Looking away

Most Germans remained passive during wartime encounters with prisoners. Hiding behind their blank faces and averted eyes were conflicting emotions. Some Germans feared the prisoners, others feared the guards; some supported the SS, others pitied the prisoners, but felt helpless. This sense of resignation comes through in the post-war account of a German woman who, aged 23, had worked in Danzig in the summer of 1944.

100 – A German civilian recalls wartime encounters with prisoners

On entering the factory gate every morning I saw how the women from Stutthof [camp][…] were being hounded to work. There was no other word for it (it was a dockyard or something like that). They went in columns of three, 100 or 150 or so, accompanied by SS women in black uniforms, booted and carrying whips. And they literally drove these poor women on. Every morning. They were Polish Jewesses. These careworn, miserable women. They [the SS] didn’t use their whips. The women were so apathetic they didn’t need to. I thought: they’re the remnant from the occupied territories. And after all we too were having to work. Feeling sorry for them was all we could do, nothing more.

Source: W. Kempowski, Haben Sie davon gewusst? (Munich, 1999), pp. 107-8 (emphasis in the original)

Translation: Lesley Sharpe and Jeremy Noakes