“We all felt the same, the same happiness and joy. Things were looking up. I believe no statesman has ever been as loved as Adolf Hitler was then. It’s all come flooding back to me. Those were happy times.” [A German farmer, Luise Essig, remembering life in Nazi Germany]
As I wrote in my Hallowe’en editorial, the story of the rise of Adolf Hitler is the single most important story of the 20th century. With this event, in less than a single lifetime, one of the most civilized countries in Europe was reduced to moral, physical, and cultural ruin. The rest of the world was nearly gobbled into this black hole of evil.
In 1951, almost half of the citizens of Germany who responded to a public opinion poll, said that the period between 1933 and 1939 was the time during which things in Germany were better than they had ever been during any other period in history. [Herbert, Ulrich, Life in the Third Reich]
For the large part of the German population, the image of Nazism was that of reduction of unemployment, economic boom, tranquillity and order and NOT terror and mass murder. Those crimes were being committed by their government against “someone else” and most definitely were hidden or justified by propaganda.
At the end of WW II, over 65 million human beings were dead and almost one third of the Earth was uninhabitable.
How can it be that half the people of a country that was almost totally destroyed in a war, perceive all the events leading up to that war as “the best there ever was?” How did they perceive – IF they perceived it at all – the deaths of 65 million other human beings? How did they justify the fact that their own culture was essentially gone forever?
Many observers of the Nazi takeover in 1933, and the Nazis themselves, emphasized the “peaceful” and “democratic” nature of the “German Revolution.” In 1933, Germany did not crumble, there was no civil war, the army did not intervene, the trains ran on time, and there was no large scale violence accompanying Hitler’s takeover. It was only after the Nazis were finally able to gain control of all the ministries and police headquarters throughout Germany that the campaign of terror began.
The opponents of the Nazis were rounded up and taken away to makeshift camps set up in old factories or warehouses, and many died under torture.
The communists of Germany tried to protest the intensification of the Fascist dictatorship in the city of Breslau (now Wroclaw, Poland) one morning. No sooner had the peaceful protesters assembled than about 500 Nazi Storm Troopers marched through the square. They tried to provoke the protesters to violence in ways similar to what the New York Police recently did to the antiwar protesters during the RNC. In Breslau, violence did erupt when the police began firing on the protesters, and this was used as a reason to ban the Communists and all rallies as a “threat to public order.” That evening, the Nazis celebrated their victory over the Communists by staging a huge demonstration of their own. Over 50,000 people took part in the center of Breslau. The square of the largest city in Eastern Germany became a sea of swastika flags and marching columns of brown-shirted storm troopers.
We are reminded immediately of the incarceration of those who opposed Bush and demonstrated against him during the election campaign; we are reminded of Guantanamo. We say we are “reminded” of these current events not because the confining of protesters in cages is directly comparable to shooting them down, but because when we look at the evolution of political dissent in the US today, we see it is moving in the direction of more and more brutal repression. It was not so long ago, in 1970, that the National Guard gunned down four students at Kent State University. The seige mentality of the Nixon Administration is similar to the mentality of the Bush gang. This year’s campaign was marked with the oxymoronic “free speech zones” where people who disagreed with Bush were cordoned off into areas where they would never been seen by the president.
The symbol of free speech restricted to special areas surrounded by barbed wire should make everyone stand up and take notice.
The fact is, long before Germany was officially declared to be a “one party state,” open political activity directed against the Nazis had come to a screeching halt.
The term “Liberal” could be used to describe both the Leftists and the Communists of Germany who were the targets of the Nazis. The Leftists of Germany were known as “Social Democrats.” These were largely trade unions, worker’s organizations and so on who supported the Social Democratic Party or the Communist Party. There was “back door” encouragement by the Nazi government for the violence against the “Left.” The police, having been subjected to endless propaganda, saw the communists and labor unions as “evil.” Anxious to make a good impression on their new masters, to be promoted, and most certainly, to not end up in a detention camp themselves, were easily manipulated to act against their fellow citizens in hundreds of illegal ways. The courts, similarly “pressured,” acted in favor of the government’s wishes and “law and order” became “what the Nazis wanted, the Nazis got.” The same rules obtained for the majority of newspapers. The left-wing press was suppressed, and by the time of the elections in Germany, the Left had been driven from public view.
Leading members of the left-wing parties were arrested as the various police forces and Nazi formations began to coordinate their activities. After the election, the Nazis turned their attention to rooting out and destroying the supporters of the now underground Left and Liberal parties. The once impressive supports of German Social Democracy, which had withstood Bismarck’s attacks for fifty years, were destroyed piecemeal.
The campaign against the Left and Liberals was all the more effective because of its ambiguous nature. There was no single, decisive confrontation. It was carried out both within and outside of the existing legal structure just as we see happening in the US today. The Leftists and Liberals essentially faced what were apparently “spontaneous” attacks from “marauding bands” of Nazis just as marauding bands of Bushistas roam the Internet and the streets of the US. These types of attack are quite effective because, essentially, the power of the State stands behind them.
Analysts suggest today that even if the Left and the Communists had been united, they would not have prevailed because once the Nazis and their conservatives controlled the State organs of power, as do Bush and his gang at present, the police and the army were used effectively to eliminate opposition.
If the history of the Nazi seizure of power teaches us anything, it is that there is little the Liberals can do to stop a powerful Right Wing movement that has mass support – or has created the illusion of mass support – allies in powerful places (such as the media), and control of the repression apparatus of the State.
Of course, the Left Liberals were not the only targets of the Nazis: there were the Jews as today there are the Muslims. It should be clear, however, that the assault of Germany’s Jews took second place behind the attacks on the Left.
The Third Reich was only able to establish and maintain itself by being in a perpetual state of emergency. And mostly, they targeted “Liberals.” It seems that a liberal then and now is anyone who values human life even if that human is different. So, when you start flaming Liberals, Communists and the “Left,” the only conclusion that can be drawn is that you are a Fascist – a Nazi.
