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Have Nazi concentration camp guards been unfairly treated? Watch

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    Every now and then we still hear about the prosecution of former concentration camp guards in Nazi Germany

    They are almost invariably convicted and serve prison time

    It has got me wondering whether they have been fairly treated

    Did these people voluntarily elect to become concentration camp guards? If they did not, how free were they to refuse that appointment? Would they have been shot? Would they have lost their income entirely, leaving their families without?

    It seems unfair to try and imprison elderly people for doing something they were coerced into and so I would be interested to know what level of criminal responsibility we can fairly attribute to these people (when their contributions did not involve independent acts of savagery)

    I would also like to know why those prosecuted seem invariably to be men when there were thousands of female guards as well. I find one old case of Irma Grese who was accused of unusually sadistic treatment of prisoners but otherwise it seems to be slim pickings
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    (Original post by Fenice)
    Every now and then we still hear about the prosecution of former concentration camp guards in Nazi Germany

    They are almost invariably convicted and serve prison time

    It has got me wondering whether they have been fairly treated

    Did these people voluntarily elect to become concentration camp guards? If they did not, how free were they to refuse that appointment? Would they have been shot? Would they have lost their income entirely, leaving their families without?

    It seems unfair to try and imprison elderly people for doing something they were coerced into and so I would be interested to know what level of criminal responsibility we can fairly attribute to these people (when their contributions did not involve independent acts of savagery)

    I would also like to know why those prosecuted seem invariably to be men when there were thousands of female guards as well. I find one old case of Irma Grese who was accused of unusually sadistic treatment of prisoners but otherwise it seems to be slim pickings
    Clearly there is a difference between the trials of a Rudolf Hoess or an Adolf Eichmann and the sort of 'ordinary' low-ranking prison personnel on trial these days.

    This was bound to happen eventually as all the really awful masters of murder were older then, so they are all long dead. The people left alive are guards who were very young at the time and therefore in almost all cases they will have had peripheral roles.

    Personally I think such cases should be exposed and fully investigated but the convictions at trial of such people seems pointless, although I suppose if the sentences are humane / light, perhaps justice is in some way served. What is amazing is that in some of these trials, there are still camp survivors around to testify.
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    I do think that there's an argument that now, 70+ years after the events, trials should be confined to the purely symbolic. I still think the trials should take place, and a sentence should be handed down, as a matter of record and truth, but I would support the idea that as long as the defendant shows remorse and regret for their crimes, that sentence should not be carried out.

    With regard to choice, this is an interesting question. As Christopher Browning noted in his groundbreaking work Ordinary Men, there were certainly siginificant occasions in which Nazi soldiers and officials were given a choice of whether to participate in atrocities or not. I don't know if this was the norm, or the exception to it. Given the chaotic and contradictory structure of the Nazi state, I'd suspect it was somewhere between the two. Browning does point out that in such situations, choosing not to participate was not an 'easy' choice; one had to specifically opt out rather than simply decline to opt in, it had to be done quite publicly so your fellow soldiers, and people who knew you, would likely know you opted out, and there was not inconsiderably stigma and shame attached to it - it was considered an admission of cowardice and weakness.

    Though of course, none of these factors would remotely qualify as significantly absolving you of guilt, unlike some of the cases in the Rwandan Genocide where some individual Hutus were genuinely threatened with death by the Interahamwe if they would not participate in killings of Tutsis.
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    Considering all of them have spent the last 70 free from punishment, I think it's more than fair they spend their final years locked up.
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    (Original post by Fenice)
    Every now and then we still hear about the prosecution of former concentration camp guards in Nazi Germany

    They are almost invariably convicted and serve prison time

    It has got me wondering whether they have been fairly treated

    Did these people voluntarily elect to become concentration camp guards? If they did not, how free were they to refuse that appointment? Would they have been shot? Would they have lost their income entirely, leaving their families without?

    It seems unfair to try and imprison elderly people for doing something they were coerced into and so I would be interested to know what level of criminal responsibility we can fairly attribute to these people (when their contributions did not involve independent acts of savagery)

    I would also like to know why those prosecuted seem invariably to be men when there were thousands of female guards as well. I find one old case of Irma Grese who was accused of unusually sadistic treatment of prisoners but otherwise it seems to be slim pickings
    I do not have a lot of sympathy. These are people who had evaded justice for decades.

    The original concentration camp trials did distinguish between different levels of culpability and the more recent trials are not out of line with the historic sentencing.

    Take for example the Belsen trial which concerned events at Auschwitz and Belsen. The report of the trial is extensive but if you just read the prosecution closing arguments, defence submissions, sentencing remarks and sentences, you can see that there was a clear effort to distinguish personal levels of guilt. People were not tried merely for being there.

    http://www.phdn.org/archives/www.ess...C/Belsen11.htm
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    It's just a case by case scenario as to whether the guard was actually evil enough to commit the acts of crime, or whether they were just following orders by a higher power. If they had a desire to murder innocent people it's fair that they get imprisoned.

    It's interesting because one of my favourite psychological studies of all time, by Milgram, investigated the power of obedience and whether people were naturally going to kill using electric shocks in given situations (this situation was at Yale university in America, in a seemingly controlled room with an experimenter, but this changed in later research), and the majority did give killer electric shocks, and continued to after no more sound was heard from the victim.
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    (Original post by Fenice)
    Every now and then we still hear about the prosecution of former concentration camp guards in Nazi Germany

    They are almost invariably convicted and serve prison time

    It has got me wondering whether they have been fairly treated

    Did these people voluntarily elect to become concentration camp guards? If they did not, how free were they to refuse that appointment? Would they have been shot? Would they have lost their income entirely, leaving their families without?

    It seems unfair to try and imprison elderly people for doing something they were coerced into and so I would be interested to know what level of criminal responsibility we can fairly attribute to these people (when their contributions did not involve independent acts of savagery)

    I would also like to know why those prosecuted seem invariably to be men when there were thousands of female guards as well. I find one old case of Irma Grese who was accused of unusually sadistic treatment of prisoners but otherwise it seems to be slim pickings
    As time went on the media portrayal of evens in the German concentration camps became worse and worse until it reached the climax in the 90s when it was exaggerated beyond any reasonable proportion. The subject became a quasi religion that no one dares question. It was at that point that they began locking up anyone who might vaguely be associated with a German concentration camp along with all of the non-believers.



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