Ref. HRA 1998/1
©1998 Paola Marziani and Human Rights Awareness




Hitler's Willing Executioners: 

Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust 

Goldhagen's book supports a fundamental principle for human rights understanding: responsibility in human rights abuses does not reside only in a few individuals.


The Germans' deep anti-Semitism made the Holocaust possible. It was not a lone-man sickening madness; rather, anti-Semitism was widespread and hate blinding. Hitler's Willing Executioners by historian Jonathan Goldhagen has stirred a debate which has been both a source of surprise and of hope. It is surprising that a thorough study  which says what should have been obvious to most people that lived through the Thirties and WWII appears  only 50 years after the collapse of Nazi Germany.  The source of hope is that, finally,  the right perspective is being pursued, even if Goldhagen's ideas are far from consolidated, and recent popularizations  turn back to old ideas capitalizing on rather misleading details of Hitler's personal history. 

Goldhagen's analysis in the first two parts of the book shows primary evidence on how the most consolidated institutions as well as most people put anti-Semitism first, to the point of overriding even the main principles of their ideology. “The Catholic Church cooperated wholeheartedly in this obvious eliminationist and often lethal measure.” “Marxists, idelogical opponents of Nazism” -- and also a main force for Internationalism -- “were, on the issue of the Jews, in general accord with the Nazis.” 

Hitler's Willing Executioners  is for anyone wishing to  ponder how, at any time, destructive feelings and ideas may resurface in disguise, and be aware that it may be much more easy to fall prey to them as they become socially accepted, than to oppose them. In this perspective Goldhagen's book will help to build our ability to recognize, and to oppose such forces in our own social environment.