"The Holocaust was carried out by human beings, people like us, baptized Christians. ... "
By Lela Atwood
The Lariat Online (Baylor U.)| April 9, 2010
Through their chosen ignorance, the wives of those in Adolf Hitler's inner circle share the blame of the Holocaust with their husbands, according to Dr. Carol Rittner.
Sister Rittner, who is a member of the Sisters of Mercy, a Roman Catholic order and a Distinguished Professor of Holocaust & Genocide Studies at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, spoke Thursday at the 12th Annual Holocaust Remembrance Luncheon, organized by the Center for Jewish Studies.
Rittner said the Holocaust was planned and carried out by normal people who grew loyal to a cause and did not stop to question it.
"The Holocaust was carried out by human beings, people like us, baptized Christians. They carried out what the Nazis called the final solution of the Jewish question," she said. "And they found a way to justify what they were doing in the name of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi German state."
Rittner questioned what went on inside the minds of the wives of the men who worked closely with Hitler. She spoke of an interview British journalist Gita Sereni had with Margarete Speer, the wife of Albert Speer, Hitler's minister of armaments and war production.
"German women like Margarete Speer cultivated their own private worlds of pleasure," Rittner said. "They gossiped, enjoyed arts and films, took care of their homes and children, entertained, socialized, looked after their husbands and carefully avoided asking difficult questions."
She came to the conclusion that these women chose to look the other way instead of confronting what happened in the Holocaust.
Maria Rassokhina, a senior from St. Petersburg, Russia, said dialogue is the key to solving a lot of problems that have roots in what is said and not said.
"Going back to the [Nazi] inner circle, she [Rittner] said that women never criticized Hitler," she said. "They wanted to close their eyes on that so their husbands never felt guilty for what they were doing. But I think if you talk to each other, critique, I think that dialogue helps a lot."
Andrew Wooldridge, a 2009 alumnus from Colorado Springs, Colo.,said that while dialogue is important, those who engage in it must be open to new ideas.
"Once someone has become set in the way that they think, and refuses to question certain things that they hold to be sacred, they can't enter into a genuine dialogue," he said. Rittner said the Nazi wives should have, at the very least, questioned the actions of those they were close to.
"Like their Nazi husbands, these women failed an enormous test of morality, courage and intelligence," she said. "Passing the moral test would have required at the very least for them to have less trust in Hitler, the Nazis and their spouses, and more bravery, curious insight and rebelliousness."
Dr. Mark Ellis, the director of the Center for Jewish Studies, said Rittner's lecture brings up some interesting questions about women and their involvement in the Holocaust.
"I think this lecture is very important because Dr. Rittner was talking about the role of what happened to women in war, genocide, and the Holocaust and also how women can be complacent in war and genocide and the Holocaust," he said.
Rittner is the author of many books, including "Different Voices: Women and the Holocaust," "Elie Wiesel: Between Memory and Hope" and "No Going Back: Letters to Pope Benedict XVI on the Holocaust, Jewish-Christian Relations and Israel."