The role of ordinary Germans in the Holocaust is that of bystanders. The people of Germany watched on, without protest, as the Jewish people were murdered. Small and large jobs such as engineering and railway work contributed to the operation of the Holocaust and the murdering of Jews. The manipulation of the German people, through racist and anti-Semitic propaganda, speeches and polices from Hitler, meant that millions of Germans backed the plans to rid the nation of Jews. The idea that the Jews were responsible for economic, social and political issues was endorsed and it led to the idea that their banishment would lead Germany into a brighter future. Many people did not intend on aiding the Holocaust, but minor jobs that they did contributed to it significantly.
The participation of ordinary Germans in the holocaust was not limited to significant jobs; rather it included minor duties, tasks and jobs. Average Germans, working men and women who would not even think about murdering innocent people, still had to earn a living throughout the war. This meant continuing with their jobs that, although often accidental, assisted or minutely contributed to the murdering of Jews in the Holocaust. Factory owners would accept Jews as slaves, secretaries would write off people’s lives and railway employees watched thousands of Jews being driven to their deaths. An example of these ‘everyday’ jobs would be that of an engineer. Believe it or not, there were ordinary people who had to construct the gas chambers and crematoriums at German death camps, such as Auschwitz. A German Engineering company, Topf and Sohne, did this job and testimonies from three of their workers describe their duty.
“Prufer was an expert. He designed and constructed these crematoriums … I personally lead the installation work in Auschwitz crematoriums and gas chambers” German engineer Karl Schultze identifies himself and a co-worker as engineers of the Auschwitz death camp. Schultze also claims to have not known the true purpose of his constructions, and that they were for the execution of criminals. The second worker who testified, Fritz Sander, claimed that he was a patriot and that he was doing what he thought would help Germany win the war. The third testifying worker, Prufer, has a story that matched up with all aspects of the other two’s, apart from the fact that he claimed to have witnessed innocent human beings being liquidated and incinerated in the chambers he created.
When comparing these testimonies, it is difficult to imagine how one man could see “60 corpses of women and men of different ages … at 10 in the morning” , and be fully aware of the purpose of the chambers, and the other two be completely oblivious to this fact. The company Topf and Sohne applied for a patent for their “continuous-operation corpse incineration oven for mass use”, highlighting the fact that they were aware of the machines true purpose. These engineers were not members of the Nazi party, however they were either anti-Semitic and did what they did based on believes, or were simply fulfilling their duties and jobs. These minor jobs, as engineers, cost thousands and lives, so whether the intentions were based on anti-Semitic believes or simply a job; the small job of the engineers had a massive impact on the Holocaust.
Average Germans were manipulated into believing that Jews were an issue, which lead to increasing support of anti-Semitic views from ordinary people. Extremely influencing and convincing propaganda, both racist and anti-Semitic, along with manipulative speeches by German leaders raised levels of hatred for Jews. Some stories suggest that due to Hitler’s popularity people believed that the anti-Semitism was just a local problem, and not part of Hitler’s policy.
Hitler’s popularity meant that his views were openly accepted, thus his idea that the Jews were responsible for the economic, social and political problems in Germany, and his promise that the extermination of the Jews would bring a better future was recognized by much of the population. Walter Burmeister, an ordinary German, became a perpetrator of the holocaust. His role was as a gas-van driver, where he would drive a van and the exhaust would feed into the back area of the car, suffocating the Jews seated there. Burmeister claims that he was “…too influenced by the propaganda of the time to have refused to have carried out the orders [he] had been given” Whether or not it can account for it, this manipulation of strategic propaganda could have influenced why Germans either became a part of the Holocaust or simply chose to ignore it.
The lack of resistance and ignorance of the ordinary German population cost many million Jewish lives. The Nazi party’s desire for popularity and support meant that if there was a protest, actions would be taken to keep the public happy, or quiet, with minimal loss of reputation and status. In other words, it meant that the people could win. One successful attempt of protest proved that this theory would have worked. The Rosenstrasse Protest that occurred on the 27th of February 1943 led to the release of several hundred Jewish men from a Gestapo headquarters. This symbolic protest highlighted the fact that if the public were to protest, the execution of Jews could have been slowed or even halted. Despite this, the Rosenstrasse Protest remained the only large protest against the Holocaust throughout its entire duration.
