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What the Average German Knew About the Concentration Camps -- II

Theresa Ast, PhD in Modern European History, has taught at Reinhardt University for 25 years. "Confronting the Holocaust" @ AMAZON Books.

West German Occupation and Ammerican Immigration Documents - Ast, 1945-1950


German Civilian Knowledge of the Concentration Camps

In their oral history testimonies, letters, questionnaires, interviews, and journals American soldiers explain why they did not accept German protestations of ignorance and innocence. GIs from the 42nd, 45th, 71st, 88th, and 103rd Infantry Divisions, and the 11th Armored Division, and the 69th Signal Battalion all referred to the incredible odor emanating from the camps, claiming that they could smell the stench long before they could actually see the facilities.[1]

Private Margol estimated that camp odors could be detected up to two miles away; he considered the stench far worse than any smell of battlefield dead.[2] Dr. Charles Froug serving with an evacuation hospital, discounted the claim by citizens of Rosenheim that the odor came from a nearby fertilizer factory.

Thomas Hale wrote, “disease – typhus, dysentery, and tuberculosis – was universal. The crematory had been operating around the clock….the stench of death and of piles of human excrement was overpowering, yet the townspeople nearby said they knew nothing of the camp.[3]

Staff Sergeant Malachowsky, at Nordhausen with the 329th Medical Battalion, recalled that “the smell covered the entire countryside…for miles around….when we asked these people in the town…how they could permit such a thing, they said they did not know there was a camp like that next to them.”[4]

Frequently GIs mention the proximity of camps to villages, towns, and cities and emphasize that people living nearby would have known something about the camps.[5] PFC Dalton, with the 89th Infantry Division was quite emphatic. “I do not believe anyone could live that close to such a place and not know what was going on.”[6]

Corporal Hansen recorded the following, “On the edge of each industrial village, we saw the concentration camp, the huddle of ugly wooden barracks type building, surrounded with high barbed wire fence, littered with garbage, cold and repelling, sheltering the innumerable kinds of people that lived there and worked for the Germans.”[7]

Irving Lisman, who was at Dachau with the 122nd Medical Battalion, pointed out that the German countryside contained hundreds of subcamps, or aussenkommandos, in addition to the mother camps whose names we know, Buchenwald, Dachau. Bergen-Belsen. He found it impossible to believe German civilians when they denied knowledge of camps or of slave labor activity in their vicinity.[8]

Captain Sol Nichtern wrote, “The concentration Camp at Dachau is built right up against the side of the village; the houses go right up to the outer wall…And the German people who lived on the other side of the street claim that they didn’t know what was going on in the [very] next street”.[9]

Slave laborers were often marched through the village and town streets to their work sites and then back again to the concentration camps where they were housed for the night.[10] As part of a military intelligence team, Staff Sergeant Lenger questioned people living near the concentration camp Ohrdruf. Lenger recalled, “We questioned the people …and they told us they had no idea whatsoever that there was a camp of this sort, despite the fact that when the people from the camp went to work on this castle [nearby]…they had to pass the outskirts of this little town.”[11]

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Lieutenant James confirmed this situation as he had several encounters with the Baron of the estate where the camp prisoners were marched to work.[12] Private Eppley spoke with inmates who marched through town twice a day to work in a paint factory outside of their camp.[13]

In some regions townspeople owned businesses which had part of their operations located inside a camp to take advantage of cheap slave labor.[14] Near Buchenwald trucks picked up villagers to do shift work inside the camp itself.[15]

At the Neuengamme camp “labor squads worked throughout the area, in particular on the canal running through town.” The walk to the canal took over an hour and the trip was made twice a day in full view of the local inhabitants.[16] Captain Baker remembered that “the civilian population seemed to claim not to know anything about what was going on at [Ohrdruf], yet it was only a quarter or a half a mile away from civilian populations. They could see it.”[17]

American soldiers also observed the railroad tracks which brought trainloads of prisoners to the camps, many of them running straight through or along the outskirts of German towns and villages.[18] In places where the trains went through the town, anyone looking out of a second story window could see the boxcars passing as they headed into a nearby camp.[19]

Captain Hellerstein, a physician attached to the 40th Tank Battalion, surveyed the camp at Bergen-Belsen. He wrote, “the land is flat…over there you could see the little town called Bergen, and it was impossible for the people in the town not to know what was going on. Because these boxcars used to come in, loaded [with people], and [then] leave empty.”[20]

