''Would it be true to say that you finally felt that they weren’t really human beings?''

''. . . Cargo,'' he said in a dull voice. ''They were cargo.''

''There were so many children; did they ever make you think of your children, of how you would feel in the position of those parents?''

''No,'' he said slowly, ''I can't say I ever thought that way. You see,''he then continued, still speaking with this extreme seriousness and obvious intent of finding truth within himself, ''I rarely saw them as individuals. It was always a huge mass.''

An interview by Gitta Sereny with Franz Stangl, Nazi commandant of Treblinka camp in World War II. Her book is Into That Darkness.

I'm reminded of Sereny’s chilling exchanges with Franzl Stangl because of the atrocity in Norway this week. Anders Behring Breivik, 32, massacred 76 people by explosives and guns, 68 of whom were young people on a Labour Party-sponsored camp. There is no analogy between the events of Stangl's life, who died aged 70 in prison, in 1971 and those of Breivik's.

Stangl claimed that he was a just a cog in the machine, a dutiful officer, efficient in his job. It's to Sereny's eternal credit that she was able, over the course of her interviews with him, to crack open the facade far enough that Stangl condemned himself through his own words.

So it will prove with Breivik, as it has already started. He is not part of a behemoth death machine. He has admitted responsibility but not guilt.

The murders were heinous, he justifies, but necessary. It was, in other words, to him a cleansing. Between 2-3 per cent of Norway's population is Muslim, having immigrated in the past 20 years.

What a piece of work.

In Breivik's mind, flesh, blood and spirit became object; people became targets, and their deaths became a goal. In the planning and execution of this monstrous deed — and it appears he had been planning this for years — the core of all that defines the beauty of humankind was drained from the cup.

Judge Kim Heger, before whom Breivik appeared this week, said: ''The operation was not intended to kill as many people as possible, but to give 'a sharp signal' to the people that can’t be misunderstood - (that) as long as the Labour party follows its ideological line and continues to deconstruct Norwegian culture and import Muslims en masse so they must take responsibility for this treason.''

The Norwegian Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, evoked the Nazi invasion date of April 9 in promising that never again would such a thing happen.

''We promise never again July 22,'' he said. It's a vow drawn from a well of deep anguished grief, but it can never be completely assured.

For how can you completely defend against an unhinged mind?

Here is a man who murdered for his own cause and yet did not regard the effect of his actions as in any way mitigating against the slaughter. He dressed as a police officer to lure young people out of hiding so that he could mow them down. The callousness, the cruelty, the inhumanity of this makes his statements about the death toll not being significant a lie. If he felt so badly about his country’s perceived directions, why did he choose extreme violence ahead of non-violent means? No, it was easy to be a craven killer than a disgruntled letter writer to the editor.

The massacre of the innocent was Breivik’s cargo. To him, humans became un-people. He was the delivery man to his country, and the world. The same motivation can be said of the 9/11 hijackers. But, in truth, history is littered with monsters (Hitler and Stalin, for instance) who, in trying to slake their thirst for domination over other peoples, give life a value of nothing. Perhaps, the human race is, as Jonathan Swift wrote in Gulliver’s Travels, just a bunch of nasty, brutish horrible creatures called Yahoos. It's a wonderful feeling that we can answer, No, it is not. No other creature can express hope so hopelessly.

Everyone, of course, has their own prejudices and biases. Breivik has been linked to a network of anti-Muslim crusaders, so he would have found succour in others having views similar to his own. Ranting is one thing (that's why we have soapboxes, chambers of parliament and internet chat forums), but Breivik took his rant and shaped it into a grostesquery. Did he hate his victims so much that he had to take their lives?

This is the hardest thing. In fact, he didn’t viscerally hate his victims.

They died because they were cargo.