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coffeenut's avatar

What would you do if you found out that someone you know used to be a Nazi?

Asked by coffeenut (6156 points ) February 20th, 2011

If you found out a 86yr old elderly gentleman you know is a unknown WW2 veteran….except for the German side….
Would it matter to you? How would it change your friendship?

answers involving violence is unacceptable

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21 Answers

BarnacleBill's avatar

It would bother me if they had been an officer, but not a rank-and-file soldier. While we would all like to think that we would have acted differently, the reality is that people get caught up in pack mentality. The economy in Germany leading up to WWII was horrible.

incendiary_dan's avatar

It would definitely change the relationship, but I’d definitely talk to the guy about it before making too harsh of a decision. After all, a lot of soldiers were just trying to be “good Germans”. If it turned out that they still subscribed to Nazi philosophy and such, then I’d cut off contact at a minimum.

augustlan's avatar

If he is filled with regret, I may be able to forgive him for actions taken at the order of his superior officers. Otherwise, I’m out. Not only out, but I’m reporting him.

absalom's avatar

I would ask lots of questions before anything else. Mostly to satisfy my own greed for knowledge and the opportunity to hear a first-hand account.

What else could I do?

Curious, your mention of ‘violent answers’. What is someone going to say, that he’d attack the old man or something? I’m confused on that point. Do you mean the death penalty? It seems a strange stipulation (never mind a preemptive moderation of answers).

TexasDude's avatar

Is he a veteran of the WWII era German Army, or an actual former member of the Nazi party?

A good chunk of the Wehrmacht was made up of conscripts, and a good portion of them were not Nazis. I’d be willing to bet that the majority of them weren’t, in fact. In a lot of cases, the options were join the German military, or be shot, so looking at him (if he is in fact, just a soldier) and saying “shame on you, you bad person” is sort of silly. If he was a former member of the SS (who were true believers in the Nazi ideology), or a high-ranking officer, than yes, that would be a tad bit sketchy, but if not, I wouldn’t wring my hands over it.

Nazi != Wehrmacht soldier (!= means “is not equal to,” for the math illiterate out there).

chyna's avatar

I agree with @augustlan. I have seen a lot of these guys that have denied who they are. They come to the United States or go to other countries and live a good life with their families and pretend they are not a former Nazi officer. Even if they acknowledge who they are, what they did, I would find it hard to be around them.

Ladymia69's avatar

I find racism highly offensive and pathetic, so I would be bothered…but unless he shows signs of harming someone else in some way or talks about it incessantly, or speaks to people in an aggressive manner, I would chalk it up to what I call “inactive racism”.

Racism can be passed down through the generations, or picked up from military situations where the soldier is brainwashed into thinking that anyone fitting the description is an enemy. If you have a friendship with this person, and he is a kind person otherwise, I would probably keep the friendship on a level that was comfortable with me. I have a couple of “punk” friends who have this sort of hang-up, and it bothers me so much if they say something offensive that I will sometimes call them on it and tell them that it makes me uncomfortable…but I don’t try to convert them to my way of thinking. That is usually futile.

Cruiser's avatar

It depends…I would think that many of those Germans as young men did what they were ordered to do and many reluctantly while defending their country like any soldier would do. Being a Nazi doesn’t mean that person was evil. There were millions of Nazi’s and only one Hitler.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

A person’s past doesn’t have to be what the person is now. I’d need to know more.

MRSHINYSHOES's avatar

It wouldn’t change my friendship with the gentleman at all. Being a Nazi doesn’t necessarily mean he is a bad guy. My sister’s husband’s great grandfather was in the German army. He was a Nazi soldier. But that doesn’t mean he was a bad man. On the contrary, he was a kind man who hated the war and yearned to be with his family. Yet he was still a member of the German War Machine and a regime that killed many Jews. My sister’s children (my little niece and nephew) are proud of their great, great grandfather and view him with great respect, for the man he was and not the label he carried.

TexasDude's avatar

Again, let me emphasize, just because I believe it is that important: A German soldier during WWII is not necessarily equal to a Nazi.

