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  #1  
Old 01-28-2004, 03:24 PM
erislover erislover is offline
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Nazi Germany: How Much Did the Average German Know?

That's pretty much it. During the time the concentration camps were in operation, how much did the average German person know about what was going on in them? Similarly, only a fraction of the military could have been at these places. What about the rest of the troops?

There was obviously some denial from other western civilizations about the matter, I've seen this documented. But I wonder about the population itself, how much they were aware of.
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  #2  
Old 01-28-2004, 05:57 PM
RealityChuck RealityChuck is offline
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The concentration camps were no secret in Germany. I recall one account where a train made a stop and the conductor announced "Dachau Station." Everyone went silent. They knew.

But note one thing: there were two type of camps (at least, in the beginning): concentration camps and extermination camps. The concentration camps (like Dachau) were a place where prisoners were concentrated. In other words, prison camps. Now the Nazis were not particularly nice to their prisoners, but they were originally just prisons for criminals (though, of course, what the Nazis considered criminals may not correspond to what most people think). People were actually released from concentration camps -- with the warning that if they told anyone what happened inside, they'd be paying a return visit.

The extermination camps (like Auschwitz and Treblinka) were designed solely to exterminate undesirables. Treblinka was pretty much just one big execution chamber; Auschwitz had the prisoners work until they dropped before killing them. These were not set up in Germany, BTW, so I suppose it was possible that the average German in the home front didn't know about them. But I think most had a rought idea of what was happening.
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Old 01-28-2004, 05:59 PM
Monkeypants Monkeypants is offline
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This probably belongs in some other forum, but I don't get worked up about that. Anyway, if you are interested in this issue, you will be interested in this book.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg...glance&s=books

It has been much criticized but it is a great place to start.
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  #4  
Old 01-28-2004, 06:18 PM
erislover erislover is offline
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I didn't know there were two kinds of camps like that, actually. I thought they all did everything from imprisonment to outright extermination.

Informative.
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  #5  
Old 01-28-2004, 06:36 PM
Reeder Reeder is offline
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Actually, Auschwitz was a work camp. The death camp within the confines of Auschwitz was called Birkenau.
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  #6  
Old 01-28-2004, 06:53 PM
kellner kellner is offline
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I'm from Germany, and this topic is often debated. many people denied knowing anything and obviously the degree of knowledge varied greatly.

From all I learned you have to assume that they knew that horrible things were going on but many did not know the full scale. The deportation of jews and other minorities and the arrest of all members of the opposition happened openly and was even celebrated. The existance of concentration camps (the first kind mentioned above, like Dachau) was neither kept secret nor denied in any way.

Officially they were presented as a bizarre combination of boot camps for creating better German citizens, work camps and even a measure to protect those minorities from acts of revenge by the German population.

However many people (giving even estimates is difficult if not impossible) knew that being sent to a concentration camp was pretty much a death sentence.
Even if they knew no details they had to notice that hardly anyone ever returned from the camps. Whether they wanted to know as much as they could is different issue.
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Old 01-28-2004, 07:26 PM
Bosda Di'Chi of Tricor Bosda Di'Chi of Tricor is offline
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The record of atrocities on the Russian front is pretty clear.

Everybody in Russia knew about them.

I've been reading a little about the Eastern Front, & I pity the Russian civilians more than words can express.

History is a hell of a lot scarier than a nightmare. You wake up from nightmares.
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Old 01-28-2004, 07:27 PM
Quartz Quartz is offline
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Some knew very little, at least initially. My mother spent some time in Heidelburg after the War and some friends of hers thought that the local camp was a mental hospital or something until they related this to a guest and promptly received a visit from the Gestapo.
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  #9  
Old 01-28-2004, 07:37 PM
MC Master of Ceremonies MC Master of Ceremonies is offline
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It's an oft debated subject with no defintive answer, I think it's fair to say that a significant portion of Germany's population were aware of varying degrees of detail rumours that such things were going on (the Nazi's earlier'euthenasia' projects were already quite well-known, mainly due to the fact that the church had kicked up quite a fuss).

But at the same time you have to remebr that the Nazis went to some length to keep the mass extermination from the Germans, which is why the death camps were not situated in Germany, but to the east. Also you must take into consideration that Germany was a totaliterian state were all forms of media were controlled by the Nazis and even gossip or a comment could be enough for you to be arrested by the Gestapo and taken to a concnetrtaion camp (which were certianly known to the Geerman populace, though they were not built for extermination, the appalling conditioons whitn the camps and the genral contempt for the lifes of the inmates shown by the Nazis means that a signifcant proportion of those who died in the holocaust died in such institutions. Some concentration camps did have gas chambers nearby, but these were mainly used for Hitler's euthenasia programme, though some say that people may of been killed at the large Dachau gas chambers, which certainly could of been used for such purpose).

My own conclusion is that most Germans would of had some inkling of what was going on, but few would of known the fall scale or horror.
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Old 01-28-2004, 07:46 PM
Eve Eve is offline
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Berlin-born Marlene Dietrich, who did an enormous amount of war work for the Allies, said in the documentary Marlene, "Of course we knew about the concentration camps, so it wasn't hard to decide what side to be on. It was not a difficult decision to make."