Nazi activists were generally young, the vast majority of them being under 30, and male. The largest proportion of them were workers, and usually unemployed.
Nazi activism, like today’s neo-conservatism, was predominantly a male preserve that praised “male” virtues of toughness and “standing one’s ground”. The Nazis were able to channel the violent behavior of young men into domestic politics. The young man, out to prove his virility, found nirvana in radical nationalism. This tells us that Nazi behavior, far from being defiant or the “personal frustrations” of individuals of naturally violent natures, was actually founded upon mainstream social values. Think of how Bush’s election is today being spun as the victory of “moral values”.
One of the things that enabled the Nazi takeover was massive unemployment, as we have seen in the US in recent years. The actual figures for unemployment became so frightening that the government actually stopped counting and reporting them a couple of years ago.
The combination of massive unemployment, the breakdown of traditions, and a culture which embraced violent, aggressive values, lifted the Nazi movement – in very short order – to the top of the heap.
It is important to note that Hitler was NOT given the “keys to the kingdom” by violence. Hitler had seen the folly of openly confronting law and order in 1923. The Nazis were thus committed to gaining power by “legal means,” even if those means only appeared to be legal. In the same way has Bush gained power by pretending to do it “legally,” from the stolen election of 2000 to the “fixed” election of 2004.
The Nazis promised a radical change back toward traditional values which appealed to both the rough lower class and the worried middle class. The SA appealed to young men who needed to prove their manliness and who could not do so otherwise – they couldn’t even get a job. The Nazis provided a hierarchical structure that was “safe” and handed out attractive uniforms to those who felt their lives had no meaning or direction.
Utilizing propaganda to create a “straw man” in Marxism and Communism, the Nazis vowed to restore law and order that had been disrupted by the eeeevil Commies. This posture of using violence in defense of order is one of the central paradoxes of the Nazi movement. It was the “attraction” of this ideology that enabled the Nazis to attract massive support and to consolidate power rapidly.
Indeed, the politics of violence played a key role in the rise of the Nazis, but they knew that this was a dangerous serpent to nurture to one’s bosom. Once the dictatorship was established, those who assisted in the consolidation of power were ruthlessly purged.
The Nazis were successful in convincing people that they could provide increased employment and reduce poverty. They gained popularity through the introduction of the Arbeitsdienst (Labor Service), and by establishing separate organizations for women and children. The “Strength Through Joy” program which provided cheap, packaged holidays was a big attraction.
For almost a decade after 1933, Hitler enjoyed remarkable popularity among the majority of German people. Hitler’s own character – bizarre in some instances, mediocre and unpleasant in others – does little to explain his magnetism and popular appeal. The same can be said for George Bush in the present time. About half the US population sees him as the “village idiot,” and the other half sees him as a “heroic leader” in a time of great crisis.
Germany experienced a terrible shock with their defeat during WW I. The political confusion that followed for a number of years prepared the ground for the ideal of a “strong leader” to manifest. In a sense, America has experienced the exact same dynamic, though in a somewhat different order of occurrence. We might even suggest that this has been planned and deliberate, not to mention cunningly executed. Think of all the wailing and hand-wringing that went on among pundits after “America lost in Vietnam”. This “defeat” set the stage for Reagan and his invasion of Grenada and the attack on Libya. America was strong again! After 911, Americans felt vulnerable and this vulnerability was fanned and stoked by the Bushists to become the flame of revenge in Afghanistan and Iraq.
By the 1930s, perception of the failure of democracy and the mortal crisis of the political situation (we can see comparisons with America here, also), nurtured the idea of a need for a hero. At that point in time, one man was claiming that he was that hero – and this was being accepted by increasing numbers of people. Hitler declared that he, and he alone, could reawaken and revivify Germany.
The beginnings of the “Hitler Personality Cult” go back to the 20s even though Hitler only gradually established his unchallenged authority within the party. The introduction in 1926 of the compulsory “Heil Hitler” as the greeting and salute among party members was an outward sign of their bonds with their leader. The party employed religious imagery and rhetoric as standard procedure.
Before 1930, the Hitler Cult had only a few hundred thousand followers. But, with the Nazi party breakthrough in the 1930 elections (think about the neocon breakthrough in the US), the FÃ¼hrer cult was no longer “fringe.”
More and more Germans flocked to the party, seeing in Hitler the only hope for a way out of the crisis. Such people were willing victims of the Hitler myth. One new party member wrote, after hearing Hitler speak for the first time: “There was only one thing for me, either to win with Adolf Hitler or to die for him.”
Even the vast majority of Germans who had not yet fallen under the spell, there was a growing feeling that only Hitler could solve their problems. These ideas were encouraged by propaganda in the media and well staged “events.” Again, we are reminded of George Bush and how he has been stage managed by Karl Rove. Hitler, like Bush, polarized the German people between bitter hatred and ecstatic devotion.
In his public image, Hitler was a “man of the people.” His “humble origins emphasized the rejection of privilege and the sterile old order.” He was depicted as strong, uncompromising and ruthless. Sounds a lot like the propaganda for Dubya.
Hitler’s image embodied true virtues: courage, manliness, integrity, loyalty, devotion to the cause, and opposed effeminate weaknesses of the “old ways.” Gee, sounds like Arnie and his “girlie men” quip, not to mention Rummy’s “Old Europe” remark.
Most of all, Hitler represented the struggle between good and evil – Germany had “powerful external enemies” that sought to destroy it. Again, sounds like George vs. Al Qaeda and terrorism in general.
Even after being appointed Chancellor in 1933, most Germans were still hostile toward him. Within the ranks of the “Left,” hatred of Hitler and all he stood for – which, as it happens, was accurate – burned hot. Just as is the case with George Bush, attitudes toward Hitler in early 1933 were quite polarized, and often decidedly negative.
