It’s easier than ever to understand how the Holocaust happened. As many have said, it doesn’t start with concentration camps and gas chambers; it starts with scapegoating, labeling certain groups as inferior, and reducing their rights. It starts with bigotry. And standing by in silence, which is a quiet bigotry all of its own.
The Holocaust was legal. It’s the clearest example of how justice isn’t the same as the law, and how standing up for what’s right is not the same as upholding what is legally allowed.
The people who were silent were patriots. They believed in their country. They believed they were putting Germany first. They didn’t question their leaders because they believed in the greatness of their nation. Or, worse, they just didn’t want to care about “politics”.
After the war, principles were established. If you don’t question authority - even as a soldier - you are complicit. If you’re asked to be part of a war crime, or if a war crime is the path of least resistance, you must refuse. Everyone has agency and you don’t get to hide behind superiors. Soldiers have commanding officers; civilians have peer pressure and social norms.
It’s worth asking, in 2018, what you would do if you saw any group marginalized in the way people of Jewish descent were in Germany in 1933. What would you say? Where would you march? To what lengths would you go to preserve democracy and equality?
Because it’s up to all of us. It always is.