Ironically, in Judgment at Nuremberg, Marlene played the wife of a Nazi general and said, "Do you think we knew? My God, we're civilized people--I tell you, we did not know." Marlene had a hard time playing that role.
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  #11  
Old 01-28-2004, 07:50 PM
GorillaMan GorillaMan is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Reeder
Actually, Auschwitz was a work camp. The death camp within the confines of Auschwitz was called Birkenau.
The two camps, Auschwitz and Birkenau, are some distance apart. Auschwitz was originally IIRC a POW camp, and was the site of the first (small) gas chamber. Birkenau is much larger, and featured the main chambers.
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Old 01-28-2004, 08:49 PM
sunfish sunfish is offline
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Originally Posted by MC Master of Ceremonies
My own conclusion is that most Germans would of had some inkling of what was going on, but few would of known the fall scale or horror.
My mother was born in 1931, so she was rather young while the war was on. She was also from a little town in the Bavarian countryside that didn't have a noticeable Jewish population, so she didn't have any personal observations of bad things happening to neighbors to go by. Nevertheless, she did say that there was talk about Jews being removed to camps, and rumors about an unpleasant fate for them. The news came to her and her school friends through older siblings or parents who sometimes listened in secret to Allied radio broadcasts. Any discussion was kept very low-key, because people were afraid of running afoul of local Nazi officials.
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  #13  
Old 01-28-2004, 09:06 PM
UDS UDS is offline
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I don't think we should exclude the possibility that many Germans might have heard rumours which were in fact more or less accurate, but which they found difficult to believe, which they couldn't check and which they didn't want to believe.

I mean, if we didn't know what we know about the Nazi Holocaust, we would find it very difficult to believe that the government of any western nation would try to eliminate an ethnic minority by murdering them all through industrial processes, wouldn't we? And if we heard a rumour to that effect about our <i>own</i> government, we would find it very hard to credit.

What the Nazis were doing was, in fact, incredible, so I think we should allow for the possibility that, in good faith, people wouldn't believe it without compelling corroborative evidence.
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  #14  
Old 01-28-2004, 09:16 PM
F. U. Shakespeare F. U. Shakespeare is offline
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In 1996, I sat next to a an elderly gentleman on a flight from Miami to Baltimore. He had a slight accent, which could have been British, or simply boarding-school.

He was very polite and cordial, and when he mentioned having flown, I asked him if he had been in the military.

He grinned.

"Yes, but on the wrong side."

He related a fascinating bio: he had served in the German Navy, been taken prisoner of war, and held in America. When he was released at the war's end, he emigrated here, and ended up marrying an American girl. He had been educated in Germany as a structural engineer, and started a very successful business here, simultaneously earning his doctorate in geology at an Ivy League school. His two sons became engineers.

He volunteered that he came to America because, and I'm quoting, "I don't like Germans".

When I recoiled slightly, he elaborated, "The German people knew about the holocaust -- it was no secret."

I offered my honest opinion: it took a lot of courage to believe that, even more to say it.

I then offered another honest opinion: that conditions imposed on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles were harsh enough to bring out the worst in any people, etc, etc.

He smiled warmly and thanked me effusively.

I will always remember that conversation.
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  #15  
Old 01-29-2004, 02:28 AM
Jack Sarang Jack Sarang is offline
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There is no question whether or not the German people knew what the Nazi's policy's were toward jews. There are photos of average german people at Nazi rallies with signs plastered all over the walls, "The Jew is the Enemy" and such.

Could the average german know about the death camps and precisely what was occuring? How could they? Its not as if the SS were giving free tours and they were all outside of Germany, which would make it even more difficult for rumours to spread word-of-mouth.

Its worth noting, that at least one camp in Germany, Dachau, was set-up as a death-camp but was never used. I visited several years ago and its theorized that one of the reasons it wasn't used was that they didn't want to defile the soil of the Fatherland with the exterminations, but it was fine elsewhere.
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Old 01-29-2004, 03:20 AM
Walloon Walloon is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Eve
Berlin-born Marlene Dietrich, who did an enormous amount of war work for the Allies, said in the documentary Marlene, "Of course we knew about the concentration camps, so it wasn't hard to decide what side to be on. It was not a difficult decision to make."
I'm puzzled why Dietrich would be asked this, as she lived in the United States from 1930 onward.
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  #17  
Old 01-29-2004, 03:52 AM
Largo62 Largo62 is offline
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Since most of the death camps like Auschwitz and Treblinka (and several others) were located in Poland, it seems unlikely that during the war the average German would "know" what went on there except by rumor.

How much do Americans "know" of the actions of US troops in Viet Nam, to say nothing of Central America over the last century? Rumors abound, but what do we really know? Not much. I'm not saying that atrocities were widespread, but what we know about Mi Lai should signal that other such events might have occurred. Even with a free press, we don't know much about such things. How much could the Germans have known when their press was controlled and the Nazis had spies everywhere?

I'm inclined to believe that when average Germans of the day said they didn't really know, they are telling the truth. What they had heard or what they suspected is still not knowledge. And given the general fear of the Gestapo, the less they knew the safer they felt.

