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Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 67, No. 1, 2011, pp.


How This Was Possible: Interpreting the Holocaust

Susan Opotow∗
John Jay College of Criminal Justice and The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Moral exclusion occurs when individuals or groups are seen as outside the boundary in which moral values, rules, and considerations of fairness apply. It can render violence and injustice normal and acceptable. This talk describes research conducted at the House of Wannsee Conference, a cultural institution near Berlin, where the liquidation of Europe’s Jews was planned in 1942. Now a commemorative site and education center, this institution’s interpretive strategies increase visitors’ knowledge about past exclusionary processes. The House of Wannsee’s interpretive strategies emphasize the role of occupational groups in society. Consistent with that focus, this talk discusses psychology at two points in time: Gestalt psychology, which flourished in Germany from 1920 to 1933, and psychology from 2002 to the present in light of contemporary concerns about psychologists’ involvement in detention and torture. It is an honor to speak with you today as President of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI). The Presidential Address is an
∗ Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Susan Opotow, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York, 899 Tenth Avenue, New York, NY [e-mail:]. I thank Dr. Morton Deutsch, Dr. Michelle Fine, Dr. Wolf Kaiser, and Dr. Norbert Kampe for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper. Dr. Kaiser, Dr. Kampe, and Ms. Gaby M¨ lleru Oelrichs welcomed me to the House of Wannsee Conference. I am most appreciative of their interest in and assistance with this research. I thank Ms. Lore Kleiber for her insightful essay on Holocaust education. Any errors of fact or interpretation in this text are my own. Support for this project was provided by a PSC-CUNY Award, jointly funded by The Professional Staff Congress and The City University of New York. 205

2011 The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues



opportunity for the president, engaged in the Society’s administrative matters for a year, to turn to scholarship, and it signals that a new president will soon assume leadership of the Society. Thank you for coming to my talk today. It will describe my ongoing work on the limits on the applicability of justice (Opotow, 1987, 1990, 1995). Exclusion from the scope of justice, or moral exclusion, occurs when individuals or groups are seen as outside the boundary in which justice applies. As a result, moral values and rules and considerations of fairness do not apply to those outside the scope of justice. They can seem undeserving of rights and resources and as eligible targets of harm and exploitation. Harm inflicted on them can seem appropriate and even necessary to bring about some alleged “greater good.” In the Third Reich’s Final Solution to the Jewish Question in 1942, the Disappearances in Argentina’s Dirty War from 1976 to 1983, the Rwandan Genocide in 1994, and many other places and times, aggressors have harmed and killed victims designated as outside their scope of justice. Moral exclusion can normalize violence and injustice through exclusionary laws, rules, processes, and outcomes that can then be accepted as the way things are or ought to be. Because the normalization of an exclusionary ethos can renders injustice invisible, it can be more difficult to detect moral exclusion in our everyday lives than to recognize it long ago or far away. Today’s talk describes research I conducted at a societal institution that examines Germany’s National Socialist Party (also known as “Nazi”). The House of Wannsee Conference situated near Berlin is the place where the liquidation of Europe’s Jews was planned in 1942. Now a commemorative site and education center, its interpretive strategies increase visitors’ knowledge about the past. Their approach speaks to moral exclusion and moral inclusion as the scope of justice in Germany has shifted markedly since 1933 when the National Socialist Party assumed political power. Consistent with the House of Wannsee’s interpretive strategies that emphasize the role of occupational groups in Germany’s past, the article concludes with a discussion of our occupation, psychology, at two points in time: Gestalt psychology, which flourished in Germany from 1920 to 1933, and controversy from 2002 to the present concerning American psychologists’ role in detention and torture. Moral Exclusion When I began research on moral exclusion, among my first empirical findings was a Scope of Justice Scale consisting of three attitudes toward others: (1) believing that considerations of fairness apply to them; (2) willingness to allocate a share of community resources to them; and (3) willingness to make sacrifices to foster their well-being (Opotow, 1987, 1993). This scale defines moral inclusion and operationalizes it for research. It echoes Rawls’s (1971) description of justice as fairness, and it is consistent with justice as the fair allocation of resources as described in research on distributive and procedural justice (Deutsch, 1975, 1985;

