Total institutions as instruments of genocide in total war

1. The roots of evil

Anti-Semitism was not a novel experience in German life. Weber, for instance, encountered it in his support of the academic careers of friends such as Simmel.

Higgins (2004: 89) suggests that the Prussian elite had constructed the German project of modernity exclusively in terms of an ethnic nationalism. It was a nation- alism that demanded its own strangers, outsiders, and enemies to be viable, a role which Jews had been playing for centuries. They were shortly to be cast the starring role in the horror that fascism was to orchestrate. And orchestrate is an apt verb. The Nazi state was a despotism that relied on stage management, propaganda, and spectacle as its major organizational devices for creating unity, coherence, and support to eliminate not only Jewish people but also polyphony more generally.

The Third Reich was a state developed on the basis of power and myth. Power came from National Socialist command of the state apparatuses after 1933. German history provided the myth it orchestrated. The myth was that of the German Volk and its supremacy, which provided ‘values and meaning and ideas and plans and stratagems and alternative forms of social organization … an over- simplified representation of a more complex reality’ (Bailey 1977: 7). It created a mythical cosmos that deified the human and demonized the barely human, those others whose not-being defined being German (see Zeraffa 1976: 77 on ‘myth’). The signifier of the myth, the ascendant Reich, presented itself as belonging to a history of the German people. In this way its meaning was already complete and projected into the future; it postulated a past, a memory, and a comparative ordering of facts, ideas and decisions, a destiny denied, most notably by the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, but insistent (Barthes 1984). When this destiny assumed a form that cap- tured the state, it rapidly adopted caricature, pastiche, and elaborate stage managed symbols that did ‘away with all dialectics, with any going back beyond what is immediately visible … a world which is without contradictions because it is with- out depth, a world wide open … wallowing in the evident’ (from Mythologies).8

The consequences of authoritarian populism and aborted modernization meeting the naturalized myth of the Volk were alarming. The defeat of the First World War aborted German nationalism. Nationalism had been achieved and imposed from above by elites, positioning the German nation as a people of manifest destiny, which the First World War stopped in its tracks. When it was revived by Hitler the Nazis changed the nationalist project from one that was defined by elites to one that was to be defined in more popular ways. It became a popular project in a context where, after the collapse of the Weimar Republic, there were few state or civil society resources and few national or civic sources of moral values, education, or authority outside of the National Socialist Party. Moreover, there was little in the way of ‘constitutionalism, the rule of law, democracy, civil society, the institutions to negotiate cultural and racial diversity … There was nothing to prevent the normalization of discrimination and oppression’ (Higgins 2004: 90). The project of normalization fused several rationalities, not just the rationality of modernity as Bauman (1989) sees it, but also elements that in themselves were hardly remark- able, as they could be found in comparable polities elsewhere. The Swedish social democrats of the inter-war period, for instance, were as keen on eugenic projects and no less statist. However, what the Nazis had in addition was a much stronger degree of racism and a very clear sense of the other through which to define their German self, using the category of the Jew. Moreover, at the level of micro-politics, the Nazis sought to implement their myths – based on blood, race and territory – in all the spheres of everyday life, such as the family, the youth group, and the neighborhood, through capillaries of power such as the Hitler Youth (see Rose 1999: 25–6).

2. The Final Solution

It was sometime between the June 1941 offensive against the Soviet Union and January 1942 that the decision was made to exterminate the Jews of Europe (see Mosse 1978), although something of the idea was already evident in speeches by Hitler in 1919 and in Mein Kampf (1924). It was not a sudden decision. The pressure against the Jews built up steam after the Nazis came to power on January 30, 1933. Judicial harassment intensified in the period leading up to war with ‘bans on employment, on practicing professions, on owning a car or a phone, on going to the theater, on marrying or having sexual relations with gentiles’ (Higgins 2004: 86). At the same time, various options were sought to deal with the Jewish Question, including forced resettlement, with Madagascar being suggested as a destination. Once extermination was adopted as an end the top management team concen- trated on the project, with the rule of anticipated reaction mobilizing management sentiment. As Higgins notes, in the disorderly and crony-ridden world of Nazi pol- itics, much as in any organization where to succeed means impressing the boss, senior Nazis who were ‘rivals tried to outshine each other in Hitler’s eyes through their bold initiatives in carrying out what they often had to second-guess as his intentions. Massacring the Jews in one’s jurisdiction offered a sure-fire way to impress the boss. Once one crony hit on it the rest followed suit’ (2004: 87).

