The Holocaust did not introduce the phenomenon of the bystander, but it did illustrate the terrible consequences of indifference and passivity towards the persecution of others. Although the term was initially applied only to the good Germans—the apathetic citizens who made genocide possible through unquestioning obedience to evil leaders—recent Holocaust scholarship has shown that it applies to most of the world, including parts of the population in Nazi-occupied countries, some sectors within the international Christian and Jewish communities, and the Allied governments themselves. This work analyzes why this happened, drawing on the insights of historians, Holocaust survivors, and Christian and Jewish ethicists. The author argues that bystander behavior cannot be attributed to a single cause, such as anti-Semitism, but can only be understood within a complex framework of factors that shape human behavior individually, socially, and politically.
Without flinching, and with sharp distaste for any apologetics, Barnett scrutinizes the behavior of the bystanders, those who saw and did nothing and then claimed they bore no responsibility. This book is a great achievement and will disturb the complacency of all those who thought they already knew the history of the Holocaust.
The ethical questions [Barnett] raises are as relevant and searing for the bystanders of today as they are for those of the past. Extremely well written, interesting and clear, the book should appeal to students in college-level Holocaust studies courses as well as the general public. It provides a great deal of information about Holocaust history while simultaneously provoking the reader toward moral self-scrutiny.
Victoria Barnett's book charts new ground in considering the bystander phenomenon during the Holocaust. Drawing from a wide variety of sources Barnett examines the historical and ethical implications of bystander behavior on three levels: the individual, institutional and international. Scholars and educators will benefit from Barnett's innovative and provocative study.
Victoria Barnett's new book is a welcome and necessary addition to the scholarship on the holocaust, in particular on its implications for Christians and Christianity....Barnett's lucidly written, accessible book will find a receptive audience in undergraduate and graduate classes as well as among the broader interested public.