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An excerpt from Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners.

"Germans’ anti-Semitic beliefs about Jews were the central causal agent of the Holocaust. The conclusion of this book is that anti-Semitism moved many thousands of “ordinary” Germans to slaughter Jews. Not economic hardship, not the coercive means of a totalitarian state, not social psychological pressure, but ideas about Jews that were pervasive in Germany, and had been for decades, induced ordinary Germans to kill unarmed, defenseless Jewish men, women, and children by the thousands, systematically and without pity.

My explanation—which is new to the scholarly literature on the perpetrators—is that the perpetrators, “ordinary Germans,” were animated by anti-Semitism, by a particular type of anti-Semitism that led them to conclude that the Jews ought to die."

Those in opposition and resistance to the Nazis were not moved to opposition by a principled disapproval of the elimination of the Jews from German society. Resistance groups to Hitler often had their own anti-Semitic programs that envisaged a future Germany without Jews or with Jews denied fundamental rights. 

Some just felt it had gone too far. There was a glaring absence of dissent with regard to the treatment and eventual genocidal slaughter of the Jews. This should not be seen as Nazi brainwashing or the inability of Germans to express their dissatisfaction with the government. German people should not be regarded as having been passive pawns or terrorized victims of their own government  Germans protested other Nazi policies, but not the ones directed toward Jews. As Germans’ actions show, they were willful agents, making conscious choices in accord with their preexisting values and beliefs. 

Germans treated other peoples whom the Nazis and most German deemed to be inferior, even “subhuman” such as Poles, far differently and better than Jews. Germans also stood up for Poles as they did not do for Jews. Priests often spoke out on behalf of Poles but not of Jews.

There is evidence of Germans opposing policies with which they disagreed that extends to other areas. The Nazis’ public assaults on Christianity, for example, created much dissatisfaction among Germans. Moreover, between February 1936 and July 1937 there were at least 192 labor strikes. There was widespread outrage and protest at the government’s so called Euthanasia program, which saw German physicians take the lives of more than seventy thousand people whom they deemed to have a “life unworthy of living” because of physical or mental handicaps. Germans recognized this slaughter to be wrong, expressed their views about it, openly protested for an end to the killing, suffered no retribution for having expressed their views, and succeeded in ending the program and saving lives. 

Only once was there large-scale protest by Germans on behalf of Jews, namely when German women massed in Berlin and demonstrated for three days for the release of their imprisoned Jewish husbands. The Nazi regime backed down. Six thousand Jewish men were freed and the women were not punished. 


Explaining the Perpetrators Actions

It can be said with certitude that never in the history of the Holocaust was a German, SS man or otherwise, killed, sent to a concentration camp, jailed, or punished in any serious way for refusing to kill Jews. Two separate comprehensive studies of the possibility for Germans to refuse execution orders have demonstrated that claims of punishment by death or imprisonment are false. The records of the SS and police courts show that no one was ever executed or sent to a concentration camp for refusing to kill Jews. No one has ever produced even one verified case of a man having been killed or sent to a concentration camp for not carrying out an execution order – despite the enormous effort made to unearth such cases. 

Germans could say “no” to mass murder. They chose to say “yes.”

Was it a question of a tendency toward obedience? Germans of all ranks, even the most Nazified, disobeyed orders that they opposed, that they deemed illegitimate. Generals who willingly contributed to the extermination of Soviet Jews conspired against Hitler. Sometimes Germans were disobedient in order to satisfy their lust to kill Jews.


"In his immense, angry new book, Daniel Jonah Goldhagen has challenged a fundamental assumption of the Holocaust, that Germans blindly followed orders, or were coerced by their superiors, in murdering Jews."

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