets five or six slashes with the riding crop into her face from Hauptman Virth personally, and then she also disappears into the chamber.'

the commander says to the people filling the chamber that they should pack well, and he says people stand on each other's feet, seven to eight hundred people in forty-five cubic meters.

the SS physically squeezes them together as far as possible,

Remember this man's watching seven to eight hundred people being killed in front of him through a small window with an electric light.

The doors close.

At the same time, the others, meaning the next batch of people, are waiting outside in the open air, naked.

The people are brought to death with the diesel exhaust fumes, but the diesel doesn't work.

Hauptman Virth comes.

One can see that he feels embarrassed that this happens just today, when I am here.

That's right.

I see everything.

And I wait.

My stopwatch has honestly registered everything.

Fifty minutes.

Seventy minutes.

The diesel doesn't start.

The people are waiting in their gas chambers, in vain.

One can hear them crying, sobbing.'

He then continues, 'After two hours and forty-nine minutes, the stopwatch has registered everything well.

The diesel starts.

Until this moment, the people live in these four chambers, four times seven hundred and fifty people in four times forty-five cubic meters.

Again, twenty-five minutes pass.


Many are dead now.

One can see that through the small window in which the electric light illuminates the chambers for a moment.

After twenty-eight minutes, only a few are still alive.

Finally, after thirty-two minutes, everyone is dead.'

He then says,

'The people from the work command open the doors.

These are the Sonder Commandos, some of them Jews, who have been promised their freedom, but instead every three or four months they are killed too.

It helps keep everybody quiet.'

And he describes the way the dead are situated in the gas chambers, which are so crammed with people nobody can even bend over.

'Like basalt pillars, the dead stand inside, pressed together in the chambers.

In any event there was no space to fall down, or even bend forward.

Even in death one can still tell the families.

They still hold hands.

Tenced in death, so that one can barely tear them apart in order to empty the chamber for the next batch.

The corpses are thrown out, wet from sweat and urine, soiled by excrement, menstrual blood on their legs.

When these humans' corpses fly through the air, there is no time.

The riding crops of the Ukrainians lash down on the work commands.

Two dozen dentists open mouths with hooks and look for gold.

Gold to the left.

Without gold to the right, other dentists break gold teeth and crowns out of jaws, with pliers and hammers.'

He then points out something that should remind us of why it is so hard to figure out exactly how many people died in the Holocaust.

He says,

'Neither at Belchitz or Treblinka was any trouble taken over registering or counting the dead.'

He said the numbers were only estimates of a wagon's content.

And this going on every day at lots of different facilities for years.

Trying to imagine the reality of that description is almost impossible.

Even trying to get your mind around what smartphone high-definition video with audio would be like is, it poggles the mind to try to get yourself to a place where this makes any sort of logical sense.

And you can try to put yourself in the shoes of anyone looking at these sorts of events through their eyes, hearing the sounds, smelling the smells.

One of the things Dan Stone says in his book[1:7] is that you sometimes have to shrink this down to a level where we're talking about an individual experience of just one of the people in the story.

I often look at the pictures of the people who were killed by the communist Khmer Rouge government in Cambodia, and those people, the Khmer Rouge took photographs of their victims before they killed them.

And you can see those photographs and you look into the eyes of these people and you think, you know, what are the stories of all these individuals?

You don't see them as a giant, you know, many millions of people as a mass of humanity with no names and no stories.

Instead, you sort of look at them and you think, how did this person end up there?

What happened to their family?

Did anybody miss them?

You know, the stories of not five or six million people in the Holocaust, but five or six million individuals who all had their own horrific tale that brought them to where they were.

And Stone has a story in his book[1:8] that's a perfect example.

It's kind of the Anne Frank zooming in moment of the Holocaust where he talks about some Jews who are hiding out and a homeowner is hiding them, but they're having a problem with a child in the group who can't control the fact that he's making noise because he's terrified.

And at a certain point, the homeowner says either that child gets quiet or you're going to get found out putting these Jews that are hiding in an absolutely unimaginable situation.

And remember, we should think about this not as this specific story for these specific people, but as an individual representation of the sorts of incredible conundrums and dilemmas that all these people who found themselves in the Holocaust at one point or another in their lives had to face.

And Stone writes quote, In Baruch Milke's account of his time in hiding with his wife, sister, brother-in-law and their son during the war, he recounts how when the noise made by the nine-year-old boy Lunik led to the group being threatened with expulsion by the man hiding them, his father strangled him.

The description is matter of fact.

Now the description,

We all sat down again, withdrawn into ourselves, and Lunik went wild again.

Unable to calm him, we thought we would go mad.

Suddenly as though struck by lightning, my brother-in-law bolted from his seat and wrapped a hand around his son's tender neck as if to stifle his cries.

Instead, the boy's eyes rolled in their sockets, his tongue protruded, and he fell silent.

His father knew exactly where to squeeze.

He, like me, was a doctor.

When he finally let go of his son's throat, the boy was lifeless.

I took his hand and felt no pulse.

His father left him, covered his son's face with a blanket, seated himself in a corner, and began to tear his hair.

"I am forever recursed as the murderer of my son," he mumbled, "but I spared him much more suffering.

At least I didn't let him die at the hands of the murderers."

It's a situation where if one can't get their mind around the enormity of the Holocaust in the macro sense, we can all sort of sit there and just shake our heads and try to imagine what the individual story of simply one group of people in a micro sense found themselves confronted with, and then for the rest of their lives, living with.

I actually had quite a few more first-hand accounts and eyewitness accounts that I was going to use, but after recording that last one, I feel like that is enough horrific eyewitness accounts to make the point.

And we should also, for the sake of completeness, mention that these are hardly all the people that were the victims of Nazi Germany.

I mean, part of the reason the Soviets weren't paying enough attention, one knows now, to the Holocaust after the war is because six million Jews was a drop in the bucket, as crazy as that sounds compared to all the damage that was done, and no one still knows how many people died.

But before the Jews became the people that were being eliminated, disabled people, people with all sorts of developmental problems, the sick, I mean, the Nazis killed something like 20 to 35 million people or thereabouts.

I mean, the numbers again are not known, but they killed men, women, priests, handicapped, rigid, sick, POWs, forced laborers, camp inmates, critics, socialists, gays, Slavs, Serbs, Czechs, Italians, the Dutch, Belgians, Norwegians, Poles, Frenchmen, Ukrainians, killed more than a million children at least.

I mean, you can't get your mind around numbers like that.

Never again?

And there was a phrase that popped up in the 1960s, I think it was, from a Jewish group that said, "Never again."

Never again.

The lesson here, if there is a lesson, is that this must never happen again.

But of course it has.

There's a quote that's been used many times about incidents like these in the past.

And the quote is, "Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it."

But you know, this is kind of a trope.

And I think most historians would say that, not being one myself, but I've read enough to know that this is considered to be one of those truisms that's not really true for all sorts of reasons.

Do people really learn from history?

I mean, can't the facts of the past, for lack of a better word, facts even being a word that can be argued, but I mean, can't those things be used like a tool, like a sort of a plastic kind of tool for those who want us to come to sort of pre-arranged conclusions, right?

They say even the devil can quote scripture for his purposes.

I feel the same way about using history, right?

You can just rearrange whatever you consider facts to be to make a wonderful argument that leads to a conclusion you want people to come to, but that if you rearranged all the facts differently you could come to a different conclusion.

It's a dangerous thing to put in the hands of people who are trying to convince us of something.

But even if we did learn from the past, do the lessons stick?

I mean, I get a feeling here that even when we are traumatized by things like the Holocaust, for example, that there's an expiration date on that.

There's an old line that time heals all wounds, but when a wound is something like the Holocaust, and there are important things that you need to pay attention to if you want to avoid another one, is it a good thing that something like that might be healed up?

There's a line that I like better than those who did not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.

It's a line from the Roman orator Cicero, and I've seen it translated several different ways.

The translation is on the library at the University of Colorado where I went to school, but the translation of the phrase that I pulled up, I like the best I think, and it says, "To be ignorant of what occurs before you were born is to remain always a child."

And what this sort of implies is that history doesn't teach you lessons that will stick.

It does seem to indicate though that if you study the past, you will be more informed about the range of possibilities and the things that can tend to happen.

Maybe sometimes it's just useful to know, for example, what a worst case scenario might look like, what's possible given the things that have already happened.

