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How Much did the Germans Know?

Discussion in 'Concentration, Death Camps and Crimes Against Huma' started by Smiley 2.0, Dec 16, 2014.

  1. Smiley 2.0

    Smiley 2.0 Smiles

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    A while ago I finished reading a book called Soldat by Siegfried Knappe. He was in the artillery, and eventually made it to going to an officers school and soon became the 56th Panzer Corps operations officer.

    Before I read the book, someone mentioned to me to be careful of his claims of not knowing anything about the Holocaust. Sure enough on page 376 of the edition that I have, he says these words, "but as a human being, I felt no guilt, because I had no part in or knowledge of the things he (Hitler) had done."

    This quote got me thinking, how much did he or any German soldier not in the SS or any German citizen really know about what was going on behind their own lines with things such as the Einsatzgruppen and the concentration camps or death camps. He says he had knowledge of the camps such as Dachau, but not what was really going on.

    Now granted some people may not have known, but some who claim they didn't know might not have been telling the truth. Would you believe this sort of claim?
     
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  2. KJ Jr

    KJ Jr Well-Known Member

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    I read Knappe's memoir a little awhile ago and my memory is fuzzy of his service. I'll check in my library when I get home. Although I can tell you this, it is very hard especially if one served on the eastern front to deny any knowledge. I would have a hard time believing any Russian front soldier, regardless of unit, that they had no knowledge of such atrocities. Trench talk is very powerful, along with the fact that many witnessed innocents being murdered or walked away in high numbers to a discreet location. In addition, regular conscript soldiers were well aware, whether a party member or not, what Nazi ideological beliefs were.
     
  3. Tamino

    Tamino Doc - The Deplorable

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    PS: German front soldiers knew bloody well what they all were doing at the east. They weren't blind idiots but mostly willing executioners.

    There is yet another book: What Hitler Knew: The Battle for Information in Nazi Foreign Policy. Even though the book deals with the pre-war period it provides clear insight into the information flow within the Reich. In the Nazi Germany information flow was limited because informations were (mis)used in a strugle to climb through the Nazi hierarchy.
     
  4. Smiley 2.0

    Smiley 2.0 Smiles

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    Would you say that Siegfried Knappe knew a little more than what he was telling in his book?

    With all do respect that is where I see flaws in German soldier memoirs. they fought for a country who at the time was killing hundreds upon thousands upon millions of people in cold blood and gas. They had to have at least known something about it, but sometimes they usually deny it.

    I watched a very good documentary on the Wehrmacht (just the Wehrmacht and not the SS) and along with outlining what they did besides fight a war, they revealed that some units actively were involved with the killing. In some cases they guarded sights where killing was going on. It even mentioned a point during the invasion of Poland in 1939, that there was a Wehrmacht unit, who without any help or supervision from the SS killed a number of Poles and Jews in a small town after one of the German soldiers from their unit was killed by what they believed was by Polish fire.
    (They later found out that it was friendly fire and that the German soldier was killed by accident by Germans)
     
  5. A-58

    A-58 Cool Dude

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    I read a book back in the 80s or so called The Twisted Cross that touched solely upon this subject. Understand that it's been a good 25 years or more since reading it, but the subject matter and insinuations of broad knowledge by the German populace always stuck with me. This had nothing to do with the Eastern Front or any other combat theater, just the home front and the concentration camps. Some of the points brought up was that how in the hell could anyone know what was going on when trainloads and trainloads of Jews and other undesirables were loaded up and shipped to these camps and no one ever got out. Over time we are talking millions here. Once the ovens were running 24/7, it "snowed" year round (ashes of course). And that smell could not be explained away either. Another point was that there had to a great amount of "pillow talk" amongst the guards, workers, contractors, etc who saw what was going on and went home and whispered to their spouses of the horrors going on in the camps. Of course living in an evil totalitarian state like Nazi Germany at the time, there were not very many heroes or "community organizers" to drum up opposition to the camps and the goings on behind the wire lest they get to see first hand what it was all about. Fear of ending up in one, along with their families would tend to keep a lot of lips zipped. Many German citizens ended up there too, from those brave few who did find the courage to speak up or out, or down to the lowly guy who got ratted on (the common term from that era was "informed on" of course) by "friends, neighbors or co-workers" who felt that they owed it to the Fatherland to rid the citizenry of those who did not fit in or conform as well as they thought should be done. Maybe they did not seem Nazi enough, or weren't vehement enough as the Gestapo felt they should be. So, what I am trying to say it that there was plenty of knowledge going on in the camps throughout Germany as the war progressed. According to the author of the book that is. And the old saying that "I was just following orders" was about as believable as "I didn't know" by 1945.
     
