Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
Professor of Political Science
Mary Baldwin College
Staunton, VA 24401 USA
This essay last modified April 19, 2012
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More Photos of the original diary of Anne Frank
Preface. Many American middle school and high school students are assigned to read the "Diary of a Young Girl" by Anne Frank, and through such assignments some become curious about the story of Germans supporting oppression of non-Germans in Europe in the mid 20th century. But the distance between that teen author and 21st century readers in time, and other factors, often drain this important first step of its potential to open us to a more complete account of what oppression means to free people. The premise here is that understanding historic threats to human rights can help inform our understandings of ourselves, of democracy, and of Germany, both historic and beyond.
Our attention to extremism in Germany is timely. Among Germans, by 1994, a poll by the Emnid Institute found that one in three Germans by then believed that the Holocaust "is not relevant today," while nearly a third believed "Jews exert too much influence on world affairs," and that one in five would "prefer not" to live in a neighborhood with any Jews (Atkinson 1994a: 14).1 A decade later, in September 2004, for the first time since 1968, the neo-Nazi NPD party polled 9 percent of all votes cast in an election for the legislature of the eastern German state (or in Germany: laander) of Saxony. By exceeding the five percent threshold required in the German Basic Law (i.e., Constitution) for any party to win any seats at all -- a German electoral rule designed to discourage voting for small parties-- these neo-Nazis could enter the public mind thereafter as elected officials. This happened on the same day that the neo-communist PDS party won 27.8 percent of the vote in Brandenburg. Since then, support for extremist parties has not declined in the formerly communist Eastern areas. Three years after the breakthrough of the neo-Nazis into the Saxony legislature, in September 2007, a poll conducted by the Forza Institute reported that in Saxony 9 percent of residents continued to support the NPD, and that the neo-Nazis were more popular there than was the Social Democratic Party (SPD), one of Germany's two leading parties. (Disturbingly but of a different order, 27 percent in this 2007 poll expressed support for the "Left Party," a 21st century amalgam of communists and other discontents on the Left). This trend toward supporting extremists was not just in one state (i.e., laander): in September 2006, NPD polled 7.3 percent of the votes and thus won seats in the legislature of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, another region of the former East Germany in which unemployment hovered around 20 percent. Thus, at least in elections to regional (laander) elections, and in polls, German extremists clearly have made some headway in recent years.
Scattered evidence such as this points toward growing support among Germans for anti-Semitism, i.e., hatred directed at Jews, and it has troubled the national government of Germany. A Government commission appointed to investigate the phenomenon, and to make recommendations for changes in policies to address it, reported its findings in January 2012 (Weinthal). Central among them was that one in five Germans hold anti-Semitic views. The 200+ page report documented the presence of hateful attitudes within political movements of the extreme right and the extreme left, within German Muslim communities and in the broader Christian population. One Commission member, Dr. Juliane Wetzel, stated that statements of hyperbolic criticism of Israel which she and the Commission described as an expression of anti-Semitism were shared by between 40 to 50 percent of the German population. Attitudes such as these contribute to anti-Jewish behaviors, which the Commission found to be increasingly common. Of hate crimes committed against Jews, the Commission found ninety percent to have originated within extreme right wing and neo-Nazi groups. Such acts of violence may still be uncommon, but public expressions of hate toward Jews has become more socially acceptable within some social groups, the Commission found. On several occasions, chants at soccer games have drawn broad participation of the crowd when led to scream "Bring Back Auschwitz," "Jews belong in the Gas Chambers," and "Synagogues must burn."
Modern deadly threats to free societies and the representative governments they sustain have come from at least three distinct anti-democratic directions: military authoritarianism, totalitarian fascism and totalitarian communism. In this reading, we examine these challenges as they have been manifest in the German nation and its various incarnations as German states. As much as Germans, our secure future may require us to respond to the political dilemmas demonstrated in their experience.
Attention to the German experience now is especially well placed. For more than a decade, Germany democratically has been attempting to fuse together two states with markedly different political cultures and radically different recent histories: the formerly communist German Democratic Republic and the western-democratic Federal Republic of Germany. The political cultures shaped by these states' management of German society have not always meshed well; democratic values tenuously rest in the balance.
In the years since the unification of Germany ( October 3, 1990), worrisome behavior has reappeared. Neo-Nazi movements that initially attracted only young "skinheads" in the impoverished formerly communist eastern areas have become widespread there, and violent mob behavior has spread throughout Germany. Attacks have focused on diverse targets, all united by the common denominator that they are non-Germans in Germany: Asian resident aliens brought to Germany by the former East German government; Polish tourists; Turkish-ethnic residents of the former West Germany (many of whom have lived decades there); Romany gypsies who claim refuge from post-communist discrimination in the newly independent states of East Central Europe; Croats, Bosnian Muslims and Serbs who have sought safe haven from war in the Balkans; black Africans who have claimed they are victims of political repression in their several unstable homelands; and others, including American athletes visiting Germany for international competitions. Mob violence has become not uncommon: in the streets, where it has been directed against individuals of these minority groups, and in the dark of night, directed against hostels and apartments that house minorities.
Violence peaked in the early 1990s but continued at a declining rate into the new Millennium. The worst year was 1992, when 17 died in 2639 racist attacks, and there were 700 additional incidents of racist firebombing that year, up from 383 in 1991 (Atkinson 1994b: 13; "Nearly...": 1; "Attacks...": 30). In this light, small comfort may be taken in the fact that fewer such incidents occurred in 1993 (i.e., 2292) and thereafter. Is it cause for celebration or concern that by 1994 only a little more than 3 racist attacks a day occurred in Germany? Despite frequent assertions by government officials that the press overstated the problem, German federal government police statistics have shown that even German citizens were targeted: in one recent year (1992), seventy-seven Jewish cemeteries or memorials were desecrated. After the synagogue at Luebeck was torched (March 1994), all German synagogues were placed under round-the-clock police guard, a situation which persisted for more than four years. After the attacks on America of September 11, 2001, marked increases in hostile acts toward Muslims were reported.
Against this backdrop of intolerant behavior, political parties which appeal to the mobs' xenophobic attitudes also have gained wider support in several German regional (or laander) elections: by Spring 1998, the racist German People's Union won nearly 13 percent of the vote and representation in the parliament of Saxony-Anhalt state. But violence not only did not abate; it rose. German Government figures (WP 2001a: 18) showed nearly two times as many anti-Semitic crimes in 2000 (i.e., 1084 crimes) compared to 1999 (574 crimes). Early in 2001, the Government filed a request in Court to ban another neo-Nazi party, the National Party of Germany, known as NPD, but the Constitutional Court ruled against such a ban since government informants had provided key evidence against NPD leaders. As mentioned above, in 2004, the NPD used the controversy to its advantage, and won seats in the legislature of Saxony, polling over 9 percent of the vote; and in 2006, won seats in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania after polling 7.3 percent.
Since September 11, 2001, the Government has taken steps to ban Muslim political groups believed linked to terrorism, even while opponents on the far right have won more support by campaigning on racialist, anti-immigrant slogans such as "shut the borders" (as in Saxony, 2004; and in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, 2006). While national political leaders have used formal, legalistic steps to proceed against terrorists without menacing innocent Muslims, for the most part the major national political parties quietly have looked on. Meanwhile, the responses of local authorities in several areas have been disturbingly equivocal. Though many Neo-Nazi arsonists and murderers have been prosecuted for their crimes, police in other places (e.g., Rostock) have stood limply by while the mobs stoned unarmed immigrant women and children. The violence clearly has been an embarrassment to the always proper Germans, but only to a point. After the first three years of it, polls in 1993 showed that up to 70 percent of Germans then agreed with the Neo-Nazis on the key issue of closing Germany's doors to foreign asylum seekers (Fisher 1993c: 44), who often were non-whites.
Germany closes a door. At the seat of government then in Bonn, in May 1993 the street bullies found a surprising ally in an unusually responsive Helmut Kohl Government and its Christian Democrat-Free Democrat majority coalition in the Bundestag (i.e., the lower house of the national legislature). Legislators, too, had tired of the burden of behaving humanely in response to the complex tragedies behind the by then nearly one million new applicants for asylum in the years after German reunification. With war raging in Bosnia, and Bosnians in flight to find safe haven in Northern Europe, German legislators, like the average Germans in the poll above, felt imposed upon. So they simply abandoned Article 16 of the Federal Basic Law (or Constitution), a once-sacrosanct west German standard that granted refuge to all victims of political and religious persecution. Included in that 1949 constitutional document so to recognize the decency of the principle followed by various nations that admitted 800,000 Germans who had fled Nazi persecution, 1933-45, Article 16 had proven too difficult when modern Germans actually were asked to grant safe haven on a large scale. In the final whole year in which Article 16 was part of the Basic Law (1992), 440,000 foreigners had registered their claims for protection in Germany. The 161,000 more who had arrived in the first third of 1993--principally Romanians and former Yugoslavs-- had exhausted Germany's patience. Article 16 simply was repealed, even though less than one in twenty asylum applicants typically in 1990-93 had been granted permanent residence; the rest always had been deported. But merely their temporary presence, those months of sanctuary in which to plead their case, now were too difficult to bear for the prosperous Germans. The repeal of Article 16 was a clear step toward a more purely German Germany, a Germany less in need of appearing humane, and it was enacted by a vote of 531 to 132, carrying with it not only the votes of the governing conservative Christian Democratic Party (and its lesser coalition partners) but also many of the legislators of the opposition Social Democrat Party (SPD) which after September 1998 ruled Germany until 2005. Traditionally the voice of Germany's conscience on such matters, only 102 SPD parliamentarians in 1993 were willing to still stand firm on the absolute right to asylum.
Germany's new asylum law took effect July 1, 1993. Under its terms, any refugee arriving from a democracy (or, as the law put it, a "safe third country") was made flatly ineligible even to apply for German asylum. Since all nine of the states on Germany's borders were so defined, no one crossing into Germany by land could be eligible. To further discourage refugees, welfare payments to asylum applicants were cut from over $1000 cash per family per month (1992) to $52 per adult per month, and a basket of groceries. Needless to say, most oppressed peoples got the message: asylum applications dropped from over 37,000 a month at the time of the repeal (Atkinson 1994c: 1, 16), to 171,000 in the entire year of 1997 (TWIG 1998c: 2). Less than five percent, 8443, actually were granted asylum in 1997. Yet, to further discourage sanctuary seekers, in June 1998, social welfare benefits to asylum applicants were cut further (TWIG 1998a: 2). The numbers fell further in 1998-99 and in the new Millennium.
It is important to recall the context of these decisions. During several recent years (i.e., 1992-94; 1998-99) over one million refugees fled in all directions from the brutal wars in the former Yugoslavia, and that the largest groups filing asylum claims in the year of the repeal of Article 16 were fleeing Former Yugoslavs (72,476) and Romanians (73,599) (Atkinson 1994c: 16). After 1993, their plight was to be solved by someone else, for as Chancellor Kohl pithily put it, shortly before his party's 1994 reelection to government, "Germany is not an immigration country." His Government fell from power in 1998, but his Social Democrat successors also greeted frostily the Kosovar refugees driven to seek safe haven outside Serbia by racist rulers there, 1998-99. The Angela Merkel Government (after 2005) did nothing to reverse these policies.
Only Germans need apply. However, Germany long has been a major landing point for one sort of Eastern European and former Soviet citizen. During the Cold War and in the 1990s, ethnic Germans have always been welcomed. The repeal of Article 16 has no impact on the right of ethnic Germans (called "resettlers" or Aussiedler) to come to Germany, a right generously supported by a German Government anxious to keep non-Germans out. "In both 1989 and 1990, some 400,000 Aussiedler took advantage of their right to German citizenship; since 1991, the figure has been about 200,000 annually" (TWIG 1995a: 8). According to official German Government reports, while the total number of ethnic Germans from those areas was declining by the later 1990s, it nevertheless exceeded 218,000 in 1995, and was over 134,000 in 1997 (TWIG 1998d: 2). It is clear that in the 1990s, Germany's chilly mood was selective: non-Germans alone need not apply for a safe home there. With some cause, Kohl and most Germans felt put upon: among the European states of the 1990s, Germany's population of 6.9 million foreigners (8.5 percent of the total population) has, in fact, been the largest both in real numbers and as a percentage of total population. Europe overall averages less than three percent foreigners.
Why any indication of rising German indifference to neighbors' suffering matters. Once before, the moderates in the center of German politics lost support as humane values withered. Throughout Europe since the early 1990s, many of Germany's neighbors have paused to remember that seventy plus years ago much of German society enthusiastically supported the use of law to enforce ethnic discrimination, harassment and exclusion. Social intolerance of minorities then, combined with hard economic times to produce widespread, popular support for anti-democratic politicians. Under their champion, Adolf Hitler, Germans in the 1930s did not keep these sick values at home. When German armies prepared to move forward, they had supporters in every European state. No less than thirty million, and perhaps as many as fifty million, perished in the cataclysm these German values spawned.
Germany's neighbors in the 1940s took steps to insure that German racialism would not again menace the continent, and the world. The free world's response to German callousness and aggression in the 1930s and 1940s was total war: Germany was turned into rubble; it was occupied by foreign armies; and it had in its western regions a democratic constitution imposed upon it. For nearly half a century strong alliances joined democratic Germany's fate to that of its neighbors, and to America's unmatched military and nuclear forces. The N.A.T.O. alliance continued into the new millennium to make remote any immediate reason for Europeans, or North Americans, to fear Germany. But, in 2002-03, German opposition to U.S. plans to invade Iraq threatened to scuttle the NATO partnership between our states, and over the course of the whole decade of the 2000's, tensions simmered in this important alliance relationship. Significant portions of the German population no longer share a perception of common interest with Americans. These problems have been aggravated by the willingness of German Governments to support U.S. policy objectives in Afghanistan by sending German troops to assist N.A.T.O. there; and by the placing of German peacekeepers in Lebanon as part of a U.N. force separating combatants after the Israel - Hezbollah war of Summer 2006. By 2009, only one in three Germans supported close ties with the U.S.; and among all Western populations surveyed, Germans were the most pessimistic about the prospects for success in Afghanistan.
In the new millennium, anti-American attitudes also have become widespread among political elites: anti-U.S. discourse has proven to be a winning electoral strategy, and among German citizens overt hostility to Americans is now not infrequent. This trend began in Fall 2002, when Chancellor Schroeder and the SPD party won re-election to control the national Government on an overtly anti-American campaign theme. In polls of Germans' attitudes done in 2002-2004 by the respected Pew Center (see page 6 inside the preceding linked study), anti-American attitudes grew from 35 percent (Summer 2002), to 68 percent (on the eve of the Iraq war, March 2003), to 59 percent (March 2004). But Americans are not the sole, nor the most reviled non-Germans in Germany: the same study (at page 5) found Germans to have the most anti-Muslim attitudes when compared to U.S., U.K., French and Russian views of Muslims: 82 percent of Germans then held negative views of Muslims.
These trends, and these views, are jarring, and need to be appreciated in perspective, for they are not altogether new. As the ghastly spectacle of war in Bosnia unfolded prior to NATO's August 1995 intervention, Germans shut the door to the refugees. When America was attacked and went to war in Afghanistan in 2001, dozens of German intellectuals publicly rebuked the U.S., denying publicly our right to respond to the murderous attacks of Sept. 11, and wearing that pose of moral superiority as a badge of honor, saying Afghanistan was "no just war." When, subsequently, a relatively small number of German soldiers were deployed to assist in Afghanistan, protests were widespread. In 2012, 4818 German soldiers were stationed in Afghanistan, the third largest contingent after U.S. (90,000+) and the U.K. (9500). In the councils of the NATO alliance and at the U.N. Security Council (where they then were a member), the German Government in 2002-03 openly opposed every effort by the U.S. to gain support for widening the anti-terrorism war into Iraq. (Yet, the U.S. press at that time chiefly focused on French, not German opposition). Critical of that operation and of the (U.N.-authorized) U.S. occupation of Iraq, Germany reiterated the position grimly revealed a decade ago in the Balkans: it would prefer that NATO's (and the U.S.'s) muscular armies stand unused on the periphery of conflict. But as Americans became painfully aware in Sept. 2001, power unused against evil cannot stop terrible deeds from happening.
Nor can willful indifference to the suffering of others long protect Europe (or America) from corrosion of the democratic spirit. Surviving voices from history's darkest chapters seemed long to have implored Germans never to ignore the potential for human evil. But Germans by the droves recoiled from American pleas that they join us in overthrowing the worst dictator then ruling on earth, Saddam Hussein, early in the new millennium, and subsequently, Germany showed itself entirely unwilling to assist to any degree in the reconstruction of Iraq, or to invest even indirectly in that project. Thus, it is that we must conclude that, with the passage of time, the influence of the voices schooled by Germany's dark past has been muted if not altogether lost. In the time between now and the mature years of the current generation of students, those in Germany who heard those voices also will all be gone.
Germany in the new millennium is not Germany of the end of the 19th or 20th centuries, to be sure. Undeniably, German economic growth did add stability to the project of democratization over the last 60+ years. But since 1990, the high costs of unification have worn holes in that warm blanket which had insulated the system. By early 2003, unemployment stood at higher levels than at any time since the early 1930s: 11 percent out of work nationwide, and over 20 percent out of work in some areas of the former East Germany (TWIG 2003), though declines in unemployment rates later were experienced there despite the worldwide economic recession that began in September 2008. (Compared to the U.S., which had 8.5 percent of the workforce unemployed in December 2011, Germany had a 6.6 percent rate that same month).
The growth of intolerant attitudes, of course, may not point toward an aggressive German state undertaking aggressive international behavior. Perhaps we should be comforted that the crest of this wave of violent, racist behavior seems to have passed, and seems not to have captured hold of a national government. That comforting interpretation was shattered in the Fall of 2002, when the chief law enforcement officer of Germany at the time, S.P.D. Justice Minister Herta Daeubler-Gmelin, trivialized the meaning of Nazism by referring to the present U.S. Bush Administration as being like the Nazis (Finn: 19). Anti-Americanism now so animates the public appeals of the S.P.D. party, junior partner in the "Grand Coalition" Government 2005-2009, that any replacement to the present center-right government that comes from the left almost certainly will be anti-American.
Yet, despite the global recession, Germany still possesses the largest economy in Europe. Germany's ultimate direction remains unclear, but the aspiration to greater influence already is evident. As early as 2004, Germany demanded modification of the permanent membership (i.e., veto-possessing membership) of the U.N. Security Council, so that along with Japan, Brazil, and India it would be the peer of the extant five permanent members of the Security Council (i.e., the U.S., the U.K., Russia, China, and France); the U.S., Russia and China rebuffed this proposal. Still, the possibility that Germany, long a solid, democratic partner, could become the center of an emerging anti-American coalition on the European continent ought not to be dismissed entirely. For these several reasons, current and historic, it is important that we get to know more about Germany.
Structure of this reading. This essay explores several dimensions
of "the German Problem." In its first section, several types of non-democratic government will be
outlined. Traditional German authoritarianism will be contrasted
with other non-democratic governmental forms. This review will help us
to understand the tardy development of a democratic constitution and a
democratic political culture in Germany during the Empire
period (late 19th - early 20th centuries). We then briefly will veer away from
chronology in order to define the phenomena of fascism which historically
proved to be the political movement in German history with the greatest
anti-democratic appeal. The first German democratic government, the Weimar
Republic (1919-1933), then will be analyzed. Especially noteworthy is the collapse
of functioning democracy within its political institutions (legislative;
executive) under the pressures brought forth by the
societal and political forces that propelled totalitarian
fascism. Fascism in Germany was named "National Socialism," but more commonly
was, and is, called Nazism. Given the paucity of attention devoted to Nazism
in political science textbooks, that totalitarian phenomena next will receive
our analytic attention. Finally, the genocidal crimes of that regime will
be surveyed and joined to insights from a more personal
the essay attempts to present a foundation from which to understand both
modern German political culture and, more universally, the potential in
humans that can endanger all democratic governments.
II. Non Democratic Governments
Before the 20th century, representative democracy was not the nearly universally preferred governmental form that it had come to be regarded to be by the 21st century. Absolute and constitutional monarchies --a European norm of the era up to the eighteenth century-- surrendered power gradually. In 19th century Europe and the rest of the West, military authoritarianism was the primary threat to this transition culminating in elected, constitutional, representative government which has come to be known generically as "democracy." Many authoritarian military governments tried simply to turn back the clock on popular aspirations for self-government (e.g., 19th Century Spain, Mexico before 1875), and to limit influence on their rule-making to a process in which they defined narrowly the group of those who could participate. Typically, the hierarchy of the prevailing religious institutions, the wealthy land-owning class, and the military officer corps were the main political actors. In some states (e.g., Russia), monarchs retained a more singular control over the political process, but came in the course of the 19th century to rule through an increasing reliance on military institutions that was not entirely dissimilar. The multi-ethnic Hapsburg Monarchy of Austria-Hungary also resembled this latter variation.
By the latter half of the 19th century, the rulers of many authoritarian regimes were committed to economic modernization so to keep their states competitive with their democratizing rivals, Britain and France. This economic and geopolitical objective was shared by Russia and Germany alike. But German authoritarianism differed from the Russian variation and from nearly all of its non-democratic peers in that the rulers saw some need to make a social compact with the new industrial and urban classes which a strong, modern state would require. This German state used both "carrots and sticks," unlike the more purely repressive Russian model. Social welfare legislation, public support for educational institutions, government economic planning, centralized control over finance and trade, these and other activist measures greatly contributed to Germany's rise, and greatly expanded the role of the German state within the German economy and society. These emphases made the Prussian-dominated German Empire (c. 1871-1918) a new form of modernizing authoritarianism; it was a virtual economic dynamo that could elicit much public support even though it lacked basic democratic limits on its government.
