Chapter 4: The inhuman actions contrasted with the resistance towards the Holocaust explained by Kohlberg’s theory of Moral Development

          “Catchers” is a term that was used to describe members of the Jewish community selected to round up Jews and hand them over to the Nazis. Stella Goldschlag, also by the surname Kuebler, was subject to torture and forced labour. She was later recruited by the Gestapo, Hitler’s secret police, for her “computer-like memory for names, dates, addresses, and other useful minutiae”. Goldschlag was known for befriending Jews but then calling the Gestapo to arrest them. Occasionally she used a pistol herself, soon earning herself the names the blonde ghost” and “the blonde poison”. In the aftermath of the Holocaust, Auschwitz survivors testified that Stella Goldschlag was the reason they ended up in the camp; in one night alone, she betrayed 62 Jews[1].

          Whilst her actions could be considered evil, Goldschlag had been promised that her parents would be held back from deportation if she did this. However, after 7 months, she was told that they could not be held back any longer[2]. This shows how human behaviour can be taken to extremes of evil in pursuit of an inhuman objective through the use of blackmail unjustifiably making threats to cause loss to another unless a demand is met. In this case Stella was tortured and threatened with the deportation of both herself and her family if she did not assist the Gestapo in catching other Jews for deportation.

          Kohlburg’s 3 stages of moral development can be applied here to explain Stella Goldschlag’s actions. Goldschlag was faced with a reward/punishment dilemma on which she chose how to respond. The first pre-conventional stage of moral development  states that our moral code is shaped by the consequences of breaking or following rules. For example if she co-operated in carrying out her job, her family would be free from deportation; if she did not, her and her family would face the horrors of the camps and probable extermination. Therefore Goldschlag’s actions can be considered childlike in behaving positively punishment. Stage 2, conventional, also explains Stella’s behaviour as she is aware of the wider rules of society, and is keen to obey them in order to avoid guilt from breaking these laws[3]. From this, one could argue that Stella is the criminal by acting to obtain personal gain. On the other hand, it could be argued that actually it is the authority from above who is carrying out the inhuman evil, as they are holding Stella’s family’s well being as blackmail to encourage her to be complicit in such a regime.

          The diffusion of responsibility can be disputed on a smaller scale, as although whole countries did not necessarily prevent the Holocaust, individuals clearly opposed. This will have also worked under the previously mentioned cost/reward system, as Irene Gut Opdyke recalls that it was made clear that “whoever helps a Jew will be punished by death” with “no trial and no mercy[4].” 

By the liquidation of the ghettos in 1942, prisoners were most desperate to risk their lives, as many believed that either deportation to concentration camps or fighting would result in their death. Many decided that they would rather die fighting. Until this was necessary, the prisoners believed that they would live longer if they co-operated with the Nazis, as fighting them would only equal death, working once again under Piliavin’s cost/reward system[5].

          One well known resister to the Holocaust is Oskar Schindler who took over a factory used for Jewish workers. He socialised with the SS men running the camps, and suggested to rich Jews that if they invested in his factory, they could work there. At first Schindler was acting only for personal economic gain. However, after witnessing a round up, he decided “[He would do] everything in [his] power to defeat [the Nazis] system.” He made sure that the Jews under his care were well fed. He frequently asked for more workers, and proposed a sub camp to be set up by his factory. Schindler’s reputation was saved by his bribing of the guards, discouraging them from talking of the prisoners’ better rations and medical care. Schindler was arrested twice on suspicion of his actions, yet his kindness succeeded in saving over 1500 Jews[6]. This disproves the argument that the Holocaust was an example of how human behaviour can be taken to extremes in pursuit of an inhuman objective, as Schindler is a strong example of kindness and helping behaviour, although he was one of the minority who held this attitude. It also disproves the theory of Diffusion of Responsibility as Schindler took it upon himself to put his life and business at risk in order to save the lives of those very much in need, in this case the Jews, without the need for a model and despite them being of a different race.

          The case of Anne Frank and the Annexe family is also considered a form of resistance. Miep Gies, Jo Leiman, Victor Kugler and Bep Voskuijl worked within Otto’s offices and were trusted with keeping the Frank’s hiding place a secret – the Annexe behind the office. Miep’s husband took over Otto’s business after the Jews were banned by law from running them. Bep’s father built the bookcase concealing the door leading to the Annexe and her sister made clothes for both Anne and Margot as they grew[7]. This once again argues that not everyone was complicit and agreed with the Holocaust, therefore it is not an example of how human behaviour can be taken to extremes in pursuit of an inhuman objective, but more of a test on morality within humans.

