How much did the german people know?

Reada couple articles which talk about how the British during world war 2 secretly bugged and recorded German Army POWs who among other things discussed war crimes and the holocaust committed by Nazi Germany.

Until these were declassified it was largely believed that the average German soldier knew very little about such things. I have to wonder how much did Germans during the war know.

No ones knows nothing. Same with the Intel community and WMD. Same with whatever - the Snowdon thing, Enron, sub prime mortgages, the Catholic church pedophiles, Abu Graib, disappearing, torture and black ops, etc

You know what you need to know and the rest you don’t see.

“I know nothing!” - Sgt. Hans Schultz

After the Allies took over, they marched the residents of the area around Dachau (which was in Germany itself, not out there in Poland or other occupied lands) through the camp, and all of them said they had not known what had been happening. The Allied officials asked them how they never noticed the train cars rolling through town and the smell from the ovens.

That seems to be a common theme, everyone claims they knew nothing but I don’t think it was true.

They probably knew, but didn’t say anything out of fear they’d be next.

They might not have known specifics but they knew Jews and others had been rounded up and never seen again.

The official line was that they were “resettled” somewhere in the East.

And accepting the official line, at least openly, was important if one wanted to remain healthy.

The grandfather of a friend of mine, who had been in the WWI German army, emigrated to the US in the late 1930s. The subject of what life in the Reich was like came up once, and he said it was rather like trench warfare: keep your head down and stick to the paths that had already been laid out, and you were (relatively) safe; stick your head over the edge and you were likely to lose it.

Wermacht soldiers would send home ‘holiday snap’ style pictures of them standing beside the bodies of murdered Russians until the army censors cracked down on that kind of picture. It really wasn’t any kind of secret, people just preferred to say they didn’t know rather than they knew but were too intimidated to do anything or new but didn’t care. The more prominent people, like Generals and such, made a point of loudly talking about how they didn’t know and opposed what they did know and so on, but the Nazis were really good at keeping meticulous records. While Manstein, for example, made the claim at trial and in his memoirs that he didn’t know about any killing of Jews until after the war was over, there are records showing that he ordered his officers not to be present at any shooting of Jews, and that he sent complaints to the einsatzgruppen commanders imploring them to hurry up their work.

I do t think any of us realize how tight a grip the Nazis had on people and information. Every city block had this person who turned in reports on everyone. Who complained. Who wasnt flying the Nazi flag high enough.

You just didnt talk even to family.

OTOH, there was a story by a traveler in prewar Germany who was taking a (regular railway) train that stopped at Dachau. When the station was announced, everyone fell silent. They knew.

Dachau actually wasn’t kept secret. In the beginning, it was a concentration camp – basically a horrific jail in a camp-like setting. People were released from there after their finished their punishment. They were told not to tell anyone, but no doubt word leaked.

The Polish camps were extermination camps – no one sent there was expected to survive.

Hitler’s Willing Executioners is a study of German attitudes toward the Jews before and during the war; it shows that they were not bothered by killing Jews. It seems quite clear that most Germans knew what was going on and many approved of it. The book made the point that the idea of exterminating all the Jews in Germany predated Nazism by a couple of decades.

Suspected? Yes. Repeated stories of? Maybe. Not surprised by? I would think. Knew as a fact? I doubt there were very many.

It’s amazing what you don’t see when you make a determined effort not to look.

Right, but the Nazi’s didn’t materialize out of thin air. They would have had to employ a huge labor force of note just soldiers and Gastapo agents, but clerks, administrators, bureaucrats and middle managers all recruited from the German people. How many thousands of people does it take to run the circa 1930s/40s trans-European rail network the Nazi’s used to move people to the various camps? Did they all think they were shipping bags of grain and truck parts around Europe?

I think what makes the Nazi’s so much worse than other genocides was their industrial precision.

Yes, they had a massive bureaucracy and the US was partly involved because we sold them early IBM computers to help.

Not just Jews but also say the gypsies whom many people in Europe saw as a low life group of backwards people that they wanted cleaned out.

Again, I think one should not just say “German” but Europeans in general who embraced this part of Naziism. Except for say Denmark and Norway who protected their Jews.

The first IBM mainframe was produced in 1952.


IBM sold punch card machinery to the Nazis, not a “computer” per se. However, the Hollerith tabulating equipment was, at least according to Edwin Black and some other investigators, instrumental in allowing the Nazis to identify Jews via the national census.

Hollerith machines that read and tabulated date from punched cards were in use from 1890 on, however The Hollerith Machine - History - U.S. Census Bureau They weren’t computers in the modern sense, but it’s not out of line to think of them as early computers since they were machines that did computations. I think the idea that IBM is guilty of complicity in the holocaust for selling machines used for tabulating census data to a government is a bit over the top, though.

There was no IBM computer before the mid 50s. At some point in the late 40s, Watson opined that he saw a world-wide market for maybe 5 computers.

The Germans certainly knew about the laws that deprived Jews of most of their jobs. They knew that most of them had disappeared. Beyond that, who knows what they knew or should have known?