Life Unworthy of Life: Racial Phobia and Mass Murder in Hitler's Germany

By James M. Glass | Go to book overview

FOUR
PSYCHOTIC PRECONDITIONS TO MASS MURDER

In normal times, children would not be systematically slaughtered; nor would thousands of human beings be shot in a single day and then shoved layer on top of layer into lime pits; nor would places like Auschwitz-Birkenau be constructed capable of "processing" twenty thousand bodies a day.1 Even for ordinary men and women in Germany during the 1930s, the scope and methods of the Final Solution were not imaginable within a continuous history, ethical or otherwise.2

One SS guard, according to Kurt Gerstein, spoke with the voice of a pastor at the door of the gas chamber as men, women, and children, all naked, filed past him. "Nothing terrible is going to happen to you! . . . All you have to do is to breathe in deeply. That strengthens the lungs. Inhaling is a means of preventing infectious diseases. It's a good method of disinfection." When questioned by the doomed victims as to their future, he replied, "The men will have to work building roads and houses. But the women won't be obliged to do so. They'll do housework or help in the kitchen."3

Jean Améry captures something of the delusional backdrop to the German sense of the Jew as polluted matter.4 Améry speaks as if during the period of the Holocaust he lived in a universe filled with "madmen, and was left standing around helplessly among them, a fully sane person who joined a tour through a psychiatric clinic and

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