German Knowledge and Claims About Nazi Concentration Camps

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Similar conditions existed in Austria. The concentration camps at Mauthausen, Gusen, and Ebensee were located in populated areas.

According to Raymond Buch, an engineer with the 7th Armored Division, the Mauthausen quarry and camp were located next to a town; a double electrified fence enclosed a huge prison camp containing compounds and barracks which was easily visible.[1]

Lieutenant Colonel Seibel, Combat Command B, 11th Armored Division, included the following in his report on Mauthausen to Supreme Headquarters Allied European Forces. “…the inhabitants of the town of

Mauthausen and the general vicinity were aware of the conditions of the camp…a certain number of the guards and their families lived in the immediate neighborhood…there was a standing order to the local population that they were to kill on sight any escaped residents from the camp.”[2] Siebel makes the point of course, that people given an order to shoot escaped prisoners on sight, cannot be unaware that prisoners are interned in a camp nearby.

A military intelligence report noted that inmates of Mauthausen were leased out to local residents to work as farm laborers.[3] Sergeant Marks, attached to the 130th Evacuation Hospital, tried to set up camp in a nearby field, however, a local farmer hastened to inform him that the field contained mass graves, inmates from Mauthausen; he and his men set the hospital up elsewhere.[4]

At Ebensee some of the townspeople worked inside the camp itself, and as Thomas Ward pointed out, they could not have avoided knowing what went on there.[5]

The litany of German denial was almost universal and was proclaimed loudly and vigorously. Having just seen the human suffering and degradation inside the camps and having marched or driven past the emaciated corpses lying alongside the roads leading out of the camps, protestations of ignorance and innocence served only to increase the anger of US soldiers and deepen their antipathy for the German populace.

This was in marked contrast to the attitude of GIs earlier in the war, when most American soldiers entertained positive and friendly feelings for the German people.[6]

Some soldiers even felt a sort of comradeship with the average German soldier, members of the Wehrmacht or regular army; many GIs believed that Hitler and the SS were the real enemies and felt sympathy for the German people who suffered under Nazi oppression.[7]

After witnessing the carnage of the camps, these earlier benevolent and tolerant attitudes all but disappeared. American soldiers were profoundly disturbed, revolted, horrified, and angered by what they saw. In many instances this resulted in taking a harder line when dealing with German civilians.

Long before they received any official orders to this effect, American troops began requiring German civilians to participate in digging graves and burying the dead.

The task needed to be done, the unfortunate victims of the Nazi system deserved a decent burial, but it is clear from their testimony that many soldiers believed that it was a moral necessity, that justice could in some measure be served if the German people participated in redressing the evil which they claimed to have been singularly unaware of for over a decade.

So at Buchenwald, Nordhausen, Dachau, Ohrdruf, Woebbelin, Gardelegen and in other locations as well, American soldiers insisted that local Germans assume responsibility for burying the dead.[8]

In his memoir Brigadier General Hasbrouck wrote, “I think I was one of the first senior officers to visit [Flossenberg]. I remember the heaps of dead. It was a horrible sight….Some of the incinerators had partially consumed bodies. I gave orders to the burgermeister to turn out every able-bodied man and boy to dig graves and bury the dead.”[9]

At some camps civilians were required to dig individual graves.[10] At others the bodies were so numerous that sanitary and disease prevention precautions mandated swift burial

. When necessary military personnel dug long trenches with bulldozers and German civilians transported the bodies and laid them in the makeshift graves.[11]

Many soldiers recall, even decades later, the anger and hatred they felt for the German people in 1945. At Nordhausen, Lieutenant James and his men forced those working on burial detail to handle the bodies with their bare hands and refused to let them loves.[12]

At the Woebbelin concentration camp General Gavin insisted that the local townspeople dig 400 individual graves and then transport not only bodies, but refused to let them wear gloves. At the Woebbelin concentration camp General Gavin insisted that the local townspeople dig 400 individual graves and then transport not only bodies, but assorted body parts, to the burial site in wheelbarrows.[13]

At Dachau, PFC Doughty and some soldiers in his unit roughed up any German civilian who resisted burial duty. Doughty stated “we really kicked the hell out of a lot of them and made them go in there…”[14] Near the end of the war as the mortality rate rose huge pits were dug just outside of many concentration camps in an attempt to dispose of the ever mounting piles of corpses. These bodies also had to be disinterred and removed to proper gravesites.

