Where does a man like Heydrich fit in the analysis of the Holocaust?
In Survival in Auschwitz, the author Primo Levi captures the reader into the harsh reality of life in the infamous Nazi concentration and extermination camp. Primo Levi is a young Jewish-Italian man who, in 1943 at the age of 24, was captured by the Nazi fascists while hiding in the woods and stripped of everything that belonged to him including his name.
Auschwitz is probably the most well known out of all the Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Primo Levi spends almost an entire year, what to him seemed like an eternity, being starved, badly beaten and worked until he could no longer breathe. The camp presented extremely unsanitary conditions and prisoners were fed little to nothing, as they were given soup with scraps of potato and cabbage. During this time, Primo struggled to maintain a sense of humanity and never saw an end to his suffering. After spending almost an entire year in these devastating conditions the Nazi’s abandoned these camps with the threat of the invading Soviet Union and after surviving on their own they were eventually rescued.
To answer the topic question, “How does one survive Auschwitz?”, Primo presents severals cases and points. For one to survive Auschwitz you must be extremely lucky, know German, never give up hope, maintain good health as best you can and most importantly have compassion. Compassion is something Primo learns when he meets the ever so kind Lorenzo, who isn’t a prisoner but yet a civilian worker, who constantly provides food secretly to Primo and talks with him. Primo says, “I believe that it was really due to Lorenzo that I am alive today; and not so much for his material aid, as for his having constantly reminded me of his presence, by his natural and plain manner of being good, that there still existed a just world outside of our own, something and someone still pure and whole, not corrupt, not savage, not extraneous to hatred and terror; something difficult to define, a remote possibility of good, but for which it was worth surviving.” (121) Compassion in Auschwitz means having a community of people who look out for each other and share their resources to maximize the entire groups chances of survival. This sense of community helped maintain sanity for Primo and through his inspiration that he found from Lorenzo that he was able to survive Auschwitz.
Fascism and the Inevitability of War & Stalin’s Master Plan
When representatives from Germany and the USSR established the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, it is difficult to tell whether the Soviets actually believed in the treaty lasting. The fact that the war resulted in a victory for the Allies and the USSR probably allowed the Soviets to see the war differently than the Axis powers, certainly with a different bias. In Joseph Stalin’s 1946 speech, he seemed to think that because the Germans were fascist with the Nazi Party at the helm, war was inevitable. He pinpointed this circumstance on an ideological belief inherent in fascist politics – the need to acquire more foreign territory and attain world domination. He cited that the only reason the Soviets were willing to work alongside capitalist powers like the U.S. and Britain was via a common enemy, the fascists. All three of those parties disliked that the fascists eliminated the sovereignty of small, developing nations; it was likely for different reasons though. The U.S. and Britain likely wanted to see the small nation develop into a trading partner, or at least a suitable ally or buffer country, while the Soviets likely hope to establish a Communist movement there. In short, all three parties understood the fascists to be a threat to the freedom of lots of peoples and, for Stalin and the Soviets, an inevitable source of conflict.
If Stalin believes that the fascists would inevitably create conflict, then why would he sign a treaty with Nazi Germany? In short, there are a few potential answers to this question. Firstly, Stalin could be lying through his teeth and merely just trying to cover himself in this speech; it is, after all, an “election.” Maybe Stalin honestly thought the Germans would honor their agreement. There is also the possibility that Stalin merely wished to delay the inevitable, giving him more time to prepare for a Soviet attack. Without this agreement, Hitler may have jumped straight from Poland and Austria, to the USSR. Stalin also must have known that Hitler’s hatred of Marxists and Communists would have to ground itself somehow.
