Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Nazi persecution and mass murder of Jews and non-Jews

A recent book about the subject matter in reference by German historian Dr. Dieter Pohl (Verfolgung und Massenmord in der NS-Zeit 1933-1945, 2nd edition 2008, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft Darmstadt) deserves special mention as a comprehensive yet succinct overview of Nazi state criminality between 1933 and 1945.

On just 153 pages of text, Pohl manages to convey essential basic knowledge about the ideological background, the organizations involved and the various aspects of persecution and mass murder by the Nazi state during the twelve years of its existence – murder of disabled people, war crimes against Soviet and other prisoners of war, occupation crimes including the systematic killing of Polish intellectuals and Soviet communists, forced labor and exploitation policies leading to widespread starvation especially in the occupied Soviet territories, the genocide of Europe's Jews and Gypsies, crimes committed in fighting resistance movements, most notably in the Soviet Union, Poland and Yugoslavia, camps and prisons for civilians and crimes committed during the final phase of NS rule. A selected biography guides the reader to more detailed works about each subject.

The section dedicated to the genocide of the Jews is necessarily the largest individual chapter in the book, but it occupies just about one third of the whole, thus making Pohl's work an important contribution to correcting the widely held but mistaken notion that Nazi criminality was essentially directed against the Jews. The genocide of the Jews was the Nazi's biggest single crime but only one of their crimes, and it accounted for less than half of the total number of people murdered by the Nazis. On page 153 Pohl writes the following (my translation):

There are still no valid statistics about the number of victims of National Socialism, and especially for Poland, Yugoslavia and the occupied Soviet territories many more precise data are still missing. According to the current status of knowledge one can assume that 5.6 to 5.7 million people lost their lives on account of their Jewish origin, besides at least 100,000 Sinti and Roma. About 3 million inhabitants of the Soviet Union who became prisoners of war died, most because they were denied the necessary food, but at least 150,000 of them were shot. Especially high was the number of victims among the population of Eastern Europe that perished in camps, in "bandit-fighting operations" and in other murders. Respectively far over a million civilians died in Poland and in the occupied Soviet territories in mass murders, several hundred thousand in Yugoslavia, in each case without counting Jewish victims. Largely unknown is the number of victims of selective hunger policy in the east, presumably far over a million civilians had to pay it with their lives. Even though establishing a total number still requires further laborious calculations, the order of magnitude of people murdered under German rule should be 12 to 14 million. Most of them died between mid-1941 and mid-1945, i.e. in the course of less than four years.

In my blog 5 million non-Jewish victims? (Part 2) I arrived at a sum total of ca. 12.5 – 13.3 million victims of Nazi criminal violence, including the victims of the siege of Leningrad, who are not included in Pohl's estimate of 12 to 14 million people murdered by the Nazis. Pohl considers it debatable whether certain military measures leading to massive mortality among civilians must be considered crimes or were covered by international law as codified or customary at the time. According to Pohl, this applies even to a case as extreme as the siege of Leningrad, which was meant to destroy the city and kill as many of its inhabitants as possible rather than bring about the city's surrender and occupation – as Pohl mentions on page 37, Hitler had shortly after beginning the campaign against the Soviet Union given instructions not to occupy Soviet metropolises but to besiege them and "level them to the ground".

Though I disagree with this assessment of Pohl's and – like Pohl's colleague Jörg Ganzenmüller – consider the siege of Leningrad a genocidal undertaking rather than a military operation, I recommend Pohl’s book to anyone looking for an overview of what Nazi Germany and its criminal policies were all about.

Unfortunately the book is only available in German so far. Any endeavor to bring home the book’s information to a wide Anglophone readership has my support.

[Edited on 04.04.2012 to replace broken links to the RODOH forum.]

1 comment:

Youdith Shaked said...

Thank you for bringing to attention the important book by Dieter Pohl.

In my Holocaust class, Jews Christians, and others are victims of the Holocaust, as stated clearly by Elie Wiesel: In the Holocaust, not all the victims were Jewish, but all Jews were victims.

Thank you,
Edith Shaked Wiesel
Board Member, H-Holocaust