The Several States of the German Nation. Modern German political history has unfolded with a series of disjointed, faltering steps:
Pre-unification. Before being united into a single political whole in 1864-71, the Germanic peoples of Central Europe lived in many separate small states. The three largest of these were Prussia (comprised of northern areas associated with the large city of Berlin and regions to its east), Bavaria (centered in Munich), and Austria (with its capital at Vienna). When the German states finally became more united, Prussia led the way, but Austria was excluded from the new nation-state. The wars of German unification, 1864-71, (explained below) formed the next step in the unification of the Germans. These wars produced the Prussian-dominated German Empire (1871-1918), the subject of the first long segment (i.e., section III) of this reading. German loss in the First World War brought the Empire to an end. Germany then experienced its first try at democracy, the Weimar Republic (1919-33). It also will be discussed in section V. of this reading. Most notorious of the German states was the Nazi regime, or "Third Reich" (1933-45), a form of totalitarian fascism which sections VI. through VIII. will analyze. German loss in World War II gave way to a short period of occupation by the Allies (1945-49). From 1949 to 1990 was the period of the two Germanies. The larger and more successful of these was West Germany (also known as the Bonn Republic, the Federal Republic of Germany, and the FRG). It was established in 1949 and continued a separate existence until October 3, 1990. Its Cold War era counterpart was the communist East Germany (or the German Democratic Republic, GDR), founded in 1954 and dissolved in 1990 into the larger West Germany as a result of the democratic revolution of October-November 1989. Free elections chose an East German government committed to unity with West Germany (1990). The two Germanies became one on October 3, 1990. Unified Germany: From October 3, 1990 to the present there has again been a single German government which rules over the entire area of the former east and west Germanies. It was led by Chancellor Helmut Kohl of the Christian Democratic Party (CDU) until 1998, who was replaced by Gerhard Schroeder of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) after Kohl lost a free and fairly conducted general election. Schroeder formed a coalition government with the left-wing environmentalist Green Party. In September 2002, in a national general election, the "red/green" coalition of the SPD and the Greens won re-election to a second four year term. It ruled only until 2005, and remained as a junior partner in a Grand Coalition government with the conservative CDU/CSU only after agreeing that the CDU leader, Angela Merkel, would serve as Chancellor. This Grand Coalition of left (i.e., SPD) and right (i.e., CDU/CSU) administered Germany 2005-2009. Germany remains formally allied with the United States through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), but ties are straining: the current government publicly opposed the U.S. initiated war on Iraq in 2003, and refused to assist in post-war reconstruction without authorization from the United Nations.
III. The German Empire
Geostrategic Roots of the state: Prussian Militarism. Before there was a Germany, there was Prussia, a small state composed of the provinces of Brandenburg (the region surrounding Berlin), Pomerania (east of Berlin; now western Poland), and East Prussia (the area surrounding contemporary Gdansk, Poland). The origins of Prussia foreshadowed Germany's later geo-strategic dilemma. In each case, an insecure German state took steps to establish national security by strengthening the state and its army at the expense of other social institutions.
Prussia emerged from its core, Brandenburg, a small principality ruled by the Hohenzollern family after 1417. During the years prior to the development of sovereign states (that is, prior to 1648), Brandenburg was subjected to occupation and exploitation by a series of outside powers, most notably Poland and Sweden. A weak state with few resources and no natural defenses from invasion from the south, seventeenth century Brandenburg was unable to conclude a protective alliance with any major contemporary European power (i.e., Spain, Austria, Sweden, France): protecting it offered no strategic advantage to any of these rivals. Unlike other weak states of the period (e.g., the Dutch Republic; Venice), Brandenburg had no great wealth with which to subsidize an alliance with a strong power. Wealth was primarily derivative of agriculture there, and much of the profit from trade in agricultural goods was dominated by non-nationals, especially Dutch and English merchants. To address these deficiencies, during the Thirty Years War (1618-48), the Great Elector of Brandenburg had succeeded in levying taxes to finance a small standing army, and had done so without the approval of the noble social institution, the Estates, which had previously limited state powers. Shortly after the Peace of Westphalia, which established the modern state system in Europe, the Great Elector obtained agreement from the Estates of Brandenburg and Pomerania to finance a standing army so to enable the state to ward off aggression from Sweden and Poland in the Northern War, 1655-60. Amid this national crisis, in 1657, the threat of a Tatar (i.e., Mongol) invasion forced the Elector's hand: he asserted the right to raise further new taxes for the Army without securing the consent of the Estates. To collect these revenues, the Army was used, decisively ending the autonomy of the Estates from state control. At the conclusion of the Northern War, not only was the Duchy of Prussia (i.e., east Prussia) joined with Brandenburg-Pomerania; so was the central authorities' dominance established over the noble Estates in each. The Hohenzollern dynasty, though not initially an absolute form of rule, thus had evolved through military necessity into a centralized state. Surrounded as it was by rising hostile states, and isolated on the plains of East Europe without true allies, the state had found it necessary to curb the power of non-state actors and to tax the nobles and the peasantry in order to finance the fielding of a larger army than population resources typically would have allowed. This process accelerated the capacity of the state to defend itself, and it required the further development of a professional state civil service (Downing: 84-91).
The key institution in Prussian national development was the military. "The growth of the state came not from public demand for services or from anyone's class interest; it was a consequence of war and the need to prepare for it" (Downing: 92). Military institutions were the key to the growth of this state. Dubbed the Generalkreigskommissariat, it made its own budget, levied and collected taxes, acquired administrative control over some aspects of local government by appointing officials, and administered courts of law. The consequences were profound. Traditional law now could be usurped by the state, based not on precedent but on "reasons of state," a euphemism for whatever state leaders wanted to do. The prince, once checked by custom and local courts, now was supreme: he alone could define what offenses would carry the death penalty without any appeal, save to the Privy Council he alone appointed. The courts were now composed solely of appointees of the central government. The ruling family, the Hohenzollerns, exercised these new powers carefully, and did not tread despotically enough to provoke rebellion. Nevertheless, they altered the balance between state and society by placing centralized controls over formerly customary and autonomous social functions; and by placing their authority above all others, and essentially, above the law.
The social consequences of the rise of Prussian central authority were profound. For the peasants, they lost those customary limitations on lords of the manor that had evolved over many hundreds of years when the noble Estates' powers were curbed. As chattel, they could be impressed into the Army by forced (and often brutal) recruitment, or into forced labor crews to build roads and forts. This situation spawned resentment, and substantial de-population in some rural areas occurred when peasants chose simply to migrate elsewhere to get beyond the reach of Army recruiters in Prussia. The changes had wide reaching social effects as well. Peasants also could not now marry without approval of the local military representative. Initially, peasants resisted by migrating and by withholding produce from the markets. In response, Prussia made compulsory training in military arts, and ended harsh recruitment practices by requiring universal enrollment of male children into a system that would eventually draft them into full time duty for a training period once they reached a specified age, usually sixteen years of age. After two years of training and active duty service were completed, the peasant remained essentially in the military reserve and was sent home with new understanding of why he was needed to maintain production levels under periodic command of the military appointee for his area. This was the Kanton system (also sometimes spelled Canton, was so named to indicate the ties of the the peasant to his town or Kanton); it was introduced in 1732-33. Eventually it curbed not only the independence of the peasants; it broke the autonomy of the wealthy landowner class, or Junkers, too: Junkers' children also were compelled to complete state military training, though as officers. By 1760, one out of fourteen Prussians was serving on active duty in the Army, whereas in contemporaneous pre-Revolutionary France --another military-bureaucratic absolutism-- the comparable figure at that time was one in 86 Frenchmen (Corvisier: 113). Virtually the entire rest of the male population had also undergone military training, but was back on their farms (or working as farm laborers for others), in essentially a military reserve capacity. After the two years of full time military service, the Prussian peasant remained in this reserve status for most of the rest of his adult life, was activated to military duty for a couple months each year, and was available for activation in times of war. But unlike the more haphazard system in place prior to 1733, local military officials now had a stake in keeping the peasant farm productive and excessive service to the point of interference with crop production no longer was in the interest of the local Junker, or the State. A farm area depopulated of military-aged males would not only produce little food, it also would be ill equipped to pay any taxes, and so the need of the State for revenues also reinforced a logic that pointed toward general limits on how much of the population could be taken away to mobilize the Prussian Army.
The rise of the Prussian state was not, however, at the expense of the landholding Junker class; it was the result of a symbiotic partnership between the state and the Junkers. In terms of powerful roles in the state, the Hohenzollern monarchy favored Junkers over commoners in appointments to all important state offices. This service to the state was in many cases an economic necessity for the noble, as Junker manors tended to be small and economically under-productive. The officer corps exclusively was reserved for them, too, but not a lot of Junkers made a career of military service alone. Moreover, though the Hohenzollerns usurped Junkers' powers in order to finance their wars and war preparations, they also reciprocated by giving to the Junkers valuable new privileges. Thus, when war taxes on Junkers' lands to finance Prussia's role in the Wars of the Spanish Succession (c. 1700) were made a permanent feature of the state, the Crown simultaneously gave to the junkers legal insulation from challenges to their land titles, and forbade any but other nobles from buying Junkers' land. A modus vivendi had evolved, with benefits accruing to Crown and to the Junkers (Downing: 96-97). Since virtually all Junkers, too, had served briefly on active duty in the Prussian officer corps, and since their peasant employees and free peasants living adjacent were reserve enlisted men, an element of command and of following orders was also introduced into the discourse of normal civilian interactions as well (Beutch: 14-24).
Benefits were not solely concentrated on the Junkers. To promote the capacity of the Prussian state to harness its people, eighteenth century rulers Friedrich Wilhelm I and Frederick the Great developed systems of public sanitation, suppressed quackery, fostered public education, abolished torture in civilian trials, regulated the steady supply and price of food, and in many other ways used the power of the state to the benefit of the peasantry and the poor. But the purpose of all of this regulation was to facilitate the growth of a healthy state, not to advance the betterment of the people per se. Thus, laws also impinged on these same peoples' freedoms, regulating minor matters from the hours of legal alcohol sales, to marriage festival procedures, to costumes permissibly worn in public, and a broad range of social mores (Downing: 104-105).
The growth of a native business class, or bourgeoisie, however, clearly was inhibited by this form of state development. Confiscatory, high levels taxes prevented savings among peasants and craftsmen, and the virtues of thrift and investment thus were poorly channeled toward accelerating innovation. Moreover, with the state as arbiter and planner of both personal and national life, an unhealthy dependence on political connections rather than knowledge of the dynamics of growth of markets, permeated those few entrepreneurs who did emerge. Factions and groups that managed to prosper did not do so by learning to compromise with one another in order to fashion self-rule; they separately struck bargains for themselves alone with the powerful leaders of the state. Thus, military preparedness lay at the core of Prussian state; military "necessities" governed Prussia's role in its economy; and military exigencies guided it to design key economic assets. All of this inhibited the formation of the type of autonomous civil society that later would be needed in order to ground democracy. But it all did create the means and the rationale for imperialism, for if all in society, economy and polity could be reshaped by the state due to the state's military requirements, so could the state's foreign policy. Thus, it was a small, almost logical step for a Prussia designed by its rulers to marshal Prussian military capabilities domestically to use those capabilities simply to seize adjacent assets outside its border. Thus, Prussia simply seized Silesia from Austria 1740 and annexed it. This was the Prussian pattern; this was to be the German pattern.
The German Empire, 1871-1918, was a forward-looking bureaucratic-authoritarian state. Formed from 35 separate German states that lacked common flags, holidays, anthems and experiences, national unification was a key task for the Empire and its builders. The Empire came to be composed of 25 constituent parts, but Berlin-centered Brandenburg-Prussia continued to dominate inasmuch as 60 percent of the national land area and population were under Prussian rule. The slogan and lyrics "Deutchland Uber Alles" meant Germany over Bavaria, over Hesse, over Saxony, and even over Prussia (etc.), not Germany over all Europe. Suppression of regionalism and regional identity was a large project. In terms of its political system, by 19th century standards no real political democracy was allowed, but some political parties were permitted to debate and advise, but not to decide, government policy on some (i.e., non-military) issues. National parties did emerge, with encouragement from the authorities as these represented breaks away from the archaic regionalism that was seen as obstructing German national development. The ultimate ruler was called the Kaiser; all Kaisers continued to be members of the Hohenzollern royal family. On the advice of a Cabinet he alone would choose, all political decisions were made. Sometimes a key appointee, like Otto von Bismarck (Prussian Prime Minister 1862-1870, Chancellor of the Empire 1870-1890), would prove very influential over the Kaisers and over policy. The most important political interests within this state continued to be the Prussian military institutions and the rural landowners, or Junkers. As in pre-Empire Prussia, a state civil service (or bureaucracy) also flourished.
The Empire continued the Prussian practice of activist governance. This followed closely the model inherited from the Prussian princes, who as early as the 1760s had, under Frederick the Great, built government ministries for the purpose of coordinating national exploitation of forests and minerals. But the tradition pre-dated even Frederick the Great: in the 1680s, Prussian princes first established state protections for the metallurgical industry and textiles (Downing: 102). Similarly, under the rule of Frederick the Great, engineers, architects and other professions were drawn together into a state academy to shape national economic policy. The Empire's most famous statesman, Otto von Bismarck, born 1815, took these features of the state to be a given. For generations, key armaments industries had been state owned; Bismarck and his peers saw no reason to alter these arrangements. Guided by such traditions, and reinforced in this task by philosophic contemporaries who championed state-run social engineering, the Empire era Kaisers, Bismarck and his successors presided over the rapid industrialization of a modern Germany. Heavy involvement of the state was seen further to be necessary because Germany lagged behind French and, especially, British industrial development, 1780-1850, yet these men saw in Germany a "great nation." Primarily under the activist governments of the Empire, between 1870 and 1920, iron production grew ten fold. This typifies all other key indicators of industrial growth, for the empire was an industrial dynamo.
This industrialization geographically transformed the German states by spawning urbanization of key areas. Though the rural laborers (serfs) were emancipated from the control of their lords in 1807-1810, even in 1848, only 10% of the population of the German states lived in cities. The bucolic life persisted at the start of the Empire: in 1871, two in every three still lived in rural areas. But by the 1930s, over two-thirds of all Germans had been drawn to the cities. This is one of the key differences between industrial development in all of the nations of Europe in the 19th Century and industrial development in the Third World nations in the 20th century. In the latter, urbanization preceded industrialization, thus industrialization has not proven effectively to "solve" the problem of unemployment in societies undergoing this transition to industrial societies today.
State involvement in this changing German economy continued to be significant. Principles of private property, of the virtue of unregulated or laissez faire capitalism that had evolved in England after the notably interventionist mercantile policies of the Tudor and early Stuart period, were felt in Germany to be likely to produce a change that would be too slow to develop a competitive German industrial nation. Moreover, laissez faire principles were inconsistent with the governing relationships that had evolved in Prussia. Following the Prussian model into the Empire, state officials ran both the government and much of the economy. The Prussian government owned the coal and other mines. Miners were employees of the state. The Prussian government also owned the railroads. The Empire's government, not private banks, additionally, was the primary source of investment capital for industrial businesses. These industrial loans typically were interest-free. Thus, German exports were given an advantage in world markets by these loans that were, in essence, state subsidies. The government coordinated economic activity and trade by creating marketing cartels of all German producers of a given product. The cartels tried to manipulate domestic and world markets to the best advantage of German industry. The government also erected trade barriers to keep French, British and American (etc.) competitive products out of Germany.
Social policy also reflected a strong, activist state, one that employed a half million Germans in the civil service as early as 1881 (Childers: 19), creating a substantial part of a growing middle class. To quiet a restless industrial working class, Bismarck made arrangements to support some of the goals of the socialist Social Democratic Party (or S.P.D.). In exchange, S.P.D. leaders agreed to limit their opposition to problems that would develop in German industrialization. Bismarck then followed through on his part of the bargain and enacted the most forward-looking wage/hour, health insurance and other social welfare laws in the Europe of the 19th Century (see Flora and Heidenheimer). However, strikes and other labor actions were banned; and no child labor laws impinged on what Bismarck saw as the fathers' rights to sell their children's labor.
Militarization of society long had been a feature of Prussian national life, and this element continued to deepen with the form of authoritarian national development in the Empire. Deeply central to the survival earlier of the Prussian state, in the Empire era the heroic image of military figures long featured in the statuary and symbols of public parks guided the new emphases in the annual calendar of national holidays, and the version of life German schoolchildren were taught to revere. Bismarck reinforced this tradition by permitting absolutely no debate over his generals' control over military policy and his personal domination over foreign relations. Most importantly this is illustrated by the process surrounding the very birth of Germany: unification by war led by Prussia. This modernizing nation was joined together by three wars, not by a common people's revolution (as in USA and France), nor by a gradual process of reaching out by reforms to bring all groups into national life, the century-long process across the 19th century that ultimately led to a democratically-based, representative government in Britain. National symbols of the new German state founded in 1871 evoked shared military experiences, not shared aspirations chosen by free thinking rational men and women. Through this process emerged Prussian dominance of the growing state. The wars transformed the medium-sized north German state of Prussia into a much larger Germany.
These were the Wars of German Unification. In the first, Prussia and Austria joined forces to seize the Germanic provinces of Schleswig-Holstein from Denmark. In the second, Prussia turned on Austria and seized southern German areas (principally Bavaria) from Austro-Hungary. In the third, Prussia took the Rhineland provinces of Alsace-Lorraine from France. Significant secondary effects flowed from this militant process of nation-building through war. Patriotism to the German nation was mingled with a euphoria for the military means used in its unification. Military institutions became identified as the key bastion of German-ness in society and continued to be placed above civilian scrutiny. These patterns did little to establish a stable, rational basis for German citizens to view the government they lived under as "their" government.
Not all consequences of the 1871 German victory over France were indirect. After the French Revolution of 1789, France uneasily had managed to remain united as a nation: revolutionary radicalism had resurfaced, only to be crushed by French authorities, in 1830 and 1848. When Germany defeated France in 1871, conservative forces within France temporarily were discredited in their position of guarantors of the nation. An important proto-communist revolt in Paris, the 1871 "Paris Commune," was stimulated by the Prussian defeat of French forces. It eventually was crushed by the French armed forces, but only at the cost of great loss of life and great loss in the prestige and reputation of France as a powerful country. The German seizure of Alsace and Lorraine in 1871 also created a bitter feeling in France and growing anti-German sentiment there and elsewhere in Europe. In time, this grievance toward a "too-powerful Germany" would contribute to a growing culture of militarism in France, an important precondition that French leaders used to draw society into an anti-German war in 1914. Further, lingering social resentment against Germany virtually forced the French government in 1918 to demand from a defeated Germany not just the return of Alsace and Lorraine but even greater territorial concessions than France had been forced to give up in 1871.
Germany was unmoved by French enmity; indeed, Bismarck rarely was moved by any opponent and this strident attitude strongly appealed to Germans. The Empire's leaders may not have been democratic but they were not unpopular. In 1888, Parliamentary delegates of all parties unanimously cheered Bismarck's fiercely militarist speech, delivered on the occasion of passage of his Military Reorganization Bill. He foreshadowed bitter things to come saying: "We have the material for building up an enormous army... If we are attacked, the furor teutonicus will burst forth against which nobody can make headway" (quoted in Morrow: 98).
Despite the official bluster and the imposed harmony of the Empire, German society was not entirely unified before or after any of these acts. Earlier, in 1848, urban middle classes had joined workers in declaring a democracy at Frankfurt; their effort was eventually suppressed. The Prussian and other German states' leaders, in deference to the democratic mood of the rebels, had created an advisory parliament, called the Reichstag, to which delegates were elected by manhood suffrage. While such gestures placated most of the German middle classes, the workers' movement continued to grow and to develop a distinct analysis of Germany based on the leaders' reflection on socialist thought. German socialist Ferdinand LaSalle, while independent of the revolutionary socialism advocated by German exile Karl Marx, advocated a workers' movement attuned to its separate interests as representatives of the working class. Moreover, the "nation" of Germans had never been so unified in earlier history, though nostalgic writers and some political philosophers often hearkened back to "good times" under Charlemagne in the first millennium.
Among the divisions among Germans in the Empire period were also reflections of tensions along religious lines: South Germans had stayed (by and large) loyal to the Roman Catholic Church through the Reformation and grim 30 Years' Wars of the 1600s. North Germans, especially Prussians, were followers of the Protestant Lutheran movement. Anti-Catholicism was a potent and popular prejudice to which Bismarck had made use in his Second War of Unification, the effect of which was to exclude (Catholic) Austria from the Empire, even though a substantial minority of his own population was Catholic. Bismarck's anti-Catholicism may have contributed to his strong opposition to the Kaiser's and other advisors' advocacy of substantial annexations after the victory over Austria. Ironically, 100 years after Bismarck's 1890 retirement, in 1989, the West German government announced that "for the first time there are more Catholics than Protestants" in West Germany. (26.2 million Catholics; 25.4 million Protestants; "Census Counts...:" 8). However, the unification of West and East Germany one year later in 1990 brought large numbers of non-Catholics into our contemporary Germany, and Catholics returned to being the minority among faith traditions within it.
In the 1880's, neither German Catholic nor Lutheran leaders were especially infatuated with the idea of universal laws which would regulate equality of status among all Empire citizens. Regional variation among parts of Germany traditionally had provided havens for some groups and discrimination against others. This points us toward the fact that Catholic-Protestant tensions were not the only relevant religious divisions among Germans.
Anti-Semitism: German anti-Semitism, or prejudice against Jews, has deep roots. Throughout Europe for many centuries, Jews had lived among the Christian Europeans, at times uneasily and at times under pressure to convert or be expelled. The German states were part of this long and mixed record of multiculturalism. By the time of the Protestant Reformation, vilification of Jews was not uncommon in the Germanic states. Luther himself embodied this tradition, having once stated: "Next to the devil, thou has no enemy more cruel...than a true Jew." Nor was the example Luther set one of a particularly tolerant man: he once advocated the burning of all Jewish synagogues!
