In today’s world of so many graphic images being displayed through the media, I never imaged that three simple sentences written in a book could produce such dreadful images in my head. “The Gestapo had to pay for each prisoner shipped by rail to the death camps. Railroad officials billed the SS at third-class passenger rates (one way) for adult prisoners, with discounts for children. Guards were charged round-trip fares” (Johnson, 2012). I read this passage last Monday, and it hasn’t left my mind. After reading it for the first time, I thought that I had read it incorrectly. I read it a second time and then a third time. “Could this be true?” I thought to myself.
What happens to people’s values or morals when they do something like this? Do they throw them out of the window, just to get a job done? Some of these people that took part in the transactions were just civil servants and not military officers. There was probably an official that managed the books for this railroad company. If he saw a discrepancy, such as a prisoner being counted as a two-way passenger, did he dispute this with the SS? Did he call their accountant to request a refund with the argument, “You guys charged us too much this month? It should have been 20 Reich marks, not 40 for that prisoner. He didn’t come back!” Johnson (2012) explained that people will do things that may be immoral by most standards because it is part of their jobs. This railroad official may have seen himself protecting the company’s assets by requesting the refund from the SS. In reality that money represented a condemned person. But, if he didn’t try to get the money back, he may have faced repercussions from his supervisor. Could he not see for himself that this was wrong? Was he not educated enough to know?
I would like to say that being educated would prevent people from falling into this Evil as Bureaucracy dilemma that Johnson describes in his book. But, I have met several educated people in my life that have done things that went against what they believed to be ethical. Their defense, “It was part of my job.” They were fearful of what would happen to them if they didn’t follow the directives of their supervisors. I would be lying if I didn’t include myself into this group. I have made decisions that went against some of my values in order to get a job done. Would I do what this railroad official did during the Holocaust?
This is one reason why I feel that everyone should have history education. Without the knowledge of these past unethical acts, how will the next generation prevent things like this from happening in the future? We are morally responsible for our actions at all times. We shouldn’t use bureaucracy as justification for doing something wrong. As leader, we must think about what we ask others to do. We shouldn’t require our followers to do something that may cause them to have internal moral conflicts.