Monday, 7 May 2012


Last night, accompanied by some lovely friends, we watched the Blair Witch Project (it is ridonculously scary). It got us to talking about scary stories and murder in general (a note of advice, don't start this conversation an hour before bed time). We then couldn't help but wonder how people are capable of committing murder in cold blood?

Cold blooded, premeditated murder, reviles, yet fascinates us much, that we continuously search for explanations as to how people can commit such crimes. This is particularly interesting to us, in reference to the mass execution of people in Eastern Europe during the Holocaust. These murders were expertly planned and carried in cold blood, with men putting bullets in the heads of innocent men, women and children. We want to understand how an apparently sane human being could kill another in such a way.

For most of us, it is impossible to fully understand what can drive a human being to execute another, but it does not stop us searching for explanations. One of the most common defences used during the trials of those accused of cold blooded murder is insanity. For example, Anders Behring Breivik is currently on trial in Norway for the mass murder of 77 people. One of the greatest difficulties that this trial is faced with, is trying to work out if Breivik is insane. By Norwegian law if someone is considered to be insane, then they cannot be prosecuted for committing a crime. So the questions are: how could an 'insane' person organise and carry out, such a well planned attack or how could a sane person kill 77 other people in cold blood?

Despite the scale being different, we should then ask the question if those who murdered people in the fields of Ukraine were insane? It would be quite convenient for humanity if they were, and perhaps you may feel it is the same as asking if the Nazis were monsters but we are not asking this question to absolve the Nazis, we are asking it to understand their crimes, and this is the key to moving forward. We know that people made choices to kill in the Holocaust but perhaps there were high instances of insanity in those who were committing mass murder during the war? Regardless of how uncomfortable sane cold blooded killing makes us, the problem with declaring the mass executioners to be insane, is that there was no doubt that those who were committing the crimes, were 'sane enough' to carry them out in remote locations and conceal them as much as humanely possible. This then leads us to conclude that there was an element of understanding the crimes that they were committing, including how inhumane they were. 

There may be many reasons why the normal men who wrote home, telling their families that they loved them or missed them could kill millions of other families but it seems unreasonable to declare thousands of people insane. Perhaps there were insane men, who did participate in those murders but it seems unlikely that every single Nazi would have been considered to be insane. It is more likely that the other explanations we have offered such as dehumanisation, bad choices etc. were evident. Despite these very simple explanations, we are then left exactly where we started, not  really able to understand how fathers and husbands could kill children and wives.

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