Thursday, March 19, 2009

what would I have done, asks Hitler authority

The attempt that came closest to toppling Hitler, that of Claus von Stauffenberg in July 1944, was the culmination of a conspiracy of extraordinarily courageous men from both military and civilian life.

The courage is all the more striking given the awareness of the conspirators that they did not have the support of the German people. Stauffenberg commented that “the man who has the courage to do something must do it in the knowledge that he will go down in German history as a traitor. If he does not do it, however, he will be a traitor to his own conscience.”

Acknowledging the level of courage needed to challenge the Nazi regime even in minor ways, let alone through the actions of the “White Rose,” an Elser, or a Stauffenberg, requires some humility by those of us who, mercifully, have never had to contend with such political ruthlessness. When trying to reach moral judgments on the behavior of Germans under Hitler, we must ask ourselves how we would have behaved. If we think we would have lacked the courage to oppose such a brutal regime, then we have to recognize that we would have been prepared to make compromises and concessions, to reach an accommodation of some sort. And this was the slippery slope, descending steeply into gross inhumanity, as the passivity of the many allowed the radical hatred of a minority — if a fairly large and powerful minority — swiftly to gain ground and to engender the most devastating breach of civilization the world has yet encountered. ;
--Sir Ian Kershaw, Hitler biographer

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