By Carrell Evans
President of the MonDak Historical & Art Society
Part 4 - The Bystanders
How could they just stand there and watch? Why did they do nothing? The largest of the “groups” in the whole drama of the Holocaust were the bystanders. They were bystanders because they were ignorant, helpless and fearful or they chose to ignore what was happening around them. Some eventually became rescuers. Many became victims. The bystanders were individuals, institutions (schools, churches, local governments) and nations.
There was no on-the-spot, 24 hour cable news, with rolling pictures; and the Nazis had effectively taken over all news outlets in Germany by the mid 1930s. They even “cleaned-up” all around the site of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, removing antisemitic posters, hiding any damage to Jewish businesses and temporarily suspending persecutions of the Jews and others, fooling many who attended the games.
The Nazi regime used tactics of fear and terror to control any resistance or rescues. By speaking up against actions, one could be placing his own family and neighborhood in jeopardy of the same or worse treatment. Often there were no means to resist or rebel, no weapons, no where to go. Some bystanders were literally paralyzed with fear or helplessness.
But those who could have done something about what they saw, often chose not to because of their own agendas and biases. The United States and other countries believed that only by winning the war could they then provide any means to stop the destruction of the Jews and others. But the United States could have opened its borders to refugees had it not been for the overwhelming sentiment, at the time, that there weren’t means to care for so many “outsiders” when the country was still recovering from the depression.
Conscience and courage would turn many bystanders into rescuers and resisters. Those attributes need to be developed to greater degrees in all of us and modeled for our children. Albert Schweitzer said, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.”