It's not a theoretical argument that there could be a Holocaust if there has already been a Holocaust.

If you allow me to try to mention what strikes me after diving into this subject and reading all these eyewitness accounts and the thought that keeps popping into my head as I do, is that this is a sort of warning about the dangers of political extremism.

And maybe that's a simplistic thing to come up with, right?

Because it's sort of obvious, right?

The dangers of, you know, murderous dictators.

I mean, you don't have to be a genius to figure out that that's going to end badly.

But here's the thing.

If that was obvious in the decades after the Second World War, it's been a long time since the Second World War.

If I touch a hot stove and burn myself, I probably don't need to touch another hot stove to know that that's something I don't want to do.

If I teach my children what happened to me when I burned the hot stove, maybe they learn that lesson.

And if they teach their children about what happened to grandpa when he touched a hot stove, maybe that sticks too.

But does there come a time when that lesson seems so far away and so many things have changed since grandpa touched the hot stove that maybe you could question whether the stove is really that hot?

Maybe you have to touch it for yourself to know again, right?

Time heals all wounds, even the hand you burned on the hot stove.

The interesting thing about political extremism is there's enough examples in the past to look at that you would think people would know good and well the dangers involved and avoid it like the plague.

But there's always elements to extremism that make it enticing to human beings.

Otherwise, it wouldn't come around so often, right?

There's something that we want from this sometimes so that we can write off past examples that nobody wants to go back to a Holocaust, but maybe we'll think about the upsides of a little political extremism sometimes and assume that we've learned enough to avoid the downsides of the political extremism, right?

The other thing that comes up too when you try to avoid another Holocaust is that political extremism when it shows up never quite looks like it did the last time or the time before.

I mean, if we're on the lookout for political extremism to avoid worst case scenarios and we want to avoid a Holocaust, too many of us are looking for a person with a small little toothbrush mustache, right?

We're looking for a redo of the way it looked last time without realizing that political extremism is going to disguise itself in a completely new form in order to make it something that we might consider a viable option again.

The other thing that's worth pointing out, and this is where I think a lot of people can fall into a trap, is political extremism doesn't always show up from the same side of the political spectrum, right?

extremist governments come in all forms, right?

Right wing, left wing, fundamentalist religion.

I mean, a government like the Islamic Republic of Iran is neither really right wing or left wing.

It's its own kind of religious fundamentalism, but it's an extremist government with intense executive power.

And you can see that it doesn't matter whether it's right wing or left wing sometimes.

I mean, just take a look at an example from just a few years after the Second World War ended, right?

The period where the bodies are still fresh from the Holocaust.

And yet one of the allies on the victorious side in the Second World War, the Soviet Union, begins a program demonizing the Jews in the Soviet Union, right?

And they're rootless cosmopolitans and beginning to implement things that are known to history as the doctor's plot, looking at the potential for moving Jews to reservations, I mean, five years, right?

So if you worry about touching the hot stove and that lesson being forgotten, I mean, five years, the blisters are still on your hand and we're ready to deport Jews to reservations.

And that is a nominally left wing extremist government, right?

Doing the exact same thing that the right wing extremist government of Hitler did to the exact same people, by the way.

The lesson is about the dangers of unchecked power on the old classic original political spectrum that people from my generation grew up with, the one that dates back to the French Revolution, the societies that emphasize the importance of things like human rights, civil rights, the rights of individuals over the collective, diffused power, right?

Checks and balances.

Those societies were in the general center of the political spectrum.

That includes things like the center left and the center right, right?

So I mean, you can have more conservative or more liberal governments, but the so-called Overton window, as it's known, could move a bit in either direction.

Sometimes you'd move into a more conservative phase of your country's history.

Sometimes you'd move into more liberal phases.

But what you're supposed to be protected from in these systems is the extremes of either side, the extremes and the sorts of government that would throw out the norms of behavior, right?

That were considered okay and that keep societies within the ranges that were safe, that kept us from going off the rails.

Germany under Nazism was off the rails.

But let's not fool ourselves that just because we live in a representative elected system that we're somehow protected against extremism.

Hitler was a politician before he was an autocrat.

If you have a system where the people elect the government and the system is populated by people who have lost faith in non-extreme approaches, I mean, if they're made up of racists or anti-Semites or utopianists or people that hate their nation's opposition, well democracy has some safeguards against extremism, but not if the voters themselves are demanding extremist solutions, right?

Then a government that responds to the will of the people is itself going to be extreme.

It's going to give the people what they want.

In that case, the danger is that the people want something that's going to take them down a road that leads to outcomes that nobody wants.

I can't think of any extremist government in history where a decent number of people living in a modern day representative system would go, "Oh yeah, that's what I want."

There are things that should be considered warning signs for us all.

When we begin on a wide ranging level, right?

Not just a few people here and there, not just in the case.

When we begin to dehumanize our fellow human beings, when we begin to turn them into something that's not seen as a person, when we refer to them as vermin or subhuman or animals or deplorables or enemies of the people or anything like that, you begin to open the door to having these human beings treated as whatever you're referring to them as.

I mean, if they're vermin, what do you do to vermin?

The way we label our fellow human beings opens up the door to logical solutions that are only considered logical due to the way we've recast them.

Things that would never be okay to do to another person become okay if they're not considered another person.

You saw that in the Second World War.

There's a book that I bought in the 1980s.

I think it's still viable, although the numbers are a little wrong, by a professor named R.J. Rummel.

It's called "Death by Government"[13].

The shorthand explanation of what the book is about is the dangers of extreme governments, governments that do not have enough checks and balances, governments with too much executive power and authority on the right or the left, whatever political label you want to use.

And Professor Rummel says over and over in the book, "Power kills. An absolute power kills absolutely."

Now, he has some interesting statistics about the different governments in the 20th century that killed large numbers of people, genocidal numbers.

He calls them democides, right?

Death by government.

He says that the communist Chinese and the Soviet Union, to name just two of the far left governments, killed more people than the Nazis or the imperial Japanese before and during the Second World War.

So the right wing, far right wing governments.

But he says that they've had 75 years to do it, whereas the Third Reich famously only lasted like 12 years, and imperial Japan's reign of terror in Asia probably not much longer.

So the death rate was higher for the far right governments, but the far left governments have had three quarters of a century to rack up an even higher death total.

The point is that there's no monopoly on which end of the political spectrum is more murderous when you get too far away from the middle.

And I had a professor that said that both ends of the political spectrum shouldn't be seen as a line.

They should be seen as more of a horseshoe shape or maybe even a circle.

And then when you get to the very, very far right, it almost touches the very, very far left.

And even though the rationales for why they're doing what they do, right wing rationales or left wing rationales, the actual experience of living in these totalitarian states might not be that different on the ground.

Rummel's point though, is that all these people were killed because governments came to power that saw the normal limitations that might prevent or safeguard against these kind of actions thrown out the window.

And in a for every action, there's an equal and opposite reaction way.

There's often a dynamic in play where extremists on one side are empowered by extremists on the other.

If the Nazis don't have the German communists to use as boogeymen and vice versa, do they ever come to power?

I feel like you can see this dynamic in play among the one government in the world who should know better than any other the dangers of extremism, the Israelis.

The Israelis have regional enemies that use and often revel in antisemitic genocidal imagery.

And more than imagery, actions.

Most governments and extremist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah in Iran who might not be dissatisfied with another Holocaust and who showed once again in late 2023 that they will happily rape Jewish women and kill Jewish children.

The more this goes on, the harder the electorate in Israel wants to push back and the harder they push back, the more extreme the other side becomes.

And the more traditional safeguards and firewalls are breached.

It's not unusual to hear Jews in Israel dehumanized by their anti Israeli neighbors.

But when the Israeli government officials of the more extreme wing begin to use terms like animals or Malachites to describe their enemies, their adversaries, one loses hope.

Hope over the question about learning from history because no people on earth knows what dangers lurk in extremist governments better than the victims of the worst genocide in world history.

And if they aren't immune from those traps and those pitfalls and those dangers, then who is?

When you consider how dark the subject that we just talked about was and how long it might take you and how long it might take me to recover from it, imagine if this is what you did for a living.

You dove into the archives, you read the original stories, you catalog the numbers and the accounts and all that sort of thing every day of your working life.

Think about how much fortitude one would have to have to do that.

Conversation with Dan Stone: Introducing the Guest Speaker and His Expertise

Dan Carlin:

Today is Dan Stone, who's a professor of modern history and the director of the Holocaust Research Institute at Royal Holloway, University of London.