          Similarly, in Amsterdam there was a nursery for young Jewish children. Semmy and Joop Woortman rescued children from the nursery; the head nurse would alert them of the approaching number 9 tram, allowing the married couple to run to it, smuggling the children. People on the tram laughed, fully aware of what they were doing, yet did not stop them or say anything to the Germans[8]. Likewise, Walter Süskind, a member of the Jewish Council supervised the course of events along the process, and was on familiar terms with the guards to get them drunk. An assistant would then distracted the SS guards on duty, allowing Süskind to miss a few numbers off the count of the departing “102, 104, 107, 110”, causing the guards to mishear without becoming suspicious, perhaps saving the lives of 10 people each time[9], again highlighting the lengths ordinary people went to in order to resist the Holocaust, as they put their own lives at risk to save others.

          Here Kohlberg’s theory of Moral Development can be argued again to explain the behaviour of these individuals by focusing on the post-conventional levels, stage 3. Their behaviour can be reasoned through a belief in human rights and equality, of which those wanting to achieve the inhuman objective of the Holocaust do not remotely possess being at the pre-conventional level[10]. This belief in human rights and equality is held by those who think that morality is more important than the prejudiced laws of the government that they would be disobeying. This would argue that although the leaders and those complicit in their actions towards the Holocaust are extreme in their behaviour to complete an inhuman objective, this isn’t a general conclusion as there were individuals at the time who on the other hand displayed extremes of morality in order to resist these inhuman objectives.

It is estimated that in total, 6 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust[11]. 370,000 men’s suits, 800,000 women’s coats and dresses, 40,000 pairs of shoes, 7.7 tonnes of hair and 600 unburied bodies were left as evidence for the allies when they finally came to rescue the prisoners in April 1945[12]. These remained despite the attempt to destroy evidence (especially in death camps) by burning papers and killing the weak and sick, others were made to march towards Germany[13]. Hundreds of prisoners died in the following weeks as they were too ill to recover despite the medical attention from doctors. The food that soldiers handed to them was far too rich for them to properly digest which sadly killed them[14]. In addition to this, the prisoners had nowhere to go as their homes had been taken over whilst they were inside their camps, and their return was not welcome as anti-Semitism still existed – and it would not go away overnight.

          Hitler committed suicide by shooting himself on the 30th April 1945 when the allies reached Berlin. The end of the war brought about the end of the mass killings[15]. Himmler, who was in charge of the death camps, committed suicide after his arrest in 1945. Rudolf Hoess, the camp commandant and Josef Kramer his deputy were executed. 2,155 officers were put on trial ending with imprisonment. However a greater number were never found or arrested[16]. Soldiers claimed they “didn’t know what they were doing” or “were just obeying orders”[17], once again relating to Milgram’s experiment on obedience to the higher authority, arguing that human behaviour was pushed to extremes in order to pursue an inhuman objective.


[1]International Research Centre (2012) Stella: One Woman’s True Tale of Evil, Betrayal, and Survival in Hitler’s Germany, Available at:  http://www.internationalresearchcenter.org/en/holocaust-forgotten-or-revisited/stella-one-woman-s-true-tale-of-evil-betrayal-and-survival-in-hitler-s-germany [Accessed: 25.06.15]

[2]Tovar, Diana (2005) Stella: The Story of Stella Goldschlag, Available at: http://www.history.ucsb.edu/faculty/marcuse/classes/33d/projects/jewishlife/JewishStellaDiana.htm [Accessed: 25.06.15]

[3]McLeod, S. A. (2013). Kohlberg. Available at: www.simplypsychology.org/kohlberg.html [Accessed: 12.10.15]

[4]Levy, P. (2001) Survival and Resistance, Raintree  p.6

[5]Shuter, Jane (2002) Resistance to the Nazis, Heinemann Educational Books  p.14

[6]Shuter, Jane (2002) Resistance to the Nazis, Heinemann Educational Books  p. 24

[7]Shuter, Jane (2002) Resistance to the Nazis, Heinemann Educational Books  p. 28

[8]The Dutch Resistance Museum, (2007) Het Verzetmuseum, Amsterdam p. 62

[9]The Dutch Resistance Museum, (2007) Het Verzetmuseum, Amsterdam p. 61

[10]McLeod, S. A. (2013). Kohlberg. Available at: www.simplypsychology.org/kohlberg.html [Accessed: 12.10.15]

[11]Sheehan, Sean, (2010), A Place in History – Auschwitz, Frankin Watts, Arcturus Publicishing,. London, p.8

[12]Sheehan, Sean, (2010), A Place in History – Auschwitz, Frankin Watts, Arcturus Publicishing,. London, p.4

[13]Shuter, Jane (2003) Aftermath of the Holocaust, Heinemann Educational Books  p.8

[14]Shuter, Jane (2003) Aftermath of the Holocaust, Heinemann Educational Books  p.11

[15]Shuter, Jane (2003) Aftermath of the Holocaust, Heinemann Educational Books  p.6

[16]Sheehan, Sean, (2010), A Place in History – Auschwitz, Frankin Watts, Arcturus Publicishing,. London, p.42

[17]Shuter, Jane (2003) Prelude to the Holocaust, Heinemann library, Reed Educational & professional publishing LTP, p.40

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