However, the last possibility is perhaps the most striking, and the boldest out of the three ideas presented here. (In short, bear with me on this one.) Stalin may have known that Hitler would try to stab him in the back and break an agreement; he has had to deal with lots of political enemies himself. Therefore, perhaps Stalin wanted the pact signed, almost as if to goad in or tempt the Nazis, to convince them that the Soviets were in a false sense of security. If a nation, like the USSR, can anticipate and prepare ahead of time for a backstabbing, then it can catch its opponent off guard immensely. Since a backstabbing relies heavily on the element of surprise, if one were to reverse that element, the backstabber would be caught in a near impossible situation. When the Nazis do finally attack the USSR in one of the largest military offenses in history, it initially resulted in heavy losses for the Soviets. However, they were able to absorb the damage, get back on their feet pretty quickly, and retaliate with great strength, as Stalin described in his speech. The Soviets from that point onward made the offensive a war of attrition, using their home territory to their advantage. In short, they took out the German army quite skillfully. Lastly, Stalin continuously mentioned during his speech what a victory it was not just for the USSR as a whole, but for the Soviet social system, the Soviet state system, and for the Red Army. Stalin wanted to prove critics wrong, and Nazi Germany during WWII provided the perfect venue to demonstrate the USSR’s advancements. The U.S. did it during the Spanish-American War, and von Bismarck was well known for starting wars to help get Germany going; is it not unlikely that Stalin wanted WWII to happen and that he wanted Nazi Germany to invade?
 “Operation Barbarossa.” Wikipedia. Accessed April 8, 2015. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Barbarossa.
Adolf Hitler is one of the most controversial and despised individuals in human history, considered by some to be an anti-Christ. Certainly, he most definitely did some awful things; he started wars with other countries, which caused WWII, and he perpetuated the Holocaust. However, there are certain parts of his story that get left out in popular knowledge. For one thing, Hitler himself was not even born in Germany, but rather, the declining Austro-Hungarian Empire. Because of the state of the Habsburg Dynasty, Hitler, along with many youths like him, placed more support in adjacent Germany, with whom they felt a kinship. Therefore, his early years instill in him a huge amount of nationalist ideals. Among his other early struggles included poverty and living as a bohemian, differences with his father, and rejection from art school twice. It was not until WWI that he turned his life around, in which was a huge war hero. He was awarded the Iron Cross, First Class – an extremely high honor for his rank. Hitler valued his war experiences quite highly, but was shocked by Germany’s “defeat.” Looking for answers, perhaps it is not too surprising that when going undercover to infiltrate the German Workers’ Party (the precursor to the Nazi Party), he became attracted to their ideas. In fact, many of the ideas that the party perpetuated were similar to what he grew up hearing and living by.
Aside from the context, Hitler appears to be similar in many ways to that of his popular image. Many of the points made in the pamphlet follow common knowledge: he was anti-Semitic, he was pro-Aryan race. However there were a few odd parts in his writing that really stood out. First, Hitler held a very strong view on education, and judging from the extent to which he goes into it on Point 20, he intended to make sure it went well. In thought, this could be the precursor to the Hitler youth, but at least it demonstrates a priority in equal education opportunity not held by many today. It was also intriguing to read about his high placement on physical education and gymnastics. In many ways, it’s a sneaky way of preparing students/children for war, similar to many Communist Chinese programs during the Mao era. The reading relates to past ideas as well, such as Fichte’s belief in shared culture leading to nationalism and borders, Herder’s belief that different groups should not mix, and Mussolini’s point that the state should mean everything (statist), with the “people” being an extension of that state.
 “Adolf Hitler.” Wikipedia. Accessed March 31, 2015. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolf_Hitler.
In “States of Exception: the Nazi-Soviet War as a System of Violence, 1939-1945” Mark Edele and Michael Geyer analyze the mindset of war and the onset of extreme violence in Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. The authors posit that the devastation and violence that accompanied the war was a result of the mutual hostility between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Additionally they argue that this war was fought “as a war on an interior and an exterior front” and that the escalation and radicalization of the war had a tremendous psychological impact on soldiers which further contributed to the prevalence of violence. ((Edele, Mark and Michael Geyer. “States of Exception.” In Beyond Totalitarianism: Stalinism and Nazism Compared, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009: 348-350.)).
Several particularly interesting aspects discussed throughout this article were the ideas of an interior/exterior war and the thoughts and actions of soldiers in context to the “win and live or lose and die” mindset ((Edele and Geyer. “States of Exception.” 359.)). Both countries waged war internally against those they saw as inferior or detrimental to the cause. For the Soviet Union, it threatened extermination to individuals that did not adhere to their ideology. Similarly, Germany practiced such extermination policies on the Jewish population. Edele and Geyer cite that the Holocaust was the “pivotal aspect of this civil war of all-out extermination”. ((Edele and Geyer. “States of Exception.” 349)).
