Notes: Modernity and the Holocaust by Zygmunt Bauman

Chapter 5: Soliciting the Cooperation of the Victims

- Among the resources of resistance that must be destroyed to make the violence effective, by far the most crucial position is occupied by the traditional elites of the doomed community. It is hoped that the marked group, once deprived of leadership and centres of authority, will lose it cohesiveness and the ability to sustain its own identity, and consequently its defensive potential. The traditional elites of the doomed community constitute therefore the prime target of the genocide, as long as the latter is aimed indeed at the destruction of the marked people as a community, as a cohesive, autonomous entity. (e.g. the Slavs under German occupation.)

- However, since the state of affairs the Nazis wished to create was one of total Entfernung--an effective removal of the Jews from the life-world of the German race--all "special treatment" of Jewish elites became unnecessary. After all, they were destined to share the lot of their brethren anyway.

- Perhaps an anticipated effect of such a "totalization" of the Jewish problem was the survival of Jewish communal structure, autonomy and self-government long after similar factors of communal existence came under a frontal assault in all occupied Slav lands. This survival meant first and foremost that Jewish traditional elites retained their administrative and spiritual leadership throughout the duration of the Holocaust; if anything, that leadership was further reinforced and made well-nigh uncontestable following the physical segregation of the Jews and the fencing off of the ghettos.

- Jewish elites played therefore a crucial mediating role in the incapacitation of the Jews; quite untypically for a genocide, the total subjection of a population to an unconstrained will of their captors was achieved not through destruction, but by reinforcing the communal structure and the integrative role played by native elites.

- At all stages of the Holocaust,the victims were confronted with a choice (at least subjectively--even when objectively the choice did not exist any more, having been pre-empted by the secret decision of physical destruction). They could not choose between good and bad situations, but they could at least choose between greater and lesser evil.

- To make their victims' behaviour predictable and hence manipulable and controllable, the Nazis had to induce them to act in the 'rational mode'; to achieve that effect, they had to make the victims believe that there was indeed something to save, and that there were clear rules as to how one should go about saving it. To believe that, the victims had to be convinced that the treatment of the group as a whole would not be uniform, that the lot of individual members would be diversified, and in each case dependent on individual merit. The victims had to think, in other words, that their conduct did matter; and that their plight could be at least in part influenced by what they were about to do.

- The diabolical aspect of this setting was that the beliefs and convictions it sanctioned, and the actions it encouraged, supplied legitimacy to the Nazi masterplan and made it digestible to most, the victims included. While fighting for petty privileges, exempted statuses or simply the stay of execution which the overall design of destruction provided for, the victims and those who tried to help them tacitly accepted the premises of the design.