WW2 – The Holocaust: What the German People Knew

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auschwitz image


One or two readers have questioned why there was no mention in The Black Orchestra of the Holocaust — the Nazis’ so-called ‘Final Solution’. While writing the book, I was acutely aware of the need for accuracy in depicting the extent of common knowledge among the German people of these extreme atrocities.

Kurt Müller was a member of the Abwehr, the intelligence arm of the Wehrmacht (armed forces), but not a member of the Nazi Party. It should be understood that there were clear lines drawn between the Wehrmacht and the Nazi party. For the most part, the Wehrmacht consisted of traditional soldiers, while the Nazi Party was a political entity with its own armies — and its own secrets.

The Black Orchestra covers the period 1939 to June 4, 1942.  The Wannsee Conference, at which the ‘Final Solution to the Jewish Question’ was agreed, took place on January 20, 1942. By the summer of 1942, the systematic extermination of the Jews (and others) had begun. The programme, called Operation Reinhardt, was kept from the German people. Indeed, rank and file Nazis were also kept in the dark, as the programme was a state secret, known only to a select few. It wasn’t until October 1943 that Heinrich Himmler made a speech to the leaders of the Reich stating that the ‘Final Solution’ meant that “all Jews would be killed”.

Even then, the majority of Germans were unaware of the genocide. To them the concentration camps were harsh labour camps where “undesirables” including Jews were interned and made to work for the Reich.


A bone-crushing machine at Janowska concentration camp, 1943

Today, there is debate about what the German man-in-the-street knew about the extermination camps. I believe that the existence and use of the gas chambers was not generally known until after the war. Certainly, their existence was a state secret from inception.

Pictures from Wikipedia.

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