Moral Issues During the Holocaust

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Instructions For Project

Bagrut Project

Front Page

Names: Lior Hazan and Gaby Silver

School: Ort Guttman

Grade: 11th grade

Name of Project: Moral issues During the Holocaust

Research Question: What were the different moral issues the Jews in the Holocaust faced with?


Teacher's Name: Nellie Deustch


Moral Issues

Our subject is about the Holocaust. In our project we are going to deal with moral issues that happened in different situations that happen in the Holocaust, for example, Elie Wiesel's childhood.

Research Question

What moral issues did people in the concentration camps face? What moral issues did people in the Judenrat face? What moral issues did the Righteous face? What moral issues about religion did the Jews face?


Our project is about the Holocaust. We chose to write about this subject because this year we had an international book- sharing project about the book "Night" by Ellie Wiezel. During this project we had different discussions about the book with students from the USA. These discussions were about: Belief, indifference, or denial, choiceless choices that were made by the people in the Holocaust, survivors who champion human rights, indifference or helplessness, was there any morality to survival and silence. In our project we chose morality problems people in the Holocaust had to face with as our subject. We focused on four subjects that have a lot of discussions about them: the morality that the Righteous showed, religious morality, moral problems the people who were in the Judenrat faced with and moral problems in the concentration camps. Till this day, people are still having discussions about if different stories connected to these subjects- were the choices made then were always the right choices and more. Our point of view is that these people shouldn't be judged- none of us has experienced something like the Holocaust- when a whole religion is threatened and your fate depends on your fellow Jewish peoples. We hope that reading our project will interest you and you as we do, try to help saving and keeping the memorial of the people in the Holocaust.


Many questions have come to the fore in the matter of religion during the Holocaust. Some felt that God had abandoned them and did not understand how and why they deserved such suffering. They wondered about how the rabbis had not warned them; in fact, some of the rabbis had left and fled. Others experienced severe crises of faith and a few went so far as to abandon the faith. On the other hand, religious people, or even some who were nonreligious or whose faith was shallow, found solace and mental fortitude during the Holocaust in religion as they could nowhere else. Instead of asking themselves why, they believed that there were answers for all the suffering that had been imposed on them - answers that transcended their understanding and that they had no right to seek. Their faith was so complete, so sincere, so deeply ingrained, that it constituted their very essence as human beings. The very fact of their being believers was their motivation. The Jewish traditions, prayers, and festivals were the pillars of their lives. Words can hardly describe the power that these people derived from the faith, the moral strength that it gave them, and the difficulty in breaking their spirit as human beings even when their bodies could no longer endure the agonies. Religious women who adhered to their faith continue to observe the commandments and festivals as best they could. Many continued to “keep kosher” even in the camps. Sometimes they avoided soup if they thought it had been prepared with a chunk of meat, even though this was the only food served. They continued to pray, observe fasts, abstain from bread during Passover, and light candles for the Sabbath and on Hanukkah. They also tried not to work on the Sabbath, even though the Nazis might murder them if they discovered it. Some nonobservant Jews who shared their plight responded with incomprehension and anger, even considering their conduct an attempt to shirk the burden of labor and fearing that the Nazis would respond by acting against the entire group and not only against the Sabbath-observant. When they encountered problems that they did not know how to cope with, be it in sustaining their faith or in moral issues, religious women found ways to consult rabbis, and when rabbis were no longer available, they attempted to make decisions by themselves on the basis of the understanding and knowledge that they possessed. Two stories were shivering us about the total faith. The first one was about a father that could have saved his son from murder but didn't because of his faith. This father knew that if he will save his son, another kid will be murdered instead of him. He went to the rabbi and asked him "my only child, beloved, the most important thing to me, is with all of the other children. They might all die because of his crying. I can save him but I know that the Nazis will murder other kids instead of him. What should I do?" The rabbi found it difficult to reply and the father understood that if he doesn't tell him to save his son, it's a sign that the Halacha prohibit it and the father was happy that he gave up his only son for God. The second story was about a father that needed to make a hard choice. Thousandth of Jews were hiding from the Germans in a small place and one of them was a baby. When the Germans came near this place to look for Jews, the baby started to cry. His father understood that if he couldn't relax him all of the Jews hiding with them will die so he tried to relax his baby but he didn't succeed, so he realized that he needs to kill his baby. He got all sweaty and held onto his baby neck.

