However the crucial point here is that war is not an adequate _psychological_ explanation, which is what we're after here. Mankowitz noted this point simply & clearly : war provides an opportunity but not a fundamental reason for genocide. In fact World War 2 often hindered the genocide or diverted resources from it : other genocides possibly took place within wars, but the holocaust was quite distinct. This theory does not go far enough.
After the war-theory sank from popularity another theory took its place. Was the holocaust a by-product of a fundamental need to obey orders? The acts were committed under duress, according to this theory. Certainly the Nazi regime was ruthless - could the acts have been carried out by people thinking - if I don't kill them, its me that dies? There's not a lot of evidence to suggest that those carrying out the orders were not nearly so under duress as that though. In fact there's no evidence at all at ANY time during the holocaust of dire retribution being carried out against people who refused to participate in the campaign. Military discipline existed only on the military fronts of the campaign. To continue the previous example : Reserve Police Battalion leader Major Trapp, on hearing of the first orders to kill civilians, wept aloud before his men & made offers that any who wished to avoid the task could do so. This was often the case in civilian brigades, & hardly hinted at dire threat to the men themselves. Not one of the Battalion refused the duty, & this also was mirrored throughout. I think this idea of apparent "unbreachable authority" offers a glimpse of the ultimate reason though, although by itself it falls far short of providing an acceptable answer.
Another suggestion, although not a particularly credible one : it has been suggested there was a "distance" between perpetrators & victims behind which the perpetrators could shelter. After all, the desk workers who allocated resources & wrote the timetables merely did a job much the same as other bureaucrats. Gitta Sereny once conducted a study on men who had been concentration camp leaders & found quite a bit of evidence of these sorts of psychological defenses being employed. The people profiled by Sereny had a tendency to narrow their perception of their role, and to widen their distance from its outcome. Where the sum of a deed (a human death) is greater than its parts (time tabling, transfer, organisation.) There was a considerable tendency to "live in the moment" & to view ONLY the parts. Again, perhaps, a glimmer here, but I think it too falls short. And for vast numbers of people such as those on the front line who carried out the orders directly, this is no explanation at all.
Wartime brutalization then? This too has been "in vogue" as an explanation. Men in a war can become hardened or frenzied, & commit terrible acts they'd not consider in times of peace. This has been quite thoroughly debunked also, however. The brutality to which people who cite this theory refer is what is known as "battlefield brutality" - which is blended from temporary rage, fatigue, or possible personal losses which break loose at the moment of "snapping". Certainly people under this effect can lose their humanity. But these conditions simply can't be said to have applied to the bulk of the massacre squads. The executors had _never_ been shot at in anger, & _never_ been given cause (beyond propaganda) to hate their targets. They were prepared organised, & generally calm at the time they committed the murders. It is quite possible to view brutalization as an effect, but it cannot be said to be a cause for the mens behavior. And the cause is what we're after here.
Those five theories - or combinations of them - have, in the past, formed the mainstream of opinion on the causes. In any situation like this one, debunking popular theories is far easier than creating a new one. However, this is what we now need to do. I need to refer in passing here to an important body of work which has been done in the area of psychological self sufficiency. This work has reflected what is already fairly well accepted: that psychologically, people are not isolated or "complete". People depend on guidance to build a world view. People differ in the source of their guidance but there are 3 essential sources which most -- if not all of us depend on, at least to some extent. The three are, simply stated, religion, science & government. It is the direction of these three "signposts" (in the time & place in which the holocaust occurred) that I'm now going to examine. Even a quick look will hopefully show some startling & completely unique factors in this particular period & place.
The dominant religion in Germany was Christianity. Which of course, at its core, is the philosophical antithesis of Nazism. On many points it is difficult to imagine two beliefs more opposite. Yet, in _some_ ways there were some most interesting similarities. What both offered was a kind of salvation, a way out for the masses which transcended matters of politics or the daily struggles of their lives. And for many in Germany, life had been a struggle. What Nazism offered was above politics - it offered a way to escape the day to day & focus on something higher. In the case of Christianity, a salvation through a higher understanding the promise of eternal rewards. In the case of Nazism, a salvation through the feel of being part of something great, a superior race which would dominate & spread its glory through the civilized world. The ideology is totally different but the appeal has some psychological elements in common. The one was a twisted half-reflection of the other : in fact one could, possibly, be supplanted by the other. Under Hitler, a facade of religious overtones was placed over a doctrine that was religions absolute antithesis. The reverse cross symbol of Nazism was appropriate. Hitler was the Savior, the Christ-figure who offered a way to become divine through the glory of racial superiority. The kind of fanaticism that Nazism inspired was, in the psychological sense, quite similar to the fanaticism that has taken place on occasions (the Crusades being the most obvious) of religious genocide.
