Dec 19, 2019 in Sociology
Deviance During Holocaust

The current paper is dedicated to the issue of deviance during Holocaust in totalitarian societies, including the German and Soviet communities. The paper is aimed to demonstrate that understanding of deviance is connected with particular moral norms, habits, laws, and beliefs. While some parts of the society may disapprove of some behaviors, other groups may consider some norms as deviant. The specifics of German pre-war society and its manifestations of deviance are carefully analyzed. Soviet society and its interpretation of deviance are examined as well. Two historically important personalities – Hitler and Stalin are analyzed and described attentively. The findings show that at first glance, many behaviors may be considered deviant. However, in case normal and acceptable behaviors are not clearly defined, it is not worth mentioning about deviance. Hitler and Stalin may be considered deviant individuals because their actions differentiated from normal deeds during the early stages of their careers. The findings of the work are summarized and reviewed in the conclusion.


The structure of society has always been complicated. While some individuals follow the rules and common morality norms, others disagree with generally accepted standards and protest against ordinariness. As the society members are different, deviant behavior is peculiar to every community, which has laws and morality. Some epochs are characterized by intensive manifestations of deviance, while some periods witness rather seldom phenomena of deviance. German society before the Second World War was ruled by morality norms and laws that did not violate the freedom and crucial human rights. However, Hitler’s presence in the German government started a new age of world history. Holocaust and other crimes against humanity made by Hitler shock and terrify even modern researchers. Stalin is another person who showed deviance and was the cause of horrible processes in society. The current paper is purposed to examine the concept of deviance and its manifestations during Holocaust through the personalities of Hitler and Stalin.

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The Concept of Deviance

Before describing deviance in German pre-war society, it is worth estimating this concept. There are many definitions of deviance. According to the American Oxford Dictionary, deviance is “the fact or state of departing from usual or accepted standards, especially in social or sexual behavior” (“Deviance”, n.d.). The concept of deviance may be analyzed only in the context of certain communities as it depends on the ethical principles that are liable to the society members. For example, in Thailand homosexuality is a usual phenomenon while in Caucasian countries it is considered to be deviant behavior.

Sometimes, deviance is mistakenly interpreted as negative and harmful behavior. Nevertheless, deviance is not ‘bad’ manifestations as it only differentiates from public standards and habits. For example, Durkheim wrote that deviance is a necessary part of social organization. The world that people see today can not be imagined in case deviant behavior did not exist. Many leaders and genii, as well as cruel governors, have shocked society through their reformative and fresh ideas. Instead of analyzing deviant behavior from an ethical perspective, the features of deviance performed by Hitler and Stalin will be discussed further.

Deviance and German Pre-war Society

The behaviors of Hitler and Stalin may be evaluated as deviant only if one is aware of the norms of the society’s culture. Therefore, it is necessary to discuss the cultural and social background that led to the emergence of Nazis and the Holocaust as the activity of Hitler has changed the moral norms and values of the society.

Our Process

Weimar culture was marked with the rise of arts and sciences; Germany flourished because the pre-war period led to the intellectual development of the nation and the greatest philosophical and psychological ideas. Therefore, many researchers, including Erich Fromm (1994), wondered why Germany that experienced cultural and financial flourishing allowed the person that demonstrated deviance to take their freedom and violate human rights. Before Adolf Hitler got power to control the social and political life of the Germans, many universities were opened to the representatives of the Jewish intellectual elite, which have promoted the scientific and spiritual progress of the country. However, later the phenomenon of anti-Semitism, which was considered to be deviant previously, was initiated by the Nazis. Before the Nazism, the population of Germany followed morality and humanism as killing people was considered immoral and illegal. Nobody could afford to kill the innocent person independently of his or her ethnicity. Religious beliefs were valued by the Germans who were educated and wise enough to understand that killing people is wrong and abnormal. The ones who oppressed others according to their nationality were disrespected and punished. Pre-war Germans were responsible and moral people who would never agree to kill somebody.

