Surprisingly, the court never mentions the distinctive situation in the ethnically-mixed Balkan states. Many minority groups celebrated Germany’s invasion because it promised them political rights, and Hitler won loyalty from Hungary, Rumania, and Bulgaria by promising to expand their territories and deport their Jews. Eastern European Jews were less assimilated than in Western and Central Europe, although a small upper class mixed intensely with Gentile society.
Arendt argues that the Balkan states are unique because, whereas Western European countries are largely ethno-states founded on cultural, religious, linguistic, and historical group identity, Eastern European states were rather arbitrarily created after World War One, and so already included various groups competing for power and fighting for recognition.
Croatia, carved out by the Nazis, eagerly imposed anti-Jewish legislation and deported its Jewish population, paying the Nazis for the deportees’ property. Many also escaped to Italy. 30,000 were sent to killing centers, but the Croatian government spared 1,500 prominent, assimilated Jews for political reasons.
Croatia seems to be a textbook example of collaboration: the Nazis found precisely the enthusiastic collaborators they originally expected, but largely because they helped the Croats achieve a sense of national independence from Yugoslavia.
In Serbia, deportation was not the main policy; rather, Jewish men were shot on the spot, and women and children murdered in gas vans. 5,000 escaped by joining the resistance movement, the Partisans, but 6,280 were murdered, and the orchestrator of the killings faced only six years and six months in prison in Germany.
This terrifying Serbian policy raises the interesting question of why Germany insisted on concentrating Jews in camps before murdering them. Although Arendt has already mentioned the ties between the gassing program and the euthanasia program, secrecy was also another important component, since Jewish Councils seldom told deportees about their fate. Had these councils not existed, or had knowledge of what “resettlement” meant been more widespread, the successful escape of many Serbian Jews might have been the paradigm for the Holocaust throughout Europe.
Bulgaria grew substantially in territory thanks to the Nazis, but only sparingly cooperated with deportations. Bulgaria’s Fascist movement was small, and its government was reluctant to fight with the Germans. Although many Bulgarians were anti-Semitic, they did not understand “what ‘resettlement in the East’ actually signified.” The government created myriad exceptions to anti-Jewish legislation and many Bulgarians were sympathetic to Jews forced to wear yellow star badges. The Bulgarian government then decided to disperse Jews to rural areas, which made them harder to catch, and even after Germany assassinated and replaced the King, the Parliament and politically-active public remained staunchly opposed to deportation. Jewish community leaders refused to cooperate with the Nazis and, as in Denmark, even some German officials stopped carrying out their orders. Ultimately, “not a single Bulgarian Jew had been deported or had died an unnatural death” by the end of the war.
Surprisingly, while Croatia’s gratitude to the Nazis led it to enthusiastically cooperate with deportation policies, Bulgaria managed to both win the expanded territory the Nazis brought them and resist deportations with unparalleled success. Like in Italy, the government actually hindered Nazi deportations under nominally anti-Semitic laws that prevented Germany from absolutely taking over until it was too late. As in Denmark, once the resistance movement reached a critical mass among the population, the Nazis simply lost their power because they lost the consent of the people whose land they were occupying.
Greece was divided between the Germans (in the north) and Italians (in the south). In 1943, the two-thirds of Greek Jews who lived in Salonika were sent to a ghetto, then deported to Auschwitz. Some escaped to the Italian-occupied region, but the Italian Army soon collapsed and German deportations began in southern Greece. Many Greek Jews worked in the gas chambers and crematoria at Auschwitz, but a revolt near the end of the war left all but one dead. The Greek people were—and largely remain, according to Arendt—indifferent to the suffering of their Jewish neighbors.
Without a functional native government, Greece had no chance of preventing deportations without substantial resistance from the population, which failed to materialize. The crematorium workers’ revolt is particularly tragic not only because of their horrible positions, but also because they would perhaps have been liberated had they stayed quiet. This may be the only example in the book of a time that resistance was actually counterproductive—though this was likely because of the approaching Allies. It is uncertain whether the Nazis actually would have massacred the crematorium workers before the camp’s liberation.
Although Eichmann often claims that his proclivity for organization and coordination made Jews’ fate easier—and the court understandably ignores this absurd claim—the events in Rumania make his suggestion vaguely probable. “Even the S.S. were taken aback” by Rumania’s enthusiasm for killing Jews, and often tried to ensure that they would die more “civilized” deaths in gas chambers. Indeed, Rumania was “the most anti-Semitic country in prewar Europe” and had long deprived its Jews of political rights. The government quickly made them stateless after the war began—even Hitler complained at Rumania’s “far more radical” policies—and began massacring them at a horrific speed, mostly by shoving thousands into train cars and sending them aimlessly around the countryside until they suffocated. Rumanian concentration camps were far crueler than Germany’s, and Eichmann even sent encouraged the German Foreign Office to shut them down.
Besides the Jewish Councils’ cooperation with the Nazis, the massacres in Rumania (now spelled Romania) are likely the most horrifying episode from the Holocaust. Eichmann’s surprising insistence that Jews die in a more “civilized” way, even though he later tried to push the Final Solution past its designated end date, shows that his motivations and values were far more complex than the prosecution wanted to suggest (even if his actions were essentially just as evil). The fact that even Hitler was surprised at the Rumanians’ cruelty shows that the Nazis truly had disconnected murder from any concept of morality, while undue suffering still managed to evoke an emotional response.
By August 1942, with 300,000 Rumanian Jews already massacred by their countrymen, the Germans made provisions to deport the remaining 200,000 to extermination camps—but then the Rumanian government suddenly decided that selling exemptions would be more profitable. Soon, it preempted even Himmler’s order to stop exterminations by simply setting them free. Many Rumanian Jews ended up in Israel, including a number of the roughly half (425,000) who survived.
Rumania’s zealous persecution of Jews and independence from Germany’s will ultimately, if perversely, turned out to be an asset: Rumanians shifted from slaughtering Jews out of hatred, to selling Jews for the sake of self-interest, to mysteriously giving up on the whole endeavor. Again, Arendt reminds the reader how many Israelis—likely many in the trial’s audience—managed to escape the Holocaust only because they were privileged enough to buy their way out.