Bystanders: Conscience and Complicity during the Holocaust

Bystanders: Conscience and Complicity during the Holocaust

Bystanders: Conscience and Complicity during the Holocaust

Bystanders: Conscience and Complicity during the Holocaust


The Holocaust did not introduce the phenomenon of the bystander, but it did illustrate the terrible consequences of indifference and passivity towards the persecution of others. Although the term was initially applied only to the "good Germans"--the apathetic citizens who made genocide possible through unquestioning obedience to evil leaders--recent Holocaust scholarship has shown that it applies to most of the world, including parts of the population in Nazi-occupied countries, some sectors within the international Christian and Jewish communities, and the Allied governments themselves. This work analyzes why this happened, drawing on the insights of historians, Holocaust survivors, and Christian and Jewish ethicists. The author argues that bystander behavior cannot be attributed to a single cause, such as anti-Semitism, but can only be understood within a complex framework of factors that shape human behavior individually, socially, and politically.


The Holocaust did not end when the Allies liberated the Jewish survivors from Nazi Germany's killing centers and concentration camps in 1945. The consequences of that catastrophic event still shadow the world's moral, political, and religious life.

The "Christianity and the Holocaust--Core Issues" series explores Christian complicity, indifference, resistance, rescue, and other responses to the Holocaust. Concentrating on core issues such as the Christian roots of anti- Semitism, the roles played by Christian individuals and groups during the Holocaust, and the institutional reactions of Christians after Auschwitz, the series has a historical focus but addresses current concerns as well.

While many of the series' authors are well-known, established Holocaust scholars, the series also features young writers who will become leaders in the next generation of Holocaust scholarship. As all of the authors study the Holocaust's history, they also assess the Holocaust's impact on Christianity and its implications for the future of the Christian tradition.

Victoria Barnett is a Protestant Christian scholar whose earlier book, For the Soul of the People: Protestant Protest Against Hitler (Oxford University Press, 1992) examines questions such as: How should moral people behave under systematically evil regimes like that of the Nazi Third Reich?; What lessons, if any, can we learn from those Germans who tried to oppose Hitler?; and Who then tried to learn from their mistakes of the past after 1945? For the Soul of the People is a frank revelation of the choices people were forced to make during a ghastly dictatorship, and the stinging moral consequences of those choices.

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