Response to Human Failure
As Deborah asked, given that the Nazis had declared Jews to be vermin infecting the German state, what possible incitement could there have been for ordinary Germans to willingly, even eagerly, appropriate the very personal possessions of a people deemed responsible for polluting the purity of Germany?
How then could ordinary Germans wear the clothes Jews had worn, inhabit their homes, sit in their chairs, have gold from their mouths put in their own mouths (all of which are very intimate connections with the contaminant), if they truly believed this lie disseminated by the Nazi propaganda machine. The enthusiastic profiting of ordinary Germans off the slaughter of the Jews, without feeling guilt, but also clearly without fearing infection, gives the lie to this lie. There could be no incitement to do so had they believed that the Jews were a plague infecting their society. Rather, it is clear that they were simply acting out of a perverse sense of righting the balances (of their inverted universe), of getting what they believed was rightly theirs all along; that is, they were acting out of the real plague tainting German society—antisemitism. The German people were not incited by the lie of a Jewish plague but by the pre-existing hatred, envy, and resentment of Jews that was deeply ingrained in German society. And now that criminality was legalized, profiting off mass deportations, mass theft, and mass murder could be justified—even deemed legal, moral, and ethical.
I came across this while reading Salman Rushdie’s Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights shortly after Sunday’s discussion: “Moral exemption was an unfamiliar state to be in, the condition of having permission to kill, to destroy without feeling guilty at the destruction, there was something here that went against the human grain.” This is spoken by Teresa Saca, “avenger of every spurned, wronged, abused woman who had ever lived,” acting for Dunia, Princess of the Light Jinn in the battle with the Dark Jinn. Her cause is just, but still she recognizes her license to kill contradicts her humanity. The Germans, however, who have permission from the Nazi state to participate in the absolutely unfathomable and unjust extermination of the Jews, quickly became comfortable in their state of “moral exemption,” destroying Jews—by acts of compliance and indifference, if not by actual acts of murder—“without feeling guilty.” And the horror of their human failure is they never noticed “it went against the human grain.”