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Helmut Walser Smith’s The Butcher’s Tale Essay

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Updated: May 7th, 2019


The state sponsored, bureaucratic and systematic murder and brutal persecution of over six million Jews in the holocaust by Nazi regime has been a major distressing issue in the history of the world.

The sacrifice of individuals by fire as the Greek word Holocaust suggests was an act by the Nazi under the leadership of Adolf Hitler who in 1933 had risen to power and who believed that compared to the Jews, Germans were racially superior and that the latter were a threat to the racial German community. This paper analyses local relations between Jewish and non-Jewish populations in Germany from the perspective of Helmut Walser Smith’s The Butcher’s Tale and how it contributed to the Holocaust.

A brief overview of the origin of Holocaust from the Butchers tale

Different studies have revealed the causes of holocaust to have been attributed by many factors some of which include demonization of the Jewish community, the rise of the Nazi and the fact that Hitler hated the Jewish society. However, Smith in his book the Butcher’s Tale indicates that it begun from the murder of a youth called Ernst Winter in a German town, Konitz in 1900.[1]

He posits that while strolling in Konitz, West Prussia, two residents of the area discovered the dismembered dead body of Ernst Winter carefully tucked in a package and dumped besides a lake. The discovery of the body drew national attention and sparked off a series of events and suspicions on the involvement of the Jews. Rumors began spreading that perhaps some visiting Jews might have had a hand in the killing of the youth and that it was a Jewish ritual murder.

The police force in Berlin became convinced that the Jews were involved in the murder, a consideration that was witnessed by the accusations leveled by a Berlin police inspector along with his allies against a Jewish Butcher called Hoffman. The accusations among other tense issues led to the rise of mobs in Konitz who began to violently attack Jews in the area.

The violent chaos in Konitz drew the presence of the army which came to quell the violence. Smith creates an understanding from the series of events that were happening that it was the beginning of a process that led to the Holocaust. A town which had earlier on been peaceful turned violent with neighbors turning against one another.[2]

It is imperative to note that from the outset, anti-Semites were bent on turning the murder suspicion against the community of the Jews. It was evident that there was no connection of the murder with any Israelite. The police who as earlier indicated had become so engrossed in the issue were accused of plans to shield the Jews.

That same year in June, agitations and other excesses from the anti-Semitic groups were witnessed in different places like Komarczyn, Tuchel, Butow, stolp, Czersk and Konitz where Jewish homes and synagogues were set on fire. Many Jews who sought help from the courts did not receive justice as their sentiments were met with hostility. Those who tried to fight back were apprehended and given heavy sentences.

The Holocaust

The events that culminated the Holocaust in Germany saw the country perceived as a genocide state since the killing processes that occurred were directed by the sophisticated bureaucracy of the country.

During that era, many institutions in Germany collaborated key among them being the interior ministry and parish churches and the finance ministry which played important roles of supplying records of birth to Nazis showing which individuals were Jewish, confiscated their property and delivered denaturalization and deportation orders.

Many Jewish stockholders, academics and workers were disenfranchised and fired while students were denied admission in colleges. Individuals who reached the concentration camps went through untold sufferings in the hands of German authorities.
Scholars reveal that while the motivation behind the genocides of the holocaust might have been surrounded by non-pragmatic, abstract and mythical ideologies, the systematic slaughter of the Jewish community was systematically carried out in Nazi occupied territories.

These areas by 1939 had a total population of over nine million Jewish citizens. Over three million Jews were killed in Poland while about five million died in Eastern and Central Europe.[3] Other hundreds of thousands were murdered in Greece, Yugoslavia, Belgium, France, Netherlands and the Soviet Union.

The fate of Jews in Germany was already drawn as their properties, arms, security, and even lives were taken away with human rights and dignity completely absent from German authorities. Though having stayed and contributed towards economic development of Germany, the Jewish community found itself under attack by their closest friends, the Germans.

Their property, shops, warehouses and even security were withdrawn and were left to live like slaves in the mercy of a ruthless and merciless German society. Besides, reports given by German authorities were falsified and failed to give to the entire world the suffering that Jews were undergoing.

The picture of the events created by Smith in the book the Butcher’s Tale generates the impression of a friend turned into an enemy and therefore making it easy for Germans to totally destroy thousands of Jews.[4] A time came when Hitler argued that the Jews were making life for Germans difficult by occupying their land, using their resources and even taking employment opportunities that were meant to be for Germans. However, as other scholars narrate, Jews had greatly supported the economic progress of Germany.

The argument by the scholars further point at the ruthless mechanism that Germany used to make Jews be viewed by local people as enemies and thereby legitimized the need to eliminate them. Smith’s clear reflection of the manner that orders to destroy Jews properties were executed, ruthless, brings out the picture of a highly polarized Germany of the greatest enemy of the time, Jews.[5]

Smith reports that the level of destruction of properties and lives the Jewish community in most towns in Germany was extreme. However, the world was made to understand that they were few and not worth getting major focus. A motion was passed to have the Jews excluded from participating in any German cultural event and that for every damage they had caused they pay one billion as fine.

This evidenced that their human rights were no longer observed. The Jews were even not expected to defend themselves because the state was correct and no opposition could be tolerated.

The publication by Smith reflects a view of totalitarian states in the classic period. For Germans, Hitler made them belief that the Jews were the greatest, worst and most dangerous enemies that required not just beating, but killing in a holocaust. The publication further reflects a continued replica of Bismarck’s view and preference of running with Iron and blood as outlined in the Bismarck Germany.

