Punishment, Acceptance & Denial

June 24, 2010

After the Nazis were defeated, what would be next for Germany?  How were the German people going to deal with everything that the Nazis had done?  Throughout the trip I managed to piece together some sort of picture of how the German people did deal with it.  During the 1950’s, Germany was reconstructing their entire livelihood from their government to their cities and more intimately to their homes.  Germany was in shambles and instead of focusing on what had actually happened, most notably the extermination of millions of people, I think they simply chose to ignore it.  Focusing attention on rebuilding Germany is a good distraction and enabled an entire generation that lived through the Nazi regime to simply forget and ignore the previous fifteen years.  Looking at this result initially, I couldn’t believe that this could actually happen after such a catastrophe—and then I tried to put myself in their shoes.  From a German perspective, losing the war was embarrassing; not just that, but many German citizens looked the other way when the Nazi atrocities were happening in their own country—maybe they didn’t know how to cope with it?

It wasn’t until 1968 that this coping mechanism was questioned.  More importantly, it was the next generation, the children of the people who lived in the Nazi regime, that were asking their parents questions.  What was your part in WWII?  Were you a Nazi?  Did you resist?  Did you know about the concentration camps?  Did you know that millions of people were being exterminated just miles from our home?  Why didn’t you tell me about this before?  Still today, I’ve noticed that it is hard for descendants to discuss about their relatives if indeed they were a Nazi.  Of course people want to say that their relatives were resisters and tried to help the Jews, but in fact resisters were few and far between.

It’s amazing to me that in the following years after the Nazis fell, many people closely involved with the Nazis who carried out their orders were never punished.  In fact, many went on living life to the fullest and continued on with their careers.  I wonder how a doctors, after killing and experimenting on prisoners in concentration and extermination camps can simply forget what they had done.  While we toured the concentration camp, the guide told us that many of the doctors that worked in the camp simply went back home and continued to practice medicine.  Below are two pictures that portray the normality that went on the years following the war.  The first picture is that of a former Nazi that worked in a concentration camp that got convicted in court, went to prison for three years and then simply went back to his normal life; you can see his ease in watering his plants.  The next picture is of three men who were not directly involved with the Nazis, but were clear supporters, who 5 years after the war obviously still supported them (look at their neck piece).


I think that the process of investigation and punishment towards those involved with the Nazi regime was poorly set.  Many people went free from punishment.  This is definitely a situation where we as a society can learn how to better handle a situation if it were to happen again.  But in a sense we haven’t learned at all.  Who has been punished for what happened in Rwanda or in former Yugoslavia?  What has been done to improve this process?  As a society, are we simply ignoring the situation or worse yet, denying that genocide is still happening as justification of inaction?


One comment

  1. Especially in regard to your last question, I highly recommend reading this book by Samantha Power: http://www.amazon.com/Problem-Hell-America-Genocide-P-S/dp/B003F76I3I/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1277999422&sr=1-1
    It impressively documents how the US has chosen over and over again to ignore genocides around the world after WWII. A frightening account, indeed, but it also documents the courage of some officials in the US government to stand up and demand resolute US intervention.

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