The film never remotely suggests that these and other atrocities were caused by any part of human nature, as far as I'm aware.
Yes it does not state this explicitly but it also does not say that the situation is due to just a few powerful 'evildoers', to quote a certain President! The final few minutes of the voiceover show that those making the film see this situation as not just a specific incidence of atrocity, but that its root causes have not been addressed because there is still a chance that such a situation could occur again, if we allow it. That we as the citizens of a country could allow someone like Hitler and the National Socialists to take power might be seen to be absurd, but you can be supportive of an evil regime without being evil yourself - in fact many regimes dull peoples sense of morality through a comparison with say the Holocaust itself (because if you look in pure number terms at something like Bosnia it is comparatively insignificant, but in moral terms it is doing the same thing - which is why sometimes I am worried about such an enormously horrific act like the Holocaust looming over the current world climate. In the light of that anything is relatively insignificant - you can justify creating Israel and displacing a lot of people for example, because it is the 'right' thing to do to allay our guilt over not stopping the Holocaust).
This is why human nature is important as a subtext to the film - there are shots of Hitler, but it seems to me that the films main concern is to show the people who job it is to make the ideas Hitler had work
in this world the National Socialists were trying to create (whether from bidding for contracts, to logistical planning etc), to keep this new regime going, and the film aims to finally put faces on both
the victims and the perpetrators. Think of the doctor and nurse shown in the concentration camp hospital, or the parade of the guards out of their barracks once the camps have been liberated - they look like normal people - not monsters. What makes them not only do something like this, but to actively participate - only stopping what they are doing when an outside army forces them to?
Think of the guards putting the people on the trains to the camp (or the story Resnais tells in the radio piece about the French guard whose obvious insignia had to be obscured - because the French obviously would not have condoned such a thing) - some of them are shown actually helping people into the carriages, like you would help someone struggling onto the train at your local station. The subtext throughout Night and Fog is to say look at these people, the victims are people like you or I, but also the people doing this are people as well, not someone possessed by evil or the devil or something that could be easily explained away. The film is also trying to show that this particular system of National Socialism is gone, the leaders destroyed, but the legacy remains. The legacy of all the dead and also that the people who lived under such a rule could not have done so quietly without in some way condoning what was done. It is a warning film as well as one which explores the mechanics of this situation.
I've just watched the film The Corporation over the weekend, which details how corporations are the new controlling force in our world, some of them more powerful than governments, and I would like to quote Noam Chomsky who was interviewed in the film (at about 42 minutes in). This is specifically about corporations, and how people act in them, but it is interesting to apply it to someone living under a rule of a particular government:
It's a fair assumption that every human being, real human being, flesh and blood ones, not corporations, but every flesh and blood human being is a moral person. You know we've got the same genes, we're more or less the same, but our nature, the nature of humans, allows all kinds of behaviour. I mean, every one of us under some circumstances could be a gas chamber attendant or a saint...when you look at a corporation just as when you look at a slave owner, you want to distinguish between the institution and the individual. So slavery, for example, or other forms of tyranny, are inherently monstrous but the individuals participating in them may be the nicest guys you could possibly imagine, benevolent, friendly, nice to their children, even nice to their slaves, caring about other people. I mean, as individuals they may be anything. In their institutional roles they're monsters, because the institution is monstrous...so an individual CEO let's say, may really care about the environment and, in fact, since they have such extraordinary resources they can even deovte some of their resources to that without violating their responsibility to be totally inhuman
It might be interesting to think of Oskar Schindler in this context. Thinking of Schindler's List mentioned in earlier posts, there are some people who love the regime and glory in its ideals, but most just toe the line and try to survive, or are using the situation for power and monetary ends. In that sense I think the Spielberg's film is quite interesting, but it has to go for the emotive moment at the end where it becomes obvious that Schindler was not just doing it for the money and he breaks down in front of everyone - I think a better film would have left his role more ambiguous.
A social system, in government or corporations, makes people used to putting aside their morality, their feeling that they may be doing the wrong thing, by making them part of the running of things. They have their job, their role and it is defined so that a person can feel overwhelmed, feel it necessary to go with the flow otherwise they might loose their job, or perhaps their life if they allow themselves to think too much about what they are part of. It becomes easier to follow, to do things without thinking of their consequences as you become more indoctrinated to for example the speeches and propaganda; or the removal of undesireables into ghettos where the 'ordinary' people are given time to forget about them, about the essential humanity of a Jew like anyone else, so that once they are transported to the camps there is little outcry, they have been erased from public life, before they have their lives physically taken from them. Everyone in the society has been indoctrinated to feel that this is the best thing because the ideology permeates every part of life, such as the Hitler Youth or through films such as the one excerpted in the Physcial History documentary on the M disc.
This is why for me Night and Fog is so powerful, because it is not specific in blame, it is questioning human nature, what makes people able to do such a thing, or allow something to be done in their name and then be able to say without a trace of irony "I was not responsible". Well, who is? All are for facilitating such a regime, they may have played only a small part in keeping the ideology going, but they still played a part. And in a larger context we all are for allowing events to escalate to such a level, for not standing up against such an extreme ideology, and in the case of National Socialism creating the economic and social conditions through punitive sanctions after the First World War that made the German people angry at the injustice and ready for someone, anyone who would make Germany great again, and with a need to find a group of people to easily blame for their current problems as scapegoats, while Hitler was willing to give them someone to blame.
And we should be aware that just because Hitler and the Nazi party are consigned to history that the dehumanising way of thinking remains. One of the things Night and Fog does not foresee clearly is that it is corporations that are now overtaking governments in being the extremely powerful, indoctrinating force. They are amoral, not immoral because they only exist to make money, and they do that very well, but with no thought for the consequences of their actions unless it becomes economically efficacious to do so. And I would agree with the idea put forward in the film The Corporation that while it is necessary to have a corporation, just as it is necessary to have a government, there needs to be an awareness of how extreme the behaviour is getting so it can be held in check. Although thinking about it now, Night and Fog does
show the link between government and companies when it mentions that many companies used the easy labour found in concentration camps for their own economic ends, or for medical testing (also explored near the end of The Corporation).
These were just a few of the ideas Night and Fog made me think about, and one of the great things about this film is that it is so condensed, and there is room for much further discussion about every issue touched on in the film, from the camps themselves to the trains, the medical experimentation, the ideological indoctrination, the business deals, and so on - so many subjects that have been explored in greater detail in many documentaries since this film. But this one gives the concise overview.