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The Hidden Holocaust: Bystanders, Thoughtlessness and Sympathy

Burns, Rachael Kay (2017) The Hidden Holocaust: Bystanders, Thoughtlessness and Sympathy. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (Access to this publication is currently restricted. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:66258)

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Language: English

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Abstract

This research draws on key sociological theorists to show that the architecture and topography of the concentration camps promoted thoughtlessness amongst civilians, which ultimately allowed the Holocaust to take place. In the works of Arendt, Bauman, Cohen and Elias the theme of psychological denial or 'thoughtlessness' recurs. Bauman argued that the civilising process had failed to 'erect a single foolproof barrier against the genocide' (2009: 110), however, this research argues that Elias' theory of the 'civilising process' shares key links with Bauman's theory in that it is through mental and physical sequestration that denial can take place through the 'dyscivilising process' argued by De Swaan. Moreover, it is as a result of this sequestration that the civilising process is relevant to other key theorists of the Holocaust including Arendt and Cohen.

The results are comprised of two parts. Firstly, the results of an analysis of the architecture and topography of the camps are presented, to show the sequestration that took place which promoted the 'thoughtlessness'. Secondly, the results of a case-study of Mittelbau Dora concentration camp are presented, to show how this sequestration impacted on empathetic and sympathetic responses by civilians.

Specifically, the research examines the changes in sensory knowledge of the concentration camps in Nazi Germany by German civilians and the importance of the 'dyscivilising process' for their inception and development. Sensory knowledge is explored through data collected by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and historical maps. This is further complimented by contemporary and archival photographs of concentration camps in the Harz and Hamburg regions. In so doing, I challenge the descriptions of Sofsky and Goffman as to what a concentration camp looked like in that many concentration camps were located in previously used buildings such as farms or houses. Across time, it is possible to explain the changes in sensory knowledge through a breakdown of the 'civilising process' and the importance of physical and psychological sequestration of violence, suffering and death acknowledged by academics including Arendt, Bauman and Cohen. I argue that while the camps in Germany were very much an 'open secret', it was only very late in the Nazi era that most German civilians had first-hand, sensory knowledge of them. Moreover, in a case-study of Mittelbau Dora concentration camp, I argue that the physical and psychological distances between inmates and civilians had a direct impact on the 'mutual identification' and empathic responses between them, thus the architecture and topography of the camps promoted thoughtlessness. Moreover, in a case-study of Mittelbau Dora concentration camp, I argue that the physical and psychological distances between inmates and bystanders had a direct impact on the 'mutual identification' between them. In direct contrast with Goldhagen, I argue that the residents of the Harz region were not the 'willing' and virulent Nazis he would argue. Civilian workers at the V2/A4 rocket plant at Mittelbau Dora were more able than other civilians in the region to identify with the inmates because of the sensory knowledge, which allowed for greater empathy and 'fellow-feeling'. Conversely, the residents of the Harz region who did not work alongside the inmates were much more able to psychologically deny the camps and the suffering of the inmates because their first-hand sensory knowledge was so limited. Thus, the architecture and topography of the camps contributed to the thoughtlessness of the civilians as a result of the sequestration.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Ray, Larry
Thesis advisor: Hale, Chris
Uncontrolled keywords: Holocaust, Elias, Arendt, Bauman, Cohen, Architecture, Concentration Camps, Nazi, Civilians, Empathy, Sympathy, Compassion, Mittelbau Dora, Neuengamme, Bergen-Belsen, Photographs, Photography, Topography, Maps, Genocide
Divisions: Faculties > Social Sciences > School of Social Policy Sociology and Social Research
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 01 Mar 2018 15:10 UTC
Last Modified: 25 Jan 2020 04:10 UTC
Resource URI: https://kar.kent.ac.uk/id/eprint/66258 (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
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