This means that the German population continued to ignore and become passive bystanders of the genocide happening around them. The only key reasons that this would have occurred is because the people were either scared of the Nazis and the Gestapo, indifferent to what was going on, or supportive of anti-Semitism and the extermination of the Jewish society. The German population, while not necessarily supporting the Holocaust, did not do what they could have to prevent it from happening. Jobs, both large and small, that aided the running of the Holocaust, whether directly or indirectly, were still carried out by ordinary Germans.
Examples of these include engineers constructing gas chambers, factory owners accepting Jewish slaves, and railway employees transporting Jews to death camps. These people were influenced by strong and influential campaigns led by Nazi politicians, such as Joseph Goebbels, and manipulated into believing that the Jews were a hazard to Germany. Fear, indifference or support for the Nazis caused these ordinary people to ignore the Holocaust, rather than fight back, which cost the lives of millions of Jewish people.
* “Ordinary Germans: Were Ordinary Germans Culpable for the Holocaust?” History in Dispute. Ed. Tandy McConnell. Vol. 11: The Holocaust, 1933-1945. Detroit: St. James Press, 2003. 183-190. World History In Context. Web. 20 Feb. 2013. * Rosenstrasse, 2012, The Women’s Rosenstrasse Protest in Nazi Berlin, viewed 20th Feb 2012, http://www.rosenstrasse-protest.de/texte/texte_stoltzfus.html * Shamash: The Jewish Network, 2012, Experts From Testimonies, viewed 20th Feb 2012, http://shamash.org/holocaust/denial/testimony.txt * Topf Und Sohne, 2012 The Site and its History, viewd 20th Feb, 2012,
http://www.topfundsoehne.de/cms-www/index.php?id=94&l=1 * UCSD.edu, 2012, Deposition of Walter Burmeister, viewed 20th Feb 2012, http://weber.ucsd.edu/~lzamosc/chelm04.htm * Topf Und Sohne, 2012 The Site and its History, viewd 20th Feb, 2012, http://www.topfundsoehne.de/cms-www/index.php?id=94&l=1
Kurt Prufer, senior engineer of Topf and Sohne, testifying in Erfurt, Germany, March 5, 1946
[Quoted from the interrogation transcripts by Prof. Gerald Fleming from the University of Surrey, in an NYT article, July 18 1993] ——————————————————————– Q. Who apart from you participated in the construction of the furnaces?
A. From 1941-2, I constructed the furnaces. The technical drawings were done by Mr. Keller. The ventilation systems of the “Kremas” [crematoriums] were constructed by senior engineer Karl Schultze.
Q. How often and with what aim did you visit Auschwitz?
A. Five times. The first time at the beginning of 1943, to receive orders of the SS Command where the Kremas were to be built. The second time in spring 1943 to inspect the building site. The third time was in autumn 1943 to inspect a fault in the construction of a Krema chimney. The forth time at the beginning of 1944, to inspect the repaired chimney. the fifth time in September-October 1944, when I visited Auschwitz with the intended relocation [from Auschwitz] of the crematoriums, since the front was getting nearer. The crematoriums were not relocated, because there were not enough workers.
Q. Were you the sole Topf engineer in Auschwitz in spring 1943?
A. No, [senior engineer Karl] Schultze was with me in Auschwitz at the time. I saw personally about 60 corpses of women and men of different ages, which were being prepared for incineration. That was at 10 in the morning. I witnessed the incineration of six corpses and and came to the conclusion that the furnaces were working well.
Q. Did you see a gas chamber next to the crematoriums?
A. Yes, I did see one next to the crematorium. Between the gas chamber and the crematorium there was a connecting structure.
Q. Did you know that in the gas chamber and in the crematoriums there took place the liquidation of innocent human beings?
A. I have known since spring 1943 that innocent human beings were being liquidated in Auschwitz gas chambers and that their corpses were subsequently incinerated in the crematoriums.
