I visited the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in DC today.

I spent two hours touring the place - Daniel’s Story, the main exhibit, everything.

One thing that struck me was the way the Konzentrationslagern were run was that the guards would have had close contact with the prisoners during the extermination process. Surely they would have encountered the people condemned to gassing and seen them close enough to see their humanity? How could they have heard the cries of these people begging and pleading for their lives, and not have been touched by them?

This thread may sound like a troll; I assure you all that no trolling is intended. I honestly cannot for the life of me understand how anyone could become so much of a monster. Was Hitler’s rhetoric really that compelling?

One way or the other, I am getting no sleep tonight. Danke-mutterfickern-Schoen, Herr Schiessekanzler.

As Terry Pratchett wrote in Small Gods:

There are hardly any excesses of the most crazed psychopath that cannot easily be duplicated by a normal kindly family man who just comes in to work every day and has a job to do.

Also, Hitler didn’t invent anti-Semitism, he just took it to it’s logical extreme.

The Milgram experiment was designed to answer this question. The results were not particularly encouraging.

I visited the Holocaust Museum years ago. It still haunts me sometimes.

We visited there earlier this year; it’s very sobering, even when you know the history. I was looking at the scroll they have running there that shows the progression of the anti-Jewish laws enacted over the 1930s/1940s. The one that really struck me was a law that prohibited cows from Jewish farms being impregnated by “non-Jewish” bulls. :smack:

The cognitive dissonance between Nazi environmental and animal welfare policies being the most progressive in the world and their wholesale slaughter of human beings not withstanding- the law in question was in regards to community bulls. Communities in Germany would use community resources to purchase expensive breeding bulls for the sake of improving their herds. Forbidding this shared resource to Jews was just another way of isolating them and starving them of resources. It’s not ludicrous, just cruel. The law was even worse because it forbid the breeding of the bulls to cows even purchased from Jews, so it forced non-Jewish farmers to stop purchasing Jewish livestock further depriving them of a market.

I’ve visited the Holocaust Museum-once-because you really don’t have to visit it again. I’ve also (twice) visited the Holocaust portion of the Imperial War Museum in London, which had a similar effect on me: I am a rather pacific man, but coming out of those places I really, really wanted a Neo-Nazi to be in front of me spouting off–I figure I have one good punch in me…

But in regards to the OP’s question, look at human history; slavery, slaughter, atrocities wherever you look; the ability of human beings to ‘disassociate’ human feelings from and about “The Others” is one of the scariest things about our species. I have some hopes from my history readings that we are getting over the worst of it; but we’re not out of the woods yet. Not by a long shot.

“I pray you to believe what I have said about Buchenwald. I have reported what I saw and heard, but only part of it. For most of it, I have no words.” Edward R. Murrow

I find the scariest part of such things is not necessarily that they happened, but that Hitler legitimately believed what he was doing was making a better world, at least for himself and for Germany. Almost no one acts out of pure malice; almost every evil act that’s ever been perpetrated, the perpetrator has reasoned to be noble and perfectly logical.

I think that when we talk about the Nazis, we tend to paint them as monstrous villains-and they were, but that’s not the whole story and not the story from the point of view of the German people. The Nazis then were not the Neo-Nazis of today. Neo-Nazis of today basically just hate people. The original Nazis were much closer to amoral utopian pragmatists. They did what it took to make things ‘better’- and what we don’t want to say is that they largely succeeded. If you were a German middle-class person, your lot in life improved remarkably under Nazi rule. Nazis improved the economy, they improved national prestige, they advocated for equality (of people who they defined as German) under the law, they created the underpinnings of the modern welfare state (including things that we might even wish for today like free daycare and free places to vacation for mothers.) The ‘desirable’ German people weren’t unhappy with how things were going(though they might not say so post-war.) They were getting paid to have children. Unemployment was down, wages were up. Pots had chickens and even if people lost their jobs, the state was caring for them. The world was watching them and if not admiring, at least fearing Germany again.

