The Holocaust and the American Future

The Cunning
of History
The Holocaust and the American Future
Richard L. Rubenstein
Introduction by William Styron
The Cunning of History
The Holocaust and the
American Future
Harper & Row, Publishers, New York
Grand Rapids, Philadelphia, St. Louis, San Francisco
London, Singapore, Sydney, Tokyo, Toronto
To Charles E. Merrill, Jr.
in appreciation of two decades
of friendship
A hardcover edition of this book was originally published in 1975 by Harper & Row, Publishers.
THE CUNNING OF HISTORY. Copyright @ 1975 by Richard L. Rubenstein. Introduction
copyright ©1978 by William Styron. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America.
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner without written permission
except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For
information address Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 10 East 53rd Street, New York, N.Y.
First HARPER TORCHBOOKS edition published 1987.
ISBN: 0-06-132068-4
Foreword V
Introduction vii
Mass Death and Contemporary Civilization 1
Bureaucratic Domination 22
The Modernization of Slavery 36
The Health Professions and Corporate Enterprise at
Auschwitz 48
The Victims’ Response: Bureaucratic Self-Destruction 68
Reflections on A Century of Progress 78
Notes 98

I wish to express my appreciation to Mr. Clayton Carlson, Ms. Marie
Cantlon, and the staff of Harper & Row for their help in editing and
producing this book. I am especially indebted to Mr. Carlson for encouraging
me to write a book on “current issues in American society and
politics.” I am also indebted to Professor Herbert Richardson of St.
Michael’s College, the University of Toronto, for his counsel in determining
the final shape this work has taken. I would also like to thank
my colleagues at Florida State University, especially Professor Lawrence
Cunningham and Dr. Neil Hurley, S.J., for their helpful assistance. My
research associate, Mrs. Betty Phifer, was, as usual, of great help and
encouragement as was Professor John Carey, Chairman of the Department
of Religion at Florida State University. My students gave me the
opportunity to test out some of my ideas both before and after they were
committed to paper. I am grateful to the Graduate Research Council of
Florida State University and the Rockefeller Foundation for the
support they have given to the Center for the Study of Southern Culture
and Religion. A number of the insights expressed in this book were
developed as a result of research I had done in my capacity as director of
the Center. Dean William Hamilton of Portland State University,
Portland, Oregon, read part of my manuscript and made helpful suggestions.
My thanks also go to my friend of many years, Henry Koerner of
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Vienna, Austria, one of the truly great
artists of our time. I shall never forget the hours I spent in the restauvi
rants and coffee houses of Vienna in August, 1974 sharing the contents
of this book with him. Ms. Julianna Klein of Tallahassee was
extremely helpful in the typing of the manuscript.
Above all, my thanks go to my wife, Betty Rogers Rubenstein, who
gave me her daily encouragement and offered her wise and helpful
criticism of the entire manuscript.
Summer 1974
William Styron
Few books possess the power to leave the reader with that feeling of
awareness that we call a sense of revelation. The Cunning of History seems
to me to be one of these. It is a very brief work—a long essay—but it is so
rich in perception and it contains so many startling—indeed, prophetic—
insights that one can only remain baffled at the almost complete absence
of attention it suffered when it was first published in 1975. When I first read
Rubenstein’s book I felt very much the same effect of keen illumination that I
did when, in the early stages of writing The Confessions of Nat Turner, I
happened to read Stanley Elkins’s Slavery—a work that shed fresh light on
American Negro slavery in such a bold and arresting way that, despite the
controversy it provoked and the revisionist criticism it produced, it has
become a classic in its field. It is perhaps a fitting coincidence that
Rubenstein discusses Elkins at some length in this book; certainly both
writers share a preoccupation with what to my mind is perhaps the most
compelling theme in history, including the history of our own time—that of the
catastrophic propensity on the part of human beings to attempt to dominate
one another.
If slavery was the great historical nightmare of the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries in the Western world, it was slavery’s continuation, in the
horror we have come to call Auschwitz, which is the nightmare of our own
century. Auschwitz, like the core of hell, is the symbolic center of The Cunning
of History, and while the theological and political ramifications radiating from
this center provide many of the book’s most illuminating insights, it is
Auschwitz—simply Auschwitz—that remains Rubenstein’s primary concern.
We are still very close to Auschwitz in time; its unspeakable monstrousness—
one is tempted to say its unbelievability—continues to leave us weak
with trauma, haunting us as with the knowledge of some lacerating
bereavement. Even as it recedes slowly into the past it taxes our belief,
making us wonder if it really happened. As a concept, as an image, we
shrink from it as from damnation itself. “Christmas and Easter can be
subjects for poetry,” wrote W. H. Auden, “but Good Friday, like
Auschwitz, cannot. The reality is so horrible….” To this he might have
added the near impossibility not just of poetry but of prose, even of an
expository sort. The critic George Steiner has suggested the ultimate
response: silence. But of course writers cannot be silent, least of all a
questing writer like Rubenstein, who has set himself the admirable but
painful task of anatomizing the reality within the nightmare while the
dream is still fresh.
As near in time as Auschwitz is to us, it is nonetheless an historical
event, and one of the excellences of Rubenstein’s book is the audacious
and original way in which the author has confronted the event, wringing
from its seeming incomprehensibility the most subtle and resonant
meanings. This is an unusual achievement when one considers how
frequently analyses of the historical process become little more than
tendentious exercises reflecting the writer’s bias, which in turn corresponds
to the pieties of the era in which he writes. So often the product
is less history than wish-fulfillment, reinforcing the prejudices of his
contemporaries and their hearts’ desire. A brief word about the incredibly
dramatic shift in attitudes in the writing of the history of American Negro
slavery may serve to illustrate this. During the roughly three quarters
of a century between the Emancipation Proclamation and the Second
World War, the historiography of slavery generally reflected the mood of a
society that remained profoundly racist, committed to the notion of
racial inferiority and to the unshakable virtues of segregation. Towering
above all other historians of slavery in the decades before the war was
the Georgia-born scholar Ulrich B. Phillips whose work, despite certain
undoubted merits of scholarship, was heavily weighted in favor of the
portrayal of slave times as an almost Elysian period, in which contented
slave and indulgent master were united in an atmosphere of unexacting,
productive labor and domestic tranquility.
By the 1940s, however, the winds of change were blowing; the social
upheavals of the preceding decade had drastically affected the national
consciousness, bringing with them a perception of the outrages and
injustices still being perpetrated on the Negro. Also, a certain sophistication
had evolved regarding the psychology of suffering. It would thus seem
inevitable, in this new atmosphere of nagging guilt and self-searching, that
the writing of the history of slavery would undergo drastic revisionism,
and it was just as likely that the new portrait of antebellum times would
be the very antithesis of Ulrich B. Phillips’s softly tinted idyll; most of the
new scholarship (epitomized by Kenneth B. Stampp’s The Peculiar
Institution) represented slavery as unremittingly harsh, cruel, and
degrading, with few if any redeeming aspects. It was one of the great
virtues of Elkins’s Slavery, coming a few years later (and, as I say, its
catalytic power in terms of its subject seems to me similar to that of
Rubenstein’s present work), that it struck violently through the
obfuscations and preconceptions that had dictated, often self-righteously,
the views of the apologists for slavery on the one hand, and its
adversaries on the other, and, in effect, demanded that the institution
be examined from any number of new and different angles objectively, in
all of its difficult complexity. Aspects of Elkins’s own thesis, which are not
truly relevant here, have undergone severe criticism, but his insights have
been gratefully absorbed into the remarkable body of scholarship that
has grown around the subject of American slavery in the last twenty years
and that has perhaps been most richly realized in the work of Eugene D.
There was of course really nothing defensible about slavery. But unlike
slavery—which, after all, has had its quixotic defenders—Auschwitz
can have no proponents whatever. Therefore I am not suggesting that
in The Cunning of History Rubenstein is acting as an intermediary in a
debate or is synthesizing opposing points of view. What I am saying is that,
like Elkins, Rubenstein is forcing us to reinterpret the meaning of
Auschwitz—especially, although not exclusively, from the standpoint of its
existence as part of a continuum of slavery that has been engrafted for
centuries onto the very body of Western civilization. Therefore, in the
process of destroying the myth and the preconception, he is making us
see that that encampment of death and suffering may have been more
horrible than we had ever imagined. It was slavery in its ultimate embodiment.
He is making us understand that the etiology of Auschwitz—to
some a diabolical, perhaps freakish excrescence, which vanished from the
face of the earth with the destruction of the crematoria in 1945—is
actually embedded deeply in a cultural tradition that stretches back to
the Middle Passage from the coast of Africa, and beyond, to the
enforced servitude in ancient Greece and Rome.
Rubenstein is saying that we ignore this linkage, and the existence of
the sleeping virus in the bloodstream of civilization, at risk of our future.
If it took a hundred years for American slavery to become demythified,
one can only wonder when we can create a clear understanding of
Auschwitz, despite its proximity to us in time. For several years now I have
been writing a work—part fiction, part factual—which deals to a
great extent with Auschwitz and I have been constantly surprised at the
misconceptions I have encountered with enlightened people whenever
the subject has come up in conversation. The most common view is that the
camp was a place where Jews were exterminated by the millions in gas
chambers—simply this and nothing more. Now it is true that in their
genocidal fury the Nazis had consecrated their energies to the slaughter
of Jews en masse, not only at Auschwitz, where two and a half million
Jews died, but at such other Polish extermination centers as Belzec,
Treblinka, Majdanek, and Chelmno. And of course countless victims died
at camps in Germany. In 1943, a directive from the Reichsführer SS,
Heinrich Himmler, plainly stated that all European Jews would be
murdered without exception, and we know how close to success the
execution of that order came.
But at Auschwitz—the supreme example of that world of “total
domination” that Rubenstein sees as the arch-creation of the Nazi
genius—there was ultimately systematized not only mass murder on
a scale never known before, but also mass slavery on a level of bestial
cruelty. This was a form of bondage in which the victim was forced to
work for a carefully calculated period (usually no more than three
months) and then, through methods of deprivation calculated with
equal care, allowed to die. As Rubenstein points out, only in a situation
where human bodies were endlessly replaceable could such a form of
slavery prove to be efficient—but the Nazis, who were this century’s
original efficiency experts, had no cause for concern on this count, supplied
as they were with all the Jews of Europe, besides thousands of Poles,
Russian prisoners of war, and others. These became victims of a bureaucratic
modernization of slavery. And although the concept was not entirely
unique in the long chronicle of bondage (for a period in the West Indies the
British, with a glut of manpower, had no qualms about working slaves to
death) certainly no slaveholders had on such a scale and with such
absolute ruthlessness utilized human life in terms of its simple
expendability. Rubenstein explains in his persuasive first chapter that it is
this factor of expendability—an expendability that in turn derives
from modern attitudes toward the stateless, the uprooted and rootless,
the disadvantaged and dispossessed—that provides still another essential
key to the incomprehensible dungeon of Auschwitz. The matter of surplus
populations, which Rubenstein touches upon again and again, haunts this
book like the shadow of a thundercloud.
But slave labor is pointless without an end product, and what did slave
labor produce at Auschwitz? Of course, on one level, slaves—Jews and
non-Jews—slaved to kill Jews. But this was scarcely all. One of the gaps
in the knowledge of many people I have talked to is their ignorance of
the fact that one of the chief functions of Auschwitz was to support a
vast corporate enterprise involved in the manufacture of synthetic rubber.
Anyone who has studied the Nazi period, especially that aspect of it
having to do with the concentration camps, is usually both impressed and
baffled by seemingly unresolvable contradictions, by the sheer caprice and
irrationality of certain mandates and commands, by unexplainable cancellations
of directives, by Ordnung in one area of operation and wild disorder
in another. The SS, so celebrated for their discipline and method,
seemed more often than not to have their collective heads in total
disarray. Witness Himmler’s order early in 1943 concerning the
annihilation of the Jews; nothing would seem more unequivocal or more
final. Yet this imperious command—surely one of the most awesome
and terrible in history—was completely countermanded soon after it was
conceived and handed down, replaced by a directive that ordered all
able-bodied Jewish adult arrivals at Auschwitz not to the crematoria but to
work. We can only surmise the reason for this quick reversal, but it
should not take too long to conclude that pressures from I. G. Farben-
Auschwitz, operators of the rubber factory, were a decisive factor in
Himmler’s decision, and that, at the behest of the directors of the
company (which only a few years before had been helping to supply
peaceful European households with tires and doormats and cushions and
ashtrays), thousands of Jews each day would rejoice in their “reprieve”
from the ovens at Birkenau, only to realize that they had joined the
legions of the walking dead.
It is ironic that the immolation of these doomed souls (and there were
among them, I think it necessary to add, hundreds of thousands of
non-Jews) came to naught; we know now that for various reasons the
nearby factories produced very little synthetic rubber to aid the struggles of
the Wehrmacht, yet it was through no lack of effort on the part of
either I. G. Farben or the SS that the enterprise was fruitless. What had
been demonstrated was the way in which the bureaucratization of power
in the service of a new kind of soulless bondage could cause a total
domination of human beings on a level that makes the oppression of
traditional, old-fashioned Western slavery—with its residue of Christian
decency and compassion—seem benevolent by comparison. As
Rubenstein says in an important passage:
The death-camp system became a society of total domination only when healthy inmates
were kept alive and forced to become slaves rather than killed outright. … As long as the
camps served the single function of killing prisoners, one can speak of the camps as places
of mass execution but not as a new type of human society. Most of the literature on the
camps has tended to stress the role of the camps as places of execution. Regrettably,
few ethical theorists or religious thinkers have paid attention to the highly
significant political fact that the camps were in reality a new form of human society.
And in another passage Rubenstein concludes with stunning, if grim,
perception: “The camps were thus far more of a permanent threat to
the human future than they would have been had they functioned solely
as an exercise in mass killing. An extermination center can only manufacture
corpses; a society of total domination creates a world of the living
Some time ago I watched a late night discussion program on television,
moderated by an entertainer named David Susskind. Assembled
for the event that evening were perhaps half a dozen writers whose
expertise was in the subject of the Nazis and their period, and also in
the continued presence of a kind of lumpen underground Naziism in
America. I believe most of these men were not Jewish. I remember little
about the program, save for the remarkably foolish question posed by
Susskind near the end. He asked in effect: “Why should you Gentiles
be interested in the Nazis? Why, not being Jewish, are you concerned
about the Holocaust?” There was a weak reply, sotto voce, from one of
the participants to the effect that, well, there were others who suffered
and died too, such as numerous Slavs; but the remark seemed to be
ignored and I bit my tongue in embarrassment for all concerned. I was,
naturally, unable to utter what I was longing to say, namely, that if the
question was unbelievably fatuous the reply was shamefully feeble—and
off the mark. Firstly, of course Mr. Susskind should be enlightened as to
the vast numbers of Gentiles who shared in the same perdition visited
upon the Jews, those who were starved and tortured to death at Ravensbruck
and Dachau, and the droves who perished as slaves at Auschwitz.
Such ignorance in a grown talk show host seemed to me by now imperxiv
But secondly, and most emphatically, the point I struggled vainly, to
make, murmuring to myself in the dark, was that even if this were not
true—even if the Jews had been without any exception the inheritors
of Hitler’s hatred and destruction—the question would have been very
close to indecent. I could not help think there was something paradigmatically
American (or certainly non-European) in that question, with its
absence of any sense of history and its vacuous unawareness of evil. By
contrast how pervasive is the sense of evil in Rubenstein’s essay, how
urgent is the feeling that an apprehension of the devil’s handiwork and
an understanding of the Holocaust are the concern of Jew and non-Jew
alike. We are all still immersed in this deepest pit. In The Cunning of
History, written by a Jew and a theologian, the fact of the Holocaust as the
cataclysmic tragedy of the Jewish people is assumed, a priori, as it should
be, just as it is assumed that the annihilation of the Jews acquired a
centrality in the Nazis’ monstrous order of things. Rubenstein’s analysis
of the historical sources of anti-Semitism provides some of his most
illuminating passages. But among the qualities that I find so compelling
about Rubenstein’s book, as opposed to a great deal that has been
written about Auschwitz, is how, despite the foregoing, he has acquired a
perspective—a philosophical and historical spaciousnessthat has
allowed him to anatomize Auschwitz with a knowledge of the titanic and
sinister forces at work in history and in modem life that threaten all
men, not only Jews. I intend no disrespect to Jewish sensibility, and at the
same time am perhaps only at last replying to Mr. Susskind, when I
say how bracing it is to greet a writer who views totalitarianism as a
menace to the entire human family. As an analyst of evil, Rubenstein,
like Hannah Arendt, is serene and Olympian, which probably accounts for
the unacceptability I have been told he has been met with in some
I have intentionally refrained until this conclusion from mentioning
other important strands of Rubenstein’s wide-ranging thought that are
woven into the fabric of his essay: his reflections on the tangled and
tormented connection between the Judeo-Christian tradition and the
Holocaust, his observations on the ugly resemblance between the medical
experiments at Auschwitz and those in American prisons, his fascinating
consideration of the ethical and legal aspects of mass murder (his
conclusion that no crimes were committed at Auschwitz comprises a
chilling paradox), and his final meditation on civilization and the future.
Also, over and over again, the problem of surplus people. Rubenstein is
everywhere provocative and nowhere dull, and all of these subjects
provide a vivid counterpoint to what I conceive to be his major insights. To
recapitulate: perhaps because of my own involvement with slavery I have
found Rubenstein’s study at its most illuminating when he is dealing
with Auschwitz as a phenomenon that is an inevitable continuation not
only of traditional slave systems in Western society but of exploitative
“wage slave” tyrannies that have kept men in bondage throughout
history. The ultimate slavery of total domination that found its apotheosis
in Auschwitz required only modern techniques of bureaucratization to
achieve itself. Rubenstein’s gift has been to show how that impulse
toward domination has been embedded in our past and how, far from
being extinguished, it adumbrates all of our uncertain tomorrows.
Although he is wise enough to offer no specific prophecy in his pessimistic
but rigorously honest essay, he leaves this reader, at least, with the
feeling that the possibility of the nightmare being reborn to jeopardize
the future—or perhaps even to preclude a future—is very real.
Whatever that reality, and whatever befalls us, Richard Rubenstein has
with a steady eye and strong mind gazed into the abyss of the
immediate past. I think we risk a great deal if we do not join in his
scrutiny, because not to do so would be to fail to recognize that abyss
again as it becomes likely to imperil us during the onrushing years.
Mass Death and
Contemporary Civilization
Why should anyone bother to reflect once again on the extermination
of Europe’s Jews by the Germans thirty years ago? The event is over and
done. The world has witnessed a plethora of new horrors since that time.
And, given the global threat of overpopulation, it will probably witness the
death of even greater numbers by famine in the near future. Why not
consign the story to the dustbin of history and be done with it?
Part of the answer lies in the fact that the popular imagination will
not let the Nazi period die. People still continue to be fascinated by
Hitler, Himmler, and the SS. Books about the Nazis continue to appear.
They are bought in large numbers by a curious public. The Nazi period
also continues to be a subject of great interest for the movies and
television. Much of the popular interest is undoubtedly perverse. Some
people use the Nazi story as a vehicle to express their own fantasies of
sadistic domination of their peers, a domination they could never
achieve in real life. Others may have an unsettling need for total submission
that can more safely be expressed in fantasy than reality.
Yet, in spite of the perverse fascination, there is a sound basis for the
interest in the period. The passing of time has made it increasingly
evident that a hitherto unbreachable moral and political barrier in the
history of Western civilization was successfully overcome by the Nazis in
World War II and that henceforth the systematic, bureaucratically
administered extermination of millions of citizens or subject peoples will
forever be one of the capacities and temptations of government.
Whether or not such a temptation is ever again exercised, the mere fact
that every modern government possesses such power cannot but alter the
relations between those who govern and those who are governed. This
power must also alter the texture of foreign relations. According to Max
Weber, “The state is a human community that (successfully) claims
the monopoly of the legitimate use of force within a given territory.”‘
Auschwitz has enlarged our conception of the state’s capacity to do
violence. A barrier has been overcome in what for millennia had been
regarded as the permissible limits of political action. The Nazi period serves
as a warning of what we can all too easily become were we faced with a
political or an economic crisis of overwhelming proportions. The public may
be fascinated by the Nazis; hopefully, it is also warned by them.
In studying the Holocaust, the extermination of Europe’s Jews, it is
necessary to recognize that our feelings may be strongly aroused. Both
the Nazis and their victims elicit some very complicated emotional
responses from most people. These feelings are important but they can
add to our difficulties in arriving at an understanding of what took place. In
order to understand the Holocaust, it is necessary to adopt a mental
attitude that excludes all feelings of sympathy or hostility towards both
the victims and the perpetrators. This is a methodological procedure
and, admittedly, an extremely difficult one. Nevertheless, this bracketing is
necessary, not only because of the emotions aroused by the Nazis, but also
because of the ambivalent reactions Jews inevitably arouse in Western
culture. In view of the fact that (a) most Europeans and Americans are
the spiritual and cultural heirs of a religious tradition in which both the
incarnate deity and his betrayer are Jewish and that (b) the fate of the
Jews has been a primary datum used to prove the truth of Christianity
from its inception, it is difficult for even the most secularized non-Jew to be
without a complex mixture of feelings when confronted with Jewish
disaster. These feelings are likely to include both guilt and gratification.
Nor are Jews normally capable of greater objectivity in dealing with the
Holocaust. The event has challenged the very foundations of Jewish
religious faith. It has reinforced all of the millennial distrust on the part of
Jews for the non-Jewish world. It has also raised the exceedingly
painful issue of the role of the Judenräte, the Jewish community councils
which everywhere controlled the Jewish communities and which were
used by the Germans as a principal instrument to facilitate the process
of extermination.
Both Jews and non-Jews have good reasons for responding with emotion
to the Holocaust. Were such a response conducive to insight concerning
its political and moral consequences, there would be no reason to attempt
the kind of bracketing which is here advised. However, some degree of
objectivity is necessary in order to understand what took place. It is
therefore necessary to withhold, insofar as it is possible, both
sympathetic and hostile feelings as we attempt to arrive at some comprehension
of the long-range significance of the process by which the
Jews of Europe were destroyed.
It is, of course, somewhat easier to assess the meaning of the Holocaust
today than it was a generation ago. During and immediately after World
War II, the shock of the experience was too great. As the camps were
liberated, brutal media images of survivors who seemed hardly more than
walking skeletons were mixed with images of mounds of unburied corpses.
The pictures hinted at the frightfulness of what had taken place, but their
very horror also tended to obscure comprehension. The moral and
psychological categories under which such scenes could be
comprehended were hatred, cruelty, and sadism. The past was
searched to find parallels with which the event could be understood.
Human history is filled with incidents of rapine, robbery, and massacre.
It was to such categories that the mind was initially drawn. In
addition, the Jews had been the victims of degrading assault so often
that there was an understandable tendency to regard the Holocaust as a
contemporary manifestation of the anti-Jewish violence that had so often
exploded during the two-thousand-year sojourn of the Jews in Europe.
There was also a paucity of facts. It was known that millions had been
killed, but, until the German archives and the survivors’ memoirs became
available, it was not possible to get an accurate picture of the destruction
process as a whole. Because of the. total collapse of the German state in
1945, its archives became available soon after the events had taken place.
Under normal conditions, many of the most important documents would
never have become available. Even after having been made available, the
archival material, the transcripts of the war crimes trials and the avalanche
of memoirs all had to be digested. To some extent, that process is still
going on. Unfortunately, whenever scholars have attempted to
comprehend the Holocaust in terms of pre-twentieth-century experience,
they have invariably failed to recognize the phenomenon for what it was, a
thoroughly modern exercise in total domination that could only have been
carried out by an advanced political community with a highly trained, tightly
disciplined police and civil service bureaucracy.
As reflection replaced shock, attention shifted from a description of the
mobile killing units and the death camps to the analysis of the process
by which the extermination was carried out. The process was a highly
complex series of acts which started simply with the bureaucratic definition
of who was a Jew.2 Once defined as a, Jew, by the German state
bureaucracy, a person was progressively deprived of all personal property and
citizenship rights. The final step in the process came when he was
eliminated altogether. The destruction process required the cooperation of
every sector of German society. The bureaucrats drew up the definitions
and decrees; the churches gave evidence of Aryan descent; the postal
authorities carried the messages of definition, expropriation, denaturalization,
and deportation; business corporations dismissed their Jewish employees
and took over “Aryanized” properties; the railroads carried the victims to
their place of execution, a place made
available to the Gestapo and the SS by the Wehrmacht. To repeat, the
operation required and received the participation of every major social,
political, and religious institution of the German Reich.
The essential steps in the process of annihilation have been outlined
by the historian and political scientist, Raul Hilberg, in his comprehensive
and indispensable study, The Destruction of the European Jews.3
According to Hilberg, since the fourth Christian century, there have
been three fundamental anti-Jewish policies, conversion, expulsion, and
annihilation. Until the twentieth century, only two of the policies were
attempted in a systematic way, conversion and expulsion. Throughout
the history of Christianity, there have been countless attempts to inflict
violence upon Jews. These assaults were often encouraged by religious
and secular authorities. Nevertheless, such outbursts, no matter how
extensive, were never transformed into systematic, bureaucratically administered
policies of outright extermination until World War II. According
to Hilberg, the Nazis were both “innovators” and “improvisers” in
their elimination of the Jews.4
Each of the three policies directed against Jews represented an intensification
of hostile action beyond the previous step. Conversion was an
attempt to subvert Jewish religious and communal institutions by securing
defections to the rival faith. Expulsion was an attempt to rid a
community of Jews as unwanted outsiders. Annihilation was the most
radical form of expulsion. Nevertheless, there is a fundamental difference
between conversion and expulsion on the one hand and extermination
on the other. In conversion and expulsion, the death threat was
often used as a means to an end; in extermination, killing became the
end in itself.
Before the twentieth century, the Christian religious tradition was
both the source of much traditional anti-Jewish hostility and an effective
barrier against the final murderous step. Something changed in the
twentieth century. As always, there were men who sought to rid their
communities of Jews and Jewish influence, but the methods proposed
were no longer limited by traditional religious or moral restraints. The
rationalizations with which a massacre of the Jews could be justified were
at least as old as Christendom. We need not repeat here what has
been written on the subject of Christian anti-Jewish images. For our
purposes, it is sufficient to note that those stereotypical images did
not lead to systematic extermination until the twentieth century. There
was little that the Nazis had to add to the negative image of the Jew
they had inherited from Martin Luther or from the Pan-German anti-
Semites of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In every
instance, the Jew was depicted as an enemy within the gates, a
criminal and a kind of plague or species of vermin.5 Gil Eliot has
observed that such images ascribe to an adversary or a potential victim
a paranthropoid identity.6 As Eliot has asserted, once a human being
has been stripped of his human and given a paranthropoid identity,
the normal moral impediments cease to operate.
To repeat, something happened in the twentieth century that made
it morally and psychologically possible to realize dreams of destructiveness
that had previously been confined to fantasy. Part of the reason for
the radicalization of the destructive tendencies can, of course, be found
in such specific events as the defeat of Germany in World War I after
four years of fighting of unprecedented violence. An element of even
greater importance was the fact that the secularized culture which
substituted calculating rationality for the older traditional norms in
personal and group relations did not mature fully until the twentieth
century. Yet another factor was the conjunction of the charismatic
leadership of Adolf Hitler, the bureaucratic competence of the German
police and civil service, and the mood of the German people at a
particular moment in history. Himmler and Goebbels, for example, were
convinced that Hitler’s leadership gave the Germans a unique opportunity
to eliminate the Jews that might never be repeated.7
All of the elements cited played their part, but more was involved.
The Holocaust was an expression of some of the most significant political,
moral, religious and demographic tendencies of Western civilization in
the twentieth century. The Holocaust cannot be divorced from the very
same culture of modernity that produced the two world wars and Hitler.
There were, of course, unique elements in the Holocaust. It was the
first attempt by a modern, legally constituted government to pursue a
policy of bureaucratically organized genocide both within and beyond its
own frontiers. As such, it must be distinguished from the use of violence
by a state against another state or even against its own people for the
purpose of securing compliance with its policies. One of the most terrifying
instances of state violence was the American nuclear attack on Hiroshima
and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. Although nuclear weapons are
capable of greater destructiveness than were the German death camps,
there was a significant difference between Hiroshima and Auschwitz. The
American assault ceased as soon as the Japanese surrendered. During
World War II, German mass violence against enemy civilians was
intensified after the victims had surrendered.8
Nevertheless, for all of its uniqueness, the Holocaust must be seen
against the horizon of the unprecedented magnitude of violence in the
twentieth century. No century in human history can match the twentieth
in the sheer number of human beings slaughtered as a direct
consequence of the political activity of the great states. One estimate
of the humanly inflicted deaths of the twentieth century places the total at
about one hundred million.9 As fewer men have fallen prey to such
natural ills as the plague and epidemic, the technology of human violence
has taken up much of the slack. Those whom nature did not kill before
their time were often slain by their fellowmen.
Twentieth-century mass slaughter began in earnest with World War I.
About 6,000 people were killed every day for over 1,500 days.10 The
total was around ten million. World War I was the first truly modern
war of the century. The civilian societies of both the Allied and the Central
powers were organized in such a way that millions of ordinary people were
withdrawn from their normal occupations, supplied with weapons of
unprecedented destructiveness and dispatched to the battle fronts.
Without the systematic organization of both population and industry, it
would have been impossible to wage the kind of mass war that was
A mass war has its own logic that is very different from the almost
ritualistic and symbolic contests of compact units of military professionals
that used to wage war on their country’s behalf. Diego de Velasquez’s
magnificent painting, The Surrender of Breda (June 25, 1625), which
hangs in Madrid’s Prado Museum reminds us of the way European wars
used to be fought: With the troops of both sides facing each other, the
Dutch commander Justin of Nassau bows as he surrenders the keys of the
city to the Spanish commander, the Genoese general Ambrogio Spinola.
Spinola has dismounted from his horse and has placed his right hand on the
shoulder of Justin as he accepts the keys. Spinola’s gesture suggests
