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Nazi Mass Murder: A Documentary History of the Use of Poison Gas

jan peczkis|Sunday, September 15, 2013

The mass gassing of victims by the Nazi Germans is commonly associated only with Jews, and some people erroneously think that gassing was a murderous tactic specifically chosen for use only on Jews. Actually, as this work makes clear, the Nazis used mass gassing against various peoples, and that in many different settings.

4.0 out of 5 stars This work begins with the 1930's Nazi gassing of the German mentally and physically handicapped, and others who were "a burden to society". After the 1939 German-Soviet conquest of Poland, the Polish mentally ill were added to the victims of Nazi mass gassing. (p. 37-on).

Authors Kogon et al. realize that, in the first two years of the German occupation of Poland, the prisoners held at Auschwitz were almost exclusively Polish. (p. 139). Few non-Poles realize this.

On January 30, 1939, Hitler threatened to destroy Europe's Jews if another "Jewish caused" world war developed. (p. 8). However, the authors leave it an open question when the Holocaust was actually decided upon, and this decision could have taken place as late as the end of 1941.

The Nazis camouflaged their genocidal acts against Jews with various euphemisms, and these euphemisms are described. (p. 5). However, Joseph Goebbels, in a 1942 diary entry, and SS leader Friedrich Katzmann, referring to Galicia, were quite frank about the Nazi mass extermination of a large fraction of all Jews. (p. 10).

The mass shootings of Soviet Jews, by Einsatzgruppen units, were supplemented by gassing in mobile gas vans. In late 1941, Jews of the Reich-annexed northwest Poland were gassed in stationary gas vans at Chelmno (Kulm). The victims also definitely included Poles and Russians. (p. 92).

Large-scale gassings of Jews began in in 1942. The authors describe each one of the Operation Reinhard death camps (Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka), in addition to the ones at Maidanek and Auschwitz. They provide a fairly detailed history of each camp, along with the procedure for its eventual liquidation (when applicable). The authors also provide a chapter on the carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide gases used in the exterminations.

The reader may also be surprised to learn that mass gassings also occurred at some of the "ordinary" concentration camps. The victims were generally gentiles, commonly Poles and Russians. Camps where mass gassing is known to have taken place include the ones at Mathausen, Sachsenhausen, Ravensbruck, Stuffhof, Neuengamme, Natzweiler-Stuthof, and possibly Dachau.

Of course, owing to its vintage, the book is a little dated. Recent forensic work at the sites of the death camps has shed further light on their operation.
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