The question then becomes: How, in such a strikingly short time, did the FÃ¼hrer Cult expand to include most of the German population?
Certainly, many German citizens with grave doubts about Hitler were willing to give him a chance. After all, what did they have to lose? Things couldn’t get much worse. Compared with his pathetic predecessors, Hitler seemed to have the force and the drive to “get the job done.” Sounding more like Dubya all the time.
Where the rest of the world went wrong was in the gross underestimation of Hitler. Large segments of the German population, gave him reluctant or condescending support. Because he was able to master certain overwhelming problems within a short time, this lukewarm support turned to overwhelming enthusiasm.
Because Hitler embodied an already well-established, extensive ideological consensus. The elements of this consensus were virulent anti-Marxism and the perceived need for a powerful counter to the forces of the “Liberal Left” which had been propagandized for a long time to represent the “evils” of economic and military failure. Democracy was seen as the problem because such a system allowed for other parties to exist and to function in government, and these “other parties” were at the root of Germany’s troubles. Out of this propaganda grew a widespread feeling that a strong, authoritarian leader was necessary to recover and to protect Germany against its enemies on all sides.
By 1933, the Nazi propaganda machine had succeeded in establishing the “charismatic authority” of Hitler as not just A leader, but THE leader for whom the nation had been waiting.
It should be noted that Nazi propaganda enjoyed a virtual monopoly within Germany just as the pro-Bush propaganda enjoys almost a virtual monopoly in the US. We can expect that monopoly to soon be total. Those who wrote less than favorable reviews of Hitler’s qualities were silence by fear, intimidation, coercion, and/or even incarceration. Again, we see a parallel in the Bush Reich.
By 1934, the stage was set for the rapid establishment of a full-blown FÃ¼hrer Cult. And so we might expect the same in the US NOW.
Undoubtedly, many Germans saw the Hitler Cult as smarmy and nauseating, but it was accepted among their peers so that they gradually came to perceive it as “normal.” More than that, Hitler had restored order, the economy was picking up, and Germany was standing up for itself against its enemies.
By 1935, Hitler was hailed in the Nazi press (and there was hardly any other press in Germany) as the “Symbol of the Nation.” He was an “ordinary guy” who had worked hard (think of George Bush and how many times he says that being president is “hard work”) to establish Germany’s “social freedom” and “national freedom.” This, of course, had nothing to do with the individual freedoms of German citizens, but rather referred to the reassertion of German military might. Sound familiar?
The message that was conveyed as a subtext was that Germany, as a people and a nation, could only have their identity in military might with the person of the FÃ¼hrer at the head. Goebbels added some human touches to the image being portrayed of Hitler: his simplicity and modesty, toil and endeavor for his people, mastery of all problems, toughness, severity, unshakable determination in the pursuit of farsighted goals, and so on. This amazing catalog of virtues was combined with the instinctive political genius of the FÃ¼hrer, and Goebbels claimed in 1941 that the creation of the Hitler myth was his greatest propaganda achievement. One suspects that this is because he had so little to work with. And, of course, Goebbels could have mentioned the fact that the way had been paved for him by the constant exposure to rabid chauvinist-imperialist values pumped into the population for decades by a stridently nationalistic press (including the German Social Democratic Party that had come out in favor of supporting the German bourgeoisie in the First World War even though the socialists of all countries had said prior to the war that they would not raise arms against their brothers in other countries). Gee, sounds like what has happened in the US, doesn’t it?
Hitler was seen as the embodiment of strong and ruthless enforcement of “law and order”. He represented “popular justice” and “healthy values.” His popularity surged in 1933 after a brutal Nazi suppression of the “Left” which had for so long been represented as “enemies of the State.”
Then, of course, Hitler turned on members of his own movement. (The neocons ought to sit up and take notice here. You have been warned.) He ruthlessly massacred leaders of the highly unpopular SA in June of 1934. This act actually served to eliminate destabilizing elements in the regime and paved the way for the power ambitions of the army and the SS. When Hitler “cleaned his own house,” this was seen as a great and moral blow struck for law and order, eradicating corruption and immorality within Hitler’s own party. This was a shrewd maneuver because Hitler was thus isolated from the growing unpopularity of the Nazi party itself. He was portrayed as “above” the sullied reputations of his party members who were seen as “Little Hitlers” full of corruption and greed, arrogance and high-handedness and hypocrisy. Hitler’s popularity was maintained by declaring that he had been kept in the dark by the misdeeds of his underlings, unaware of the just complaints of his people. Echoes of Bush’s reaction to the torture of Iraqis at Al Graib?
The image of Hitler that was propagated was of a man upholding public morality because his own values corresponded to the values that were commonly held among average people in Germany. For example, disorder, sexual depravity, homosexuality, and so forth, were to be stamped out because they were immoral not only to the people, but to Hitler himself.
In what was a complete inversion of reality, Hitler was seen to symbolize the triumph of “Normal values.”
One of the most important components of Hitler’s image was that of the architect of Germany’s “economic miracle.” Many apologists for Hitler remind us that “despite his mistakes,” Hitler had reorganized and “saved” the German economy. He had gotten rid of unemployment and built buildings and roads.
Yes, by 1939, the economy had improved since the Depression era. But the likelihood is that, since it was a global depression, and it improved globally at the same time without Hitler, it would have done so as well inside Germany without Hitler.
What is interesting about this perception is that the working classes of Germany were not at all impressed by this so-called “economic miracle.” Why? Because the fact is, for them, the standard of living didn’t change all that much. Through repression and intimidation, low wages and longer hours, the “economic miracle” belonged to the corporations and not the common man. It was from these classes that the resistance began to form first, as we will discuss further on.
