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Nov 26, 2013 (3 years and 6 months ago)



Table of Contents


Auschwitz, BBC Documentary


Image: concentration camp deaths


: layout of the camps


: crematorium


: mass grave

with children


Gas Chamber


: Blueprint for the “Final Solution”


: A Commandant’s


: A Matter of Obedience?


: Reserve Police Battalion 101


Text: Telling Right From Wrong


Text: Dr. Mengele

Blueprint for the “Final Solution”

From Facing History and Ourselves:

Holocaust and Human Behavior, Chapter 7

In January 1942, representatives from the SS, the SS Race and Settlement Office, the SD, the
the Party Chancellery, the Interior Ministry, the Office of the Four
Year Plan, the Justice Ministry, the

Office of
the Governor General of Poland, the Foreign Office, and the Reich Chancellery met in the Berlin suburb of
Wannsee. They had come together to discuss the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question.” It was an official
meeting. So minutes were taken a
nd distributed to those who could not attend.

At the beginning of the meeting the Chief of Security Police and the SD, SS Obergruppenfuehrer [Reinhard]
Heydrich, announced his appointment by the Reich Marshal [Hermann Goering], as Plenipotentiary for the
reparation of the Final Solution of the European Jewish Question, and pointed out that this conference had
been called to clear up fundamental questions. The Reich Marshal’s request to have a draft sent to him on the
organizational, functional, and materia
l concerns on the final solution of the European Jewish question
necessitates prior joint consideration by all central agencies directly concerned with these questions, with a view
to keeping policy lines parallel…

In the course of the practical implementa
tion of the final solution, Europe is to be combed from west to east.
The Reich area, including the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, will have to be handled in advance, if only
because of the housing problem and other sociopolitical necessities.

The ev
acuated Jews will be brought, group by group, into so
called transit ghettos, to be transported from there
farther to the east.

Heydrich argued that there were more than eleven mi
llion European Jews if strict racial definitions were
applied. The participants then established a complicated set of rules to determine who was and who was not a
Jew. The conference did not mark the start of the Holocaust. Jews were being killed long befo
re the meeting. It
was significant, mainly because it turned the “final solution” over to the bureaucrats


Note the language used in the minutes of the Wannsee Conference. How you account for the way the
task is described?

Glossary for
nt for the Final Solution

: a Nazi military unit responsible for following through on orders to isolate and murder Jews

and other people the Nazis deemed unfit or threatening

: the intelligence service of the SS and the Nazi Party

Party Chancellery
: th
e administrative office of the Nazi Party

: units of the Security Police and SS Security Service that followed the German

armies into Poland (1939) and the Soviet Union (1941); their charge was to kill all Jews as well


all others considered undesirable by the Nazi state

Reich Chancellery
: Hitler’s office

Final Solution
: the Nazi program for the mass murder of the Jews (1941

SS Obergruppenfuehrer
: a high
ranking SS official

: a person who has complet
e authority to carry out a certain action

: a weaker state that is controlled by a stronger state

: during WWII in Europe, a specific section of a city, usually fenced in, where Jews

were required by law to live

: people
working at an organization whose job requires them to follow orders and procedures

A Commandant's View

From Facing History and Ourselves:

Holocaust and Human Behavior, Chapter 7

In an interview with journalist Gitta Sereny after his arrest in Brazil in 19
71 and subsequent trial, Franz Stangl,
the commandant of the death camp at Sobibor and later at Treblinka, responded to questions.

“You’ve been telling me about your routines,” I said to him. “But how did you feel? Was there anything you
enjoyed, you felt
good about?”

“It was interesting to me to find out who was cheating,” he

said. “As I told you, I didn’t care who it was; my professional ethos was that if something wrong was going on,
it had to be found out. That was my profession; I enjoyed it. It ful
filled me. And yes, I was ambitious about that;
I won’t deny that.”

“Would it be true to say that you got used to the liquidations?”

He thought for a moment. “To tell the truth,” he then said, slowly and thoughtfully, “one did become used to

“In da
ys? Weeks? Months?”