According to Corporal Futterman “the soldiers, the infantrymen were so angered by what they had seen that they made the German civilians throw their shovels away and take [the bodies] out by hand and lay them down gently…” [15]

At Gardelegen soldiers who guarded the civilian burial detail did so with bayonets drawn. American GIs rage and disgust was so great that Fred Kulik was afraid that at any moment they might start shooting the civilian laborers.[16] His fear was not exaggerated as such events did occur when German soldiers were used in burial details.

David Ichelson described such an occurrence at Gunskirchen Lager. “The digging was done by ordinary German soldiers, who had no previous direct connection with the camp. A few feigned illness and complained in order to try to avoid their grisly task. One refused to work and was summarily shot and unceremoniously dumped into one of the mass graves. His horrified comrades, thereafter completed their miserable job without a whimper.”[17]

Although they may not have known it at the time, many of the actions taken by American officers and enlisted men were in line with orders given by General Eisenhower. On May 1, 1945 Headquarters, 3rd US Army posted a memorandum from Eisenhower concerning the burial of victims of Nazi atrocity.

It read in part. “All German males irrespective of their station in life will be used for this purpose.” Where possible bodies are to be disinterred from pits and reburied. Allied military personnel are to confine themselves to supervision of the burial procedures. All German citizens practical are to attend burial services for the dead. “In addition to the sanitary necessity of these measures, this is to serve as an object lesson to all Germans for their participation in these heinous crimes.”[18]

[1] Raymond Buch, interview, USHMM, (Combat Command A, 11th Armored Division).

[2] Lieutenant Colonel Richard Seibel, SHAEF FWS G-5, Displaced Persons Branch, Memorandum, “Concentration Camp at Mauthausen, Austria,” 7 June 1945, Record Group 331, NARA. William Levine reported that at Buchenwald many of the SS lived in the town with their families. HMFI interview.

[3] G-2 Basic Intelligence Directive Report, Mauthausen Concentration Camp, Record Group 319, NARA.

[4] Paul Bruce Marks, 1, Ast Project, (130th Evacuation Hospital).

[5]Thomas L. Ward, interview, USHMM, (3rd Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, XX Corps).

[6] Richard Joseph and Wavery Root, “Why so Many GIs Like the Germans Best.” Reader’s Digest, March 1946, 5-6; Robert H. Abzug, Inside the Vicious Heart: Americans and the Liberation of the Nazi Concentration Camps, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 153-154; Lee B. Kennett, GI: The American Soldier in World War II, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1987) 210, 215; John Gagnon, interview by Theresa Ast, Statesboro, Georgia, 1993; Phillip Trout, Ast Project, (42nd Reconnaissance Troup, 42nd Infantry Division) ; Wayne Hanson, 8, interview transcript, JCRC, (42nd Infantry Division).

[7] Lewis Greene, 19, interview transcript, Emory; Colonel Floyd Gibson, World War II Survey, MHI, (370th Combat Engineers Battalion); Lieutenant William Walsh, in James Kent Strong’s documentary The Liberation of KZ Dachau. (Cary, North Carolina: Strong Communications, 1990); John Manning, interview, DMC, (7th Army).