Hitler was seen as a moderate in relation to his own party vis a vis older, established institutions such as churches. For example, the Nazi party attempted to abolish Protestant bishoprics and to remove crucifixes from Catholic schoolrooms in 1936. Hitler was seen as the “defender” against these “wild elements” in the party. In this, and similar situations, he was able to project the image of being “aloof” from any of the errors made by his cohorts. Thus, despite the loss of popularity suffered by the Nazi party, Hitler was relatively untouched. Hitler was actually seen as a God-fearing and deeply religious man. Sounds a lot like Dubya, doesn’t it?
Another reason for Hitler’s popularity was his almost fanatical, ruthless, and uncompromising action against the “enemies of the people.” However, Hitler managed to distance himself from the public brutalities of his cohorts and was seen as condoning only lawful, rational action.
There can be no doubt at all regarding Hitler’s anti-Semitism which was a key note of nearly all his speeches at the beginning of his career. This was the dominant component of his popularity to early converts to Nazism. However, once he had attained electoral success, he distanced himself from these ideas, leaving the “dirty work” to his cohorts.
It seems clear that Hitler was “sanitized” by propaganda deliberately. What is often not considered is the dichotomy between a man who is claiming to be the strong, decisive, brilliant leader, but who manages to be unaware of what is going on all around him. But then, isn’t that what the majority of German citizens did as well? Claim to be righteous and upstanding citizens while, all around them, the air was thick with death and brutality. The same can be said for Americans at the present time who support George W. Bush who has killed over 100,000 Iraqis after “bearing false witness” against them regarding the attack on the World Trade Center and Weapons of Mass Destruction.
Hitler’s public statements about the “Jewish Question” were actually less numerous than most people imagine. Indeed, his speeches were hate-filled, but this hate was generally couched in abstractions relating to Western plutocracy or Bolshevism. But certainly, these hated groups were known widely to encompass Jews, and thus passive anti-Semitism was encouraged which lent its support to the “legal measures” that excluded Jews from German society. The same process can be seen in America with the hate-filled rhetoric directed at “terrorists” in general (certainly deserving of exclusion from society), while at the same time, it is clear that “terrorist” is almost an interchangeable term for “Muslim.”
Hitler was extremely careful to not be associated in public with the unpopular pogrom type anti-Semitic actions. I think that we can expect similar activities in America in the upcoming year or two. Heads will roll, certainly, among the members of the current administration. But you can be sure that Karl Rove will contrive to keep Bush “clean.”
Later, during the war, Hitler’s vitriol against the Jews was spewed forth in ever increasingly violent public rants and finally, he was expressing dire allusions to their physical extermination. The point is that this was not one of the factors that shaped attitudes toward Hitler which brought him to power. Fact is, in the present time, Dubya is not very far at all from coming right out and saying that all Muslims ought to be physically exterminated. It is coming. You can take that to the bank.
Hitler’s public profile in the arena of foreign affairs stood in stark contrast to reality. He was commonly seen [in Germany] as a fanatical upholder of the nation’s just rights to territory “robbed” from Germany in the peace settlement after the First World War, a rebuilder of Germany’s strength, and a statesman of genius – to which his astounding run of diplomatic coups seemed to offer ample testimony. Amid the widespread, deep fears of another war, he was also, astonishingly, seen by many as a “man of peace” who “would do everything he could to settle things peacefully – a defender of German rights, not a racial-imperialist warmonger working towards a “war of annihilation” and limitless German conquest. [Life in the Third Reich]
Again, those who have not irretrievably lost their common sense and ability to reason will be able to see the exact parallels here between George W. Bush and Adolf Hitler.
The Nazi state affected different people in different ways. For the majority of people, in fact, life was good – that is why they turned a blind eye to the fact that, for others, life was horrific.
Then, there was Hitler’s war image as a “military strategist of genius” who outwitted all Germany’s enemies by his unbelievable Blitzkrieg victories, culminating in the capture of France within four weeks.
The problem is: a charismatic leader cannot survive lack of success. Hitler’s “astonishing run of victories” turned gradually and inexorably into calamities and defeats.
Hitler’s popularity waned only slowly, at first, but after the catastrophic defeat at Stalingrad, a failure for which Hitler was seen widely to be personally responsible, the German people began to turn against him in larger and larger numbers.
This is what is going to bite Dubya since his so-called “mission accomplished” and “shock and awe” consist only in publicity and propaganda. Little by little, the truth of what is really going on in Iraq and Afghanistan is trickling out, and there will come a moment when the neocons will make a fatal error like Stalingrad…
After his failures began to be noted by a populace that was finally waking up – millions of deaths later – Hitler’s early “successes” began to be seen in a new light as policies that had led to war in the first place when war was neither wanted nor needed. His “strong will” and “unshakable determination” began to be seen as traps and not virtues. With no more successes to proclaim, Hitler became more and more reclusive.
We have already seen this with Dubya on the occasions when he has been found out in an error and criticized publicly. Thankfully, he has Karl Rove to intimidate the press, the judiciary, Congress and just about anybody else Dubya wants to shut up. Of course, Rove will do the same for Dubya as Goebbels did for Hitler: depict this absence as the “distant majesty finally triumphant in the face of extreme adversity.”
Then again, after the recent elections, the Republicans control Congress. They will soon have a majority on the Supreme Court. The Bush steam roller will press on with no opposition.
The fact is, Hitler remained popular with many Germans right up to the end and beyond. This was partly augmented by hatred of the Allies for bombing Germany back to the Stone Age, and, certainly, there was an upsurge of support after the failed assassination attempt in July of 1944.
Unquestionably, the adulation of Hitler by millions of Germans who may otherwise have been only marginally committed to the Nazi ideology, or party, was a crucial element of political integration in the Third Reich. Without this mass base of support, the high level of plebiscitary acclamation, which the regime could repeatedly call upon to legitimise his actions and to take the wind out of the sails of the opposition, is unthinkable. It also enabled the specifically Nazi elite to free itself from dependence upon the support of traditional conservative ruling groups, thereby boosting the autonomy of the “wild men” in the Movement. Without the degree of popular backing which Hitler was able to command, the drive, dynamism, and momentum of Nazi rule could hardly have been sustained. [...]