However, during the period 1500-1789 in some parts of what later would become Germany, Jews found greater social acceptance and tolerance of their difference than was the case in most of the rest of Christian Europe. The French Revolution (1789), and the subsequent Napoleonic Wars, brought into Germany ideas of social, legal and political equality for poor and rich, Jews and non-Jews. These were ideas which found much appeal among many Germans, who were among the best educated and most widely read of the European populations. Wurttemberg (1807), Baden (1809), Frankfurt (1811), and Prussia (1812) all instituted laws providing for the full emancipation of Jews within these German states (Goldhagen: 56, 489). However, after the defeat of Napoleon, and after the suppression of pro-French uprisings of the period, in other German states laws were enunciated that barred Jews from several professions (e.g., the practice of the law) and which put quotas on the maximum percentage of Jews allowed in German university student bodies and faculties. But these reactionary strictures were not traditional in all German states.
By the time of the founding of the Empire (1871), about one half million Jews lived within it, representing barely one (1.2) percent of the total population; more than three fifths of these lived in Prussia (Schorsch: 14). Throughout the Empire, total civil equality under the law was extended, making universal the emancipation some German Jews had experienced earlier. The census taken a decade later, in 1881, found that in Prussia's bustling capital, Berlin, the Jewish community was prosperous and a vital part of it. Nor were the German Jews without some political influence. In 1878, Jewish leaders were able to persuade Chancellor Bismarck to insist that the Romanian Government grant religious liberty to all its citizens (i.e., including its many Jews), as part of the package he was able to have imposed through the international agreements negotiated at the Congress of Berlin.
Empire period Jews' greatest successes, however, were in the many dynamic economic sectors. Though only a small percentage of Berlin's overall census, Jews were a substantial part of the professional occupations, making up nearly 12 percent of the medical doctors, and eight percent of the lawyers and of the journalists. Jewish prominence was even more pronounced in commerce: more than one in five Berlin wholesalers, and more than one in four businessmen in shipping, in small business, and trading in the money market were Jews. Bismarck and other political leaders viewed this situation approvingly. One correspondent reported Bismarck to have said to him, in reply to anti-Semites' urgings for new restrictions on Jewish commerce, that: "Jews are greatly superior to the other elements of the population in making money. Their superiority rests on qualities which... cannot be removed by measures of State... could not legally be taken away [for] national wealth would decrease" (von Poschinger in Rohl: 36). Few Jews, however, were employed as part of an expanding government civil service of Bismarck's activist state: it was more than 99.5 percent German Christians. Moreover, no Jews were permitted to serve as officers in the German Army (Goldhagen: 72).
Pogroms. After 1881, events to the east would affect the destiny of the prosperous German Jewish communities. In that year began a series of events in Russia and its western province, Poland, that made life untenable there for many Jews. Restrictive laws in this "Pale of Settlement" already had barred Jews from many traditional occupations; limits on home sites, mortgages, and other discriminatory policies had for several generations imposed second class status onto Russia's Jews. But after the assassination of Czar Alexander II in 1881, what previously had been periodic anti-Semitic riots called pogroms, erupted into widespread attacks on Jews in more than 160 cities and towns. Scholarly authorities now disagree about the extent to which the successor czar, Alexander III, personally authorized these attacks. Jewish sources long have emphasized official culpability (e.g., Howe: 7 "a steady anti-Jewish policy"; Sachar: 318 "The... pogroms were undoubtedly centrally organized"; Roth: 351 "Deeds of incredible barbarity were perpetrated under the eyes of impassive officials, and in some cases even with the cooperation of the soldiers of the garrison) so to affirm the widespread belief among Jews that an official Russian hand was behind the violence. Recent scholarship relying on Russian archives (e.g., Klier and Lambroza) generally has discounted such claims, noting the eventual actions of Russian authorities to restore order by 1882. All sources agree, however, that harsh new anti-Semitic laws, known as the May Laws, were put into effect in 1882. What also is undisputed is that as the pogroms occurred, they led as many as one in four Eastern European Jews to migrate to other places: millions of Jews in Russia concluded it was unsafe to continue to live there. Large influxes of these largely poor, migrating Jews began to cross from the western Russian provinces (e.g., Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine, and Byelorussia) into Germany. Most of the Jewish migrants simply were in transit to German ports like Hamburg in search of steamships that would take them to safer permanent havens in England, and the Americas, especially to the United States and to Argentina. Some also were headed for the Ottoman Turkish-held Holy Lands, sometimes called Palestine; these emigre were called Zionists. The East European Jews were markedly different in culture, customs, language spoken, and appearance from the German Jews -- and not all of them quickly left Germany. Their more visible presence within the German Reich made the long resident German Jews, some of whom were prosperous, more vulnerable to anti-Semites' charges that all Jews, not just the newcomers, were "aliens."
German anti-Semitism had gained new relevance even before this upsurge in arrivals of the Eastern European migrants. After 1849, petition campaigns to reverse the extension of rights to Jews proved popular following the lead of the Bavarian parliament which tendered the first such resolution asking for the public's signatures in agreement. In 1880, a nationwide petition to this effect was able to garner 265,000 signatures; and many priests, teachers, and prominent upper class citizens were found among the signatories (Goldhagen: 62). So, too, did liberal political groups develop specifically anti-Semitic elements to their programs; anti-Semitism had found a home virtually throughout the German political spectrum (with the sole exception being its absence within the SPD, or socialist, party). Indeed, throughout this literate society in the last quarter of the 19th century, "the 'Jewish Problem' was written about in Germany with a passion and a frequency unmatched by any other political subject" (Goldhagen: 64).
German politics at the time were not really democratic, but elections to an advisory parliament, the Reichstag, regularly were held. (For results, see Childers, 16-17). Press coverage of the campaigns for the Reichstag was relatively free and open; most Germans were literate and party manifestos circulated widely. Germany also was experiencing rapid social change as the industrialization campaign of the ruling Kaisers drew more and more country people to jobs in growing urban areas. In this fluid and uprooted atmosphere many extreme ideas were encountered by Germans who had been cut free from traditional restraining influences of locale and family. In 1893, openly anti-Semitic parties won 263,000 votes and sixteen seats in the Reichstag; but 7.2 million other voters did not opt for any anti-Semitic candidate (Schorsch: 51). This support reflected the political relevance of anti-Semitism which was growing by the century's end. Increasingly, the discussion had enlarged beyond simply identifying the Jew as "different" from the German: the Jew was coming to be seen not just as benignly different but malevolently and corrosively so. "Elimination" of their presence --however abstractly alluded to-- had come to be an acceptable position in public discourse.
In this atmosphere, the Jews of Germany continued to contribute to national life as they had for centuries, making particular contributions in some areas and being virtually invisible in others. In 1895 (Schorsch: 15), for example: more than half of all German Jews worked in business or commerce, but only 10 percent of Germans overall were so engaged; nineteen percent of German Jews were industrial workers, but 36 percent of Germans overall were. Jewish farmers were virtually unknown (1.6 percent of all German Jews), but more than a third of the total German census were farmers or farm workers.
Thus, when the anti-Semites focused on Jewish "differences" they often appealed to feelings of Germans who personally had known few if any real Jews. The "Jew as foreigner" canard sold better in some states than in other areas. In rapidly industrializing Saxony in east-central Germany, for example, in 1910, six in ten Jews in the state in fact had been born elsewhere, compared to 15 percent of its Jews having been foreign born in 1880 (Schorsch: 50). Its cities of Leipzig and Dresden were the only large urban centers in which anti-Semitic movements thrived in the 1890-1910 era, producing one third of the national anti-Semitic parties' votes in one election (1893), for example. But "foreign Jews" can, as an explanation of the rise of political anti-Semitism take our analysis only so far. Other states that later would play a major role in the rise of political anti-Semitism were comparatively unaffected by the migrations of Russian Jews. In Bavaria, the 1910 census of Jews (55,000) was only slightly higher than it had been before the emigration of new (Russian) Jews had begun (50,000 in 1871). Yet Bavaria later would play a central role in the rise of the Nazi movement.
What Empire-era anti-Semites did that would echo later was to manipulate jealousy and envy for political purposes. Their stereotypes did build upon some superficial truths. Legitimate studies have shown that the German Jews as a group, in 1905-07, in fact were more affluent than non-Jewish Germans; and in some areas, Jewish prominence was large. In the rural southern state of Baden where the few Jews who had long resided there were prosperous, the average income of Jewish households was 1229 Reich marks (RM) a year; Protestant households in the same area averaged 244 Reich marks a year; and Catholic ones, 117 (Schorsch: 16). But, if viewed in a more balanced way, the prosperity of the Jews of Germany made them even more vital contributors to that society. In 1905, the Jews of Berlin, 4.84 percent of the city's total population --and 14 percent of its residents earning more than 1500 RM per year-- , paid 30 percent of the total taxes collected by the city; the Jews of Posen, 4.2 percent of the residents, paid 24 percent of the all taxes; the Jews of Breslau (4.3 percent of the population), paid 20 percent of all taxes, etc.
While the anti-Semites failed to accomplish much in terms of gaining any direct political role for their parties during the Empire, their noisy campaigns promoting prejudice did eventually bear some fruit. Most parties added anti-Semitic elements to their platforms. By 1910, anti-Semitic behavior had become respectable among many Germans, and private acts of anti-Semitism had become more ordinary. Schorsch (137-8) summarized this trend, "Social intercourse... diminished... At high schools and universities Jewish students were excluded from fraternal organizations. In legal and medical organizations, Jewish lawyers and doctors were rarely elected to office. While Jews gave generously to, and worked long hours for, public charities, Christians rarely reciprocated. In Germany no Christian protests condemned the Russian pogroms and no Christian money was forthcoming to help the victims, a reaction which contrasted sharply with the Christian support extended in Western Europe and America.... Discrimination also began to appear in economic life. Some Christian stores advertised that they did not welcome Jewish patronage. Jewish engineers and chemists faced increasing difficulties finding employment... and [all Jews faced] continued discrimination in the public sector."
Other tensions among Germans beyond this plague of anti-Semitism divided Germans along economic class lines. Socialists, especially, posed as the champions of the industrial workers. This appeal knew limits: in the era 1871-90, the socialist vote never exceeded ten percent of the electorate (Childers: 17). But Germany was changing, becoming more urban and industrial, and by 1910, the Socialist S.P.D. party had 800,000 dues-paying members, and printed 81 different newspapers. Yet the party and its members were barred from even advisory roles in government, barred from the civil service and allowed to rise only to lower, non-commissioned ranks in the Army. These government policies reinforced class resentment and gave credence to radical Socialists' claims that the state was merely an instrument of oppression of the workers. Yet, the S.P.D. party remained divided over the question of whether a violent "workers' revolution" would prove necessary in order for the interests of the working class fully to be realized in a German state. (For more on these doctrinal disputes, see the Appendix to my essay on Russian revolutionary theory). This tension sharply divided the S.P.D. when, in 1914, the Reichstag was asked to endorse the Kaiser's war budget as the nation mobilized for the First World War. Ultimately, a majority of the Reichstag, and a majority of the S.P.D. votes therein, followed patriotic impulses and supported the nation as it went to war.
German loss in the First World War, and not any internal social contradictions within German society, brought the Empire to an end, in 1918.
IV. Fascism, an ideological threat to Democracy
Let us briefly suspend our chronology so we can examine in general terms the threat which, in Germany, most menaced and finally brought down the incipient democracy which replaced the defeated Empire. In societies with some experience with democracy, especially where democracy has been associated with national failure, a second type of non-democratic threat has arisen: totalitarian fascism. This is the soil that produced the Nazi regime in Germany (1933-1945). But, the first fascist state was that of the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini (1922-1943).
Fascism is fundamentally different from traditional authoritarianism. While both types of political systems are antidemocratic, authoritarians seek to use state power to preserve traditional societal sources of authority (e.g., Army, Church); fascists, on the other hand, seek to use the state to radically transform virtually all features of life.
A short summary of fascist ideology should prove helpful. A guiding set of beliefs, or ideology, directs fascist party leaders to reorganize government, politics and society. Fascist ideology lionizes the claim that humans are fundamentally unequal; thus it attempts to negate the major premise of political thought since the Enlightenment of the 18th Century. To this end, racism was a central value exalted by German Nazism, much more so than was the case with Italian fascism. Even among the white ("Aryan") ethnicity, no equality was thought desirable, either. Men were conceived as superior to women; among men, the stronger willed were seen as superior to the weak; among strong men, the leader was conceived as superior to all others.
This was what came to be called, in Germany, the Leadership Principle ("Fuhrerprinzip"). Society and state would be reshaped according to its logic. Hitler initially saw this as the most efficient way to organize an opposition movement, saying in Mein Kampf, "[t]he first chairman of a local group is appointed by the next highest leader; he is the responsible leader of the local group. All committees are subordinate to him and not, conversely, he to a committee. There are no electoral committees, but only committees of work"... "[t]he best organization is not that which inserts the greatest, but that which inserts the smallest intermediate apparatus between the leadership of a movement and its individual adherents" (quoted in Flood: 207). As early as 1922, the logic of Fuhrerprinzip had been embraced by his Party (Flood: 242). In time, this vision was the organizational rationale for creation of a leader-run, hierarchical, super-powerful State structure. Corresponding to these tenets, the ideology was (and is) fiercely antidemocratic. Since fascists reject democracy's assumption of the fundamental equality of all, they must adamantly be against democracy's procedural tool for resolving differences of opinion (i.e., the principle of majority rule). In fascist terms, democracy divides and weakens the state and nation, whereas the purpose of each should be to unify and strengthen. For example, in his first week in power, the German fascist leader Adolf Hitler demanded to his generals the "removal of the cancer of democracy!" (quoted in Lubasz: 101). On this same grounds, fascist ideology claims to be uncompromisingly anti-communist, in that communist ideology envisions a future world in which substantive material equality of conditions will prevail among all humans. In that same speech Hitler called for the "extermination of Marxism, root and branch." Fascism also decries communism's emphasis on "class struggle" among economic groups, arguing contrarily that the triumph of the nation requires unity, not division, among occupational groups. The purpose of human life, in fascist theory, is to succumb to and serve the State. As Mussolini wrote: "For the Fascist, everything is in the State, and nothing human or spiritual exists, much less has value outside of the State. In this sense Fascism is totalitarian;...[it] gives strength to the whole life of the people. Outside the State there can be neither individuals nor groups" (in Shaw: 21). This triumph of orderly subservience was believed to enhance the ability of the State to prevail in the conflict among nations. Promotion of the righteousness of imperialism and war are especially important to fascists: in the forge of international violence the superiority of the Aryan people over "inferior" races was to be demonstrated. Indeed, fascists believe war to be inevitable: dominate or be dominated.
Propaganda. From the ideological values outlined above flow clear, practical steps designed to convert a literate society into a mass of people committed to the construction of the fascists' projects. Elementally, fascists politicize all aspects of life, break down the influence of social structures (e.g., churches) that stand between the state and the individual, so better to convert the most private of decisions --such as when to have a baby-- into an obligation to the cause. Public rituals become frequent moments of emotional manipulation as the average citizen becomes agitated to hate those whom the fascists designate. Newspapers, posters, radio, film, public art of all kinds, all become vehicles of social control.
Information is twisted to serve political ends through the fine art of propaganda. Hitler was a master orator and propagandist. In a moment of some candor early in his career he outlined the important essence of propaganda: lying. "...All effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogan... The magnitude of the lie always contains a certain factor of credibility, since the great masses of the people in the bottom of their hearts tend to be corrupted rather than consciously and purposely evil, and that, therefore, in view of the primitive simplicity of their minds, they more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a little one, since they themselves lie in little things, but would be ashamed of lies that were too big. Such a falsehood will never enter their heads, and they will not be able to believe in the possibility of such monstrous effrontery and infamous misrepresentation in others; yes, even when enlightened on the subject, they will long doubt and waver, and continue to accept at least one of these causes as true. Therefore, something of even the most indolent lie will always remain and stick..." (Hitler, in Ebenstein: 363-364.)
For the German fascists, these "big lies" included the claim that the Jews were a sub-human, alien infection who were destroying the nation; that democracy was a plot to divide the nation; and that communism (with its emphasis on struggle between economic classes) was a Jewish plot to turn German against Germans, etc. Hitler, for example, once wrote that "Moses was the original Bolshevik," or communist.
Official enemies, therefore, are an integral part of the larger fascist project of gaining total control over society. Official enemies are designated not for their behavior but for their very existence. This is the ideological concept of the "objective enemy," a common link between fascism (which targets those born of another ethnicity, the Jews) and communism (which targets those born of one social class, the bourgeoisie). Before taking formal governmental power, vigilante and extra judicial violence against the ideological enemy of the fascists is encouraged. After taking power, Jews, homosexuals, and communists are among those against whom fascists direct public hatred, a process that is encouraged as new laws legitimize actions by police and penal institutions against them. Those who do not want to be drawn into this process of official hate may themselves be targeted. As Hitler told the generals just days after being named Chancellor of Germany: "whoever won't let himself be persuaded must be made to submit" (in Lubasz: 100).
A mass membership political party is used to mobilize discontented people from several economic classes to commit themselves unquestioningly to the new ideology and its leader. The party then envelopes the individual within a new reality, becoming a surrogate family, social club and home for the member. This reassures the member psychologically, which is important especially as some of these older social connections become targets of the Party. Both explicitly through group parroting the terms of the ideology and implicitly by drawing the member into a hierarchical, paramilitary organization, the Party transforms the party member.
Traditional lines between private life and public are broken down: educational and workplace environments are made into battlegrounds for the ideology. Those it identifies as enemies, and their ideas, are removed. The quintessential form this took was the public frenzy to join in festive, large bonfires outside university libraries in which Nazis led students to eagerly toss onto the fire the great books of Jewish authors and of Christians deemed to have incorrect views. Parental control over childrearing also was abandoned and politicized: efforts to encourage children to inform authorities of anti-patriotic utterances of the parents and neighbors were undertaken. Preachers unpopular with Nazi leaders were vilified, and some were jailed.
State economic control through a command economy is central to fascism. While private ownership of factories and smaller businesses (etc.) continues to about the same degree that it existed before the fascist ascent to power, individual industries' decisions about what to produce, and at what price to sell it, and to whom, are assumed by the State. Party functionaries establish boards of consultation with owners and factory workers. The right to strike is eliminated. Owners assume a subordinate status in a "command relationship" with the Party and State.
Abandonment of traditional values also is at the core of fascism. Under fascism, traditional values such as tolerance, equal justice for all, an obligation to be charitable toward the weak and disadvantaged, respect for the value of book learning, importance of extending kindness toward others, etc., are derogated. As the tradition of respect for the separate rights of citizens in religious and other social organizations is abandoned, private organizations come to be tolerated only if they do not challenge the new values of the One Party State. Parallel party organizations duplicate extant groups: Nazi Youth organizations at first rival then replace boy scout type clubs, etc. All of this occurs amid a smoke-screen of propaganda which touts how very traditional the fascists' goals are.
Single Party Government also is a key difference between this totalitarian variant and traditional authoritarianism. Under fascism, as under totalitarian communism, all political parties except the ruling party are banned. Hitler referred to the "cancer of democracy" as unnecessarily dividing the nation. Instead of the endless debate democracy requires of us so better we can see the always elusive best course of action, German fascism demanded submission to the one "right" idea the Party provided. Hitler peppered his speeches with mind-numbing chants: "Ein Reich! Ein Volk! Ein Fuehrer!" (one government! one people! one leader!).
V. The Weimar Republic, 1919-1933: A German Democratic Experiment Overcome by Fascism.
Democracies, because of their commitment to the free competition of all ideas, have proven most vulnerable to the fascist type of non-democratic challenge. All types of political systems heavily are influenced by their political culture, the habits, values and beliefs of the people. To sustain itself, democracy more than all others requires a civic culture, with attendant attitudes of service to others, tolerance of diversity, and willingness to abide by procedural rules. But the particular individuals who emerge as social and political leaders of any nation are not merely the agents of some amorphous force called "political culture;" they exercise choice and judgment. To understand the ultimate failure of the democratic Weimar Republic in Germany (1919-1933) requires we examine the roles of institutions, political culture, leadership, economy and more. In retrospect, clearly the republic's social and political institutions were too infirmly rooted to resist the Nazi takeover.
If the roots of many problems existed at the time of Weimar's birth, they were compounded immediately. Though Berlin is revered and celebrated as the natural governmental center to most Germans to this day, the small provincial town of Weimar was the city chosen to be the German capital of its first experiment with democracy. Throughout its short life, the governments of Weimar Germany seemed out of sync with Germany and its problems.
Political institutions produced stalemate, not effective government. As our earlier review of the Empire has touched upon, no democratic tradition of bargaining among parties existed from which the several political movements and classes in Weimar Germany might have drawn guidance. But, the political institutions imposed by the Weimar Constitution created no incentive for Germans to learn the democratic arts, and placed no premium on devices that might force differing opinions to come together, or "aggregate," within a political party so it might responsibly govern after seeking and through ballotings, gaining power. Instead of promoting compromise, the electoral method of proportional representation produced a proliferation of small parties. One seat was awarded to each party for each 60,000 votes nationwide. Not only did this virtually ensure that no one party could win a majority in the parliament (Reichstag): it also flew in the face of the German tradition of there being a clear (and strong) leader. (Note: Proportional representation is a form of electoral selection of party representatives in a national legislature which should be contrasted with the single member district systems of the US and Britain). At first, many ambitious individuals simply formed their own parties so to better insure that they, personally, would win a seat in the Reichstag. In time, however, true (if small) parties won seats. These were ideologically coherent groupings; they at least had clear programs for governing; some even created local support committees in most areas. But, as times got tougher, the parties that seemed most committed to rapid change gained in appeal. Many of these parties were little affected by democratic arts such as compromise, or by democratic procedures such as the need to continue holding elections even after one wins a victory. In few Western societies do these attitudes hold much likelihood of attracting majority support, even in the Germany of the 1920s. But, with proportional representation, majority support was not needed to gain some influence, only 60,000 votes. So, the enemies of democracy were provided just as august a position, just as much of the aura of authority, as were those legislators who were trying to create a stable government based on the consent of the majority of legislators.