knightly comradeship. There is mutual respect. The victor knows that things
could have gone the other way. He is also convinced that the victory
belongs to God.
In modern warfare, there is no knightly comradeship. The objective is
often to deprive the enemy of his basic instrument of violence, his army. In
essence, that is what General von Falkenhayn, the German commander,
attempted at the Battle of Verdun. Von Falkenhayn’s strategy was
biological. His objective at Verdun was to exterminate as many of the
enemy as possible.” This was a giant step towards the death camps of World
War II. For the first time in memory a European nation had attempted to alter
the biological rather than the military and political balance of power with an
adversary. It did not occur to Von Falkenhayn that he could not
slaughter the French without suffering the loss of a comparable
number of his own men. The tragic story of Verdun is well known. About five
hundred thousand men, died on each side in a nine-month battle that
ended with the battle lines more or less in the same place at the end as at
the beginning. Apparently, the German military and civilian authorities
did not consider so great a human sacrifice too high a price to pay for
victory. It is somewhat easier to understand the resolve of the French to take
their losses. They were convinced that their national existence was at
stake. No similar danger threatened the Germans. They were the attackers.
They were, of course, determined to win the war no matter what the cost.
From the perspective of subsequent history, Verdun offered a hint of the
extent to which the leaders of Germany regarded their own people as
expendable. If the German leaders were prepared to sacrifice their
own people on so vast a scale, they were hardly likely to be concerned
about the fate of enemy populations. Nevertheless, there is an important
difference between German behavior at Verdun in 1915 and the behavior
of the Nazis during World War II. There is no evidence that the
Germans would have intensified their violence against their adversaries
had they won World War I. Even the large-scale violence at Verdun was
not a prelude to the annihilation or the permanent enslavement of the
French nation. As we have noted, in World War II, the Nazis intensified
their violence against their enemies after they had surrendered,
especially in Eastern Europe.
Nor were the Germans alone in their indifference to the fate of large
numbers of their own men. On July 1, 1916 General Sir Douglas Haig
began the Battle of the Somme. By the end of the first day, the British
had lost nearly sixty thousand men including half of all of the officers
assigned to the battle! This was by far the worst casualty rate yet for
either side. In spite of the insane casualty rate, Haig refused to desist. He
was determined to break through the German lines at any cost. By the
end of the year, the British offensive was a complete failure. The British
lines had moved only six miles forward. Four hundred and ten thousand
Britons, 500,000 Germans, and 190,000 Frenchmen were dead, and
for nothing.12
Undoubtedly, Von Falkenhayn and Haig were convinced that they
had the best of reasons for permitting the slaughter of their own troops.
Both men had been entrusted by their countries with the most awesome
of responsibilities, the command decisions affecting the lives of the
nation’s fighting men during wartime. The process by which they were
selected was neither frivolous nor fortuitous. In a moment of extreme
national crisis they were regarded as the best their nations could elect.
Under the circumstances, their military decisions cannot be regarded as
personal. They were chosen because they were trusted to make the right
decisions. Those decisions were accepted. Both the British and the
German generals made the same decision: their country’s young men
were expendable.
We can only ask, but so much of the history of the twentieth century
points in the direction of one answer, that we must wonder whether at
some level Von Falkenhayn and Haig were moved by hidden forces in
themselves and their societies to preside over a mammoth bloodletting, the
slaughter of their own men. We must also ask whether the ultimate
objective of the attackers at Verdun and the Somme was to use wartime
conditions to bring about what could not have been done under any other
circumstance, the massacres themselves. It may be helpful to specify
some of the underlying presuppositions that motivate the question: Von
Falkenhayn and Haig were leading components of the mechanisms of
destruction of their respective countries but their decisions were subject to
review. Had the decisions been unacceptable, the commanders would
have been speedily replaced. Furthermore, it is altogether possible that
nations like individuals do not always know what they really want. Their
actions may provide a better indication of what they want than the publicly
stated declarations of their leaders. Both Haig and Von Falkenhayn were
convinced that the blood sacrifices were indispensable to victory; so too
were those who ratified their decisions. For three centuries the peoples of
Europe had exported their surplus populations* to North and South
America, thereby putting off the day when the inexorable fatalities to which
Thomas Malthus pointed finally overtook them. In the nineteenth century,
Europe also began to export its sons to participate in the newer
imperialist ventures in Africa and Asia. In the twentieth century, the
American frontier was closing and, in spite of the continuing emigration,
population continued to grow in most European countries. Is it not possible
that some automatic, self-regulating mechanism in European society was
blindly yet purposefully experimenting by means of the war with alternative
means of population reduction? It has been observed that population control
mechanisms often come into play when the number of animals in some
species begins to get out of band.13 Could it have been that both the
* It is important to note that the concept of a surplus population is not absolute. An
underpopulated nation can have a redundant population if it is so organized that a segment
of its able-bodied human resources cannot be utilized in any meaningful economic or social
Allies and the Central Powers were in the grip of historical forces that
were acting behind them without their conscious knowledge?
Obviously a definitive answer to the questions raised would require
greater historical, psychological, and demographic scholarship than is now
available. Yet, we do know of a partial parallel. There is evidence that
Hitler welcomed World War II because of the opportunity it provided
him to institute extermination programs against groups he regarded as
undesirable. The law granting a “mercy death” to the mentally
incompetent and the “incurably sick” was promulgated on September
1, 1939.14 The first extermination program of the German government
was initiated the very day the war broke out. It was directed not against
Jews but against mentally incompetent Germans. Also, in his Reichstag
speech of January 31, 1939 Hitler promised Europe’s Jews that if war
broke out they would not survive.15 Given Hitler’s style, that was his way
of saying that war would break out and that the Jews would perish.
Goebbels wrote in his diary that “the war made possible for us the
solution of a whole series of problems that could never have been solved in
normal times.”16 Is it possible that one difference between the Nazi-elite
and the World War I elites that chose Haig and Von Falkenhayn for their
respective posts was that the leading Nazis knew why they had really
chosen the path of war?
The mass death that took place in the West during World War I was
prelude to the carnage that took place in the Russian sphere as a result
of revolution, civil war, demographic violence, and large-scale famine.
Exact figures are unavailable but an estimated two to three million died as
a result of hard violence and six to eight million as a result of long-term
privation. According to Gil Eliot, the foundations of twentieth-century
military slaughter on a mass scale were laid during World War I; the
foundations of mass civilian slaughter were laid immediately thereafter,
especially in Central and Eastern Europe, the very area in which the Jews
were to perish during the Second World War.17 Nor ought we to neglect
to mention the Turkish massacre of about one million Armenians during
World War I, perhaps the first full-fledged attempt by a modern state
to practice disciplined, methodically organized genocide.18
The list of victims of twentieth-century mass slaughter also includes those
who perished in the Sino-Japanese War and the Spanish Civil War; the
millions who were killed in the various Stalinist purges, as well as those
who died in the man-made famines which resulted from Stalin’s slaughter
of peasants who resisted collectivization between 1929 and 1933; the
Russian and Polish prisoners of war exterminated by the Germans; the
Russian prisoners of war who escaped death at the hands of the
Germans only to be murdered when they. returned home; those who
perished at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the victims of the wars and
revolutions of Southeast Asia.19 The list is by no means complete. It is,
however, sufficient to place the Holocaust within the context of the
phenomenon of twentieth-century mass death. Never before have
human beings been so expendable. Perhaps the spirit of the twentieth
century has seldom been expressed as well as by Maxim Gorky’s tale of
the peasant who confessed that he had killed another peasant and stolen
his cow during the Russian Revolution. The murderer was greatly worried
that he might be prosecuted for theft. When asked whether he was
afraid that he might also be prosecuted for murder, the peasant replied:
“That is nothing; people now come cheaply.”20
When the peace treaties that brought World War I to an end
were finally signed, Europe was confronted with a new problem of
enormous consequences for the mass murders of World War II, the
problem of the apatrides or stateless persons. With the dissolution of
the Hapsburg and Romanov empires, Central and Eastern Europe was
divided into a group of successor states such as Poland, Yugoslavia,
Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. Each of the successor states contained
large numbers of people who belonged to the national minorities,
such as the Croats in Yugoslavia, the Ukrainians in Poland and the
Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia. At the peace conferences an
attempt was made to guarantee the political and legal rights of these
minorities. With the exception of Czechoslovakia, all of the successor
states signed under protest the treaties protecting the rights of their
minorities. They regarded the treaties as unwarranted interference in
their internal affairs. As Hannah Arendt has pointed out, in spite of
the treaty guarantees,
none of the national minorities could either trust or be trusted by the
states of which they were technically citizens.21 To make matters worse,
the unfortunate fact that the minority guarantees were deemed necessary
was itself recognition that only persons belonging to the dominant
state nationality, such as the Poles in Poland or the Hungarians in
Hungary, could count upon the full protection of the political and legal
institutions of the states in which they were citizens. Miss Arendt has
observed that, with the signing of the minorities’ treaties after World
War I, the transformation of the state from an institution of law into an
instrument of the dominant national community had been completed.
22 When Hitler proclaimed that “right is what is good for the
German Volk, ” he was only expressing crudely a fact that had become a
part of the political condition of millions of Europeans. The current violence
between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland and Greek and
Turk in Cyprus is entirely understandable in the light of the experience
of Europe’s national minorities after World War I. The Catholics of
Northern Ireland can neither trust nor identify with a Protestantdominated
government; the Protestants fear any move that might
eventually dissolve their political community in the predominantly
Catholic Irish Republic. In spite of any possible good intentions of the
Catholic majority in the Irish Republic or the Protestant majority in the
north, both groups have good reason for apprehension about being a
permanent minority. A similar dilemma confronts both Greeks and
Turks on Cyprus as well as the Israelis and the Palestinian Arabs.
After World War I, the minorities in the successor states felt that
they had been deprived of something they regarded as indispensable to
human dignity, full membership in a stable political community. Yet,
though disadvantaged, most of these minorities were in reality only half
stateless. They did possess at least nominal membership in a political
body. When, for example, they traveled abroad, they were protected by a
Polish, Czech, Yugoslav, or Romanian passport. In some respects, a
Ukrainian with a Polish passport was better off in Paris than Warsaw. The
French police did not discriminate against bearers of valid passports in the
same way that the Polish police might at home. Such a person
had the formal protection of the Polish government. There were limits to the
way the French police might deal with him. Actually, some passports
were issued between the wars with the understanding that their bearers
could use them anywhere but in the country that issued them.
The situation of the Ukrainian with a Polish passport would have changed
drastically had the Polish government suddenly canceled his citizenship. He
would have become a man without a country and, as such, without any
meaningful human rights whatsoever. In the twenties and thirties
denaturalization and denationalization were increasingly used by governments
as ways of getting rid of citizens they deemed undesirable. One of the
first large groups to suffer denationalization were the White Russian
opponents of the Bolshevik regime who escaped to the West. Approximately
one million five hundred thousand Russians were deprived of their
citizenship by the Soviet government in the aftermath of the revolution
and the civil war period. In the civil wars of the twentieth century, there
has been little if any reconciliation between opposing sides. Expulsion
and extermination have often been the preferred methods of the victors in
dealing with the losing side. The denationalized White Russians were
followed by the Spanish republicans, the Armenians and, of course, the
As the stateless refugees entered the countries of the West, especially
France, it was soon discovered that these were people who could neither be
repatriated nor granted citizenship by the host country. The stateless were
truly men without any political community. No country wanted them or cared
about their fate. As Miss Arendt has shown, an apatride could more easily
better his status in the host country by committing a minor crime than by
remaining fully law abiding. The law gave him no rights until he violated it.
He was then treated as an ordinary petty criminal and given the same legal
rights to a fair trial as any native. Even in prison, he was entitled to the same
rights as any other prisoner. The apatride reverted to the status of a person
with no rights only when he completed his sentence.
In dealing with the apatride who could not be repatriated, the host
country could either suffer his presence at liberty, subject at all times to
police surveillance, or it could set up concentration camps in which to
detain him. In either case, the apatride, although not a criminal, was for
all practical purposes an outlaw. He was subject to the kind of police
surveillance and control that was not in turn subject to judicial review.
Stateless persons were thus among the first Europeans in the twentieth
century to experience unrestricted police domination. Once the police
tasted the freedom of dominating one class of men unhindered by
judicial process or legal restraint, they sought to extend their power to
others. This process reached its zenith in Nazi Germany towards the end
of the war when the power of the Gestapo and the SS over the German
people was almost completely unhindered by any competing institution.
While individual apatrides were permitted to pursue whatever manner
of life they could find as refugees within the urban centers of the host
countries, as soon as large numbers of apatrides, such as the veterans of
the Spanish Republican army, entered a host country en masse, they
were placed in detention camps which were in reality concentration
The concentration camps for the apatrides served much the same
purpose as did the original Nazi camps in 1933 and 1934. In the popular
mind, the first Nazi camps conjure up images of wild. sadism by brutal,
brown-skirted storm troopers. The images are, of course, well deserved,
but they tend to hinder precise understanding of the development of the
camps as a legal and political institution.
Initially, the concentration camps were established to accommodate
detainees who had been placed under “protective custody” (Schützhaft) by
the Nazi regime.25 Those arrested were people whom the regime wished
to detain although there was no clear legal justification for so doing.
Almost all of the original detainees were German communists, not
Jews. Had the Nazis’ political prisoners been brought before a
German court in the first year or two of Hitler’s regime, the judiciary would
have been compelled to dismiss the case. This was not because the
German judiciary was anti-Nazi, but because it was bureaucratic in
structure. In the early stages of the Nazi regime, there was no formula
in law to cover all the political prisoners the Nazis wanted to arrest. This
problem was solved by holding them under “protective custody” and setting
up camps outside of the regular prison system to receive them.
Incidentally, the American government did something very similar when
it interned Japanese-American citizens during World War II. They had
committed no crime. No court would have convicted them. Prison was not
the place to detain them. Happily, as bad as were the American
concentration camps, they were infinitely better than the German
Like the original political prisoners in the German camps, there was no
legal basis for the detention of the apatrides. Yet, the host countries’ leaders
were convinced that it was in their nation’s interest to hold them. Camps were
established for those who had no status in law and for whom no law existed
that could justify their being held. The unifying bond between the apatrides
and the first prisoners in the German concentration camps was that both
groups were outlaws.
Neither the apatrides nor the German political prisoners were outlaws
because of any crime they had committed, but because their status had
been altered by their country’s civil service or police bureaucracy. They had
been deprived of all political status by bureaucratic definition. As such,
they had become superfluous men. Those apatrides in the detention camps
were among the living dead. Sooner or later, most of the living dead were
destined to join that vast company Gil Eliot has called “the nation of the
dead,” the millions who perished by large-scale human violence in this
bloodiest of centuries.26 What made the apatrides superfluous was no lack
of ability, intelligence, or potential social usefulness. There were gifted
physicians, lawyers, scholars, and technicians among them. Nevertheless,
in most instances no established political community had any use for the
legitimate employment of their gifts. This was especially true of the Jewish
refugees, but they were by no means alone.
Before World War II, the number of stateless persons increased with
every passing year. Statesmen and police officials were agreed that a
solution to the problem had to be found. The stateless could neither be
assimilated nor, in most cases, expelled. International conferences on the
“refugee problem” were held, but to no avail.27 There seemed to be no
solution. In reality, there was a “solution” that was obvious to Hitler.
When one has surplus livestock that are a drain on resources, one gets
rid of them. Neither Hitler nor Stalin saw any reason why people ought to
be treated differently. The “solution” had logic on its side, yet there
remained a sentimental obstacle: In the prewar period, it was not yet
possible to exterminate surplus people the way a farmer might kill off
surplus cattle.
We who live in the post-World War II era have seen the birth of an
altogether different moral universe. Perhaps the new universe was
expressed most succinctly not by a German but by a Briton, Lord
Moyne, the British High Commissioner in Egypt in 1944. When informed
by Joel Brand, a Hungarian Jewish emissary, that there was a
possibility of saving one million Hungarian Jews from extermination at
Auschwitz through Adolf Eichmann’s infamous “blood for trucks” deal,
Lord Moyne replied, “What shall I do with those million Jews? Where
shall I put them?”28 Lord Moyne and his government understood that
Hitler’s “final solution” was the most convenient way of solving the
problem of disposing of one group of surplus people for themselves as well
as for the Germans. The British government was by no means
averse to the “final solution” as long as the Germans did most of the
dirty work.
Even the Nazis, save perhaps for Hitler and some ultra-extremists, did
not initially contemplate extermination as the preferred method of
“solving” the Jewish problem. They first tested expulsion and forced
emigration as alternatives. It is likely that Hitler never contemplated any
“solution” other than killing. Nevertheless, until the start of the war, the
Nazis gave the Jews every encouragement to leave Germany, albeit
stripped of almost all of their possessions. When the Germans took over
Austria, they continued this policy. They set up a Zentralstelle für
Jüdische Auswanderung whose function was to process Austrian Jews for
mass expulsion on an assembly-line basis. Even after the war began,
there was talk in SS circles about a postwar settlement of millions of Jews
in Madagascar. In the light of subsequent events, it is likely that the
Madagascar scheme was never a serious option but served to camouflage
the more radical intentions of the Nazi elite.29
The Nazi elite clearly understood that the Jews were truly a surplus
people whom nobody wanted and whom they could dispose of as
they pleased. Hilberg quotes a memorandum written by Joachim von
Ribbentrop, the German Foreign Minister, and addressed to Hitler
concerning a conversation he had on December 9, 1938, with
Georges Bonnet, the French foreign minister, on the question of
Jewish emigration from Germany:
The Jewish Question: After I had told M. Bonnet that I could not discuss the question
officially with him, he said that he only wanted to tell me privately how great an interest was being
taken in France in a solution of the Jewish problem. To my question as to what France’s interest
might be, M. Bonnet said that in the first place they did not want to receive any more Jews
from Germany and whether we could not take some sort of measures to keep them from
coming to France and that in the second place France had to ship 10,000 Jews somewhere
else; they were actually thinking of Madagascar for this.
I replied to M. Bonnet that we all wanted to get rid of our Jews but that the difficulties lay in
the fact that no country wished to receive them.30
It is likely that Von Ribbentrop knew that there was a simple way
to keep Jews “from coming to France” and that eventually M.
Bonnet would be obliged.
The Nazis insisted that the protests emanating from the so-called
democracies concerning German treatment of the Jews were not
without a strong element of hypocrisy. This theme recurs frequently in
Nazi sources. For example, on December 13, 1942, Goebbels wrote
in his diary, “At bottom, I believe that both the English and the
Americans are happy that we are exterminating the Jewish riffraff.”31
The more one studies the literature of the period, the more difficult it
is to avoid the conclusion that. Goebbels was right, at least in his
estimation of the British, but also to some degree the American
When we look’ for the problem the British were attempting to “solve” by
their not entirely passive cooperation with the Germans in the exter19
mination of the Jews, it is clear that they were seeking to protect their
disintegrating imperial domain east of Suez, especially in India. Beneath all
pretensions to imperial glory, the British had their own economic and
political reasons for being in India. The Indians understandably wanted to
be rid of them, and the problem of maintaining Britain’s position in India
was for a long time a preoccupation of English statesmen. At one point,
some British bureaucrats in India contemplated “administrative
massacres” as a means of terrorizing the Indians and maintaining their
own tenuous hold.32 While the British government was unwilling to
follow through on the suggested “administrative massacres” in India, they
were entirely willing to permit the Germans to practice such
massacres on their behalf. Every Jew whom the Germans murdered was
one less Jew who might enter Palestine, thereby adding to the political
instability of the region immediately adjacent to the Suez Canal, England’s
life line to India. Nor was Britain’s role merely that of a passive
spectator deriving benefit from the dirty work done by others. Many of her
actions bordered on active complicity. This was especially true of those
instances in which British warships forced ships carrying Jewish refugees
to return to Europe and what was known to be certain extermination
rather than permit the refugees even the temporary haven of detention
camps in Palestine. The British government was spared the moral
dilemma of whether or not to murder the fleeing Jews to “solve” its
imperial problem in the Middle East, but the weight of available evidence
points to the extent to which it was willing to cooperate with the
Germans. As the Nazis rounded up Europe’s Jews for the “final
solution,” the British government, with full and accurate knowledge of
what was taking place in the extermination centers, ordered its Navy
forcibly to prevent any Jews from escaping from Europe to Palestine.
It would be interesting to examine the archives of the British Foreign
Office as they relate to this question. Because the British were technically
victorious, many of the most revealing documents may never become
available. Yet, Hilberg has found a document that raises some interesting
questions. During the period in 1944 in which the Nazis were sending
over seven hundred and fifty thousand Hungarian Jews to
Auschwitz, Chaim Weizmann, who was to become Israel’s first President,
transmitted two messages to Anthony Eden, the British foreign
secretary, requesting that the gassing installations and railroad lines
at Birkenau, Auschwitz’s extermination facility, be subjected to aerial
bombardment. Two months passed before Weizmann received a
reply. In the meantime several hundred thousand Jews were killed at
Auschwitz-Birkenau. The reply dated September 1, 1944, reads:
My dear Dr. Weizmann:
You will remember that on the 6th of July you discussed with the Foreign Secretary the Camp of
Birkenau in Upper Silesia, and the atrocities that were being committed there by Germans
against Hungarian and other Jews. You enquired whether any steps could be taken to put a stop
to, or even to mitigate those massacres, and you suggested that something might be achieved by
bombing the camps and, also, if it was possible, the railway lines leading to them.
As he promised, Mr. Eden immediately put the proposal to the Secretary of State for Air. The
matter received the most careful consideration of the Air Staff, but I am sorry to have to tell
you that, in view of the very great technical difficulties involved, we have no option but to refrain from
pursuing the proposal in present circumstances.
I realize that this decision will prove a disappointment for you, but you may feel fully assured that
the matter was most thoroughly investigated.
Yours sincerely,
Richard Law33
At the time of the British refusal, the Allies had air supremacy over
Europe. Hungary was being bombed almost daily. The British were
quite willing to fire bomb Dresden, annihilating over one hundred
thousand civilians to no military purpose, but they were unwilling even
to attempt to drop a few bombs to stop the murderous traffic to
Auschwitz. Unfortunately, the archival material is unavailable with
which we might catch a glimpse of the policy discussions that were
behind the letter to Weizmann. Nor ought we to forget the
willingness of the British government to squander the lives of their
own young men in World War I. If they held the, lives of their own
youth so cheaply, is it at all surprising that they held the lives of those
who might conceivably
have created political difficulties for them as of no account whatsoever?
My point in emphasizing British complicity in the extermination
project is not to indulge in any sort of moral denunciation of the British. The
incident is significant a generation later because, like Germany, Great
Britain is one of the great centers of the civilization of the Western
world. One of the least helpful ways of understanding the Holocaust is
to regard the destruction process as the work of a small group of
irresponsible criminals who were atypical of normal statesmen and
who somehow gained control of the German people, forcing them by
terror and the deliberate stimulation of religious and ethnic hatred to
pursue a barbaric and retrograde policy that was thoroughly at odds
with the great traditions of Western civilization.
On the contrary, we are more likely to understand the Holocaust if we
regard it as the expression of some of the most profound tendencies of
Western civilization in the twentieth century. Given Britain’s imperial
commitments, Europe’s Jews were as much a superfluous population for
Great Britain as they were for Germany. In the moral universe of the
twentieth century, the most “rational” and least costly “solution” of the
problem of disposing of a surplus population is unfortunately extermination.
Properly executed, extermination is the problem-solving strategy least
likely to entail unanticipated feedback hazards for its planners. From a
purely bureaucratic perspective, the extermination of the Jews of
Europe was the “final solution” for the British as well as the Germans.
Bureaucratic Domination
Usually the progress in death-dealing capacity achieved in the twentieth
century has been described in terms of technological advances in
weaponry. Too little attention has been given to the advances in
social organization that allowed for the effective use of the new
weapons. In order to understand how the moral barrier was crossed
that made massacre in the millions possible, it is necessary to
consider the importance of bureaucracy in modern political and social
organization. The German sociologist Max Weber was especially
cognizant of its significance. Writing in 1916, long before the Nazi party
came to prominence in German politics, Weber observed:
When fully developed, bureaucracy stands … under the principle of sine ira ac
studio (without scorn and bias). Its specific nature which is welcomed by
capitalism develops the more perfectly the more bureaucracy is ‘dehumanized,’
the more completely it succeeds in eliminating from official business love,
hatred, and all purely personal, irrational and emotional elements which escape
calculation. This is the specific nature of bureaucracy and it is appraised as its
special virtue.”1 (Italics added.)
Weber also observed:
The decisive reason for the advance of bureaucratic organization has always been its
purely technical superiority over any other kind of organization. The fullydeveloped
bureaucratic mechanism compares with other organizations exactly as does the
machine with the nonmechanical modes of organization.
Precision, speed, unambiguity, knowledge of the files, continuity, discretion, unity,
strict subordination, reduction of friction and of material and personal costs—these
are raised to the optimum point in the strictly bureaucratic organization.”2 (Italics
Weber stressed “the fully developed bureaucratic mechanism.” He
was aware of the fact that actual bureaucracies seldom achieve the
level of efficiency of the “ideal type” he had constructed.3 Nevertheless, he
saw clearly that bureaucracy was a machine capable of effective
action and was as indifferent to “all purely personal … elements which
escape calculation” as any other machine.
In his time Karl Marx looked forward to the eventual domination of the
proletariat over the body politic because of its indispensability to the
working process. Max Weber was convinced that political domination
would rest with whoever controlled the bureaucratic apparatus because
of its indisputable superiority as an instrument for the organization of
human action. But, to the best of my knowledge, even Weber never
entertained the possibility that the police and civil service bureaucracies
could be used as a death machine to eliminate millions who had
been rendered superfluous by definition. Even Weber seems to have
stopped short of foreseeing state-sponsored massacres as one of the
“dehumanized” capacities of bureaucracy.
Almost from the moment they came to power, the Nazis understood
the bureaucratic mechanism they controlled. When they first came to
power, there were a large number of widely publicized bullying attacks
on Jews throughout Germany, especially by the SA, the brown-skirted
storm troopers. However, it was soon recognized that improperly organized
attacks by individuals or small groups actually hindered the process
leading to administrative massacre. The turning from sporadic bullying
to systematic anonymous terror paralleled the decline in influence of the SA
and the rise of Heinrich Himmler and the SS. Himmler does not seem
to have been a sadist. During the war, he did not like to watch killing
operations and became upset when he did.4 But, Himmler was the perfect
bureaucrat. He did what he believed was his duty sine ira et studio, without
bias or scorn. He recognized that the task assigned to his men, mass
extermination, was humanly speaking exceedingly distasteful. On several
occasions, he praised the SS for exercising an obedience so total that they
overcame the feelings men would normally have when engaged in mass
murder. The honor of the SS, he held, involved the ability, to overcome
feelings of compassion and achieve what was in fact perfect bureaucratic
Himmler objected to private acts of sadism, but his reasons were
organizational rather than moral. He understood that individual and
small group outbursts diminished the efficiency of the SS. One of his most
important “contributions” to the Nazi regime was to encourage the
systematization of SS dominance and terror in the concentration
camps. At the beginning of Hitler’s rule, Himmler, as head of the SS,
was subordinate to Ernst Rohm, the head of the SA, the storm troopers.
Himmler’s position was transformed when Hitler ordered Rohm murdered
on June 30, 1934. He ceased to be a subordinate. In the aftermath of the
Rohm Putsch, there was a general downgrading of the SA. SA guards were
removed from the concentration camps: Their places were taken by
Himmler’s SS.6 By 1936 Himmler was appointed Reichsführer SS and Chef
der Deutschen Polizei. He then dominated the entire German police
One of the examples of Himmler’s organizing ability was his involvement in
the concentration camp at Dachau which he founded in 1933. Originally,
there was little to distinguish Dachau from any of the early “wild”
Nazi camps. Under Himmler’s guidance, Dachau became a model for
the systematically managed camps of World War II. Under his direction, the
sporadic terror of the “wild camps was replaced by impersonal,
systematized terror. Much ‘of the systematization was carried out with
Himmler’s approval by Theodor Eicke who became commandant
at Dachau in June 1933.7 Eicke had spent most of his career in police
administration. His organization of the camp was modern and
professional. His “discretionary camp regulations,” issued on October 1,
1933, provided for a strictly graded series of punishments including
solitary confinement and both corporal and capital punishment for
offending prisoners. When corporal punishment was inflicted, Eicke’s
directives provided that the punishment be carried out by several SS
guards in the presence of the other guards, the prisoners and the commandant.
In a report dated May 8, 1935, Eicke’s successor as Dachau
commandant wrote to Himmler that individual guards were “forbidden to
lay hands on a prisoner or to have private conversations with them.”8 The
intent of Eicke’s regulations was to eliminate all arbitrary punishment by
individual guards and to replace it with impersonal, anonymous
punishment. The impersonal nature of the transaction was heightened by
the fact that any guard could be called on to inflict punishment. Even if a
guard was struck by a prisoner, he could not retaliate personally, at least
insofar as the regulations were concerned. Like everything else at the
camps, under Himmler punishment was bureaucratized and depersonalized.
Bureaucratic mass murder reached its fullest development
when gas chambers with a capacity for killing two thousand people at a
time were installed at Auschwitz. As Hannah Arendt has observed, the very
size of the chambers emphasized the complete depersonalization of the
killing process.9
Under Himmler, there was no objection to cruelty, provided it was
disciplined and systematized. This preference was also shared by the
German civil service bureaucracy. According to Hilberg, the measure
that gave the civil service bureaucrats least difficulty in exterminating their
