Monday, December 12, 2016

Into That Darkness: From Mercy Killing to Mass Murder

Into That Darkness:  From Mercy Killing to Mass Murder by Gitta Sereny
NY:  McGraw-Hill, 1974

(61)  In the August 17, 1933, letter, Father [Robert] Leiber said that he was "particularly anxious over the ideological confusion that had been brought into the minds of German Catholics.  The National Socialists", he said, "are doing everything they can to convince the Catholic population that an ideological agreement has [also] been reached between the Nazis and the Church.  Already for six months now. Catholic authorities no longer dare (nor are given the opportunity) to expose and emphasize the ideological differences between the Party and the Church.  Indeed," he continued, "a number of professors at Catholic theological faculties have already come around to that point of view and are teaching that it is not the function of the State to serve the people, but the people to serve the State."

(98)  What was different, and of unprecedented horror, in the Nazi genocide of the Jews as it now developed, was the concept and organization of the "extermination camps".  Even today there is still misunderstanding about the nature of these very special installations of which there were only four*, all of them on occupied Polish territory and all of them existing for only a short time.

Ever since the end of World War II these extermination camps have been confused in people's minds with "concentration camps", of which there were literally dozens, spread all over Greater Germany and occupied Europe, and which have been the primary subject of descriptions in fiction and films.
* Five if we include Birkenau, the extermination section of Auschwitz - which, however, also functioned partly as a labour camp.

(99-100)  The "extermination" camps offered no such chance.  They were created for the sole purpose of exterminating primarily the Jews of Europe, and also the Gypsies.  There were four of these installations, planned _exclusively_ for extermination ;  first, and as a testing ground, Chelmno (Kuhmhof), set up in December 1941.  Then, following the Wannsee Conference of January 1942 which, chaired by Reinhardt Heydrich, put the official seal of approval on the extermination programme, Belsec (March 1942), Sobibor (May 1942), and the largest of them, Treblinka (June 1942).  All were within a two-hundred-mile radius of Warsaw.

(100)  The concentration camps too had gas-vans, gas chambers, crematoriums and mass graves.  In them too people were shot, given lethal injections, gassed, and apart from being murdered, hundreds of thousands died of exhaustion, starvation and disease.  But - even in Birkenau, the extermination section of Auschwitz (where 860,000 Jews are believed to have been killed) - there was in all of them a chance of life.

(101)  "Why," I asked Stangl, "if they were going to kill them anyway, what was the point of all the humiliation, why the cruelty?"
"To condition those who actually had to carry out the policies," he said.  "To make it possible for them to do what they did."  And this, I believe, was true.

(119)  It [Sobibor] was the second uprising in a death-camp, just as extraordinary as the first one, in August in Treblinka.  Four hundred to five hundred people managed to get out but only thirty-two survived.
NB:  Sobibor was in October 1943

(146)  "No one at all could have got out of Treblinka," Richard [Glazar, one who escaped] said to me, "if it hadn't been for the real heroes:  those who, having lost their wives and children there, elected to fight it out so as to give the others a chance.  Galewski - the 'camp elder';  Kapo Kurland who had worked in one of the most tragic places in this tragic place - the Lazarett - an extraordinary committee, to whom we prisoners swore an oath on the eve of the uprising...

(149)  Francizek and Wanda Zabecki, he was traffic superintendant of Treblinka Station and a spy for the Home Army, visit Treblinka camp:  "Standing there, it was unbearable to remember, yet both Wanda and I felt that this deliberate effort to visualize the reality of a hell none of us can really share was what we had to do - it was the least we had to do."

(180)  Richard Glazar:  "I remember, that evening in the barrack, the others watching us new ones.  'How are you going to behave?' they wondered.  "Are you going to scream, shout, sob?  Are you going to go mad, hysterical, melancholy?'  All of these things happened;  and from the next night on, when I myself was one of the 'old' ones, I watched the 'new' ones in exactly the same way.  It was not curiosity - nor was it compassion.  Already we were beyond such simple feelings;  we did it in response to a need within ourselves;  we needed to prove to ourselves, over and over, that everyone was the same as oneself, with the same fears, the same aggressions - perhaps not quite the same capacities.  There was a kind of reassurance in both these things, and watching the new arrivals became a kind of rhythm, every night…"

(183)  Richard Glazar:  "There were, of course, many who did succumb:  I have read more or less everything that has been written about this subject.  But somehow no one appears to have understood:  it wasn't _ruthlessness_ that enabled an individual to survive - it was an intangible quality, not peculiar to educated or sophisticated individuals.  Anyone might have it.  It is perhaps best described as an overriding thirst - perhaps, too, a _talent_ for life, and a faith in life…"

I understood what Richard had meant when I met Berek Rojzman who came to Treblinka with me when I visited the camp.

(186)  "If I speak of a thirst, a talent for life as the qualities most needed for survival," said Richard Glazar, "I don't mean to say that these were deliberate acts, or even feelings.  They were, in fact, largely unconscious qualities.  Another talent one needed was a gift for relationships.  Of course, there _were_ people who survived who were loners.  They will tell you now they survived _because_ they relied on no one but themselves.  But the truth is probably - and they may either not know it, or not be willing to admit it to themselves or others - that they survived because they were carried by _someone_, someone who cared for them as much, or almost as much as for themselves.  They are now the ones who feel the guiltiest.  Not for anything they did - but for what they didn't do - for what… and this cannot be any reflection on them… for what simply wasn't in them to be."

