Germans and the Holocaust



Wir haben es nicht gewusst

When asked about their knowledge about the extermination of 6 million Jews by the Nazis, many Germans answered that they did not know about it (Wir haben es nicht gewusst). However, millions of them openly voted for the anti-Semitic Nazi party in 1933, and therefore founded the basis for what is now commonly known by the term Holocaust. What did the German population really know about the fate of the Jews and what was their opinion about it?


On 16 June 1943, Wehrmacht officer Wilm Hosenfeld wrote in his diary "Countless Jews were killed, without reason, pointless, without even thinking about it". He was stationed in Warsaw, where during springtime, the last remaining Jews in the ghetto rebelled against the Germans, because they refused to be deported to the gas chambers like tame sheep. Hosenfeld knew the fate of the Jews being deported from Warsaw. Already in April 1942 he wrote about the gassing of Jews. "Now the last Jews in the ghetto have been exterminated", he wrote in his diary. "By committing this heinous mass murder of the Jews, we have lost the war. [...] We deserve no mercy, we are all guilty."

Not only knew Hosenfeld that the Jews were being exterminated, he also expressly condemned it. By saving two Jews he put his words into action. This heroic deed was the basis for the film "The Pianist" (2002). On 16 February 2009, the Holocaust institute Yad Vashem (Israel) awarded him with the title Righteous Among the Nations. By 1 January 2009, Yad Vashem rewarded 460 Germans with the same title. A poor number, compared to the Netherlands and Poland, where respectively 4,947 and 6,135 civilians were awarded the title Righteous Among the Nations. There was hardly any active resistance against the persecution of Jews in Germany, but that doesnít mean that the German people massively and without reservation approved the government policy against Jews. The attitude of the Germans was more versatile than one would expect in a dictatorship.


A form of government where the power in a country is in the hands of one person, the dictator. Originally a Roman regime in case of an emergency where total power would rest with one person during six months in order to face a crisis.
Part of a town separated from the outside world to segregate Jewish population. The establishment of ghettos was intended to exclude the Jews from daily life and from the rest of the people. From these ghettos it was also easier to deport the Jews to the concentration and extermination camps. Also known as ďJudenviertelĒ or Jewish quarter.
Term for the destruction of European Jewry by the Nazis. Holokauston is the Greek term for a completely burnt sacrifice.
Middle Eastern people with own religion that lived in Palestine. They distinguished themselves by their strong monotheism and the strict observance of the Law and tradition. During World War 2 the Jewish people were ruthlessly persecuted and annihilated by the German Nazis. . An estimated 6,000,000 Jews were exterminated.
Abbreviation of a national socialist.
Resistance against the enemy. Often also with armed resources.
German armed military forces, divided in ground forces, air force and navy.
Yad Vashem
Yad Vashem is Israelís national Holocaust memorial where in addition to Jewish victims and resistance heroes, also non-Jewish helpers of Jews during the World War 2 are being honoured. Those non-Jewish are called the Righteous Among The Nations. Until the mid 90ís trees were planted for these rescuers. In 1996 a special remembrance garden was established displaying all of the names of the helpers. Every year new names are added.

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Brownshirts of the SA block a shop with a Jewish owner. On the boards they warn the people not to buy in Jewish shops.
(Source: U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum)

Wilm Hosenfeld, the Wehrmacht officer who knew of the Holocaust and expressed his disgust about it in his diary.
(Source: Hosenfeld family)


Translated by:
STIWOT translator
Article by:
Kevin Prenger
Published on:
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