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  6. LRusso216

    LRusso216 Graybeard Staff Member

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    I think you are spot on, Bobby. In Toland's biography, Hitler spoke often in public of his disdain ((not to say hatred) for the Jews. Once the camps in Germany began killing people, the German public was constantly exposed to the smell and the "fallout" from the ovens. They were constanly harangued by Hitler and the rest of the leadership about this "cleansing". To feign surprise or lack of knowledge is disingenuous at best. This goes double for soldiers on the Eastern Front. The Einsatzgruppen didn't operate in a vacuum. I just find it hard to come to grips with those who claim no knowledge.
     
  7. Smiley 2.0

    Smiley 2.0 Smiles

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    I too find it hard to come to grips with also. For 12 years they've been bombarded with hate propaganda and proclamations of eliminating the Jews. And like Bobby said how do would they not find it odd about the "snow" that would be coming down the so frequently during the seasons such as the summer. To me their claims of not knowing almost seems as bad as denial of the Holocaust. It always bugs me. :grumble:
     
  8. Tamino

    Tamino Doc - The Deplorable

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    Exactly. And more importantly: they didn't come from the vacuum but they were temporary units formed from the Wehrmacht and other branches when the increased "burden" came and the business had to be run more quickly. Otherwise, the job has been done by ordinary soldiers: sons, fathers, brothers - ordinary people, but with extraordinary will to kill.
     
  9. A-58

    A-58 Cool Dude

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    And the most vile unit operated by the Germans was the Oskar Dirlewanger Brigade. I've read that he was the most evil man in the SS (if that can be possible) and was linked to many of the worst war crimes of WW2. If anyone is unfamiliar with his antics, read this:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oskar_Dirlewanger
     
  10. Skipper

    Skipper Kommodore

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    Dirlewanger is the most extreme example, he was SS, volunteer, , a criminal and a psychopath . This a far away from the average drafted private, who while being part of a system did not get necesseraly get pleasure when killing people.
    Most soldiers were thinking about surviving hell and going back to the Heimat. What would you have done if your officer ordered you to be part of a squad or raid a Partisan village? Refusing would have meant being shot . Deserting ?.......
     
  11. PzJgr

    PzJgr Drill Instructor

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    There is a difference between knowing what was done at the front and what was done in the concentration camps. I am sure that there was some knowledge about the camps within Germany itself especially since there were so many minor camps around the German industries. As far as Knappe's comment, I would take it for what it was worth. As some of you know, my grandfather was a Spanish volunteer and I do remember him saying that he could not understand the German's lust for blood. He did witness a lot of the atrocities that took place in the East. Same atrocities happened in Spain during the civil war. But as far as the death camps, no knowledge. Could not fathom anybody going to that length in organized genocide. Do I believe them. Yes. Do we really know what goes on within our own countries? Now as far as the Germans living within eyesight of those camps.....blah. They had to have known. There were rumors abound. But as far as every German knowing everything.......I don't think so.
     
  12. SKYLINEDRIVE

    SKYLINEDRIVE Member

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    No one , and I emphasize NO ONE, in Germany didn't know what went on. Many did not want to believe it or went into denial when the war was lost, but not a single adult can claim he didn't know what went on!

    Just use google and you will find more studies about the subject then you need.
     
  13. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WWII Veteran

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    How much did the Germans know ?

    It is nearly seventy years since the end of WW2 so I have had ample time to mull over the question.

    Firstly, let us be quite clear.

    If what we are discussing is what was known by your every-day German about the massacres that were taking place in concentration camps, I am fully convinced that the majority of Germans of the period of which we speak were fully aware of what was happening to German Jews and indeed to anyone who could be considered an enemy of the 3rd Reich.

    This was simply because their leader had always been so explicit in his plans for the eradication of German Jewry.

    Whilst accepting the fact that they may not have been aware of the make up of individual camps, I remain convinced that the general public equally knew of the probable fate of all of the inhabitants.

    It is also well known that In the years between 1933 and 1939 Hitler had become literally an idol to the German people and his known views on virtually every subject were admired and respected by his followers and adherants.

    These same views, clearly set out in his biography, Mein Kampf, made no secret of his utter contempt and hatred of the Jews and his wish to eradicate them completely. It is also estimated that some 10 million copies of the book had been distributed in Germany and certainly all married couples received a copy.

    Speaking of Mein Kampf, I have always followed the dictum that one should always know as much as possible about one's enemies and therefore I have read this sordid book many times from cover to cover and currently have a Kindle version on my iPad.

