The Second World War is arguably the most important and catastrophic event in world history. Certainly the most devastating conflict of all time, the long lasting consequences of the Second World War are still felt immensely today, and will be forever. The world changed, and many historians argue that humankind irreparably lost its humanity between 1939 and 1945.
Looking at the primary antagonists of the Second World War, Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany, and looking at the crimes of the Nazis on this list, it is not a stretch to surmise that at least some humanity may have been lost forever over 60 years ago. When one realizes that many other brutal atrocities were committed by regimes other than the Nazis during the war, it is all but certain. As such, this list is solely about the Nazis, and though it is a list of ten, there is no number ranking system here, as in reality every one of them, and many more, could easily occupy the number one spot.
10. Friedrich Jeckeln
A First World War veteran, Friedrich Jeckeln became an SS leader and police commander in the occupied Soviet Union. In his position of power, Jeckeln was in charge of all of the SS-Einsatzgruppen activities and executions in the U.S.S.R. Under his command three of the most infamous SS massacres were committed, those at Babi Yar, Rumbula and Kamianets-Podilskyi. Jeckeln was horrifically effective at mass killing, developing his own system, known as “sardine packing,” that even shocked many of the executioners who worked beneath him in the SS. Trenches were dug and victims would be forced to lie face down in the trench, most often on the fresh corpses of newly killed prisoners, as prisoners were executed in cycles. All told, Jeckeln was responsible for killing over 100,000 people in mass executions during the war, a notorious feat that saw him hanged by the Red Army in 1946.
9. Ilse Koch
Ilse Koch earned many nicknames over the course of her time at the Buchenwald and Madjanek concentration camps. Known as “the Bitch of Buchenwald,” and the “the Beast of Buchenwald,” Koch was not even a guard at the concentration camps, but instead the wife of SS commander Karl Koch. Using her husband’s power for her own sadism, Koch outshone many Nazis in her utter depravity. Koch routinely raped and beat inmates at the camps, had them tortured while she watched and if inmates looked at her in a way she didn’t like, she had them executed on the spot. Most shockingly, Koch often inspected incoming prisoners to the camps hoping to find new arrivals with tattoos on their body that she found attractive. If Koch found an inmate with tattoos she desired, she had them executed and skinned and kept the skins with plans to make adornments for her home out of them. Koch was arrested by Allied forces following the liberation of the concentration camps and tried, as a civilian, for war crimes. She hung herself in prison in 1967.
8. Greta Bosel
A practicing nurse before the Second World War and the opening of the concentration camps, Greta Bosel was the work input overseer at the Ravensbruck concentration camp. At Ravensbruck it was Bosel’s responsibility to determine which incoming prisoners were fit enough to be put to work and suffer the toils of the camp, and those who were deemed unfit for work and thus were to be gassed immediately. Without remorse or regard for human life whatsoever, Bosel took her ideology to heart, declaring, “if they cannot work, let them rot.” After the war, Bosel was charged with murder, among other things, and sentenced to death by a war crimes tribunal.
7. Joseph Goebbels
The man who invented the phrase “total war,” Joseph Goebbels was the Minister of Propaganda in Hitler’s Germany and was exclusively responsible for all government material aimed at the public. A voracious anti-Semite, Goebbels’ propaganda propagated the campaign against the Jewish people of Germany and his hate speech played a large role in bending the German people’s views of the Nazis from sceptical to supportive, and finally, all encompassing. Even when the Third Reich’s defeat was all but assured, Goebbels called upon his rhetoric of “total war” to urge Germany to continue to fight to the last man, woman and child. One to never sway from his beliefs, Goebbels remained with Hitler in Berlin until the very end. Goebbels, along with his wife, killed their six children before both committing suicide as the Red Army captured Berlin in 1945.
6. Adolf Eichmann
Using his knowledge of the Hebrew language and his vast studies of Jewish culture to aid in convincing Jews from occupied territories to leave their lives and possessions behind in order to live a “better life” in the Jewish ghettos, Adolf Eichmann was largely responsible for the deportation of Jews within the Reich. Furthermore, after the “Final Solution” had been decided upon, Eichmann also helped plan and implement the movement of peoples from the ghettos to the concentration camps. One of the architects of the Holocaust, after the war Adolf Eichmann escaped capture and fled to South America. Eventually apprehended by Israeli secret service in Argentina, Eichmann was executed in 1962.