It is not clear who decided that extermination was the appropriate solution, or when they decided. It was certainly the case that it was formally communicated to the top management team of the Nazi project who met on January 20, 1942, in Wannsee, to plan the extermination of Europe’s Jews. Adolf Eichmann, one of Hitler’s deputies and the Head of the Department for Jewish Affairs, was chosen to orga- nize the Holocaust. He led the Reich’s effort for the Final Solution, efficiently orga- nizing the roundup and transportation of millions of Jews to their deaths at infamous camps such as Auschwitz.9 Two-thirds of all victims were liquidated in just 18 months, from June 22, 1941 to December 31, 1942, according to the Third Reich’s chief statistician, Richard Koherr (Higgins 2004: 98).

Six million bodies disappeared from the face of the earth as a result of the Holocaust, including one and half million children. The ultimate goal would have seen the extermination of 11 million Jews; the war’s end saw about 50 percent of the target achieved, given that the 6 million also included other categories consti- tuted as deviant, such as the feeble, homosexuals, communists, gypsies and so on. By any calculus the efficient dispatch of millions of state-stigmatized people to their deaths by the German state during the Second World War was an enormous organizational achievement.10 Indeed, Rose suggests that the actual power of Nazism ‘was its capacity to render itself technical, to connect itself up with all manner of technologies capable of implementing its nightmarish dreams into everyday existence’ (1999: 26) There were quite specific rationalities – techniques, one might say – behind the technologies. We shall now turn to these.

3. Identity and power

The project of fascism entailed an ongoing construction of an organizational politics of identity and non-identity.11 Identities were established through the use of various stigmatizing ‘membership categorization devices’ (Sudnow 1972; Sacks 1992).12 There was no need for any subtlety in interpreting the Nazis’ use of membership categoriza- tion devices. Terms such as ‘Jews’, ‘gypsies’, ‘homosexuals’, and ‘the feeble’, which the Nazis used, needed no inferential reasoning. They were not ‘natural’ categories but were produced by a vast organizational apparatus to appear naturalized. A fundamen- tal organizational condition of the Holocaust was the identification of individuals as members of specific categories, and the marking of their membership categorization with devices. In the case of Jews, these were the distinctive markers that all those who were defined as Jews were obliged to wear; in Germany the yellow star, in the Warsaw ghetto a white band with a blue star.13 Businesses were also marked: during the boy- cott upon Jewish stores that the Nazis declared on April 1, 1933, yellow Stars of David were painted on windows. These markers of identity singled out those who were des- tined for special categorization and total institutionalization, entailing concentration of clearly inscribed identities in specific spaces, initially in ghettos such as that in Warsaw, and latterly their spatial segregation in camps.14 Confined, segregated, and marked, they were much easier to control. The orderly and efficient marshalling of bodies was required. These bodies were transported across Europe in cattle-trucks and efficiently scheduled as inputs into the death camps. If the trains had not run on time, the points not been set up correctly, the machinery of death would have been interrupted. One historian, Goldhagen (1996), argues that the order and efficiency depended on hun- dreds and thousands of small acts of organized goal orientation by civilian German citizens and collaborators in the occupied territories.15

4. Expert knowledge

When the trains arrived at the camp, doctors made a ‘selection’ using expert knowl- edge to decide which of the new arrivals were fit to be worked to death. Life for the slave laborers was often unbearable and many would die of overwork, starvation and disease. Less than 10 percent were chosen to be slave laborers; most were dispatched straight to the ‘showers’, after first disrobing. Those who were selected for the gas chambers had all markers of identity removed, by being stripped and shorn, and having personal items such as jewelry taken. Such denial and degradation of identity is typical of total institutional practice, even if extermination is not.