The need to protect the honor of Germany

Protection of German blood and honor was directed at Jews because the society considered them as enemies and therefore poised to destroy the sacred German orientation. From Hitler’s perspective, the German race and its purity was at the brink of getting assimilated by the Jews.[6] He forbade Germans from marrying and forming relationships with Jewish women. As such, the Jews became Isolated and could not relate for development purposes.

This was a sure way of bringing their hardworking nature and efforts into jeopardy. Imposing greater fines as the publication indicates was highly frightening and it clearly indicated that Jews were completely unwelcome in the country and an indication of more sinister actions, holocaust to come. However, Smith’s the publication only indicates measures that Hitler intended to take against the Jews, it fails to cite what Jews had done to warrant such ruthless treatment.

Besides, Hitler appeared to have lived his words as expressed in the Hitler Youth Quex where he sought to challenge existing authorities and give Germany high pride. Notably, Hitler laws carry forward emergent classical typical model of bad leadership in the name of protecting one’s own people. Former German leader in late 19th century, Bismarck had indicated the need for Germany autonomy and its self independence without external influences.

In this case, Jews were considered as outsiders and therefore only affecting negatively the progress of Germany and its people. Like in Hitler’s efforts to conquer and expand the territory of Germans as expressed in the Butcher’s Tale, Hitler is seen as a person who did not care the feelings, emotions, suffering and losses of others as far as in his perceptions, Germans would benefit.

Racial Definition of 1933

This decree created the first definition of racial discrimination which increased and culminated to ultimate decision to destroy Jews and their property in trial to protect German honor.

The decree is a strong undercurrent that drove all people in Germany to remain highly faithful to Hitler by executing his orders without questioning and making his ideas come to reality. This decree, as the first racial move by the Nazi administration to discriminate against non-Germans set the pace for latter rules such as Laws for the protection of German blood and German honor.

By seeking to redefine people in Germany on the basis of race, the decree only created animosity and made the entire Germany population to run wild against non-Germans especially of Jewish descent. The decree could also be described in analyst’s considerations of totalitarianism where a leader’s view points was absolute and always correct. The decree, as drawn, was final and all people in Germany had to classify themselves either as Germans or non-Germans, with the latter requiring approval for one to live in Germany.

Adolf Hitler and the Nuremberg laws

The creation of Nuremburg laws by Adolf Hitler reflects his intolerance with Jews and their behavior mediated by international nations and guided towards offending and taking away Germans pride. The laws were meant to incite and poison Germans against Jews who they had lived earlier on as one family.

By considering that Jews existence in Germany was a problem, Hitler, as manifested in many historical accounts caused the Jews to start suffering as their land, property and other belongings were taken away.[7] As they became entirely dependent on the Germany authorities because they could not be involved in economic production, Hitler was able to even make his created scenario appear to be real to Germans.

The notion of external influences and how the Jews were being manipulated to defy Hitler and existing authorities could be understood as part of the Hitler’s efforts to show the world that Germany was back and could not be dictated to, like it happened during the Treaty of Versatile. By indicating that the laws he presented were supported by the people, Hitler reflected the thin difference between him and the people. In him was Germany and Germans had him in their hearts, a factor which he thought was unchangeably the will of the people.

Nuremburg laws were set up with the notion that it was meant to come up with a legislative solution to the problems that the Jewish society was facing. While it was already clear that the Jews were already a problem and an urgent solution was important, Hitler used the laws to legitimize his actions against the Jews and gathers even greater support by accusing them to his people.

However, international observers opposed his move and incited the Jews against such laws, a consideration that saw Hitler react by subjecting Jews to Holocaust which saw massive numbers of Jews being killed.

The Nuremburg laws are a replica of the laws that sought to protect German blood and honor from Jews interference. Hitler in both cases moved to set out conditions that would oppress the Jews and support Germans. From Smith’s perspective, it could appear that the Jews had made gross moves to undermine the German administration.[8]

As Bismarck indicated in his speech on Bismarck Germany, there was strong move to ensure that more Germans were in control of resources to make it easy to mobilize them in the war to conquer neighbors. Jews, having acquired large quantities of wealth largely from their efforts and enterprising nature could not have evaded being the first target in the looming fight to revenge for WWII and expand Germany beyond its boarders by then.


To sum up, the discussions in this paper were based on the thesis statement ‘The state sponsored, bureaucratic and systematic murder and brutal persecution of over six million Jews in the holocaust by Nazi regime has been a major distressing issue in the history of the world’. It is evident form the discussion that the death of a young boy and the violent riots by Christians claiming the murder was ritual was one of the major factors that led to the Holocaust.

As indicated, the blood-libel charge that was witnessed during the holocaust has for many centuries haunted many Jews. The book the Butcher’s Tale offers lessons for leaders in the modern society to keep off vices like ethnicity and racism which impact negatively on the peaceful existence of a community.


Smith, Walser. The Butcher’s Tale: Murder and Anti-Semitism in a German Town. London; W. W. Norton, 2002.


  1. Walser Smith, The Butcher’s Tale: Murder and Anti-Semitism in a German Town. (London; W. W. Norton, 2002), p. 5
  2. Ibid. p.56
  3. Ibid. p.78
  4. Ibid. p. 18
  5. Ibid. p.43
  6. Ibid. p. 58
  7. Ibid. p. 84
  8. Ibid. p. 154.
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