5. Maria Mandl
Austrian born Maria Mandl was responsible for the deaths of at least half a million inmates during her time as the female SS commandant of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp between 1942 and 1944. Known as “the Beast,” beyond her official duties at the camp, Mandl also routinely engaged in acts of abuse and torture of her inmates and selected certain prisoners, most often Jewish prisoners, to be her pet for a short period before signing their death certificates. For her service to the Reich, Mandl was awarded the War Merit Cross 2nd Class. For her crimes against humanity, Maria Mandl was tried and executed in 1948.
4. Josef Mengele
The “Angel of Death” Josef Mengele is the incarnation of a horror movie come to life. In an entire era of horror and death and destruction, Mengele was exceptionally terrifying. An SS physician, Mengele was initially responsible for selecting which incoming prisoners to Auschwitz would be forced to work or would be gassed. His role in selection alone made him a war criminal, but it was Mengele’s experiments at Auschwitz that truly magnified the utter madness of the Nazi regime. Fascinated with genetics and heredity, Mengele would use inmates for his research. In reality, what Mengele engaged in was nothing more than barbarism and mutilation; amputations, chemical injections into subjects’ eyes, even removing one identical twin’s eyes and sewing them on to the back of the other twin’s head. Science had nothing to do with Mengele’s butchery and though no punishment would be severe enough for his crimes, he evaded capture his entire life and died of a stroke in Brazil in 1979.
3. Reinhard Heydrich
The “Hangman of Prague,” SS member Reinhard Heydrich was one of the most feared and brutal Nazis in his short career. Even Hitler regarded him as “the man with the iron heart.” Beyond being in control of the area of Czechoslovakia that was absorbed into the Reich in 1939 where he brutally repressed political dissidents and cultural opposition, Heydrich was one of the primary organizers of the Kristallnacht in Germany before the Holocaust, was responsible for creating and operating the Einsatzgruppen death squads that were responsible for mass executions throughout the Second World War, and also one of the primary architects of the Final Solution. As the chairman of the Wannsee Conference in 1942, Heydrich was explicitly involved in creating the order of forced labour or the murder of all Jews in Germany and the occupied territories. Not long after the conference, Czech special agents trained in Britain assassinated Heydrich in Prague.
2. Heinrich Himmler
As the man responsible for the SS and a primary architect of the Holocaust, along with being the overseer of most of Reinhard Heydrich’s activities, including the creation of the Einsatzgruppen, Heinrich Himmler is one of the largest mass murderers of all time. Anywhere from 12 to 14 million civilians, including six million Jews, were murdered by the Nazi regime, all of which were ultimately a result of Himmler’s policies. After Heydrich’s death, Himmler led brutal reprisals in Czechoslovakia, and ultimately expanded on the plans at the Wannsee conference to institute the “extermination of the Jewish People.” As devoted to his ideology as Himmler was during the war, once it was clear that Germany was destined to fall Himmler began negotiations with the Allies, unbeknownst to Hitler. When Hitler discovered Himmler’s treachery, he ordered him arrested. The British arrested him first, and while in custody Himmler committed suicide in May of 1945.
1. Adolf Hitler
The democratically elected leader of the Nazi Party and the Fuhrer of the Third Reich, Adolf Hitler has embodied the face of evil for over 50 years, and rightfully so. There is a debate among historians as to whether Heinrich Himmler deserves the top spot on a list of most evil Nazis, and in some regards he may, but the fact is, without Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler doesn’t exist. So the disgruntled First World War veteran and jaded artist sits rightfully atop this list. With his exceptional oratory skills, Austrian born Hitler was able to convince an entire nation that not only were Germans a master race, but that the Jews and Slavs have kept Germany from fulfilling its true potential, in Hitler’s mind as rightful leader of a new Europe under a Third Reich. Hitler was evil, there is no doubt about it, if not for him the Second World War never would have happened, the Holocaust never would have happened and the world as we know it today would be remarkably different. As a true indictment of his persuasion, Hitler not once had his hands in contact with the death he created; he got others to do his bidding, ordering mass murder, genocide, and an all out global conflict that killed nearly 3% of the global population.