The Banality, and Terror, of Evil

December 04, 2018

Jeanne_Mammen, Child in an Air Raid Shelter Here is what I learned about how evil encroaches on society, from the Topography of Terror, a Berlin documentation center located on the grounds that, during the Third Reich, headquartered the Secret State Police, and the SS (Schutzstaffel). In photograph after photograph, and story after story, I saw how a country turned to the dark side, not all of a sudden, but gradually, with the help of indifference and forced allegiance.

November 10 1938, in the now-Polish town of Glatz, a synagogue was burned to the ground, as townsfolk watched. The local SA were given orders to burn this synagogue down and destroy the Jewish shops and businesses. Jewish men of the town were attacked, physically and verbally, before being rounded up and sent to a concentration camp. Only a smattering of evidence exists for the day, photos and scattered testimony. No police reports were found of the destruction.

Early that morning, the synagogues and then the Jewish shops were also attacked in Berlin. Protected by the SS, "destruction commandos" in open trucks came in to destroy the businesses, throwing goods out into the street, or loading them into cars to cart off.

Jeanne Mammen, Polish Peasant Woman During the War

By the fall of the Nazi regime, they had murdered over 6 million Jews, 3 million Russians, 500,000 Sinta and Roma, and hundreds of thousands of hospital patients. At first, Germans themselves were in denial about these crimes, many stating they were seduced by the ideology, or the peer pressure. The true blame should be put on the figureheads, they argued.

In 1944, 11 foreign workers were hanged by the Gastapo. They were all charged with criminal offenses but were given no hearing to defend themselves. The gallows were set up in the morning, and the hanging got underway that afternoon. One prisoner's rope was too long, his toes touching the ground, so a Gestapo officer "stepped up and raised the man's legs," so that the rope would strangle the prisoner.