Lessons from the Holocaust about Fascism
on this page:
- Lessons from the Holocaust about fascism
- the Nazis in their own words
- a small sample of accurate material about the Holocaust on the internet
- a small list of books about the Holocaust
- The Reichstag Fire
- Prescott Bush (W's grandfather) and the Nazis
- Holocaust Denial used to discredit 9/11 skeptics
- Not See's and Nazis: Psychological Denial about 9/11 complicity
"the world has been familiar with the concept of the 'murderer at his desk.' We know that fanatical, near-pathological sadism is not necessary for millions of people to be murdered; that all that is needed is dutiful obedience to some leader."
"The great things in life are never done by normal people. They're done by crazy people."
-- Simon Wiesenthal (1908-2005)
Shocked and sickened by the evidence which he heard, Justice Musmanno who presided over the [Einsatzgruppen] trial wrote:
One reads and reads these accounts of which here we can give only a few excerpts and yet there remains the instinct to disbelieve, to question, to doubt. There is less of a mental barrier in accepting the weirdest stories of supernatural phenomena, as for instance, water running up hill and trees with roots reaching toward the sky, than in taking at face value these narratives which go beyond the frontiers of human cruelty and savagery. Only the fact that the reports from which we have quoted came from the pens of men within the accused organizations can the human mind be assured that all this actually happened. The reports and the statements of the defendants themselves verify what otherwise would be dismissed as the product of a disordered imagination.
-- Judgment of the Tribunal, p. 50
I always thought that the important lesson of the Holocaust is not that there is evil, that there are evil people in this world who could do the most unimaginable, unimaginably cruel things. That was not the great lesson of the Holocaust. The great lesson of the Holocaust is that decent, cultured people, people we would otherwise consider good people, can allow such evil to prevail, that the German public—these were not monsters, but it was OK with them that the Nazi machine did what it did.
WEDNESDAY, JULY 30, 2014
Henry Siegman, Leading Voice of U.S. Jewry, on Gaza: "A Slaughter of Innocents"
I would have preferred it if he'd followed his original ambition and become an architect.
-- Paula Hitler (his younger sister), during an interview with a US intelligence operative in late 1945.
Estimated Number of Jews Killed in the Holocaust
Estimated jewish population annihilated
|Germany / Austria||
|SSR White Russia||
Finland (Danish and Finnish Jews were lucky)
from Lucy Dawidowicz, "The War against the Jews 1933-1945"
The precise number of Holocaust victims is not possible to know precisely. While the Nazis kept meticulous records of their crimes, many victims were "liquidated" without the benefit of precise counting. (Many of the victims killed immediately upon arrival at extermination centers were not counted.) Nearly all credible estimates range between five and six million Jews, not counting the millions of other victims (Polish Catholics, political dissidents in Germany and occupied countries, Gypsy (Roma) people, Serbs, ehovah's witnesses, Russian non-Jews, communists, male homosexuals, etc). Several of the internet resources on this page detail the Nazi crimes against their non-Jewish victims, especially the holocaustforgotten.com website.
Whatever the precise body count, the range of uncertainty for the Jewish Holocaust is not very large and debating it is pointless - the bottom line is the culture of Eastern European Jewry was obliterated in one of the worst genocides in human history, perhaps the most technologically sophisticated mass murder ever (although World War IV will probably exceed the Holocaust in terms of bureaucratic planning and the scale of the crimes).
While the Nazi Holocaust was a disaster for the Jewish people -- and the other groups targetted by the Third Reich -- understanding these crimes is important for the entire human race, since the reality of the Holocaust shows how governmental bureaucracy, corporate structures, militarism, media propaganda, profiteering, and expansionist imperialism can combine to create genocide. The Nazi Holocaust is a critical part of human history, which should be studied similar to other large scale crimes such as:
- the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki - more than one third million dead, with residual health consequences for survivors and their children
- "conventional" firebombing of Japanese cities - hundreds of thousands of civilians burned
- the "rape of Nanking" and other war crimes by the Japanese military
- the war on Viet Nam, Cambodia and Laos (1954 - 1975) - about three million dead
- the Khmer Rouge - well over a million dead
- the massacres by the Pakistani military in "East Pakistan," now the nation of Bangladesh
- the Soviet Union's starvation of the Ukrainians at the height of Stalinism
- the "Gulag Archipelago," the prison camps across the USSR, mostly in Siberia
- the Rwandan genocide - almost a million killed
- Idi Amin's reign of terror in Uganda
- the war in eastern Congo after the Rwandan genocide - three to four million killed in war and disease
- the "slow genocide" underway in Zimbabwe (depopulation of cities where the people are most opposed to the government)
- the Biafran "civil war" in Nigeria
- the dictatorship of Equatorial Guinea (nicknamed the "Auschwitz of Africa" for the reduction on its population from hunger, disease and efforts to flee)
- the Turkish genocide of the Armenians - over a million
- the Guatemalan massacres of indigenous peoples - perhaps close to a quarter million
- the Salvadoran massacres during the 1980s "Civil War" - 75,000 or more
- ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia
- war crimes in Chechnya
- Saddam Hussein's attacks on the Kurds and the Shi'a of southern Iraq
- Desert Storm (1991) - 200 to 300,000 Iraqis
- the siege of Iraq (1991 - 2003) - perhaps over a million from disease
- the US occupation of Iraq (2003 to the present) - estimates vary, but a million is probably close
- the Israeli siege of Palestine (West Bank and Gaza), which has turned their lands into a giant prison camp
- perhaps the worst contemporary crime of all is the structuring of the world economic system in the latter half of the twentieth century that diverted enormous resources toward excessive wealth accumulation even while tens of thousands of people, many of them children, died every day from preventable disease and hunger. This genocide is in many ways the worst - since the facts of it are known to anyone who chooses to be informed about the state of the world and there are no violent reprisals for learning this truth.
This is not intended to be a comprehensive list of genocides of the twentieth century, merely an exercise to show that "Never Again" (the cry of the Jewish communities after the horrors of the Holocaust) has not been realized. These crimes have not merely been unbelievable disasters for the affected peoples, but the institutionalization of militarism and war crimes have finally reached the point where these behaviors are starting to wreck the biosphere and the atmosphere that all life depends upon. Survival of the human race requires that genocides - of any kind - be relegated to history books instead of the daily flood of news.
Transcending these histories would require recognizing the sufferings of all of these peoples, converting military structures toward coping with the environmental and resource crises, and tapping into the cooperative aspects of humanity that have enabled us to survive since our distant ancestors were Australopithecines millions of years ago. If we fail to make these shifts, then mere genocides are likely to become omnicide - the killing of everything. Omnicide means the destruction of the life support systems of the planet that makes civilization (and large human populations) possible.
