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May 2, 2016 3:20 pm

The Holocaust: Many Villains, Few Heroes

avatar by Alan Dershowitz

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Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

As we commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Nuremberg Trials, at which selected Nazi leaders were placed in the dock, we must ask some disturbing questions about those who were never tried for their complicity in the world’s worst genocide. It would have been impossible to carry out the mass murder of so many people without the complicity of so many governments, groups, and individuals. Perhaps there were too many guilty parties to put them all on trial, but it is not too late to hold the guilty morally accountable for what they did and failed to do.

 To be sure, the guiltiest individuals were the Nazi leaders who directly planned and implemented the final solution. Their goal was to in gather Jews from all over the world in order to kill them and to destroy what they regarded as the “Jewish race.” They came very close to succeeding, wiping out nearly all of Europe’s Jews in a relatively brief period of time. These Nazi leaders had the help of many “willing executioners,” both in Germany and in the countries under its control. Among the worst culprits were individual Lithuanians, Latvians, Hungarians, Slovakians, Poles, Ukrainians and others. There were some heroes among these groups and they are justly remembered and honored. But the number of villains far exceeded the number of heroes.

Then there were the guilty governments that cooperated and helped facilitate the deportations and round-ups. The French government deported more Jews than the Nazis demanded. Other governments – including those of Norway, Holland, Austria, Hungry – also helped the Nazis achieve their genocidal goal. Bulgaria, on the other hand, declined to cooperate with the Nazi genocide and its small Jewish population was saved.

There were also the countries that refused to accept Jews who might have escaped the Nazis had they been permitted to enter. These countries include the United States, Canada, and many other potential places of asylum that shut their doors. In the United States and Canada too, there were heroes who pressed their leaders to do more, but for the most part they failed.

Many Arab and Muslim leaders also played ignoble roles, siding with the Nazis and conducting their own pogroms against local Jews. The leading villain in this regard was the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who joined Hitler in Berlin and played a hands-on role in sending Jews to their deaths and in keeping the doors of Palestine closed to Jewish refugees.

Could more have been done by Britain and the United States to end the genocide? Could they have bombed the rail lines to Auschwitz and other death camps? These are complex questions that have been asked but not satisfactorily answered since 1945.

There were also the actions of those who pardoned and commuted the sentences of Nazis convicted at Nuremberg, and those who helped Nazis escape prosecution after the war ended. That list too is long and disturbing.

The Nuremberg Trials, by focusing narrowly on Nazi leaders and their direct henchmen, implicitly exculpated those who played important, but less direct, roles by their actions and inactions. By their nature, courts are limited in what they can do to bring to justice large numbers of individuals who belong on a wide continuum of legal and moral guilt. But historians, philosophers, jurists and ordinary citizens are not so limited. We may point fingers of blame at all who deserve to be blamed, whether or not they were placed on trial at Nuremberg, or at subsequent legal proceedings.

There will never be perfect justice for those who helped carry out the Holocaust. Most of the guilty escaped prosecution, lived happy lives and died in their beds, surrounded by loving family members. West Germany prospered as a result of the Marshal Plan and many German industrialists, who had benefited from slave labor, continued to benefit as a result of the perceived needs of the Cold War. The scales of justice remain out of balance. Perhaps this helps to explain why more than 6 million people have been murdered in preventable genocides — in Cambodia, Rwanda, Darfur and other places — since the world pledged “never again.”

There is, of course, the risk that by blaming all, we blame none. It is important to calibrate the responsibility of those who played very different roles in the Holocaust. This is a daunting task, but it must be undertaken if future genocides are to be deterred.

Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Emeritus Professor at Harvard Law School and the author of Taking the Stand, My Life in the Law.

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  • moshe goldstein

    Rudolph Kastner, the representative of the zionist yishuv headed by david ben gurion,sat in budapest and collaborated with the nazis , to fool 800,000 hungarian jews into cooperating willfully in their own deportation and murder. He used the credibility of his position as a zionist authority to lie to these innocents and told them to cooperate with the Nazis and no harm will come to them.this is well described in “The Perfidy” by Ben Hecht and by Rudolph Vrba in his monumental book “I escaped Auschwitz”. Vrba successfuly escaped Auschwitz in order to warn hungarian Jewry of the impending doom only to have his full report squashed on Kastners desk. Everything Kastner did was with full knowledge of his zionist atheist bosses in Tel Aviv. It would be a crime against truth and full disclosure to omit these early zionist criminals from the list of Nazi Collaborators in the murder and execution of six million of our Jewish brothers in world war 2.

  • Larry Andrews

    “Never Again” refers to the Holocaust and the goal to exterminate the Jewish people. It has absolutely nothing to do with Cambodia, Rwanda, Darfur or any other country or people.

  • Dov

    Professor Dershowitz,

    In the list of preventable genocides you neglected to mention the Igbo genocide in Biafra. the lowest estimate of the number of the Igbo nation who perished is over 3 millions and it might have been as high as 4.5 millions. The Igbo, like the Armenians in 1915 Turkey, are very close in character to us. They were the hated intellectuals of Nigeria.

  • Henna

    Professor Dershowitz has it 100% correct. An article to remind us that justice was never done.

  • angela genesco

    This very documented article reflects the reality about genoside of 6 million people .Painful for us survivers, and i am one of them, to accept the fact so many Nazy lived safe and happy after the crimes commited .The justice will never be for the past.Our concern is for future generation.

  • Unfortunately, future genocides will not be deterred by education, alone, but by credible intervention. Sadly, the history of the Jewish Holocaust is being forgotten and deliberately denied as an historical fact. It will take uncommon courage to protect and defend Israel, and the Jewish people from a resurgence of Jew-hatred.

  • angela genesco

    Very well documented ,sad reality,so many Nazy escaped,lived safe , no punishment for criminal genoside of 6 milion people .Still survivers with devasteted the life- how can you forget?? I am one of them,no mercy for them !

  • Lia

    Thank you, professor Dershowitz.

  • Ephraim

    Thank you again Professor Dershowitz, for your usual knack of making complex issues clearer. Countries were complicit, but not all of its people. Bulgaria was a true hero, and Sweden was one of the villains. However, one of the most righteous gentiles came from Sweden, and he was murdered in obscurity.

    At the very least, I would like to see a book which weaves the entire cloth of the Shoah, showing all who were responsible, whether on a peripheral basis, or more directly. From Ford, Joe Kennedy, Bush’s grandfather, and other US industrialists, to Hollywood studios, which pandered to Nazi demands (Jews in a prequel to those self-hating Jews of today), to celebrities who espoused the Nazi cause, lending their credibility to the monsters, to all the little people who turned in Jews in hiding, to a beloved US president whose antisemitic attitudes become more and more obvious by the day.

  • Myron Slater

    Those Jews of today that forget about the companies that used slave labor, and buy their products such as BMW, Mercedes Benz, Volkswagen, should be embarrassed to drive these cars to Synagogue on High Holy Days. Most of the slave labor were Jews and probably relatives!

  • Dan Friedman

    Wait a minute. Isn’t this same Alan Dershowitz that endorsed Barack Hussein Obama twice, and to date has never admitted it was a mistake?