Responses to the Holocaust: Bystanders, Collaborators and Resisters

I. Factors leading to indifference and even acquiescence: Isolation, Legislation, Terror

A. Isolation of Jews from the population, incremental from 1933-1939

1. Boycott of Jewish stores in Germany, April 1933

a. Majority did not acquiesce

My mother said she would do her shopping wherever she pleased. She went by prices and quality, not by baptismal certificates, Party membership, or documents proving Aryan descent. -- Engelmann, 28

2. Nuremberg Laws, 1935 -38

a. Most people did not protest these laws

I don't know whether she gave in -- probably not. But in any case there were fewer and fewer Jewish businesses. Most of them had to be sold by their owners -- Aryanized, as it was called. -- Engelman, 28

b. Many people had erroneous ideas about Jewish influence in Germany

3. Kristallnacht, November 1938

a. Most Germans revolted by violence and destruction (but not legal measures against Jews in the same time frame)

On the one hand we have to collect paper and empty toothpaste tubes and on the other millions of marks worth of damage is caused deliberately.

b. Kershaw: "A widespread hostility to Jews, uncritical approval of antisemitic decrees of the government, but sharp condemnation of the pogrom because of its destruction and the tasteless hooligan character of it, characterized the reactions of a considerable part of the population."

B. Results of legislation phase

1. Kershaw: "Increasingly from 1938 on the Jews were forced to either emigrate or retire wholly into isolation on the fringes of society. Either way, Germans saw less and less Jews."

a. Jews driven out of most businesses

b. Loss of citizenship and rights

c. Impoverishment and terror

d. Loss of freedom to mingle with other Germans

2. Results: Hard to get worked up over people one rarely saw

a. "Further dehumanization could therefore, only increase the state of German indifference." -- Kershaw

C. Terror and the suppression of dissent: Communists and dissenting political parties

1. Concentration camps established immediately in 1933

a. Effectively removed active dissenting leadership

b. Instill fear of action in everyone else

c. "Hush! You don't want to be sent to a concentation camp!"

d. Fear of torture

2. By 1934 half of the Communist members were in prisons or camps

a. "Beefsteak Nazis" -- brown on the outside, red on the inside

D. Terror and suppression of dissent: Controlling the churches

1. Protestants (54% of German Christians)

a. Reichskirche (State Church): thoroughly Nazified

b. 1933: State church statement: missionizing to Jews opposed, as were Jewish-Christian marriages and "Christian cosmopolitanism"

c. Sports Palace Declaration (1933): need to de-Judaize Christianity

d. many prominent theologians: Walter Grundemann, Gerhard Kittel, Paul Althaus, Emmanuel Kirsch

e. Later claimed to be "first victim of the Nazis"

2. The Confessing Church (Bekennende kirche ): nearly 2000 pastors arrested and sent to camps 1935-7

a. Remaining pastors forced to swear loyalty oath to Hitler

b. Opposition theologians: Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Niemoller

c. Barman declaration, 1934: Opposition to Nazism and particular brand of "Deutschchristen"

d. Both groups hampered by Lutheran understanding that all authority comes from God (including the state)

e. Church not here to question earthly authority

3. The Catholic Church

a. Pius XI signed concordats (agreements) with both Hitler and Mussolini

b. Fear of minority status; belief that Nazis would target Catholics

c. Mit Brennende Sorge (With Burning Anxiety): 1937

d. No opposition to Nuremberg Laws

e. Pius XII: Sent telegram congratulating Hitler's escape from attempted assassination

f. Commissioned Jesuit, Father John La Farge, to write encyclical denouncing Nazi racism (never published)

E. Conclusions

1. Remarkable as it may seem, the Jewish Question was of no more than minimal interest to the vast majority of Germans during the war years in which the mass slaughter of Jews was taking place . . . The evidence allows for no other conclusion. -- Kershaw

2. As individuals, religious people might help Jews, but they were under no religious obligation to do so and were not encouraged by leaders of their faiths

3. Dissenting elements of the population removed by the time the Final Solution implemented

4. Isolation meant that one would be taking risks for strangers

II. How much did Germans know?

A. Atrocities in the East fairly widely known

1. Brought back by soldiers on leave

a. Private Georg

2. Attempts at secrecy nonetheless (Himmler's "never to be written page of glory")

B. Bureaucracy assumes large numbers of people knew and participated at some level

1. Transportation system, IG Farben and other corporations all employed large numbers of people

2. Handout, Hilberg: An administrative process of such range cannot be carried out by a single agency . . . It must ultimately feed upon the resources of the entire organized community. That is why we found among the perpetrators the highly differentiated technicians of armaments, the remote officials of the Postal Ministry, and -- in the all-important operation of furnishing records for determination of descent -- the members of the aloof and withdrawn Catholic clergy . . . The machinery of destruction, then, was structurally no different from German society as a whole. --Perpetators, Victims, Bystanders

