Now we need to answer two more fundamental questions: How did Adolf Hitler convince, inspire and motivate thousands of Germans to commit genuinely monstrous and horrible crimes (‘reprogrammed’ them into mass murderers)?
And how did he convince other Germans to do nothing to prevent these crimes from being committed – or to stop these crimes after they were commenced?
To properly and adequately answer these questions, we must first estimate (with sufficient accuracy) the number of criminals. In other words, the number of individuals – officers, soldiers and NCOs of the SS (mostly) and Wehrmacht – who played a material role in criminal processes (e.g. mass murder of Jews in concentration camps or executions of Soviet commissars) – and thus were guilty of murder, felony murder, conspiracy to commit murder and other capital offenses.
To estimate this number with 10% accuracy will probably require writing a huge portion of a separate book (“The Essential Guide to Nazi Crimes”) so in this section I will provide a very rough estimate of about 100,000. That’s 0.125% of the population of the Third Reich at that time.
The total number of individuals in Einsatzgruppen (“Nazi death squads”) – undoubtedly the most numerous “Nazi criminal gangs” was about 3,000 (including support personnel which could be charged with accessory to murder at most). The total number of concentration camp guards (only a fraction of which were directly involved in criminal activities) was 22,000.
It is well-known that about 3% of military personnel (in any army) and of members of any paramilitary organization are sadists who simply enjoy killing and torturing people (often committing other crimes in the process).
By the time Nazi war crimes began in earnest (with the start of the Second Great War), there were 1,250,000 members of the SS. Which means that 37,500 of them did not need any motivation to commit these heinous crimes.
During the war about 18 million men served in the Wehrmacht. Which means that there were more than half a million (!) willing to do the same without any additional convincing, motivation, inspiration, indoctrination, etc. Far, far more than actually did commit these crimes.
All Nazi crimes were committed by volunteers – no one ever was coerced to commit a war crime and no one was ever punished (even very lightly) for refusing to do it. Consequently, it would be fair to conclude, that most (if not practically all) war criminals committed these crimes simply because they enjoyed it – and because they could do it with impunity (or so it seemed at the moment).
Which means that their participation in these crimes had nothing to do with Nazi ideology – the top Nazis (including Adolf Hitler, of course) simply created the environment (and the opportunity) that facilitated (and encouraged) these crimes.
However, there is little (if any) doubt that other key factors were in play. After the Blockade of Germany and the Great Hunger of 1917-19 the need for sufficient Lebensraum (and thus of brutal colonial wars and no less brutal exploitation of conquered territories) was self-evident for just about any Nazi (and not just the Nazis).
And the existential war with Bolshevism was the reality. Jews had nothing to do with that, of course, but the (perceived) evidence to the contrary was so strong (I will discuss it in detail in the section on the Holocaust) that it left almost no doubt in the need to exterminate the Jews.
Add to that incredible (almost superhuman) Hitler’s mesmerizing (hypnotizing even) emotional and spiritual powers… and you will immediately see why the Nazis committed their heinous crimes.
In short, they did it, because (1) they took an oath to Hitler personally and thus had to obey his orders and orders of their superiors – a very powerful motive for a member of the Wehrmacht, SS or Waffen-SS; (2) they sincerely – though incorrectly – believed they were doing the right, noble, honorable and patriotic thing; and (3) some if not the most of them simply enjoyed the process and its results