For this reason, the German legal system worked to minimize the number of people prosecuted for their actions during the Holocaust. Up until several years ago, for example, German law determined that serving in the concentration camps was not a cause for prosecution. If we analyze the extermination process in Auschwitz, there were allegedly few Germans who killed Jews with their own hands—each person played a small role in the assembly line of the industry of death, so there is no justification for trying them as murderers.
Unfortunately, the State of Israel cooperated with the German narrative. Then-Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion announced in the 1950s that “there is a different Germany.” Granted, during that period (West) Germany did have a different leadership, but what about the millions who were part of the Nazi machine? Did they become “different” in an instant?
Most of the Germans who are the subject of this question are no longer alive. Nature takes its course. Nevertheless, there is still one age group that played a decisive role in the Nazi monster’s success in the 1940s, and most of its members are still alive. I’m talking about the Hitler Youth, Hitlerjugend—an organization which was one of the cornerstones of the regime. Contrary to the acceptable image of a “youth movement,” it played a critical role in the Nazi rule.
Hitler realized that in order to establish the Nazi revolution, he had to enlist the youth before anyone else. That was the reason why the organization was not called “the Nazi Youth,” but “the Hitler youth.” The organization was subject directly to Hitler (unlike the police forces, which were subject to Heinrich Himmler). Hitler preferred not to rely on the “desert generation” of the adult Germans, who were influenced by “dangerous ideas” of the intellectuals, of the democracy supporters and of the “communist and Jewish philosophers,” and put his trust in the young people. Their job was to bring the Nazi revolution to the schools, to the public places and into their families.
The members of this movement were more fanatic than the adults and were willing to do anything, including inform on their relatives, for the Nazi ideal. They were the ones who kept “the fire of the revolution” burning, even when more and more Germans began sobering up from the fantasy of the “Fourth Reich” in light of the price that Germany began paying in 1943. Were these people ever required to address their responsibility for the Holocaust? Apparently not. The previous pope, Benedict XVI, for example, was appointed to the high post despite being a member of Hitlerjugend. No one gave him a hard time about it.
The responsibility for the Holocaust lies with anyone who played an active role in maintaining the Nazi machine, and in this issue—like in many others—people are shirking responsibility and there is exaggerated forgiveness. The Hitlerjugend boys and girls are now about 90 years old, or even less, and many of them are still alive. I don’t expect them to be put on trial, but we should expect at least few of those hundreds of thousands of people (or even more) to take responsibility for their actions.
Major-General (res.) Giora Eiland is a former head of Israel's National Security Council.