Hitlers Willing Executioners Essay

Hitler’s Willing ExecutionersFifty years after Adolph Hitler’s failed attempt to exterminate the Jews of
Europe, there still remains no consensus upon the causes of this event. Daniel
Jonah Goldhagen, author of Hilter’s Willing Executioners, attempts to provide a
new approach and new explanations to the perplexing questions left in the
aftermath of 1945. Upon it’s publication, Goldhagen’s thesis came under much
scrutiny by his academic peers. Goldhagen’s argument is that the usual
historical explanations of the Holocaust do not add up. The Holocaust was not
perpetrated by a small band of Nazis but by ?ordinary Germans? in the hundreds
of thousands. The abrupt transformation of Germans from bakers, bankers and
bureaucrats to mass murderers was due to a particularly virulent strain of
anti-Semitism. Goldhagen’s indictment focuses on the citizenry’s complicity in
three of Nazi Germany’s institutions of mass killing; the Ordnungspolizie (the
Nazi Police Battalions), the work camps where Jews were incarcerated, and the
death marches from the those camps led by prison guards and their charges
near the end of the war.
While Goldhagen efficiently states the thesis to his dissertation, his
organizational style leaves much to be desired. One of the primary problems
with his style is it’s irritatingly repetitive nature. Goldhagen simply reiterates his
position, particularly in the opening chapters. In these chapter, on no less than
five occasions, he states the need for academicians to ?reconceive our
understanding of modern German anti-Semitism by applying the theoretical and
methodological prescriptions enunciated here, including the dimensional
framework, to a more specific analysis of the history of anti-Semitism in Germany
prior to the Nazi period, and then to an analysis of anti-Semitism in Germany
during the Nazi period itself.? (Goldhagen, 47) The immense size of the book
does not provide continuing evidence to support the thesis, rather it redundantly
applies the same information.
Goldhagen’s work consists of an introduction, six parts composed of 16
chapters and an epilogue:
Introduction: Reconcieving Central Aspects of the Holocaust
The Introduction begins with a compelling narrative regarding Captain
Wolfgang Hoffman, the commander of one of the three companies of Police
Battalion 101. In this narrative, Capt. Hoffman expresses his contempt for an
order that commanded members of his company to sign a declaration which
obligated the soldier ?not to steal, not to plunder, and not to buy without paying.?
(Goldhagen, 3) Goldhagen points out that if an officer could refuse an order of
this nature, there was precedence to refuse the orders requiring genocidal
activities. The remainder of the Introduction sets the guidelines for his

Part I: Understanding German Anti-Semitism: the Eliminationist
Chapter 1: Recasting the View of Anti-Semitism: A Framework for
Goldhagen suggests we disregard the notion that ?Germans were more or
less like us?. (Goldhagen, 27) Instead, to gain a better insight to the
anti-Semitism which provided the genesis of genocide, we should study Nazi
Germany from a anthropological viewpoint. An examination of Germany
would reveal some similarity with our society, however there would be
several differences. Namely, the conclusion that German anti-Semitism was
integral to the beliefs to the ?ordinary? German. Goldhagen purports the
universal conceptualization of the Jews by German society constituted the
eliminationist ideology.

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Chapter 2: The Evolution of Eliminationist Anti-Semitism in Modern
This chapter is Goldhagen’s attempt to provide a historical understanding
of the anti-Semitic ideology of the German people, and the subsequent
genocidal actions which occurred. The consideration of Judaism as a
corollary of Christianity is imperative to understand the inherent anti-Semitic
nature of Germany. Jews and their faith were seen as an affront to
Christianity. If the Jews, the people of God , shunned the promised messiah,
then something was awry. Either the Jews were right, and Jesus was a false
prophet, or the Christians were right, and the Jews had been led astray. This
theological impasse provided the initial antagonism between the two
religions. However, the ?Christians conceived of their religion as
superseding Judaism. Therefore, Jews…ought to disappear from the Earth.?
(Goldhagen, 47) Goldhagen continues his historical evolution of
anti-Semitism alluding to the concept of Jews as ?Christ-killers?, as minions of
Satan, as usurers and as malevolent and corrosive members of society. It
was these church inspired misconceptions of the Jews which would be
ultimately responsible for the anti-Semitic fervor of the ordinary German Volk.
Chapter 3: Eliminationist Anti-Semitism: The ?Common Sense? of
German Society During the Nazi Period
This chapter’s discussion deals with the analysis of the relationship of
German anti-Semitism during the Nazi period to the measures that the
Germans took against the Jews. The concept of the Judenfrage (the Jewish
Problem) required a solution. Some fundamental change in the nature of
Jews or in their position in Germany was necessary and urgent. With the
rise of the NSDAP, a systematic persecution of Jews began, with the full
support from the State. With the adoption of the Nuremberg Laws in
September of 1935, this state sanction stripped the Jews of German
citizenship and forbade them from marrying German citizens. The systematic
removal of Jews from German society had begun. Additionally, Goldhagen
relates German complicity during Kristalnacht. This German complicity
culminates in the forced relocation of the remaining German Jews to camps
throughout the German and Polish countryside to await the Final Solution.