[8] Mission Accomplished: The Story of the Campaign of the VII Corps, US Army in the War Against Germany, 1944-1945, (Leipzig, Germany: J. J. Weber, 1945), (hereafter cited as Mission), 68; Captain Robert J. Soldinger, World War II Survey, MHI; Lewellyn Zullinger, Gunter Plaut, interviews, ILC; George E. Moise, “Concentration Camp at Nordhausen,” 2nd Information and Historical Survey, 14 April 1945, World War II Papers, Washington National Research Center, NARA, 2; Robert Zimmer, Guy Stern, Ernest James, interviews, USHMM, (11th Armored Division; 1st Army; 238th Combat Engineers Battalion); Douglas Monsson, interview, HMFI, (165th Infantry Division); Ralph McKenzie, interview, DMC; Joseph B. Kushlis, 2, C. W. Doughty, 4, Reverend Albert C. Wildman, 5, interview transcripts, Emory; Fred Kulik, interview, Gratz; Arthur Samuelson, 1, Ast Project.

[9] Sherman V. Hasbrouck, “Reflections on the 97th Infantry Division,” 18 June 1988, Papers of the 97th Infantry Division, MHI, 11.

[10] Nathan Futterman, cited in Liberators, 51; Mission, 68; Raymond Buch, interview, USHMM, (11th Armored Division); Dr. Samuel Glasshow, 9, Reverend Albert C. Wildman, 5, interview transcripts, Emory, (82nd Airborne Division; 89th Infantry Division).

[11] Dr. David Ichelson, “I Was There,” (unpublished manuscript in author’s possession(, (Medic, Company K, 5th Regiment, 71st Infantry Division), 162; Ernest James, interview, USHMM; Joseph E. Kushlis, 2, interview transcript, Emory, (260th Regiment, 65th Infantry Division).

[12] Ernest James, interview, USHMM, (238th Combat Engineers Battalion, XII Corps).

[13] Dr. Samuel Glasshow, 9, Emory, (307th Airborne Medical Company, 82nd Airborne Division). It was impossible for the men to determine which of the deceased inmates were Jewish. But they obtained an estimate that 25% of the dead were Jewish and placed a Jewish star above every fourth grave. The remainder of the graves had crosses.

[14] C. W. Doughty, 4, interview transcript, Emory, (49th Combat Engineers Battalion, 3rd Armored Division).

[15]Nathan Futterman, cited in Liberators, 51, (445th Anti-Aircraft Battalion, 8th Infantry Division)).

[16] Fred Kulik, interview, Gratz, (336th Combat Engineers Battalion).

[17] David Ichelson, “I Was There,” 162.

[18] “Burial of Victims of Nazi Atrocity,” to Headquarters, 3rd US Army, 1 May 1945, from Headquarters, 12th Army Group, Record Group 407, NARA.

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Comments 48 comments

SanXuary 5 years ago

Awesome story and yes many of us have no idea what those places were like. Not every German was guilty but all of them had a clue that something horrific was happening to those who were not accepted by this new ideal of their society. I have visited these places and what is unreal about them was there proficiency for death. A sight smaller then an average city block was capable of killing tens of thousands of people. A mound of black ash the size of a car makes you wonder how many cremated bodies it would take to add up to it. These places were ghastly and even visiting such a camp today would leave the knowledge imprinted in your mind in horror. The greatest puzzle is to try understand how such a thing could ever happen. Its not about being Jewish because they killed anyone not in line with there agendas. Regardless of who committed a crime the majority approved and backed the ideals of these atrocities at the time.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

More important information. Thanks phdast7. A harsh subject, but told in a very readable way.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Thanks SanXuary. I think you are right. Certainly not all were guilty or involved -- and many came to despise as well as fear Hitler -- but almost all, if not all knew what was going on, at least inside of Germany. Visiting the camps is a severe experience. And with all our studies and history books, I am not sure the puzzle of "motivation" will ever be completely figured out. Most of my professors always said it was a convergence of numerous simultaneous factors and causes.


SanXuary 5 years ago

Everything prior to World War Two was an age where prejudice was much more extreme then it was today. Even America it was pretty extreme and those who knew often turned a blind eye to such possibilities. Ships were turned away, eugenics was popular and even hating a select group of people was often promoted. The single leading cause for genocide to happen in all studies was the promotion of cruelty.