Hitler had to live out more and more the constructed image of omnipotence and omniscience. And the more he succumbed to the allure of his own FÃ¼hrer cult and came to believe in his own myth, the more his judgment became impaired by faith in his own infallibility and guidance “by providence,” enabling him to “go his way with the certainty of a sleepwalker.” [Life in the Third Reich]
Let’s back up a bit and try to see how the Third Reich affected individuals in their homes and daily lives.
Nazi politics induced important changes in people’s home lives especially where women and authority were concerned. Generally, the older generation was skeptical of the Nazis while the young people became active in the many projects and programs offered by the Nazis. This resulted in extreme inter-familial conflict. Young people were given important titles and roles in Nazi organizations, and their new importance and fervor caused them to challenge their parents in ways that had never been seen before. Old German villagers still describe this period as one which saw “war in every household.”
During the Third Reich, the family lost its dominant role in the raising of children. The school was an instrument of dissemination of racial and militaristic propaganda. Children were involved in paramilitary exercises, and they certainly thought this was a “lot of fun.” Young men AND women were conscripted to military labor.
The Nazis justified all these changes in the same terms an old-fashioned father would have rationalized using the family labor to feed the family and uphold its good name. In both cases, cheap labor and authoritarian rule were justified because “everyone’s welfare is at stake.”
The Nazis changed the lives of women profoundly. They introduced a national service for girls which created situations in which girls and young women traveled and interacted with other girls and young women so that they felt “liberated” from the confines of their restrictive family lives. As the Nazi regime moved further into war, women were expected to combine the roles of mother, housekeeper, Party member, and industrial worker. Women workers were subjected to military discipline as they worked side-by-side with prisoners of war and were supervised by armed guards. In this way, the women were confronted with, and imprinted by, undisguised State Power.
As the war progressed, the Nazis needed more and more resources and they turned to the masses to obtain them. The removal of authority over one’s own property was met with silent anger. When the Nazis began intruding into people’s houses, a significant line had been crossed. With reports being received from relatives in the army about how badly the Germans were actually doing, contrary to State propaganda, most of the average people in Germany finally began to get the idea that the Nazis were not telling the truth and never had been.
But it was only after long and slow manipulation and gradual stealing of everything that most Germans had worked to obtain that the Germans began to openly defy the Nazis.
By 1945, virtually every household in Germany had suffered a loss in the war. Most of the dead were young men, and the proportion of women and old people in the population shifted accordingly.
Far from ensuring that a German way of life would endure, the Nazis had unleashed forces which effectively destroyed the “traditional” structure of life in Germany.
The Nazi state lasted for 12 years. Those who were adolescents during the years 1933-36 had experienced the formative economic crisis of the early 30s and were most susceptible to the benefits offered by the Nazi rearmament program which included a strong leader and an end to the infighting between political groups in Germany.
Nazi youth policies were aimed at securing the younger generation’s total loyalty to the regime and their willingness to sacrifice their lives for that ideology. All competition was to be eliminated and many types of Nazi organizations – including military education from a young age – were developed which incorporated the fascist combination of compulsion and prohibitions on one side, and enticements via many “pleasure incentives” on the other. For many young people in villages, the Hitler Youth program offered opportunities to get away from their restrictive home lives and their parents for a holiday trip.
In the beginning, girls were likewise emancipated and enabled to escape from the role-model of wife and mother which, confusingly enough, was propagandized by the Nazis. They could engage in activities often reserved for boys. These opportunities were increasingly withdrawn, however, as the true nature of Nazi discrimination against women revealed itself.
The adolescents of the period 1936-39 passed through their formative stage within the concepts of the Reich. The idea of “Hitler Youth” was taken for granted and for them, there was no concept of alternative ideas. They saw the group comradeship and leisure activities offered by the Reich as beneficial, so how could they complain about the occasional brutality and intolerance? More than that, the Hitler Youth programs gave them a refuge from parental authority which is generally attractive to young people of that age. The Hitler Youth uniform provided the opportunity for young boys to engage in aggressive conflict with traditional authority figures including parents, teachers, clergymen. Detlev Peukert tells us:
Involvement in [the Hitler youth] activities thus offered simultaneously the promise of making a name for oneself, but also growing pressure towards uniformity. This latter feature grew stronger as the Hitler Youth became more bureaucratic, as its leadership corps grew older, and as the use of coercion to draw remaining young people into the organisation increased. [Life in the Third Reich]
The third group of young people to reach adolescence during the war years, 1939-45, had a very different experience. For them, there was nothing but the empty aspects of daily life in the Hitler Youth, characterized by coercion and drill to prepare them to be cannon fodder. Many of the youth leaders were conscripted into the army and from 1942 onwards, many of their club buildings and sports fields were destroyed by allied bombing raids. It was at this point that the Nazi institutions began to reveal their true face as long-armed, coercive, and repellent. War was made to seem normal and violence was legitimized.
Hitler’s foreign policy posturing (just see George Bush in this picture) had accustomed the German people to regard the combination of violent assertions of their legal right to “wipe out” other people, and risk-taking as the “model for success.”
By the end of 1933, all other youth organizations, apart from the Catholic ones, which were protected by the Nazis Concordat with the Vatican, had been banned or subsumed into the Hitler Youth. By that time, the Hitler Youth controlled 47 percent of boys between ten and fourteen and 38 percent of boys between fourteen and eighteen. Only about 15 percent of girls in those age groups were “incorporated,” however. The Hitler Youth Law of 1936 demanded the incorporation of ALL German youth into the programs. By 1939, “youth service” was compulsory.
The progressive campaigns to bring all young people into the Hitler Youth programs resulted in mobilizing overt resistance in many of those who had previously proclaimed their antagonism to Nazism merely by their refusal to participate. The surveillance and discipline required to ensure their “service” made even harmless fun “criminal offenses.” The legal power of the Hitler Youth patrols, whose members were barely older than those they policed, provoked resentment and anger.
