It turns out that it’s extremely difficult to get even hardened soldiers to just execute unarmed civilians. The Final Solution depended upon getting the people of Germany but especially the SS to execute Jews by the millions and so there wasn’t a lot of time for people to drink themselves into a stupor at the horror of it all.
Let me answer your question with a series of questions. Let’s start with “the Nazis wanted to kill all of the Jews”
- Why kill them with repurposed insecticide?
- Why kill them in camps?
- Why transport them in cattle cars?
- Why relocate them to ghettos?
- Why issue them special insignia to wear?
- Why bar them from public service?
The holocaust didn’t begin with the first Jew shoved into the first gas-chamber. It was a slow, deliberate, and methodical process of indoctrination and dehumanization. The Nazi party needed the German people and the SS to see the Jews as sub-human. They needed them to see them as vermin to be eradicated rather than people.
They accomplished this, in part, with the tactics laid out above.
- Why kill them with repurposed insecticide? Because it made the killings impersonal and strongly linked to the eradication of other vermin.
- Why kill them in camps? Because it took them away from the surroundings, possessions, and trappings of ordinary life, making them seem less like people surrounded by their lives and more like objects or livestock.
- Why transport them in cattle cars? Because it was efficient but also because herding people into trains isn’t nearly so difficult as herding them into gas chambers. But by the time they exited the long, over-crowded train ride, they looked disheveled, sick, and worn — less than human.
- Why relocate them to ghettos? Because creating physical space between the Germans and the Jews served to cement the identity of them as “other” and because, in the ghetto, the Jews could be ceaselessly hounded, starved, and persecuted without the German people witnessing their descent into wretchedness. Prosperous European Jews went in, starving “rats” came out.
- Why issue them special insignia to wear? Because Jews look like everyone else in Germany. Only by giving them a marker of “otherness” can you convince people to hate them and want them to go away.
- Why bar them from public service? Because before you can point to someone and call them a useless drain on society you have to get them out of jobs that support and help everyone.
The Nazis shaved their victims’ heads to make them look the same — thin, uniformed, wretched figures in a shuffling line into the gas chamber. By stripping away their humanity they made it easier to kill them.