Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

Demjanjuk Nazi trial puts spotlight on non-Germans

Posted by sanityinjection on May 20, 2009

I commend to your attention an article in today’s international edition of the German news magazine Der Spiegel. The article is in connection with the recent deportation from the US, and detention for trial in Germany, of John Demjanjuk, who is accused of having been a camp guard at the Sobibor and Flossenburg camps during the Holocaust. The case is being viewed as likely the last ever Nazi war crimes trial, because most of the war criminals still at large have passed away.

Demjanjuk, however, is not a German national. He’s Ukrainian, and Der Spiegel is using the case to highlight the widespread participation by non-Germans in implementing the Holocaust. For some, like Demjanjuk, that meant first-hand participation in killing Jews; for others, it may have meant helping the Nazis locate and arrest Jews. Some were motivated by anti-Semitism; some blamed the Jews for the hardships of the war or occupation; some might have been motivated simply by the bounties paid for turning over Jews.

Der Spiegel’s point is not (as it might have been had this article been published 35 years ago) to try to deflect the responsibility of Germany for the Holocaust, but rather to remind us that unlike Germany, most European countries have yet to fully examine their own roles in carrying it out. Without the cooperation of governments and citizens in both Western and Eastern Europe, the Germans could not possibly have killed so many Jews. For example, the SS in a country like Greece or Ukraine would not be able to discern who the Jews in that country were, but often received enthusiastic help from locals in identifying them. Of course it is also true that other people in these countries worked to hide and protect Jews. The majority were neither collaborators nor protectors, but simply tried to avoid getting involved.

The article is long (the way articles in Time and Newsweek used to be before they were dumbed down for American readers more accustomed to pondering celebrity photos in People  magazine) but it is worth the time to read.

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