Compromised Identities? Reflections on perpetration and complicity under Nazism

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: UCL Institute for Advanced Studies

Abstract

Under Nazi rule, millions were involved in the machinery of persecution. In 2015, the UK's Holocaust Commission noted that, while the Holocaust could only be carried out 'with widespread complicity', there is 'a great deal of education on perpetrators' roles, but not enough on the role of society and bystanders' ('Britain's Promise to Remember', p.49). This statement reflects both the character of public education and the current state of research. Yet the category of 'bystanders' is too broad to encapsulate the ambiguities of a wide range of behaviours variously motivated by conviction and careerism, conformity and passivity, partial enthusiasm or self-distancing, as well as capitulation rooted in fear and powerlessness.
This interdisciplinary project analyses how people became entangled in Nazi systems and practices, and how they responded to what later, under different circumstances, came to be seen as a 'compromised' past. Exploring perpetration and complicity in state-sponsored violence and questions of justice in its aftermath, it focuses on representations by and of people 'on the perpetrator side' from the Third Reich to the present. We explore patterns of involvement on the side of the perpetrators in a multi-facetted manner, contextualising and interpreting the 'voices' of the perpetrators and raising awareness of the complexities of representation.
The project examines ways in which people who were involved in or witnesses to Nazi crimes talked about, silenced, or variously negotiated accounts of their roles, often constructing retrospective accounts of having been merely an 'innocent bystander'. It analyses how individual identities come under pressure when circumstances and value systems change, and how self-representations develop over time. It explores how public discourses - political, cultural, journalistic and judicial - address state-sponsored violence and interrogate or contribute to exculpatory strategies at a personal level. Public images often helped to demonise 'excess perpetrators' as unlike 'ordinary people', while others suggested the significance of 'just following orders'; private self-understandings and exculpatory strategies were affected by such images.
We develop a concept of 'compromised identities' in relation to collective violence and its legacies. Four interrelated research strands examine the interplay between wider social, cultural and political contexts, and people's self-representations over time. The first analyses the emergence of a 'bystander society', as people accommodated themselves to changing roles under the Nazi regime. Using ego-documents (letters, diaries, memoirs) it explores behavioural shifts and social relations while people often retained an inner distance from new demands. A second strand analyses oral history interviews from the 1960s to the present to explore ways in which changing public images affected private discourses and self-representations among those who had been complicit in sustaining the system and assisting the crimes of the Third Reich. The third strand analyses the significance of postwar political and legal systems, and the character of professionals and others involved in trials, in shaping constructions of 'perpetrators'; and it explores how specific crime complexes are refracted through the media and local settings in selected cases. The fourth strand explores intriguing twists in the ways in which questions of agency, identity and morality have been engaged with in works of creative literature and films that specifically thematise issues of justice. These strands are brought together in a wider comparative context.
The project will have an impact on academic debates on perpetration and complicity. It will also develop for research and educational purposes a unique collection of filmed interviews with some 250 former perpetrators and witnesses of Third Reich crimes. A website, public events and a mobile exhibition will engage wider audiences.

