What would you have done in Nazi Germany?

I ask myself this question all the time: What would I have done if I had lived in Nazi Germany? I am Jewish, so I ask myself if I’d have left early on. Early enough. When I could have left.

I watch lots of movies and read lots of books about life in Nazi Germany.

For example: This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen is a phenomenal, eye-opening memoir from a Polish, Christian boy in a concentration camp. Most memoirs are from Jews, who were trying to not get killed. But the Christians in the camps could stay alive as long as they would do the most disgusting work: this Polish boy had to pull children from their mothers upon arrival at the camp, so the Nazis didn’t have to do it. Prisoner workers had rank among each other by how long they had survived at the camp. Whoever had the lowest number tattooed on their arm had the highest rank.

I read these books and watch movies and I wonder what makes someone speak up. What makes someone say, “This isn’t right,” even if they are not yet the target of discrimination.

I am more able to put myself in that position of the powerful race if I go back to the slavery debates in the nineteenth century United States. Would I have kept a slave or would I have kept a stop on the underground railroad? Would I have paid a black person a too-low-t0-live-on wage and felt self-righteous that I was paying anything at all?

My obsessive thinking makes me prepared when I see something happen. For example, I had a boss who, during meeting said, “She was a good candidate, but she’s gay and I hate working with gay women.”

I said, “What?  I can’t believe you just said that.”

The CEO was in the room as well. And he said, “Well, yeah, whatever. But it’s true they suck to work with.”

Like sexual harassment, any type of discrimination is very difficult to prove, and it’s usually harmful to your career to say something about it. This is why the EEOC recommends treading lightly. Here’s their advice on how to deal effectively with discriminatory behavior:

  1. Assume good intent and explain impact
  2. Ask a question
  3. Interrupt and redirect
  4. Broaden to universal human behavior
  5. Make it individual
  6. Say ouch!

The reason we should tread lightly is that most people don’t know they are being offensive. Mark Seery, a sociologist from University of Buffalo says, “Most of the discrimination people face in modern society is ambiguous. It’s a situation that is important to address because it’s easy for observers to miss.”

Once I had more experience, and once I had been fired one too many times for not getting along with people at work, I started taking a more delicate approach. So when someone told me a black guy was probably interviewing for a warehouse job and could I get him out of the lobby, I said, “Why do you think he’s interviewing for a warehouse job?”

Subtle usually works pretty well when people don’t realize they’re being racist.

But now I’m faced with something new. There’s an obituary in our local newspaper that says, among other things, “The joys of his life were his three blonde-haired, blue-eyed children.”

Am I being extra sensitive here? I realize that here in the midwest we are the last great holdout for blond hair and blue eyes. But the way the obituary is written, I can’t help but think it’s the same as writing, “The joys of his life were his three light-skinned negro children.”

Maybe I am extra sensitive, because when we first moved here, a local doctor recommended that I change my kids’ last name from Rodriguez to “something else so they get treated better in the community.” And later, we were asked to leave a homeschooling group because we are not Christian.

So maybe I am too jumpy about discrimination in my community. But you know what? That’s what every person says at work when they hear something discriminatory. They say, “Maybe I shouldn’t say anything. Maybe I’m too sensitive.”

But I also know research shows that the people with the highest self-esteem are the ones who are most likely to call out the discriminatory behavior. So I want to be that person.

Cynthia Estlund, professor of law at New York University, shows that discrimination is best combatted within clear structure and rules. The bonds people create at work are significant because they are diverse enough to enable discriminatory behavior to bubble up to the top, but the relations are structured enough so there is scaffolding to enable effective discussion. This is why Estlund concludes that the workplace is a great environment to deal with discriminatory behavior.

I feel better calling out my neighbors for not noticing the discriminatory ways of our community. And hopefully this post will make some of you more brave to do the same thing, probably more effectively, in your workplace.

After all, we will never really know what we’d have done in Germany, or in the US during slavery, but we do know who we are now, and what we do continues to define that.


80 replies
  1. Kathy Shaidle
    Kathy Shaidle says:

    Yeah, maybe not the perfect thing to post after a gay black man who was always (falsely) whining about discrimination at work shot his two white straight co-workers to death?


    “But I also know research shows that the people with the highest self-esteem are the ones who are most likely to call out the discriminatory behavior. So I want to be that person.”

    I guess you don’t know that “research” also correlates high self esteem with criminality and other anti-social behaviors. That shooter likely had very high self esteem — that’s why he thought everyone was out to get him.




