‘Justifications’ for killing

Explore Further

Letters sent to his wife by Walter Mattner

Letters sent to his wife by Walter Mattner

William Mattner was a police secretary and administrative officer for the SS and Police Garrison Commander at Mogilev, Belarus.

September 22, 1941

‘If I had not already been a National Socialist, the first day of my war service would have made me into a one-hundred-percent Nazi.’

October 2, 1941

‘I have volunteered for a special action [Sonderaktion] tomorrow. […] I actually don’t know if I’m even allowed to tell you this, but that the Jews are our misfortune, that you have known for ages […] So you can understand the bitterness that overwhelms me, and that everyone here feels, when thinking of our homeland [Heimat] and the great fateful struggle that we have to battle through for the sake of our people [Volk]. What do the one thousand two hundred Jews matter, who are yet again superfluous in some town and have to be knocked off, as the saying so nicely goes. It’s simply the just punishment for all the harm they have done to us Germans and continue to do.’

October 5, 1941

‘I was in fact also there, at the great mass dying the day before yesterday. With the first truckload, my hand shook a bit when I shot, but you get used to it. By the tenth truck I already took aim calmly and shot assuredly at the many women, children, and babies. In consideration of the fact that I too have two babies at home, to whom these hordes would do just the same, if not ten times worse. The death that we delivered to them was a beautiful, quick death, compared to the hellish sufferings of thousands and tens of thousands in the cellars of the GPU. Babies flew in great arcs through the air, and we bumped them off even as they flew, before they fell into the pit or the water. Just get rid of this brood that has plunged the whole of Europe into war and is even now stirring things up in America until this too has been dragged into the war. Hitler’s words were true when he once said, before the war: if Jewry believes that it can once again ignite a war in Europe, the Jews will not achieve victory but rather it will be the end of Jewry in Europe’.

  1. Is there any evidence that Mattner might have felt unease participating in the mass murder or women, children and babies?
  2. What are the different elements of Nazi ideology to which Mattner appeals?
  3. How far do you think his references to antisemitic ideology and Hitler’s words were motives for his actions, and how far were they brought out as justifications for killing despite a sense of disquiet?

Klaus-Michael Mallmann, Volker Riess and Wolfgang Pyta eds, Deutscher Osten 1939-1945. Der Weltanschauungskrieg in Photos und Texten (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2003), p. 27, p. 28; translation by Mary Fulbrook.