Creating Killers: The Nazification of the Black Sea Germans and the Holocaust in Southern Ukraine, 1941-1944 Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • Steinhart, Eric Conrad
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of History
  • Transnistria, a multiethnic region along southern Ukraine's Black Sea coast that Germany ceded to Romania, was an epicenter of the Holocaust in the conquered Soviet Union. This dissertation explores the role of the area's ethnically German or Volksdeutsche minority in the Holocaust. The region's ethnic Germans, the so-called Black Sea Germans, were the largest Germanophone population to come under Nazi control in the conquered Soviet Union. To secure local German-speakers as the demographic foundation for the future German domination of southern Ukraine, the SS (Schutzstaffel) deployed a special unit to administer the area's ethnic Germans. Almost immediately, the region's ethnic multiplicity hampered the SS's efforts to identify suitable ethnic Germans to mobilize for the Nazi cause. German officials responded to this ethnic ambiguity by establishing a mercurial occupation regime that undercut Romanian authority by rewarding cooperative local residents with comparatively lavish material rewards and brutalizing allegedly recalcitrant area denizens. In the midst of the SS's Nazification project in the region, Romanian deportation of Jews into rural Transnistria threatened to spread epidemic disease to the region's ethnic Germans. Local SS commanders deployed the region's ethnic German militia forces, the only personnel at their disposal, to murder the Jewish deportees in one of the Holocaust's most intense episodes. Despite having had historically good relations with their Jewish neighbors, local ethnic Germans responded to situational pressures that Nazi rule created--not least of which was the opportunity to clarify their ethnic status in SS eyes by taking part in the Holocaust--and murdered Jews with enthusiasm. This dissertation analyzes the constellation of motivations that moved a group of murderers to participate in some of the Holocaust's most brutal crimes. Based heavily on the example of German killers, scholars have long rejected postwar apologist claims of coercion and highlighted individual agency to explain why perpetrators participate in genocide. While this insight remains key to understanding perpetrator behavior, my research demonstrates that, within the context of war and a violent occupation, the Nazi regime could bring forceful situational pressures to bear on prospective killers that provided it with powerful leverage to encourage them to murder.
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  • In Copyright
  • "... in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of History."
  • Browning, Christopher R.
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  • Chapel Hill, NC
  • Open access

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