The birth of Weimar itself already had clouded the public's attitude toward this divided parliament. It was violence, not popular support, that had brought an end to the Empire and democracy into power in 1918. Munitions workers' strikes in 1917 had weakened the German effort in the First World War; to many Germans this had been tantamount to treason. In 1918, as arrangements for an armistice were being made, radical Independent Socialists and the "Spartacusist" Movement attempted to mobilize factory workers again, this time with the goal of seizing control of Berlin and several other German cities to make a communist revolution. Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg were the leaders of this proto-communist coup. Only a joint action by the Prussian Police and the SPD party's paramilitary "Iron Guard" stopped the communists' revolt. However, due to the earlier strikes and the similarities of goals between the SPD's published program and that of the Spartacusists, many Germans still mistrusted the SPD.
Euphoria may help in establishing democratic myths. At least the absence of that fuzzy feeling seems to hinder their development. And in this case, the Weimar Republic clearly was born not in national triumph, but in the defeat of the Empire. Many Germans simply could not believe that their army actually had lost in battle. Instead, Germans of all political persuasions blamed the politicians who had signed the armistice (temporarily ending the war) and the Versailles Peace Treaty (that actually ended World War I). This undermined the legitimacy of the Weimar government in the eyes of many Germans, for Versailles was a punitively anti-German pact:
Under Versailles, Germany explicitly was blamed for the outbreak of WW I, even though Serbia and Austro-Hungary had technically begun the war; and even though it was Russian mobilization on behalf of the Serbs that set the chain of events leading to general war in motion. The Kaiser and others were named as possible defendants in future war crimes trials. The German nation was to be required to pay damages to the allies. or "reparations." The amount of these was unspecified, and was to be worked out over the coming years. These "damages" kept alive the sense that Germany had been, and was continuing to be, violated throughout the 1920s. Germany, and Germany alone, also was required to virtually disarm. Strict limits on the size of German armed forces were written into the treaty. Germany also was forbidden from any future unification with Austria, a provision that further angered Germans who sought unity with other Germanic peoples. Additionally, Germany was barred from the League of Nations until it could prove itself a "lawful nation." Further, Germany also lost valuable territories making up 13% of its land area, 12% of its population and containing 75% of its iron ore, and 20% of its coal. Additionally, all lands wrung in Spring 1918 by Imperial Germany from Russia's new Soviet rulers in the treaty of Brest-Litovsk were surrendered: new independent states were formed (Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania) and others were expanded (Finland, Romania). Nor were these the extent of the punitive territorial losses. Parts of Germany since the 1860s also were lopped off: Alsace-Loraine (to France), North Schleswig (to Denmark), Upper Silesia and the city of Posen (to the new Poland). Silesia -- Prussian ruled since the 1740s-- was to be given a plebiscite to determine its status. All African and Pacific colonies of Germany were surrendered, to be administered henceforth by the League of Nations, or nations that organization would designate. Finally, parts of Germany itself were placed under foreign occupation: the Rhineland for 15 years was to be jointly occupied by the Allies, the (coal rich) Saar area was given over to French occupation and exploitation for 15 years. Cumulatively, it is clear now why the Versailles Treaty has come to be regarded as a punitive "victors' peace" -- one of the many great blunders of the twentieth century.
Within Germany, the difficult issues raised by the terms of the Versailles Treaty quickly were seized upon for partisan advantage. Public outrage over this treaty was so profound that the Prime Minister who on May 7, 1919 was presented it (SPD Leader Philipp Scheidemann) refused to sign it, saying "the hand that signs this will wither." Eventually, the new President, Friederich Ebert, and Army commanders told the new government that they must sign the treaty, or France would occupy all of Germany. The (Catholic) Center Party and the SPD supported this reluctant acceptance, but extremist parties soon denounced these parties (and others) that had signed as traitors. On the right, the Empire-era Liberal Party, now calling themselves the "People's Party" and the Empire-era Conservatives, now calling themselves the "National Party" opposed the Versailles Treaty; on the left the Independent Socialists, later the KPD or Communist Party, also opposed the treaty.
The Weimar Republic also was beset by economic problems from the start. Between 1921 and 1924, rapid inflation destroyed most of the non-property owning middle class:
-in 1920, $1.00 US = 4 Reich marks (RM)
-1/1922, $1.00 US = 19 RM
-1/1923, $1.00 US = 17,000 RM
-11/1923, $1.00 US = 4,000,000,000 RM
Additionally, an agricultural crisis forced millions of the rural poor to leave the land to seek paid employment in the cities. These rootless bumpkins were easily mobilized by groups of all ideological stripes and radical persuasions.
Simultaneously, among the urban sophisticates of the middle and upper classes a cultural renaissance took place in the mid to late 1920s in the German cities. New, bold forms of art and theater challenged the frontiers of expression. Motion pictures stretched imaginations. Cabaret clubs sprung up to allow these urban sophisticates to pursue what traditionalists saw to be decadent lives. Many Germans found the attendant drunkenness, nudity and promiscuity to be dangerously excessive. Nazis and others played on these reactionary attitudes, labeling Roaring 20's arts as not merely decadent but un-German. In this they struck a chord: the fast and loose cabaret scene that urban sophisticates in Berlin and Munich (etc.) enjoyed did deeply offend many --not the least the new migrants from poor areas who found themselves in many ways swirling in an urban world most unfamiliar. These trends in the arts were modern trends known worldwide. But the Nazis cunningly focused blame exclusively on the Weimar Government and "Jewish artists" as the prime authors encouraging these excesses, a charge which mainstream politicians could not easily deflect, because democrats felt obligated to protect freedom of all expression.
Yet, the exterior of life in Weimar was exuberant. Economic life after 1925 generally was stable, at least until the Great Depression of 1929. Civil service employees enjoyed job security and salaries kept up with inflation for them. This was a large segment of society, fully five million Germans, making up (along with other white collar workers) about 17 percent of the workforce (Childers: 19). Confidence in the future was high, for urban Germany was primarily a youthful nation brimming in its embrace of the new forms of production. In the late 1920s, American journalist William Shirer (168) described this calm before the (Nazi) storm: "... And everywhere there was an accent on youth. One sat up with the young people all night in the sidewalk cafes, the plush bars, the summer camps, on a Rhineland steamer or in a smoke-filled artist's studio and talked endlessly about life. They were a healthy, carefree, sun-worshipping lot, and they were filled with an enormous zest for living to the full and in complete freedom. The old oppressive Prussian spirit seemed to be dead and buried. Most Germans one met --politicians, writers, editors, artists, professors, students, businessmen, labor leaders --struck you as being democratic, liberal, even pacifist. One scarcely heard of Hitler or the Nazis, except as the butt of jokes... Ten years after the end of the (First World) war the German Republic seemed to have found its feet."
Democratic "normalcy," the value so cherished in America in the 1920s, however, could not for Germany always be benign. German reparation payments required the state to develop "police state" type tactics to prevent the movement of gold out of the country: foreign mail was opened; bank accounts were inspected. This also undermined public perceptions of Weimar as a freedom enhancing, peoples' government.
Political violence -- generally ignored by the leading classes -- also disrupted the serenity many Germans wanted and found in their private lives. After a time, the very expectation that some political violence necessarily went with the democratic turf conditioned people to perceive democracy as disorderly, chaotic. For example, after negotiating Germany's reparation amount in April 1921 --$33 billion!--, negotiator Walther Rathenau was assassinated (June 1922).
Political parties proliferated. By 1924, more than 35 parties were competing for seats, each more attentive to the interests of their constituencies than to the national interest. The party system was in essence, incoherent. Two left parties, each with their own trade unions and each appealing to the working class for votes, divided both the left and society along lines of economic class. Three separate parties appealed to the middle class, each supported by different industrial groups or small business associations. A sectarian "Catholics only" party sought to divide Germans not on lines of economic class but on a religious cleavage that looked at Germans by their faith orientations, or lack thereof. Some parties sought still narrower constituencies to support them; for example, a party actually won seats that campaigned for the votes of, and actually named itself, the "Dwellers of High Rise Buildings in Munich Party." Anti-democratic parties also began forming almost at Weimar's birth, each with their own "Sergeant-at-Arms" branch to "protect" leaders at rallies. These groups became seasoned street fighters, in combat with police and other groups. To counteract these groups' violence, the major parties also deployed paramilitary wings. Police forces' authority thereby was undermined. Specifically, the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP; the "Nazis" never called themselves 'Nazis', only "National Socialists") used the streets as a theater in which to engage the public-as-audience. Stirring rhetoric at Nazi rallies and shimmering banners of striking color, all complemented the paramilitary uniforms and marching of the Nazi Storm Troopers (SA). Slowly, the beer hall bullies who had tried to seize power in the early 1920s gave way to the Nazis' new style of the late 1920s. Championing themselves in words as the movement to end the era of parties, in the name of tradition and order, the Storm Troopers' real deeds broke from Germany's traditions to stir disorder and street violence wherever it was possible. Even before the Depression, their style had growing appeal:
-In 1925, the Nazis had 27,000 dues-paying members.
-In 1926, the Nazis had 49,000 dues-paying members.
-In 1927, the Nazis had 72,000 dues-paying members.
-In 1928, the Nazis had 108,000 dues-paying members.
-In 1929, the Nazis had 129,000 dues-paying members.
After the Depression hit in the Fall-Winter of 1929-30, the Nazis introduced to political life what we now know as "negative campaigning." They harped continuously on their foes for being the cause of the Depression. Since they had never been included in any Cabinet, such a strategy became increasingly plausible to voters as the economic crises deepened. They promised the moon to everyone: farmers would get "no bankruptcies, higher prices;" city workers were told by the Nazis that a NSDAP Government would mean "no higher prices." As a set, these policies were incoherent; but separately was how they were delivered to, and heard by, separate audiences. In the process, the Nazi Party had become the first "catch-all" party in modern Germany: more an amalgam of hopes than a coherent programmatic party of change. Or so it appeared.
In the face of such devious challengers, some mainstream political leaders in Weimar also behaved irresponsibly, further discrediting the institutions of democracy. Each successive Reparation Renegotiation (i.e., Dawes Plan, 1924; Young Plan 1929) was sabotaged by various parties' attempts to blame others for the whole problem. For example, in 1929, the head of the German National Bank (Reichsbank), H. Schacht, negotiated a 59 year repayment schedule (1.7 billion new RMs due in 1930, rising to 2.4 billion in 1966), signed this agreement, then renounced it and joined the Nazi Movement. (He headed the Nazis' Reichsbank, 1933-1939). Eventually, at the height of the Great Depression, the Reichstag was asked to approve this agreement, the vote was 270 in favor (SPD, Center, German Peoples' Party, Democrats) and 192 against (KPD, Nationalists and NSDAP [Nazis]).
The Indian Summer of Weimar's prosperity (1925-29) abruptly came to an end when the system of world trade contracted greatly in response to the crash of the American stock market (October 1929). The feeble qualities of the institutions of Weimar, long hidden from full view by a balmy gloss of public optimism, shocked a chastened and sober Germany. From March 1930 to January 1933, no German Cabinet enjoyed the confidence of a consistent, reliable majority in the Reichstag. Proportional representation virtually guaranteed as much, but the further fragmentation of German society that was reflected through this electoral method also should be appreciated. Fully ten separate political parties polled over one million votes in 1930! "They were too much at cross purposes, too absorbed in looking after special economic and social interests they represented to be able to bury their differences and form an enduring majority in the Reichstag that could back a stable government capable of coping with the major crisis that confronted the country at the beginning of the Thirties. Parliamentary government had become a matter of what the Germans called Kuhhandel --cattle trading-- with the parties bargaining for special advantages for the groups that had elected them and the national interests be damned" (Shirer: 212-213). This irresponsible situation compounded public perceptions that democracy was a synonym for chaos.
Five separate national parliamentary elections, 1928-33, produced unstable coalition cabinets, reinforcing public perceptions of the instability of democracy and the Weimar Constitution. In each balloting, the vote for most moderate political parties slipped, and the vote for the extremists grew. Central was the fate of the non-revolutionary, moderate SPD: in the election of May 20, 1928, it polled nearly 30 percent of the votes, and under Weimar's proportional representation method received a corresponding 153 of the 491 Reichstag seats. The largest of all parties in the Reichstag, its leader Hermann Mueller attempted to form a Cabinet, and until late March 1930, Mueller would serve as Chancellor. But for months his Government was impeded by the strongly anti-Socialist views of his prospective partner, the German People's Party, so Mueller formed a coalition of "personalities" rather than the needed, formal pact of the SPD, the Peoples' Party and others. Only in April 1929 could this formal coalition finally be formed in the Reichstag, involving SPD (29.8 percent), Center (15.2 percent), Democrats (4.8 percent) and People's Party (8.7 percent). So long as this majority held, Weimar moderates could govern. But events intervened: in October 1929, the American Stock Market crashed, and economic contraction began in Germany. In Spring 1930, the Mueller-led coalition government collapsed over the issue of extending the amount of unemployment insurance contributions by employers; SPD favored it, but their partners did not. President Hindenburg then asked Heinrich Bruening (Center Party) to form a Government even if without a formal coalition or majority support. Bruening then followed his instincts but not good sense: he excluded the SPD from his Cabinet; and the Bruening Government, without SPD votes in the Reichstag, was vulnerable to collapse from the start. Unable to pass a budget, Bruening broke new ground by asking that the President enact his budget without Reichstag authorization of it, under the emergency powers of the Weimar Constitution, which vest such authority in the President under Article 48. But the Reichstag contested the legality of this move, and Bruening dissolved parliament (July 16, 1930). Thus, the stage was set for further politics, and Bruening called the second of the five fateful elections.
1930 election: extremists rising. The several moderate parties had proved unable to cooperate, and their fates in the next election (Sept. 14, 1930) showed a dangerous social polarization was developing. While voter support for the SPD fell five points between 1928 and 1930, support for other middle-of-the-road parties also fell: the Democrats slipped from nearly 5 percent to barely 3 percent; the German People's Party slid from nearly 9 percent to less than 5 percent; only the (Catholic) Center Party stayed fairly constant at about 15 percent. The beneficiaries of the Sept. 14, 1930 election, and the darker visions the Depression had created in voters' minds, were all on the extremes: on the left, the Communists grew from 10 to 13 percent support; and on the right, the Nazis went from a bare 2.6 percent to a stunning 18.3 percent of all votes. Fittingly, as the new Reichstag first met (October 13, 1930), violent street demonstrations raged in the streets of Berlin, orchestrated by the radical right. Bruening continued as Chancellor of this highly divided, and coalition-less body.
Movement of the electorate toward the extremes directly corresponded with the failure of the middle-of-the-road parties to govern effectively, or democratically. One of Bruening's first acts in the new Reichstag was to impose censorship over the screening of the anti-war film "All Quiet on the Western Front," which his censorship board had found to be anti-German. But the public was alarmed by more than movies; and more than nine million new participants, 1928-33, began to vote in German elections. This is shown in rising voter turnout: 75.6 percent of eligible voters actually voted in 1928; 82 percent did in 1930, and 84 percent did in 1932, and in the March 1933 election, 88.8 percent voted. Yet, while unemployment was rising from 15 percent (1929) to 24 percent (1930), the cabinet was unable to introduce substantial increases in unemployment compensation. By 1931, unemployment had reached 37 percent; and by late 1932, it would crest at 48 percent out of work, with 24 percent more were working only part-time. Under Emergency Powers of the Weimar Constitution (Article 48), the figurehead President (Paul von Hindenburg) began to issue important political decisions by decree, even though they had not been enacted as laws by the Reichstag (E.G., the budget for the government, July 16, 1930 and all budgets thereafter). This further undermined the authority of the Reichstag and democratic procedures suffered in new ways. As street violence worsened, 1930-32, Article 48 was used to prevent publication of party leaflets, to ban NSDAP Storm troopers' demonstrations (April-June 1932), to cut unemployment benefits to 20 weeks only (October 1931); to freeze the price of bread (May 1931); to illegally remove the elected Prussian government from office (1932), and for many more important decisions.
A year of elections and little democracy: 1932. Though German Government clearly was faltering, generous doses of democratic rituals engaged the citizens. The year began with a Presidential campaign (February-March) and two rounds of Presidential elections (March, April). Correspondingly, street clashes among party supporters dominated the late Winter and Spring of 1932, though candidate Hitler attempted to distance himself from his supporters' excesses. In these campaigns, President Hindenburg, the figurehead leader of this faltering democratic political system, abandoned further the democratic method of rule. In his re-election campaign of March-April 1932, Hindenburg's supporters in the Bruening cabinet --and Hindenburg's re-election, at least, was backed by the SPD as well-- blocked all advertising on state radio stations by supporters of his chief opponent, Adolf Hitler. After two rounds of Presidential ballotings, the old man (i.e., Hindenburg) prevailed, 53 percent to 36.8 percent. But we can take slight reassurance in the democratic good sense the masses produced with this result: by this time in 1932 nearly thirteen and a half million Germans were regularly voting for Hitler and the Nazis; and Hindenburg himself was beginning to display remarkably authoritarian tendencies.
Par for the course, frenetic street politicking continued: campaigns and elections at regional levels peppered the year, with Nazis and other nationalists making big gains in Prussia, Bavaria, Wurttemberg and Hamburg in April; and in May, the Nazis gained greater support in elections in Mechlenburg, Hessen, Saxony and several other states. It is a fair statement that excessive doses of political competition engaged German citizens in 1932, for each campaign presented radicals the opportunity to engage in the street theater of conflict and inter-party violence. Thus, later in May, Hindenburg reinforced the view of many that Weimar was becoming little more than an elected dictatorship when he used his Article 48 powers to ban another left wing fringe group, the International of Proletarian Freethinkers. The crowning touch in this arbitrary direction, however, was his firing of Bruening as Chancellor (May 30, 1932), a reckless act that was announced with accusations that Bruening was infected with "Bolshevism," a truly absurd charge little different than the odious name-calling done by Nazis. Hindenburg then appointed Franz von Papen, a member of the Center Party, as Chancellor, despite his swift resignation from that party and his inability to put together any conceivable majority support in the Reichstag: Center, SPD, State, and Social Christian parties all immediately denounced the Papen Government, and most of these parties declared their continuing support for Bruening (whom Hindenberg had dismissed). Amid this deepening impasse over leaders and legislative coalitions, not to mention national policy, two ballotings for the Reichstag were held in less than four months, on July 31 and November 6, 1932. In each, the SPD vote percentage confirmed that it had lost its first place status in the eyes of voters, polling 21.6 (July) and 20.4 percent (November); and, again, in each case extremists benefited. The Communists rose to nearly 17 percent (in November). But it was the most extreme group that was most rewarded: the Nazis twice finished first: 37.3 percent (July) and 33.1 percent (November). Only the Center party remained in their steady 14 to 15 percent range that they had held throughout 1928-33. All other parties of the middle had collapsed: the Democrats, now renamed the State Party, polled less than one percent; the German Peoples' Party got barely that, 1.1 percent; and other small parties that had polled 14 percent among them in 1928, now netted a mere 3.1 percent. No anti-extremist coalition was possible any longer; the center had not held among the German electorate, nor among its mercurial leaders. Papen, the Chancellor with virtually no support, could not even get the SPD to meet with him to discuss a potential coalition after the November 1932 election; in a fit of pique, eleven days after this election, Papen simply resigned as Chancellor. Virtually without support, for the next two months, Dec. 2, 1932-January 28, 1933, General von Schleicher served as the final Weimar Chancellor before Hitler took the reins on January 29.
Politicians were not alone in behaving irresponsibly. Many key interest groups -- but dithering supporters of the abstract value of freedom even in the best of times -- also rushed to strip off threadbare democracy linens when fascism seemed a better suit of clothes. In 1929, key trade groups (e.g., Rhineland Industrial Association) publicly opposed the Young Plan; in fall 1931, key German industrialists met at Harzburg and began to finance the growing NSDAP (Nazi) party. But the political leaders clearly were the key group that failed to lead. Chancellor Papen lurched in one odd direction after another: asking seven old line nobles to join his cabinet in May 1932 (though only three nobles ever had served in any Weimar cabinet to that point); unconstitutionally disbanding the Prussian government and appointing himself to rule there in July; negotiating with Hitler in August; and appointing a General, Kurt von Schleicher, to his cabinet as Defense Minister. Extraordinary times had produced extraordinarily incoherent governance, and equally incoherent results: on the eve of the November 1932 general election, the ostensibly most hostile of ideological enemies, the Nazis and the Communists, joined together in a transportation strike in Berlin! After mid-summer 1932, the unpredictable Pres. Hindenburg also jumped on the polarizing bandwagon: he lifted his own recent ban on street rallies by the Nazi S.A. Storm Troopers and the ban on Hitler's S.S. Street fighting between Nazi supporters and the Communists, and the Socialists, picked up steam almost immediately.
