Friday, 24 June 2016

Should we punish SS guards in their old ages?                                                  

I will tell you the story of a former SS prison guard who worked in a Nazi concentration camp where over a million Jews were gassed. It was one of the many such camps but it is best remembered as the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp which was located in Poland. I will tell you the story of the SS guard  later in this article.

That extermination camp was established in May 26th 1940 by the Nazis. The first transport of prisoners, almost all Polish civilians, arrived in June 1940 and the SS administration and staff was established. On March 1st 1941, the camp population was 10,900. The camp quickly developed a reputation for torture and mass shootings.

Himmler (a top Nazi leader answerable only to Hitler) visited Auschwitz in March 1941 and commanded its enlargement to hold 30,000 prisoners. Himmler also ordered the construction of a second camp for 100,000 inmates on the site of the village of Birkenau that is roughly 4 km from the main camp. This massive camp was intended to be filled with captured Russian POWs who would provide the slave labor to build the SS 'utopia' in Upper Silesia. The chemical giant I. G. Farben expressed an interest in utilizing this labor force. Extensive construction work began in October 1941 under terrible conditions and with massive loss of life. About 10,000 Russian POWs died in the process of building the camp and working for I. G. Farben.

As Birkenau’s prison population grew in size, the estimated number of victims was 2.1 to 2,5 million This estimated number of murders is considered by historians as a strict minimum. The real number of murders is unknown but possibly higher.

The Auschwitz complex was divided in three major camps: Auschwitz I main camp; Auschwitz II, or Birkenau, established on October 8th, 1941 as an extermination camp; and Monowitz III established on May 31st, 1942 as a work camp along with also many sub-camps.

There were up to seven gas chambers using Zyklon-B poison gas and three crematoria in Auschwitz II which also included a camp for new arrivals and those to be sent on to labor camps elsewhere. In three of it sub camps were Gypsies, families and a women's camp.      By 1941, up to 50,000 prisoners were scattered around 51 sub-camps such as Rajsko, an experimental agricultural station, and Gleiwitz, a coal mine.       

Auschwitz III provided slave labor for a major industrial plant run by I G Farben for producing synthetic rubber. The highest number of inmates, including sub-camps was as many as 155,000. The estimated number of deaths were 2.1 to 2.5 million ho were killed in gas chambers, of whom about 2 million were Jews, and Poles, Gypsies and Soviet POWs. About 330,000 prisoners died from other causes.

Up to this point, Auschwitz accounted for only 11 percent of the victims of the Final Solution. (Extermination of European Jews) However, in August 1942, planning began for the construction of four large-scale gas chambers It appears from the plans that the first two gas chambers were adapted from mortuaries which, with the huge crematoria attached to them, were initially intended to cope with the deaths amongst the slave labor force in the camp, which by then was approaching 100,000. But from the autumn of 1942, it seems clear that the SS planners and civilian contractors were intending to build a mass-murder plant.

Those selected to die were undressed in the undressing room and then pushed into the gas chambers. It took about 20 minutes for all the people to choke to death from the poison gas. In II and III, the killings took place in underground rooms, and the corpses were carried to the five ovens by an electrically operated lift. This was done before cremation since gold teeth and any other valuables, such as rings, were removed from the corpses first. In IV and V the gas chambers and ovens were on the same level, but the ovens were so poorly built and the usage was so great that they repeatedly malfunctioned and had to be abandoned. The corpses were finally burned outside, in the open, as initially in 1943. Jewish sonderkommandos worked the crematoria under SS guard’s supervision.

During its history, the prison population of Auschwitz changed its composition significantly. At first, its inmates were almost entirely Polish. From April 1940 to March 1942, there were approximately 27,000 inmates in which 30 percent were Poles and 57 percent were Jews. From March 1942 to March 1943 there were 162,000 inmates of which 60 percent were Jews.

Auschwitz finally became a significant source of slave labor locally and functioned as an international clearing house. Of 2.5 million people who were deported to Auschwitz, 405,000 were given prisoner status and serial numbers. Of these, approximately 50 percent were Jews and 50 percent were Poles and other nationalities. Of those who received numbers, 65,000 survived. It is estimated that about 200,000 people passed through the Auschwitz camps and survived.

Those deported to Auschwitz arrived at the nearby train station and were marched or trucked to the main camp where they were registered, tattooed, undressed, deloused, had their body hair shaven off, showered while their clothes were disinfected with Zyklon-B gas, (used to kill lice) and entered the camp under the infamous gateway inscribed 'Arbeit Macht Frei' (Labor make you free) Of course that sign was a lie since the prisoners were expected to work in the camps until they die.