“Months. It was months before I could look one of them in the eye. I repressed it all by trying to create a
special place: gardens, new barracks, new kitchens, new everything; barbers, tailors, shoemakers, carpenters.
There were hund
reds of ways to take one’s mind off it; I used them all.”

“Even so, if you felt that strongly, there had to be times, perhaps at night, in the dark, when you couldn’t avoid
thinking about it?”

“In the end, the only way to deal with it was to drink. I to
ok a large glass of brandy to bed with me each night
and I drank.”

“I think you are evading my question.”

“No, I don’t mean to; of course, thoughts came. But I forced them away. I made myself concentrate on work,
work and again work.”

“Would it be true
to say that you finally felt they weren’t really human beings?”

“When I was on a trip once, years later in Brazil,” he said, his face deeply concentrated, and obviously
reliving the experience, “my train stopped next to a slaughterhouse. The cattle in t
he pens, hearing the noise of
the train, trotted up to the fence and stared at the train. They were very close to my window, one crowding the
other, looking at me through that fence. I thought then, ‘Look at this; this reminds me of Poland; that’s just how

the people looked, trustingly, just before they went into the tins...’”

“You said tins,” I interrupted. “What do you mean?” But he went on without hearing, or answering me.

“...I couldn’t eat tinned meat after that. Those big eyes... which looked at me
... not knowing that in no time at
all they’d all be dead.” He paused. His face was drawn. At this moment he looked old and worn and real.

“So you didn’t feel they were human beings?”

“Cargo,” he said tonelessly. “They were cargo.” He raised and dropped

his hand in a gesture of despair. Both
our voices had dropped. It was one of the few times in those weeks of talks that he made no effort to cloak his
despair, and his hopeless grief allowed a moment of sympathy.

“When do you think you began to think of t
hem as cargo? The way you spoke earlier, of the day when you first
came to Treblinka, the horror you felt seeing the dead bodies everywhere

they weren’t ‘cargo’ to you then,
were they?”

“I think it started the day I first saw the Totenlager [death cam
p] in Treblinka. I remember [Christian] Wirth
[the man who set up the death camps] standing there, next to the pits full of blue
black corpses. It had nothing
to do with humanity

it couldn’t have; it was a mass

a mass of rotting flesh. Wirth said, ‘Wha
t shall we do
with this garbage?’ I think unconsciously that started me thinking of them as cargo.”

“There were so many children, did they ever make you think of your children, of how you would feel in the
position of those parents?”

“No,” he said slowl
y, “I can’t say I ever thought that way.” He paused. “You see,” he then continued, still
speaking with this extreme seriousness and obviously intent on finding a new truth within himself, “I rarely saw
them as individuals. It was always a huge mass. I some
times stood on the wall and saw them in the tube. But

how can I explain it

they were naked, packed together, running, being driven with whips like...” the sentence
trailed off.

…“Could you not have changed that?” I asked. “In your position, could you n
ot have stopped the nakedness,
the whips, the horror of the cattle pens?”

“No, no, no. This was the system. Wirth had invented it. It worked. And because it worked, it was



When asked about forgiveness, Elie Wiesel replied, “No one asked for it.” What is he saying about the
perpetrators? About the bystanders?



Gitta Sereny,
Into That Darkness
(Pan Books, 1977), 200

Glossary for
A Commandant’s View

: the
values a person has that guides their actions

: mass murder

: tried not to think about something, ignored

: avoiding

A Matter of Obedience?

From Facing History and Ourselves:

Holocaust and Human Behavior, Chapter 5

In her study of totalitarian regimes, Hannah Arendt wondered, “How do average, even admirable, people
become dehumanized by the critical circumstances pressing in on them?” In the 1960s, Stanley Milgram, a
professor at Yale University, decided to find out

by recruiting college students to take part in what he called “a
study of the effects of punishment on learning.” In Milgram’s words, “The point of the experiment is to see how
far a person will proceed in a concrete and measurable situation in which he i
s ordered to inflict increasing pain
on a protesting victim... At what point will the subject refuse to obey the experimenter?”