To achieve their idea of utopia, among other things, the Nazis basically clamped whole hog onto the idea of eugenics-and we have to note it was not seen at the time as an irrational or racist idea. At the time, tons and tons of the Academic classes were eugenicists (people like Theodore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and even Helen Keller expressed support for eugenics.) The Darwin bug had bitten everyone and it was seen as the way to pave a future of prosperity. They were asking themselves, “Why is there poverty?” “Why is there crime?” “Why is there social unrest?” and philosophers and even social activists of the time (to us embarrassingly) came to the conclusion that it was due to failed Darwinian pressures leading to the survival of ‘unfit’ people. Nazis took it upon themselves to figure out who these unfit people were and then with ruthless efficiency decided to remove them from the gene pool. Hans on the street might not have been 100% on board with it, but he sure did like that he was one of the ‘fit’ ones and he couldn’t deny that things were way better after Nazis took power. The propaganda machine was blaring night and day to convince him of how awesome he was and how these policies were leading to a brighter future for him and his children. So when Hans becomes a guard at a concentration camp, he’s seeing it through the eyes of someone who thinks he’s doing a job for the good of humanity. He’s the same as a guy at a slaughterhouse whose job might be distasteful, but it’s just making sausages so that the world will become a better place. And maybe it’s a shame that some people (but are they really people, Hans might ask himself) have to die, but in the end it’s what’s best for the world. People die all the time, it’s better to get rid of the ‘bad ones’ and let the ‘good ones’ prosper. We still do it today, the US still has the death penalty and there are still people who are killing other people that they deem ‘bad.’ We still march people to death chambers that are crying and begging not to die and we still manage to kill them.

Excellent, illuminating post, senoy – thanks for taking the time to write it.

I don’t know if you’ve read Gitta Sereny’s book in which she interviewed Franz Stangl, who’d been commandant of an extermination camp. He used a very similar metaphor about seeing the people as cattle being herded into a canning plant.

Another example of dissociation: in the Topography of Terror exhibition in Berlin, there’s a copy of a letter from the editor of a newspaper protesting to the SS authorities about the brutality with which they were whipping and beating women and children deportees into lorries, under the windows of his office in full view of his female office staff, and demanding “a bit of humanity”. The point is, though, that it was an SS paper and he was an SS officer: he must have been fully aware and signed up to it all, and all he was concerned about was the upset to his office. As noted above, persistent demonisation of the other, in the absence of any safe access to competing sources of information, has a lot to answer for.

Thanks for cleaning up my post. I remember reading all of that now, but it somehow escaped me.

It was also blaring how bad the bad people were.

Seriously? You compare our justice system (certainly not perfect) with mass killings of innocent people? :rolleyes:

Or that was the only way he dared to express his concern. Or it’s the only way of putting it that he thought might motivate the powers that be to change their ways. It’s important to note that folks really didn’t have any choice at all. Anyone who spoke against the SS was putting himself in danger. Writing that letter was an incredibly brave act. . .or not. . . the point is we can’t know.

ETA: One thing is certain, both he and the editor who included it took a huge risk. If nothing else it let a lot of people know that the SS sometimes did bad things. They couldn’t have gained that information through most forms of media.

The question was how can people kill people when they are close to them and see their humanity. How can they ignore begging and pleading? My response was that we still manage to do it today in the US. Of course capital punishment and the Holocaust are not the same thing by any stretch, but they both involve people who are in a position to see the humanity of others and hear their begging and pleading, but they still manage to snuff out their life.

My grandfather’s favorite job in the '36 Spanish Civil War was in a prison camp (Republican, Red, Democratic, Legitimate… the side the short guy with the 'stache wasn’t on); being the charmer he was, he managed to be assigned to the women’s side, where he proceeded to rape as many women as he wanted to. Mind you, he didn’t consider that a woman opening her legs after being told “you can open up for me and me alone, or for my five minions here” with six guns pointed at her counted as rape.

Hitler channeled a lot of evil, but he didn’t create it.

We were quite good at it during the westward expansion in this country. Genocide is the only word for what was done to Native Americans, and in fact it was codified as the 2nd Amendment to our constitution. A well-regulated militia specifically refers to the right of citizens to take up arms and murder Indians who happened to be on desirable land.

The difficult and time consuming part is convincing a preponderance of the majority that this (these) specific minority(ies) are not human - or at most are much less human than us. Once that is complete and the target is stripped of their humanity, it really is just leading animals to slaughter.

The same can be said of slavery or any other human-against-human atrocities.

I disagree that this is either difficult or time-consuming, except in a case like pre-war Germany, where Jewish people were already fully integrated in society, and considered people just like everyone else.

In most parts of the world throughout history, people have generally been O.K. with killing the “other”, whether they be a different nationality, race or religion. It’s pretty much the primary theme of the Old Testament, and the cause of most wars that have ever happened.

If I’m not mistaken, a lot of German political prisoners (who were not Jewish) were sent to the camps and killed along with everyone else, and those people didn’t even belong to any “out-group” beyond “we don’t agree with the current government” and the guards still didn’t have any problem with killing them.

These people had proven by their actions that they were not, and could not be, part of the Volk (the mythological “Aryan race” that the Nazis had created). Thus they were fair game for the camps — not quite down there with the Untermenschen, but pretty close.