INDIVIDUAL AND MASS BEHAVIOUR IN EXTREME SITUATIONS
By Bruno Bettelheim
Prepared by the author from material more fully reported in Journal of abnormal and
Social Psychology, 1943, XXXVIII, 417-452.
The author spent the year 1938-39 in the two German concentration camps at Dachau and at Buchenwald. In these camps the prisoners were deliberately tortured; they suffered from extreme malnutrition but had to perform hard labour. Every single moment of their lives was strictly regulated and supervised, The prisoners did not know why they were imprisoned nor for how long. This may explain why the prisoners were persons finding themselves in an "extreme" situation.
The acts of terror committed in these camps aroused in the minds of civilised persons justified emotions which led them to overlook that terror was used by the Gestapo only as a means for attaining certain ends. The results which the Gestapo tried to obtain by means of the camps were varied. Among them were: to break the prisoners as individuals and to change them into' docile masses from which no individual or group act of resistance could arise; to spread terror among the rest of the population by using the prisoners as hostages and by demonstrating what happens to those who oppose the Nazi rulers; to provide the Gestapo members with a training ground in which they were educated to lose all human emotions; to provide the Gestapo with an experimental laboratory in which to study the effective means for breaking civilian resistance, the minimum food requirements needed to keep prisoners able to perform hard labour when the threat of punishment takes the place of other incentives, and the influence on performance if the prisoners are separated from their families.
In this short paper, an effort is made to deal with the concentration camp as a means of producing changes in the prisoners which will make them more useful subjects of the Nazi state.
These changes were produced by exposing the prisoners to extreme situations which forced them to adapt themselves entirely and with the greatest speed. This adaptation produced interesting types of private, individual, and mass behaviour. "Private" behaviour originates in a subject's particular background and personality, rather than in the experiences to which the Gestapo exposed him, although they were instrumental in bringing it about. "Individual" behaviour is developed by individuals independently of one another, although it is the result of experiences common to all prisoners. "Mass" behaviour were those phenomena which could be observed only in a group of prisoners when functioning as a mass. Although these three types of behaviour were overlapping, the subdivision seems advisable. The discussion is restricted mainly to individual and mass behaviour. One example of private behaviour is discussed below.
The purpose of changing the prisoners into useful subjects of the Nazi state was attained by exposing them to extreme situations. During this process different stages could be recognised. The first of them centred around the initial shock of finding oneself unlawfully imprisoned. The main event of the second stage was the transportation into the camp and the first experiences in it. Next was a slow process of change in the prisoner's life and personality; the adaptation to the camp situation. The final stage was reached when the prisoner had adapted himself to the camp; it was characterised by a definitely changed attitude to, and evaluation of, the Gestapo.
WHY THE MATERIAL WAS COLLECTED
Before discussing these stages of a prisoner's development a few remarks on why the material was collected seems advisable. This study was a mechanism developed by the author ad hoc in order to retain some intellectual interests and thus be better equipped to endure life in the camp. His observing and collecting of data was a particular type of defence, individually developed, not enforced by the Gestapo, and based on his training and interests. It was developed to protect him against a disintegration of his personality. It is an example of private behaviour. Private behaviours follow characteristically the individual's former life interests.
Since it is the only example of a private behaviour presented in the paper, how it developed deserves mention. During the first days in the camp, the writer realised that he behaved differently from the way he used to. He observed, for instance, the split in his person into one who observes and one to whom things happen, a typical psychopathological phenomenon. He also observed that his fellow prisoners, who had been normal persons, now behaved like pathological liars, were unable to restrain themselves and to make objective evaluations. Thus the question arose, "How can I protect myself against disintegration?" The answer was: to find out what changes occurred in the prisoners and why they took place. By occupying myself with interviewing prisoners, by pondering my findings while forced to perform exhausting labour, I succeeded in killing the time in a way which seemed constructive. As time went on, the enhancement of my self-respect due to my ability to continue to do meaningful work despite the contrary efforts of the Gestapo became even more important than the pastime.