Chaos would prevail for months on end. But if these many errors of judgment can be attributed to individuals' poor command of what reasonably must be done to protect freedom, Weimar also was more deeply marred at its roots. Most significantly, the basic laws of Weimar Germany did not attempt in any systematic way to exclude anti-democratic parties from using the authority of democracy to destroy it. The NSDAP propagandist Joseph Goebbels wrote of this after his election to the Reichstag: "We are entering the Reichstag to supply ourselves in that arsenal of democracy, with democracy's weapons. We become Reichstag deputies in order to paralyze the Spirit of Weimar with its own aid. If democracy is so stupid as to pay our transportation and daily expenses for these 'services' of ours, that is its own affair...We come as enemies! As the wolf breaks into the sheep fold, so we come..."
VI. The Nazis in Power.
We now will examine the Nazi dictatorship, 1933-45: how it came to power and what it did to politics and social life in Germany. Our focus in this section primarily will be on the period before the outbreak of World War II. Subsequently, section VII, "Fascism and Genocide," will analyze and contemplate the meaning of the Nazis' genocidal policies as we assess the importance of the collapse of the Nazi regime to the present and future of Germany. Structure: In part VI. of this reading three separate themes will be treated: (1) the establishment of an anti-democratic government in Germany in 1933; (2) the policies of the Nazi government, 1933-39; and (3) the relationship of the beliefs (or ideology) of the Nazis to their ultimate demise.
(1). The establishment of an anti-democratic government in Germany in 1933.
Adolf Hitler, leader of the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP, or Nazis), on January 29, 1933, was asked by Pres. Hindenburg to assume the role of Chancellor and form a government under the Weimar Constitution. His party at that time did not enjoy majority support in the Reichstag, but he was the leader of the largest party therein. In elections during 1932, Hitler had run a losing campaign for President against Hindenburg, garnering 36 percent of the popular vote (to Hindenburg's 53 percent). In other elections during 1932, support for the Nazi Party appears to have crested and to have begun to decline: in a general election for a Reichstag in July, the NSDAP won 37 percent, but their level of support slipped to 33 percent in a second Reichstag election in November of that year. During 1932, Hitler had met with leaders of various parties in attempts to form coalitions that would bring his NSDAP to governing power in the Reichstag. Negotiations to this effect with the Center Party (August 1932) and others had failed, but by January 1933 the German National Party and the German Peoples' Party had suggested that they might cooperate if Hitler were to be named Chancellor by the President.
Consolidating formal power, January 29 to March 23, 1933: During the first month of the Hitler Chancellorship, the Nazis presented themselves as the lawful rulers of the nation. Seeking, apparently, a stable governing majority in the Reichstag, three days after his appointment Chancellor Hitler announced that yet another election would be held, dissolving the Reichstag that had been elected a bare two months previously. Thus, the party wrapped itself in the authority of the existing legal order, but proclaimed through its newspapers and radio propaganda that a "Legal Revolution" was under way. All the while they made vigorous efforts to destroy the existing foundation of democracy. On February 4, rallies and demonstrations were banned. On February 5, the Communist Party (KPD) specifically was prevented from holding a protest demonstration. SPD newspapers were closed and prevented from publishing for three days beginning on this same date. On February 6, the Prussian legislature (or Diet) was dissolved, contrary to the relationship of Weimar Constitution. On February 18, the Government issued its "Decree Against Treason." It suspended constitutional protections against arrest of persons without specific charges; suspended freedom of speech, press, assembly and association; authorized searches of persons without judicial warrants; and empowered the police to search items in the mail.
In this highly irregular atmosphere, the electoral campaign for a new Reichstag took place. Communists were prevented from campaigning and many prominent journalists and SPD officials also were detained. A fire in the Reichstag on the evening of February 27 contributed to public hysteria that tended to give credence to Hitler's extreme internal security measures. Not surprisingly, when the election was held (March 5) the NSDAP's share increased; but they still did not win a majority: only 44 percent of the vote was theirs. The German National Party, joined in coalition with Hitler to make up his first cabinet. It had won an additional 8 percent of the vote. This gave the appearance of majority support in the Reichstag solidly behind the Hitler government. Many Reichstag delegates and political sophisticates were worried, but some early NSDAP actions assuaged fears. The NSDAP cunningly had assigned itself only three of the ministerial portfolios in the first (January to March) cabinet, giving the National Party eight of the 11 seats. After the election, things began to change.
In the Reichstag which assembled in late March, the NSDAP presented new legislation which would authorize the Government to assume the power to rule-by-decree in emergencies. Formerly, this power had been reserved to the President. Hindenburg increasingly had used it to operate the bureaucracy during the periods of legislative stalemate in the Reichstag. The final such period, 1929-33, was one when even routine procedures and decisions such as police budgets --which ordinarily would rest on majority rule in Parliament-- could find no majority to support them. This pattern had accustomed Germans to rule-by-decree as a measure used, from time to time, even by democratic governments. Hitler would use the technique to far different effect.
To authorize these powers to be transferred to the Chancellor (i.e., Hitler), under the Weimar Constitution a two-thirds majority of the Reichstag was necessary. Yet, Hitler then could command only 52 percent of the votes there. In order to legally empower Hitler to have what soon would become dictatorial power, other parties had to acquiesce. Nearly all did. Only the 94 members of the SPD resisted the Nazis' persuasive appeals: all other parties in the Reichstag voted on March 23, 1933 to authorize this legislation, known as "The Enabling Act." (The KPD might also have voted against the Act, but already was barred from the Reichstag at that time). Pivotal, therefore, to the formal rise of Hitler to the stature of dictator were the votes of non-Nazis: the Center Party, whose leaders "won" from Hitler the concession that the Roman Catholic Church would not be persecuted, and others. Thus, non-extremists were instrumental in granting dictatorial powers to Hitler, a legacy that many Germans later have refused to confront.
Further Consolidation of Power. Parallel to these actions that were vaguely within the legal traditions of the Weimar Constitution were efforts by the NSDAP of a completely extra-legal kind. Between the two, a dictatorship was created by mid-Summer 1933. On March 10, all regional (or lander) governments were placed under the supervision of appointees of the ruling party (i.e., the NSDAP). This clearly exceeded the authority of the central government under the Weimar Constitution and was accomplished only by ignoring a precedent-setting ruling by the highest judicial authorities that the absorption of the Prussian government (earlier) had been illegal. In the words of one German historian, Nazi claims of "Legal Revolution" notwithstanding, "this was a coup d'etat" (Helmut Krausnik, in Eschenburg: 140). While most of the civil service and nearly all of the judicial branch remained on the job during the transition to dictatorship, Nazi functionaries were appointed to oversee and "coordinate" the activities of the state. These party officials, to the extent that they exercised decisive influence in courts and bureaucracies, operated outside lawfully constituted authority. Similarly, the barest semblance of legal continuity was strained near the breaking point by Hitler's policies toward other political parties: all (except the Nazis) were banned by mid-Summer (July 14). The opportunistic Center Party (July 5) met its end with as little protest as did Hitler's "allies" in the National Party.
Public relations gestures of conciliation were important during this early period before all opposition was neutralized. Thus, even as the Center Party was disbanded, Hitler signed a special agreement (or Concordant) with the Vatican, again promising to respect the position of the Roman Catholic Church. Similarly, Hitler's propaganda chief, Joseph Goebbels, staged an elaborate celebration of the nation at the tomb of Frederick the Great shortly after the Enabling Act was passed. The presence of old nobility and President Hindenburg at this extravaganza conveyed a message of continuity that was especially useful to the Nazis. Further, upon Hindenburg's death (Summer 1934), Hitler appointed himself to be custodian of the powers of the deceased President, though he assumed the new title of Fuehrer (and still also Chancellor), rather than president. All of this was completely contrary to existing law, so the action was sanitized by submitting it to an uncontested plebiscite (i.e., public vote) which offered voters the opportunity to say "no." Few did: 84.6 percent approved. A similar plebiscite in Fall 1933 had earned Hitler 88 percent support for his demand that Germany withdraw from the League of Nations. Thus, the aura, but not the reality, of democracy continued to reassure doubters. Superficial moderation and quasi-legality were used to engage the German public emotionally while the Party consolidated dictatorial power.
Where doubt in Hitler-the-leader (in German, the "Fuehrer") nevertheless remained, the Nazis were swift to neutralize or eliminate opponents. Critical journalists, KPD leaders, and radical trade unionists were among the first to be sent to the "work camp" at Dachau. More substantial threats were neutralized more cunningly. Anti-Hitler officers in the German Army (Reichswehr) had for many years been suspicious of the growing paramilitary movement of pro-Hitler "Storm Troopers," the SA. Led by Ernst Roehm, the SA had been instrumental to the rise of Hitler's NSDAP in the 1920s, but many members thought Hitler had betrayed the movement when he announced (July 7, 1933) that there would be no further, more radical (or "Second") "revolution." In 1933-34, Roehm encouraged the further growth of the SA and dropped the requirement that all SA "storm troopers" be NSDAP members as well. Roehm, a former Captain in the Reichswehr, had by the time of the Hitler Government become a leading critic of the Reichswehr and had made many enemies among the senior, non-Nazi generals. Recognizing the danger this division potentially posed to him, Hitler forced Roehm to sign a February 1934 agreement acknowledging that the Reichswehr was the "sole German Army." While this pleased the Generals, it made more plausible Hitler's fears of an SA uprising against the Fuehrer, despite Roehm's repeated reassurances. Thus, the Reichswehr's leaders were persuaded to cooperate with Hitler's personal security force, the SS, to prepare for action against Roehm and the SA, an operation now known as the Roehm Affair or Roehm Purge. In bringing these unlikely allies together, Hitler played on the homophobic prejudices of many generals, supplying them a steady diet of evidence that focused on the fact that Roehm was homosexual. On the night of June 30, 1934, accompanied by SS forces, Hitler personally arrested Roehm. At least 77 others who Hitler accused of plotting against the Reich, also were detained immediately, most of them at Reichswehr installations. (Ryder: 313; other sources report as many as 207 were detained). Within days, without any trials, these SA leaders, plus several anti-Hitler Reichswehr generals (e.g., Bredlow, Schleicher), all were executed. Indeed, for good measure, Gen. Schleicher's wife also was shot dead. Due to the involvement of high Reichswehr officers in the planning and execution of this operation, the military as a whole thereafter was in a much less solid position from which they might oppose any Hitler act. After all, if Hitler and the SS were said to be criminal for the crimes committed in the "Roehm Purge," how could the Reichswehr be any less guilty? Each had played key roles in the murderous affair. Thus, by drawing key military leaders into these crimes, Hitler significantly neutralized much of his opposition in the last real bastion of non-Nazi power in Germany (Shirer: 297-314).
These efforts to penetrate, co-opt and better control the Reichswehr continued throughout the Third Reich. In each instance, the SS was the chosen vehicle through which "scandals" in the army were investigated and "criminals" found (and purged). In one instance a high officer (Field Marshall Blomberg) was discredited when the SS made the sensational revelation that his wife formerly had been a prostitute; in another, Commander-in-Chief von Fritch was alleged to have been discovered to have been a homosexual. The key by-product in each of these affairs were growing SS control over the officer corps and enhanced personal control over the Reichswehr as a whole by Hitler.
Who were these new rulers, these Nazis? Sociological studies of the NSDAP membership show that petite bourgeois professions were over-represented, and that the working class was under-represented, in this movement. Still, large numbers from all social classes had been drawn to work for the cause. In 1930, 28 percent and, in 1934, 32 percent of the NSDAP members were workers; at the time 46 percent of the whole society was working class. In 1930, 12.4 percent of society at large were white collar workers, but 28 percent of the Nazis were white collar workers. (By 1934, however, only 20.6 percent of Party members were white collar workers). Businessmen also were over-represented in the Party: while only 9 percent of society were so identified, in 1930, 20 percent of NSDAP members were businessmen (20 percent in 1934 also). Teachers and civil servants were over-represented in the party. Though only 5 percent of society at large were so employed, between 8.3 percent (1930) and 13 percent (1934) of the Party worked in these occupations. Farmers also were NSDAP members beyond what one would have anticipated: though only 9 percent of Germans farmed, 14.7 percent (1930) to 10.7 percent (1934) of Party members were farmers (figures from Bracher).
One overriding characteristic of the new governors was the youthfulness of the members of the movement. Goebbels had been made head of the Berlin party organization at 28; at 36 he became the Minister of Propaganda for the Nazi Government. Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS secret police, first was appointed to the role at 29. Much as was the case with Italian fascism and with the Soviet Government of the 1920s and 1930s, Nazism captured the fancy of legions of youth seeking fulfillment. As one 1930s Nazi put it: "National Socialism offered all that a young man in his most secret and proudest imagination would desire-- activity, responsibility for his fellows, and work with equally enthusiastic comrades for a greater and stronger fatherland. It held official recognition, and careers..." (quoted in Laqueur: 12).
(2). The policies of the Nazi government, 1933-39.
It is useful to remember that much of what Hitler did within Germany was popular then, and that much of it still was revered by substantial numbers of Germans long after Hitler's demise. In April 1989, a random sample of West Germans were polled regarding their views of the Hitler government. The results were reported in Der Spiegel, and reprinted in Washington Post (1989: 22). The responses revealed a not-too-distant yearning for authoritarianism: Thirty eight percent affirmed their belief that "we should have a leading personality who governs with a strong hand to the well-being of all," though 62 percent disagreed. Nazi views about racial purity also continued to elicit agreement, at least as they were posed on another query: 44 percent thought Germany should "take care to keep Germanness pure and prevent intermingling of peoples," though 56 percent disapproved. Finally, the Fuehrer himself, to many appeared misunderstood: Nearly four in ten (39 percent) agreed that "Hitler... was one of the greatest German statesmen," if the war and the extermination of the Jews were set aside. That these jarring views were so widespread among our German allies as late as 1989 suggests the need for candid appraisals of the extent of public support for historic Nazism.
A good deal of the texture of the Nazi regime already has been revealed through the above examples of how they came to power. Nevertheless, the snarling bigot --a veritable cartoon character posing as the public's authorities-- this was not the only, or even the primary, face that most Germans chose to see. A number of measures were taken which, although they were implemented through commands not discussion, enjoyed general public support. In June 1933, controls were placed on wages, prices and rents. Only with the approval of Nazi authorities could any of these be raised thereafter. Similarly, shortly after taking office, the Party issued the first official German government demand that the 27 million German speakers living outside the nation be reunited with their Fatherland. Austria, the city of Danzig (now Gdansk, Poland), Memel (Lithuania), the Sudetenland (then a region of Czechoslovakia, now part of the Czech Republic), and the Saar region all were pointed to as regions that appropriately should be reunited with the Reich. A January 1935 plebiscite on this issue in the mineral-rich Saar demonstrated that this version of German nationalism had strong appeal outside Germany's recognized borders. France, which held the Saar under a League of Nations mandate, was obliged to withdraw. Democratic procedures had been used to fortify the anti-democratic German dictatorship.
Unemployment also fell dramatically from its high water mark of 1932. Concurrently, labor unrest ended as the heavy hand of repression crushed the longstanding independent German labor movement. But Germans could and did attribute to other causes the end of labor unrest: state spending fired up industrial production (especially, defense production) and the dark days of the Depression became a faint memory to many Germans. In the first twelve months of the Hitler regime, 2.23 million unemployed workers were placed in jobs; by 1938, a bare 400,000 remained out of work. A National Labor Service was established, at first on a voluntary basis. In 1935, this was made obligatory and all men, 18-25 years, who served in it for 6 months were required to go thereafter to the military for additional service. All married women, 17 to 25 years, also had to do service for the Labor Service. While at first this was mainly domestic or agricultural work, after 1939, service of women in war industries also was obligatory.
Correspondingly, industrial output grew dramatically. Steel production in 1932 (7.2 million metric Tons, or MMT) nearly tripled (to 19.2 MMT) by 1937. Gross industrial output nearly doubled in the Reich's first five years. The motor behind all of this, of course, was rearmament, a fact not entirely appreciated for all of its implications by many German people. Military spending as a share of Gross National Product (or GNP) grew from about one percent in 1932, to 6 percent in 1934, to 13 percent in 1936, and to 27 percent in 1939. (During this same period, British military spending as a percent of GNP also grew: from 2 percent in 1932 to 7 percent in 1939).
Among the most unpopular aspects of the Weimar era had been the fact that its rulers had felt obliged to honor the clauses of the Versailles Treaty prohibiting German rearmament. After the French government announced (March 1935) its intention to reintroduce 2 year compulsory military service for their citizens, Hitler's policies of mandatory conscription and rearmament seemed but a reaction of French militarism, and became even more popular. French control over the Rhineland was another of the bitter pills that Versailles (and Weimar) had forced German nationalists to swallow. Thus, Hitler's March 1936 reoccupation of that region was widely applauded among both avid supporters of the Fuehrer and merely patriotic Germans. The incorporation of Austria into the Reich (March 12, 1938) also was viewed as a successful step toward national restoration by most Germans.
In the final analysis it is clear that widespread support for the Nazis extended beyond the bourgeoisie, the young, the nationalists, the newly employed, and the ideologues frustrated during the Weimar period. As Laqueur (11) persuasively has argued, "there is much reason to assume that support National Socialism in Germany... was spontaneous and genuine. The Nazis did not have to employ political commissars in peace and war as the (Soviet) Russians did, nor did they have to impose a system of political control as thorough as that of the (Soviet) Russians. In daily life, ideology played a much lesser role. In many cultural and social fields, the ruling party did not intervene except when it removed 'racially undesirable elements'."
The Steps and Purposes of Official anti-Semitism. Offensive as they now seem in the light of history, the distinctive policies of the Third Reich toward the Jewish minority, 1933-39, in fact also engendered additional support within Germany for the Nazi government. Deep chords of cultural anti-Semitism were strummed, chords which echoed prejudices of earlier eras in modern German history (see Schorsch; and Goldhagen). Recognizing fertile fields supplied by intolerant attitudes among many Germans, the Nazis planted in them the seeds of state-run genocide with a series of small, barely ominous steps. Before the war, much highly bureaucratic and legalistic public policy was directed against this small minority, a group that made up 520,000 of the Reich's 60,000,000 citizens. More than two thousand anti-Jewish laws and administrative regulations formally were published and put into effect (Goldhagen: 139). The purpose of all this appears to have been akin to the psychological concept of "conditioning:" i.e., through routinization of the public by exposure to anti-Jewish laws and their enforcement, the German population gradually was groomed into going along with more heinous behaviors that would be demanded of some of them a few years later.
Step One. In the first two years of the Nazi regime (1933-35), dozens of haphazard anti-Semitic measures were imposed. Shortly after Hitler's ascent to power, German Jews began to lose their jobs in government agencies: the civil service, public universities, the military, public grade schools and government clinics and hospitals no longer were permitted to employ Jews. An informal boycott of Jewish businesses was organized April 1, 1933; this served to prepare people for the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service that was announced one week later (April 7), which barred Jews from government employment (Goldhagen: 137). As regulation extended over the previously free press, Jews were forbidden to continue careers in journalism or publishing on September 22, 1933. Practicing Jewish lawyers soon were barred from the Courts. Quotas restricted the number of Jewish university students. Given the parallel tightening of university budgets overall, this purge had the effect of creating new jobs for non-Jewish professors, and new slots for non-Jewish students, where none otherwise would have been available. Some Germans thus were direct beneficiaries of official anti-Semitism right from the beginning.
German Soldiers tell the public not to shop at Jewish owned businesses after enactment of the Nuremberg decrees
Step Two. In September 1935, the so-called "Nuremberg Laws" were decreed at a Nazi Party convention in that city. By calling these dictatorially-imposed, prejudiced edicts "laws", the Nazis wrapped the aura, but not the reality of legal continuity around the hateful policies already underway unofficially. The overall effect of the Nuremberg decrees was both further to restrict Jewish life in the Reich and further to draw the majority population into a campaign of officially-encouraged discrimination. In the first declaration, the so-called Law of the Reich Citizen, Jews were formally declared to be "2nd Class" residents, not citizens. In a second Nuremberg decree, the so-called Law for the Protection of German Blood that was clarified later by implementation policies that Fall, non-Jews were ordered: not to casually socialize with Jews; sexual relations between Jews and non-Jews were designated as a criminal offense; mixed marriages were prohibited; divorce procedures in such marriages were eased; and Jews were barred from flying the German flag. Clarifications of elements in the "German Blood" decree legally defined a Jew to be any resident with as few as one Jewish grandparent (see illustration below). In the months after the implementation of the Nuremberg decrees, existing quotas on Jewish involvement in the professions were tightened and informal discrimination increased. Many German Jews reacted to these decrees by emigrating to other parts of Europe and to North America (e.g., Albert Einstein, Henry A. Kissinger). But many German non-Jews continued to benefit from the job openings and new economic opportunities created by excluding Jews.
above: After enactment of the Nuremberg decrees, bureaucrats created handbills explaining to the public who could not marry, based on Jewish identity of a persons' grandparents.
The assassination of a German diplomat in Paris by a Jewish emigre in the Fall of 1938 was used by the NSDAP as the pretext for a new and more sweeping repression against the German Jews. In "retaliation" for the act of a single non-German individual, the Nazis unleashed the most vicious pogrom (i.e., riot) against all the German Jews that Western Europe had seen in over 600 years. On the "Kristallnacht" ("Crystal Night," or Night of Breaking Glass), November 9, 1938, every single synagogue (i.e., Jewish place of worship) in Germany was attacked. Most were burned to the ground; at least 91 Jews were killed and uncounted hundreds of innocent Jewish men, women and children were attacked and beaten by Party bully boys, Storm troopers and mobs of their many public sympathizers. (Follow this link to listen to an eyewitness' testimony of how Kristallnacht affected her as a nine year old girl in Germany.) In the aftermath of Crystal Night, thirty thousand German and Austrian Jews were deported to concentration camps. Again, apartments and homes fell empty, to be doled out to some German non-Jews as spoils in this hateful campaign. Specific families victimized by these prewar policies never have been compensated by any post-war German governments.