As these systems disintegrate, competition over remaining resources threatens to accelerate the level of violence, which in turn will further wreck the planet's ability to sustain human beings -- a vicious feedback loop. Our collective survival can only happen if modern societies move beyond war and the elites who profit from war recognize that they will not be able to maintain their power and control without an atmosphere.
is a good essay about the issues of the size of the death count.
Jewish Holocaust victims by killing location
|Auschwitz concentration camp / Birkenau extermination camp||
|Treblinka extermination camp||
|Belzec extermination camp||
|Chelmno extermination camp||
|Sobibor extermination camp||
|Majdanek concentration & extermination camp||
|Einsatzgruppen (death squads - mass shootings) - Russia, Ukraine, Belorussia, Latvia, Lithuania, etc.||
|approximate total for extermination camps and shooting pits||
|concentration camps (not primarily extermination centers) included dozens of major camps and hundreds of minor camps in Germany and the occupied countries. These included Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Dachau, Dora, Gross-Rosen, Mauthausen, and Sachsenhausen (probably the best known concentration camps). A few camps were primarily used against political dissidents (Dachau was opened early in 1933) and some camps in occupied countries were used primarily against non-Jewish ethnic groups, such as Jasenovac extermination camp in Croatia (which killed primarily Serbs). Many camps had numerous satellite camps that each had their own horror stories.||
perhaps two thirds of a million
|various atrocities and pogroms, forced starvation in ghettos, disease from deliberate inhumane living conditions in ghettos||
at least a few hundred thousand
|source: Yad Vashem|
note: The extermination camps were all on Polish soil. Some of the camps were primarily used to "liquidate" Polish Jews, others (notably Auschwitz) killed Jews from all over occupied Europe. Most people think of Auschwitz if they have any awareness of the death camps, but Auschwitz had a huge labor camp next to the Birkenau extermination center, and several large industrial facilities that exploited slave labor. In contrast, the "Aktion Reinhard" camps (Treblinka, Belzec, Sobibor) were relatively small facilities that immediately killed nearly everyone upon arrival - only a few hundred prisoners were maintained to process the bodies, the clothes and other possessions of the victims. Treblinka and Sobibor each had prisoner rebellions in 1943, but only a few dozen managed to escape successfully and survive the war to tell their stories. Virtually no one survived either Belzec or Chelmno.The film footage of US troops liberating starved prisoners that are part of many histories of World War II were of the concentration camps in Germany. These camps were horrible enough, with most of them killing tens of thousands of people (per camp). But these centers were slave labor camps that merely worked people to death, the extermination camps built in Poland were far more hideous, and the "Reinhard" camps were partially covered up after the Nazis began to realize they were going to lose the war (in 1943). The extermination centers at Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor forced the inmates to dig up and burn the bodies, and when the centers were closed the buildings were destroyed in efforts to cover up traces of these facilities. (This was also done at some of the smaller extermination sites such as Babi Yar near Kiev, where over 30,000 Jews and tens of thousands of non-Jews were shot). Since the fall of Communism, there has been a revival of archeological examination of the killing centers to more precisely document what happened, and monuments acknowledging the Jewishness of these Holocaust camps have been greatly expanded.
MINUTES OF THE WANNSEE CONFERENCE
January 20, 1942; Translation
[meeting where top Nazis planned the details of the "Final Solution"]
[John Ralston Saul] gives a devastating example of the limits of technocracy: "The Holocaust was the result of a perfectly rational argument - given what reason had become - that was self-justifying and hermetically sealed. There is, therefore, nothing surprising about the fact that the meeting called to decide on 'the final solution' was a gathering mainly of senior ministerial representatives. Technocrats. Nor is it surprising that [the] Wannsee Conference lasted only an hour -- one meeting among many for those present -- and turned entirely on the modalities for administering the solutions .... The massacre was indeed 'managed,' even 'well managed.' It had the clean efficiency of a Harvard case study."
Marshall Rosenberg, who teaches non-violent communication, was struck in reading psychological interviews with Nazi war criminals not by their abnormality, but that they used a language denying choice: "should," "one must," "have to." For example, Adolph Eichmann was asked, "Was it difficult for you to send these tens of thousands of people their death?" Eichmann replied, "To tell you the truth, it was easy. Our language made it easy." Asked to explain, Eichmann said, "My fellow officers and I coined our own name for our language. We called it amtssprache -- 'office talk.'" In office talk "you deny responsibility for your actions. So if anybody says, 'Why did you do it?' you say, 'I had to.' 'Why did you have to?' 'Superiors' orders. Company policy. It's the law.'"
Yet for all the words we have devoted to the Holocaust, go into almost any bookstore and you'll find far more works on how to manage, manipulate and control others - and how to use "office talk" -- than you will on how to practice the skills of a free citizen. Some of the most important lessons of the Holocaust are simply missed. Among these, as Richard Rubenstein has pointed out, is that it could only have been carried out by "an advanced political community with a highly trained, tightly disciplined police and civil service bureaucracy." In 'The Cunning of History,' Rubenstein also finds uncomfortable parallels between the Nazis and their opponents. For example, a Hungarian Jewish emissary meets with Lord Moyne, the British High Commissioner in Egypt in 1944 and suggests that the Nazis might be willing to save one million Hungarian Jews in return for military supplies. Lord Moyne's reply: "What shall I do with those million Jews? Where shall I put them?" Writes Rubenstein: "The British government was by no means adverse to the 'final solution' as long as the Germans did most of the work. For both countries, it had become a bureaucratic problem, one that Rubenstein suggests we understand "as the expression of some of the most profound tendencies of Western civilization in the 20th century."
-- FROM SAM SMITH'S BOOK, "WHY BOTHER?"
|the Nazis in their own words|
Hermann Goering, interviewed during the
Göring: Why, of course, the people don't want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece?
Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship.
Gustave Gilbert: There is one difference. In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.
Göring: Voice or no voice, the people
can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All
you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the
pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It
works the same in any country.
from Gustave Gilbert, "Nuremberg Diary"
conversation between filmmaker Claude Lanzmann and Franz Suchomel, SS Unterscharfuehrer, from the film Shoah
Lanzmann: How many people at once in a single gas chamber?
Suchomel: I can't say exactly. The Jews say two hundred. Imagine a room this size.
Lanzmann: They put more in at Auschwitz.
Suchomel: Auschwitz was a factory!
Lanzmann: And Treblinka?
Suchomel: I'll give you my definition. Keep this in mind! Treblinka was a primitive but effective production line of death. Understand?