On the exterior front, soldiers engaged in incredibly violent acts. Beyond coercion and fear the Germany army created tactical policies based on the idea that people are more inclined to kill when “motivated by a concrete social unit” ((Edele and Geyer. “States of Exception.” 387-388)). The Soviet Union also used similar techniques to promote emotional ties among soldiers. Because of the high mortality rates, both armies used emotional bonds between soldiers to promote ideas of hatred, revenge and violence on the enemy who killed their comrade. These feelings dehumanized the enemy and many soldiers saw the enemy not as individuals but as “foul beasts, drunk with blood” ((Edele and Geyer. “States of Exception.” 390)). Both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union used the powerful combination of a dehumanized enemy and strong emotional ties between soldiers to further perpetuate such atrocities.
In a previous class when we discussed the Great Purges in Sheila Fitzpatrick’s article “A Time of Troubles”. At the end of the class we came to the conclusion that this type of state violence was a result of the Soviet state being hyper-rational. Can the type of extreme violence seen during the Nazi-Soviet War be explained rationally or logically? Why or why not? On a second note, what would you argue to be the main catalyst(s) for the escalation of violence during this period?
In the article “States of Exception”, the authors Mark Edele and Michael Geyer examine the extraordinary and unique violence that occurred on the Eastern front, the conflict between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. The authors assert that the relationship between the two states produced the violence, and it’s escalation. They argue that “the devastating nature of this war, [they] suggest, is the consequence of the inimical interrelationship of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union” ((Edele, Mark, and Michael Geyer. “States of Exception.” In Beyond Totalitarianism: Stalinism and Nazism Compared, edited by Michael Geyer and Shelia Fitzpatrick, 345-395. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009)). No one event, action, or side assumes complete responsibility for the barbarism that defined the Eastern front.
The authors highlight numerous historical events, trends, and statements that reinforce the cyclical nature of the escalation. The authors identify that the escalation grew from the bottom up ((Edele and Geyer, “States of Exception,” 358)). Additionally, the authors write that this escalation of violence resulted in and corresponded with the extermination/persecution of various religious, ethnic, and social groups within both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. This specific movement of growth developed out of Nazi Germany’s deliberate loosening of its control over the actions of lower leaders ((Edele and Geyer, “States of Exception,” 351)). This notion seems to support the structuralist view of Hitler’s role in regards to the Holocaust and also the overall decentralized structure of the Nazi state as outlined in Nicholas Stargardt’s article, “The Holocaust” and Ian Kershaw’s article, “Hitler and the Holocaust.” However, the state’s role in inducing a bottom up escalation of the violence seemingly contradicts the very nature of a free and self perpetuating violence. Furthermore, the entire notion of reciprocity, that the violence of the Soviet Union encouraged the escalation of violence by Nazi Germany and visa versa, undermines the authors’ arguments that the violence truly originated from the bottom.
Both Stalin and Hitler reacted to and encouraged shifts in their respective army’s display and direction of violence ((Edele and Geyer, “States of Exception,” 369, 353 )). Do you think that the violence and its unique development actually developed from the bottom? Also, the authors argue that the radicalization of violence actually developed out of a sense of pragmatism. Do you think this pragmatism reinforces or undermines the uniqueness and bottom up movement of the violence?
In the chapter “States of Exception” from Beyond Totalitarianism, by Mark Edele and Michael Geyer, the question of the Eastern Front of World War II is tackled. The most particularly fascinating thing about this study is the unprecedented ruthlessness of the respective campaigns and how they escalated drastically in their unrestrained violence. The separation drawn between the projected measures to be used in accordance with the military planning of the German invasion into the Soviet Union and the actualities of the war (excessive violence with no regard for the humanity of the opposing side) is notable throughout the chapter as a major theme, as it reveals quite a bit about the methods of warfare each country resorted to in the conflict.
