Comparative Analysis: Perpetrators vs. Bystanders

  • Category: War, World War II,
  • Words: 1235 Pages: 5
  • Published: 30 May 2021
  • Copied: 141

During World War II, tensions continued to rise between Nazis and Jews as the history of anti-semitism goes far back in history. According to many Christians, Jews were seen as the “murderers of God”. Jews were soon associated with the devil and were seen as “the others” in which they were given yellow badges to distinguish themselves from the non-Jewish. At first, many believed that the solution for dealing with Jews was to convert them to Christianity. This would be done by teaching them the Christian works and putting them in labor camps to do this. However, after the Industrial Revolution, wealth was land and it was the new means of production. The jobs that Jews were forced to have, soon became the highest paying jobs.

With Hitler as the chancellor of Germany, the Nazi power was able to use propaganda against Jews who the Nazis blamed for many of the problems in Germany. With Jews obtaining the highest paying jobs, Hitler was driven to believe that Jews were trying to take the world’s wealth by abolishing it for everyone else. Soon, many believed that Jews were a genetic reality and the only solution would be death because the blood of a person cannot be changed.

This was the idea that soon shaped the Holocaust. During the time of the Holocaust, most of the Jews were deported to extermination camps with help from Germany’s railway industry. The Deutsche Reichsbahn consisted of 1.4 million German personnel who worked with the “special transport of Jews” which were really “death trains” that transported Jews. The workers of the Deutsche Reichsbahn were perpetrators during the Holocaust because they marginalized and disenfranchised Jews by contributing to the effectiveness of Hitler’s plan to exterminate Jews and not trying to stop the process even though they had an understanding of what was occurring.


The definition of a perpetrator is “the one through personal action, damages (mentally or physically) marginalized or disenfranchised someone else. It can be intentional or unintentional” (HB). The definition of a bystander is “one who is not a victim, but does not actively perpetrate or collaborate” (HB). The workers of Deutsche Reichsbahn were perpetrators because they acted towards marginalizing Jews. For the Jews, the “death trains”, were a very distressing scene that made them play the role of the marginalized because they were made insignificant and they lacked the ability to voice their opinions.

Also, the Jews were often overlooked in decision making processes. Unlike the Jews, the workers of the Deutsche Reichsbahn were not marginalized, but they were the ones who were marginalizing. Henrik Gawkowski was a locomotive engineer from the Treblinka Death Camp and in a video testimony from the Holocaust documentary film called Shoah by Claude Lanzmann, Gawkowski recalls “The cars were in front. I pushed them up to the ramp in front of the camp, two or three times a week for a year and a half. It was extremely distressing for me.” (B). While the experience was extremely distressing for Gawkowski, he still made the decision to carry out his job and by doing so he marginalized the Jews.

His decisions to do his job by pushing them up the ramp contributed to their deaths. While he didn’t kill them himself having the role of a perpetrator, he influenced and contributed to that decision which still makes him a perpetrator. While doing his job, he left the Jews disenfranchised because their opinion did not matter and because he disenfranchised them, he is considered a perpetrator. Henryk Gawkowski is an example of a perpetrator during the Holocaust because his decisions to carry out his job contributed to sending them to their deaths.

The workers of the Deutsche Reichsbahn

The workers of the Deutsche Reichsbahn were also perpetrators and not bystanders because they actively perpetrated and collaborated to the killings of the Jews sent on the death trains. Walter Stier was a GEDOB Warsaw and the Head of the Deutsche Reichsbahn Department 33 “Jewish Special Trains”. In a video testimony for the Holocaust documentary film Shoah by Claude Lanzmann, Stier recollects, “In January 1940 I was assigned to GEDOB Krakow. In the mid-1943 I was moved to the GEDOB Warsaw. I was made chief traffic planner. I was strictly a bureaucrat. I never saw any trains.

We had so much work that I never left my desk. We worked all day and night. (E). Walter Stier recalled that even as he worked his job, he never saw any trains. While Stier didn’t directly see any trains, he was still a perpetrator because he contributed to what was happening. His job of scheduling the trains disenfranchised the Jews because they were given no voice of opinion when being sent on the trains. Their opinion was overlooked in the decision making process and because they were disenfranchised, this makes Walter Stier a perpetrator because he marginalized and disenfranchised. Walter Stier is another example of a worker of the Deutsche Reichsbahn that was a perpetrator because his job contributed to disenfranchising the Jews as their opinion was not relevant and they weren't able to voice their opinions.

The workers were perpetrators because they made the decision to carry out their job and they chose to do their jobs. The workers were not bystanders because bystanders make the choice to not do anything but the workers chose to do their jobs. While they chose to do their jobs, they also make the decision to not try and stop what was going on. Walter Stier was a GEDOB Warsaw and in the interrogation for the trial of SS Captain Franz Novak, he recalled, “Group D L documents, that is schedules and plans for military transports, were always stamped ‘Geheim’ (secret)... Our DA and PJ files were in no way closed. They were lying openly and could be seen by anyone having access to our office. We all knew where the trains were going.” (D). Walter Stier proves that workers of the Deutsche Reichsbahn were perpetrators because even though he knew that the trains were going to death camps, he chose to not do anything about it and he made the decision to not try and stop what was occurring.

The perpetrator was aware of Hitler’s plan for the extermination of the Jewish population but contributed to the success of his plan by doing his job and not trying to stop it. Steir recalled that the workers all knew where the trains were going which reveals that they contributed to marginalizing and disenfranchising the Jews by being part of the process that sent them to their deaths. Christian Liebhauser was a GEDOB Warsaw and a specialist from Department 33 “Jewish Special Trains” and in the testimony for the trial of Dr. Theodor Ganzenmuller he recollects, “We had heard that Jews were being burned in the camps, and that is that they were being killed there. Gassings were subject of conversations as well” (C).

While many of the workers knew about the horrible things happening to Jews, they didn’t do anything to try and stop it. The workers were perpetrators because they made the decision to do their jobs and they didn’t speak up or resist to what was going on. By refusing to do anything to take a stand against the deportation of Jews, the workers further contributed to disenfranchising, marginalizing, and victimizing Jews which makes them perpetrators.

While some may argue that the workers of the Deutsche Reichsbahn were bystanders because they chose not to do anything in the situation, they were actually perpetrators because they participated in marginalizing and disenfranchising the Jews. In the definition of a bystander, it is stated that a bystander does not actively perpetrate or collaborate. The workers of the Deutsche Reichsbahn did actively perpetrate and collaborate because even though they all had different jobs, they all contributed to marginalizing and disenfranchising Jews. While many workers of the Deutsche Reichsbahn had different jobs and chose to not resist what was happening, they all contributed to the overall effect of the Jews which makes them perpetrators.



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