But where Religions ultimate end was life, the ultimate end of Nazism was death. Death was not a means to an end, but an end in itself. Mankowitz wrote that the Holocaust was - quite simply - an ideologically driven crusade against demons in the midst. The all-powerful role of God was supplanted in the case of power-imbalances where life & death were in the hands of a few, such as the death camps.
Of course, many in that place & time did not accept religion of any kind, & certainly did not accept Nazism as a substitute. scientifically, there are interesting references to be found though. A great deal of scientific "research" from French & German academics pointed directly at the Nazi doctrine. And foresight was somewhat limited at the time. The pseudoscientific racial studies which had taken place for decades prewar were resurrected. "Research" which resulted in its victims never walking again was conducted in order to "prove" assertions about Jewish cranial capacity & the notion that Jews were human parasites. This information was dug up & passed off once again as science, & was some of the only scientifically labeled information that was widely available at the time. People told often enough these "truths" by those in a position to know better can eventually be converted to a passive belief - or some kind of acceptance. Many people do have a tacit faith in science or in something which classes itself so.
Government need hardly be examined here, as that particular role has been studied massively already. Its enough to say that the government influence under Hitler was overwhelmingly, obsessively anti Jew over a period of years. The race-war was aided by actual war, which allowed the government to encourage psychological distancing. "Us" and "them", the oldest dividing technique there is, was used carefully to strip the Jews of the bounds of honor & obligation which might have sheltered them. The Government had a great ability to bring a long, latent past of anti-semitism seething to the surface. To make active what had been passive.
Between these three pillars, science, religion & government, was created a sense, perhaps, of inevitability. A huge rolling movement which you could roll with or face being ground underneath. Franz Strangl, who headed up a death camp used the line "what could we possibly do?" & this was widely reflected. And the further effect of all 3 was to provide a feeling of belonging to something great, something inevitable & salvationary. All of which was played up in the propaganda & the economic rebuilding of the German state. If there was a cost, a price to be paid - then it would have to be borne. The cost, of course, was staggering. The combination of interlocking & supporting factors came together in a psychological outwash which was greater than the sum of its parts. At the heart of this stood Hitler, the Savior. At its base were the Jews. When people obeyed orders to kill citizens they obeyed not just a commanding officer but a vast & insidious influence. Enough to explain what set the feet of so many people on the terrible paths they chose? Perhaps.
Enough to keep them on with their deeds after the first steps? If we accept that this influence was enough to set peoples feet on the path then yes, because, in a very real sense a "path" is exactly what it was. A one-way path that was almost impossible to deviate from. It was these paths which led to mass murder on such a scale. Once one had damned oneself it can become very, VERY difficult to back out. The will to do so can disappear. Reserve Police Battalion 101 is perhaps a good example again. For whatever reason, they accepted the command to kill the first time it was given. The morale plunged to nothing, the disgust was overwhelming. But after one taint the will to actively resist flagged. As elsewhere noted, several depersonalizing acts had taken place. A kind of narrow, blinkered morality set in that they should not shirk the task & leave it to their comrades. It was not "manly". The distortion already is so great that shooting defenseless targets is a manly act, but there was little questioning of it. And the second and subsequent times were quite simply less traumatic for many as the shock value had gone.
The three prime sources of guidance - each of which might in normal circumstances given context to the others - had been, for the only time in the history of any nation of people, supplanted. The result of all the factors together - was not a single bunch of isolated massacres but a great number of people chained into a kind of constant state of readiness to kill. A different set of factors affected each individual but for a rare time in history, the influences were all there, all in one place & time, and all supporting each other. And from that, the Holocaust rose slowly, a cataclysm grown over years which permeated every level of psychology & history, which had its roots hundreds of years in the past & which will undoubtedly continue to bear fruit into the future as well. --Mark G.