This is what he does.

He's the author and editor of numerous articles and books.

He wrote histories of the Holocaust, the liberation of the camps, the end of the Holocaust and its aftermath, and Concentration Camps A Very Short History.

He is an expert on this subject, and we brought him on to add some context and some depth, and to talk about his new book in paperback, The Holocaust An Unfinished History[1:9], where he points out something that has not been.

Paid enough attention to the fact that this is not just a German thing.

The Germans get the lion's share of the blame for the Holocaust traditionally, but they couldn't have done what they did without a lot of other help.

And in this book, The Holocaust An Unfinished History[1:10], Dan Stone helps us to understand, you know, the motivations, the roots and the extent of that help.

So without further ado, Professor Dan Stone.

All right, so why don't we start with the most obvious question, which is you've spent a lot of time writing about this subject already.

How does one decide that there is a need for a new book?

And how does one find enough material that wasn't covered in the old books to make?

To make something like this seem important to you and important for the reading audience?


Motivation for Writing a New Book on the Holocaust

Dan Stone:

That's a very valid question.

I mean, there's a lot of books, right?

I mean, that's perfectly clear.

And you're right, I think, to emphasize that.

But it seems to me and it seemed to me before I wrote this book, that there was a need for a mid-length study that did more than simply narrate the sequence of events.

In other words, there's a there's a lot of academic studies.

There are a number of very large histories of the Holocaust, most of which are, uh, event based history, one thing after another.

Um, they're very good books, but they're hard, I think, often to retain the information that you're reading as you turn the page, you kind of forget, uh, much of what you've read on the on the previous page.

Uh, and then there are some very short introductions, but they tend to treat the reader as, um, ill informed, knowing nothing.

And I think, you know, there's enough literature out there now for there to be a readership that is already quite well informed about the history of the Holocaust, but wants more than simply a narrative of events, but wants also something that is more analytical at the same time.

And so I set out to write a book that took into account the, uh, the very rapidly changing and developing, uh, body of scholarship on the literature, on the topic.

But to then weave that into a narrative that didn't lay on the academic stuff in a kind of heavy way, but is there in the architecture of the book so that readers can follow the the footnotes if they want, and they can see that that what I've written is based on the most recent scholarship, but it tries to combine a narrative of the events insofar as I've been able to choose what I wanted to emphasize with also a kind of explanatory framework at the same time.

Dan Carlin:

As I was going over some of the books that I have that date back all the way to the early 60s about this, it occurred to me that you and and people writing about the Holocaust, like you in the modern world, have a sort of a different and certainly more complex task, because those ones in the early 60s and late 60s are not writing for an audience, for example, in Eastern Europe or places like that.

You've got to deal with people whose countries sometimes prohibit even talking about this in the way that that your book discusses some of this write a sort of a of a shared responsibility for some of these crimes against humanity.

How does that change what you have to do, and how did you address something like that, knowing that this is going to be read by people who are in countries that maybe deny that they had anything involved in this?

Transition from Shootings to Gas Chambers

Dan Stone:



It's a very interesting observation because the before I even address the question of of that, you directly asked me.

It's also the case that now the scholarship on this topic is written by people from across Europe.

So where up until the end of the Cold War, there was only a very small number of internationally regarded historians who came from behind the Iron Curtain.

Now, much of the leading scholarship is written by scholars who come from Eastern Europe, who, who often can speak five languages, have access to local archives and so on.

And so there's a very impressive and extremely rapidly growing historiography of the Holocaust in Hungary, for example, or Czechoslovakia, um, and, and the rest of, of, of Europe, including parts of Europe like Greece that were neglected for similar reasons for, for many decades.

I think the question of how to approach this, knowing that people in those countries will also be reading this, is to behave like a historian and simply follow the evidence.

And of course, that, um, can sometimes be uncomfortable reading, I think.

But that's true for places in Western Europe as well.

There are ongoing debates in France and in the Netherlands about collaboration, about who knew what, about who was responsible, etc., etc., and the debates that are ongoing in Romania or Hungary or Poland, for example, are in, in essence, no different.

In a sense.


No country likes to face up to the darker side of its history.

We can say the same about the US and slavery, or the treatment of Native Americans or Britain and colonialism.

And so the question of, let's say, uh, Romania's involvement in the Holocaust, maybe something we'll come back to is, is something that.

Many Romanians remain quite reluctant to face up to.

But you have, I think, as a historian, simply to present the evidence.

It's not about bashing a particular group of people and saying, oh, you are somehow uniquely responsible for this.

But saying this also happened here, and the evidence shows that, and we need to think about what that means.

Dan Carlin:

Well, and of course, anti-Semitism, pogroms, persecution and discrimination against Jews has been going on basically from time immemorial in Europe.

How does something like, you know, we were always taught when I was younger that the Nazis were a completely, almost different sort of an event or phenomenon altogether.

But is there a sort of a throughput, if you will, like maybe we're talking about an amplitude rather than a completely different sort of event.

I mean, how do you sort of see the the Holocaust as, as it was carried out by Nazi Germany in connection to earlier pogroms and discrimination and disasters during the First Crusade and all that kind of stuff.

Dan Stone:

There is, of course, a throughput.

And that's, I think, the notion of the Jews as the the other of Europe, the people, that it made sense for Nazism to focus on the Jews because this had a resonance and it has a very ancient resonance in, in European history.

Um, but what's interesting, I think about Nazism and you see this in, uh, the Nazi ideologues and particularly, of course, in Mein Kampf[3:3], is that there's this kind of mishmash of elements taken from most of the modern, uh, illiberal reservoir of ideas, including racism, anti-Semitism, eugenics, anti-feminism, etc., etc.

but what Hitler does, I think, and what's different from what's gone before, is to make this not just one part, let's say, of the state's functioning.

So in Czarist Russia, allowing pogroms to take place against Jews at Easter, for example.

But what Hitler does is to make Jew hatred the the very centerpiece of everything that he thinks about the world.

And so it's the lens through which he understands everything.

And eventually becomes a kind of philosophy of history.

That's to say that Hitler and the leading Nazis understand the the essence of world history as the as the struggle between good and evil, which means Aryan versus non-Aryan, which means essentially the Aryan or German people against the Jews.

And so whether you look at school textbooks or debates in Nazi technology societies, um, or explicitly racist, um, fields like biology or anthropology, this viewpoint becomes the centerpiece through which the whole world is understood.

That, I think, is what distinguishes Nazism from what's gone before in the history of anti-Semitism and what distinguishes it from, uh, most of the, uh, countries and institutions that are allied to the Nazis during World War Two.

Dan Carlin:

When you read Mein Kampf[3:4] or when you read some of the, you know, Julius Streicher type stuff, it seems like these are crazy conspiracy theorists, right?

It's as though crazy conspiracy theorists got a hold of a country and then built an ideology around their crazy conspiracy.

It's, you know, if you compare it to the to the people on the opposite side of the extreme political spectrum, the communists and the Bolsheviks, they had reams and reams of philosophies and papers and arguments over the historical dialectic and the dictatorship of the proletariat.

And they're bashing it out.

And the Nazis don't seem to have any of that at all.

Can you can you kind of explain to me how we have an almost anti-intellectual conspiracy movement going on here, that one of the most intellectual, culturally oriented countries in Europe buys into.

Dan Stone:

It's also very complicated.

The you're right.

Obviously the history of communism is is one from an from a history of ideas perspective is one of, uh, minute debates about the negation of the negation and dialectical materialism and all of those things that we know about, um, and struggles between different, uh, sects of communists within the Nazi ideology that what the first thing to say, I think, is that the Third Reich existed for 12 years, Nazi ideology for, let's say, another 15 years before 1933 or so.

Um, and yet the amount of material, written material that the, the Nazis and their ideologues produced was absolutely vast.

And so was in in a way, we're still discovering it.

So it's it's not true to say that there was nothing written.

But the difference is that, uh, where communism claimed at least to be evidence based, you know, the history of Marxism based on statistics and economics and readings of the of the working class and its working conditions and so on, and who owned the means of production and all of those things.

Nazism was before any evidence came into the debate.

Nazism was based on a belief system, which is as as I've described, this notion that race, first of all, existed, that race was the essence through which world history should be understood, and that the enemy of the the German race was the Jews, and everything else followed from that.

