The Origins of Nazi Genocide: From Euthanasia to the Final Solution

By Henry Friedlander | Go to book overview

Chapter 10 Managers and Supervisors

The Nazi killers are usually called perpetrators, in German, Täter, a term commonly applied to criminals by police and courts. Unlike biographies of the victims, those of the perpetrators are not difficult for the historian to reconstruct. The victims, reduced to numbers, emerge as individuals only in memoirs, oral histories, and fiction, and even those few sources rarely deal with handicapped victims. In contrast, documentation about the perpetrators is plentiful because they left a paper trail that survived the war, including orders, letters, and personnel records. Further, except for those who committed suicide as the war ended, they also provided detailed accounts of their lives and deeds as defendants and witnesses in court proceedings. In addition, the literature about individual perpetrators and the group of perpetrators is large and growing ever larger as historians, psychologists, and journalists examine their motives.1

The perpetrators were dull and uninteresting men and women. Although they were competent at their jobs, most lacked imagination, had pedestrian minds, and led conventional lives. This fact emerges from their postwar testimonies and even more clearly from the few surviving personal letters. Their writings were bureaucratic, their speeches were cliché-ridden, and their postwar testimonies were evasive, insensitive, and self-pitying. Thus when suspicion that the secret diary of the Führer of all the perpetrators had been discovered led to an international media bidding war for the diary in 1984, the fact that media conglomerates and prominent historians accepted as Hitler's writing the dull musings of an unimaginative forger strongly supports Hannah Arendt's conclusions about the "banality" of the evildoer.2

Before turning to the perpetrators, we must briefly digress to examine the role German society played in the killings. First, we must ask whether popular opinion could have influenced the regime's activities. Although the argument, which was popular in the immediate postwar years, that the population could not oppose the all-powerful totalitarian state has lost a great deal of support, it is still widely believed that individual Germans were unable to register disapproval or openly oppose any of the regime's actions. But such arguments overlook the fact that the regime needed popular support to wage total war and thus could not afford to alienate large numbers of its citizens. To gain support, or at least obtain acquiescence, the regime had to enact its draconian, exclusionary policies into law, so that the mass of the population-- those not excluded--could continue to believe that the legal system would

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The Origins of Nazi Genocide: From Euthanasia to the Final Solution
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Table of Contents vii
  • Tables ix
  • Preface xi
  • Acknowledgments xv
  • Abbreviations xix
  • Note on Language xxi
  • Chapter 1 - The Setting 1
  • Chapter 2 - Excluding the Handicapped 23
  • Chapter 3 - Killing Handicapped Children 39
  • Chapter 4 - Killing Handicapped Adults 63
  • Chapter 5 - The Killing Centers 86
  • Chapter 6 - Toward the Killing Pause 111
  • Chapter 7 - The Expanded Killing Program 136
  • Chapter 8 - The Continued Killing Program 151
  • Chapter 9 - The Handicapped Victims 164
  • Chapter 10 - Managers and Supervisors 187
  • Chapter 11 - Physicians and Other Killers 216
  • Chapter 12 - Excluding Gypsies 246
  • Chapter 13 - Killing Handicapped Jews 263
  • Chapter 14 - The Final Solution 284
  • Notes 303
  • Bibliography 385
  • Index 403
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