Title: Ethnic Germans and the Holocaust: Nazifying the Black Sea Germans, 1941-1944
Name: Eric Conrad Steinhart

Curt C. and Else Silberman International Tracing Service Research Scholar
Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Year: 2009
Type: Dissertation Fellowship
Summary: Transnistria, a multiethnic region along southern Ukraines 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 areas ethnically German or Volksdeutsche minority in the Holocaust. The regions 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 areas ethnic Germans. Almost immediately, the regions ethnic multiplicity hampered the SSs 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 SSs Nazification project in the region, Romanian deportation of Jews into rural Transnistria threatened to spread epidemic disease to the regions ethnic Germans. Local SS commanders deployed the regions ethnic German militia forces, the only personnel at their disposal, to murder the Jewish deportees in one of the Holocausts most intense episodes. Despite having had historically good relations with their Jewish neighbors, local ethnic Germans responded to situational pressures that Nazi rule creatednot least of which was the opportunity to clarify their ethnic status in SS eyes by taking part in the Holocaustand murdered Jews with enthusiasm.

This dissertation analyzes the constellation of motivations that moved a group of murderers to participate in some of the Holocausts 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.