victims was the imposition of a starvation diet.10 In a bureaucratically
controlled society where every individual’s ration can be strictly
determined, starvation is the ideal instrument of “clean” violence. A few
numbers are manipulated on paper in an office hundreds of miles away
from the killing centers and millions can be condemned to a prolonged
and painful death. In addition, both the death rate and the desired level
of vitality of the inmates can easily be regulated by the same bureaucrats.
As starvation proceeds, the victim’s appearance is so drastically
altered that by the time death finally releases him, he hardly seems like a
human being worth saving. The very manner of death confirms the
rationalization with which the killing was justified in the first place. The
Nazis assigned the paranthropoid identity of a Tiermensch, a subhuman,
to their victims. By the time of death that identity seemed like a self–
fulfilling prophecy. Yet, the bureaucrat need lose no sleep over his victims.
He never confronts the results of his distinctive kind of homicidal violence.
A crucial turning point in the transformation of outbursts of hatred into
systematized violence occurred in the aftermath of the infamous
Kristallnacht, the Nazi anti-Jewish riots of November 10, 1938. It is generally
agreed that the riots were an unsuccessful attempt on the part of
Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels and the SA to gain a role in the anti-
Jewish process. On November 9, 1938, a young Jew, Herschel Grynzpan
assassinated Legationsrat Ernst vom Rath in the German embassy in Paris.
At Goebbels’s instigation, SA formations set out to burn down every
synagogue in Germany.” Jewish stores were burned and looted and Jews
were attacked throughout the country.
The SS was not informed that the operation was to take place. When
Himmler heard that Goebbels had instigated a pogrom, he ordered the
detention of twenty thousand Jews in concentration camps under his control
and ordered the police and the SS to prevent widespread looting. According
to Hilberg, Himmler dictated a file memorandum in which he expressed
his distaste for the Goebbels pogrom.12
In the wake of the Kristallnacht, there was widespread negative reaction
against the pogrom from such leading Nazis as Goering, Economy Minister
Walter Funk and the German Ambassador to the United States, Hans
Dieckhoff.13 Goering was especially vehement in his opposition to
Einzelaktionen, undisciplined individual actions. He expressed his
opposition to pogroms and riots which led to unfavorable foreign
repercussions and which permitted the mob to run loose. Goering’s feelings
were shared by the entire German state bureaucracy. This was simply
not the way to “solve” the Jewish problem. According
to Hilberg, the effect of the Nazi outrages of the thirties on the state
bureaucracy was to convince the Nazi and the non-Nazi bureaucrats
alike that measures against the Jews had to be taken in a rational
organized way.14 Every step in the methodical elimination of the Jews
had to be planned and carried out in a thoroughly disciplined manner.
Henceforth, there would be neither emotional outbursts nor improvisations.
The same meticulous care that goes into the manufacture of a
Leica or a Mercedes was to be applied to the problem of eliminating the
Jews. Kristallnacht was the last occasion when Jews had to fear street
violence in Germany. Henceforth no brown-skirted bullies would assail
them. Hilberg points out that when a decree was issued in September
1941 requiring Jews to wear the yellow star, Martin Bormann, the Chief of
the Party Chancellery, issued strict orders against the molestation of the
Jews as beneath the dignity of the Nazi movement.15 “Law and order”
prevailed. There were no further state-sponsored incidents. The
hoodlums were banished and the bureaucrats took over. Only then was
it possible to contemplate the extermination of millions. A machinery was
set up that was devoid of both love and hatred. It was only possible to
overcome the moral barrier that had in the past prevented the systematic
riddance of surplus populations when the project was taken out of
the hands of bullies and hoodlums and delegated to bureaucrats.
When Max Weber wrote about bureaucratic domination, he did not
have the Nazis in mind, nor was he proposing a prescription for
slaughter. Yet, almost everything Weber wrote on the subject of
bureaucracy can in retrospect be read as a description of the way the
bureaucratic heirarchies of the Third Reich “solved” their Jewish
problem. Furthermore, Weber’s writings on bureaucracy arc part of a
larger attempt to understand the social and political structure and the
values of modern Western civilization. Although there were
bureaucracies in ancient China, Egypt, and Imperial Rome, the full
development of bureaucracy in the Christian West came about as the
result of the growth of a certain ethos that was in turn the outcome of
fundamental tendencies in occidental religion. Bureaucracy can be
understood as a structural and organizational expression of the related
processes of secularization, disenchantment
of the world, and rationalization. The secularization process involves the
liberation of ever wider areas of human activity from religious domination.
16 Disenchantment of the world occurs when “there are no mysterious
forces that come into play, but rather that one can, in principle, master all
things by calculation.” 17 Rationalization involves “the methodical attainment
of a definitely given and practical end by means of an increasingly
precise calculation of adequate means.”18
The earliest culture in which the world was “disenchanted” was the
biblical world of the Israelites. When the author of Genesis wrote “In the
beginning God created heaven and earth” (Gen. 1:1), he was expressing
that disenchantment. Creation was seen as devoid of independent
divine or magical forces which men had to appease. The world was seen as
created by a supra-mundane Creator. As long as men came to terms with
the Creator, the world was theirs to do with as they pleased. No
interference need be feared from powers immanent in the natural order.
On the contrary, Adam is enjoined to “subdue” the earth and to “have
dominion” over it. (Gen.1:28) As Peter Berger has pointed out, the
biblical attitude that nature is devoid of magic or mysterious forces was
extended to the political order.19 Thus, when David the king takes Bath
Sheba in adultery and arranges to have her husband, Uriah the Hittite,
slain in battle, he is denounced by Nathan the prophet. In the ancient
Near East, the king was thought to be either a deity in his own right or to
incarnate divinity by virtue of his office. By denouncing David, Nathan
was insisting that the king was only a man, albeit one of preeminent
importance,. and that he was as subject to God’s law as any other man.
In ancient Israel, both the natural and the political orders were
“disenchanted.” The domain of divinity was relegated to the heavenly
sphere. A beginning was made towards the secularization of the human
order. The biblical world initiates the secularization process which finally
culminates in the most extreme forms of secular disenchantment in
modern political organization.20 There is, of course, a profound difference
between the biblical conception of the political order and the modern
conception. In the biblical world, all of human activity stands under the
judgment of a righteous and omnipotent deity;
in the modern world, the righteous and omnipotent deity has disappeared
for all practical purposes. Man is alone in the world, free to pursue
whatever ends he chooses “by means of an increasingly precise calculation
of adequate means.”
Berger maintains that the Christian doctrine of the incarnation, that
Christ is simultaneously perfectly human and perfectly divine, was an
attempt to find once again an intrinsic link between the supramundane
realm of divinity and the desacralized human order which had become
devoid of magic or mysterious forces.21 A partial attempt to re-enchant
the world took place in Roman Catholicism. Although the world is not the
dwelling place of deities and spirits in Catholicism, it is at least a realm in
which God’s presence might indwell in his saints as well as in sacred
space and sacred time.
Protestantism violently rejected the Catholic attempt at reenchantment.
22 Its insistence on the radical transcendence of the one sovereign
Creator and his utter withdrawal from the created order was far more
thoroughgoing than the earlier Jewish attempt at disenchantment. Martin
Luther proclaimed that the world was so hopelessly corrupted by sin and
so totally devoid of the saving presence of God, that the Devil is in fact
Lord of this world. The Protestant insistence that man is saved by faith
alone (sola fidei), rather than works, separates man’s activities in the
empirical world from the realm of divinity with a remorseless logic to which
biblical Judaism had pointed but did not reach.
It was the land of the Reformation that became the land in which
bureaucracy was first perfected in its most completely objective form. The
land of the Reformation was also the land where bureaucracy was able
to create its most thoroughly secularized, rationalized, and dehumanized
“achievement,” the death camp. Before men could acquire the
“dehumanized” attitude of bureaucracy in which “love, hatred, and all
purely personal, irrational, and emotional elements” are eliminated in
one’s dealings with one’s fellowmen, the disenchantment process had to
become culturally predominant; God and the world had to be so radically
disjoined that it became possible to treat both the political and the
natural order with an uncompromisingly dispassionate objectivity.
When one contrasts the attitude of the savage who cannot leave the
battlefield until he performs some kind of appeasement ritual to his slain
enemy with the assembly-line manufacture of corpses by the millions at
Auschwitz, we get an idea of the enormous religious and cultural distance
Western man has traversed in order to create so unique a social and
political institution as the death camp.
When I suggest that the cultural ethos that permitted the perfection of
bureaucratic mass murder was most likely to develop in the land of Luther,
my intention is not to blame Protestantism for the death camps. Nor is it
my intention to plead for a utopian end to bureaucracy. It must not be
forgotten that the Protestant insistence upon the radical transcendence
of a supramundane God, which was the indispensable theological
precondition of both the secularization process and disenchantment of the
world, was biblical in origin. Furthermore, Jewish emancipation in
Europe following the French revolution was a direct result of the more or
less successful overthrow of a feudal society of inherited, often mystified
status by a secular society in which men were bound to each other
primarily by contractual relations. The very same secularization process
which led to Jewish emancipation led to the death camps one hundred
and fifty years later. It is, however, crucial that we recognize that the
process of secularization that led to the bureaucratic objectivity required
for the death camps was an essential and perhaps inevitable outcome of
the religious traditions of the Judeo-Christian west. One of the most
paradoxical aspects of biblical religion is that the liberation of significant
areas of human activity from religious domination, which we call secularization,
was the cultural outcome of biblical religion itself rather than a
negation of it.23
This point is especially important in correcting the point of view that
mistakenly regards the Nazi extermination of the Jews as an antireligious
explosion of pagan values in the heart of the Judeo-Christian world.24
When Nazism is seen in such a light, its interpreters are quick to counsel a
turning away from “modern paganism” and a return to the values of
Judeo-Christian culture as the only way to avoid a barbaric repetition of
the “pagan” explosion some time in the future. There may be good
reasons for a “return” to Judeo-Christian values, but the prevention of
future extermination projects is not likely to be one of them. Weber’s
studies on bureaucracy and his related studies on Protestantism, capitalism,
and disenchantment of the world are important in demonstrating
how utterly mistaken is any view that would isolate Nazism and its
supreme expression, bureaucratic mass murder and the bureaucratically
administered society of total domination, from the mainstream of Western
One mistake often made by those who appeal to the humanistic ideals
of the Judeo-Christian tradition is the failure to distinguish between the
manifest values a tradition asserts to be binding and the ethos generated
by that same tradition. The Judeo-Christian tradition is said to proclaim an
ethic in which every man is possessed of an irreducible element of human
dignity as a child of God. Nevertheless, beyond all conscious intent, it has
produced a secularization of consciousness involving an abstract,
dehumanized, calculating rationality that can eradicate every vestige of
that same human dignity in all areas of human interchange.
Furthermore, of the two elements that together form the basis of Western
culture, the classical humanism of Greco-Roman paganism and the
Judeo-Christian religious tradition, it is the biblical tradition that has led to
the secularization of consciousness, disenchantment of the world,
methodical conduct (as in both Protestantism and capitalism), and,
finally, bureaucratic objectivity. Nor ought we to be surprised that the
bureaucratic objectivity of the Germans was paralleled by the diplomatic
objectivity of the British. They were both nourished by the same culture.
The culture that made the death camps possible was not only indigenous
to the West but was an outcome, albeit unforeseen and
unintended, of its fundamental religious traditions.
In order to understand more fully the connection between bureaucracy
and mass death, it will be necessary to return to the apatrides. They
were the first modern Europeans who had become politically and legally
superfluous and for whom the most “rational” way of dealing with them
was ultimately murder. A majority of the apatrides had lost their political
status by a process of bureaucratic definition, denationalization. Miss
Arendt lists a World War I measure of the French (1915) as the first
such measure. It was relatively innocent. It provided that naturalized
citizens of enemy origin who had neglected to disavow their original
citizenship were to be deprived of their French citizenship. A year later
Portugal deprived all Portugese citizens born of a German father of
citizenship. In 1922 Belgium canceled the citizenship of persons who
had committed “antinational acts” during World War I. Under Mussolini,
Italy followed suit by passing a law providing for the denationalization
of all those who were “unworthy of Italian citizenship” or who
were a menace to public order. Characteristically, the Italians were
reluctant to put the law into effect even against enemies of the Fascist
regime once it was on the books. The Italians do not seem to have been
able to achieve the objectivity of their northern neighbors. Denationalization
decrees were also promulgated by Egypt, Turkey, Austria, and
In 1933 the Germans issued their denationalization decrees. They
were by far the most ominous. They empowered the minister of the
interior to cancel naturalizations granted between November 9, 1918
and January 30, 1933. They further provided that all persons of German
nationality residing outside of the Reich could be deprived of their
citizenship at the discretion of the state.26 The decree was aimed at Jews
and political dissenters. At the time the denationalization decrees were
first promulgated, few people dreamed of the ultimate jeopardy to which
stateless persons had been condemned by the paper violence of the
bureaucrats. In fact, quite a few persons originally claimed that they
were stateless as a device to prevent deportation to their native countries,
especially when those countries were taken over by hostile regimes.
Unfortunately, the Nazis clearly understood the importance of the question
of statelessness. When they began to deport Jews from such occupied
nations as France, Bulgaria, and Hungary, they insisted that the
deportees be stripped of citizenship by their respective governments no
later than the day of deportation. There was no need to denationalize
Polish and Russian Jews because the Nazis had destroyed the
state apparatus as soon as they occupied the territory. The absence of
a state apparatus in Poland and occupied Russia was an indication of the
ultimate fate of the Poles and the Russians had the Germans won.
In the case of the German Jews, the Nazis used a very simple bureaucratic
device to strip them of citizenship. On November 25, 1941 the
Reich Citizenship Law was amended to provide that a Jew “who takes
up residence abroad” was no longer a Reich national.27 The property of
such persons was to be confiscated by the state. Thus, as soon as the
SS transported Jews beyond the German border, no matter how unwilling
the Jews were to be “transported,” they lost all rights as German
nationals. No government anywhere was concerned with what happened
to them. The last legal impediment to dealing with them in any fashion
the German government elected had been removed.
Men without political rights are superfluous men. They have lost all
right to life and human dignity. Political rights are neither God-given,
autonomous nor self-validating. The Germans understood that no person
has any rights unless they are guaranteed by an organized community
with the power to defend such rights. They were perfectly consistent
in demanding that the deportees be made stateless before being
transported to the camps. They also understood that by exterminating
stateless men and women, they violated no law because such people were
covered by no law. Even those who were committed by religious faith to
belief in natural law, such as the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church,
did not see fit to challenge the Nazi actions publicly at the time.
Once the Germans had collected the stateless, rightless, politically
superfluous Jews, they exercised a domination over them more total than
was ever before exercised in history by one people over another. In the
past, political or social domination was limited by the ruler’s or the
slaveholder’s need to permit at least a minimal level of subsistence for his
charges. The dominated almost always had some economic value for their
masters. Until the twentieth-century camps, there were few situations in
which masses of dominated men and women were as good as dead, cut
off from the land of the living, and, at the same time, of no long-term
use to their masters. Furthermore, the SS knew that in occupied,
overpopulated Europe the supply of superfluous, totally dominated
people was almost inexhaustible. All that was required, should the supply
of Jews be depleted, was the setting apart of other categories of men and
women to be condemned to the camps. There is abundant evidence
that such indeed was the intention of the Germans. Hilberg quotes a
letter written by Otto Thierack, the German minister of justice, on October
13, 1942:
With a view to freeing the German people of Poles, Russians, Jews and Gypsies,
and with a view to making the eastern territories which have been incorporated into the
Reich available for settlement by German nationals, I intend to turn over criminal
jurisdiction over Poles, Russians, Jews and Gypsies to the Reichsführer-SS (Himmler). In so
doing, I stand on the principle that the administration of justice can make only a small
contribution to the extermination of these peoples.28
The minister of justice regarded the concentration camps as a place in
which to execute such policies for which the normal judicial procedures
could make “only a small contribution.” He also understood that the
scope of the extermination policy was not to be restricted to Jews.
For the first time in history, a ruling elite in the heart of Europe, the
center of Western civilization, had an almost inexhaustible supply of men
and women with whom they could do anything they pleased, irrespective
of any antique religious or moral prejudice. The Nazis had created a
society of total domination. Among the preconditions for such a society are:
(a) a bureaucratic administration capable of governing with utter indifference
to the human needs of the inmates; (b) a supply of inmates capable
of continuous replenishment; (c) the imposition of the death sentence on
every inmate as soon as he or she enters. Unless the supply is more or
less inexhaustible, the masters will be tempted to moderate their treatment
of the inmates because of their labor value. If the supply is capable of
replenishment, the masters can calculate the exact rate at which they
wish to work the prisoners before disposing of them. Both use and
riddance can be calculated in terms of the masters’ requirements, with
only minimal concern for the survival requirements of the slaves.
Furthermore, there must be no hope that any inmate might eventually
return to normal life. Total domination cannot be
achieved if camp guards are apprehensive that some of the inmates
might be persons to be reckoned with at some future time. Such cautionary
calculation could inhibit the extremities of behavior the camp personnel
might otherwise indulge in. The Germans were able to create a society
of total domination because of the competence of their police and civil
service bureaucracies and because they possessed millions of totally
superfluous men whose lives and sufferings were of absolutely no
consequence to any power secular or sacred and who were as good as
dead the moment they entered the camps.
The Modernization of Slavery
The new form of human order created by the Germans, the society of
total domination, was not entirely novel. It was the end product of a long
process of political and cultural development. In order to understand the
camps as a perfected system of total domination, it is helpful to consider
earlier slave societies, especially those in North and South America. As
we shall see, these societies only partially anticipate the Nazi universe
because of their failure to eliminate all human involvement between the
rulers and the ruled. Without the complete depersonalization of human
relationships, which Weber identified as the “specific nature” and “special
virtue” of bureaucracy, it is impossible to create a true society of total
Devoid of all religious and moral prejudice, a slave is an animated tool.
Cotton Mather referred to slaves as “the Animate, Separate, Active
Instruments of other men.”1 Wherever the processes of secularization
and rationalization are well advanced, no prejudice concerning the
slave’s humanity will be permitted to interfere with the slave’s instrumental
character. In recent years, there has been a debate among historians
concerning the question of whether slavery was a harsher institution
in Protestant North America than in Catholic South America. Both Frank
Tannenbaum and Stanley Elkins have argued that in South America
slavery was a patriarchal, semifeudal institution which recognized the
slave’s basic humanity and accorded him a minimum of human rights.2
Elkins stressed the role of the Roman Catholic church in limiting the
slave-owner’s power by insisting upon the inviolable character of marriage
for all Catholics, whether free or slave.3 Elkins argued that there were
further limitations placed upon the master’s right of ownership in Latin
America because of the ultimacy of royal power.4 Another element that
mitigated the harshness of the slave’s condition was the fact that law in
Latin America derived from Roman law which presupposed the
fundamental inequality of all men. By contrast, North American law
proclaimed that all men are created equal, but then had the gravest
difficulty in dealing with the humanity of those who were obviously unequal.
In North America state-imposed restrictions on the slave-owner’s
property were minimal. Furthermore, the social attitudes of the Southern
Protestant churches usually reflected the interests of the dominant slaveowning
class, upon whom the clergy were financially dependent. By
contrast, in Latin America, the Roman Catholic hierarchy was somewhat
independent of the owning classes.5 In addition, according to Elkins, the
tendency of capitalism to rationalize labor relations and reduce them to
money relations was much more advanced in the plantations of North
America than in Latin America.6
David Brion Davis has challenged the Tannenbaum-Elkins thesis,
arguing that some of the worst instances of ill-treatment of slaves were to
be found in the mines of Catholic Brazil and that Elkins neglected much
of the evidence demonstrating the extent to which attempts were made to
mitigate the worst features of slavery in North America. Yet, in spite of
his disagreement with Elkins, Davis finds that “slavery in Latin America,
compared with that in North America, was less subject to the pressures of
competitive capitalism and was closer to a system of patriarchal rights and
semifeudalistic services.”7 Both Davis and Elkins are in agreement on two
fundamental points: (a) Overall, slavery was far more subject to the
pressures of a competitive, impersonal capitalist
system in North America; (b) In both North and South America, wherever
slavery was .linked to capitalist rather than semifeudal enterprise, it
tended to be far less humane. Wherever slavery was employed in
enterprise based upon the requirements of a money economy,
the age-old contradiction in the nature of slavery, the fact that a slave is a
human being who is regarded as a thing, was resolved by emphasizing the
slave’s thing-like quality and deemphasizing his humanity.8
From the moment the slave was shipped as commercial cargo across the
Atlantic in the infamous “Middle Passage,” and sold as an animated tool
with a legal status often no different than that of a domesticated animal, he
was a creature devoid of all effective legal and political status. He ceased to
be a human being in, law, save where his human status was of advantage to
his master. Where laws were placed on the books protecting the slave from
violent abuse, such laws offered little realistic protection. The slave’s
testimony was never accepted against a white man’s, especially by a jury
of the white man’s peers.9
The parallels between the treatment of the slaves in transit from Africa
to the New World and the death-camp inmates are unhappily
instructive. According to Elkins, the process by which the slaves were
transported from Africa to the Caribbean, where they were stripped,
deprived of name, identity, and language, and then sold as chattel at
auction in the United States, anticipated the process by which the Nazis
shipped their victims in overcrowded freight trains, compelled them to strip,
exchanged their names for numbers and then either incarcerated them as
slave labor or murdered them outright.10 The sea journey of the slave ships
was a horror comparable only to the German freight cars. The same
calculating rationality that was to figure in the work of the German
bureaucrats was already at work in the New England and British sea
captains who transported the sorrowful cargo. In all, it has been estimated
that over fifteen million people were transported from Africa to the Americas
during the slave-trade period.” Every day the corpses of those who had
perished the previous night, a precisely calculable attrition of cargo, were
tossed overboard. And, some very respectable New England fortunes were
made in those ventures.
Yet, there were important differences between the slaves and the
camp inmates. The Jewish deportees were people whom nobody wanted
and who were to be found on a continent one of whose most urgent
problems was to get rid of people. In spite of World War I and the
subsequent civil wars, as well as the loss of people through emigration,
Europe in the thirties had more people than it needed, given its political and
economic structure. The Germans were interested in accelerating the
rate of population reduction, at least for their subject peoples. By contrast,
there was a population shortage in antebellum North America, and, with,
the cessation of the slave trade, slaves had to’ be bred rather than
imported. As evidence of the relatively mild treatment of slaves in North
America, apologists for the system have pointed out that the South had
the only slave population in the New World that successfully reproduced
itself. In all, about four hundred thousand slaves had been imported into
the British-American colonies and the United States; by 1860 there were
about four million slaves in the South.12 Slaves are far better treated
when their masters seek to augment their numbers through
reproduction than when they are deliberately worked to death, as they
were during World War II.
In the nineteenth century there was a continent to be won. Free
white settlers would not and could not provide the labor necessary for all
the tasks at hand. The imported slaves may have lacked political rights,
but they did possess a measure of economic value and the feelings of a
valued slave could not be entirely ignored. There were, of course, many
instances of gratuitous cruelty on the part of slaveholders and their
overseers. Nevertheless, there was a tendency, especially after 1831, to
mitigate many of the worst features of harsh treatment. As Eugene D.
Genovese has pointed out, the plantation system in the South was
paternalistic and this paternalism had the effect of limiting the extent to
which masters could dominate their slaves.13 Although racial and cultural
differences intensified barriers, human relations did develop between
masters and slaves. In addition, in many communities unduly cruel
masters were often ostracized by their peers.14
Furthermore, there is a growing consensus among students of slavery
that the material conditions of slaves in North America did not compare
unfavorably with those of unskilled “free” workers in Europe’s industrial
centers in the first half of the nineteenth century.15 It can be argued that
North American slavery was precapitalist since there was no precise
method of calculation by which a slave-owner might estimate his labor
costs. As long as a master was obliged to maintain his slaves in season
and out, in good times and bad, his operation could not be considered
fully rationalized and, hence, capitalist. Thus, one of the consequences
of the Civil War was the enforced extension of rationalized, impersonal
labor relations to all sections of the United States. It can also be argued
that the transformation of the national pool of slave labor into nominally free,
mobile, wage labor was an indispensable step in the process of the
rationalization of labor relations. It is, for example, far more rational for a
giant agribusiness corporation to hire itinerant wage labor as needed
than it was for a slave-owner to attempt a comparable operation with a
relatively permanent slave-labor force. Thus, contemporary agricultural
and industrial operations that rely upon mobile wage labor represent a
genuine “advance” in both rationalization and depersonalization over the
older, less efficient slave system. The greater “rationality” and calculability
of “free” labor in a money economy over slave labor has been stated
succinctly by Jürgen Kuczynski: “One usually looks after property (slaves)
better than `things’ (free workers) which belong to no one and which one
can use so long as they are serviceable, and then throw out on the
street.”16 As we shall see, the final step in the rationalization of labor
relations was taken in World War II by the great German business
corporations that invested huge sums in the construction of factories at
death camps for the express purpose of utilizing the available and infinitely
replenishable pool of death-camp slave labor. The employer’s
responsibility for the maintenance of the work force was reduced to an
absolute minimum, the subsistence requirements necessary to keep a
worker alive for a precisely calculated period of weeks or months. The
whole enterprise was further rationalized by the fact that one no longer
needed to turn used-up laborers “out on the street” where they could
become a source of infectious social pathology. It was both more practical
and more economical simply to incinerate them.
Slavery in North America was thus an imperfectly rationalized institution
of nearly total domination under conditions of a shortage of productive
labor. The death camp was a fully rationalized institution of total
domination under conditions of a population surplus. In the German
camps, the inmates had neither political status nor long-term economic
value. There was, admittedly, a temporary wartime labor shortage
and both the Wehrmacht and a number of German corporations
sought to secure the exemption of their skilled Jewish laborers from
deportation. However, the motive of economic utility was never
strong enough to overrule the decision to kill the Jews. Himmler was
constantly being asked to exempt certain categories of Jews because
of their usefulness to war production. In every instance, the
exemptions, when granted, were only temporary.17 In all likelihood,
many of the temporary exemptions were granted to delude Jews into
thinking that it was possible to save themselves by strict obedience.
The exemptions never lasted. In terms of long-term German priorities,
Jewish labor had no value. To argue that the Jews could have been
used productively is beside the point. Even the pragmatic
calculations that motivated slaveowners to treat their slaves with
some measure of humanity were totally absent.
According to David Brion Davis, it is impossible to understand slavery as
an institution if one overlooks “certain continuities and common
features in the history of servitude.” Yet, even Davis admits that
No slave system in history was quite like that of the West Indies and the Southern
states of America. Marked off from the free population by racial and cultural differences,
for the most part deprived of the hope, of manumission, the Negro slave also found life
regimented in a highly organized system that was geared to a market economy.18
While no slave system was like that of North America, the American
system can be seen as a link in the process of the progressive rationalization
of a system of total domination that reached its full development in the
Nazi camps. Just as there is historic continuity between the North
American slave system and its predecessors, so too there is
continuity between the Nazi system and both the earlier slave systems
and the impersonal use of “free” labor in a money economy.
Furthermore, it is significant that (a) the most systematic and methodical
version of slavery was established in Protestant and capitalist North
America, and (b) the most systematic, dehumanized form of exploitation
of “free” labor was established by the “self-made parvenus” of
Protestant, nonconformist and capitalist Manchester, England. Here too,
there is continuity with the death and slave-labor camps.18a The same
tendencies towards rationalization, secularization, and disenchantment
that are expressed in both Protestantism and capitalism are also
expressed with far less ambiguity and contradiction in the Nazi camps. It
is, however, as little my intention to suggest that Protestantism was
responsible for the forms that the exploitation of free and slave labor took
in nineteenth-century England and America as it was my intention to
suggest that Protestantism was to blame for the Nazi camps. It must not
be forgotten that the abolitionist movement was also a direct expression of
the religious and moral commitments of Protestants. Yet, it can with
justice be asserted that the rationalized forms of exploitation of both free
and slave labor were among the unanticipated sociological consequences
of the secularization and rationalization processes that are biblical in origin
and which were developed more consistently in Protestantism than
North American slaves were among the first group of human beings
who lacked all effective legal and political rights and who were forcibly
detained in areas of concentration in a country that regarded itself as an
heir of the religious and cultural traditions of the Western world. Those
plantations in which slave labor was regimented and systematized in the
interests of a money economy anticipated the modern concentration camp,
although it must be repeated that, save for the dehumanizing process
whereby Africans were captured, transported, and transformed
psychologically into slaves, there can be little comparison between the
treatment of North American slaves and that of the camp inmates. That,
however, is not the fundamental issue. The institution of slavery in
America is further evidence that the death camps were the end
product of a very long cultural and political development involving
all of the major countries of the Western world, rather than the specialized
and extraordinary hatred of the Germans for the Jews. On the
contrary, taken together, the record of the British, Portugese, Dutch,
French, and Spanish in Africa, Asia, and the Americas is quantitatively
as bloodstained as that of the Germans.19 The Germans were,
however, latecomers to the twin games of slavery and slaughter, but they
utilized advanced methods to do more efficiently in the heart of Europe
what other Europeans did elsewhere.
As we have seen, the slaves were protected by more or less precise
calculation of the sort of treatment that was likely to result in the best use
of their labor. There were, of course, exceptions. According to Davis,
planters in both Brazil and the West Indies had little incentive to
improve working conditions or to limit the hours of work. The life