Tech Sergeant Kushlis who was at Ohrdruf commented on the visibility of the train operations. “If you can just picture a tiny village with railroad cars coming in every other day with [thousands] of prisoners aboard [who were] unloaded and marched into the camp and they never saw anyone leave there.”[21]

Also at Ohrdruf Lieutenant Moore wrote, “The camp was located in a town, in easy view of the citizens…at the end of the compound, I saw two sheds, with stinking naked bodies that were piled about six foot high.”[22]

Konnilyn Feig, a Holocaust historian, verifies that similar situations were common in many towns. “During the war the residents had numerous opportunities to observe Neuengamme’s 10,000 inmates. The trains unloaded their cargo at the station in the center of town. The cargo walked through the center of town to the camp, an hour’s march.”[23] To be continued in parts III and IV.

[1] Robert J. Weil, 4, Chaplain John B. MacDonald, 2, Fred Leroy Peterson, 4, Ast Project; Monroe Nachman., interview, HMFI; Victor Wiegard, interview, ILC; Robert Zimmer, interview, USHMM; Jack D. Hallett, 11, Robert Perelman, 2, Fred Mercer, 3, A. Lewis Greene, 8, Frank Bezares, 6, Herman Hellerstein, 13, interview transcripts, Emory.

[2] Howard Margol, 2, interview transcript, Emory, (392nd Field Artillery Battalion, 42nd Infantry Division).

[3] Thomas Hale, The Cauldron, 97.

[4] David Malachowsky, Day, 32, (329th Medical Battalion, 104th Infantry Division).

[5] Robert Eppley, interview, HMFI ; Historical Report, 1st US Army, April 1945, Record Group 331, NARA; Ernest James, interview, USHMM; Gerald McMahon, A Corner of Hell: The Liberation of Gunskirchen Lager, (Fairfax, Virginia: Yadernan Books, 1990), (hereafter cited as Gunskirchen Lager), 3; George Wehmoff, 3, C. W. Doughty, 4, Wilson Freeman, 9, interview transcripts, Emory; Jack R. Blake, 6, Russell W. McFarland, 3, Ralph A. Dalton, 2, Irving Lisman, 5, Carlos Edward Moore, 1, Donald E. Johnson, 2, Ast Project.

[6] Ralph A. Dalton, 2, Ast Project, (563rd Field Artillery Battalion, 89th Infantry Division).

[7] Bernard Hansen, 13 April 1945, Papers, 411th Field Artillery Group, MHI.

[8] Irving Lisman, 2, Ast Project, (122nd Medical Battalion, 42nd Infantry Division).

“The system with its major and official concentration camps and their hundreds of subsidiary camps and work parties stretched like a giant net over the whole of Germany, and then of Austria and Czechoslovakia.” Konnilyn Feig, Hitler’s Death Camps, 24.

[9] Sol Nichtern, 44, Ast Project, (Physician with Medical Corps, 517th Special Clearing Company).

[10] John B. MacDonald, 2, Ast Project, (Chaplain with 345th Regiment, 89th Infantry Division); Melvin Rappaport, December 1993, letter to Theresa Ast, (Captain with 6th Armored Division); Frank F. Hamburger, Joseph B. Kushlis , interviews, Emory, (65th Infantry Division).

[11] Paul P. Lenger, cited in Liberators, 4, (Military Intelligence, 8th Armored Division).

[12] Ernest James, interview, USHMM, (238th Combat Engineers Battalion, 7th Corps).

[13] Robert Eppley, interview, HMFI, (89th Infantry Division).

[14] William Levine, interview, HMFI, (Intelligence Officer, 7th Army).

[15] John Glustrom, 4, interview transcript, Emory, (333rd Combat Engineers).

[16] Konnilyn Feig, Hitler’s Death Camps, 211.

[17] John Henry Baker, 3, interview transcript, Emory, (260th Battalion, 65th Infantry Division).

[18] Dachau, compiled by Major Alfred L. Howes, G-2 Section, 7th US Army, 1945, 22; William Levine, interview, HMFI, (Intelligence Officer, 7th Army); [Military reports and memoranda are designated as follows: G-1 Personnel/Administration Section, division or higher, G-2 Intelligence Section, G-3 Operations Section, G-4 Supply and Logistics Section, G-5 Civil Affairs/Military Government.]