Not a "factual" answer, I know, but most of this thread is opinion. I just added mine.
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  #18  
Old 01-29-2004, 04:15 AM
OliverTwistofLime OliverTwistofLime is offline
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My Discussions With Hospital Employees Munich

I WAS CHIEF OF THE DEPT OF OBGYN AT US ARMY HOSPITAL IN MUNICH, GERMANY (not far from Dachau concentration camp where people were gassed and placed in the ovens).

During the time I was there (1960 to mid 1963), I discussed the OP with countless employees who lived in Germany during the Hitler years.....Many of them reporte to me that they were aware that trucks often carried away their Jewish neighbors who never returned.

More importantly, they saw clouds of smoke coming from Dachau. The rumors were what we all know did take place.

Almost all of the people I talked to had an idea what was going on but stated that they wouldn't talk about it to others outside their families for fear that they would be picked up and carted away.

One University of Munich medical students showed me photographs of local people of Munich laughing with Nazi soldiers at people hanging from ropes in trees.
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Old 01-29-2004, 05:59 AM
Jack Sarang Jack Sarang is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MadSam
I WAS CHIEF OF THE DEPT OF OBGYN AT US ARMY HOSPITAL IN MUNICH, GERMANY (not far from Dachau concentration camp where people were gassed and placed in the ovens).
Nobody was ever gassed at Dachau. The facilities existed but were never used. Thousands of people were cremated in the ovens at Dachau because of the high rate of prisoner death. The camp initially only had one oven, they had to build a second, larger oven to keep up with the demand.
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  #20  
Old 01-29-2004, 08:03 AM
Bromley Bromley is offline
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Originally Posted by MC Master of Ceremonies
But at the same time you have to remebr that the Nazis went to some length to keep the mass extermination from the Germans, which is why the death camps were not situated in Germany, but to the east.
Do you have evidence for that? My own guess is that it was purely a transport decision. If you look at the map below, you'll note that the vast majority of Jews were to the east of Germany. Why build in Germany and transport them all there? In addition, the majority of the the other "undesirables" were east, especially if they were planning ahead for after the conquest of Russia.

Jewish populations in Europe pre-Holocaust
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Old 01-29-2004, 08:51 AM
Eve Eve is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Walloon
I'm puzzled why Dietrich would be asked this, as she lived in the United States from 1930 onward.
She got constant pleas from Germany—the top film studios, the Nazi elite—to come back and be Germany's biggest star; they offered her the world on a silver platter. But she stayed put and became a US citizen, because by the late '30s she knew damn well what was going on from her German friends and relatives. She became a major target of the Nazis after that, and to this day many Germans have not forgiven her for "treachery to the Fatherland."
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Old 01-29-2004, 09:39 AM
GorillaMan GorillaMan is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bromley
Do you have evidence for that? My own guess is that it was purely a transport decision. If you look at the map below, you'll note that the vast majority of Jews were to the east of Germany. Why build in Germany and transport them all there? In addition, the majority of the the other "undesirables" were east, especially if they were planning ahead for after the conquest of Russia.

Jewish populations in Europe pre-Holocaust
The siting of Auschwitz was certainly logistical. Oswiecem (the Polish name) was - and still is - a major railway junction.
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Old 01-29-2004, 12:01 PM
hajario hajario is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DesertGeezer
How much do Americans "know" of the actions of US troops in Viet Nam, to say nothing of Central America over the last century? Rumors abound, but what do we really know? Not much. I'm not saying that atrocities were widespread, but what we know about Mi Lai should signal that other such events might have occurred. Even with a free press, we don't know much about such things. How much could the Germans have known when their press was controlled and the Nazis had spies everywhere?
Central Americans and Vietnamese people who were American citizens were not rounded up and taken away forever from neighborhoods in the U.S.

In my grandmother's town (which was in Ukraine, not Germany) it took a while for the transport to arrive that took all of the Jews to one of the camps. They were all herded into the town square and held there for three days until the trains came. I imagine there were several similar scenes throughout Nazi controlled areas.

In my estimation, people in Nazi Germany and any other Nazi controlled area generally fell into four main groups:

1. People who risked their lives and tried to help. A very small percentage, way less than 1%.

2. True Believers. The deluded and the stupid. Probably around 10% at most.

3. Profiteers. The people who benefitted as much as they could from the situation. Politics meant nothing to them so long as they made money. Far more evil than the previous group. Maybe 15-20%.

4. The silent majority. Everyone else. These people just kept their heads down, their eyes and ears shut and just tried to weather the storm. All they wanted to do was survive and keep their family alive.

Haj
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  #24  
Old 01-29-2004, 12:13 PM
CheekyMonkey613 CheekyMonkey613 is offline
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If they didn't know, then tell me why there are "collector german postcards" from that time, available on Ebay? These postcards (if you have the stomach to look at the pics) depict all kinds of shit as cartoons. If it was common enough to have as cartoons on post cards, they knew. Not only did they know, it was something that was accepted as "humour" by some. Yeah, very fucking funny.

What sickens me is, after all of the attrocities and all the years... some bastards collect this shit. Some bastards MAKE A BUCK on this shit; and some rat bastards are willing to PAY for this shit.