Part II: The Eliminationist Program and Institutions
Chapter 4: the Nazis’ Assault on the Jews: Its Character and
With the dawn of the Nazi Party, the eliminationist ideology was inherent,
but the way to attain the systematic removal of the Jew from Germany was
still unclear. The German policies would have to: 1) Turn the Jews into
?socially dead? beings, and 2) Remove the Jew as thoroughly and
permanently from social and from physical contact with the German people.

To attain the desired affect, the German government instituted these polices
and measures: (in chronological order)
1) Verbal Assault
2) Physical Assault
3) Legal measures to isolate the Jew
4) Driving them to emigrate
5) Forced deportation and ?resettlement?
6) Physical separation in the Ghettos
7) Killing by starvation and disease
8) Slave Labor as a surrogate for death
9) Genocide by mass shooting, gassing, etc.

10)Death marches
Chapter 5: The Agents and Machinery of Destruction
In this chapter, Goldhagen attempts to define a perpetrator of genocidal
killing. He arrives at the connotation, that a perpetrator is anyone that
worked in an institution of genocidal killing, all those that took the lives of
Jews , all those that facilitated the murder of Jews, including those church
officials that identified persons as Jew or non-Jew, the Schreibtischtater (the
?desk murderer) that established the transport schedules, all railroad workers
that sent the trains to their ominous destinations, and the indictment
continues… In fact, Goldhagen suggests that the list of perpetrators may run
into millions due to the ?ordinary? German’s complicity during the Holocaust.
In conclusion, the complicity of the ?ordinary German? can be best witnessed
in the genocidal institution of the Ordnungpolizei, the Police Battalions.

Part III: Police Battalions: Ordinary Germans, Willing Killers
Chapter 6: Police Battalions: Agents of Genocide
The Police Battalions served as an integral part to the commission of the
Holocaust. Goldhagen asserts that the members of these battalions are best
representative of a killing institution which employed the services of ordinary
Germans. A large percentage of the membership of these Police Battalions
comprised of German men incapable of active service in the Wehrmacht.
While these men were not particularly Nazified, they are representative of the
Nazified German society. These units were initially responsible to police,
regulate traffic flow, guard installations and transfer populations in occupied
territories. These were poorly trained and equipped units. The men of these
units were often older with established family and professional lives. By age,
family situation and disposition, these were formed of men more personally
independent than what was the norm in Germany. From this common stock,
arose an efficient institution of mass killing. The remainder of this chapter
recounts actions taken by Police Battalion 65 throughout Poland, Russia and
other occupied territories. In conclusion, Goldhagen accuses these ordinary
German units responsible for between one and three million deaths.

Chapter 7: Police Battalion 101:The Men’s Deeds
Goldhagen chooses to focus on the actions and the men of Police
Battalion 101. All Police Battalions were comprised of members from the
same geographical region of Germany. Police Battalion 101’s home was
Hamburg. It initially was ordered to Poland to pacify the populace and
restructure the subjugated areas in December of 1939. In May of 1941, the
entire battalion was re-comprised of new recruits. Goldhagen then goes into
extreme detail recounting the make-up of the battalion. He separates each
member into occupational sub-groups and compares the ratios of the
battalion to that of war-time Germany. For the most part, the composition of
the battalion was very similar to that of Germany. Also, Goldhagen considers
the ratio of NSDAP members in the battalion to that of Germany, again, these
figures are very comparative. He thus supports his concept that the Police
Battalions were very representative of ordinary Germans. Goldhagen then
proceeds to supply information on actions undertaken by the battalion
throughout the occupied territories. He recounts the testimony of battalion
members during genocidal activities against the Jews. The complicity of
ordinary German in operation.

