What to do when Nazis invade your home? A moral dilemma

I was watching the movie Inglorious B______ the other day, which I believe is not really a movie of stunning virtue or a showcase of Catholic beauty, but what it did bring to mind is a certain question which I cannot find the answer to.
In the beginning of the film, we see a Nazi officer enter a Frenchman’s home and question him thoroughly and very manipulatively. It turns out that this Frenchman, probably a humble Catholic, did an act of charity towards some Jews in the area and had hid them under his floorboards. Now as the questioning goes on, it becomes evident that the Nazi officer knows that this man is hiding Jews. Now in this situation, what would be the right thing to do? If he denies that he is hiding Jews, the Nazis will kill him and his daughters if they find the Jews, but if he tells the Nazi officer that he is, indeed hiding Jews he would be betraying his friends and neighbours.

I don’t think a person would be obligated to tell the truth in those circumstances.

In time of war, it is permissible to deceive the enemy.

It’s the classic dilemma for mental reservation. The catechism says (2489) “No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have the right to know it.” But withholding the truth and telling a lie are not always the same thing. I grant there are scenarios in which it would be very difficult not to lie in order to withhold the truth successfully, or which would require subtlety or genius that the average person might not have at hand when put on the spot.

I don’t think he’s asking the age old Lying to the Nazi’s thing. He’s asking, if he tells the truth, this bad thing will happen. if he lies, this bad thing will happen. THe nazi KNOWS there are Jews there. So if he lies, it doesn’t matter. I think OP is asking, which is the lesser of two evils

I would be more concern about the moral issues we face in our own homes and neighborhoods today, than worrying about Nazis.

Shoot the Nazi.

This dilemma reminds me of the true story of Corrie Ten Boom … who lived it.

The excerpt I remember is not in this link. But the story hits the mark.

When asked if people could lie when asked by authorities

“Are there any Jews here …”

She replied as I recall that the REAL question was “Are there any Jews here (for us to arrest and kill)?”

To which the true answer would and should be: “NO! There are no Jews HERE (for you to arrest and kill).”

tlogical.net/bioboom.htm < the segment in the concentration camp where all the Christians of various denominations were praying together in the face of the evil enslaving them … is the most inspirational. If one doesn’t count the most difficult moment of forgiveness I’ve ever heard of.


WWII photo of civilian prisoners being taken by Nazis

I haven’t seen the movie, but nazis rarely travel alone and this would probably not be an effective solution the the problem.

Shoot one Nazi and they shoot 100 of your fellow citizens.

To the OP:

the Second World War was a horrible situation and many brave men and women fought it from their homes by hiding Jews or freedom fighters. They put their lives in danger.

If you were fighting a war and your comrade got shot do you go and rescue him even though you might get shot and killed?

Of course you do.

In War if the Jews are being killed do you protect them from the Nazis even though your family is in danger? Of course,… because eventually your family is going to be in danger anyway unless you collaborate.

Sooner or later the Nazis would find some reason to kill you, even if not for hiding Jews. So do the right thing up front.:thumbsup:

In which case, you will probably be punished whether you tell or not. Perhaps better not to betray one’s guests if one will be punished regardless.

Now, I understand that this question is not so relevant nowadays, but asking such questions clear some road for everyday life. And what is the point of watching a movie, if you can’t learn something from it? Putting yourself in the place of the Frenchman, makes you think, uses your imagination which in movies, one hardly needs and but is very important. Thats why many people class books as higher than movies, because they make you think.

Anyway, back to the question.

I know that hiding the Jews and not telling the Germans that you are would be the right thing to do. But this Nazi knows that he is, in fact, hiding them and he promises the Frenchman that he will let him and his family live and not be harassed by the Nazi troops for the rest of the war. Now, if, when the Nazis search the house and find the Jews, they will kill them, the Frenchman and his family. But if the Frenchman tells him, he will spare his family and only kill the Jews.
Now. Would it be right for the Frenchman to confess the truth, thus saving his family and himself or withhold the information and put his family in danger, plus not helping the Jews in any way?