from passive to active behavior (Opotow.How This Was Possible 207 Lind and Tyler. 1975). but are end points on a continuous dimension with intermediate points such as “conditional inclusion” (Opotow. 2001). 1993) and I have used it in quantitative and qualitative studies of moral exclusion (e. Inclusion in the scope of justice is fundamental. I argue that all eight cells in Table 1 share an underlying genotype—the psychological dynamics beneath outward action. those excluded from the scope of justice are seen as: psychologically distant. yielding eight cells that map the topography of moral exclusion. These studies suggest that that moral exclusion and inclusion are not mutually exclusive. 1990). while the institutionalization of moral inclusion can be a longer and more fragile process (Opotow. I have theorized moral exclusion as a construct with a range of manifestations that vary on three dimensions: extent. indicating that inclusionary gains were difficult to achieve and sustain (Opotow. and postwar reconstruction). and expression. using Lewin’s (1935) terminology (Danziger. wider. These studies also suggest that moral exclusion and moral inclusion can occur simultaneously in the changing conditions after war so that inclusion can occur in some spheres while exclusion occurs in others (Opotow. 1995).g. My research on the moral inclusion of African–Americans in the United States after the Civil War supports this.. but is also attentive to the phenotype to identify contexts in which the scope of justice undergoes change. 1987. and eligible for harms that would be unacceptable for those inside the scope of justice (Opotow. from mild manifestations to blatant. In each cell. I situate my current . Thus. To study the shift from moral exclusion to moral inclusion. 2008b). 1988. my research is directed at the genotype. severity. For those outside the scope of justice. undeserving of constructive obligations. Thibaut & Walker. Finally. It is also consistent with norms for acting benevolently toward others and norms of civility in everyday life. 2008a). The Scope of Justice Scale has good psychometric qualities (Opotow. 1990. Changes in the Scope of Justice My research examines change in the scope of justice and asks: What social psychological contexts shrink or widen the scope of justice? Under what conditions does extreme moral exclusion give way to an inclusionary ethos? To examine this. 2008b). 1990)—varies from less to more severe. Table 1 delineates a topography of moral exclusion in which the descent from Cell 1 to Cell 8 can be a slippery slope that is difficult to reverse. 1995). and blatant moral exclusion than take the reverse route and adopt an increasingly inclusionary ethos. Table 1 presents these three dimensions as dichotomies. these studies suggest that moral exclusion and moral inclusion differ temporally: moral exclusion can gain in scope and intensity quickly. distributive and procedural justice can seem irrelevant (Opotow. This suggests that it can be faster and easier to slip into increasingly harsh. from narrowly focused within a society to widespread. public schooling. regarding environmental degradation. While the outward presentation of moral exclusion—its phenotype.

.g. bullying and sexual harassment) Invisible. witch hunts) Reprehensible..g. intimidation. mass murder) 7 Devising or executing violent acts directed at particular subcultures (e. and derogation (e. a plague Perceptions of those excluded 1 Ignoring or allowing rudeness. (Opotow. less than human Source.g... sweatshops) 4 Ignoring or allowing systematic violence (e. ethnic cleansing. sweatshops) 3 Ignoring or allowing violent acts directed at particular subcultures (e.. Dimensions of Moral Exclusion Subtle Manifestations Wide in Extent 2 Ignoring or allowing systematic violence (e. mass murder) 8 Devising or executing systematic violence (e. intimidation. Opotow . witch hunts) Narrow in Extent Blatant Manifestations Wide in Extent Narrow in Extent Passive engagement: Active engagement 6 Devising or executing systematic violence (e. violations of human rights. a contaminating danger. nonentities Expendable. violations of human rights..g. vermin.g. and derogation (e. bullying and sexual harassment) 5 Devising or executing rudeness..g. ethnic cleansing.208 Table 1.g.g. hate crimes. hate crimes. 2001)..

emphasizing how these practices took hold in particular times and places (cf. communities. In the United States some museums have focused on past moral exclusion in exhibitions on the institutionalized racism and violence of slavery. and others. partisans. mentally and physically disabled persons. Gypsies. Situating this discourse within state-supported cultural institutions resonates with Lewin’s (1943) interest in public contexts as sites of commitment—in this case. My focus was on interpretive strategies describing conditions that gave rise to the Holocaust and its outcomes. included 6 million Jews and about 11 million other people deemed political enemies or lebensunwertes Leben (life unworthy of life). the psychological concept. .How This Was Possible 209 research in contemporary cultural institutions in Germany. In historical museums. contradicting and disrupting prior discourses about what happened and how that had been possible. n. I was interested in interpretive strategies that foster visitor engagement with this past. and lost a war with genocidal goals and an industrialized approach to achieving them.d. Polish intelligentsia. These strategies include choice of material that will engage visitors’ interest in and promote their understanding of a topic. estimated at 17 million people. This can foster understanding. Slavery in New York. I visited Berlin in January 2009 to study contemporary museums. 2005). memorials. memory. waged. they recall what some might choose to forget. Doing so reveals to the public that ordinary practices that were widely accepted at one time inflicted immeasurable injury on individuals. trade unionists. Museums as Sites of Exclusionary Memory and Inclusionary Possibility From 1933 to 1945 the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (commonly abbreviated as Nazi) led by Adolf Hitler ruled Germany with a totalitarian political system that morally excluded and murdered Jews. Germany’s commitment to remember and understand its World War II past (International Task Force. Social Democrats. Germany’s historical museums on National Socialism educate visitors and contribute to a national discourse about the meaning of World War II in Germany. I examine how museum professionals present an exclusionary past to visitors and the potential of their approaches to promote an appreciation of inclusionary values. Anti-Semitism played a central role in National Socialist’s exclusionary political policy. documentation centers. When historical museums address moral exclusion by interpreting the past for contemporary visitors. In them. families. When this remembering contends with national history. Jehovah’s Witnesses. and the larger society. The death toll.). is writ large. They address national trauma that results from having perpetrated. interpretive strategies are the choices that museum professionals make to lead the public through a narrative about the past. Communists. and commemorative sites (“museums”) to examine how they interpret the past to foster a deeper understanding of injustice and state-sponsored violence.. homosexuals.