Efficient power means that systematic attention has to be paid to its means. By 1944, when the Jews from Hungary were deported to Auschwitz, the death factory was unable to absorb the mass numbers. It was estimated that in the spring of 1944, 46,000 Jews were killed in one day. Such efficiency requires a dedicated organiza- tional apparatus. Crude organizational technologies assisted in this huge project. The Hollerith machine was used ‘to track the Jewish populations and accumulate information regarding the “success” of the Genocide’ (Leventhal 1995). The machine was ‘a primitive calculating engine and precursor of the modern computer devel- oped by the statistician and census taker, Herman Hollerith’, and manufactured by the IBM subsidiary Deutsche Hollerith Maschinen Gesellschaft (DEHOMAG) (Leventhal 1995).

The destruction of those collected and defined in their identity as Jews and other stigmatized categories would not have been possible without application of an intrinsically instrumental and value-free science. It is, of course, this kind of science that lies behind the conception of the organization as an open system. It is this abstraction that enables one to conjure up an organization science in which the specificities and particularities of concrete practices can be reduced to the mecha- nism of variation, selection and retention, the resolution of equivocality in an open system fed by inputs, organized around a central workflow that defines the throughput, producing outputs. The inputs were live bodies; the transformation process one of chemically induced death; the outputs corpses with the value stripped out of them. An efficient total institution premised on the efficient transfor- mation of its raw material inputs required a factory system for its flows of power, with efficiencies of scale in processing inputs and creating outputs, that could, literally, reduce something to nothing (Ritzer 2004), people to ashes, dust and detritus. In so doing it not only created efficiencies but also destroyed futures by dividing soci- eties, families, friends, communities, workers, creating a vacuum where the foun- dational identity of generations yet unborn should have made its mark, inducing guilt and shame about surviving for those that remained.

5. Achieving efficiencies

Bauman referred to Feingold’s (1983: 399–400) argument to establish that Auschwitz was an extension of the value rationality of the modern factory system:

Rather than producing goods, the raw material was human beings and the end-product was death, so many units per day marked carefully on the manager’s production charts. The chimneys, the very symbol of the modern factory system, poured forth acrid smoke produced by burning human flesh. The brilliantly organized railroad grid of modern Europe carried a new kind of raw material to the factories. It did so in the same manner as with other cargo. In the gas chambers the victims inhaled noxious gas gener- ated by prussic acid pellets, which were produced by the advanced chemical industry of Germany. Engineers designed the crematoria; managers designed the system of bureau- cracy that worked with a zest and efficiency more backward nations would envy. Even the overall plan itself was a reflection of the modern scientific sprit gone awry. (1989: 8)

In the early stages, bullets delivered death, but these were needed for the front line. Anyway, they were slow and inefficient; it would have taken hundreds of years to shoot every Jew in Europe. Initially, there were many concentration camps, in which death was an incidental cost of confinement in horrific conditions, while originally there were only four death camps (Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibór and Treblinka, which were all in rural Poland). These resembled a cottage industry of killing compared to the two conglomerates (combining slave labor with extermination) that the Nazis established, Majdanek and Auschwitz, of which Auschwitz was the larger and more developed. In pursuit of their key performance indicator, the extermination of the

Jews, the Nazis organized for economies of scale. Estimates are that 1,500,000 people, most of whom were Jews, died at Auschwitz. Others who died at Auschwitz included Soviet prisoners of war, gypsies or Roma, Poles, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, and political opponents of the Nazi regime.

