Musings on surprises from WW2, Nazis, Germans and murder.

Musings on surprises from WW2, Nazis, Germans and murder.

I’ve always been a bit of a history buff, and I’ve been doing a lot of reading recently about WW2. It has been specific and rather troubling reading too.

You see, we tend to view the German people in the last war as being Nazis or ordinary people. We tend to view the Nazis as being principally male, the whole movement being a testosterone fuelled orgy of cruelty, with the German people secretly hating the Nazis but unable to do much about it.

To my surprise, I have learned that a lot of war criminals were female. And most of them escaped justice after the war. They weren’t unwilling, they were just as callous and vicious as the male war criminals. Of course, some of them worked in administration, but a lot were actively involved as guards in concentration camps. When you see their photos, they don’t look cruel, they look like the girl next door, like a mum on her way to do the shopping, or a worker on their way to their office.

It seems somehow cosmically wrong that a woman could behave like that, but nevertheless they did.

Here is the next surprise. When the Germans planned a mass execution, they would round their victims up, make them dig a mass grave and then shoot them all. The surprise is that anybody could volunteer to be one of the firing squad. And they did. Not just Nazis but ordinary people, people like US, like our neighbours, friends, workmates, even family. There was never any compulsion to do this, it was freely open to anyone who fancied shooting a human being in cold blood and it seems that plenty did.

This really does blur the lines. Germany was a modern, educated, sophisticated country, and yet it seems that despite that, some people resorted to barbarism quite readily.

After the war, the United Nations grew from the ashes of the destruction caused by nationalism, because it was just so obvious that people functioned better when they accepted others and worked together. The National Health Service grew from the feeling that life should be better, more equal and fair than it had been.

But now we are back in the politics of nationalism, isolationism and hatred. Whole groups of people are being described with negativity, turned into caricatures, blamed for all our problems. That’s how it starts, because once we fail to see these groups as ordinary human beings just like us and we start to see them two-dimensionally, we move towards a world in which their death becomes unimportant.

One day, it might be us standing in the mass grave, looking up at soldiers, neighbours, friends, workmates. It might be us looking into their eyes and seeing only hatred and cruelty. Or it might be us, standing by the grave with our rifles, picking out our target, deciding where to shoot them, our minds filled with all the fake news, propaganda, hatred and blood lust whipped up inside us.

As WW2 recedes into the past, so do the lessons we learned from that. And so, it all starts to creep back. I think this is an important message

1 thought on “Musings on surprises from WW2, Nazis, Germans and murder.

  1. Fran Reply

    Interesting thoughts. Part of an explanation for why people behaved like that can possibly be found in the conclusion of sociologist Milgram where he conducted an experiment focusing on the conflict between obedience to authority and personal conscience. Milgram (1963) examined justifications for acts of genocide offered by those accused at the World War II, Nuremberg War Criminal trials. Basically he showed that people would behave against their true nature and inclinations if someone ‘in authority’ told them to do it.
    But despite that – the worry is that it all seems to be starting up again. Many people voted for Brexit because they dislike so many immigrants (disregarding just how useful all those immigrants are to our economy) Colour prejudice often rears it’s head, groups such as gypsies or Moslems in the UK are often seen as a problem, with some justification possibly – but discontent is growing. President Trump seems to have little regard for Moslems or Mexicans and ironically the Jews in Palestine are treating the Palestinians in a similar way to how they themselves were first treated by the Germans – and look where that led!
    Sadly it seems that humans just never learn by their mistakes – if we were zoo exhibits our keepers would be warned not to keep too many of us in the same cages – ‘beware, these animals fight!’

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