According to social psychology, the behavior of Germans and the Jews during the holocaust was more influenced by their own individual or group characteristics and their social environment. Prior to the holocaust, the Jews had divided themselves into ingroups and regarded the Jews as the outgroup in Germany based on anti-Semitic grounds and conformity to anti-Jewish theology. Similarly, the Jews had financial power and positions of influence that were fast increasing during the time. Another reason that may have led to Germans segregating themselves from Jews was the spread of prejudice that resulted from the awareness the Aryans saw themselves as superior to the Jews. This led to the Jews being subjected to racial discrimination. This paper, therefore, will look into the events that led to the commencement of the holocaust, explore the role the Germans and the Jews played in the holocaust, and analyze which ingroups resisted and why. It will also explore the steps that influenced behavior during the time of the holocaust through the integration of key terms as used in social psychology.
The holocaust was a state-sponsored massacre of about six million Jewish men, women, and children. The events prior to the holocaust can be explained using social psychology theories, according to Baumeister and Bushman (2020). First, the social group must coexist so that certain behavior can be facilitated. In this regard, the Jews were a Semitic group that lived in Germany and other European countries and which had influenced the political, economic, social, and religious aspects of the host countries.
Following the defeat of Germany in World War 1, the Germans spread the stereotype that failed compliance of Jews led to the nation’s loss in the war (Fischel, 2020). Social psychology focuses on how attitudes are formed, and hence, according to Hilton and Patt (2020, the Germans had wanted to direct their aggression for losing World War I to the Jews. Therefore, the Nazis would justify their follow-up actions by believing in a formulated conspiracy theory that Jews played a vital behind-the-scenes role in the loss of World War 1. Germany was a state organized on racism as it viewed all East races as inferior compared to their Aryan neighbors. Impression formation about Jews was based on racial grounds otherwise, the anti-Semitism and the fact that Jews were associated with Christianity. This prompted the Nazi racial ideologists to come up with ways of segregating the Jews through social categorization and polarization of those who were living in Germany and European countries.
It was not until World War II began that the Germans saw a scapegoating opportunity to order the removal of Jews from public life. According to Hilton and Patt (2020), the Jews lost their German citizenship, and this was a positional bias as the Jews were denied top positions at work, job opportunities, and education. Dehumanization became apparent as more negative behavior and hostility were displayed. It also made migration to safer haven difficult due to the regulations banning immigration to other countries, such as the United States of America. Fischel (2020) asserts that the Germans had implemented a Kristallnacht policy that sought to drive Jews out of Germany as well as make life difficult for them. This was due to the deprivation of their social roles and social norms in their temporary residents at the ghettos and in Germany as a whole.
Upon being rendered helpless, the Nazis seized the opportunity to burn down synagogues and murder the Jews. It then followed the incarceration of Jews from the ghettos to the concentration camps, where the Jews were murdered en route and others already affected by the bystander effects from their dead counterparts surrendered to death. The euthanasia program was acted upon in an attempt to eliminate the racially unfit, chronically ill, physically, and mentally disabled, according to Hilton and Patt (2020). Diffusion of responsibility, as assumed by the medical practitioners and technicians, saw legal killings of about 200 000 patients in gas chambers without mercy (Hilton & Patt, 2020). The euthanasia killings were attributed to the nation’s cognitive dissonance aimed at the elimination of nonproductive people as well as curbing their reproduction. The mass murder of Jews in Germany and at the camps by the Nazis totaled approximately six million.
The ghettos, which had acted as a temporary settlement for the Jews, became places at which Jew’s resistance to the Nazis’ atrocities occurred. According to Fischel (2020), some of the Jews who fled the ghettos and camps joined partisan outgroups, whereupon they engaged in guerilla warfare against the Nazis. However, Fischel (2020) asserts that Jews who had formed revolt groups in ghettos had prompted the German government to deploy a special military unit that crushed the rebels. Similarly, at the concentration camps, resistance by Jews also occurred, where they formed fighting groups; however, the participants were also rounded up and executed. Other means through which Jews formed resistance was through partisan movements where the Jews grouped themselves in the partisan unit and fought in the forests. The resistance groupthink ensued as they derailed troop trains and blew up bridges and electric power stations.
The following steps during the holocaust influenced the behavior of the Jews and the Nazis. First, the people were provided with an ideology that sought to justify their beliefs for actions. Failure to concede defeat in World War I brought about the conspiracy theory which changed the perception of the Nazis about Jews asserting that the Jews deserved hate and, therefore, would face the wrath. The massive murder took small steps towards the harmful act, eventually increasing the small actions. In that, the Nazis adopted vengeful behavior against the Jews, which saw the Nazis execute policies that sought to make life harder for the Jews and subdue them. Adolf Hitler, a chancellor, and Heinrich Himmler, a Reich leader prior to assuming office, upheld democracy. However, when they assumed office, Heinrich became the Nazi party leader as Adolf Hitler turned Germany into a dictatorship hence the mastermind behind the mass killings of the Jews.
The Jews were denied rights to work, access school, healthcare, immigration, and live freely in Germany and European countries through rules and policies Germany made up. This led to the Jews feeling oppressed and hence sought immigration to other countries as well as joining resistance movements. The Jews were labeled as an inferior group racially and upheld Judaism; hence these factors were used by the Nazis to legitimize the mass killings. In ghettos, the Germans appointed Jewish councils as social models of compliance and who was given the role of filling the quotas with Jews ready for deportation to death camps. The council was brainwashing the Jews through persuasion, and failure of the council to undertake the responsibility would result in more brutal consequences. Therefore, obedience was expected from both the council members and the Jews. The Nazis took upon the behavior of turning the majority of the victims of the holocaust into slave laborers to serve the German masters. The German government adopted euthanasia as a method of eliminating people who were regarded as socially unfit. Leaving the situation proved hard for the Jews in some ways. For example, limitations in the number of immigrants to the United States hindered the Jewish community from fleeing to the nation for safety. Similarly, the loss of German citizenship hindered the Jews from accessing social amenities in Germany. Therefore, some of the Jews resorted to protests, rebelling against the Nazis and fleeing the country.
Situations like the holocaust have a possibility of reemerging due to the revival of anti-Semitism. This is expected due to the increase in the spread of hate propaganda and vandalization, and attacks on Jews themselves. According to Schroeter (2018), anti-Semitic incidents have risen following Muslim and Arabs youths increased attacks and negative attitudes against Jews and Jewish properties. These attacks have been spread in the political and public platforms and social media arenas as well. Therefore, situations such as the holocaust can happen again in the future.
Baumeister, R. F., & Bushman, B. J. (2020). Social Psychology and human nature. Cengage Learning.
Fischel, J. R. (2020). Historical dictionary of the Holocaust. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Hilton, L., & Patt, A. (Eds.). (2020). Understanding and teaching the Holocaust. Harvey Goldberg Series for Und.
Schroeter, D. J. (2018). “Islamic anti-Semitism” in historical discourse. The American Historical Review, 123(4), 1172-1189.