DIY Death Camp Guards

101

The Nazis are history’s archetypal villains.

The Nazis are undeniably fascinating. Those guys were just such scum. Human history is dirty with tin-pot dictators who coveted something and were willing to commit genocide to obtain it. The Nazis, however, truly industrialized the process.

The death camps were models of efficiency. Over the course of some 12 years, the Nazis systematically murdered 17 million people. That works out to around 1,400 souls per day.

It’s honestly tough to comprehend the scale. That’s like murdering every man, woman and child in New York City twice. Or killing my small Mississippi town 630 times over. What I have always found most intriguing, however, is how Hitler convinced so many people to be complicit with his outrage. One psychopath is a statistical inevitability. A whole culture full of them is a terrifying anomaly. While all Germans obviously didn’t support the Final Solution, you’ve got to admit that plenty of them did.

I would assert that the Germans in 1943 were not really fundamentally different from us today. To believe otherwise would be intrinsically racist, and racism is today’s unforgivable sin.

If we presume that this particular population was no different from that of any other comparably industrialized society, how then did they come to build these massive institutional death factories? They kept shoving human beings into them right up until we forced them to stop. Such a sordid outcome has to be due to some diabolical combination of nature versus nurture.

The Germans were indeed suffering in the lead-up to WWII. A historically proud people, they found themselves economically crushed international pariahs in a world trying desperately to claw its way out of the Great Depression. That this was a self-inflicted wound would be an easy thing to argue. However, theirs was an undeniably sordid lot.

Into this dark state of institutional hopelessness stepped Adolf Hitler — a former Austrian Corporal-turned-failed artist with an undeniable gift for oratory. His MO was timeless. Hitler convinced the German people that their problems were not of their own making. It was the Jews and similar so-called untermenschen who were responsible for their misery. Once things got ramped up, it was a short hop to the death camps. But there had to be something more.

It is one thing to sit in a board room and conjure up these satanic schemes. It is quite another to actually pull the trigger or throw the lever. Heinrich Himmler purportedly visited a death camp but once and was rendered physically ill by the experience. How, therefore, did the Germans find enough people willing to do those ghastly jobs?

We are not ourselves somehow innately immune to such darkness as this.
It behooves us to be ever vigilant as a result.

I would assert that this was perhaps easier than you might think. I assume that every advanced society has its own ready pool of potential death camp guards. Under the right circumstances, these people are normal citizens, living out their lives in peace as productive members of society. Under the wrong circumstances, they slip into their snazzy black uniforms and torture people to death en masse. You have likely met a few of these people. You might even be married to one.

Think back to the college professor who enjoys toying with your future. Your grade will determine whether your life succeeds or fails. When discussing the problem, you don’t get sympathy, support or understanding. The person across the desk is intoxicated by power and clearly enjoys it. Then there’s the traffic cop who pulls you over and obviously revels in the position of unquestioned authority.

Some institutions stratify people into two categories. You are either one of them or you are everybody else. The military was like that to a degree. Once people are properly stratified, it is not an impossible chore to take it to the next level.

The world is dirty with these people. Positions of authority attract them. Government bureaucrats, politicians, and folks in similar positions of extreme authority are susceptible. You just have to know where to look.

Now make no mistake, the overwhelming majority of law enforcement officers, college professors, and even politicians are not potential homicidal maniacs. They are altruistic good folks just making their way in the world. However, you can indeed see the outliers if you look for them. I personally find it easier to tolerate some of the world’s more abrasive personalities within this context. When I grow inevitably frustrated, I sometimes mutter, “Death camp guard” to myself. I find this cathartic.

Ruminations

The overarching point is this. We are intrinsically no better than the Nazis, the Soviets, or Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. Additionally, just because somebody wears a uniform, possesses a laminated ID card, or attended some kind of special school doesn’t make them any more morally laudable than the rest of us. The Founding Fathers knew this. That’s why those brilliant old guys crafted the Bill of Rights as they did, to keep the potential death camp guards peacefully in their place.

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