Planned Impact

In Holocaust education, musealization and commemoration, an (understandable) focus on victim voices and the top echelons of power and repression predominates. The broad spectrum of perpetrators, beneficiaries and facilitators of persecution remain underrepresented, as does the wider social context. A 2016 survey by the UCL Centre for Holocaust Education established a serious lack of knowledge and understanding of these issues among a majority of young people in the UK. Although the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust wrote that bystanders 'enabled the Holocaust, Nazi persecution and subsequent genocides', their voices were largely missing from the Trust's 2016 Holocaust Memorial Day's 'Don't Stand By' materials and ceremonies. Moreover, the focus often presupposes a degree of individual choice that was not available to many people at the time. The relative absence of 'perpetrator perspectives' adversely affects teaching and public understanding of the conditions under which genocide was possible and means of addressing its legacies.
Our research will help transform this situation: first, by developing a differentiated, interdisciplinary analytic framework for understanding patterns of involvement in state-sponsored violence, and the interplay between changing contexts and self-representations; and secondly, by opening up perspectives and developing materials for further research and study. It will therefore have an impact, nationally and internationally, on: practitioners and third sector organisations in Holocaust education and commemoration; institutions concerned with preserving archival sources and educating about genocide and persecution; academic scholars, students, and members of the public interested in German and European history, Holocaust and genocide studies, memory studies and oral history, film and literature.
These outputs will deliver impact:
- A travelling exhibition, 'Compromised Identities? Entanglement in Collective Violence'. Team members will discuss sources and approaches, facilitating understanding of complicity and perpetration as well as subsequent efforts to engage with a violent past.
- Time-coded indexes of 250 video interviews in the 'Final Account: Third Reich Testimonies' collection, accessible online to authorised users. These will widen digital national and international access for both academic and non-academic audiences, increase and enhance discoverability, and facilitate further research, as well as benefiting educators and others seeking information on specific events, individuals or localities.
- Three public events engaging educators and teachers, third sector practitioners in museums, memorial sites and charities, students and scholars, and members of the public. These will foster engagement with specific research outcomes as well as the wider implications for other cases of collective violence, including current conflicts.
- Academic workshops and an international conference fostering knowledge exchange and including diverse audiences.
- An edited volume, four monographs, and six journal articles, disseminating the research both in the scholarly and wider community.
- A project website.
We will achieve impact throughout and beyond the grant period. All project members will contribute to the outputs. The exhibition will be developed in collaboration with an external specialist provider, monitored by the team under the guidance of the PI. Evaluation of impact will be ensured through reviewing user statistics of website and indexes, monitoring exhibition and event attendance, and responses through online surveys. UCL Communications and Marketing will assist in organising events, promoting impact activities and media strategy, and monitoring responses both online and in the press and social media. The project will shift the focus, engage practitioners, and enhance scholarly and public understanding of involvement in systems of collective violence and the implications for the aftermath.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Only one year into the award, this work is ongoing, and it is too early for key outcomes to be summarised at this stage. Each strand of the research is building up a body of material and detailed analysis which is yet to be brought together. However, at the most general level we are working towards a more complex understanding of our core concept of 'compromised identities'. First, people may engage in moral compromises under conditions of sustained collective violence, and seek to justify their (in)action in a variety fo ways; and secondly, in order later to construct or sustain a concept of the 'good self', strategies of self-representation vary according to life-stage and context, and are often inflected by media coverage, social discourses and cultural representations. We are also engaged in discussions about ways of conveying the significance of interactions between structural contexts and individual moral agency in social processes leading from complicity to perpetration, and the ways in which such situations and decisions are later constructed and represented.
Exploitation Route We aim in due course to prepare a travelling exhibition and associated interactive website and educational materials which may be used in public events, Holocaust education, museums, and schools.
Sectors Creative Economy,Education,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

 
Description It is stil very early in the grant, but public engagement activities have assisted in "enhancing quality of life" for those individuals interested in the character and legacies of perpetration and complicity under Nazism, and the ways in which these have been subsequently represented and addressed.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Other
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description AHRC
Amount £940,000 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/R00126X/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2018 
End 01/2021
 
Description 28 February 2019: Interviewed for documentary 'Blowback. the 9/11 Wars in Global Films'. (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9457264/?ref_=nm_knf_t1) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Terence McSweeney, a writer and lecturer, is working on a project connected to a book under contract to Edinburgh University Press called Blowback: The 9/11 Wars in Global Film. He is filming a short documentary with the same name and has interviewed me about my research in relation to cultural trauma, comedy and representations of violence.

The film will be screened later in 2019 at UK AHRC events, plus in the US at Indiana University in Bloomington where he iscurrently a Research Fellow at the Lilly Library.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Article on Kristallnacht, Time Magazine, 9 November 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact An article on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the night of violence against the Jews in Nazi Germany, 9 November 1938, known as Kristallnacht or "Night of Broken Glass", concluding that: "The lessons of Kristallnacht - about the need for informed vigilance, non-compliance with prejudice and sustained empathy with fellow human beings - remain all too relevant."
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://time.com/5449578/kristallnacht-lessons-bystanders/
 
Description Conversation in BBC World History with Richard J. Evans, 1 December 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Conversation with Richard J. Evans about "Reckonings" and justice, injustice, and evasions of justice
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.historyextra.com/period/20th-century/legacies-holocaust-mary-fulbrook-richard-j-evans-po...
 
Description David Bankier Memorial Lecture at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, 26 February 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Delivered public lecture at Yad Vashem, Israel's central Holocaust Memorial site, which served to open up new avenues for discussion and debate about the role of 'bystanders' and the supposed 'lessons' of the Holocaust.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description David Bankier Memorial Lecture, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, Israel, Feb 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact David Bankier Memorial Lecture, Yad Vashem, relating to Holocaust research and public understanding.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Discussion of The Reader, KCL 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Participation in a panel discussion on the film The Reader in terms of West Germany's responses to the Nazi past, 28 January 2019
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Discussion of a film on Witold Pilecki 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Discussion of a film about a Polish war hero who 'volunteered' to be arrested and sent to Auschwitz, screened at JW3 jointly with the Polish Cultural Institute, 26 January 2019
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Interview with CNN relating to Nazi war crimes trials 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Discussion about Germany's record of bringing Nazis to trial, sparked by very belated trial of Rehbogen in Germany.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://edition.cnn.com/2018/12/14/europe/germany-nazi-war-trials-grm-intl/index.html
 
