This is a public notice to the people of a town in Yugoslavia (now in Serbia) by a Nazi commander in 1941.

This was a reprisal attack against the people of the town because some Yugoslav partisans killed 10 Nazi soldiers. The end result was that 2300 residents, who were occupied by Nazi Germany, were executed. Following is the Wikipedia translation into English (I've highlighted the part I'm specifically asking about):

The cowardly and backward raids last week on German soldiers, with 10 killed and 26 wounded, had to be expiated. Therefore, for each killed German soldier 100, for every wounded 50 landlords, especially communists, bandits and their accomplices, altogether 2300, were shot to death. In the future, the same severity will be applied in every similar case, even a sabotage act.

The local commander.

So I can read that in two ways. 1) That the German government or military expiated the wrongdoing or crimes of the Yugoslav partisans; or 2) That the "cowardly" attacks had to be expiated by a lot of the town's residents dying. The first one doesn't sound right to me because I think in every case I've heard "expiate" the expiating was done by the person or persons who did something wrong and had to make up for it in some way; not someone else who did nothing wrong (assuming for this point the Nazis did nothing wrong). The second reading to me doesn't make much sense because it seems that this means that the townspeople expiated the "cowardly" attacks by a group of resistance fighters by simply being murdered by the German military.

I've looked up the definition of "expiate", and this is kind of where this question may split into multiple questions, because the definitions say that "expiate" means to:

  • To make amends or reparations
  • To atone for
  • To redress

I agree that you can "make amends" for someone else's wrongs/mistakes, and also "redress" them, but I'm not so sure about "reparations" or "to atone".

So basically the question is the question in the title, and as "atone" and "making reparations" are shown in the dictionary definitions for "expiate", I'm also wondering whether they can be for someone else. In other words:

  • Can you expiate someone else's sins/crimes?
  • Can you atone for someone else's sin/crimes?
  • Can you make reparations for someone else's sins/crime etc
  • 1
    You'd have to look carefully at the translation, but it seems the Nazis were using the word expiate/atone for in a 'perverse' way, in order to further the sense that the residents should be ashamed by the actions of the partisans and repent for them. Even if you feel or they could feel that it wouldn't be expiated by the people of the town being murdered, the usage of words by the Germans implied that thinking like that is wrong, and their following actions were justified and for the victims' own good. Aug 24, 2019 at 9:33
  • Isn't expiating somebody else's sins the entire basis of Christianity? Aug 24, 2019 at 20:38
  • 1
    @JasonBassfor I'm not sure. In my experience (though I'm probably wrong) the more common words are "atonement" or "redemption". I think "atonement" used in the sense of vicarious sacrifice, is quite special to Christianity. the Wikipedia article on "Atonement" says it's "the concept of a person taking action to correct previous wrongdoing on their part". Further down it explains the Christian meaning, which isn't as it was described in the introduction. Also "atonement" in Judaism focuses on repentance and penance for one's own actions. But you're right, in Christianity it does mean that.
    – Zebrafish
    Aug 25, 2019 at 4:55
  • From Merriam-Webster's definition of expiate: "1 a: to make amends for; 1 b: to extinguish the guilt incurred by." Christianity would be about the second sense. In the passage about Nazis, it would be the first sense that is meant. (Although the passage itself is not written very clearly.) Aug 25, 2019 at 5:39
  • The way it is used in Christianity, there's usually a difference between the words 'expiation' and 'atonement'. Expiation is the means or the act by which you obtain atonement. Aug 25, 2019 at 8:49

1 Answer 1


Of course you can. The most notable usage of the word, in fact, is that exact scenario: Jesus Christ's suffering for the sins of the world in order to provide redemption. "Expiate" is a Latin derivative, and where we often say "atone" in English, romance languages use the word "expiate" instead. The Expiation, "expiation" with a capital E, is what Catholics call Jesus Christ's suffering for the sins of the world.



A non-religious example of expiation would be me paying your drunk-driving fines. I am paying the reparations of your crime. In the United States, though, it's actually illegal to do that, but I digress.

A second non-religious example would be parents paying for a window their child broke while someone else was charged with their child's care. In so doing, they are expiating their child's wrongdoing, or if not their child's, the caregiver's.

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