Monday, November 4, 2013

Should you need your problems putting in perspective

Today I came across a document I translated back in the mid-2000s for someone running a Holocaust debate forum and had a read through it, and the quoted piece below filled me with as much horror as it did when I was translating it.  Quoted by Wilhem Pfannenstiel in his address "Modern War as a Master Teacher of Hygiene," given in January 1944.  Prof Pfannenstiel joined the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (the Nazis to you) in 1933 and founded the German Society for Racial Hygiene, so was probably not a great bloke to have a yarn with down the pub.  He rose to the rank of Standartenfuehrer in the SS and was involved with the Belzec concentration camp, neither of which apparently hindered him living to the ripe old age of 92 - nice work if you can get it, I guess. Here he is on the importance of hygiene in wartime:

“The catastrophe suffered by the 500,000-man strong army of Napoleon in Russia was completely sealed by disease.  Even during an advance featuring only one battle, four-fifths of the French fell, mostly the victims of disease.  There were plenty of supplies in Moscow, and the soldiers recovered again.  But as the remaining 80,000 men of the French Army withdrew along the infected supply routes following the burning of Moscow, they were almost completely wiped out by dysentery, typhus and spotted fever.  By Smolensk the number of those left behind with dysentery and typhus had risen to 15,000. In Vilnius at that time 55,000 deaths were counted in 6 months.”

The gathering of troops outside Leipzig brought new severe disease outbreaks.  A report from Reils to Freiherr von Stein described the terrible conditions, arising above all from the shortage of food and hospitals:

“Leipzig, October 1813.  Your Excellency asked me to report my findings on the state of the aid stations of the allied armies on this side of the Elbe to you…. In Leipzig I found about 20,000 wounded and sick soldiers from all nations.  The wildest imagination couldn’t create a picture of woe in such bold colours as I found here in reality before me… The wounded men lie either in dark holes in which even amphibians wouldn’t get enough oxygen, or in windowless schools and high-vaulted churches, in which the chill of the atmosphere grows as fast as their corruption diminishes.

They lie in these places like sardines in a tin, all still in the bloody wrappings in which they were brought from the heat of battle.  Of 20,000 wounded, not a single one has received a shirt, sheet, blanket, straw mattress or bed.  …Those wounded who are unable to stand must defecate and urinate where they lie, and rot in their own filth.  Tubs are set out for the use of those that can walk, but these overflow to all sides because they aren’t taken away and emptied.  In the Petristrasse, one of these barrels stood next to another barrel just like it, which had the just-delivered midday soup in it.  This placing together of food with human waste must necessarily arouse such nausea as only the grimmest hunger can manage to overcome.  The most gruesome spectacle of this kind was offered by the Gewandhaus.  The entrance featured a row of these overflowing barrels, with their unpleasant contents slopping down the stairs.  It proved impossible to penetrate this cascade and enter the building from the street…

I close my report with the grisliest spectacle, one that chilled my limbs and paralysed my senses.  I found in the open yard of the Buergerschule a mountain made of rubbish and corpses of my countrymen, lying naked and eaten by dogs and rats, as though they were evildoers and murderers."

Pfannenstiel adds:

We shouldn’t try to hide the fact that in this current war on the enemy side, eg in the hell that we made for the Poles in the encirclement at Kutno, the conditions in the Polish first aid stations weren’t much different.  

He doesn't dare mention, of course, that a number of times already during that current war, similar conditions had been inflicted by the enemy on his own side - there's a lot to be said for not starting wars in the first place...

1 comment:

ZenTiger said...

Thanks. A gruesome reminder of the horrors of war.