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Are Germans inherently evil?

Group portrait of emaciated survivors in the infirmary of the Dachau concentration camp soon after the liberation (source: ushmm.org)
Group portrait of emaciated survivors in the infirmary of the Dachau concentration camp soon after the liberation (source: ushmm.org)

Some people regard Germans inherently evil people for the horrible crimes committed by the Nazis such as sending 6 million Jews to gas chambers. Many Germans themselves feel a sense of shame for such crimes, and believe they can never be forgiven for this.

In part this is due to the well planned and executed efforts of the Allied Powers ( the British, Americans and French ), which was supported by Konrad Adenauer, the first Chancellor of Germany after the Second World War, as explained in this interview with Prof William Toel, a German who had migrated to America.

I entirely agree with what William Toel said, but would like to add that he has missed the most important point. Let me explain.
I am a humble disciple of the great French political philosopher Rousseau who said all men are basically good by nature, in contrast to the British political philosopher Thomas Hobbes who said men are basically evil by nature.
However, Rousseau also said that men may temporarily be made evil by state institutions. In modern times this is often done by false propaganda.

In 1919 after World War 1 Germany was lying prostrate before the British, French and American allies, and Germans were suffering terribly by the shortage of food, inflation, unemployment, etc. Coupled with this was the Allies desire for vengeance against the Germans, for which they imposed huge reparations ( which the British economist Keynes regarded as unrealistic and stupid ) and other humiliating terms like the guilt clause in the Versailles Treaty, severe restrictions on German arms, etc.

auschwitz concentration and extermination camp
auschwitz concentration and extermination camp

Then came the Great Depression after the Wall Street Slump of 1929, due to which inflation and unemployment skyrocketed. Germans were desparate, and many said ” Better a terrible end than an endless terror “.

Then came this man Hitler who was portrayed as a strong man who would rescue Germans from their miserable plight and humiliation, and again create a great Germany.

Now Germans are a great and proud people, who have produced great scientists, philosophers, poets and writers, musicians, etc. In their desperation they fell for Hitler’s propaganda that they are a Herrenvolk, and the Jews are responsible for all their ills. Modern propaganda is such a powerful thing that few can resist it, even if it is false, and so a large section of Germans ( not all ) succumbed to it. But there were also brave people like Hans and Sophie Scholl who opposed the Nazis. Even in the Nazi era there were many good Germans, but most of them kept silent about the Nazi atrocities out of fear of the SS.

But, as Rousseau said, this could only be a temporary phase in a nation’s history. All men, including Germans, are basically good by nature ( though temporarily many of them can be made bad ). The attempt of the Allies to make Germans feel shame and guilt for the horrible atrocities done to the Jews, as if Germans are inherently evil people, was therefore misplaced. Instead, the correct approach would have been to tell the Germans that no doubt the Nazi crimes were terrible, but that was not because Germans were inherently bad people but because of Nazi propaganda, used by the state, which brainwashed a large section of them.

Other nations have also committed genocide, though in different ways. For instance, the Europeans who came to North America almost wiped out the native Americans ( at one time the going price of a ‘Red Indian’ scalp was two dollars ) , the bombing of Vietnam and Iraq by Americans, the treatment of native Australians by British settlers, the treatment of lower castes and tribals in India, etc
Not that these crimes are to be exonerated. But they have to be placed in the world historical context, and explained properly, as I have done.
One surely cannot blame the present Germans as they were not even born when the Holocaust happened. One can’t be blamed for the wrongs of his fathers and grandfathers.
But I also want to put the Holocaust in the correct historical perspective. Of course it was horrible, but why should Germans alone be blamed for genocides ? Several nations have committed such deeds, as mentioned above.
The Britishers did something similar in India ( as explained in my article ‘ The greatest crime in history ‘ published in indicanews.com ) and in Australia to the native population.

We Indians did something similar to our lower castes and tribals in our country ( See my judgment in Kailas vs State of Maharashta online, particularly paragraphs 18 and 36 ). I am not exonerating the horrible deeds of the Nazis and others. But I am just putting the thing in a worldwide perspective.

Markandey Katju

Written by Markandey Katju

Justice Markandey Katju is the former Chairman, Press Council of India. Prior to his appointment as Chairman, Press Council of India, he served as a Permanent judge at the Supreme Court of India.

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