I recently spent some time studying the Nazis. My library had a copy of A Century of Wisdom: Lessons form the Life of Alice Herz-Sommer, the World's Oldest Living Holocaust Survivor by Caroline Stoessinger (NY: Spiegel & Grau, 2012 ISBN 978-0-8129-9281-6) and I picked it up. Reading it gave me an excuse to continue with two books on my reading list, Into That Darkness: From Mercy Killing to Mass Murder by Gitta Sereny (NY: McGraw-Hill, 1974 ISBN0-07-056290-3), an examination of Franz Stangl, the commandant of the Treblinka death camp, based upon hours of interviews with him in prison, and Crossing Hitler: The Man Who Put the Nazis on the Witness Stand by Benjamin Carter Hett (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2008 ISBN 978-0-19-536988-5), the story of Hans Litten, the lawyer who subpoenaed Hitler and brought him to a German court in 1931.
These two particular passages from Sereny's interviews with Stangl reminded me of an incident in Sebastian Haffner's Defying Hitler, a posthumously published memoir finished in 1940 as Story of a German [Geschichte eines Deutschen] which explained to me something about bullies that I hadn't realized before.
Into That Darkness:
(232-233) What is the difference to you between hate, and a contempt which results in considering people as 'cargo'?
It should be noted that Jews revolted, escaped from, and damaged two extermination camps, first Stangl's own Treblinka and then, a few months later, Sobibor, and blew up the crematorium at Auschwitz. Also at Auschwitz, Roma and Sinta families fought back with clubs and improvised knives against Nazi machine guns when they learned they were to be gassed.
The incident Haffner experienced occurred after the June 1933 attack by Nazi SA troops on the socialist neighborhood of Copenick where they killed 100 people, arresting and torturing members of the Socialist and Communist parties (SPD and KPD), Reischbanner members, Jews, and union members. Here's how he remembers a conversation among the members of his law study group:
(213- 217) "It happened just after the murders in Copenick. Brock and Holz came to our meeting like murderers fresh from the deed. Not that they had taken part in the slaughter themselves, but it was obviously the topic of the day in their new circles. They had clearly convinced themselves that they were in some way accomplices. Into our civilized, middle-class atmosphere of cigarettes and coffee cups the two of them brought a strange, bloodred cloud of sweaty death.
In the midst of WWII, in exile in England, Haffner wrote:
(155) "We were not equal to the situation, even as victims. If you will allow me this generalization, it is one of the uncanny aspects of events in Germany that the deeds have no doers and the suffering has no martyrs. Everything takes place under a kind of anesthesia. Objectively dreadful deeds produce a thin, puny emotional response. Murders are committed like schoolboy pranks. Humiliation and moral decay are accepted like minor incidents. Even death under torture only produces the response 'Bad luck.'"
At some point, if and when I have the stomach to continue my studies in Nazism, I'll read Erik Larson's In the Garden of Beasts, Sebastian Haffner's Meaning of Hitler, and Gitta Sereny's book of essays on Germany before and after the Nazis, The Healing Wound or, preferably, the English edition titled, The German Trauma.
Adolf Eichmann said, "Now that I look back, I realize that a life predicated on being obedient and taking orders is a very comfortable life indeed. Living in such a way reduces to a minimum one's need to think."
I am trying to learn how to be most effectively disobedient.
previously published at http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/10/13/1144157/-Bullies-Consider-Themselves-Victims?