Why Nazis ‘Spared’ Jewish Criminals at Auschwitz

By Simon Rocker

A new book has uncovered a bizarre feature of the perverse world of Nazism: Jews identified as “criminals” in Auschwitz were spared the gas chambers because the Nazis wanted to maintain a show of legality.

A small number were brought to the camp by the Gestapo not as deportees, but as criminals.

In his newly published book, The Crime of My Very Existence — Nazism and the Myth of Jewish Criminality, Professor Michael Berkowitz of University College London’s Hebrew and Jewish Studies department writes: “If an inmate — regardless of being a Jew — was classified as a ‘criminal’ upon entering Auschwitz, the Nazis took pains to ensure that he or she was not sent to the gas chambers.

“Jews died en masse for the crime of having been born a Jew. But in the bizarre universe the Nazis constructed, if one was considered ‘a criminal’ in a more conventional sense, the camp authorities made some effort to document that the accused had had recourse to ‘justice’.”

Most Jewish “criminals” perished by other methods.

He added: “The Nazis were supremely image-conscious. They wanted the concentration camps to appear as penal institutions to the general public but also to the wider police and legal services.”

The charade that the camp was a prison helped to make the Holocaust “acceptable” to its perpetrators.


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