chapter  4
14 Pages

Morality Plays: Presentations of Criminality and Disease in Nazi Ghettos and Concentration Camps


It may be argued that there was a symbiotic relationship between these sorts of antisemitic prejudice, which were given a quasi-scientifi c caste. Many Nazis were true believers in the myths tying Jews with disease and Jews with criminality. Yet numerous specialists, bureaucrats, and those in the rank and fi le were aware of these accusations as a sham. Nevertheless, such charges became self-fulfi lling prophecies that mutually reinforced each other, especially in the Nazi ghettos and concentration camps. Jews did turn to crime and became dependent on breaking the law for their sustenance-because the Nazis created an environment where this was the only means to survive. And Jews did contract infectious disease-because the Nazis manufactured bizarre conditions that radically fostered ill health, contagion, and mass death. Attention to Jews as perceived principal carriers of disease and crime complements recent interpretations of Nazism by scholars such as Peter Fritzsche and Jeff rey Herf. Fritzsche argues that

the Nazi insistence on understanding their struggle with Jewry as a matter of “life or death” for individual Germans and the Reich was a much greater force of cohesiveness in National Socialism than scholars have previously assumed.2 Herf, in surveying a vastly diff erent body of evidence, convincingly demonstrates that antisemitic propaganda against “the Jewish Enemy” was fundamental to the trajectory of Nazi policy and rationalization for their acts that extended well beyond the “Final Solution.”3