    • Dana
      Dana says:

      Trying to figure out what this comment has to do with Penelope’s post. Oh! That’s right! Penelope is the catalyst for random personal agendas!!

  2. pwb
    pwb says:

    I hear ya but I think you’re being overly sensitive on the obit. I would assume positive intent and interpret it simply as a parent’s fondness for his kids. I see no reason to make the next leap and interpret it as some sort of aryan pride.

    • Maggie
      Maggie says:

      That being blonde-haired and blue-eyed is something to be fond of or admired is problematic. It implies that it’s better or superior than being dark haired and dark eyed which is racist.

      • RJ
        RJ says:

        I can’t believe it! If you are fond of the look of your progeny, you are racist!?? How crazy this PC world has become — each person should be able to be proud of or attracted to whom they wish, and saying otherwise is narrow-minded….

  3. Ted
    Ted says:

    I think the obituary you reference is a case of unintentional, insensitive, or ignorant discrimination. In your case, I would assume ignorance and patiently – but firmly – explain why “many” (not just yourself) would find that characterization insensitive. (Perhaps a well-worded letter to the editor.)

    I grew up in an all-white farming community that has slowly evolved over the years to a more racially mixed community. I suspect we – and me – may have been guilty of this kind of unintentional or ignorant racism.

    This isn’t solved by throwing hand grenades…it’s solved by patient – and persistent – education.

    • Melissa
      Melissa says:

      Calling for patience in the face of discrimination is exactly what those who enjoy white privilege the most fall back on, precisely because it doesn’t work very well.

      It’s yet another way of reorienting the debate so that it’s on the terms of those who are in power. That just sucks.

      Instead, use your privilege to be an advocate. When you see something similar in your community, don’t wait for the lone minority representative to take on the onus of chastising those who abuse their power.

  4. Charlene
    Charlene says:

    This is painful to write but I’m not sure that I would have said anything if I had been in any of the positions of power you describe. I would probably justify it by saying that I was protecting my family or someone more important than me should be doing something. That’s why I married someone who would not just say something but DO something – I hope with his support I could fight beside him.

  5. Lefty Grove
    Lefty Grove says:

    It’s not difficult to predict how many of your readers would have done something (anything) to fight against the excesses of the Nazis. The party in power during the Nazi period of German history was elected. Only the extreme left would have opposed them. How many readers here are “extreme left?” How many are fighting against the moderates and extreme right in this country? It is much less risky in 2015 USA to protest or argue against the NSA’s excesses, or excessive police violence, or against doing so little to help substantively correct the centuries of damage done by racism in our country. Only a tiny percentage of people will act in the face of injustice, especially when there are significant barriers to doing so. But arguing against the subtle racism right in our own communities is a great start. So I applaud your approach–attack it locally.

    • mh
      mh says:

      I beg your pardon, but as someone who used to believe as you do and has since taken the time to read up, Nazism was of the left. Their policies were barely distinguishable from those of the Progressives in Britain and America in the twenties and thirties.

      I know no one wants to be associated with fascist scum, but Nazis hold hands with leftists.

  6. Barry Moltz
    Barry Moltz says:

    I wonder about myself too Penelope. What we say we would do and what we actually do can be different. Unfortunately, you don’t know until you get there. In business, there were many times I said that I would never do that, but when I found myself in that position, I crossed the line and did exactly that.

  7. Jana
    Jana says:

    Just wondering something. . . would you have found it insensitive if the obit read “the joys of his life were his 3 black-haired, brown-eyed children”? or “his red-haired, green-eyed children”?

    • Dana
      Dana says:

      Really? That’s where the disconnect it – there is no benefit to stating, “the joys of his life were his 3 black-haired, brown-eyed children.” Blond-haired, blue-eyed children, on the other hand, convey an undertone of superiority.

      • jeanette
        jeanette says:

        It should have said “three beautiful children” and left it at that. Nobody should care what colors they are.

      • Jana
        Jana says:

        Dana, thank you for explaining that to me. I didn’t pick up on that “undertone of superiority” because I merely saw it as descriptive. I wonder what caused us to each hear it differently. . .

        Thank you, Penelope for starting this very interesting discussion!

        • anon
          anon says:

          This is why white Americans are so uncomfortable with the current PC environment: our simple existence is now considered offensive. I have blonde hair and blue eyes, and you wouldn’t believe the remarks made right to my face about my “privilege” and “superiority” (both of which I, as a woman, have none of). Now just my coloring is somehow considered racist. I suppose next up will be my accent.

