Excerpt: The Holocaust, Original Sin and Ordinary Germans
|February 26, 2009||Posted by admin under Excerpts, Holocaust, original sin|
The failure to understand the dark reality of original sin has nullified from the outset the vast majority of attempts to come to grips with the evils of the Third Reich. People with no firm convictions concerning righteousness, holiness, sin, or evil wander in a maze when they try to understand these matters. They are certain that the Nazis were evil, but are unable to provide any convincing or coherent explanation of the delight in cruelty that is one of the most outstanding features of the Holocaust. A real explanation is possible within a biblical framework. For those who see human nature as basically good, Hitler will forever remain an insoluble riddle—as will many of life’s other problems.
For example, in Daniel Goldhagen’s book Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, a scholar who tries to understand these things without reference to that reality of God which alone gives meaning to ethics and moral standards lists conventional secular explanations for the cruelty of the Nazis.[i] Those who persecuted Jews were (a) coerced, forced to go along to avoid death or imprisonment; (b) blindly following orders with no moral sense; (c) conforming to peer pressure; (d) petty bureaucrats concerned only with their careers; (e) unaware of the big picture, committing individual acts without having a sense of the enormity of the whole.
Goldhagen rightly senses that although these explanations apply to varying degrees in individual cases, they are all somehow inadequate. He suggests that the criminals did evil because they wanted to do so. This is getting closer to the truth—but what is it that makes some people enjoy evil, revel in it, and pursue it to the farthest possible extremes? This question is totally beyond the reach of conventional secular scholarship. It is the problem of sin and evil in the human heart, and the Bible says the human heart is wicked by nature. Thus, any serious attempt to explain the Holocaust must take into account not only its uniquely German characteristics, but also evil itself.
Parenthetically, the title of Goldhagen’s book—Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust—implies that ordinary Germans were slaughtering Jews. This omits the fact that the majority of Germans never voted for Hitler and in fact voted against him. Finding themselves in a dictatorship not of their making, they went along to varying degrees (with rare exceptions), but only a small percentage of Germans were directly involved in the Holocaust.
Victor Klemperer, a Jew who was able to remain in Germany due to his Aryan wife, does not in any way minimize the cruelties of the Third Reich, but also records examples of Germans who went out of their way to demonstrate that they had nothing against him personally. In the second volume of his diary, I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years 1942-1945, Klemperer states that in the factory where he was forced to work, “ninety-nine percent of the male and female workers are undoubtedly more or less extremely anti-Nazi, well-disposed to the Jews, opposed to the war, weary of tyranny . . .” He adds “but fear of the one percent loyal to the regime, fear of prison, ax, and bullet binds them.”[ii]
To really understand the crimes of the Nazis we need more than stereotypes about Germans. We need coherent concepts of sin and evil. These are provided by biblical teaching. Satan and human wickedness are spiritual realities, not just Bible words, and these powers of sin and evil that drove Hitler and his followers did not disappear when Hitler killed himself. I knew an American years ago who enjoyed bullying people beneath him and then presented a false front of injured innocence when people objected. He once told me “I wish I could have been in the SS,” and I had the distinct impression he wasn’t joking. Those who do not have a convincing explanation for human evil in general can never have a convincing explanation for any particular manifestation of evil—be it Auschwitz, the Soviet Gulag, the Cambodian killing fields, or the abduction and murder of a single child by a random serial killer. Those who are nothing more than indifferent to others also show the power of sin, as do those who knowingly do what is wrong, or even just keep silent because they are afraid of persecution or disapproval.
[i] Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (New York 1996), pp. 11-12.
[ii] Victor Klemperer, I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years 1942-1945 (New York 2001), p. 306.
This entry was made in 1944, when it was obvious that the war was lost. Some Nazis did support Hitler to the bitter end, but there were many Germans who realized that their earlier support of Hitler was a terrible mistake and deeply regretted it.