“The Good Nazi” documentary sparks a discussion of moral choice

A new examination of fascism: CNU professors present contrasting viewpoints

The documentary title, “The Good Nazi,” might raise a lot of eyebrows, but for those in attendance at the showing, it started a discussion and possibly even answered some questions on morals and history. 

The Gaines Theatre was nearly packed on Sunday, Nov. 10, when the Philosophy and Religious Studies Department offered a showing of the television documentary, “The Good Nazi.” The documentary sheds light on the story of Nazi officer Karl Plagge and his attempt to save Jewish lives during the Holocaust. The documentary shows Aaron Professor of Jewish Studies and Dr. Richard Freund in Lithuania with a team of students and geologists uncovering a story that’s been rumored for years.

Freund lead the discussion and the viewing of the documentary on Sunday and addressed the controversial title of “The Good Nazi.” “I got a number of calls the past few weeks,” Freund told the crowd. “People were asking me, ‘Are there good Nazis?’ That’s going to be the question.” Freund invited the audience, which was made up of students and community members alike, to make their own decision about whether the research and anecdotes from the documentary gave enough evidence to support the idea of a “good” Nazi. The documentary posed a challenging moral question and gave insight to a field that can lead to great human discoveries. 

“People think archeology is about glass… and architecture,” Freund said. “But archeology is really about people. Each little piece that we find puts together a story.” And the work shown in the documentary— discovering mass grave sites and secret hiding places– was proof of that. 

The 52-minute documentary showed clips of Freund and his students at the site of the labor camp in Lithuania and personal anecdotes from survivors and escapees of Plagge’s scheme to save the Jews. At the conclusion of the viewing, a discussion panel was held to provide input and answer questions from the audience. The panel included Freund, Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities Lori Underwood and Distinguished Professor of History and President Emeritus Anthony Santoro. All three panel members gave their initial thoughts before answering questions. 

Santoro was quick to explain that in deciding if he was a good Nazi, nobody was claiming to support the Nazi party. “Let’s stipulate,” Santoro said. “There are no good Nazis… People that say you shouldn’t kill little children and women–we shouldn’t classify them as heroes.” 

Nobody disagreed with Santoro. The panel went on to share some differing opinions and perspectives on the question: Is there, and can there be, a good Nazi? In asking this question, they considered the vast number of lives Plagge saved but also the role he played in serving the Nazi party. 

Freshman Lauren Lingel is a student in Santoro’s History 111 (Ancient and Medieval World) course and left the discussion with her own decision. “I didn’t think there were any good Nazis–I still don’t think there are any good Nazis,” Lingel said. “[The documentary] definitley sheds light on the Holocaust in a way that it isn’t usually portrayed.” 

Rakan Alzarqa, a senior that independently chose to attend the viewing, saw the conversation as intriguing. “…You can’t apply broad labels to individuals, even those that have participated in horrendous things… it’s always a case-by-case basis.” 

Even still, when asked if Plagge could be called a “good Nazi,” Alzarqa hesitated and was considerate with his answer. “Would I consider him a good Nazi? I mean, I would consider him a good human being.”

So, the debate still stands around an almost dangerous question. Afterall, who wants to be the one to praise a Nazi? But to strip away the title and constructs of it all, the question may seem a little less intimidating. Alzarqa offered another perspective: “You know, you’re working your way up a system that you soon realize is evil, do you denounce them at that onset or do you do everything within your power to stay within the system to kind of control that type of thing?”  

The conversation could be never-ending and with many opposing and even valid points. When answering the question of the single lesson attendees should take from this film, Freund answered, “We all have a choice.” This topic of a moral choice is something Freund repeated several times throughout the night as a major take-away from the documentary. 

The documentary offered an educational, archeological piece to an untold story. But beyond that, it opened the door to a topic every community should address. Dean Underwood closed the discussion and left the audience with one final thought: “You can always do the right thing even in the most challenging circumstances.” 

Students that are interested in what Freund considers the “hands-on education” are encouraged to apply to his summer program in Lithuania by Nov. 15.

~Anna Thomas, Staff Writer~

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