So then you have all sorts of anthropological debates, let's say, about the constitution of the of the German race.

What percentage of, uh, of the, of the, of the German race is made up of Nordics, Alpines, Dinaric, uh, Mediterraneans, etc., etc.

these kinds of arcane, uh, intellectual debates, debates about whether whether it's necessary to go out into the field and measure people through taking physical measurements to determine who is and who is not Aryan.

All of these kinds of things, uh, took place, and there is a vast literature on, on this stuff, but it's all you're right to say that this is fundamentally a paranoid conspiracy theory, that the the Nazis didn't view the Jews simply as, uh, untermenschen, as subhumans.

They also and I'm talking about a small stratum now of the leading, uh, of the Nazi leadership.

They understood the Jews also as, uh, the wire pullers behind world events.

So they were dangerous.

They were a threat to the to the Aryan race, in a way.

Let's say that the disabled or Romanies were not.

These were people that were anesthetic, that were physically threatening to the health of the race, but they didn't, in a way, undermine the very existence of the Aryan race by virtue of their machinations.

Whereas the Jew, particularly the international Jew, as Hitler put it, um, was behind, uh, Churchill and Roosevelt and Stalin and all of the great events of, of world history were somehow driven by this hidden cabal of Jewish interests.

And in that sense, it's absolutely correct, I think, to talk about Nazism as a as a conspiracy theory.

Dan Carlin:

Well, then let's talk about the lead conspiracist for a minute.

Um, I read one historian who said that this is a conversation about the use of bureaucratic measures to enforce magical beliefs.


And the magical beliefs are the part are Hitler and and you look at this and wonder, no Hitler, no Holocaust, no Hitler, no Nazism.

Uh, if if Hitler dies or one of those assassination attempts midway through the war are successful, how do you think?

And I realize we're off in fantasy land now, but this is partly trying to determine the old line about whether you get any of this without a Hitler.

If Hitler dies midway through the war, do you think this changes how this whole thing plays out in terms of the number of Jews who end up dying at the end of the war, or any of those sorts of things?

Writing for an International Audience

Dan Stone:

It's a very hard question.

Um, I think at the early in the early stages of the rise of the Nazi movement, without the coming to prominence of Hitler, you would have had a small movement driven by crazy theorists like Anton Drexler and Julius Streicher and Himmler, I suppose, in his early stages.

Uh, these were people who were on the extreme fringes of German politics, and probably the National Socialist Workers Party would have remained on those fringes.

Um, when it comes to halfway through the war, that's very difficult to say, because once the final solution to the Jewish question was in place as a continent wide crime, let's say by the spring of 1942, it was it was then functioning and it had its own bureaucracy and, and offices in the Gestapo and the SS and so on, who were carrying out this program, had Hitler been killed?

I mean, I'm, of course, I'm guessing now, but I, I would I would guess that the number of Jews killed would have been smaller, that the number of people willing to speak out and say, this is not going to end well for us would have been higher.

Uh, nevertheless, the program was in train and it wouldn't have come immediately crashing to a halt.

It would have taken some time, I think.

Majority of Victims Killed in 1942

Dan Carlin:

I was, um, you know, and I've read a lot about this, and I still was being shocked by some of the things that I read in your book, in terms of them being novel ideas that I hadn't heard.

One was that, uh, you said, quote, in March 1942, 75 to 80% of Holocaust victims were still alive.

11 months later.

80% of the victims of the Holocaust were dead.

That is an incredible statistic.

What should we think about a statistic like that?

Dan Stone:

I should I should say, first of all, that that comes from Christopher Browning.

Oh, okay.

All right.

He he actually uses that statistic in the, uh, preface, I think, to Ordinary Men.

So I borrowed that from him.

But it's it's still I think, a startling statistic.

I mean, it tells us that we think about, however you define the Holocaust so we can think about it as being purely the killing process, 1941 to 1945.

Or there are historians who define the Holocaust as the whole Nazi period, 1933 to 1945, to take into account the years of the persecution, um, before the war.

What it tells us is that 1942 is the absolute height of the killing process.

And within 1942, actually, there's a three month period in the summer, which is probably the fastest killing rate of any genocide in history, so that the the Operation Reinhard death camps are working in full swing.

That's Belgique, Sobibor and Treblinka.

Uh, the gas chambers in Auschwitz have just started to operate.

And the the Holocaust by bullets, the murders, the face to face shooting by the Einsatzgruppen and their, uh, helpers in Eastern Europe are also not yet finished.

So you have this, uh, coming together of a number of different ways of killing Jews across Europe that is really at its height in the summer of 1942.

And that's no coincidence, because that's also the point at which the Nazi empire is at its height, where, uh, with the exception of Hungary, which comes later, the the Germans have access to huge numbers of Jews that they haven't had access to before.

They're still in this stage of thinking that they will win the war and winning the war.

Also, uh, from a military perspective, even means eradicating the Jews, because this, the murder of the Jews is, uh, one of the key war aims of of of the Germans.

Dan Carlin:

I had a Polish listener take me to task once because I used the word constantly Nazis.

When I was talking about the Germans in the Second World War.

And he said, don't, don't call them Nazis.

He said, call them Germans.

You're you're excusing, uh, the German people.

But it occurs to me, after reading your book, that all these people in Europe had anti-Semitic backgrounds in their histories and that these things were harnessed by the Nazis in their endeavor.

I think that's one of the main takeaways from your book.

Two, can you talk a little about the fact that 6 million, or however many Jews probably don't die in this whole thing without a bunch of willing collaborators in other countries with long histories of antipathy towards that particular minority group.

Dan Stone:

I think that's correct.

I would say, however, that it still is worth differentiating between Germans and Nazis, because I do think that the really the impetus for the Holocaust comes from a quite a small strata, um, of the Nazi leadership.

Everybody else that's involved, um, whether it's the kind of, um, regular membership of the Nazi Party down to Ukrainian peasants looting their Jewish neighbors, uh, stuff after they've been murdered was involved for one reason or another.

And it's not always clear cut that they were involved because they were radical anti-Semites, that most people involved in the killing process did not need to believe in this notion of, uh, the the kind of metaphysical philosophy of history of the Jews threatening the Aryan race in order to take part in the Holocaust.

Um, and there were, of course, plenty of Germans who kept their heads down during the Nazi regime who didn't like what was happening around them.

Um, we may think that they, by virtue of not doing anything that they, in a sense, facilitated the regime, but they nevertheless were not active supporters.

And there were plenty of Germans in exile, uh, who, of course, were anti-nazis.

And so I don't think it's entirely fair to to say that German equals Nazi at this period.

And that's also true whichever country we look at.

So if we look at, um, countries where there were, uh, that were allied to the Germans, so Vichy France or Norway under Quisling or Croatia under Pavelic, um, Slovakia under Tiso, in each case, you will find constituencies in those countries who did not support, uh, the regime that was in power and certainly did not necessarily support the murder of the Jews.

But it's also true that there were enough people in every country that the Nazis occupied, um, including Poland, where, uh, the only country that was not invited to form an SS regiment, where there were people who were willing to take part in the murder of the Jews, or who understood what was happening across Europe as an opportunity to fulfill a long standing nationalist dream of of creating an ethnically homogeneous nation state, as, for example, in Hungary or Romania, where there were some radical anti-Semites in power.

But for many of those close to the regime, this what was happening with the alliance with the Third Reich was an opportunity they didn't necessarily have to buy into the idea again, of the international Jew as this kind of great metaphysical threat.

What they had to do was say, okay, now we have the opportunity presented to us to do some of the things that we've long wanted to do.

And by that I mean since the late 19th, early 20th century.

And then from the creation of the modern nation states after, uh, the treaties of, of World War One.

So in the Hungarian case, uh, to eliminate not just Jews, but Romanies, uh, and, and others in, let's say, in the Croatian case to get rid of Serbs and Romanies as well as Jews.

The the Croats killed far more Serbs than they did Jews, because this was a general aspiration to create an ethnically pure state.

And so killing Jews in those places was simply one aspect of, um, creating this, this phenomenon.

And in Romania, for example, the, uh, the Antonescu regime was responsible for the murder of huge numbers of Jews and a smaller number of Romanies.

But it's also the case that after the summer, autumn of 1942, the Romanians stopped killing Jews because they could see which way the wind was blowing in terms of the war, and decided that it would be safer for them, and the outcome in terms of saving the Romanian state would be better if they were to stop killing Jews.

