'They Really Do Smell Like Blood': Among Hitler's Executioners on the Eastern Front

Part 2: 'Oh, What an Enormous Slaughterhouse the World Is'

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Annette Schücking-Homeyer

SPIEGEL: On Nov. 5, 1941, you wrote to your parents: "What Papa says is true: people with no moral inhibitions exude a strange odor. I can now pick out these people, and many of them really do smell like blood. Oh, what an enormous slaughterhouse the world is." Did you think you could detect the murderers?

Schücking-Homeyer: Yes, at least I thought so at the time. If you are a master over life and death, you behave and move differently than other people do. You give off the impression that you are the one making all the decisions.

SPIEGEL: Did you avoid these men?

Schücking-Homeyer: Well, you could at least choose the people you wanted to talk to.

SPIEGEL: Your letters contain many passages like "But the Jews, who ran most of the shops, are all dead" or "There aren't any more Jews here in Zwiahel." You write nothing about killing or murder. Were you afraid you might be censored?

Schücking-Homeyer: Of course. You know, I was an anxious girl. I wrote to my mother -- who was completely different from me -- that she wouldn't have lasted there a day. And I'm sure she would've found a way to get away from there. By staying there, you were basically supporting the system. But I didn't know what reason I could give for wanting to leave, and I needed a permit to go back to Germany.

SPIEGEL: Do you think your family got your hints?

Schücking-Homeyer: Of course.

SPIEGEL: Could you talk about these things with the other nurses?

Schücking-Homeyer: No, we didn't discuss such things.

SPIEGEL: But did everyone know what was going on?

Schücking-Homeyer: I can't say for sure whether soldiers at the front knew. But everyone behind the lines -- and especially those who'd been there for a while -- knew about it.

SPIEGEL: What makes you so sure?

Schücking-Homeyer: Because, in conversation, it was always assumed that everyone knew. I haven't told you yet, but one day I was in a car with a sergeant named Frank. He said he was from Münster and that he was going to be part of a major campaign in the coming weeks in which people would be executed by firing squad. He said he was doing it because he wanted a promotion. I told him not to do it, that he wouldn't be able to sleep afterwards.

SPIEGEL: And?

Schücking-Homeyer: He did it anyway, and later he complained to me about not being able to sleep and about how bad he felt. "I told you so," I replied.

SPIEGEL: Why do you think he confided in you?

Schücking-Homeyer: Oftentimes, conversations with soldiers got personal fast. They were all men who hadn't been around women for a long time. There were the Ukrainian women, of course, but they couldn't talk to them -- and they all had an intense need to talk. On another occasion, I was riding in a truck when, all of a sudden, the driver started telling me that in Kasatin, a village southwest of Kiev, they had allowed several hundred Jews to go hungry for two days before shooting them to death because the firing squads had been busy working somewhere else.

SPIEGEL: And that was just something he said to you in private?

Schücking-Homeyer: Yes. But there was another story that everyone knew about. German farmers controlled the Zwiahel area, one of whom was a certain Mr. Nägel from Hesse. There was an oft-told story about how one time, when a group of Jews was being herded past the house, his housekeeper -- who was also a Jew -- laughed. He reportedly then pushed her into the line with the other Jews. It didn't take long for me to figure out that I was dealing with criminals.

SPIEGEL: You wrote to your mother: "Soon, I'll get to the point where I'm past all the justified outrage, and then it'll be much easier for me to process things. Even the most decent people here have already reached that point. Once you don't have to see everything -- and, in general, things are already over here -- you can forget. But I still get terribly upset when I see a child and know that it'll be dead in 2-3 days." It reads as if you were searching for a way to deal with the horrible things that were happening.

Schücking-Homeyer: I don't remember exactly. I might have also written that to mislead the censors.

SPIEGEL: Of course, your letters also contain passages that lead one to believe that you let yourself be infected by your surroundings.

Schücking-Homeyer: No. My father had been an attorney, but he had been barred from practicing since 1933, so I was very afraid of censorship. I was never an anti-Semite. On the contrary, on several occasions later in the war, we helped out persecuted Jews.