          • Geoffrey James
            Geoffrey James says:

            You appear to be claiming victim status because somebody thinks you’re privileged. Regardless of whether that’s a valid perspective on your situation, I’m not sure that bearing the brunt of somebody’s remarks about privilege is *exactly* the same thing as being pulled over for “driving while black” and then shot while handcuffed, or having your highly-qualified resume thrown out just because your name is Tyrone.

          • anon
            anon says:

            Actually, it is, Geoff. As a white woman, I have no systemic power–less than black men–but I’m perceived to have power, thus making white women one of the few groups these days who people feel at liberty to abuse.

          • anon
            anon says:

            Bottom line, I don’t tolerate some guy condescending to “man-splain” to me how my conferred-by-law status as an oppressed minority counts less than other oppressed minorities just because my skin color makes me an object of sexual preoccupation for the ruling class of white men. That grants me the attention of white men; it does NOT grant me their power.

          • Geoffrey James
            Geoffrey James says:

            It must be lonely being one of the few people who realize the truth, which is that there’s nothing whatever that you can learn from half of the world’s population, all of whom are more privileged than you.

          • anon
            anon says:

            So you dismiss my experiences as a woman, minimalizing the oppression I experience on a daily basis, because you ignorantly feel it doesn’t count due to my skin color, and you expect me to listen and “learn” from your infinite wisdom? That is one of the most patronizing, ridiculous things you could possibly say.

          • Geoffrey James
            Geoffrey James says:

            Since you’re pushing the issue after I’ve rather gently implied that you may be overreacting, here’s the situation.

            As the father of a black young man who lives in a very white part of America, I will soon have to worry, every time he takes out the family car, that he might be pulled over by the police, simply because he’s black.

            If so, it’s likely that he’ll be automatically considered armed and dangerous, simply because he’s a young black male. If he makes a sudden move or stands up for his rights as a U.S. citizen, he might very well be shot and killed.

            I know nothing about you other than you’re a white female who easily takes umbrage, but I’m fairly certain that you don’t have to worry about being shot and killed simply because you’re a white woman driving in the neighborhood where you grew up.

            You have no idea how sophomoric your remarks about “oppression” in your “daily life” seem to somebody who actually has to worry in his “daily life” about his son being killed simply because of the color of his skin.

          • Julia
            Julia says:

            Of course you have privilege and superiority as a white woman in the US. I’m so curious why you think you don’t. You’re experience must somehow be vastly different from my experience as a white woman in the US.

          • anon
            anon says:

            And is your son subject to constant cat-calling and the threat of sexual violence? Do you realize the likelihood that your son is killed by law enforcement in infinitesimal in comparison to the likelihood of a white woman suffering sexual assault/domestic violence? Why do you consider him a victimized minority and not me?

          • anon
            anon says:

            And, also, how about toning down the misogynistic language?

            “Since you’re pushing the issue after I’ve rather gently implied that you may be overreacting, here’s the situation.” My word, is this little lady speaking out of turn as you’re denying my oppression and dismissing my experience? What a great verbal equivalent of patting me on the head and suggesting this conversation is too strenuous for my woman-brain.

        • Geoffrey James
          Geoffrey James says:

          I assure you that the only place my comments are gender-specific are in your own head. I’d be *exactly* as dismissive of your sophomoric comments if you were male.

          This isn’t about you being a female; its about the utter silliness of implying that you’re being victimized because people point out that you’re privileged because you’re white.

          • anon
            anon says:

            So articulate your argument, Geoff, rather than calling me silly or “gently” correcting me or whatever other paternalistic nonsense you use when speaking to me: why do you consider your son a victimized minority and not me? The Courts don’t consider our respective oppression to be different; why do you? Thrall me.

        • Geoffrey James
          Geoffrey James says:

          Again with the gender thing! You’re like a one handed musician twanging a one string guitar. I’m dismissive of your remarks because I think they’re silly, not because you’re female.

          The silliest remark you’ve made so far is citing the courts as an example of equal treatment. Here are the facts:

          “Minority defendants are charged with crimes requiring a mandatory minimum prison sentence more often, in both relative and absolute terms…leading to large racial disparities in incarceration.” (Wikipedia, multiply sourced.)

          In other words, because you’re white, if caught with drugs, you’re less likely to be charged; if charged, you’re less likely to be incarcerated.

          And, while I’m reluctant to bring up gender because it’s such a hot button issue with you, you are also privileged as a female when it comes to the courts.