Working with pairs, Milgram designated one volunteer a
s “teacher” and the other as “learner.” As the “teacher”
watched, the “learner” was strapped into a chair with an electrode attached to each wrist. The “learner” was then
told to memorize word pairs for a test and warned that wrong answers would result in
electric shocks. The
“learner” was, in fact, a member of Milgram’s team. The real focus of the experiment was the “teacher.” Each
was taken to a separate room and seated before a “shock generator” with switches ranging from 15 volts labeled
“slight shock”
to 450 volts labeled “danger

severe shock.” Each “teacher” was told to administer a “shock”
for each wrong answer. The shock was to increase by fifteen volts every time the “learner” responded
incorrectly. The volunteer received a practice shock before t
he test began to get an idea of the pain involved.

Before the experiment began, Milgram hypothesized that most volunteers would refuse to give electric shocks
of more than 150 volts. A group of psychologists and psychiatrists predicted that less than one
enth of 1
percent of the volunteers would administer all 450 volts. To everyone’s amazement, 65 percent gave the full
450 volts!

Later Milgram tried to isolate the factors that encouraged obedience by varying parts of the experiment. In one
variation, he r
epeated the test in a less academic setting. Obedience dropped to nearly 48 percent, still a very
high number. In another variation, the volunteers received instructions by telephone rather than in person.
Without an authority figure in the room, only 21 p
ercent continued to the end. Milgram also noted that when no
one in authority was present, some volunteers reacted to the “pain” of the “learner” by repeating a relatively low
level shock rather than increasing voltage as instructed

an innovative comprom
ise in Milgram’s view.

In a third version of the test, each volunteer was surrounded by authority figures who argued over whether to
continue the experiment. In this variation, no “teacher” continued until the end. In yet another variation, it
appeared as
if three “teachers” were giving shocks at the same time. Two, however, worked for Milgram. When
they “quit,” only 10 percent of the real volunteers continued. The distance between the volunteer and the
“learner” also made a difference. Only 40 percent of t
he “teachers” obeyed when the “learner” was in the same
room. Obedience dropped to 30 percent when volunteers had to place the “learner’s” hand on a metal plate to
give the shock. On the other hand, when they had a lesser role in the experiment, 92 percent

“went all the way.”
Gender had little effect on the outcome of the experiment. Men and women responded in very similar ways.
Women did, however, show more signs of conflict over whether to obey. Philip Zimbardo, a psychologist at
Stanford University, said

of the experiments:

The question to ask of Milgram’s research is not why the majority of normal, average subjects behave in evil
(felonious) ways, but what did the disobeying minority do after they refused to continue to shock the poor soul,
who was so ob
viously in pain? Did they intervene, go to his aid, did they denounce the researcher, protest to
higher authorities, etc.? No, even their disobedience was within the framework of “acceptability,” they stayed in
their seats, “in their assigned place,” polit
ely, psychologically demurred, and they waited to be dismissed by the
authority. Using other measures of obedience in addition to “going all the way” on the shock generator,
obedience to authority in Milgram’s research was total.

Zimbardo observed similar behavior in an experiment he supervised in 1971. He chose twenty
four young men

“mature, emotionally stable, normal, intelligent college students”

from seventy applicants. These men
arbitrarily designated as “guards” or “prisoners” in a simulated prison. The “guards” met to organize the prison
and set up rules. Zimbardo reported what happened next.

At the end of only six days we had to close down our mock prison because what we s
aw was frightening. It was
no longer apparent to most of the subjects (or to us) where reality ended and their roles began. The majority had
indeed become prisoners or guards, no longer able to clearly differentiate between role playing and self. There
e dramatic changes in virtually every aspect of their behavior, thinking and feeling. In less than a week the
experience of imprisonment undid (temporarily) a lifetime of learning; human values were suspended, self
concepts were challenged and the ugliest,

most base, pathological The question to ask of side of human nature
surfaced. We were horrified because we saw some boys (guards) treat others as if they were despicable animals,
taking pleasure in cruelty, while other boys (prisoners) became servile, deh
umanized robots who thought only
of escape, of their own individual survival and of their mounting hatred for the guards.