THE INITIAL SHOCK
The initial psychological shock of being unlawfully locked into a prison may be separated from the shock originating in the torture to which the prisoners were exposed. The prisoners' reactions on being brought into prison can best be analysed on the basis of two categories: their socioeconomic class and their political education. These categories can be separated only for
the purposes of presentation.
The politically educated prisoners sought support for their self-esteem in the fact that the Gestapo had singled them out as important enough to take revenge on. In their imprisonment they saw a demonstration of how dangerous for Nazis their former activities had been.
The non-political middle-class prisoners were a small minority among the prisoners. They were least able to withstand the initial shock. They found themselves utterly unable to comprehend what happened to them. In their behaviour became apparent the dilemma of the politically uneducated German middle classes when confronted with the phenomenon of National Socialism. They had no consistent philosophy which would protect their integrity as human beings. They had obeyed the law handed down by the ruling classes without questioning its wisdom. And now the law-enforcing agencies turned against them, who always had been their staunchest supporters. They could not question the wisdom of law and police. Therefore what was wrong was that they were made objects of a persecution which in itself must be right, since it was carried out by the authorities. Thus they were convinced that it must be a "mistake."
These prisoners resented most to he treated "like ordinary criminals." After some time they could not help realising their actual situation. Then they disintegrated. Suicides were practically confined to this group. Later on, they were the ones who behaved in an antisocial way; they cheated their fellow prisoners; a few turned spies. They lost their middle-class sense of propriety and their self-respect; they became shiftless and disintegrated as autonomous persons.
Members of the upper classes segregated themselves as much as possible. They seemed unable to accept what was happening to them. They expressed their conviction that they would be released within the shortest time because of their importance. This conviction was absent among the middle-class prisoners. Upper-class prisoners remained aloof even from the upper classes. They looked down on all other prisoners nearly as much as they despised the Gestapo. In order to endure life in the camp they developed such a feeling of superiority that nothing could touch them.
The political prisoners used another psychological mechanism at a later time, which might already have played some part in the initial development. It seems that many political leaders had some guilt-feeling that they had fallen down on the job of preventing the rise of Nazi power. This guilt-feeling was relieved to a considerable degree by the fact that the Nazis found them important enough to bother with. It might be that prisoners managed to endure living in the camp because their punishment freed them from their guilt-feeling. Indications are found in remarks with which prisoners responded when reprimanded for undesirable behaviour. They asserted t-hat one cannot behave normally when living under such circumstances and that after liberation they would again act in civilised ways.
Thus it seems that most prisoners tried to protect themselves against the initial shock by mustering forces helpful in supporting their badly shaken self-esteem. Those groups which found in their past life some basis for the erection of such a buttress to their endangered egos seemed to succeed.
THE TRANSPORTATION INTO THE CAMP AND THE FIRST EXPERIENCES IN IT
During the transportation into the camp, the prisoners were exposed to constant tortures. Corporal punishment intermingled with shooting and wounding with the bayonet alternated with tortures the goal of which was extreme exhaustion. For instance, the prisoners were forced to stare into glaring lights or to kneel for hours. Several were killed; the injured were not permitted to take care of their wounds. The guards also forced the prisoners to hit one another, and to defile their most cherished values. They were forced to curse their God, to accuse themselves of vile actions and their wives of prostitution. This continued for many hours. The purpose of the tortures was to break the resistance of the prisoners, and to assure the guards that they were superior.
It is difficult to ascertain what happened in the minds of the prisoners while they were exposed to this treatment. Most of them became so exhausted that they were only partly conscious of what happened. In general, prisoners did not like to talk about what they had felt and thought during the time of torture. The few who volunteered information made vague statements which sounded like devious rationalisations, invented for justifying that they had endured treatment injurious to their self-respect without trying to fight back. The few who had tried to fight back could not be interviewed; they were dead.
