ABSTRACT

Social psychologists and historians continue to ask how the Holocaust can be explained and comprehended. Milgram, for example, has maintained that personality was not the sole determinant. A conducive situation was required. Social conditions rather than just monstrous people seem needed to produce atrocious deeds. In the midst of appropriate social conditions, decent, ordinary people can act cruelly. 1 According to Philip Zimbardo, we construct ourselves as persons by recognizing and accepting that we may be a part of a common humanity, but we are still vulnerable to situational forces. To a considerable extent, ordinary people can be seduced or initiated into performing evil deeds. 2 In essence, the cultural milieu along with immediate situations influence what a person does. Both shape each person’s personality or life history. 3 Each person’s social reality is constructed through conversations, interactions, and religious traditions. Historians have labeled the combination of values and subsequent activities a “milieu,” and a great deal of research has been done on “milieu Catholicism.” 4 The modern German Catholic tradition favoring personalism and contextualization was nurtured during the nineteenth century and the Third Reich. Ultimately, this German Catholic theology contributed to the Catholic conception of human rights that emerged during and after Vatican II.