Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods


Hitler's Manifest Pathology

Wannsee House (CORBIS)
Wannsee House (CORBIS)

The setting was the luxurious Wannsee House in a stylish neighborhood just outside Berlin. Expensive china adorned the linen-covered tables and liveried servants waited to serve the finest wine to the arriving guests. In the kitchen, a chef prepared an exquisite buffet lunch. Everything had to be perfect.

One by one, the cars and limousines pulled up and let out their VIPs. One by one, the men came into the great hall to give up their coats to butlers, attempting to anticipate what was in store.

Reinhard Heydrich (CORBIS)
Reinhard Heydrich

It was a cold winter morning, January 20, 1942. The chief of the Third Reich's security services, Reinhard Heydrich, had called the conference. 15 of the highest-ranking technocrats were to discuss "the Final Solution," including Adolph Eichmann, Friedrich Krizinger, and Dr. Wilhelm Stuckart. While the plan to disenfranchise the Jews throughout Europe was already underway, with exterminations carried out in various places, it was time for greater efficiency. There were so many to be rid ofstill 11 millionand it needed to be done more quickly.

The meeting took place around a conference table next to the room where an elegant lunch was to be served. It was brief, lasting just over an hour. There was to be no record of certain things that were said but in fact one person kept his notes, and it was from those notes that the world learned about the cold, rational argument, met with general enthusiasm around the conference table, that resulted in the extermination of millions of people.

Heydrich worked to erase the general substance of the meeting by rewriting the notes in neutral language, but once decoded, the gist was clear: These men were there to approve the use of death camps, gas chambers, and crematoriums. To this point, the shootings and gas vans used by mobile killing squads had proven inefficient and were stressful to those carrying out orders. The solution was to utilize more "work camps," where people would die from "natural causes."

Speaking with one another in "amtssprache"office talk meant to make others do what they're supposed to dothey acted as if they were merely part of a large machine at work and they were simply there to ensure that it continued to run. No one was responsible for its initiation, only for its maintenance and increased speed. They had a job to do and they were to do it without question. The final solution was to be managed with precision and economy. It was company policy. Orders. The law.

Later during his trial in Israel, Adolph Eichmann, who had prepared Heydrich's speech that day, was asked about the Wannsee conference. He said that the reason for it was Heydrich's attempt to extend his scope of influence by imprinting his will on the others. To help him accomplish this goal, Eichmann was to make a general survey of the "operations" thus far on the question of Jewish "emigration," with specific attention paid to the difficulties. To step up the operations, these difficulties had to be resolved.

Nuremburg Trial defendants listening to testimony concerning the Wannsee conference (CORBIS)
Nuremburg Trial defendants listening to
testimony concerning the Wannsee con-

The suggestion was to stop allowing Jews to just leave, which only increased the ranks of the enemy, and to send many more Jews "east"meaning to the concentration camps. There the able-bodied men were to be forced into a program known as "Vernichtung durch Arbeit," or "extermination via work." They would simply die from attrition but first make whatever contribution they could manage. Others who could not work were simply killed. Heydrich proposed a specific means of "liquidation" and offered a prepared report on how many people they could expect to "remove" in a specified amount of time. They now had a clear agenda and each man there had his part to play.

Adolph Eichmann (CORBIS)
Adolph Eichmann

Eichmann described an atmosphere of agreement and enthusiasm. All parties present wanted to participate, even those men who were generally hesitant and reserved. When asked whether it was difficult for him to participate in sending so many people to their deaths, Eichmann responded, "To tell you the truth, it was easy. Our language made it easy."


Adolph Hitler (CORBIS)
Adolph Hitler

In part, Hitler's program was aided by superstitious beliefs that evolved into an obsession with the occult. The Ahnenerbe, an arm of the SS commissioned in the mid-1930s to research the ancestral heritage of the Aryan race, roamed far and wide to find proof that only one race was meant to rule the world and that the Nazi vision of purification and world domination was supported by mythic forces. They were to provide scientific documentation that would unite their ancient past with their destiny. Heinrich Himmler saw the men in his army as the reincarnation of Teutonic knights and kings, in particular the knights of King Arthur's round table. He designed Wewelsburg Castle to be their Camelot, but Peter Levendra in The Unholy Alliance dubbed it that Satanic Vatican.

Heinrich Himmler (CORBIS)
Heinrich Himmler

In the quest to establish a new world order, Himmler sent his men out to find the Holy Grail and bring it back to the castlenow viewed as the center of the world. The Holy Grail was the chalice from which Christ drank wine during the Last Supper. Supposedly Joseph of Arimathea confiscated it and then used it to collect blood from Christ's wound as he hung on the cross. Joseph then took the cup to England to hide it in a secret placeAvalonand it became the ambition of King Arthur's knights to find it and make it the center of their enterprise.

On one floor of Wewelsburg Castle was a dark mosaic star that marked this center and over which occult rituals were performed by 12 Nazi officers to channel the spirits of the deceased kings. Whenever one of these officers died, his ashes were buried in the floor as a saintly relic.

With the idea that blessings from Christ himself enveloped them, the Nazis felt justified to go on a massive killing spree against those who "contaminated" them. Theirs was a holy mission and nothing they could do in its service was wrong. What the world in retrospect deemed as one of the greatest evils perpetrated by human beings was viewed by those involved as divine path that could not be denied. Killing those they deemed inferior was necessary to achieve the ultimate glory of the purification of the planet.


Dr. Josef Mengele (CORBIS)
Dr. Josef Mengele

horrific vision, most notably Auschwitz's Angel of Death, Josef Mengele. A leader in the Nazi biomedical vision, he thrived on experiments with genetic abnormalities. Arriving in Auschwitz on May 30, 1943, he took charge of the "selections" process. He'd show up at the prisoner transports looking quite elegant and at a glance would decide each person's destiny. He sent anyone with an imperfection to the gas chamber and singled others out for work or for his nefarious experiments.

Mengele enjoyed his powerful position. To uphold the Nazi ideal of racial purification was his driving motivation. Yet no one quite knew what to expect from him. Even as he separated families and killed with impunity, he might step into the role of concerned physician or whimsically allow some people to live.

In his desire to improve the efficiency of the camp as a killing machine, he taught other doctors how to give phenol injections to a long line of prisoners, quickly ending their lives. He also shot people, and by some reports he tossed live babies into the crematoria. Throughout all of this, he kept a detached, efficient demeanor and viewed himself as a "scientist."

Auschwitz concentration camp (CORBIS)
Auschwitz concentration camp

Mengele's great passion was his research on twins. They were weighed, measured, and compared in every way. Some he would kill for pathological examinations, dissecting a few and keeping parts preserved. Others he might operate on without anesthesia, removing limbs or sexual organs. If one twin died during these experiments, the other was no longer of use, so he or she was simply gassed.

Yet even as he targeted them for mutilation or death, he'd play with them and show great affection. He even gave them a ride in his car on their way to the gas chamber. Afterward, he might walk around with their heads or pin their eyes to a bulletin board.

While the evil perpetrated by men under Hitler's regime might be "justified" within an ideology, there's no doubt that the license to maim and kill was a delightful opportunity to some like Mengele. Let's look at how some people find the notion of harming another person titillating.

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