The Jews who were involved in politics, economic, trade, education, and other vital spheres were simply excluded from social life. The flourishing of Weimar culture was tightly connected with the activity of the Jewish population, however, the officials forgot about the contribution of the Jews. As the Jews were the members of the government and other important departments, the failures of Germany in this period were associated with the Jews, who were supposed to do their best in order to stop the development of Germany. As a result, educated, professional, and skilled Jews who were the representatives of the intellectual elite of Germany were suddenly considered to be indignant people. Essentially, there are theories that suggest that latent anti-Semitism has always been inherent in German society.

The most important thing is that society’s values, principles, and aims were considerably changed. If someone harmed the Jews during the Weimar Republic, this behavior was deviant and criminal; if someone hurt the Jews during the Nazis’ active anti-Semitic policy, this action was considered normal and was encouraged; if someone did not hurt or oppressed the Jews and treated them as if they were normal people, his or her actions were deviant and harmful to the German nation. In addition, it is worth mentioning that the entire Germans before World War II did not share the same views regarding anti-Semitic policy. Some Germans realized that Hitler’s ideas about the dominance of Aryans are true absurdity and nobody may be oppressed and destroyed because of his/her ethnicity. Therefore, this part of the society supposed anti-Semitism and Holocaust deviant and immoral. It means that the views and deviant behavior of the Germans in the pre-war period were rather different, which witness different interpretations of normality and deviance.

The Personality of Adolf Hitler

Adolf Hitler was born in Austria in 1889 in the family of Alois Hitler and Klara Poll. According to Rosenbaum (1999), the mother of Hitler worked for the Jewish family as a housekeeper. Furthermore, Hans Frank, the official of Nazi, supposed that the family's 19-year-old son, Leopold Frankenberger, was Hitler’s father, though the historians usually ignore this assumption.

From a young age, Hitler started to develop German nationalism and disapproved of the policy of ethnically variegated Austria. In 1905, Hitler started to live a bohemian lifestyle and became a painter as he was supported by his mother and the orphan’s benefits in Vienna. Because of ‘unfitness for painting’, Hitler was rejected by the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna in 1907 and 1908. When his mother died, he could not get the money. He lived in a homeless shelter and could not afford to buy a house. It is necessary to note that during the period of his homelessness, Vienna suffered from racism and religious prejudices. In his memoirs called Mein Kampf, Hitler mentioned that he became anti-Semite in Vienna since he was influenced by local newspapers that played on Christian fears of being outweighed by the Eastern Jews in number. However, Hamann (2010) did not agree that Hitler became anti-Semite in Vienna since only one of his friends confirmed his anti-Semitism. But this position is challenged by the fact that anti-Semitic views were prevailing in the Vienna population of that time, therefore, Hitler’s anti-Semitism was not considered deviant and was not paid much attention accordingly. Thus, Hitler’s anti-Semitic ideas were provoked by anti-Semitic and racist views of his society, in which he did not feel comfortable due to the mixture of races. He did not demonstrate deviance as hate against other ethnicities was considered normal. Due to his bravery during World War I, he was awarded many times because his desire to serve the Germans made him unusual and deviant.

Hitler was not the single person in Germany who started viewing the country as anti-capitalist, anti-Marxist, anti-Semitic nationalist place, in which people realize that their German nationality is beneficial due to the characteristics of the Germans and their capabilities of forming a powerful state. He was inspired by Dietrich Eckart, who significantly contributed to Hitler’s success. Hitler’s hypnotic speeches had great influences on the audience and the number of his followers was increasing. The specifics of his impact on people’s minds may be considered deviant because he did not make his listeners believe in the rationality and logic of his ideas. On the contrary, he did not include well-considered argumentation in his speeches. His rhetoric was mystical and hypnotic, regardless of the rightness of his ideas, he was supported and trusted. Kressel (2002) wrote about Hitler’s rhetoric abilities: “Overwhelmingly ... Germans speak with the mystification of Hitler's 'hypnotic' appeal. The word shows up again and again; Hitler is said to have mesmerized the nation, captured them in a trance from which they could not break loose.” The Fuhrer understood mass psychology and used his knowledge in order to gain mass support. This way of attracting people was not applied in the policy before Hitler as rational and pragmatic Germans have always made reasonable decisions. Deviance of Adolf Hitler was manifested through his performances and magnetism. His slogans were also deviant; he told his soldiers to forget about morality towards the Jews and other nations, which prevented the Arians from flourishing. The Fuhrer allowed the Germans destroying other nationalities and said that their conscience should not suffer because of destroying the Jews. Hitler made people believe that the Holocaust is a necessary and positive means to solve many complicated problems. Destroying the Jews and the Slaves was the symbol of bravery rather than deviance.