Xenonlit profile image

Xenonlit 5 years ago

This is a brilliant article. The dreadful truth kept me reading to the very end. The human propensity for denying wrongdoing, turning a blind eye and getting angry at those who participated in gross behavior is shown here.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Thank you Xenonlit. Your opinion means a lot to me. As you probably realized this is one of four parts of a major paper on this topic. My research interests date from my graduate studies on Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. And you are absolutely right about the distressing and all too common human propensity to commit, and then deny, unspeakable evil.


rlbert00 profile image

rlbert00 4 years ago from USA

So often when I read stories of the events that took place during the Holocaust I get very irritated by the lack of opposition seen from the civilian population. One particularly disgusting episode that I read about came after the liberation of Treblinka in Poland. The author was part of a team sent to sift through the remains of the camp. What she wrote about that I found so disgusting was that she witnessed members of the surrounding community were digging up mass graves that they had witnessed being dug. Why? One might ask. They were looting the remains for anything of value.


John Sarkis profile image

John Sarkis 4 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

Excellent article...

Voted up

John


RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 4 years ago from the short journey

Thanks so much for the series. Your posts on this topic are important. Seems like anything I could say is too inadequate. One of the blindnesses of the human condition is that by ourselves we don't understand how a human can come to such a point of inhumanity.

Voted up.


molometer profile image

molometer 4 years ago

I just watched the movie ' The Reader' what a terrible time that was for all concerned.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

I have never seen the movie, although I did read the book about seven years ago, I think. It truly was a terrible time for everyone caught up in the Nazi juggernaut.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

rlberti- Several scholars have written articles and even books trying to explain, or at least understand, why there was so little opposition. None of them ever seem to come up with a definitive answer.

At the beginning of each Holocaust class I have a long discussion with the students about "why" or better "how could this have happened?" Not to understand the Nazis so much, but to understand the rest of Europe. Every year we make a list that always includes at least the following:

long history of Catholic anti-Judaism

modern political anti-Semitism

authoritarianism - not just in governments, but in social and family structures - people obeyed authority in a way inconceivable to us today in the West

economic crisis / failure / resentment

incredibly effective propaganda

incredibly effective and random group reprisals

largely passive Catholic and Protestant Churches

influence of Social Darwinism and Rabid Nationalism

desire to share in the wealth - Nazis offered rewards

Still all of these doesn't fully explain what happened. As you probably know there is a school of Holocaust scholars who claim that the Holocaust was "ahistorical." Something outside of all historical experience and unable to be described or understood in historical terms. They may be right.

Digging up remains and searching for jewelry is revolting. It is hard to even imagine what would possess people to behave so inhumanely. Thanks for the comments and discussion.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Hi John- Thank you. I appreciate your reading my work and commenting.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Hi RT- You are very welcome. This topic means a lot to me because my father's family lived through the Nazi and Soviet invasions and occupations, not just because it is an area that I teach. I am hoping to do two more three part series, but that may take awhile.

We read and study and write, but as you said, still we can't really fathom or comprehend such inhumanity. Probably we never will. Thanks for the comments and for voting up.


moiragallaga profile image

moiragallaga 4 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

Excellent work phdast7. Thank you for sharing this very valuable information. This series provides an insight concerning man. Wars, and the Nazis in particular, have shown us how humans are capable of committing unspeakable acts against fellow human beings. Your series raises a very valid and important issue about how people can also tolerate the conduct of such atrocities. From your research it appears evident that the German people knew what was being done by the Nazi leadership in their name, yet they profess ignorance the first time they have been confronted about it. This has been very interesting reading for me phdast7.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Thank you for such encouraging comments. It is am important issue and sadly cruelty and inhuman behavior still seems to be with us and flares up from time to time leading to terrible persecutions and atrocities. Very tragic.


ata1515 profile image

ata1515 4 years ago from Buffalo, New York.

Great series of hubs. I was pointed to you by Kathleen Cochran, and I'm glad I stopped by. The book Ordinary Men by Christopher Browning addresses the Holocaust in Eastern Europe and also points to the culpability of the German people in the Holocaust atrocities. Voted up and looking for more of your work!


