The Middle Managers of Murder

Introduction

Bureaucracy is not unique to Germany, however its application by the National Socialists as a tool of totalitarian oppression is peerless. Comparisons are often made between Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union, but Stalin purged the ranks of the military as well as civil bureaucracies, whereas Hitler preferred to work with the established bureaucracy in deference to expediency. The rapid rearmament of Germany and mobilization for war required that the Nazi regime make use of the existing administrative machinery [1]. The German quest for Lebensraum (living space) meant more than defeating external enemies as would be the case in a traditional war. A racially pure Germany was the other half of the Lebensraum equation and to this end the Nazis relied on the knowledge and expertise of the Weimar era bureaucrats to execute genocide.

Referring to yet "another political regime [that] has come to an inglorious end in Germany, rendering another 'constitution' obsolete and thus making it a fitting object for scientific analysis [...]" John Herz writes that the bureaucratic structure of the German government was capable of persisting from one regime to the next, almost independently of the party in power, and for this reason the bureaucracy could "assume more political importance than they ever possessed before." [2] In other words, German bureaucratic institutions retained a certain independence from one government to the next. At first glance, Herz appears to be warning of the dangers of leaving the bureaucratic institutions of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in place and unexamined in a reunited Germany, but Herz was writing in 1946, less than a year after the end of hostilities in the European theater in World War II. Herz was concerned that the de-Nazification of Germany not ignore the traditional bureaucracies because the perception of independence or 'professionalism' on the part of the bureaucrats was misleading. The German bureaucracy inherited by Hitler was generally compliant with egregious Nazi policies if not eager accomplices. Herz compares the situation in the aftermath of World War II to the demise of the Weimar republic, but there is a longer history. There is continuity from the bureaucracies of Bismarck, through the Weimar Republic, to the Nazi era, and into post-War Germany. Today, the legacy continues in the form of investigations into the possible Stasi involvement on the part of contemporary civil servants.

Origins of German Bureaucracy

Ordered society would not be possible without bureaucracies to ensure the proper functioning of modern institutions such as hospitals, police, education, and the military. Bureaucracy predates the modern era, of course, but it was not until the late 18th and early 19th centuries that bureaucracy as we currently understand it was established. Max Weber's theories refer to: "(1) the division of labor in the organization, (2) its authority structure, (3) the position and role of the individual member, and (4) the type of rules that regulate the relations between organizational members." [3] What is key, is that bureaucracy is, at least in the ideal case that Weber presents, a neutral agency, neither endorsing nor opposing the rules imposed on it by the government.

The civil service in Germany dates back to the middle ages when commoners and lesser nobles were appointed civil servants who served at the leisure of the sovereign rather than an intermediary nobleman as was typical of feudal societies. These appointments were little different from ennoblement, and barely resembled the functionaries of a modern bureaucratic institution. There was little in the way of a uniformed discipline. For one thing, appointments were made with scant regard to the merit of the individual being appointed--nepotism and favoritism were the rule. Even in medieval times, however, the irregular and inefficient bureaucracies focused the power of the sovereign. Through delegation of office, consolidation of knowledge--and therefore power--was the result. The imposition of a rigid hierarchy ensured that rulers had direct insight into the happenings of everything within their domain.

With the economies of scale ushered in by the modern age, the inefficient, pre-modern, non-meritocratic bureaucracies were unable to cope with the ensuing 'multiplicities.' The population explosion and urbanization demanded discipline if there was to be any element of control of the government over the governed. Michel Foucault states that "Discipline [...] is a type of power, a modality for its exercise, comprising a whole set of instruments, techniques, [...]" of which bureaucracy is a component. [4] Foucault situates the development of the modern bureaucracy in the Napoleonic period. The modern nation state required a new mode of power that was capable of managing the increasingly complex task of disciplining society.

