The Making of an SS Killer
By Alex J. Kay
Cambridge University Press, 2016
This book presents a portrait of an ordinary Nazi – not Hitler or Himmler or Heydrich, but one who did their bidding.
From June-October 1941, Alfred Filbert (1905-1990: he led a long life, dying peacefully in Saint Gertrude’s Hospital in Berlin) was the chief of Einsatzkommando 9 of Einsatzgruppe B and, by way of distinction, probably the first such chief to murder women and children. At the end of July 1941, in Vileyka, 450 Jewish men, women and children were murdered by Einsatzkommando 9. Also in Vileyka, in August 1941, twelve women teachers were among 82 Jews murdered. And that month in Surazh and Haradok, there was a quantum leap in killings: about 2600 Jews were murdered (two thirds being women and children) by Einsatzkommando 9, with the Wehrmacht providing voluntary assistance. To September and a ghetto was dissolved in Yanavichy, with 1025 Jews murdered. And Vitebsk – where Chagall, that dreaming angel, was born – saw another ghetto dissolved in October , with this time approximately 10000 Jews murdered. Whatever you may say about the Nazis, they did keep very full records – and note, the numbers were steadily increasing all the time.
What is important to emphasise is that even before Hitler made the decision to kill all Jews under Nazi control (this occurred on 12 December 1941, according to Christian Gerlach, following the attack on Pearl Harbor and Germany’s declaration of war on America) significant numbers of Jews were murdered on the Eastern Front as part of the race war (Rassenkampf) against the Soviet Union. Alex Kay suggests that this was following verbal instructions from Heydrich, but in point of fact you don’t even have to buy that. The Judeo-Bolshevik myth was part of Nazi ideology: because of this, Jews were a legitimate target anyway.
Despite the magnitude of Filbert’s war crimes, he escaped detection until the late 1950s. Another Nazi squealed, that’s what set the West German authorities on to him. They were not actively looking for Filbert at the time. At his trial Filbert portrayed himself as a loyal soldier and pleaded that he was only following orders, but was found guilty nonetheless and imprisoned from 1962-1975. Thereafter he always saw himself as a victim, a casualty of injustice. In truth he had this mind-set anyway, so it was likely not a consequence of the trial and verdict, though naturally that didn’t help.
The book ends with almost one hundred pages of footnotes: it is very well researched, an in-depth study of the life and misdeeds of a shallow, petty little man. Yet that is rather Kay’s point: people like Alfred Filbert, a law graduate incidentally and so by no means uneducated, were necessary functionaries, essential cogs in the Nazi machinery, and without them it could not have worked as effectively as it did.
The publisher’s description of The Making of an SS Killer: The Life of Colonel Alfred Filbert, 1905–1990 can be read here.