There is now a considerable body of research on the question of what ordinary Germans knew at the time - that is, from 1941 onwards - about the destruction of European Jewry. It confirms, broadly, what Hannah Arendt wrote more than 40 years ago:
[T]hat the Jews were transported to their doom they knew, of course, even though many of them may not have known the gruesome details.What was going on on the eastern front - in general, the murderous ferocity of the German advance there, which went beyond regular warfare; in particular, the mass shootings by the Einsatzgruppen and other killing squads - was widely known in Germany. It was known via soldiers returning on leave who had been witnesses to or participants in the killings, and it was known through letters sent home from the front. The research - based on intelligence reports from the SD gauging the public mood, and from contemporary letters and diaries - is conclusive on this score: there was widespread talk about those killings. The testimony of one SS general after the war, who had met and talked with hundreds of others and was cynical of postwar claims of ignorance, was this:
Anybody who travelled knew from the first day that the Jews were being exterminated.About the death camps and the gassing installations it seems that less may have been known in detail by the German public at large; but even here there is evidence that information circulated, although it was sometimes distorted as to precise killing methods and the locations where the killing was taking place. Members of the SS were sworn to secrecy, but they were the source of rumours all the same.
Against that general background, there was something else: periodic public statements by Hitler, Goebbels and other Nazi leaders forthrightly mentioning the annihilation of the Jews - strange as it may seem when taken in conjunction with the attempt at secrecy about the actual process.
These observations serve merely to introduce the following report about a new book. It ties in with the research I have summarized:
High-ranking German officers knew much more about Adolf Hitler's plans to murder millions of Jews than previously thought, according to newly revealed transcripts of conversations between captured generals.(Via Mick.)
One of the most dramatic revelations concerns Choltitz, the German general in command of Paris in 1944 as the Allied armies closed in.
He became known as the "Unlikely Saviour of Paris" when he defied a direct order of Hitler who demanded that the city should be destroyed rather than fall to the Allies...
Speaking of an earlier episode in the war, Choltitz - who had previously been stationed on the Eastern Front - said: "The gravest task I ever undertook, and I did it at the time strictly, was the liquidation of the Jews."
Another clue to the Holocaust being common knowledge was a conversation involving Luftwaffe general Georg Neuffer, who was captured in North Africa in 1943, in which they discussed later that year how many Jews had been killed. Neuffer said: "It must be three million by now."