Milgram has defined
as “the psychologica
l mechanism that links individual action to political
purpose.” How do you define the word? What is
blind obedience?
How does it differ from other forms
of obedience? What is the difference between


What encourages obedience? Is it

fear of punishment? A desire to please? A need to go along with the
group? A belief in authority? Record your ideas in your journal so that you can refer to them later.



Harrison E. Salisburg, Forward to
Mischiling, Second Degree: My Childhoo
in Nazi Germany

by Ilse Koehn
(Greenwillow, 1977), viii


Stanley Milgram,
Obedience to Authority
(Harper & Row, 1974), 3


Tannen, preface to
You Just Don’t Understand




Reserve Police Battalion 101

From Facing History and Ourselves:

Holocaust and Human Behavior, Chapter 7

Who were the perpetrators? What kind of person massacres civilians? Slaughters old people? Murders babies?
To find answers to such questions, historian Christopher Browning studie
d interrogations made in the 1960s and
early 1970s of 210 men in Reserve Police Battalion 101. The battalion was originally formed from the German
equivalent of city policemen and county sheriffs. After 1939, it and other Order Police battalions also serve
d as
occupation forces in conquered territory. Battalion 101 was assigned to the district of Lubin in Poland.

Like the National Guard in the United States, battalions were organized regionally. Most of the soldiers in
Battalion 101 came from working and lo
class neighborhoods in Hamburg, Germany. They were
older than the men who fought in the front lines. The average age was thirty
nine with over half between thirty
seven and forty
two. Most were not well
educated. The majority had left school by
the age of fifteen. Very few
were Nazis and none was openly antisemitic. Major Wilhelm Trapp, a 53
old career police officer who
rose through the ranks, headed the battalion. Although he became a Nazi in 1932, he was not a member of the
although h
is two captains were.

The unit’s first killing mission took place on July 13, 1942. Browning used interrogations to piece together the
events of that day.

Just as daylight was breaking, the men arrived at the village [of Jozefow] and assembled in a half
rcle around
Major Trapp, who proceeded to give a short speech. With choking voice and tears in his eyes, he visibly fought
to control himself as he informed his men that they had received orders to perform a very unpleasant task. These
orders were not to h
is liking, but they came from above. It might perhaps make their task easier, he told the
men, if they remembered that in Germany bombs were falling on the women and children. Two witnesses
claimed that Trapp also mentioned that the Jews of this village ha
d supported the partisans. Another witness
recalled Trapp’s mentioning that the Jews had instigated the boycott against Germany. Trapp then explained to
the men that the Jews in Jozefow would have to be rounded up, whereupon the young males were to be sele
out for labor and the others shot.

Trapp then made an extraordinary offer to his battalion: if any of the older men among them did not feel up to
the task that lay before him, he could step out. Trapp paused, and after some moments, one man stepped
rward. The captain of 3

company, enraged that one of his men had broken ranks, began to berate the man.
The major told the captain to hold his tongue. Then ten or twelve other men stepped forward as well. They
turned in their rifles and were told to awai
t a further assignment from the major.

Trapp then summoned the company commanders and gave them their respective assignments. Two platoons of
3rd company were to surround the village; the men were explicitly ordered to shoot anyone trying to escape.
The re
maining men were to round up the Jews and take them to the market place. Those too sick or frail to walk
to the market place, as well as infants and anyone offering resistance or attempting to hide, were to be shot on
the spot. Thereafter, a few men of 1st

company were to accompany the work Jews selected at the market place,
while the rest were to proceed to the forest to form the firing squads. The Jews were to be loaded onto battalion
trucks by 2nd company and shuttled from the market place to the forest.

Having given the company commanders their respective assignments, Trapp spent the rest of the day in town,
mostly in a schoolroom converted into his headquarters but also at the homes of the Polish mayor and the local
priest. Witnesses who saw him at vari
ous times during the day described him as bitterly complaining about the
orders he had been given and “weeping like a child.” He nevertheless affirmed that “orders were orders” and
had to be carried out. Not a single witness recalled seeing him at the shoo
ting site, a fact that was not lost on the
men, who felt some anger about it. Trapp’s driver remembers him saying later, “If this Jewish business is ever
avenged on earth, then have mercy on us Germans.”


