Could Ordinary Germans Have Stopped the Holocaust?

As I have said in the Introduction, most (if not practically all) books on the history of Nazi Germany are not history (in the scientific sense). They are propaganda – plain and simple.

Propaganda that has one (but not the only one, of course) objective (usually implicit). To program a feeling of deep guilt into the subconscious minds of Germans. To make them feel guilty about horrifying (truly horrifying) crimes committed by certain Nazis (not all Nazis were guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity – or any crimes, for that matter).

To create (and maintain) this feeling of guilt, this propaganda machine (quite powerful, actually) uses certain statements about historic events. One of these statements sounds something like that:

The German public opinion (i.e. ordinary Germans) managed to stop the T4 euthanasia program (mass murder of mentally and severely physically ill patients). Therefore, had the ordinary Germans protested against persecution and murder of Jews, and other Nazi war crimes and crimes against humanity, Nazis would have been forced to stop committing these crimes.

As there were no protests against these crimes, all Germans must share the blame for the Holocaust and other Nazi crimes. Because they could have stopped these crimes – but chose not to do it

Unfortunately for propaganda workers, all parts of this statement are completely wrong. Hundred percent.

First, unlike the Holocaust (more precisely, the Final Solution to the Jewish Question) the T4 “involuntary euthanasia” program was no secret to the German public. Nazis tried to keep it secret, of course (because they knew that both the general public and the Christian Church will be shocked and appalled by it), but failed miserably.

Mostly for a very simple reason – all killings took place in Greater Germany – in Germany proper and in Austria and hence were highly visible. The Holocaust (both Einsatzgruppen activities and the extermination camps) happened far, far away from the Reich – on the occupied territories of Poland (mostly) and of the Soviet Union.

Hence, all Germans but a very small number of actual murderers had practically no information about these crimes. Except rumors.

It is easy to protest against what you know is happening; it is impossible to protest against rumors.  Which can be easily attributed to exaggerations, clever enemy propaganda, etc.

Sure, ordinary Germans saw that Jews were rounded up, put on trains and shipped… somewhere. But they have been assured by Nazi authorities that Jews were moved to detention centers because they posed a major security risk. And as Americans and British did the same with some of their residents – Nazis seemingly did nothing of the ordinary. There was no indication whatsoever that Jews were taken away to be murdered.

Second, although there were public protests against Aktion T4, they did not stop this program (Nazis pretty much ignored these protests). The very vocal protests of the Christian Church (Protestant and Catholic) did.

Third, although Hitler did end Aktion T4 on 24 August 1941, he did it only after the Nazis reached the projected death toll of roughly 70,000 patients. So in reality the end (suspension, actually) of this program had little to do with protests – Nazis simply achieved their objectives.

And, finally, the program, in fact, was not even suspended (let alone ended). Killings continued in Greater Germany, albeit less systematically, on a much smaller scale and in complete secrecy. As well as on occupied territories of Poland (at least 16,000 patients were killed) and of the Soviet Union.

The only crime against humanity visible to the ordinary Germans was the pre-Holocaust persecution of Jews in 1933-41. However, anyone who considered protesting against this crime (and it was, indeed, a crime) had to do it in the environment of (a) very successful economic and social reforms that radically improved material and emotional well-being – and life in general – of all ordinary Germans; (2) overwhelming and omnipresent Nazi propaganda and (3) a powerful, ruthless and omnipresent repressive system (Gestapo, SD, SS, SA, security police, etc.).

To protest against the persecution of Jews in this environment, one had to be a genuine saint (of which in any nation there is only a truly miniscule number). And it would be highly unreasonable (and very unfair) to demand genuine sainthood from ordinary Germans (or from any other nation, for that matter).

And persecution of Jews (and their subsequent elimination from Europe one way or the other) was so fundamentally important to Nazis that they would have ruthlessly and brutally suppressed any protest – no matter how large-scale.

True, on March 1st, 1943 hundreds of German women protested on the Rosenstrasse street of Berlin against the arrest of about 2,000 Jewish men (mostly wives of these Jews)… and Goebbels himself (the Nazi gauleiter of Berlin) personally ordered the release of all but 25 Jews.

But by that time almost all German Jews have already been killed either by Einsatzgruppen or in the extermination camps so the release of these Jews was not a big deal for the Nazis.


Why the German ‘Burden of Guilt’ Makes No Sense and Must Go

  1. It makes no sense, absolutely no sense whatsoever to feel guilty for crimes (no matter how horrifying) committed by a relatively small number of Germans (less than 1% of the population) eighty years ago
  2. Nazi Germany was not the only country that committed war crimes and/or crimes against humanity in the XX century. This ‘genocide age’ witnessed around twenty (!) genocides, democides and mass murders, some of which were worse than the ones committed by Nazi Germany
  3. Nazi Germany was not the most murderous or destructive ideology in the XX century (or in human history). Bolshevism was (still is – in North Korea, Cuba and to a lesser extent in China).
  4. More than that, Bolshevism constituted an existential threat to Germany, Europe and the whole Western civilization. And the Nazi Germany removed this existential threat thus saving ‘all of the above’ from a complete destruction. It by no means justifies enormous Nazi crimes or makes them less horrible but it is a cold hard fact.
  5. Hitler and Nazis came to power in Germany not because of some inherent ‘wickedness’ of Germans (saying that would be Nazism – pure and simple). It happened because of the accumulation of a ‘critical mass’ of events over which all but a very few Germans had absolutely no control. And no one – not even the leaders of Germany – had control over a number of these events (outbreak of World War I, the Treaty of Versailles, existential threat of Bolshevism, the Great Depression, etc.)
  6. Germany did not start World War I. The Great War was a ‘joint venture’ between Russia and Serbia (with a more or less explicit or implicit consent of Britain and France). The latter two could have stopped the war but chose not to do it. Germany (and Austro-Hungarian Empire) were not perpetrators, but victims because when after shots in Sarajevo were fired, Austria had no choice but to declare war on Serbia. And because Russia made it crystal clear that it will join the war on the side of Serbia, Germany had no other choice but to go to war as well.
  7. Saying that Germany was solely responsible for the outbreak of World War II would be historically inaccurate. Although this time Germany was no victim, World War II was started by decisions and action of not one, but four powers – Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, Great Britain and France. Hence, ‘all of the above’ must share the blame for the outbreak of the most destructive and murderous war in the history of mankind
  8. The (in)famous Nuremberg Trial was a highly controversial legal event. Highly imperfect (to say the least) and of dubious legality. Some justice was, indeed, served (a few criminals received the appropriate punishment while several innocent defendants walked free), but there was also more than one case of a gross miscarriage of justice. In fact, the whole event was not so much about justice, as about politics and propaganda. Besides, while all sides in World War II committed war crimes, only German war criminals were tried for their offenses – a typical “victors’ justice”.
  9. Right during and after the Nuremberg Trial, a monstrous crime against humanity was taking place. Around 12 million (!) German citizens and people of German ancestry were expelled by the Soviets and their East European puppets from various Eastern and Central European countries and sent to the remaining territory of Germany and Austria. At least 600,000 died (were murdered, actually) in the process – roughly equal to the number of Jews murdered in Treblinka. Perpetrators of that genocide (let’s call a spade a spade) were never charged with this horrible crime (let alone convicted). So much for justice.