an hour from Berlin by S-Bahn and bus. wall texts. 1942 when 15 men approved a plan to liquidate Europe’s 11 million Jewish people at a businesslike.or low-level functionaries of the political system. “why did this happen?” is the House of Wannsee Conference. progression. type of locale. and outcomes. commemorates an extraordinarily exclusionary event: a 90-minute meeting on January 20th. and outcomes of historic moral exclusion in light of the wider scope of justice that has evolved since the end of World War II. Who can also include witnesses still living with traumatic memories as well as younger generations seeking to understand harm inflicted on individuals. and audio and visual material. groups. each molded around the foot of a person whose life was cut short. Who can describe those who suffered as well as grand architects of harm and the mid. Commemorative Sites and Moral Exclusion More than six decades have passed since World War II ended in 1945. Germany’s cultural institutions have developed impressive interpretive strategies on moral exclusion and its antecedents. One commemorative institution that addresses these three questions and especially the question. exclusionary goals and extraordinarily deadly means to achieve them? This is a key moral question that still haunts and that visitors must ask if people in the present are to understand the past and the human capacity for doing harm. A final question is why? What gave rise to such extreme. or effects of oppression. 1997). Visitors may come with little or fragmentary information about the past. Commemorative sites differ from each other in their mission. resources. Charged with interpreting a violent and traumatic past to the public. and deeper knowledge so that people in contemporary society can learn from past injustice and violence that was widely supported. and society in the past. All address the questions. progression. These approaches convey the progression.210 Opotow discussion. graphics. technologies. what. The . They continue to refine their approach in exhibitions and education programs addressing causes. To answer the question who some museums focus on a specific subpopulation such as the Monument to Homosexual Holocaust Victims that opened in Berlin in 2008. head of the Nazi security service and chief of the German security police. and interpretive strategy. The House of Wannsee Conference The House of Wannsee Conference. so all sites address what happened? To do so. they present a narrative describing the past with historic objects. it included high-ranking governmental officials. Convened by Reinhard Heydrich. The Final Solution to the Jewish Problem. polite meeting followed by cognac. such as a canister of Zyklon B gas used in the gas chamber or piles of victim’s shoes. The meeting discussed a proposed plan of action. who and why similar to contingencies in psychological research on justice (Opotow.

Today. The contrast could not be greater between this idyllic venue and the murderous plan set in motion here. show that in January 20th 1942. the whole German state was willing to cooperate in the project of deporting all European Jews [with] the knowledge that they would not survive the end of the war. Norbert Kampe. visitors arrive at a locked gate. I visited the House of Wannsee Conference in January 2009 to view the exhibition and speak with three senior staff members whose goal it is to educate individuals and a nation about micro-processes of moral exclusion. they are greeted by a warm staff and exhibition space that preserves this landmarked building while also teaching about its past (see Photo 1). The House The Wannsee Conference took place in an elegant villa situated on a lake. Villa exterior (Photo: Author). Photo. ring for admittance to the landscaped grounds. 1. Dr. By the end of World War II six million Jews had been murdered. and once inside the villa. . Historian and House of Wannsee Conference Director.How This Was Possible 211 proposal they approved—to move Europe’s Jews eastward and liquidate them— was brutal. . and effective. . deadly. describes the mission of the House of Wannsee Conference as dealing with this history: The legacy of the Wannsee Conference is to .

microfilms on National Socialism.” His proposal did not gain governmental support. and the Jewish genocide. the library has a specialized collection of books. Joseph Wulf (1912–1974). Exhibition (Photo: Author). anti-Semitism. For this reason. the House of Wannsee Conference opened as a memorial and educational site supported by the state of Berlin and the German federal government. Located on the House’s second floor. including material for all levels of interests from children to scholars. the library has developed a specialized classification system on Holocaust-related topics that serves as a framework for similar memorial libraries. (p. After 1952 it was used as a hostel by schools from the Newk¨ lln district of Berlin. the villa and its grounds were purchased in 1940 by the Reich Security Main Office. 2007) describes the guesthouse as: a site of perpetrators.000 volumes in German and other languages. an Auschwitz survivor and chronicler of the Holocaust. It is the largest Holocaust library in Germany and contains more than 50. To facilitate research. Gaby M¨ ller-Oelrichs. but the historical significance of the villa was appreciated two decades later. Photo. The House of Wannsee Conference catalogue (Haupt. 50 years after the 1942 conference. In 1992. Security Service) guesthouse-retreat for National Socialist leadership and guests from abroad. headed by Heydrich to create a Schutzstaffel (SS. the memorial and educational site House of the Wannsee Conference focuses on the antisemitism and racist ideology and policies of the perpetrators before and after 1933 as well as the role of different authorities in organizing the genocide during the war. 2. . who directs the Joseph Wulf Library and Media Center u at the House of Wannsee Conference. videos. 1) Mrs. emphasizes the importance of having this authentic site for visitors who come from all over Germany.212 Opotow Designed in 1914–1915 for a manufacturer and bought by an industrialist in 1921. o In 1966. sought official designation for the House as an “International Documentary Centre. articles. The Exhibition The House has 15 exhibition rooms set in the villa’s refined interior space.