If we had at the beginning of, and during the war, subjected 12 or 15,000 of these Hebrew corrupters of the people to poison gas, as hundreds of thousands of our best German workers from all strata and occupations had to endure, then millions of victims of the Front would not have been in vain.
-- Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (1924)
quoted at www.holocaust-history.org/jews-central/
The size of the lie is a definite factor in causing it to be believed, because the vast masses of a nation are in the depths of their hearts more easily deceived than they are consciously and intentionally bad.
The primitive simplicity of their minds renders them more easy victims of a big lie than a small one, because they themselves often tell little lies but would be ashamed to tell big ones.
Such a form of lying would never enter their heads. They would never credit others with the possibility of such great impudence as the complete reversal of facts. Even explanations would long leave them in doubt and hesitation, and any trifling reason would dispose them to accept a thing as true.
Something therefore always remains and sticks from the most imprudent of lies, a fact which all bodies and individuals concerned in the art of lying in this world know only too well, and therefore they stop at nothing to achieve this end.
-- Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf
"All propaganda must be popular and its intellectual level must be adjusted to the most limited intelligence among those it is addressed to. Consequently, the greater the mass it is intended to reach, the lower its purely intellectual level will have to be. But if, as in propaganda for sticking out a war, the aim is to influence a whole people, we must avoid excessive intellectual demands on our public, and too much caution cannot be extended in this direction."
"The streets of our country are in turmoil. The universities are filled with students rebelling and rioting. Communists are seeking to destroy our country. Russia is threatening us with her might. And the Republic is in danger. Yes, danger from within and without. We need law and order. Without law and order our nation cannot survive." The politician who made that famous statement was Adolf Hitler.
"Through clever and constant application of propaganda people can be made to see paradise as hell, and also the other way around, to consider the most wretched sort of life as paradise."
-- Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf
The efficiency of the truly national leader consists primarily in preventing the division of the attention of a people, and always in concentrating it on a single enemy.
-- Adolf Hitler
"Terrorism is the best political weapon for nothing drives people harder than a fear of sudden death."
-- Adolf Hitler
[Vehemence, passion and fanaticism are] the great magnetic forces which alone attract the great masses; for these masses always respond to the compelling force which emanates from absolute faith in the ideas put forward, combined with an indomitable zest to fight for and defend them... The doom of the nation can be averted only by a storm of glowing passion; but only those who are passionate themselves can arouse passion in others.
-- Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf
When from his little workshop or big factory, in which [a person] feels very small, he steps for the first time into a mass meeting and has thousands and thousands of people of the same opinion around him... he is swept away by three or four thousand others into the mighty effect of suggestive intoxication and enthusiasm, when the visible success and agreement of thousands confirm to him the rightness of the new doctrine…
-- Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf
Joseph Hell on Adolf Hitler
In 1922 Joseph Hell asked Hitler, "What do you want to do to the Jews once you have full descretionary powers?" (1) Hitler, who until then had spoken calmly and with measured words, underwent a total transformation:
"His eyes no longer saw me but instead bore past me and off into empty space; his explanation grew increasingly voluble until he fell into a kind of paroxysm that ended with his shouting, as if to a whole public gathering:
'Once I really am in power, my first and foremost task will be the annihilation of the Jews. As soon as I have the power to do so, I will have gallows built in rows - at the Marienplatz in Munich, for example - as many as traffic allows. Then the Jews will be hanged indiscriminately, and they will remain hanging until they stink; they will hang there as long as the principles of hygiene permit. As soon as they have been untied, the next batch will be strung up, and so on down the line, until the last Jew in Munich has been exterminated. Other cities will follow suit, precisely in this fashion, until all Germany has been completely cleansed of Jews.' "
(1) Josef Hell, "Aufzeichnung," 1922, ZS 640, p. 5, Institut für Zeitgeschichte. The retired Major Josef Hell was a journalist in the twenties and in the beginning of the thirties, during which time he also collaborated with Dr. Fritz Gerlich, the editor of the weekly newspaper Der Gerade Weg.
Fleming, Gerald. Hitler and the Final Solution. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1984. p. 17
The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth becomes the greatest enemy of the State.
-- Dr. Joseph M Goebbels, Minister for People's Enlightenment and Propaganda in Germany's National Socialist Government.
I also want to mention a very difficult subject before you here, completely openly.
It should be discussed amongst us, and yet, nevertheless, we will never speak about it in public. ....
I am talking about the "Jewish evacuation": the extermination of the Jewish people.
It is one of those things that is easily said. "The Jewish people is being exterminated," every Party member will tell you, "perfectly clear, it's part of our plans, we're eliminating the Jews, exterminating them, ha!, a small matter."
And then along they all come, all the 80 million upright Germans, and each one has his decent Jew. They say: all the others are swine, but here is a first-class Jew.
And none of them has seen it, has endured it. Most of you will know what it means when 100 bodies lie together, when there are 500, or when there are 1000. And to have seen this through, and -- with the exception of human weaknesses -- to have remained decent, has made us hard and is a page of glory never mentioned and never to be mentioned.
-- Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, the second most powerful man in Nazi Germany, speaks to SS officers for three hours in a secret meeting, October 4, 1943, Poznan, Poland
|some accurate Holocaust information on the internet|
archived copy of the 1987 film Escape From Sobibor
WEAPONS OF THE SPIRIT
written, produced and directed by Pierre Sauvage
During World War II, in and around one village in Nazi-occupied France,
5,000 Jews were sheltered—by 5,000 Christians!
The astonishing story of a unique conspiracy of goodness.
This is a story Pierre Sauvage was born to tell:
born and protected in Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, he returned just in time to preserve the memory.
deathcamps.org - Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor (the "Operation Reinhard" extermination camps)
www.deathcamps.org/reinhard/allies.html What was known, what was done by the Allies
www.einsatzgruppenarchives.com/shootingtovans.html From Shootings to Gas Vans
www.einsatzgruppenarchives.com/documents/chelmnogasvans.html The Development of the Gas-van in the Murdering of the Jews
historyplace.com/speeches/galen.htm Cardinal Clemens von Galen - August 3, 1941 speech against mass murder campaigns disguised as euthanasia - some resistance did happen in Nazi Germany
holocaustdenialontrial.com Deborah Lipstadt, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory (Free Press, 1993)
holocaustforgotten.com is a good website about the fate of Poland under German occupation and the millions of non-Jewish Poles killed by the Nazis
holocaust-history.org - lots of articles to rebut the neo-Nazi pseudo-historians
www.holocaust-history.org/operation-reinhard/ - Operation Reinhard death camps
holocaustresearchproject.net - Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team
holocaustsurvivors.org - testimonies from survivors about their experiences
holocaust-trc.org - Holocaust Teachers Resource Center
kimel.net - Holocaust Understanding and Prevention by Alexander Kimel, Holocaust survivor
nizkor.org - excellent Canadian site, encyclopedic in its coverage
I wish to make it crystal clear that I don't want to be "protected" by government thought police. Everywhere we turn, governments are pushing and prodding our lives, and I'm far more concerned about them attacking the Net, and thus our freedom, than I am about watching the Nazis do it.