One major point of interest here is Hitler’s interest in wiping out the Jews and Bolsheviks as a primary influencing factor in the strategic planning of German forces. This contributed to what amounted to nothing short of “targeted murder” of a vast population of Soviet citizens. ((Edele, Mark and Geyer, Michael. “States of Exception” in Beyond Totalitarianism, 357. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.)) Such an assault inspired resolve within the Soviets to fight until the last, which sparked a brutal conflict that took an incredible number of lives. The Nazi policy of all-out warfare in pursuit of a swift and total victory was applied towards this end, and though it had proven effective in France the circumstances which surrounded the Eastern Front were not conducive to the success of such a strategy.
Furthermore, the atrocities committed by the Soviets in warfare were responded to by similar acts of cruelty from the German side. The chapter rationalizes the German response by posing such circumstances as Soviet scorched-earth tactics and the mutilation of prisoners of war. It seems from the reading that failing to recognize the humanity of the other side directly inflates the level and intensity of violence in warfare.
In”Hitler and the Holocaust,” Ian Kershaw begins his historiography stating,
“Explaining the Holocaust stretches the historian to the limits in the central task of providing rational explanation of complex historical developments. Simply to pose the question of how a highly cultured and economically advanced modern state could ‘carry out the systematic murder of a whole people for no reason other than they were Jews’ suggests a scale of irrationality scarcely susceptible to historical understanding.” (Kershaw, Ian. “Hitler and the Holocaust.” In Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution, 237 – 281. Binghamton, New York: Vail-Ballou Press, 2008).
In both Kershaw’s and Nicholas Stargardt’s pieces, the central point is the discussion that currently surrounds the Holocaust. Many historians are and have discussed how anti-Semitism became a key component in the practice of government and what role Hitler played throughout the implementation of anti-Semitism on a national level. Both Kershaw and Stargardt discuss the different points that are made in the current controversy on the Holocaust. The two main arguments for the questions posed above are the ‘Hitlerist’ or ‘intentionalist’ point-of-view and the ‘structuralist’ or ‘functionalist’ point-of-view.
Intentionalists or ‘Hitlerists’ argue that Hitler was the central actor who planned the murder of the Jews. The ‘Hitlerist’ interpretation stresses Hitler’s personal anti-Semitic attitude and his notions of scientific racism, as well as his personal vendetta against Jews when it comes to blaming them for Germany’s defeat in WWI. Generally, the systematic killing of Jews in Europe was Hitler’s intention from the very beginning and was central to the ideology of the Nazi party. Functionalists or ‘structuralist’ view the bigger picture and take other factors and agents such as, timing that led to the eventual systematic killings of millions of Jews. Although, these two points defer from each other, according to Stargardt, historians have generally accepted that 1941 was a crucial year. Would you say the same? Which argument do you find the most convincing – ‘structuralists’ or ‘intentionalists’? Why?
One of the primary characteristics and areas of study on European dictators of the interwar period is the use and degree of violence in these regimes. In Christian Gerlach’s and Nicolas Werth’s chapter in Beyond Totalitarianism on “State Violence – Violent Societies,” the role that violence played in Nazi Germany in Stalinist Soviet Union respectively, as well as past historical interpretations of state violence within these regimes are assessed with a focus on the methods of violence, the degree of the violence, the role of the state, and the incorporation of ideologies ( (Christian Gerlach and Nicolas Werth, “State Violence- Violent Societies” in Beyond Totalitarianism: Stalinism and Nazism Compared, ed. Michael Geyer and Sheila Fitzpatrick (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 133) ). Gerlach and Werth argued that state violence is much more complex than the systematic killings that were seen in concentration camps and gulags. Throughout the chapter, Gerlach and Werth investigated state violence at a smaller degree and concluded that in both regimes, “initiative from below” and public participation/ support were important key components of such violence for the sake of creating a perfect society that would benefit the state through a mass consensus within the collective population. (Christian Gerlach and Nicolas Werth, 172).