In 1938, the Nazi government had marched into Austria, extending the Reich to include this German-speaking state. On Crystal Night, Austrians showed how well they had joined their new Reich: simultaneous pogroms against Austria's Jews took place. All but one of the synagogues there were burned down on Kristallnacht. In a week, anti-Semitic policies that took six years to unfold in Germany were implemented. The Jews of Austria were forced to scrub the sidewalks of Vienna with toothbrushes. On the fiftieth anniversary of Crystal Night (November 9, 1988), West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl visited the Frankfurt Jewish Museum and stated: "It is difficult to understand, it remains a cause for deep shame, that on Nov. 9-10, 1938, the majority of the population was silent" (WP 1988: 29). The German silence, at least, eventually was broken: in all, seventy separate commemorations and official public acts of atonement were held in West Germany in November 1988. Unlike both East and West Germany, in 1988 Austria's parliament, however, refused officially to acknowledge Austrian complicity in Crystal Night. Moreover, Jewish advocacy groups today fear that Crystal Night will now be completely forgotten in Germany as well. In 1989 on November 9-10, the Cold War era Berlin Wall first was opened, and in 1990 it was celebration of that latter-day event which crowded out the other memories. In the making of German commemorative calendars henceforth one can doubt that the two events of November 9, fifty-one years apart, will receive equal attention.
In the now-defunct communist East Germany, in 1988 the Party finally recognized all Germans' involvement, through their silence, in the growing anti-Semitism of the Hitler era. At a time of widespread Austrian debate and official West German public acts of atonement, Communist officials also professed publicly a newly-accepted obligation to the victims of the Holocaust. After years of loudly identifying themselves as a co-victims of Nazi persecution whenever the Holocaust was mentioned, Communist leaders in 1988 publicly recognized Crystal Night as a German (not merely a Nazi) crime. There was some slender truth to the longstanding Communist claim: Communist Party leader Erick Honecker who ruled until 1989 had in fact been jailed by the Nazis at one time. However, Nazi anti-Semitic policies went far beyond the jailing experienced by Honecker (though some other German communists, in fact, were murdered). Throughout East Germany, well-publicized ceremonies denouncing historic anti-Semitism -- tardily, but finally -- were held in November 1988. Pregnantly omitted, however, was any reference to the rigidly anti-Israel policy of all East German Governments, 1949-88.
Step Three. Further anti-Semitic decrees were enunciated between 1935 and 1939. These ranged from among the most petty to the most wrenching of the whole set of prewar anti-Semitic decrees. The once prosperous among the German Jews were pauperized: all forms of economic activity between Jews and non-Jews became illegal. Earlier regulations had all loopholes removed: all remaining Jews in the university were barred from further study or work there. Survival was made precarious as the Nazis shortened the hours of the day in which Jews were permitted on the streets to shop, and required that Jews' passports be reissued with an identifying "J" stamped on them. Escape was thus impeded, and in more than one way: decrees forbade Jews (German and otherwise) from using sleeping cars on railroads in Germany, and barred Jews from driving automobiles. No simple pleasure was permitted to be retained: another decree prohibited Jews even from visiting beaches. Germans were goaded to exploit this situation: another decree permitted immediate eviction of Jewish tenants by landlords, a practice that set the stage for much private extortion. Again, there was little or no audible public outcry against these policies; again, many Germans benefited from the final stifling of Jewish competition with their businesses, and the liquidation sales forced upon these Jewish merchants.
Yet, the gradual erosion of personal liberties endured by the German Jews in the prewar era we now know to have been but a first step in a larger, even more inhumane process. The brutal design implicit in all of this became more evident after the 1938 absorption of Austria and parts of Czechoslovakia into the Reich (1938-39). Measures gradually implemented over 5 years in Germany were put into effect in a matter of days in these nations. The trickle of Jewish refugees from the enlarged Reich soon became a flood.
It must be mentioned that some Nazi leaders entertained the idea that others had no place in the Reich. Hitler's right hand man, Martin Bormann, for example, in 1941 stated: "To an ever increasing degree, the people must be extricated from the churches and from their executives, the clergy." However, the Nazi regime never implemented any comprehensive anti-Christian policy. Moreover, it was not the practice of the religion of Judaism which made Jews liable to suffer at the hands of this state: it was their very existence as a distinct group. Whether an individual was devoutly religious or entirely secular mattered not one bit to the Nazis: all of the Jewish ethnicity, indeed, all within the Reich with even one Jewish grandparent were so categorized, discriminated against and ultimately, exterminated. All of these lethal government-run intentions were quite obvious before the outbreak of war, and in Germany it was made more obvious throughout the conflict: after Sept. 1, 1941, Jews in Germany were compelled to wear a sizable yellow star of David with the inscription "Jude" on them, a form of public torture that invited attacks from majority Germans.
While there certainly was a grand plan behind the Holocaust, some of what was done by the Nazis can have too much order and design attributed to the forms of the Nazi state. Because the Party never smashed apart all of the institutions of the old order, parallel Party divisions were set up to insure the cooperation of the existing bureaucracies with the Party's goals. In practice, this meant a good deal of duplication of effort took place (at best), and at times no one was clearly responsible for some functions. Thus, the "Hitler Youth Organizations" became more significant than the Ministry of Culture in insuring proper socialization of the next generation. Thus, the responsibilities of (an ad hoc) "Four Year Planning Board" were never quite clearly distinct from those of the Ministry of the Economy. Thus, the police powers of the Ministry of the Interior gradually were duplicated (and usurped) by the Nazi SS. This practice of setting up competing bureaucracies with nearly identical responsibilities initially spurred all to work harder and more cooperatively with the new leaders; eventually it became a bureaucratic mess in which failure to fulfill one's own task always could be blamed on someone else who had similar responsibilities.
(3). The relationship of the beliefs, or ideology, of the Nazis to their ultimate demise.
To a modern citizen of a liberal democratic society, all of the factors that contributed to the sudden rise of this totalitarian state in the midst of civilized Europe may appear incomprehensible, or peculiar to that place and time alone. Yet the attraction of Westerners in other lands to fascist ideas, both during the 1930s and beyond, suggests that this variant on government may warrant more than a casual dismissal. A full understanding may elude even the most studious among us, but one hopeful signpost to note in passing through the effort is that many of the seeds of the destruction of fascism seem to have been sown by the Nazis themselves.
For example, one of the key tenets of Nazi ideology was the reunification of the "pure" Aryan race. This task was to be accomplished by many varied means, but in practice this meant that Germans living outside of the Reich (generally to the East) were urged to form pro-Nazi parties, or to migrate to the Reich individually. Another of the Nazi's goals was to gain for the "living space" for this larger Reich, usually understood as the need to expand to the East. These two goals were not as compatible as they might appear at first. To the extent that pro-Reich German ethnics did migrate to the Reich before the war began, to a like degree there were fewer willing collaborators there once the military campaign to seize this "living space" began. Moreover, the impact of thousands of new migrants on the German economy, 1936-39, was not altogether positive. Many lacked the skills to truly contribute to a stronger Reich. Further, the campaign for "Aryan unity" diminished the potential power of the Reich when it injected this contentious issue into its relationship with German allies, such as Italy. To demand the "reunification" of the Germanic ethnics in Italian South Tyrol was to explicitly oppose the "Greater Italy" that fascist dictator Mussolini saw as his nation's purpose.
During the course of the war (i.e., World War II), a number of tactical mistakes appear to have been made by a Hitler blinded by his own ideology. Central to the Nazi beliefs were conceptions of a hierarchy of the races. By applying this in practice, the German high command appeared to have discounted the difficulties that earlier conquerors had encountered in Russia. Once the initial rush of victories slackened, ideological prejudices prevented the Nazi command from shifting tactics in a direction that would have drawn more anti-Soviet forces into the war. Deep animosities existed in the 1930s and 1940s (and today) between the more numerous Great Russians and the 40 to 50 million Ukrainians (or "Little Russians"). Had the Nazi ideology been more flexible, had the German Army treated the Ukrainian masses with common decency and kindness, in all likelihood a substantial amount of additional anti-Soviet manpower might have been able to have been recruited from among this discontented group of Soviet citizens. But ideology relegated the Ukrainian "race" to an inferior plane; their grain was shipped home to Germany, while thousands were left to starve. Those individual Ukrainians who were recruited to the cause of the Reich were made into police and prison guards, enforcers of Nazi policies against their Jewish neighbors and their own fellow ethnics. A more enlightened policy of self-rule for the Ukrainians might have strengthened the Reich, but its ideology precluded even considering such a course.
Perhaps none of the ideologically-directed goals of the Reich was more self defeating than was the obsessive campaign to slaughter the Jews. From the most crude of measures, the manpower of (at least) six million potential slave laborers was lost by murdering, rather than working, all in this group. Perhaps the greatest, self-defeating lunacy of it all was the use of limited railroad stock to ship the Jews to the camps during 1944. Even as the German army was in retreat in the face of the relentless advance of the (Soviet) Red Army, trains kept rolling out of Paris (and other Western cities) filled to the breaking point with load after load of Jewish children destined for the ovens at Auschwitz (Poland). From any rational military point of view, these trains should have been being used to re-supply the German Army so as to prevent its collapse and the ultimate capture of Berlin by the Soviets. Yet ideology demanded completion of the Final Solution, even at the expense of the defeat of the Reich. In these and many other ways, the Nazi ideology led to policies that directly were contrary to the national interest of Germany in its own survival. Beside the moral bankruptcy involved in trying to exterminate an entire people, however, these irrationalities may appear inconsequential.
VII. Fascism and Genocide
"All the past eventually becomes history. But it will be a long time before this will happen to the outbreak of war in 1939. The destruction it caused went too deep, and its consequences were too extensive. Still, half a century later the structure of the world has taken on new dimensions... But one thing still remains valid in these revisions of history: that morality without might is powerless, and that might without morality has no permanent existence." Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Sept. 1, 1989)
"All Germans need to be aware of the responsibility they have as a result of their history... [The triumph of] our ideals, freedom, human rights [demands us to] make clear to our young people that extremist ideologies, whether on the left or on the right, do not provide suitable solutions for existing problems." Helmut Kohl, Chancellor of Germany, September 5, 1991.
Nazism and fascism were Western, post-democratic challenges to the entire Western tradition. In exchange for economic prosperity, most values of western culture were surrendered. Individualism was subordinated to the "leadership principle" ("Fuhrerprinzip"); the scientific method of discerning truths was discarded in favor of the party's singular TRUTH; the varied identities of the classes and groups among a people were washed away in the claim of a common identity of the German "volk" (or "people").
Its impact ultimately was devastating for the Germans themselves. Germany's losses of 4 million dead (not including German Jews) in the Second World War equaled about 8% of its prewar population. Their neighbors forever after were made suspicious of a strong Germany. In Russia and the other states emerging from the former Soviet Union these suspicions remain strongest, even though the USSR voluntarily accepted the end of the USSR's special rights in Germany when final unification of the two Germanies was permitted, October 3, 1990. Such ill-ease is understandable. To German aggression were lost over 20,000,000 Soviet citizens dead: 7 million of these were civilians, 3.5 million were P.O.W.s in German camps and 1.5 Million were Soviet Jews. Fully 600,000 Soviets died in the German siege of Leningrad alone. Nor do these astounding figures really convey a full picture: 25 million Soviets were left homeless; 4.7 million housing units were destroyed; 1700 major towns were leveled; 70,000 villages were destroyed, 65,000 KM of Railroads were ruined; 15,800 locomotives were wrecked; 428,000 freight cars were destroyed; 20 million (of 23 million at war's start) pigs destroyed; etc. The Soviet suffering in World War II was tremendous; it simply cannot be minimized as an influence on contemporary Russian political consciousness.
With this clearly in mind, it is also important to maintain a proportionate perspective on these tragic issues. Soviet deaths equaled less than 10 percent of that nation's prewar population. Poland's (Christians only) losses were, by percent of prewar population, greater: 6,000,000 or 22 percent. Yugoslavia's losses were also on a scale similar to that of the USSR: about 1,500,000, or 9 percent of prewar population. All but 300,000 of these Yugoslavs (all ethnicities) were civilians murdered by Nazis and Croatian pro-Nazis. France lost about 600,000 (or 1.5 percent of prewar population; this figure includes 90,000 French Jews). Britain lost 360,000, less than 1 percent of prewar population. In this light, the losses by the USA of 322,188 dead (600,000 wounded), or eight tenths of one percent of our prewar population, were relatively small.
States had proven weak protectors of their citizens, but two ethnicities then without a nation state of their own lost even more heavily than had the citizens of any of these states. About 196,000 gypsies, or approximately 23 percent of their prewar population 831,000, were killed (Kenrick 1989: 253; Lewy: 222). The biggest losers of all, of course, were the Jews of Europe, who lost 67 percent of all prewar population, or 6,000,000 dead (2 million from Einsatzgruppen or "mobile killing squads," e.g.: Babi Yar; 3.5 Million in the Death Camps, e.g. Auschwitz; and about 500,000 in other violence or by starvation outside of the camps) (figures on all nations are drawn from Dawidowicz: 5-12; and Ferrell: 568).
There were some important differences in the fates of these two stateless minorities. Gypsies were killed in large numbers, but those who were settled and socialized met a far less lethal fate than that of their itinerant, wandering fellow ethnics. While acts of genocide against Gypsies --forced sterilizations, for example-- pass the legal standard set after World War II for correct use of that term as expressed by the U.N. General Assembly in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (December 9, 1948), no German policy to exterminate the Gypsies en masse was authorized or carried out. Many were indeed murdered, but "these acts of murder were not part of a plan to destroy the Gypsy people as such" (Lewy: 223). The situation in regard to the Jews, on the other hand, was substantially different: all were to be killed on formal written orders of the top German leadership, orders which survive; no exceptions were authorized for well socialized or settled Jews. Strikingly, ethnically pure Gypsies were more likely to be spared by the Germans than were Gypsies of mixed blood; no such distinctions deflected the Nazi Germans murderous policies that were directed toward all Jews.
Only later has scholarship carefully differentiated these matters. In 1945-46, the victors scarcely could be expected to discern these fine differences; indeed, to do so would have appeared to have been splitting hairs so to minimize the larger horror that fascism and its death camps had been demonstrated to create. An International Military Tribunal was convened at Nuremberg where judges from Soviet, British and American governments assembled 22 volumes of evidence, testimony and conclusions. In the end, most of the 21 Nazi defendants were convicted and hanged.
In facing the facts of this most disturbing chapter in German history, the most vexing questions about Nazism, therefore, seem not to be primarily technical, Constitutional, legal or political malformations. With the hindsight that the passage of time has allowed us, it has become rather easy to ask (and answer) technical questions about the road to Nazi nightmare, such as "wouldn't Weimar Government have been more stable if they had used single member districts, which keep extremists out of power?" or "why did the (Catholic) Center party sell out democracy?" These, and many other, Constitutional, legal and political errors present us important, but narrow lessons upon which to reflect about the connection of mass democracy to German totalitarianism.
The more difficult questions are ethical and moral ones. Our greatest challenges in trying to develop an understanding of the meaning of Nazism seem to revolve around the social dynamics which propelled Europe's most educated citizenry to cooperate. Indeed, in this light the voluminous evidence assembled at the Nuremberg Trials of those 21 war criminals provide us no answers at all. When a clear set of contrary ethical teachings formed the core of Christian values, why did nearly all Germans go along with a plan to conquer and subordinate all of Europe? Very few actively resisted. When traditions of compassion and charity were as customary as they were among the Germans, how could an educated society turn so monstrous as to embrace the authority of a party that declared its purpose to be to destroy? Indeed, how could Christians all over Europe help the Germans to exterminate their Jewish neighbors?
In trying to discern truthful answers large enough, part of what we must confront is unique to the capabilities of states in our age. Only in modern bureaucratic states with efficient apparatus of organizations could such mad fantasies go beyond being perverse, but idle, thought. It is this methodical madness that challenges our powers of understanding. We conceive modern organizations as routes to orderliness, as rational man on a large scale. Our conceptual landscape ordinarily does not permit the contrary thought that only through large organizations with great power are sweeping and hideous irrationality possible. So long as the problem of Nazism is not linked to the unique capabilities of modern states, we may have missed the point.
Certainly, there has been anti-Semitism throughout the ages; yet there has been but one Holocaust. Its appearance in modern 20th century Europe scarcely is well understood if we explain the Holocaust merely as the creation of monstrously immoral, crazy men. Such rationalizations trivialize the deeper issues exposed: there have been crazy rulers in every century. In an age still beset by great hatreds among peoples and nations, we must grasp the frightening implications that fascism has revealed to exist. Blind patriotism on a mass scale, when married with the awesome capabilities of all modern governments, can be diabolical.
How well have Germanic States atoned for German Crimes? Germany has been since World War II a sturdy ally to the U.S. and the West. In the interest of neighborliness some would have us set this entire affair aside. Most obnoxiously, effete "Holocaust revisionists" appear as just another intellectual point of view meriting protection of their free speech, in France and America, if not yet fully in Germany (but see Maier). Every year this ilk test the patience of American campuses and Canadian citizens and courts. But, even without the slightest hint of poisonous motives, many mainstream social scientists have marginalized the central lessons here. Indeed, the authors of one of the leading introductory textbooks in comparative politics in the U.S. (i.e., Almond: 241-2) in its chapter on German politics devote less than one-half of one page to all aspects of the Third Reich; they ration us with one clause of one sentence to the Holocaust. The word "Jews" appears twice. This illustrates the growing tendency among Westerners to view the Holocaust as an anomaly, rather than a central event in understanding Germany, and the general potential of even democratic societies.
Some Germans painfully have avoided this unfortunate trivialization, and have confronted their record with a measure of honesty. German courts, 1949-95, tried more than 105,000 persons for war crimes, but a bare 6500 were convicted; 8000 more cases remained open for further investigation in 1995 (TWIG 1995b: 2). Ambitious anti-fascist curricula still are found as required courses within German public schools; the West German Army purged nearly all proto-authoritarian practices which dehumanized recruits and once made too many Germans the willing instruments of the Nazis. Yet, when prosperity temporarily slipped after reunification, it was one of the most prosperous of the states of the former West Germany, North Rhine-Westphalia, which produced the largest number (513) of racist attacks on foreigners in 1992. Over all of Germany anti-foreigner and anti-Jewish attacks have shocked the world: 70 percent of the perpetrators of these 1992 attacks were under 21 years of age; only two percent were over age 30 ("Nearly...": 1). Thus, though West German governments paid, 1949-1989, over $43 billion to Israel and to individual Jews to atone for the Holocaust, a new generation of Neo-Nazis seems unmoved by the larger lesson of the German past. While many German towns have searched far and wide to find Jewish survivors who formerly were residents so to promote reconciliation, other social institutions have lagged in their concern. Notably, it took 43 years for Daimler-Benz corporation (maker of Mercedes cars) to make its first payment (of a promised, and paltry, $14 million) in the Fall of 1988 to former slave laborers exploited in their factories (Breibart: 6). A decade later, late in 1999, German industries as a whole and the American Government finally reached agreement for compensation to be paid to those compelled to be slave laborers in German industry during the war. Few Germans are enthusiastic to write these checks; by the time they actually are paid nearly all who qualify to receive them surely will be dead. Tensions endure over more than money; the content of contemporary German memories is a similar minefield, accessibly portrayed to American viewers in the surrealistic documentary film "The Nasty Girl."
All is not entirely well for the new Germany most particularly in its parts which formerly were the German Democratic Republic, or East Germany. From its founding until its overdue end in 1990, Soviet ally East Germany (GDR) did not assume any financial liability for the Third Reich's crimes, though the GDR did execute 127 of the 12,877 ex-Nazis it tried for war crimes. Schoolchildren there learned of Nazi crimes only insofar as they could be explained so as to justify the actions of its Communist successor state. Little regard was paid to the central role of racism and anti-Semitism in defining the historic German character. Fully a fourth of the adult citizens in unified Germany today received only this twisted education.
Never did the GDR even recognize the state of Israel. The GDR government compounded this omission by committing numerous anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli acts throughout its forty year rule. Central to this ugly story --fully confirmed only in 1993 after Stasi (communist-era secret police) archives were searched-- were the goals of the East German Communist Party (S.E.D.) and their Soviet allies. Throughout the Cold War between communism and the West, Soviet policy was designed to weaken the alliance of free democratic states and the international capitalist economic system that opposed world communism. To this end, Soviet KGB and Stasi agents sought to create the impression in Britain, France and the U.S. that neo-Nazism marred their West German allies. These efforts were a recurring theme in GDR covert operations in West Germany.
Thus, the East German S.E.D.'s Politburo in 1961 ordered that efforts be undertaken to create the impression that "racial hate have found a place in West Germany" (Fisher 1993a: 25). Communist agents funded the tiny West German Imperial Party then active in a vigorous defense of war criminal Adolf Eichmann, who was on trial (and later executed) in Israel. Anonymous chain letters circulated, purporting to be authored by "Veterans of the Waffen-SS;" Stasi agents were the true authors. West German Jews were harassed, graves desecrated, and threats made, all creating the impression of a surging renewal of right-wing fanaticism in West Germany. But it was the Communist secret police, not local Neo-Nazis, that primarily were responsible. The campaign was so thorough that when some Jews failed to publicly react, the Stasi forged and caused to be publicized letters authored by these same Jews falsely announcing their emigration from West Germany.
East Germany's ugly record of covert anti-Semitism was accompanied by a quite visible state policy designed to cause harm to the survivors of the Holocaust in Israel. During the 1967 Six Day War in the Middle East, the S.E.D. Politburo secretly authorized supply of replacement parts to Egypt and Syria, and required East Germany's few surviving Jews publicly to denounce Israel. Shortly thereafter, the Communist regime --which itself never paid a dime of reparations of the German murder of six million Jews-- publicly demanded Israel pay reparations to Egypt and other Arab states. During the 1973 war precipitated by Egypt's unprovoked attack on Israel on the holiest of Jewish holidays, Yom Kippur, East Germany's military supplied Arab states 75,000 grenades, 30,000 mines, 62 tanks, and 12 fighter planes (Fisher 1993a: 31).
