Chapter 2: War and crime

September, 1939 – Germany invades Poland, thus starting World War II, which will devastate Europe. The aim is to dominate the continent and impose a new “racial” order. Poland, divided up between Germany and the Soviet Union, serves as the experimental grounds for these plans: on its territory, the Germans murder the members of the leading political and cultural classes or deport them to camps. They deprive the citizens of their rights and banish them from areas where Germans are to live. Polish Jews are herded together in ghettos.

The Wehrmacht, the SS, and the German occupation authorities collaborate closely in the work of subjugating and exploiting the Eastern European countries. After the victory over France, the forcible colonialisation of the East is to be consummated with the conquest of the Soviet Union.

As has already been the case after the German invasion of Poland, the war of extermination against the Soviet Union is characterized by massacres against the civilian population. The SS and Security Police form task forces whose purpose is to murder millions of Jews, but also Roma, by shooting. The Wehrmacht does nothing to prevent more than three million soldiers of the Red Army from starving to death in prisoner-of-war camps. In 1942, the SS establishes centers in Eastern Poland specifically for the systematic extermination of the European Jews. They deport Jewish inmates from the concentration camps in the Reich to Auschwitz.

Once the war is in progress, citizens of the occupied countries are also deported to the concentration camps. To an increasing degree, the camps become places of mass murder. The German regime further intensifies the terror to which it subjects its opponents.

Anti-Semitic enemy stereotypes and mass murder

One of the first waves of arrests carried out in Germany and Austria (the latter has belonged to the Reich since 1938) following the invasion of Poland targets stateless Jews of Polish origin. In Vienna the Gestapo detains 1,000 of them in the Prater Stadium. The cliché of the “Eastern Jew” is one of the main anti-Semitic enemy stereotypes. “Race researchers” at the Naturhistorisches Museum in Vienna obtain access to the stadium to find means of scientifically substantiating the cliché. After they have completed their work, the Gestapo deports the detainees to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp. Fewer than 50 of these people survive.

The murderers

The SS working for camp command headquarters have the development of the concentration camps to thank for their careers. In the years when the Nazis were coming to power, they belonged to the thug squads of the SS; in the early concentration camps they proved themselves as leaders or guards. Having passed examination according to “race-biological” criteria, they consider themselves and their wives the elite of the German people. In their self-conception, they have the right to use violence against “inferiors”. Social climbers who model their private lives after the middle-class lifestyle, these SS men photograph and present themselves and their place of work – the concentration camp – with equal pride.

The forced order of the camp

The inmates – wretchedly lodged, clothed and fed – are subjected to a forced order that the SS had already developed for the early concentration camps. They are compelled to march, stand motionlessly for hours during roll call, and cope with long, gruelling days of hard labour. There is an omnipresent fear of indiscriminate violence and of punishments carried out on the flogging stand or in the camp prison, the “Bunker”. In the barracks and labour detachments, the SS use inmates to keep the order: block seniors for the barracks, kapos and foremen for the various workplaces. Some of them, for example the kapos in the dreaded quarry, torment the other inmates as a way of currying favour with the SS. Others, among them many of the orderlies in the inmates’ infirmary, come to their fellow inmates’ aid. This does nothing to relieve the fear of getting sick. Sick inmates are useless to the SS and their lives are in constant danger.

Crime and cooperation

There are no limits to the power wielded by the SS. They have human lives at their disposal. This provides them with opportunities to cooperate with institutions and business enterprises outside the camp: they turn Polish inmates over to the Gestapo for publicly staged executions; in cooperation with the Robert Koch-Institut, the IG Farben AG and the Wehrmacht a ward is established especially for medical experiments. When the Gestapo in the Wehrmacht prisoner-of-war camps select Soviet commissars and Jews for killing, the SS set up a shooting facility at the Buchenwald Concentration Camp. Close cooperation also develops with the Sonnenstein and Bernburg sanatoria. Within the framework of the “euthanasia” programme, handicapped inmates and Jews classified as “unproductive” are asphyxiated in gas chambers there.

Schiller’s furniture

Already before 1933, Weimar is a center of German cultural nationalism that opposes everything “un-German”. The museums and commemorative sites of German Classicism thus fall smoothly into line with National Socialism. When Weimar and the houses of Goethe and Schiller are threatened by bombs, the persons in charge have no scruples about putting concentration camp inmates to work protecting their cultural assets. The furniture from the estate of Friedrich Schiller is taken to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp for several months. There inmates are ordered to build replicas to exchange with the originals.