HIST 202: European Civilization, 1648-1945
While Nazi Germany’s crimes were unprecedented, Adolf Hitler himself was in many respects a typical figure. An idle youth, of seemingly mediocre talents, his political career and passionate hatreds were formed by the experience of World War I. The rise of fascism in Germany, as elsewhere, must be understood in the context of a postwar climate of resentment and instability. Germany’s economic crisis, in particular, led the middle classes to support National Socialism well before any other group. This resentment would find a ready outlet in the form of increasingly persecuted minority populations, above all the Jews. In considering Nazism against the backdrop of a more general wave of extreme rightwing and fascist political sentiment, it is important to note that the policies of the Third Reich were not only known to but also endorsed by the majority of the German population.
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European Civilization, 1648-1945
HIST 202 - Lecture 22 - Fascists
Chapter 1. The Life of Adolf Hitler [00:00:00]
Professor John Merriman: I assume you saw Triumph of the Will. I think I mentioned the other day Leni Riefenstahl only died about four years ago, at age 102. She did interviews, and just looked back on that regime as, she was a professional and she did a good job. Her employers, in this case Adolf Hitler, were pleased with her work. What’s interesting about the film, among the many things, and some of the themes I’ll touch on and you’re reading about, is that it’s a combination of the kind of medieval and the very modern. Hitler, like Mussolini, used modern technology. Germans who could barely afford to eat had radios, and listened to speeches of the Fuhrer, and it was the same thing in Italy with Mussolini. While you saw the images of kind of medieval Nuremburg, which no longer exists, medieval Nuremburg, or not much of it, and the kind of modern technology and the whole thing.
Hitler liked airplanes. He liked to fly around, and for all of the kind of images of the German warriors, kind of a medieval person diving in frozen Pomeranian ponds and things like that, the modern is apparent, too. If you want, the most chilling example of the modern would be the assembly line, the transformation of the assembly line into mass murder. The assembly line in the death camps. Has anyone here been to Auschwitz? I’ve been to Auschwitz-Birkenau. I’ve been to Dachau, also, a long, long time ago, but Auschwitz fairly recently. One of the most chilling things about Auschwitz, actually, the sheer — it’s just beyond anything, but it’s the commandant’s house. The commandant’s house has little swings out behind it. That’s where the commandant lived. His wife said this was the happiest time of their lives. The little children were playing in the garden on the swings, and there’s a big wall there, but not a huge wall. The crematoriums are on the other side in that part, at Auschwitz. Birkenau s a couple kilometers away. Life went on in that way as this sort of assembly line — mass murderers of millions and millions of people.
Hungarian Jews outnumbered Polish Jews exterminated at Auschwitz just barely. That’s because at the end of the war the Hungarians were sending these huge trainloads of people to be exterminated there. Anyway, I want today to talk about Adolf Hitler. I will bring into this some of the themes that you’re reading about. Just two things at the beginning. Obviously, National Socialism was one variant, certainly the most horrible variant of fascism. You can put Franco into that mix. There was rightwing authoritarian rule everywhere. Secondly, like World War I, there’s no other period of history that has such great literature, at least in English, about it. There’s a wonderful trilogy by Richard Evans on Hitler and the Nazis to 1933, and the second volume is 1933 to the war, September 1, 1939. The third is 1939 to the end, to the bunker.
There are many biographies of Hitler. I’ve read about three of them. But the best by far is Ian Kershaw’s two volumes. It’s very long, and I’ll be drawing on that in part. Let’s get going on that. There’s a photo that’s not in the book, but there’s a photo of Hitler reviewing his guys. That particular photo, which was taken about 1927, was on a huge field. You see Hitler reviewing his guys there. What people don’t realize is that picture was taken from a huge — there are lots of other people out there, little groups like the Nazis. It might have been a little earlier. They, too, have their leader, their Fuhrer. Hitler ends up, the National Socialists end up winning, but they weren’t the only group.