(213)  Richard Glazar:  "It was just about when we had reached the lowest ebb in our morale that, one day towards the end of March, Kurt Franz [SS] walked into our barracks, a wide grin on his face,  'As of tomorrow,' he said, 'transports will be rolling in again.'  And do you know what we did?  We shouted, 'Hurrah, hurrah.'  It seems impossible now.  Every time I think of it I die a small death;  but it's the truth.  That is what we did;  this is where we had got to.  And sure enough, the next morning they arrived.  We had spent all of the preceding evening in an excited, expectant mood;  it meant life - you see, don't you? - safety and life.  The fact that it was their death, whoever they were, which meant our life, was no longer relevant;  we had been through this over and over and over.  The main question in our minds was, where were they from?  Would they be rich or poor?  Would there be food or not?"

(214)  Glazar:  "This is something, you know, the world has never understood;  how perfect the machine was.  It was only lack of transport because of the Germans' war requirements that prevented them from dealing with far vaster numbers than they did;  Treblinka alone could have dealt with the 6,000,000 Jews and more besides.  Given adequate rail transport, the German extermination camps in Poland could have killed all the Poles, Russians and other East Europeans the Nazis planned eventually to kill."

(215)  Early in 1943, when the Germans had ordered that the 25,000 Jews of Sofia be deported to Poland, one man - Monsignor Angelo Roncalli, Apostolic Delegate to Turkey, later Pope John XXIII - acted without thought of political expediency or of what the Nazis might do.  "When Monsignor Roncalli found out about this," said Luigi Brescani, a confidential servant of Roncalli's, "he wrote immediately a personal letter to King Boris.  I had never before seen Monsignor Roncalli so disturbed.  Before I carried this missive to a certain person able to put it personally into the hands of King Boris, Monsignor Roncalli read it to me.  Even though calm and gentle as St Francis de Sales come to life, he did not spare himself from saying that King Boris should on account agree to that dishonorable action… threatening him among other things with the punishment of God."

(217)  One of the blackest memories for many of the people in Britain who were struggling to help the Jews was the government's refusal in January 1942 to admit to Palestine 769 refugees without British passports who had come from Rumania on the freighter _Struma_.  This vessel, which was not seaworthy, was towed out to sea by the Turks on February 24, and sank with the loss of all on board:  70 children, 269 women and 428 men.

(232-233)  What is the difference to you between hate, and a contempt which results in considering people as 'cargo'?
"It has nothing to do with hate.  They were so weak;  they allowed everything to happen - to be done to them.  They were people with whom there was no common ground, no possibility of communication - that is how contempt is born.  I could never understand how they could just give in as they did.  Quite recently I read a book about lemmings, who every five or six years just wander into the sea and die;  that made me think of Treblinka."

(250)  "I know," Franciszek Zabecki said to me, "the others guess.  There _were_ no German papers on which to base these estimates except those I rescued and hid - and they are inconclusive.  But I stood there in that station day after day and counted the figures chalked on each carriage.  I have added them up over and over and over.  The number of people killed in Treblinka was 1,200,000, and there is no doubt about it whatever."

(353)  There does indeed seem to have been no reason for "all that drama" considering that the Stangls really cannot be described as having "disappeared".  What is astonishing is not that Stangl was finally "found", but that he was ever supposed to have been "lost".

The American CIC appears to have known about his position in Sobibor and Treblinka in 1945, yet they handed him over to the Austrians in 1947 and the Austrians put him in an open prison from which - of course - he walked out.  When he went to Damascus after being helped in Rome, he immediately informed his wife of his address, keeping up a regular correspondence with her, and when his family joined him there a year later, Frau Stangl gave not only their relatives, but also the Austrian police precise information about their movements, including Franz Stangl's address.  When they travelled via Italy to Brazil in 1951, they lived and worked under their own name.  In 1954 they registered under their own name at the Austrian consulate in Sao Paulo.

The Austrian consul there was Herr Otto Heller, who was still holding the same post when I was there in 1971.  It is true that he denied having registered Paul F. Stangl, or having subsequently altered that registration to Franz P. Stangl, or that Stangl had ever, to his knowledge, been inside the consulate.  But he agreed that Frau Stangl registered, and that she entered on the form the names of her children, and stated that she was residing with her husband, Franz P. Stangl.  He produced two files, one for "Theresa Eidenbõck Stangl", the other for "Renate Havel Stangl", and repeated that these were the only Stangls in his records.

(364-365)  After more than a minute he [Stangl] started again, a half-hearted attempt, in a dull voice.  "My guilt," he said, "is that I am still here.  That is my guilt."

"Still here?"

"I should have died.  That was my guilt."

"Do you mean you should have died, or you should have had the courage to die?"

"You can put it like that," he said, vaguely, sounding tired now.

"Well, you say that now.  But then?"

"That _is_ true," he said slowly, perhaps deliberately misinterpreting my question.  "I did have another twenty years - twenty good years.  But believe me, now I would have preferred to die rather than this…"  He looked around the little prison room.  "I have no more hope," he said then, in a factual tone of voice;  and continued, just as quietly:  "And anyway - it is enough now.  I want to carry through these talks we are having and then - let it be finished.  Let there be an end."

…Stangl died nineteen hours later, just after noon the next day, Monday, of heart failure.

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