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Thank you. The Browning book, Ordinary Men, is very good. I teach a Holocaust class, college level, and I have used it several times. By using the word "ordinary" I think he makes the same point Hannah Arendt made many years ago when she coined the phrase "the banality of evil." Just checked out your profile and am looking forward to reading your work in the near future.

Tell Kathleen I said thank you. :)


Patriette profile image

Patriette 4 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

Well done, Theresa! Thank you for delving into a most difficult chapter in history, but one that none of us should delay in learning as much as about as possible. Voting UP!


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Patriette - Thank you for such a positive and encouraging comment. It is one of many difficult chapters to examine in history. Hope things are well with you.


mbyL profile image

mbyL 4 years ago from Switzerland, Zurich

Extremely interesting topic! I will return to this later but for now I have voted it up and shared and twittered!


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Glad you found it interesting and I appreciate you stopping by and commenting. Thanks for sharing and twittering. :)


rahul0324 profile image

rahul0324 4 years ago from Gurgaon, India

Great info Theresa! Enlightening!

thank you for such a wonderful write:)


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Thank you Rahul. You are very welcome. I appreciate you stopping by to read and leaving comments. I hope all is well with you. :)


Kebennett1 profile image

Kebennett1 4 years ago from San Bernardino County, California

Down does another Monkey: Speak no evil! This is quite a Hub. I think many of us did not have a clear picture of what the German population did and did not know. How sad so many turned a blind eye, deaf ear and mute voice to these atrocities!


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

K - I would not have known either as a "casual" reader about the Holocaust. It was only in graduate school while doing intensive research that I began to form a picture of what it must have been eally like under the Nazi regime.


shea duane profile image

shea duane 4 years ago from new jersey

another great hub. I have a jewish friend whose grandparents were killed in germany during WW2... she would add this to your list: the jewish people in the ghettos were bible scholars who had never learned to think in military terms. they lived in a culture of dedication to the torah, not in the culture of nazi germany... just a thought.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Thanks for your encouraging comments shea. Much appreciated. Your friend's grandparents are absolutely correct, but it it just not possible to addredd everything, all the factors involved in a single fairly short paper. Have you ever thought of building a hub or writing a pepr based on what they have shared? Have a great day. :)


shea duane profile image

shea duane 4 years ago from new jersey

phdast7, you mean you can't squeeze 87 ideas into a single 5 sentence paragraph? if anyone could do it, it would be you! 8-)


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Very kind of you to say, but no, I think my limitis about 19 ideas in one paragraph. :) Oh, my history professors would be turning over in their graves. :) Hope you are having a great week. :)


shiningirisheyes profile image

shiningirisheyes 4 years ago from Upstate, New York

I read all I can about WWII, watch every documentary available and have interviewed many WWII Veterans and nurses. I can not thank you enough for this thorough article about some of the numerous actrocities of the war. Many, many townspeople were, as you stated, very aware and chose to ignore it. Your wrote a very candid, insightful, well documented and honest hub.

I consider it an honor to follow you.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Good evening shining. Thank you so much for your very kind and encouraging words. how wonderful that you have conducted so many interviews. In my research I spent some time at the Army Military History Institute at Carlisle barracks in Pennsylvania. Somebody introduced me to a nurse who had helped care for concentration camp inmates after they were liberated. I did get to interview her and for the past 20 years we have been sending each other a newsy Christmas card. Thank you for the follow and after reading your home page I was more than glad to return the favor. Take care. Theresa


shiningirisheyes profile image

shiningirisheyes 4 years ago from Upstate, New York

I find that completely fascinating. The resource of knowledge you have at your fingertips with the nurse is invaluable, but you already know that. What a brave soul she is and was, but then again, most of them were. It's been a pleasure crossing your path.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

shining - My sentiments exactly. :) Have a great weekend.


