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eac
Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 21

Jozefow, the Einsatzgruppen, and the Psychology of the Holocaust

There's a whole variety of factors that go into the excuse of "just following orders". It's known that some of the perpetrators had remorse, and didn't want to carry out the orders they received. It was even stated that refusal to carry out these orders would only result in the reassignment of the dissenting persons. However, the issue of one's honor came into play. While not as critical to one's social standing as it was (and still is) in Japan, honor and loyalty to the Nazi state was heavily prioritized. If you were to disobey orders, nominally you might not be punished, but your reputation would be besmirched, you could be denounced as against the state by your comrades, there really was no way to tell what could happen. So I imagine that it was safer in many Nazi's heads to begrudgingly go along with the system. There's also the factor of groupthink, nobody wants to be the odd one out.

The issue of morality in war is difficult. One could argue that technically these soldiers were free to risk it and ask to leave the Einsatzgruppen. One doesn't have to feel empathy for those who killed hundreds, thousands of innocent civilians with their own hands. Nobody should. But consenting or not, they were just cogs in the larger Nazi death machine. When the choice is between killing innocent Jews and being sent to die in the snow in Stalingrad, there is no easy choice. Sure, the more morally “correct” option would be the latter (except for the fact that the Wehrmacht killed civilians in that city), but if a soldier wanted their best chance at seeing their family again, they would choose the former. So should we consider these soldiers as evil? Many of them absolutely were, but some were just cogs in a machine; easily replaceable cogs.

dancingsnail
Boston, MA, US
Posts: 24

Jozefow, the Einsatzgruppen, and the Psychology of the Holocaust

Dr. Schoenfelder gave the men a lesson on how to kill people as quickly as possible, by shooting them in the back of the neck, the men took this information with no questions asked, proceeding to massacre hundreds of people using this technique. Similar to the Milgrim experiment, these men acted based on what a higher authority was telling them, or at least that was their excuse. They told themselves they didn’t have a choice, particularly in the case of Major Trapp, who used the fact that they were all ordered to do this by a higher authority to comfort the men who had been shooting Jewish people point-blank. It is not as if these men were trained soldiers used to killing, they were too old to be used by Germany, and most had no experience. For someone who had never killed anyone before committing a massacre such as this one would be unthinkable, yet many of these men did it anyway, just because someone told them they had to and they didn’t have the courage or sense of humanity to object.


There didn’t seem to be any real repercussions from choosing not to participate in the killing; in fact, Major Trapp, the person who ordered it, seemed to object to it himself. When one man named Otto-Julius Schimle stepped forward to request to be taken off the squad Captain Hoffman began to berate him, but Major Trapp shut him down, protecting him from any further punishment. Lieutenant Heinz Buchmann made it clear that he “would in no case participate in such an action, in which defenseless women and children are shot.” He asked for a different assignment and became an escort for male Jewish workers. Another man believed the task to be “repugnant” and asked for a different assignment, and was granted it. Several other men were given guard duty. Some men started off being a part of the firing squads but soon found that they could not continue and were released and reassigned to other duties. Sergeant Steinmetz gave his men the opportunity to report if they didn’t want to be a part of the firing squads, only one accepted. Some policemen shot past victims, some hid in the Catholic priest’s garden, and others hung around the marketplace or took as long as possible raiding homes to avoid becoming a part of the squads. One man said, “No strict control was being carried out here,” and, “I suffered no consequences for my actions.” None of these men who managed to avoid being a part of the firing squads were punished or even reprimanded. None of these men who avoided the killing, or only participated in part of it are heroes, in fact, they are cowards that are just as guilty as the men that committed the crimes themselves. They claimed to have a moral high ground, that the thought of killing women and children made them sick, but they still allowed it to happen, treating it as though it was inevitable. A man who is horrified by slaughter doesn’t sit back and let it happen.


For this reason, Major Trapp is not a hero, he is just as bad as the men above him who ordered the massacre as well as the men below him who submitted it. High-up men in the Nazi party, such as Hitler, avoided being directly linked to the atrocities Nazi soldiers were committing by keeping a strict chain of command. Trapp benefited from this as he never had to kill a Jewish person, just ordered other people to do it, “Major Trapp was never there. Instead, he remained in Jozefow because he allegedly could not bear the sight.” Although he may have not wanted to order the massacre, he said to himself, “orders are orders.” Trapp’s tears and distress were meaningless. He still organized a massacre for maximum efficiency, including sending a second company out to the woods when the Germans realized that they weren’t killing people fast enough. He did nothing to save a single Jewish person that day, instead he “saved” only his own men from having to inflict pain. Maybe he told himself that he didn’t have a choice that day, which is no excuse especially since the special killing squads proved to be problematic for the Nazis themselves both in the short term and long term.


These massacres were problematic for the Nazis for many reasons, logistically it was not efficient and they cost too much money. If Major Trapp had actually cared or tried to stop the massacre I feel like he might have been able to make this argument or at least try to since money and efficiency was a language that his bosses would have understood. While he might have believed there was nothing he could do, I just don’t believe this to be true. Throughout the day constant adjustments had to be made to accommodate the timeline the Nazis wanted including killing people closer to the collection path and having fewer men kill more people. Major Trapp and the other majors and lieutenants' organization of the massacre is disturbing, to say the least and horrifying that they followed their orders exactly doing anything they could to wipe out an entire population of Jewish people in the shortest amount of time possible. They could have stopped at some point when they realized it was taking too long, when the forest was covered with dead bodies or when several of their men requested to be assigned to other duties. But no, they adapted and continued refusing to falter.


None of this means that the perpetrators were in any way less responsible or susceptible to “the power of the situation,” especially for the people on the ground, I don't think this applies. I don’t think I can believe that in situations like this the average person would just continue, behind this massacre, and the Holocaust as a whole is a long history of antisemitism and scapegoating that created an environment that would allow something like this to happen. Especially in this case when there were essentially no consequences for refusing to participate, the people who actually pulled the triggers in this massacre were fully responsible and conscious of what they were doing. While a part of them may have objected to killing hundreds of people point blank and believed they had no choice, for those that didn’t stop a part of them may have believed in the final solution that Hitler was proposing, and that this was the way to make Germany a better place, making them completely responsible for their actions. I’m not saying that the idea of groupthink is wrong or that Milgram’s experiment isn’t applicable to this situation, I’m just that reflexive human behavior doesn’t mean you don’t have control over your mind or actions and that there was something larger at play. Genocides don’t happen because of one person or just because of “the power of the situation” it takes the willing participation of a nation’s citizens alongside the instigation of the nation’s leadership to occur.




Piper Clarke
Boston, MA, US
Posts: 6

Jozefow, the Einsatzgruppen, and the Psychology of the Holocaust

I think some of the men did what they did because they were following orders. I believe that they were able to separate the fact that Jews were actual human beings and many of them were scared of the repercussions, which was being seen as less or shunned by their fellow soldiers. You ask why more men didn’t choose to participate and I ask you this. How likely would you be to not do something that the general public takes part in? Do you think that you would be the one to stand up against authority when no one else does? I don’t really know what was “going through their heads,” but if I had to guess, I don’t think there was anything. They were following orders and didn’t want to be punished.


While I understand the quote “the power of the situation was so strong that individuals lose their ability to make rational, humane decisions,” it is just an excuse. You can not justify the actions that you do by saying the situation forced your hand. In some situations, I can see where it would be a rational decision, but in terms of the halacust, I don't believe it was. Especially since some of them were given an out.

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