WORLD WAR II FROM A TO Z

 

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Night and Fog or Nacht und Nebel in German was a directive issued by Adolf Hitler on 7 December 1941.  Yes, the same day that Imperial Japan Attack the United States in Pearl Harbor.

Adolf Hitler 1941

Adolf Hitler 1941

The directive was originally intended to flush out all political activists and resistance helpers.  Generally anyone Hitler thought would endanger German security throughout Nazi Germany’s occupied territories.  Three months later Armed Forces High Command Feldmarschall Wilhelm Keitel expanded it to include all persons in occupied countries who had been taken into custody and were still alive eight days later; they were subsequently handed over to the Gestapo. The decree was meant to intimidate local populations into submission by denying friends and families of the missing any knowledge of their whereabouts or their fate. The prisoners were secretly transported to Germany, and vanished without a trace. In 1945, the seized Sicherheitsdienst (SD) (Nazi Security Service) records were found to include merely names and the initials NN (Nacht und Nebel); even the sites of graves were unchronicled. To this day, it is not known how many thousands of people disappeared as a result of this order.

Commemorative plaque of the French victims at Hinzert concentration camp, using the expressions "Nacht und Nebel" and "NN-Deported"

Commemorative plaque of the French victims at Hinzert concentration camp, using the expressions “Nacht und Nebel” and “NN-Deported”

After the war, the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg held that the disappearances committed as part of the Nacht und Nebel program were war crimes which violated both the Hague Conventions (similar to the Geneva Conventions) and customary international law.

Background

Hitler and his high level staff decided they would not conform to any rules like the Geneva Convention.  Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler issued the following instructions to the Gestapo:

After lengthy consideration, it is the will of the Führer that the measures taken against those who are guilty of offenses against the Reich or against the occupation forces in occupied areas should be altered. The Führer is of the opinion that in such cases penal servitude or even a hard labor sentence for life will be regarded as a sign of weakness. An effective and lasting deterrent can be achieved only by the death penalty or by taking measures which will leave the family and the population uncertain as to the ate of the offender. Deportation to Germany serves this purpose.

Nearly a week later on 12 December 1941, Feldmarschall Wilhelm Keitel issued a directive to explain Hitler’s orders:

Efficient and enduring intimidation can only be achieved either by capital punishment or by measures by which the relatives of the criminals do not know the fate of the criminal.

In a letter he wrote in February 1942, Keitel stated that any prisoners not executed within eight days were to be transported to Germany secretly and endure further treatment there.  He felt that these measures would have the desired deterrent effect because the prisoners will vanish without a trace and no information would be given out as to their whereabouts or their fate.

Night and Fog prisoners were usually arrested in the middle of the night and quickly transported hundreds of miles away to be questioned and if they survived, they were put into concentration camps.  Through 30 April 1944, at least 6.639 person, mostly from France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway, were captured under the Nacht und Nebel orders.

The program made it far more difficult to bring charges against Germany.  You can’t be charged for ill treatment of prisoners if the victim can’t be located to know their fate.  In the beginning, the citizens of Germany didn’t know this was occurring so the Nazis could keep the public ignorant.

Treatment of Prisoners

Head shaved, thin cotton dress, wooden sandals and a triangular black headcloth was the uniform of a Nacht und Nebel prisoner.  These prisoners were marked by broad red bands; on their backs and both trouser legs was a cross, with the letter NN to its right. With these emblems, it was possible to recognize the class of prisoner and allowed the Nazis to evaluate the prison population.  They were herded like animals and often transported to different prisons in dirty trucks with no food or water.

Night and Fog

Night and Fog

The average day in the camps started at 5:00 am and lasted for 12 hours with very limited break for a less than adequate meal.  Often the prisoners would be forced to stand for hours in freezing or wet conditions.  If they became ill and could not work, they were taken and exterminated.

Result

In the end, all the Nazi propaganda was not enough to hide the crimes. On 23 November 1944 when the French entered one of the Nacht und Nebel facilities they discovered a chamber where victims were hung by their writres from hooks so as to accommodate the process of pumping Zyklon-B gas into the room.

Defendants at Nuremberg Trials: The Nuremberg Trials were a series of trials held in Nuremberg, Germany in 1945–46 where former Nazi leaders were tried as war criminals by the International Military Tribunal. The indictment filed against them contained four counts: crimes against peace, crimes against humanity, war crimes and " a common plan or conspiracy to commit" the criminal acts listed in the first three counts. (Photo Credit: Corbis)

Defendants at Nuremberg Trials: The Nuremberg Trials were a series of trials held in Nuremberg, Germany in 1945–46 where former Nazi leaders were tried as war criminals by the International Military Tribunal. The indictment filed against them contained four counts: crimes against peace, crimes against humanity, war crimes and ” a common plan or conspiracy to commit” the criminal acts listed in the first three counts. (Photo Credit: Corbis)

During the Nuremberg Trials, Keitel testified that of all the illegal orders he carried out, the Night and Fog Decree was the worst of them all.  For his crimes, including Nacht und Nebel, Feldmarschall Wilhelm Keitel was hung.

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5 responses

  1. Birgit says:

    I don’t recall hearing about this disgusting “process”. Maybe I did and the name never sank in but this is not as well known as what happened the to Jewish people and it needs to be known. How horrible to do this and keep the family under their thumb. Glad he hung-glad so many were executed during the trials

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  2. This is fascinating. My great grand father was actually part of the French resistance (I’m French), and my grandmother tells the story of the Gestapo one day storming their house. The heartbreaking thing is that she was only a child and she thought the Gestapo were after the kittens she had up in the attic, so she ran to the attic to hide them/protect them. She never saw the Gestapo take away her father, and in fact she never saw him again.
    My great-grandfather was detained for locally for a while, and my great-grandmother tried to send him food, I remember in particular they tried to get oranges to him, and then he was moved and they never found out what happened to him. I didn’t know about the Nacht and Nebel until reading your blog, but that casts a new light on what happened to my family – so thank you very much for sharing that with us.

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  3. Sue Archer says:

    I hadn’t heard specifically about the term “Night and Fog” – thank you for this enlightening post.

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