Understand why German society, which produced so many philosophers and artists, supported the ravings of Adolf Hitler and his minions
How was a society as sophisticated as the German one able to support the barbarities committed by the Nazi regime? It is not possible to people from responsibility, claiming that no one knew what was happening.
Most of them did, and there is no lack of proof. For example: the inauguration of Dachau, the first concentration camp built by the Nazis, was announced in 1933 in a press conference. In other words, we cannot say that the regime hid the facts and tried to keep society oblivious to the crimes that were being committed.
“In the state of Hesse alone, there were more than 600 camps, an average of one for every 15 square kilometers,” says American political scientist Daniel J. Goldhagen, author of the book Hitler’s Voluntary Executioners. “And Berlin, the capital of the Reich, had 645 camps devoted exclusively to forced labor.”
A network of this magnitude would not exist without the collusion of society – from the bureaucrat who rubber-stamped death sentences to the to the train conductor transporting prisoners or to the manicurist who reported “suspicious” clients to the Gestapo, the Reich’s secret police. A explanation for this phenomenon goes through seven factors:
1. Treaty of Versailles
The peace agreement that officially ended World War I (1914-1918) forced Germany to assume all the costs of the conflict. When it signed in 1919, the country lost 13% of its territory, 75% of its iron and 26% of its coal reserves, and all its colonies. The Germans did not expect The Germans did not expect such a strict agreement and felt humiliated.
“The German psychological inability to accept defeat and reparations created an extremely fertile ground for the growth of a radical nationalism, of which Nazism would be the most extreme expression,” says Argentine historian Andrés Reggiani, a specialist in Nazism.
2. National sentiment
Since the 19th century, successive German leaders had instilled an ardent nationalism among the people. The first of these was the Prussian chancellor Otto von Bismarck, who invented the Germanic identity, unified Germany, and founded the Second Reich.
Adolf Hitler followed his primer, convincing the masses that Germany was threatened by powerful international enemies. “The Führer evoked the mystical figure of Frederick Barbarossa, leader of the Holy Roman-German Empire [the 1st Reich],” says German historian Marlis Steinert, Hitler’s biographer. “He wanted to expand the territory and promised that the 3rd Reich would bring back the great-power past.”
3. Aversion to democracy
The German people never swallowed the Weimar Republic (1919-1933), the democratic regime that replaced the empire after WW1. Right from the start, its representatives were blamed for the humiliating conditions imposed on Germany in the Treaty of Versailles. The SocialDemocratic Party tried to sustain democracy, but it had no support. “All the other political forces were in favor of an authoritarian state,” says Steinert.
The Nazis took advantage of this to convince the population that democracy was destabilizing. “Many Germans dreamed of the Many Germans dreamed of the return of a leader of Bismarck’s stature,” says Canadian historian Robert Gellarely. “They saw in Hitler a guy who could take the reins of the country
“They saw in Hitler a guy who could take over the reins of the country and restore order.
4. Economic policy
The reparations imposed by the Treaty of Versailles and the Great Depression created an explosive scenario in Germany. The unemployment rate reached almost 30%. Hitler saw this situation as an opportunity. As soon as he came to power in 1933, he adopted a policy of stimulating industry based on the production of consumer goods and improving the standard of living of the lower classes.
This is how, for example, the Volkswagen (“people’s car”), better known here as the VW Beetle, came about. When they looked back, the Germans only saw crisis,” says saw only crisis,” says Gellately. “Hitler gave them their jobs back and made things work again.”
5. Hitler’s Charisma
Nazism would never have come this far without the charismatic leadership of Hitler, a guy who mesmerized crowds at his rallies and had a power of persuasion that was hard to match.
and had a power of persuasion that was hard to match. “On the stage, he embodied the myth of the ‘body’ of Germany, whose circulatory system was the The Swedish filmmaker Peter Cohen philosophizes in his documentary Architecture of Destruction.
Hitler’s messianic character was well exploited by his Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels, who controlled the German media. Everything revolved around the strong personality of the Führer.
The climate of terror was not always widespread. In the beginning, most citizens did not feel threatened and even collaborated with the persecution of Jews and communists. “The Gestapo would not be as effective without the help of ordinary citizens,” says historian Eric A. Johnson, author of Nazi Terror.
“Between 1933 and 1939, 41 percent of the prosecutions against Jews in the city of Krefeld were initiated by civilian complaints.
In other cities it was no different.” In other words: in the early years, Nazi control did not inspire fear, but confidence. Hitler was concerned with popular support and built a dictatorship based on consensus. So much so that he backed down when the population took to the streets to protest to protest against the removal of crucifixes from schools and against the euthanasia program. The terror only became more widespread with the beginning of the war, when when Nazism took on its most cruel face.
Hitler made use of centuries-old, ingrained anti-Semitism in Europe. Medieval Christianity had fostered the myth that Jews were allies of the devil allies of the devil, had no homeland, and wanted to dominate the world.
But this discrimination was adapted to the purposes of the Führer during the Nazi regime: it ceased to have a religious basis and took on a racial character. Thus, the “degrading” nature of the Jews was understood as immutable, there was no point in trying to convert them.
The propaganda of the regime taught that confining and killing Jews, as well as gypsies and other “parasitic races”, was a sanitation measure, like exterminating the Jews.
Sanitation measure, like exterminating rats and bacteria. The population bought this idea. “Driven by antisemitism,” says Daniel J. Goldhagen, “the perpetrators of Nazism believed that wiping out the Jews was just, right, and necessary.”