expectancy of their slaves was no more than a few years and they could
be cheaply replaced.20 Under such circumstances, the lives of slaves were
of little value. In North America, the slaves were an important part of the
slave owners’ capital. However, the value of capital assets tends to
fluctuate. This was true of the slaves. In the 1850s one of the most crucial
economic problems confronting the slave owners in the older slaveholding
states such as Virginia was a growing slave surplus. Although the
slaves had to be fed, clothed, and housed, in many places there were
more of them than were required for the available work. Eugene
Genovese has argued that one of the reasons for the South’s interest
in opening up the newer territories in the West to slavery was that new
slave states would provide a market where surplus slaves might be sold.21
There was a point beyond which the possession of slaves ceased to be
profitable. There were also strong legal barriers against the manumission
of slaves, largely because of racial sentiments.22 Were a plantation
compelled to feed and house more slaves than it could profitably employ,
the owner might eventually go bankrupt. As long as there were
territories that could absorb the excess, slaves represented an asset. They
could, however, easily become a liability were there no market for them.
Such a problem would not have troubled the Nazis. We have seen
that they had a simple way of disposing of surplus people. Had the Nazis
managed the Southern plantations they would have regarded the slaves
as Tiermenschen, subhuman, (literally, “animal men”) and granted the
surplus slaves a “mercy death.” While the law in most slave states
tended to classify the sale and possession of slaves with the sale and
possession of cattle, Southern slave owners were not at liberty to dispose
of excess, unprofitable slaves in the same manner as excess, unprofitable
cattle. That improvement in labor economics had to await the twentieth
century. Superannuated slaves were permitted to live out their days;
idiots were not relegated to euthanasia programs.
The sexual relations of masters and slaves have frequently been noted.
Lacking all rights, female slaves were always subject to sexual abuse even
when laws protecting women were on the books. Nevertheless, sexual
intercourse often became the basis of enduring personal relations on the
plantations. Strong bonds of affection often developed. Masters often had
two families, an official white and an unofficial black family. From the point
of view of strict calculating rationality, such liaisons compromised the
dominance of the slave owner. Personal relations often led to human if not
legal claims by the slave on the master’s resources for herself and her
offspring. Although the master was not legally obliged to honor such
claims, it was difficult to reject them entirely.23
In the Nazi camps, there was a strict policy of discouraging sexual
contacts between the SS and the prisoners. Jewish women were, of
course, very often sexually abused, but personal relationships were not
permitted to develop. At Auschwitz, several brothels were organized in
order to minimize the temptation to resort to unauthorized liaisons.24
Sexual contact with a Jewish woman was in any event regarded as the
crime of “racial pollution.” From a strictly bureaucratic point of view,
sexual relations can threaten the pure objectivity with which a structure of
total dominance is maintained. The SS understood that the more depersonalized
the relations between the masters and the slaves become, the
more effectively the slaves can be utilized.
In the first stages of the destruction process, when the Jews were being
rounded up by mobile killing units (Einsatzgruppen) and shot to
death beside mass graves, there were a number of incidents in which
doomed Jewish girls desperately offered themselves to members of SS
mobile killing units in the hope of saving themselves. Invariably, the girls
were used for the night and then killed the next day.25 Thus, even in
the sphere of sexual abuse, there was a vast difference between the
American system of slavery and the Nazi camps. For the great plantations
to have become fully rationalized bureaucratic ventures in total domination,
all personal relations between masters and slaves would have been
prohibited. That step was never taken. If Genovese is correct in his
contention that one of the forces making for the Civil War in America
was the pressure on the slave owners to expand the territory available for
slavery so that there would be a viable market for the sale of slaves, then
it is clear that the leaders of the South preferred a bloody war in which
they were ultimately defeated to the kind of radical “solution” employed
in the twentieth century. No matter how far the processes of
rationalization and secularization had proceeded in the antebellum South,
no matter how devoid of rights the slaves may have been, no matter how
calculating the master, he remained a paternalistic Christian for whom
some limits could not yet be breached. Nevertheless, as we have
stated, the slave plantations and the concentration camps are part of
the same developmental continuum within Western civilization.
We have alluded to a basic contradiction in slavery as an institution:
The slave was a human being who was treated as a thing and defined
as such in law. Every system of slavery until the twentieth century
experienced a certain tension because of the contradiction. The Nazis
were the first masters to resolve it. They were able to turn human beings
into instruments wholly responsive to their will even when told to lie down
in their own graves and be shot. That is perhaps the supreme
“achievement” of their society of total domination. Unfortunately, if it is
true that every system of domination has an inherent tendency towards
the expansion of its power, then the society of total domination may prove
to be a permanent temptation to future rulers, especially in stressful
times. Every ruler seeks affirmative response to command. As long as a
residue of unpredictable freedom of action is possible in his
subjects, the ruler’s assured response to command escapes him. The
Nazis have taught that what cannot be achieved by persuasion or even
by a system of rewards can be achieved by terror.
Originally, the SS did not have any interest in utilizing Jews as slave
labor in the camps. Several steps were required in the development of
the process of destruction before Jews were used in concentration camps
as slaves. In the first period, immediately after the German invasion of
Russia which began on June 22, 1941, an agreement between the Wehrmacht
and the SS provided that, as the Wehrmacht entered Soviet
territory, the SS’s Einsatzgruppen, the mobile killing units, would, with the
full cooperation of the Wehrmacht, be permitted to exterminate all Jews
in the invaded territories. The means of killing was by shooting at
mass graves.26 However, Himmler and other SS leaders became concerned
about the psychological effect of the shooting on the killers. As
always, Himmler’s concern was organizational not moral. A less problematic
means of killing was sought. Finally, the mass gas chamber
utilizing Zyklon B was put to use.27 It had the advantage of the greatest
capacity with the fewest, undesirable effects on the SS personnel.
By the beginning of 1941, the SS was the only German institution
with a Labor surplus, and for obvious reasons. The SS took advantage of the
situation. The Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt (WVHA), the SS
Economic-Administrative Main Office, was established under the direction
of Oswald Pohl to take charge of slave-labor programs in the
camps.28 The death-camp system became a society of total domination
only when healthy inmates were kept alive and forced to become slaves
rather than killed outright. To repeat, as long as the camps served the
single function of killing prisoners, one can speak of the camps as places of
mass execution but not as a new type of human society. Most of
the literature on the camps has tended to stress the role of the camps
as places of execution. Regrettably, few ethical theorists or religious thinkers
have paid attention to the highly significant political fact that the
camps were in reality a new form of human society.
Only when the doomed inmates were kept alive for a time did the
new society develop. It was at Auschwitz that the most effective system
of extermination, mass gas chambers using Zyklon B coupled with on-thespot
mass crematoria, was first put to use. It was also at Auschwitz that the
most thoroughgoing society of total domination in human history was
established. Much has been written about the infamous Dr. Joseph
Mengele, the physician at Auschwitz, who used to meet the new arrivals
and separate those who were to be killed immediately from those who were
to be worked to death as slaves. Such a selection process did not take
place at camps like Treblinka because they functioned only as killing
centers. At Auschwitz, the camp served two seemingly contradictory
purposes: Auschwitz was both a slave-labor and an execution center. Yet,
these purposes were not really contradictory. Given the nature of
slavery as practiced by the Germans, only doomed slaves could successfully
be dealt with as things rather than as human beings.
The Health Professions and
Corporate Enterprise at.
In a society of total domination, there is absolutely no moral limit on the
uses normal, perverse, or obscene to which the masters can put the
human beings at their disposal. We have noted that this included
extreme sexual abuse as well as enforced slavery. Before discussing slave
labor at Auschwitz, let us consider another use of the prisoners, their
utilization as human guinea pigs in the Nazi medical experiments. From the
point of view of pragmatic rationality, devoid of religious or moral
sentimentality, human beings are often the most suitable subjects for
medical experiments. Dogs, guinea pigs, and monkeys are only
partially acceptable surrogates. In non-Nazi societies, men and women,
often prisoners, have on occasion volunteered to participate in medical
experiments in return for compensation such as a shortened prison term. In
a society of total domination, no such compensation is needed.
Once German physicians realized that they had an almost limitless
supply of human beings at their disposal for experiments, some very
respectable professors at medical schools and research institutes seized
the unique opportunity. Their findings were reported at meetings of
medical societies. On no occasion was any protest recorded.’ Perhaps
the most extreme example of the use of the medical profession to
transform human beings into things took place at the instigation of
Professor Hirt who was the director of anatomical research at the Reich
University in Strasbourg. Hirt was also a Hauptsturmführer in the SS.
Early in 1942 Hirt wrote to Himmler informing him that all nations and races
had been studied by means of skull collections save the Jews. He
pointed out that the war in the East offered an opportunity to correct
the deficiency: “In the Jewish-Bolshevist commissars, who embody a
repulsive but characteristic subhumanity, we have the possibility of
obtaining a plastic source for scientific study if we secure their skulls.”2 In
order that the anatomical specimens be in optimum condition, Hirt
advised that the Jews be kept alive until a doctor could take down
accurate statistics. They were then to be killed and their heads removed
with proper scientific care. After some delay, one of Dr. Hirt’s colleagues,
Dr. Bruno Begor, was sent to Auschwitz where he selected seventy-nine
Jewish men, thirty Jewish women, four central Asians and two Poles.
Those chosen were gassed and their bodies were brought to Strasbourg
where they were used for racial studies. The whole enterprise was sponsored
by Ahenerbe, a society founded by the SS in 1939 to study “the sphere,
spirit, deed and heritage of the Nordic Indo-Germanic race.”3 Its
president was Himmler.
In addition to an ideological interest in the achievements of the
“Nordic Indo-Germanic race,” the leadership of the SS encouraged
experiments whose aim was to discover an economical and efficient
means of sterilizing large populations. The Germans had several purposes
in mind in carrying out sterilization experiments. One was the
sticky problem of what to do with the Mischlinge, persons of part
German, part Jewish descent.4 When the distinctions between Jews and
Aryans were first worked out in the early years of the regime, the Nazi
directives provided for greater disabilities for those with the most Jewish
“blood” and/or the greatest involvement with Judaism and the Jewish
community. Those with the least Jewish blood, who had married Christians
and had been baptized, were treated with the greatest leniency.
Nevertheless, every Mischling introduced some Jewish blood into the
otherwise pure German bloodstream. There was a great deal of
discussion of what might be done with the Mischlinge, especially
Mischlinge of “the first degree,” those with most Jewish blood. By
October 27, 1942, when a conference on the Mischlinge was held with
Adolf Eichmann as chairman, it was agreed that such Mischlinge be
sterilized immediately. Sterilization was to be considered a voluntary act to
which the Mischlinge consented because they had “graciously” been
permitted to live on Reich territory.5 The Mischlinge were to be permitted
to live out their lives without “defiling” German blood.
The decision to sterilize the Mischlinge was based upon the mistaken
premise that the doctors who were conducting the experiments in the
camps had achieved a breakthrough in their search for an efficient form of
mass sterilization. In reality, there was no such breakthrough.
The sterilization experiments were initiated as a result of correspondence
between Adolf Pokorny, a retired Army doctor, and Himmler.6
Pokorny wrote to Himmler about an article in a medical journal describing
the effect of injecting the extract of a plant, Caladium seguinum into
rodents. Sterilization ensued. He proposed that the plant be produced on
a large scale and that experiments be initiated to determine whether it
could be used on human beings. He pointedly referred to the three million
Russian prisoners of war in German hands. Pokorny’s letter suggested to
Himmler the possibility of perfecting a method of mass sterilization that
could result in the ultimate elimination of any group the Nazis might
designate as “inferior.” Because of the availability of prisoners, an
“experimental block” was set up at Auschwitz and sterilization experiments
were begun under the direction of Professor Carl Clauberg, chief
physician of the womens’ clinic at a hospital in Konigshütte, Upper
Silesia. He proposed that an irritant be placed in the uterus of female
prisoners by means of a syringe. He made use of the virtually unlimited
supply of subjects available for his experiments. He
told his victims that they were being artificially inseminated. He then
injected the irritant. It was his hope to perfect his process so that a single
doctor with ten paramedical assistants could sterilize a thousand women a
day on a more or less assembly line basis. Clauberg failed to “perfect” his
system although he kept writing enthusiastic reports claiming that he
was on the brink of success.7
There were other attempts to achieve the evasive breakthrough. Some
involved outright castration and surgical mutilation of the uterus. Hilberg
cites a letter written in March 1941 by Viktor Brack of the Führer
Chancellery in which he proposed that sterilization take place by the
simple means of compelling “the persons to be processed” to step up
to a counter and fill out some forms. While the forms were being filled
out, a German bureaucrat behind the counter would turn on an X-ray
machine capable of sterilizing the unsuspecting victim. From a bureaucratic
point of view, this was the “cleanest” method of sterilization.
Brack also forwarded cost estimates involved in setting up twenty counters
at which three to four thousand people could be sterilized daily.8
When Brack first made his proposal, Himmler did not seem very
interested. A year later Brack reminded Himmler of the X-ray proposal at
a time when there was some discussion of using three million of the
estimated ten million doomed Jews for slave-labor purposes. Brack proposed
that the slaves be sterilized to prevent their reproduction while they
were kept alive as workers. Himmler decided that there was sufficient
merit in Brack’s proposal to warrant the initiation of experiments at
Auschwitz to test the feasibility of mass X-ray sterilization. Hundreds of
prisoners were used in the experiments. Many died, but, again, the
sterilization experiments failed to produce a satisfactory result. Those in
charge finally came to the conclusion that surgical castration was
speedier and more efficient.
Hilberg divides the medical experiments into two general categories:
those utilizing the available supply of prisoners to conduct tests that would
have been normal attempts to extend medical knowledge had the subjects
participated willingly, and those whose purpose was to discover a means
whereby the Germans could rule Europe forever.9 The sterilization
experiments were clearly in the latter category. And the death camps
were the logical ‘ place in which to conduct them. The experiments were
part of the same war of extermination against non-Germans that was being
carried out in the gas chambers. Nor ought we to lose sight of the logic of
what the Germans were up to. If one wishes security against real or
imagined enemies, it is not enough to defeat them in war. A defeated
enemy may some day rise again and seek vengeance. Total security can
only be achieved by biological means. The enemy must either be killed or
sterilized. And, no antique Christian prejudice must be permitted to
As we have noted, had the Germans won the war, mass sterilization
would have been an important aspect of their program for the subject
peoples. It must be remembered that with both the Nazis and the
Bolsheviks, victory inevitably led to an intensification rather than a
diminution of terror. Mass sterilization of Poles, Russians and, in the
more distant future, the French and the Italians, would have permitted the
Germans to exploit the vanquished at their own convenience in the certain
knowledge that the subject peoples’ national existence was at an end.
Whether extermination or killing was the means of securing absolute
dominance or whether a certain number of the vanquished might be
permitted to reproduce in exactly calculable quantities would have depended
solely on the requirements of the German masters. The victims would have
had as little control over their own destiny as cattle in a stockyard. Ina society
of total domination, helots could be killed, bred, or sterilized at will.
Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to see the medical experiments as
the outcome of some special viciousness of which only German doctors
are capable. The Germans have no monopoly on the kind of mentality that
would utilize powerless human beings as unwilling or unsuspecting
subjects of such experiments. Recently, it became known that a group of
black prisoners suffering from syphilis in an American prison were divided into
two groups, one of which was given medication to cure or control the disease,
the other was given a placebo. The object of the experiment was to
compare the effects of medication with that of letting the disease run its
course. The organizers of the experiment
had cold-bloodedly condemned the prisoners who received the placebo
to the mutilating effects of disease and/or death in the name of scientific
rationality. The experiment that did come to light was different from
the Nazi experiments only in that the American prisoners were completely
unaware of what was being done to them. Most of the Nazi
victims had some idea of what was happening. The same “modem”
mentality that gives a higher priority to solving an administratively
defined problem than to its effect on human beings characterized both
the American and the German experiments.
Furthermore, the practice of using prisoner “volunteers” for medical
experiments is currently very widespread in the United States. According
to Jessica Mitford, one reputable American scientist was reputed to have
said, “Criminals in our penitentiaries are fine experimental materialand
much cheaper than chimpanzees.” According to the Food and
Drug Administration, as of 1973, such experiments were being carried on
in about fifty prisons in twenty-four states. Prisoners are usually “paid”
one dollar a day for their participation. Unfortunately, there is much
permanent damage to the “volunteers” and even loss of life. During
World War II, the great German pharmaceutical corporation, Bayer A.
G. of Leverkusen, made extensive use of death-camp inmates for their
experiments on human beings. Today, Bayer’s American corporate
counterparts, such as Lederle, Bristol-Myers, Squibb, Merck, Sharp
and Dohme, and Upjohn, have found a plentiful supply of subjects
(objects?) in America’s prisons for their “voluntary” experiments on
human beings. The experiments in American prisons have the
cooperation and the approval of such federal bureaucracies as the Department
of Health, Education and Welfare and the Food and Drug
Administration. Ms. Mitford quotes Dr. Sheldon Margen, a physician
opposed to the experiments, as saying,
If the researchers really believe these experiments are safe for humans, why do they go to the
prisons for the subjects? Why don’t they try them out in their own labs on students? …
Because they know the university would never permit this…. They make a distinction
between people they think of as social equals or colleagues and men behind bars, whom
they regard as less than human.10
Nor is it accidental that the American doctors selected blacks as their
subjects in the syphilis experiments. The blacks are the American
equivalent of the Nazi Tiermenschen, subhumans, concerning whom no
effective protest was anticipated. It is likely that racism is indispensable to
a society of total domination. Certainly, racism facilitates the ascription of
paranthropoid identity to human beings. Once the victim is categorized
as belonging to a different species, the task of transforming him into a thing
is immensely simplified. Undoubtedly, the harsh forms of slavery that
characterized the ante-bellum. South were facilitated by the fact that
the blacks were different in both race and culture from their masters.11 Before
the Nazis assaulted the Jews, the Poles, the Russians, and the Gypsies,
they were categorized as members of sub-human races.
Another recent American parallel to the Nazi experiments was the
decision of welfare authorities in Georgia to sterilize several mentally
deficient black girls. Their illiterate parents were allegedly compelled by
representatives of the welfare bureaucracy to sign papers permitting the
sterilization.12 The syphilis experiments and the sterilization of the black
girls are in all likelihood but the tip of the iceberg.
As we have noted, one of the German institutions that recognized the
potentialities of total domination was the Bayer chemical division of the giant
I. G. Farben cartel. I. G. Farben was involved in both medical experiments
and slave labor utilization at Auschwitz. Before its enforced dissolution at the
end of the war, I. G. Farben was a huge chemical and pharmaceutical
conglomerate, whose corporate subsidiaries included the Bayer aspirin and
the Agfa film concerns. The Bayer research laboratories were interested
in testing an anti-typhus medicine that had been prepared in both tablet
and powder form. Some patients threw up when given the tablets. Bayer
wanted to ascertain whether the powder or the tablets had the fewest side
effects. At first, the Bayer researchers approached a “friendly insane
asylum” and were granted permission to test the medicine on some of the
patients. The experiments failed because of the inability of the mentally ill
patients to distinguish between the powder and the pills. As luck would
have it, one of I. G. Farben’s research workers was serving as Obersturmbahnführer
at Auschwitz.
His help was enlisted and Bayer was permitted to conduct its experiments
on camp inmates.13
Bayer’s experiments were relatively innocent. This was not true of most
of I. G. Farben’s corporate activities at Auschwitz. I. G. Farben was the
most important German corporate employer of slave labor at Auschwitz.
The corporation’s activities at Auschwitz are an important part of the
story of the camp as a society of total domination. In the nineteenth
century, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels had observed that the economic
triumph of the bourgeoisie, the class of modern capitalists that owned the
“means of production”, had “left remaining no other nexus between
man and man than naked self-interest, than callous cash payment.”14
Marx and Engels were pointing to the same process of “dehumanized”
rationalization as had Weber, who regarded the large corporation as a
type of bureaucratic organization that rivaled the state bureaucracy in
achieving rational efficiency and calculated results.15 According to Marx,
the bourgeoisie had reduced industrial labor to a commodity “like every
other article of commerce.”16 Marx claimed that in capitalist enterprise the
cost of labor was restricted to the “means of subsistence” required by
the laborer “for his maintenance and the propagation of the race.”17 In
view of the conditions of the working class in England, Europe’s most
industrialized nation in the 1840s, the observations were more than
justified. As uprooted men and women were forced to move from the
countryside to the cities, they had little choice but to accept the
subsistence wages offered to them in the mills and factories. The
alternative was starvation. There was an abundant labor supply and its
cost was kept at a minimum.18 Unlike the old feudal order, the relations
between the mill and mine workers and their employers were totally
impersonal. The workers were unsentimentally regarded as a necessary
component in the production mechanism, but each worker was seen as
an interchangeable, easily replaceable unit in a depersonalized mechanism
that was calculated solely in terms of minimum costs and maximum
The bourgeois order, especially in England, produced a system of
exploitation of free labor unparalleled for its cruelty in all of human
history. The abusive use of women and children and the utter indifference
to the health and well-being of the workers were a normal part of the
system. There is no more fitting term with which to describe those wretched
men and women than wage slaves. In Victorian England, the wage slaves
had become servo-mechanisms of the machines they tended. As Marx has
observed, “as machines become more human, men become more like
As soon as profit and productivity became the sole criteria by which a
business enterprise was to be measured, it was in the factory
owner’s interest to work his employees as long as he could and pay them
as little as he could get away with. As we know, this kind of exploitation did
not last in England or on the continent. For exploitation to be truly systematic,
there must be a pool of unorganized individuals who are confronted
singly with the alternatives of becoming wage slaves or starving. The
workers of England and the continent were ultimately able to defend
themselves politically and economically by securing the right to vote and by
organizing trade unions.20 In the ghettoes and concentration camps run by
the Germans, it was impossible for individuals to oppose the system and,
save for the last days of the Warsaw ghetto, those Jewish organizations
that might have become the foci of resistance were controlled by
the Germans. To the extent that it is today possible to speak of the
“dignity of labor,” it is because labor acquired the indispensable
precondition of any kind of human dignity, organizational strength, and
through that strength, a measure of power. Had labor been unable to
organize, it is not likely that the conditions of the working classes would have
improved greatly. It is more likely that labor would have been treated as the
commodity Marx said it was under capitalism. When there is an
oversupply of any commodity under free market conditions, its cost tends to
drop. The price of labor would have fluctuated with its relative scarcity or
abundance, irrespective of the human or even the subsistence needs of
the workers. In a purely rationalized system of production, as Marx
understood, the human element in labor can and ought to be ignored.
One of the reasons for the failure of Marx’s prophecy that the working
class in capitalist countries would in desperation be driven to revolution was
that it was never possible for bourgeois society totally to reduce labor to a
commodity. A commodity is inert. It cannot organize and it cannot fight
back. Only where men can be reduced to thing-like automatons,
capable of fulfilling assigned tasks but incapable of any effective protest on
their own behalf, can a perfectly rationalized system of production or
domination be achieved. That achievement was not possible for the
factory owners of nineteenth-century England because they were neither
prepared nor even cognizant of the kinds of political and social
transformations that would be required to create so compliant a working
force. The Germans were able to create such a force in the death camps.
Some of Germany’s largest and most advanced corporations, such as
I. G. Farben, seized the opportunity to utilize the camp prisoners as a
labor force. In 1933 1. G. Farben was not an anti-Semitic corporation. It
employed many Jews. Jews had helped to build the huge corporate
empire. A Jew, Dr. Karl von Weinberg, was the deputy chairman of the
corporation’s Verwaltungsrat, its advisory board of corporate elder statesmen.
In 1933 after Hitler came to power, von Weinberg continued for a
while to function as a member of the corporation’s elite. He
encouraged a group of visiting American executives from E. I. DuPont du
Nemours of Wilmington, Delaware, to increase their collaboration with the
German firm. However, as the process of eliminating Jews from German
life intensified in the thirties, I. G. Farben naturally got rid of its Jewish
officials, although the corporation did try to transfer some Jewish personnel
to foreign posts because of their value to the firm. Even this was only a
temporary measure.22
By 1939 I. G. Farben was fully integrated into the new German order.
During the war, it was faced with a severe labor shortage at a time when
Germany’s military and civilian needs for Buna, synthetic rubber, were
expanding rapidly. It was decided to build a new plant for the manufacture
of synthetic rubber. I. G. Farben officials met with officials of the’
Economy Ministry to decide on the location of the new factory. After
several meetings, the corporation executives were convinced by the
Economy Ministry officials of the advantages of constructing several
plants at Auschwitz. The Auschwitz site had good supplies of water, coal,
and other needed ingredients. The problem of an assured labor supply was
solved by Himmler who promised that all available skilled workers held at
Auschwitz would be placed at the giant corporation’s disposal. This took
place on February 6, 1941.22 I. G. Farben’s decision to locate at Auschwitz
was based upon the very same criteria by which contemporary multinational
corporations relocate their plants in utter indifference to the social
consequences of such moves: wherever possible costs, especially labor
costs, must be minimized and profits maximized. In February 1941,
Auschwitz appeared to be an excellent corporate investment to some of
Germany’s most respectable business leaders. Their mentality was not very
different from that of corporate executives who close down plants in such
high labor cost areas as Stuttgart and Philadelphia and relocate them in
Manila and Singapore. This should occasion neither surprise nor shock. I.
G. Farben was one of the first great corporate conglomerates. Its executives
merely carried the logic of corporate rationality to its ultimate conclusion. As
we have observed, the perfect labor force for a corporation that seeks
fully to minimize costs and maximize profits is slave labor in a death
camp. Among the great German corporations who utilized slave labor were
AEG (German General Electric), Wanderer-Autounion (Audi), Krupp,
Rheinmetall Borsig, Siemens-Schuckert and Telefunken.23
I. G. Farben’s investment in I. G. Auschwitz ultimately reached
700,000,000 Reichsmark. This is over $1,000,000,000 in today’s money.
The construction work required 170 contractors. Two company villages
were built to house corporate personnel. Barracks were, of course, built for
the inmates. When the factories commenced operations, the SS provided
guards to supervise the workers. When rules were violated, the SS
administered punishment according to their normal procedures.24
The diet of the inmates was the same starvation diet of watery turnip
soup given to all Auschwitz inmates, save that the corporation added a
ration of extra ‘ Buna soup,” not out of consideration for the workers’ wellbeing
but to maintain a precisely calculated level of productivity.25 Marx had
written that the level of compensation in capitalist industrial
enterprise had to be sufficient to maintain a minimal level of subsistence. At
I. G. Auschwitz there was no reason to tax the corporation’s resources
even to that extent. Given the almost inexhaustible supply of labor, the
company adopted a deliberate policy of working slaves to death. Nor was
the policy hidden from the top echelons of I. G. Farben’s managerial
elite. They were very much involved in the operation and made frequent
trips to Auschwitz to see how things were going. According to the affidavit
of Dr. Raymond van den Straaten, a slave at Auschwitz, on one occasion,
five of I. G. Farben’s top directors made an inspection tour of I. G.
Auschwitz. As one of the directors passed a slave scientist, Dr. Fritz
Lohner-Beda, the Director remarked, “The Jewish swine could work a
little faster.” Another I. G. Farben director responded, “If they don’t
work, let them perish in the gas chamber.” Dr. Lohner-Beda was then
pulled out of his group and kicked to death.26
One of the five directors present on that occasion was Dr. Fritz Ter
Meer, I. G. Farben’s executive in charge of synthetic rubber and petrochemical
operations including I. G. Auschwitz. As a top I. G. Farben
executive, Dr. Ter Meer visited the United States on a number of
occasions before America’s entry into World War II. He had excellent
relations with his American corporate counterparts, especially Mr.
Frank Howard, chief executive officer of Standard Oil of New Jersey, as
well as other top Standard Oil executives. (Jersey Standard has been
incorporated into the Exxon Corporation). An important objective of Dr.
Ter Meer’ s American trips was to conclude a series of cartel agreements
with Standard Oil for the ostensible purpose of dividing up the world
market for the manufacture and distribution of synthetic rubber or Buna
between I. G. Farben and Jersey Standard. Dr. Ter Meer’s real objective
was to cripple American production of synthetic rubber in case of war by
making Standard Oil dependent upon I. G. Farben’s contracts, patents
and licenses. He succeeded so well that for months after the attack on
Pearl Harbor, Standard Oil honored its cartel agreements with the enemy
corporation. This had the effect of depriving America of urgently needed
synthetic rubber at a time when the normal sources of natural rubber in
Southeast Asia had been cut off by the Japanese.
Deprived of natural rubber by the Japanese and synthetic rubber by
Standard Oil’s refusal to permit even the war to interfere with its
business arrangements, the Federal government was initially unsuccessful
in its efforts to get Standard Oil to break its cartel agreements with the
enemy corporation. Had a private individual behaved as did this great
corporation, it is very likely that he would have been suspected of profound
disloyalty if not outright treason.27
Dr. Ter Meer was equally at home as the executive officer responsible for
I. G. Auschwitz and as an honored and respected corporate colleague of
some of the most important business executives in the United States in the
late thirties and early forties. Nor did Dr. Ter Meer express any regret
about I. G. Auschwitz after the war. When queried by a British officer,
Major Edmund Tilley, whether he regretted the experiments conducted
upon concentration camp victims by I. G. Farben’s pharmaceutical
subsidiaries, such as Bayer, Dr. Ter Meer is reported to have replied that
“no harm had been done to these KZ (concentration camp) inmates as
they would have been killed anyway.”28
My point in stressing Dr. Ter Meer’s American corporate connections is
not to suggest that corporate executives are possessed of some distinctive
quality of villainy. It is to emphasize the extent to which the same attitude
of impersonal rationality is required to run successfully a large
corporation, a death camp slave labor factory and an extermination center.
All three are part of the same world. At least in Germany, the top
executives of all three enterprises often felt at home with each other.
Thus, we should not be surprised to learn that social relations were
excellent between the resident corporate executives of I. G. Farben’s
Auschwitz plant and the SS Auschwitz elite. Rudolf Höss, the commandant
at Auschwitz, often invited Dr. and Frau Walter Dürrfeld, the head of I.
G. Auschwitz, and Dr. and Frau Kurt Eisfeld, the director of I. G.
Auschwitz’s synthetic rubber division, to his home. While these friendly
gatherings were taking place, as many as ten thousand men, women,
and children were being exterminated daily.