“The enormous transport system demanded the close cooperation and extensive knowledge of civilians, civil servants, and transportation experts in Germany and in all the countries of Europe. One of the largest Nazi government agencies, the Reichsbahn employed 1,400,000 people in Germany….” Konnilyn Feig, Hitler’s Death Camps, 36.

[19] Wilson Freeman, 9, interview transcript, Emory, (601st Field Artillery Battalion).

[20] Herman Hellerstein, 13, interview transcript, Emory, (40th Tank Battalion, 7th Armored Division).

[21] Joseph B. Kushlis, 10, interview transcript, Emory, (260th Regiment, 65th Infantry Division) .

[22] Carlos Edward Moore, 1, Ast Project, (Antitank Company, 354th Regiment, 89th Infantry Division).

[23] Konnilyn Feig, Hitler’s Death Camps, 211.

Dr. Theresa Ast -- August 2013

Additional Articles of Interest

World War II immigration

Comments - German Civilians and Nazi Concentration Camps

Theresa Ast (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on March 14, 2015:

Thank you Lee, for such an encouraging comment. I spend most of my time writing about the Holocaust and teaching college students about European history since the 1600's. Keeps me very busy. :) Hope you are doing well.

Lee Cloak on March 12, 2015:

Very important, very interesting hub, you should be very proud of your work, thanks for the education!

Theresa Ast (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on September 01, 2012:

Hendrika -- Thank you for visiting and commenting. I think you may well be is entirely probable that many people feigned ignorance out of fear of the Nazis. After the war I think they may have been acting out of guiilt or fear of being held responsible. Thanks again.

Hendrika from Pretoria, South Africa on August 31, 2012:

It is scary to realize how people will ignore things that is unpleasant. I am just wondering if many of the faked ignorance out of fear?

Theresa Ast (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on August 24, 2012:

Thank you Anjo. I appreciate the read and the encouraging comments. Have a great weekend.

Anjo Bacarisas II from Cagayan de Oro, Philippines on August 23, 2012:

truly amazing and very interesting hub, keep posting.. blessed!

Theresa Ast (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on August 11, 2012:

Nate - The tendency to obey heavy-handed authorities is indeed a distressing human trait, sometimes out of sincere fear and even worse to me, at other times out of a desire for "security at any cost" or as you aplt described it "advantage."

Thanks for the read and the comments. Glad to have your political science background and voice here on HP.

Nathan Bernardo from California, United States of America on August 11, 2012:

This illustrates the human being's unfortunate tendency to obey, because of fear and because it is to their advantage. Very fascinating subject and hub.

Theresa Ast (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on July 23, 2012:

Thank you Jennzie. When I am writing about my graduate school research area, I try to be especially thorough and complete. You are certainly right. Probably the great majority of the German people lived in fear, because really horrendous things were happening all around them. Such a terrible time. I appreciate the comments and the votes.

Jenn from Pennsylvania on July 23, 2012:

Very well-researched article about a terrible period in human history. I also believe that a lot of people lived in fear at that time so they were unwilling to speak out about it.

Voted up and more!

Theresa Ast (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on June 23, 2012:

Good evening Audrey and thank you. My professors would be so pleased by your comment - they just hammered us about the importance of research and proper evidence. :)

I am sure it must have been a difficult time for your father. Although I am convinced most Germans knew "something" I am totally convinced that after the first few years of Nazi rule they all lived in terrible fear. It was a terrible time.

I hope all is well with you and your family. Theresa

Theresa Ast (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on June 23, 2012:

Thank you MG. I appreciate your encouraging comments.

Audrey Howitt from California on June 23, 2012:

Gut wrenching! Such a great article though--well-researched and well-written. My father was living in Germany with two small children at the time--a singer--He never talked about all of this--and I wonder how much he knew---makes my heart wrench for everyone

MG Singh from UAE on June 23, 2012:

Another fine post. Good show

Theresa Ast (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on June 22, 2012:

Hello Nell Rose. You had living history in your household - your two parents. Amazing. I think your parents were probably right. There will always be some people who want to change the story or cover it up, no matter how much evidence and testimony there is. Thanks so much for reading and commenting. :)

Theresa Ast (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on June 20, 2012:

You are very welcome. It did take eme awhile to decide to share my families papers. My father died in December 2010 and I cam into possession of a large trunk of papers. It was full of everything, letters, grocery lists, paid bills, old calendars, and on and on...going back forty years. In the very bottom was an old envelope that had papers they had to obtain in order to leave Germany after WW II and immigrate to America. They were things I had never seen before. Very fragile after sixty plus years. I realized they might disintegrate so I scanned them into my computer before carefully storing them in a file cabinet. Several months later I decided to use them in a Hub. Glad the Hub was informative. Thank you for commenting, voting, and sharing. It is much appreciated. :)

Nell Rose from England on June 20, 2012:

I always remember a German boy in my school who claimed that the Holocaust did not exist. I got so angry with him, as my mum and dad served in the War. My mum was a Sergeant in the Airforce, and so was my uncle, my dad was in the army. I told them about the boy and they said that these days the Germans totally tell a different story of what happened, in other words they try to cover it up by changing history, but we know the truth. Very informative hub, thanks

Pamela Dapples from Arizona. on June 20, 2012:

I appreciate you sharing such personal documents with us -- primary sources to be sure -- but personal nonetheless.

This hub was very informative. Voting up, across and sharing.

Theresa Ast (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on June 06, 2012:

Thank you sen. I appreciate your taking the time to read my hubs and you make wonderfully encouraging comments. Documentation does take time and diligence and not many people are willing to put in the time and effort. Good for you! :)

Pavlo Badovskyi from Kyiv, Ukraine on June 06, 2012:

We have LOTS OF THOSE ARCHIVES and retired soldiers were and still are the national heroes in Russia. In a Soviet times we were all so proud of the fact that WE won the war. Not Americans, not the troops of coalition but WE, the Soviet country with help of americans and coalition. Even the war was called not the WW2 but a Great Patriotic War. But in Ukraine not so many people WANT to know it. Many ukrainian scientists give too much national colouring to the events of the WW2. They try to show the Soviet army as the army which killed the spirit of freedom in UKraine. The soviet Army is often (not always) called the "Army of invaders" in Ukraine. In many cities on the west of Ukraine the red flags are totally forbidden on a legislative level during celebration of the Victory day.

Recently they talk much more about consciliation of those who fought on the side of a red army and those who fought on the side of german troops to free Ukraine from the Soviet regime.

Sorry, too much just for a comment . Probably I write one day a hub devoted to this :-)

Theresa Ast (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on June 06, 2012:

Thank you Pavlo. I appreciate your visit and your comments. Like you I am so aware that the participants in, and witnesses to, World War II will not be with us much longer. Sad.

In many areas of the US, a real effort has been made to interview retired soldiers and get their testimony down on paper. Does that happen much in Russia?

Are there archives devoted to WW II and the Soviet soldiers who served? Have a great day. :)

Theresa Ast (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on June 06, 2012:

Good Morning dmop. I think you are right. It is an all too common response in most people to look the other way and disavow responsibility when things are difficult or dangerous.

Which is one more reason we should oppose wrongdoing and bad people/government as soon as possible before they become unbelievably strong and oppressive. Thanks so much for the comments and the votes.

Sushmita from Kolkata, India on June 06, 2012:

Wonderfully well written second part. I must say you are setting a standard of writing researched historical article on the Hub Pages, and I am learning from you to be diligent in documentation. Waiting for more and voting up and sharing too.

Pavlo Badovskyi from Kyiv, Ukraine on June 06, 2012:

Great article. Facts about WW2 are valuable bacuase every year we have less people who can tell their own experience of that time. Thank you.

dmop from Cambridge City, IN on June 05, 2012:

I suppose it was easier to claim ignorance rather than accept some form of responsibility. In most situations it seems that most people will just look the other way, so they can go on about their own lives as normally as possible. I'm sure they knew, but were fearful and unwilling to take any sort of action. Great article, voted up, useful, and interesting.

Theresa Ast (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on May 11, 2012:

Thank you Kebennett1. I appreciate your dropping by and your comments. :)

Kebennett1 from San Bernardino County, California on May 11, 2012:

And the Monkeys begin to drop! There goes See no evil! Awesome article. I find it very interesting! Voted Up!

Theresa Ast (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on February 24, 2012:

My sentiments exactly. How appalling, Of course everyone, even the German population lived in fear of the Nazis. It was a terrible time. Thank you for the comments.

mours sshields from Elwood, Indiana on February 24, 2012:

How could people of the towns not know? And, no one did

anything?! How apalling!!