And so you have a kind of a radical attack on the Jews at one point, and then a stop after a certain point, whereas for the for the diehard Nazis, that would be impossible.

Um, and even at the very end of the war, the Nazis are still killing Jews, because for them, this was this was the war effort.

Whereas for the Nazis allies, it was something.

That they bought into insofar as it was expedient for them, and when it no longer was expedient, they stopped doing it.

Dan Carlin:

So help me out with the dichotomy here.

The dichotomy is the the Nazi regime being open about their anti-Semitic feelings and yet trying very hard.

It seems like, and correct me if I'm wrong.

Uh, trying very hard.

It seems like to keep a lot of this stuff secret, right?

The actual killings.

Um, I was reading one account, uh, that was talking about how one, uh, person at Auschwitz told another one that he was showing around that this is the really super secret thing, and we'll all be shot if any of this comes out.

Um, if I'm having a hard time figuring out where where the openness on one side, you know, Hitler saying, if the if we're plunged into another world war by the Jews, you know, that'll be it.

So that's very open.

But with the hiding, then, of the ramifications of playing that idea out to its logical conclusion, uh, how should we see this?

Dan Stone:

That's also a complex question, because you can see both things going on at the same time.

It's often the case with Nazi Germany that there's a kind of public statement, um, and then there's a reality.

And in the Third Reich, I mean, you just cited Hitler's famous Reichstag speech from January 1939.

Um, and throughout the war, if you read Jeffrey Hersh's work on, um, the Nazi propaganda during the war, actually, the.

Those words continue to be used over and over again throughout the war and towards the end of the war, when the vast majority of the Jews have been already murdered.

Actually, in some ways, the the anti-Semitic rhetoric is ramped up because there's now the threat of retribution from the international Jew.

And so this anti-Semitic language continues to be extremely shrill even towards the end of the war.

At the same time, there is a kind of secrecy, but I think that secrecy is more designed to prevent the Jews being targeted from understanding what's being, what's going to happen to them, than it is from a fear of advertising to the rest of the world.

What's what's going on?

For example, um, it's forbidden for German soldiers to take photographs of, of massacres or to take photographs in the camps.

And yet we know from the Wehrmacht exhibition from the 1990s that German soldiers took these photos.


In, in, in their millions, actually.

I mean, at least hundreds of thousands of photographs taken of these massacres.

And if you think of Wendy Lauer's book The Ravine and her detailed reconstruction of of trying to show what happened in the lead up to the one photograph that she has on the cover of the book, and to find out who is in the photograph, where it was, and so on.

It's just one example of a photograph that shouldn't exist, because those photos were forbidden, but in reality did exist and were shown around, and that when German soldiers went on leave, they would show them to their family members.

And of course, what the what the Wehrmacht exhibition showed was that even by the 1990s, um, people who had their fathers or grandfathers uniforms hanging in the attic often had photographs in the pockets, and that these could be, uh, shown around.

So there there was, on the one hand, this use of euphemistic language, uh, we talk about it without talking about it, and at the same time, um, an open display of what was going on, which is very important because it creates, of course, a shared complicity, not just in the direct perpetrators, but across the whole of, uh, of German society and beyond.

Dan Carlin:

And, of course, one can't help but contrast the photographic technology of the time with what we have today and how some of these massacres shot in high definition color on an iPhone with audio might impact the way we see these kinds of things.

Um, I help me now with the difference between the genocide by bullets versus the genocide by gas idea.

A lot of people don't understand that.

For a lot of the Holocaust, this was about shooting people into pits and then bringing more people to shoot them into pits, and then having them fall on the stacked like sardine bodies below them.

Uh, talk a little about this Einsatzgruppe and, uh, genocide by bullets.

Part of the genocide.


The Einsatzgruppen and the 'Holocaust by Bullets'

Dan Stone:

I mean, I think what's important here is that the this this phase of, of the Holocaust, um, we're talking now about the the period immediately after the invasion of the Soviet Union.

So from the end of June 1941 through to the spring of 1942.

Excuse me, in other words, before the Final Solution was framed as a European wide project.

You see this phase in which the Nazis decide that as they, as the Wehrmacht, uh, goes into the Soviet Union, the Einsatzgruppen, which is this group of about 3000 men chosen from within the SS and SD, uh, will follow behind and murder Jewish groups as they find them.

And so those 3000 men on their own are not responsible for the murder of about 1.5 million Jews.

They had considerable assistance, first of all, from the Order Police, that's to say, the regular police and their battalions, the people that, um, Chris Browning wrote about in Ordinary Men, for example.

Uh, but they also had lots of assistance from local auxiliaries, particularly in Ukraine and across that swathe of borderlands, up to through Belarus and up to the Baltic states.

And again, Wendy Lauer's book shows that because some of the people in her the photograph that she describes are Ukrainians.

And the same is true in in Romania, in Transnistria, uh, where they carry out massacres.

It's also with the assistance of local Volksdeutsche, that's to say, ethnic Germans living in that region and of um, ethnic Ukrainian, uh, auxiliaries who also did much of the shooting.

But what we're talking about here is, uh, the so-called war of annihilation in the Soviet Union, so that when because for Hitler, uh, Bolshevism is not not just a hated ideology, it's an ideology that is driven by the Jews.

So we should when we think about the Soviet Union through a Nazi lens, we shouldn't necessarily think about Bolshevism.

We should think about judeo-bolshevism.

This is what how the Nazis think that Bolshevism is a Jewish system.

And therefore, uh, to eradicate it, you have to kill the Jews in.

The Soviet Union.

This will be the only way to to do away with Bolshevism as as a system.

So you have this period where beginning immediately after, um, the Wehrmacht enters into the Soviet Union for about six weeks, where only men of fighting age are targeted, but within a very short period that that's extended to include everyone, uh, women, children, the elderly.

And so as exactly as you say, uh, in these small towns and also larger cities, the most famous being in Kiev, the shooting at Babi Yar, the Jews were often identified by their neighbors, where it wasn't obvious to the to the Germans whether they were Jews or not, uh, taken to pits outside of the town, uh, and and shot into them.

And so for this phase of the Holocaust, we're talking essentially about a huge scale, effectively something like a colonial massacre writ large.

Uh, this is by no means what we often think of as the Holocaust, as this kind of technologically sophisticated industrial genocide.

It was still genocide on a huge scale, but it was done by, uh, face to face shooting.

It's extraordinarily brutal, but was extremely efficient nevertheless.

And we think of the, uh, the tens of thousands killed at Babi Yar or in some of the, some of the massacres in, in Transnistria, huge numbers of people shot into, into pits there.

Dehumanization of Victims and Voluntary Participation

Dan Carlin:

You know, I was reading in some of these accounts and, and I think, you know, when you read a lot of this stuff and I can't imagine how you do your job because you read this stuff all the time.

But when you read this stuff, there's this tendency to think of the Nazis and, and the ones who carry out these brutal murders, you know, to quote some of the Nuremberg justifications as just following orders and all that kind of stuff.

What really knocks you down sometimes is the fact that sometimes people were curious enough to just want to do this for the experience.

I'm moved in a bad way by that story of the of the police unit, uh, entertainers, the musicians and and actors who, uh, wanted the opportunity one day to just shoot Jews, to just see what it was like and how this was, uh, portrayed in one of the books I was reading.

It might have been yours.

I get them conflated sometimes as almost a psychological chance to commit an inhuman act without any sort of ramifications to be paid for it.

Is there some sort of difference between.

And maybe that's not the right way to phrase the question, but but I'm having a harder time for some reason with that than I am.

Maybe with an idea that I've become comfortable with over the 58 years of my lifetime of this Nazi state and regime, and the political orders from Himmler on down, uh, what do we make of or like the guy with the crowbar in Kaunas, Lithuania, right in the crowd cheering and or the crowds cheering at some of these mass shootings?

You know, I don't know what to make of the average people enjoying this so much as opposed to some attempt to wipe out, you know, this enemy of Judeo-bolshevism.

Dan Stone:

It's also it's a difficult question and it's a very uncomfortable one, I think.

And again, there's a kind of spectrum that you can see in research by the German historical historian Michel Wilt.

You can see photographs of Jews being deported from the German provinces.

So not they're not being murdered.

They're they're simply being rounded up and deported.

But you can see the crowds laughing and, and jeering at the Jews as they're being rounded up and taken away through to exactly as you described, the so-called Death Dealer of Kaunas or, um, these volunteers, if you like, who turn up and want to have a go at shooting.