About 35,000 slaves were used at I. G. Auschwitz. Over 25,000 died.
The life expectancy of the average slave in the factory was estimated at
between three and four months. Coal was a necessary ingredient in the
manufacture of Buna. In the nearby coal mines of I. G. Auschwitz, the
life expectancy of the average slave was about one month.29 Only one
incentive was necessary to keep the slaves working at maximum capacity,
terror. The workers knew that the moment they were no longer capable
of meeting work schedules, they would be sent to the gas chambers. No
other incentive was required. None was given. If the slaves did not keep
up with the schedule, they were gassed; if they did keep up with it, the
work itself killed them within a few months. Their only hope of remaining
alive was to maintain a schedule that was calculated finally to kill them.
As Weber could not have foreseen the ultimate potentialities of
systematic domination given twentieth century technology, neither
could Marx or Engels have foreseen the extent to which terror could
replace all other incentives in human exploitation. One wonders what
refinements might have been added, had the SS possessed computers.
We cannot take leave of I. G. Farben without considering the profit and
investment aspect of its involvement at Auschwitz. I. G. Farben was a
huge conglomerate. We have noted that its investment in I. G.
Auschwitz reached RM 700,000,000. Such an investment could only have
been justified by the expectation of a proper return to I. G. Farben’s
shareholders. Nor were I. G. Farben’s profits at Auschwitz limited to its
return from the synthetic rubber plant. I. G. Farben also derived handsome
profits from the manufacture by its subsidiaries of Zyklon B, the gas
used in Auschwitz’s chambers.
Zyklon B was the commercial name for a gas used to exterminate
rodents and vermin. It had been developed by the Deutsche Gesellschaft
für Schädlingsbekämpfung mbH, hereafter referred to as DEGESH
(German Vermin Combatting Corporation). The shares of DEGESH
were held by I. G. Farben (42.5 percent), Deutsche Gold-und Silber-
Scheideanstalt (42.5 percent), and Goldschmidt (15 percent). The
chairman of DEGESH’s administrative committee (Verwaltungsausschuss)
was an I. G. Farben executive, Generalkonsul Wilhelm R.
Like many corporations, DEGESH used subcontractors. The actual
gas was produced by the Dessauer Werke für Zucker und Chemische
Industrie and Kali Werke A. G. The stabilizer for the gas was produced
by I. G. Farben, Uerdinglen. Thus I. G. Farben was both one of
DEGESH’s co-owners’ and a subcontractor in the production process.
DEGESH did not sell gas directly even to the German government. It
controlled two subsidiaries, Heerdt and Lingler GmbH (HELI) and
Tesch and Stabenow, Internationale Gesellschaft für
Schadlingsbekämfung mbH (TESTA). After 1942 Dr. Bruno Tesch
became TESTA’s sole owner. Sales were divided so that HELL sold
primarily to private customers in Germany and TESTA handled the
business of the government including Auschwitz.30
Hilberg cities one macabre incident that reflected both the moral
priorities and the corporate mentality at DEGESH. In March 1944 the
Dessau plant was damaged in an air raid. At the time Auschwitz was the
only remaining murder center in operation, and the SS was trying to
finish off 750,000 Hungarian Jews before it was too late. Because of the
bombing, it was impossible to produce Zyklon B with its characteristic
odor. The SS was less concerned with the odor than with the effect of the
gas. One of its officials requested that five tons of Zyklon B be delivered
without the odor-producing element. This troubled a DEGESH official who
expressed concern that, without the telltale odor, the company might
somehow be in danger of losing its monopoly!31 There was no concern
that the gas was being used to kill millions of men and women; there was
concern that the company’s monopoly in the production of the lethal
substance might be compromised.
Both genocide and slave labor proved to be highly profitable corporate
enterprises. DEGESH was not a large company. It had a staff of
about fifty. Because it was a monopoly, it could and did fix prices. On a
relatively meager initial investment of RM 42,500, I. G. Farben received a
dividend of RM 85,000 in both 1940 and 1941. In 1942 and 1943 its profits
declined from 200 to 100 percent per annum.32
To repeat, the business of mass murder was both a highly complex
and successful corporate venture. The men who carried out the business
part of the venture were not uniformed thugs or hoodlums. They were
highly competent, respectable corporate executives who were only doing
what they had been trained to do—run large corporations successfully.
As long as their institutions functioned efficiently, they had no qualms
whatsoever concerning the uses to which they were put.
It is also interesting to note what became of the executives. When
the war was over, Theo Goldschmidt of DEGESH became a leading
executive of Bayer A. G. of Leverkusen. This was a natural move.
Although I. G. Farben was dissolved, its component units continued to
function. Goldschmidt simply went from one I. G. Farben subsidiary to
another. Hermann Schmitz, the nominal head of I. G. Farben, was
sentenced to four years in prison by a U.S. military tribunal. By the midfifties
he was chairman of the board (Aufsichrat) of Rheinische
Stahlwerke A. G. Dr. Fritz Ter Meer, the head of Division 2 of I. G.
Farben (chemicals, dyes, light metals, and pharmaceuticals) under
which I. G. Auschwitz was set up, was sentenced to seven years in prison by
a U.S. military tribunal but was released in 1950. He became deputy
chairman of T. G. Goldschmidt A. G., Essen, and a member of the
boards of the Bankverein Westdeutschland A. G., Düsseldorf and Düsseldorfer
Waggonfabrik. Dr. Walter Dürrfeld, the Director of I. G.
Auschwitz, received an eight-year sentence but by the mid-fifties he was a
director of Scholven-Chemie A. G., Gelsenkirchen. Only Dr. Bruno
Tesch, the owner of TESTA, was sentenced to death by a British
military court and executed.33
Thousands participated in the society of total domination and the
murder process. The vast majority of those directly involved were never
punished. Most of those still alive hold positions of responsibility and
influence in both Germanies. My point in raising this issue is neither to
express my own nor to arouse my readers’ moral indignation. It is difficult
to study the period without becoming convinced of the utter irrelevance
of moral indignation as a response to what took place. I am,
however, interested in how a society rewards an action taken in its
behalf. Verbal expressions of disapproval are cheap. Concrete rewards
or punishments provide a better index of how actions are evaluated.
These men did “solve” Germany’s Jewish problem. This fact was clearly
understood by German society which rewarded them and found
places of responsibility for them after the war.
Every so often some SS guard who was a participant in one of the
mobile killing units that cold-bloodedly shot to death tens of thousands of
Jews or who performed some particularly vile task in one of the camps is
identified in West Germany and brought to trial. Usually, these
people go free “on humanitarian grounds.” A few may receive token
sentences, such as three or four years for killing ten thousand people,
with time off for the period already spent in jail before sentencing.
However, as we have seen, almost all of those involved in the corporate
enterprises at Auschwitz were were speedily restored to places of leadership
in the West German business elite. The tendency towards greater
leniency for the business executives reflects an almost universal bias in
advanced technological societies. “White-collar crimes,” such as large
scale embezzlement and corporate fraud, may result in the actual loss of
far greater sums of money than the average bank robber or petty thief, yet
the “white-collar criminal” is almost always the recipient of greater
leniency in the courts.
If there were in reality any credible moral standard binding on all human
beings and guaranteeing the so-called human rights about which so much
has been written, it would be possible to inquire whether the SS guards
who received heavier sentences, as they sometimes did, were not unfairly
treated in comparison with the business executives. Is there not the
suspicion that it is easier to sentence an SS guard than a corporate
manager, although the “clean” violence of the latter did the greater
damage? A society whose prosperity depends upon virtuosi capable of
applying calculating rationality to large-scale corporate enterprise can ill
afford the loss of highly trained managerial personnel. It is always easier to
find replacements for the lower echelons of the police cadres. When the
Russian Revolution broke out, the bourgeoisie and their allies, the officers
of the tsarist army, the technicians and the business managers, found
themselves suddenly deprived of both wealth and status because they
were regarded as “class enemies” of the new regime. Some of the “class
enemies” were liquidated in the ensuing violence.
Yet, one of the most important reasons for the ultimate victory of the
Red Army over the various counterrevolutionary armies was Leon Trotsky’s
deliberate decision to recruit former tsarist officers for positions of
leadership in the Red Army.34 Similarly, it was only after the managers,
technicians, and specialists were brought back to run the railroads,
financial institutions, and factories that Soviet Russia was able to begin to
recover from the effects of defeat in World War I, civil war, and foreign
intervention. In every modern society those who manage the financial and
industrial institutions are a privileged and indispensable elite.
When theologians and students of ethics discuss the question of the
validity of some credible set of theonomous or autonomous moral norms
governing the conduct of men and nations, they seldom take seriously the
well-publicized fact that it was possible for respectable business
executives to participate in and profit from a society of total domination
and a venture involving the murder of millions of defenseless human
beings without losing their elite status in one of the most advanced
modern societies. Corporate managers are the kind of men whom society
rewards with the greatest financial compensation. They have the easiest
access to other elites in government, law, military affairs, and religion.
What they are permitted to do—more precisely, what they are rewarded for
doing—is a realistic index of what a society regards as within the
boundaries of acceptable behavior. By that standard, postwar German
society regarded the behavior of the I. G. Farben executives as within the
limits of acceptable behavior, at least in wartime. Nor is there any
evidence that they were treated leniently because of the peculiar viciousness
of German culture. On the contrary, the first steps towards the
restoration of their status were usually taken by the special Advisory Board
on Clemency set up by the American government to review all sentences
on behalf of the American high commissioner for Germany, John J.
McCloy, for many years Chairman of the Board of the Chase-Manhattan
Bank and a leading establishment figure in the United States.
As the cold war intensified, the sentences meted out in the war crimes
trials tended to get ever less severe. Furthermore, few of those convicted
were compelled to serve out their terms. Even Oswald Pohl, who was the
director of the SS’s slave labor program and four leaders of the
Einsatzgruppen, the mobile killing units, Otto Ohlendorf, Paul Blobel,
Werner Braune, and Erich Naumann were regarded almost as martyrs
throughout West Germany when all appeals to stay their sentences
failed and they were executed by the U.S. Army on June 7, 1951. West
German officials argued that it would be less difficult for their country to
rearm and join the Western alliance if clemency were shown to those
sentenced to prison terms, especially German generals accused of war
crimes. American officials felt the pressure and responded accordingly.35
Apparently, the Americans did not seriously consider that the West
Germans were tied to the United States whether clemency was shown
or not. Were it not for the United States, West Germany, and indeed all
of Europe, would have fallen under the control of the Soviet Union, as
had East Germany and the East European satellites. Most East
Germans found Soviet domination far less palatable than cooperation with
the United States, as we know from the constant flow of refugees to the
west until the erection of the Berlin Wall and the institution of rigid
border controls by the D.D.R., the East German government, in August
Thus, the Germans were not alone in their judgment that the events
were not of sufficient weight to warrant more than token punishment.
There was apparently an unspoken consensus that the best thing to do
with the perpetrators, especially the corporate executives, was to permit
them to regain their places in German life.
This does not mean that the majority of those Germans who pleaded for
clemency on behalf of those imprisoned for war crimes would have
advocated further adventures in the politics of extermination and total
domination. Too much had changed as a result of the war. If there was a
threat of, total domination, its postwar source was the Soviet Union not
Germany. There were, in fact, good reasons from the German point of
view for urging clemency for almost everybody involved. After
1945 Germany was a society desperately in need of a new beginning.
Nothing was less needed than a permanently embittered cadre of ex-
Nazis who had no hope of participating in the new society. The
Germans understood more clearly than anyone else how difficult it was to
draw the line. Once the bureaucratic mechanism of extermination was
set in motion, every German was to some extent an active participant,
an accomplice or at the very least a beneficiary of the exercise.
Until ethical theorists and theologians are prepared to face without
sentimentality the kind of action it is possible freely to perpetrate under
conditions of utter respectability in an advanced, contemporary society,
none of their assertions about the existence of moral norms will have much
credibility. To repeat, no laws were broken and no crimes were
committed at Auschwitz. Those who were condemned to the society of total
domination were stripped of all protection of the law before they entered.
Finally, no credible punishment was meted out. Truly, the twentieth
century has been the century par excellence that is beyond good and
As time passes, it becomes apparent that the horrors perpetrated by
the Nazis in their society of total domination, such as mutilating and
homicidal medical experiments on human beings and corporate utilization
of death-camp slave labor, merely carried to a logical conclusion
operational attitudes and procedures that are everywhere predominant
in the workings of bureaucracy and modern corporate enterprise.*
*This book was written before the LSD experiments on unsuspecting subjects by
the Air Force, the Army and the CIA became known.
The Victims’ Response: Bureaucratic
We have up to this point concentrated on the role of the Germans in
creating the extermination project and the society of total domination.
However the Germans could not have established such a society by
themselves. There had to be compliance on the part of the victims. It is
to this subject that we now turn.
The question of Jewish response to the Germans is one of the most
painful that arises out of the Holocaust. Any attempt to deal with it is
bound to create extraordinary difficulties. Those who have sorrowfully
concluded that there was Jewish cooperation in their own undoing, no
matter how involuntary, are often accused of desecrating the memory of
the dead or even excusing their murderers. The question is especially
painful for a Jewish researcher since almost every Jewish family suffered
the loss of relatives if not parents or grandparents in the German assault.
Within the Jewish community, there has been an understandable tendency
to regard those who perished as martyrs whose sanctified
memories must not be soiled by the cold-blooded objectivity of political
Regrettably, those who avoid objective reflection on the Jewish response
add to the confusion concerning what took place. Every assault
requires at least two actors. Even the most innocent victim is part of the
process of his own undoing by virtue of the fact that he did not or could not
take protective measures. The very helplessness or ignorance of the
victim is an indispensable part of what takes place.
In reality, we know that the leaders of one of Europe’s most numerous
Jewish communities, the Hungarian, had accurate knowledge of what
was taking place, yet they were as little capable of resistance as any
of the other Jewish communities. From 1942 to 1944, while most of
Europe’s Jews were being killed, the Hungarian government, one of
Germany’s wartime allies, resisted German attempts to take charge of
Jews who were Hungarian citizens. The Hungarian government was
willing to hand over to the Germans Jews settled in non-Hungarian
regions under its control. It was not willing to permit the extermination
of its own citizens, although it did subject them to harsh, anti-Semitic
The situation of Hungary’s Jews changed radically when the Germans
occupied Hungary in March 1944 and began making their own arrangements
for the “deportation” of the Jews. According to Dr. Rudolf
Kastner, a controversial wartime leader of Hungary’s Zionist organization:
In Budapest we had a unique opportunity to follow the fate of European Jewry. We had
seen how they had been disappearing one after the other from the map of Europe. At the
moment of the occupation of Hungary, the number of dead Jews amounted to over five
million…. We knew more than was necessary about Auschwitz…. We had, as early
as 1942, a complete picture of what had happened in the East with the Jews
deported to Auschwitz and the other concentration camps.1
Yet, in spite of what was known, Adolf Eichmann was able to
convince the community’s leaders in a single session that they had
nothing to fear
as long as they cooperated fully with the SS. The cooperation involved
Jewish supervision of enforced ghetto-ization, confiscation of real and
personal property, and finally deportation for “labor service” in Poland.2
Although these were the same measures used by the Germans everywhere
to insure the smooth functioning of the extermination program,
Hungarian Jews permitted themselves to accept Eichmann’s word that
this time the process would stop short of the final step. Apparently, the
horror that awaited them was so great that they chose to grasp at the
most pathetic delusion rather than face it. That the delusion was self–
imposed can be seen in one of the most extraordinary letters ever written by
leaders of a community in modern times. On May 3, 1944, at the height of
the savage deportation process, the Central Jewish Council of Hungary
wrote a letter seeking an audience with Andor Jarosz, the puppet minister
of the interior who had been hand-picked by the Germans to facilitate the
deportation off almost 1,000,000 Jews: “We emphatically declare that
we do not seek the audience to lodge complaints about the merit of the
measures adopted, but merely to ask that they be carried out in a
humane spirit.”3 (Italics added) There was to be no protest about
mass extermination, only discussion of how to make the deaths easier for
the victims. It was actually easier for the Germans to exterminate the
Hungarian Jews than it had been for them to kill those who had previously
been exterminated. The Hungarian Jewish response is significant because
it demonstrates that it made no difference whether a Jewish community
knew of the fate that awaited them or not.
One of the elements conditioning the compliant Jewish response to the
process of extermination was their own history. The last time the Jews
had taken up arms against an enemy was during the Judeo-Roman Wars
of 66-70 C.E. and 131-35 C.E. On both occasions, they fought valiantly
and lost disastrously. Those who during the first Judaeo-Roman war had
counseled submission and surrender were installed by the victors as the
religious and political leaders of the Jewish people. The religious leaders
of the European diaspora for almost two thousand years were the spiritual
heirs of the Pharisees and rabbis who rose to political and religious
dominance only after they had been selected by the Romans
as their “loyal and nonseditious agents.”4 Thus, diaspora Judaism began
in the aftermath of a catastrophic military defeat and survived by developing
a culture of surrender and submission in consequence of that
defeat. Until the bloody wars with the Romans, the Jews had been a
violent, troublesome, rebellious nation. Their transformation from a warrior
people of the sword into a submissive people of the book led by plebian
scribes and scholars took several generations. By the year 200 C.E.,
Jewish character had undergone one of the most radical psychological and
cultural transformations in history. Rabbinic Judaism is the result of that
transformation. It shaped Jewish character and conditioned Jewish
responses in the diaspora for two thousand years. Long after Western
Jews were secularized and considered themselves “emancipated” from
their ancient traditions, they continued as an organized community to
respond to overlords as had those who surrendered to the Romans. No
matter how grave the provocation, the Jewish community instinctively
avoided violent response. They sought to avert hostile action by bribery,
petitions for mercy, or appeals to the religious or moral sentiments of
their adversaries.
Another Jewish reaction was flight, but, as Hilberg notes, “the Jewish
tendency has not been to run from, but to survive with, anti-Jewish
regimes.”5 It was the Jewish experience that periods of intensified hostility
were often followed by periods of relative mitigation. When all else failed,
Jews usually complied with anti-Jewish measures, even if compliance
involved submission to rapine and massacre. There was a certain logic
to compliance. Even if an adversary wanted to massacre an entire
community, there was greater hope that a remnant would survive were
the community to abjure resistance. At no time in the two-thousand
year history of diaspora Judaism before the Holocaust were Jews prepared
to resist unto death, although they often chose death rather than betray
their faith. The ancient example of the defenders of the fortress at
Masada, who fought as long as they could and then perished at their
own hands rather than surrender to the Romans, was a dim memory that
was never reenacted.
During the Holocaust, there was some sporadic resistance to the
Germans, the most spectacular instance of resistance being the 1943
Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority of
Jews did not resist. They had been conditioned by their religious culture to
submit and endure. There was no resort to even token violence when the
Nazis forced Jews to dig mass graves, strip, climb into the graves, lie
down over the layer of corpses already murdered and await the final coup
de grace. Such submission was the last chapter in the history of a cultural
and psychological transformation begun by the rabbis and Pharisees
almost two thousand years before.
In addition to the cultural conditioning that affected even the most
assimilated Jews, the organized Jewish community was a major factor in
preventing effective resistance. Wherever the extermination process was
put into effect, the Germans utilized the existing leadership and organizations
of the Jewish community to assist them. It was not necessary to
find traitors or collaborators to do their work. The compliance reaction
was automatic. It was only necessary to delegate to the existing
Jewish communal leaders the responsibility for transmitting and executing
German orders.
The process of taking over the Jewish communal bureaucracies and
transforming them into components in the extermination process was one
of the organizational triumphs of the Nazis. In the face of the German
determination to murder all Jews, most Jews instinctively relied on their
own communal organizations to defend their interests whenever possible.
Unfortunately, these very organizations were transformed into subsidiaries
of the German police and state bureaucracies.
This process can be seen best in the transformation of the Reichsvertretung
der Juden in Deutschland (Reich Representation of Jews in
Germany) into the Reichsereinigung der Juden in Deutschland (Reich
Association of Jews in Germany). The Reichsvertretung was established
in 1933 by the Jewish community as its official agency to enter
into dialogue with the new regime concerning the future of Jews in
Germany.6 In 1939 by Nazi decree it became the Reichsvereinigung.
Its purpose was to serve as the officially designated Jewish agency
responsible for transmitting and executing all German measures
concerning the Jews within the Reich. The Reichsvertretung had been
established by Jews to represent their interests. They chose the most
distinguished German Jewish rabbi of the twentieth century, Leo
Baeck, as their leader. When the Nazis took over Rabbi Baeck
continued as leader. He was fully convinced that his tragic role would
mitigate the hazards facing his people.
At first, the Reichsvereinigung performed the bureaucratic preliminary
work necessary for the later stages of the destruction process. Jewish
statisticians informed the SS of births, deaths, and other demographic
changes. The communal newspaper (Jüdisches Nachrichtenblatt) kept
people informed of German decrees. Jewish bureaucrats sat at their
desks and performed the tasks assigned to them by German bureaucrats
further up the chain of authority. According to Weber, “The principles of
office hierarchy and of levels of graded authority mean a firmly
ordered system of super- and subordination in which there is a supervision
of the lower offices by the higher ones.”7 One of the most important
reasons for the system of graded authority in a bureaucracy, according
to Weber, is that the subordinate must fulfill assigned tasks “without
any will of his own.” As subordinates, the Jewish bureaucrats had no
effective will of their own.
The transformation of the bureaucracy of the Jewish community into a
functioning component of the Nazi bureaucracy reached a point of no
return in 1941 when both the Gestapo and the Jewish communal agencies
responsible for facilitating Jewish emigration from Germany were
charged with a new responsibility, that of drawing up lists of Jews for
“deportation” and “resettlement” in the East. Neither the personnel
nor the names of the agencies were changed. Both the Gestapo and the
Jewish bureaucrats were still engaged in the task of facilitating Jewish
emigration, but emigration now took on a new and sinister meaning.
When, for example, Adolf Eichmann appeared on the scene in Vienna
immediately after the German entry into the city in 1938, he used every
means at his disposal to encourage voluntary emigration from the Reich.
After the “final solution” became official policy, he was, according to his own
account, still involved in emigration and “transport” work.8 The
difference was that “emigration” was now involuntary and the destination
of the émigrés was the death camps.
Thus, the official agency of German Jews led by the most distinguished
German rabbi of the twentieth century, a man in whose memory an
important rabbinical seminary has been named (London’s Leo Baeck
College), undertook such tasks as selecting those who were to be deported,
notifying the families and, finally, of sending the Jewish police to round up
the victims. In the Warsaw Ghetto and in Lodz, Poland, the Jewish
council, or Judenrat, did not resist German directives even when the
Germans demanded the “selection” of 10,000 Jews a day for
deportation. Jewish bureaucrats made the selection; Jewish police
rounded up the victims.9
Undoubtedly, Rabbi Baeck and most of those who led the Judenräte,
the Nazi-dominated Jewish councils in the occupied territories, were
convinced that somehow a remnant would survive if German orders were
strictly obeyed. In the past, there had always been a remnant. In, the
case of Baeck, his commitment to lawfulness was so complete that when
the Gestapo finally came to deport him to the “privileged” concentration
camp at Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia, he asked for a little time to
arrange his affairs. Before leaving on his journey to the camp, he
mailed postal money orders covering his gas and electric bills!10
The subject of the Judenräte has been explored by Isaiah Trunk and
other scholars.” It is impossible for any one who did not experience their
tragic fate to stand in judgment. Our purpose is to understand a
process, not to judge its victims. It is, however, undeniable that Jewish
communal organizations everywhere were transformed into functioning
components of the German bureaucratic mechanism devoted to the “final
solution.” As such, they facilitated the process in at least two crucial
ways: (a) In almost all of the killing operations, the German personnel
were short-handed. It is estimated that only fifty SS personnel and 200 Lett
and Ukrainian auxiliaries were assigned to the Warsaw Ghetto which
had a population of five hundred thousand at its peak, almost
all of whom perished.12 Every task performed by the Judenräte lessened
the drain on German resources. (b) The only organization to which Jews
could turn and which might have provided a political base for resistance
was in fact a component of the German machinery of death.
Under any circumstance, the Jews were doomed. German power
was overwhelming and there was in fact no hope of assistance from
any other quarter. Given the choice of accepting the German offer of a
“mercy death” or of attempting unarmed, individual resistance, it was
undoubtedly wiser to dig one’s own grave, lie down in it and await the
final blow. The Germans were capable of inflicting infinitely worse deaths.
Resistance is only consequential when it is organized. In the face of
inevitable doom, a resistance movement must at least provide a means of
preventing its members from falling into the hands of the enemy.
When the defenders of Masada concluded that they were doomed,
they were able to deny the Roman adversary the opportunity of
torturing them to death. Their deaths were their own. Hence, they
were able to inflict maximum damage on the enemy before taking their
leave. Only an organized group has hope of inflicting serious damage on
an overwhelmingly powerful enemy.
When the doomed remnant of the Warsaw Ghetto finally decided to
organize and fight the Germans, its first task was to create a noncollaborating
organization that could destroy the Judenrat’s authority over
the Jewish community. Before taking action against the Germans, the
resistance movement first killed the chief of the Jewish police, Joseph
Szerynski, a Jew converted to Catholicism. They also killed his successor
and struck at other Jewish police and known collaborators. Only after they
had violently displaced the Judenrat could they move against the
The Warsaw resistance was atypical. Almost everywhere else, the
Judenräte maintained their authority until the leaders of the Judenräte,
their usefulness to the Germans at an end, were themselves sent to their
In most of the countries occupied by the Nazis during the war and by
the invading Soviet armies after the war, the state bureaucracies were
taken over by the invaders and turned into components of the invader’s
structure of domination. Some elements of each state or police
bureaucracy were, of course, regarded as “unreliable” or as “objective
enemies” of the new order. Nevertheless, most members of the
bureaucracy continued to function efficiently and obediently “sine ira et
studio,” without scorn or bias, for their new masters. There was, of course,
an enormous difference between the aims of the Soviet occupation of
Eastern Europe and the earlier occupation by the Nazis. The Soviets
were interested in dominating the states on their border and preventing
a reunion of the two Germanies on terms unfavorable to their security
requirements. Soviet domination of Eastern Europe was closer to that of a
classical tyranny than was the German occupation. The German aims
were far more radical. They sought to create a society of total
domination involving initially the enslavement and extermination of the
Jews and eventually similar treatment to other subject peoples. They
were determined to clear a Lebensraum, a living space, for German
settlement. This could only be done by the expulsion, enslavement,
and extermination of the conquered territory’s former occupants.
German occupation thus revealed the full potentialities of bureaucratically
organized, systematic domination far more completely than that of the
Soviet Union. The Germans demonstrated that a modern state can
successfully organize an entire people for its own extermination. They
have also demonstrated that there are forces at work in modern society, in
both aggressors and victims, that were completely beyond the comprehension
of the liberal, enlightened imagination until it was forced to
face their actuality. It may be argued that the Jews were a special
case, that they were rendered incapable of anything but compliance both
by their peculiar history and by the nearly universal consent with
which their undoing was met. Against such an argument, there is the
fact that, with no less ease, the Germans were also able to
exterminate a large number of Gypsies, Poles, and Russian prisoners of
war. In his essay on bureaucracy, Max Weber observed that
the apparatus, with its peculiar impersonal character … is easily made to work for
anybody who knows how to gain control over it. A rationally ordered system of
officials continues to function smoothly after the enemy has occupied the area: he
merely needs to change the top officials.14
With the Jewish community, it was not even necessary to change the
top officials, even when they were revered and distinguished rabbis. Here
as elsewhere, Weber’s observations are prophetic, although it is doubtful
that he could have realized the extremities to which they could apply. If
nothing else, the fact that the best and most selfless Jewish leaders
presented no greater obstacle when the Nazis took over their communities
than did the most opportunistic raises some very terrifying questions
about the potentialities of bureaucratic domination in modern society.
And, as we have noted, the Nazis didn’t even have computers.
Reflections on
A Century of Progress*
There is much more that could be written about the Holocaust. It should,
however, be clear that the Holocaust was something very different than an
outburst of monumental violence and hatred such as the massacres that
have all too frequently punctuated human history. Recently, such
incidents as the massacre at My-Lai and the Palestinian terrorist attack
on Israeli school children at Maalot have been likened to genocide on a
small scale. The Holocaust was qualitatively different from both. The
terrorists at Maalot were capable of indiscriminate killing; they were
neither capable of nor interested in organizing their victims into a
society of total domination, as were the SS.
Similarly, there is no way that the alleged actions of Lieutenant
William Calley and his associates, as deplorable as they were, can be
*This was the optimistic title given to the Chicago World’s Fair which opened its
doors in the midst of the Great Depression in 1933, the year of Hitler’s assumption of
power. The theme of the fair was expressed in the slogan: “Science Explores:
Technology Exe cutes: Mankind Conforms.” Cf. Lewis Mumford, The Myth of
the Machine (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovitch, 1970) p. 213
likened to Auschwitz. From all accounts about My-Lai, it would appear that
the massacre took place because the Americans lost control of themselves
under conditions of wartime stress. Auschwitz was made possible because
the German bureaucracy and the SS were in control at every step.
At Auschwitz, the Germans revealed new potentialities in the human
ability to dominate, enslave, and exterminate. They also revealed new
areas in which capitalist enterprise might profitably and even respectably be
employed. The camps were thus far more of a permanent threat to the
human future than they would have been had they functioned solely as an
exercise in mass killing. An execution center can only manufacture
corpses; a society of total domination creates a world of the living dead
that can serve as a prototype of a future social order, especially in a world
confronted by catastrophic crises and ever-increasing, massive population
As we know, the twentieth century has witnessed extraordinary “progress”
in the unlimited intensification of human destructiveness and the
radicalization of the forms of human domination. Nevertheless, it was the
organizational skill of the Nazis rather than their new weapons that made
the society of total domination a reality. And, most of the organizational tools
with which such a society can be set up have been greatly improved since
World War II. Of supreme importance as a weapon of bureaucratic
domination is the modern computer. Few weapons were as indispensable
to the Gestapo as its files. When one compares the laborious task of
maintaining comprehensive files as short a time back as World War II with
the instantaneous retrieval of data about anyone the police or any other
governmental agency might be interested in today, we see how greatly
the problem of keeping tabs on people has been simplified.
Once a system of domination has been demonstrated to be a capability
of government, it invites repetition. There are a number of circumstances