The dilemma posed by the OP might also recall certain versions of the “Our Father” prrayer where instead of “deliver us from evil” it is rendered " … put us not to the test."

The test might be something like this proposed dilemma. Or maybe the situation Pontius Pilate found himself in. Do the right thing … maybe riots, personal consequences that put your career in jeopardy. Do the wrong thing … unknown equally bad things might happen (as Jesus had earlier in the week been cheered by crowds (who could become mobs?).

There is a scripture to remember if life ever seems to give you something close to this kind of a problem.

1 Corinthians 10:13 No trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.

Comforting to know. :slight_smile:

How could the Nazis know they are hiding Jews? And if – somehow – they did know with certainty, how would the person in question know that the Nazis know?

I can’t see why such a person would surrender their neighbors to the Nazis on what amounts to a hunch.

If someone is truly committed to not lying under any circumstance, one could always (i) prevaricate or (ii) answer the question with a question: “Herr Schwartz, do I look like the kind of person who would hide Jews?”

However, I think the essence of truth-telling is that persons made in the image and likeness of God deserve the truth as part of their human dignity. However, someone who obviously wants to abuse the human dignity of somebody else and is only interested in the truth for this reason (to harm others) has probably forfeited their right to the truth. In a sense, it’s a akin to the death penalty: someone who is guilty of a capital crime has forfeited their own innocence and so the protect of their own lives is forfeit. Likewise, someone who is guilty of intending to use truth to harm has probably forfeited their right to it.

I think the scenario is such that the officer in charge would press you for an answer.

The understanding of the morality of deception has changed slightly over the years; some theologians would say that it’s immoral to deceive the Nazi. Morally speaking, this is a no-win scenario; lie to protect the lives of the innocent vs. turning them over for execution, which could be seen as material cooperation.

I think, given this scenario, that one’s culpability for the venial sin of a lie would be mitigated by the circumstances.

@capt fun: as I recall the Corrie Ten Boom story, at least some of the folks took the position that if they did not lie, God would provide perfect protection. In one instance (we just got a copy from a bookstore on Sat., for the express purpose of exploring this issue), two brothers are hiding under the floorboards in the kitchen, with a rug on top of the floor, and a table on the rug. When the Nazis come in, and asks where the brothers are, eventually she answers “under the table”. The Nazis pull off the table cloth, see no one there, and although aggravated at seemingly being made fun of, leave. The speaker makes the explicit claim later re: perfect protection.


Understood. But the ‘lie’ would be to no avail. He would find the Jews anyway and kill the Frenchman and his family. In such a case, i.e. that the Nazis would find them anyway, should the Frenchman do what he can to save his family, since the Jews are already lost? Or should he choose to die with the Jews and his family?

I like this story too! And one other like it.

There were some people trying to smuggle Bibles through the “Iron Curtain” borders to believers. Sometimes cars were searched, sometimes not.

When it appeared their car would be searched and the Bibles found (with possibly jail behind the Iron Curtain as consequence) one of the people said a prayer like …

“Dear Lord protect us and make seeing eyes blind …” or its equivalent.

The guards opened the crates in the truck and yelled “what do you have HERE?!”

“Books!” One truthfully replied. And they were sent on their merry way “free” to distribute the contraband Bibles. :slight_smile:

Ask questions that have two different meanings - one that sounds sympathetic to their cause and one that is friendly to Catholic teachings. For example:

I would ask the Nazi: Why would I be hiding filthy Jews in my home?

(no, I’d hide clean Jews but I’m not telling him that, I’d let them bathe :slight_smile: )

But look at how I worded it. It would sound like I’m sympathetic to the Nazi cause and he’d move on.

Another question: “Why should I hide hated Jews in my house?” (no, I’d hide Jews that were beloved by God - all of them but I’m not telling him that) :slight_smile:

See how this works?

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