Any discussion of the Holocaust involves the Germans, specifically the Nazis. The evil that draped these men and women are described in various degrees by all who write and speak of the atrocities they committed. The words Elie Wiesel used to describe them speak louder than any thunder clap ever could.
Words can be used like ‘evil’, ‘monster’, or ‘demonic’ in describing the Nazi Germans. The atrocities that are laid out for a reader can turn a stomach and sicken a heart. The most moving accounts are those that did not call the Nazi’s names, but described them in the acts of murdering Jews. It was their words, their facial expressions, and their reactions to the world of the concentration camps that truly described the Nazi.
Those that believed the Nazi platform and completely followed the propaganda that Hitler and his party delivered did not wear red, carry a pitchfork, and possess horns. To many, they were respectable looking and even human. Wiesel described the first impression that his family and friends had of the Germans that entered their town to be “rather reassuring.” There was nothing fearful about these soldiers. In fact, some of the Jews described them as being “calm, likable, and polite” as well as charming.
Once the order came to round up the Jews to be put on the trains for death, these nice soldiers became indifferent and hostile to the same people that they once were nice to. The Nazi soldiers let the terrified Jews know that all had changed by letting them know that they would not hesitate to kill anyone as they would an animal if they tried to escape. These words reveal to the reader that killing came easily to the Germans. They were just a small hint of what Weisel and his family would face.
Arriving at the concentration camps, a little more of the nature of the guards were revealed. The act of separating family members was an unemotional act. The order came in “eight words spoken quietly, indifferently, and without emotion.” Choosing those that were to die was not done with anger and rage. Hate was not present.
Amazingly, Weisel does not hesitate to be completely honest in his description of the SS men even when it ‘praises’ those same men. When it comes to Dr. Mengele, Weisel says that he had “a cruel, not unintelligent, face, complete with monocle.” This was the monster that experimented on many of the Jews including pregnant women. His diabolic cuttings were worthy of any serial killer the world has known.
The indifference that the Nazis exhibited was more shocking that actions of emotion filled with hate. Depriving the prisoners of food was part of their normal duty. Watching the men shrivel up and starve did not evoke compassion from the soldiers. They did not hesitate to shoot a prisoner who tried to sneak food into their belly as the rest of the camp looked on.
Lack of compassion was evident in all of the Nazis that guarded Auschwitz. If anyone in a leadership position showed compassion, they were removed and replaced with ones that were harsher and considered “monsters”. If anyone refused to carry out a sentence, SS men quickly stepped up to carry it out. Killing a child methodically was not too far beyond their capabilities.
Saying that the SS men looked at the activity in the camp as a game is very telling. These men did not see anything passionate in holding Jews, Gypsies, and others prisoners with the sole intent of a horrific death. As one would play a game of cards or checkers, these men approached detainment and murder the same way. This same indifference can be found during the evacuation of the camp. Pushing the prisoners to run from the advancement of the Allies meant ignoring any pain or discomfort that they felt. They were quick to respond to anything other than a fast pace: “their fingers on the triggers, they did not deprive themselves of the pleasure.”
Wiesel uses more blunt words in his introduction of a new translation in the nature of the Nazi German. He does not talk with subtle words in summing up the heart of the enemy:
That is why…the Einsatzgruppen carried out the Final Solution by turning their machine guns on more than a million Jews, men, women, and children, and throwing them into huge mass graves, dug just moments before by the victims themselves. Special units would then disinter the corpses and burn them. Thus, for the first time in history, Jews were not only killed twice but denied burial in a cemetery.
The description that comes from Wiesel the most is indifference. Instead of showing intense hatred and murdering the prisoners outright, the SS men turned the detainment of the Jews as a game and drew out their death like a cat does with the stunned mouse it has captured. There was no love shown for fellow man. There was no hate shown to speed up the suffering. It was an indifference that created the worst of all torture.
Evil could be applied to the Nazis. Monsters were what they were called by many. Inhumane was perfect for describing them. Indifferent was the most condemning.
Supple, Carrie. From Prejudice to Genocide: Learning about the Holocaust. Staffordshire: Trentham, 2009.
Wiesel, Elie. Night. New York: Hill and Wang, 2006.