pbs.org/auschwitz/ - Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State (excellent 6 part documentary on the death camps, interviews with survivors and perpetrators)
pink-triangle.org History of the Gay Male and Lesbian Experience during World War II
preventgenocide.org - Prevent Genocide International - Resources on 20th Century Genocides Including Resources on this website, Books and Articles, Reports, Survivor and Eyewitness testimonies, Commemoration, Film and Video and Websites Hereros 1904 | Armenian 1915-1923 | Holodomor 1933 | Shoah 1941-1945 | Parajmos 1941-1945 | East Bengal 1971 | Burundi 1972 | Cambodia 1975-1979 | Guatemala 1982-1983 | Iraqi Kurds 1988 | Bosnia 1992-1995 | Rwanda 1994
remember.org - A Cybrary of the Holocaust
sobibor.info - website of Thomas Blatt, one of the very few survivors of the Sobibor death camp (about one quarter million were gassed there)
theoptimists.com The Story of the Rescue of the Bulgarian Jews from the Holocaust
theverylongview.com/WATH/essays/ofer1.htm Women in the Jewish Resistance to Nazi Occupation
ushmm.org - US Holocaust Museum & Memorial
vilnaghetto.com/chrono.html - chronicle of the Vilna Ghetto
yadvashem.org - Yad Vashem (Israeli national museum)
A YEAR IN TREBLINKA
By Yankel Wiernik
An Inmate Who Escaped Tells the Day-To-Day Facts
of One Year of His Torturous Experiences
Published by AMERICAN REPRESENTATION
of the General Jewish Workers' Union of Poland
175 East Broadway
New York 2, N.Y.
February 27, 1995
German Jewry on the Eve of Destruction
|a small list of books about the Holocaust|
Filip Mueller "three years in the gas chambers" (autobiography of Auschwitz sonderkommando - "special commando" - survivor)
Primo Levi "Survival in Auschwitz"
"The Reawakening" (his re-emergence into the world after Auschwitz)
Robert Jay Lifton "The Nazi Doctors"
"The Chronicle of the Lodz Ghetto: 1941 - 1944" (diary kept by ghetto inmates in the last ghetto to be liquidated - most of the Lodz inhabitants were murdered at the Chelmno death camp in western Poland, one of the least known of the six major Nazi death camps - their murders were accomplished via "gassing trucks" where the victims were suffocated by exhaust fumes)
"Surviving the Holocaust: the Kovno Ghetto Diary" Avraham Tory (the Jews of Kovno were not gassed, they were shot in a pit in a fort at the edge of that town, like the fate of most of the Jews in the former Soviet Union under Nazi occupation)
Babi Yar by Anatoli Kuznetsov (great Russian novel of World War Two by a young Ukrainian boy who lived in Kiev and watched the events happen, censored in the USSR for its frankness)
Jean-Francois Steiner, "Treblinka" (rebellions in the Vilna ghetto and at the Treblinka extermination camp where nearly a million Jews and a few thousand Gypsies were gassed)
Thomas Keneally, "Schindler's List" (the book is better than the movie)
John Loftus "The Belarus Secret"
Christopher Simpson "The Splendid Blond Beast: Money, Law and Genocide in the Twentieth Century" (the Armenian genocide and the Nazi Holocaust)
Harrison Salisbury "The 900 Days" - the siege of Leningrad (a million died Russians died, mostly from starvation)
David Wyman "The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust 1941-1945"
Arthur Morse "While Six Million Died: A chronicle of american apathy" (re: US knowledge of the Holocaust while it was happening and the refusal to do almost anything to mitigate it, even interfere with the last great shipment of Jews, from Hungary, in 1944).
Linda Hunt "Secret Agenda: the United States Government and Operation Paperclip, 1945 to 1990"
|lessons from the Holocaust about fascism|
"The Holocaust is an unparalleled example of power run wild, which is to say that once evil on this scale picks up enough momentum, once it establishes itself in a system of functioning structures, it cannot after a certain crucial point be stopped by any counter force within itself. The greater the concentration of power, the greater the paranoia it generates about its need to destroy everything outside itself. The worst thing that can be said of vast power is not that it inevitably corrupts its agents, but that after some point its deployment becomes greater than the will of the men who serve it. What can be destroyed, will be destroyed a lesson the Holocaust confirms and which we, with our B-52's and nuclear submarines, our talk of death yields and overkill, might wish to remember."
-- Terrence Des Pres, introduction to Jean-Francois Steiner, "Treblinka," New York: New American Library, 1979, p. xii
"What happened was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to be governed by surprise, to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believe that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if people could understand it, it could not be released because of national security.
"The crises and reforms (real reforms too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter.
"To live in the process is absolutely not to notice it -- please try to believe me -- unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us ever had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, 'regretted.'
"Believe me, this is true. Each act, each occasion is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next, and the next. You wait for one shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join you in resisting somehow.
"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 (for that was all that was required of most of us: that we did nothing) ... You remember everything now, and your heart breaks. Too late. You are compromised beyond repair."
[An anonymous German college professor describing the coming of fascism. From 'They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1939-1945', by Milton Mayer, a stunning and chilling account of ordinary people in extraordinary times.]
"In Germany, the Nazis first came for the communists, and I did not speak up, because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak up, because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak up, because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I did not speak up, because I was not a Catholic. Then they came for me... and by that time, there was no one to speak up for anyone."
-- Martin Niemoeller, Pastor, German Evangelical (Lutheran) Church (1892-1984)
"The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant and so devastating that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored because it cannot survive their being repeated. If we cannot eliminate the causes and prevent the repetition of these barbaric events, it is not an irresponsible prophecy to say that this twentieth century may yet succeed in bringing the doom of civilization."
-- Justice Robert Jackson, U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. Chief Prosecutor at International Military Tribunal (IMT), Nuremberg, Germany
"If civilization is in danger today, if it is fated to decline and perish, it will do so with the enthusiastic assistance of credulous people. They seem to me more dangerous than the most brazen leaders, because everything is done with their cooperation. ....
"How pleasant it is, after all: to treat politics of whatever kind with utter contempt, to dance, to love, to drink and sleep and breathe. To live. God give you strength!
