Globe ande Mail | 14May2011 | Garth Evans

Disturbing dilemma

Reading the accounts of John Demjanjuk’s trial (The Nazi Legacy -- May 13, 2011), I wondered how many people in his shoes would have done any differently. I would like to think that I would be so revolted by the extermination of innocent people that I would have taken a stand but suspect deep down that, if given a chance to save my life by becoming part of the extermination machine, I would have done the same as Mr. Demjanjuk.

Self-preservation is a very strong instinct and most people will do almost anything to survive. Which leads to the question whether it is appropriate to convict people of crimes against humanity or war crimes when the person involved was, in a way, a victim himself. Those who were in charge and making the decisions are clearly culpable but I’m not so sure about people who were merely following orders in order to save their own lives. I don’t have an answer but find the resulting dilemma disturbing.

Garth M. Evans, Vancouver