Yehuda Bauer:
The Norman Transcript
Transcript Staff Writer

While some remember Nazi Germany as a time of some of the most inhuman practices in history, one historian had a different perspective: It was entirely human.

Yehuda Bauer, acclaimed as a leading historian on the Holocaust, encouraged people to rethink the history of the Holocaust Wednesday night at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. Bauer fought in the Israeli War of Independence in 1948 and is a professor emeritus of the Department of Holocaust Studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, which he founded and chaired.

He said while some people think World War II was a different time and different setting and couldn’t happen again, he thought otherwise.

“The reason for the worst outbreak in human history was pure ideology — not pragmatic, just ideology,” Bauer said. “If you go to anti-Semitism today, you’re going back to what they did then, and look what happened.”

He said the same culture that included such artistic influences as Beethoven and Mozart produced the people who believed the Nazi propaganda. He said this should be cause for concern.

“What the Nazis did was not inhuman,” Bauer said. “It was human, and that’s the problem … can genocides like the Holocaust be avoided, prevented? If there is something inherent in us that makes us murderers, that’s a problem.”

He said people are naturally territorial and want to protect themselves and their families, or groups.

“We are weak predators, so we have to collaborate to hunt — you had to kill anything that threatened your family, clan or territorial group,” Bauer said. “We have laws against murder and we have them because we are inclined to murder. But in order to live, we have to consider others. So we are capable of those two opposite extremes.”

He said the perpetrators, victims and bystanders of the Holocaust had many choices to make, all with consequence. He said while some in history may look back on what actions American and Britain could have taken, or what Jews could have done to protect themselves, he encouraged people to consider why groups made the decisions they did.

“When you teach the Holocaust, teach dilemma,” Bauer said. “The choice has choices. The dilemmas — that is what they were facing then.”

Bauer concluded by telling the story of how a Soviet member of the military was severely wounded, so he dressed as a Jewish laborer. The Soviet man received help from a Jewish family until he recovered and returned to a Soviet stronghold. However, the Soviet man remember the kindness of the Jews and in turn, helped hundreds of Jewish people.

“Just think, a Jew rescued a non-Jew, then that non-Jew rescued Jews,” Bauer said. “Think about it.”

Althea Peterson 366-3539 apeterson@normantranscript.com