"The only thing is that I can see from my little window that while some people are loving and sleeping, others are busy making handcuffs for them. Why? That's the question. There are so many would-be benefactors in the world. And they are all determined to shower benefits on the whole world. Nothing less. And for this purpose very little is needed: simply that the world should fit into the design which is taking shape God knows how in their feeble, complex-tortured minds.
"They do not scorn politics; they are makers of policy. They make their own cudgel and then bring it down on other people's heads and in this manner they put their politics into practice.
"Careful, my friends!
"On the basis of my own and other people's experience and of experience generally, on the basis of much thinking and searching, worry and calculation, I say to you: THE PERSON WHO TODAY IGNORES POLITICS WILL REGRET IT.
"I did not say I liked politics. I hate them. I scorn them. I do not call upon you to like them or even respect them. I am simply telling you: DON'T IGNORE THEM."
-- A. Anatoli Kuznetsov, "Babi Yar" (the great Russian novel about World War II)
Kuznetsov was a boy when the Germans occupied Kiev. The novel was banned in the Soviet Union for many years (in its uncensored form) since it was too blunt. Babi Yar is the place where the Nazis shot the Jews of Kiev, and then shot tens of thousands of non-Jews.
"Do not forget that every people deserves the regime it is willing
-- White Rose resistance group, Germany, 1942
Into That Darkness
by Gitta Sereny
"Richard" one of the survivors ...
"It was just about when we had reached the lowest ebb in our morale that, one day towards the end of March, Kurt Franz walked into our barracks, a wide grin on his face. 'As of tomorrow,' he said, 'transports will be rolling in again.' And do you know what we did? We shouted, 'Hurrah, hurrah.' It seems impossible now. Every time I think of it I die a small death; but it is the truth. That is what we did; that is where we had got to. And sure enough, the next morning they arrived. We had spent all the preceding evening in an excited, expectant mood; it meant life - you see, don't you? -- safety and life. The fact that it was their death, whoever they were, which meant our life, was no longer relevant; we had been through this over and over and over. The main question in our minds was, where were they from? Would they be rich or poor? Would there be food or not?"
pp. 212 - 213
Stangl (one of the main Nazis at Treblinka extermination camp)
If the racial business was so secondary, then why all that hate propaganda?
"To condition those who actually had to carry out these policies; to make it possible for them to do what they did."
I do not believe that all men are equal, for what we are above all other things, is individual and different. But individuality and difference are not only due to the talents we happen to be born with. They depend as much on the extent to which we are allowed to expand in freedom.
There is an as yet ill-defined, little-understood essential core of our being which, given this freedom, comes into its own, almost like birth, and which separates or even liberates us from intrinsic influences, and thereafter determines our moral conduct and growth. A moral monster, I believe, is not born, but is produced by interference with this growth. I do not know what this core is: mind, spirit, or perhaps a moral force as yet unnamed. But I think that, in the most fundamental sense, the individual personality only exists, is only valid from the moment when it emerges; when, at whatever age (in infancy, if we are lucky), we begin to be in charge of and increasingly responsible for our actions.
Social morality is contingent upon the individual's capacity to make responsible decisions, to make the fundamental choice between right and wrong; this capacity derives from this mysterious core -- the very essence of the human person.
This essence, however, cannot come into being or exist in a vacuum. It is deeply vulnerable and profoundly dependent on a climate of life; on freedom in the deepest sense: not license, but freedom to grow: within family, within community, within nations, and within human society as a whole. The fact of its existence therefore - the very fact of our existence as valid individuals - is evidence of our independence and of our responsibility for each other.
PLAYBOY: Many of the professional critics of the Warren Commission appear to be prompted by political motives: Those on the left are anxious to prove Kennedy was murdered by a conspiracy within the establishment; and those on the right are eager to prove the assassination was an act of "the international Communist conspiracy." Where would you place yourself on the political spectrum -- right, left of center?
GARRISON: That's a question I've asked myself frequently, especially since this investigation started and I found myself in an incongruous and disillusioning battle with agencies of my own Government. I can't just sit down and add up my political beliefs like a mathematical sum, but I think, in balance, I'd turn up somewhere around the middle. Over the years, I guess I've developed a somewhat conservative attitude -- in the traditional libertarian sense of conservatism, as opposed to the thumbscrew-and-rack conservatism of the paramilitary right -- particularly in regard to the importance of the individual as opposed to the state and the individual's own responsibilities to humanity. I don't think I've ever tried to formulate this into a coherent political philosophy, but at the root of my concern is the conviction that a human being is not a digit; he's not a digit in regard to the state and he's not a digit in the sense that he can ignore his fellow men and his obligations to society. I was with the artillery supporting the division that took Dachau; I arrived there the day after it was taken, when bulldozers were making pyramids of human bodies outside the camp. What I saw there has haunted me ever since. Because the law is my profession, I've always wondered about the judges throughout Germany who sentenced men to jail for picking pockets at a time when their own government was jerking gold from the teeth of men murdered in gas chambers. I'm concerned about all of this because it isn't a German phenomenon; it's a human phenomenon. It can happen here, because there has been no change and there has been no progress and there has been no increase of understanding on the part of men for their fellow man. What worries me deeply, and I have seen it exemplified in this case, is that we in America are in great danger of slowly evolving into a proto-fascist state. It will be a different kind of fascist state from the one of the Germans evolved; theirs grew out of depression and promised bread and work, while ours, curiously enough, seems to be emerging from prosperity. But in the final analysis, it's based on power and on the inability to put human goals and human conscience above the dictates of the state. Its origins can be traced in the tremendous war machine we've built since 1945, the "military-industrial complex" that Eisenhower vainly warned us about, which now dominates every aspect of our life. The power of the states and Congress has gradually been abandoned to the Executive Department, because of war conditions; and we've seen the creation of an arrogant, swollen bureaucratic complex totally unfettered by the checks and balances of the Constitution. In a very real and terrifying sense, our Government is the CIA and the Pentagon, with Congress reduced to a debating society. Of course, you can't spot this trend to fascism by casually looking around. You can't look for such familiar signs as the swastika, because they won't be there. We won't build Dachaus and Auschwitzes; the clever manipulation of the mass media is creating a concentration camp of the mind that promises to be far more effective in keeping the populace in line. We're not going to wake up one morning and suddenly find ourselves in gray uniforms goose-stepping off to work. But this isn't the test. The test is: What happens to the individual who dissents? In Nazi Germany, he was physically destroyed; here, the process is more subtle, but the end results can be the same. I've learned enough about the machinations of the CIA in the past year to know that this is no longer the dreamworld America I once believed in. The imperatives of the population explosion, which almost inevitably will lessen our belief in the sanctity of the individual human life, combined with the awesome power of the CIA and the defense establishment, seem destined to seal the fate of the America I knew as a child and bring us into a new Orwellian world where the citizen exists for the state and where raw power justifies any and every immoral act. I've always had a kind of knee-jerk trust in my Government's basic integrity, whatever political blunders it may make. But I've come to realize that in Washington, deceiving and manipulating the public are viewed by some as the natural prerogatives of office. Huey Long once said, "Fascism will come to America in the name of anti-fascism." I'm afraid, based on my own experience, that fascism will come to America in the name of national security.