Auschwitz was designed so that two transports per day, each with 6,000 Jews, could be ‘processed’. These 12,000 Jews would have their heads shaved and their clothing collected and stored, and would be gassed and cremated, all within a 24-hour period. Within 24 hours, all traces of their bodily existence were obliterated from the face of the earth, apart from their hair, skin, gold fillings, prosthetics, dentures and anything else that could be recycled, because, short of a budget for the killing machine, a user-pays philosophy prevailed as the victims funded their own deaths through their corpses being made a source of value. The SS ran profitable industries dealing in what it recycled from the dead and produced through slave labor. It also got kickbacks from Krupp, Volkswagen and IG Farben, amongst others, for the labor it supplied (Leventhal 1995; see also Borkin 1978; Hayes 1991). And there were willing accomplices in power networks elsewhere. Vincent (1997) demonstrates how the Nazis were able to use the secrecy associated with Swiss banking to bank the assets realized (also see Bower 1997; Levin 1999). These were not isolated crimes by a few evil people but required considerable networks of expertise and involvement (Raab 2003). In this way, the Holocaust can be seen as a bureaucratic regime of power with many capillaries and considerable expertise in its service.

On the whole, the process that was adopted was a simple system of mass destruc- tion, of flows, throughputs, and outputs. It wasn’t designed like this from the outset. The Auschwitz complex included three main camps and 39 smaller camps, 40 miles southwest of Krakow. As Higgins (2004: 133) tells it, Auschwitz grew from a bar- racks left over from the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, which was initially equipped with a small gas chamber and crematorium. Innovation was concentrated on Auschwitz II, a satellite camp adjacent to the village of Birkenau. Most of the 1.5 million were killed at Auschwitz–Birkenau, the second of the main camps. It was here that the railway ran right into the camp, beneath the sign reading ‘Work makes us free’ (Arbeit macht frei). Initially, it too was run on pre-industrial lines. There was a 30 meter run from the undressing sheds to the gas chambers and the corpses were bundled into pits and burnt after dispatch. However, in March 1943 a modernized, integrated high-capacity infrastructure was established as a greenfield development, with four separate plants, each with its own crematorium and gas chamber. Here is how Higgins describes the setup in his Journey into darkness:

 The new underground undressing room, disguised as a disinfecting station, measured 30 by eight meters in each of the larger two factories. Deceit was essential to the factory’s orderly throughput … Few Germans were to be seen, as the SS believed in the progressive virtues of self-management (Selbstverwaltung). From the undressing room the Sonderkommando [trusted inmates] ushered the naked victims into the adjacent gas chamber disguised as a shower room. It had the same dimensions as the undressing room and a two and a half meter high ceiling. Usually around 2,500 people were packed in at a time. Cramming them in like this quickly brought the temperature in the chamber up to body heat, the optimum temperature to evaporate the Zyklon B pellets into gas …

Only German personnel could throw in the gas pellets. Death came painfully, on average after 10 minutes, given an adequate gas supply. The gas chambers were equipped with peep holes so the Germans could check on the process. Sometimes they amused themselves by putting in too little gas which prolonged the death agonies of the victims. Not a single person came out of a gassing alive.

Around thirty minutes after the introduction of the gas the Sonderkommando opened the doors of the gas chamber opposite the entrance and began the backbreak- ing task of lugging the corpses to the electrical lift. Their SS supervisors forced them to work at a furious tempo. The ‘dentist’ removed gold teeth, and the women’s hair was cut off and collected. Mucus, urine, excreta, and menstrual blood covered the corpses, making them slippery and hard to handle. Each lift took between ten and twelve piled- up corpses to the ground floor, where they had to be dragged to the hatches of the 15 crematorium ovens.

The new crematoria represented another technological breakthrough in that they centralized combustion: three ovens shared the same energy source. They used minimal amounts of precious coke and mainly ran on human fat. A prominent German manu- facturer of crematoria plant, Topf and Söhne, successfully tendered for the project, and custom-designed and built the new crematoria. (Like IG Farben, their business flour- ishes to this day in Germany.) The ovens operated at temperatures between 800 and 1,200 °C. The high operating temperatures meant Topf and Söhne’s engineers had to make twelve service calls during the facility’s working life. Within 40–45 minutes the ovens reduced the corpses to ash and bone fragments, which found their way into the nearby Vistula River, Even in this respect, the German designers stuck to good indus- trial tradition, dumping the tailings in the nearest waterway. (2004: 134)