Staying alive and maintaining their humanness was their guideline.

The Righteous

During the Holocaust, the European society has shown hostility and indifference towards the hunt down on the Jews. Most of society has watched their neighbors being taken away, attacked, robbed or hurt, and didn't react at all, even though that before Nazism started to get worse, they were living aside Jews. Because of the pressure that society had and all the immorality it showed, it wasn't easy to try and help the Jewish people in society- people had lost all of their human morality and used to treat people who helped Jews or were connected to them, as Jews. Not many people were brave enough to help the Jews even though they hadn't lost their moral way of life. People who had helped the Jews during the Holocaust are called The Righteous. These are people, who weren't Jewish, that helped Jews without getting anything in return, although society had shown a lot of hostility. Most of the Righteous were at the beginning of the holocaust the same people who stood aside and watched the Jewish people being robbed and taken away, but when it came to the human slaughter, they saw how wrong it was. It's also important to remember that the Righteous weren't always active as soon as they saw the radicalization, usually a lot of Jewish people asked for help from people, for example- to be hidden for a day or two so they wouldn't be caught by the Nazis soldiers. The people who were asked by the Jews faced a moral problem- should they help the Jew and risk themselves and their families? This people are considered Righteous, as long as they didn't asked for anything in return- at first, they had probably chosen to help out of a human instinct that later on had turned into a moral instinct. For example, giving shelter for a night turned to hiding in a shelter for a month or more. As said before, people who helped Jews were treated badly, but each society (each country) had a different response. In Eastern Europe, the Germans executed not only the people who sheltered Jews, but their entire family as well. Notices warning the population against helping the Jews were posted everywhere. In Western Europe, there were only a few times when people who sheltered Jews were executed but they were sent to camps and killed there. This was also a moral problem Jewish families and people faced with. If they would ask for help they would risk their life and their family's life, it wasn't sure if the people that were asked for help would really help them or would turn them in to the Germans. It risked too many people. The Righteous were helping also because they were against the Nazi policy, they made a political statement by helping Jews which were at the bottom according to the Germans, and trying to turn them towards their political opinion. If the Righteous wouldn't exist, human rights wouldn't be recognized by many people today- all people are born in the same way and deserve to live a normal life without having a threat over their head.

The Judenrat

The Juderat was a Jewish council set up by an order of the Nazi- Germans in Jewish communities. Their responsibility was to carry out the Germans policies and orders in the Jewish communities where they were. The people who were in the Juderat faced a moral issue. The Judenrate had to perform as the Nazis ordered them to, and sometimes it was the complete opposite than helping their friends. This was and still a subject which has so many opinions about. Some of these Juderats were responsible for a small community or a city, but sometimes they were responsible for an area. The council was chosen by the people in the community- the head of the council in each area or city was chosen by the actual council (and would have to be approved by the Germans). This showed how the Germans were involved in everything and only made the allusion that the Jews in the community had some kind of independence. The Jewish people in the community knew how the Germans were just finding another way to control them and sometimes active people in each community refused to go into this council, knowing how the Germans would use them against the other Jews. Who ever went into the council had to face the fact that they were going to act against their fellow Jews. If they had chosen to go into the councils, they would have a better chance of saving themselves but they would have left their fellow friends with the same chance of surviving as before. The people in the Judenrat tried to make the economic changes lighter and tried to delay the commands the Germans gave them. Some assumed that if they would do as the Germans told them, they would have understood that the Jews are useful. Their main job was to transfer the Jews from their homes to the ghettos, give out the poor amounts of food and prevent smuggling from out of the ghetto. This was another way of not helping your fellow mates in the ghettos, lowering their chances of surviving. Before the "final solution", Germans ordered the councils to give them a list of names of people who would go to do work labor. When the Germans ordered the "final solution" the councils tried to help the Jews by finding more people to go and work- to show the Germans that Jews were useful and the "final solution" would heart the economy (the final solution was when the Nazis decided to murder all of the Jews). This was a stage where we could say that the Judenrat was actually against the Nazis, because we can see in records that they wanted to participate in armed resistance against the Nazis.





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