          To cite one of many studies, there are “large gender gaps favoring women throughout the sentence length distribution (averaging over 60%), conditional on arrest offense, criminal history, and other pre-charge observables. Female arrestees are also significantly likelier to avoid charges and convictions entirely, and twice as likely to avoid incarceration if convicted.” (Sonja B. Starr of the University of Michigan Law School, writing in 2012)

          Claiming that you’re as oppressed as black males (or black females for that matter) is absurd.

          The bigger question, I think, is why seem to be unable to accept criticism of your ideas if the person criticizing you happens to have male genitalia.

          I suspect it’s because you’d rather think that the criticism is due to your gender rather than admit that your original statement was half-baked.

  8. Lori
    Lori says:

    There is hope. Yesterday my husband and I dropped off my youngest child to her first year of college. We went through the parent orientation convocation and through the various programs of the day and I was struck by how much things have changed in the 30 years since my own college experience. My daughter is a LBGTQ advocate and is very vocal in her beliefs. She has patiently and persistently educated me on changing landscape of diversity and its importance in American culture. She chose this college because of the emphasis on VALUING diversity, not just spouting the verbiage. I have hope that our students today and tomorrow’s CEOs, will incorporate these values and change not only the workplace discrimination but society as a whole.

  9. Andrew
    Andrew says:

    This is an imperfect thought, but bear with me.

    Jews were the outgroup in Nazi Germany.

    Slaves were the outgroup in the pre-Civil War United States.

    If you want to know what you would have done in a historical context, figure out what are the equivalent outgroups in contemporary society.

    If you’re not **actively** involving yourself in advancing the causes of these outgroups TODAY, you probably wouldn’t have been an abolitionist or part of the Nazi resistance movement either.

    • Sarah
      Sarah says:

      Who are the ‘outgroups’ of today? Obama’s in the Whitehouse; Kaitlen Jenner’s a Cover model. I guess black teenage males still face arbitrary lethal violence…but what social cause exists today on the life and death level of Nazi Germany? I guess not knowing is a sign I’d be unlikely to step up to make change, but I’d just honestly like to know…

      • Leslie
        Leslie says:

        Poor people are the out group in today’s society. Unfortunately, the general consensus is that it is their fault they are poor because they are lazy. They are often blamed for their condition. I think being poor is something that scares people so it is easier to think it is something that only happens to bad people.

      • LE
        LE says:

        The Syrians of today fleeing their country and finding nowhere to go easily compare to Jews fleeing Germany and being turned down at every country because of who they are.
        That Muslims don’t even register on most people’s radar of discriminated groups proves the point.
        American Muslims are always a hair’s breath away from being detained without cause and tortured, right here in America on the flimsiest of suspicions. Check out Dave Eggers’ book, Zeitoun, for a good account.

    • Betsy
      Betsy says:

      I volunteer and advocate for people who live in poverty, primarily immigrant women and the homeless. And the mentally ill.

  10. Effem
    Effem says:

    It is fashionable these days to call out discrimination which is why people are so quick to do it. Call me cynical but I don’t think many people truly care about issues. They care about looking like they care about issues.

    The environment is a great example. So many of people’s favorite “fixes” are neutral (or even negative) to the environment (e.g. hybrid vehicles) and yet are popular because they send strong signals. Yet things which are truly helpful but boring (flying less) get very little attention.

    To do the right thing when no one is looking, and you derive no status nor personal gain from it, is very rare in my experience.

    • Effem
      Effem says:

      As a quick follow-up as it pertains to discrimination, I believe the most discriminated groups (by a wide margin) today in the US are the obese and ex-convicts. And yet there are very few who focus on addressing this issue. It is simply low-status to support these groups and therefore there is no personal gain to taking up the cause.

      Let’s take equal pay on the other hand. When you adjust for years in the workforce and choice of career, the female pay gap almost entirely disappears (it exists, but it’s quite small). And yet there are scores of people willing to shout for this cause. Why? It’s high status.

      I believe a large portion of “charitable behavior” is status-seeking in disguise. I see very few people who properly research anything. Rather, they cling on to what the crowd favors (think “ice bucket challenge”).

      • Emily
        Emily says:

        Your comment on ex-convicts is very appreciated. It is a significant problem and creates many problems for society, such as when these individuals cannot find work.

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        I agree. I have written before how I feel like our prison system is an extension of black slavery. In my mind that is the biggest test — how much am I doing to end the crazy prison system we have.