Theresa Ast (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on February 09, 2012:

RT - These are heavy and difficult periods in history to deal with, but like you, I think they are important and presenting history clearly and objectively to each new generation is a necessary and worthwhile objective. You are very welcome and thank you for reading and commenting.

RTalloni on February 09, 2012:

As difficult as it is to be reminded and to learn more about these events, it is important not to forget and not to allow history to be rewritten. Thank you for your work.

Theresa Ast (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on January 24, 2012:

I think you are right. It was a complex mixture of fear, apathy, resentment of foreigners, denial, and eventually guilt. Atrocities and persecution have happened in many places and time and are still happening today, but seldom as any regime or group been so incredibly organized or efficient with their persecution.

Thanks for coming by to read and comment on this series.

Moira Garcia Gallaga from Lisbon, Portugal on January 23, 2012:

Just as interesting and well researched as part 1. Incredible the accounts about the extent of the stench, one can only imagine how horrible the conditions were to cause that. As you pointed out, there appears to be an element of denial in the German people when queried about the existence of the camps in their vicinity or a sense of guilt perhaps, once confronted of the reality within their midst.

Theresa Ast (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on December 29, 2011:

Interesting, our educational systems my be quite different. My work focusing on primary gov't docs and eyewitness testimony, along with several other's research, is what American Historians would use as the basis for their secondary sources.

Graduate schools in the US places great emphasis on digging around, finding primary sources and witnesses, and writing something that has never been written before. If I had produced 300 pages based on secondary sources I would not have received my degree.

My essays may also seem strange or confusing because they are based on my dissertation research. I am working with a wide variety of materials; compiling and analyzing government and military documents (over 400 from the National Archives in DC and the Military History Institute in Pennsylvania), eyewitness first person testimony from over 250 GI's who were there, and over 100 secondary books and journal articles.

I never got around to writing anything like what I think you are referring to. I had three young children to support, so as soon as I graduated I started teaching full-time and have been ever since.

I occasionally manage an essay or a professional paper, but most of time is consumed by designing course, writing lectures and grading papers. :) Sometimes it seems never-ending. I would like to hear how the British system is structured, if you have time to describe it.

And it is interesting, and unusual, to meet someone with the same interests. :)

CASE1WORKER from UNITED KINGDOM on December 29, 2011:

i guess we write slightly different in academia in the UK. , I have just got to get used to it! I think I would use the secondary sources and then butress with primary, simply because it is one mans opinion rather than a qualified systematic analysis of the opninions of all men who were at the scene. However differences in style do not detract from what is a very thought provoking hub and it is interesting to meet someone who has the same interests!

CASE1WORKER from UNITED KINGDOM on December 29, 2011:

i guess we write slightly different in academia in the UK. , I have just got to get used to it! I think I would use the secondary sources and then butress with primary, simply because it is one mans opinion rather than a qualified systematic analysis of the opninions of all men who were at the scene. However differences in style do not detract from what is a very thought provoking hub and it is interesting to meet someone who has the same interests!

Theresa Ast (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on December 28, 2011:

Thanks for your comments. It is interesting because it took awhile, but finally about ten years ago, I began to see more scholarly books and articles on the T-4 program, the Nazi version of eugenics. Not sure why the research was so slow to come out.

When I was taking graduate courses almost 20 years ago, the big emphasis in the history department was to find, analyze, an utilize primary (if possible, first person records)source materials.

Secondary books which synthesized primary materials were only to be used to buttress the core of a work, the primary sources. This emphasis of course determined my approach to research in this area.

I am certainly open to other approaches and styles, but I am not sure what you mean exactly when you say an "analytical hub." Can you give me an example? What would an analytical Hub look like? How would it be structured? Maybe I am over-thinking this. :)

CASE1WORKER from UNITED KINGDOM on December 28, 2011:

Yes, you are quite right, "the smell". Death has a pervasive smell, which is unique and difficult to remove. I think it unlikely that anyone who had smelt the death camps would not remember the stench.

The subject of Nazi Eugenics has never ceased to interest me, especially the under reported treatment of the disabled (both physically and mentally in hospitals) in the pre war period.

Whilst appreciating this hub is mainly written about personal records and conversations I would love to see you write a more analytical hub, because it is really obvious that you know your stuff as they say.. More power to the pen!

RobSchneider on December 18, 2011:

Yes, I look forward to reading more of you hubs when I have time to really absorb them. They deserve more than a quick skim and comment.