I’m not a believer in the “great person” view of history. Hitler did not make the Nazis. World War I created the Nazis. A lot of the racism, a lot of the idea of hygienics, racial purification, and all of that was out there, as you know and I’ve tried to make clear. But if it wouldn’t have been Hitler, there would have been somebody else. In 1933, when Hitler becomes chancellor, when the other rights, there are many rights, but when Von Papen says, “We’ve got them boxed in now. We can use Hitler for our own goals.” How incredibly naïve that was. The Nazis must be seen in the context of World War I. They must be seen in the context of the poisoning of the political atmosphere between the wars.
In 1876, Alois Schickelgruber — I didn’t write it on the board; I sent this stuff around to you today, a lot of it, but Schicklgruber is not on the list — changed his name to Alois Hitler. It was a peasant family in lower Australia — lower Australia? Lower Austria! — bordering on Bohemia. I’ve been to lower Australia. I’ve been to lower Austria, too. But anyway, bordering on Bohemia. Thus, the family’s dislike of Czechs, and Hitler’s particular dislike of Czechs. But he disliked everybody outside of Germans. His father was “illegitimate,” and ended up with the name of his mother’s long-deceased wife’s father, Georg Heidler, which in 1876 became Hitler, as I said.
There was a rumor even during the 1920s that Hitler’s grandfather was Jewish, and these rumors circulated in Munich in the 1920s. Hitler was born in Braunau-am-Inn on the border of Germany, that is the Austrian-German border. This was important in his obsession with uniting the two countries. His father was a customs official, comfortable kind of lower-class existence. But it was not a happy family at all. His father was strict, pompous, proud of his minimal status, extremely pedantic, and had a violent temper. He took care of bees with more loving attention than he took care of his family. He managed the family with efficiency, but without love. Hitler’s mother is described by Ian Kershaw as a simple, modest, kindly woman, who went to church and was devoted to her two surviving children, Adolf and Paula. She smothered them with protectiveness.
Adolf Hitler feared but did not love his father, but this does not explain the murderous results of the whole thing. Civil servants get moved around, customs people. The family moved to Linz, L-I-N-Z, in Austria, which was a hotbed of anti-Semitism, in 1895. Hitler began his schooling at age six. He viewed Linz as his hometown, and, in not a terribly too happy early life, looked back almost nostalgically upon living in Linz. He did not pick up his anti-Semitism in Linz. He started secretary schooling in 1900, but he was unsatisfactory in math and in natural history. He didn’t like his teachers. He was, in principle, respectful, but he thought himself above many of them. He was badly adjusted. His father wanted him to be a civil servant. He wanted him to follow and be the next in line of the Hitler civil servants. But Adolf, as you know, resisted. He wanted to be an artist. His father said, “You will not be an artist as long as I am living.”
Linz was — besides being a hotbed of anti-Semitism, it was a hotbed of German nationalism. Not just Austrian German-speaking nationalism, but German in general nationalism. His father died in 1903 and then Hitler hit the academic skids. He failed in math. He moved to another school fifty-miles-away in a place called Steyr, but it wasn’t any better. Then he took up this sort of idle existence. He painted. He read poetry. He attended the theater. That was one of his great loves in Linz, 1905-1907. He had one friend, August Kubizek, who was the son of an upholsterer. Hitler dominated. He needed somebody to listen to him. Kubizek was exposed, and I suppose willingly, to Hitler’s diatribes, his pontification, his monologues about virtually everything.
He was the classic kind of know-it-all. He was pale, thin. He had that little mustache that would become bigger. He wore a black coat and a dark hat. He carried a black cane with a pretentious ivory handle. His great passion was Wagner — Those of you who know about music know that Wagner was a raving anti-Semite — as well as art and architecture, about which he claimed to know a great deal. He wanted to begin his artistic career at the academy in Vienna, and his mother had fallen ill with cancer and soon died. She died in 1907. This struck him as a “bolt out of the blue,” he remembered. He applied for the academy in Vienna, and, to his horror, he was turned down. He went to Vienna anyway in February 1908, hoping to become an architect. He said later, “I owe it to that period that I grew hardened.”
