The Nazi value of “ruthless toughness” lives on in postwar Germany, which equates it with “lacking goodness” and seems to forget its dimension of pure evil. This was a main criterion by which Eichmann’s office chose officials to oversee deportations in other countries around Europe.
“Objective” language continues reducing evil to “lacking goodness” even after the war. Not only have Germans seemingly failed to come to terms with the evil committed by their parents’ generation, but they also continue thinking in the terms that enabled that evil to flourish.
France was Himmler’s top priority, and 100,000 foreign Jews were expeditiously deported from both the Occupied Zone and Vichy France, with enthusiastic cooperation from the French government and police. There were not enough foreign Jews in Bordeaux to fill a train Eichmann sent, and Eichmann later coordinated the deportation of 4,000 children to concentration camps after their parents had already been sent there, but the court exaggerates Eichmann’s power over both decisions. With 70,000 stateless Jews remaining in France and news of the previous deportees’ fate finally reaching the country, the Germans requested permission to deport French Jews as well. The French government immediately stopped cooperating and did whatever possible to complicate the deportation proceedings; the Nazis quickly had to give up on their plans, and at the end of the war, more than half of France’s Jews—250,000—had survived.
While the French ultimately resisted the Nazis, their main motive for doing so was their insistent national pride, which earlier led them to ignore and sacrifice Jews of foreign origin. This story certainly shows the monumental power of organized resistance to even the most cruel and unyielding totalitarianism, but it also shows how that resistance can be catalyzed by the same factors that motivate nationalist and totalitarian violence in the first place. There is a clear parallel between France and Israel, whose nationalism similarly leads to resistance on self-interested political rather than moral grounds.
In response to the unexpectedly low deportation rate from France, the Nazis insisted on deporting more Jews from Belgium and Holland than originally planned. Belgium was controlled by the German military, but the Belgian police refused to cooperate, and Belgian rail workers helped Jews escape the deportation trains. At the start of the war, 80,000 of Belgium’s 90,000 Jews were refugees, and about half of them fled again in the war’s first year, including most of the Jewish Councils’ leaders. Many foreign Jews were “easily recognizable and most difficult to hide,” and accordingly about 25,000 were deported and killed.
In Belgium, unlike in France, it seems that a sense of independent morality led people to use what resources and power they had at their disposal to secretly resist the deportations of nationals and foreign Jews alike. Clearly, the Nazis’ expectation that anti-Semitism would easily catch on throughout Europe was naïve and overestimated the hold of Nazism’s inverted morality on those who could still ethically deliberate for themselves. Troublingly, the lack of active Jewish Councils in Belgium also probably contributed to its higher rate of survivors.
Like elsewhere, in Holland stateless Jews (almost all German refugees) were deported first; they were 35,000 of the total 140,000. Ruled by a German civil government and with its own cabinet and royal family exiled in London, Holland “was utterly at the mercy of the Germans,” whom the prosecution falsely claims were all following Eichmann’s orders. In fact, Himmler mostly gave the S.S. and Police priority in Holland, to Eichmann’s chagrin, since they seemed most able to quash the Dutch population’s extensive protests, strikes, and journalistic backlash to the Nazis. Nevertheless, the formidable Dutch Nazi movement and Dutch Jews’ insistence on distinguishing themselves from foreigners created “a catastrophe unparalleled in any Western country.” Between 20-25,000 Jews went into hiding, but about half were found through informers, and by the end of the war ¾ of Holland’s Jews, mostly native-born, had died.
Again, various members of the Nazi bureaucracy shared responsibility for coordinating deportations from Holland. This was, in part, why Nazi policy proved so effective, but also problematizes the court’s desire to draw definitive causal lines between individual actions and the fate suffered by Europe’s Jews. Unlike in most of the rest of Europe, more native than foreign Jews died in Holland, likely because they lacked a state infrastructure to legislate on their behalf—but also because they may have overestimated the nevertheless formidable power of Dutch resistance to the Nazi regime. More than anywhere else, Holland saw impassioned conflict between pro- and anti-Nazi forces, and resistance was only sparingly successful.
Scandinavia posed significant trouble for the Nazis. They never occupied Sweden, and Hitler so respected Finland that he did not even try to deport its Jews. Denmark retained its independent government and had no significant Nazi movement. But Norway did have enthusiastic fascists, and most of its 1,700 Jews were rapidly interned in the Fall of 1942. Yet many Norwegian officials immediately resigned, and Sweden offered Norwegian Jews asylum and sometimes nationality; about 900 were smuggled across the border.
