The Holocaust

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How do people react to laws they believe are wrong in relation to the Holocaust?

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It depends on why the law is enacted. In Nazi Germany, many people felt that the Jewish population was in some way responsible for the German defeat in World War I. In that situation, it's easier to get people to go along with a law that they might otherwise not accept. Fear changes what we are willing to accept. Just look at how we sometimes react to people in traditional Arab clothing on planes since 9-11.

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It is a question without an easy answer, particularly when it comes to the Holocaust or other situations where obeying your conscience could endanger your life or those of your family, which I agree is one's first obligation. It is also the case that people often engage in cognitive dissonance or denial, where they simply manage to convince themselves that something horrible is actually not happening, thus relieving themselves of the obligation of doing something about it.

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If I remember correctly, you originally asked how people should act as well as how they do.  I would argue that people do not have the obligation to resist unjust laws at the expense of their lives or those of their loved ones.  This is particularly true in cases like that of Nazi Germany where you could endanger you own life with little hope of actually helping the people who are being harmed by the law.

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Your question could deal with many situations and groups of people besides the Germans during the late 1920's through 1945, as the groundwork for the eventual "final solution" was laid and then carried out in the Holocaust.

In Germany's circumstances, many Germans who disagreed with the way in which the Jews were being victimized and expelled from society were afraid to object to the developments. Self-preservation is a very strong instinct; fear that they and their families might also be attacked caused many to remain silent in the face of increasingly harsh penalties levelled against the Jews and others considered to be enemies of the Aryan nation.

A minority of persons did take action in opposition to the anti-Semitic laws by protecting Jews still in Germany (example: the Gies couple who helped Anne Frank and family while they were in hiding) or assisting them in leaving the country for refuge in other places.

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