Theresa Ast (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on December 18, 2011:

Rob- I think it is possible some of them were in denial. I tend to think that many if not most of them knew a great deal, but were so incredibly afraid of Hitler and the Nazi regime that they were paralyzed into inaction.

Thanks for the read and the comments. I would appreciate your viewpoint on some of the other related Hubs when you have time.

RobSchneider on December 18, 2011:

I only had time for a quick read, but I think it was quite possible many Germans were in denial about what was really going on. Many Americans are in denial about the genocide going on right now in their names, even though the "stench" can be smelled just by reading some accounts outside of the mainstream media.

Theresa Ast (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on December 14, 2011:

suzanne- I think they were terrified. Generating absolutely paralyzing fear seems to be the modus operendi of both terrorist groups and terror based regimes, like Stalin's and Hitler's.

Terror, especially if it is random and unpredictable, will immobilize most people making them easier to control. This approach, whether used by a small group or a government, strikes me as the epitome of evil. Thanks for commenting.

justmesuzanne from Texas on December 14, 2011:

I'm sure people were terrified. What could they do? I'm sure that if they knew, they were afraid sharing the fate of the prisoners. It was a terrible situation that we cannot judge. Voted up and awesome!

Theresa Ast (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on November 23, 2011:

SanXuary- In twenty years of reading and research I have never found convincing evidence or any scholar who thinks there is convincing evidence that the "entire country had embraced a policy of eugenics and sterilization and the death of thousands of German citizens...."

The Nazis did launch a propaganda campaign to persuade the German people about the rational need for eugenics and sterilization, but the darker and more diabolical aspects of their long-term program developed over time, were largely kept secret from the general public, and were hidden under the cover and crisis needs of war.

When two elderly patients (there had been hundreds and hundreds before them) in the same nursing home (from the same village or area in Germany) were cremated after a supposedly "sudden and very contagious illness" their families put two and two together and launched a protest - letters all the way to Hitler, etc.

Of course in truth the two patients were euthanized and then cremated and their families deceived in order to (1) make sick beds/rooms available for the returning war-wounded and (2) to decrease the financial burden of caring for non-contributing members of society. The Nazis were nothing if not cost-conscious and coldly, im-morally efficient.

After the families protested and went public, Hitler made a speech about how indignant he was that the medical community was doing such things and he publicly ordered the closure of the program. Of course he moved the program - lock, stock, and barrel - from hospitals, nursing homes, orphanages - into the concentration/death camp system under the control of the SS. There the program was ramped up and was no longer about sterilization at all, but about euthanizing tens of thousands of "burdensome" German citizens.

But you are absolutely right, everyone in Germany knew about the arrests, the disappearances, the creation of ghettos, the enormous number of concentration and slave labor camps. They didn't know all the details about the SS Totenkopf empire, but they certainly knew something about what went on in the camps in Germany because occasionally prisoners escaped or were released. (On the other hand the death camps in Poland were a fairly well kept secret as far as the general population went.)

And you are correct, it is stunning to realize how many "modern western" nations including the US were quite involved with "Social Improvement" in other words - sterilization programs in the teens and twenties. Scary stuff. Thanks so much for your comments.

SanXuary on November 23, 2011:

All of Germany knew this was taking place. The entire country had embraced a policy of eugenics and sterilization and the death of thousands of German Citizens took place at the same time. The handicapped, mentally ill and the genetic policy of racial purity was a well established policy. Germany is a small country and no one could not have known. It was propaganda and freely spoken by the media in Germany. This did not mean that everyone backed it but simply meant that the individual had no rights above what was best for the state. Prior to World War Two such policies were being explored by all countries. Twenty states in America had sterilization laws on their books. Many leading leaders in eugenics were American and only the holocaust changed this idea.

Theresa Ast (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on November 21, 2011:

suzette- It is a difficult topic, but we dare not forget. The smell of burning rubber outside of Akron is a great example. When we lived in northern California, eight miles from us there was a plant that processed onions and when the wind blew just right, we might as well have been standing right outside the plant. There is no question that ut was possible to live in Germany and never see anything, never smell anything, never be aware of what the Nazis were doing.

Documentation is my middle name. :) It is what happen when you take graduate course in history; they drill it into can never have "too" much evidence or documentation. :)

And yes, the documents are ones used by my paternal grandparents to escape from Poland and come to the US via American occupied West Germany after the war.

