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Engineers Of The Holocaust – In Their Own Words

The Holocaust – Let Us Never Forget Those Who Died – Or Those Who Took Their Lives – Liepaja, Latvia, December 1941

Being a devout atheist (so to speak) I very rarely use the word “evil”. It seems too loaded with connotations of the supernatural or religious, as if some human actions were attributable to forces or powers beyond us. They are not. Nor have they ever been. As we look on at the turmoil in the world, particularly outside what is usually claimed as the “Western world”, it is all too easy to assume an air of superiority. Of civilized patricians gazing down in despair at the barbarian hordes beating against the gates. The clash of civilizations perceived by some between the Christian (or secular) West and the Islamic – well, everywhere else – can be attributed to a similar world-view.

However it is all too easy to forget the savage inside and that barbarism is not the sole possession of the “other”. Ireland is a small island-nation perched on the edge of Europe and we share a region of the globe with countries that were historically some of the greatest barbarian nations the world has ever seen – even as they posed as harbingers of civilization. Britain, France, Spain, Portugal and all the others. Even the smaller ones, the Belgians and Dutch, have their blood-soaked moments – albeit principally in faraway nations out of reach of law and morality.

It was not so long ago that central Europe was little more than a charnel house – an abattoir of human suffering. And those whose hands sank deepest and most greedily into the red gore were those who claimed to be at the very pinnacle of European civilization. Now, as never before, we have their own words, unsolicited, voluntary and unguarded. German Prisoners of War secretly recorded by the Allies during World War II as they conversed with each other. No carefully worded, post-conflict accounts these. Rather what we have is the horror of Nazi Germany, indeed its evil, in all its unredacted rawness. They are now gathered together into a new collection by the German historians Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer, Soldaten: On Fighting, Killing, and Dying: The Secret WWII Transcripts of German POWs, and The Slate magazine carries an extract beginning with Lieutenant General Heinrich Kittel talking to a fellow POW, Felbert, on Dec. 28, 1944:

Felbert: Have you also known places from which the Jews have been removed?

Kittel: Yes.

Felbert: Was that carried out quite systematically?

Kittel: Yes.

Felbert: Women and children—everybody?

Kittel: Everybody. Horrible!

Felbert: What did they do to the children?

Kittel (very excited): They seized three-year old children by the hair, held them up and shot them with a pistol and then threw them in. I saw that for myself. One could watch it; the SD [Sicherheitsdienst, the Security Service of the SS] had roped the area off and the people were standing watching from about 300 m. off. The Latvians and the German soldiers were just standing there, looking on.”

And this, Major General Walter Bruns also caught in conversation:

Bruns: When I arrived those pits were so full that the living had to lie down on top of the dead; then they were shot and, in order to save room, they had to lie down neatly in layers. Before this, however, they were stripped of everything at one of the stations—here at the edge of the wood were the three pits they used that Sunday and here they stood in a queue 1½ km long which approached step by step—a queuing up for death. As they drew nearer they saw what was going on. About here they had to hand over their jewellery and suitcases. All good stuff was put into the suitcases and the remainder thrown on a heap. This was to serve as clothing for our suffering population—and then, a little further on they had to undress and, 500 m in front of the wood, strip completely; they were only permitted to keep on a chemise or knickers. They were all women and small two-year-old children. Then all those cynical remarks! If only I had seen those tommy-gunners, who were relieved every hour because of over-exertion, carry out their task with distaste, but no, nasty remarks like: “Here comes a Jewish beauty!” I can still see it all in my memory: A pretty woman in a flame-coloured chemise. Talk about keeping the race pure: at Riga they first slept with them and then shot them to prevent them from talking.”

The next time someone talks of the barbarism of the “Third World”, or of Arabs and Islam, remember that it is the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the Holocaust-makers who now dictate the course of European politics and economics – and civilization.

9 comments on “Engineers Of The Holocaust – In Their Own Words

  1. I agree with your overall argument – that Westerners have been responsible for some of the most heinous crimes in history, and that it is absurd for us to look down on, for example, Islamists, with the view that there’s something inherently different or undeveloped in “those people” that allows them to do what some of them do. It’s something that we would all do well to remember. That said, placing blame for the Holocaust on modern-day Germans, which your last pargraph seems to do, seems very unfair.

    • Hi James, thanks for the Comment as always.

      My intention was to draw a “six degrees of separation” comparison. That none of us are that far away from barbarism, however one defines it.

      It certainly wasn’t my intent to blame the sins of the father on the children in the German reference in the last part. More the same idea of just how close we can be to these things. That only a generation or two can separate us from the past.

      Do you think the last paragraph should be rephrased?

      • I wouldn’t presume to tell you what you should or should not say on your own blog bro. I’m relieved that I misread the paragraph. Modern-day Germans beat themselves up too much over what their ancestors did. I think that a certain sense of cupability is appropriate at the governmental level, but not among individuals. Just my opinion.

  2. I always suspected you were Jewish. James Fox is after all a very English name. Let me guess, your ancestors are a mixture of Pale English on your dad’s side and Jews on your mother’s side. This would explain your overcompensating pseudo-Anglophobia, your Judeophilia and your cosmopolitan social liberalism.

    • Actually if my ancestors were English my surname would be “Mac an tSionnaigh” not “Ó Sionnaigh”, which is the indigenous form. And through Dublin, Meath and Westmeath we’ve been able to trace our family line back to the mid-1700s and the main Ó Sionnaigh line in the midlands.

      There is some Scots-Irish there from my grandmother’s Fermanagh family, but no English or Jewish, as far as one can tell. Not that it would matter.

      “Anglophobia”? Hardly. I quite like England and Englishness, or at least a certain form of it. So no fear or hatred of the English, assumed or otherwise. And would “Anglophobia” be a praiseworthy impulse in any case?

      “Judeophilia”? To an extent, probably. An admirable people who have much in common with the Gael. Our ancestors, in Early Christian Ireland, were certainly Judeophile. Some of the great scholars of Hebrew were Medieval Irish, something I must write about one day. And look to the role Jews played in the Irish Revolution, in Sinn Féin and the Irish Republican Army.

      Social liberal? Absolutely. Liberalism is at the heart of Irish Republicanism. Indeed of Celtic nationalism.

      All in all, a hit and miss comment. Thank you for it anyway.

      • Niall O'Donnell

        ” Some of the great scholars of Hebrew were Medieval Irish, something I must write about one day. And look to the role Jews played in the Irish Revolution, in Sinn Féin and the Irish Republican Army.”

        As an Irish Republican and a social liberal, who is married a wonderful liberal Jewish woman, I look forward to reading your commentary on this topic.
        Keep up the great work!

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