Sick sub-human freaks.
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  #25  
Old 01-29-2004, 12:41 PM
MC Master of Ceremonies MC Master of Ceremonies is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bromley
Do you have evidence for that? My own guess is that it was purely a transport decision. If you look at the map below, you'll note that the vast majority of Jews were to the east of Germany. Why build in Germany and transport them all there? In addition, the majority of the the other "undesirables" were east, especially if they were planning ahead for after the conquest of Russia.

Jewish populations in Europe pre-Holocaust
I'll cite Micheal Burleigh's The Third Reich: A New History on this one, there is alotof historical evidence that the Nazis went to lengths to conceal the extermination, which included the siting of the death camps (simlairly they did go to lengths to conceal their earlier euthanasia programme).

On Dachau, the gas chambers there were almost certainly not ever used for extermination though there was a small gas chamber in a nearby castle that was used for the Nazi's 'euthanasia' programme. The plumes of smoke would of come from the crematorium, which particularly towards the end of the war were overworked mainly due to deaths from diease, starvation and overwork.
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  #26  
Old 01-29-2004, 02:32 PM
ShibbOleth ShibbOleth is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hajario
In my estimation, people in Nazi Germany and any other Nazi controlled area generally fell into four main groups:

1. People who risked their lives and tried to help. A very small percentage, way less than 1%.

2. True Believers. The deluded and the stupid. Probably around 10% at most.

3. Profiteers. The people who benefitted as much as they could from the situation. Politics meant nothing to them so long as they made money. Far more evil than the previous group. Maybe 15-20%.

4. The silent majority. Everyone else. These people just kept their heads down, their eyes and ears shut and just tried to weather the storm. All they wanted to do was survive and keep their family alive.

Haj
I think that your numbers might be low. Here are the results of the last election which cemented the Nazi's power:

Code:
REICHSTAG ELECTION
MARCH 1933 
Party                 vote             % 
National Socialist    17,277,000     43.9 
Social Democratic      7,182,000     18.3 
Communist              4,848,000     12.3 
Center                 4,425,000     11.7 
Nationalist            3,137,000      8.0 
Bavarian People's      1,074,000      2.7 
Other parties          1,533,000      3.8
The Nazi's formed a coalition with the Nationalists to gain a full majority, then quickly changed the rules to quash the opposition. The 44% for the Nazis was a big leap of 33% or so from the earlier elections, owning at least some part to the burning of the Reichstag which was blamed on Van Lubbe (he confessed, but it could well have been under duress). So I would add more into the "deluded and stupid" column, at least.
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Old 01-29-2004, 02:50 PM
MC Master of Ceremonies MC Master of Ceremonies is offline
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The 1933 elections are the wrong elections for gauging actual support for the Nazis, as they took place after Hitler was Chancellor and amid the arrest and murder of socialists, the closing down of media outlets and intimadation by the Nazified police and the SA. The July (37.3%) or November (33.1%) can be seen as a better indicators, even though they also involved political violence and intimdation by the SA.
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Old 01-29-2004, 03:14 PM
Northern Piper Northern Piper is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by UDS
I don't think we should exclude the possibility that many Germans might have heard rumours which were in fact more or less accurate, but which they found difficult to believe, which they couldn't check and which they didn't want to believe.

I mean, if we didn't know what we know about the Nazi Holocaust, we would find it very difficult to believe that the government of any western nation would try to eliminate an ethnic minority by murdering them all through industrial processes, wouldn't we? And if we heard a rumour to that effect about our <i>own</i> government, we would find it very hard to credit.

What the Nazis were doing was, in fact, incredible, so I think we should allow for the possibility that, in good faith, people wouldn't believe it without compelling corroborative evidence.
I think UDS has a very good point. I read an article about Justice Frankfurter of the U.S. Supreme Court, who receved a delegation of Jewish refugees from Germany in the early 40s. They told him what they had heard was going on. He was quoted as saying something like, "It's not that I don't believe you - it's that I can't believe you." Frankfurter was Jewish, and a first generation immigrant from Austria, so he would have been aware of anti-Semitism, but he also had a compelling belief in progress. He simply couldn't accept, without a great deal more evidence, that such horrible things could be happening in civilized Europe.
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Old 01-29-2004, 03:47 PM
Apex Rogers Apex Rogers is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by UDS
I don't think we should exclude the possibility that many Germans might have heard rumours which were in fact more or less accurate, but which they found difficult to believe, which they couldn't check and which they didn't want to believe.

I mean, if we didn't know what we know about the Nazi Holocaust, we would find it very difficult to believe that the government of any western nation would try to eliminate an ethnic minority by murdering them all through industrial processes, wouldn't we? And if we heard a rumour to that effect about our <i>own</i> government, we would find it very hard to credit.