        My ex-husband is huge into the anti-prison movement, which has moved toward #blacklivesmatter actions in our area of Wisconsin. He involves our kids in a lot of protests (safe ones) and I somehow feel vindicated that I earn the money and provide food and shelter and my ex-husband provides the social activism that I am too [something] to provide myself.


      • Mark
        Mark says:

        I like Effem’s insight that the true out group(s) may not be the obvious ones that we always hear about. Ex-convicts are a great example. I saw a documentary about how persecution develops, and their example was nonviolent drug users. If you really want to find an outgroup, look where the law abets discrimination, and people lose their freedom.

  11. Rachael
    Rachael says:

    Very interesting article. I sometime wonder the same thing — if I would have done something about the Nazis, slavery, or more currently the civil rights movement in the 60s. (I am 29). The ironic thing about it is that we are living in our own holocaust now, with the slaughter of thousands of unborn babies. For some reason people don’t think it’s the same, but God knows better.

    • Amelia
      Amelia says:

      My thought, too! Fetal humans allowed to be killed all over the place because they’re legally not full persons, just as humans killed in the Holocaust were not legal persons and blacks enslaved in the U.S. were not legal persons based on all kinds of absurd rationalizations. I’m similar in age (26) and convinced that we’re going to look back and wonder why our generation didn’t do more to eliminate abortion and address the underlying causes that typically drive the decision to abort. Like other commenters are discussing, the targets of the worst discrimination can be invisible to us, which is part of why it’s so hard for us to acknowledge when something just isn’t right, and it’s veeery easy to willfully ignore this victim group.

  12. dean thomas
    dean thomas says:

    Just finished an excellent book named “Paper Love” by Sarah Wildman on this topic. A true story of a young girl left behind by her boyfriend in Germany during those years. Recommend it highly. I could not put it down. It indeed will make you wonder around every turn…”What would I have done?”

  13. Tesfaye
    Tesfaye says:

    This article just fell à pic today. I had a heavy conversation with my childhood friends this morning about one of them’s niece being told “we don’t want to play with you because you’re black”. One of the girls said it was a bit sad but it wasn’t that big of a deal because the kids were five and didn’t understand that racial difference was okay. I wasn’t very happy with her remarks so I compared my own childhood in segregated east Africa to that kid’s remark to which my friends said I was jumping the gun and saw darkness and racism everywhere after my ex’s racist mom’s vicious attacks on me. The problem is that we’re all French and we all grew up in East Africa but I’m the only East African. French culture somehow predisposes you to grow used to the segregation between the “Français de souche” and the “Français issus de l’immigration” and you can’t actually see it unless you’re a foreigner or you’re Arab or black. In certain ways, French racial issues are the very toned down and repressed version of American racial issues but we will never acknowledge them ever because it makes everyone angry to be called out on their passive racism.

    Either way, being sensitive to and outspoken about discrimination issues is good but I guess that being genuine has to be valued first, which it seems to be in America. Otherwise you’d seem like you’re crying wolf to others I suppose.

  14. crystal blue
    crystal blue says:

    I think the obituary is a blatant example of gross discrimination. How dare them describe their children’s hair or eye color. What if it was brown, instead of blonde and blue, would that make a difference? Nay, contact this grieving family while the offense is still fresh and get in their faces about it. After hearing from you, I bet it will never happen again.

  15. Stacey
    Stacey says:

    Thank you for this article. It illuminates the greater issue. Whether people intend to be racist or not, we all have unconscious bias that we may or may not be willing to admit. This is a very smart post and a great example of why I continue to follow you.

  16. Mark
    Mark says:

    Oh give it a rest, Penelope. Move on. Surely you’re just trying to distract people from your horrible Amazon work-ethic piece.

    • Maria
      Maria says:

      This right here is exactly the type of response people give when they want to maintain their unfair, discriminatory beliefs. It belittles, misdirects, and insults the person who pointed out discrimination.

  17. Geoffrey James
    Geoffrey James says:

    One of the more repulsive aspects of the civil war and of nazism was the way that some people profited from the situation without getting their hands dirty.

    With the nazis what comes to mind most quickly is IBM, which sold card punch tabulating machines for use to keep records straight in the concentration camps.

    In the case of the civil war, there were many companies based in the North who indirectly profited from slavery as vendors and who after the war built forced-labor factories in the South.

    The question I think is relevant today is whether we in the United States are willing to continue to tolerate supply chains where forced labor–slavery in fact–reduces manufacturing costs.

    Supply chains in China and third world countries are rife with slavery, both up the chain and in infrastructure. U.S. firms are exempted by trade agreements from being held responsible.

