Germany looks abroad for Hitler’s helpers
“The accomplices. Hitler’s European helpers in the Holocaust” is the cover story on this week’s Der Spiegel magazine, Germany’s most authoritative weekly.
Complete with a big picture of Hitler, the headline is deliberately provocative and could even hurt relations with Germany’s neighbours.
Spiegel’s take on the deportation of Ukrainian-born Nazi war crimes suspect John Demjanjuk, who faces charges he helped murder at least 29,000 Jews at the Sobibor death camp in 1943, is groundbreaking as it tackles a subject Germans have so far given little thought to.
The uncomfortable thesis is that while Germans were responsible for the Holocaust, Nazis had help from a huge number of non-Germans in neighbouring countries. And most of those countries have been far slower than Germany to take a proper look at their past.
“With this accused man (Demjanjuk), the foreign perpetrators come into focus, those men who until now have been given surprisingly little attention: Ukrainian gendarmes, Latvian auxiliary policeman, Romanian soldiers or Hungarian railway workers. Also Polish farmers, Dutch land register officials, French mayors, Norwegian ministers, Italian soldiers — they were all plainly involved in the crime — the Holocaust,” writes Der Spiegel.
It cites a historian who estimates more than 200,000 non-Germans took part in the Holocaust and the magazine also explores the reasons for the participation of others.
Nazis forced concentration camp and extermination camp guards, like Demjanjuk who had been in the Red Army and taken prisoner, to help with the dirty work. Those who didn’t help faced death.
Other chilling reasons cited by Der Speigel include a lingering anti-Semitism, a willingness to help Nazis based on the belief that they would be the war’s victors and, in a few cases, human perversion.
The magazine is also careful to point out there were acts of bravery as some non-Germans defied orders and helped Jews.
But generally, the argument goes, most countries are lagging Germany in their efforts to face up to their own role in the Holocaust.