The more the Hitler Youth worked to subsume all young people, the more obvious it became that thousands of young people were turning away from the program and insisting on their independence. As they did, the Youth Leadership and the Gestapo increased their pressure. It was admitted that:
The formation of cliques, i.e. groupings of young people outside the Hitler Youth, has been on the increase before and, particularly, during the war to such a degree that one must speak of a serious risk of the political, moral and criminal subversion of youth. [Life in the Third Reich]
The Nazis could no longer use the excuse that these children had been “conditioned” by previous ideological systems or other “youth movements.” The adolescents who began to oppose Hitler were the very generation on whom Adolf Hitler had been able to impose his system from the beginning, unhindered.
Two groups stood out most sharply as opposing Hitler’s system: the “Edelweiss Pirates,” and the “Swing Youth.”
The Edelweiss Pirates were members of working-class youth. They wore metal edelweiss flowers on their collars, and the “uniform” was a checked shirt, dark short pants and white socks. There were various “gangs” like “Roving Dudes” and “Kittelbach Pirates” and “Navajos,” and they would meet together on weekend trips into the countryside where they would pitch their tents, sing, talk, and “bash” Hitler Youth patrols.
The self-confidence of the Edelweiss Pirates and their image among their peers is revealed in the comments of an Oberhausen mining instructor in 1941:
Every child knows who the KP (common abbreviation for Kittlebach Pirates) are. They are everywhere; there are more of them than there are Hitler Youth. And they all know each other, they stick close together… They beat up the patrols, because there are so many of them. The don’t agree with anything. They don’t go to work either, they’re always down by the canal, at the lock. [Life in the Third Reich]
It seems that these young people had a powerful need to put as much space between themselves and the Nazi machine as possible. They wished to avoid the daily experiences of denunciations, spying, orders, violence, and propaganda of the Nazi institutions.
It is amazing to read about these young rebels against the Nazis. They were able to make amazingly long journeys during times of bans on travel, restrictions of freedom of movement, and food rationing. The network demonstrated the existence of vital informal structures of support and communication that could exist even in the high bureaucracy of the Third Reich. Peukert writes:
At these evening gatherings people chatted, told stories, played the guitar and sang songs – especially hiking songs or popular hits about foreign lands, adventure, tough men, beautiful girls. No cliché from the world of commercial entertainment was left unused. Nevertheless, the Edelweiss Pirates appropriated these banal stereotypes for their own ends. For one thing, they were not singing the Hitler Youth songs prescribed as “suitable for young people” or the fighting songs of the chauvinistic German military tradition; they sang adult hit songs… The Edelweiss Pirates developed a remarkable knack for rewriting lyrics – inserting new phrases, lines or whole verses… the Edelweiss Pirates turned the traditional songs of the hiking and youth movements to similar use. They adapted or reworked these songs and used them as signals of protest, either because the songs themselves were disapproved of or even banned by the Hitler Youth or because the names of supposed foes in the original texts were replaced with those of the Nazis, Gestapo or Hitler Youth. [...] On July 17, 1943, the Dusseldorf-Grafenberg branch of the Nazi Party reported to the Gestapo:
Re: “Edelweiss Pirates.” The said youths are throwing their weight around again. I have been told that gatherings of young people have become more conspicuous than ever [in a local park], especially since the last air raid on Dusseldorf. These adolescents, aged between 12 and 17, hang around into the late evening with musical instruments and young females. Since this riffraff is in large part outside the Hitler Youth and adopts a hostile attitude towards the organisation, they represent a danger to other young people. It has recently been established that members of the armed forces too are to be found among these young people and they, owing to their membership in the Wehrmacht, exhibit particularly arrogant behaviour. There is a suspicion that it is these youths who have covered the walls of the pedestrian subway… with the slogans “Down with Hitler,” “The OKW [Military High Command] is Lying, “Medals for Murder,” “Down with Nazi Brutality,” etc. However often these inscriptions are removed, within a few days new ones reappear on the walls. [Life in the Third Reich]
Naturally, clashes between the Edelweiss Pirates and the Nazi power apparatus grew more intense. The Nazi drive for total control led to even more irrational measures of surveillance and coercive brutality. Raids were conducted, arrests were made, young people were branded or had their heads shaved. They were sent to detention camps for “corrective education,” or were submitted to criminal trials. On December 7th, 1942, the Dusseldorf Gestapo raided 28 groups containing 739 adolescents and hanged the ringleaders in public.
As long as the Nazis needed armament workers and more soldiers, they couldn’t just exterminate all the young people as they had exterminated the Poles and Jews. Because these were their own “healthy German stock,” they were forced to think of other solutions. The Nazi State reacted to these gangs of their own people with uncertainty. Some Nazi bureaucrats thought the offenses were just silly youthful pranks. Others saw it as a gigantic conspiracy and looked for a secret organization behind the Edelweiss pirates.
The most likely scenario is that the Edelweiss Pirates were simply rejecting Nazism and its authoritarian, hierarchical and militaristic way of life. All Edelweiss Pirates rejected the Nazis and this rejection defined them, though few of them had any other definite political view. How could the? They were 14 to 18 year olds!
However, their rejection of Fascism often inspired them to DO something against the Hitler Youth, but most of this was merely petty provocation. They spread Allied propaganda leaflets around, joined organized resistance groups, and distributed stickers and leaflets. The obtained supplies for underground resistance groups by making raids on military depots. Yes, in some cases, their activities moved into more violent acts such as the killing the chief of the Cologne Gestapo in the autumn of 1944.
Thus, members of the Edelweiss Pirate movement pned the whole range of nonconformist behavior, from conscious non-participation to open protest and political resistance.
