Best exploration and insight into the minds behind the Holocaust

In one of my periodic delvings into the Holocaust, I came upon the testimony of Otto Ohlendorf, an SS commander, at the Nuremberg trials.

He was remarkably straight forward, and had no remorse whatsoever. He believed the murder of Jews (and others), even of women and children, which he described in detail, was a military necessity. This link also explores his justification, including a lengthy questioning by the prosecution about Ohlendorf’s thoughts on the morality of the orders he received – and Ohlendorf, finally, admits that he would murder his own sister if he was so ordered.

An extremely ugly but fascinating insight into the minds that conceived of and carried out the Holocaust.

What other sources (besides obvious ones like the speeches and writings of Hitler and Himmler) are similarly illuminating?

You’d probably also find interesting Into That Darkness: An Examination of Conscience, by Gitta Sereny. It’s a bunch of interviews Sereny had with Franz Stangl, commandant of Treblinka and Sobibor, while he was in jail. He goes into some detail about why he did what he did.

I also liked Masters of Death: The SS-Einsatzgruppen and the Invention of the Holocaust, though it’s not the detailed explanation of one person’ts actions as “Darkness”. I just like Richard Rhodes’s writing.

I’ve just finished Auschwitz, The Nazis and the ‘Final Solution’ by Laurence Rees, it has similar surprising insights into the minds that carried it out from his interviews with them, one describes his time in the Third Reich as ‘paradise’, one Ukrainian nationalist asks him what he thinks of the Jewish financiers controlling the world (‘garbage’, is what Rees replies).

Browning’s Ordinary Men is another book on the topic which I can’t recommend enough, about how a bunch of blokes from Hamburg descended first into murderers, then sadists.

There’s a secretly filmed interview up on YouTube with a former SS Treblinka guard Franz Suchomel, who describes it in clinical terms.

I haven’t read it, but Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil by Hannah Arendt is considered a classic.

Bettina Stangneth’s Eichmann Before Jerusalem: The Unexamined Life of a Mass Murderer is said to brilliantly complement / build upon / pwn Arendt’s book.

Hannah Arendt is an excellent and powerful writer; she should be compulsory reading in high schools and colleges.

I second the recommendation on “Ordinary Men”. It offered insight into how regular people got caught up in the holocaust and participated in death squads. It became a job to many of them. Very unsettling how easily the line between who is “human” and who is not can shift.