Brainwashing in the US
by Ann Pettifer
October 7, 2002
Besides accusations of conspiracy, there is a new tactic for dealing with Israel's critics: charge them with anti-Semitism. This is the ploy now being used by the President of Harvard, Lawrence Summers, as a small but growing constituency for divestment from Israel has appeared on his campus and others around the country. Summers' shamelessness is best answered by a fellow Jew, the Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi. Thomas Laqueur, reviewing three new books on Levi, calls him "one of the most resonant witnesses to the greatest human disaster of a disastrous age." However, Levi did not think the Jewish catastrophe should be used to justify "what he regarded as Israeli tribalist and aggressive actions in the name of a sacred history of unique suffering." Laqueur, (who is also Jewish) writes that the Israeli invasion (under Ariel Sharon) of Lebanon in 1982 greatly disturbed Primo Levi, "and on the eve of a trip back to Auschwitz, Levi signed a petition, together with other Jewish intellectuals, calling for the withdrawal of Israeli troops and recognition of the rights of all peoples in the region. 'Everyone is someone's Jew' he was quoted as saying in an interview 'and today the Palestinians are the Jews of the Israelis.'"
We Palestinians Will Honor Our Word
By Afif Safieh
02/16/2007 "The Forward"
I know of no way to measure suffering, no mechanism to quantify pain. All I know is that we Palestinians are not children of a lesser God.
Had I been a Jew or a Gypsy, I would consider the Holocaust to be the most atrocious event in history. Had I been a Native American, it would be the arrival of the European settlers and the subsequent near-total extermination of the indigenous population. Had I been an African American, it would be slavery in previous centuries and apartheid in the last. Had I been an Armenian, it would be the Turkish massacre.
I happen to be a Palestinian, and for Palestinians the most atrocious event in history is what we call the Nakba, the catastrophe. Humanity should consider all the above as morally unacceptable, all as politically inadmissible. Lest I be misunderstood, I am not comparing the Nakba to the Holocaust. Each catastrophe stands on its own, and I do not like to indulge in comparative martyrology or a hierarchy of tragedies. I only mention our respective traumas in order to illustrate that we each bring to the table our own particular history.
Germany In 1933: The Easy Slide Into Fascism
by Bernard Weiner
June, 2003: If my email is any indication, a goodly number of folks wonder if they're living in America in 2003 or Germany in 1933.
All this emphasis on nationalism, the militarization of society, identifying The Leader as the nation, a constant state of fear and anxiety heightened by the authorities, repressive laws that shred constitutional guarantees of due process, wars of aggression launched on weaker nations, the desire to assume global hegemony, the merging of corporate and governmental interests, vast mass-media propaganda campaigns, a populace that tends to believe the slogans and lies it's fed without asking too many questions, a timid opposition that barely contests the administration's reckless adventurism abroad and police-state policies at home, etc. etc.
The parallels are not exact, of course; America in 2003 and Germany seventy years earlier are not the same, and Bush certainly is not Adolf Hitler. But there are enough disquieting similarities in the two periods at least to see what we can learn -- cautionary tales, as it were -- and then figure out what to do with our knowledge.
The veneer of civilization is thin. We know this from our own observations, and various writers -- from Shakespeare to Sinclair Lewis ("It Can't Happen Here") -- have shown us how easily populations can be manipulated by leaders skillfully playing on patriotic emotion or racial or nationalist feelings.
Whole peoples, like individuals, can become irrational on occasion -- sometimes for a brief moment, sometimes for years, sometimes for decades. Ambition, hatred, fear can get the better of them, and gross lies told by their leaders can deceive their otherwise rational minds. It has happened, it happens, it will continue to happen.
One of the most outrageous and horrific examples of an entire country falling into national madness probably was Hitler's Germany from 1933-45. The resulting world war was disastrous, leading to more than 40,000,000 deaths.
A good share of what we know about how this happened in Germany usually comes to us many years later from post-facto books, looking backward to the horror. There are very few examples of accounts written from the inside at the very time the events were unfolding.
One such book is "Defying Hitler," by the noted German journalist/author Sebastian Haffner. The manuscript was found, stuffed away in a drawer, by Haffner's son in 1999 after his father's death at age 91. Published in 2000, the book became an immediate best-seller in Germany and was published last year in English, translated by the son, Oliver Pretzel. (His father's original name was Raimund Pretzel; as Sebastian Haffner, he went on to a highly successful career, writing in England during the war and then later back in Germany. He authored "From Bismarck to Hitler" and "The Meaning of Hitler," among many other works.)
"Defying Hitler" is a brilliantly written social document, begun (and ended abruptly) in 1939; even though it fills in the reader on German history from the First World War on, its major focus is on the year 1933, when, as Hitler assumed power, Haffner was a 25-year-old law student, in-training to join the German courts as a junior administrator.
You find yourself reading this book in amazement; there is so much historical perspective, so much sweep of what was going on and predictions of what later was to happen, so many insights into what led so many ordinary Germans to join with or acquiesce to the Nazi program -- how could anyone so young be so prescient in the midst of the brutal sordidness that was Nazism? (Indeed, some critics claimed that Haffner must have rewritten the book decades later; every page of the original manuscript was sent to laboratories, which authenticated that it indeed had been composed in 1939.)
The Individual in Society
What distinguishes "Defying Hitler," in addition to its superb writing, is that Haffner focuses on "little people" like himself, rather than on the machinations of leaders. He wants to explore how ordinary Germans, especially non-Nazi and anti-Nazi Germans, permitted themselves to be swallowed whole into the Hitlerian maw.
Haffner makes occasional broad pronouncements about German character traits ("As Bismarck once remarked in a famous speech, moral courage is, in any case, a rare virtue in Germany, but it deserts a German completely the moment he puts on a uniform"), but he devotes a good deal of his attention to the question of personal responsibility. If you read ordinary history books, he says, "you get the impression that no more than a few dozen people are involved, who happen to be 'at the helm of the ship of state' and whose deeds and decisions form what is called history.