A somewhat different form of protest developed among the youth of the upper middle class: the Swing movement. These young people took every opportunity to avoid the Nazi approved music, preferring to listen to jazz and swing numbers, either on records or with live bands. One internal Nazi report tells us:
The dance music was all English and American. Only swing dancing and jitterbugging took place. At the entrance to the hall stood a notice on which the words “Swing prohibited” had been altered to “Swing requested.” Without exception the participants accompanied the dances and songs by singing the English lyrics. Indeed, throughout the evening they attempted to speak only English; and some tables even French.
The dancers made an appalling sight. None of the couples danced normally; there was only swing of the worst sort. Sometimes two boys danced with one girl; sometimes several couples formed a circle, linking arms and jumping, slapping hands, even rubbing the backs of their heads together; and then, bent double, with the top half of the body hanging loosely down, long hair flopping into the face, they dragged themselves round practically on their knees. When the band played a rumba, the dancers went into wild ecstasy. They all leaped around and mumbled the chorus in English. The band played wilder and wilder numbers; none of the players was sitting any longer, they all “jitterbugged” on the stage like wild animals. Frequently boys could be observed dancing together, without exception with two cigarettes in the mouth, one in each corner… [Life in the Third Reich]
The Swing movement was not antifascist in any political sense – they were just simply anti-political. The problem for the Nazis was that the Swing Kids found all Nazi slogans and nationalism to be of absolutely no interest to them. They found identity with the cultures of the enemies of the Nazis: England, America, France. They accepted Jews and “half-Jews” into their groups. The disgust evidenced by the author of the above report shows that Nazi officials felt attacked in its basic concepts of itself. Heinrich Himmler wanted to put the “ringleaders” of the Swing Movement into concentration camps for “at least two or three years of beatings, punitive drills, and forced labor.”
These two examples demonstrate that even after years in power, the Nazis did not have complete control over the heart of German society. In fact, as the Nazi system continued to “perfect” its means of organization and repression, more and more of German society began to rebel against the pressure and slip away ideologically. In short, the Nazis unintentionally paved the way for the modern youth culture in Germany rather than doing what they claimed they wanted to do: reestablish German culture and family values. The Nazis failed to shape society in its image.
Even as the curtain was coming down on the Nazis, Himmler issued a decree on October 25th, 1944, on “combating youth gangs.” This was the last in the long series of bans and prosecutions in an attempt to suppress protest against the Nazis.
The vices which despotism engenders are precisely those which equality fosters. These two things mutually and perniciously complete and assist each other. Equality places men side by side, unconnected by any common tie; despotism raises barriers to keep them asunder: the former predisposes them not to consider their fellow-creatures, the latter makes general indifference a sort of virtue. Despotism then, which is at all times dangerous, is most particularly to be feared in democratic ages. (Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Vol II, Chapter iv)
From The Nazi State Reconsidered by Michael Geyer:
Unfettered competition is one of the least understood features of the Nazi regime… Historians have been fascinated by the rampant competition, even chaos, of Nazi institutions. At the same time, social historians have come to regard as a major aspect of the National Socialist Regime… the increasing pressures of competitive behaviour among social groups and individuals that reshaped private and public life, within the family no less than on the shop floor.
National Socialism replaced the hard driving, entrepreneurial “economic man” with a new breed of compradores who craftily exploited the chances of improvement and upward mobility provided by an expanding Third Reich. Their main pursuits were not economic or productive but “political”, using the powers of domination and subjugation that were provided by the State – starting with the repression of trade unions and the seizure of their property and the exclusion of Jews from public life and continuing in the wars of plunder and extortion which reached their zenith in the war against the Soviet Union. [...]
The sprawling Nazi State with its many and diffuse institutions was different. Very clearly it became the site of pervasive competition between individuals and institutions for control over this power to dominate others; in turn this became the prerequisite for the wealth and the status of an institution. This competition increased in leaps and bounds with Nazi conquest. Those institutions and individuals who had the license to plunder – and all too often the right to kill as well – ruled supreme. [...]
The Nazi State and the emerging Nazi society were not centered around production and maintaining its conditions, but around the ability to prey on other people and whole societies, much as industry preys on nature.
The consequence of this slash-and-burn approach to State activities was the collapse of the rule of law and of the rationality of bureaucratically organised domination. At the same time, the sphere of the State and the number of those who were employed by the State directly or indirectly expanded dramatically. This expansion, it should be noted, occurred in tandem with the intensification of terror and domination, beginning in 1933. At the zenith of the Second World War, in 1942, a State system had emerged in which literally hundreds of institutions were engaged in the project of dominating the defeated and occupied countries. [...]
Of all its vices, the ability of the National Socialist regime to separate and set human beings against one another in competition over plunder was the worst.
By destroying bonds of solidarity, by fostering the egotism of both individuals and institutions, and by applauding as strong and healthy those “who have no sympathy for any but themselves”, the Nazi regime proceeded to create a State and a society which “placed men side by side, unconnected by any common ties”. This competition did not centre around production or markets, but around terror and force, the capacity to impose one’s will on others by means of physical coercion.
War was the natural extension of this violent system, and war in the Nazi context took on a very special meaning. It has been appropriately called a Weltanschauungskrieg, an ideological war. [...]
Ideological war … is fought in order to create and maintain a State and a society in which German individuals and institutions could share in the domination of others. [...]
There was no coherent system of government. Every institution carved out its own niche in an increasingly vicious struggle for influence and resources. Looking at the endless squabbles between them, it might indeed be surmised that the Nazi State was chaotic. [...]
Yet as competitive as this system of National Socialist politics was and however blurred the line between State, society, and economy, this entity did not lack direction. To step back from the infighting and look at the system as a whole is to discover that the momentum of competition led in the direction of war. [...]
A State system, built on plunder, could not but move in the direction of war… [...]