In describing the massacre, Browning notes, “While the men of Reserve Battalion 101 were apparently willing
to shoot those Jews too weak or sick to move, they still shied for the most part from shooting infants, despite
orders. No officer intervened, though subsequently one officer warned his men that in the future they
would have to be more energetic.”

As the killing continued, several more soldiers asked to be relieved of their duties. Some officers reassigned
anyone wh
o asked, while others pressed their men to continue despite reservations. By midday, the men were
being offered bottles of vodka to “refresh” them. As the day continued, a number of soldiers broke down. Yet
the majority continued to the end. After the mass
acre ended, the battalion was transferred to the north part of the
district and the various platoons were divided up, each stationed in a different town. All of the platoons took
part in at least one more shooting action. Most found that these subsequent m
urders were easier to perform.
Browning therefore sees that first massacre as an important dividing line.

Even twenty
five years later they could not hide the horror of endlessly shooting Jews at point
blank range. In
contrast, however, they spoke of surro
unding ghettos and watching [Polish “volunteers”] brutally drive the Jews
onto the death trains with considerable detachment and a near
total absence of any sense of participation or
responsibility. Such actions they routinely dismissed with a standard ref
rain: “I was only in the police cordon
there.” The shock treatment of Jozefow had created an effective and desensitized unit of ghetto
clearers and,
when the occasion required, outright murderers. After Jozefow nothing else seemed so terrible.


In reaching conclusions from the interviews, Browning focuses on the choices open to the men he studied. He

Most simply denied that they had any choice. Faced with the testimony
of others, they did not contest that
Trapp had made the offer but repeatedly claimed that they had not heard that part of his speech or could not
remember it. A few who admitted that they had been given the choice and yet failed to opt out were quite blunt
One said that he had not wanted to be considered a coward by his comrades. Another

more aware of what
truly required courage

said quite simply: “I was cowardly.” A few others also made the attempt to confront
the question of choice but failed to find

the words. It was a different time and place, as if they had been on
another political planet, and the political vocabulary and values of the 1960s were helpless to explain the
situation in which they found themselves in 1942. As one man admitted, it was
not until years later that he
began to consider that what he had done had not been right. He had not given it a thought at the time.


The men who did not take part were more s
pecific about their motives. Some attributed their refusal to their age
or the fact that they were not “career men.” Only one mentioned ties to Jews as a reason for not participating.
Browning therefore notes:

What remains virtually unexamined by the inter
rogators and unmentioned by the policemen was the role of anti
Semitism. Did they not speak of it because anti

Semitism had not been a motivating factor? Or were they
unwilling and unable to confront this issue even after twenty
five years, because it had

been all too important,
all too pervasive? One is tempted to wonder if the silence speaks louder than words, but in the end

the silence
is still silence, and the question remains unanswered.

Was the incident at Jozefow typical? Certainly not. I know of
no other case in which a commander so openly
invited and sanctioned the nonparticipation of his men in a killing action. But in the end the important fact is not
that the experience of Reserve Battalion 101 was untypical, but rather that Trapp’s extraordin
ary offer did not
matter. Like any other unit, Reserve Police Battalion 101 killed the Jews they had been told to kill.



What part did peer pressure play in the
massacre? What part did opportunism play? Antisemitism? What other
factors may have influenced participation? Compare the massacre to others you have read about. What
differences seem most striking?

The officers described in the reading were concerned for
their own psychological wellbeing and that of their
men. Yet they showed no concern for their victims. What does this suggest about their sense of morality

right and wrong?

What does Browning mean when he writes, “After Jozefow, nothing else seemed so


What insights does Stanley Milgram’s research (Chapter 5, Reading 1) offer in understanding the massacre at
Jozefow? In Chapter 5, Philip Zimbardo was quoted as saying: “The question to ask of Milgram’s research is not
why the majority of norma
l, average subjects behave in evil (felonious) ways, but what did the disobeying
minority do after they refused to continue to shock the poor soul, who was so obviously in pain?” How do his
comments apply to the soldiers who refused to take part in the kil
ling? To Major Trapp?