According to Gerlach and Werth, mass violence in Nazi Germany is characterized as a form of “imperialist” violence, while mass violence in Stalinist Soviet Union was characterized as “developmental violence”(Christian Gerlach and Nicolas Werth, 179). The difference in mass violence between both regimes reflects on different case studies discussed by Gerlach and Werth. The discussion on “socially harmful elements” in the Soviet Union and “asocials” in Nazi Germany supports the idea that mass violence was “developmental” or “imperialist” in the respective dictatorships. In Nazi Germany, different social subgroups were persecuted as “asocials,” people who were accused of deviant behavior. By 1939, “asocials” were categorized as Gemeinschaftsfremde and Gemeinschaftunfahige, “alien to the community” and “socially unfit” (Christian Gerlach and Nicolas Werth, 144). It is important to note the use of diction in describing those who were targets of exclusion and eventually mass violence. By stating that “asocials” were “alien” to the “people’s community,” it antagonizes them and creates a divide between native Germans and those who are not considered to be part of a “greater Germany.” For this reason, Gerlach and Werth argue that mass violence in Nazi Germany is characterized as a form of “imperialist” violence since it was externally driven considering that most victims were people residing on Nazi-occupied territories.
In the Soviet Union, those who were perceived as “socially dangerous” and “socially harmful” were deprived of rights that were granted to “good” Soviets, those who were involved with the collective good of the nation and the party. Mass violence in the Soviet Union eventually targeted those who were “socially harmful” to the state in an effort to create a harmonious and conflict-free society. Amir Weiner added in his article, “Nature, Nurture, and Memory in a Socialist Utopia: Delineating the Soviet Socio-Ethnic Body in the Age of Socialism,” that state violence in the Soviet Union was internally driven and sought to rid Soviet society of “divisive and obstructing elements.” Weiner stated that, “the Soviet state emerged and operated within an ethos aptly named by Zygmunt Bauman as the ‘gardening state,’ which appeared ever more universal in the wake of the Great War. This cataclysmic event brought to fruition the desires for a comprehensive plan for the transformation and management of society, one that would create a better, purer, and more beautiful community through the removal of unfit human weeds” ( (Weiner, Amir. “Nature, Nurture, and Memory in a Socialist Utopia: Delineating the Soviet Socio-Ethnic Body in the Age of Socialism.” The American Historical Review 104, no. 4, 1999, pp. 1116.) ) Considering that most societies of the interwar period aimed towards perfecting their populations and creating an organized and controlled society, can’t “developmental violence” also apply to Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany? Do you agree with Gerlach and Werth or do you think that both “imperialist violence” and “developmental violence” could be applied to all three regimes? Is the aim of mass violence, as discussed in both readings, to create utopian societies?
In “State Violence- Violent Societies,” authors Christian Gerlach and Nicolas Werth discuss mass violence in both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. They preface their discussion with an analysis of this field of study leading up to the modern day. According to the authors, most existing studies on mass violence focus on the Soviet and German camp systems (the concentration camps and the Gulag) and the methods of violence used as their sources of evidence. However, the authors believe that in order to gain a holistic understanding of mass violence in both states, one must look to the actual perpetrators and functionaries, since scholarly knowledge regarding this aspect of the subject is fairly fragmentary.
Through research done specifically on the aforementioned topics, scholars have revealed that contrary to popular belief, initiatives from mid to lower level functionaries and institutions other than the police played significant roles in the implementation of mass violence. Furthermore, rather than there being a single driving force influencing the uniform implementation of violent practices, a variety of policies and forms of mass violence were utilized against victim groups.
The case study titled “Socially Harmful Elements’ in the Soviet Union; ‘Asocials’ in Nazi Germany,” reveals the wide array of targets, as well as methods of violence used in both states. In both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, many of the groups persecuted were identical: the homeless, criminals, prostitutes, etc. However a significant difference between the regimes regarding mass violence was the scope of violence. The authors discuss the implementation of passportization in the Soviet Union, which was designed to limit the movement of those labelled “socially dangerous”. This initiative resulted in broader and more repressive movements (deportation, labor camp sentences etc.) against an ever-growing range of social deviants. In both examples, violence against asocials and socially harmful elements was designed to restore social order as well as create a new social order.
In the beginning of this chapter, the authors note their lack of the use of the term “genocide” in their scholarly research. They note that the lack of a common scholarly definition is indicative of the wide range of uses for the word, especially politically. Furthermore, they note that the concept of “genocide” implies that on a state level long-intended, carefully prepared master plans for destruction exist. Do you agree with this definition of genocide? Do you agree with the author’s use of the term “mass violence” instead? Why or why not?