Chapter 8:Police Battalion 101: Assessing the Men’s Motives
In this chapter, Goldhagen once again attempts to buttress his notion of
ordinary German complicity by gruesomely detailing the genocidal operations
undertaken by the battalion. During one of the battalion’s operations, the
wife of a battalion Captain was witness to the genocide. The men of the
battalion had no problem in murdering their victims while the young lady
looked on in interest. Several women lived with their husbands within the
confines of the barracks, and were cognizant and comfortable with the
actions of the battalion. Following a particularly successful operation of
hunting down and murdering Jews, the Battalion would put up ?score sheets?
of their prowess. To be taken on a mission to kill Jews was often considered
to be a reward. Many genocidal missions were to be staffed voluntarily by
the members of the Battalion. These missions never suffered from lack of
volunteers. The members of the battalion simply ?enjoyed? these operations,
and they did it for the ?future? of Germany.

Chapter 9:Police Battalions: Lives, Killings, and Motives
This is the author’s attempt to understand the actions of battalion
members when they were not engaged in activities of genocide. the men
enjoyed times of leisure spent swimming, playing tennis and reading. Their
personal involvement in the slaughtering of thousands of Jews apparently did
not deter them from enjoying their free time. The killers were not robotic
killing machines, but independent individuals that were allowed to discuss
and consider the horrors which they perpetrated. Later in the chapter,
Goldhagen lists a number of killing operations, and the reported numbers of
victims. The battalions were given a lot of operational freedom when ordered
to clear a Ghetto or when on Search and Destroy missions seeking runaway
Jews. The men were allowed to complete their missions as they saw fit.
Many of these men, however, saw fit to torment their victims before deporting
them to the Death Camps or dispatching the Jews themselves. The men
would often require their victims to remain motionless for hours in the hot
sun. If a movement was detected, the perpetrator would be quickly dealt
with. Goldhagen recounts the story of how one German officer took delight in
dispatching several Jewish children that were unable to remain still.

Part IV: Jewish ?Work? is Annihilation
Chapter 10: The Sources and Patterns of Jewish ?Work? During the
Nazi Period
Here, Goldhagen attempts to answer the perplexing question of why the
Germans put Jews to work. Did the Germans employ the Jews for some
rational, economic purpose? According to Goldhagen the answer is no.
Goldhagen believes the Germans employed Jews because prior to the
Nazis’ rise to power, the Jews were seen as a race of parasites, living off the
work of Germans. Hitler simply wanted to see the Jews work. It was an
achievement in itself, regardless of the worth of the product, Jewish work
was to be done for its own sake. Even while in the midst of a severe labor
shortage, Nazi Germany did not mobilize it incarcerated Jewish population.
Instead, the Germans utilized French and Polish POWs to supplement the
shortage. In the Jewish work camps, the prisoners were often instructed to
Build walls, only to demolish them at the end of the day. Even when
employed in munitions factories, assisting the Nazi war machine, Jews were
not safe. On November 3-4, 1943, over 43,000 Jews were shot during
Operation Harvest Festival.
Chapter 11: Life in the ?Work? Camps
Goldhagen focuses on life in Majdanek work camp in the District of
Lublin. This ?work? camp had a mortality rate surpassed by only Auschwitz
and the other four extermination camps. Death in Majdanek was caused by
gassings or shootings, or by starvation and disease. According to
Goldhagen, the fatality rate was 100%. Although a ?work? camp, Majdanek’s
inmates were subjected to unproductive work. The inmates would be
ordered to fill a sack with rocks, carry it across the room, empty it, and then
do it again. The purpose of Majdanek was devoted to tormenting and killing
its inmates. Such atrocities occurred at other work camps such as Lipowa.
Jews were not the only detainees at these camps. Poles were also
employed at these camps, however, the Polish mortality rate per month was
less than 5%, while the Jewish mortality rate was 100%. The ?work? camps
were just as effective genocidal institutions as their sister extermination

Chapter 12: Work and Death
Goldhagen restates the German irrationality when considering Jewish
production. Jewish ?work? was destruction itself. The phenomenon of
Jewish ?work? was a triumph of Nazi ideology, politics and will over
economic interests. The real meaning of Jewish work was expressed at the
Wannsee Conference of January of 1942 by Heydrich. ?’The Jews will be
conscripted for labor …and undoubtedly a large number of them will drop out
due to natural wastage.’ The rest would be killed.? (Goldhagen, 322)
Part V: Death Marches: To the Final Days
Chapter 13: The Deadly Way
The long distance marching of Jews began at the beginning of the war
and continued until its conclusion. Most of the marches occurred during the
final year of the war, and they are the focus of this chapter. The final phase
of the war required the Germans to either move the prisoners or lose them to
the advancing armies. The purpose of these of the march was to dispose of
the Jewish prisoners. This chapter has several eye-witness accounts of
these genocidal marches. Special attention is given to the 195 mile long
Helmbrechts Death March. The march composed of 580 Jewish prisoners
and 590 non-Jewish prisoners. The 22 day march claimed the life of around
275 Jews, while the non-Jew fatality rate was Zero.

