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Who were Hitler’s willing executioners

When Hitler’s men first mobilized through Poland on their way to conquer Russia in operation “Barbarossa”, a soldier witnessed German officers beating a Jewish man and mocking him by saying “how many German’s did you steal from today”. But what this soldier really witnessed was the beginning of the Genocide of the entire Jewish race, which today is known as the holocaust. During the holocaust the Germans extinguished the lives of six million Jews and, had Germany not been defeated, would have annihilated millions more. Whats more shocking than the actual event itself is the fact that an event of such nature was even possible, that German societies anti – Semitic attitude was the perfect breeding ground for extermination.With Hitler injecting all sorts of propaganda to convince German’s that Jews are the cause of all Germany’s problem’s and adding to people’s anti – Semitic attitude, he was able to finally see his life long dream which was the elimination of European Jewry. The extermination of the Jewish race would not have been possible if it were not for the ordinary German’s in particular the police force battalions who were carrying out the executions. Although the “final solution to the Jewish question” was engineered by Nazi leadership, it was the willing executioner’s/perpetrators who abided by this evil genocide and made the holocaust possible. Mass executions by the police force were carried out in an attempt to extinguish the Jewish race, however this process was taking too long and Heinrich Himmler appointed the police forces to begin the transport of Jewish people to concentration camps where gas chambers would end their suffering at extremely large numbers and thus, increase the rate of extermination.In order to completely understand the deeds of the perpetrators of the holocaust, the origins and the reasons for the Nazi’s and Germans passionately hating the Jews must be closely examined. However some sources claim that the perpetrators of the holocaust were coerced it is still important that the origins and reasons of this hate is examined.Germany did not invent anti – Semitism, they just “took care” of it. Anti – Jewish policies and actions did not begin in Germany in 1933 when Hitler announced that the Jews were to be exterminated. Jews had been victims of destructive action for many centuries and this began in the fourth century in Rome after Christ. The Jews were forced to convert to Christianity but the Jews refused because they saw that “Christ was elevated to Godhood” in Christianity and the Jews believed in “One God who is indivisible”. Conversion was the first anti – Jewish policy and if it was unsuccessful then the second anti- Jewish policy would be implemented, which was expulsion and exclusion. This was the adopted policy by Nazis and remained the goal of all anti-Jewish policy until 1941.(The Holocaust: Origins, Implementation, Aftermath pg 23-24 – Omar Bartov, 2000)However that year was a turning point in anti-Jewish history. The Nazis found themselves in the midst of a total war with several million Jews incarcerated in ghettos. Emigrating these Jews was impossible and a last minute project to ship the Jews to Madagascar had fallen through. The Nazis then found that the “final solution to the Jewish problem” was to eliminate all European Jewry. This was the third anti – Jewish policy in History and it was created by Hitler and the Nazi party.(The Holocaust: Origins, Implementation, Aftermath pg 25- Omar Bartov, 2000)Simply, the main reason behind Hitler’s anti-Semitism is that he believed the Jews are to blame for Germany’s loss in 1918 and the Depression. Evidence that the Nazi’s blamed the Jews for the war is in source 1 which is a poster showing a hand pointing down at a Jew aided by large bold words stating” he bears the guilt for the war”. This was the event that turned Hitler’s anti-Semitism into a central obsession. To Hitler the Jews were the universal enemy which had relentlessly led the external and internal war against Germany. He believed in “international Jewry” as an actually existing political subject with vast power that was hostile to Germany. He also believed that a Jewish international conspiracy was intent on exterminating Germany and the Germans.Therefore Hitler portrayed the Holocaust as a defensive act, a necessary move to destroy the Jews before they destroyed Germany. Source 2 provides evidence that Nazi propaganda believed in a Jewish conspiracy. The primary source contains a stereotypical Jewish face with arrows pointing to Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin showing a conspiracy theory with the Jews and the allied leaders. Beside this diagram is a list claiming that all people in high places under the allied leaders are somehow Jewish or connected to Jews. This source is useful as it shows historians that the Nazi’s ultimately believed in a Jewish conspiracy and that they used it to justify the need for the extermination of Jews to condition the public to believe the same.(The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda During WWII And The Holocaust pg 1-4,166-Jeffry Herf, 2006)The Nazi party propagandists used all sorts of propaganda to increase people’s hatred and anti-Semitism. It is no wonder why the Holocaust was made possible and many institutions of killing such as the police force were willing to execute the Jews as Nazi propaganda presented all sorts of conspiracies which made people fear the presence of Jews in Germany. For example source 3 presents a poster with the image of an American Jew Nathan Kaufman and below the image is a caption stating “He demands the complete extermination of the German people”. This image is useful as it shows historians how the Nazi propagandists use the Jewish conspiracy to justify their reasons for the extermination of European Jewry as self defence as this poster is a call to eliminate Germans. The use of propaganda to submit the Jews as part of a conspiracy theory at the time would have positioned the executioners to believe that what they were doing was right as they were “protecting themselves from the Jews.”(The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda During WWII And The Holocaust pg 166-Jeffry Herf, 2006)The police battalions during World War II were known as the agents of genocide. The Order Police (Ordnungspolizei) was as integral to the commission of the holocaust as the Einsatzgruppen and the SS were. It was composed of the Uniformed Police (Schutzpolizei), under which police battalions operated, and the Rural Police (Gendarmerie). Police battalions were the branch of the Order Police most intimately involved in the Genocide. Unlike other parts of the Order Police, their mobility made them a flexible general instrument for implementing genocidal policies. A large percentage of the Germans who were members of the police battalions were ordinary Germans, they were not selected according to military or ideological fitness.In fact, the police battalion would take anyone it could get and its men were usually considered unfit for military service, after all, their main objective was to exterminate Jews and this required no military experience. The men of police battalions operated both alone and frequently in conjunction with other forces from other institutions including the German army, SS Security Service and camp personnel. The activities the police battalion force participated in ranged widely. They undertook ordinary police duties, engaged in anti-partisan warfare, some even fought beside the army on the front. But their most valued activity by the Nazi’s at the time was their deportation of people to concentration camps either to be killed or provide labour for Germany, and regularly hunting and killing Jews in large masses in German occupied territory. It was due to these activities undertaken by the police battalion force that the holocaust was made possible.(Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans And The Holocaust pg181 – David Jonah Goldhagen, 1996)Police Battalion 101 was an institution that engaged wholeheartedly in the German extermination of European Jewry. The battalion consisted of lower middle class and lower class German’s which is evident in Source 4 (Class and occupational subgroups of those in the Battalion) and this was due mainly to the unit’s shortage. This battalion served its pre-genocidal life in Poland in September 1939 and operated there until December 1939 where it secured conquered areas and guarded POWs and military installations. In February 1943 the battalion became fully engaged in its Genocidal acts against the Jews undertaking numerous killing operations, sometimes shooting the Jews by the thousands themselves, or deporting them by the thousands to the gas chambers. It is evident in Source 5 and 6 that Police Battalion 101underttok large scale slaughtering of Jews in the thousands and also the deportation of Jews to death camps. These two sources are useful and important to historians because they provide the location, date, number of victims and the method of killing which took place in the genocide of the Polish Jews by Police battalion 101.(Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans And The Holocaust pg 203 -207 – David Jonah Goldhagen, 1996)A major communal extermination in Lomazy was entered in police battalion 101’s ledger shortly after a communal slaying in Jozefow. Unlike in Jozefow, where the entire battalion participated in the Genocidal slaughter, in Lomazy the killing was left to the Second Company to perform on its own. The Jews were concentrated in their own section of the city. It took the men of The Second Company two hours to round up their victims and bring them to the designated assembly point which was the athletic area near the town’s school. This is evident in Source 7 as it shows men of Police Battalion 101 guarding Jews on the athletic field before executing them. The round up proceeded without pity and those who could not make it to the assembly area were killed on the spot. Source 8 is a court judgement which summarises the dedication of the men to their task. The Germans shot the old, the infirm, and the young on the streets and in their homes and beds. At the athletic area the Germans separated the men from the women and lead a group of about sixty Jews to a wooded area where they were forced to dig a mass grave for the execution.This is evident in Source 9 as it shows Jewish men digging a large grave using shovels. The inscription on the back of the photograph identifies the scene for execution. It says Jews constructing a mass grave/Lomartczy 18 Aug 1942/1600. After a while the overdue Hiwis (those who were to carry out the executions) arrived and sat down for breakfast. They feasted in front of their victims and the German commander of the Hiwi’s began to drink vodka. The Jews were strongly suspicious of what awaited them. They began to walk the Jews to the execution site and the Germans shot any Jew who strayed or fell behind. This caused panic and Jews at the back began to surge forward knocking down their brethrens down and trampling over them. When they got to the execution site the Jews were separated according to gender and their clothing was removed.The Jews would have to lay down and would receive one bullet to the head. Then the next set of Jews would have to lay above those previously shot with their skull bursted predecessors. Since the Hiwis were drinking a lot they soon got drunk and found it hard to aim straight at the head. So in some cases the bullet would not kill the victim, but the German commander of the Hiwi’s clearly said that no mercy shots would be issued on this day so those would stay in pain and would die a slow painful death. Soon the Hiwi’s got so drunk it was impossible to continue and they were replaced by the commander’s lieutenants. This was one of many events were entire Jewish communities were slaughtered in the thousands and it these events are the agents that made the holocaust possible.(Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans And The Holocaust pg223 -229 – David Jonah Goldhagen, 1996)Some historians claim that the police force battalion members were coerced by the Nazi’s to take part in the genocidal slaughter of the Jewish race. This meant that the members of the battalion had no choice but to take part in the executions. However, in police battalion force 101 this was not the case. Before a mass killing would take place those in charge of their squads would tell their men that those who do not wish to kill are excused. One squad leader Sergeant Ernst Hegert, reported that in his platoon five men asked to be exempted from the killing after these men had already begun with the executions because they found it to burdensome to shoot women and children. The men were excused and were assigned to other duties such as transporting Jews to the scene for the duration of the killings. Two other sergeants Bentheim and Arthur Kammer also excused a few men under their commands. A third sergeant, Heinrich Steinmetz explicitly told his men before the executions that they do not have to kill. “I would like also to mention that before the beginning of the execution, Sergeant Steinmentz said to the platoon that those who did not feel up to the upcoming task could come forward.” There was an understanding between the battalion that the men who did not want to kill should not be forced to do so. Since sergeants and battalion commanders were exercising the acceptance of one opting out of killing, it means that those who slaughtered Jews did so voluntarily.(Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans And The Holocaust pg 220-222 – David Jonah Goldhagen, 1996)In conclusion the holocaust would not have been possible if it were not due to the willingness of ordinary Germans in the police battalion force to slaughter Jews in extremely large numbers. The reason that many men participated in these killing institutions was due to them being positioned by Nazi propagandists into believing that the Jews were part of a conspiracy theory and that if they did not exterminate them first, then they (the German’s) would be exterminated by the Jews. The men who carried out the executions were not forced as they were allowed to not take part in the killings, rather the men who carried out the executions done so voluntarily.

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