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1. the kindly ones
sylvain 01/28/2010
Just read Jonathan Littell "The Kindly Ones" and you understand why so many men had been involved in the Ukraine slaughters... Confirmation of Schücking-Homeyer's testimony.
2. Barbarism
jackielogans 01/29/2010
At age 65 and married to a German-born lady, this Canadian is always astounded -- as a life-long student of history -- at the Nazi era in Deutschland. The hatred of Jews and prejudice against Slavs by an educated and cultured people leaves one utterly mystified and perplexed. I commend Der Spiegel for refusing to sweep the Hitler-led unspeakable crimes under the carpet. Man's inhumanity and indifference to fellow humans is this planet's great shame, and is still with us today in the form of massive inequities, terror against civilians, and the lack of democracy in such places as Burma/Myanmar, North Korea, Cuba, and theocracies in the Middle East. And let's not forget that China is still a one-party totalitarian state with no human rights for its citizens. Russia, too, is a great disappointment with only window-dressing authoritarian multi-party sham democracy.
3. liars
symewinston 01/30/2010
you invite people to comment when you know that only the privileged few with an instant posting privileges post here. This forum is just a blog for subverted and, who wants to read the nonsense he writes day in and day out ? Not I. Be a man and make and end of this travesty called forum or give ALL of us instant posting privileges.
4. "hitler's Executioners Are Not Unique In World History"
wpk713 01/30/2010
The Mass Killings Attributed To Hitler's Executioners Were Horrifying But Not Unique In World History. Throughout Time Immemorial, Mankind Has Displayed This Primal Behavior Many Times And By Many Different Ethnic Groups. Even The United States Has Bloodied It's Hands In Similar Ways As Can Be Exemplified In Vietnam. The U.s. Used Different Methods Of Killing - Napalm And Massive Bombing Campaigns That Unleashed More Firepower Then Even The Amounts Used During Wwii. The End Result Was The Same - Millions Of Innocent People Were Killed In Vietnam And For What? Ideology - The Same Justification That Adolph Hitler Used.
5.
symewinston 02/01/2010
Zitat von jackielogansAt age 65 and married to a German-born lady, this Canadian is always astounded -- as a life-long student of history -- at the Nazi era in Deutschland. The hatred of Jews and prejudice against Slavs by an educated and cultured people leaves one utterly mystified and perplexed. I commend Der Spiegel for refusing to sweep the Hitler-led unspeakable crimes under the carpet. Man's inhumanity and indifference to fellow humans is this planet's great shame, and is still with us today in the form of massive inequities, terror against civilians, and the lack of democracy in such places as Burma/Myanmar, North Korea, Cuba, and theocracies in the Middle East. And let's not forget that China is still a one-party totalitarian state with no human rights for its citizens. Russia, too, is a great disappointment with only window-dressing authoritarian multi-party sham democracy.
Reading "Eichmann in Jerusalem" (available in the archives of The New Yorker) was an eye opener for me, specially the participation of Jewish organizations in the Holocaust. That they co-operated with the German government is incredible but true.
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About Annette Schücking-Homeyer
Dirk Hoppe
Annette Schücking-Homeyer, 89, the product of a pacifist home, joined the German Red Cross in 1941 after completing her legal studies. She served in so-called "soldiers' home," where soldiers could eat and relax, in Germany before transferring to another one in Zwiahel, Ukraine, which is now called Novohrad-Volyns'kyy. She ended her service in 1943 and went on to become a judge. Her story came to the attention of SPIEGEL after it published an interview in the fall of 2009 with American political scientist Daniel Goldhagen, author of the controversial work "Hitler's Willing Executioners," which posits that Germans -- and particularly soldiers stationed on the Eastern Front -- knew much more about the Holocaust than is commonly believed. In response to the interview, Schücking-Homeyer wrote to SPIEGEL saying that she was "a kind of contemporary witness" who could support some of Goldhagen's claims.



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