Foucault argues that the conjuncture of urbanization, a 'floating population' (the masses were no longer firmly fixed to feudal estates), and an enormous increase in the scale of the number of people to be supervised or manipulated necessitated development of disciplinary methods. Furthermore, mass production and rationalization of the economy also required more complex management processes. The old feudal society was not equipped for the industrial revolution and mass production. Remnants of feudal society persisted, but the role of the nobility diminished as professional bureaucrats assumed greater control over the administration of the military, hospitals, police, and the market economy. The ascendancy of disciplines in governance and bureaucratic institutions can be seen as a profound shift in how power was wielded. Rather than "deploy the ostentatious signs of sovereignty" in taming the populace, power "is manifested through the brilliance of those who exercise it." [5] For the old order, violence, or the threat thereof was the tool used when exercising power. This was costly in a political and economic sense, and more importantly was insufficient to the task. One of the primary roles of the modern bureaucrat is to classify and identify individual members of society so that they may be better managed. In a very real sense, knowledge for the bureaucrat is power--power that was once wielded exclusively by the sovereign.

Max Weber argued that bureaucracies were more developed in Germany than in France, England, or America in the 19th century. However, the thick bureaucracy of Germany had more to do with Germany's adoption of the Napoleonic Code during its occupation by Napoleon than the rigidity of Prussian militarism. The pre-Napoleonic Prussian military had more in common with medieval feudalism than modern bureaucracy. However, one element of modern bureaucracy found in the Prussian military was professionalism and dedication to the institution in addition to or beyond any other loyalties. The sense that the Army as an organization, and not just the sovereign or government it served, was worthy of fealty was a characteristic to which the modern bureaucracy aspired. In this sense, the rules, structure, hierarchy, duty and other abstract notions all became the mission of the solider or the bureaucrat. This dual loyalty--to the institution as well as the nation or regime--would later be recognized by the National Socialists. As mentioned above, the Nazi party had to accept this fact if it was to expedite its struggle for power and its subsequent war effort.

The organizational technique of large armies was requisite to the formation of bureaucracy in Germany and elsewhere. In 1415, it was possible for Henry V to visit with individual members of his army, even those of the lowest rank, the night before the battle at Agincourt. Certainly, he knew every officer no matter how junior. On the field of battle, most if not all of his men could see the king. His orders could be issued via verbal commands, and heard and relayed quickly across the short distance of the battle field (the French and English lines were only 1000 yards apart). Perhaps most importantly, the English king could see the entire field of battle and act accordingly. He had no need to rely on messengers to relay commands or on scouts to provide situation reports.

In contrast to the Battle at Agincourt, four centuries later in the war leading up to Waterloo, Napoleon's army of 200,000 men fought against approximately 500,000 Austrian, Russian, Prussian, English, and Dutch soldiers. The front at Waterloo was six times the length of the front at Agincourt. Napoleon's headquarters was over a mile from the front line. Both Napoleon and Wellington received only glimpses of the battle firsthand, relying almost exclusively on subordinates for very detailed, if imprecise information on the battle. Nevertheless, both commanded capably. Command and control was preserved by means of a rigid, hierarchical command structure. Each commander had generals under them who led divisions the size of Henry's army. From the generals down to the lowest private soldier, no one individual needed to know more than what was happening in their immediate environment and one level of command above and beneath them. Rules governed communication, and strict discipline ensured that each soldier would carry out their assigned task even if they could not appreciate the immediate effect of their actions. There were perhaps four or five different classifications of participants on the English side at the Battle of Agincourt. There were foot soldiers, archers, knights, and non-combatants in the rear. In Napoleon's army there were a dozen tiers of rank between the General of the Army and the private soldier. Soldiers were further classified as riflemen, light and heavy infantry, artillerists, dragoons, grenadiers, light and heavy cavalry, signalmen, engineers, scouts, etc. Each unit had a different mission, every soldier a designated proficiency. In order for effective control to be maintained so that the army could function as a unified body, each individual within the army had to be identified, classified, trained and controlled. It is ironic that the impersonal leadership exercised by Napoleon and Wellington was predicated on an intimate knowledge of their armies' constituents, whereas Henry was able to exercise personal leadership over an undifferentiated army.

