OK, it’s after midnight ’cause I’ve been writing a brief so I can make some money. Holocaust is one of those words that has been thrown around until it is now some shapeless, meaningless hunk of something. There really was a Holocaust or Shoah, the Hebrew term for it. I’m not an academic historian and I’m working from memory, so save the nitpicking; if you find something to corect, correct it.
At the beginning, the NSDAP, the Nazis, were actually a pretty rational response to hyperinflation, predatory reparations, and communism within Germany. Unfortunately, like some even here in America today, Hitler and his followers were convinced of a Jewish conspiracy to dominate the financial system and thus Germany and the Western World and held that conspiracy responsible for the “knife in the back” of German in the Kaiser’s War.
By the late ’30s the Nazi’s had essentially made Jews into a Weberian “other;” they were non-persons in Germany and essentially had no civil rights. You could treat a Jew the same way you could treat a dog in the World before PETA came along. As the war began, the Nazis became more inclusive; Poles, Slavs from Eastern Europe and Western Russia, Gypsies, homosexuals, disabled persons, and most anybody the Nazis didn’t like became “others” outside the reach of civil justice.
Extermination began with the military officers and intelligencia of Poland and was done enthusiastically by both the Germans and the Soviets. Jews were just herded into the ghettos early on. As German conquest continued, anyone who got in their way or who might become a leader simply died of a 9mm brain hemmorhage courtesy of the Gestapo. That was pretty much equal opportunity. It didn’t much matter what your belief system or ethnicity was, if you could be a threat, you died.
When the Germans turned east on 22 June 1941, the Holocaust began. The massive German pincer movements left millions of troops and civilians behind German lines. The rear eschelon Wehrmacht troops and the einsatzcommando (special action groups) filled in behind the front rank Wehrmacht units. Their job was to find and eliminate Jews and political opponents. At this stage of the war, it was done by rounding them up, making them dig a trench, and machine-gunning them into the trench. That process took a lot of time and ammunition and was hard on troop morale since the feldgrau didn’t find much honor in machine gunning women and children. The Germans tried all sorts of stuff. For a while tractor trailers with the tractor’s exhaust piped into the trailer filled with Jews and other political prisoners was a favored option. Esterminating the enemies of the Reich was proving to be both a complex and expensive proposition.
But, by ’42 or so German industry and technology had solved the problem. It is one of the great ironies of the Second World War that the Wehrmacht often lacked transport for its troops, armor, ammunition, and supplies, but the SS NEVER lacked transport for Jews and other undesirables. The Germans set up industrial scale extermination centers across occupied Europe. Auschwitz was only the biggest and most notorious. These camps were simply death factories. Most had some industrial component attached to them where German war production was carried on. Jews, Soviet soldiers, and other undesirables were worked on a 500 – 1000 calorie a day diet until they could work no more and then sent back to the camp for extermination.
Machine-gunning had proven problematic, CO poisoning was time-consuming and expensive, but a powerful industrial insecticide, Zyclon-B, turned out to be just the trick. Jews and other undesirables could just be herded into the “showers,” dosed with Zyclon-B, and after a suitable interval, hauled to the ovens; the stench of burning flesh hovered over all of the concentration camps day and night. To save labor, the Germans even recruited from the Jews and other undesirables to do all the dirty work. The kapos got to live a little longer before their 9mm brain hemorhage or shower came.
There really was nothing special about it. The Wehrmacht took a town. The “Special Action Group” came in and took care of the Jews and undesirables; sorta’ like urban renewal. If you still have some belief in the “good German” read Goldhagen’s “Hitler’s Willing Executioners.” Everything the Germans did in the East was properly enacted in the most democratic country that was a combatant in WWII. The “healthy opinion of the Volk” is the most common justification of German actions in German court decisions of the Nazi era.
I don’t know that anybody really knows the numbers. It is undisputable that Jews were essentially wiped out in Europe. The Germans killed millions of Soviet soldiers, gypsies, homosexuals, common criminals, and pretty much anyone else who didn’t fit into their Nietsche-esque view of what the Superman might look like.
Go look it up; the literature is out there so that you can make your own decisions about what happens when technology meets ideology and there are no values to inform that meeting.