He lived in Vienna from February 1908 until May 1913. He said later, after the war, during his political ascent, that it was during that period that “my eyes were opened to the two menaces of which I had previously scarcely known the names” — Marxism and Jewry, the Jews. This appears in Mein Kampf, My Struggle, which he wrote when he was in Landsberg prison not far from Munich — I even visited the cell once — after the ill-fated Beer Hall Putsch in Munich in 1923. This was out of retrospect. There is really no evidence that he had become a raging anti-Semite before 1914. Yet, anti-Semitism was so prevalent in Austria. Karl Lueger, who was the mayor of Vienna, whom I mentioned before, was one of the worst in that period. I’ve given this chilling quote before, but I’ll say it again. He’s the one who said, “I decide who is a Jew.”
The liberalism that had been in Vienna in the earlier period was hardened, like Hitler, became hardened into just a vast intolerance. But at the time he said that these two menaces were known to him, he was struggling. He wanted to be the man in leadership of the German Reich. In saying this, if you believe Kershaw, and I do on this and on much more, this was a fabrication. The anti-Marxist, the anti-socialist and subsequent anti-communist after 1917, that was there. His long diatribes in this sort of shabby rooming house, where they would sit around, and finally you can imagine one by one people just getting tired of listening to Adolf, and going up to their miserable little rooms to get some sleep, were against the socialists.
The Austrian socialists, like their German SPD counterparts, had long marches through the streets of Vienna on behalf of workers’ rights, etc., etc. Hitler would stand on the porch of this rooming house and simply hate them as they went by. Yet, Vienna was a huge melting pot of this enormous empire. There are all sorts of people besides German speakers who lived in Vienna. Many of the German speakers were Jews, Freud among them. I’ve been to Freud’s almost bizarrely recreated office there in Vienna. The Jewish population was about two percent of the population. In 1910 it was 175,000 people in Vienna. Then it grew to 8.6 percent of the population. Later, in Hitler’s thundering speeches, over-the-top speeches, he saw Jews as capitalist exploiters of true Germans, etc., etc. This came later.
Lueger, by the way, anticipated Hitler and lots of other people by saying in 1890 that “the Jewish problem” would be solved if all the Jews were placed on a large ship and sunk at sea. When Adolf Hitler lived with Kubizek in this rooming house, and went to the theatre with him, he was not yet thinking of politics. What he wanted to do was become this famous artist. It is true that he painted postcards for tourists, which he sold to kind of keep himself afloat. Kubizek was a piano player, so in the room was two beds and a piano and that was about it. Sometimes you could imagine Kubizek playing the piano just to try to tune out Adolf. But he was rather loyal to him. Hitler began to write a play. He went to the theatre, as I said, and he got a little bit of inherited money after his parents died.
He had little interest in women. Of course, one of the sort of prevalent rumors is that he was impotent, though as you all know surely, he would marry Eva Braun in the bunker, before they took cyanide pills and killed themselves, as the Russian tanks could almost be heard rumbling above. We know of no sexual experience that he had. He described the ideal woman as a “cute, cuddly, naïve little thing, tender, sweet, and stupid.” Of course, like Mussolini, who was a notorious philanderer and used to brag tirelessly about his sexual exploits, both Hitler and Mussolini believed that a woman’s place was in the home turning out baby boy soldiers and not in the factories. Of course, one of the ironies is during the Second World War that women are increasingly doing jobs that Hitler and Mussolini thought were inappropriate, simply because the men were dead. Anyway, he was prudish, seemingly repelled by sex, although fascinated by it.