Q. Who is the designer of the ventilation systems for the gas chambers?
A. Schultze was the designer of the ventilation systems in the gas chambers; and he installed them.
Q. Why was the brick lining of the muffles so quickly damaged?
A. The bricks were damaged after six months because the strain on the furnaces was colossal.
Engineer Fritz Sander testifying on March 7 1946
[Quoted from the interrogation transcripts by Prof. Gerald Fleming from the University of Surrey, in an NYT article, July 18 1993] ———————————————————————– I decided to design and build a crematorium with a higher capacity. I completed this project of a new crematorium in November 1942 – a crematorium for mass incineration, and I submitted this project to a State Patent Commission in Berlin.
This “Krema” was to be built on the conveyor belt principle. That is to say, the corpses must be brought to the incineration furnaces without interruption. When the corpses are pushed into the furnaces, they fall onto a grate, and then slide into the furnace and are incinerated. The corpses serve at the same time as fuel for heating of the furnaces. This patent could not yet be approved by the Main Patent Office in Berlin, because of its classification (as a state secret).
Q. Although you knew about the mass liquidation of innocent human beings in crematoriums, you devoted yourself to designing and creating higher capacity incineration furnaces for crematoriums – and on your own initiative.
A. I was a German engineer and key member of the Topf works and I saw it as my duty to apply my specialist knowledge in this way to help Germany win the war, just as an aircraft construction engineer builds airplanes in wartime, which are also connected with the destruction of human beings.
Testimony of Engineer Karl Schultze
[Quoted from the interrogation transcripts by Prof. Gerald Fleming from the University of Surrey, in an NYT article, July 18 1993] ——————————————————————— Q. What was your personal part in these “Krema” building operation and what was Prufer’s part?
A. Prufer was an expert. he designed and constructed these crematoriums and led the building operations in the concentration camps. I was responsible for the ventilation systems and for its air injection into the muffles. In specific instances, I led the installation operations personally. I personally led the installation work in Auschwitz crematoriums and gas chambers. For this purpose, I traveled to Auschwitz three times in 1943.
I did not know that in the crematoriums in Auschwitz-Birkenau innocent human beings were being liquidated. I thought criminals were being killed there who who had partly been sentenced to death because of the crimes they had committed against the German army in Poland and other occupied territories. I am a German and supported and am supporting the Government in Germany and the laws of our Government. Whoever opposes our laws is an enemy of the State, because our laws establish him a such. I did not act on personal initiative but as directed by Ludwig Topf. I was afraid of losing my position and of possible arrest.
Q. Your views do not really differ from the views of a Nazi.
A. No, I was not a member of the NSDAP [National Socialist German Workers Party]. I only respected and acted according to the laws of
[ 1 ]. Shamash: The Jewish Network, 2012, Experts From Testimonies, viewed 20th Feb 2012, http://shamash.org/holocaust/denial/testimony.txt [ 2 ]. ibid.
[ 3 ]. ibid.
[ 4 ]. ibid.
[ 5 ]. ibid.
[ 6 ]. Topf Und Sohne, 2012 The Site and its History, viewd 20th Feb, 2012, http://www.topfundsoehne.de/cms-www/index.php?id=94&l=1 [ 7 ]. “Ordinary Germans: Were Ordinary Germans Culpable for the Holocaust?” History in Dispute. Ed. Tandy McConnell. Vol. 11: The Holocaust, 1933-1945. Detroit: St. James Press, 2003. 183-190. World History In Context. Web. 20 Feb. 2013. [ 8 ]. UCSD.edu, 2012, Deposition of Walter Burmeister, viewed 20th Feb 2012, http://weber.ucsd.edu/~lzamosc/chelm04.htm [ 9 ]. Rosenstrasse, 2012, The Women’s Rosenstrasse Protest in Nazi Berlin, viewed 20th Feb 2012, http://www.rosenstrasse-protest.de/texte/texte_stoltzfus.html [ 10 ]. “Ordinary Germans: Were Ordinary Germans Culpable for the Holocaust?” History in Dispute. Ed. Tandy McConnell. Vol. 11: The Holocaust, 1933-1945. Detroit: St. James Press, 2003. 183-190. World History In Context. Web. 20