I a little bit reluctant to say, uh, this takes us back to some of the sort of, you know, Stanford prison experiments or Milgram and so on.



You know, there's a there's an Eichmann in all of us and so on.

Um, but I do think that, at least formally, what what you see in, in eastern, particularly in Eastern Europe, where the killings take place, is that the Nazis create and their allies, also the Romanians in Transnistria, do the same.

They create effectively a lawless zone where the there's a state of exception, the regular law of the land no longer applies.

The Jews are fair game.

Um, anyone can do anything to them with no comeback.

And so in a sense, it's an I've written elsewhere.

I wrote an article some years ago called Genocide as Transgression.

Uh, and it's what I tried to argue there was that the.

The Holocaust presented an opportunity to people to fulfill their wildest fantasies with no comeback.

And afterwards, I think that for some, some of the perpetrators at least, they probably looked back on what they'd done and couldn't quite believe it when they were back in regular society where normal law applied and so on, and probably couldn't, couldn't even fathom what they'd done themselves.

And yet there was this state of exception created that allowed this, this, this madness, if you will, to to take place.

And it's uncomfortable because it makes you think, well, perhaps that's what human beings are, that people kill other people because they can when the opportunity arises, that's what happens.

Uh, nevertheless, it's it's more than just a pogrom.

You know, this was a state sanctioned.

State of affairs.

Uh, which is why we see, uh, the, the genocide on the scale that we do.

Dan Carlin:

I was interested, and maybe this is part of how one at the ground level rationalizes what they're being, uh, what they're doing was this equating the Jews in the East to partizans especially.


And the.

And when you read these accounts by German soldiers, often they'll talk about either how the Partizans were Jews or how the Partizans were working with the Jews, and that then when you reply, by killing Jews, you are in effect killing Partizans.

And this is okay, because they were just shooting at your buddies.

Um, what do you make of this?

And listen, I guess I guess Hitler himself was had said at one point, just call them all partizans.

I mean, this became a wonderful blanket and obviously this obscures the number.

You know, when people talk about how many deaths in the Holocaust, it must be impossible to, you know, to anti-s Jews from partizans at this because oftentimes that's what they'll say.

What do we make about this Partizan rationale?

Dan Stone:

I think exactly as you say it, it provides, um, a means of self-justification.

Uh, but it only goes so far because when the Einsatzgruppen or members of the Wehrmacht or the Order Police are shooting, um, elderly men and women or children.

Of course, this part is an argument falls away immediately.

And then you have to say, well, then what are they thinking?

So I think the the Partizan argument.

Uh, worked well at first in the early stages of of the war in the Soviet Union as a kind of psychological buffer.

Uh, but I think once the, the killing squads got used to what they were doing, they no longer needed it.

They continued to use that language to some extent.

If you if you look at the the Einsatzgruppen reports, they are often couched in this euphemistic language.

But the, the killings themselves, I don't think they could possibly have believed it when they were shooting whole, whole population groups.

Dan Carlin:


This idea of psychological insulation is interesting to me because so often and please again, correct me if I've misunderstood or if the sources have changed or the attitudes and and assessments have changed.

But it's interesting when you read, because the Nazis were paying close attention to how these shootings were going, how they could make it more efficient, what could be done differently.

And they never show a whole lot of sympathy, obviously, for the victims, but they sometimes show sympathy or at least concern over what the perpetrators are experiencing.

Having to shoot all these people all the time.

And when I was growing up, and again, correct me if this has changed.

This was always one factor that went into the idea of something like creating annihilation camps, where you don't have to hold a Tommy gun and spend the whole afternoon shooting women and children.

It just becomes a process where there's, as you suggested, more of a psychological insulation.


Dan Stone:

Well, maybe talk to me.

Dan Carlin:

A little bit about because I'm interested in the human angle.

I always talk about people who are caught in the gears of history.

I mean, if you find yourself tasked with having to be at Baba Yara and being one of the gunmen there, um, it's almost heartening for me that there's enough people bothered by this that you have to find another way.

Can you talk to me?

And it's a good transition to go from the genocide of bullets to the genocide of gas.

But talk to me a little about this, the effect it has on the killers.

Dan Stone:

Um, it's a good question because I think again the evidence is mixed.

There's a, I think a small number of.

Killers who enjoy the process.

And then there's a larger majority who get used to it, and then who write letters back to their families, who's saying things like, oh, it takes nerves of steel to do what we're doing here, but we have to do it for the sake of our children and grandchildren.

Um, and then there's a very small minority of, uh, of those who who won't do it or who have to be persuaded and who eventually do it.

Um, thanks to being plied with alcohol or because they don't want to look bad in front of their comrades and so on.


I think one of the things that has changed is that I think we now understand that this did have psychological ramifications for the killers and, um, nobody needs to feel sorry for them.

But probably many of those who, uh, were not, uh, prosecuted after the war probably did suffer from PTSD from, uh, from what they'd experienced and what and what they'd done.

Um, again, which is not, um, does not mean we need to, you know, it's not an apology for them.

Uh, but they certainly did experience psychological effects from, uh, from what they'd done.

Not all of them, but but many did, I think.

Um, but the you're right to say, I think that one of the reasons for the transition from the Holocaust by bullets to the creation of gas chambers was, uh, a notion that this would involve fewer people in, in direct, face to face killings, that the process would be less traumatic for the perpetrators.

Um, there was no regard.

I think there has been a certain amount of apologetics, uh, trying to say this, this was less barbaric for the victims as well.

But that's clearly nonsense that the when you read the description, one of the things I wanted to do in the book, actually, was to say that when you look at the the death camps, they're not this, uh, clean industrial process of murder sites that they're sometimes thought of.

They were extremely brutal, violent and and nasty.

And that way of killing people is also, uh, horrendous and by no means efficient and clean.

Nevertheless, from the perpetrators point of view, it took far fewer people.

Uh, and when you look at the places like the Reinhard camps, a very small, uh, core of SS and local helpers, uh, could, could kill thousands and thousands of victims very quickly.

But again, that transition, I don't think it was only driven by psychological needs.

It was also contingent, that's to say, uh, that the the idea for the gas chamber came from the so-called euthanasia program beforehand so that the or that the T4 project to kill the, the disabled, not necessarily not primarily Jews, but members of the Aryan race in Germany who were considered to be deficient and disabled and should be done away with.

Um, it was there that gas chambers were first created.

And as that program was being wound up, many of the leaders of it were transferred then to the Reinhard camps, because they'd suggested that this would be a more appropriate way of of killing Jews than simply shooting them.

So the psychological, um, explanation is, I think, a correct one.

But it also has to be understood as, as emerging out of other things that were happening in, in the first, uh, mass murder projects being carried out by Nazi Germany, that's to say the euthanasia program.

Hiding the Scale of the Killings

Dan Carlin:

Maybe some of it also goes to the idea of hiding this sort of stuff.

I was I was shocked to read an account from early 1942 talking about the Babi Yar area where the mass grave was, and that when things started to unfreeze, that there were like minor explosions created by the gas from the bodies buried in the in the pit.

And you think to yourself about crematoriums and whatnot, maybe solving that problem somewhat, but it is a you know, it seems to me that the reason maybe we focus so much on on that even if it wasn't as factory line genocide as we've always thought is, because that's the great break from past history, right?

Genghis Khan can kill a lot of people too, but he does it the same way the Einsatzgruppen did.

Essentially the new, you know, it's almost a science fiction Star Trek episode to go in there and wipe people out.

I mean, I, um, Levin's book from the late 1960s has this rundown, and we're going to use it in the show where they go from like the train, you know, the announcement that the train is arriving all the way to pulling the bodies out of the out of the gas chamber and efficiency is an interesting word.

I mean, I was struck by the little things like that.

There were geraniums planted along the way, little things that were it just if you were making a horror movie, there's something worse about putting geraniums along the side than just making it like a bunch of cattle going to slaughter.

There's no question there.

But what does that make you think about?

Dan Stone:

Um, I mean, I think I think you're right.

There is the reason I think why we're still morbidly fascinated with Auschwitz is precisely because it does mark this break that you describe that there there's something about the modernist architecture, you know, the Bauhaus inspired architecture of the entrance gate to Birkenau, the, uh, the railway age, you know, the epitome of modernity, uh, being used.