Moreover, throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Stasi agents covertly trained and supplied weapons to terrorist organizations in Europe and the Middle East, and assisted them in their attacks on European Jews, Israeli diplomats and U.S. military personnel. Perhaps the most shocking of these connections was the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games by Palestinian terrorists. Declassified Stasi files have confirmed that the weapons smuggled into the Olympic Village used in the abductions and murders were taken there by the East German Stasi inside the equipment bags of the East German Olympic team (NBC). Americans, too, were touched by the ramifications of this secret policy: in 1986, U.S. servicemen died in a bombing of a West Berlin nightclub in which Libyan terrorists were assisted by Stasi agents.
Only the end of German communism brought an apparent end to this disgusting policy. After the November 1989 revolution in the East, Prime Minister Hans Modrow, finally, stated in a letter to the World Jewish Conference that "material support" soon would be paid to Jewish victims (WP 1990: 24), but his government soon merged into the western German one on October 3, 1990, ending any continuity to his pledge. Unemployment there in the 1990s contributed to other festering social problems, especially for the youth. In the Baltic city of Rostock (site of many of 1992's most shocking fire bombings), in the lander of Brandenburg (229 attacks on foreigners in 1992) and in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (184 attacks on foreigners in 1992) the social crisis was most ugly. Munich-based German historian Michael Wolffsohn, who unearthed many of the incriminating Stasi documents, concluded that the campaign continued as state policy "perhaps right up to 1989... But it is still reasonable to suspect that former Stasi officials are continuing their efforts" by assisting Neo-Nazi movements in unified Germany throughout the 1990s.
Austria. In similar light the legacy of the record of the government of democratic and neutral postwar Austria appears darkly. An integral part of Hitler's Third Reich, Austria not only evaded accepting any financial responsibility for the actions of Austrians in carrying out the Holocaust. In what ranks as among the most opportunistic self-deceptions in post-war Europe, many Austrian claim that Austria was Hitler's "victim," too. The former Nazi Youth member and World War II German officer accused of war crimes in Yugoslavia and Greece, Kurt Waldheim, twice was elected and served until 1992 as Austria's head of state, its President. The quintessential Austrian, he claimed, of course, to have seen no crimes committed, let alone to have acted criminally. Only in 1990, did the Austrian government agree to pay $25 million in reparations to Holocaust survivors (WP 1990: 24), an act of atonement for the Austrian Hitler's rampage as tardy as it was petite. Avowedly nationalist politicians, who openly sympathize with anti-foreigner agenda used by the violent German Neo-Nazi movements, regularly win a quarter or more of the Austrian voters' allegiance. A 2003 Austrian government study of its record --12,000 pages in length!-- showed that hundreds of thousands of Austrians were involved in the looting of property from Jews there, and in covering those facts up and impeding payment of any postwar compensation. "Steps towards restitution and compensation were often half-hearted and sometimes utterly reluctant, undertaken all too often only because of outside pressure, especially from the Allies," the report stated (BBC 2003).
If the mythic lure of racism persists in private corners in Germany, and wins disturbingly large percentages of the votes in Austria, so does a related claim, that of the innocence of most citizens. Throughout the West, it often is argued that the Germans and Austrians really didn't really go along with the Holocaust, that they were "deceived," that the criminal essence of the Nazi state of the 1930s and 1940s was hidden from their view. How, in light of the known facts, shall we evaluate this narrowing to comfortable dimensions of history's greatest crimes? Certainly, most Germans sought a private tranquility during that public hell, a myopia that has charmed even serious scholars. Some reasonable, anti-fascist German post-War intellectuals (e.g., Dahrendorf) have gone so far as to argue that this quest for private virtue, not public involvement, was the main obstacle to real democracy in prewar Germany, and that ironically it took the Nazi experience to forever destroy this German tendency. Germans fled the obvious, were gullible, but were not in the main complicit, Dahrendorf asserts. They were not, however, unwarned. Hitler himself had written in the mid 1920s (in a best selling book) that his movement was based on deception and lies: "...all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogan... The magnitude of the lie always contains a certain factor of credibility, since the great masses of the people in the bottom of their hearts tend to be corrupted rather than consciously and purposely evil, and that, therefore, in view of the primitive simplicity of their minds, they more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a little one, since they themselves lie in little things, but would be ashamed of lies that were too big. Such a falsehood will never enter their heads, and they will not be able to believe in the possibility of such monstrous effrontery and infamous misrepresentation in others; yes, even when enlightened on the subject, they will long doubt and waver, and continue to accept at least one of these causes as true. Therefore, something of even the most indolent lie will always remain and stick..." (Hitler: 363-364). As most advertising students can attest, this caustic view of the discerning capabilities of the common person is not unique to Hitler.
In political thought, however, Hitler hardly was original in his contempt for the gullible masses. Much of Western philosophy exalts the leader, the elite, and scoffs at the possibility of a democratic public. Niccolo Machiavelli, in 1513, penned similar sentiments in his classic, The Prince, saying:
"...he who has best known how to play the fox has ever been the most successful. But it is necessary that the Prince should know how to color this nature well, and how to be a great hypocrite and dissembler. For men are so simple, and yield so much to immediate necessity, that the deceiver will never lack dupes...; [the Prince must] know how to resort to evil if necessity demands it." (quoted in Vasquez: 30).
Many, many educated Germans not only had read both Machiavelli and Hitler. Great numbers in their universities avidly embraced these and other anti-democratic views of leadership before Hitler's rise; many there rallied to Hitler's cause throughout. If we attribute the Holocaust to a failure of leadership, or of the leading classes more broadly conceived, to what extent does that fully wash away the culpability of your average Hans or Inga, your average German Professor?
The bell of absolution can ring too loudly here. The harmonious contention that the Germans simply fell for a "big lie" (e.g., the Jews were responsible for Germany's problems; that they simply were being 'deported,' or 'removed,' only) may be insufficient to overcome the flat sound in our ears of millions trudging off daily to truly heinous jobs. The camps were too visible, the deportations too obviously cruel, the brutality of the secret police (SS) too public, too ominous.
In the end, stripped of convenient illusions, we gaze anew at our aging allies. We are left with the rather chilling possibility that the German public --and many of the other peoples of Central and Eastern Europe-- just didn't care. Intuitively, we recoil from such an explanation. After all, at least since the late 1700s, a broadening number of educated Westerners apparently have been demanding that governments respect what they have seen to be their "natural rights." Jefferson and the American revolutionaries, along with the French and their Rights of Man, long have declared basic principles that throughout the world, humans ever since have striven to realize. The right to life, to be free of arbitrary state harassment and torture, to worship as one chooses, to participate in the selection of ones' governors (and much more), these are the forces that we Westerners have struggled to believe were the driving force behind the entire 19th and 20th Centuries, an age widely touted as one of broadening reform. These objectives we conceive as ours by virtue of our humanity, not because a government gives them to us. Germans no less than Frenchmen and Americans (or Britons) have pursued these; or so we imagine.
Yet, when we examine more closely the actual quest for recognition of these rights we discover something less. As an historic process, often the advocates of rights and democracy have used the masses' thirst for a better life, for rights, merely as a means to acquire personal power. Human rights in political history rarely have been pursued purely as ends to be pursued irrespective of immediate practical consequences. But the fact that pure ends (natural, human rights) may have in the past been pursued for crass instrumental purposes (e.g., British Conservative leader Benjamin Disraeli granting workers the vote so to seek more votes for his Conservative party) in no profound way discredits the quest for the realization and protection of rights. That a mixture of motives accompanied the rise of the concept of human rights does not diminish the moral force of the humane idea.
This appreciation does, however, cause us to become more restrained in our view of how broadly these ideas or principles were, or are, disseminated. While we as educated people may be uplifted by Jeffersonian rhetoric, that should not confuse this with the reaction of all. Most people, in most times, are concerned with the paycheck, the bills, the mundane details of their mere existence, not with abstract concepts of virtue and vice, good and evil, reasonable and unreasonable intrusions into personal privacy. In the mid 1980s, for example, over 35 percent of Americans in one survey indicated that they wanted to censor prose they find offensive from library books (Time 1986: 22). Myriad other examples could be cited to show that the urge to dominate over not just the behavior but over even the thoughts of others is not an impulse located only in pre-World War II history.
If the soil in which the plant of intolerance grows may always be with us, it also should be noted that amid all the horrors of the Holocaust, not all averted their eyes. Before the worst started, in 1933-1939 the USA received over 102,000 European Jews, including Albert Einstein, Edward Teller and others who would later play significant roles in the creation of the most fundamental means to our current national security, the nuclear weapons. Argentina took in 63,500. Great Britain received 52,000 and allowed another 33,000 legally to enter their League of Nations Mandate Territory, Palestine. Illegal Jewish immigrants multiplied these sums eightfold: fully 164,000 in all made their way to the British-ruled Palestine Mandate territory (1933-39), 66,000 in 1935 alone (Mahler: 9). Another 26,000 were admitted by the oft-pilloried South Africa; 20,000 went to Shanghai, China.
Germans Who Opposed Official anti-Semitism. Rare as it was, it should not go wholly unmentioned that a handful of Germans took heroic stands against the hateful policies practiced and racist doctrines espoused by the Nazis. While some uncounted thousands may have silently listened with sympathy as the BBC described the horrific Nazis' doings, this sort of inert doubting cannot qualify as resistance. Real German resisters were few and far between: in the half century since 1945, 260 German individuals have been singled out for special praise by the Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Authority, or Yad Vashem, in Jerusalem (Israel). For example, in October 1992, Margit David received their "Righteous Among the Nations" award for her efforts in hiding Jews in the cellar of her parents' Berlin home, and for providing false identification papers. For the first 45 years after the fact the David's heroism was unsung: her (Communist) East German Government (GDR) refused to permit recognition either of the David's deeds, or of the Israeli state formed in 1948 from the surviving remnants of the Jewish people. More partisan interpreters have presented a less narrow view of German resistance to the hold of the Nazi regime. The unified German Government in 1994 portrayed this phenomena to Americans, in a museum exhibit "Against Hitler: German Resistance to National Socialism, 1933-1945," first displayed at the Madison Gallery of the Library of Congress. Its 43 densely written panels commemorated the acts of several hundred Germans. The larger point is, that whether we accept the German Government's claim that there were "several hundred" German resisters, or the Israelis' number (260), both are evidence of a tiny social deviation from the norms of behavior followed by the vast majority of Germans. There was no effective German resistance: those who resisted were militarily and politically insignificant.
One German Nobel Prize winner may help us to sort out this thorny issue of the extent of German resistance to the Nazis, racism, and the Holocaust. Willy Brandt served as German Chancellor 1969-74 and SPD Party leader from the 1960s into the 1980s. Brandt (birth name Herbert Ernst Karl Frahm) was born in Lubeck on December 18, 1913. Active in socialist (i.e., SPD) youth organizations during Weimar, at the age of 19, he fled the new Nazi regime to Oslo, Norway, where he took Norwegian citizenship, changed his name to Willy Brandt, and continued in the anti-Nazi political work of his youth. Once Norway was occupied by the Germans (1940), he fled to neutral Sweden, here he continued to oppose Nazism. Within Germany, some few other SPD activists had begun to undertake acts of sabotage against the Nazis during the war, but were unsuccessful. Brandt later characterized the whole of this phenomena: "I cannot hide the reservations I have had --and continue to have-- with regard to the use of the inflated term 'resistance movement.' ...There was very little resistance deserving of the name" (Weiner: 28). Upon the defeat of Germany in war (May 1945), he returned to his native country as a correspondent for a Scandinavian newspaper and, in 1947, was re-naturalized as a German citizen. His work for the SPD resumed shortly thereafter and he held many lesser posts (e.g., Mayor of West Berlin) before ascending to the office of Chancellor in 1969. His associations with opponents of Hitler were raised at intervals by critics seeking to derail his career, but in the end such criticisms did not prevent him from being selected the nation's top leader (Chancellor) for several postwar years (1969-74). Elsewhere his recognition was greater still, as he was awarded the 1971 Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his efforts to reconcile peaceably the tensions between the Soviet-dominated east of Europe with the West.
Resistance was more widespread among non-Germans under German occupation, but there, too, defiance was the rare exception. We should draw a measure of inspiration from the unsung heroism of the Danes. Through widespread non-cooperation with their Nazi occupiers' anti-Jewish policy only 77 Danish Jews were victimized; the rest were hidden or helped to freedom in neutral Sweden. Attention also should be called to the role played by many Bulgarians, who even under a pro-Nazi government refused to collaborate with the killings and who prevented the Bulgarian Jews from meeting their intended fate. (Bulgarians ruling in nearby Macedonia, however, did cooperate with the deportations there and in Northern Greece, especially Salonika). Nor should the village of Le Chambon sur Lignon, France, which harbored 5000 Jewish children, be forgotten. There are many honorable others. Finally, we should remember the tragic case of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenburg, who saved many thousands of Jews in Hungary, only to be deported to a Soviet prison at war's end. He remains missing still, fully accounted for neither during the entire Gorbachev government, nor in the decade since the September 1991 promise by the Yeltsin (Russian) Government that it would soon release final facts about Wallenburg's fate.
The important point, the one the Nazi's came close to obliterating but could not, is that the values of Western civilization endured within individuals even when governments used all available means to extinguish them. To incubate this spirit in every generation may require more than just a posture of indifference to values education, such as the fashion which equates all values as equal claimants to be prioritized by some formula whether majority rule, utilitarianism, or monarchy. And it most is currently impeded by the plague of post-modernism in contemporary American higher education, a view that suggests that are no facts, only different "narratives" of necessarily biased perspectives.
Rescuers rescued, and resisters resisted. They were exceptional people: most civilians in the charnel house of Central Europe protected themselves and not their neighbors. This is undeniable. As students of Western civilization --as well as of the apparently more important topic of students of government/political science-- the exceptionalness of heroism is also beside the point. From study of the Holocaust and the Germans' responsibilities emerges a deepened belief in the possibility of human decency, forever intertwined with the quest for human rights. This central lesson would have survived even had the Nazis prevailed. That they did not should amplify, not muffle, the quiet voice in which this message would have persisted even in a Nazi world. In this sense, an upbeat message can be derived from the 20th Century and all its horrors: despite all efforts off Goliath-sized governments and their killing machines, the ideas of doing good, not evil, survive despite daunting odds. As one of the children who survived in Chambon, a filmmaker (e.g., "Courage to Care") now living in Los Angeles, stated: "This cynical world desperately needs to be reminded that moral behavior is possible even under the most unlikely circumstances." Freedom survived Hitler; the demands for limits on government outlived both Stalin and his ghosts in our time.
Israeli statesman Abba Eben once stated that from this terrible experience the Jews learned "the necessity of power." The modern state of Israel surely bears vivid witness to that assessment. A footnote to that conclusion seems apt: the entire experience presents to us a glimpse of the awful potential in humans that only can be realized through the power of modern states. But the event also shows the inextinguishable flame of decency within some humans. It is that flame, the hope that against all odds, humanity and human rights will survive that can sustain us as we walk mine fields of human hatred and intolerant states that may litter our future.
VIII. Germans, Lithuanians and the Holocaust in Lithuania
How should we "remember the Holocaust?" To answer this question we must first know what the Holocaust was in both general and specific ways. Intolerance and racist hatreds seem to have always plagued Western peoples, but European history records only one Holocaust. To what extent should we regard and reflect upon this uniqueness? Or, can the deeper meaning be found by linking the Holocaust to more common, and usually less lethal, patterns of racism? These are the concerns of this part of the reading, for the Holocaust-- while certainly a part of the essential German history-- is also part of a wider one.
During the Second World War, ancient inter-ethnic feuds were played out. There had been expulsions and riots that menaced Europe's Jews throughout the continent in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance eras. Each of these events reinforced sectarian and doctrinal separation of peoples often encouraged by religious institutions. In nearly all of Europe these histories of inter-communal misunderstanding were aggravated by local anti-Semitic extremists who stepped forward in the inter-war years (1919-1939). In this sense, the social foundation for the Holocaust was built on local traditions, and was magnified and channeled by the Germans. The institutionalization of genocide in Eastern and Western Europe required both elements. Gilbert (1982: 244) carefully has enumerated the quantitative dimension: Three million Polish Jews thus perished, 1939-1945; one million Soviet Jews; 217,000 Czechoslovakian Jews; 200,000 Hungarian Jews; 200,000 Bessarabian (now known as Moldovan) Jews; 160,000 German Jews; 135,000 Lithuanian Jews; 124,000 Jews from the Bukovina region of Ukraine; 106,000 Dutch Jews; 105,000 Jews from northern Transylvania (now northwestern Romania); 83,000 French Jews; 80,000 Latvian Jews; 65,000 Greek Jews; 65,000 Austrian Jews; 60,000 Yugoslavian Jews; 60,000 Ruthenian Jews; 40,000 Romanian Jews; 24,000 Jews of Belgium; 8000 Italian Jews; 8000 Jews of the city of Memel (now Lithuania); 7100 Macedonian Jews; 4200 Jews of Thrace in Northern Greece; and so forth. But is it only by such lists, such cold impersonal enumerations, that the essence will be known?
Collaboration. In virtually every part of Eastern Europe -- and especially in the parts of the USSR occupied by Germany--, native collaborators joined with the Nazi Gestapo, formed Einsatzgruppen ("mobile killing squads"), identified their Jewish neighbors to the Nazis, and in many cases committed the actual executions. (Follow this link to listen to a podcast by Roman Catholic Father Patrick Desbois made available from the Holocaust Memorial Museum on the subject of the mass graves created by these mobile killing squads in Ukraine. Fr. Desbois' life work is excavating these sites.). This tragic chapter of the Jews' experiences in Eastern Europe differed place to place only in the details. By taking an extended look at but one place, Lithuania, the process by which the Nazis exploited ethnic tensions so better to dominate all of the peoples of Europe may become more clear. The following section was co-authored by my daughter, Jennifer Bowen Wieland.2
The Holocaust in Lithuania. Not one Holocaust victim should be forgotten. But standard history lessons teach us too obscurely, anonymously. Hearing repeatedly about the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust dulls what can be a sharply revealing lesson in the meaning of totalitarianism. Let us here take some effort to overlook no more the one hundred thirty-five thousand (Gilbert 1982: 244) to three hundred thousand Jews3 who were killed in Lithuania. Ninety-six percent of Lithuania's Jews perished in the Holocaust (Crossland: C3), a higher percent than of any other European Jewry. Real people, creative individuals are hidden beyond our reach by these numbers. The story of what individuals did and did not do in Lithuania during the Germans' occupation is one to be remembered.
Since the 1300s, Jews had lived in Lithuania, a Catholic, Christian nation that once was independent but which was absorbed by others as Prussia and Russia rose to dominate Eastern Europe by the 1790s. The defeat of Russia and then Germany in the final stages of the First World War put this minority under new governors all across the region. New governments attempted to build new states, often with limited resources and little authority. In this atmosphere of rising nationalist consciousness some politicians exploited old suspicions and fears. Quickly, Jewish communities were threatened by nationalistic mobs. The worst anti-Semitic violence was in the Ukraine where 60,000 Jews were murdered by followers of the Ukrainian nationalist Simon Petrula: 1700 perished in Proskurov on just one day (February 15, 1918). In the largest Eastern European city with a Lithuanian ethnic majority, Vilna, rampaging mobs killed 80 Jews at random during riots in April 1919 (Gilbert 1985: 22).
During the 1920s and 1930s, Vilna was the urban center of Lithuanian culture, but it had come under Polish administration when borders were drawn up at the close of the first World War. Poland's government in the inter war years little regarded Jewish rights. The Jews of Vilna endured frequent threats and occasional anti-Jewish riots that Polish officials did nothing to discourage, such as one on April 5, 1938 (Gilbert 1985: 60). Times were tough worldwide and up to one third of all Lithuanians in Lithuania proper emigrated elsewhere in the inter war years (Crossland: C3). But the exit door would shut.
As a result of events following from the secret Hitler-Stalin non-aggression treaty of August 23, 1939, the independent Lithuanian state that existed from 1920 to 1940 came to an end. In mid-September 1939, as German aggression unfolded in Poland, Soviet diplomats pressed their new German allies for assurance that Lithuania's capital, Vilna, would be spared and would be occupied by the Red Army, not the Germans (see, especially the final paragraph of the preceding linked document; see also this document). The Germans accommodated: by early 1940, both Vilna and the adjacent Eastern zone of Poland had been occupied by the Soviet Red Army: Germany occupied the western two thirds of Poland. A formal treaty between the USSR and the Reich then was concluded on Sept. 28, 1939.
Heavy handed Soviet behavior toward Lithuanian patriots in 1940-41 gave Lithuanian Jews a brief respite as others, primarily, were identified as "enemies" by those holding power. But unpopular Soviet deportations of intellectuals, politicians and other Lithuanians contributed to many Lithuanians' initially positive attitudes toward the German Nazis when they arrived. The Nazis planned to exploit these anti-Soviet sentiments, and to join local dislike for the communists to their anti-Semitic objectives. On March 26, 1941, --months before war broke out between Nazi Germany and he USSR-- Reich Marshall Hermann Goering and Reinhard Heydrich met to discuss future administration of occupied Soviet territories. Heydrich's twelve point memorandum which emerged from the meeting stated that German "troops should be warned of the danger of the OGPU [Soviet Secret Police], the political commissars, the Jews and so on. The soldiers should know who to put up against the wall and shoot!" (Crossland: C3). It is clear from this memo that high Nazi officials planned to murder Lithuania's Jews long before the 1942 Wanasee Conference at which, some allege, the Final Solution was authorized.