They wanted war and strove towards it. War was the means to reconstruct German society and the German State on the basis of conquest, subjugation, and annihilation. War was the goal of a process of social reconstruction that began with racial purification as the core of [military preparedness] and was supposed to reach its climax with the anticipated domination of the Germans over other “races”. This was the ideological programme. It was guided by the promise of domination for every German as part of a new “master race” in a racist empire. [...] Competition over domination formed the material practice of the Third Reich. [...]
Ideological politics were thus the promise of participation in the domination of others for one’s own and the common German benefit. It was thus a peculiarly perverted system of participation; for while the Germans were not allowed to govern themselves, they were encouraged to dominate others. This was the Nazi “social contract” on which the State, with its competitive and predatory institutions, rested. [...]
As a result of the Nazi takeover, the powers of industry and the military expanded dramatically during 1933. [...]
The military wanted more rearmament, industry a course of stability and profitability, and both were ready to pass the costs on to society. Hitler resisted this choice by pursuing a third, his own course. He drove towards a quick, even premature war – and not just any war, but ideological war. [...] However, the main costs of the re-emergence of corporate power within the Nazi State and the reassertion of the imperatives of production in total war were still not paid by the Germans, but by forced labour, plunder, and starvation in occupied countries. [Life in the Third Reich, edited by Richard Bessel]
“Unfettered competition” characterized the Nazi regime; “the increasing pressures of competitive behaviour among social groups and individuals that reshaped private and public life…”
Those reader who have read our article “Official Culture” in America: A Natural State of Psychopathy? are aware that we have been pondering this very thing for some time now, and it will be no surprise at all to see a full-blown Fascist society exactly as described above forming in the wake of the re-election of George W. Bush.
In the referenced article, KAH wrote:
It is terrifying enough when one realizes that the Bush Reich and other elite groups around the globe are wreaking havoc on the planet without regard for life in any form, apart from their own, but when we also have to face the fact that there are so many people out there, that – even when faced with the certain facts of this global tinder- box – either cannot see it or WILL not see it, well, that makes this situation just a little bit more terrifying. Again, we return to the problem: what is WRONG with Americans? [...]
They don’t even realize that “Survivor” is programming them to the very attitudes that are being displayed by their leaders – normalizing it, so to say – and at the present moment these attitude are being manifested in their own lives in a direct and terrifying way. For many in the US, their future is that there won’t be any more Super Bowls, and the SUV certainly doesn’t get enough gas mileage to get them far enough away from the terror that will confront them when they are “voted off the island” in the global game of “Survivor.”
In my half of the co-authored piece, I tried to answer this question.
LKJ: In recent times, I have considered many ideas in an attempt to answer this question. The members of the Quantum Future School have been engaged in studying psychopathy and pseudo-psychopathy for about two years now. This has certainly prepared most of us to be able to see the man behind the curtain, or, in this case, behind the “mask of sanity.” But it still doesn’t answer the question as to why psychopathic behavior seems to be so widespread in the US. (That is not to say that it doesn’t exist everywhere – that’s a given.)
Linda Mealey of the Department of Psychology at the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, Minnesota, has recently proposed certain ideas in her paper: The Sociobiology of Sociopathy: An Integrated Evolutionary Model. These ideas address the increase in psychopathy in American culture by suggesting that in a competitive society – capitalism, for example – psychopathy is adaptive and likely to increase. [...]
The conclusion is that the American way of life has optimized the survival of psychopaths with the consequence that it is an adaptive “life strategy” that is extremely successful in American society, and thus has increased in the population in strictly genetic terms. What is more, as a consequence of a society that is adaptive for psychopathy, many individuals who are NOT genetic psychopaths have similarly adapted, becoming “effective” psychopaths, or “secondary sociopaths.” [...]
Psychopathic behavior seems to be on the rise because of the very nature of American capitalistic society. The great hustlers, charmers, and self-promoters in the sales fields are perfect examples of where the psychopath can thrive. The entertainment industry, the sports industry, the corporate world in a Capitalistic system, are all areas where psychopaths naturally rise to the top. Some observers believe that there is a psychological continuum between psychopaths (who tend to be professionally unsuccessful) and narcissistic entrepreneurs (who are successful), because these two groups share the highly developed skill of manipulating others for their own gain. It is now being thought that they are actually the “same” but that the “unsuccessful” psychopath is merely flawed in their calculating abilities. They are unable to recalculate based on new actuarial data. Successful Narcissists might seem to be perfectly able to add to their actuarial database and “recalculate” and shift course and develop new subroutines based on ongoing input.
In general, the successful psychopath “computes” how much they can get away with in a cost-benefit ratio of the alternatives. Among the factors that they consider as most important are money, power, and gratification of negative desires. They are not motivated by such social reinforcement as praise or future benefits. Studies have been done that show locking up a psychopath has absolutely no effect on them in terms of modifying their life strategies. In fact, in is shown to make them worse. Effectively, when locked up, psychopaths just simply learn how to be better psychopaths.
Notice particularly that psychopaths cannot be motivated by “future benefits.” This is a very peculiar thing about them: they do not seem to have the ability to abstractly conceive of something that may happen “in the future”, not even their own demise or long term suffering under such a regime as George W. Bush is in the process of imposing on the US.
This brings us to what Gurdjieff said about those periods of history that he described as
“times of mass madness such as wars, revolutions, and so on, when men suddenly seem to lose even the small amount of common sense they had and turn into complete automatons, giving themselves over to wholesale destruction in vast numbers, in other words, even losing the instinct of self-preservation.”
As the article describes above, a fascist society – a society of psychopaths – is a feeding frenzy.
Ideological politics were thus the promise of participation in the domination of others for one’s own and the common German benefit. It was thus a peculiarly perverted system of participation; for while the Germans were not allowed to govern themselves, they were encouraged to dominate others. This was the Nazi “social contract” on which the State, with its competitive and predatory institutions, rested.
In other words, Americans support Bush and his agenda because most of them are LIKE him.
Originally Published 2004_11_04