in which a future ruler of a modern state might be tempted to
install his own version of such a system. At the crudest level, government by
bureaucratically organized, rationalized terror simplifies the problem
of command, especially in a bitterly divided society. Those classes or
groups who for economic, racial, religious, or social reasons oppose the
program of the dominant elite could find themselves condemned to
detention camps or eliminated altogether. The liquidation of the peasants
under Stalin is a good example of the use of such terror. When the
Bolsheviks seized power in 1917, Lenin promised the peasants that they
would gain land from the dispossessed aristocracy and the government. In
reality, Lenin was committed by ideology to the abolition of private
agricultural holdings and the rationalization of farming as a large-scale
collective enterprise.1 When the peasants realized that it was their
destiny under Bolshevism to be proletarianized, they naturally resisted.
Under Stalin the conflict between the government’s determination to
rationalize agricultural production and the peasants’ unwillingness to be
proletarianized was resolved by the extermination of millions of peasants
and the terrorization of the rest.2
Even in the United States, the scandals associated with the Nixon
presidency revealed the early stages of a similar tendency. The Nixon
presidency shared several characteristics with the totalitarian rulers of the
twentieth century: (a) In the period immediately after his reelection in
1972, when opposition was at its lowest point, Nixon intensified rather than
diminished his overt hostility to his opponents both within and outside of
government. (b) Nixon had an unfortunate tendency not to distinguish
between methods that are appropriate in dealing with domestic political
opponents and foreign adversaries. One of the gravest threats to constitutional
government posed by foreign ventures is the possibility that government
leaders might ignore constitutional restraints and employ the kind
of “dirty” tactics they customarily use against foreigners in dealing with
domestic opposition. That is why any domestic use of the CIA is so great
a threat to American freedom. The domestic spying activities and the
raid on the office of Dr. Lewis Fielding, Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, by
members of the extralegal White House “plumbers” unit are examples
of the use of CIA trained personnel and the CIA itself, in domestic
political conflicts. And, it is hardly likely that we will ever know the whole
story of those episodes. (c) Nixon
sought to secure consent to his program, if not by physical terror, then
certainly by the beginnings of bureaucratic terror. Perhaps this was best
seen in his attempts to utilize the Internal Revenue Service to harass
political opponents as well as public personalities whose style of life or
political commitments were distasteful to him. In addition to tax harassment,
there were other attempts at bureaucratic harassment such as the threat
to revoke the licenses of television stations owned by the Washington
Post. The intent of the threatened punitive action was clear:
opponents were warned’ that there were heavy penalties involved in
opposing Richard Nixon. Such use of power was an important initial step in
the direction of government by terror. Fortunately, the administrators of the
most important government agency involved, the Internal Revenue
Service, were seldom willing to go along.3 In this respect the federal
bureaucracy, whatever its faults, still retained a measure of independence
from the chief executive, something the German bureaucracy felt honor
bound not to do after Hitler’s accession to power.
It may seem a long way from the improper use of the Internal
Revenue Service, the FBI, the CIA and other federal agencies to harass
opponents to a society of total domination, but Nixon had taken several
important steps in that direction. He attempted to replace the give and
take of the normal American political process by bureaucratic harassment.
Fear was to replace debate and persuasion. In addition, he had
established a category of citizens, the so-called “enemies’ lists,” who were
to be subject to punitive government action, although they had broken
no law and for whom there was no legal justification for any kind of
government hostility. Those who had opposed him had, in fact, done
nothing more than exercise their normal right to take a stand on political
We must remember that the German concentration camps were
originally set up to detain and punish those who had broken no law and
against whom no punitive action could legally be justified. Nixon and his
staff did not propose anything as radical as permanent detention
camps, but they did seek extralegal methods of punishing political
Among the bitter lessons of the Nixon administration is that an American
president can be tempted to resort, if not to overt terror, at least to
extralegal bureaucratic harassment to secure the compliance of the
governed. And, if the Nazi period has any political moral, it is that
bureaucratically planned and executed domination can be more
thorough-going and effective than all other systems of domination. Furthermore,
the discovery of the Watergate break-in was a fortunate
accident. At the beginning of the second term, the Nixon administration
had openly demonstrated its contempt for the legislative branch and its
intention to deprive the federal bureaucracy of any residual independence.
It is not pleasant to contemplate the measures the Nixon administration might
have taken had it been able to proceed without hindrance. Because of
Watergate, Nixon’s ability to employ extralegal means of harassment was
unexpectedly curtailed. Were it not for Watergate, the Nixon presidency
might have proceeded from relatively mild to ever more radical measures.
At each step along the way, Nixon’s ability to silence opposition would
probably have fallen short of expectations. The tax and licensing
harassment would not have created the fear they were intended to. It is
difficult to believe that, once embarked on an extralegal course, the Nixon
administration would have accepted failure without attempting ever more
radical measures.
It would be comforting to think that the abuses of power that occurred in
the Nixon administration were due solely to his moral and political
shortcomings. Unfortunately, the problem will not go away with the
departure of Richard Nixon. The abuses occurred because the structure
of government put the capacity to act as did Nixon in the hands of any
president willing to employ it and clever enough to get away with such
behavior. The bureaucracy that Nixon sought to use extralegally might be
so used by a future president. Should, for example, the economic crisis
continue to deteriorate or should a catastrophic war break out, a future
president might be tempted by the readiness of a desperate nation to
accept radical measures in order to solve its woes. The overwhelming
power of modern government is bound to increase no matter
who is president. And not every President will be as clumsy or as noncharismatic
as Nixon.
Nixon was tempted to expand the power available to him because of
his inability to effectuate his program through the normal political
processes. There are other reasons why a future political leader might be
tempted to utilize the full power of government available to him. The
population problem figures strongly in all such calculations. The Nazi
extermination program is, unfortunately, of great relevance in any discussion
of the problem of population. In terms of German ideology, the
Jews were a surplus population because of the kind of society the Germans
wanted to create. In the foreseeable future, there will be forces
other than ideology that will create mammoth surplus populations
throughout the world. For the time being the balance between surplus
population and limited resources is being restored by the most natural
of means—famine. In the future, famine may no longer be a politically
acceptable method of restoring the balance between population and
resources, especially were such crises to arise in the more developed
countries. A Nazi-type “solution” might appear more acceptable politically
to some social planners than the haphazard elimination occasioned
by famine. Extermination would have the advantage of allowing a government
to choose the categories of people it will sacrifice. A country with
limited capital resources and excess population might attempt to
rationalize its agricultural and industrial productivity by a combination of
slave labor and eventual mass extermination of those reduced to
slavery. Such a use of slavery could accelerate agricultural and industrial
growth and eliminate the population excess at the same time. Whatever
the future may bring, it is certain that the pressure of population on
resources will continue to grow. In the eyes of some future social planners,
the Nazi extermination program might appear to be an efficient
and rational solution to the problem. It is my intention to discuss this
issue in detail in the forthcoming, companion volume to this book.
Some may argue that such a scenario has a certain plausibility, but its
nightmarish character demonstrates the need to find a way to reduce the
number of births through effective planned parenthood. Unfortunately, the
scenario of effective birth control indoctrination among the poor lacks
plausibility. It has failed in most of the underdeveloped countries. In times of
heightened stress, government bureaucrats might feel that they have no
choice but to turn to compulsory measures. They might regard those who
insist on having more than the officially set quota of children as engaging in
“antisocial behavior.” One American population expert has already used
that designation.4 Some bureaucrat might study the Nazi plans for mass
sterilization such as the proposal to sterilize inmates unwittingly as they
stood at a counter filling out forms. Compulsory sterilization or vasectomy
might seem like a reasonable “solution.” Then too, there is infanticide which
was always a population control measure.5 In ancient times infanticide
could be made acceptable by the conviction that the children were being
offered up as an acceptable sacrifice to the gods. Both morally and
emotionally, it was probably easier to offer children to the gods than to a
government-sponsored program of population control.
Future bureaucrats might be tempted to set up extermination centers to
keep the size of the population from getting out of hand. However,
even with a stable population, there are circumstances under which such
centers might prove to be a temptation. It is, for example, argued that
only zero population growth can avoid the coming Malthusian catastrophe.
But zero population growth might mean the end of the economic advantages
inherent in moderate population growth and an intensification of hostility
within society through competition for an inelastic number of desirable
vocational slots. Because of the declining birth rate and the end of the
Vietnam war, the teaching profession has already been adversely affected.
In certain academic disciplines with a limited clientele, graduate students
and junior faculty keep tabs on the holders of every major chair, waiting
for the incumbents to die or retire so that they may have a chance to move
up a very small and overcrowded ladder. Encouragement of early retirement
is one way in which room can be made for younger personnel. At present,
early retirement often condemns talented men and women to a semivegetating
existence. The
hand of the future may be already visible in what can only be called the
inflation-induced pension swindle. Men and women who deferred a
portion of their earnings in the hope that they would be available after
retirement find that inflation increasingly deprives them of the resources
with which to survive. Thus, an implicit promise made by society is not
kept. Inflation involves a discount on the promises inherent in paper
money as a claim on the goods and services available in an organized
society. What we are currently seeing is only the tip of the iceberg. It is
conceivable that what lies ahead is a condition involving both zero
population growth and a world-wide depletion of resources. In such a
circumstance, the old saying that those who do not work will not eat
could take on ominous meaning. Bureaucrats in some countries might
someday decree compulsory early retirement and, at the same time,
grant the retirees “a mercy death.” The social advantages are obvious.
The most vigorous elements in society would constitute its work force
and there would be no claim on society’s resources by superannuated or
economically redundant elements. Such a program would also represent
a continuation of present trends in which the human rather than the
natural order increasingly determines our conditions of life and death.
Death would finally cease to be a natural and would become almost
entirely a political finality. This scenario is by no means farfetched.
According to Hannah Arendt, the mammoth Stalinist purges of the
thirties performed exactly those functions. A whole new class of officeholders
succeeded to the positions of the millions Stalin had eliminated.
Furthermore, none of the resources of Russian society had to be
allocated either to the detention or the pensioning of those who were
There is a variant of the granting of a “mercy death” to early retirees.
In a multiethnic society, the dominant ethnic majority might retain
scarce jobs and resources for itself and eliminate competing minorities.7
That, in effect, is what the Germans did. We know to what extremes
men with power can be driven under conditions of stress. Is it possible, for
example, that some future American administration might solve the
problem of non-white “welfare loafers” who are “too lazy to work” by
such measures? Some of the excessively harsh statements made about
people on welfare by members of the Nixon administration and their
supporters contained a note of resentment and even racial hostility. Those
who made such statements did not seem to understand the extent to which
the poor were victims of oceanic economic and social movements entirely
beyond their control. Today resentment at supporting the poor takes verbal
expression. However, such resentment could become draconian should
the resources available to sustain the poor disappear. There could come a
time when bureaucrats might attempt to eliminate all of the ills associated
with urban blight, such as crime, drugs, and unsafe streets, by eliminating
those segments of the population that are regarded as most prone to social
pathology. The Germans had such a program in mind when they planned
to eliminate “asocials” from German society by exterminating them.
My purpose in suggesting these unpleasant scenarios is neither to play
the prophet nor to predict the future. The scenarios are admittedly images
of extremity, but can anyone be assured after the Nixon presidency that
no future president will resort to radical measures in a crisis? Let us not
forget that it was Franklin D. Roosevelt who put over one hundred thousand
Japanese Americans in concentration camps. My purpose is rather to
point out that the explosive combination of surplus population, finite
resources, and the expanding sovereign powers of government suggest that
the Nazi extermination program may yet foreshadow other exercises in the
politics of total domination by future governments as they face
catastrophic population problems arising out of mankind’s very success in
mastering nature.
As we have seen, large-scale destruction is not without its rewards. In the
Soviet Union, in spite of the terror engendered by Stalin’s purges, those
Russians who were promoted to the emptied vocational slots did benefit from
the slaughter. Whatever Stalin’s personal motives may have been, his
policies had the effect of ridding the Soviet Union of a potentially surplus
population. It is very likely that Stalin played a role in Russia similar to
that of Field Marshall Haig and General von Falkenhayn in World War I.
Very similar historical forces may have been
operative in all three leaders. If such were indeed the case, we would have
to conclude that, at least in mass society, men are not and perhaps cannot
be in control of their own destiny, but that their grim, consuming destiny
unfolds beyond their intentions and behind their backs.
One of the most difficult conclusions to which we have come in this
reflection on Auschwitz is that the Nazis committed no crime at Auschwitz
since no law or political order protected those who were first
condemned to statelessness and then to the camps. That observation
was not offered as a defense of the Nazis. On the contrary, it was offered
as an unpleasant example of the ironic and unanticipated consequences
of the spread of “civilization” and “progress” so that today no corner of
the earth lacks some form of political organization. Unfortunately, the
demise of the Third Reich has not put an end to the problem of
statelessness. Sooner or later there will be other civil or international
conflicts that will deprive large numbers of men of the most elemental of
human rights, their membership in a political order, with consequences
as yet unforeseen.
Yet, if Auschwitz has taught us the hazards of statelessness, it can also
teach us that membership in a political community is no longer a
guarantee of the most elemental human rights. With the collapse of
every credible religious and moral restraint on the state and with the
inevitable depersonalization of the relations between the rulers and the
ruled, the state’s sovereignty can achieve an ultimacy unimpeded by any
contending claim. In the American system, the citizen is still protected by
a series of constitutional restraints on the state’s power. Nevertheless, we
have already seen how the Nixon administration attempted to ignore those
restraints and no one can tell what a Nixon-like administration might do in
the future. In any event, no one questions the legal right of the state to
execute its citizens when they have been given the benefit of due process
of the law, but no one has been able to set quantitative limits to the
right of execution. Furthermore, the Jews were executed in accordance
with German law, and it is not inconceivable that the slaughter of World
War I was an unwitting form of mass execution visited by governments on
their own men.
The unlimited character of the state’s sovereignty even in the extermination
of its own citizens was recognized by justice Robert Jackson,
the presiding American judge at the Nuremberg war crimes trials.
Jackson expressed the opinion that the Nazis involved in the
extermination of the Jews could not be prosecuted for murdering Jews
of German nationality. He argued that no state can sit in judgment of
another’s treatment of its minorities. Jackson felt compelled to assert the
ultimacy of national sovereignty over all conflicting claims, even the right
to life itself. He did not, of course, approve of the Nazi actions. He
sought to include the extermination project in the catalogue of war
crimes, but only because the project was pursued as part of d war of
unjustified aggression, not because the extermination was a crime in
itself.8 The right of a state to define the conditions under which capital
punishment will be inflicted has not been impaired by the Holocaust.
It is sometimes argued that there is a higher moral law against which
the deeds of men and nations are measured. The International War
Crimes Trials held at Nuremberg after the war were supposed to have
been based upon the premise that there were norms by which the Nazis
could be held to account. Unfortunately, the outcome of the trials
demonstrated that, if such norms exist, there is little or no penalty for
their violation. And, norms that can freely be violated are as good as none
at all.
As we have noted, the verdicts in the war crimes trials tended to
become progressively more lenient as the cold war heated up, thus
indicating that extralegal considerations played an important part in what
was alleged to have been a judicial process. It can, however, be argued
that the extralegal considerations are evidence that the trials had nothing
to do with law.9 There was no common law binding both the Third
Reich and the Allies. The SS personnel were faithfully carrying out their
duties in accordance with the law of their country.
The Nuremberg trials were not a giant step forward in international
law. They were in all likelihood an elaborate exercise in national vengeance.
In ancient times it was not considered the function of the state
to punish private injury. The greatest deterrent against the would-be
aggressor was his calculation of the victim’s ability to avenge a wrong,
either alone or in concert with members of his family or tribe.10 The
ancient law of tribal vengeance may have been primitive but, in the
absence of any impartial public institution for meting out punishment, it
did serve to contain violence. The need for the Nuremberg trials arose out
of a similar situation: there was no disinterested supranational institution
that could enact and enforce laws binding on sovereign states. The
situation between sovereign states is not unlike that which in ancient
times led to the law of tribal vengeance. The power to injure remains
the most credible deterrent to a would-be aggressor’s violence. At
Nuremberg the Allies avenged wrongs done to themselves and their
clients. Those who had the power could avenge. The Jews had no power
and the interest of the Allies in acting on their behalf diminished
radically as West German military cooperation against the Soviet bloc
assumed importance.
By the same logic, the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1961 can
be seen as a symbolic act of vengeance by the Israeli government that
had neither the power nor the interest to hunt down every last
participant in the extermination project but wanted to use Eichmann as
a surrogate for all those whom it could not punish.11 Some may claim that
vengeance is indefensible in a world of evolving, higher moral
sensibilities, yet it is difficult to see what other deterrent can exist in a
world in which a legal system is binding within a state but never between
political communities.
The dreadful history of Europe’s Jews has demonstrated that rights
do not belong to men by nature. To the extent that men have rights, they
have them only as members of the polis, the political community, and
there is no polis or Christian commonwealth of nations. All that men
possess by nature is the necessity to participate in the incessant life and
death struggle for existence of any animal. Furthermore, unlike other
animals, men have no fixed instinctual structure that regulates their
behavior and limits their aggression against members of the same species.
Outside of the polis there are no inborn restraints on the human
exercise of destructive power.
When the Nazis sought to justify to themselves the extermination
project, they often used arguments from nature.12 They argued that in
nature it is the fate of the weak to perish. The Nazi argument rested upon
the accurate perception that no political order upheld the rights of their
victims or defined the relations between warring nations. In nature men
have the same rights as flies, mosquitoes or beasts of prey. The Nazis
emphasized this by using language that indicated that their victims had
been expelled from the human world of politics and condemned at best to
the status of beasts of burden.
When men and women reflect on the theological significance of
Auschwitz, they tend to reduce the issue to the problem of theodicy.
How, they ask, could the all-wise, all-powerful Lord of History have
permitted so great an evil? Undoubtedly, the question of God and
human evil is one of the most serious problems arising out of the
Holocaust.13 However, there are other issues of more immediate consequence.
To the best of my knowledge, no theologian has attempted to
deal with the problems implicit in the fact that the Nazis probably
committed no crime at Auschwitz. The natural temptation of theologians
would be to assert the existence of either a natural or a God-ordained law
binding upon all men and nations in terms of which the Holocaust can be
judged. Unfortunately, even if it were possible to prove that such a law
exists, it is difficult to see what practical difference that would make in the
arena of contemporary politics.
Let us assume that such a law exists and that leaders of the major
religions could agree on its contents. What would be the penalties for
violating it and the means whereby it could be enforced? In an earlier
age, men and women genuinely stood in awe of the punitive wrath of
divinity, but is this any longer true? Does not the Holocaust demonstrate that
there are absolutely no limits to the degradation and assault the
managers and technicians of violence can inflict upon men and women
who lack the power of effective resistance? If there is a law that is devoid of
all penalty when violated, does it have any functional significance in terms
of human behavior? Is not a law which carries no penalties functionally
equivalent to no law at all? Even if it could be demonstrated that
it exists, can it not be safely ignored? We are sadly forced to conclude
that we live in a world that is functionally godless and that human rights
and dignity depend upon the power of one’s community to grant or
withhold them from its members.
Thus, the Holocaust bears witness to the advance of civilization, I
repeat, to the advance of civilization, to the point at which large scale
massacre is no longer a crime and the state’s sovereign powers are such
that millions can be stripped of their rights and condemned to the world of
the living dead. Thus, the process of secularization ends where it began.
In the beginning secularization involved the demystification of and the
limitation of the sovereign’s power. In the end, the secular state has
dethroned all mystifications of power and morality save its own. The state
becomes the only true god on earth with the power to define
realistically what is good and will be rewarded and what is evil and
will be punished; this truly sovereign god also has the ultimate power of
divinity, the power to decide who shall live and who shall die. No
cold-blooded contemporary David need worry about a modern Nathan the
prophet proclaiming the ultimacy of God’s law. That day is over, never
to return, unless some apocalyptic catastrophe destroys Western
civilization as we know it and compels mankind to begin again out of the
nuclear ruins. This does not mean that the sovereign can not be
limited; he can, but only by the laws of men acting in concert, at best a
tenuous guarantee of a humane society. Fortunately, the American
political system has insisted until now upon limitations on the chief
executive’s power. And, it is a good thing. Otherwise, there might be
no limit to the tyrannies a modern ruler might inflict upon those whom he
Similarly, if it is no crime for a state to exterminate its citizens or
subject peoples, it is also no crime to inflict upon them the kind of
slavery the Nazis inflicted upon the camp inmates. This fact was as clearly
understood by the Bolsheviks as by the Nazis. Both the Nazis and the
Bolsheviks under Stalin have demonstrated that a properly organized
modern state can inflict total domination upon any segment of its
population it chooses. Unfortunately, there are no categories arising out
of traditional political, religious, or ethical norms with which such problems
can realistically be confronted. It is, of course, possible to reiterate
traditional affirmations about the innate dignity of human beings, but the
existence of bureaucratically administered societies of total domination is
the most compelling empirical refutation of all such claims. In the face of
the new forms of domination, assertions about innate human dignity are
either false or meaningless.
Nor is it likely that an uncritical attempt to return to the Judeo-
Christian tradition will yield a credible reaffirmation of the humanistic
values that have been dissolved by the all-conquering rationality of modern
political and economic structures. On the contrary, the Judeo-
Christian tradition is itself part of the problem. If it is possible to suggest an
analogy from psychology, just as depth psychology was able to expose the
ineradicable dark side of human personality even in those situations in
which men appear most loving and altruistic, so the world of the death camps
and the society it engenders reveals the progressively intensifying night
side of Judeo-Christian civilization. Civilization means slavery, wars,
exploitation, and death camps. It also means medical hygiene, elevated
religious ideals, beautiful art, and exquisite music. It is an error to imagine
that civilization and savage cruelty are antitheses. On the contrary, in
every organic process, the antitheses always reflect a unified totality,
and civilization is an organic process. Mankind never emerged out of
savagery into civilization. Mankind moved from one type of civilization
involving its distinctive modes of both sanctity and inhumanity to
another. In our times the cruelties, like most other aspects of our world,
have become far more effectively administered than ever before.
They have not and they will not cease to exist. Both creation and
destruction are inseparable aspects of what we call civilization.
Even, nay especially, religion has its night side. Thus, we have offered
the hypothesis that the secularization process that led to bureaucracy,
capitalism, and the society of total domination was the outcome of the
biblical tradition. Without that tradition, or at least the ethos it engendered,
it is likely that neither fully rationalized bureaucracy nor the
death camps would have developed. Nor can we ignore the biblical roots of
the hideous Nazi caricature of the Chosen People doctrine, the claim that
pure-blooded Germans are a Herrenvolk, a master race, destined to rule,
enslave or exterminate non-Germans. It is fashionable to see anticipations
of Nazi anti-Semitism in Germany’s greatest religious figure, Martin
Luther, but it is seldom acknowledged that Luther’s intolerance and
hatred was thoroughly biblical in its rejection of those who do not
maintain whatever is construed to be fidelity to the only true word of the
Lord. All this is a part of the night side of religion. What makes the
problem so serious is that there is no escape from the self-defeating ethos
of exclusivism and intolerance we have described as long as our fundamental
culture is derived from a religious tradition that insists upon the,
dichotomous division of mankind into the elect and the reprobate. And
there is only one way in which the Judeo-Christian tradition in its
secularized if not its religious forms could be overcome: a mammoth worldwide
catastrophe in which hundreds of millions of human beings are
destroyed and civilization as we know it disappears among the
crazed, frightened survivors. Such a scenario is plausible; we have the
weaponry to bring it about. Unfortunately, the traumatic cure of the
illness we call Judeo-Christian civilization would prove infinitely worse
than the disease itself.
The illness we call Judeo-Christian civilization? Perhaps it is well, before
we conclude, to recall some ancient and modern myths about the origins of
civilization. The liberal-humanist tradition of faith in the upward march
of civilization flies in the face of what some of the greatest mythmakers
of the western world have told us about ourselves and our
culture. In the Judeo-Christian tradition itself, the human order is depicted
as beginning with an act of primal disobedience on the part of the original
progenitor of the race. Dwelling effortlessly in Paradise, Adam cannot rest
content with a world that requires neither cleverness nor organizational
intelligence to yield all that he wishes. What he is and what he possesses
in original innocence is not sufficient for him. The consequences of
Adam’s Fall are the beginnings of history and culture.
Whatever its limitations, the Judeo-Christian tradition understood that, far
from being an achievement, civilization requires a savior to extricate
mankind from its consequences.
Sigmund Freud’s myth is equally pessimistic about civilization. The
brothers of the original proto-human horde cannot restrain their envy of their
tyrannical father and, most especially, his sexual prerogatives. They want his
position of dominance and the women that go with it. They murder him to get
both. The system of undoing they create to alleviate their feelings of guilt is
for Freud the beginning of our morality, religion, and culture. We are all,
according to Freud, the heirs of the guilt-ridden fraternity of murderers. In
each generation we are tempted to repeat their parricide; in each
generation we are afflicted by their guilt. And the ineradicable guilt, far
from rendering us contrite, drives us on to ever greater excesses.14
Hegel’s myth of the origin of civilization, the dialectic of the master and
the slave, is a tale of combat and domination. Two self-consciousnesses
meet. Each sees the other as a threat. A life and death struggle ensues in
which one fears for his life and chooses to submit to the other. He prefers life
as a slave to no life whatsoever. The victor becomes the master because of
his greater capacity for violence and his indifference to whether he lives or
dies. Thus, according to Hegel, arises the first human community in which
“we” can be spoken. It is founded upon domination, exploitation, and
smoldering resentment. Henceforth, the slave awaits his hour to turn the
tables. And the beginning of things, the life and death struggle for
dominance, reveals their nature thereafter.15 All three myths are in
accord with our fundamental thesis: Twentieth century bureaucratized
violence in all of its manifestations is an expression of contemporary
Western civilization rather than a rebellion against it.
Perhaps it was no accident that the most highly urbanized people in the
Western world, the Jews, were the first to perish in the ultimate city of
Western civilization, Necropolis, the new city of the dead that the Germans
built and maintained at Auschwitz. Auschwitz was perhaps the terminal
expression of an urban culture that first arose when an ancient
proto-bourgeoisie liberated its work life from the haphazard, unpredictable,
and seasonable character of agriculture and sustained itself by work
which was, in the words of Max Weber, “continuous and rational.” In the
beginning, removed from immediate involvement in “the vital realities of
nature,” the city was the habitat of the potter, the weaver, the
carpenter, and the scribe; in the end, it houses the police bureaucrat and
his corporate counterpart coldly and methodically presiding over the city of
the dead.
There is always the danger that Metropolis will become Necropolis.
The city is by nature antinature, antiphysis, and, hence, antilife. The
world of the city, our world, is the world of human invention and power; it is
also the world of artifice, dreams, charades, and the paper promises we
call money. But even the richest and most powerful city can only survive
as long as the umbilical cord to the countryside is not cut. Whenever
men build cities, they take the chance that their nurturing lifeline to the
countryside may someday be severed, as indeed it was in wartime
Poland. One of the most frightful images of the death of civilization
envisages a time when the city, deprived of the countryside’s surplus food
and bloated by the countryside’s surplus people, feeds upon its own everdiminishing
self and finally collapses. The starving inmates of Auschwitz,
consuming their own substance until they wasted away into nothingness,
may offer a prophetic image of urban civilization at the end of its journey
from the countryside to Necropolis. Could it be that as the Jews were
among the countryside’s first exiles and among the pioneer inhabitants of
Metropolis, so too they were among the first citizens of Necropolis, but
that, unless current economic, social, and demographic trends are
somehow reversed, there will be other citizens of the city of the dead,
many others?
In conclusion, I would like to share with my readers some
reflections on the political philosophy that undergirds this essay. This
book is the result of one political conservative’s attempt to reassess his
views on politics and society in the aftermath of Watergate and the Nixon
presidency. Hence, a word about political conservatism may be in order.
Such a philosophy ought not to be equated with the defense of special
privilege or the unrestricted acquisition of scarce resources by the few at the
expense of the many. On the contrary, a genuine conservative would
insist upon the responsibility of government to defend the public interest
when it clearly conflicts with dominant private interests as well as
impartially to reconcile the conflicting private interests within the body
politic. It would also seem that a responsible conservative government
would seek to mitigate rather than to exacerbate the worst inequities of
condition and status within society. Such a government would not
regard with unconcern the relentless growth of radical inequality in
financial condition among its citizens. Furthermore, a genuine conservative
government would defend the integrity of the political process and
would recognize the difference between the political process and civil
war. It is a very ancient tradition that in the political arena issues are
to be decided by words and persuasion rather than by violence, bureaucratically
administered terror, or the purchase of special advantage by
either direct or indirect means.
Above all, a genuinely conservative government would seek to protect
every citizen willing and able to work from the threat of economic