    Ron
     
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  14. harolds

    harolds Member

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    I might have to disagree with some of this a bit. First of all, the KZs, which were scattered around Germany were well known, but they weren't "death camps". People did come back from those-at least the first time they went in. The Death Camps were in sparsely populated regions. Trains to those camps weren't routed through major population centers. So I don't think that too many had any idea of the depth and breadth of the program. Did they have inklings or perhaps a friend or family member stationed on the Ost Front and had some info? I think many did, but not all. The cover story was that they were being "resettled" in the East. We, who've been raised in open democratic societies have no idea of the information vacuum in a country with a totalitarian government. Also, as pointed out above, those with direct knowledge weren't probably over-disposed to blab what the saw or even did.

    I have read that Goebbles, under orders from Hitler, had meetings in late 1944 with the major army leaders about "the Final Solution". This was to make sure that they understood that no negotiated settlement could be had. They had to continue fighting to the end. However, I suspect that many of these leaders already knew from officer friends what was happening. However, these meeting imply that Hitler didn't know that they knew. According to his son, Manfred, Rommel denied him permission to enlist in the Waffen SS because they were linked to atrocities, so most of the generals had some idea, but again, perhaps not full knowledge.

    We should also acknowledge that there were German generals who resisted having their units being used in any fashion for these things.
     
  15. bronk7

    bronk7 Well-Known Member

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    I must agree here....trench talk is also fast and widespread
     
  16. PzJgr

    PzJgr Drill Instructor

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    Could you be more specific as to "what went on" means? As Harolds and I have tried to relay that there is a difference between the work camps and the death camps.

    The first exterminations in the camps took place in Sept 1941. So if a soldier, Like Knappe, was at the front since the beginning of the war, it would be feasibly possible that he would not know of the camp exterminations. He could have been witness to the atrocities at the front of which would be just that, atrocities. He would not have identified that with what was going on in the death camps. The soldiers were too busy fighting to think about what was going on behind the lines even when they were on leave. All they would have seen at worst would be those prisoners in from the work camps that were situated around industries.

    A majority of the German people were aware of the work camps and that they held the Jews, criminals, gypsies and other undesireables there. But to say the all of the German people knew about the death camps is purely ludicrous. Yes, propaganda told the Germans of what the Jews were and what should be done with them. But if they knew of the death camps, then why all the hoopla in hiding what was being done there?
     
  17. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    One also has to be careful of exactly what is meant, indeed it looks like at least some here use the word "know" differently than I would. "Trench talk" for instance may provide clues but is hardly trust worthy so if that's your source you don't really "know". At least some of the death camps were also not even on German soil so what went on there might not be known. Indeed I suspect many would believe that they were simply work camps in foreign lands for the "undesireables". Certainly easier to believe that than believe that they were indeed extermination camps. From what I've read when the new finally came out many still refused to believe and certainly the level of depravity is hard to beleive in even now were it not from the pictures and numerous independent accounts. If you could conduct a survey of the time I believe many would have suspicions but certainly wouldn't know (and many of these would proabably do what they could to avoid knowing).
     
  18. Smiley 2.0

    Smiley 2.0 Smiles

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    The Nazi regime was about silencing those who were against them. The Germans probably knew what was going on as well as soldiers. But the regime had a very tight grip on the population, that all people who probably knew about were afraid to say anything other than to those whom they trusted. To me that is probably why there was very few people who spoke out about it during the time of Nazi control. Those who did were "dealt with," like in every totalitarian states in ways of the state's choosing be torture, death, or the camps themselves.
    Once the war was over and the people were liberated from that Nazi grip, they chose to act as if they didn't know anything about what the Nazis were doing. Now as I said, as well as other members have pointed out that probably not everyone knew the "full" extent of what was going on, but a lot knew enough to know that what was going on was bad.
    I personally believe that their claims of not knowing "may" have been a way of covering up the fact that they knew something and that they didn't want to feel any guilt about it.
     
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  19. belasar

    belasar Court Jester

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    Let us be somewhat fair here, willful blindness is a common human failing. Most of us have little trouble ignoring things we rather not acknowledge, be it the homeless, racism and other commonplace yet nagging issues.

    I have read in accounts written by German veterans that a constant refrain beat into them was the need to accept harsh measures (euphemism for murder) because they were remaking a 'better' world for their children who would never know the kind of things their fathers had to do for them.

    Note how today we use extraordinary rendition and enhanced interrogation technique's to make distasteful things we allow to be done seem less onerous because we have determined that they are justified by the circumstances.

    I am not comparing these directly, simply pointing out that humanity is what it is.
     
  20. KJ Jr

    KJ Jr Well-Known Member

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    Your post is very thought provoking, as are most covering this dark portion of history. Mankind is in and of it self a common battle between good and evil and it was never more apparent then during the Second World War. I believe, like you, ignorance was bliss for many in the Third Reich. However, maybe it's my cockeyed optimism, but I believe humanity can learn and not repeat. There will always be crazy, psychopathic dogmas that spread among the masses, but hopefully lessons have been learned. I don't know.
     

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