“If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and smallest, thousands, yes, millions would have been sufficiently shocked — but of course this isn’t the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and if you did not stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to D.
“And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self-deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose. The world you live in — your nation, your people — is not the world you were born in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed.
“Life is a continuing process, a flow, not a succession of acts and events at all. It has flowed to a new level, carrying you with it, without any effort on your part. On this new level you live, you have been living more comfortable every day with new morals, new principles. You have accepted things you would not have accepted five years ago, a year ago, things your father, even in Germany, could not have imagined.
“Suddenly it all comes down, all at once. You see what you are, what you have done, or more accurately, what you haven’t done, You remember those early meetings of your department in the university when, if none had stood, others would have stood, perhaps, no one stood. You remember everything now, and your heart breaks. Too late. You are compromised beyond repair.
“What then? You must shoot yourself. A few did. Or ‘adjust’ your principles. Many tried, and some, I suppose, succeeded; not I, however. Or learn to live the rest of your life with your shame. This last is the nearest there is, under the circumstances, to heroism: shame. Many Germans became this poor kind of hero, many more, I think, than the world knows or cares to know.”
p. 171-172, They Thought They Were Free: the Germans, ’33-’45