The Nazis invaded the territories occupied by the USSR in June 1941 and quickly reached the main Jewish center of Vilna (now Vilnius). The city of Vilna had had so much Jewish influence that in 1815, on his retreat from Moscow, French dictator Napoleon had called it the "Jerusalem of Lithuania" (Dawidowicz: 334). When the Nazis invaded this bustling city, the Jewish population topped eighty thousand. During the first six months of occupation, that number was cut to barely twelve thousand (Dawidowicz: 172).
The other large city in Lithuania is Kovno.4 Shortly after the Germans began their Eastern Campaign in June 1941, hundreds of Jews were taken from their homes in Kovno. They were led down the streets to a cemetery and shot to death (Gilbert 1985: 168). For fun, Nazi soldiers in Kovno would take Jews at random into warehouses, place fire hoses in their mouths, and turn on the water "until they burst" (Gilbert 1985: 168). As oblivious Americans celebrated our Independence Day, on July 4, 1941, 463 Lithuanian Jewish men and women were murdered in their homes in a Nazi blitz. Two days later, 2514 more were killed (Gilbert 1982: 169). But these deaths in Kovno and Vilna were just a preview of what was to come.
At sunset on August 31, 1941, 2019 women, 864 men, and 817 children were taken in trucks from Vilna to Ponary. Jewish citizens of Vilna were told that Ponary was a labor camp, but at least several hundred Lithuanian Christians knew otherwise: hundreds of armed Lithuanian collaborators assisted the Nazis in the roundup. Those Jews who refused quickly to board the trucks summarily were killed: one baby perished as a German soldier publicly bashed its head into a wall while the mother begged for mercy to no avail (Gilbert 1985: 192). In fact, the deportees' fates differed little: Ponary was a death camp, a primary one used to slaughter the Lithuanian Jews. The true fate of these deportees became still more clear to the other Jews of Vilna on September third. On that date a Jewish woman named Sonia returned to Vilna, bandaged and barefoot. She told a Dr. Meir Mark Dvorjetsky that Ponary was not a labor camp, that it was a death camp. She had been left for dead in "The Pit" with thousands of corpses, but somehow got out and was helped back to Vilna by a sympathetic Polish peasant woman (Gilbert 1985: 193-195). But few believed the monstrous truth. Meanwhile, the Nazi SS dutifully recorded exact details of their Einsatzkommando's dirty work: 3434 on September 12; 1267 on September 17; 2357 women; 1018 children; etc.
Methodically, and with active help from hundreds of Lithuanian collaborators, from June to December of 1941, forty-eight thousand Jews were murdered at Ponary. Just six escaped (Gilbert 1985: 207). This sum understates the real total, for many perished outside Ponary, too. Lithuanian apologists later have pointed to the danger posed to Lithuanians compelled to serve as trigger men for the Nazis or themselves be shot. This convenient rationalization does not square with the historic record. Collaborators volunteered: no reprisals were carried out against Lithuanians who refused to join in the killings. And the Lithuanian collaborators were among the most zealous. After 4000 Jews were swept up off Vilna streets and sent to Ponary on October 24, 1941, thousands of Jews hid in cellars, attics. Lithuanian neighbors helped the Nazis' searches, often returning two or three times to the same house. One 15 year old boy described these October raids: "we feel like beasts surrounded by hunters" (Gilbert 1985: 217). Eight-hundred eighty five Lithuanian Jewish children were among those dryly enumerated as killed during these raids. All of this had nothing to do with the German war effort against the Red Army, which had retreated far to the east and was in no sense engaged in significant combat with the Germans in or near Lithuania at this time.
On December 1, 1941, SS Colonel Karl Jaeger ("Standartenfuehrer" of Lithuania, commander of Einsatzgruppen 3) reported to Berlin that only fifteen percent of the population of Lithuania's prewar Jews were still alive and that they were all Arbeitsjuden (i.e.: Working Jews). His report clearly stated that genocide was his objective: "I am in a position to give you evidence that the Jewish problem has almost been solved here. Today there are almost no Jews left in Lithuania, except those Jews who are working for us" (Crossland: C3). That same day --seven days before Pearl Harbor was attacked--, Jaeger's records state that "two American Jews killed at Kauen" or Kaunas (Crossland: C3), less than a mile from Jaeger's palatial stucco mansion. The same memo proudly enumerated that 143 Jewish children had been murdered in Kaunas, and 599 more in nearby Kedaininc. As of that date, approximately 15,000 Jews remained alive in Vilna, 15,000 in Kovno, and 4500 in the city of Siauliai (Gilbert 1985: 234). Of the fate of these 34,500, Jaeger opined "I was about to kill these people too but the civil authorities were against it. The Reichkomisser [Alfred Rosenberg] issued an order not to shoot them" (Crossland: C3).
For reasons of maintaining public order, Hitler's Holocaust functionary Adolf Eichmann decided that Jaeger's early method --public shootings-- were a problem. These had driven some Jews to attack and kill German executioners (Gilbert 1985: 184), so Eichmann wrote that public shootings "will no longer be tolerated" (Gilbert 1985: 219). A false normalcy needed to be created so to get work out of the lucky living targets. In 1942, therefore, a semblance of cultural activities were arranged among the Jews of the Vilna Ghetto (see documents in Dawidowicz: 208-213).
At the same time, however, the Ministry of Occupied Eastern Territories formally determined that these "working Jews" also were not to be spared irrespective of the value of the work that they were doing: "as a matter of principle, no economic factors are to be taken into consideration in the solution of the Jewish question" it formally declared in December 1941. So, though for the next two years the killing of the Lithuanian Jews would continue to be conducted primarily out of sight in the camps (e.g., Ponary), even the healthy "working Jews" in Vilna's factories were marked for eventual murder. A Jaeger report sharpened the logistics of this task: "the distance between the assembly point and the grave should be more than four or five kilometers," due to problems with escapes (Crossland: C3). And when even the working Jews crossed undefined lines, the Germans' plans for them were moved up: on December 21, 1941, as Vilna Jews were assisting half-naked Soviet POWs to clear snow-covered rail lines, one Jewish woman gave a crust of bread to one of the Soviet soldiers. Both were immediately shot dead (Gilbert 1985: 246).
Jaeger's unusual zeal for killing created tension among the Germans and their Lithuanian friends. Of the survivors early in 1942 he wrote: "The Jews who have been kept alive for work should be killed after the winter. I also believe that after sterilization of the male Jews an end will be put to them, and if any Jewish woman gets pregnant she should be killed" (Crossland: C3). A Gestapo official, Heinrich Mueller, complained in May 1942 that Jaeger had killed off 630 Jewish craftsmen "despite their qualifications" (Crossland: C3), and urged Reichfuehrer SS Heinrich Himmler to issue instructions not to continue these executions but, rather, to demand that the surviving 16 to 32 year olds be sent to labor or concentration camps.
The final roundup of Lithuanian Jews began in the Spring of 1943. At first, Jews from throughout the region were gathered in the Vilna ghetto. (For documents on the relatively orderly delivery of Social Welfare services among these Jews at this time, see Dawidowicz: 187-193). Then, on April 5, 1943, four thousand of these Jews were taken by rail ostensibly bound for the Kovno ghetto, where the Nazis claimed there was more room for them. Just outside Ponary the captives revolted. The Lithuanian guards and their Nazi commanders machine gunned the Jews right on the trains; only a few dozen managed to escape the massacre (Gilbert 1985: 554-555). Hours later one of these Jews, poet Shmerl Kaczerginski, came back to Vilna exclaiming "Everyone, everyone was shot!". When he was asked "Who? The four thousand being taken to Kovno?", he replied "Yes!" From that date on the Vilna ghetto became a hotbed of revolt, spurred on by a song Warsaw Ghetto escapee Hirsh Glik sang in Vilna: "Never say you have reached the very end; though leaden skies a bitter future may portend; And the hour for which we've yearned will yet arrive; And our marching step will thunder; We survive;..." (quoted in Gilbert 1985: 568-569).4
The Jewish resistance in Vilna, called the United Partisans Organization, was led by Yitzhak Wittenberg and in 1943-44 it conducted several actions that made difficult the rule of the Germans and their Lithuanian collaborators. In July 1943, a heroic woman named Vitka Kempner sneaked a homemade land mine from the ghetto, planted it on train tracks and blew up a German ammunition train. In retaliation, one resistance member was tortured by the Germans into revealing the name of their leader. After arresting Wittenberg, some days later the Nazi contingent deporting him was itself attacked and Wittenberg was freed. However, a Nazi threat to kill all in the ghetto unless the resistance leader was surrendered led Wittenberg to turn himself in; he died in captivity (Gilbert 1985: 592-593). Shortly thereafter, new deportations began to slave labor camps in Estonia (for the healthy) and to the death camp of Birkenau (for the rest). On August 6, 1943, Vilna Jews rose in resistance to related deportations and were shot (Gilbert 1985: 598). The deportation of September 1, 1943 included songwriter Hirsh Glik. By the sixth of the month 7000 of the surviving residents of the Vilna ghetto had been deported. In recognition of the critical nature of the time, the resistance asked its members to flee by any means possible to the forests to fight.
Some resistance heroes stayed on in the dangerous city. Vitka Kempner led additional actions including the blowing up of an electric transformer, successful organization of the escape of several dozen prisoners from the labor camp in the Vilna suburb of Keilis, and the burning of a turpentine factory in Olkiniki (Gilbert 1985: 607). Unable to counteract the growing assertiveness of the Jewish partisans, on September 23, 1943 the Nazis liquidated the Vilna ghetto, deporting some to slave labor in Estonia, some to Majdanek (death camp) and several hundred of the elderly and sick to the killing ditches of Ponary to be machine gunned. Of the two thousand remaining Vilna Jews, all were confined to four small labor camps (Gilbert 1985: 608). Lithuanian Christians then were invited to move into the former ghetto and take what they might find and to live there. Jewish survivors took a different approach. On October 7, 1943, a group of Vilna Jewish partisans under the command of Abba Kovner destroyed more than 50 telegraph poles on the Vilna to Grodno road; on October 17, they destroyed two rail engines and two bridges; on the 23rd, telegraph/telephone lines leading adjacent to the Vilna to Lida railway were destroyed.
In late June 1944, the city of Vilna sat anxiously awaiting the imminent arrival of the Soviet Red Army; the surviving 2000 Jews, at least, hoping for liberation from the Nazis. But the advance stalled and, on July 2, eighteen hundred of these surviving Jews were taken by the Nazis and machine gunned at Ponary (Gilbert 1985: 699). Only two hundred Jews were still alive in Vilna when the Red Army finally fought their way into the city on July 13. This same pattern was repeated elsewhere in Lithuania: the Nazis assembled all surviving Jews from nearby labor camps (i.e., Panevezys and Joniskis) with the ghetto residents in Siauliai, Lithuania, then deported all 7000 to Stutthof Concentration Camp. About 100 Jews who tried to stay behind were killed on the spot (Gilbert 1985: 705). Siauliai was liberated 12 days later.
These facts all are about real people, someone's mother, sister or brother. Numbers may obscure this essence, but we have an obligation to seek clarity. The world remembers that Karl Jaeger, the butcher of Lithuania, lived anonymously but as free man in Germany until his arrest in 1959; he then committed suicide. The Bowens --and hopefully my students-- remember the others, and our own. The personal connection I have to these Lithuanian Jews is through the great-grandmother of my daughters, Bessie Shmedofsky. A native citizen of the Russian Empire, she was born near Vilna on December 18, 1888, the daughter of a butcher. Traveling in steerage in a ship to Ellis Island, in 1909, she escaped Russia's "Pale of Settlement" for the sweatshops of New York's lower East Side. With money saved from sewing in a shirt waist factory, she moved to Cleveland, met and married Harry Ginsberg in 1911. Harry and Bessie were the parents of four children: Louis, Jeannette, Leah, and my wife's mother Esther -- grandmother of my children, Jenni and Lisa.
Though it was very fortunate that Bessie came to America when she did, three of her sisters remained in a small village in Vilna region of Poland/Lithuania: Sorel Shmedofsky, Rochelle Shmedofsky, and Sprinseh Shmedofsky. Our family was divided by distance, but kept in close touch through the mail and by word of mouth. As friends and neighbors of the Shmedovsky's also would come to America in the 1920s and 1930s, older relatives would hear stories of life back there. Aid, in the form of money and other scarce goods, was provided when it could be, as is documented by this receipt for a 1926 shipment to Berko Sejman, the spouse of a cousin in Zuprany, conveyed through the Dresdner Bank, Danzig (then a "free city;" Gdansk, Poland today). The last package of food, clothes, and money successfully sent by my relatives in Los Angeles to their village of Dzubrun near Vilna was in 1938.5 In the late 1940s, the Red Cross informed our American family that during the occupation in 1943, in response to the murder of a Nazi near Dzubrun, the entire Jewish population of the village had been forced to dig a ditch into which all then were machine gunned to death.
In the last decade Lithuania has celebrated the apparent end of its long quarrel with its Russian and Soviet neighbors: all Russian troops have left. But those who know the full story of the Jews of Lithuania cannot forget that it was those foreigners of the Soviet Red Army --not the Catholic Lithuanians-- that liberated the few survivors from the Nazis' grasp. How sad it is that a city known a hundred and seventy-five years ago as the "Jerusalem of Lithuania," in 1945 had just two hundred Jews still alive. Even by 1976, the Jewish population in Vilna had grown only to just twelve thousand (Dawidowicz: 316). Early in the new millennium, nearly all survivors of these events had died and in more than a decade and a half of independence after the end of the Soviet Union, Lithuania had taken few steps to atone for these sorry truths.6
In America, the remnants of the Eastern European Jewry that survived continue to bear witness through the actions of organizations like the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Anti-Defamation League of B'Nai B'rith; and through public education projects such as those of the Holocaust Memorial museum in Washington DC and the Wiesenthal Center's Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. In individuals' memories, as much as in cinema such as "Schindler's List," the story of what it took to commit genocide, and what it took to resist it, may reach new generations.7 Yet, separated from Americans by oceans and by time, these most searing moments of modern moral history still recede to become mere history, flat words, text. In many American public schools the subject of the Holocaust remains but a marginal topic, or ha been omitted altogether (see Pate).
An obligation to our ancestors requires that the Bowens never forget these Jews of Lithuania. But there is also an imperative here that free peoples everywhere would do well to regard as their personal instruction. The whole of the Holocaust, in Lithuania and beyond, surely was planned according to the demonic beliefs of the German Nazis. In one sense, it took a super powerful totalitarian state to carry their beliefs out on a grand scale. These states now are rare. But it also took some things still found in abundance: morally indifferent masses and opportunistic hordes of obedient followers. Much of the Holocaust was carried out by ordinary Lithuanians, ordinary Slovaks, ordinary Poles, ordinary Hungarians, ordinary Belarusians, ordinary Ukrainians, as well as by ordinary Germans.
"In Lithuania local non-Jews were among the most savage killers" (Gilbert 1982: 68); right from the beginning of the German occupation "in the Vilna region of Lithuania... the killing squads... had strong local support. The Jews were unarmed, and surrounded by an extremely hostile peasantry, who sometimes attacked them even before the killing squads arrived" (Gilbert 1982: 76).
Without the widespread racism and anti-Semitism long condoned and frequently fomented by political leaders and religious authorities within nearly all European majority cultures, a climate conducive to collaboration in the Nazis crimes would not so easily have existed.
For the Bowens, it is not within our power, indeed it is not in the realm of any mortal, to forgive the Shmedofsky's murderers. But all chapters of the Holocaust have meaning beyond family memories. The Nazis' power is long gone, but the impulse hastily to judge others by their race, religious preference, ethnicity, gender identity, or national origin, and the scourge of anti-Semitism, still is widespread. In this still imperfect world, humankind will benefit little by ritualistically blaming long dead Nazis so to "remember the Holocaust." Much as we might too narrowly just "remember the Shmedovskys," the enduring meaning requires the rest of us confront the more uncomfortable elements here. Democratic institutions failed to stop an illiberal society of voters from selecting the Nazis to rule them; organized religion did little to slow the Nazis' assault on Western values; and from 1939 to 1945, all over Europe, Christians of Europe rested easier in the belief that they were "forgiven" for daily acts which, in sum, produced the Holocaust. It was neither government's, nor religion's, nor culture's finest hour. It was their worst.
In this light, by our thoughts and actions, by the attitudes we accept within our polite society, by the values we inculcate in our children, every day we can choose to try to inoculate tomorrow and thereby to renew the world. Or, like the "good people" who once filled Germany, we can avert our eyes.
Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
Reuben Ainsztein, The Warsaw Ghetto Revolt (New York: Waldon Press, 1979).
Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1951).
Atkinson 1994a: Rick Atkinson, "Poll in Germany's Finds Many Hostile Toward Foreigners, Jews," Washington Post (March 8, 1994): 14.
Atkinson 1994b: Rick Atkinson, "Germany's Far Right Jarred by Defections in European Elections," Washington Post (June 14, 1994): 13.
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2. The section on the Holocaust in Lithuania originally was researched and written in 1990 by Jennifer Bowen, Prof. Bowen's daughter, as her Bat Mitzvah study project. Jennifer Bowen now is Jennifer Bowen Wieland. This section is presented here as a co-authored portion of this essay. Mrs. Wieland is an attorney in the Kansas City area.
3. Mauricy Orzech, in Der Veker, an underground newspaper published in the Nazi-controlled Warsaw Ghetto, stated in the April 30, 1942 issue that in just the Kovno area of Lithuania, 300,000 Jews already had been slaughtered. Later investigations have placed the verified figure lower, but it is of interest that the broad contours of the Holocaust appear to have been so widely known so early. Orzech's article appears in Dawidowicz (1976): 294-295.
4 . For more on Kovno, see: Avraham Tory, Surviving the Holocaust: the Kovno Ghetto Diary (Cambridge MA: Harvard U.P., 1990).
5. Spelling of the village name is a transliteration based on memories of surviving family members and for this reason may not appear exactly the same in archival sources.
6. In 2012, a leading Holocaust research center charged that an "increasingly anti-Semitic atmosphere in Lithuania is directly linked to the ongoing controversies regarding Holocaust-related issues" (Zuroff: 11). This pattern has developed across the years of Lithuania's post-communist independence. Lithuania's first non-communist president, Vytautas Landsbergis, in 1990, formally wrote Israel's President Chaim Herzog to apologize to the Jewish people for widespread Lithuanian collaboration during the Nazi occupation. In his letter, which was made public on Israel's Independence Day, Landsbergis pledged to renew Jewish culture in Lithuania and to establish a permanent day to observe the memory of Lithuania's once vital Jewish community ("The Worldwide Battle...": 10). However, by late 1991, credible reports had surfaced in the west that the Landsbergis government had released or otherwise exonerated large numbers of Nazi-era Lithuanian war criminals. The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles asserted that "at least eleven people we believe clearly are war criminals have been exonerated. There may be hundreds more" (Goshko 1991: 34). Landsbergis rebuffed these allegations, refused to permit the Wiesenthal Center to open a Lithuanian office from which to gather facts, but agreed to meet with Jewish leaders to receive their charges so that he might investigate further. However, his presidency ended before any concrete action was taken, and subsequently former president Landsbergis played a leading role in advancing the 2008 Prague Declaration, an unofficial document advancing the unconvincing position that Nazi crimes against Jews are equivalent to communist crimes against Lithuanians and other east Europeans. Regarding any war crimes trials against Lithuanian collaborators, the successor administration, in 1994, told an American reporter "Our lawyers don't know all the facts and there will be no action taken at present" (Crossland: C3). Little action subsequently was taken. Dr. Efraim Zuroff of the Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem concluded: "The Lithuanian Government is afraid of the information which will be made public if we are allowed to do research and find witnesses ...[to] the role played by Lithuanian collaborators in the mass murder of Lithuanian Jewry" (Crossland: C3). Ironically, in 1993, the German Government began paying pensions to former members of the Latvian and Lithuanian S.S. Only in February 2001 was the first Lithuanian, Kazys Gimzauskas, convicted by a Lithuanian court of Holocaust related crimes, and that individual was not incarcerated after the conviction (WP 2001b: 20). Dr. Zuroff and the Wiesenthal Center continued to press Lithuania to acknowledge fully the role of Lithuanian volunteers as perpetrators of the Holocaust there, and to distance itself from anti-Semitic groups in contemporary Lithuanian that have emerged in the 2000s to demand modifications in the treatment of Lithuanians' roles in the Holocaust in school curricula used there. In the years since 2008, there have been a number of disturbing anti-Semitic incidents in Lithuania, including a march by neo-Nazis on Lithuania's independence day that year and polls showing about one third of Lithuanians to support these groups' slogans and aims; numerous desecrations of Holocaust massacre sites; and repeated graffiti desecrations of Jewish community buildings in Vilnius and elsewhere (Zuroff: 8-9). This trend has led one expert to state that "The fact that government ministers are actively promoting the revisionist agenda has created an atmosphere that has unfortunately only stoked the flames of local anti-Semitism even higher" (Zuroff: 10).
7. And then again, that message also may not reach them. For example, in 1998, a school administrator at Riverheads High School, a public high school in Augusta County, VA, intervened in an attempt to prevent "Schindler's List" from being shown on consecutive days to students by an English teacher at another Augusta County High School, Buffalo Gap High School. The claim was made that the film was on a district-wide "banned films" list, and the further presentation of the teacher's lessons using "Schindler's List" was delayed several days until the Buffalo Gap principal received assurances that no such district-wide "banned films" list existed. The incident indicates that access to the educational value that can come from viewing films such as "Schindler's List" may continue to be a challenge in some public schools.
This essay last modified Jan. 25, 2012
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