Browning writes of the men who took part in the murders, “A few who admitted that they had been given the
choice and yet failed to opt out were quite blunt. One said that he had not wanted to be considered a coward by
his comrades. An

more aware of what truly required courage

said quite simply: ‘I was cowardly.’” Write
a working definition of the word

The film
available from the Facing History Resource Center, shows Heinrich Himmler visiting a pit
during an
action. As he bent forward to see what was happening, he “had the deserved good
fortune to be splattered with brains.” According to witnesses, he was more shaken by the damage to his uniform
than by the murders. How do you account for his res



Christopher R. Browning, “One Day in Jozefow: Initiation to Mass Murder” in
The Path to Genocide:Essays
on Launching the Final Solution
(Cambridge University Press, 1992), 174

Glossary for
Reserve Police Battalion 101

interviews, often conducted by police or military officials to find out about


: those who commit crimes and acts of injustice or violence

: a military unit of around 500
1500 soldiers

: showing characteristics of
antisemitism or hatred against Jews, often leading to

the discrimination of Jewish people

: a Nazi military unit responsible for following through on orders to isolate and murder Jews

and other people the Nazis deemed unfit or threatening

: Thos
e who fought against the Nazis within their own territory, “guerilla fighters”

: to scold, yell at angrily

: to get even, to take revenge

: a smaller group of troops within a battalion

: direct, at a short distance

during WWII in Europe, a specific section of a city, usually fenced in, where Jews

were required by law to live

: lack of interest or attention

: a line of people stationed around an area to enclose or guard it

: emotionally una
ttached and unmoved

: to give credit for something

: comprehensive, present all over

: allowed

Telling Right from Wrong

From Facing History and Ourselves:

Holocaust and Human Behavior, Chapter 9

Underlying the trials and the d
iscussions of what the Nazis did and did not do is an important question: If a
government orders an individual to do something that, in normal circumstances, is illegal and, even more to the
point, morally wrong, must the individual obey?

As she watched Ei
chmann’s trial, Hannah Arendt observed: “Eichmann said he recognized that what he had
participated in was perhaps one of the greatest crimes in history, but, he insisted, if he had not done so, his
conscience would have bothered him at the time. His consci
ence and morality were working exactly in reverse.
This reversal is precisely the moral collapse that took place in Europe.

Arendt concluded that the act of resistance was extraordinarily difficult during World War II. There were no
acceptable role models.

“Those few who were still able to tell right from wrong went really only by their own
judgments, and they did so freely; there were no rules to be abided by, under which the particular cases with
which they were confronted could be subsumed. They had to d
ecide each instance as it arose, because no rules
existed for the unprecedented.”


Simon Wiesenthal wrote a story called “The Sunflower” that raises many of the same
questions. The jacket of
the book in which it appears summarizes the tale.

A young Jew is taken from a death
camp to a makeshift army hospital. He is led to the bedside of a Nazi soldier
whose head is completely swathed in bandages. The dying Nazi blindly
extends his hand toward the Jew, and in
a cracked whisper begins to speak. The Jew listens silently while the Nazi confesses to having participated in
the burning alive of an entire village of Jews. The soldier, terrified of dying with this burden of guilt
, begs
absolution from the Jew. Having listened to the Nazi’s story for several hours

torn between horror and
compassion for the dying man

the Jew finally walks out of the room without speaking. Was his action right?
Or moral?



How would you answer the questions Wiesenthal raises? Wiesenthal’s tale is followed by the responses
of theologians, philosophers, historians, and writers to the two questions. In his r
esponse to the
questions, Hans Habe wrote:

One of the worst crimes of the Nazi regime was that it made it so hard for us to forgive. It led us into the
labyrinth of our souls. We must find our way out of the labyrinth

not for the murderers’ sake but for
our own.
Neither love alone expressed in forgiveness, nor justice alone, exacting punishment, will lead us out of the
maze. A demand for atonement and forgiveness is not self
contradictory; when a man has willfully extinguished
the life of another, atoneme
nt is the prerequisite for forgiveness. Exercised with love and justice, atonement and
forgiveness serve the same end: life without hatred. That is our goal: I see no other.