ThoughtSandwiches profile image

ThoughtSandwiches 4 years ago from Reno, Nevada

Theresa,

Well I don't know how I did it...but I missed Part 3 here somehow. I'm glad I was able to rectify that this evening.

You mentioned the propensity of American soldiers to have a favorable opinion towards the German people early on in the war.... I have to wonder if that was due to the long history of German settlement in the United States that was usually lauded as a positive development in our nation's growth from early Colonial times onward?

Clearly...the horrors of those camps would turn any such positive notions on its head. As we have discussed before...of course they knew what was going down in their own neighborhoods. It's insulting to suggest otherwise.

Thanks,

Thomas


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Thomas -

You missed part three! I am shocked and heart broken ..... actually I have a big chart on my office wall and I keep track of who reads what. And there was a big zero next to your name. :)

I definitely think the German immigrants who settled and helped build the early United States had a great deal to do with their favorable attitudes. But I also think it speaks to national culture and reputation. When looking at German towns, cities, parks, homes, and industry -- GIs were reminded of America, their home towns, the emphasis upon hard work, and pulling oneself up by their bootstraps.

Of all the countries they traveled through in Europe, GIs consistently wrote home saying how orderly and clean Germany was, how it reminded them of home....and I think it did. :) The Germans would hard-working, well organized, while the French were effete and whiny; the Italians and the Greeks closed up shops from 2-5 pm every day. What American business would do that? :)

But I think you are right, none of those earlier opinions and feelings mattered once they had seen the ghettos and camps. Good observations. Thanks for reading and commenting. :) ~~ Theresa


Marcia Ours 3 years ago

What a shame so many people knew about these horrible atrocities and many were accomplices. I think some were probably just afraid of the SS and Hitler and what would happen to them if they stood up for the innocent.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Hello Marcia - It is a terrible shame and I think they were afraid. Usually if you don't stand up to a bully or corrupt government at the beginning they only get stronger...and then pretty soon you can't resist at all. It was and is a great tragedy. I hope you are having a great weekend, Theresa


Freeway Flyer profile image

Freeway Flyer 3 years ago

No matter how many times I read these types of stories, it remains hard to believe that this could have actually happened. It's no wonder that so many Germans after the fact wanted to deny any knowledge of these events. As most of us know from personal experiences, the human capacity for denial is remarkable.

So in your view, were the actions of American soldiers in these cases justified, including the case of a German being shot and thrown into the mass graves?


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Hi Freeway - Even to me, and I have spent years in these materials (and considered other major atrocities, Stalin's Slaughter, Rwanda, Cambodia, Chinese, Japanes - Nanking, Armenians, Serbia-Bosnia, and so many more) it is hard to believe that man (and perhaps woman) can do these things. They seem so far beyond the human pale. And you are correct of course, the human capacity for denial is extensive.

Evaluating their actions is difficult ... we were not there and can only imagine what exhaustion, stress, and then repeated views of such savagery could do to soldier's capacity for restraint. Of course they knew the rules of "civilized warfare" (rather an oxymoron); they understood the specifics of the Geneva Convention . . . Which begs the question, whether the authors had ever seen or imagined such atrocities, and on such a horrific scale, when the constructed the Geneva Convention.

I think for me it comes back to premeditation, which is often a consideration in criminal legal cases.. I can understand and forgive and do not think we should prosecute soldiers acting in the intensity of the moment after viewing unimaginable atrocities. They should be pulled out of line, relieved of their weapons and handled by either medical or religious personnel or both, far front the fighting front.

When there is any evidence of deliberate cruelty, taunting, making an example of, or behavior that is some hours or days from the supposed exposure, then we have I think a different situation, and legal restrictions and penalties apply. About the German who was shot ... I can see the need to control a hardened group of men who are resisting and who fear very little, but there are other ways. These sound rather barbaric, but they would have spared his life ...they could have put him in a confining and uncomfortable public stockade out in the open for everyone to see. They could have shot him in the leg, bandaged the leg, but kept him in plain view of the others.