Surprisingly, just as the Nazis spared their Jewish friends, Hitler spared Finland because he admired it. This reinforces the notion that, at the very top, totalitarianism is farcically but horrifyingly arbitrary; rules and values were only later created to retroactively justify Hitler’s seemingly random decisions.
Denmark “was unique among all the countries of Europe,” Arendt says, an extraordinary and instructive case “for all students who wish to learn something about the enormous power potential inherent in non-violent action and in resistance.” More than anywhere else, Danes openly refused to even consider Nazi anti-Jewish policies, and government officials immediately threatened resignation. Denmark even insistently protected stateless Jews, and when the Nazis tried to begin deportations in 1943, Danish shipyard workers went on strike and even German government and S.S. officials refused to carry out their orders.
For the first time, Arendt openly explains why she chooses to foreground stories of resistance to the Nazis when the Eichmann trial instead foregrounded Jewish suffering. Denmark was unique because its people never even pretended to cooperate with the Nazis. Danes proudly and openly unified to block every stage of the deportation process, and this resolutely disproves the prosecution’s notion that Jews meekly went to their deaths throughout Europe, with only occasional Zionist groups resisting.
When the Nazis tried to seize Jews for deportation to Theresienstadt that October, they were prevented from breaking into apartments (lest the Danish police fight back) and only ultimately found 477 of the more than 7,800 Jews living in Denmark. Danish officials and Jewish communities publically announced the Nazis’ intentions and “all sections of the Danish people” were willing to help Jews hide out. Wealthy Danes paid for Jews to be transported to Sweden—almost 6,000 went—and the few hundred Jews who went to Theresienstadt, mostly elderly or poor, were given special privileges. Only 48 of them died.
The Danes’ remarkable efforts to stop Nazi deportations, even at their own expense, led them to save almost the entirety of their nation’s Jewish population. Like the story of Anton Schmidt in Chapter 14, Danish resistance exemplifies the moral fortitude and collective action that Arendt sees as the only way to counteract totalitarianism’s impulses toward destruction and the erosion of individual judgment.
The resistance of German officials in Denmark, Arendt argues, was particularly extraordinary: when confronted with the native population’s resistance, they gave up their “toughness” and Nazi ideology.
Although “Italy was Germany’s only real ally in Europe,” by the time of the war Hitler and Mussolini no longer saw eye-to-eye. Italy sabotaged the Final Solution, not only by offering Jews a sort of de facto asylum in Italian-occupied areas, but also by convincing other European Fascist countries that they need not collaborate with the Nazis. Mussolini would publicly agree to carry out deportations, but his generals seldom did so.
Despite its military and ideological alliance with Germany, Italy simply refused to actually put deportation policies into practice. This shows how the Holocaust was fundamentally disconnected from the war, and (as Arendt later argues) constituted not “war crimes” but “crimes against humanity.”
At one point, German pressure did convince Italy to round up 22,000 Jews in the Italian-occupied region of southern France, but by the time Eichmann’s officials arrived there, “the French police had destroyed all the lists of the registered Jews.” Later, the Italians insisted that thousands of Jews were hiding out in tiny Monaco—and by the time the Germans were done with their research, they were no longer there. There was also “an element of farce” in Mussolini’s willingness to impose nominal anti-Jewish laws but exempt all former Fascist Party members and their families, certainly including “the great majority of Italian Jews.” Even the main Italian anti-Semitic organization openly employed Jews.
Italians, like Germans, outwardly professed a horrid anti-Semitism. But, unlike Germans (and especially Eichmann), they lacked the mindset of blind obedience. Italians’ passive resistance thus saved Jews and wasted German resources by sending the Nazis on wild goose chases, all without compromising the countries’ military alliance. While the German people’s passivity made them complicit in the Holocaust, the Italian government used passivity to its (and Jews’) advantage.
Italian Jews were already remarkably assimilated and ultimately saved by “the almost automatic general humanity of an old and civilized people.” Even after the Germans sent a ruthless administrator and the German police to take over, the Italians helped most of Rome’s Jews escape and insisted that the rest of its Jews would stay in Italian territory; 7,500 ended up in camps only because Germany broke its promises. But more than 90% of Italy’s Jews survived unscathed.
Again, German officials found their own anti-Semitism unexpectedly stronger than that of other nations. They only began breaking their promises and deporting Italian Jews after they realized Italy was not serious about the “Final Solution,” for in Italy, as in France, national identity superseded ethnic or religious identities.