I have recently finished adding the content for five new sections of the website: “Culture in Nazi Germany“, “Business and the Holocaust“, “Catholic Church and the Holocaust“, “Medical System” and “Medical Experiments.” This represents approximately 40 new subject pages and close to 900 new links added to the site. In the course of my research and pondering how to organize this information, I came across a realization that actually startled me. Maybe my new “insight” is something that is glaringly obvious to anybody that has studied the history, but as they say, the Devil is really in the details.
What I came to realize is this: The events of the Holocaust could never have transpired without the active collaboration and participation of untold numbers of professionals, business and religious leaders, writers, artists, musicians and thinkers, and just plain folk who somehow where in a position to make a life-or-death decision that directly impacted real human lives.
Some of these good folks, such as doctors, nurses and psychiatrists, already occupied positions of great authority and responsibility and had a professional commitment to serve the better interests of their patients. Others came into positions of power and influence through personal or family connections, greed-driven self-interest, or just plain old luck – being in the right place at the right time.
Some of these people were basically opportunists – through various circumstances, they found themselves in a position where they could benefit from seizing an opportunity that presented itself; others created were more calculating and created their own opportunities for personal advancement and lucre.
What they all had in common was that at some point in history, they each had a choice to make: Do I willfully and of my own volition, participate in an undertaking that will most likely inflict great harm, often with fatal consequences on other, innocent people? Am I prepared to look the other way while deals are made, laws are passed, and civil liberties trampled upon – because they do not affect me or my loved ones directly, or because of some convoluted pseudo-scientific rationalizations, or because I crave and love power and am willing to go to any lengths to acquire and exercise this power?
Perhaps they made some type of crude cost-benefit analyses in their minds: What do I stand to gain, compared to the potential downside for myself? That gain could be material or financial, emotional, power or status, or all of the above. The downside, especially for those considered outsiders and inferior beings did not have to factor much into the equation.
Obviously I am simplifying and talking in generalizations. Yet somehow, this is how university professors and scientists, doctors and lawyers, classical musicians and writers, businessmen and farmers, clergy and high-school teachers all managed to find a way to rationalize their decisions to support or join the Nazi party, enter into deals with them, adopt their ideology as their own, and buy into the notion that there was an entire population of living human souls whose lives meant less than theirs, and whose lives were not worth living.
How many thousands of times, in how many thousands of places and situations across Europe, over a span of about a dozen years, did individuals make this mental calculus and decide to cast their lot with the Devil? Did they truly believe in what they were doing, or was it more a matter of taking the path of least resistance and looking out for number one, above all else?
There is probably no simple answer to this, and I certainly cannot provide the answers.
But I can at least put the question out there.