"According to this view, the history of the present decade [the 1930s] is a kind of chess game among Hitler, Mussolini, Chiang Kai-Shek, Roosevelt, Chamberlain, Daladier, and a number of other men whose names are on everybody's lips. We anonymous others seem at best to be the objects of history, pawns in the chess game, who may be pushed forward or left standing, sacrificed or captured, but whose lives, for what they are worth, take place in a totally different world, unrelated to what is happening on the chessboard.
"...It may seem a paradox, but it is nonetheless the simple truth, to say that on the contrary, the decisive historical events take place among us, the anonymous masses. The most powerful dictators, ministers, and generals are powerless against the simultaneous mass decisions taken individually and almost unconsciously by the population at large...Decisions that influence the course of history arise out of the individual experiences of thousands or millions of individuals."
The Riddle of Hitler's Rise
Haffner tries to solve the riddle of the easy acceptance of fascism in Hitler's Third Reich. In March of 1933, a majority of German citizens did not vote for Hitler. "What happened to that majority? Did they die? Did they disappear from the face of the earth? Did they become Nazis at this late stage? How was it possible that there was not the slightest visible reaction from them" as Hitler, installed by the authorities as Chancellor, began slowly and then more quickly consolidating power and moving Germany from a democratic state to a totalitarian one?
All along the way, Hitler would propose or actually promulgate regulations that sliced away at German citizens' freedoms -- usually aimed at small, vulnerable sectors of society (labor unionists, communists, Jews, mental defectives, et al.) -- and few said or did anything to indicate serious displeasure. In the early days, on those rare occasions when there was concerted negative reaction, Hitler would back off a bit. And so the Nazis grew bolder and more voracious as they continued slicing away at civil society. Many Germans (including some of Hitler's original corporate backers) were convinced Nazism would collapse as it became more and more extreme; others chose denial. It was easier to look the other way.
Haffner saw what was starting to happen, but retreated into his law studies. Even while the Brownshirts were beating and killing people in the streets, the courts with which he worked remained a solid bulwark in defense of traditional democratic principles. And then one day, the Nazis simply marched into the Berlin court buildings and took over Germany's judicial system. Haffner was shaken to the core, but continued studying for his final exams.
Shortly thereafter, he and his fellow students were dispatched to a kind of boot camp for ideological and military training. Haffner, a Christian anti-Nazi, found himself, to his astonishment and horror, wearing jackboots, a swastika and learning how to kill.
In an inner monologue, Haffner says: "There are some things I must never do: never say anything that I would be ashamed of later. Shooting at targets is all right. But not at people. I must not commit myself, or sell my soul...Oh dear! It dawned on me that I had already relinquished and lost everything. I wore a uniform with a swastika armband. I stood to attention and cleaned my rifle....But that did not count: it was not me that did it; it was a game and I was acting a part.
"Only what if, dear God, there was some court that did not recognize this defense, but simply wrote down everything as it happened; that did not look into my heart, but simply noted the swastika armband? Before that court I was in a wretched position. Dear God, where had I gone wrong? What should I say to the judge who asked, 'You wear a swastika armband and say that you do not want to. Then why do you wear it?'"
Nazi propaganda, policies and terror had broken down traditional support-networks. You couldn't be sure whom to trust. Everyone could be on the government payroll, or could turn into informants to save their skins. And so arms went out in Nazi salutes, militarist songs were sung at rallies and on the streets, "each one of us the Gestapo of the others." In fear, individualism was crushed, leaving most citizens to relate only to The Leader, or to their military units, the comradeship offered by fascism.
Millions of Marks for a Loaf of Bread
Then there was the economic factor, the terror associated with having no money with which to live. One reads Haffner's description of the hyper-inflation crisis, but it's difficult to accept or understand: "No other nation has experienced anything comparable to the events of 1923 in Germany. All nations went through the Great War, and most of them have also experienced revolutions, social crises, strikes, redistributions of wealth, and currency devaluation. None but Germany has undergone the fantastic, grotesque extreme of all of these together; none has experienced the gigantic, carnival dance of death, the unending, bloody Saturnalia, in which not only money but all standards lost their value.
"...Anyone who had savings in a bank or bonds saw their value disappear overnight. Soon it did not matter whether it was a penny put away for a rainy day or a vast fortune. Everything was obliterated...A pound of potatoes which yesterday had cost fifty thousand marks now cost a hundred thousand. The salary of sixty-five thousand marks brought home the previous Friday was no longer sufficient to buy a packet of cigarettes on Tuesday...In August, the dollar reached a million [marks]....In September, a million marks no longer had any practical value...At the end of October, it was a billion...The atmosphere became revolutionary once again."
When citizens face uncertainty on this scale -- and the fear and dislocation that attend all such social traumas -- a man on a white horse promising to restore order has great appeal, even to some staunch democrats.
There were other ingredients that went into the bubbling fascist vat: the humiliating terms of the Versailles Treaty that were placed on defeated Germany after World War I; the unceasing propaganda barrage in the mass media, helping citizens to agree with the government; the martial mentality that pervaded society. ("From 1914 to 1918 a generation of German schoolboys daily experienced war as a great, thrilling, enthralling game between nations, which provided far more excitement and emotional satisfaction than anything peace could offer; and that is where [Nazism] draws its allure from: its simplicity, its appeal to the imagination, and its zest for action; but also its intolerance and its cruelty toward internal opponents...Ultimately, that is also the source of Nazism's belligerent attitude toward neighboring states. Other countries are not regarded as neighbors, but must be opponents, whether they like it or not."
And then there is the inexplicable mystique that surrounds such men as Hitler, that mesmerizes and lures millions into their web. "If my experience of Germany has taught me anything, it is this: Rathenau [who led a progressive government in 1921-22, and was then assassinated by anti-Semitic thugs] and Hitler are the two men who excited the imagination of the German masses to the utmost; the one by his ineffable culture, the other by his ineffable vileness. Both, and this is decisive, came from inaccessible regions, from sort of 'beyond.' the one from a sphere of sublime spirituality where the cultures of three millennia and two continents hold a symposium; the other from a jungle far below the depths plumbed by the basest penny dreadfuls, from an underworld where demons rise from a brewed-up stench of petty-bourgeois back rooms, doss-houses, barrack latrines, and the hangman's yard. From their respective 'beyonds,' they both drew a spellbinding power, quite irrespective of their politics."
When Hitler's in-your-face brand of "beyond" power -- with its meanness and arrogance and menace, throwing opponents in jail, beating them, even killing them -- met the traditional democratic culture, those on the other end often had no tools at their disposal to combat the new hardball politics: "It was then that the real mystery of the Hitler phenomenon began to show itself: the strange befuddlement and numbness of his opponents, who could not cope with his behavior and found themselves transfixed by the gaze of the basilisk, unable to see that it was hell personified that challenged them."
