The Heart of Darkness (The Holocaust)
(Top Posts - History
inserts, not part of the following article, included
in [brackets] within the following excerpts ...
January 24, 2005 [registration may be required]
By Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, the author of "Hitler's
Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the
Holocaust" (Vintage, 1997), is completing a book
on genocide in our time.
the world prepares to commemorate the 60th anni-
versary of the liberation of Auschwitz this week, four out
of the five central questions of the Holocaust have pretty
straightforward and settled answers.
Who did what?
Nazis - together with a large number of ordinary
Germans aided by collaborating Poles, French and
others - persecuted, hounded and robbed the Jews
of Europe and murdered 6 million of them, about a
million of them gassed and burned at Auschwitz.
after another, the exculpatory myths - that ordinary
Germans and the Swiss and the Catholic Church and the
German Protestant churches and the people of occupied
countries were coerced by external forces (Nazis, terror,
etc.) to take part in the persecution - have been exposed
Why did they do it?
other factors also contributed to their participa-
tion, the people persecuting, torturing and killing Jews
were believing and willing executioners, in the grip of a
profound anti-Semitism that held Jews to be the secular
incarnation of the Antichrist and therefore necessary to
immense amount of evidence unearthed in the last
decade - most unavailable in English - has made this
two weeks ago, a German guard at Auschwitz con-
fessed to the BBC the truth: that he thought back to his
time in the camp with "joy." There was "always behind
you the fact that the Jews are enemies.. A feeling of
sympathy or empathy didn't come up. The children are
not the enemy at the moment. The enemy is the blood
in them." Slaughtering Jews, he believed, was "right."
How do we judge?
only right way to judge is according to the generally
accepted legal and moral criteria of guilt and innocence.
excuses are or should be made for a man murdering
a child today.
excuses should be made for the thousands of men
who agreed to murder more than a million Jewish children.
should reject the empirical and moral fairy tales of
apology, including "they did not know what they were
doing" or "who are you to judge?"
What is the duty of repair?
the fact, how do those in moral and legal debt
repair the harm as best they can?
several ways: not only monetarily but according to
simple principles that apply to all historical and con-
those countries and institutions that con-
tributed to the assault must support the postwar Jewish
communities and their security. This encompasses all
of Europe and Israel.
they must tell the full truth about the past. They
must fight the continuing effects of the harm, including
the immense legacy of anti-Semitism, by actively edu-
cating people about its evils and prejudice of all kinds.
must transform those parts of themselves that
led to the crimes so that they will never be the source
of such evil again.
and Germans, by and large, have done a
good if imperfect job on all counts.
countries and their people - France, the Nether-
lands, Denmark, Poland, Switzerland and others -
continue with varying success to struggle with their
past and their duties of repair.
Catholic Church and its clergy - obviously not
responsible for the Holocaust
[insert -- Responsibility for the Holocaust, with the de-
gree of involvement, causality, and sparse opposition
to it variable and argued endlessly by theologians, his-
torians, apologists, those involved, descendants of
those involved, victims, descendants of victims -- Here
are links to views pointing out some of the theistic and
christian and catholic complicity regarding Holocaust
Role in the Rise of Modern Anti-Semitism,
by David Kertzer (aka Unholy War)
religious beliefs and fanaticism (quotes from
Trials / Christianity / Holocaust (4 of 4)
still deeply involved in many aspects of the perse-
cution (including in some places the extermination
process itself) - have done a poor job overall even
though the church hierarchy has taken some significant
steps toward establishing a more positive bearing and
teachings about Jews.
But the fifth central question is much more
complicated: What is the meaning?
is not one question but many - a seemingly end-
less array of questions.
is the meaning of a person's death, of a person's
is the meaning of a person's murder 6 million times
is the meaning when a person murders an infant
he has never seen before?
to communities, what does the Holocaust mean
for the self-understanding of Germany, or of German
culture, or of Germans?
the self-understanding of Jews, of their place in the
Israel and Israelis today? Moving to the rarified level
of religion and philosophy, what is the meaning for peo-
ple's understanding of God? How could God let such a
questions go on.
see them as pressing; others don't.
Germany, and its democracy today - and by exten-
sion Europe - cannot be comprehended without refer-
ence to this past and its meaning.
have remade their society and politics with the
horrors of Nazism in mind (though the recent resurgence
of neo-Nazism and anti-Semitism is worrisome).
Christian denominations have reoriented their theol-
ogy in a more tolerant direction.
of many countries have drawn a panoply of conclu-
sions about their place in the world, their own God and
their need to be self-reliant.
have reflected on the evils of anti-Semitism,
and of racism generally.
have sought to create a meaningful world after
emerging from a place that, as one German physician
at Auschwitz said, made Dante's inferno seem like a
Nazis were possessed of a vast destructiveness
unrivaled in history. They viewed social and political
conflicts and problems as racial and biological ones.
reflexive solution was to slaughter people and to
the Germans won the war, they would have slaught-
ered tens, perhaps hundreds, of millions more around
the world and enslaved the peoples of Poland, Ukraine,
Russia and other countries.
was the place most emblematic of the world
that Hitler and the Germans were creating, a death fac-
tory embedded in vast slave production facilities.
we commemorate its liberation on Jan. 27, the people
of Europe and the world should shudder at how close
Hitler came to destroying civilization, to plunging the world
into darkness that might have lasted his 1,000 years.
[insert -- Actually, even though the United States and its
allies conquered Germany in a conventional war, a key
and little-mentioned (by many) factor that gave the Ger-
mans a distinct disadvantage was the following. Their
anti-Semitism and extermination of Jews, as well as their
authoritarianism, totalitarianism, and fascism, seriously
hampered their chances of beating the US in the race
to develop the A-bomb.
the A-bomb, even -if- the Germans had won more
of the conventional battles, and even -if- the US and its
allies had failed in the D-Day invasion, and even -if- the
Russians failed to drive the Germans out ... as soon as
the US had the A-bomb, the Germans would've been,
the other hand, had the Germans somehow been able
to develop the A-bomb -first- ... yikes ... that 1,000 years
of darkness, or some other difficult-to-imagine alternative
to the way things are now, would have been an ominous
probability. --end insert]