Beyond the Auschwitz Syndrome

Dan Stone looks at how historians’ understanding of the Holocaust has changed since the end of the Cold War with the opening of archives that reveal the full horror of the ‘Wild East’.

Lev Rozhetsky was a schoolboy when the Romanian army, the Wehrmacht’s largest ally, occupied south-western Ukraine in 1941. His memoir, published in an important collection called The Unknown Black Book (Indiana University Press, 2008), is full of terrible stories: girls being tossed into latrines; Jews being tormented, tortured and shot; dogs growing ‘fat as rams’ on the bodies. The perpetrators in this region, usually led by a thin layer of German commanders, included Romanian gendarmerie and local Volksdeutsche (ethnic Germans).What Rozhetsky also observed was the involvement of locals, not always in the murder process itself, but in the looting that accompanied it: ‘Having caught the scent of booty, all sorts of dirty scoundrels came running from every direction,’ as he put it.Another survivor, Sara Gleykh, a student from Mariupol in Ukraine, wrote that ‘the neighbours waited like vultures for us to leave the apartment’. The same neighbours then ‘quarrelled over things before my eyes, snatching things out of each others’ hands and dragging off pillows, pots and pans, quilts.’

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