redundancy. It is absurd to pretend that government has a responsibility to
protect its citizens from theft and physical assault but has no responsibility
to defend them from the infinitely greater violence perpetrated, often
mindlessly, by institutions and policies that render millions of human
beings literally useless. There is no private right or privilege that ought to
be permitted to subvert the right of every person to a place of dignity
and social utility within his or her community.
Much of this book has dealt with the fate of those who were rendered
politically or economically redundant in the earlier decades of this century.
Their story is one of the most terrible in the annals of the race. In a
time of diminishing affluence and increasing mass unemployment, their
story may carry a warning concerning our own future. The history of the
twentieth century has taught us that people who are rendered permanently
superfluous are eventually condemned to segregated precincts of the
living dead or are exterminated outright. No genuine conservative could
possibly defend policies or institutions that condemn an evermultiplying
number of people to such a fate. Such policies are recipes for
unmitigated disaster. Before it is too late—and the hour is very late
indeed—conservatives must distinguish themselves from defenders of
selfish, anti-social privilege. They must also reflect upon the revolutionary
and destabilizing impact of current rends in our economic system upon a
growing number of our own population: Can any nation afford the
unhindered functioning of a system that mindlessly produces an everenlarging
pariah underclass of superfluous men and women who cannot be
reached by the normal incentives and penalties of the established
order? Lacking alternative means of controlling an underclass devoid of
hope, is it realistic to expect that even a greatly enlarged police
establishment, the state’s instrument of violence against its own deviant
citizens, will be able to contain the spreading social pathology such an
underclass inevitably breeds? Is there not something profoundly wrong
with a system in which political leaders look forward to a time when only five
or six million members of the national work force will be condemned to
permanent worklessness? Is there not a measure of madness in a
system of technological rationality that first produces masses of surplus
people and then holds forth extermination as the most “rational” and
practical solution of the social problems they pose?
I wish to express my especial indebtedness to Raul Hilberg whose
indispensable and magisterial work, The Destruction of the European
Jews, contributed more to making this book possible than the work of any
other scholar. Those acquainted with the literature on the Holocaust will
recognize the extent of my indebtedness to Hilberg, a debt I
acknowledge with much gratitude.
1. Max Weber, “Politics as a Vocation,” in From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology,
trans. and ed. H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1946), p. 78.
2. See Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews (Chicago: Quadrangle
Books, 1967), pp. 31, 43ff. Hilberg’s book is the most comprehensive and
balanced overview of the subject currently available. For a discussion of
the role of bureaucracy in the definition of Jew and non-Jew in the
Netherlands, see Jacob Presser, The Destruction of the Dutch Jews, trans.
Arnold Pomerans (New York: Dutton, 1969), pp. 16 ff. For the text of
“The First Ordinance to the Reich Citizenship Law,” which was part of
the so-called Nuremberg laws and which was the first German attempt
legally to define a Jew (Reichsgesetzblatt [Reich Legal Gazette] 1935, I,
1333, enacted November 14, 1935), see Hilberg, Documents of Destruction:
Germany and Jewry (Chicago: Quadrangle, 1971), pp. 18 ff.
3. Hilberg, The Destruction, pp. 31-39.
4. Ibid., p. 8.
5. The works on the roots of German anti-Semitism are exceedingly numerous.
Among those of special relevance to the question of the origins of the death
camps, see Hilberg, The Destruction, pp. 18ff.; Richard L. Rubenstein, After
Auschwitz (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1966), pp. 1-44; Leon Poliakov, Harvest
of Hate (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1954); Jules Isaac, The Teaching of
Contempt: Christian Roots of Anti-Semitism, trans. Helen Weaver (New York:
Holt, Rhinehart and Winston, 1969; Rudolph M. Loewenstein, Christians and
Jews: A Psychoanalytic Study (New York: International Universities Press, 1951);
Malcolm Hay, Europe and the Jews: The Pressure of Christendom on the People of Israel for 1900
Years (Boston: Beacon Press, 1960); Franklin H. Littel, The Crucifixion of the Jews
(New York: Harper & Row, 1974), pp. 24-43.
6. Gil Eliot, Twentieth Century Book of the Dead (New York: Scribner, 1972), pp. 41,
94, 124.
7. On Goebbels, see Louis P. Lochner, ed., The Goebbels Diaries 1942-43 (Garden
City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1948), pp. 147-48; Roger Manvell and Heinrich
Fraenkel, Dr. Goebbels: His Life and Death (New York: Simon and Schuster,
1960), pp. 195ff. On Himmler, see Gerald Reitlinger, The SS, Alibi of a
Nation (New York: Putnam, 1968), p. 278. Reitlinger quotes extensively from
Himmler’s speech to SS officers in .Posen, October 4, 1943 (Nuremberg
Document PS-1918). See also Hilberg, The Destruction, p. 266; Roger Manvell
and Heinrich Fraenkel, Himmler (New York: Putnam, 1965), pp. 131 ff.; Willi
Frischauer, Himmler: The Evil Genius of the Third Reich (London: Odhams,
1953), pp. 148ff.
8. One of the most unfortunate legacies of the sixties has been the overly facile way
in which terms such as genocide have been confused with the use of violence in
wartime. As hideous as modern warfare may be, there is a difference between
the use of even outrageous violence to compel the surrender of an enemy
and the Nazi program of the systematic extermination of conquered peoples
after they had surrendered.
9. Eliot, Twentieth Century, pp. 211-34.
10. Ibid., pp. 23, 218; see also Encyclopedia Britannica, (Chicago: 1962), s.v. “World
War I.”
11. For an account of Verdun, see Alistair Horne, The Price of Glory: Verdun, 1916
(New York: Harper & Row, 1967), p. 36. Of particular interest is a
memorandum by von Falkenhayn to the Kaiser written in December
1915 in which von Falkenhayn argues for a strategy by which “the forces of
France will bleed to death.” For a bitter account of the slaughter by a German
soldier, see William Hermanns, The Holocaust: From a Survivor of Verdun (New
York: Harper & Row, 1972), p. 1. Young Germans marched off to war
singing. “Siegreich wollen wir Frankreich schlagen, sterben als ein tapferer Held”
(Victoriously we will crush France and die as brave heroes).
12. For a recent account of the Battle of the Somme, see Martin Middlebrook,
The First Day on the Somme (New York: Norton, 1972). Middlebrook
numbers the casualties of both sides as 1,300,000. He is less critical of Haig
than many of Haig’s other detractors. Those who defend Haig tend to
assert that the British offensive at the Somme relieved pressure on the
French at Verdun and thus made it possible for the French to remain in
the war. See also Major-General Sir John Davidson, K.C.M.G., C.B.,
D.S.O., director of operations in France, 1916-1918, Haig: Master of the Field
(London: P. Nevill, 1953) for a spirited defense of Haig. For Haig’s own
evaluation of the results, see The Private Papers of Douglas Haig 1914-1918, ed.
Robert Blake (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1952), p. 157. Although
Haig could issue the orders that were to result in so many deaths, his son
reports that “he felt it was his duty to refrain from visiting the casualty
clearing stations because these visits made him physically ill.” It was
apparently easier to give impersonal commands than to confront their
very human consequences. See The Private Papers, p. 9. One of Haig’s most
unremitting critics was Winston Churchill. See Churchill, The World Crisis,
rev. ed. (London: Odhams, 1938), pp. 950-73, 1070-93. Haig was
awarded the field marshall’s baton on January 3, 1917 after the battle.
13. “In all biological populations there are innate devices to adjust population
growth to the carrying capacity of the environment. Undoubtedly, some
such device exists in man.” Norman E. Borlaug, “The Green Revolution,
Peace and Humility,” Speech on accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, 1970,
in Population: A Clash of Prophets, ed. Edward Pohlman (New York: New
American Library, 1973), p. 241.
14. Order by Hitler, September 1, 1939, Nuremberg Document PS-710, cited
by Hilberg, The Destruction, p. 561. See also Hannah Arendt, The Origins of
Totalitarianism (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1951), pp. 45f. Nora Levin, The
Holocaust: The Destruction of European Jewry 1933-1945 (New York: Schocken,
1973), pp. 301-316. Helmut Krausnick and Martin Broszat, Anatomy of
the SS State, trans. Dorothy Long and Marian Jackson (London: Paladin,
1968), pp. 112-13.
15. Lochner, The Goebbels Diaries, p. 148, and Arendt, The Origins, p. 349.
16. Lochner, The Goebbels Diaries, p. 29.
17. Eliot, Twentieth Century, p. 29.
18. For an informed discussion of the Turkish slaughter of the Armenians as a
distinctively modern exercise in mass violence, see Michael Arlen, “Passage to
Arafat,” New Yorker, February 3, 10, 17, 1975. Part 3 (February 17) is
especially relevant.
19. Eliot, Twentieth Century, pp. 211 ff.
20. Maxim Gorky, The Russian Peasant (in Russian, Berlin: 1922), cited by Adam
Ulam, Lenin and the Bolsheviks: The Intellectual and Political History of the Triumph of
Communism in Russia (London: Fontana, 1969), p. 589.
21. Arendt, The Origins, p. 275. On the treaties, see Pablo De Azcarate, League of
Nations and National Minorities (Washington: Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace, 1945), and Oscar Janowsky, The Jews and Minority Rights
1898-1919 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1933), pp. 321390.
22. Arendt, The Origins, p. 275.
23. Arendt, Ibid., p. 279. See also Sir John F. Williams, “Denationalisation,” in
British Year Book of International Law, 1927. On statelessness and
denaturalization, see John Hope Simpson, The Refugee Problem (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1939).
24. The Spanish Republican army veterans were interned at camps at Argelessur-
Mer and Cyprien. James G. MacDonald, Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago:
1962), s.v. “Refugees.”
25. See Martin Broszat, “The Concentration Camps 1933-45” in Krausnick and
Broszat, Anatomy of the SS State, pp. 144 ff.
26. Eliot, Twentieth Century, pp. 187 ff.
27. The Evian conference (1938) on the refugee problem and the Bermuda
conference (1943) are discussed by Arthur D. Morse, While Six Million Died:
A Chronicle of American Apathy (New York: Random House, 1967), pp. 36-57,
28. Alexander Weissberg, Desperate Mission: Joel Brand’s Story, trans. Constantine
FitzGibbon and Andrew Foster-Mellior (New York: Criterion, 1958), pp.
29. This is the opinion of Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the
Banality of Evil (New York: Viking, 1963), p. 77. At his trial in Jerusalem,
Eichmann admitted that, in any event, extermination was the “final goal.”
See also Nora Levin, The Holocaust, p. 203 and Hilberg, The Destruction, pp. 258-
30. Ribbentrop to Hitler, December 9, 1938, “Documents on German Foreign
Policy 1918-1945,” Series D, vol. 4, The Aftermath of Munich, 1938-39
(Washington: 1951), pp. 481 f., cited by Hilberg, p. 259.
31. Lochner, The GoebbeLs Diaries, p. 241. For a detailed description of th e policies
of the Roosevelt administration with regard to the problem of the Jewish
refugees, see Morse, While Six Million Died. For documents concerning British
efforts, to prevent the entry of Jewish refugees into Palestine, see Leni Yahil,
“Select British Documents on the Illegal Immigration to Palestine (1939-
1940),” Yad Vashem Studies (Jerusalem: 1974), 10: 241-76.
32. Al Carthill (Bennett Christian Huntington Calcraft Kennedy), The Lost
Dominion (Edinburgh and London: W. Blackwood, 1924), pp. 93 ff. and
Arendt, The Origins, pp. 210-12, 216, 221.
33. Hilberg, The Destruction, p. 771.
1. Weber “Bureaucracy” in Gerth and Mills, From Max Weber, pp. 215-16.
2. Ibid., p. 214.
3. For Weber’s discussion of his use of ideal types, see Weber, “Religious Rejections
of the World and their Directions” in Gerth and Mills, From, Max Weber, pp.
323-24. For a further discussion of Weber’s use of ideal types, see Talcott
Parsons, Introduction to Max Weber, The Sociology of Religion, trans. Ephraim
Fischoff (Boston: Beacon, 1963), pp. lxv f. Reinhard Bendix, Max Weber: An
Intellectual Portrait, (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1960), pp. 278 ff. Julien
Freund, The Sociology of Max Weber, trans. Mary Ilford (New York: Pantheon,
1970), pp. 59-71.
4. The root of Himmler’s behavior is succinctly characterized by Manvell and
Fraenkel, Himmler, p. 183: “Himmler was a man of violence, not by nature, but by
conviction.” For a description of Himmler’s reaction to actual killing, see
Hilberg, The Destruction, pp. 218 f.
5. Perhaps the best known example of this is Himmler’s speech to SS officers in
Posen, October 4, 1943 (Nuremberg Document PS-1918). The speech is
printed in Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression, 10 vols. (Washington: 1946-48),4: 558-
78. The theme of overcoming the difficulty involved in the work of
extermination is also expressed by Himmler in his May, 1944 speech to the
Nazi Gauleiters; see Manvell and Fraenkel, The Incomparable Crime (New York:
Putnam, 1967), pp. 43 f.
6. Broszat, “The Concentration Camps” in Krausnick and Broszat, Anatomy, pp.
165 ff.
7. Ibid., pp. 165 ff.
8. Ibid., p. 179.
9. Arendt, The Origins, p. 449.
10. Hilberg, The Destruction, p. 235; see also pp. 101 ff.
11. Helmut Krausnick, “The Persecution of the Jews” in Krausnick and Broszat,
Anatomy, pp. 57 ff.; Hilberg, The Destruction, pp. 23-30. The view that Goebbels
was the instigator is not universally held. Nora Levin places the responsibility
on Heydrich in The Holocaust, pp. 80 ff. Albert Speer, however, insists that
Goebbels was responsible: See Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich, trans. Richard
and Clara Winston (New York: Macmillan, 1970), p. 112.
12. Hilberg, The Destruction, pp. 23-30.
13. Ibid.
14. Ibid.
15. Nuremberg Document NG-1672, cited by Hilberg, The Destruction, p. 29. 16.
Peter Berger, The Sacred Canopy. (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1967), p.
17. Max Weber, “Science as a Vocation” in Gerth and Mills, From Max Weber, p. 139.
18. Max Weber, “The Sociology of the World Religions” in Gerth and Mills,
From Max Weber, p. 293.
19. Berger, Sacred Canopy, pp. 99, 116, 118.
20. The thesis that the “systematic rationalization of means and ends in the
spheres of conduct and belief” is in large measure a consequence of the
cultural ethos engendered by that form of Protestantism known as Puritanism,
especially Calvinism, is, of course, Weber’s. For an informed and sophisticated
defense of the Weber thesis, see Benjamin Nelson, “Weber’s Protestant
Ethic: Its Origins, Wanderings, and Foreseeable Future” in Beyond the
Classics? Essays in the Scientific Study of Religion, ed. Charles Y. Glock and Phillip
E. Hammond (New York: Harper and Row, 1973), pp. 70-130. For a
discussion of the central importance of the biblical doctrine of a
supramundane God for the development of rational capitalism in Weber’s
thought, see David Little, Religion, Order and Law: A Study in Pre-Revolutionary
England (New York: Harper and Row, 1969), pp. 6-32.
21. Berger, Sacred Canopy, p. 121.
22. Ibid., p. 124.
23. Fundamental to the view presented here is the paradoxical conviction that it
has been the destiny of biblical religion to negate itself in ever-widening domains of human
activity. The observations of Karl Löwith are especially
relevant: “Philosophical criticism of the Christian religion began in the
nineteenth century with Hegel and reached its climax with Nietzsche. It is a
Protestant movement, and therefore specifically German … Our critical philosophers were
all theologically educated Protestants, and their criticism of Christianity presupposes its
Protestant manifestations.” (Italics added) According to Löwith, Hegel “translates”
the forms of religion, which belong properly speaking to the imagination, into
the conceptualization of reason, but “the historical consequence of Hegel’s
ambiguous ‘translation’ was an absolute destruction of Christian philosophy and of the
Christian religion.” The important point in Löwith’s analysis for our purposes is
that Hegel’s “destruction” takes place within the Protestant tradition and is the
spiritual work of an insider. See Karl Löwith, From Hegel to Nietzsche: The Revolution
in Nineteenth-Century Thought, trans. David E. Green (New York: Holt,
Rhinehart and Winston, 1964), pp. 327-33. See also Löwith, “The Historical
Background of European Nihilism” and “Hegel and the Christian Religion” in
Karl Löwith, Nature, History and Existentialism and Other Essays in the Philosophy of
Religion, ed. Arnold Levison (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1966),
pp. 10 f., 162-203.
According to Alexander Kojève, Hegel maintained that the realization of the
true content of Christianity is radical atheism and human autonomy devoid of
any opposing transcendence. See Alexandre Kojève, Introduction to the Reading of
Hegel: Lectures on the Phenomenology of the Spirit, ed. Allan Bloom, trans. James H.
Nichols, Jr., (New York: Basic Books, 1969), pp. 66-70. Hegel thus saw the
secularization process as a dialectical consequence of Christianity long before
contemporary sociologists of religion made the same point in their discipline.
See Thomas Luckmann, The Invisible Religion (New York: Macmillan, 1967), pp.
22 ff. and John Murray Cuddihy, The Ordeal of Civility: Freud, Marx, Levi-Strauss,
and the Jewish Struggle with Modernity, (New York: Basic Books, 1974), pp. 312, 225-
38. The Christian roots of radical secularity have been given theological
expression in the writings of Thomas J. J. Altizer; see especially Thomas J. J.
Altizer, The Descent into Hell: A Study of the Radical Reversal of the Christian
Consciousness (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1970).
24. This is the view of Emil L. Fackenheim. See Emil Fackenheim, Encounters
Between Judaism and Modern Philosophy: A Preface to Future Jewish Thought (New York:
Basic Books, 1973), pp. 157, 192-95. For a rejoinder, see Richard L. Rubenstein,
“The Radical Monotheism of Emil Fackenheim” Soundings, Summer, 1974.
25. An enumeration of the denaturalization decrees is to be found in John Hope
Simpson, The Refugee Problem, pp. 231-39.
26. The cancellation of naturalizations was enacted on July 14, 1933. The provision
for the cancellation of citizenship of those residing abroad was enacted on July
26, 1933. See Simpson, The Refugee Problem, p. 234.
27. Hilberg, The Destruction, p. 301.
28. Thierack to Bormann, Nuremberg Document, NG-558, cited by Hilberg,
The Destruction, p. 296.
1. See David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (Ithaca, N.Y.,
Cornell University Press, 1966), p. 273.
2. Stanley M. Elkins, Slavery: A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1959) and Frank Tannenbaum, Slaves
and Citizen: The Negro in the Americas (New York: Knopf, 1947).
3. Elkins, Slavery, pp. 68-71, 73f.
4. Ibid., pp. 65-67.
5. The tendency of hierocratic orders to develop a non-rational economic ethic and
to oppose other centers of power fostering a rational ethic (e. g. the
bourgeoisie) is discussed by Max Weber, Economy and Society: An Outline of
Interpretive Sociology, ed. Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich (New York:
Bedminster, 1968), 3: 1185 ff. On the political and social impotence of the
antebellum Southern church, see Elkins, Slavery, p. 61.
6. Elkins, Slavery, pp. 52-80.
7. Davis, The Problem of Slavery, pp. 253 ff. The scholarly responses to the Elkins’
thesis have shown how difficult it is to generalize about the differences
between slavery in North and South America or, for that matter, within
either continent. See Sidney W. Mintz, “Review of Stanley M. Elkins’
Slavery,” American Anthropologist, LXIII, June 1961, pp. 579-87; Arnold Sio,
“The Slave Status in the Americas” in Slavery in the New World, ed. Laura
Foner and Eugene D. Genovese (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall,
1969), pp. 96-112; Eugene D. Genovese, “The Treatment of Slaves in
Different Countries: Problems in the Application of the Comparative
Method” in Foner and Genovese, op. cit., pp. 202-10; Eugene D. Genovese,
“Materialism and Idealism in the History of Negro Slavery in the Americas”
in Foner and Genovese, op. cit., pp. 238-55.
8. Thus, when it was more economical to work slaves to death than to keep them
in good health, as was the case in the mines of Brazil and some of the
plantations of the West Indies, “there was little incentive to improve
conditions or limit hours of work.” Davis, The Problem of Slavery, p. 258.
9. Davis, The Problem of Slavery, pp. 282 ff; see also Elkins, Slavery, p. 57. 10. Elkins,
Slavery, pp. 98-139.
11. Davis, The Problem of Slavery, p. 23; see Tannenbaum, Slave and Citizen, pp. 31 f.
12. Eugene D. Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made (New York:
Pantheon, 1974), p. 57.
13. “The slaves, by accepting a paternalistic class rule, developed their most
powerful defense against the dehumanization implicit in slavery.” Eugene D.
Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll, p. 7, see pp. 3-7; see also Eugene D. Genovese, The
World the Slaveholders Made (New York Pantheon, 1969), pp. 98 f. for a
discussion of factors making for the humane treatment of the slaves in the
South. The same topic is discussed by Genovese in greater detail in Roll,
Jordan, Roll, especially pp. 49-75.
14. Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll, pp. 41 f.
15. Jürgen Kuczynski quotes Senator Martin Griffin of Massachusetts in a report to
the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee dated April 29, 1865: “The result of the
prosperity of which we boast … has a tendency to make the working man little
else than a machine…. in the language of one of the witnesses, ‘than a slave:
for,’ he added, ‘we are slaves; overworked, worn out and enfeebled by toil; with
no time left for improvement of mind or soul.” Jürgen Kuczynski, The Rise of the
Working Class, trans. C.T.A. Roy (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967), p. 181.
16. Kuczynski, Working Class, p. 181.
17. Hilberg, The Destruction, pp. 332-45.
18. Davis, The Problem of Slavery, p. 76.
18a. The classic description of working class life in England in the 1840s is, of
course, Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working-Class in England (1845)
(Moscow: Progess Publishers, 1973). Engels’ work offers a glimpse of the hell
created by the industrial revolution. The anal character of the hell was
graphically described by Engels long before Freud and Norman 0. Brown.
Stephen Marcus has written about England’s urban poor of the period:
“millions of English men and women were virtually living in shit. … Thus
generations of human beings, out of whose lives the wealth of England was
produced, were compelled to live in wealth’s symbolic, negative counterpart.”
Stephen Marcus, Engels, Manchester and the Working Class (New York: Random
House, 1974), pp. 184 f. See Eric Hobsbawn, The Age of Revolution (Cleveland:
World, 1962), pp. 205-8; for a discussion of the degraded condition of England’s
agricultural workers at the inception of the industrial revolution, see Eric
Hobsawn and George Rude, Captain Swing (New York: Pantheon, 1968), pp. 51
19. It is difficult to calculate the loss in lives exacted by the slave trade. “All figures
are estimates, but it has been said that about one third of the Negroes taken
from their homes died on the way to the coast and at embarkation
stations, and that another third died crossing the ocean and in the
seasoning, so that only one third finally survived to become the laborers and
colonizers of the New World.” Frank Tennenbaum, Slaves and Citizens, pp. 28
f.; see Elkins, Slavery, pp. 98 ff.
20. Davis, The Problem of Slavery, p. 258.
21. Eugene D. Genovese, The Political Economy of Slavery: Studies in the Economy and
Society of the Slave South (New York: Pantheon, 1961), pp. 243-74, especially p.
22. Tannenbaum, Slaves and Citizens, pp. 65-71, 104-10; Davis, The Problem of Slavery,
pp. 70-74, 289-301.
23. “The colored slave woman became the medium through which two great races
were united.” W.E.B. Du Bois, The Gift of the Black Folk: The Negroes in the
Making of America (Boston: The Stratford Company, 1924), p. 146. Cited by
Genovese in his discussion of miscegenation in Roll, Jordan, Roll, pp. 413-31; see
Kenneth M. Stampp, The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South (New
York: Knopf, 1956), pp. 350-61.
24. Hilberg, The Destruction, p. 578.
25. Ibid., p. 249.
26. Ibid., pp. 177-256.
27. Hilberg, The Destruction, pp. 218 f., 565 ff. Reitlinger, The SS: Alibi of A
Nation 1922-1945, pp. 281-88
28. Hilberg, The Destruction, pp. 556 ff.
1. Hilberg, The Destruction, p. 603.
2. Ibid., p. 608.
3. Hilberg, The Destruction, p. 608; see Manvell and Fraenkel Himmler, pp. 50, 111-
12 and Frischauer, Himmler, pp. 95-97.
4. “Partly Jewish is anyone who is descended from one or two grandparents who
are fully Jewish by race…. A grandparent is to be considered as fully Jewish if
he belonged to the Jewish religious community.” Article 2 of the First
Ordinance to the Reich Citizenship Law, November 14, 1935,
Reichsgesetzblatt 1935, I, 1333, in Hilberg, Documents of Destruction, pp. 19f.
5. Hilberg, The Destruction, p. 273.
6. Frischauer, Himmler, pp. 183 f.
7. Frischauer, Himmler, p. 184; Hilberg, The Destruction, pp. 605 f. When Clauberg
returned to Germany in 1951 after having been a prisoner of war in Russia, he
told reporters that he had finally perfected a simplified method of sterilization
and that he was looking forward to its application in “special cases”. “Nazi
Camp Doctor Back In Germany”, New York Times, October 18, 1955, p. 10.
Cited by Hilberg, The Destruction, p. 609.
8. Frischauer, Himmler, p. 184; Hilberg, The Destruction, p. 606.
9. Hilberg, The Destruction, p. 607.
10. Jessica Mitford, Kind and Usual Treatment: The Prison Business (New York: Knopf,
1973), pp. 138-68. On the syphilis experiments, see S. Hiltner, “Tuskeegee
Syphilis Study Under Review,” Christian Century, Nov. 28, 1973; J. Slater,
“Condemned to Die for Science: Tuskeegee Study,” Ebony , Nov. 1972;
“Convicts as Guinea Pigs,” Time, March 19, 1973. On the question of the use
and abuse of prisoners for drug company sponsored experiments, see also
“Experiments Behind Bars: Doctors, Drug Companies and Prisoners”,
Atlantic, May 1973; Carl Rogers, “Clockwork Orange in California,” Christian
Century, October 31, 1973.
11. Stampp, The Peculiar Institution, pp. 8-9; Elkins, Slavery, p. 61. Genovese sees the
racism of the slaveholders as a rationalization of their policies rather than as a
cause. Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll, p. 58.
12. “A Well Meaning Act,” Newsweek, July 16, 1973, pp. 26-31; Richard F. Babcock,
Jr., “Sterilization: Coercing Consent,” Nation, January 12, 1974. In 1971
seventeen states had laws providing for compulsory sterilization. “Sterilization:
Newest Threat to the Poor,” Ebony, October, 1973, pp. 150 ff.
13. Hilberg, The Destruction, pp. 601 f.
14. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “Manifesto of the Communist Party” in Marx
and Engels, Basic Writings on Politics and Philosophy ed. Lewis S. Feuer (Garden
City, N.Y.: Anchor, 1959), p. 9.
15. Weber, “Bureaucracy” in Gerth and Mills, From Max Weber, p. 223.
16. Marx and Engels, “Manifesto” in Basic Writings, p. 14. 17. Ibid.
18. See Arthur Redford and W.H. Chaloner, Labour Migration in England 1800-1850
(Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1964) (First edition: 1924).
Kuczynski, Working Class, pp. 140-84; Hobsbawm, The Age of the Revolution, pp.
19. For Marx, workers are not only “slaves” of the “bourgeois class” and the
“bourgeois state”, but of the very machines they themselves have produced.
Thus the workers are enslaved by their own product. See Marx and Engels
“Manifesto” in Basic Writings, p. 14. “The dominion of ‘dead’ objectified
labour over living labour steadily increases. Machinery thus magnifies
alienation.” Shlomo Avineri, The Social and Political Thought of Karl Marx
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968), p. 121.
20. “The labour movement was an organization of self-defence, of protest, of
revolution. But for the labouring poor it was more than a tool of struggle: it
was also a way of life.” Hobsbawm, The Age of Revolution, p. 214.
21. On von Weinberg, see Hilberg, The Destruction, pp. 58 f.
22. Hilberg, The Destruction, pp. 592f.
23. Hilberg, The Destruction, p. 751 n. Perhaps the technocratic attitude towards
slave labor was best expressed by an observation of Albert Speer: “my
obsessional fixation on production and output statistics blurred all
considerations and feelings of humanity. An American historian has said of me
that I loved machines more than people. He is not wrong…. the sight
of suffering people influenced only my emotions, but not my conduct. On the
plane of feelings only sentimentality emerged; in the realm of decisions on the
other hand, I continued to be ruled by the principles of utility.” Albert Speer,
Inside the Third Reich, p. 375.
24. Hilberg, The Destruction, p. 595 f.
25. Ibid.
26. Ibid., p. 596.
27. For the dreary story of corporate disloyalty, see George W. Stocking and
Myron W. Watkins, Cartels in Action: Studies in International Business Diplomacy
(New York: The Twentieth Century Fund, 1946), pp. 466-518; Guenter
Reimann, Patents for Hitler (New York: Vanguard, 1942); Richard Sasuly, 1G.
Farben, (New York: Boni and Gaer, 1947). I am indebted to Dr. Irving Sobel
and Dr. Jacob Simmons of the Department of Economics at Florida State
University for their assistance in coming to understand I.G. Farben’s cartel
arrangements with American corporations both before and during World
War II.
28. Sasuly, I .G. Farben, p. 126.
29. Hilberg, The Destruction, pp. 595 f.
30. Ibid., pp. 567-572.
31. Ibid., p. 571.
32. Ibid., p. 567 f.
33. Ibid., pp. 704-15. Hilberg has a very instructive list of the leading participants
in the extermination project and what happened to them after the war.
34. Adam Ulam, Lenin and the Bolsheviks, p. 583.
35. “Germanys Condemn U.S. On Executions,” New York Times, June 8,
1951, p. 5.
1. Quoted by Hilberg, The Destruction, p. 529.
2. Ibid., pp. 529 f.; Levin, The Holocaust, pp. 612 ff.; Randolph L. Braham, “What
Did They Know and When?” Working paper presented at International
Scholars Conference on the Holocaust—One Generation After,
sponsored by the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, New York, March 2-6,
1975; Hungarian-Jewish Studies, ed. Randolph L. Braham (New York: World
Federation of Hungarian Jews, 1966); Eugene Levai, Black Book on the
Martyrdom of Hungarian Jewry (Zurich and Vienna: 1948)
3. Levai, Black Book, p. 134.
4. Jacob Neusner, From Politics to Piety: The Emergence of Pharisaic Judaism (Englewood
Heights, N.J.: 1973), p. 148.
5. Hilberg, The Destruction, p. 16.
6. Ibid., pp. 122 ff.
7. Weber, “Bureaucracy” in Gerth and Mills, From Max Weber, p. 197.
8. See Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil,
9. For a detailed discussion of the responses of the various Jewish councils to
German “resettlement” programs, see Isaiah Trunk, Judenrat: The Jewish
Councils in Eastern Europe Under Nazi Occupation (New York: Macmillan,
1972), pp. 388-474. For the response of the Dutch Jewish Council, see Jacob
Presser, The Destruction of the Dutch Jews, pp. 238-77.
10. Leo Baeck in We Survived, ed. Eric H. Boehm, 2nd ed. (Santa Barbara, Cal.:
Clio Press, 1966), p. 290.
11. The public debate over the roll of the Judenräte in collaborating with the Nazis
began with the publication of Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem which
appeared in The New Yorker in February and March 1963. However, the
fundamental issues had already been stated with magisterial authority by
Raul Hilberg in The Destruction in 1961. For a response to Dr. Arendt, see
Jacob Robinson, And the Crooked Shall be Made Straight (Philadelphia: Jewish
Publication Society, 1965). Isaiah Trunk’s Judenrat is the most comprehensive
discussion of the roll of the Judenräte. However, neither Trunk’s book nor his
own research have caused Hilberg to alter his
opinion that the councils were fundamentally instruments of Jewish self–
destruction. See Hilberg, “The Ghetto as a Form of Government: An
Analysis of Isaiah Trunk’s Judenrat,” paper presented at the International
Scholars Conference on the Holocaust—One Generation After, New York,
March 2-6, 1975. For a response to Hilberg’s current position on the Jewish
Councils, see Yehuda Bauer, “Jewish Leadership Reactions to Nazi Policies,”
paper presented at International Scholars Conference.
12. Emanuel Ringelblum, Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto (New York: McGrawHill,
1958), p. 310.
13. Trunk, Judenrat, p. 552; Hilberg, The Destruction, p. 322.
14. Weber, “Bureaucracy” in Gerth and Mills, From Max Weber, p. 229.
1. Ulam, Lenin and the Bolsheviks, pp. 622-24.
2. See Adam Ulam, Stalin: The Man and His Era (New York: Viking, 1973), pp. 322-
3. I wrote this sentence in August 1974. Since then there has been much evidence
that the I.R.S. and other federal agencies were far less independent of the
executive than I then believed. There is no doubt that it was Nixon’s objective
to eliminate all such independence. I have let the sentence stand because
Nixon did not wholly succeed before his forcible removal from office. The
danger, of course, remains. For a chilling account of the misuse of the federal
bureaucracy to harass the communications media, see Thomas Whiteside,
“Annals of Television: Shaking the Tree” in New Yorker, March 17, 1975, pp.
75 ff.
4. For an overview of the current debate concerning voluntary vs. imposed policies
to limit family size and ultimately to reduce population trends, see Population: A
Clash of Prophets, ed. Edward Pohlman, pp. 295-435. Wayne Bartz proposes
that the state impose punitive measures upon all parents “guilty” of having
more than two offspring. See Wayne Bartz, “Outrageous Solutions to the
Population Outrage,” in Pohlman, Population, p. 297. However, an
examination of the other selections included by Pohlman reveals that many
population experts find nothing “outrageous” in Bartz’ “outrageous proposal.”
The earliest “outrageous proposal” of the sort that achieved general currency
was Jonathan Swift’s proposal that “a young healthy child, well nursed, is at a
Year old, a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome Food; whether Stewed,
Roasted, Baked or Boiled.
…” Such was Dean Swift’s “solution” to the twin problems of food
shortage and population surplus in Ireland. Jonathan Swift, A Modest
Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland from Being a Burden to Their
Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick in Prose Works of
Jonathan Swift, ed. H. Davis (Oxford University Press, 1955), 12: 109-18.
5. See David Bakan, Slaughter of the Innocents: A Study of the Battered Child
Phenomenon (Boston: Beacon, 1972), pp. 78-106.
6. Arendt, Origins, p. 431.
7. According to Sidney M. Willhelm, a black sociologist, genocide may be the
fate awaiting America’s unemployable minorities. His analysis deserves
more attention than it has received. See Sidney M. Willhelm, Who Needs the
Negro? (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor, 1971).
8. Hilberg, The Destruction, p. 687.
9. For a discussion of reactions to the War Crimes trials by American policy
makers, theologians and social scientists, see William J. Bosch, Judgement on
Nuremberg: American Attitudes Toward the Major German War-Crimes Trials
(Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1970).
10. “The disinterested tendency to inflict punishment is a distinctive characteristic
of the lower middle class, that is, of a social class living under conditions
which force its members to an extraordinarily high degree of self restraint
and subject them to much frustration of natural desires.” This is the
conclusion of Sven Ranulf in his study of the rise of institutions for the
disinterested infliction of punishment in the western world and the abandonment
of earlier resort to private or clan revenge. Sven Ranulf, Moral
Indignation and Middle Class Psychology (New York: Schocken, 1964), p. 198. For
an overview of biblical attitudes toward private revenge and public
punishment, see Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel, (New York: McGrawHill,
1966), 1: 158-63.
11. For another view, see Gideon Hausner, Justice in Jerusalem, (New York:
Schocken, 1974).
12. The arguments were usually framed in the form of Social Darwinist ideology.
See Hans-Gunter Zmärlik, “Social Darwinism in Germany, Seen as an
Historical Problem” in Republic into Reich: The Making of the Nazi Revolution,
ed. Hajo Holborn (New York: Pantheon, 1972), pp. 435-74. See
Geoffrey Barraclough, “Farewell to Hitler” in New York Review of Books,
April 3, 1975.
13. Rubenstein, After Auschwitz.
14. Sigmund Freud, Totem and Taboo, trans. James Strachey (New York:
Norton, 1962, 1913).
15. G.W.F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of the Mind, trans. J. B. Baillie (London:
George Allen and Unwin, 1931), pp. 229-40. See also Alexandre Kojève,
Introduction to the Reading of Hegel, pp. 3-30 and Jean Hyppolyte, Genesis and
Structure of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. Samuel Cherniak and John
Heckman (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1974), pp. 156-77.