The actual chemical agent of death, Zyklon B, was initially used as an insecticide (for delousing clothing) in the First World War but was subsequently developed as an agent for human extermination during the Second by the German chemical multinational IG Farben. Many experiments and refinements were involved, with great scientific rationality being devoted to the topic of extermination by chemists and their co-workers over several years, to establish the appropriate level of concen- tration, temperature, and time of application to suit the new purpose (Dworkf and van Peltz 1996). The gas was a cheap means of destruction: that was its attraction for the economic rationalists running the camps. Other economic efficiencies of the day involved practicing sustainable recycling for profits, minimizing service intervals to contain running costs, and externalizing the costs of side products, such as tailings. The management was exemplary in its technical and economic efficiency. As a business it used the best practice principles of its day.

6. An open system

The death camps were a simple open system in which the inputs were living bodies that were subject to an initial selection, variation and retention. Those selected were gassed and burnt, although at times of peak throughput, those who could not be accommodated in the gas chambers and crematoria were shot and burned in mass pits in the grounds of Birkenau. Variation was simple as those able-bodied enough were retained and worked until death. The outputs were the elimination of the great uncertainty that stalked Nazi Europe, seen as the possibility of contagion of Aryan purity by Jewish bodies. The equivocality was resolved by the death of the contagious bodies.

How was such a system possible? First, it was highly authorized: the highest authority sanctioned this organizational action. That a strong leader tells followers to do things, management scholars might think, could be a good reason actually to do them, because they are the leader and their will is usually fulfilled. A strong leader is assumed to have good reasons, so the person follows in good faith. In addition, the leader commands a mighty organizational apparatus, which, in this case, had a monopoly over the means of violence. Eichmann’s commitment to Hitler as a strong authority figure shaped his behavior. The SS themselves were an authoritative elite; most ‘of the leaders of the Einsatzgruppen, the mass-shooting squads who murdered up to a third of all the Holocaust victims, held PhDs or Doctors of Laws. They were the principal bearers of German civilization, not low-lifers, misfits or retards’ (Higgins 2004: 98). Many careers were advanced in academia, science, philosophy, economics, genetics, geography, education, social work, and history in the service of the Holocaust. And their authority and actions were minutely documented in memoranda, data, statistics, and reports.

Second, it was highly routinized. Routines eliminate the need or the space for reflection. When actions that enact the organizational action in question are rou- tinized, the acts in question become easier to enact. Routine is important because it facilitates action without reflection (and responsibility), as an automatic response to a stimulus. Individuals become merely a cog in the big machinery that turns them around. One sees only a small part of the whole organizational machinery when accomplishing a task; one cannot see where and how the task fits into the big picture, nor can one see its consequences as an outcome of the task or organization. This may seem an absurd point – for are not all modern organizations premised on routines and routinization? The point is not that this, on its own, makes horror possible, but that in the appropriate context it can do so when other conditions are present. Routinization, we might say, is a necessary but not a sufficient condition. For instance, Reserve Police Battalion 101, comprising 500 middle-aged reservists who were active in Poland, was engaged in the task of shooting defenseless civil- ians. They ‘ended up murdering 38,000 individuals and consigning another 44,200 to the maw of the Treblinka death camp. 500 ordinary men with a combined body count of 83,000 civilians … as it carried out more massacres, the majority of the men fell into a matter-of-fact routine, whilst a minority began to enjoy their work, embellishing it with gratuitous humiliation of and cruelty towards their victims’ (Higgins 2004: 100).

