Anthology – Peoples’ Plan for Life, Now and Forever …
“For a long time, German public opinion refused to pay heed to Auschwitz. Those among the survivors who continued to draw the public’s attention to the events of Auschwitz could not overcome this barrier. Their repeated warnings merely confirmed them in their status (first conferred at Auschwitz) of social outcasts.
“For a change to come about, it needed the rise of a new generation who began to rebel against this oppressively burdensome heritage that their fathers tacitly tried to impose on them. The Eichmann trial in Jerusalem as well as the major Auschwitz lawsuit in Frankfurt signaled a change, after which the public could no longer deny the truth about Auschwitz.
“However, a sober and objective attitude to the phenomenon of Auschwitz is hardly possible so long as there are still living those who were induced to stifle all their natural instincts and deaden their conscience in order to commit mass murder for years on end with the equanimity of those who crush noxious insects and who, at best, complained about the unpleasant work they were forced to carry out in the interest of society at large. Since, however, the phenomenon of Auschwitz required people to take up positions, this was done, as a rule, by adhering to one or other of the factions that arose. Some tried to belittle the facts – typical here is the shameful discussion as to whether the number of victims had not been exaggerated; as if the enormity of the crime would somehow be diminished supposing a million less had been flung into the gas ovens. It is the same faction that assiduously sought to establish comparisons with crimes committed on a massive scale against other peoples, in order to deny the uniqueness of Auschwitz. Against this tendency, another party acknowledged guilt and framed confessions and accusations but often with a strangely abstract vocabulary which was hardly convincing. A commitment to a dispassionate analysis of human reactions in the extreme situation of Auschwitz is still lacking and yet there is no event in the recent past that more cries out to be analyzed. Only a generation capable of looking at Auschwitz from a distance, as we view the events of the nineteenth century, could undertake this study.
“This book is intended to facilitate the task of this generation. And if, over and above this help, the generation whose fathers had a personal relationship with Nazism can be stimulated to draw from it some lessons, so much the better.
“I have always been aware that, as a former inmate of Auschwitz, in spite of all my attempts at objectivity in this study, I would still remain partial, which will not have escaped the reader. I hope, however, that my efforts towards objectivity will likewise not be overlooked. They could even seem exaggerated to some; as for instance when the behavior of the detainees who could be induced to act against their fellow sufferers is less thoroughly described than the action of the prisoners who even as officials sometimes conducted themselves humanely; or when the motives that induced some of the SS to treat prisoners humanely are researched in detail, whilst the guard who carried out every death sentence receive less attention. However, this attitude is not merely the result of efforts made by one ensnared in the events of Auschwitz to attain objectivity. The attention of the observer is always more struck by the exceptions than by the rule. The analysis of the exceptions that occurred at Auschwitz can lead to important perceptions on human reactions in extreme situations. One may add here that the crimes committed at Auschwitz have already been amply documented. A recapitulation of the atrocities did not seem necessary.
“Whoever becomes aware of the extent of the massacre perpetrated at Auschwitz is inclined to seek out the guilty. My study should serve as a warning; no one should arrive at a verdict lightly; innumerable are those who would have acted no differently from the majority of gaolers at Auschwitz had they been posted there. It may likewise be assumed that most of those who were guilty of belonging to the machinery of extermination, would never have thought of killing had they not been pitched into the atmosphere of Auschwitz.
“These considerations are of limited interest to lawyers whose duty it is to establish the actual guilt of the individual. However, for those who became aware of the role often played by mere chance in the selection of the individuals who were to co-operate in mass murder, the criteria of the law will not suffice. It is by chance that a Baretzki or a Neubert had been posted to Auschwitz. Dr. Wirths and Dr. Mengele would not have been transferred there if they had remained fit for active service; it is through a chain of adventitious circumstances that people such as Hans Stark and Irma Grese came under the sway of the SS at a tender age. Once these facts are known it becomes obvious that it would be too facile to apportion guilt for the mass murders exclusively to those who actively committed them and to the handful who gave the orders. It was not as simple as that, namely that a few thousand people merely executing orders could build up, under the strictest secrecy, a system of extermination of which the people were completely unaware. Every serious analysis of the comportment of the murders of Auschwitz leads one outside this restricted circle of individuals.