The first 13 of the 18 documents, collectively called The Extermination of the Jews, were not in any way new stories to me. In fact I came into this book with the same attitude that I usually do when faced with Holocaust stories, that of "Yes it was horrible, but I know all about it already. This reading isn't going to do anything to my attitude." I, as I always am in thinking such a thought, was wrong. No matter how much you know, no matter how many Holocaust survivors speak to you, no matter how much you read about it, no matter how much the atrocities are ingrained into you mind, you can never be immune. You are always horrified by this extermination, and every time that you read about any incident you are more disgusted than the last. You are always reminded that these people that were being slaughtered like animals were not much different than yourself or anybody that you know. It does not matter whether you are Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or any other religion, you have to sympathize with these people because they are people. Despite whatever the Nazis tried to make them into, one can easily see that is was not the Jews who were sub-human, but the vicious, blood-thirsty Nazi murderers who were the animals.
Many of these readings reminded me of the question "Where were the people? Where were those who said, `NO! This is wrong!'? Why would no one stand up to such an obvious wrong?" The ninth document shows how the Nazis eliminated Jews' rights. It amazes me that there weren't more non-Jews who would speak out against these ridiculous, arbitrary laws. Can fear truly silence a person to the point of just accepting the dehumanization and deaths of millions of people? I still cannot bring myself to believe that this is human nature. No thinking human being could accept this, yet an entire nation bowed to the insane will of a madman. Clearly, somewhere in human nature is an innate passivity possessed by many people. This passivity must be so powerful that it can silence those who wish to be active, who will stand up for what is right. Is it not reasonable then to think that ,despite all of the good intentions and courage that people display, it could happen again.
Document five shows how a person can be fooled into believing in the superiority of one group over another. Globocnik must have felt this way or he would never be able to make boasts about burying bronze tablets in order to commemorate his murderous work. What does it take to make a human, the only known sentient creature, pride himself of doing something that is below even the barest of creatures? It was this document that was the most shocking to me. Where the others show the suffering of those the Nazis captured and killed, this one shows in ghastly detail how some delighted in the misery these people.
The final five documents attempt to show varying explanations as to how this abomination known as the Holocaust could have occurred. The first, an excerpt form Machiavelli's The Prince shows reasons that Hitler was able to retain such control over the population. He states that fear enables a ruler to retain perfect control over those he rules. Indeed this was one of Hitler's strategies. He scared people into not reacting by using the threats of imprisonment and death. The statements made by Hobbes attempt to prove that man is naturally evil. Although upon first glance at the Holocaust one may think that this is true, it seems that a more accurate representation would be that some people are evil, and that they when in power can influence the primarily neutral population. Locke's view of the rationality in man's nature seems an absurd optimistic opinion after reading all of the offenses against humanity. Although there may well be people governed by rationality they quite obviously cannot make up the bulk of those living or such illogical random acts of cruelty and evil , such as the Holocaust, could not occur. Ardrey makes statements that there is a natural instinct for man to be aggressive. Indeed this may be true, as it explains the behavior of the Nazi executioners. Without some sort of murderous tendency it would not be possible to kill that many defenseless people. Skinner's opinion that the actions of a man are a direct result of his surrounding situations effectively explains the reasons for the Holocaust happening. The surrounding conditions of economic depression and a general anti-Semitic attitude enabled Germans to accept something that they would abhor under other circumstances. Providing the hatred of the Jews was not an accepted attitude, Hitler would not have been able to implement his "Final Solution".
In actuality it would seem that none of the philosophers that deal with human nature are entirely correct. Instead a combination is probably true. Maybe some people are evil by nature, but there is a great enough population of logical, good people to normally keep the general attitude of a neutral nature. It is when those of a warlike nature come to power that such an evil policy as genocide may be instituted. yet another 9-12th grade Holocaust essay:
More facts give more answers, which lead to more questions. Unlike the first set of readings, which could have been stories that I have heard before, most of the facts expressed here were completely new to me. I have always been taught that the world stood idle while the Nazis proceeded to slaughter the Jewish people. Never, however, were the stories of those who stood up, those who did what is the humanly right thing to do, told to me. Bravery should not have been a factor. People should have reacted despite of their fear if they saw the slaughter of an entire group of people for truly no reason. Unfortunately this was not true. The goodness of those who did something, such as Father Lichtenerg and King Christian X of Denmark, should be acknowledged, not as acts of superhuman kindness, but as acts of a human level when the rest of the world was acting with sub- human passivity.