The Big Lie Technique
And how did Haffner deal for so long with this menacing force in front of him? "What saved me was...my nose. I have a fairly well developed figurative sense of smell, or to put it differently, a sense of the worth (or worthlessness!) of human, moral, political views and attitudes. Most Germans unfortunately lack this sense almost completely. The cleverest of them are capable of discussing themselves stupid with their abstractions and deductions, when just using their noses would tell them that something stinks."
Given their built-in weakness and their willingness to swallow the most outrageous Big Lies emanating from the propaganda ministry and the media, most Germans were fruit waiting to be plucked by the Nazi harvesters. "They still fall for anything. After all that, I do not see that one can blame the majority of Germans who, in 1933, believed that the Reichstag fire was the work of the Communists. [The Parliament burned down and a convenient Communist arsonist was fingered, which the Nazis used as the excuse to unleash police-state tactics against all opponents.] What one can blame them for, and what shows their terrible collective weakness of character clearly for the first time during the Nazi period, is that this settled the matter. With sheepish submissiveness the German people accepted that, as a result of the fire, each one of them lost what little personal freedom and dignity was guaranteed by the constitution; as though it followed as a necessary consequence."
In short, what should have been a strong political and moral opposition movement to Hitlerian policies, meekly acceded to the destruction of their country's institutions of law and social harmony. The result in society was a clear leaning toward the dynamic, muscular policies advocated by the Nazis, and a seething "anger and disgust with the cowardly treachery of their own [opposition] leadership."
Of course, fear of police-state action always was operative. "Join the thugs to avoid being beaten up. Less clear was a kind of exhilaration, the intoxication of unity, the magnetism of the masses. Many also felt a need for revenge against those who had abandoned them. Then there was a peculiarly German line of thought: 'All the predictions of the opponents of the Nazis have not come true. They said the Nazis could not win. Now they have won. Therefore the opponents were wrong. So the Nazis must be right.' There was also (particularly among intellectuals) the belief that they could change the face of the Nazi Party by becoming a member, even now shift its direction."
All of this follows the normal range of psychology, Haffner says. "The only thing that is missing is what in animals is called 'breeding.' This is a solid inner kernel that cannot be shaken by external pressures and forces, something noble and steely, a reserve of pride, principle, and dignity to be drawn on in the hour of trial. It is missing in the Germans. As a nation they are soft, unreliable, and without backbone. That was shown in March 1933. At the moment of truth, when other nations rise spontaneously to the occasion, the Germans collectively and limply collapsed. They yielded and capitulated, and suffered a nervous breakdown. The result of this million-fold nervous breakdown is the unified nation, ready for anything, that is today the nightmare of the rest of the world."
Haffner laments that the crimes of the Hitler administration, given this collective nervous breakdown, have very little impact on the population, which seems to accept everything done in its name with a shrug of the shoulders. "It is one of the uncanny aspects of events in Germany that the deeds have no doers, the suffering has no martyrs. Everything takes place under a kind of anesthesia. Objectively dreadful deeds produce a thin, puny emotional response. Murders are committed like schoolboy pranks. Humiliation and moral decay are accepted like minor incidents. Even death under torture only produces the response 'Bad luck'."
The Slide Towards Fascism
And so it becomes easier to simply permit oneself to sink, ever so slowly into this collective illness, into accommodation with the ruling party, even though the police-state is constantly violating citizens' privacy. "We were pursued into the farthest corners of our private lives; in all areas of life there was rout, panic, and flight. No one could tell where it would end. At the same time we were called upon, not to surrender, but to renege. Just a little pact with the devil -- and you were no longer one of the captured quarry. Instead you were one of the victorious hunters."
Certainly, Haffner and others like him felt their own slide toward complicity with the Nazis, as their sense of self faded. "Things were quite deliberately arranged so that the individual had no room to maneuver. What one represented, what one's opinions were in 'private' and 'actually,' were of no concern and set aside, put on ice, as it were. On the other hand, in moments when one had the leisure to think of one's individuality...one had the feeling that what was actually happening, in which one participated mechanically, had no real existence or validity. It was only in these hours that one could attempt to call oneself morally to account and prepare a last position of defense for one's inner self."
Haffner was approaching decision time about his future if he stayed in the Third Reich. But it's clear which way he was leaning, as his analyses got darker and darker. "It is said that the Germans are subjugated. That is only half true. They are also something else, something worse, for which there is no word: they are 'comraded,' a dreadfully dangerous condition. They are under a spell. They live a drugged life in a dream world. They are terribly happy, but terribly demeaned; so self-satisified, but so boundlessly loathsome; so proud and yet so despicable and inhuman. They think they are scaling high mountains, when in reality they are crawling through a swamp. As long as the spell lasts, there is almost no antidote."
He hung in until 1938. Just prior to the Second World War, Haffner left Germany for England to join the war-effort against fascism. He did not return until the mid-'50s.
So, dear reader, examine the above descriptive passages from the Germany of the 1930s, when the Nazis were assuming full power, and see what lessons can be learned for our situation today.
As I write this, Ashcroft is telling the Congress that the Patriot Act -- the same act that more than 100 cities have voted not to honor because of its numerous violations of rights guaranteed by the Constitution -- does not give the Bush Administration enough police power and needs to be expanded. (This at a time when American citizens have been arrested, not charged and then stashed away on military bases, outside the judicial system; and hundreds of foreign prisoners are being held by the U.S. military at Guantanamo in violation of both the U.S. Constitution and the Geneva conventions.)
Demonstrable government falsehoods are being published by a compliant media, while that same media, owned by corporate giants, refuses to report factual information that is embarrassing to the Administration. And finally, the Pentagon is working on "contingency plans" for the next unilateral invasion of a sovereign state by the U.S. military.
About the Author: Dr. Bernard Weiner has taught American politics and international relations at Western Washington University and San Diego State University. He was an anti-war activist and activist journalist in the '60s and '70s, and served as an editor of Northwest Passage in the Pacific Northwest. He was with the San Francisco Chronicle for nearly twenty years as a writer/editor/critic, and has published in The Nation, Village Voice, The Progressive, CounterPunch, The Progressive Populist, and widely on the internet. He is the author of "Boy Into Man: A Fathers' Guide to Initiation of Teenage Sons" (Transformation Press), four volumes of poetry, and numerous plays. He lives in San Francisco.
Copyright 2003 by Bernard Weiner: Co-Editor, The Crisis Papers (http://www.crisispapers.org)