Menu JTA Search

Study Punctures Myth About Members of the Nazi Ss

A research study by the World Jewish Congress has punctured the myth that members of the Nazi SS faced execution themselves if they failed to carry out orders to kill Jews and others during World War II.

This has been a favorite explanation offered by apologists for the conduct of the SS and their collaborators. But an article in the latest edition of “Patterns of Prejudice,” the quarterly journal on racism and anti-Semitism published by the WJC’s Institute of Jewish Affairs here, noted that defense attorneys at the postwar war crimes trials were “unable to produce even one example of a man executed or sent to a concentration camp for not obeying an order to kill Jews.”

The author of the article, Daniel Goldhagen of Harvard University, found only 14 cases out of hundreds where war crimes trial defendants claimed that refusal to carry out an execution order meant either death (nine cases), imprisonment in a concentration camp (four cases), or transfer to a military penal unit (one case).

DEFENDANTS’ CLAIMS NOT UPHELD IN COURT

In none of these cases were the defendants’ claims upheld in court, Goldhagen reported. He also cited a German study of SS members which concluded that “in no case could it be proven that refusal to kill resulted in an injury to life and limb.”

Captured records of the SS and Nazi police courts contain not a single case where anyone was sent to a concentration camp for refusing orders to kill Jews nor was there any evidence that SS field commanders ordered the summary execution of subordinates who disobeyed such orders.

On the contrary, the evidence points to the fact that SS members had the option of not participating in the mass murders of Jews and other concentration camp inmates. Goldhagen documented cases of individuals who requested transfers from execution details. “It was well known amongst the executioners that they were permitted to transfer from their killing units, that they could stop killing,” he wrote.

That knowledge, that the killers could transfer from their units, “should lay to rest any arguments that the executioners were coerced into killing … By not applying for a transfer, the overwhelming majority of the executioners, in effect, chose to continue killing Jews,” the article concluded.

NEXT STORY