Third, in exercising total institutional power it is much easier to act with extreme prejudice towards those who are the victims of the action, or the subjects of power, when they are dehumanized. When ideological definitions and indoctrination con- vince organizational members that the victims are less than human, it creates dis- tance between organizational members and the people who are affected by the action, and the human costs can be borne with greater equanimity as a necessary cost of a greater good – progress, the state, the party or whatever it takes to still the conscience. Representing victims as numbers rather than people also makes it easier to forget the ethical consequences of actions. A generalized condition of organizational modernity is that only what can be counted counts (Power 1997; Brunsson et al. 2000). In Spielberg’s (1993) film, it is when Oscar Schindler spots a little girl in a bright red coat amidst the black and white and drab colors of those being rounded up, when her individual humanity shines out to him in all its bright luminosity, that he ceases to be a bystander (Higgins 2004: 94–5). He sees an individual amidst the mass, something that organizational modernity discourages. When actions are performed at a distance on people defined as administrative categories, the people are effectively dehumanized (Kelman 1973). The more dehu- manized they are, the easier becomes the application of pure technique to their cases. Dehumanization involves the production of others whose most characteris- tic feature is their otherness, their being different in essence from those who con- stitute them as such, as outside a space in which there exists a shared moral scope. The novelist Ian McEwan notes that the ‘trick, as always, the key to human success and domination, is to be selective in your mercies. For all the discerning talk, it’s the close at hand, the visible that exerts the overpowering force’ (2005: 127, our empha- sis). Those whom one sees as essentially similar to oneself, as sharing in a common being and meaning, are that much harder to destroy. What you don’t see or can’t recognize as someone who is just like you needn’t bother you. What you can keep at arm’s length outside your intimate fold of humanity is easier to defile. There is a poem that indicates this well:

They came for the communists, and I did not speak up because I wasn’t a communist; They came for the socialists, and I did not speak up because I was not a socialist;

They came for the union leaders, and I did not speak up because I wasn’t a union leader; They came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak up for me. (Martin Niemöller 1892–1984)16

When the subjective can be reduced to the objective, when the qualitative can be represented quantitatively as a bottom-line calculation, it is so much easier to make rational decisions (cut costs, trim fat, speed throughput, increase efficiency, defeat the competition) without concern for the human, environmental, or social effects of these decisions. Again, it goes back to the value-free basis of management sci- ence. If one is cutting costs to become more efficient it is much easier, morally, to represent these costs abstractly rather than to have to deal with them personally (Moore 1989/2003).

Note that in this framework of total institutional power there has, as yet, been no mention of resistance. Where there was such resistance it often occurred in indi- vidual rather than collective terms through acts of self-annihilation by ultimate gestures of existential choice that refused total power its routinized predictability. Organizationally, it is extremely difficult to outflank a total institution from within its strategies of totalization. Control of the organizational apparatus, routinization of power in many small acts, extensive division and dehumanization, and respon- sible, regulated violence are hard to overcome when one is incorporated in the total institution, especially without recourse to any countervailing institutional powers, such as a system of rank and command. It is, perhaps, for this reason that the literature of total institutions so often celebrates the small acts of individual resistance that do occur, because there is so little chance of organized resistance as access to organizational means is so limited.17

Figure 6.1 Total institutional power

Analytically, the diagram of power that maps how such a total institution func- tions may be thought of in the terms of Figure 6.1.

7. Resisting the Final Solution

On average, two-thirds of the Jews in German-controlled territory during the Second World War did not survive (Seibel 2002), but there was significant territo- rial variance. That it is an essential sense of a shared humanity that enables survival from horrors that wait unleashing may also be seen in the Danish case, which offers a strong counterfactual. The Danish resistance movement, assisted by many ordi- nary citizens, coordinated the flight of some 7,200 Jews to safety in nearby neutral Sweden, suggesting that it was indeed many small acts of omission and commis- sion that were important in enacting the Holocaust. On September 11, 1943, the man in charge of the German occupation in Denmark told his head of shipping operations, Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz, of plans to round up all of the approximately 8,000 Jews in Denmark and transport them to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. A week later Duckwitz was given more details. Ships would arrive on September 29 and a coordinated lightning raid would occur on the night of October 1. On September 25, Duckwitz flew to Sweden and met with the Swedish prime minister to ask him to help save Danish Jewry. The prime minister sent a telegram to Berlin offering to accept all of the Danish Jews if Germany would agree to let them go. Duckwitz returned to Denmark and waited for news. When none came, he assumed the Germans had ignored the Swedish request. On September 28 he looked up his friend, Hans Hedtoft (who became prime minister after the war) and told him of the plan. Hedtoft and three of his friends set out to warn as many as possible. One of the first he spoke to was the head of the Jewish community in Copenhagen, who in disbelief first accused him of lying (German officials had con- vincingly denied earlier rumors of the raid). When Copenhagen Jews came to prayers on Wednesday morning September 29, they were told there would be no services that morning or on Rosh Hashanah, which was to begin that evening. Instead they were to spread the word of the raid and go into hiding. Christian Danes told their Jewish friends and neighbors. Some even looked through the phone book for Jewish sounding names to call and warn.