The conscious design of this place as nothing more than a killing factory.

That's there is something that remains shocking about that.

And I've said so in the book.

You know, I refer to Auschwitz there as, um, an abattoir of concentrated genocidal fantasy.

Uh, and that's that's what it is.

At the same time, I also I wanted to say that there's more to the Holocaust than Auschwitz and the death camps, but by saying that, I don't mean to detract from the significance of Auschwitz.

It is the the peak point, if you like, of, uh, of the Nazis genocidal program.

I mean, with respect to the geraniums and so on.

Um, again, it's become a kind of well-worn cliché that we see, you know, the trope of, uh, yeah, this trope of the land of the poets and thinkers also being the land of murderers.

If you think about, you know, the piano playing murderer in in Schindler's List or The Pianist or whatever.

I mean, George Steiner wrote about this kind of thing in in his essays in the 1960s, and it remains the case today that we're still kind of shocked when we see these, uh, murderers, people we like, we want to think of as crazy sadists and so on, sitting down to play a Bach sonata, uh, at the end of the film conspiracy, which is the film about the Wannsee Conference, um, which is one of the one of the few truly great docudramas about, uh, about the Holocaust at the end of that, that film, uh, you see, uh, you see Heydrich and Eichmann settling down with a brandy, listening to, uh, classical music again.

Um, Schubert maybe I can't remember, but, uh, you know, this is something that continues to to shock us, and it shouldn't shock us anymore because we we understand there's this, this dialectic of civilization and barbarism that characterizes the Third Reich.

Uh, but that goes all the way through from the individual perpetrators and their sensibilities through to the architecture of, of the death camps.

Generational Reactions and Memory

Dan Carlin:

I love the line, the banality of evil.

Um, so, so let's let's bring that up a little bit because you mentioned shock.

And I think that's an interesting word when we talk about events from 70 plus years ago now, uh, one almost feels like it's good to be in shock about something like this, but shock wears off.

Um, and yet we still produce quite a few books on the Holocaust.

One gets the impression that the difference between the reaction of those who were either part of that generation, or close to it, is quite a bit different than what we see now.

I was struck you mentioned the exhibit in the 1990s that helped dispel the myth of the clean Wehrmacht and the books that came out of that.

There was an interview in one of them at the end with a Green Party member of the Bundestag who said that her father had been, uh, you know, had the black uniform and the whole thing, but that he was this good guy.

And she said all through the 1950s, he meant he he mandated that the window be closed and that he would have nightmares screaming about fire and children.


So that that impacts him.

It impacts his wife, it impacts his children.

But now you get a generation father or two generations father, does this stuff wear off?

And then one also sort of asks the question, considering the trauma involved or the fact that as we get farther away, we're getting farther away from the perpetrators here.

And one might ask when the Germans can start thinking of themselves as innocent because they're 3 or 4 or 5 or 6 generations removed from this, how do we deal with something that is so overwhelmingly guilty and shocking, with the fact that it's going to wear off at some point?

And maybe when we're talking about guilt of peoples, maybe in some respect there's a right for it to wear off.

Dan Stone:

Wow, what a question.

Um, well, I don't know.

Dan Carlin:

I don't know myself, actually.

Dan Stone:

I mean, there's there's a lot in there that you're that you're asking.

I mean, I think, first of all, in terms of natural memory, three generations.


A hundred years is about, um, the span of natural memory.

And so after that period of three generations, everything is is history.

So there are no longer any there's no longer anyone alive who remembers, uh, World War One.

Within a couple of years, there will no longer be anyone alive who remembers World War Two.

There will be for some years.

Yet a small number of people who we we class as Holocaust survivors, but who were babies or children in 1944, 1945.


There will be nobody left who can speak in terms of their personal experience about the Holocaust and World War Two.

And I think that despite the fact that there are people who claim that the intergenerational transmission of trauma can reach 3 or 4 generations, I have my, um, doubts about that.

Uh, to, to a large extent, I think that, um, there's a cultural memory that particularly within Jewish communities, that cultural memory is largely shaped by the Holocaust.

But I don't really believe that.

Let's say the great grandchildren of Holocaust survivors are traumatized in a meaningful clinical sense by, uh, by the Holocaust.

I also think that the time is coming, where for the moment, we still have, um, a large amount of cultural emphasis on the Holocaust.

New museums are still being built now in Amsterdam, in Bucharest and elsewhere.

A huge amount of Holocaust film, uh, fiction and so on continues to be produced.

But I think that the the current emphasis on commemoration, Holocaust Memorial Days and so on, that is going to change over the next generation or so.

And I think you're right in a sense that there's no reason why it should be the case that 5 or 6 generations after the event, people should feel the same about it as they did 5 or 10 years after the event, or even 50 years after the event.

That's natural.

Uh, we can read about the Black Death and go, oh yeah, that was horrible, but we're not upset by it in the same way that people, the children or grandchildren of those who were affected by it in the Middle Ages, uh, were.

And so I think there will come a point where the history of the Holocaust remains.

It will always remain important.

It's a major event in 20th century European history, and I think we will continue to be fascinated by it.

Um, but the the broader cultural emphasis on commemoration and, and memory, I think over time will I don't think it will disappear, but I think it will dissipate and shift in ways that at the moment we can't really predict.

Dan Carlin:

You brought up.


And I hadn't been exposed to this thought in the books from the 60s and the 70s and the 80s, but it's I've been thinking a lot about it since I, since I've been exposed to it.

And your book does this quite a bit, equating what the Nazis were doing to something that's very interesting to a lot of people today, the question of colonialism.

And then I went back and started rereading things like Mein Kampf[3:5] and some of those earlier books with with Hitler's interest in, for example, how Native Americans were treated by the Americans or the colonial, uh, European powers in places like Africa.

Can you talk to me a little bit?

I mean, seeing the Jews as as as being treated the same as the Belgians treated Africans in the Congo or the Americans treated the Cherokees at the Trail of Tears.

Um, it's a very fascinating new way to approach this subject.

Can you talk about it a little bit?

Linking the Holocaust to Colonialism

Dan Stone:


I think it works to a certain extent.

So there's no doubt, for example, that, um, the British Empire and the expansion of the US were things that, uh, fascinated Hitler.

He talks at one point about how, um, Russia will be our India and that with in the same way that the British rule, uh, several hundred million Indians with a couple of hundred thousand men.

So we'll do the same in, in Russia.

And but I think he's he's much more fascinated by the American case.

He sees the westward expansion of, of the US as really a model for the eastward expansion of, uh, of Lebensraum living space for, for Germany, because Poland is kind of an irrelevance that just has to be swept away.

Uh, really, what, uh, what the Nazis are interested in is, is Ukraine and western Russia up to the Urals.

This is the real, uh, space that the Germans need to to develop and grow.

So the Nazi project is, I think, inherently a colonial one in that sense, when it comes to the Holocaust, it's a little bit harder to explain using that paradigm, because in the case of, let's say, the the treatment of Native Americans, uh, in the US and in Canada and elsewhere, you, you.

Immediately see that these are people who who, from the settlers point of view, have to be got rid of because they are the people who are on the land.

The difference with the Jews is that for the most part, they're not landowners.

They're a small minority who mostly are urban dwellers, small towns and cities across the whole region.

If you're if what you're interested in is the acquisition of territory, you don't need to kill the Jews to do to do that.

So the killing of the Jews is about more than simply acquiring territory.

And the real problem, I think, then comes, well, how do you explain the murder of the Jews of France, or why, late in the war, do the Nazis, uh, go to great lengths to deport the Jews of Corfu or or, uh, Rhodes, or to try and work out how they're going to get hold of the Jews of Albania, for example.

This this makes no sense if from a colonial point of view, they're I think the only explanation is the idea of, uh, the, the security, the permanent security of, of the German people relying on the eradication of Jews everywhere.

So the colonial paradigm works in the sense that the Nazis want to acquire territory, and they want to get rid of the people who who inhabit that territory.

That's why they have this plan, the so-called the hunger plan or the General Plan East, which, uh, has nothing to do with Jews but envisages the murder of between something like 30 to 50 million Slavs eventually to make way for German settlers.

Uh, but everywhere they go, the first people that the Nazis target are the Jews.

And that's not because they're landowners.

That's because they're perceived in this conspiracy theory that we already discussed as this, uh, as a threat to the safety and purity of the Aryan race.

