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Inhumanity of the Holocaust

LAURENCE REES: How are these people able rationally to discuss plan to depopulate a country by 40 million people, knowing the enormous personal suffering they will cause to women and children, families and so on?

CHRISTOPHER BROWNING: Well, I think that there’s a certain intoxication in making history. That is the people get high on the notion that they are going go beyond what anybody else has done before, that they’re going to make history in an exhilarating way that has no precedent. What you get is this strange mixture of people with great technocratic abilities and expertise in planning that also have these utopian visions, and these utopian visions are very intoxicating. And it’s that combination of utopian intoxication and technocratic expertise that the Nazis blend in ways that produce this extraordinary destructiveness or, in this case, plans for extraordinary destructiveness.

LAURENCE REES: And there is no place for personal humanity? How do they deal with the fact that they wouldn’t dream of doing this to their own family, or to other Germans?

CHRISTOPHER BROWNING: They have a value scale of human life; the fact is they have done it to other Germans: euthanasia beginning in 1939 will ultimately kill 150,000 Germans. They’re the first victims of gassing – the ones they consider are defective. So they have a scale in which valuable human life, meaning perfect Germans, can sacrifice imperfect Germans and everybody else. So there is the setting up of the German race as this ideal, being the culture creating a race that will be the carrier of progress of the future, becomes the end that justifies any means. And the elevation of that group as a group of human beings devaluates all the others and basically deprives them of their humanity. In the language of the documents, they will talk not of these people as human beings but as numbers, and they never actually visualise what they’re doing to individuals.

In fact they do talk in stereotypical ways; they’re going to cut the food supply in the Soviet Union drastically so Germany can take what it needs to be blockade-proof and to keep the Germans standard of living up, while the Russian has 'infinite capacity to tighten his belt' because they’ve been through hard times before, so other people don’t suffer in the way that Germans would.  Germans must have the table loaded with food, they can’t have their rations cut as they did in World War One, which had disastrous results in terms of the deterioration of morale behind the front, and in Hitler’s mind is the contributory factor to the revolution and the collapse. So that’s never to be repeated. And if you have to sacrifice millions of other people so that will never happen again, that is simply of no consequence.