Evaluation of the field post letters up until now has shown without doubt that not only German Army commanders had given up the orders, the commissar order to murder, but that the simple soldiers were willing to execute these orders because of their ingrained hatred. The image of the Jewish Bolshevist foe was widespread.
The question that is bound to occur is: What was the average German of that time capable of? What were Germans willing to do?
One must distinguish precisely between anti-Semitism and genocide of the Jews and ask: How did anti-Semitism develop into genocide? That was the barrier, so to speak, that had to be overcome.
They didn’t march in [to Lemberg] with genocide of the Jews in mind. It would be all wrong to claim that. It would be unfair to these soldiers. They didn’t know what was in store for them, what was planned. Some of the orders were unknown to them. They were only told during the attack. But this racism that suddenly foments murder happened there.
… the ideological conviction that “these are subhumans and we have to murder them. As superhumans we have the right to do so.”
This contempt strengthened the anti-Semitism. Contempt is an incredibly negative emotion. Hate is something else. The Soviets and the Bolsheviks were hated. They were the enemy, but when you feel contempt for someone, they are unworthy of living. Moreover, they are unworthy of existing on this earth. . . . Contempt is not synonymous with willingness to kill, but for a start, harassing. Cutting off beards. . . . Beards are cut off to humiliate. . . . Inhibitions about violence had vanished. . . . And if a pogrom begins, if Jews are suddenly persecuted, they are the ones held in contempt.
— Various German historians interviewed in the documentary The Unknown Soldier