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Why did they spend money and effort to build the infrastructure and organization, collect, transport and house the prisoners while execution on the spot would presumably be easier and less costly? I'm trying to understand the history, no offense or Holocaust denial intended, I tried googling it, it seems that the purpose is to make the killing systematic, but what is the purpose of making it systematic while it seems to just making things complicated and more costly

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5 Answers 5

1) It's much easier to hide the killings if they occur at a remote camp rather than executing people on the spot. The latter would probably have meant a much higher chance of rebellion amongst the Jews, Roma and other people who were killed. Most of the people who were deported to the camps did not know they would be killed.

2) The manpower required is much less compared to executing on the spot. For executing you need lots and lots of soldiers. For the gas chambers, you only need one person to flip the switch.

3) Psychologically, it's easier on the people doing the killing.

That said, counting the number of Jews killed in extermination camps (see here) compared to the total numer of Jews killed, almost 3 million were not killed in extermination camps but via other means.

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Point 3) can also be extended to the general populace not involved in the war. –  apoorv020 May 27 '12 at 20:22
about manpower, wouldn't arresting and rounding up the prisoners require at least the same manpower as killing? Maybe shooting even needs less time then arresting (talking, making sure they really go, rounding up, etc.) –  collins May 28 '12 at 0:38
@collins: The thing is - if you wanted to hide killings, you had to commit the crime in a remote area. Thus the rounding up was necessary irrespective of the method of killing. The shooting method would require additional men on top of that. The rounding up could be done for instance using the in place police/secret police infrastructure. –  Opt May 28 '12 at 1:01
Were they also using the prisoners as cheap labour? –  Monster Truck May 29 '12 at 16:13
@Monster Truck: Yes but most of the people were executed immediately. Only a small number were kept around for forced labor. –  Opt May 29 '12 at 16:16

The purpose of to industrialize the mass execution of Jews and other "undesirables". Prior to creating the execution camps, the Nazis had executed considerable numbers of people "on the spot". This was a time consuming process not only for the actual execution but the sanitary disposal of bodies afterward. Considering that the regime was planning on executing between 12-15 million people, industrialization made sense.

Also, there was concern about the public reaction to performing the mass murder out in the open. By creating the convenient fiction that they were being sent to "relocation" camps, it allowed the German public to pretend not to notice what was really going on. Public outcry would be an even greater risk in occupied/allied nations like France, Romania and Hungary.

If you want to get some further info on it, read about the Wannsee Conference and watch the fairly accurate docu-drama Conspiracy that depicts this meeting.

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Goldhagen (Hitler's Willing Executioners), while drawing controversial conclusions, uses standard evidence. Goldhagen's evidentiary basis matches what I've read in Police Battalion studies, for example. So I am using Goldhagen as a handy, widely published, monographical account of modern German genocide studies.

The German genocide in Europe involved three significant components resulting in mass deaths: a) Actions b) Ghettos, concentration camps, extermination camps c) Death marches

In all instances, policy and execution evolved in relation to the concrete situation. Prior to 1941, the scale of the problem with excess undesirable populations was primarily limited to German controlled Poland. Poland had seen limited actions, but primarily saw population transfers into ghettos.

1941 and the invasion of the Soviet Union brought a new scale of problems into being. German war plans for the first year were to occupy everything West of the Leningrad, Moscow, Rostov-on-Don line. Some planning involved the use of forced extraction before winter to starve undesirable populations (all Slavs and Jews). They were highly fanciful plans.

The reality of the situation combined the use of rear area forces with specific anti-Jew and anti-Commissar actions (einsatzgruppen), with supplemental support from wehrmacht units and police battalion units to conduct primarily political pogroms. While there was a great deal of initial success in this method, the problems of excess undesirable population were compounded by Soviet POWs captured in large and increasing numbers. At the same time, the einsatzgruppen started showing signs of overwork, including extreme alcoholism and suicide. Alternatives to the action system were needed as "craft" style genocide was not sufficient for the planned goals.

While Soviet POW camps showed an extremely high mortality rate through deliberate neglect and starvation, this wasn't viewed as adequate. The Wannsee conference authorised the requirement that had already become apparent on the ground: a need for an industrial method of killing large numbers of human beings.

Killing was already systematic, that system of localised actions had become inefficient, and the system put in place mirrored on a larger scale the industrial and homicidal logic behind the mere concentration camps and the Soviet POW camps. As noted above, and in other posts, a significant volume of deaths occurred in late war death marches, or in continued actions or concentration camp starvation and disease deaths during the operation of extermination camps.

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the death marches were not an initial plan, they were the result of attempts to relocate KZ inmates rather than let them fall into the hands of the allies at the end of the war. When a camp was threatened, the prisoners were transported to another camp, usually on foot because all rail and road transport was needed for the army. –  jwenting Nov 14 at 7:15
I'm not an intentionalist relying on a "plan," "In all instances, policy and execution evolved in relation to the concrete situation." –  Samuel Russell Nov 14 at 9:32
yes, but the way you listed the marches, you gave the impression they were deliberately designed to kill people. Such things rarely are (not even the Bataan death march, the worst I know of) had killing people as its primary intent, and there it was more of an intent than in the relocation of KZ populations as the Japanese were in no real hurry to move those GIs, they could have just built a camp where they captured them. –  jwenting Nov 14 at 9:38

Originally they were tried to just shoot the people in the ghettos/prisons, but it was having a demoralising effect on their soliders. There's only so many times the average soilder can shoot people at point blank range and not suffer psycological consequences.

Hence they came up with the extermination camps. The "gas showers" thing was helpful for the Nazis because the people would strip off all their clothes themselves (rather than the soliders stripping the corpses).

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and don't forget that the gas chambers and crematoria were run by prisoners. The only thing the camp staff would do was control the toxic agent. –  jwenting Nov 14 at 7:16

I recall a line from the World at War, episode 20 in which a commander remarks that the method of execution on the spot was producing a German nation of brutes and that another means of [genocide] would be preferable.

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