They killed six million – and got away with it

BOOK OF THE WEEK

reckonings

by Mary Fulbrook (OUP £ 25, 672 pp)

Now that anti-Semitism is rising, so murderous, there can be no better time for the publication of Reckonings, Mary Fulbrook's monumental account of the attempt to bring the Holocaust's perpetrators to justice.

The British historian has already received much admiration for her earlier work, A Small Town Near Auschwitz: Ordinary Nazis And The Holocaust. This volume also earns prizes.

As with all the detailed work related to the Nazi program of eradicating the entire European Jewish population, be warned: the depravity described is almost impossible to read.

But it is a sense of deep injustice, as well as horror, that will overcome the readers of Reckonings: the main theme is how the overwhelming majority of those involved in the murder of an estimated six million men, women and children never or never go to justice or were treated so smoothly that it meant an insult to the victims.

Mary Fulbrook shares the accounts of the attempt to bring the perpetrators of the Holocaust to justice in a new book. Pictured: a child walks past a row of bodies in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp

Mary Fulbrook shares the accounts of the attempt to bring the perpetrators of the Holocaust to justice in a new book. Pictured: a child walks past a row of bodies in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp

Fulbrook estimates that maybe 200,000 people, and possibly more than a million, were actively involved in killing Jewish citizens at one time or another. And the ranks of those who made this possible were much broader & # 39 ;.

Because although the lonely name of Auschwitz almost became synonymous with the Holocaust, there were about 1200 subclasses & # 39; spread over the Reich.

But of a total of 172,294 participants who were prosecuted, only 6,656 were convicted. And the overwhelming majority of those found guilty received sentences of less than two years in prison.

One reason was the amazing efficiency of the Nazi's methods. As Fulbrook points out, the West German courts, which were initially in charge of trying the perpetrators, needed witnesses, but the more perfect the extermination mechanism, the less likely the killers to be found guilty.

For example, there were only two survivors of the Belzec extermination camp, where an estimated half a million people were gassed – and one of those survivors was killed under suspicious circumstances before he could testify.

Only one person, Josef Oberhauser, was sentenced, in Munich in 1965, in connection with this mass slaughter.

Thirteen of the 14 summoned witnesses were former SS, who, as Fulbrook notes, "probably will not accuse their former counterparts before and risk the process of taxing themselves."

In general, the West German courts would indemnify those who could claim that they had little choice but to fulfill their role in the mass murder (although there is no data from someone who was punished for refusing to participate).

The former SS Hauptscharführer Walter Thormeyer, who had killed his Jewish mistress in the forest, had a certain degree of admiration for the shooting of female Jews. Pictured: female prisoners in concentration camp Bergen-Belsen

The former SS Hauptscharführer Walter Thormeyer, who had killed his Jewish mistress in the forest, had a certain degree of admiration for the shooting of female Jews. Pictured: female prisoners in concentration camp Bergen-Belsen

The former SS Hauptscharführer Walter Thormeyer, who had killed his Jewish mistress in the forest, had a certain degree of admiration for the shooting of female Jews. Pictured: female prisoners in concentration camp Bergen-Belsen

The assertions of perpetrators that they had done their best to make the last moments of the victims more bearable, were also regarded as a mitigating circumstance.

The 1966 process by Walter Thormeyer, a former SS Hauptscharführer, offers a grotesque example. His deputy, Rudi Zimmermann, one of the minuscule numbers to show remorse and who actually reported, told the court that, on the occasion of mass murders: Thormeyer seemed to shoot the female Jews in person. . . with a certain taste. & # 39;

In fact, Thormeyer had a Jewish mistress, but when he feared that this (a crime under the Nazi law) would be discovered, he took her into a forest. . . and shot her in the back of the neck.

The judge stated that this was a sign of the & # 39; consideration & # 39; of Thormeyer, and the act & # 39; humane & # 39; – because his mistress saved science from killing her.

Thormeyer was, at the time of his trial, an official in the West German legal system and, as Fulbrook points out, a reason for the general suppleness of the conviction (Thormeyer himself got 12 years) was that the entire German legal bureaucracy sat ex-nazi & # 39; s.

Chil Rajchman, who was involved in the gasification in Treblinka, said that the bodies literally became a single mass. Pictured: survivors in concentration camp Auschwitz

Chil Rajchman, who was involved in the gasification in Treblinka, said that the bodies literally became a single mass. Pictured: survivors in concentration camp Auschwitz

Chil Rajchman, who was involved in the gasification in Treblinka, said that the bodies literally became a single mass. Pictured: survivors in concentration camp Auschwitz

The idea that the extermination camps Jews & # 39; human & # 39; murdered, by the use of gas, instead of bullets, was invariably suggested by those who were later brought to trial, in particular Rudolf Hess, the commander of Auschwitz.

In his memoir he wrote how & # 39; humane & # 39; this was: & # 39; I was relieved that we would save all these bloodbaths, and that the victims would also save the suffering until their last moment arrived. & # 39; Such a concern for the victims!

In fact, it was only out of concern for the murderers that mass shootings were displaced by gasification: the splashing of the brains of women and children had a detrimental effect on the morale of everyone except the most depraved German (and indeed Austrian) executioners. And it was all but a humane murder: indeed, the use of the word in connection with mass destruction is itself repulsive.

During one of her – happy but rare – reports of what actually happened, Fulbrook quotes from someone involved in the gasification in Treblinka, Chil Rajchman (whose main task was extracting gold fillings from the dead): & # 39; During their mortal fear due to suffocation the bodies were also swollen, so that the bodies literally form a single mass. & # 39;

RECKONINGS by Mary Fulbrook (OUP £ 25, 672 pp)

RECKONINGS by Mary Fulbrook (OUP £ 25, 672 pp)

RECKONINGS by Mary Fulbrook (OUP £ 25, 672 pp)

He noted that there were differences between the bodies recovered from the smaller and larger gas chambers: in the smaller room death lasted 20 minutes, while in the larger rooms it took three-quarters of an hour.

Corps from the larger rooms were horribly deformed, their faces were completely black as if they had been burned, the bodies were swollen and blue, the teeth so tightly wedged that it was impossible to open them.

What, as Rajchman pointed out, his task of pulling out all those golden crowns made it even more difficult.

This is the process of which the vast majority of active participants have exempted the post-war German courts on the basis that they "only obeyed orders."

But as Fulbrook summarizes it, obedience to command & # 39; only one element.

There were also "different combinations of careerism, cowardice, conformity, fear, lust, brutalization, hopelessness & # 39;

She adds to that list & # 39; desire to reward & # 39; toe. For yes, there were things to be done by the desperate Jews before they were exterminated.

Of course, modern Germany is not that of the immediate post-war period, where self-preservation and shame together conceal the truth.

But this year, the head of the increasingly popular Alternative Fur Deutschland party, Alexander Gauland, declared that the crimes of Hitler and the Nazis are just a "bird's eye". have been in more than 1000 years of glorious German history & # 39 ;.

Mary Fulbrook should send him a copy of her book.

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