Minimizing the gap between the command and its flawless execution provided one of the principles of bureaucracy: the delegation of authority. The delegation of power was manifest in multiple levels of the hierarchy. This principle of administration used by armies would prove extremely effective in other institutions and for different applications than wholesale slaughter. Factories, hospitals, schools and universities were all to benefit.

The German Civil Service Inherited by the National Socialists

When the Nazis assumed power in 1933 they inherited the civil servants appointed in the Weimar years, who in turn, were a legacy of the bureaucracies of Kaiser William II and Bismarck. German civil servants as a group tended to be quite conservative, and while not originally enthusiastic supporters of National Socialism, the two groups shared values such as anti-Semitism and opposition to communism. While in theory the civil servants were to be neutral with regards to political parties, they tended to be anti-republican, and thwarted the liberal policies of the Weimar politicians while the republic was still viable. Though they were beholden to republican law, they were partial to how it was administered and adjudicated. Even before 1933, communist agitators were more harshly treated and received tougher sentences than Nazis convicted of similar crimes. The light punishment Hitler received as a result of the Beer Hall Putsch was an example of the conservative bias as well as the latitude the German civil servants had with regards to the execution of their duties.

The ideal sought by the Nazis was the complete merger of the state with the Nazi party. However, as the majority of state officials were not originally party members, the Nazis had to choose between cleansing the bureaus of their most effective staff or tolerating their existence. As the Nazi's needed a functioning administration in its preparation for war, they chose a path of piecemeal appropriation. One result was a certain amount of redundancy as on the one hand the Nazi party attempted to merge with existing state bureaucracies, blurring the line between state and party, and on the other hand, in a sign of resignation to the power, in the form of knowledge, still wielded by the bureaucrats, the party was forced to establish parallel administrative machinery. In his article "German Administration Under the Nazi Regime," John Herz points out that Hitler "forced the SA (Sturmabteilung or storm troopers) under Röhm, at that time his mightiest party organization, to abstain from 'taking over' the army, the mightiest part of the state machinery." [6]

The Waffen SS is a perfect example of the duplication of agencies evident in the Nazi regime. Originally the Waffen SS was established to serve as Hitler's personal body guard--as much to protect him from the SA as to protect him from the party's real and imagined enemies. Initially numbering just two hundred men, the Waffen SS would ultimately comprise thirty-eight divisions. (For purposes of comparison, the U.S. has deployed approximately eight divisions in Iraq.) So, while the Nazis were never able to exercise total control over the Wehrmacht (Germany's regular army) they did field a sizeable army of their own. This dual nature of state and party was replicated many times throughout the Nazi regime. Hitler was chief of state and government as well as party Führer. Goebbels was head of party propaganda as well as state propagandist. Himmler was Reich Leader SS and Chief of the German police. Regional party leaders, Gauleiter, were also responsible for the civil administration of everything related to war, in other words they were effectively the civilian authority as well as party head. [7]

Two charges have been leveled against German bureaucrats. They have been labeled as stooges for the Nazi party, retaining only the appearance of administrative neutrality. At the same time, the German civil service has been accused of blindly following the criminal orders of the Nazi leadership, acquiescing so long as the order bore the vaguest semblance to the letter of the law. Neither extreme was in fact the case. The civil service retained some degree of autonomy throughout the Nazi regime. At the onset of war, "The 'revolutionaries,' inclined as always to underestimate the role of expertise (just as much as conservatives are inclined to over estimate it), had to give in. From that time on, in the main, the aim was to turn officials in to Nazis instead of turning Nazis into officials." [8] The German civil servants, like bureaucrats everywhere, endeavored to find the balance that would preserve their positions by not antagonizing the ruling elites while also retaining a measure of power.

