Jewish Men being Rounded Up in Baden with Citizens looking on
Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer wrote: “Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.” These words from his book Perpetrators, Victims, Bystanders: The Jewish Catastrophe 1933-1945 serve as a warning to members of a society where various minority groups are being labeled as enemies of the state and often less than human.
I the past couple of days I have written about the need to try to understand people who in the past have committed genocide, mass murder, starvation, and other crimes against humanity. I did this not to give any basis whatsoever to justify their actions, but so that we might not think ourselves so different that we make the mistake of believing that we are not capable of such crimes, or looking on and allowing them to happen.
It is all too easy for it to happen. All that is needed is a population that has been conditioned by propaganda, based on historical myth, untruth, a prevailing climate of fear, and in which the threat of crisis, real or imagined, can delude even good, able, and even extraordinary people to commit crimes that if they were not real, would be incomprehensible to the mind. In such times decisions have to be made, difficult decisions, the decision to stand for what is right, even if the country’s leaders, and their most vocal followers threaten violence and the use of government force against those who dissent.
Being a perpetrator is one thing, but being a bystander is worse. As Hannah Arendt noted: “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”