Theresa Ast (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on November 21, 2011:

Justsilvie- I can't imagine how difficult it must have been for decent Germans, like your grandmother, to have lived through the Nazi period. And I think you are right that afterward, both as individuals and as a nation, Germans reacted with shame, fear, guilt, and even in some instances anger. Dealing with that kind of guilt must be unimaginably difficult.

Thank you! I run into this problem all the time with my students. On average 80% equate fascism and communism; they don't understand the political extremes of the left or the right.

And I agree with you, our greatest internal threat is not from our current administration, although many would disagree with us...but I think they might need a clearer understanding of twentieth century history. Thanks for all your comments.

Theresa Ast (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on November 21, 2011:

Greg- Thank you for reading and commenting.

Suzette Walker from Taos, NM on November 21, 2011:

Excellent hub! I enjoyed reading this even though the topic is so difficult. I have always said the Germans had to know what was going on in those camps. For example, I lived five miles outside of Akron, OH in the days when tires were still being manufactured there. On certain days and when the wind was right, we could smell the burning rubber. So, I know, the Germans had to smell the stench of dead bodies and burning bodies - a stench much worse than burning rubber. I lived in Germany for a year in the 80's and I can tell you I never believed a German who told me he/she had no idea what Hitler was doing during WWII. I love all your documentation and this is a hub that needs to be written for all to read. I also like all the photos of the actual documents, I assume in your family, that you have shown here. WE MUST NEVER FORGET!!!

Justsilvie on November 21, 2011:

Part 2 was just as interesting as part 1. Well researched.

I ask my grandmother questions like this whilst studying and growing up.

I never directly ask her if she knew, but I know she did. My grandmother was a kind and humane woman so I am not sure what this did to her and she died before I could ask her that directly.

A few things people often forget is that the treat from the Nazi's was against anyone who did not follow them without reservation and when the Americans came afterward was probably a mixture of shame and fear of the consequences pretty much continued to make people deny any knowledge or involvement. I am not sure how someone lives with this type of guilt, I assume you shove it in the darkest corner of your mind and with hopes it may someday fade to an extent that you no longer can tell the truth from the reality

The connection to slave labor, big business and Nazi Germany is also something that comes out in this. I am often appalled by those ignorant enough to confuse Socialism with National Socialism. Opposite sides of the fence.

Look forward to reading more, because you are writing on a subject that could easily be repeated in today’s climate. And the treat is not from the current government.

Greg Leatherman from Stuart, FL on November 21, 2011:

Fascinating! Thanks for taking the time to write this heart-wrenching but informative piece.

Theresa Ast (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on November 19, 2011:

So very true. It is heart-wrenching and depressing material. At times it has been very hard to work with. I think what has helped me most is that I want to do justice by, and tell the complete story, for those who participated, but whose story was never told.

I think about the survivors. the families who lost loved ones, the American soldiers who were involved and had to live with what they saw for the rest of their lives...and then I know that my responsibility is to do the research and writing that will ensure that their contributions are honored and their history preserved.

Barbara Radisavljevic from Templeton, CA on November 19, 2011:

This is the sort of thing one doesn't want to read because it says so much about the inhumanity of man to men.

Theresa Ast (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on November 19, 2011:

Thanks for visiting and for taking time to comment. I have four other Hubs which focus on the same time and events in World War II. Thanks again,

moonlake from America on November 19, 2011:

Thanks for a great hub.

Theresa Ast (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on November 19, 2011:

Thanks, Thomas. I really do appreciate your generous encouragement. Speaking of Krupp and many other industries, it is absolutely amazing, shocking actually, just how connected German industry and the Nazis were.

Sadly, their only concern at the time seemed to be procuring cheap labor and nothing was cheaper that the slave labor supplied by the SS. Their concern certainly wasn't about protecting the innocent or defending human rights.

Such a tragic period in history and all too often repeated around the world. Thanks again for your comments. Theresa

ThoughtSandwiches from Reno, Nevada on November 19, 2011:


Outstanding article! I had been eagerly awaiting part two and its appearance does not disappoint! You do the history-game credit my friend!

I read a book last summer called The Arms of Krupp in which they spoke to the use of slave labor in the Ruhr Valley (and elsewhere)...willingly by German Industry.

How could they not know?

Voting Up and recommending for historical awards and accolades.


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