Victims, helpers, perpetrators and bystanders

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Society during the Holocaust can roughly be divided into four groups: victims, helpers, perpetrators and bystanders. These four terms are an aid to analyzing both historical and contemporary situations.

Who is who?

The people in hiding and their helpers.

Main characters
Settela in trein Westerbork

Forgotten victims

Read Karen Polak’s column about the Nazi persecution of Roma and Sinti.

To the column

These roles appear on a smaller scale too; for example in Anne Frank’s story. Here the people in hiding are the victims, those who worked for Otto and helped are the helpers and the policemen who were involved in the arrest are the perpetrators. 

Not stereotypes

We don’t want to stereotype the people in these particular roles, but as ordinary people who made their own choices. Victims are not per definition weak, helpers not necessarily heroes, nor are bystanders weak and perpetrators monsters. The roles that were played are not static, people changed role. By discussing these roles you can also deal with dilemmas and choices. Why did Miep Gies help? Why did most people do nothing to help the Jews?

Mind map

A way of introducing these definitions is by making a mind map and connecting the associations that pupils make. The group that nearly always is never named is the largest group of all: the bystanders.

See also

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