In illustrated form:

A Nazi

Probably not Nazis

@Simone_De_Beauvoir pretty much nails it. We’d need to know more. This guy could have been SS for all I know (in which case, I’d just shut my mouth), but it’s more likely that he was just a grunt or a conscript.

MRSHINYSHOES's avatar

@Fiddle_Playing_Creole_Bastard my sister’s husband’s great grandfather was a member of the Nazi Youth party when he was a young man, in addition to being a soldier. But you are correct, not all German soldiers were Nazis. They just represented the Nazi Party.

skfinkel's avatar

I saw a play about a very similar question. The circumstances were that a young actor in the play pretended to be a victim of atrocities but was in fact the perpetrator. He marries an actress from the play, they have a child, and then is discovered by his friends, who decide to tell the wife. The big question at the end is, does she leave him now that she knows what he did, or does she stay?

Bellatrix's avatar

I would want to know more about the role he played during the war. As has been suggested if he was a rank and file soldier serving at the front, I don’t think I would feel differently. Of course if he was involved in committing or permitting atrocities, I would definitely feel differently.

12Oaks's avatar

This has never happened to me, but I really try not to judge anybody by what the did or was associated with 70 years ago. If everybody got judged by their actions as a youth/young adult it would be doubtful any of us would find employment or have friends at all.

cazzie's avatar

I live in a city where are reminders of the German occupation everywhere. I know people my age (30–40’s) whose grandparents/uncles & aunts were on opposite sides…. one grandfather was a nazi and collaborator, on the other side, they ran off to Sweden, trying to help the resistance and in one case, an uncle spent years in a German prison camp. It’s living history here. That being said, you judge a person on based on how they behave now, I suppose, like a recovering alcoholic who needs forgiving so everyone can move on.

War is horrible and people do horrible things not always because they believe in some cause, but because they’re swept up in the storm. Just because he wore a uniform for the other side, doesn’t mean he is a war criminal.

Anyone who went through that history and is willing to tell their story should be listened to and their story written down. We need to hear what happened from those who lived it. I’d ask him if he’d be willing to speak about his experience and be recorded.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@cazzie Wow. I saw you were answering this question and I was looking forward to the answer, but that blows me away. I’m not sure I could be that accepting of what transpired.

coffeenut's avatar

Thanks for all the great answers everyone…..

Well…as far a I can tell He is a Nazi but didn’t have anything to do with the camps or things like that…. I highly doubt he has had any plans to do anything to anyone since the end of the war…..I’m not sure if he is “stricken with grief”...not sure if I will ask….

I also don’t find it my place to judge or forgive/not forgive him for past actions that happened before I was born… Nor feel the need to “turn him in” to who?.....He’s almost 90…

The few conversations I have had with him have been fascinating…..hearing the “other side” of the story….I’m working on getting him to let me record it…

WestRiverrat's avatar

Many German civil servants joined the Nazi party to keep their jobs.

mattbrowne's avatar

There were many Nazi sympathizers in other countries as well at the time. In America and in England for example. Today there are neo-Nazis and outspoken racists in almost every country around the globe, though usually a very small minority.

There are many young people who eventually quit being neo-Nazis, which is a very difficult step, because of strong peer pressure. In Germany there are programs helping people willing to get out. Typically this involves moving to a different town, getting some money, getting a new job and being supported by a social worker. There are in fact ex-neo-Nazis, who eventually become social workers helping others to get out. I have great respect for people who eventually admit that they were completely wrong and that Nazism is a totally despicable and perverse ideology. The movie American History X features this topic.

Now the situation is very different for a 86-year-old man (I wouldn’t use the word gentleman as there’s nothing gentle about this). If he’s still convinced and committed to upholding the horrible principles Nazism is based upon, I would break all contact.

cazzie's avatar

Just as an aside: I want someone who went through Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy to go on the Glen Beck show and set him straight. I don’t care which ‘side’ does it. If it’s a Nazi who explains how his ideals are so well represented by the Tea Party, perhaps that’s a fresh fish slap in the face that ignoramus needs. That man doesn’t know his politics from a hole in the floor.

Nazi or not, we need to listen to these old people who lived it and went through it because we can’t let it happen again.

(who is currently crying herself to sleep over what is happening in Wisconsin and the devastation of the earthquake in her adopted country of New Zealand)

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