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A Bystander Society? Passivity and Complicity in Nazi Germany

Venue: Friends House, The Light

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The theme for Holocaust Memorial Day 2020, chosen by the HMD Trust, is ‘Stand Together’. Addressing this theme, Professor Fulbrook questions our tendency to shine a spotlight on the stories of courageous individuals who stood up against violence, showed solidarity with victims, and were not content to remain passive bystanders. A focus on individuals alone is not enough, she argues. It is not only a matter of personal commitment but also broader circumstances that explain whether or not significant numbers of people are prepared to ‘stand together’ and make a difference.

Exploring experiences of Nazi persecution, Professor Fulbrook analyses the conditions under which people were more or less likely to show sympathy with victims of persecution, or to become complicit with racist policies and practices. In seeking to combat collective violence, understanding the conditions for widespread passivity may be as crucial as encouraging individuals to stand up for others in the face of prejudice and oppression.

Contact name:

  • Professor Mary Fulbrook, University College London -

    Mary Fulbrook, FBA, is Professor of German History at UCL. Her most recent book, Reckonings: Legacies of Nazi Persecution and the Quest for Justice (Oxford University Press, 2018) won the 2019 Wolfson Prize; other books include the Fraenkel Prize-winning A Small Town Near Auschwitz: Ordinary Nazis and the Holocaust (Oxford University Press, 2013).

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