Chapter 14: Marching to What End?
This chapter attempts to answer the seemingly unanswerable, ?What
sense did the death march make?? We can assume Dorr (the camp
commander) was under standing orders to avoid capture. His orders
directed him to move the prisoners to Dachau, however Dachau had already
been captured by the Americans, so Dorr instead marched to Austria.
Goldhagen, again, recounts the details of the Helbrechts Death March. The
women guards are spoken of being particularly harsh upon the prisoners.
Goldhagen also relays the story of Germany’s final death march,
Sandbostel. To the very end, the ordinary German willfully, faithfully and
zealously slaughtered Jews. The Germans did so even when they were
risking capture. The Death Marches were not a misnomer, the entire
manner in which they were carried out by the Germans suggested to the
Jews they intended death.

Part VI: Eliminationist Anti-Semitism, Ordinary Germans, Willing
Chapter 15: Explaining the Perpetrators’ Actions: Assessing the
Competing Explanations
The German anti-Jewish policy had always been an expression of
eliminationist anti-Semitism. For an entire society to kill another large group
of people, the ethical and emotional constraints that would normally inhibit
the adoption of such a radical measure, must be lifted. Something profound
must occur that would allow an entire society to become mass murderers.
However, these perpetrators took pride in their accomplishments. If they
had indeed disproved of the genocide, then why would they take photos of
them triumphantly standing over the bodies of their victims? The fact is, the
complicity of the ordinary German is contingent upon the belief that all of
Germany wished to rid itself of the Jewish Problem.

Chapter 16: Eliminationist Anti-Semitism as Genocidal Motivation
German political culture had evolved to the point where an enormous
number of ordinary, representative Germans became Hitler’s Willing
Executioners. The rabid anti-Semitism which was ingrained in German
society, allowed an eliminationist ideology to take hold, and become a state
sanctioned goal. On occasion after occasion, ordinary Germans took pride
in their genocidal activities. What ?magical thinking? could make a
reasonable 20th Century society take delight in such horrors. The answer,
to Goldhagen is simple. Germany’s historical anti-Semitism was motivation
Epilogue: The Nazi German Revolution
The Nazi German revolution was the most brutal and barbarous
revolution of modern western history. The symbol of this barbarism is the camp.

the camp proves to be an emblematic institution of the Nazi period. Just as the
Nazi revolution was one of sensibility and practice, so to was the establishment
of the camp system. To the ordinary German, a Jew’s life should be a living
hell, devoid of comfort. In these camps, ordinary Germans were the willing
instruments of genocide. They welcomed the chance to rid Germany of her
Judenfrage. They were willing to perpetrate these atrocities in order to save
Germany from the ultimate danger — Der Jude.

Goldhagen draws from a large number of primary source documents to
support his arguments. From eyewitness accounts, to official reports from camp
and police battalion personnel to the testimony of former Nazis, his sources are
beyond reproach. However, what may come into question is his interpretations
of these sources. Several of his academic peers have begun to disagree with
his interpretations of these sources. Goldhagen writing remains lucid and lively
throughout the book, but one can detect a certain level of anger. Goldhagen is
obviously a biased individual, and I believe he allows his biases to come
through in his work. His blanket condemnation of all of German society seems
almost childish.
Goldhagen has prepared a excellently edited manuscript. His dissertation
was awarded the American Political Science Association’s 1994 Gabriel A.

Almond Award for best dissertation in the field of comparative politics.

Goldhagen has spent ample time in covering his work for spelling, grammatical
and punctuation errors. No glaring errors came to my attention. His footnotes
are equally accurate and adequate. The note section alone is 130 pages, and
in this section he expands the readers familiarity with the subject at hand.
Goldhagen also has spent ample time in writing appendixes to assist the
reader. I particularly found the Appendix 2:Schematization of the Dominant
Beliefs in Germany very interesting. Goldhagen’s Table of Contents, and Index
are also sufficient.

In conclusion, Hitler’s Willing Executioner’s is a well written book,
however I find fault with the author’s thesis. Goldhagen constantly and
repeatedly asks ?Why did the Nazis treat the Jews so terribly?? This question
seems to be naive for a scholar of Goldhagen’s caliber. I also find fault with his
indictment of all of German society. I realize the German people’s complicity
was required in order to enact an efficient system of genocide, but I cannot not
agree with the notion that the Nazis simply provided an outlet by which ordinary
Germans were allowed to act on their evil desires. The vast majority of the
German people were not willing executioners. However, these people were
guilty for failing to protest Hitler’s murderous intentions and policies while there
was still time, and for this, they should be ashamed.
European History


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