Dachau & The SS – A Schooling in Violence
By Christopher Dillon
Oxford University – £65.00
”Set up in the first months of Adolf Hitler’s rule, Dachau was a bastion of the Nazi revolution’ and a key springboard for the ascent of Heinrich Himmler and the SS to control the Third Reich’s terror and policing apparatus. Throughout the pre-war era of Nazi Germany, Dachau functioned as an academy of violence where concentration camp personnel were schooled in steely resolution and the techniques of terror.”
Admittedly, not a death camp on similar lines to that of Auschwitz, Dachau was the first actual permanent concentration camp overseen by the despicable SS – hence this book’s title. Although what accounts for Dachau & The SS – A School in Violence being such an adroit and at times terribly shocking read, is its overwhelmingly well researched diktat.
Terribly shocking, because of the ease with which so many of the young guards at the camp – who were primarily drawn from the ranks of the Hitler Youth – had absolutely no qualm(s) whatsoever so far as being cruel beyond comprehension was concerned. Then again, like so many of their then German brethren, they themselves, lived both within and beneath an ideological shadow of torment and nigh total terror.
The only accepted/political way out of of which was to be seen to openly comply.
To be sure, never was the dictum: if you can’t beat them, join them, so readily adhered to; the unspeakably vile manifestation of which was the dreaded SS throughout Europe and the equally murderous Einsatzgruppen throughout the vast plains of Russia.
Yet, what’s really chilling, what really makes one’s skin crawl, is the horribly harrowing fact that both these groups were fundamentally made up of volunteers. A fractious facet of which, author Christopher Dillon, makes painstakingly clear in this book’s second chapter, ‘The Dachau Guard Troops’: ”The first point to emphasize is that the SS was a volunteer formation. This was fundamental to its collective psychology, patterns of authority and sense of historic mission. Voluntarism and idealism, highly prized concepts in the Third Reich, reached discursive apotheosis in its ranks. The SS located itself in a heroic European ancestry of soldier volunteers stretching back through Garibaldi and Lord Byron to the Wars of Liberation. In this nationalist tradition, the volunteer was associated with earnest patriotism, with disdain for material gain, and with an almost biblical willingness for sacrifice.”
Once again, it was this ‘biblical willingness for sacrifice,’ which was so indoctrinated amid so much of the populace of Nazi Germany, that, from a philosophically subliminal perspective at least, doesn’t even bear worth thinking about.
Each of this book’s six chapters (which are broken into dense, deducible segments) triggers a most contemplative residue of tortured thought: a template in political, murderous reckoning:
”The sociologist Erving Goffman argued that total institutions such as asylums, prisons, and concentration camps inherently create an advanced mindset. Their inmates are depersonalised and discursively pathologized merely by being in such an institution, while this devaluation generates a superior, even predatory, self-conception among the staff. It is customary for personnel in total institutions to communicate with inmates exclusively through shouting. The latter are organised into blocks and live under constant surveillance, ensuring that any infraction of the rules ‘is likely to stand out in relief against the visible, constantly examined compliance of the others.’ Infractions in turn bring the risk of physical sanctions from the staff, which can quickly escalate out of control in a process Goffman terms ‘looping.’ Here any conscious or instinctive act of self-defence on the part of the inmate might be construed both as a refusal to recognize the initial offence and as a wilful challenge to the authority of the perpetrator and, in turn, of the entire staff. This potentially brings the full force of institutional violence on to the victim […]. Looping brought the very real potential for death in Dachau, where guards enjoyed an untrammelled right to be capricious and were instructed to use their guns in the event of the slightest resistance.”
As stated on the book’s back cover: ”Dachau and the SS studies the concentration camp guards at Dachau, the first SS concentration camp and a national ‘school’ of violence for its concentration camp personnel. An international symbol of Nazi depredation, Dachau was the cradle of a new and terrible spirit of destruction.”
Perhaps we should take some kind of comfort from the fact that Dillon has (thankfully) taken the time to research this ”spirit of destruction.” Reason being, it might/it’ll hopefully enable us to embrace and understand the other end of that spectrum: the spirit of understanding.
Maybe even the spirit of love.