What the Nazis were doing was, in fact, incredible, so I think we should allow for the possibility that, in good faith, people wouldn't believe it without compelling corroborative evidence.
While you bring up a compelling point regarding how people would evaluate the credibility of any rumors they may have heard about the death camps, I would respectfully offer the opinion that citizens of Germany may have noticed the increasingly subversive methods their government was taking. These citizens may have started to notice the underhanded methods the government would take in removing people without explanation and sending them to camps of varying horror. Given such a pretext, receiving said information regarding the atrocities of the death camps, the citizens may have found the information to be more pertinent than had they not had such a secretive, omniprescent government.
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Old 01-29-2004, 04:24 PM
panamajack panamajack is offline
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The website at http://www.keom.de/denkmal/information.html has an extensive amount of information online about the camps, including maps. The database and most of the site is in German only, but from this page, if you click on the third choice (Massenermordung) and then again (Vernichtungslager) you can see where all the extermination camps were (Note that those are the 1941 borders of Germany).

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum site is another excellent site. The Maps page also shows locations of camps and other events.

Other nationwide events that most Germans would have known about are the 'German purity' movements (like the mass book burnings in 1933) and the open violence to Jews on Kristallnacht(Nov. 9, 1938).
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Old 01-29-2004, 06:51 PM
bonzer bonzer is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GorillaMan
The siting of Auschwitz was certainly logistical. Oswiecem (the Polish name) was - and still is - a major railway junction.
It's worth noting that Dwork and Jan Van Pelt's Auschwitz: 1270 to the Present (1996, Norton) rather brilliantly argues for this as only partly the reason. They see the site as central to a long history of the town as a crossroads of much of eastern European history. A border where people were often interred. A disputed patch of land ripe for Germans wanting to found an ideal new community.
None of this contradicts the significance of Oswiecem as a major rail junction, but these are plausible other layers to the issue.
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Old 01-29-2004, 08:12 PM
UDS UDS is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Apex Rogers
While you bring up a compelling point regarding how people would evaluate the credibility of any rumors they may have heard about the death camps, I would respectfully offer the opinion that citizens of Germany may have noticed the increasingly subversive methods their government was taking. These citizens may have started to notice the underhanded methods the government would take in removing people without explanation and sending them to camps of varying horror. Given such a pretext, receiving said information regarding the atrocities of the death camps, the citizens may have found the information to be more pertinent than had they not had such a secretive, omniprescent government.
I accept the points you make. But the German government was not all that underhand in its antisemitism. Antisemitism was open and official. Most, if not all, Germans would be fully aware that the Jews were persecuted as a people, that they were systematically arrested and taken away, and that they did not return.

It did not follow, however, that they were being murdered, and I still think that this would have been a very difficult thing to accept. Official and open antisemitism, persecution, population movement and deportations were not invented by the Nazis. Within the memory of many persons then living, similar policies had been pursued (though less systematically) in Tsarist Russia, but there was no systematic genocide. I really think that that was a quantum leap which it would have been very difficult for anyone to believe without the clearest possible evidence.
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Old 01-29-2004, 10:41 PM
tadc tadc is offline
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Originally Posted by UDS
Germans would be fully aware that the Jews were persecuted as a people, that they were systematically arrested and taken away, and that they did not return.
According to the exhibits I saw at Dachau, many people did return from(and to) the camps, especially earlier in the war.
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Old 01-29-2004, 10:44 PM
UDS UDS is offline
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Originally Posted by tadc
According to the exhibits I saw at Dachau, many people did return from(and to) the camps, especially earlier in the war.
Indeed, especially as the early camps (like Dachau) were conceived of as prisons. People were sometimes released. But I think not many Jews were released.
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Old 01-29-2004, 10:47 PM
kniz kniz is offline
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Do you remember Schultz and his favorite statement "I know nothing"?
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Old 01-30-2004, 02:05 AM
syncrolecyne syncrolecyne is offline
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I strongly recommend reading I Will Bear Witness , a published diary by Victor Klemperer. He was a German Jewish academic who managed to survive in Germany through the war, due to being a WWI veteran and having an "Aryan" wife. He lived in Dresden, which makes his survival even more amazing.

It is surprising to see how much he managed to hear, both about the war at the front, and stories about massacres and death camps outside of Germany. the most remarkable quality though was his ability to "read between the lines" of Goebbel's propaganda...

Another source is Ian Kershaw's The Hitler Myth, which compiles "public opinion" (not taken by gallup polls but mostly by Gestapo eavesdropping). One interesting detail from that book is the service member's obituaries in the local papers. That was one of the few spaces where any form of content not written by Goebbel's propagandists was published at all. In the beginning of the war, most obituaries contained the line "For Führer and Fatherland...". That phrase suddenly diminishes after Stalingrad and by the latter months of the war, few obituaries included such dedications to the regime, and family submitted death notices were no longer accepted. This illustrates how in a total police state, we only have very indrect clues over public opinion or common perceptions of events.

It shows a lot of Germans did hear bits and pieces about the Holocaust and the progress of the war after Stalingrad, and those who expressed their misgivings aloud often ended up in trouble.

