Racial Policy and the Young

Grunewald Station

Grunewald Station

This apparently peaceful place used to be a major freight station and it was here that Berlin’s Jews were herded into freight trains and transported under horrific conditions to be murdered in the extermination camps of the East. I think most people know about Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, but maybe the master-plan behind all this is not so well known.

The Nazis’ idea of ‘Aryan’ racial supremacy was about physical perfection – though very few of the Nazi leadership lived up to these ideals. It drew on hazy and not very historically accurate ideas about the ancient Germans and ‘knightliness’. These ideas were held by other people than the Nazis, but the Nazis put their own spin on them. Likewise Darwinism and ‘survival the fittest,’ which the Nazis adopted – however they were convinced that ‘Aryans’ would always prove to be the fittest, which is why Hitler was so furious when the black athlete, Jesse Owens, performed so superbly at the 1936 Munich Olympic Games.

In the first half of the last century, people were very anxious about medical advances, they thought disease winnowed out the ‘unfit’ and that medicine would help those people to live and propagate their germs, thus weakening the ‘race.’ The Nazis adopted these ideas too. They wouldn’t have considered Stephen Hawking to be a ‘fit person’ for all his intellect and ability.

So the Nazis had several groups of people that they wanted to get rid of. The main ethnic groups were Jews, Roma and Sinti people (nothing scientific about this, but they convinced themselves that these peoples were ‘inferior.’ In the case of Jews, the desire to rob them of their possessions may have had quite a lot to do with it, not to mention envy, When Hitler came to power, Jews were dismissed from public appointments, and of course there were vacancies for ambitious non-Jews. In this way, Germany rid itself of many of its ablest and best citizens, a horrific act of betrayal since many German Jews loved Germany and were intensely loyal to it and to its culture. For Hitler, maybe, the main driver was sheer irrational hatred. But anti-semitism was respectable in those days – and not just in Germany, in Britain too, for one – in a way that it isn’t now, though unfortunately it hasn’t been eradicated.

This was the rationale behind the Nuremberg Laws, which laid down who was and wasn’t a German and who was allowed to marry who. German schoolgirls were fed propaganda urging them to ‘keep your blood clean,’ and warned against Jews who (it was assumed) wanted to get together with German girls in order to pollute their blood.

The Nazis also wanted to get rid of most of the Slavs in the countries they’d conquered. It was convenient to have a ‘science’ that said these people weren’t fit to live, since the Nazi leadership wanted to have their lands for themselves. They planned to let a few live, in order to work them as slaves, but the majority were to be killed. That was to be the next project after the extermination of the Jews.

There was a programme to kill disabled people (apart from those who’d acquired their disability through an accident or war wound) or at least to sterilise them. In fact, they did kill a lot of disabled people (including children). They stopped doing this openly after the Catholic cardinal, Galen, raised a storm of protest by preaching against it, but in practice Nazi doctors still carried out a lot of murders in secret even after the programme was supposed to have stopped.

At some stage they planned also to kill people with Jewish ancestry, not just the half-Jewish  ‘mongrels’ who were initially excluded from the programme of murder, but people who qualified as ‘Aryans’ under the Nazi laws because they had four baptised grandparents (which might have included a Jewish convert to Christianity). The idea was that eventually only people whose ancestry was completely ‘pure’ should be part of the German ‘race.’

The Nazis also wanted to get rid of undesirable elements. That meant people who were deemed to be ‘antisocial.’

This was the reason for setting up the girl’s concentration camp at Uckermark, where Jenny, in my novel, was sent. ‘Youth Protection Camp,’ it was called. Girls went there for the same reasons that they came before juvenile courts in other countries at the time, for crime or else for being ‘out of control’ ie indulging in under-age sex. But they were also sent there for not fitting in to the Nazi idea of how girls should behave – like one who had enjoyed working for a Jewish couple and complained when she was taken away from them, had said rude things about Hitler in her new workplace – and was born outside marriage. She hadn’t joined the Nazi girls’ organisations, either. Another ‘crime’ that could get a girl sent to this camp was to have a relationship with a foreign slave workers, especially a Slav, or with a Jew. There were also some girls at Uckermark who were the children of Slovenian freedom fighters.

The girls were cruelly treated and some died, like the girl whose horrific death (based on fact) I describe in the prologue to Saving Rafael.  Nevertheless, after the war the staff at Uckermark claimed that they’d only been running a perfectly normal young offenders’ institution. It was hard for find ex-inmates to testify because of the stigma of having been there. However, in recent years, a researcher has been doing work on the camp and has published a book, in German, which I drew on when I wrote Saving Rafael.