The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)


In order to account for the actions of those individuals in Europe who assisted in implementing the Final Solution, we must review the events immediately after the Holocaust that contributed to the continued denial of justice to the survivors. It is difficult to comprehend how John J. McCloy, for example, managed to arrive at his judgement allowing the directors of the Krupp combine to walk away as free men.

As historian H. Arendt relates, the history of the Final Solution is filled not so much with evil demons, as with normal, educated people who made decisions like McCloy's. Nor was the Final Solution merely a "German problem" -- a mistake many historians continue to make. Rather, the record indicates clearly a much more disturbing truth: That leaders and ordinary people from many countries helped implement the Final Solution, and in many if not almost all countries, the Jewish leaders themselves were involved. It was not only the German forces or the German people then who were corrupted by the Nazi doctrine of the Final Solution. It can be argued that a lack of moral judgement affected all the communities involved in the war, even the leaders of the Jewish people themselves. But is this an accurate portrayal of these events? What underlines the process that leads to the moral behaviour illustrated in the various examples given? Is it enough to describe these events as the result of pressure for survival against the Gestapo, the fear of transportation to a death camp or the fear of opposing the State?

It can be argued that the relevance of this terrible period requires a more personal, psychological appraisal. A high degree of civilization and/or a higher education offers little protection against moral apathy. Yet this truth does not seem to have entered the consciousness of scholarly opinion. The literature is still full of discussions about responsibility and guilt, an approach that has many supporters like Elie Wiesel, the inventor of the term Holocaust, who addressed the German parliament asking them to adopt a resolution that would ask the Jewish people for forgiveness. (Parliament declined).50

Wiesel's views on the Holocaust like many scholarly works on the subject do not address the personal and universal problem that the Final Solution illustrates so starkly. As this paper attempts to show, many individuals, as well as German industry and non-Nazi officials, actively supported the Final Solution, which they considered morally justified. This should be the real lesson of the Holocaust. It is not a question of guilt, but of the potential in every human to act in such an amoral fashion. We all carry not only our own familiar character, but as the German's say a Doppelganger -- our darker potential. Carl Jung describes this other self:

"We are always, thanks to our human nature, potential criminals. In reality, we merely lack a suitable opportunity to be drawn into the infernal melee. None of us stands outside humanity's black collective shadow. Whether the crime lies many generations back or happens today, it remains the symptom of a disposition always and everywhere present and one would therefore do well to possess some "imagination in evil," for only the fool can permanently neglect the conditions of his own nature." 51
Jung is not a historian, but the historical record mirrors his description of the other self which many people exhibited during the Holocaust. Within historical discussions of the Final Solution there is the tacit assumption that this type of behaviour could or should never have occurred, especially in the advanced (in the Western scholarly tradition) society that existed in pre-Nazi Germany, this is perhaps a naive assumption. Such an approach denies most of human history, and treats the Final Solution as an isolated aberration of some abnormal social pathology. This has led to misleading arguments about the beginning of the holocaust, as if this history has a beginning and an end. The Holocaust is really part of a long historical continuum.

The Final Solution occurred not just in Nazi Germany, but all over Europe -- and with the support of thousands of individuals who often had no contact at all with the Nazi party. A doctorate in philosophy or law did not protect intellectuals or even many leaders from moral bankruptcy. And as we can see on television, the same is true in Bosnia today.

We need to examine more realistically those factors which encourage individuals to change their moral beliefs, or that enable them to abandon morality altogether. Judging by the historical record this is a difficult task. Yet, as modern society becomes increasingly bureaucratic and decision makers are increasingly removed from the effects of their actions, it could be argued that the conditions that lead to moral uncertainty or decay will increase rather than lessen.

© 1999 Martin Rose, No reproduction of this document is allowed without the author's permission

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