The writer recalls his extreme weariness, resulting from a bayonet wound and a heavy blow on the head. e recalls, nevertheless, his thoughts and emotions. He wondered that man can endure so much without committing suicide or going insane; that the guards tortured prisoners in the way it had been described in books on the concentration camps; that the Gestapo was so simpleminded as to enjoy forcing prisoners to defile themselves. It seems that he gained emotional strength from the following facts: that things happened according to expectation; that, therefore, his future in the camp was at least partly predictable from what he already was experiencing and from what he had read; and that the Gestapo was more stupid than he bad
expected. He felt pleased that the tortures did not change his ability to think or his general point of view. In retrospect these considerations seem futile, but they ought to be mentioned because, if asked to sum up what was his main problem during the time he spent in the camp, he would say: to safeguard his ego in such a way, that, if he should regain liberty he would be approximately the same person as he was when deprived of liberty.
The writer feels that he was able to endure the transportation and what followed, because he convinced himself that these horrible and degrading experiences somehow did not happen to "him" as a subject, but only to "him" as an object. The importance of this attitude was corroborated by statements of other prisoners. They couched their feelings usually in such terms as, "The main problem is to remain alive and unchanged." What should remain unchanged was individually different and roughly covered the person's general attitudes and values.
The author's thoughts and emotions during the transportation were extremely detached. It was as if he watched things happening in which he only vaguely participated. Later he learned that many prisoners developed this same feeling of detachment, as if what happened really did not matter to oneself. It was strangely mixed with a conviction that " this cannot be true, such things do not happen." Not only during the transportation but all through the time spent in camp, the prisoners had to convince themselves that this was real and not just a nightmare. They were never wholly successful. The feeling of detachment which rejected the reality of the situation might be considered a mechanism safeguarding the integrity of the prisoners' personalities. They behaved in the camp as if their life there could have no connection with their "real" life. Their evaluation of their own and other persons' behaviour differed from what it would have been outside of camp. The separation of behaviour patterns and schemes of values inside and outside of camp was so strong that it could hardly be touched in conversation; it was one of the many "taboos" not to be discussed. The prisoners felt that what they were doing at camp and what happened to them there did not count; everything was permissible as long as it contributed to helping them to survive.
During the transportation no prisoner fainted. To faint meant to get killed. In this particular situation fainting was not protective against intolerable pain; it endangered a prisoner's existence because anyone unable to follow orders was killed.
THE ADAPTATION TO THE CAMP SITUATION
Differences in the Response to Extreme and to Suffering Experiences. It seems that camp experiences which remained within the normal frame of reference of a prisoner's life experience were mastered by normal psychological mechanisms. For mastering experience which transcended this frame of reference, new psychological mechanisms were needed. The transportation was only one of the experiences transcending the normal frame of reference and the reaction to it may be described as "unforgettable, but unreal."
Attitudes similar to those developed toward the transportation could he observed in other extreme situations. On a terribly cold winter night, all prisoners were forced to stand at attention without overcoats for hours. They were threatened with having to stand all through the night. After about 20 prisoners had died from exposure the threats of the guards became ineffective. To be exposed to the weather was a terrible torture; to see one's friends die without being able to help, and to stand a good chance of dying, created a situation similar to the transportation. Open resistance was impossible. A feeling of utter indifference swept the prisoners. They did not care whether the guards shot them; they were indifferent to acts of torture committed by the guards. It was as if what happened did not "really" happen to oneself. There was again the split between the "me" to whom it happened, and the "me" who really did not care and was a detached observer.
After more than 80 prisoners had died, and several hundred had their extremities so badly frozen that they had later to be amputated, the prisoners were permitted to return to the barracks. They were completely exhausted, but did not experience the feeling of happiness which some had expected. They felt relieved that the torture was over, but felt at the -same time that they no longer were free from fear.
