During the first try, my hand trembled a bit as I shot, but one gets used to it. By the tenth try I aimed calmly and shot surely at the many women, children and infants. I kept in mind that I have two infants at home, whom these hordes would treat just the same, if not ten times worse. The death that we gave them was a beautiful quick death, compared to the hellish torments of thousands and thousands in the jails of the GPU. Infants flew in great arcs through the air, and we shot them to pieces in flight…
The above quote was from an Austrian policeman shooting Jews for the Nazis. It was in a letter to his wife. It shows that first of all, this man thought Jews were Communists, and responsible for the evils of Communism. Secondly, he thought infants were inherently Communists, or future Communists, too.
As for beautiful deaths, the following gruesome quote is from a member of the Einsatzgruppen on 5 July 1941: “Hundreds of Jews are running down the street with faces covered with blood, holes in their heads, and eyes hanging out.”
That particular attack on Jews happened when 2,500 prisoners were found dead in the NKVD (Soviet) prison in Lviv, and the Germans presented them (to Ukrainians) as Ukrainian victims of Jewish secret policemen. But in truth, some of the dead prisoners in that NKVD prison were Jewish, some were Poles, and most of the secret policemen were probably Russians and Ukrainians.
All the above comes from a book called Bloodlands. The author, Timothy Snyder, does say that many Communists were Jews, (in fact one-third of the Soviet NKVD was Jewish at one point), but he says that the proposition “many Communists were Jews” is not the same as the proposition “many Jews were Communists”. He says the latter proposition was never true anywhere.
When the Germans invaded Poland, they encountered something that they would never have seen in Germany: large communities of religious Jews. Snyder says that judging from their (the Germans’) correspondence, German officers and soldiers saw Polish Jews as living stereotypes rather than as human beings, a special blight on an already benighted Polish land. Germans wrote to their wives and girlfriends to describe an inhuman assemblage of disorder and filth. Snyder then adds that (German soldiers) would rape Jewish women, casually, as though this were not an offense for which they could be punished. When they were caught, they were reminded of German laws against racial mixing.
This strikes me, a Jew, as quite interesting. A German rapist is supposedly superior, in the Nazi worldview, to a decent, hardworking, disciplined Nobel Prize winner in science, who happens to be Jewish. And as far as money-grubbing behavior, German soldiers sometimes broke the fingers of Jews to get at their wedding rings. Superior race?
The Russians didn’t seem all that superior either. In at least two cases that Timothy Snyder mentions, the Soviets killed one sibling, and the Germans another. Janinia Dowbor was the only female among the Polish officers taken prisoner by the Soviets. An adventurous soul, she had learned as a girl to hang-glide and parachute. The Soviets executed her at Katyn, and buried there in the pits along with 4,409 men. Her younger sister Agnieszka had remained in the German zone. Along with some friends, she had joined a resistance organization. She was arrested and then killed in the Palmiry Forest. Both sisters were buried in shallow graves, after shots to the head.
Both the Nazis and the Commies felt their system was superior to decadent capitalism. Think about it, a German agricultural empire that was to be created out of lands depopulated by starvation (see ‘The Hunger Plan’ in Bloodlands) was superior to capitalism?
The Nazis believed they were bringing about a Garden of Eden, and killing the Jews was a key to achieve it. Its reminds me of my favorite novel “Lord Of the Rings” by Tolkien. Once you destroy the ring of power, the evil is defeated.
Prof. Snyder does not think that we can just describe mass-killing as ideological. “It is convenient to see the perpetrator just as someone who holds the wrong idea and is therefore different for that reason.”
He also cautions us that “The identification with the victim affirms a radical separation from the perpetrator.” He also says that “it is tempting to say that a Nazi murderer is beyond the pale of understanding…To yield to this temptation, to find other people to be inhuman, is to take a step toward, not away from, the Nazi position. To find other people incomprehensible is to abandon the search for understanding, and thus to abandon history.”
This blog has two more posts using material from Bloodlands. While it is a chronicle of the under-reported tragedy of the fate of the Poles and others, The book also makes some good points about motivation, including that sometimes people with one ideology would end up fighting for the other ideology, and that both the Nazis and Soviets saw themselves as victims, and persuaded millions that they too were victims: of an international capitalist or Jewish conspiracy. One question it leaves me with – do ever the perpetrators, who created these mounds of corpses, and created the situations where evil bred evil, and starving children became cannibals (in one case), look back and think – “it was all a mistake. we were monsters.”
I would ask as well – if large numbers of Communists could follow Stalin, and create a nightmare of death and suffering, and large numbers of Nazis could follow Hitler, and create their nightmare – are these people just like us, but confused? Or are they people with flaws both in their thinking and their personality?
Would I personally have followed any of these leaders? Would you?