A parallel system operated later at Birkenau in 1942-43, except that for the majority the 'showers' proved to be gas chambers. Only about 10 percent of Jewish transports were registered, disinfected, shaven and showered in the 'central sauna' before being assigned barracks. In May 1944, a spur line was built right into the camp to accelerate and simplify the handling of the tens of thousands of Hungarian and other Jews deported in the spring and summer of 1944.

Initially the new facilities were "underutilized". From April 1943 to March 1944, therefore only 160,000 Jews were killed at Birkenau, but from March 1944 to November 1944, when all the other death camps had been abandoned, Birkenau surpassed all previous records for mass killing. The Hungarian deportations and the liquidation of the remaining Polish Jewish ghettos, such as Lodz, resulted in the gassing of 585,000 Jews. This period made Auschwitz-Birkenau into the most notorious killing site of all time.

What were the SS guards like in those camps? The SS-TV was created originally in 1933. It was an independent unit within the SS with its own ranks and command structure. It ran the camps throughout Germany and later, Nazi-occupied Europe. On the 29th of March 1936, concentration camp guards and administration units were officially designated as the SS-Totenkopfverbände (SS-TV).

By 1941, prior to the years of the Final Solution, the concentration camps run by the SS-TV, both in Germany and across occupied territories, grew into a massive system of institutionalized forced labour for the SS.

The concentration camp personnel later in the final years of the war began to arrive from the front-line SS formations fighting the Soviet armies approaching them from the east after some of them were wounded and given their medical discharges.

Former SS guard, Reinhold Hanning, now age 94 was wounded while serving in Himmler’s SS Waffen Army fighting the oncoming Soviets.  After being given his medical discharge, he was ordered to work as a SS guard at the Auschwitz II, (Birkenau) extermination camp.

He served as an SS guard in the Auschwitz concentration camp for two years after volunteering to join the Waffen SS Army at the age of 18.

He was arrested and Hanning was charged with accessory to murder in at least 170,000 deaths. He was then put on trial. On the second day of his trial, survivors described in detail to the court the terror they experienced living in the death camp. As an alleged cog in the Auschwitz machine, he was found guilty and sentenced to five years in prison.

No one testified that he murdered or brutalized anyone in the camp even though that type of thing was rampant in that camp. He was a guard and like all prison guards, his main responsibility was to make sure that the prisoners didn’t escape. If that is all he did, then where was the crime?

I will admit quite freely that the death camp was an anomaly in our way of thinking in our modern world but during the Second World War with Germany and Japan committing terrible things to innocent people, there wasn’t anything that could be done by ordinary soldiers but obey orders or be executed. It is all very fine to sit in our armchairs and say that Hanning should have refused to work at that camp as a guard.

First of all, I doubt that he knew when he got the assignment that the camp was a death camp. That information was kept secret from the ordinary Germans. And after he go there and discovered what was going on, what could he do then to stop it? Nothing. He wouldn’t even be permitted to leave the camp and find another job.

I have no idea what duties he had in that camp and neither did the witnesses or the prosecution or even his judge. He was convicted simply because he worked in the camp as a guard.

Imagine if you will if you were a guard in a very large prison and two guards murdered a prisoner. How would you feel if you and every other guard working in the prison were charged with murder simply because you and all the other guards worked as a guard in the prison?  You would feel even worse if you were all found guilty and sentenced to many years in prison.

Up until 2009, Germany didn’t convict anyone who was a guard in a concentration camp unless there were witnesses who testified that a guard had killed someone or brutalized someone in the camp. That would be justice. Alas, it appears that kind of justice went the way of the carrier pigeon—gone forever in Germany.

I think the reason why Germany is going after very old men who were emppl0yed in those camps as guards or clerks is because the shame of the past is still strangling them with guilt and they can’t seem to accept the fact  that they are the  Germans of today and no longer the Germans of the past.  There is an exception of course. The courts that try these old men who had minor roles in those camps are no different that the courts in Nazi Germany who didn’t care whether or not its citizens committed the crimes they were accused of’.

I believe when all the old men who worked in those camps in minor roles have passed on, the German citizens of tomorrow will ask themselves, “Did we really convict old men for crimes they didn’t commit simply because they were forced to be guards in those camps?”

If Germany has any sincerity in how it treats its old people, that 94-year-old man will not spend the next five years in a prison and instead will serve that time in a home for seniors since he is certainly no danger to anyone at his age. 

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