As anti-Semitism became increasingly widespread. [there is a scene] where the Einsatzkommando [Operational Command] is killing women in Dubossary.e. who led the redesign of the House’s exhibition completed in 2000. university. and memoranda that reveal the socio-political realities of the 1930s and 1940s that turned anti-Semitism to murder and “mass murder to genocide” (Roseman. law. Exhibited materials are reproductions dispensing with the need for barriers or guards. barred from professions. but [my concern is with] situations in which a class group of students could not avoid seeing graphic photos.. There is some grass or plants preventing you from clearly seeing the naked women and children. the material is accessible and the visitor’s experience with the material is personal (see Photo 2). Kampe. Although the subject matter of the exhibition is brutality on a mass scale. statistical charts. Moldavia.. medicine. businesses. but you must not confront people. describes a photograph of a number of women stripped of their clothing and about to be shot: In room number five. Dr. Everybody is able to deal with such material in a book with pictures. the seizure and Aryanization of businesses. Thus. material is selected to be acceptable to a wide audience. and synagogues looted and destroyed Slave labor in camps Exclusion as Annihilation Murder on arrival Starvation and inadequate clothing Forcible relocation into ghettos Worked to death . forcible deportation. and forcible relocation into ghettos). worked to death) (see Table 2). and (3) annihilation—exclusion from life (i.e. and synagogues).e. 2002. I have chosen this photo. communities. many of whom are youths. The exhibition consists of photographs.. 6). p. destruction of homes. blatant.How This Was Possible 213 Gardens that surround the villa remain visible while viewing an exhibition that narrates the progression of anti-Semitism in Germany from the antecedents of the Final Solution to its implementation. One of the German policeman probably made this series of photos. (2) exclusion from society (i. the exhibition balances the need to display evidence of the Holocaust with respect for victims of National Socialist violence and the sensibility of visitors. the exhibition suggests that the extreme forms of moral exclusion represented in Cells 7 and 8 of Table 1 can be further differentiated into three levels: (1) exclusion within society (i. posters. murdered on arrival or later. and active. Table 2. Extreme Moral Exclusion Exclusion within Society Barred from professions Aryanization of businesses Exclusion from Society Forcible deportation Homes. As a result. I do not want to suppress how terrible this was. undernourished and inadequately clothed. You cannot see the naked victims but you can clearly see the situation.

These pieces—the house. Thus. trade groups. The staff helps groups choose research questions and work with documents. Kampe describes: The main aspect in this house [is to show] the step by step radicalization process .g. the political system as a whole. there is a room with information on each of the governmental departments present at the conference and their role in persecuting Jews. Hitler. and the testimony—provide evidence on the process that led to genocide in a cultural institution that has developed an influential interpretive strategy about the Holocaust and how it happened. . . Years later. and values remembrance of the National Socialist past.214 Opotow Conference Room Just before the Conference Room. and the larger society in supporting genocide as social policy. This interpretive strategy that humanizes attendees has the potential to be disturbing. They were spared from an order by National Socialist leadership to destroy office files. was imprisoned during the war. The House of Wannsee Interpretive Strategy Schools. his files. The staff is dedicated to this work. After the war. this exhibition suggests the importance of individuals. who had a Christian family background. only one copy of the meeting’s minutes survived to reveal details about this meeting with criminal intent. governmental agencies. the minutes. they prepare seminars and lectures. and others in Germany visit the House of Wannsee Conference to see the exhibition and conduct research on the Holocaust in the library. As Dr. can agree to mass murder. Adolf Eichmann’s (1961) courtroom testimony in Jerusalem provided additional descriptive information on the conference. It indicates that a group of educated men. When Martin Luther. The biographies and photos of attendees of the 1942 Conference offer visitors information on individuals who grew up with ordinary backgrounds and worked within the German government. or Heydrich). Himmler. The main room in the villa is the Conference Room that displays minutes of the January 20. and had never done harm to any person in their life attended such a conference and had no problem accepting all this. operating as governmental professionals within established procedural rules and with good manners. Undersecretary of the Foreign Ministry. and moderate discussions. rather than demonize Conference attendees or place all responsibility for genocide onto high-level leaders (e. Kampe describes: . As Dr.. had been brought to a shelter for safekeeping. which included a folder on anti-Jewish policies that contained the minutes. 1942 meeting as well as photos and biographies of Conference’s 15 attendees that represented the government. who had a good education. Some leading figures of the German government who had never been anti-Semites.

