Yom Hashoah 2014

by Site Author

This past Sunday was Holocaust Remembrance Day. The day has a profound meaning for my family; half of my great-grandparents died in Nazi concentration camps. In advance of the day, I read Nuremberg Diary. The book was written by G. M. Gilbert, an American psychologist, who was assigned to the Nuremberg trial. He interviewed every Nazi defendant.

I had hoped that the book would provide a kind of reckoning. Gilbert asked the Nazis difficult questions about war crimes. But few of the defendants grappled with their culpability. Instead, the most highly ranked defendants had various stories for why they were not to blame. There are few answers in the book.

Most of the top Nazis on trial at Nuremberg did not directly supervise the concentration camps. They heard rumors about the camps, and they chose to ignore the rumors. For instance, Hermann Goering’s wife had no political power, and yet even she had heard of Auschwitz.

[Goering’s wife] had asked Himmler to let her go and see Auschwitz concentration camp, because she had received so many letters saying that things were not quite as they should be. As the first lady of the land, she wanted to be convinced that everything was in order. Himmler wrote a polite letter, but told her not to meddle in things that were no concern of hers.

Rudolf Hoess was commander of Auschwitz. In one of the most profoundly unsatisfying chapters in the book, he gives Gilbert an unfeeling and methodical description of why he felt no remorse at Auschwitz:

You can be sure that it was not always a pleasure to see those mountains of corpses and smell the continual burning. But Himmler had ordered it and had even explained the necessity and I really never gave much thought to whether it was wrong. It just seemed a necessity.

And then there’s the suggestion, made by Goering himself, that what the Nazis did could happen anywhere.

Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.