One of the points that Kershaw makes is that Kubizek’s recollections, along with that of Hitler’s sister, Paula, give us a sense of some of the things that would remain characteristic of Hitler until his much-deserved end. Basically, he was lazy. He was manic at times. There would be these bursts of wild enthusiasm for something. During the war he would demand that the generals place maps in front of him, and he would make the decisions as the generals secretly moaned. He considered himself an expert in military affairs, as well. There was a pathological sense of reality and a sense of proportion, and a vindictiveness that, as most of you that have followed this at all would know, kept the Russian invasion, stalled it as he punished the Yugoslavs, poured troops into Yugoslavia to slaughter people, and then delayed the famous invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22nd. I was in Kiev once and the bells were all ringing. I realized that was the same time that the German planes had first arrived.
His intolerance, his flashes of anger, his tediousness, his sense of predestined greatness, it was all there in the shabby little rooming house, the sense of frustration that his genius wasn’t recognized. But there is no evidence of tirades against Jews. That would come later. Another friend of his, a guy called Hanisch, about whom I know nothing, said after Kubizek had disappeared from Vienna, “In those days Hitler was by no means a Jew hater. He became one afterwards.” In the words of Kershaw, the First World War made Hitler possible. In 1920 he said, for the first time in print, “Jews are to be exterminated.” This is after the foundation of the German Workers’ Party, early in 1919. Of course, it’s that party that would become the Nazis.
There is a picture that may be doctored — and that apparently is no longer in the second edition. It should be. It was in the first edition — of the war starting in Munich. I think I have mentioned this before. It’s a crowd scene. The war has been announced. The war is not in Munich, but all these people are around the town hall, and they are just exuberant. You can see the smiling Hitler beaming, happy, fulfilled. He’s going to fight for German nationalism. He did fight in the war. He was one of the guys. He was a comrade. He was wounded twice. He was a runner in the war. He carried messages from officers to the trenches, and then he — not literally ran but carried them. They called them runners.
Chapter 2. Support of the Nazi Party: Rightwing Revisionism After the First World War [00:20:39]
After the war he emerges, as do troops demobilized in every country, facing the challenges of an uncertain future. Nowhere was that future arguably more uncertain than in Germany. Not all veterans of the fight of the German war cause in World War I turned to far-right politics. The SPD, the Socialist Veterans Organization, was the largest of them all. Yet, there are just enormous continuities between those German soldiers who returned from the war with their weapons in their houses joining the Free Corps, the Freikorps. They kept on marching. They kept on training in their basements. They would come back and therefore be exposed to all of these currents, the sense of betrayal again, as I’ve said before. This is the third time.
How do you explain to the folks back home that you’ve lost the war when your troops are way inside of France? They’re not perched on the frontier. They’re way inside. So, it’s got to be somebody’s fault. Whose fault is it? It’s the Jews. It’s the socialists. And it’s the Weimar Republic. These themes come together. That’s a constant theme. Hitler believed if you told people the same lies over, and over, and over again that they would believe them. This happens in our country, too. In Hitler’s case the lies were even more pernicious. The revisionism becomes an official policy of all of these rightwing groups, of all of them. The thing that’s really just incredible is that the people had memories of Hitler — when you see pictures of him, this kind of pauvre type, you would say in French, this kind of sad sack wearing ill-fitting clothes, did not have friends. Kubizek had disappeared. I have no idea what happened to him. He had big hopes for himself that could never possibly be fulfilled.
The idea of this — those of you who have partied in Munich on the tour, or something like that. I partied in Munich when I was twenty-years-old. We went to these places. But when you go into these big places like the Hofbräuhaus, which was one of the worst, and these other places, it is hard to imagine. This is where the rightwing groups met. All of a sudden, this kind of sad sack guy, who’d jump or be lifted on a table. He wasn’t terribly athletic. Suddenly, he has people listening to every word that he said for hours, for hours. Those speeches, if you ever heard speeches, if your German is really good — mine is terrible. It barely exists. People would listen on the radio. He would build up with this crescendo announcing the will to power, my struggle, our struggle, the German people’s struggle, those who have destroyed us, those who signed on the dotted line of the war guilt clause that said that Germany started it all. “We will get them back,” he says in 1925, when Mein Kampf was published. Isn’t it 1925? I think it’s 1925. He says, “We will kill the Jews.” He says “We will expand elbow room, living space.” We will expand to the east. He says this.