When the Nazis carried out their raids on the night of October 1, they found fewer than 300 of the 8,000 Jews. Eventually they rounded up only 475 Jews who were sent to Theresienstadt. The others had gone into hiding. Within the month of October, fishermen had been recruited to transport them to Sweden (which had broadcast its willingness to provide sanctuary after Niels Bohr had convinced it to act publicly); money had been raised to pay fishermen for the risks they took; Jews were moved from their hiding places to new hiding places near the ports and beaches used to transport them; Danish police were recruited to keep others, including the Germans, away; and the Jews were ferried to Sweden. One tally was that 5,919 Jews, 1,301 half-Jews, and 686 Christians married to Jews (a total of 7,906) were successfully transported to safety. A tally of Jewish Holocaust victims in Denmark said only 30 had died while en route to Sweden, another 30 commit- ted suicide, and only 51 of the 475 sent to Theresienstadt did not survive. (The Danes maintained constant contact with Nazi officials about the fate of the Jews shipped to Theresienstadt.) The toll among the Danish Jewish population was slightly more than 1 percent, which was a remarkable record. Thanks to this extra- ordinary mass rescue effort, at war’s end Denmark had one of the highest Jewish survival rates for any European country.18 In some other European countries, such as Lithuania and Latvia, non-survival was over 90 percent. In these countries, it was hardly a question of the local populations overlooking the Holocaust; rather they actively furthered it. There are reports of German troops being shocked by the cruelty shown by the local population to the Jews who lived there.

No other country came close to the Danish percentage of survivors. Here, the active engagement of the people as a whole in resisting the Final Solution made an enormous difference, one that could have occurred elsewhere but did not. Thus, we may draw a further implication, that power needs to delegate authorities to dispatch its projects, without which it can be deflected, even in total institutional situations.19

8. Organization overcoming humanity

The most effective way of overcoming humanity is to treat those categories of person with which one will deal harshly as in some respects not fully, wholly or essentially human in the way that normal, well-formed people like us can be taken to be. Make them the other. Such sleights in casting identity enable one to main- tain distance. There are many ways of maintaining distance. One technique, of course, is through physical separation and isolation. The constant trains and fumes from the furnaces perhaps occasionally perturbed ordinary Polish citizens going about their everyday life, yet nonetheless they remained separate from the camps, which were a spatially confined zone. Technique enables distantiation. When we master a technique, even when it comprises methods of brutal interro- gation, intimidation or torture, the skill in the technique has its own charm, aes- thetics, and beauty, such that technicians can take sheer delight in using it, irrespective of its moral effects:

Technical responsibility differs from moral responsibility in that it forgets that the action is a means to something other than itself … the result is the irrelevance of moral standards for the technical success of the bureaucratic operation. (Bauman 1989: 101, italics in original)

Divisions of labor in complex chains of power enable elites to maintain distance from power’s effects. Where these effects can be represented in terms of intermedi- ary forms of data (kill rates, efficiency statistics, and so on) it also helps. Whatever may be our small labor input, it moves minute cogs in a bureaucratic machine nec- essarily intermeshed with so many others that we are just one small element in the overall scheme of things. We don’t even have to try to understand the totality. And if perchance we do understand, then, as we shall meet in the second dimension of power in the next chapter, we realize that we can’t do anything to change the situ- ation, thus producing immobility and reinforcing conformism. The system of which we are a part is responsible, not us.