In short, many Germans did know things, but they either chose to ignore them, or felt utterly powerless to do anything about it, with a very few brief and ultimately futile exceptions (such as the "White Rose").
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  #37  
Old 01-30-2004, 03:04 AM
Johnny Bravo Johnny Bravo is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Monkeypants
This probably belongs in some other forum, but I don't get worked up about that. Anyway, if you are interested in this issue, you will be interested in this book.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg...glance&s=books

It has been much criticized but it is a great place to start.
Well, if you're going to read that book, you're also going to have to read this one.
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  #38  
Old 01-30-2004, 08:00 AM
Diceman Diceman is offline
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I can believe that most Germans didn't know. Denial is a poweful force; it's only natural to want to believe that your government is right.

Consider this analogy: you hear rumors that "Camp X-ray" in Guantanamo Bay is, in fact, an extermination camp. Not just suspected terrorists, but all sorts of "undesirables" (homeless people, illegal immigrants, and even some government critics) are being sent there for the express purpose of eliminating them. Would you believe this? A year ago, I would have laughed openly at such a suggestion. These days I'm not so sure, but I can see how many people would simply refuse to believe such a rumor.
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  #39  
Old 01-30-2004, 08:04 AM
Mycroft Holmes Mycroft Holmes is offline
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Originally Posted by UDS
Antisemitism was open and official. Most, if not all, Germans would be fully aware that the Jews were persecuted as a people, that they were systematically arrested and taken away, and that they did not return.

It did not follow, however, that they were being murdered, and I still think that this would have been a very difficult thing to accept. Official and open antisemitism, persecution, population movement and deportations were not invented by the Nazis. Within the memory of many persons then living, similar policies had been pursued (though less systematically) in Tsarist Russia, but there was no systematic genocide. I really think that that was a quantum leap which it would have been very difficult for anyone to believe without the clearest possible evidence.
You are quite correct. I am German and I know from my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents that antisemitism and general xenophobia were very common in Germany ever since the 19th Century. Even today, Germans still seem to be a very xenophobic and racist people. Just look at some of the things that happened in Germany just a few years ago, here. My wife is Brazilian, and she say that she felt a lot more uncomfortable in Germany than she does here in the Netherlands.

The town where my parents grew up (in the Rhein-Main area) had a population of about seven thousand before the Nazi regime gained power. Of those seven thousand, about 600 were Jewish or of Jewish ancestry. I think the whole town must have noticed when quite a few houses and shops were suddenly empty and closed. Also, the Jews from the general area (about three thousand in total) were kept at a former school in the center of Darmstadt for almost a week, and then sent in three transports to Theresienstadt and Auschwitz (March 20, September 27 and September 30, 1942), never to be seen again. In the later stages of the war, most of these houses (the ones not "confiscated" by high ranking party members) were used to house slave labourers from Eastern Europe, who worked in the factories near the town. Some of the companies in the general area that used slave labour were:

Bopp & Reuther (Mannheim), Draiswerke (Mannheim), Grosskraftwerk (Mannheim), Hutchinson (Mannheim), Matra-Werke (Frankfurt a.M.), Odenwaelder Hartsteinindustrie (Hanau), Deutsche Asphalt AG (Neu-Isenburg), Heinrich Lanz AG (Mannheim), Naxos-Union (Langen)

at the end of the war the houses were again empty, and were then used to house large numbers of so called "Heimatsvertriebenen". These were Germans living in the German speaking parts of Poland, Slovakia, Czechia, etc. There are still quite a large number of these families living in my home town.

Also, my own grandfather was a colonel in the Waffen SS and died on the Russian front. Though he doesn't mention anything in his letters home, there is no possible way he could not have known what was going on. And I am quite sure he at least told my grandmother, although she never talked about it.

So, all in all, it seems quite likely that most people had at least a general idea about what was happening, but most people were also too afraid for their own lives to do anything or say anything. I know from speaking with my grandparents, that you weren't able to trust anyone, because you never knew who might be inclined to inform the Gestapo or even the local police, about any so called "subversive" acts.
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  #40  
Old 01-30-2004, 11:01 AM
erislover erislover is offline
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The act of turning others in or being turned in has been given more than a passing mention here, and it makes me wonder: what did one get out of turning someone else in? Money? Status? A blind eye towards other petty crimes?

I ask this because the explanation is becoming somewhat impossible otherwise, it seems to me. If rumors spread, people were talking, and thus I think it is safe to say that, due to the government's fear of communicating these very things that they were actually true. Is there a way for me to understand the thickness of fear that existed due to the police state? No, but doesn't that itself indicate the extent of what was being hidden? It is almost like we want them to say, "You don't know how horrible it was!" accusatively, then follow that up with the plea, "We didn't know how horrible it was!"

Anti-semitism was open, check. Been that way for a while. Routinely rounded up and shipped away, never to return, check. But this doesn't indicate that they were being killed, only deported. We have some reports in this thread that [nearly] everyone knew, and others that they suspected but didn't know, and still other reports that it is really quite possible they didn't know.

Perhaps the matter just wasn't as clear as I thought. Who worked in the camps, only the police? Didn't the police have families? If they thought they were doing right, are we so sure they didn't discuss it...?

The answer seems less clear to me now than when I opened the thread! But thanks for the responses so far, very informative.
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  #41  
Old 01-30-2004, 11:36 AM
Mycroft Holmes Mycroft Holmes is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by erislover
The act of turning others in or being turned in has been given more than a passing mention here, and it makes me wonder: what did one get out of turning someone else in? Money? Status? A blind eye towards other petty crimes?