It is very difficult to know what the right thing to do is and was. What are your thoughts? How would you have handled it? Where would you draw the line?


mercuryservices profile image

mercuryservices 3 years ago from Honolulu, Hawaii

Theresa, great hub. The details you provided about how the German people allowed the concentration camps to exist (and in some cases even benefited from slave labor) provide insight into a war that decades later, scholars are still trying to figure out and understand. I clicked this hub to read because I recently learned about the Empire of Japan's "recruitment" of an entire corps of "comfort women"... a group of women who were essentially raped repeatedly by the Japanese army during the war. There were even things called "comfort stations" set up for the troops. Deeply disturbing, but fascinating stuff...


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Hi Alex - Thank you very much. Seems like I long ago heard something vague about "comfort women" but I never knew what it was actually about or that it was an official program set up by the Japanese government. And you are right, both disturbing and fascinating.

Accurately portraying German civilians is problematic at best. Some of them hated the Nazis and resisted them when they could. Some Germans thought they were the "ANSWER" to Germany's woes and then were horrified by what happened. Others supported the Nazis, gave free reign to any incipient racism they might have had and did indeed "prosper" from all the Jewish and foreign labor camps.

The real difficulty for me as a teacher is trying to explain the complexity of reality to students who come in entirely convinced that (1) all Germans were Nazis and inherently evil and cruel or (2) all Germans were good and kind and would have done something except for that bad handful we call Nazis.

It is so much easier to view the world in terms of black and white -- it takes a lot of work to get students (well, people in general) to begin to think intellectually in terms of shades of gray. Black and white exist, but not as often as most people think. Great conversation. Hope you have a wonderful weekend. Theresa


Peter Geekie profile image

Peter Geekie 3 years ago from Sittingbourne

Dear phdast7,

An excellent article on a subject which is beyond doubt. I don't know how any of the deniers can persist with their claims.

Voted up,awesome and interesting

Kind regards Peter


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Good evening Peter. Thank you for such positive and encouraging comments. They are greatly appreciated.

The deniers are certainly a strange, stubborn, and often perverse group. Their claims and motivation are often beyond understanding, at least beyond my understanding.

I hope you are having a good week. Theresa


Mark Monroe profile image

Mark Monroe 3 years ago from Dover De

Nicely done


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Thank you Mark. I hope you are having a good week.


moonfroth profile image

moonfroth 3 years ago from Rural BC (Canada) & N of Puerto Vallarta (Mexico)

THERESA --

One of the advantages of GOOD academic writing is the mandatory provision of detailed sources, thus circumventing any suggestion that an article is the mere "opinion" of the writer. This piece achieves that evasive BALANCE wonderfully, and your lean writing style underscores the appalling authenticity of the facts.

And the effect on soldiers? Canada's famed 22nd Regiment (a French Canadian unit popularly called the "van-doos") was esp. feared by German troops, because after 1944 the van doos refused to take prisoners. My late brother-in-law claimed he heard a Canadian officer direct escorts to take 215 German prisoners back to a point 20 miles to the rear. He added--"be back here in two hours. That's an order." I'm certainly not condoning anything, but the anecdote does illustrate how the horrors affected otherwise civilized troops.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Hello moonfroth - You read one of my earliest posts when I came to HP. Back then, I thought all I would ever write would be 7 or 8 short pieces about the camps. I appreciate your comment about "achieving balance" and my "lean writing style." That's kind of who I have always been as a writer, but early on in my graduate studies, several idiots expressed surprise that a "woman" would want to deal (or be able to deal) with such a difficult and emotional subject. From that point forward I made sure that I used a "lean style) when writing about the Holocaust. Of course I get emotional and at times I have cried when handling research materials, but I try never to take the emotions into the actual writing.

Based on my research and several veterans I spoke with in person, I imagine your brother-in-laws anecdote is spot on. I think these things occasionally happened, but few people spoke of them and the media did not feel entitled to know everything in the 1940s. It was a different world. Thank you for reading and commenting. Theresa

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