Obedience in the Holocaust

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The Holocaust is known as one of the most devastating, or perhaps even the most devastating incident in human history. On paper, the dizzying statistics are hard to believe. The mass executions, the terrible conditions, the ruthlessness, and the passivity of the majority of witnesses to the traumatic events all seem like a giant, twisted story blown out of proportion to scare children. But the stories are true, the terror really happened, and ordinary citizens were convinced into doing savage deeds against innocent people. How, one must ask? How could anyone be so pitiless towards their neighbors, their friends? In a time of desperation, when a country was on its knees to the rest of the world, one man not only united Germans against a scapegoat, but also manipulated them into committing almost unspeakable crimes against their ‘enemies'. From Kristallnacht, when German citizens destroyed millions of dollars worth of Jews' possessions, synagogues, and stores; to the ghettos where residents were thrust together into too-small living spaces; to the concentration camps themselves where medical experiments, starvation, forced labor, gassings, beatings, and mass shootings occurred, seemingly ordinary people were capable of terrible deeds. Whether they acted under recklessness, fear, hate, ignorance, or were simply ‘following orders' is what one must ask about every participant of the Holocaust, and through experiments like Milgram's, we can understand the psychology of their obedience well enough to ensure that such atrocities never happen again.
One extremely famous exploration into how someone could acquiesce to such evil is the Milgram Experiment. Performed by Stanley Milgram at Yale University, it explored how participants would react under the command of an authority figure. The experiment was simple enough; it involved forty men between the ages of twenty and fifty, of all educational backgrounds and lifestyles. They were recruited by taking out ads which said

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