Nazis didn't just follow orders but 'took pride' in atrocities

Nazi concentration camp bosses who claimed they were just "following orders" to carry atrocities truly believed and took pride in what they were doing, researchers say.

Landmark studies on human behaviour in the 1960s and 1970s had founded the theory that people carried out evil act because they naturally follow orders from figures of authority.

However, Scottish psychologists have challenged the fifty-year-old findings after going back and re-examining the original experiments, the 'Daily Mail' reported.

Stephen Reicher of the University of St Andrews and Alex Haslam from the University of Queensland, Australia, began their research ten years ago with a prison study.

They found that volunteers given the role of 'guards' only acted brutally when they identified with their role and believed their actions were necessary to maintain control.

Researchers in a series recent experiments found that people will only bow to authority if they believe it is necessary to serve a greater good.

"Our own research shows that tyranny does not result from blind conformity to rules and roles, it is a creative act of follower-ship that flows from identification with authorities who represent vicious acts as virtuous," Haslam said.

"A series of thoroughgoing historical examinations have challenged the idea that Nazi bureaucrats were ever simply following orders," he said.

Researchers said evidence suggests that functionaries like Eichmann, who was hanged in 1962 for his role in organising the Holocaust, had a very good understanding of what they were doing and took pride in the energy and application that they brought to their work.

"Typically too, roles and orders were vague, and hence for those who wanted to advance the Nazi cause - and not all did - creativity and imagination were required in order to work towards the regime¿s assumed goals and to overcome the challenges associated with any given task," researchers said.

According to researchers, emblematic of this, the practical details of "the final solution" were not handed down from on high, but had to be elaborated by Eichmann himself.

Reicher and Haslam say that there is a 'believed morality' behind people's actions.

"In short, people do harm not because they are unaware that they are doing wrong, but because they believe that they are doing right.

"The fundamental point is that tyranny does not flourish because perpetrators are helpless and ignorant of their actions. It flourishes because they actively identify with those who promote vicious acts as virtuous," Reicher said.

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