Perhaps the matter just wasn't as clear as I thought. Who worked in the camps, only the police? Didn't the police have families? If they thought they were doing right, are we so sure they didn't discuss it...?
Actually, the act of turing in others usually did provide status and a blind eye to other petty crimes. More importantly, it made you look more loyal to the Nazi regime, thus giving you that little bit of extra protection from other people turning you in for something you might have said or done.

As to the people who worked in the camps, at least for extermination camps, it was almost exclusively members of the Waffen SS and the SS Totenkopfverbaende. All menial work in the camps (like removing corpses from the gas chambers, etc.) was actually done by the prisoners themselves. Also, since the extermination camps were in Eastern Europe, the only communication with family and friends was by mail, and this was clearly checked and censored (I've seen my grandfather's letters home, so I know). Even the US Army nows about Opsec . As to who worked in the prisoner camps, and how they communicated with their families and friends, I'll have to leave that to someone else.
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  #42  
Old 01-31-2004, 09:00 PM
zapomel zapomel is offline
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Just a note to Mycroft... I realize you're German, but you should be careful saying anything that intimates that other countries somehow have a better track record in the War. Especially Holland. There were quite a lot of people who resisted, but very many collaborators, and my personal experiences with the Dutch have not left me with an overwhelmingly positive impression. While a few countries (so I've read) resisted more vigoously, I gather that most occupied nations pretty much did what everyone here is talking about the Germans doing.
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  #43  
Old 02-01-2004, 03:17 AM
pulykamell pulykamell is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GorillaMan
The two camps, Auschwitz and Birkenau, are some distance apart. Auschwitz was originally IIRC a POW camp, and was the site of the first (small) gas chamber. Birkenau is much larger, and featured the main chambers.
This is pretty much correct. The Auschwitz (Oscwiecim) and Auschwitz II -Birkenau (Brzezinka) camps are within walking distance of each other, though. The Auschwitz camp looks surprisingly understated. I've been there three times and it just doesn't look like what one would imagine a concetration camp to look like. Birkenau is HUGE compared to Auschwitz, and it's where the trains would roll up to drop off prisoners. It certainly more matches the popular conception of a concentration camp. Auschwitz I was the concetration/work camp, Birkenau the extermination camp. (Although people were executed at both, so far as I remember.)
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  #44  
Old 02-02-2004, 03:16 AM
Mycroft Holmes Mycroft Holmes is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by zapomel
Just a note to Mycroft... I realize you're German, but you should be careful saying anything that intimates that other countries somehow have a better track record in the War. Especially Holland.
This is true. There were quite a lot of people of almost any nationality that volunteered for the SS. There were even whole Waffen SS brigades made up of volunteers from other countries. some of the people working as guards in the extermination camps were Polish or other nationalities. It wasn't just the Germans. I guess evil can manifest itself in anyone.

I remember a conversation I once had with a Jewish friend of mine. She asked me what I would have done if I had been around twenty years old during World War II and living in Germany. My honest answer was that I probably would have joined the Wehrmacht, as most adult men did at that time, and for the rest I would have tried to stay alive, and keep a low profile. Since my family is not of noble blood or old money, I would never have been an officer or a university student, so my chance of being involved in any type of resistance would have been very low. Like mentioned before, the top priority for most people, was just seeing that they made it through the war alive. I don't think I would have joined the Nazi party or volunteered for the SA or SS, but you never know. One has to remember that most of the members of the SS were indoctrinated since a very early age, because they were members of the Hitler Youth, etc., and it is very easy to mold the mind of a child.

As a simple Wehrmacht soldier, I would have to hope that I was stationed on the Western front (higher chance of survival, better treatment by otential captors). The lowest chance of survival would have been if I had joined the Navy and been stationed on a U-boat.
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  #45  
Old 02-02-2004, 11:44 AM
smiling bandit smiling bandit is offline
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Indeed, especially as the early camps (like Dachau) were conceived of as prisons. People were sometimes released. But I think not many Jews were released.
Not entirely true. I had a distinctly unpleasant, but worthwhile, experience of visiting Sachsen-Hausen last spring (amid much anti-americanism and exactly when the recent war began). Before the war Jews would often be taken, beaten up, and eventually released for a small ransom and promises to leave Germany. (Oddly, Shanghai was the only place in the world willing to take them in and a lot of Jews wound up there for some years during and after the war.) AFter the war began, though...

It wasn't exactly a gas-death camp, but there were summary executions of a lot of people and it had its own crematoria. I still have the pictures of "Arbeit Macht Frei" on the camp gates. Chilling.
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  #46  
Old 02-02-2004, 11:46 AM
smiling bandit smiling bandit is offline
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Indeed, especially as the early camps (like Dachau) were conceived of as prisons. People were sometimes released. But I think not many Jews were released.
Not entirely true. I had a distinctly unpleasant, but worthwhile, experience of visiting Sachsen-Hausen last spring (amid much anti-americanism and exactly when the recent war began). Before the war Jews would often be taken, beaten up, and eventually released for a small ransom and promises to leave Germany. (Oddly, Shanghai was the only place in the world willing to take them in and a lot of Jews wound up there for some years during and after the war.) AFter the war began, though...

