Wachter: Including you, Heinrich? Will you be viewed as a saint?
Strassel: Yes, Albert, even I. I rest easy as night no matter what I may have to do during the day, nor what I have to do in the days to come. The future will prove us right. I have finished, Albert, and I believe I have quite cooked your goose. Now it is your turn.
Wachter: [Begins to speak, hesitates . . .]
Strassel: Nervous, Albert. That’s not like you.
Wachter: I . . . there is so much depending on this—more than you know.
Wachter: Genia, most likely. Maybe she fell and hurt herself.
Strassel: [Looking around, suspicious] That’s an odd sound for a child to make.
Wachter: [Hurrying to change the subject] Heinrich! You said six million dead! God!
Strassel: God intrudes again, Albert?
Strassel: There’s been no objection on His part—no thunderbolts directed at us striking us dead.
Wachter: But so many! How do you manage it?
Strassel: The logistics of it, you mean? You mentioned Auschwitz. There are many others—Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzek, Chelmno, Birkenau-at-Auschwitz—all death camps working 24-hours a day, and capable of killing tens of thousands a day. The exterminating is not problem--it is the disposing of so many bodies that gives us trouble.
Wachter: Now I say Lieber Gott! (After a pause.) Do you recall, Heinrich, as boys we used to talk about the distance of the stars?—that one of the nearest stars is millions of light years away?
Wachter: And do you recall that we agreed that the human mind cannot comprehend such a vast distance as millions of light years?
Strassel: Yes. But aren’t you digressing?
Wachter: No, I am not. Neither can the human mind comprehend, not even dimly, the sorrow, the pain of loss, the agony of those six million so inhumanely put to death. The attainment of that remote, nebulous utopia is not worth the sorrow, the pain of loss, of not even one of those lives.
Strassel: [After a moment’s silence.] Is that your argument?
Strassel: Now I rebut. [Rises as Wachter sits.] First of all, there is no logic in your argument. It is an argument ad hominem, as we students used to say—“to the man.” It is an appeal only to the emotions, to the affections, to humane feeling. I, on the other hand, offered you a series of good, sound reasons for what has been done.
Wachter: Reasons? What reasons can justify the slaughter of millions of innocent people?
Strassel: Ja, innocent if you will, but necessary for the great goal of the Third Reich. The different ones must be eliminated—flushed down the toilet of history. Oh, there is a little temporary unpleasantness, but that is a worthy sacrifice to our great future. Oh, Albert it is the fate of Genia and her mother that concerns your conscience, it is not? What you need is an attitude adjustment to put your conscience at rest.
Wachter: You have no conscience, Heinrich.
Strassel: Oh, but I do, Albert! If I killed your father or mother, or any other being I consider to be human, my conscience would bother me terribly. I could not sleep . . . I would crave punishment for what I had done like, ah—what is his name, the man in the book Crime and Punishment?
Strassel: Yes, Raskolnikov, a Russian. But to answer your question: yes, I have a conscience.
Wachter: Then how can you . . .
Strassel: Do what I do? Why, only make a simple adjustment in one’s way of thinking, an “attitude adjustment, ” as I said a moment ago. That is all that is required. You, Albert, must look at the different ones not as human beings, but as sub-human , a species of vermin. When you kill vermin, your conscience does not enter into the picture—you have done a good thing in such killing; you sleep like a child. And there is a bonus—you can commit otherwise unspeakable acts with perfect equanimity.
Wachter: Thus good men become monsters.
Strassel: Oh, come off it, Albert. As you were spouting idealisms, I was thinking more practically. Perhaps Lusia has something you want—diamonds, perhaps, to buy her safety.
Wachter: No. Lusia has nothing but the child.
Strassel: Or, note this—if what I am about to say is true, you may keep those Jews just as if you had won our debate.
Wachter: Really! I can keep them—Lusia and Genia? [Suddenly suspicious] What are you about to say?
Strassel: In my experience, the undermenschen will do anything to stay alive for a month, a day, an hour—even a minute.
Wachter: So would we all, in like circumstances.
Strassel: The instinct for survival can be very gratifying for the sensual man. Tell me, Albert, is Lusia your whore?
Wachter: Lieber Gott!
Strassel: [Nudging him.] Come, Albert, we all have our appetites, some a little strange perhaps. Again, if what I say is true, I shall leave you with both. It is Genia who is your whore!—or, perhaps both of them.
Wachter: [Rising, angry.] That is beneath contempt!
Strassel: You are not only an idealist, you are also a fool, Albert. You cannot be your brother’s keeper.
Wachter: There, Heinrich: you have said it! I am! I am my brother’s keeper!
Strassel: Brother to the undermenschen?
Wachter: Especially to them—those that you call vermin. As you do to the least of these, so you do unto me.
Strassel: More religious blather. You speak like an ass, Albert, not like a rational human being.
Wachter: Then let me be an ass. Let me not be like you.
Strassel: [In a rage] Now you insult me! Enough of this!
Wachter: Allow my rebuttal!
Strassel: Let’s hear it.
Wachter: Thou shalt not kill!
Wachter: Thou shalt not kill!
Strassel: [Laughs derisively] That is a rebuttal? I give you logic, and you give me what?—a quotation.
Wachter: Logic doesn’t enter the picture. Logic cannot justify or excuse so monstrous a crime as genocide. Thou shalt not kill!
Strassel: [Shakes head] Albert, my patience is gone. The debate is over, and you have lost. Not only have you broken the ground rules, but you have offered a highly illogical argument. It is surprising--when a boy, you were a champion debater.
Wachter: Beware, Heinrich. The Allies have crossed the Rhine. When you have lost the war, they will come looking for you.
Strassel: The war is not lost. The Reich is like a powerful spring, the more you compress it, the greater its energy to strike back. The enemy is compressing us now, but we’ll soon smash them with the force of our arms— drive them back across the channel, back across the Rhine to Moscow.
Wachter: And if that doesn’t happen?
Strassel: I have no fear. I have done my duty as a WaffenSS General, and as a soldier. I am beyond reproach.
Wachter: I agree. You are indeed beyond reproach—far beyond!
Strassel: I’ll ignore that remark. [He puts on his death’s head cap.] In a final rebuttal, let me say this—[He loosens the flap of his holster, and draws the gun part-way out] This is a Lugar. It contains eight bullets. It’s muzzle velocity is such that it will bore a clean hole right through you, with little disarrangement of your parts. [He drops the pistol back in its holster.] My rebuttal is this: might makes right. And if this luger is not enough to convince you, I have 50,000 troops under my command. Rebut that, if you can, Albert Wachter!
Wachter: I cannot.
Strassel: Then call those Jews out here!
Wachter: I beg you—let them stay! I ask as an old friend.
Strassel: I am commanded by the Fürhrer to make this region Judenfrei! Call them out! Oh, Albert, you won’t be lonesome. This house is too large for just you and a housekeeper. I’ll send some bombed out people to live with you—good Aryans all. They will be brothers you can keep in good conscience.
Wachter: No! Not Lusia! Not little Genia!
Strassel: You are in no position to say no! Call them out!
A grim end seems inevitable. General Strassel will take Lusia and Genia and send them to Auschwitz. Women with children were of no use to the Nazis as slave laborers in a concentration camp, because the woman with children would worry about the children and not devote herself to assigned labor. And children under 14 were considered useless and thus expendible. So women with children went to the gas chamber—more than two million of them in the Final Solution.