The psychological reactions to events which were within the sphere of the normally comprehensible were different from those to extreme events. Prisoners dealt with less extreme events in the same way as if they bad happened outside of the camp. A slap in one's face was embarrassing, and not to be discussed. One hated the individual guards who kicked, slapped, or abused much more than the guard who wounded one seriously. In the latter case one hated the Gestapo as such, but not the individual inflicting the punishment. This differentiation was unreasonable, but inescapable. One felt deeper and more violent aggressions against particular Gestapo members who had committed minor vile acts than one felt against those who had acted in a more terrible fashion. Thus it seems that experiences which might have happened during the prisoner's "normal" life history provoked a "normal" reaction. Prisoners seemed particularly sensitive to punishments similar to those which a parent might inflict on his child. To punish a child was within their "normal" frame of reference, but that they should be the object of punishment destroyed their adult frame of reference. So they reacted to it not in an adult, but in a childish way-with shame and violent, impotent, unmanageable emotions directed, not against the system, but against the person inflicting the punishment. It seems that if a prisoner was cursed, slapped, pushed around "like a child" and if he was, like a child, unable to defend himself, this revived in him behaviour patterns and psychological mechanisms which he had developed in childhood. he was unable to see his treatment in its general context. He swore that he was going "to get even," well knowing that this was impossible. He could not develop an objective evaluation which would have led him to consider his suffering as minor when compared with other experiences. The prisoners as a group developed the same attitude to minor sufferings; they did not offer help and blamed the prisoner for not having made the right reply, for letting himself get caught, in short, accused him of behaving like a child. So the degradation of the prisoner took place not only in his mind, but also in the minds of his fellow prisoners. This attitude extended to details. A prisoner did not resent being cursed by the guards during an extreme experience, but was ashamed of it when it occurred during some minor mistreatment. As time went on the difference in the reaction to minor and major sufferings slowly disappeared. This change in reaction was only one of many differences between old and new prisoners.
Differences in the Psychological Attitudes of Old and New Prisoners. In the following discussion the term "new prisoners" designates those who had not spent more than one year in the camp; "old" prisoners are those who have spent at least three years in the camp.
All the emotional efforts of the new prisoners seemed to be directed toward returning to the outer world as the same persons who had left it. Old prisoners seemed mainly concerned with the problem of how to live well within the camp. Once they had reached this attitude, everything that happened to them, even the worst atrocity, was "real" to them. No longer was there a split between one to whom things happened and the one who observed them. When they reached this stage the prisoners were afraid of returning to the outer world. Moreover, they then hardly believed they would ever return to it. They seemed aware that they had adapted themselves to the life in the camp and that this process was coexistent with a basic change in their personality. There was considerable variation among individuals in the time it took them to make their peace with the idea of having to spend the rest of their lives in the camp. How long it took a prisoner to cease to consider life outside the camp as real depended to a great extent on the strength of his emotional ties to his family and friends. Some of the indications for the changed attitude were: scheming to find a better place in the camp rather than trying to contact the outer world, avoiding speculation about one's family or world affairs, concentrating all interest on events taking place inside of the camp. Some of the old prisoners admitted that they no longer could visualise themselves living outside the camp, making free decisions, taking care of themselves and their families. Other differences between old and new prisoners could he recognised in their hopes for their future lives, in the degree to which they regressed to infantile behaviour, and in many other ways.
Changes In Attitudes toward One's Family and Friends. The new prisoners received most signs of attention. Their families were trying everything to free them. Nevertheless, they accused them of not doing enough, of betraying them. They would weep over a letter telling of the efforts to liberate them, but curse in the next moment when learning that some of their property had been sold without their permission. Even the smallest change in their former private world attained tremendous importance. This ambivalence seemed due to their desire to return exactly the person who had left. Therefore they feared any change, however trifling, in their former situation. Their worldly possessions should be secure and untouched, although they were of no use to them at this moment.
