Stanford prison experiments and the holocaust

Concerning Claude Lanzmann's "The Last of the Unjust," Andrew O'Hehir wrote this:

I can understand why French documentary filmmaker Claude Lanzmann kept his interviews with Benjamin Murmelstein out of “Shoah,” Lanzmann’s 1985 magnum opus about the Holocaust. Murmelstein was a one-time Viennese rabbi who spent several years working closely with the notorious Adolf Eichmann and who was the final “Jewish Elder,” or community leader, in the ghetto of Theresienstadt (or Terezin, its Czech name), a faux-benevolent Potemkin village erected by the Nazis for propaganda purposes.  
To many people in the Jewish world, his name became identified with the way some leaders of Europe’s Jewish community had capitulated to Nazi domination and collaborated with a campaign of mass extermination. Gershom Scholem, the German-born Jewish philosopher and historian, suggested at one point that Murmelstein should be hanged as a traitor. 
Murmelstein was a powerful and well-connected figure in the Jewish world; he could easily have emigrated to England as late as 1939. Indeed, he almost did: He accompanied a fellow rabbi to London shortly before the war started, and then returned to Vienna on a nearly empty commercial flight. He could have refused to work with Eichmann and other Nazi commanders, and accepted the alternative: a bullet in the back of the head, or a one-way rail journey to “the East.” (Murmelstein says, by the way, that he didn’t learn the precise nature of what happened to deported Jews in Eastern Europe until 1945, although he knew that none of them ever came back.) Instead, he stayed behind, risking his own life every day in tense diplomatic encounters with murderers and psychopaths. He admits that he relished power and followed a strong drive for self-preservation — largely so that someone would be alive to tell the story. ("The Last of the Unjust,"
Patrick McEvoy-Halston
In the Stanford prison experiment, students were randomly divided into two groups -- and if they were guards they became thorough sadists, and if prisoners, cringing, placating masochists. Personally, I don't think this experiment was about human nature. I think you can be someone who never loses their head, switches into some other kind of person, owing to circumstances "permitting" them … you can be the person doing something abominable only because there was no way out, no choice -- the fully rational person is simply caught completely out. 
The Germans weren't like that, though. The ones who just ten years previous were Weimar permissive liberal became the conservative Volk -- millions of them -- that thought it only sensible that all the "filth" in society be cleansed away -- anyone, anything, "unfit." So is this what happened? All the Germans became Stanford prison experiment perfect examples who clearly aren't obeying orders but following deep inner compulsions, and the Jews were immune to it throughout? 
In my judgment, it depends on how they were raised. Germans had about the worst childrearing in all of Europe -- their parents told them they themselves were the filth that needed to be eliminated -- and when they started guiltily allowing themselves a permissive, enjoyable culture, they were driven to kill their bad child selves, that they'd introjected into other people. Jews had far warmer family relationships, but those who didn't would have taken advantage of an authoritative situation to switch into "guards" as well.  I have no idea if this applies to this person, as I'm not familiar with him. 
@Patrick McEvoy-Halston   You might try reading Lifton's The Nazi Doctors -- apparently to a large extent they simply "compartmentalized" their lives, so their jobs and those objectives were distinct from whatever was "personal" warm and fuzzy. Much as an engineer, say Werner von Braun, was concerned only with propulsion and payload, and not interested in the human suffering and/or politics.  All that massive record keeping was part of the bureaucracy of the "job" -- through-put, if you will.  Easier perhaps for those brought up to be stoic except for the sentimental (patriotics/familial/religious) realm, but it can be trained into a person. 
@Patrick McEvoy-Halston Yes, yes, yes--- after living in Germany for some years I have slowly come to appreciate how absolutely horrible and sadistic pre-war "parenting" was.  Very patriarchal, husbands were brutes and proud of it, wives were treated like dogs, sons were treated like vermin, and daughters were raped by their fathers so frequently that Freud was dumbfounded by the numbers of women who came to him for psychological problems related to childhood sexual abuse.  Katherine Mansfield's short stories don't cover the half of it.
Today, German parents are quite conscientious and exercise very little control over their children.  Many have no idea how "streng" their grandparents generation was raised.
However I can see in my ex-husband's family the reprecussions still.
@Patrick McEvoy-Halston Of course you cannot say much about Victorian-style parenting methods of the same era, either, in Great Britain, where children were cavalierly abandoned as soon as they were weaned, the boys often to indescribable, abusive boarding schools.  There was some of that in Germany, too, but Germans called themselves proudly "the Home of the Family" in contrast to Great Britain, which appeared (in the eyes of Germans) to be doing nothing so much as raising masses of insitutionalized children to serve as soldiers and bureaucrats in their vast Empire.  In Britain, Queen and Empire were supposed to come first and family ties were deliberately discouraged to that end.  Germans found that reprehensible.


Popular posts from this blog

Full conversation about "Bringing Up Baby" at the NewYorker Movie Facebook Club

Review of "the Snowman"