Why does Habe believe that “We must find our way out of the labyrinth

not for the murderers’ sake
but for our own?” Do you agree?

Primo Levi argued that it was right to refuse to pardon the dying man because it was “the lesser evil: you
could only have f
orgiven him by lying or inflicting upon yourself a terrible moral violence.” Are there
lesser and greater evils? What “moral violence” would the man have inflicted upon himself through
forgiveness? How do you think Habe would respond?

The Hangman

From Fac
ing History and Ourselves:

Holocaust and Human Behavior, Chapter 4


Into our town the Hangman came,

Smelling of gold and blood and flame

And he paced our bricks with a diffident air

And built his frame on the courthouse square.

The scaffold stood by t
he courthouse side,

Only as wide as the door was wide;

A frame as tall, or little more,

Than the capping sill of the courthouse door.

And we wondered, whenever we had the time,

Who the criminal, what the crime,

That Hangman judged with the yellow twist

knotted hemp in his busy fist.

And innocent though we were, with dread

We passed those eyes of buckshot lead;

Till one cried: “Hangman, who is he

For whom you raise the gallows

Then a twinkle grew in the buckshot eye,

And he gave us a riddle instead

of reply:

“He who serves me best,” said he,

“Shall earn the rope on the gallows

And he stepped down, and laid his hand

On a man who came from another land.

And we breathed again, for another’s grief

At the Hangman’s hand was our relief.

And the gal
frame on the courthouse lawn

By tomorrow’s sun would be struck and gone.

So we gave him way, and no one spoke,

Out of respect for his hangman’s cloak.


The next day’s sun looked mildly down

On roof and street in our quiet town

And, stark and black

in the morning air,

The gallows
tree on the courthouse square.

And the Hangman stood at his usual stand

With the yellow hemp in his busy hand;

With his buckshot eye and his jaw like a pike

And his air so knowing and businesslike.

And we cried: “Hangman, h
ave you not done,

Yesterday, with the alien one?”

Then we fell silent, and stood amazed:

“Oh, not for him was the gallows raised…”

He laughed a laugh as he looked at us:

“…Did you think I’d gone to all this fuss

To hang one man? That’s a thing I do

To stre
tch the rope when the rope is new.”

Then one cried “Murderer!” One cried “Shame!”

And into our midst the Hangman came

To that man’s place. “Do you hold,” said he,

“With him that’s meant for the gallows

And he laid his hand on that one’s arm,

And we
shrank back in quick alarm,

And we gave him way, and no one spoke

Out of fear of his hangman’s cloak.

That night we saw with dread surprise

The Hangman’s scaffold had grown in size.

Fed by the blood beneath the chute

The gallows
tree had taken root;

Now as

wide, or a little more,

Than the steps that led to the courthouse door,

As tall as the writing, or nearly as tall,

Halfway up on the courthouse wall.


The third he took

and we had all heard tell

Was a usurer and infidel, And:

“What,” said the Hang
man, “have you to do

With the gallows
bound, and he a Jew?”

And we cried out: “Is this one he

Who has served you well and faithfully?”

The Hangman smiled: “It’s a clever scheme

To try the strength of the gallows

The fourth man’s dark, accusing song

Had scratched out comfort hard and long;

And “What concern,“ he gave us back,

“Have you for the doomed

the doomed and


The fifth. The sixth. And we cried again:

“Hangman, Hangman, is this the man?”

“It’s a trick,” he said, “that we hangmen know

r easing the trap when the trap springs slow.”

And so we ceased and asked no more,

As the Hangman tallied his bloody score;

And sun by sun, and night by night,

The gallows grew to monstrous height.

The wings of the scaffold opened wide

Till they covered th
e square from side to side;

And the monster cross
beam, looking down,

Cast its shadow across the town.


