Seventy years ago, the systematic slaughter of 6 million Jews throughout Europe was under way. Since then, many have asked what motivated such staggering acts of evil, while forgetting the acts were enabled by the German people’s collective failure to stand up to a coterie of very wicked, very powerful men.
At the Nuremberg trials, Nazi officers’ defense of their role in the genocide was, “I was just following orders.” No doubt most Germans maintained this moral disconnect while their fellow men were slandered and dehumanized in the run-up to the Holocaust. Under the Nazi regime’s indoctrination, the people’s consciences were molded and they abandoned the most basic moral precepts.
But an uncompromising adherence to those basic moral precepts enabled some Germans to resist this indoctrination and help their fellow man, on penalty of death or worse. They are known as the “righteous among the nations.”
Should the need arise to fight such evil in our time, we should be so lucky as to have the strength to follow our consciences - and not “just follow orders.”