The Management of Empathy in the Third Reich

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In an extraordinary book, a kind of ‘docu-drama,’ published in spring 1940, the popular nationalist writer Edwin Erich Dwinger fabricated a holocaust that ethnic Germans had suffered at the hands of the Poles in the days after Germany’s invasion in September 1939. Fantastically embellishing the events of ‘Bloody Sunday’ on 3 September in Bromberg (Bydgoszcz), Dwinger’s book, Death in Poland, opens with Polish soldiers and civilians attacking ethnic German communities in Western Poland.1 Random violence against German civilians grows increasingly systematically and eventually includes an astonishing number of elements that later appear in Germany’s war against the Jews. The prophetic nature of the work is startling: Poles round up German civilians in marketplaces against the background of burning churches; they assign Germans color-coded identity passes (red, pink, and white) which classify their political reliability (much as Germans would do with Poles they considered to be ethnically German); they force Germans on ‘hunger marches’ and confiscate their last possessions, including, Dwinger specifically notes, purses (which German authorities actually snatched from Schneidemühl’s Jews during March 1940 deportations); guards lock up helpless civilians in barns which they threaten to burn down; soldiers separate men from women and discuss the morality of murdering women — and Dwinger pointedly has one Pole decline to do so in order to establish the deliberate nature of shooting civilians by the majority; and Polish soldiers ‘liquidate’ stragglers at the end of the column who have fallen sick or become weak (Death 136).2
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationEmpathy and its Limits
EditorsAleida Assmann, Ines Detmers
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9781137552372
ISBN (Print)9781137552365
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016


  • Jewish woman
  • German child
  • German Woman
  • photo album
  • Jewish child

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)
  • Psychology(all)
  • Social Sciences(all)


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