Saturday, April 16, 2022

Alex J. Kay's "Empire of Destruction"

Alex J. Kay is Senior Lecturer (Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter) in History at the University of Potsdam and lifetime Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. He has published five acclaimed books on Nazi Germany, including The Making of an SS Killer.

Kay applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Empire of Destruction: A History of Nazi Mass Killing, and reported the following:
For the first time, Empire of Destruction: A History of Nazi Mass Killing offers readers an account of German war crimes against all major victim groups in a single volume. Page 99 is the opening page of Chapter 4 on the "Murder of Psychiatric Patients and Roma in the Soviet Union". It thus introduces the reader to two perhaps lesser-known demographic groups among the Nazis’ many victims. The opening sentences of the chapter inform the reader:
Soviet Jews were the principal victims of the mass-murder campaign waged in the USSR between summer 1941 and spring 1942 by SS and police forces with the active support of the Wehrmacht, but they were not the only population groups murdered there for racial-biological reasons. Soviet psychiatric patients and Roma – both regarded by the Nazis as racially inferior and thus as posing a biological threat, and both targeted in an attempt to ‘purify’ the newly occupied territories – were also murdered in large numbers during this period.
Page 99 is no more or less crucial to my book than any other page. What it does do, however, is bring together on a single page the three victim groups of Nazi mass-killing policies that – of all seven groups addressed in the book – perhaps had most in common in terms of the systematic nature of their persecution, the extent of its geographic coverage and the methods used to murder the victims: Jews, psychiatric patients and Roma.

Between 1939 and 1941, the Nazi regime intended to deport Jews and Roma together as part of the same vast programme of ethnic cleansing and demographic engineering. Both deportation programmes, with notable exceptions, went unrealised. The discriminatory measures of concentration and deprivation of freedom of movement, forced-labour exploitation, isolation and humiliation were often identical. The programme for the systematic murder of psychiatric patients in the German Reich exhibits remarkable parallels to the murder of Europe’s Jews from 1941 onwards. Not only were a large number of people murdered using gas in special killing centres, but a complex process based on a division of labour was developed, by means of which the victims were to be deceived until the last moment, the perpetrators seemingly freed from all responsibility and the secrecy of the entire programme ensured. The repeated transfer of the victims, the deployment of medical doctors for performing examinations or selections and the introduction of the criterion of "unfitness for work" are all elements that illustrate the direct links between the two murder programmes.

Wherever in occupied Europe German forces went, they murdered Jews, psychiatric patients and Roma. Many of the killing operations worked on parallel lines. The perpetrators of Nazi mass killing were spread across a number of state and party institutions. Some of these organisations were involved in several programmes of annihilation, often simultaneously. The SS and police, for instance, played a central role in the mass murder of Roma, psychiatric patients and Jews in the occupied territories. Nazi Germany intentionally killed 5.8 million European Jews, 300,000 mentally and physically disabled people, and 200,000 European Roma. Substantial numbers of disabled people, Jews and Roma fell victim to the perpetrators’ three principal killing methods: starvation, shooting and gassing, in that order.
Learn more about Empire of Destruction at the Yale University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: The Making of an SS Killer.

--Marshal Zeringue