and income level to differentiate among participants. As Dr. We can study details—where it starts. M¨ ller Oelrichs). . etc. a Protesu tant organization founded because of what happened during the Nazi time . where people give in [For example] the state secretary of the judiciary. It was and remains common for parents and grandparents to “keep quiet” about the past (Ms. the task of reflecting on it poses a number of pedagogical challenges. 215 Because the Holocaust is an overwhelming and emotionally fraught topic. the process is more important than the result . whose lives were written off as Ballastexistenzen [undesirable encumbrances. ethnicity. Dr. So you can see [where it starts] on this level and you can see it on the very simple level of the policeman or the prison camp guards and so on. The House of Wannsee Conference approach emphasizes to visitors that genocide policy was promoted in different ways by various occupational groups. or trade groups without knowing their own family’s history. prison guards. Education Director. in their young days. u Another challenge comes from students who ask “why do we still have to study these old things?” As Deputy Director. . on the basis of primary source material. but more and more he took active part in establishing this Nazi system. gender. This is a special group who had been willing to give one year of their life because they felt it was necessary to do something because of the German past. Because many occupations are loosely segregated by age. Some youth and adults come to the House as individuals or in school. the answer can start with individuals: SO: So how do you answer the question? Dr. Kaiser explained that “almost every occupational group and every institution took some part in the discrimination and exclusion of the Jews. If you have committed a sin you have to do something morally compensating. and soldiers . . .. Schlegelberger [was] a conservative who joined the Nazi party only because he had to if he wanted to stay in office. age. This means that we’re working with different vocational groups and study with them. Kaiser: We can study how such a process of exclusion and injustice causes catastrophic results. active in Aktion S¨ hnezeichen/Friedensdienste (Action Reconciliation/Services for Peace). . Utilizing their experiences in professions. The House has developed an interpretive strategy for its group seminars that examine the progression of genocide at the level of the occupational group. [and] people who are working there as psychologists. Wolf Kaiser describes. the history of their profession during the Nazi period. . class. In other words the way their colleagues—so to speak—collaborated in this process . . educational level. professional. [We] relate this process to the actual.” Social science research typically utilizes demographic variables such as gender. Occupational group. [Also] the judiciary. occupation is an interesting social category. vocational practice of participants. superfluous existences]. in particular nurses. Among these professional groups the most important ones are those from medical [professions]. Kaiser describes: From the educational point of view. ethnicity.How This Was Possible Many of our permanent staff and 30 freelancers were. . professional. and international expert on Holocaust education Dr. .

“History of hairdressers: Physical culture & aesthetic norms in Nazi Germany. and who acted within the constraints. were part of a gradual process that normalized annihilation. a staff member at the House of Wannsee Conference. locates individuals within the activities they would ordinarily perform within their society and norms generally associated with those activities (Vygotsky. and demands of their occupation during National Socialism. At the House of Wannsee Conference studying the past in occupational groups allows visitors to imagine the specific activities of people situated similarly to themselves. The Seminar for Apprentice Hairdressers To illustrate how this pedagogy expands visitors’ understanding of exclusionary processes that can lead to genocide. including marking the body with tattoos and particular clothing and hair styles.” posted on the website. their first full-day study program. Material from the exhibition and the library’s archives revealed how physical appearance. the use of the Star of David. insider’s perspective. The significance of propaganda photographs and the stigmatization of Jews as “racial aliens” were explored in the exhibition. visited the Memorial and Educational Site House of the Wannsee Conference for the first time. however. (Kleiber. who specializes in working with visitors 18 years and older. conventions. Occupation is therefore a complex marker of identity that influences how people orient themselves to others based on their profession’s normative contribution to society. . we interpret the attribution of negative Jewish physical characteristics. the apprentices developed two questions to study during their House of Wannsee Conference seminar: (1) How and through what methods were Germans conditioned to use and accept physical stereotypes as part of racial segregation? (2) How was the concept of race visualized? House of Wannsee Conference staff selected visual documents and media in response to the apprentices’ questions. accompanied by their social studies teacher. n. as Ms. Learning from History: Eighteen second-year apprentice hairdressers (sixteen female and two male).) Working with staff as a group. I briefly describe a seminar for apprentice hairdressers conducted by Ms. She describes teaching and learning from the perspective of an expert practitioner in her essay. Lore Kleiber. as a gradual process toward physical annihilation.216 Opotow as a unit of identity. Doing so permits visitors to place themselves within a period of time that can seem unimaginable today and understand it from an informed. Classes of apprentices from the same school had previously visited the House of the Wannsee Conference to see the permanent exhibition. Kleiber describes: Today. 1978). and later on the tattooing of prisoners with numbers. This was.d.

