III. The Special Characteristics of Nazi Criminality
One major, but frequently overlooked issue is the special nature of Nazi criminality. The horror of its reality shocked the world at the Nuremburg Trials, particularly with the “RuSHA Case,” or the Einsatzgruppen Trial, “which charged fourteen SS officers with carrying out systematic genocide.” The name “RuSHA” is an acronym for the Race and Settlement Office of the SS Elite Guard (Rasse und Siedlungshauptamt). The shock of the civilized world was compounded by the fact that the perpetrators were men of culture and education, largely from good middle class backgrounds. When Judge Michael Musmano (1897-1968) sent these criminals to the gallows (c. April 1948), he declared:
The defendants are not untutored aborigines incapable of appreciation of the finer values of life and living. Each man at the bar has had the benefit of considerable schooling. Eight are lawyers, one a university professor, another, a dental physician, still another, an expert on art. One, as an opera singer, gave concerts throughout Germany before he began his tour of Russia with the Einsatz commandos. This group of educated and well-bred men does not even lack a former minister, self-unfrocked though he was.16
Johann von Leers belonged to this class, of “educated and well-bred men,” to use the term of Judge Musmano. He was a professor and intellectual who was born to the lesser nobility of Mecklenburg. Members of this generation were young, ambitious and totally lacking scruples. Leers had contributed directly to the process that led to genocide by inciting against the Jewish people, spreading hatred against Jews, targeting them, and bringing about their isolation in society. Under the Third Reich, Leers worked for Goebbels as an active speaker and prolific author of antisemitic literature. (It is noteworthy that, in 1935, Leers and Goebbels had a falling-out. Subsequently, Leers became closer to the circles of Himmler and the SS.)17 One of his favorite themes was: “Unsere Aufgabe ist es, unerbittlichen Hass zu predigen.” (“Our task is to preach merciless hate [against the Jews].)” Scholars of the new field of genocide studies, notably Gregory Stanton, have identified incitement as one of eight stages of the genocide process.18 Under the Third Reich, Leers engaged in the process of dehumanization. After the war, he continued this work in Cairo.
Michael Wildt, a leading scholar and currently a professor at the Humboldt University of Berlin, has analyzed the distinctive nature of Nazi criminality in a comprehensive study of nearly one thousand pages, Generation des Unbedingten; Das Führungskorps des Reichssicherheitshauptamtes (Generation of the Unbound; The Leadership Corps of the Reich Security Main Office).19 Wildt describes a generation that came of age during the First World War but missed the opportunity to contribute to the German nationalist cause and achieve heroism. Members of this group longed to compensate for this by enthusiastically joining the National Socialist Movement. Johann von Leers belonged to this group.
Wildt also documented the process by which Germany ceased to be governed by law but rather by the police who could act arbitrarily without legal or moral constraints, and for which the ends totally justified the means:
….War made it easier to kill and made murder an everyday practice. The entire legal framework of a bourgeois society – insurance, property rights, financial agreements, and all other rules and regulations that could hinder RSHA operations – vanished in the occupied areas. There were no troublesome clerks and bureaucrats insisting on laws and agreements, no civil rights or criminal code; the RSHA could act as it saw fit without restraints or political considerations.20
In this environment, the logical consequence of unconstrained and unlimited hatred of the Jews, – or of any similar group, – was their total loss of rights and physical annihilation. Wildt identifies the correlation between a policy that branded the Jews as the national enemy and the removal of legal and moral boundaries, which the protection of the law had assured. He explained the nature of the total, genocidal antisemitism which Leers and others propagated, particularly in the Arab world.
The precedent of seeking the complete annihilation of one’s enemy possessed far-reaching consequences. For example, in his description of the anti-Israel demonstrations on the streets of Paris at the beginning of the Twenty-First Century, Pierre-André Taguieff uses the terms “absolute antisemitism,” “eliminationist” antisemitism, and “exterminatory” racism.21 This rabid antisemitism that brings fierce hatred to its genocidal conclusion may be traced to Nazi propaganda, the speeches of Hajj Amin al-Husseini, the PLO Covenant, the Hamas Charter, and more recent manifestations of antisemitic and anti-Israel propaganda.
Excerpt from: The Postwar Career of Nazi Ideologue Johann von Leers, aka Omar Amin, the “First Ranking German” in Nasser’s Egypt