Holocaust Debate Readers Respond to 'Hitler's European Helpers'

This week's SPIEGEL cover story about the role of European collaborators in the Holocaust has struck a nerve with our readers. Here is a selection of letters received in response to the article.

This week's cover story in SPIEGEL, " The Dark Continent: Hitler's European Holocaust Helpers," describes how foreigners in many Nazi-occupied countries aided the Germans in the murder of 6 million Jews during World War II.

The deportation of Ukranian John Demjanjuk to Germany to face charges of being an accessory to the murder of 29,000 Jews at the Sobibor concentration camp prompted SPIEGEL to explore how Nazi Germany, whose ultimate responsibility for the Holocaust can never be doubted, nevertheless was helped by a minority from elsewhere in Europe.

SPIEGEL's current cover.
Walter Frentz Collection Berlin, BPK, USHMM

SPIEGEL's current cover.

SPIEGEL wrote that men like Demjanjuk "have until now received surprisingly little attention -- Ukrainian gendarmes and Latvian auxillary police, Romanian soldiers or Hungarian railway workers. Polish farmers, Dutch land registry officials, French mayors, Norwegian ministers, Italian soldiers -- they all took part in Germany's Holocaust."

The article has unleashed a storm of criticism in Poland with politicians and the media accusing the magazine of attempting to rid the Germans of some of their guilt for the mass murder.

The article and the controversy in Poland have struck a nerve with our readers. Some letter writers praise the magazine for telling the story of the non-Germans who joined Germany's machinery of murder to help kill 6 million Jews, Sinti-Roma and other victims. Others feel that focusing on the crimes of collaborators was merely an attempt to distract from German culpability in the Holocaust.

Here is a selection of our readers' letters:

Dear Spiegel Online,

As a member of a family who lived in USSR, and who had relatives all over eastern Europe after World War II, I must admit that anti-Semitism existed not only in Germany. Take, for example, the 1946 pogrom in Kielce, Poland, in which some 40 Jews, many of them Holocaust survivors, were killed.

There are similar examples in other countries; however, I must admit that if the law permits you to maltreat people -- most people will do so.

Unfortunately, nowadays the anti-Semitism is rising again, and in countries around Germany. Those seem to say: "Holocaust -- we have nothing to do with it, it's just the bad Jews blaming it on us." However, East European Jews know the truth, and it is not a pretty one.

Nevertheless, it would be wrong to blame the current population. The best thing in my opinion is to focus on the here and now, and prevent racism before a new leader develops a short mustache and too-good rhetorical skills.

Sergey Kuniavsky
Netanya, Israel

Dear Spiegel Online,

I read your article " Hitler's European Holocaust Helpers" with great interest.

As a history teacher who has been following these issues for many years, I was particularly impressed by the even-handed and highly deferential treatment given to Germany's neighbors by the author.

The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin.

The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin.

Written in the almost apologetic tone that I have grown accustomed to when reading German accounts of the tragic events of World War II, I found this article highly readable, if somewhat mundane.

The fact that it was published by a prominent German magazine was somewhat unusual, but otherwise there was nothing in the least bit controversial about this very mild-mannered article.

It may be time for Poland to take a big breath, step back a little, and to come to terms with history as it's understood by the rest of the world.

Peter Nagy

Dear Spiegel Online,

Such reaction [as that of Polish media and politicians] does a disservice to humanity and to the Poles themselves. If there is a people who has not committed an atrocity against another, let them be recognized and held to exalted levels. We will all be waiting indefinitely for such a discovery, for evidence is against it.

What such an effort hopefully will accomplish is to provide us a venue in which we may all better examine the human consciousness which permits us to perpetrate crimes against other peoples, be we Poles, Germans, Americans, Jews, Italians, Turks, Chinese, Japanese, etc. Otherwise we will always endeavor to find scapegoats for our collective reality as human beings by aggrandizing our individual ethno-cultural realms above others, and in this way absolutely nothing will be comprehensively changed in our world.

Stefan Lialias
Toronto, Canada


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