It wasn't exactly a gas-death camp, but there were summary executions of a lot of people and it had its own crematoria. I still have the pictures of "Arbeit Macht Frei" on the camp gates. Chilling.

Not a lot of people know this, but after the war, many of the camps were reopened by the Soviets, who tended to kill their charges by slower, but nonetheless brutal means. At a presentation of pictures of the camp, I met a man who had been a minor German army officer and who was about to be taken into the camp by the Soviets. He escaped and fled west, and was quite convinced that's the only reason he survived.
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  #47  
Old 02-02-2004, 01:29 PM
gluteus maximus gluteus maximus is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by erislover
That's pretty much it. During the time the concentration camps were in operation, how much did the average German person know about what was going on in them? Similarly, only a fraction of the military could have been at these places. What about the rest of the troops?

There was obviously some denial from other western civilizations about the matter, I've seen this documented. But I wonder about the population itself, how much they were aware of.
Just
HOW is this a factual question?

Next, we'll be asked:

"Palestine at the time of Pontius Pilate: How much did the average Jew know?"

or

"East Africa in the late 16th century: How much did the average slaveowner know?

or

"Dallas in '63: How much did the average Texan know?"

or

"The USA in 2000: How much did the average American voter know?"
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  #48  
Old 02-02-2004, 01:54 PM
Mr. Milton Mr. Milton is offline
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MC said: "simlairly they did go to lengths to conceal their earlier euthanasia programme..." .

And therein may be part of the answer to the OP: BBC (and later in the US, the Discovery Channel) ran a special on this T-4 program, and the book "Nazi Germany: The Racial State" describes its evolution in some detail. The government at the time went to some lengths to debate euthanasia publicly, controlling the debate as can best be done in a state with control over the media. So while most everyone --even from an early age-- had been exposed to the official line on the goverment position and its euphemisms, fewer knew the full extent or the sordid detials.

This is, however, no excuse. Even without knowledge that the definition of "incurables" was streched way beyond limits, people knew they were being presented with the state's rationale for killing defenseless persons under the guise of Building a Better Germany.

The same with the Jews, Roma, Homosexuals, Jehova's Witnesses, &c., &c. &c. One would have to have been blind, deaf, and an idiot (and thus "life unworthy of life" subject to death by T-4) to know that even only by the evidence of the government-run media they were being presented with the image of whole classes of people who need to be "removed". When told that these groups are at least in some cases the equivalent of "bacilli" and rats (as in the widely shown film "The Eternal Jew"), it doesn't take a V-2 rocket scientist to figure out what "removal" means in the general sense.

So... did the average German know that Jews and so on were being taken to large death factories in the east for mass extermination by gas? Probably not. Did they know Jews and other "undesirables" were somehow being "removed" --permanently-- en masse as a matter of their own government's policy? Yes.

Whether or not "don't ask, don't tell" in this context is aquiescence or even complicity is another (great) debate.

Sidebar/hijack: Zyklon B:
You all know Zyklon B was used on a massive scale at Auschwitz and similar places for killing people in the gas chambers. You may also know it was not originally designed for that purpose, but rather was produced even before the Nazi era for fumigating buildings, etc. I was surprised to discover that it was also used for that latter purpose in the United States. I recently attended a conference in a building of the US Health & Human Services in the Washington DC area. During a break, I had the chance to peruse an exhibit on the history of the US Public Health Service (USPHS). A picture from the Depression era shown two fine fellows with the equipment they are about to use for fumigating some rural building; it includes several cans of the familiar and clearly marked Zyklon B. Except for that name, the rest of the label appears to be in English. The general size and proportions of the cans are the same as one sees in the Holocaust history books and so on.
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  #49  
Old 02-02-2004, 05:21 PM
Paradoxical Paradoxical is offline
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gas chamber I'm sure was painful, ovens I'm sure were very painful, but the weird torture performed by the doctors very painful. A friend of my fathers (friend is german) said that he'd seen footage of a women being put into a freezer, WHILE the sick "doctors" taunted and teased her! Did such things happen on a large scale among the german doctors? I also read somewhere that the U.S. offered to let the german doctors go, if they a.)worked here, or b.)turned over the "research" they had performed, is this also true?
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  #50  
Old 02-02-2004, 05:37 PM
GorillaMan GorillaMan is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Paradoxical
gas chamber I'm sure was painful, ovens I'm sure were very painful, but the weird torture performed by the doctors very painful. A friend of my fathers (friend is german) said that he'd seen footage of a women being put into a freezer, WHILE the sick "doctors" taunted and teased her! Did such things happen on a large scale among the german doctors? I also read somewhere that the U.S. offered to let the german doctors go, if they a.)worked here, or b.)turned over the "research" they had performed, is this also true?
I've no idea what scale the 'medical' experiments took place, and I suspect it's a matter of much conjecture among historians. But there's no doubt that it took place systematically - in Auschwitz there was a specific building dedicated to such activities. IIRC, the doctors were particularly fascinated by twins, and also by Jews who were considered to have Aryan characteristics.
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