You could buy copies of Mein Kampf in Manhattan. You could buy copies of it in Melbourne. You could buy copies of it anywhere. It was translated into a variety of languages. It was all there from the beginning. The consistency in what Hitler was telling was there all the way through. It was there all the way through. The concrete plans for the extermination of the Jews, as well as the gypsies, and of gay people as well, these concrete plans will come later. Dachau in 1933 was built with Himmler in charge, primarily to put communists in Dachau, and many Jews were communists, and later other people. I went to Dachau when I was your age. I remember seeing an old guy working in the fields right outside the wall. He was old enough that that guy owned that farm back during the war. People knew. I’ll come back to that in a minute. They knew. You try to think, “What did he think when he saw the people come in? What did he think when the smoke rose? What did he think?” They knew. They knew and they didn’t care, point.
If Hitler’s themes barely changed, it raises some very important questions. Who first supported Hitler? Hitler’s support — and I do write about this a little bit — the role of the economic crisis cannot be underestimated. The inflation statistics you will not want to commit to memory, but those are unbelievable. The only case that I know that is vaguely like that is Zimbabwe in the Mugabe period. This is even worse, if that is possible. Middle-class people who had to pawn armoires, chests, drawers, silver that had been in their family for years, in order to have enough to eat. They wouldn’t forget, and they blamed, and they hated. “It’s the fault of the allies. It’s the fault of the Jews. It’s the fault of the Socialists. It’s the fault of the Communists. It’s the fault of Weimar.”
They first flock to Hitler, the middle classes do. If this sounds like an orthodox Marxist interpretation, that’s what the orthodox Marxists say and they’re right. Big business did not flock to Hitler. Big business wanted the destruction of Weimar. They helped make Hitler possible. Only one big businessman gave Hitler a lot of money. He got a lot of small donations. But pretty soon he gets introduced to the right people, the right cocktail parties. They thought he was vulgar. Quick story. I had a colleague who died decades ago. He was very nice to me when I came here. He was a German diplomatic historian called Hans Gatzke. He wasn’t Jewish and he wasn’t a communist, that’s for sure. He left Germany in the mid-1930s because he didn’t like what was going on. He didn’t like what was going on. He got a job translating for the Canadian Olympic team. I said to him once, “Did you ever see Hitler?” He said, “Yes.”
He was under a stadium in Berlin. Like any big stadium, you’ve got space underneath. A lot of places have batting cages. Sometimes there’s a baseball stadium or something like that. He was down there. He was supposed to meet the Canadian Olympic team. All of a sudden he heard this enormous roar of machinery, as machine gun carrying vehicles are coming in. By incredible coincidence, he had a couple pillars here, and just about where Leslie is, there was Adolf Hitler. He was scared, because there were machine guns. He stood there frozen. Would they gun him down? No. He just was standing there. I said, “What did you think? You are fifteen yards away from Adolf Hitler, less than that.” He said, “I had a weird reaction. He was vulgar. He was an Austrian corporal. He sneezed and he blew his nose on his sleeve.” That’s what Gatzke remembered. Big business — Gatzke was a moderate political. He believed in the Weimar Republic. He was a very good guy, a very kind of aristocratic guy. He was a Rhinelander. His reaction was the same as big business, except that big business wanted to destroy Weimar.
The reaction was that Hitler was a commoner. He’s vulgar. “We’ve got him locked in,” they said in 1933. “We’ve got him boxed in. We can use him to our advantage and then have a military dictatorship.” When von Stauffenberg tries to kill Hitler, and puts a bomb under the table that blows up but doesn’t kill Hitler because a big, old, German wooden barrier the table stood on, he wasn’t trying to bring parliamentary regime back to Germany. He wanted a military dictatorship. Hitler was supported by the middle classes disproportionately at the beginning. But in all classes people supported him, workers less so. But they break in 1933. They destroy the unions. They destroy the Communist Party. They use the Reichstag fire, which is actually set by the guy probably now we think, the Dutch guy, whom I write about in there. They destroy the unions. They destroy the possibility of resistance. But lots of workers were there, sieg heil, too, but less so than the other classes.
