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JeSuisRickSpringfield's avatar

To what extent should those who joined the Nazi party to avoid persecution be condemned?

Asked by JeSuisRickSpringfield (697 points ) January 11th, 2013

Some joined the Nazi party because they supported the platform. Others were conscripted into service for the Nazis, though they never formally joined the Nazi party. Then there are those who did not support the Nazi party—or at least claim not to have—but who formally joined in order to protect their careers or families after being intimidated by the Nazi leadership.

Considering the number of people who fled Germany during this period of time, how much of an excuse does this last group have for their actions? Does the extent to which they were willing to play the role of a Nazi matter? Martin Heidegger integrated Nazi ideals into his writings, for example, whereas Herbert von Karajan just kept conducting orchestras. Then again, Karajan was Austrian and under less pressure to join at the time when he did.

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10 Answers

Self_Consuming_Cannibal's avatar

I think if someone joined becasue they were genuinely in fear for their lives or they were in fear for their families lives then I don’t think they should be punished at all. I think probably having to kill and/or torture people against your will to save your or your loved one’s lives, should be punishment enough.

JLeslie's avatar

I have some empathy for those who basically went along to perserve the safety of their families, themseves, and their livelihoods. I certainly would not see fit to prosecute them. Being passive is of course horrible, in that it allows the bad people to continue, but it is difficult to put ones own safety and the safety of their children in danger to do the right thing. My hope would be the lesson is if people stand up, are conscientious objectors, then others join in also, and the government or bad movement loses power. Some argue US soldiers should have refused to do some of the killing that happened in Iraq, from what I understand many civilian Iraqis wound up dead from the war.

The Von Trapps (Sound of Music) were lucky to get out of Austria, the father had an Italian passport and one day the family all crossed the boarder in every day clothing by train with not one other article of belongings to avoid suspicion, to leave Nazi rule, because the Nazis were pressuring the father to go along with the regime. The Nazis took over their house, etched swastikas in their furniture.

There were Jews who worked for the Nazis who knew some of what they did was part of the killing machine. If they did not do it, someone else would. They preserved their own lives.

Such a difficult topic. I can only hope we learn as a civilization and we get better. We stop evil people by speaking out and fighting back.

The people who fled Germany I also have empathy for, like the Von Trapps mentioned above. I think I would flee my country if it was really turning into a dangerous place with values I did not support, I wish I would say I would fight for what is right. I might at first, but if it truly became a matter of life or death I might leave.

CWOTUS's avatar

“Affiliation” should not be a crime. I would not hold “Nazi party members” guilty of crimes simply on the basis of their having joined the Party for narrow self-interest, including the ability to practice their non-lethal profession (assuming that they had not been policy makers and had not carried out atrocities and murders themselves).

However, even in the US, and even today, this is done all the time. Consider what you think of people (particularly victims of violent crime, for example) when you hear that they had “gang ties” or that they were “gang-affiliated”. More often than not, we are conditioned to think that “these guys must have been hoodlums, so they had it coming”.

“Affiliation” should not be a crime.

We should take account of – and if necessary prosecute – people for what they actually do, but it’s very easy to create negative stereotypes and “bad first impressions” of people by attempting to define them with their various affiliations.

Coloma's avatar

Those that were forced to feign support to save their own lives and those of their families should not be persecuted nor prosecuted. Mass control and manipulation is nothing new and one will do what one has to do to survive.

marinelife's avatar

Not at all if they didn’t act on the beliefs of the party.

fremen_warrior's avatar

Who cares? They’re mostly dead now anyways.

burntbonez's avatar

Wouldn’t it be nice if more people stood up against oppression? What if they stood up for what they believed? Yet people are afraid for their own lives and livelihoods. I think that’s pretty sad.

But I wouldn’t condemn them. It’s hard to make it through life. I would hope they could find the strength eventually to take a stand.

mattbrowne's avatar

There are different levels of guilt. Everyone who voted for the Nazis in 1933 is guilty to some extend, even if such voters didn’t know or didn’t agree with the horrific plan outlined by Hitler in ‘Der Kampf’ in 1926. Even the people who didn’t vote at all are somewhat guilty. A democracy has to be defended while it still exists. Everything changed after January 31, 1933. Most people are not born as heroes like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Sophie Scholl accepting their own death fighting the criminal regime.

Patton's avatar

Heidegger was nothing less than a collaborator. He didn’t just sign up to protect himself, he participated in the firing and expelling of Jews for personal gain. He wrote long tomes on the wisdom of Hitler and Nazism. Laying low is one thing, but being a cheerleader crosses the line. He should be condemned. The conductor can be forgiven.

@fremen_warrior It matters because the Nazis are just an example. War crimes still happen, and we still have to figure out how to deal with different members of the groups responsible.

Thammuz's avatar

Being Italian i have to say, if we didn’t forgive some level of collaboration to the regimes (Nazis on one hand, fascists on the other) we wouldn’t have been able to recover after the end.

My own grandfather was conscripted into the Salo Republic after out government switched sides. If a family was known to have able bodied males and they didn’t turn themselves in for service, they took away anyone they could get their hands on instead, the germans in the SR didn’t fuck around.

Furthermore, many young people, in Italy at least, weren’t even alive before the birth of the regime, and were exposed to not other worldview or even dissenting opinion. It’s hard to consider someone who has been indoctrinated since kindergarten to be completely guilty even when they willingly offer themselves for service.

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