In the Hands of the Vanquished

From Karl Polanyi
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1st outline

1. While we are taking the full measure of the Nazi crimes, and the military victory is overlaying the scene

2. the vanquished are laying down the foundations for and forging the political instruments of their final victory.
(a) Pattern No. 1 Reduit, destruction, chaos - politically means laying down the law to any alternative force in Germany. - In the beginning stages of their military defeat it must have become evident to the Nazis that potent alternative political forces were altogether lacking. No insurrections. The Nazis adopt
(b) Patter No. 2. In the absence of such alternative forces the freedom of action of the Nazi party grew far beyond their original expectations. "Everything is possible”. Unity remains unimpaired. No political disintegration of Germany. Nazi leadership fully maintained. On this basis the Nazis proceed to the (i) mise-en-scène of their defeat. […]
(ii) After the defeat: forcing the alignement. They offer their collaboration, offer to build up Germany

Text in English to type


2d outline?


[4] Personal experience of the Nazi's extraordinary ways of warfare may well have quickened our apprehensions and warned us that yet a new sense of proportion will have to be developed, if we are ever to understand what in the way of Nazi deeds, aims, methods and policies is to be regarded as being within range of the possible.

Not very long ago the citizens of Southern England on hearing the hoarse, short-breathed exhalations along the fly-bomb's track would duck or draw from the window, with doom flying on towards those who happened to live where the track ended. Later these citizens, having heard the bangs and rumblings noises of supersonic rockets, accepted not only to live unsheltered out also to die unwarmed. Wound upon wound in Londons body was struck from the emptiness far beyond the range of living things. Random groups of citizens, families in their dwellings, housewives getting their rations at the local stores, children at play, workers in shops, ecclesiastics in conference, passengers in buses were wiped out. Space outside the habitable planet was made to serve as an added dimension through which the Nazis struck at the substance of this country, in a last bid to win, by changing the character of warfare.

This change pointed in the same directions as the change, long accomplished by the Nazis, in the character of conquest, which had given rise to the policy of 'weakening the substance' of a conquered opponent. Unvanquished democracy lacked the organs, if not the information, to comprehend the full implications of the phrase, until the day when its armies came face to face with the dead and the surviving of the German concentration camps in which these policies were being put into practice. The long-standing testimony of the victim peoples and persons, information received of their calvary, could not, in the nature of things, become part and parcel of a nation's life which had succeeded in keeping its territory involiate; where death and mutilation by the evil weapons of the Nazis still retains that dignity which resides in blind fate; where the laws of the mind remained unchallenged, and fascism unfathomed.

When the British and the United States armies overran the German death camps this country found itself thrown into a convulsion of horror. There was no frame of reference, no yardstick with which to measure the magnitude of the crimes now revealed in the direct and common experience of our armies, and responsible civilians. There exists no remembered or recorded fund of experience to include features like that of making medicine into an instrument of murder, torture and obscenity, or that of planning for pestilence, or that of organizing starvation, or that of erecting, over three years, elaborate plant for the extinction of millions of citizens of the conquered peoples. Horror that has this country in its grip is being made more tortuous by bewilderment. We have overcome an opponent whose works we can not understand.

Theirs were no crimes of passion. A number of children, women and men, roughly equal to the number of all British and American forces in the European theatre of war - four million[s] - were put to death in the Oswiecim and Majdanek plant[1]. Their annihilation was planned and premeditated, systematic, meticulous, and undoubtedly carried out at lowest cost per/man-death. We know next to nothing of the procedure and logic, by which the order and mode of annihilation were determined

Editor's Notes

  1. How to define the date of this text? Oswiecim camps was liberated by the Soviet army on January 1945 and Majdenek on July 1944. More interestingly, the fact that Polanyi spoke about Majdenek. This camp, writes Arthur R. Butz, “remained the propaganda’s leading extermination camp well into the autumn of 1944” ("The Hoax of the Twentieth Century", Historical Review Press, Richmond [Surrey, Great-Britain], 1976, p. 171), probably due to the Majdanek trials (27 November-2 December 1944). Actually, he almost disappeared during Nuremberg trials (Fall 1945-Fall 1946); so we can imagine that if Polanyi thought of Majdenek when he wanted to evoke camps, and no other more famous ones, that's because he wrote the texte between Fall 1944 and Fall 1945.

Text Informations

Date: 19441947
KPA: 19/15 (2 typed p. and then 4 p.)