It is difficult to say whether the desire that everything remain unchanged was due to their realisation of how difficult it might he to adjust to an entirely changed home situation or to some sort of magical thinking running along the following lines: If nothing changes in the world in which I used to live, then I shall not change, either. In this way they might have tried to counteract their feeling that they were changing. The violent reaction against changes in their families was their the counterpart of the realisation that they were changing. What enraged them was probably not only the fact of the change, but also the change in their status within the family which it implied. Their families had been dependent on them for decisions, now they were dependent. The only chance they saw for becoming again the head of the family was that the family structure remain untouched despite their absence. The question arises as to how they could blame their families for changes which occurred in them, and whose cause they were. It might be that the prisoners took so much punishment that they could not accept any blame. They felt that they had atoned for any past shortcomings in their relations to their families and friends, and for any changes which might occur in them. Thus they felt free to hate other people, even their own families, for their defects. The feeling of having atoned for all guilt had some real foundation. When the concentration camps were established the Nazis detained in them their more prominent foes. Soon there were no more prominent enemies left. Still, an institution was needed to threaten the opponents of the system. Many Germans were dissatisfied with the system. To imprison all of these would have interrupted the functioning of the industrial production. Therefore, if a group of the population got fed up with the Nazi regime, a selected few members of the group were brought into the concentration camp. If lawyers, for instance, became restless, a few hundred lawyers were sent to the camp. The Gestapo called such group punishments "actions." During the first of them only the leaders of the opposing group were punished. That led to the feeling that to belong to a rebellious group as a member only was not dangerous. Soon the Gestapo revised its system and punished a cross section of the different strata of the group. This procedure had not only the advantage of spreading terror among all members of the group, but made it possible to destroy the group without necessarily touching the leader if that was for some reason inopportune. Though prisoners were never told why they were imprisoned, those imprisoned as representatives of a group came to know it. Prisoners were interviewed by the Gestapo to gain information about their friends. During these interviews prisoners were told that if their fate did not teach the group to behave better they would get a chance to meet them in the camp. So the prisoners rightly felt that they were atoning for the rest of the group.
Old prisoners did not like to he reminded of their families and former friends. When they spoke about them, it was in a very detached way. A contributing factor was the prisoners' hatred of all those living outside of the camp, who "enjoyed life as if we were not rotting away." The outside world which continued to live as if nothing had happened was in the minds of the prisoners represented by those whom they used to know, namely, by their relatives and friends. But even this hatred was subdued in the old prisoners. It seemed that, as much as they had forgotten to love their kin, they had lost the ability to hate them. They had learned to direct a great amount of aggression against themselves so as not] to get into too many conflicts with the Gestapo while the new prisoners still directed their aggressions against the outer world, and when not supervised - against the Gestapo. Since the old prisoners did not show much emotion either way, they were unable to feel strongly about anybody.
Old prisoners did not like to mention their former social status; new prisoners were rather boastful about it. New prisoners seemed to back their self-esteem by letting others know how important they had been. Old prisoners seemed to have accepted their state of dejection, and to compare it with their former splendour was probably too depressing.
Hopes About Life after Liberation. Closely connected with the prisoners' attitudes toward their families were their hopes concerning their life after release from camp. Here they embarked a great deal on individual and group daydreams. To indulge in them was one of the favourite pastimes if the general emotional climate in the camp was not too depressed. There was a marked difference between the daydreams of the new and the old prisoners. The longer the time a prisoner had spent in camp, the less true to reality were his daydreams; so much so that the hopes and expectations of the old prisoners often took the form of eschatological or messianic hopes. They were convinced that out of the coming world war and world revolution they would emerge as the future leaders of Germany at least, if not of the world. This was the least to which their sufferings entitled them. These grandiose expectations were coexistent with great vagueness as to their future private lives. In their daydreams they were certain to emerge as the future secretaries of state, but they were less certain whether they would continue to live with their wives and children. Part of these daydreams may be explained by the fact that they seemed to feel that only a high public position could help them to regain their standing within their families.
