Wendy Lower’s book, Hitler’s Furies, is a chilling ascending tale, from, as she puts it, witnesses, to accomplices, to perpetrators, culminating with the last sentence: they got away with murder. Sadly, I think that the trials and investigations of the 1950s and the 1960s and the results, especially where charges are dropped because of a lack of convincing elements, are not specific to this time period, nor accused women. The Nuremberg and Lemberg trials mentioned in the last chapters, regarding the motivations and fate of the women, reminded me of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia trial held in La Hague. The process, accusations and testimonies are described in the novel They Would Never Hurt a Fly by Croatian author Slavenka Drakulić. Although she does not, like Lower, focuses exclusively on the crimes committed by women, the atrocities reported and the outcome of the trials unfortunately point to the same conclusion. People that had murdered, planned and conducted genocide, would try to turn the system to their advantage, by lying, denying, using false alibis, pretending to have forgotten, accusing others (even accusing the presumed victims!..), up to the point where even a good amount of testimonies was not considered a sufficient proof. The particular case of Johanna Altvater, who murdered children, really struck me. The fact that she was acquitted because of insufficient evidence, even though there were witnesses, is plainly frustrating and discouraging, and makes me question what more proof would be needed. I think this is taking the “innocent until proven guilty” a little too far, and that it translates into modern day trials. We probably all have heard or followed a case where the accused was found not guilty because of a reasonable doubt. Even though evidence point to him, and the judge and prosecutor know so, the law is made so that the accused are more protected than the victims. And in cases where victims have been dead for years, well, of course, proof like a body is not available, which is to the advantage of the accused. And this was my moment of anger against the legal system that is not getting better.
Another point that I found interesting in the book and that happens to be a recurrent aspect of war is the feeling of helplessness. It is most apparent in the narrative of watching through the window Jews being rounded up to presumably be shot. Although it does trigger an inner indignation, the witness rightfully thinks, but what can I do? And that can probably apply to every horrifying event where witnesses, made accomplices against their will, simply had no option but to let it happen, because of the fear (which was proven justified) of being punished if they spoke up and tried to stop things or help out. And I think that this helplessness, enhanced by the Nazi propaganda, plagued a lot of people, witnesses, accomplices and perpetrators, and victims, prisoners of a system that, once started, can’t be stopped, at least not from the inside where the helplessness prevails.