Title: What did the Germans know about the Holocaust?
Here are three extracts. Read them carefully.
Extract A: Captain John MacAuslan was an intelligence officer in 1945. Here is part of his description of events as he moved into Neustadt.
….A little later we stopped at a little manor house owned by a German – a sort of minor squire – and he said to me ‘Come and look at my books.’….. He was obviously being friendly but I said no. He asked why not and I said because of what I’d seen at the Neustadt camp. I asked him, ‘Did you know what went on?’ He said, ‘Yes. Not in detail but in fact we did. But I had a wife and two small children and they would have been sent to a camp if I’d done anything. Do you think you would have done anything?....
Extract B: Herbert Holewa, a German paratrooper, prisoner of the British. He remained in England after the war and married an English nurse.
….Whilst I was a prisoner of war in England we were shown films of the atrocities that had taken place in concentration camps. People say that as Germans, we must have known what was going on. We did not. I remember from years before, a chap I knew had been sent to a concentration camp and when he came back I asked him about it…..He was obviously afraid to tell the truth. If he had told us then he’d have been sent back again and he’d never have come out. People who knew did not speak – to preserve their own lives….. We knew of the existence of concentration camps. In ’41 and ’42 I was in a barracks at Bergen but there were no rumours going around about the conditions in the concentration camp…… When we were shown the films…we could not believe it was true.
Extract C: Captain Philip Stein, 2nd Battalion, Glasgow Highlanders.
I can remember being absolutely outraged by the reluctance of prosperous well-fed German families, even to give up a blanket for the concentration camp survivors……everyone protested that they didn’t know about the camp. You could smell the bloody place, and like most Germans during the war, they turned their heads away. OK – they were frightened – but they didn’t want to know……
(All sources from ‘Forgotten Voices of the Second World War’ by Max Arthur, from the ImperialWarMuseum oral archive.)
- Does Extract A tell us that ordinary Germans knew what was going on in the camps?
- Does Extract B tell us that ordinary Germans knew what was going on in the camps?
- Does Extract C tell us that ordinary Germans knew what was going on in the camps?
- Two of the sources are English soldiers describing what happened to them after the events had happened. Does that make them more useful, or less?
- All the sources suggest that Germans knew about the concentration camps. Does that mean they knew what went on inside them? What evidence do we have to suggest they didn’t know what went on inside them? What evidence is there to suggest they did know what went on?
- Is it possible, do you think, to keep such things a secret?
- What do the extracts above tell us about the nature of Nazi society?
- On balance, do you think ordinary Germans knew about the ‘Final Solution?’ Explain your answer.