Nazi perpetrators in Holocaust education

Teaching History article

By Wolf Kaiser, published 21st March 2011

Nazi perpetrators in Holocaust education

The Holocaust is often framed, in textbooks and exam syllabi, from a perpetrator perspective as a narrative of Nazi policy. We are offered a different orientation here. Interrogating and understanding the Holocaust involves understanding why the people who perpetrated the Holocaust did the things that they did. As Wolf Kaiser shows, this is a complex question, since explaining the Holocaust means explaining the actions of individuals in very diverse positions whose actions were shaped by individual choices in the framework of structures that they had partially created themselves. Understanding perpetrator action and decision making is no easy task, of course, particularly given the enormity of the actions in question, but it is only through exploring the complex webs of values, beliefs and decisions that drove the Holocaust that we can begin to make sense of why it happened.

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