Thursday, May 17, 2007


Hillman, in Kinds of Power, uses Franz Stangl, the commandant of Treblinka as his icon of efficiency. Treblinka was the largest of the five Germany camps built exclusively for the purpose of extermination. According to conservative estimates these five camps killed close to 3,000,000 people in seventeen months.

The extermination camps were devised for what was called The Final Solution because an earlier method - simply shooting masses of people above open pits - was soon rejected as inefficient for what was described by Himmler as "the enormous task ahead."

Efficiency here is to be understood solely from the viewpoint of the one in power, the executor. An efficient execution in other situations takes the victim's viewpoint: quick, painless, neither cruel nor unusual.

Gitta Sereny conducted an extensive interview with Franz Stangl in Into That Darkness. Here is a brief excerpt: The "work" of gassing and burning five thousand human beings in a morning or anywhere from five to twenty thousand persons in twenty-four hours requires the maximum efficiency: no wasted motions, no friction, no complications, no backlog. They arrived, and they were dead within two hours.

When asked whether the horrific conditions could have been changed (ie. the nakedness, the whips, the cattle pens), Stangl answered: "No, no, no. This was the system. Wirth had invented it. It worked. And because it worked it was irreversible."

And there you have it - the inexorable doctrine of efficiency - It worked. Efficiency elevated to absolute law.

Left unchecked by other kinds of power, the efficient cause will tragically become the sole answer to the question "why?"

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