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In several videos and photos you see people getting round up. In the photo below they're at the site of a mass grave and can clearly see they're going to die.

Why does nobody try to run away?

Same goes with firing squads. You pretty much know you're dead, why not try to escape? I understand that if you're there with your family, you're afraid they will hurt them on purpose, but in other situations..

I can't seem to grasp that idea, but maybe I'm too influenced by Hollywood and want to be a hero.

Jewish man about to be shot

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(1) Because obeying instructions means being shot later rather than right now; and (2) maybe, just maybe, they don't really intend to shoot the very last person, who was the most compliant and obedient to their instructions. When it is your only hope such despair and desperation can become very appealing. –  Pieter Geerkens Mar 14 at 21:15
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One argument is that the required character of resistance was rare: Defiance (film); Primo Levi If not now, when? Though given Levi's novel was from 1986, I'd suggest its more likely to be about Italian revolutionary politics in the 1970s. The same question applies to Soviet POWs being starved to death in 1941. –  Samuel Russell Mar 14 at 21:30
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Supplementing @PieterGeerkens absolutely correct comment, many survivors do indeed point out that they survived because they were exceptionally obedient to orders. –  Olivier Mar 17 at 10:06
    
Here is a related question on Cognitive Sciences SE.cogsci.stackexchange.com/questions/4597/… –  Tom Au Mar 22 at 15:56

3 Answers 3

up vote 17 down vote accepted

Because the choice there is not between dying and escaping, or between dying or being a "hero." The choice is between a quick and hopefully painless death from a bullet to the brain, versus a long and painful death from being shot while running and possibly tortured afterwards for trying to run. The odds of those people escaping death, no matter what they do, is basically zero. The odds of experiencing a painful death from trying to escape are fairly high. It's horrible that anyone would have to make that choice, but in their place I'd probably weigh the odds and do the same. Make no mistake, real life is not Hollywood, and while I can't say for sure (having never been in that situation) I am fairly confident that no one but the people in that situation can understand the mindset or what it feels like.

Human behavior in extreme situations isn't about choices, you don't get choices, you get primal reactions. The biggest misconception spread by TV and movies is the idea that when your life is in danger you'll be able to control your actions logically and rationally. In reality your decision making ability degrades significantly and you revert to a very primal survival state. If you're interested more in the realities of the human mind and body under that kind of intense pressure I would suggest reading "On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and Peace" by Dave Grossman and Loren Chrstensen. It's a very eye opening book.

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I don't know how easy this would be if just you jumped out of the execution queue and took of running. Generally these executions had a squad of soldiers performing the execution, plus often machine gunners in the back of the transport trucks over looking the site. I agree photos of these executions are tragic and the poor souls look pathetic waiting to die, but I don't think they'd get far running across the field given they would have been very weak with hunger and lack of sleep. If they all took off at once and tried to over power a few guards then some could possibly escape. How long they would last living in the wild and the cold and if they would find people willing to help them instead of turning them in. Not sure if there would be retributions for those who were left though. There are worse ways to die than getting a bullet in the head.

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many did try to run, at least one Polish Officer ran from the Soviet Executioners at Katyn. Much easier to run and hide in a forest than in an open featureless place like the Dunes of Latvia. the most consistently succesful tactic was to pretend to be dead and just hope you didn't suffocate in a mass grave before it was safe to dig yourself out. the father of my Friend ran from a UPA execution squad in 1943 in Wolyn and is still with us.

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