Posts Tagged ‘Nazi oppression’

The Germans are remarkably honest in their self assessment.  A museum named “A Topography of Terror” sits by a remnant of the Berlin Wall, just across the street from the former Luftwaffe ministry building of the Third Reich.  This is a massive building in which the blitz campaigns against Poland, France, and Great Britain were all planned.  The museum presents an open, factual, detailed history of the rise of the Nazi party in Germany, the atrocities it committed, and the methods it used to subvert the democracy of the Weimar Republic in 1932 and 1933.

The most important element of the success of the Nazi party was how it played on people’s needs and emotions to gain popular acceptance.  It appealed to the people’s patriotism and sense of loss over World War I.  It promoted pride in German nationalism.  When finally in power, it provided just enough economic improvement to the masses to at least keep their tacit, if not vocal, support for the regime.  In such an atmosphere many Germans who had no interest in Jews and who were not necessarily anti-Semitic, became indifferent to the fate of the Jews; as the regime gave them just enough progress and just enough pride in the nation to keep them quiet.  Even keeping all of this in mind, it is important to note that between the summer elections of 1932 and the November elections of 1932, the Nazi party lost 5% of its electoral support.

In a multi party election (November 1932) Hitler and the Nazis won 32%.  They had the largest number of seats in the Reichstag so Hitler was brought into the government as chancellor.  In early 1933 the Reichstag fire precipitated the passing of a series of emergency laws giving Hitler authoritarian power.  Common knowledge holds the fire was set by the Nazis to create grounds for demanding these powers.

New elections were called; but the Social Democrats, the largest main stream party, and the Communist Party were outlawed.  The Centrist Catholic party was disbanded after the government passed laws disallowing any political party other than the Nazi party.  Leaders of opposition parties were arrested and put into the first concentration camps.  These included a number of high profile, democratically elected officials.  Any party affiliation other than the Nazi party; or any perspective voiced other than that of the Nazis, was equated with being unpatriotic.  The museum had numerous pictures of political leaders publically shamed before being sent to prison for their opposition to the Nazis.

On April 1, 1933 was the first official act against Jews in the form of a boycott of all Jewish owned businesses.  The museum is blunt in its portrayal of the persecution of Jews throughout the Nazi period as well as persecution of Gypsies and homosexuals.  People with disabilities were rounded up and executed as being a drain on the resources of the Fatherland.

On May 10, 1933 was a book burning of all books by authors the Nazis deemed as antithetical to German and Nazi ideals.   These included the works of Heinrich Heine, the inspiration of the Social Democrats.

Through the complete manipulation of the flow of information, along with providing just enough economic improvement to lift the people’s spirits; the general populace supported the Nazi regime.  But it was a support indifferent to the details of Nazi governance.  All of the major demonstrations and speeches shown on newsreels were not spontaneous, as claimed, but staged events.  As long as that minimal level of needs was being met, and as long as the German people felt the Nazis were elevating a level of German national pride, the people ignored oppressive measures.  After all, if they were not Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals or political opponents, they believed they would be left alone.  This attitude of indifference is perhaps the scariest aspect of the success of the Nazis in Germany.

What lessons do I draw from all of this?  First, any apparent overreach by the government deserves to be questioned.  Even if it is part of protecting national security, everything deserves to be questioned in a free press.  Perhaps we will be satisfied with the answers.  Perhaps the answers lead to needed reforms.  Americans must care enough to question.  Second, no group has a monopoly on patriotism or an exclusive righteousness regarding the good of the nation.  The demonizing of each other because of a political affiliation is the first step the Nazis took.   Embracing diversity in political perspectives keeps America strong.  Third, we need to condemn and fight any singling out of specific ethnic, religious, or social groups.  This is nothing but an attempt to create straw figures for the political advantage of those seeking power.  Hate radio (the Limbaughs, Becks and their hate speech) needs to be ignored, not encouraged.  Last, we need to preserve a society completely free of censorship.  All books, whether we disagree with them or find them disgusting, should be available.  The flow of opinion and information to the public must be unimpeded.  Censorship of the written word is the enemy of a free society.

It was interesting that in the accounting of oppressive measures taken by the Nazis there was NO mention of gun control.  The passing of laws depriving Jews (and some other groups) of weapons in 1938 was a sign of the success of the oppression, not the cause of the oppression.  The Nazis succeeded because they moved quickly in 1933, when they had strong popular support, to totally subvert the democratic institutions of the Weimer Republic and to pass the initial laws against Jews.  By 1938 it was too late.  Jews were subjugated and the general German population was entranced with the seeming advances the Nazis had made.

The United States also has its “topography of terror” to confront.  The enslavement of blacks, the treatment of Native Americans, and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II are just a few examples of sins we need to honestly assess.  But the biggest sin would be cooperation with the erosion of the freedoms of knowledge, opinion, and thought through our indifference.

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