Early on, the bureaucrats did cater to one demand of the Nazi state. When the Nazis sought to 'aryanize' the civil service, they found the 'Aryan' administrators eager to assist. Anti-Semitism was widely shared by many Germans by the time Hitler took power, although it was generally of the 'not in my country club' variety rather than the homicidal variant of the war time Nazis. Nevertheless, this low-grade (later it would become more virulent) racism coupled with careerism spelled a quick exit for non-Aryans from the civil service. Widespread endorsement of the ousting of Jews is evident in the diary of Thomas Mann, the Nobel prize winning German author. Marion Kaplan writes in Between Dignity and Despair that though married to a Jewish woman, and a staunch anti-Nazi, "he nevertheless confided to his diary: 'it is no great misfortune ... that ... the Jewish presence in the judiciary has ended.'" Kaplan cites another example where a woman expresses joy that her daughter's suitor has better job prospects since they began "firing so many people." [9] The similarities between Nazi bureaucrats and the everyday variety of bureaucrats are uncanny and disturbing. They were frightening because their motivation often derived not from extraordinary Nazi ideology, but from the oridinary desire to preserve and promote their positions.

The Topography of Terror

Mass deportations and murder could not begin immediately. First, the Jews, once fully assimilated members of German society, had to be turned into non-citizens, and ultimately into non-humans. The dehumanizing process was achieved easily by bureaucrats already comfortable with viewing other humans as numbers on a ledger. Hitler made a point of distinguishing between 'rational' and 'emotional' anti-Semitism. "The latter found its outlet in pogroms, while the former promised a 'systematic legal opposition' to achieve 'removal of the Jews altogether.'" Himmler and Heydrich likewise sought a systematic approach to the 'Jewish Question.' [10] Thus, despite the low regard in which Hitler held civil servants and jurists, the German bureaucracy was an essential component of the machinery of destruction.

The Topography of Terror is sited on the former location of the Reich Security Main Office. All that remains are the foundation and cellar walls that enclosed a kitchen. The exhibit and memorial is perhaps unique in that it is a remembrance of the perpetrators. Memorials to the victims of the Nazis are to be found throughout Germany and Berlin, but remembering the victims of the Nazi past and acknowledging that Germans were the perpetrators of these crimes is quite different. To varying degrees Germany has memorialized the victims of Nazi terror, although it has often equated the suffering of Germans with the marginalized social groups (Jews, Scinta and Roma, Homosexuals, etc.) who were specifically targeted by the Germans. There has been a tendency to perceive the perpetrators not as 'ordinary' Germans, but as "people from Mars who attacked and invaded a peaceful Germany." [11] The purpose of preserving a site such as the Topography of Terror is to acknowledge that the perpetrators were in fact German, and that the most heinous crimes in history were committed not by a brutal mob but by Schreibtischtäter (deskbound criminals)--in other words by bureaucrats.[12] Furthermore, these crimes were committed in central Berlin, and in the case of the SS and Gestapo headquarters, no secret was made of the general purpose of the building they occupied. How much the general population knew of the crimes being committed is debatable, although clearly most Berliners were aware that their Jewish friends and neighbors were not on holiday.

Yet, sites such as the Topography of Terror and Tiergartenstrasse 4 (the site where mass killing of mental patients was planned) remained largely invisible to Berliners until the 1980's. In part this was due to a conscious or sub-conscious desire on the part of Germans to disassociate themselves from the perpetrators. Germans were--and remain--more open to accept their role as victims and witnesses to the atrocities of the Nazi regime than to confess their role as the perpetrators.

In the government quarter of Berlin, the area bounded by Prinz-Albrecht-Straße (now Niederkirchestraße), Wilhelmstraße, Anhalterstraße, and Stressemanstraße, was the administrative center of the National Socialist terror apparatus. Situated in close proximity were the Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei, "Secret State Police"), the Reichsführung SS ("SS Reich Leadership"), the Sicherheitsdienst (SD, "Security Service"), and the Reichsicherheitshauptamt ("Reich Security Main Office," RSMO). Within a few years after the National Socialists seized power, the entire "Prinz-Albrecht-Terrain" was occupied by these Nazi organizations. The area housed the offices of Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich, the state and party security forces and the Gestapo prison. Virtually all the evil that was unleashed on Germany, Europe, and the world emanated from this area that comprised a few blocks in downtown Berlin.