The hopes and expectations of the new prisoners were truer to reality. Despite their open ambivalence about their families, they never doubted that they were going to continue to live with them. They hoped to continue their public and professional lives in the same way as they used to.
Regression Into Infantile Behaviour. Most of the adaptations to the camp situation mentioned so far were more or less individual behaviours. The regression to infantile behaviour was a mass phenomenon. It would not have taken place if it had not happened in all prisoners. The prisoners did not interfere with another's daydreams or his attitudes to his family, but they asserted their power as a group over those who objected to deviations from normal adult behaviour. Those who did not develop a childlike dependency on the guards were accused of threatening the security of the group, an accusation which was not without foundation, since the Gestapo punished the group for the misbehaviour of the individual. The regression into childlike behaviour was more inescapable than other types of behaviour imposed on the individual by the impact of the conditions in the camp.
The prisoners developed types of behaviour characteristic of infancy or early youth. Some of them have been discussed, such as ambivalence to one's family, despondency, finding satisfaction in daydreaming rather than in action. During the transportation the prisoners were tortured in a way in which a cruel and domineering father might torture a helpless child; at the camp they were also debased by techniques which went much further into childhood situations. They were forced to soil themselves. Their defecation was strictly regulated. Prisoners who needed to eliminate had to obtain the permission of the guard. It seemed as if the education to cleanliness would be once more repeated. It gave pleasure to the guards to hold the power of granting or withholding the permission to visit the latrines. This pleasure found its counterpart in the pleasure the prisoners derived from visiting them, because there they could rest for a moment, secure from the whips of the overseers.
The prisoners were forced to say "thou" to one another, which in Germany is indiscriminately used only among small children. They were not permitted to address one another with the many titles to which middle- and upper-class Germans are accustomed. On the other hand, they had to address the guards in the most deferential manner, giving them all their titles.
The prisoners lived, like children, only in the immediate present; they lost the feeling for the sequence of time; they became unable to plan for the future or to give up immediate pleasure satisfactions to gain greater ones in the near future. They were unable to establish durable object-relations. Friendships developed as quickly as they broke up. Prisoners would, like adolescents, fight one another tooth and nail, only to become close friends within a few minutes. They were boastful, telling tales about what they had accomplished in their former lives, or how they succeeded in cheating guards. Like children they felt not at all set back or ashamed when it became known that they had lied about their prowess.
Another factor contributing to the regression into childhood behaviour was the work the prisoners were forced to perform. Prisoners were forced to perform nonsensical tasks, such as carrying heavy rocks from one place to another, and back to the place where they had picked them up. They were forced to dig holes in the ground with their bare bands, although tools were available. They felt debased when forced to perform "childish" and stupid labour, and preferred even harder work when it produced something that might be considered useful. There seems to be no doubt that the tasks they performed, as well as the mistreatment by the Gestapo which they had to endure, contributed to their disintegration as adult persons.
THE FINAL ADJUSTMENT TO THE LIFE IN THE CAMP
A prisoner had reached the final stage of adjustment to the camp situation when he changed his personality so as to accept as his own the values of the Gestapo. A few examples may illustrate this.
The prisoners suffered from the steady interference with their privacy on the part of the guards and other prisoners. So a great amount of aggression accumulated. In new prisoners it vented itself in the way it might have done in the world outside the camp. But slowly prisoners accepted, as expression of their verbal aggressions, terms which definitely were taken over from the vocabulary of the Gestapo. From copying the verbal aggressions of the Gestapo to copying their form of bodily aggressions was one more step, but it took several years to make it. Old prisoners, when in charge of others, often behaved worse than the Gestapo because they considered this the best way to behave toward prisoners in the camp.