Description Interview with Finnish Broadcasting Company Yle: Katriina Töyrylä  
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interview with Finnish Broadcasting Company Yle: Katriina Töyrylä for a series of articles and a 25 minute radio feature. Katriina Töyrylä, journalist, World Affairs, Yle News, Yleisradio Oy, PL 10 00024 Yleisradio, Finland
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Lecture to Oxford Chabad Society 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Lecture to an audience of largely Jewish participants at the Oxford Chabad society, 26 February 2019
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Opening keynote lecture, Tutzing, Germany, April 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Lecture to open a conference with interested members of the general public who are affected by the Nazi past.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Panel on 'Reckonings: Who cares about bringing Nazis to Justice?' Kings Place, London 3 March 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Panel discussion chaired by Joshua Rozenberg, in discussion with Eli Rosenbaum and Philip Rubenstein. Many responses about how significant the discussion was.
Eg one attendee wrote to me later that day: "Your panel this morning at JBW was inspiring and left me full of disturbing thoughts. I have been studying the history of the Holocaust for 30 years - ever since I broke through my denial of German roots to claim my real identity at the 1989 fiftieth anniversary reunion of the Kindertransport - and yet you and the rest of the panel presented so much I had not grasped. The sheer impossible enormity of the task to restore law & order, let alone justice, hit me when I read "A Passing Fury" and hit me again today, hearing it from a legal point of view. Your book, that I have only had a chance to dip into, looks awesome and I am delighted to have the opportunity to get it today."
The event organiser wrote that "It was an exceptional event, and audience feedback has been extremely positive."
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.kingsplace.co.uk/whats-on/words/reckonings-who-cares-about-bringing-nazis-to-justice/
 
Description Project Website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Creation of project website to communicate the aims of the project to a wider audience.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019
URL http://www.ucl.ac.uk/institute-of-advanced-studies/compromised-identities-reflections-perpetration-a...
 
Description Project Workshop June 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact First project workshop - 'Understanding Perpetration and Complicity' - to which members of the project team, affiliate members, and the international advisory board contributed on 28 June 2018. It was attended by 15 senior and early career scholars, and PhD students.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://wordpress.com/post/compromisedidentities.com/73
 
Description Project blog 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Creation of project blog, featuring short articles from different contributors, including scholars, practitioners, and authors. In 2018, the blog has 209 visitors and 493 views, in the first two months of 2019, 50 visitors and 81 views. Visitors are from the UK, the USA, Germany, Israel, Canada, Australia, Austria, Taiwan, China, Japan, Portugal, the Netherlands, Ireland, Poland, Finland, India, Spain, France, and South Korea. Contributors to the blog have included Mary Fulbrook, Alina Bothe, Helen Roche, and Kim Sherwood.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019
URL http://wordpress.com/view/compromisedidentities.com
 
Description Project workshop Edinburgh 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Joint workshop with researchers from the ERC-funded Grey Zones project at the University of Edinburgh, discussing concepts, theories and methodologies.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Project workshop Nov 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Second project workshop attended by the project team and affiliate members. Introduction of research projects which sparked questions and discussion.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Public lecture for Holocaust Memorial Day 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Holocaust Memorial Day talk, Bloomsbury Baptist Church London, 25 January 2019
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Public lecture, Bedzin, Poland, August 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A large group made up of Holocaust survivors and members of their families (second and third generations) who had originated from the Zaglembie area of Poland (Silesia) gathered for a one week tour of the region, including Krakow and Auschwitz. I gave a lecture about Holocaust history, legacies and memories, which was extremely well-received.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Social Media - Twitter 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Creation of social media/Twitter account to communicate events announcements and document events, and to network with other institutions and projects. The account currently has 62 followers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019
URL https://twitter.com/UCL_CCV
 
Description Talk at Teacher Training Seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Stefanie Rauch delivered a talk at a teacher training seminar organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET) in Leicester. Teachers had been on a CPD with the HET to Israel several months beforehand and were attending a follow-up event, during which several different sessions on a number of topics were discussed. Rauch's talk focused on the use of perpetrator testimonies on the classroom. It was attended by c. 25 teachers from across England, and several members of staff from the HET. Rauch's talk sparked discussion of the potential uses and pitfalls of using such testimonies in the classroom. Many teachers reported lack of confidence in employing such sources in their teaching. On evaluation forms, a majority of the teachers voiced their interest in attending future workshops and events specifically focusing on such issues. Several teachers noted that they found the clips of interviews useful or that they benefited from thinking about ethical questions surrounding such material. The HET has since expressed interest in jointly providing further teacher training on this subject.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Talk at Wiener Library, 11 March 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Public lecture at the Wiener Library, many people came up to talk to me and thanked me at the end; it clearly had a significant impact on understanding of the Holocaust and its legacies.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.wienerlibrary.co.uk/Whats-On?item=444