3. Secrecy at each level (but not overall) made it difficult for people to admit to

a. Whoever didn't know, wasn't supposed to know

b. Expectation that those who did know would participate

c. Governor Frank: "The Blood Kit" (we are all acommplices)

d. Became bad form to talk about it: "It was, with us, thank God, an inborn gift of tactfulness, that we have never conversed about this matter, never spoken about it. Every one of us was horrified, yet every one of us knew we would do it again if ordered and if it were necessary." -- Heinrich Himmler, 1943

4. People believed that the severest repercussions fell on those who admitted it was wrong on principle (not that they couldn't participate out of weakness)

a. Example of those who did were quite public: Father Lichtenberg, Berlin priest; Pastor Kloetzel (When we see a flagrant wrong committed, when we ourselves are asked to do wrong, even on high authority, then we must refuse and listen to God rather than men, for men may well be deluded.) -- both killed in concentration camps in 1935

b. Perceptions of powerlessness

c. A despotic regime ruled by terror, secret police, and concentration camps

III. What kinds of resistance might people have participated in?

A. Work slow-downs, passive non-compliance (low personal risk)

1. Hardly ever happened: why?

a. Hilberg: No such obstruction stopped the German machine of destruction. No moral problems proved insurmountable. When all participating personnel were put to the test, there were very few lingerers and almost no deserters . . . That is a phenomenon of the greatest magnitude.

b. Cannot be explained by fear: widespread labor shortages made it unlikely one would lose one's job

2. Resignation in protest: example, the Wehrmacht

3. Theories

a. Efficiency over morality: Hauptkommissar Berger

b. Divorcing the job from its implications: Klaus-Gunter

c. Careerism: radical Jewish policies perceived as career advancement

B. Efforts towards rescue of Jews (high personal risk) -- next week

C. Political resistance (extremely high personal risk)

1. Die Rote Kapelle (Red Orchestra): 1942

a. Communist group providing military information to Soviets

b. Plans for sabotage of German armaments factories

c. Collected food and aid for Jews, arms for underground

d. Betrayed by Russian agent captured by Admiral Canaris

e. Members tortured and executed 1942

2. Non-violent protest: The White Rose

a. Leaflets calling for sabotaging arms production

b. "We had no pwer and never hoped to gain it."

c. Activities directed toward stopping war, not helping Jews

d. Arrested and executed, along with family members

3. Attempted assassination of Hitler, July 20, 1944

a. High officers convinced Hitler was ruining Germany

b. Plan for seizing Berlin in military coup

c. SS actually outnumbered army in Berlin by then

d. General Tresckow: "The assassination must be attempted at any cost. Even should it fail, the attempt to seize power in the capital must be undertaken. We must prove to the world and to future generations that the men of the German resistance movement dared to take the decisive step and to hazard their lives upon it . . . Nothing else matters."

e. Attempt to secure a more favorable peace for Germany

f. All participants tortured and executed as traitors, not heroic resisters

g. Families all sent to concentration camps

h. Martyrs or traitors?

IV. Other occupied countries: a comparison

A. Degree of complicity in the Holocaust, participation in roundups, widens the scope of participation and/or non-response

1. Nazi program could not have been carried out Europe-wide otherwise

B. Theories about complicity: degree of integration into larger society

1. Denmark: small population, well-integrated into society, escape hatch close at hand -- entire community was saved

2. France, Bulgaria: small population, populace protected native but not refugee Jews

a. Locals participated in roundups of refugees

3. Italy, Netherlands: Well-integrated into society, but strong Nazi and collaborationist pressures resulted in deportation of nearly the entire Jewish populations

a. Work strike in the Netherlands only increased Nazi terror

b. Germans took over anti-Jewish actions in Italy

4. Belgium: small Hasidic population, not assimilated at all, but viewed as Belgian nonetheless

a. Belgian police rounded up refugee but not native Belgian Jews

5. Poland: Isolation already the norm plus severe consequences for collaborators (handout)

a. Isolation meant one would be taking risks for strangers

b. In Poland, Jews generally approached Christians rather than the reverse

c. Germans regarded Slavs as sub-human, had no compunctions about shooting them on the spot

d. Rewards offered for turning in Jews

C. Active resistance: most resistance movements in Europe did not become active until early 1944 (too late to save Jews)

Bibliography of books quoted

Bernt Engelmann, In Hitler's Germany (New York: Schocken Books, 1986)

Sarah Gordon, Hitler, Germans, and the 'Jewish Question' (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1984)

Raul Hilberg, Perpetrators, Victims, Bystanders (New York: Harper Collins, 1992)

Ian Kershaw, The Nazi Dictatorship (London: 2000)