When I was fifteen and living on a British Army camp in Dortmund, Germany, my parents held a party for the other officers and their wives. My elder brother and I were “employed” as waiters by our parents and were given 50 DMs or something for our services. We had to wear a shirt and tie, comb our hair (it was the early seventies so both of us had a lot of it) and serve drinks and keep the bowls of peanuts and crisps full, plus replenish the cigarette boxes.
It was good fun and we both got a little bit drunk ourselves, as there was so much alcohol (Army bases in Germany were duty-free areas so it was cheap and plentiful).
I can't remember now if:
a.) I witnessed the conversation AND heard my Dad discussing it afterwards, or
b.) if I only witnessed my Dad discussing it afterwards, probably the latter.
But, anyway, an interesting and quite heated conversation ensued at the end of the evening involving my father and the wife of the Colonel (I think). Everybody by this time was “well-oiled” on alcohol and inhibitions were relaxing.
The Colonel's wife was German. And somehow the topic of conversation came around to where in Germany she was from. It turned out that she was from some area where there had been a concentration camp during the war. So then the discussion came onto the persecution of the Jews in the forties and the alleged policy of mass murder in the concentration camps. My Dad had wanted to know why the ordinary Germans hadn't done anything to stop it or to speak up about the exterminations. She was adamant that she herself did not know about that policy of the mass gassings. She also insisted that no one she knew, knew of it either.
Then there were other odd things. He [Viktor Frankl] says he got out of Auschwitz by volunteering as a doctor. He wrote that he left in a transportation of ill inmates taken to Bavaria in 1944. The thought occurred: "Jewish inmates were not being gassed then? They were instead being transported out for medical care elsewhere?" That was a bit surprising.
My Dad was quite incredulous, and persisted that she must have known. They all must have known. How could they live so close and not have known? In the morning he was going on about it, and that he couldn't get over that she was still denying that after all this time.
As an impressionable fifteen-year-old it made an impact on me and I naturally accepted my father's view of that, and yet—there was something that didn't quite sit right.
Years later (summer holiday of 2011), having long forgotten this episode, I spent a few days lying out in the sun in the garden reading the biography of Viktor Frankl Trotzdem Ja zum Leben Sagen (Man's Search for Meaning). I realized I had never read an eye-witness account of the biggest crime of the last century and I was also interested in the subject of how we apply meaning to our experiences. So I had bought it online from Amazon.
In the first half of the book Frankl (who was a psychiatrist) wrote of his experiences in WW2 as a Jew in concentration labor camps. As I read it I noticed he kept jumping between two contradictory viewpoints, sometimes in the space of a few pages.
At some places he affirmed that all the Jews themselves knew that if they were going to Auschwitz, then they were destined for almost certain annihilation. And at other times he asserts that they didn't know. At some places he asserts that he and other people upon arrival knew that they were getting segregated into lines either for gassing or for work, and at others he maintains that the people didn't know what the segregation was for.
That was confusing.
At one point he states how he himself knew, as after being selected by Joseph Mengele "to the left for the gas chamber," he relates how he "switched behind Mengele's back" to the right.
Then there were other odd things. He says he got out of Auschwitz by volunteering as a doctor. He wrote that he left in a transportation of ill inmates taken to Bavaria in 1944. The thought occurred: "Jewish inmates were not being gassed then? They were instead being transported out for medical care elsewhere?" That was a bit surprising.
Then he wrote how in Bavaria he worked as a doctor treating ill inmates in a hospital camp in the typhus ward near Dachau. I thought: “Er… They were taking care of them? In 1944? Jews with Typhoid? Trying to cure them?”
THEN after finishing the book I discovered that despite him giving the impression that he had been at Auschwitz at the very least for many months, that he had in fact only been there for 3 or 4 days. It was then that my curiosity was piqued and my research into this started. And it was then that I was reminded of the Colonel's wife (who had been a young girl at the time of these events) claiming that nobody knew what was going on in the camps.
So it was that I started to re-evaluate all this. How was she—and the other town residents—supposed to know about that, if a camp inmate at Auschwitz couldn't make up his mind whether he himself knew or not?
And now after my research I find that she was right. She didn't know about the mass murder of Jews at whatever camp she had lived by. There were no extermination camps in Germany! This is a well-attested statement of accepted historical fact. My Dad was wrong to assume she was in denial. It turns out it was in fact he who had been.
So then I started looking more into it.
I soon discovered that the SS German Judge Konrad Morgan, who was tortured by the allies at Nuremberg but who refused to perjure himself and who instead gave testimony about how he had been visiting the concentration camps investigating and charging German officers and staff for corruption, cruelty and murder. Even some kamp kommandants were convicted on murder charges (of a few inmates) and were executed for it. Really! That was surprise to me and I recommend people check this out for themselves if they doubt me.
Before I go on, I should at this point say that the appalling number of fatalities at the war’s end in those camps was clearly a tragedy of epic proportions. I do not mean to minimize in any way the suffering of those poor people.
It’s just that I now understand that a mythology has developed around that which I was not aware of before. A mythology that demonizes Germans via denial of some basic, uncontested, but little-known or little-publicized facts. A mythology that is taboo, that cannot be questioned in nations throughout Europe under penalty of prosecution and imprisonment.
For example, with just a few seconds thought it becomes obvious that the terrible footage of the emaciated bodies from starvation related to typhus epidemics that we are all familiar with cannot be connected to a gassing policy. Those are obviously pictures of people who died over a period of months from want and disease, not people who were separated and gassed on arrival. And the great irony is that the cause for that want and disease was not German, but was directly related to our own Allied war crime of intentionally targeting civilian populations and supply routes via aerial bombardment.
To get back to the currently widespread and accepted mythology that demonizes the Germans unfairly, here was a shocker: I discovered that Auschwitz had a swimming pool for the inmates.
Did you know that? I myself was doubtful at first, but when I investigated to check out if that was accurate I discovered not only that but that the camp also had a cinema. It even had a brothel for the inmates (prostitutes had also been sent to concentration camps). And a canteen with beer and food (ice cream and cake). Plus the workers were originally paid money for their labor (but later in vouchers) to be used in the canteen, stores and brothel.
Looking into it further I discovered that it also had dental facilities, sick barracks, a camp kitchen which had the caloric content of the diet carefully monitored by camp and Red Cross delegates. (This only deteriorated in Auschwitz and other camps towards the end of the war when the entire German transport system collapsed under constant aerial bombardment.)
Auschwitz had up to 16 camp orchestras (with instruments available), a camp theatre (where live plays were performed by camp inmate actors), camp sculpture classes (conducted for interested inmates by professional sculptors), camp art classes for inmates, a camp university (with lectures on topics from health, the arts, philosophy, science, economic issues, etc.). Marriages took place (worker inmates fell in love and were allowed to marry their inmate partners there). It had its own Auschwitz maternity ward (over 3,000 live births were registered there, with not a single infant death while Auschwitz was in operation under German rule). The women sections of the camp had female guards. It had a camp post office (with twice weekly pick-ups and deliveries).
Check this one out: it even had its own jail (for inmates who committed crimes against another inmate).
This next one was a big surprise: it even had a "Camp complaints office” where inmates could register complaints or make suggestions. Camp Commander Höss had a standing order that any inmate could approach him personally to register a complaint about other inmates such as "Kapos" and even guards. It had a system of strict discipline for guards and also for inmates, with punishment being handed out against those found guilty for even slapping an inmate.
Er… is anyone still reading? Or is this too disturbing a subject matter?