Ordinary Germans

Prisoners often wondered what ordinary Germans made of the camps. How much did they know? Did they support SS terror? Whenever they encountered German civilians, during work or marches, prisoners looked for their reactions. After the war, survivors wrote about their impressions. One of the most influential studies was written by Eugen Kogon, a former German political prisoner, who had survived Buchenwald. Within a few months of liberation, Kogon had completed a long analysis of the camp system, drawing on testimonies by fellow survivors.

094 – Buchenwald survivor Eugen Kogon on popular knowledge about the camps

There was no German who was not aware that concentration camps existed. No German who believed they were sanatoria. No-one who did not fear them. Few Germans who had not had a relative or friend in a concentration camp or had at least known that this or that person was in a camp […]. There were many Germans who learnt something about the camps through foreign radio broadcasts. Quite a few who came into contact with inmates via work details. A considerable number who came across processions of wretched prisoners […]. Many business people who had contact with the SS running the camps because they provided supplies, and industrialists who applied to the SS Business Administration Main Office for concentration camp slaves for their factories […].

How did the Germans as a nation respond to this injustice? As a nation, not at all. That is the unpalatable truth, but it is the truth.

Source: E. Kogon, Der SS-Staat (Munich, 1946), pp. 331–3

Translation: Lesley Sharpe and Jeremy Noakes