When technique is paramount, action becomes purely a question of technical power in terms of the use of means to achieve given ends. For instance, as a master of logistics, Eichmann was enormously proud of his achievements in the complex scheduling of trains, camps, and death. He was, as he said, a good bureaucrat. There are two profound effects of an organizational power that makes people technically accountable and responsible for results expressed in a purely quantitative form: it makes the person doing the task utterly transparent – either the targets are achieved or they are not – and it relieves one of moral indeterminacy. If one is authorized to do something and given targets to achieve by superordinates guiding strategies and plans, obedience surely is appropriate, and authority should be served.20

Obedience to power is encouraged where organization work is a ceaseless round of activity with little room for reflection, where activity is mostly just a small link in a great chain of doing. Most organizational members are in the middle of organi- zational chains whose links are not always clear. People are not always aware of the consequences of what they do and do not do. Most of the time, they are just doing what they are told (shred those files, write those checks, dispatch those troops, and maintain those train schedules). In the death camps, those who were the subjects of power were made complicit in its exercise. Orderlies, handlers of dead bodies, strip- pers of skin, hair, gold, jewelry, and dentures, were nominated from amongst those who had yet to meet their fate. Participation in the horror preserved them for the time being.

9. Barbarism and modern organization

Seeing excesses of instrumental rationality or even Western enlightenment as con- sequentially culminating in mass murder does not explain all genocide. Consider the slaughter of Armenians conducted by the Turks in the early twentieth century, for example, or that committed in Rwanda more recently, where 1.5 million people were murdered, not in total institutions, but in the midst of their villages, by a bru- talized mob, often using just machetes or bare hands. The uniqueness of the Holocaust is that it was organized and industrialized mass murder, not pure hate, hysteria, or collective ethnic vengeance and ‘cleansing’. Its organizational basis is what makes it unique. However, the Holocaust is not a necessary outcome of the sufficient conditions. Bauman’s location of evil within a particular mode of orga- nizing is, perhaps, too narrow. The same mode of organizing (e.g. bureaucracy) can assist the perpetrators as well as the victims; also, for some scholars, barbarism is at least as much a matter of personality – that is, a result of internal not external dis- tancing – as of organizational form, at least according to Adorno et al.’s (1968) account of the ‘authoritarian personality’. The mode of organizing (that is, the means) would here reside in favor of individuals’ intentions, biography, and per- sonality, or at least the conditions that enabled a specific personality type to flour- ish and be rewarded. Adorno’s account would imply a more socio-psychological perspective. It would stress the specificity, the uniqueness, the abnormality of those who perpetrated the Holocaust; however, as scholars such as Bauman and Higgins make clear, it is its very mundane, organizationally routine qualities, the normalcy of its technical rationality, which is most compelling about the Holocaust. The organizational apparatus defined the identities not just of its victims but also of its perpetrators, just as Goffman (1961) would lead us to think.

The Holocaust, rightly, is claimed as occupying a special case in the annals of twentieth-century history. While organizational form, in conjunction with an overemphasis on instrumental rationality, helps distance human suffering, it is not a sufficient condition for terror, nor is it even necessary in certain circumstances. Excesses of instrumental rationality (organizing) and disregard for substantial rationality (human rights) can lead to barbarism. But the opposite also holds. Disorganization and chaos, or a lack of instrumental rationality and overconcern with substantive rationality, such as are furnished by racism and fundamentalism, can provoke similarly disastrous consequences, as Rwanda demonstrates.

The Holocaust is the crime of the last century, largely because it was not some gruesome means to some other end but was an end in itself. Six million people were annihilated; national histories were irrevocably marked, and generations were sundered. Nothing else that follows in this chapter will, or could, possibly compare with the atrocities recorded there. Nonetheless, although the atrocity of the Holocaust was unique, its organizational form as a total institution was not. While industrially organized genocide may not have recurred since the Nazis’ death camps, despite the many atrocities that have occurred globally in the intervening 60 years, the total institutional form did not die out with the Nazis, as we shall see in what follows.

Source: Clegg Stewart, Courpasson David, Phillips Nelson X. (2006), Power and Organizations, SAGE Publications Ltd; 1st edition.

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