Were those who did nothing when they had the chance as guilty as the Nazi murderers themselves? Did they just as much deserve to be put on trial at Nuremberg? Fear is a powerful force, but is it one that should be an excuse for the destruction of our basic, human sense of right and wrong, to the extent where we allow the vile act of murder to be carried out without intervention? I can never for one instant imagine a person not so angry and disgusted by these deplorable criminals that he or she would just say, as the man did in the case of Catherine Genovese, "I didn't want to get involved." Didn't want to get involved? This was not some stupid squabble over some ridiculous point. THIS WAS MURDER! Human lives were needlessly lost because people were too absorbed in their own fears of being hurt or of losing power. The reaction of the American Jews was inexcusable. In fact, it seems even more horrible than that of the others that succumbed to passivity. They let their own people die. How can anyone find any excuse for something like that? The book states that the world most intellectual, thinking people did nothing. If this is so how can they claim the title of intellectual? Is the failure to react not enough to show that they have no right to hold the title of a thinking person?
It is sad to have read the words uttered and written by those who were the victims of the Nazi atrocities. The section of the book is titled Behavior Under Stress, but upon reading the outpour of emotions conveyed by the victims one can plainly see that the word stress, or any other, could describe the situations of these people. The section that struck me the hardest was the one called "We Got Used to...". It simply amazes me that people could become accustomed to the dreaded conditions that existed within Auschwitz. To live ones daily life knowing that any day could be the day of your own slaughter, to witness it happening to those around you, to have to wait for it in the pains of hunger, disease, and beatings, is a situation which I cannot see myself not becoming insane under, much less getting used to. To think that these people's disastrous fate was brought about because people were too afraid to speak up makes me sick.
It is stated that those who served under Adolf Hitler were proved perfectly sane by the Rorschach tests administered to them. As Molly Harrower points out, this is much more scary than if the results came back saying that they were the most horridly evil psychopaths ever to walk the earth. Because the test shows that they were sane, it provides clear evidence that human nature is such that the corruption of the mass media can lead to the corruption of the mind in even the most "normal" of individuals. This shows that we must actively think about everything put before us before accepting it. If we do not we run the risk of becoming as bad as those who served under the king of the murderers, Adolf Hitler. Still another 9-12th grade Holocaust paper:
As with the first reaction paper, the first grouping of readings did not surprise me, as I have had experience dealing with things such as those displayed. The first two excerpts from Brave New World and 1984 were recognizable to me as I am familiar with both works. Orwell's book, the one with which I have had the most experience with, had the scene which I had always deemed the most frightening excerpted from it. O'Brian's prophetic view of the totalitarian state is shocking and appalling. Unfortunately the reason for the terror felt when the description is given is because it is shockingly real. Orwell based his description of Oceania under the rule of the Party was actually based on the regimes of Stalin and Hitler, and thus it is perfectly possible that it could happen in our world, not only a dystopian science fiction novel. Huxley shows how appealing to a people's sense of a stable situation even if they must surrender all that is individual about them to the state. The Controller attempts to relate that there are truly different ranks of people, some meant to lead and some to serve in sub-human condition. Both of these ideas were prevalent in Hitler's Germany, and both are reprehensible by any who value their sense of individuality.
The readings from number 76 to 79 are even more examples that demonstrate how not only that things comparable to the Holocaust could happen again, but how they are a constant in history. Is it part of human nature to look for a scapegoat? Repeated examples show that some people are simply blind to the evil inherent in activities as vile as the enslavement and mass killing of someone simply because of their ethnic grouping. People think that Hitler was evil and destructive, well thy are right, but so too were those Americans who advocated the concepts of slavery, and the denial of rights to those of Japanese descent during World War II. Clearly there must be some dark aspect in human nature that causes us to behave so hatefully towards others. If this is true how can humans hope to continue to exist as a successful species?
By far the reading that held my attention the most, even more than the ones about death, destruction, and slavery, was the one called Obedience to Authority. It seemed to answer many of my questions concerning the servile nature of people expressed in the previous reaction paper. It does however raise even more questions as it provides answers. What is going through a person's mind as he knowingly inflicts unbearable pain on someone who has done him no harm at all? How is the power of authority enough to override the human conscience? The sociologist makes an excellent point when he states ,"what is the correct balance between individual initiative and authority?" Indeed this is a question that we must ask if we are to proceed in a workable society. We cannot have a world without leadership, but similarly we should not surrender our individuality to the state or we come closer to the negative utopias described in 1984 and Brave New World.