Order and Function of the Bureaucracy of Terror

According to Topography of Terror: A Documentation, the primary tasks of Heinrich Himmler and the SS (Schutzstaffel, 'protection squadron') were:

  • Surveillance, persecution and elimination of all political forces [...].
  • Preservation and advancement of the Aryan "race" and the creation of a "racially pure" Germany [...].
  • Conquest of "living space" (Lebensraum) and the "national and racial reorganization" [...]. [13]

In other words, the SS were chartered with the main objectives Hitler envisioned for National Socialism. Were it not for the fact that the Wehrmacht maintained some autonomy and were the primary combatants of the world war, the SS would have been responsible for National Socialism's entire misanthropic agenda.

Himmler was in charge of a vast bureaucratic empire. He was responsible for the SS, as well as the municipal police. His most important lieutenant was Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the Gestapo and the SD, and until his assassination in 1943, head of the Reich Security Main Office. The SD was the intelligence service of the NSDAP, while the Gestapo was responsible for state security. Heydrich was the head of both organizations. One of Heydrich's most infamous employees was Adolf Eichman, chief organizer of the mass deportations, and the man who prompted Hannah Arendt to coin the phrase 'banality of evil.' Also incorporated in Himmler's empire were the Ordnungspolizei, the Waffen SS including Death Head's Units (those responsible for the 'wet work' of the Holocaust), the Main Office for Economic and Administrative Matters (Wirtschafts- Und Verwaltungshauptamt) which bore responsibility for administering the concentration camps, and administration of the conquered Eastern territories. If Himmler had comparable authority in present day United States, he would be responsible for the CIA, the FBI, the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security (including the Coast Guard, immigration and customs, and counter-narcotics), the Attorney General's office(including the U.S. Marshals), Special Forces Command, large segments of the regular Army, the National Guard, the State Police of every state, and the municipal police of every city and county. Himmler sat atop a massive bureaucracy.

One result of the consolidation of power was infighting between the various bureaus under Himmler. As an example, which could almost be funny if not for the inhumanity of it, the different security offices and police departments often made use of the same jail facility at the Prinz-Albrecht terrain. The jail was nominally a temporary holding facility. Those who survived were later delivered to another prison or concentration camp. When a bureaucrat felt that a detainee held some piece of vital information they would request that the prisoner be brought to their office for interrogation. Although all that remains of these institutions is the earthen floor and cellar walls, suggesting a medieval dungeon with torture chambers, all interrogations were held on the above ground levels, in the civilized offices of the bureaucrats. With secretaries and stenographers within earshot, officials would sit on the edge of their mahogany desks and direct their subordinates to torture their victims until the right information was obtained. Torture and brutal mistreatment of the prisoners was commonplace, and was as often performed for sport as it was to extract information or to punish. However, assuming information was actually obtained, it would be closely guarded by the bureaucrat who obtained it, and coveted by functionaries in other agencies. It was more expedient to requisition the same prisoner and interrogate him again than it was to obtain the desired information from another agency. Both inhumane and inefficient, such redundancies revealed that German bureaucracy was far from the ideal imagined by Max Weber.

The 'Final Solution'

From Welfare to Eugenics

In his article "The Genesis of the 'Final Solution' from the Spirit of Science" [14], Detlev Peukert makes a compelling argument linking "the triumph of science and reason over religion" to genocide. Breakthroughs in science and medicine led to a dramatic reduction in the occurrence of death as an every day phenomenon. As death became an increasingly rare, albeit inevitable occurrence, it became even more ineffable. Even as death, disease and decay eluded the reach of science and medicine, science overshadowed faith in God's ability to triumph over our ultimate demise. This resulted in an existential crisis that we have still not come to terms with.