Most old prisoners took over the Gestapo's attitude toward the so-called unfit prisoners. Newcomers presented difficult problems. Their complaints about life in camp added new strain to the life in the barracks; so did their inability to adjust to it. Bad behaviour in the labour gang endangered the whole group. Thus newcomers who did not stand up well under the strain tended to become a liability for the other prisoners. Moreover, weaklings were those most apt eventually to turn traitors. Therefore old prisoners were sometimes instrumental in getting rid of the unfit, thus shaping their own behaviour in the image of Gestapo ideology. This was only one of the many situations in which old prisoners moulded their way of treating other prisoners according to the example set by the Gestapo. Another was the treatment of traitors. Self-protection asked for their destruction, but the way in which they were tortured for days and slowly killed was copied from the Gestapo.
Old prisoners tended to identify with the Gestapo not only in respect to aggressive behaviour. They tried to arrogate to themselves old pieces of Gestapo uniforms. If that was not possible, they tried to sew and mend their uniforms so that they would resemble those of the guards. When asked why they did it they admitted that they loved to look like one of the guards.
The satisfaction with which old prisoners boasted that, during the twice daily counting of the prisoners, they had stood well at attention can be explained only by their having accepted as their own the values of the Gestapo. Prisoners prided themselves on being as tough as the Gestapo members. This identification with their torturers went so far as copying their leisure time activities. One of the games played by the guards was to find out who could stand to be hit longest without uttering a complaint. This game was copied by old prisoners.
Often the Gestapo would enforce nonsensical rules, originating in the whims of one of the guards. They were usually forgotten as soon as formulated, but there were always some old prisoners who would continue to follow these rules and try to enforce them on others long after the Gestapo had forgotten about them. These prisoners firmly believed that the rules set down by the Gestapo were desirable standards of human behaviour, at least in the camp situation. Other areas in which prisoners made their peace with the values of the Gestapo included the race problem, although race discrimination had been alien to their previous scheme of values.
Among the old prisoners one could observe other developments which indicated their desire to accept the Gestapo along lines which definitely could not originate in propaganda. It seems that, since they returned to a childlike attitude toward the Gestapo, they had a desire that at least some of those whom they accepted as all-powerful father images should be just and kind. They divided their positive and negative feelings - strange as it may be, they had positive feelings - toward the Gestapo in such a way that all positive emotions were concentrated on a few officers who were high up in the hierarchy of camp administrators, but hardly ever on the governor of the camp. They insisted that these officers hid behind their rough surfaces a feeling of justice and propriety; they were supposed to be genuinely interested in the prisoners and even trying, in a small way, to help them. Since these supposed feelings never became apparent, it was explained that they hid them effectively because otherwise they would not be able to help the prisoners. For instance, a whole legend was woven around the fact that of two officers inspecting a barrack one had cleaned his shoes before entering. He probably did it automatically, but it was interpreted as a rebuff to the other officer and a clear demonstration of how he felt about the concentration camp.
After so much has been said about the old prisoners' tendency to identify with the Gestapo, it ought to be stressed that this was only part of the picture. Old prisoners who identified with the Gestapo at other moments also defied it, demonstrating extraordinary courage in doing so.
The concentration camps had an importance reaching far beyond its being a place where the Gestapo took revenge on its enemies, It was the training ground for young Gestapo soldiers who were planning to rule Germany and all conquered nations; it was the Gestapo's laboratory for developing methods for changing free citizens into serfs who in many respects accept their masters' values while they still thought that they were following their own life goals and values. The system was too strong for an individual to break its hold over his emotional life, particularly if he found himself within a group which had more or less accepted the Nazi system. It seemed easier to resist the pressure of the Gestapo if one functioned as an individual; the Gestapo knew it and therefore insisted on forcing all individuals into groups which they supervised. The Gestapo's main goal was to produce in the subjects childlike attitudes and childlike dependency on the will of the leaders.