    For example, a few years ago a brick maker in China was found to be “working” retarded children chained to clay works, naked and fed from troughs. Local corruption allowed this.

    Practices like this directly contribute to lower manufacturing costs for products sold in the U.S. Cheaper bricks=cheaper buildings=cheaper consumer electronics.

    A huge amount of the shrimp sold in the U.S. is harvested by slave labor. Most of the clothing sold in the U.S. has forced labor in the supply chain. (Patagonia found it one link up the chain.)

    In China, you can be put into forced labor simply by being arrested; local authorities round up racial minorities and keep them in 18 hour-a-day factories.

    Despite all of this–and worse, if you bother to look–mainstream Democrats and Republicans–still use the term “free trade” as if it means anything when competing against slave labor.

    Instead, everyone seems hypnotized by globalization as U.S. jobs are shipped off to slave labor countries, greatly enriching the .1% and destroying the working and middle class.

    So when I think about the nazis and slavers, I wonder why whenever I write about this kind of thing in my blog I get zero traffic.

    People don’t want to know, which is why the nazi death camps remained a “secret” and why the myth of the “happy slave” remained so pervasive.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      This is such a eye-opening and moving comment. Thank you so much, Geoffrey. You make me rethink a lot of things I thought I had worked out in my head.


    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth says:

      True, there are some terrible working conditions in China. Illegal migrant labor is inherently exploitative (but who picks your California fruit, and works behind the scenes in countless US restaurants?) However the alternative – staying in one’s home village as a subsistence farmer – in China is worse. There are also plenty of places with reasonable working conditions; the people who made my Fairphone are unionized factory workers in Guangdong province.

      • Geoffrey James
        Geoffrey James says:

        It’s interesting–and I think indicative of the general tendency to avoid this issue–that jumped from forced labor and slavery to the completely different issue of working conditions.

        The working conditions in the US seldom involve forced labor; when force labor is found the perpetrators are usually jailed. So your statement is on its surface irrelevant.

        However, the structure of your counterargument (“well, they’re better off than before”) is *exactly* the argument used to justify slavery in the US (“They’re better off than when they were savages in Africa”) and the concentration camps in Europe (“We’re protecting the Jews from being attacked by mobs.”)

        Of course, you probably know almost nothing about rural life in China, so you don’t really know whether your comparison makes sense anyway.

        The existence of slave labor in China creates a job market with artificially depressed wages and industrial pollution has made some rural areas of China unlivable.

        There are no labor unions in China that are not approved by the government, which also owns (either directly or through corruption) the companies that employ the workers.

        Unions in China are Potemkin constructs. I assure you that your Fairphone, like every other consumer device with components built in China, is helping to perpetuate forced labor.

        Which brings us back to the original question: what would you do if you were in Nazi Germany. Apparently, you’d do what many Germans did: pretend the camps benefited the prisoners.

  18. Steve
    Steve says:

    My Dad, he raised rabbits and Belgian Pigeons to help feed poor people. During the war. He was Polish. Belgian Pigeons got fat, big, fat like chickens. My Dad was smart. He used to get the neighborhood kids to bring him feed for the pigeons. Feed for the rabbits. Feed that made the chickens and the rabbits fat. Then, supper time. Eat. Rabbit. Pigeons. Eat.

  19. Dana
    Dana says:

    Given that so many of your readers are commenting “anonymously”? It should be pretty clear what they’d have done in Nazi Germany … and what they do today.

    I’m disheartened by what I’ve read here. I expect more from your readers/commenters, but that’s (one of) my shortcoming. So many people in the “I don’t see it in my (white Christian) world, therefor it doesn’t exist.”

    Sad … really …

    • Cronies
      Cronies says:

      Some people speak up against the murder of thousands of black babies for profit… But their concerns are deemed unimportant by The Enlightened.

  20. Evy MacPhee
    Evy MacPhee says:

    This made me remember a summer job I had before I was 20. I was a secretary at the office of a clothing manufacturer. There were several of us, white. And one very nice black woman. When she was leaving to get another job there was discussion of a lunch get together which was done for most people leaving. When I asked the other white women organizers about inviting her, they said, “She would be uncomfortable.”

    So, in my teen aged way, I organized a separate lunch goodbye and invited everybody. The black woman looked liked she had a good time. We bought her lunch.

    These days, I am slightly to the left of Bernie Sanders. Unfortunately, I am very isolated by choice. Moving soon to a retirement community that is not segregated, though it costs the earth.