Deviance in the Soviet Union

The situation with pre-war Soviet society is similar to the German’s case. However, the Soviet Union did not experience the same financial and cultural development, which made the community more liable to impact from the outside. The society suffered from the consequences of World War I, in which many people were exhausted and killed. People wanted to live in a stable and flourishing country but did not realize what should be done in order to achieve it. After the imperial family was killed, people could not imagine their life without powerful, strict, and cruel ‘father’ who could take care of them. Before World War I, the Russian society had some moral norms and rules with clearly defined concepts of ‘good’ and ‘evil’. Moreover, immoral and illegal conduct was severely punished by the laws, which played on the community’s fear in order to restrict citizens from violations. Unfortunately, the phenomena and processes of World War I made people believe that immoral conduct, crimes, and some negative manifestations of deviance may give chances for survival. The dissolution of morals has caused misunderstanding of right and wrong deeds, which means that the borders of deviance and normality were not controlled. Thus, crimes and deviance became usual and normal for society. The society was disordered and disorganized; the noble individuals and cruel criminals had to live together and rebuild some morality and virtues. In addition, the society was ready to do anything in order to make their life stable and peaceful. The Soviet people accepted the leadership of Stalin and agreed to bear the consequences of his cruel decisions.

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Stalin and Deviance

In 1922, the society faced the beginning of the Stalin era since on the third of April Joseph Stalin was named the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. As a result, Stalin established totality and became the undisputed leader of the Soviet Union. The societies with similar leaders were called the Stalinist one. According to Racz (1991), the pre-war Soviet society may rightly be considered a desacralized, demonized world view in which ‘total state deviance’ may be observed. He also suggested that the state is the main agent of deviance because Stalinist societies do not contain state pressure groups, which would control the activity of different institutions and organizations. In totalitarian societies, everything can become a base for defining deviance, therefore, counterbalance against deviance is absent. Total deviance, which is one of the key characteristics of the Soviet society, eliminates the differentiation of society into discrete spheres, it eliminates solidarity in society, and it terminates the concept of individual or the personality, or more exactly, it does not even allow it to rise. Moreover, the law in such societies does not exist because the powers do not bear responsibility for the actions and do not have to keep promises given to the citizens. Racz (1991) stated that the policy did not exist in such a totalitarian society because the policy is unacceptable in the case of a mythical, desacralized, and demonic approach to social reality.

Stalin was a rather charismatic, hypnotic, and influential person, who was sure of his ability to regulate the situation in the country and who actively ensured in it, other people. Therefore, his deviance was considered to be generally accepted and normal. He has made the Soviet Union totally deviant and intolerable to dissidence, nonconformism or change, which are grounded on diversions. The repressive essence of Stalinist society supported a totalitarian frame of mind (Racz, 1991) and made the distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ fade. As the overcontrol of the officials was normal and usual, deviance could not appear and develop.


In conclusion, deviant behavior may be interpreted inseparably from the context of a particular society and culture. The meanings of the concept of ‘deviance’ were changing in accordance with a certain culture, which has changed the worldviews and behaviors of the individuals. Deviant behavior should be considered neither good nor bad because it represents the deflections of normality. As individuals are different, deviance behavior is a rather logical and usual phenomenon. During Hitler’s and Stalin’s eras, the phenomenon of deviance becomes rather complicated due to the instability or absence of morality norms, including the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Deviance does not exist in totalitarian societies and does not manifest itself because the state does not control and take responsibility for deviant behavior.

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