Though death remained, decay could be retarded through modern medicine and 'healthy' living. Peukert argues that this "led to an idealization of youth and health. [...] The obvious move was for the actual target of scientific effort to switch from the individual, whose case in the long run was always hopeless, to the 'body' of the nation, the Volkskörper." [15] So, while death awaited each individual, the Volkskörper held the potential for immortality, but only if it was kept healthy. To this end sociologists and welfare workers went about tending to the health and well being of the Volkskörper. In treating the 'national body', as with treating the body of an individual, it was necessary to identify unhealthy elements in an effort to cure them. Those elements that were identified as curable were cured. Those elements that were unhealthy were to be excised. "But there was also the racist option of the primacy of the Volkskörper over the individual, of the 'valuable' over the individual without 'value.'" [16] And this misguided utopianism of the social sciences worked synergistically with Nazi racist ideology to promote a climate where genocide presented itself as a rational plan.

Social and welfare workers who were originally charged with identifying and helping those members of German society who were in need of assistance, and then allocating the limited resources of the Weimar treasury appropriately, assumed the role of denouncers and Schreibtischmörder in the Nazi regime. Those who were once proponents of the needy became their enemies with the change in government. The same bureaucratic apparatus that was used to identify and track the mentally and physically disabled, and others of limited means in order to provide public welfare, to 'heal' the Volkskörper, was later tasked by the Nazis with identifying individuals of 'no value' and 'useless eaters' and selecting them for the 'euthanasia' program. Peukert cautions against any 'monocausal' explanations of the Holocaust, yet he does establish that the distinction between persons of 'value' and those of 'non-value', and their 'selection' and 'eradication' is the central thread of the decision to annihilate an abstract classification of victims using the technology and techniques of mass production. [17]

The destruction of humans of 'no value' was not an invention of the Nazis. In the 1920's, a very influential book on the subject was written by Karl Binding and Alfred Hoche entitled Permission for the Destruction of Worthless Life: Its Extent and Form.[18] While this book set the ground work for Germany's euthanasia program and provided some of the 'scientific' justification for the program it in no way advocated murder--rather it was close to what we might term today assisted suicide for terminal patients. What the book did promote however, was the concept that human life which could not contribute materially to society was worthless. The Nazis extended the definition of what constituted 'worthless life' to include increasingly broad categories: degenerates, 'asocials', delinquents, alcoholics, etc. Ultimately, race became a category for determining 'value' and 'non-value'. [19] The bureaucrats responsible for the medical and social welfare of these segments of society adapted right along with the changing times and shifting ideologies.

The Villa at Wannsee and the 'Final Solution.'

On a cold, overcast day in December, I made a trip out to the Wannsee, a beautiful lake to the south-west of Berlin. There, located directly on the lake, is the Villa Wannsee, where high-ranking officials of the SS and civilian ministries met in January 1942, to put the finishing touches on the plan for the mass extermination of Jews and others of 'non-value.'

As I rode the train through the Grunewald forest on my way to Wannsee, I wondered how many of the officials came by train. Did they travel the same line that I did? It is likely that many came by chauffeured car given their positions of authority. The suburban train station at Wannsee appeared quite old and little changed since the war. While waiting for the bus that would take me the rest of the way to the Villa I had the opportunity to look out over the placid lake. Marinas, parks, and grand mansions dotted the shoreline. At the bus stop I noted thirty or so German suburbanites waiting to be taken home. Some were waiting to go to the hospital that was less than a kilometer from the infamous Villa. I appeared to be the only tourist. It was a perfectly ordinary town.

