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Intimate Murder

Intimate Murder
I think for most people the way they understand the Holocaust is that the murder that took place was very anonymous because most people think about the Holocaust, they think about Auschwitz, or the other extermination camps, or maybe they think about the shootings that happened by the Einsatzgruppen and the many people that became involved in those shootings along with them; and that’s generally an anonymous kind of thing, right? The murderers don’t know the victims. But there are plenty of incidences in the Holocaust period where the persecution of the Jews was carried out by people who knew the people they were persecuting or, vice-versa, the Jews being persecuted knew those who were persecuting them.
It can start as early as 1933 with the boycott in Germany. Again that’s not yet murder but certainly many of the Jews knew the people who were picketing their stores, refused to go into them. For sure. And when we talk about the night of the broken glass, we have lots of testimonies where people talk about how the gatekeeper to their house also burst into the apartment along with the SA men and we even know a directive was given that the SA men should be from different communities and shouldn’t burst into the homes of the people they know but we know that that’s not what always happened.
If we get into the period of the shooting, it’s true that German members of Einsatzgruppen that were shooting Jews generally didn’t know the Jews they were shooting but the local population also had a role in this often. They were the ones who often transported the Jews to the shooting sites. They often ended cordoning them off. In some places, like in Latvia, for example, with Arājs commando, they were local people and so certainly there were situations where the Jews knew the people who were murdering them and others again who were, in some way, associated with the murder.
And again if we go into other situations through the Holocaust, Hungarian Jewish forced laborers on the Eastern Front were sent there to be forced laborers by the Hungarian army and they were commanded by Hungarian soldiers who were with them for weeks and months and, sometimes, those same Hungarian soldiers were the ones who stole the food from the Jews or put them in situations that were deadly on purpose; and sometimes even killed them. So we have a situation of what would best be called - as opposed to anonymity - intimacy.
Well, I think that many of the people who become involved in persecuting up through the murder of the Jews and again often their neighbors that antisemitism is a very central part of what they were doing. As I said earlier about the non-Jews who get involved in this that that that is a background factor at times very very specific for what they’re doing here - why they become involved in all of this. And again it goes to the idea that you can know somebody in the sense that he’s your neighbor; may know his name, know his profession, having been in his home; maybe traded with him or something. But in your mind he’s not part of you. He’s different.
He’s the other and again the Jew is the classic other in society. This is the most extreme otherness when you decide that that other doesn’t have the most basic right which is the right to life and where you decide that that other’s life has no value and that you have the right to take it. Now again that happens in a very specific situation in World War II and the unfolding Holocaust that that becomes acceptable to people but again very important to it is this very strong antisemitic view of the Jew as not being one of us, being very different from us.

Dr. Robert Rozett

Most people think of the Holocaust as an event of industrial killing, symbolized by a vast undertaking of streamlined, anonymous mass murder. Yet that wasn’t always the case. From a very early stage, many of the atrocities committed by both the Nazis and their collaborators were carried out in an “intimate” fashion, wherein the victims knew their persecutors, and vice versa.

Does this aspect of the Holocaust surprise you? Were you aware of it before?


  • Bartov, Omer, “The Voice of Your Brother’s Blood: Reconstructing Genocide on the Local Level,” in Norman J. W. Goda, ed., Jewish Histories of the Holocaust: New Transnational Approaches (New York: Berghahn Books, 2014), pp. 105 – 134.

  • Gross, Jan Tomasz, Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001).

  • Kaplan, Marion A., Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998).

  • Kubátová, Hana and Jan Láníček, eds., Jews and Gentiles in Central and Eastern Europe during the Holocaust (New York: Routledge, 2018).

  • Redlich, Shimon, Together and Apart in Brzezany: Poles, Jews, and Ukrainians, 1919-1945 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002).

  • Rozett, Robert, Conscripted Slaves: Hungarian Jewish Forced Laborers on the Eastern Front during the Second World War (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 2013).

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Antisemitism: From Its Origins to the Present

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