    When my synagogue/temple had a youth group get together with a black church youth group my father made some sort of comment. I always did the opposite of whatever he said. We had some of the black kids to Shabbos supper, anyway.

    I currently have few friends of any color. This may change when I move to a more friendly community.

    I hope I would have gotten out in time in Nazi Germany. I had one relative by marriage who survived the camps. One relative by marriage and her young daughter who successfully moved from family to family in France and Belgium until the war was over. I don’t know about all the rest of them and I think there were many.

    Doing my best here while hiding from everybody in my current apartment. Moving is no fun.

    I am glad you brought this up. Very timely.

  21. TK
    TK says:

    How odd coming from someone who didn’t hesitate to throw Sheryl Sandberg under the bus and claimed her husband committed suicide…

  22. Celia
    Celia says:

    Can you provide a link to the EEOC guidelines mentioned? I would like to read the source material. Thanks.

  23. jestjack
    jestjack says:

    What an interesting topic. I have often thought about 1930’s Germany and Mr. Hitler and how he came to power. And I too have wondered why citizens of that era tolerated the madness of the “Final Solution”. But the answer is pretty clear… if you spoke up you were “eliminated” or joined the others at the camp. Like you, I often wonder what I would have done. Would I have spoke up….OR helped hide neighbors from the authorities….OR would I have “went along to get along”. I would like to think I would do the right thing BUT you just don’t know. I’m sure many Germans thought they were doing the right thing and were patriotic by supporting the government. And to do anything less would be considered treason.

  24. Aaron
    Aaron says:

    He thought his kids are cute. You’re being overly sensitive because it suits you to be a victim in the world. Boom. Done.

  25. Leslie
    Leslie says:

    This reminds me of “Woman in Gold” a recent movie about the legal battle to persuade Austria to return the Klimt painting of Adele Bloch-Bauer, to her aunt, the late Maria Altmann who lived in Los Angeles at the time. The painting was taken by the Nazis along with all other valuables from her parent’s home. The movie shows the gradual changes that lead to more drastic ones over time. Hitler could have been nipped in the bud many times but it was easier for people to believe he was a flash in the pan and would not be elected. He was at first considered too extreme but over time his ideas became more mainstream as the voters moved to the right and sought scapegoats for their problems. In the movie they show the Nazis carting off tons and tons of valuable items in broad daylight as Austrians went about their business as if nothing was going on. (Of course, everyone would like to think they would speak truth to power.) I see scapegoating by politicians going on in our country right now and it really scares me. Even 60 years later Altmann’s lawyer faced obstacles in his fight to get the work out of Austria. He was fired from his job because he spent too much of his time on the case in lieu of more profitable work.

  26. Lizbeth
    Lizbeth says:

    Excellent post, Penelope. Like you, I am Jewish and I have read many books about the Holocaust. You might want to read these two: “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr, and “The Storyteller” by Jodi Picoult. Both historical novels provide a fascinating picture of non-Jews and Jews during the 1940s.

  27. harris497
    harris497 says:

    Whenever there is a post like this in any of the media I read, I feel regret. Regret that the “otherness” that we humans allow ourselves to feel towards those “not in our tribe,” serves to balm our collective consciousness and allow/justify the perpetuation of this type of horror.
    I also regret that I do not feel powerful enough, or the internal locus of control that compels the Sojourner Truths or Diane Roarks of the world to challenge injustice.
    However, I believe there are others like me who do not have the guts to directly confront injustice but will willingly fight it in clandestine ways, the way the Egyptian midwives did when they refused to kill the male babies of Jewish mothers so long ago. I think that this counts for something…
    My 2centsworth.

  28. Cay
    Cay says:

    I’m pretty sure that I would have died pretty quickly, regardless of which side of the war I was born into. Even if no one decided to kill me, I would probably have ended up killing myself.

    The thing that could totally flip this is if I were a mom. I think I would do anything to protect my children. I would be as strong and as smart as I could be, no matter what. And that means I have no idea what I would have done, because who knows what would have been necessary?

  29. Christa M
    Christa M says:

    I’m super glad you posted this, Penelope. There is a lot of talk about systemic discrimination in the media right now and not very much about how it manifests from individuals and what we can/should do about it. The older I get, the more fear prevents me from speaking or reaching out in these kind of situations. This is a great reminder to not rationalize oneself out of being a good human.

  30. Christopher Chantrill
    Christopher Chantrill says:

    Sorry, but to a libertarian conservative like me this article and most of the comments read like knee-jerk liberals patting themselves on the back for their glorious progressive values.