The area around the Villa at Wannsee is and was a rather idyllic suburb. The impressionist painter Max Lieberman had his summer house there. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, the area was known for the liberal attitudes of its residents which included a fair number of Jews. In the winter the place is very quiet, but the number of closed recreational sites would suggest that the place is quite lively in the summer. The Villa itself is a gorgeous mansion and garden that was acquired by the Nazis for use by senior party members. Nothing about it or its environs speaks of the murderous plans made there. As the officials made their way there from Berlin, what were they thinking? Did they jump at the chance to get away from the daily grind and to meet with their colleagues out in the country? Was it an honor to be invited?

With the exception of Reinhard Heydrich (Chief of Reich Security), these were not the most senior officials in Germany. Notably missing were, Goebbels (Minister of Propaganda), Göring (commander of the Luftwaffe and founder of the Gestapo), Himmler (SS Chief and Chief of Police), and of course Hitler. Adolf Eichman is the most well known of the conference attendees; more recognizable than his boss because of Eichman's much publicized trial in 1962 in which he was sentenced to death. It was Eichman's job to manage the 'final solution.'

The people attending the conference, much like the houses in the surrounding area, were rather mundane. They were civilized in appearance and quite unremarkable. Except for Heydrich, the attendees were of a rank equivalent to that of deputy under-secretary. In other words, they were middle managers. Middle managers are the epitomical bureaucrats. They lack the responsibility and the blame of their superiors, but neither must they dirty their hands. Eichman's plea for leniency was based on his being a middle manager. He was 'just doing his job.' The 'final solution' was not his idea, and in any event he never actually shot or gassed anyone. This plea was made by many Nazis seeking to avoid harsh punishment for facilitating genocide, an approach which was to prove successful for many middle- and low-ranking Nazi officials.

Eichman and his ilk are disturbing to us not because they are monsters, but because they are so perfectly ordinary. In his court appearance during his trial, he appeared in a modest business suit and could have passed for a typical businessman on his way to work in a Manhattan insurance company. His defense rested on his inability to refuse orders. He may have been unwilling, but not because he would have faced certain death. In his book Ordinary Men, Christopher Browning explains that many of those on the frontlines of the Holocaust, the men in the Order Police battalions which operated in German occupied countries in the East, were typical Germans. Prior to the war they were not homicidal maniacs, nor were they especially anti-Semitic or even eager Nazis. Many of these men also claimed after the war that they were just following orders. Browning clearly demonstrates that their refusal to carry out orders might have been disastrous for their careers, but, in the cases he examines, never led to severe punishment. [20] Claiming fear of retribution was a frequent justification made by Germans in defense of their action or inaction regarding genocide. The SS ensured that outright resistance to National Socialism was negligible, but refusal to participate in murder was tolerated.

Sachsenhausen

In 1933, SA storm troopers established the first concentration camp in Prussia at Oranienburg. By the war's end tens of thousands will have died here or in the death marches preceding liberation by the allies. The camp was not the largest or the most lethal (Auschwitz claims that title), but it was the administrative center of the concentration camp system. In the T-Building located just a few hundred meters from the camp proper, bureaucrats administered the entire concentration camp system: "The men who sat behind the desks in the inspectorate determined conditions for imprisonment, coordinated forced labor and organized mass murder." [21] The SS guards at all the camps might have been the ones 'getting dirty' with the business of killing, but administrators at Sachsenhausen were the ones issuing the orders.

Like Wannsee, Oranienburg is a quiet suburb. A quaint housing development abuts the camp; many houses make use of the old concentration camp razor wire fence to keep their children and pets from wandering outside the yard. On the day that I visited, I saw a woman walking her two little terriers on the grounds of the concentration camp. Nothing belies the camp's original purpose--in its current state it looks like any disused military camp. Even while visiting the barracks where unhygienic conditions were once as deadly as the hangings from meat hooks in the crematorium basement, the terror of the place is not immediately apparent. Yet, in this place techniques for murder were tried and tested. In the infirmary, medical experiments of dubious scientific merit were carried out on the prisoners. One case involves children who were saved from the ovens at Auschwitz and delivered to Sachsenhausen where they were infected with a hepatitis virus. Their livers were later biopsied, without the use of anesthetic, to see how the disease progressed. While female prisoners were brought in for use as sex slaves, while prisoners marched endlessly, and often to their deaths, on the shoe-testing track, and while the ovens burned furiously, the bureaucrats came to work each day to shuffle papers and organize further torments. Meanwhile, in the surrounding houses, the local suburbanites went about their daily lives, much as they do today.

