Consistency the Hitler salute and/or through organisations

Consistency theories specifically including the balanced theory (Fritz Heider 1958) which outlined the urge to maintain ones values and beliefs over time as a drive towards maintaining psychological balance suggests that Hitler’s hatred for the Jews and the Germans gratitude and admiration of Hitler would have intensified Germans anti-Jewish attitudes (Roundy). This could have seen to have led to the majority of Germans to accept and even support the persecution of Jews while some even becoming perpetrators themselves (Roundy).

 

Most Germans participated in the system, in small ways such as using the Hitler salute and/or through organisations and activities (“The Psychology of Bystanders, Perpetrators, and Heroic Helpers.”). Moreover, as bystanders many Germans were not just passive but also semi-active participants as they for instance boycotted Jewish stores and broke intimate relationships and friendships with Jews (“The Psychology of Bystanders, Perpetrators, and Heroic Helpers.”). The German population had a societal tilt where they might have shared a similar cultural background and difficult life conditions and the resulting needs with the desire to satisfy them in certain ways (“The Psychology of Bystanders, Perpetrators, and Heroic Helpers.”). This might have made the Nazi movement more acceptable to many who did not join it. Moreover, after Hitler came to power, the lives of most Germans improved substantially as they had now jobs and were part of community in which there was a spirit of togetherness (excluding Jews) (“The Psychology of Bystanders, Perpetrators, and Heroic Helpers.”). The passivity, semi active participation and connections to the system had to change the German people, in ways similar to the changes in perpetrators (“The Psychology of Bystanders, Perpetrators, and Heroic Helpers.”).

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In the face of the increasing suffering of a subgroup in society, internal and external bystanders frequently remain silent and passive (Ervin Staub 1989) (“The Psychology of Bystanders, Perpetrators, and Heroic Helpers.”). Bystanders also learn and change as a result of their actions or inaction (“The Psychology of Bystanders, Perpetrators, and Heroic Helpers.”). Passivity in the face of others suffering makes it difficult to remain in internal opposition to the perpetrators and to feel empathy for the victims (“The Psychology of Bystanders, Perpetrators, and Heroic Helpers.”). To reduce their own feelings of empathic distress and guilt, passive bystanders will distance themselves from the victims (Staub 1978) (“The Psychology of Bystanders, Perpetrators, and Heroic Helpers.”). Just-world thinking, the tendency to believe that the world is just and that people get what they deserve will lead to bystanders seeing victims as deserving their fate and to devalue them (“The Psychology of Bystanders, Perpetrators, and Heroic Helpers.”).

However when thinking from a third perspective, many of the direct perpetrators were usually not simply forced or pressured by authorities to obey (“The Psychology of Bystanders, Perpetrators, and Heroic Helpers.”). Instead they joined leaders and decision makers, or a movement(s) that shaped and guided them to become perpetrators ((“The Psychology of Bystanders, Perpetrators, and Heroic Helpers.”). This is because decision makers and perpetrators might have shared a cultural-societal tilt where they were part of the same culture and might have experienced similar life problems which probably might have led them to respond with similar needs and share the inclination for the same potentially destructive modes of their fulfilment (“The Psychology of Bystanders, Perpetrators, and Heroic Helpers.”). This possibly led to many voluntarily joining the movement and entered roles that in the end led to them perpetrate mass killing (“The Psychology of Bystanders, Perpetrators, and Heroic Helpers.”).

 

 

 

 

 

 

In addition to this, when looking from the experiments made by Solomon Asch (1951) which investigated the extent to which social pressure from a majority group could affect a person to conform, it has been seen that members of the SS who did not take part in the mass killings were often ridiculed and looked down upon both by their commanders and members of their squad (McLeod). This created group pressures which might have led to more individuals conforming to the orders (McLeod).

Milgram suggested that based on his agency theory, in order for people to enter the agentic stage, to allow others to direct their actions, the person giving the orders is perceived as being qualified to direct their behaviour and that the person being ordered about is able to believe that the authority will accept responsibility for what happens (McLeod). From this it can be said that the perpetrators of the Holocaust might have seen their superiors as legitimate, qualified in giving orders and therefore their authority should not be questioned (“The Psychology of the Perpetrators.”). The perpetrators of the Holocaust might have also believed that their superiors who gave them the orders to conduct mass killing would accept responsibility for the outcome (“The Psychology of the Perpetrators.”).

Since the dramatic experiments conducted by Stanley Milgram (1965, 1974) which investigated how far people would go in obeying an instruction if it involved harming another person, obedience to authority has been viewed as a crucial determinant of the behaviours of perpetrators (“The Psychology of Bystanders, Perpetrators, and Heroic Helpers.”). The important of obedience is also suggested by the training that direct perpetrators receive in fostering submission to authority (“The Psychology of Bystanders, Perpetrators, and Heroic Helpers.”). It is suggested by the self-selection for the SS of individuals oriented towards obedience and the greater obedience in the Milgram experiments (“The Psychology of Bystanders, Perpetrators, and Heroic Helpers.”).

Description/analysis

Today, psychologists still find it difficult in explaining the willingness of human beings to physically and psychologically harm other human beings. Historical events have shown that seemingly ordinary people are readily capable of harming others, despite the powerful prohibition against violence that most people are brought up with. An example of this is the holocaust which was the genocide of six million Jews committed by Nazi Germany during the Second World War, led by Adolf Hitler. Many of the perpetrators of the Holocaust had previously been normal, sane members of society. This raises the question, what motivated these individuals to become murderers for Hitler’s regime and why internal bystanders did not act to stop the killings through a social psychological perspective.

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