and outward appearance influenced others’ evaluations of them. they developed a deeper understanding of life under National Socialism that revealed the pervasiveness of exclusionary norms and standards that had meaning for well-being. Ms. anti-Semitism. were surprised by their accomplishments. The apprentice hairdressers. especially hair. Because hairdressers are attuned to style and its meaning in social contexts. They could see how the narrowing of the scope of justice. Their professional sensitivity to the social meaning of aesthetic norms. like shaving off someone’s hair in public to humiliate them. is overwhelmed by memories as he describes cutting women’s hair before they were killed in gas chambers. The apprentices then requested information on the process of annihilation in killing centers and on reutilization of parts of human beings. or more extraordinary things. including life and death. one that had previously been inconceivable to them. enabled them to find their way into the societal workings of exclusion and genocide. embodied in hair and other physical characteristics. and moral exclusion (see photos on the website. Archival photographs the apprentices used in their research vividly illustrate the relationship between the aesthetics of hair. Shoah (Les Films Aleph-Historia Films.” is also displayed along with the photos in the storefront. and media materials.” three women. National Socialist aesthetics valued Aryan physical characteristics. In their closing session.How This Was Possible 217 The apprentices viewed a segment of Claude Lanzmann’s film. They studied newspapers and magazines from the Nazi period to understand how the setting of aesthetic norms promoted racist thinking in Nazi Germany. A 1937 photograph of a woman’s head with a fiberglass set of hair color samples illustrates the practice of categorizing people by their hair color. Kleiber reports. 1985) in which a barber. One dealt critically with the Nazi image of women based on an analysis of married life as portrayed in Nazi advertisements. wear placards reading. Learning from History [Kleiber. Heeb barber shop in Hanau has photographs of women with wavy blonde hair styles in the shop window. prepared the way for and ultimately were part of the killing process. presumably Jewish. “Jews not admitted. This casts the career of a barber/hairdresser in a totally new light for the apprentices. These styles were in favor during National Socialism. a survivor of the Treblinka Concentration Camp. A sign. played a role in the exclusionary process that led to genocide. Through their occupational identity. n.]). they could see how the body. In a 1938 photograph entitled “Anti-Semitic measures: ‘Excluded’. along with the House’s exhibition. hair. archival. They calibrated hair color to differentiate people who had valued characteristics from those who do not. The apprentices’ occupational identity allowed them to understand that ordinary people doing ordinary things. . student workgroups presented collaborative collages.d. like how they colored or wore their hair. A 1942 photograph of the V. “I have been excluded from the national community” and are having their hair shorn in public in Linz.

Historian Wolfgang Benz of the Center for Research on Antisemitism in Berlin argues that a person who claims that the Holocaust was a lie deserves punishment because he “engages in incitement of the masses. and denying that the Holocaust occurred has been illegal in Germany since 1985 and carries criminal penalties. 1999. a form of selective inattention toward threat. visitors are able to envision the role their historical counterparts could have played during the Holocaust. More than six decades have passed. and Justice The House of Wannsee Conference’s interpretive strategy can be analyzed in terms of denial and. to have seen: how styles . library. fully immersed in life under National Socialism.218 Opotow Discussion: Denial. consistent with their emphasis on occupational groups. because he slanders our fellow citizens. By identifying with people in one’s own occupation during National Socialism. Their pedagogy subjects denial of one’s own role in harmdoing to critical scrutiny through the use of occupational proxies. Perception. They address denial of the extent of harmdoing and justifications for devaluing those harmed with evidence presented in its exhibition. is “a defense mechanism consisting of an unconscious. because he slanders the memory of those murdered. The passage of time since the end of World War II also plays a role in reducing denial. visitors can see the working of moral exclusion on the job and in everyday life. and other material). documentaries. can emphasize to them that in our lives and work. with attention to psychology at two points in time: Gestalt psychology in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s.. Visitors’ efforts. and (3) exonerating one’s own role in fostering harm (Opotow & Weiss. we do things that have moral importance at the societal level. In research on the function of denial in moral exclusion. advertisements. selective blindness that protects a person from facing intolerable deeds and situations” (Corsini. 263). 2000). photographs. p.” (No room for Holocaust Denial in Germany. 2005). This temporal distance from the past allows the apprentice hairdressers to see what might have been more difficult for people.g. (2) devaluing those harmed. Applying this typology to the House of Wannsee Conference suggests that their pedagogy fosters visitor engagement in understanding the process of the Holocaust and its catastrophic results by reducing these three kinds of denial. Among these might be the severity and scope of harm inflicted on people during the Holocaust. Addressing and reducing these three kinds of denial help visitors understand that a narrowed scope of justice that fostered such violence in the past has relevance in society today. articles. and ethical concerns about psychology’s role in detention and torture from 2002 to the present. Denial can occur in societies as well as in individuals. a behavioral commitment to engage with difficult material. By examining traces of one’s occupation in the historical record (e. and archives. Denial. Leah Weiss and I found that denial promotes exclusionary thinking by: (1) minimizing the extent of harmdoing.