    You can imagine that as a conservative in liberal Seattle I get “triggered” all the time by the thoughtless liberals that think that everyone thinks like them.

    The truth is that the overwhelming majority of us go along to get along: hey, we are social animals. It takes a genius to see the evil coming, and it takes a martyr to stand up to the evil.

    Or maybe someone with Aspergers.

  31. Ib
    Ib says:

    I remember as a teenager realizing that blonde is “better” when my friend’s Austrian mom made some prideful comment about her “blonde blue eyed children” (I am a brunette). She also informed me that Jews were hated in Austria because of their business practices, money lending etc.
    Also, as a teenager growing up in South Africa, I coolly resented my parents for not being actively involved in “the struggle”. Based on the evidence in family photo albums, life seemed like one big dance party after another during the 60’s and 70’s. However, as a nurse in a public hospital, my mother’s working life consisted of helping “non-whites”, she could speak isiXhosa, allowed me to play with the gardeners’ children, and nipped any kind of derogatory language in the bud. Interestingly, we also had a male “coloured” housekeeper/nanny and I have to jokingly wonder if that didn’t result in me being in an interracial marriage today! ****** “coloured” is a separate racial group in South Africa, a mix of Asian (mainly Indonesian, Malay) and /or indigenous Africans (fairer skinned than Black Africans) residing in the Southern Part of the country – San and Khoi tribes. It is not remotely as derogatory as I believe it to be in North America.

  32. meistergedanken
    meistergedanken says:

    “But I also know research shows that the people with the highest self-esteem are the ones who are most likely to call out the discriminatory behavior.”

    People with high self-esteem are also the most likely to be bullies.

    “I feel better calling out my neighbors for not noticing the discriminatory ways of our community. ”

    Sure, there’s nothing people appreciate more than an outsider Jew moving into their community and then telling them how they should change it. My hometown in the 90’s went through this. For example, once we got two Jewish councilmen they made the city ditch all its holiday lighting because it was red, and this made them uncomfortable because the color was “too Christian” (and here I thought red was the color of revolution and Communism, but whatever). So the city spent $16,000 to get new white holiday lighting.

    But on the other hand, these same Jewish councilmen had no problem using city money to build sidewalks in their wards (which even required cutting into bedrock) so that all the Jews that moved in to attend the new temple could walk there on the Sabbath. So much for the separation of Church and State.

    “After all, we will never really know what we’d have done in Germany”
    Well, I know what my grandfather did in Nazi Germany, and I’m a lot like him. His experience is related here:

  33. LE
    LE says:

    You wonder what you would have done in Nazi Germany.
    How about what would you have done if you were in a country that refused to take Jewish refugees?
    Don’t think for a minute that conditions similar to Nazi persecution or White subjugation don’t exist, or that people today have nothing to do with it beyond being a nice person. That is why people living in Nazi Germany or slave-holding times didn’t feel the need to respond.
    You love blogs and research. Try Sociological Images (this is a good start: http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2015/06/09/powerful-people-are-sensitive-to-injustice-but-mostly-when-they-are-its-victims/)
    Actually, try looking more at sociology in general, it has a lot to say about many questions you pose (Edward Said, Judith Butler good names to start). Psychology, which you refer to a lot, makes structural problems (like institutionalized anti-Semitism) seem like a problem of the individual (being the guard that says no).
    Calling out the homophobia is laudable, but think about discrimination against groups you can’t even call out- maybe don’t even notice. So I have a question for you: what groups can people publicly call the most discriminatory, racist things, and these things are seen as understandable, if not praiseworthy?

  34. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    This recent news is pertinent to this post – http://www.newsweek.com/holocaust-museum-aims-predict-prevent-state-led-mass-killings-376167 . This new online tool is being made publicly available by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide and the Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth College. It aims to accumulate and transfer knowledge so that it can be used in a preventative rather than response mode. Who knows, there may be other technology tools developed in the future that will help the individual distinguish the difference between political correctness and truly discriminatory behavior. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of each population, society, or individual to do the “right thing”. Technology may be helpful in an assist mode.

  35. Maria
    Maria says:

    This is one of the most valuable posts you’ve done. So much research/advice about dealing with discrimination is abstract and doesn’t reflect the reality of what happens when you speak up. I teach management in a business school and will be using some of the resources and research you cite with my students. I hope you do more about diversity and discrimination in the future – I think you have an important point of view to add to the conversation.

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