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Basics of Judaism

What to do About My Mother, the Nazi

Question: I believe my mother of 90 years of age was/is a Nazi and she hid in a Jewish family – mine. What is the right thing to do? Report her or let her go? what is your suggestion? Thank You.

Answer: As I’m sure you know well, this is a really tough question for which I don’t believe there is an easy answer. One possible approach might be to consider the costs of trying to obtain justice: the effort would require an enormous emotional investment and, probably a great deal of your time. In addition, successful convictions are rare and take years: I remember how many years it took to extradite Helmut Rauca from Canada – and his case was pretty solid. You also don’t sound quite 100% convinced that your mother is, in fact, guilty.

Weigh these elements against our belief that our God of Justice knows all and forgets nothing and is perfectly capable of prosecuting all crimes. If your mother is indeed guilty, then she will indeed stand trial her crimes – in the only courtroom that really counts. I’m not saying that this is the last word on the subject, but that perhaps these thoughts might prove useful. With my best wishes,

Rabbi Boruch Clinton
Toronto

Question: Hello, I want to thank you so much for your answer Rabbi Clinton. I knew that in my heart that I have no power to punish her but I wasn’t sure if letting her live out her life in a beautiful condo with my father’s money was right either. It is not for me to decide and I will, in peace (hopefully) let it go with your kind words of support. I stopped all contact with her about 10 years ago when it become clear what she was and, unfortunately, still is. However, I do have a follow-up question if I may. Doesn’t this make me half nazi? Does that have any bearing on me? My soul? Is there a prayer I can say, for her, for myself, for her victims? Thank you again, you have helped immensely! 

Question: Hello, Naziism is an ideology: it contaminates only those who adopt it. Since there isn’t even the tiniest trace of those beliefs in you, then you aren’t “half a Nazi” – you’re not a Nazi at all! And, while there do seem to be instances where guilt can be “inherited” (see Exodus 20: 5), that is only in a case where the children willingly continue their father’s legacy of crime (see Rashi to Deut. 24:16). That’s something of which no one could ever accuse you.

So I don’t believe that you have anything to worry about. You’ve done everything you should.

I wish you the very best,
BC

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