Were They Victims or Perpetrators?

How do we understand perpetrators? Who are they and are some more significant than others? Mary Fulbrook, in her book Reckonings: Legacies of Nazi  Persecution and the Quest for Justice, expands on the minor perpetrators in the trials of the 60s and 70s as being part of a larger group of people who were never tried even though they actively participated in the daily acts of violence that allowed the genocide to happen. She brings up a curious point: West German judges, with allocation of lesser sentences, seemed to have more compassion for the former Nazis than for their victims, why? This brings up the concept of victimhood. Were former Nazis simply considered the victims of the system? Or were the West German judges simply more inclined to the Nazi ways? The Nazi guilt surely played a part in this as the horrors of the war made the line between perpetrator and victim very blurred.

The chapter certainly left more questions than answers. Why were survivor meet-ups seen as a problem, when perpetrators and their witnesses were known to corroborate stories in West German courts? Is this because anti-Semitic feelings or homophobia were still very much a part of cultural and societal norms? Joachim Häberlen shows the overcompensation for this hatred by the Left with the creation of groups where men, women or homosexuals would share their experiences, but again the extreme push for sharing of feelings and experiences, similarly to the push for representing oneself as a victim in the trials, adhere to the opposite effects of what they intended. The groups were supposed to be a free environment, but become riddled with peer-pressure and the trials, which were supposed to bring to justice the perpetrators of the holocaust, only bring a small portion to the stand and fewer are convicted or punished.

One Reply to “Were They Victims or Perpetrators?”

  1. Your question regarding the role of former Nazis as possible victims of the system they created echoes the complexity of strictly defining perpetrators against accomplices which we discussed last week. Like you mentioned, there is a grey zone between victims stricto sensu and the perceived victims of a totalitarian regime who executed orders. To this, we can add the different methods that the Eastern and Western governments decided to apply in the de-Nazification process: The West with questionnaires and multiple categories of offenders and the East with commissions regulated by Marxist ideology and whose targets contrasted with those in the West. Furthermore, was Western Germany inclined in burying a dark past in the wake of a new democracy and a regained significant place in Western Europe ?

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