Do forgive me for the radio silence: I have been adding Exciting New Ailments to my laundry list. In my eternal quest to get a cool white badger stripe in my hair, I headbutted the bathroom wall. The badger stripe has yet to appear but I have been walking around in a fog for the last couple of weeks. I thought it couldn't be a concussion because I still knew how many fingers everyone was holding up and that the Prime Minister was a cunt (although, as a dear friend noted, "without the depth or warmth"), but my local A&E said otherwise.So complex thought has not been among my strengths.
But anyway. Back to the Nazis.
You know that line, "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing"? It's all too true - acquiescence is always easier than fighting against the tide, and it's an awful lot easier not to be the person who says "hey, let's not kill all the Jews".
But I recently came across the story of Denmark's total refusal to participate in the Holocaust, and in this case, the only thing necessary for evil to be defeated was for an entire country to determine to do nothing.
Without the collaboration of the governments of occupied countries, the number of people killed during the Holocaust would have been exponentially smaller. The German forces didn't have the manpower or infrastructure to round up six million people, so they relied on Vichy to supply them with France's Jews, Mr Quisling to provide Norway's, Mussolini to round up Italy's, and so on.
In all these countries, as in Germany, the process began relatively gently: you don't induce people to do evil by starting your pitch with "we want to kill every Jewish person in your country: sound good to you?". Rather, you start with the little things (mandatory yellow stars), so that the next step (ghettos or camps within national borders) doesn't seem that extreme. From there, does it matter if they're interned in this country or somewhere in the East? And by that point, you're so involved, so inured to the idea that Jewish people are Other, to be labelled, corralled and removed - a problem to be solved - that if you finally twig that very little work is being done at the alleged work camps, it doesn't really seem such a big deal.
Going back to Zimbardo: he notes that the easiest way to avoid being sucked into a morass of evil deeds is simply to refuse to take the first step. Once you've accepted the premise which starts you doing little bad things, you're committed, and it's much more difficult to refuse to take the second step, and the third.
So when the Nazis asked the Danish government to take that first step - requiring all Jewish citizens to wear a yellow star - they did just that. They refused to take a single step down the road to Auschwitz. (Remember, at this point it wasn't common knowledge what lay at the end of the road, but it wouldn't have taken a genius to figure out that it wasn't anything super.)
The Danish government's response to the yellow star proposal was, "Fine. Our King will be the first to wear it."
The story gets even more awe-inspiring - through a wonderful combination of stalling, argument, deception and trickery, Little Denmark managed to keep its Jewish population from being deported. When the Nazis lost patience and sent in their own policemen to seize the estimated 7,800 Jews resident in Denmark, word slipped from officials to shipping lines and finally to the government itself - which hurried straight to the leaders of the Jewish community. The news was spread so quickly that only 477 people were found that night.
It was then decided that Jewish Danes would be safer in Sweden. So those who didn't go into hiding (with many thousands of supportive Danish families) were shuttled across the water by the fishing fleet - with the cost of their transportation being met by wealthy Danish citizens.
Spectacularly heroic as all this is, it's the first step that fascinates me: that first refusal to go along with the demands of an occupying power, demands backed up by the most ferocious war machine Europe had ever seen. How easy it would have been to acquiesce. How difficult to say no.
I'm not sure if it's a real quote, or just a great line from a movie, but Neil Jordan's Michael Collins says that, in fighting imperialism, "our only weapon is our refusal". Everything follows from there.