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While psychology may be an interesting subject, you may lack sufficient time to handle your assignments. Don’t despair; by using our academic writing service, you can be assured of perfect grades. Moreover, your grades will be consistent.


Engineering is quite a demanding subject. Students face a lot of pressure and barely have enough time to do what they love to do. Our academic writing service got you covered! Our engineering specialists follow the paper instructions and ensure timely delivery of the paper.


In the nursing course, you may have difficulties with literature reviews, annotated bibliographies, critical essays, and other assignments. Our nursing assignment writers will offer you professional nursing paper help at low prices.


Truth be told, sociology papers can be quite exhausting. Our academic writing service relieves you of fatigue, pressure, and stress. You can relax and have peace of mind as our academic writers handle your sociology assignment.


We take pride in having some of the best business writers in the industry. Our business writers have a lot of experience in the field. They are reliable, and you can be assured of a high-grade paper. They are able to handle business papers of any subject, length, deadline, and difficulty!


We boast of having some of the most experienced statistics experts in the industry. Our statistics experts have diverse skills, expertise, and knowledge to handle any kind of assignment. They have access to all kinds of software to get your assignment done.


Writing a law essay may prove to be an insurmountable obstacle, especially when you need to know the peculiarities of the legislative framework. Take advantage of our top-notch law specialists and get superb grades and 100% satisfaction.

What discipline/subjects do you deal in?

We have highlighted some of the most popular subjects we handle above. Those are just a tip of the iceberg. We deal in all academic disciplines since our writers are as diverse. They have been drawn from across all disciplines, and orders are assigned to those writers believed to be the best in the field. In a nutshell, there is no task we cannot handle; all you need to do is place your order with us. As long as your instructions are clear, just trust we shall deliver irrespective of the discipline.

Are your writers competent enough to handle my paper?

Our essay writers are graduates with bachelor's, masters, Ph.D., and doctorate degrees in various subjects. The minimum requirement to be an essay writer with our essay writing service is to have a college degree. All our academic writers have a minimum of two years of academic writing. We have a stringent recruitment process to ensure that we get only the most competent essay writers in the industry. We also ensure that the writers are handsomely compensated for their value. The majority of our writers are native English speakers. As such, the fluency of language and grammar is impeccable.

What if I don’t like the paper?

There is a very low likelihood that you won’t like the paper.

Reasons being:

  • When assigning your order, we match the paper’s discipline with the writer’s field/specialization. Since all our writers are graduates, we match the paper’s subject with the field the writer studied. For instance, if it’s a nursing paper, only a nursing graduate and writer will handle it. Furthermore, all our writers have academic writing experience and top-notch research skills.
  • We have a quality assurance that reviews the paper before it gets to you. As such, we ensure that you get a paper that meets the required standard and will most definitely make the grade.

In the event that you don’t like your paper:

  • The writer will revise the paper up to your pleasing. You have unlimited revisions. You simply need to highlight what specifically you don’t like about the paper, and the writer will make the amendments. The paper will be revised until you are satisfied. Revisions are free of charge
  • We will have a different writer write the paper from scratch.
  • Last resort, if the above does not work, we will refund your money.

Will the professor find out I didn’t write the paper myself?

Not at all. All papers are written from scratch. There is no way your tutor or instructor will realize that you did not write the paper yourself. In fact, we recommend using our assignment help services for consistent results.

What if the paper is plagiarized?

We check all papers for plagiarism before we submit them. We use powerful plagiarism checking software such as SafeAssign, LopesWrite, and Turnitin. We also upload the plagiarism report so that you can review it. We understand that plagiarism is academic suicide. We would not take the risk of submitting plagiarized work and jeopardize your academic journey. Furthermore, we do not sell or use prewritten papers, and each paper is written from scratch.

When will I get my paper?

You determine when you get the paper by setting the deadline when placing the order. All papers are delivered within the deadline. We are well aware that we operate in a time-sensitive industry. As such, we have laid out strategies to ensure that the client receives the paper on time and they never miss the deadline. We understand that papers that are submitted late have some points deducted. We do not want you to miss any points due to late submission. We work on beating deadlines by huge margins in order to ensure that you have ample time to review the paper before you submit it.

Will anyone find out that I used your services?

We have a privacy and confidentiality policy that guides our work. We NEVER share any customer information with third parties. Noone will ever know that you used our assignment help services. It’s only between you and us. We are bound by our policies to protect the customer’s identity and information. All your information, such as your names, phone number, email, order information, and so on, are protected. We have robust security systems that ensure that your data is protected. Hacking our systems is close to impossible, and it has never happened.

How our Assignment Help Service Works

1. Place an order

You fill all the paper instructions in the order form. Make sure you include all the helpful materials so that our academic writers can deliver the perfect paper. It will also help to eliminate unnecessary revisions.

2. Pay for the order

Proceed to pay for the paper so that it can be assigned to one of our expert academic writers. The paper subject is matched with the writer’s area of specialization.

3. Track the progress

You communicate with the writer and know about the progress of the paper. The client can ask the writer for drafts of the paper. The client can upload extra material and include additional instructions from the lecturer. Receive a paper.

4. Download the paper

The paper is sent to your email and uploaded to your personal account. You also get a plagiarism report attached to your paper.

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