acceptable. I first consider Gestalt psychology. and even correct. with its emphasis on people’s experience. the military. 1941–1942). The House’s interpretive strategies utilize the contrast between the past and the present to good effect. and people working in prisons today. Centered at the Psychological Institute at the University of Berlin (now Humboldt University of Berlin). Kaiser noted. Kampe describes the mission of the House: Remember that we are dealing with the question of how this was possible. Gestalt Psychology Gestalt Psychology. Do they remember that there was a step by step radicalization? Do they remember that there was no killing in 1933 but a lot of things happened before the society and even the SS was able to do such terrible things? This interpretive strategy encourages visitors to struggle with profound questions about moral exclusion and harm doing on a vast scale as they consider the past in occupational groups whose work today also has moral import. perception. My doctoral advisor. I then discuss ethical concerns about psychological practice in the United States today. Gestalt Psychology has contributed theoretical principles and innovative methods to psychology that remain influential today. founded in the early 1920s in Berlin and shortly after the Wannsee villa was built. a skilled and committed staff. the fundamental principle of Pr¨ gnanz a . a researcher and professor at the Psychological Institute. was a student of Kurt Lewin (SPSSI president. and a meticulously assembled exhibition and library—are interlocking pieces of an inclusionary interpretive project designed to give visitors a deeper understanding of genocide. As Dr. The resources of the House of Wannsee Conference—an authentic and elegant site. these especially include the medical professions. Gestalt Psychology flourished from 1920 to 1933. Morton Deutsch (SPSSI president. and empirical creativity. Prompted by the House’s interpretive strategy that focuses on occupational groups. There is also the hope that visitors will carry forward knowledge about moral exclusion in the past to their present circumstances. As Dr. I discuss our profession. psychology. Characterized by theoretical parsimony. including psychologists. 1960–1961). and the relation of parts to the whole offers an apt theoretical frame to reflect on the interpretive strategy of the House of Wannsee Conference. the judiciary. The difference between the scope of justice of the past and the present permits visitors to see that moral exclusion can be extreme and yet be considered normal.How This Was Possible 219 and norms serve as markers of inclusion and exclusion. rigor. This contrast is used as an interpretive tool to reveal what is ordinarily invisible—that the prevailing scope of justice today influences how we perceive and act toward others.

eugenics. Gestalt Psychology’s emphasis on how elements are organized in relation to each other. Jewish) and politically unreliable state officers. people’s experience. Kurt Kohler remained for 2 years. Their approach evokes Gestalt theory’s emphasis on perception in two prominent contrasts—the scope of justice during National Socialism and at present. “defended a conception of psychology as a science of subjectivity rather than of behavioral and social control” (p.220 Opotow (pithiness) integrates Gestalt Psychology’s laws of proximity. When early National Socialist legislation in 1933 euphemistically called “The Law for the Reestablishment of the Professional Civil Service” required removal or forced retirement of non-Aryan (i. similarity. 11). Max Wertheimer and Kurt Lewin among them.. These interpretive strategies are consistent with Pr¨ gnanz and the Gestalt emphasis on parsimony. Several. exhibition. rigor. and interpretive strategies. were Jewish. Gestalt Psychology concerned perception. before emigrating to the United States as the political environment became increasingly harsh and restrictive (Henle. 1978).e. including its venue. Building on visitors’ experiences. Gestalt Psychology had international influence from its founding in the early 1920s until 1933 when Hitler was appointed Reich Chancellor. Rooted in both experimental psychology and philosophy. but he did so in both a theoretical and practical way “that would bring it to bear on contemporary problems in the workplace and the school” (Ash. They guided personnel assessments for the Wehrmacht (Germany’s unified armed forces from 1935 to 1945) and population liquidations . Lewin. and the soul. 1998. of which phenomenal selves. p. Kurt Lewin worked on such Gestalt topics as action and emotion. staff. 2). and character to support Nazi population policies and their ideologies of worthiness and worthlessness. form a self-organizing system attuned to situational dynamics and people’s lives. Key elements of the House of Wannsee Conference. publically challenging Nazi rules. German psychology gave way to studies congenial to Nazi goals: research on race. Wertheimer and Lewin assessed what their future would be in Germany and emigrated to the United States (cf.. and a empirical creativity along with Lewin’s practicality. 263). Many of its professors and graduate students were politically liberal. too are parts” (p. Gestalt Psychologists Kurt Koffka. and importance of lived experience in constantly changing dynamics resonates with this study of interpretive strategies at an historical site of injustice. closure. Historian Mitchell Ash (1998) describes Gestalt research on perception as based on the proposition that: “objects we perceive are always located in what would now be called self-organizing systems—constantly changing dynamic contexts of situation. Weakened by emigration and increasing political repression. continuity. and common fate. including professors. Wolfgang Kohler. he states. 1986). and Max Wertheimer. subjective meaning. and the role of the villa in 1942 and its role as commemorative site since 1992. their interpretive strategy offers visitors a way to engage with difficult topics they may ordinarily chose to avoid. library.