Comparisons between the Holocaust and other mass murders are generally wanting. The Holocaust differs from urban crime sprees in that it was ordained by the state. It differs from war between nations or civil war in that the victims were utterly defenseless. The genocide of Native Americans while approximating the scale of the Holocaust took place over hundreds of years and was not nearly so systematized. The genocide of the Armenians by the Ottoman Turks, was nearly of the same scale and rapidity of the Holocaust, and made use of modern technology such as trains and machine guns. Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Burundi, and the Sudan, are all recent examples and ample evidence that as human beings we are still capable of bottomless violence. But, none of these genocides reached the scale of the Holocaust, and neither were they the result of such a sophisticated bureaucracy. The number of victims of the Holocaust is a benchmark of shame, and it was only achieved through the efficiency of German bureaucracy. Only a fully modern, highly literate state was capable of the division of labor necessary to kill six million Jews, two thirds of whom were killed within a twelve month period. This required massive coordination of effort between military and civilian agencies. The German bureaucracy responded to the increasingly radicalized demands of Nazi policy regarding Jews and facilitated their murder all without leaving the comfort of their desks. Their rubber stamps were as deadly as any bullet.

______________________________________

[1] John H. Herz, "German Administration Under the Nazi Regime," The American Political Science Review, Vol. 40, No. 4. (Aug., 1946), pp. 682-702.
< http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0003-0554%28194608%2940%3A4%3C682%3AGAUTNR%3E2.0.CO%3B2-E>

[2] Herz, 683. Emphasis in original.

[3] "Bureaucracy." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2004. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 23 Dec. 2004 <http://www.search.eb.com.offcampus.lib.washington.edu/eb/article?tocId=938>.

[4] Michel Foucault, "Panopticism," Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rabinow (New York: Pantheon Books, 1984) 206 - 207. From Discipline and Punish.

[5] Foucault, 208.

[6] Herz, 684.

[7] Herz, 688.

[8] Herz, 691.

[9] Marion A. Kaplan, Between Dignity and Despair, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998) 26.

[10] Christopher R. Browning, "The German Bureaucracy and the Holocaust," The Simon Wiesenthal Center < http://motlc.wiesenthal.com/index.html >.

[11] Brian Ladd, The Ghosts of Berlin: Confronting German History in the Urban Landscape, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997) 163.

[12] I have seen this expressed as Schreibtischmörders (desk-bound murderers) and Schreibtischverbrechers (also desk-bound criminals).

[13] Ed. Reinhard Rürup, trans. Werner T. Angress (Berlin: Verlag, Willmuth, Arenhövel, 1989) 36.

[14] Detlev J.K. Peukert, "The Genesis of the 'Final Solution' From the Spirit of Science". 1989.

[15] Peukert, 282.

[16] Peukert, 287.

[17] Peukert, 278.

[18] German title: Die Freigabe der Vernichtung lebensunwerten Lebens. Ihr Maß und Ihre Form.

[19] Nazism 1919 - 1945, ed. J. Noakes and G. Pridham. Vol. 3 "Foreign Policy, War, and Racial Extermination" (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1997) 1001.

[20] Christopher R. Browning, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the final solution in Poland, (New York: HarperCollins, 1992)

[21] Information Leaflet, Memorial and Museum Sachsenhausen, (Oranienburg, Berlin: Brandenburg Memorial Foundation, 2004).

 




This site, text, images, sounds, and design
© 2004 Edward Galore, all rights reserved.
For more information, contact galore@u.washington.edu.