How could millions of Jews and other
people in society be systematically killed
by other human beings?
1. World War I was never totally resolved
2. An old prejudice rears its ugly head
3. A new level of hate and blame
4. People can easily be manipulated
World War I was never totally
Ravaged by World War I, the German state was already
in poor economic shape before the Depression of the
Reparation demands and a weakened infrastructure led
to inflation and unemployment.
The feeling of global alienation as a result of a guilt
clause and land seizures in the Treaty of Versailles make
the social turmoil worse and left Germany looking for
someone to blame.
The Weimar Republic, a weak democracy, never really
effectively governed Germany and therefore was not
much of a match for the Nazi party when it gained
An old prejudice rears its ugly
Anti-Semitism was not unique to Germany. Jews were historically
persecuted as excellent scapegoats.
In the medieval times they were blamed for the plague, depicted as
having horns and cloven feet as well as sacrificing Christian babies.
Jews were often subjected to prejudice, boycotts, exclusion, restrictive
laws, attacks, and killings.
A forged book, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, published in
1900 and proven to be a fraud led to the belief that there was a
Jewish world domination plot. To this very day it remains in
translation around the world, despite its well documented status as
a complete fake.
However, none of the discrimination that Jews were subject to
elsewhere could match the inhuman extremes of Adolf Hitler (and
the Nazis), who claimed he was acting with the Lord and "finishing
A new level of hate and blame
Hitler was able to exploit anti-Semetic feelings. His plan to do so was
spelled out in Mein Kampf in 1924 (written during his short stay in prison for
a failed coup); by 1933 it had sold over a million copies.
His singular leadership seemed to have ignited problems boiling under the
surface of Germany. It is a classic example of hopeless people falling in
love with someone who tells them what they want to hear: Germany was in
sad shape, and Hitler and his ideals made it easy for them to say it was
someone else's fault.
Hitler felt that the Jews were an evil that was at the root of Germany's
problems and must be therefore must be eliminated.
Hitler claimed that Germany never really lost World War I but was stabbed
in the back by a Jewish/Communist conspiracy. The discovery of a
scapegoat gave the Germans something to work toward eliminating.
The anger and humiliation was now directed away from themselves,
Germans could focus all of their negativity on the Jews. Nazism became
widespread and its oppression of the Jews grew into the genocide that was
People can easily be manipulated
After the war many people pondered how
a whole population could be moved to kill
other human beings in such an inhumane
Psychologists and Sociologists looked for
reasons and performed test to simulate
Two that stand out were the Milgram and
It was intended to measure the willingness of a
participant to obey an authority who instructs the
participant to do something that may conflict with
the participant's personal conscience.
Milgram devised the experiment to answer the
question "Could it be that Eichmann and his
million accomplices in the Holocaust were just
following orders? Could we call them all
In Milgram's first set of experiments, 67.5 percent (27 out of 40) of
experimental participants administered the experiment's final 450volt shock, though many were quite uncomfortable in doing so;
everyone paused at some point and questioned the experiment,
some even saying they would return the check for the money they
No participant steadfastly refused to give further shocks before the
300-volt level. Variants of the experiment were later performed by
Milgram himself and other psychologists around the world with
similar results. Apart from confirming the original results the
variations have tested variables in the experimental setup.
None of the participants who refused to administer the final shocks
insisted that the experiment itself be terminated, nor left the room to
check that the victim was well without asking for permission to
leave, according to Milgram's notes and recollections
"While I was a subject [participant] in 1964, though I
believed that I was hurting someone, I was totally
unaware of why I was doing so. Few people ever realize
when they are acting according to their own beliefs and
when they are meekly submitting to authority. ... To
permit myself to be drafted with the understanding that I
am submitting to authority's demand to do something
very wrong would make me frightened of myself. ... I am
fully prepared to go to jail if I am not granted
Conscientious Objector status. Indeed, it is the only
course I could take to be faithful to what I believe. My
only hope is that members of my board act equally
according to their conscience..."
The Stanford prison experiment was a landmark
psychological study of the human response to
captivity, in particular, to the real world
circumstances of prison life, and the effects of
imposed social roles on behavior.
It was conducted in 1971 by a team of
researchers led by Philip Zimbardo of Stanford
Volunteers played the roles of guards and
prisoners and lived in a mock prison.
The experiment's result has been argued to demonstrate
the impressionability and obedience of people.
It is also used to illustrate the power of authority.
The results seemed to entail that the situation caused
the participants' behavior rather than anything inherent in
their individual personalities.
In this way it is compatible with the results of the alsofamous (or infamous) Milgram experiment, in which
ordinary people fulfilled orders to administer what
appeared to be fatal electric shocks to a confederate of
People can become dehumanized when:
Told to by authority
Their individuality is removed
Placed in a group setting
Taking a stand is VERY rare, conformity is the
People in Germany got caught in this
because no one stood up