Lessons and Warnings from the Holocaust

Dan Carlin:

This is going to be an uncomfortable question because it's an uncomfortable question for me.

Um, but when one talks about learning from the past, which is, you know, that this is the great trope of all time, right?

The learning from history and our or our ability to do.

But one one thinks of the the statement never again.


The idea that, you know, we're going to learn from this, we're never going to have another one of these, but then there will be a politician in a place of all places in Israel that will start using terms like the Amalekites to describe modern day people.

I don't even know how to get my mind around that, or how something like that didn't prompt an immediate counter-reaction that was nuclear almost in its, in its um, in its, in its nature.

But there's also something so human about the fact that those most affected by the Holocaust might have a politician somewhere who could use a phrase like that and have it work for them.

Again, there is no question here, but your book brought up a few very uncomfortable points about using the Holocaust as a rationale or a or a motive.

You know, I think I think anything that's going to be that large is going to be co-opted by human beings who have agendas.

But what do we make of the word amalekite coming into play at all?

Dan Stone:


Uh, but I think that the at least we can say that what's currently happening in, in Gaza, um, shows that the subtitle of my book that the Holocaust is An Unfinished History[1:11], um, is clearer now than even than when I wrote it.

Um, your example of amalekite is just one example of many, uh, examples.

We can point to being used by Israeli far right Israeli ministers to describe the Palestinians in Gaza in similar terms, you know, as human animals and the Palestinians simply as Nazis.

Um, look, I think, um, George Steiner's fear that the, uh, his opposition to the creation of Israel was not, uh, was on the basis that it would it would simply become a state like any other.

Is is now in evidence, uh, that you can see that the, um, the Israelis are people like anybody else.

And so when I talk about the Israelis here, in the same way that people talk about the Germans, I'm talking about the people who are currently in power.

Uh, and the Israeli cabinet is dominated by far right politicians who, if they were in power, uh, anywhere else in Europe, let's say, um, there would be there would be an outcry, uh, about such people being in power there, people who, for the most part, are not fit to hold office.

Uh, so.

And they are people who are driven by conspiracy theories here, I think you can see, um, you can see a kind of Holocaust trauma in, in evidence.

Um, one of the things that, uh, the survivor, Ruth Klüger wrote in her memoir was, uh, in she relates a conversation that she had with some students when she went back to, to Germany in Göttingen.

And, uh, they start to, to say, oh, you know, how can the Israelis, of all people who've experienced genocide, uh, treat the Palestinians so badly?

And she says Auschwitz was not a human rights laboratory.

You know, it was not it was not an instructional facility.

Um, you didn't learn anything there about human rights.

And so this idea that people who are the victims of genocide should behave impeccably.

Um, actually, the reverse is often the case, and we can point to other cases of genocide and show that those who are the victims often then will behave like perpetrators if the opportunity presents itself or that they have built into their psyche this notion that, um, the only way to defend ourselves is through this all out response.

Nothing else will do, because otherwise these people are out to get us.

Uh, and so again, I'm talking about, I think here a small number of people who are in power currently in Israel, but the rhetoric that they're using is, um, is quite scary, I would agree.

Dan Carlin:

Let's, let's broaden it out from Israel to a lot of the world, it almost seems like what's going on with that sort of problem with a very far right government in Israel is becoming a trend.

I mean, that's almost like just keeping up with the Joneses in a lot of other countries where movements and rhetoric that we thought were long gone aren't just thriving again, but the attitudes and the pronouncements of those regimes or wannabe regimes are resonating with human beings on the ground.

Again, what do we make?

And your book mentions this quite a bit.

But I mean, there's a sense here that what we're seeing is a sort of revanchism, if you will, of ideas from the mid 20th century, which, of course were ideas from the late 19th century.

I mean, there's almost a cyclical nature to some of this stuff.

Dan Stone:

I think one of one of the things that's so.

Important about Nazism.

And here I'm understanding Nazism as if you like a variety of fascism.

The most radical variety of fascism is.

And one reason why actually this period will continue to resonate for for some while is that fascism.

Somehow it created a store of ideas as well as a kind of an esthetic, uh, a vocabulary that continue that, I think.

It went beyond what was acceptable in terms of normal Democratic politics, and it appeals to people's deep psychology.

And there is something, you know, we continue to live in an age of of nation states.

We think about nation states as the natural way that the world should be ordered.

And so when people in those states, whether rightly or wrongly, objectively or not, statistically, correctly or not, consider themselves to be under threat.

This vocabulary, this style that was created by fascism in the mid 20th century comes back into play.

It is there now, um, you know, the cat's out of the bag and it can't be, uh, put back in again.

So it's that extreme reaction is something that people reach to when, uh, when things are tough or are perceived to be tough.

What's interesting, I mean, we see fascism, um, in power now in, in the Netherlands, in Italy, um, we see, like in Viktor Orban's Hungary, the illiberal democracy and so on, uh, the rise of the AfD in Germany, uh, the, the right wing of the Republican Party in the US and so on, um, are all appealing to people's basest instincts in this respect, and there is a fight back against it.

But the.

I think from a historians point of view, at least, you can see it's it's fascinating.

Let's say that something that was created nearly a hundred years ago, uh, well, more than just over 100 years ago now, if we think about Italian fascism, uh, continues to shape the way that people think and and behave today, even in the face of quite different circumstances or a.

Dan Carlin:

Lot of historical evidence.


Professor, is there anything that I didn't ask about that you feel like we should get into or talk about a little bit here?

I'm still digesting some of the things you've said, but is there anything we haven't spoken about that needs to be said?

Dan Stone:

No, not really.

I mean, I think there are themes in the book that we haven't touched on very much.

Uh, for example, the the concentration camp system, the subcamps that I think people don't know.

More than.


Something like that.

More than 1100?

Dan Carlin:


Dan Stone:

More than 1100 subcamps attached just to the the main concentration camps, as well as a whole world of other camps, labor camps and so on across the whole of Europe.

Uh, many, many camps also created by axis regimes.

Um, the, the camps created by the Romanians in Transnistria or the Croats, Jasenovac and other camps.

Uh, these are places that, uh, you sometimes come across in, in, uh, memoirs or testimonies by survivors, but that, I think, haven't really been appreciated as crucial to the history of the Holocaust in many of the mainstream narratives.

And I've tried to, um, at least start to do some of that work in, in the book.

So there are themes like the concentration camp system, uh, as well as, uh, we touched a little bit on collaboration, but I go into great of a great detail, particularly in one chapter of the book, about what collaboration means, what the different regimes and and institutions involved in collaborating with the Third Reich.

So there are other things that we could talk about, but I think readers can, uh, discover those for for themselves in the book.

Dan Carlin:

Well, it's a fantastic book.

I don't know how you do it.

Immersing yourself in the primary sources as you do all the time and keeping your mind and head straight on.

But it's, uh, it's fascinating.

I hope you continue to do this kind of work, and we'd love to talk about the next book when it's out.

Dan Stone:

Thank you so much.

Dan Stone:

It's been a pleasure.

Dan Carlin:

Thank you, I appreciate it.

Take care.

Dan Stone:

Thank you.


Dan Carlin:

My thanks to Professor Dan Stone for coming on the program.

His latest work is out in paperback now, The Holocaust An Unfinished History[1:12].

  1. The Holocaust: An Unfinished History by Dan Stone ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎

  2. The Gathering Storm by Winston S. Churchill ↩︎ ↩︎

  3. Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎

  4. Nazis & Nobles: The History of a Misalliance by Stephan Malinowski ↩︎

  5. The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy by Adam Tooze ↩︎

  6. National Socialism and the Religion of Nature by Robert A. Pois ↩︎

  7. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany by William L. Shirer ↩︎

  8. Why Not Kill Them All?: The Logic and Prevention of Mass Political Murder by Daniel Chirot ↩︎

  9. The Holocaust: The Destruction of European Jewry 1933-1945 by Nora Levin ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎

  10. Soldaten: On Fighting, Killing, and Dying, The Secret WWII Transcripts of German POWS by Sönke Neitzel ↩︎ ↩︎

  11. The German Army and Genocide: Crimes Against War Prisoners, Jews, and Other Civilians in the East, 1939-1944 by Hamburg Institute for Social Research ↩︎

  12. German Voices: Memories of Life During Hitler's Third Reich by Frederic C. Tubach ↩︎

  13. Death by Government: Genocide and Mass Murder Since 1900 by R.J. Rummel ↩︎