What about religion? Hitler was a southerner. He never liked Berlin at all. He wanted to raze it and then this sort of art deco monument of his own planning. He was a southern guy. One of the places where he first does very well is Schleswig-Holstein, part of it used to be Danish, and it is totally Protestant. The Catholic Church rings the bell and reads what Hitler wants read from the sermons. They were happy to have Hitler there, as are the Protestants. There’s no doubt about that. Fascism is in the air all over the place. The main elements of fascism that I list in that book, if you think about them, they all apply to Hitler and to the people who followed him: anti-communist, anti-socialist, anti-Weimar, the role of the economic crisis with long, long memories, and hating the allies, and hating the Jews, and hating the Socialists.
The Nazis and other fascist groups are better at saying whom they were against than what they wanted. What they want is ultra-nationalism. What they want is a totalitarian state and the destruction of parliamentary rule. What they want is a dictator. They want a caudillo, as Franco was. They want a duce, as Mussolini called himself. They want a führer. They want a leader who incarnates in that mystical body, as they would view it, the aspirations of the German people. Part of who you were is who you were excluding. You have a völkisch community, in the perverse biological racism of these people, and other people who aren’t in it, too bad for them. If they are “work shy,” Germans who don’t want to work, then they’re not really part of the völkisch community.
“I decide who’s a Jew and who isn’t.” That’s what Lueger said. Hitler says, and this is the horror of it all, “We decide who will live and who will die.” They’re using euthanasia as a tool to kill people who are mentally handicapped, and even some people who are physically handicapped. Pretty soon, in the late 1930s, the Germans say, “Wait, these are Germans.” If they’re Jews who may be Germans, we don’t consider them German. That’s okay. Get rid of them. They pull back on that. But that’s there from the beginning, ultra nationalistic, ultra antiparliamentarianism. You want the guy. He’s going to represent you and he’s going to tell you what to do.
Chapter 3. Order, Terror and Atomization: Society in Nazi Germany [00:33:15]
The terror is there. The violence is there. The Gestapo. There are hundreds of thousands of denunciations. If you denounce somebody, you could be sending them to torture and their death. There’s no question about that. There are denunciations all the time. “Hey, my neighbor, I think he’s Jewish. I know my neighbor down the hall. I know he was a big guy in the German Socialist Party, the SPD. I know that the butcher around the street, I might want his store, because I’m a butcher, too. I know he was a communist activist until 1933.” You see denunciations. they’ve got them all the time. They’ve got them all the time.
Here’s a quote, somebody describing one of the Gestapo offices and the bureaucratization of terror: “Grimy corridors, offices furnished with Spartan simplicity, threats, kicks, troops chasing chained men up and down the reaches of the building, shouting, rows of girls and women standing with their noses and toes against the wall, overflowing ashtrays, portraits of Hitler and his aids, the smell of coffee, smartly-dressed girls working at a high speed behind typewriters, girls seemingly indifferent to the squalor and agony about them, stacks of confiscated publications, printing machines, books and pictures, and Gestapo agents asleep on the tables.”
Nobody had any illusion about what was going on. They didn’t just rule through terror. The SS, by the way, everybody knows about the SS. They destroy the SA. Ernst Röhm challenges Hitler, and in the Night of the Long Knives, they wipe them all out. The SS was a form of sort of social mobility for people. These young guys come back after the war. There was no work. Pretty soon in the 1920s — the SS, you’ve got a uniform. You can go beat the hell out of communists, Jews, or anyone else and there’s no — the judges are all Nazi sympathizers or rightwing sympathizers. They were all trained in the Empire. You can kill somebody and you’ll be out of jail in a very short matter of time. You’re working with impunity, especially in Prussia where Göring is the minister of the interior. It is all routinized. It is all there. They don’t rule just through terror. That’s what I did not emphasize enough in what you’ve read. It’s going to be in the next edition.
