Paul A. Levine

in The Oxford Handbook of Holocaust Studies

Published in print November 2010 | ISBN: 9780199211869
Published online January 2011 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Religion and Theology


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The claim that the perpetrators of the Holocaust could not have inflicted such harm on their victims without ‘bystanders’, which has been a chief ingredient of the conventional tripartite classification of actors in the genocide, obscures as much as it reveals. A key reason is that the ‘bystander’ category embraces a larger and more heterogeneous population than its counterparts. Just as the category's boundaries are imprecise and fluctuating, so are the theoretical and methodological discussions about bystanders, all the more so because their passivity seems to arouse especially intense moral outrage in retrospect. This article explores how a different concept, ‘on-lookers’, may deepen scholarly analysis by directing attention to protagonists who ‘viewed’ the Holocaust in various ways, at different times, and in diverse political and social contexts, and then acted accordingly. Exploring how these on-lookers, whether citizens of democracies or authoritarian states, faced similar dilemmas when formulating their responses to mass murder sheds light not only on key aspects of Holocaust history but also on the important role of effective teaching about this subject in education to prevent genocide.

Keywords: Holocaust; bystanders; protagonists; mass murder; genocide

Article.  5968 words. 

Subjects: Religion ; Religious Studies ; Judaism and Jewish Studies

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