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We need to study Nazi perpetrators to understand the Holocaust

Posted on 08/02/2012
Professor Dan Stone

There is a danger that we will never understand why the Holocaust occurred if studies of Nazis and why they became perpetrators is widely condemned argues an academic from Royal Holloway, University of London.

Professor Dan Stone, from the Department of History, highlighted the need for researchers and historians to delve into the minds of Nazis at the heart of the Holocaust during a recent lecture to mark Holocaust Memorial Day.

Speaking at the event, Prof Stone said: “Recently, there have been criticisms of attempts to study Holocaust perpetrators and that these studies represent a morally dubious position. There have been claims that the correct approach would be to focus on the victims but unless we want to give up on questions such as how and why the Holocaust could occur, we have no choice but to study perpetrators.”

Professor Stone argues that there is no single, homogeneous perpetrator type and that there should not be a single definition of Nazism.

“The Camp-SS, the Gestapo and the ‘Judenberater’ – Jewish advisors – all conform to the model of educated men carrying out mass murder,” Dr Stone explains. “The men on the next rung of the hierarchy, such as the SSPF also conform. Not many actually fit the stereotypical view of perpetrators as ‘monsters’ with no feelings or considerations.”

Professor Stone is carrying out research to analyse existing studies, which is split between those focusing on the structural phenomenon of the Holocaust and those looking at the voluntaristic phenomenon focusing on the actual killing process. He is also encouraging new research that takes a wider approach.

“I hope to demonstrate that both approaches have contributed to our understanding of genocide and that both factors were required in order for the perpetrators to carry out the mass killings and to consider it a part of ‘normal’ human behaviour,” he explains. 


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