Hitler promises order. Order is zero tolerance on petty crime, for example. They have police who are called the Kripo (appropriately enough, in the English translation — pronounced creap-o). They are sort of your basic police. They are not the Gestapo. They go out, and people who are lounging about, who are “work shy,” that’s a dangerous thing to be, “work shy.” Petty criminals, people who are hungry, who are stealing apples off of fruit stands and things like that, they go out and make war on them. The German population nods enthusiastically, overall, as a whole. The war on crimes is something they like.
Also, there’s the economy. Hitler got credit from many German people for having revived the German economy. How does he do that? He does it by violating the statutes of the Treaty of Versailles. They’re preparing for war. He’s preparing for war all the way through. If the Rhineland occupation, the French and the Belgians had put up a fuss, it’s possible that the whole thing could have been stopped there. It’s possible. The generals are saying, “Mein Fuhrer, we’re not really ready yet for war,” while he is freezing his opponents, and they capitulate at one time after another, and the famous story of Neville Chamberlain, who’d returned bringing peace in his time after having sold out Czechoslovakia. But the German economy does revive.
There are still huge gaps between the wealthy and people who aren’t wealthy, enormous gaps. But the German economy does revive because of the same thing that happens in the United States in World War II — you’re turning out, transforming the war economy. That’s exactly what happens. He takes credit for this. There are a lot of flashy gestures. The VW — I went around Europe in a VW with a couple of my friends, sleeping on beaches, the little VW, the Volkswagen. But only one of them was ever produced. He promises the German people a Volkswagen, but only one model ever comes off, for the press and all that. The Autobahn. They’re going to have routes, autobahns all over. Now there are in Germany and people driving 500 miles an hour with impunity. There are only 500 or miles of autobahn done by the time he’s finished.
Strength through joy. He announces a program that the Germans who have never been on vacation, ordinary working-class Germans can go on vacation. Some people did go on vacation. They all get drunk on cruise boats all over the place, but hardly anyone gets to go. But he gets credit for it. He seemed to be producing. He seemed to be producing. And, in a country in which anti-Semitism, despite the fact that Jews were terribly assimilated, was endemic, they liked the fact the Jews are disappearing. They like it and they know it. It’s sheer nonsense to think that people didn’t know what was going on. These trials are put in the papers all the time. “So-and-so has been condemned, being sent away to Dachau because of anti-state behavior, anti-German behavior,” you name it.
People know. They have no doubts about it. Where do they think the trains are going? They can kind of imagine. Where are these people coming from? When all the Polish workers are coming in, being brought in as sort of slave labor, the ones who haven’t been destroyed, when they’re coming to work in the factories, where do these people think their families were? They’re all dead. That’s why Ordinary Men is such a chilling book. How these people, this police officer brigade in Hamburg, how these people can put bullets in the backs of heads of old ladies and little children in the killing fields around Lodz, or anywhere else in Poland, is just an extraordinary story. People knew. Not everybody knew, but they knew. They knew. For people who wanted order, this was their idea. This was the racial idea of order.
The universities. What happens to the universities? Certain fields do real well. Racial hygiene. They establish chairs in racial hygiene. German folklore. They establish chairs in German folklore. Physics does very well, for obvious reasons. Physics equals rockets. Military history, chairs in military history, chairs in German history, chairs particularly in German medieval history. But anything else, your basic history, German literature, for example, doesn’t do very well. There was a famous headline that is in the book saluting the fact that there were fewer visits to libraries, and people were checking out books in far fewer numbers than they did before. How do they pull this off? They pull it off through the atomization of society.
