Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Legacy Department

Rhetorics, Communication, and Information Design


Katz, Steven B

Committee Member

McKale , Donald

Committee Member

Novak , David

Committee Member

Williams , Sean


The Final Solution was largely accomplished in eleven months; its executors, the Nazi SS, faced the constant problem that as killing and plunder escalated so did internal competition and corruption; and the SS deliberately cultivated an intensely competitive and polycratic organizational culture that fit the Nazi worldview of life-as-struggle. By tying these three observations together—that the Final Solution was punctuated, entropic, and polycratic—the problem arises: How did SS organizational communications manage, just barely long enough, to create a temporary social reality that regulated the internal contradictions of its genocidal project and fragmented bureaucracy? This study contends that through its organizational and technical communication—the outwardly normal and communally validated regime of formatted documents, official stationery, preprinted forms, filing codes, organizational nomenclature, and bureaucratic catchphrases—competing SS personnel found a common frame of reference to socially construct rules for temporary cooperation. Thus, their documents became boundary objects (Star & Griesemer, 1989; Wilson & Herndl, 2007) which bridged competing organizational interests within the rhetorical community (Miller, 1994) of desk-murderers. To explore this thesis an evidentiary sample of surviving documents is selected from a single but representative SS bureau, the Security Police (Sipo) Technical Matters Group that administered the mobile gas van program. The documents are analyzed according to Longo's (1998) cultural research methodology for technical writing in which texts are examined in their historical and cultural contexts and then analyzed as discourse, followed by an interrogation of how the texts have been ordered by their analysts for purposes of study and the analysts' relationships to the text. The organization of this project follows this methodology as Chapter 1 introduces the problem; Chapter 2 provides an historical narrative of the gas van program and its antecedents; Chapter 3 reviews the integrative aspects of the Group members' national and institutional cultures, and the differentiating aspects of their organizational culture and its various subcultures; Chapter 4 describes the biographies and postwar testimonies of the Group's principal actors; Chapter 5 introduces and describes the documents themselves; Chapter 6 offers an analysis, grounded in Miller's (1994) concept of the rhetorical community, of the documents' textual and visual rhetorics; Chapter 7 provides a discourse analysis of Group members' use of linguistic resources; Chapter 8 explores various postwar orderings of the lengthiest and most notorious of the gas van texts, prior to and including Katz's (1992a) introduction of the document into the technical communication literature; Chapter 9 interrogates how subsequent analysts within the discipline have ordered the text and what this may reveal about their relationships to it; and Chapter 10 elaborates possible implications for communication ethics. The research problem is answered with the claim that, rather than understanding the Final Solution only as the operation in extremis of Weberian bureaucratic rationality, the desk-murderers may be viewed as a rhetorical community that held chaos at bay through boundary objects—their documents—that deployed metaphors, narratives, and genres onto which competing interests could project their own interpretations while constructing temporary spaces of cooperation.

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