vocational practice. designed to render moral exclusion and social injustice visible. The New York Times has argued. 361). As the House of Wannsee Conference’s interpretive strategy conveys to visitors. whether physical or mental. a time when some psychologists have expressed opposition to the participation of their American colleagues in the design and supervision of detention and interrogation activities in sites connected with the War on Terror (Opotow. “professors were expected at the same time to be loyal servants of the state . [and] that social situation set the parameters that defined freedom and morality—a lesson that can be extended to other times and places” (p. some weakly and others more strongly. is operationalized by “actual. and silence in the past. cast as appropriate and necessary to foster some greater good. collusion. A22). safeguarding the ethical integrity of our work is an important professional responsibility. violating widely accepted standards of fairness and international law (Opotow. As a consequence. 1984. a “national disgrace” (Terrorism. Wolf Kaiser. is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession . These psychologists’ activities are consistent with the definition of torture as defined by the Convention against Torture and other Cruel. . Contemporary Psychology and the Limits of Justice And so we come to today. but as Ash (1998) notes. professional. 1990. considerations of fairness do not apply to them and they are eligible for harm. . when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. Inhuman or Degrading Treatment (United Nations. 1995). offers visitors a deeper look at the past that can reveal moral exclusion in the past and can suggest the importance of an inclusionary ethic in contemporary social relations. supported Nazi goals. and indefinite detention of prisoners without charges are. 2007). They also violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations. America’s secret prisons.How This Was Possible 221 to achieve the Final Solution to the Jewish Question. Their interpretive strategy. states Dr. German psychologists who remained.” The House’s visitors examine occupational activities that fostered violence. 2007. . p. kangaroo courts. indifference. 1948). Exclusionary policy. Some sought to protect academic freedom. . 2007). 1987): severe pain or suffering. These practices of harmdoing are justified by exclusion of detainees from the scope of justice. . The New York Times describes these activities as an affront to our fundamental values because prisoners cannot legally defend themselves and are subject to torture “that can be repeated until it produces the answer the Pentagon wants” (Gitmo. a declaration adopted in response to the horrors of World War II.

org/index. “The use of torture and other cruel.222 Opotow In 2007.. and Lykes. a commitment rooted in the history of the Society. 1 – 271.cfm?fuseaction=Page.. (1999). inhumane. also see Costanzo. Gestalt psychology in German culture. describing activities at detention sites for the War on Terror as professionally unethical and ineffective as a means to foster security. and the environment. Psychologists and interrogation [Special issue]. Philadelphia. R. a pivot point between the SPSSI’s past and its future. 2007b). The same year. In its members’ work on detention and torture and in work on key social issues including unemployment.spssi. American Psychological Association’s membership passed a referendum prohibiting psychologists’ involvement in interrogations that violate the U. G. 7(1). Ash. The dictionary of psychology. he stated. 1999. with pride. In 2008. & Lykes. Gerrity. The use of torture and other cruel. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy (ASAP) (2007). M. I note. 344– 345). the SPSSI seeks to foster moral inclusion within the profession and in the larger world in which we work and live. As some psychologists note with concern. or degrading treatment as interrogation devices. poverty. inhumane. Some papers described their colleagues’ detention and interrogation activities as an egregious violation of human rights while other papers argued that psychologists act within ethical guidelines. However. Writing in 1941 during World War II.. Constitution or international law. or degrading treatment as interrogation devices” (Costanzo. 1890—1967: Holism and the quest for objectivity. Corsini. (2007a). References Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy (2007). the SPSSI issued a position statement. health. M. & Lykes. controversy continues as this is written. . Costanzo. Soldz. reprinted in Gold. & Gerrity. education. the American Psychological Association has yet to respond to 13 health and human rights organizations that call for an independent scrutiny of its organizational practices (cf. . “science and research is not a product of isolated individuals .S. Retrieved June 30. Kurt Lewin emphasized that professional societies depend on cooperation to achieve their goals.viewPage&pageId=471. Referring specifically to the SPSSI and its members. PA: Bruner/Mazel. At this moment. the inclusionary importance of SPSSI’s commitment to social justice. from http:// www. Societal and cultural institutions embark on an inclusionary project when they direct the public’s attention to violence and injustice that might be otherwise invisible or ignored. . in an initiative supported by a number of American Psychological Association divisions including SPSSI. UK: Cambridge University Press. but is a cooperative endeavor deeply connected with the culture of the people in which it occurs” (1941. Cambridge. pp. the Society published an issue of its policy journal. Lewin’s emphasis on cooperation is relevant to professional societies as well as to the cultural institutions that address past injustice. J. E. 2009). 2007a. B. M. with papers presenting a range of perspectives. (1998). 2009. Gerrity.

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