There’s a really wonderful book called The Nazi Seizure of Power, written by William Sheridan Allen about a town near Hanover. He changes the name of the town. People were so proud of that book in the 1960s. In the 1970s they put stacks of them and said, “That’s us. That’s us who were beating up the Jews. That’s us who were beating up the communists. We are so proud.” It’s a very good book. There’s another good book by Rudy Koshar, a friend of mine at Wisconsin on the town of Marburg. What they do is they get Nazis into every voluntary association, basically, and they take them over. What you have is the atomization of society, what Ian Kershaw calls “going to the Fuhrer.”
The only thing left is the family. You protect yourself and the family, or you thrive in the family, but you’re in the family. Your children are in Hitler youth. There is no possible organized way of opposition. Soccer clubs, football clubs, everything is part of the atomization because it’s been taken over by the Nazis. There is almost no resistance in Germany. I’ll talk a little bit about this next time. This was a regime that is capable, as they did in Dusseldorf, of hanging sixteen-year-old boys because they listened to Benny Goodman, or were considered to be slackers, or “work shy.” There’s that phrase again. This atomization of German society makes all of this possible.
Chapter 4. Faith Unto Death: Nazis throughout and After the War [00:42:16]
When Stauffenberg places his bomb, and the thing blows up and it doesn’t kill Hitler, Hitler amused himself and his friends by — all of the people and all of the families of people involved, they filmed them being slowly strangled with wire. They laughed as they watched the film. The most chilling thing, even more than that, is that Germans pour into the street in thirty or forty different cities, as bombs have been raining down all the time. They thank God. Mein Gott, you saved our Fuhrer! That’s extraordinarily difficult to explain. By 1944, the armies are full of old men and boys, because basically everybody else is dead. They keep fighting. They fight with astonishing, foolish courage, until the bitter end. They believed, not everybody believed, there will be a revival. Even the German Federal Republic was just replete with very proud former Nazis who take hugely important positions in power after that.
Of course, the good old Americans help a lot of these Nazi war criminals escape to Paraguay and places like that, in exchange for information about communist movements and that sort of thing. They believed. They believed. Not everybody believed, but that’s one of the scariest things about the whole thing, that it was sieg heil until the end. Again, not for everybody, not for everybody, but for some social classes and others. You find this in other countries, and I’ll talk a little bit about that when — I guess I’ll talk mostly about France next time. Hitler gives the German people what they want. His prestige, every time he stands down the British and the French, every time that he pulls this off — the occupation of the Rhineland, the absorption of the Sudeten part of Bohemia, and then they just take over the whole country, the Anschluss — where he’s greeted enthusiastically by the crowds.
You can see these photos of the adoring Viennese crowds. Where was the Vienna of calm concerts? It became the Vienna of Wagner. It became the Vienna of saluting Hitler and then going out and beating up and killing Jews. Something like 100 Jews are murdered in Vienna when Hitler arrives, to celebrate. They, too, believed. One of the dark secrets was the Nazi past of the former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kurt Waldheim. All this came out before most of you were reading newspapers. Some of you were reading them back then. It was about fifteen years ago, or something like that. The people knew. Those are really the big points that I wanted to make.
When you were reading, German women or German men waiting to get their hair done, when you read a popular newspaper or popular magazine, all of which had articles about Hitler, and this sort of entourage and all that, and you read a cheery headline, such as “Gas Masks for Children Now Readied.” You sort of nodded and said, “We’ll be ready for the struggle.” What happened was Hitler’s book, Mein Kampf, became perceived of and adopted by the majority of people in Germany. Tragically enough, they remain with Adolf Hitler and the Nazis until the very, very bitter end.
Of course, it’s important to see the context is that in all of these places, whether you’re talking about Brussels, whether you’re talking about Amsterdam, whether you’re talking about Prague, anyplace you’re talking about in Europe, or Oswald Mosley strutting through Hyde Park with his little Naziling followers. Hitler was just the most violent, the most egregious, the most horrible, the most tragic example of what was a general phenomenon throughout the entire period, at different degrees of success during the 1920s and 1930s.
The war that began in 1914 basically does not end, at least in Europe, until the defeat finally of Germany, and the death of Adolf Hitler, still at a relatively young age, in the bunker in Berlin.
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