Then through the town the Hangman came

And called in the empty streets my name.

And I looked at the gallows soaring tall

And thought: “There is no l
eft at all

For hanging, and so he calls to me

To help him pull down the gallows

And I went out with right good hope

To the Hangman’s tree and the Hangman’s rope.

He smiled at me as I came down

To the courthouse square through the silent town,

And su
pple and stretched in his busy hand

Was the yellow twist of them hempen strand.

And he whistled his tune as he tried the trap

And it sprang down with a ready snap

And then with a smile of awful command

He laid his hand upon my hand.

“You tricked me, Hang
man!” I shouted then,

“That your scaffold was built for other men….

And I no henchman of yours,” I cried.

“You lied to me, Hangman, foully lied!”

Then a twinkle grew in the buckshot eye:

“Lied to you? Tricked you?” he said, “Not I

For I answered straight a
nd I told you true:

The scaffold was raised for none but you.

“For who has served me more faithfully

Than you with your coward’s hope?” said he,

“And where are the others that might have stood

Side by your side in the common good?”

“Dead,” I whispered; and


“Murdered,” the Hangman corrected me;

“First the alien, then the Jew…

I did no more than you let me do.”

Beneath the beam that blocked the sky,

None had stood so alone as I

And the Hangman strapped me, and no voice


Cried “Stay!” for me in
the empty square.



What choices were open to the townspeople when the Hangman arrived? By the time he had finished his work
in the town? Was there a way to stop
the Hangman? If so, how? If not, why not?

How does the poem relate to Germany in the 1930s? To society today?

In 1933, Martin Niemoeller
, a leader of the Confessing Church, voted for the Nazi party. By 1938, he was in a
concentration camp. After the war, he is believed to have said, “In Germany, the Nazis came for the
Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then the
y came for the Jews, and I didn’t
speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t
a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then the
came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak for me.” How is the point Niemoeller makes
similar to the one Maurice Ogden makes in “The Hangman?”

What is the meaning of the Hangman’s riddle: “’ He who serves me best,’ said he, ‘shall earn
the rope on the


Maurice Ogden, “The Hangman”, Regina Publications.

Dr. Mengele, The Angel of Death

Dr. Josef Mengele, nicknamed
The Angel Of
, and
the other Nazi doctors at the death
camps tortured men, women and
children and
did medical experiments of unspeakable horror during the Holocaust. Victims were put into
pressure chambers, tested with drugs, castrated, frozen to death. Children were exposed to
experimental surgeries performed without anesthesia, transfusi
ons of blood from one to
another, isolation endurance, reaction to various stimuli. The doctors made injections with
lethal germs, sex change operations, removal of organs and limbs.

At Auschwitz Josef Mengele did a number of medical experiments, using twi
ns. These twins as
young as five years of age were usually murdered after the experiment was over and their
bodies dissected.

Mengele injected chemicals into the eyes of the children in an attempt to change their eye
color. He carried out twin
twin tran
sfusions, stitched twins together, castrated or sterilized
twins. Many twins had limbs and organs removed in macabre surgical procedures, performed
without using an anesthetic.

Only a few of the children survived Auschwitz. They later
recalled how they w
ere visited by a smiling Uncle Mengele who
brought them candy and clothes. Then he had them delivered to
his medical laboratory either in trucks painted with the Red Cross
emblem or in his own personal car.

Josef Mengele was the chief provider for the gas

chambers at

and did well! When it was reported that one block
was infected with lice, Mengele solved the problem by gassing all
the 750 women assigned to it.

The memory of this slightly built man, scarcely a hair out of place,
his dark green
tunic neatly pressed, his face well scrubbed, his
Death's Head SS cap tilted rakishly to one side, remains vivid for
those who survived his scrutiny when they arrived at the Auschwitz railhead. Polished boots
slightly apart, his thumb resting on his pistol

belt, he surveyed his prey with those dead gimlet
eyes. Death to the left, life to the right.

A door to a gas chamber in Auschwitz. The note reads: Harmful gas! Entering endangers your life.