Complicity and Cooperation in the Face of Evil

I am a staunch believer that insufficient research has been conducted about the mass crimes committed in small and large towns throughout Eastern Europe by the Germans and their accomplices. Untold numbers of towns and villages recruited civilians to facilitate the murder of Jewish neighbours in forests and fields nearby. In fact, Father Patrick Desbois has documented well over 2,000 instances through many years of investigative work, including interviews of elderly townspeople who witnessed and sometimes participated in the atrocities.

In his new book titled “In Broad Daylight”, Desbois documented how gentiles turned on their Jewish neighbours. He carefully documented the process in which Nazis gave the order to the local police chief who then recruited dozens of men to assist. The process was exact and similar in all cases whereby Jews were isolated into raw ghettos usually fenced into an area for a period of time while their gentile neighbours dug carefully selected pits and helped in their transport for the final killing. It’s hard to imagine that little children, the elderly and frail, women and men were brought together as families, made to strip of their clothes (so the Nazis could recycle them) and lined up in pits and shot pointblank. Witnesses routinely recount the screaming and the fear once the people realized they were about to be murdered. The killers spent full days shooting and shooting and shooting – while many of the townspeople looked on.

Entire villages and towns were therefore complicit in the murders. In fact, Desbois’ book captures the capitalist-like spirit – the systematic process in which thousands of ordinary people volunteered to participate in the murder. He writes about the “architect” – the people who drew up the plans for the murder, including the size and measurement of the pits. He describes “The Requisitions” in which the Nazis demanded or requisitioned people’s trucks, horses, shovels and labour itself to facilitate the murders. He talks about the “diggers” and the “transporters” whose jobs it was to dig the pits and to transport the Jews to them – and of the catering and cooks who prepared the meals for the murderers so that there wouldn’t be delay.

When Desbois asked one of the “diggers” about who gave the orders and the dimensions, one said: “The Germans. It was the German from the Gestapo. He stood off to the side while we dug the grave…He had paced it out. The grave was deep…he simply measured four meters for the length and four meters for the width, and he drew them with his shovel.” So while the Germans directed the killing, ordinary people – recruited mainly by local police – were active agents throughout the process. It could not have happened this way had gentile neighbours not turned against their Jewish neighbours – had they resisted the Nazis.

Thus, what we know about the murders in concentration camps is only half the knowledge of what truly took place in the Holocaust. Aside from concentration camps, Jewish people were murdered openly on streets; in ghettos; by herding into barns and setting them on fire; and of course through the SS mobile killing squads like the Einsatzgruppen. In fact, it is believed that 2 million Jews were murdered in this way or 40% of all Jews. Let us not forget Babi Yar in Kiev where about 100,000 people (mostly Jews) were murdered by Germans in 1941 by shooting. (Source:

Let us not forget this account about the Krepiecki Forest, just outside of Lublin and Majdanek. “The Jews were driven down from the trucks and they were led to the same place where the children were murdered. Some of the Jews held their children in their arms. I observed the massacre from a distance of about 150 metres but from a different direction than before. Germans drove the Jews down to the pits. There were horrible screams. A group of six SS officers and Lithuanians shot into the Jews who were already in the pits. I’m sure that they were SS men because on their caps they had death’s head insignia and on their sleeves the signs of SS.” (Source:

Researchers have only scratched the surface of our understanding of the perhaps millions of people who lie beneath fields and ravines – whom we will never know about. They are undocumented and erased from history. There are no gravestones to mark their existence.Their property had been immediately stolen by their neighbours and all personal belongings recycled or burned. We cannot possibly account for this incredible crime against humanity which was committed by the Germans – but also by those who collaborated and conspired with them. Those who stood by and said and did nothing.

More research is necessary to uncover and document as many mass graves as possible. Unfortunately, too many neighbours and Nazis have gotten away with murder. But the least we can do is to identify the mass graves and mark them with a headstone for eternity.

Father Patrick Desbois has done an incredible service to finding as many mass graves as possible in the Eastern block and former Soviet Union. I am looking forward to hosting him in Toronto on October 15th and thanking him for his work on behalf of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center.

About the Author
Avi Benlolo is the President and CEO of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies (FSWC), a Jewish non-profit human rights organization. Avi is a prominent Canadian human rights activist dedicated to promoting tolerance, freedom, democracy and human rights.
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