This year is the 22nd  anniversary of the publication of my book, ORDINARY PEOPLE AND EXTRAORDINARY EVIL.  It was my first response to the Holocaust — as both a child survivor and professional sociologist — who is not satisfied with how historians address the Holocaust, and genocides generally.   Here is what produced my mission:

An investigator of the 1990’s genocide in Rwanda wrote:  “… The killers, by and large, were ordinary people — not jackbooted representatives of the state.  Neighbors did it — to neighbors.  Pastors did it — to parishioners.  Doctors did it — to patients.  Schoolteachers did it — to pupils.  In-laws did it — to in-laws. Workers did it — to fellow workers at the … local tire factory. (*)

My response is that it is not enough to report such horrors.  We need explanation! How is it that ORDINARY people would engage in such horrendous acts?  This is the challenge I try to meet in that and subsequent books.  My work is in the tradition of Hannah Arendt’s banality-of-evil thesis,  but goes far beyond it, showing how our “ordinary” makeup — of how we cope in Social Space — can be used to taking part in horrific actions,  even as this same makeup can be used for our most humane and decent actions.

(*)  From Paul Henrickson, “Witness to the Unimaginable,” Washington Post,15 November 1998.  This is a review of Philip Gourewich’s book, WE WISH TO INFORM YOU THAT TOMORROW WE WILL BE KILLED WITH OUR FAMILIES. (New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998.)


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