Yesterday, the Anti-Defamation League ripped into the misguided use of “Nazi and/or Holocaust analogies” in the national debate over gun control. ADL Says Nazi Analogies Have No Place in Gun Control Debate, http://www.adl.org/PresRele/HolNa_52/6472_52.htm. The organization, which this year will celebrate its 100th anniversary of fighting hate and bigotry in America, cited these recent examples:
• The Drudge Report, under the headline “White House Threatens ‘Executive Orders’ on Guns,” featured photos of Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin (Jan. 9).
• Former Major League pitcher John Rocker wrote on WorldNetDaily.com about what he described as “…the undeniable fact that the Holocaust would never have taken place had the Jewish citizenry of Hitler’s Germany had the right to bear arms and defend themselves with those arms” (Jan. 15).
• During an interview on the Fox News Channel, Lars Larson suggested that, “…if the president does it that way, everybody in America will be required to go in and give fingerprints…. It will be ‘your papers, please’ like Nazi Germany” (Jan. 9).
• Ohio State Board of Education President Debe Tehrar reportedly posted a photo of Adolf Hitler on Facebook with a variety of anti-Obama, pro-gun slogans and images (Jan. 23).
• Sean Hannity, discussing the gun debate, stated that, “We don’t talk a lot about — what were the intentions of our founders and framers? And we have Stalin, um, we have Hitler, we have countries, tyrannical. They talked a lot about that” (Jan. 23).
• Judge Andrew Napolitano, senior judicial analyst at Fox News, suggested in a column on Fox News.com that, “If the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto had had the firepower and the ammunition that the Nazis did, some of Poland might have stayed free and more persons would have survived the Holocaust (Jan. 10).
This effusion of appalling ignorance is both disgusting and dangerous. Disgusting because it desecrates the memory of the six million Jews who were murdered not because they did not have guns, but because the societies in which they lived and died were infected with hatred. That hatred was founded on the twin pillars of “scientific anti-Semitism” and the twisted ideology of a great national community called the Volksgemeinschaft. Dangerous because our failure to understand the true history and dynamics of the Shoah (Holocaust) clouds our understanding of the power of rhetoric and passion that divide the world into “us” and them.”
This is the first of three parts by Fairly Civil to rebut this dangerous ignorance. Part One summarizes the ultimate truth of Nazi power–it was not seized but given by a willing people. Part Two will discuss the question of whether guns in the hands of any number of Jews would have prevented the Holocaust. Part Three describes the secret right-wing machinery behind much of this toxic ignorance about guns and the Holocaust.
[This part is in large extent based on or extracted from my work-in-progress, Something to Hide — The Lives of a Fake Mexican, Aryan Jews, and Other Chameleons on the Cloak of Empire.]
HITLER AND THE NAZI PARTY DID NOT “SEIZE” POWER
In 1933, when Hitler was lawfully appointed to power in an attempt to solve a parliamentary crisis, there were about 500,000 Jews in Germany. They represented 0.75% of the total German population, and an even smaller proportion of the total number of Jews in all of Europe. (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Jewish Population of Europe in 1933: Population Data by Country http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005161.)
Most of the other 99.25% of the German population were or soon became enthusiastic about the Nazi program. Not only would they not have helped an armed Jewish resistance. They would have — as they later did — either actively aided in the suppression of Jewish resistance or, at best, turned a blind eye to it and the state response. During the period 1933 to the joint Nazi-Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939, Jews in Germany lived through a “cold pogrom,” during which they were relentlessly but “legally” divested of civil rights and ultimately of their existence in German society.
When the defeated Germans crawled out of their holes in May 1945, it was hard to find anyone who would admit to having been a Nazi or even a Nazi enthusiast. It was equally difficult to find Germans who would concede that they had known about the savagery committed around them and in their name. This national amnesia was not merely a conscious dodge to escape righteous vengeance. For some years after their defeat, Germans “concentrated on the suffering they had endured rather than the suffering they had caused: they viewed themselves not as responsible for National Socialism and the war, but primarily as their victims.” [Jane Caplan, Nazi Germany.]
For many among the victorious but war-weary Allies, the pasty-faced psychopath Adolph Hitler and the violent actions of his cadre of Nazi thugs were explanation enough. These villains certainly were essential to the self-confidence of Western scholars. How else could one explain the rapid descent of a country that had contributed so much to high culture into the corrupt barbarity of the Nazi empire?
In this exculpatory narrative, the maniacal, charismatic Hitler and the extraordinarily efficient Nazi bureaucracy had “seized” power. Then, using a combination of terror and hypnotic propaganda, the Nazis forced “ordinary” good Germans to follow orders. Quite unfortunately, these orders resulted in horrific consequences for everyone but the “good,” if astonishingly clueless, Germans. Hitler became a comic book villain given to absurd postures, a beady-eyed genius with a ridiculous mustache and a grating, high-volume style of public speaking. The good German burghers and the rank and file German proletariat had no choice but to follow this mesmerizing cartoon figure over the cliff and into the putrid abyss that was the Third Reich.
The excuse of the most sophisticated Germans, the politicians and the industrialists, was that they thought they could control and moderate Hitler, but ended up instead being consumed by the evil genie once he was out of the bottle.
This tidy narrative of “ordinary” Germans as victims ignored — if nothing else — the inconvenient photographs and films of tens of thousands of ordinary Germans massed along parade routes, weeping with joy upon catching a glimpse of Hitler. More thousands stuffed themselves like sausages into meeting halls, enthusiastically throwing the raised arm Nazi salute. Yet more thousands packed huge public squares at Nazi events, howling like pubescent teenagers at a modern-day rock concert.
This evidence graphically demonstrates that masses of ordinary Germans supported the Nazi program. More salient were the testimonies of victims of the Nazi scourge about the behavior of their good German neighbors toward them. These included death camp survivors, refugees, and the few who went to ground and hid out within the empire. Even more light was cast by the meticulous records kept by the Nazi edifice itself. Base motives of greed and self-interest were exposed by business records, personal correspondence, diaries, and volumes of other self-incriminating scribbling penned by millions of “good Germans.”
As later scholars have pointed out–and the Nazi leadership was well aware–”consent and coercion often went hand in hand.” Novelist and essayist Aldous Huxley observed in 1936 that “the propagandist is a man who canalises an already existing stream. In a land where there is no water, he digs in vain.” Thus, to the extent that Nazi propaganda succeeded in shaping German society, it depended in no small degree “on the prevailing opinions and prejudices of the German public.” [Quotes from David Welch, “Nazi Propaganda and the Volksgemeinschaft: Constructing a People’s Community,” Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 39 (2), 213-238.]
Hitler himself shrank under close examination. The early explanation posited a well-ordered Nazi bureaucracy that obediently carried out the Fuehrer’s detailed orders. The Nazi machinery was supposed to have been a pyramid of unprecedented efficiency. The all-knowing and all-powerful Hitler perched at the top, an eagle dictating the minutiae of Nazi policy and practice, conscious of every German sparrow’s tiniest move. In fact, later researchers discovered a much more chaotic regime in which—albeit both revered and feared—Hitler appears “not so much as the director or enforcer of policy, but as the charismatic condition of its possibility, as the source of unpredictable, imprecise, and ‘utopian’ pronouncements that his minions outbade one another to convert into policy. This practice of ‘working towards the Fuerhrer’ … imposed no rational limits on what might be imagined as appropriate and feasible.” [Jane Caplan, Nazi Germany.]
It eventually became clear to historians that, as Ian Kershaw observed, “To call Hitler evil may well be both true and morally satisfying. But it explains nothing.” [Ian Kershaw, Hitler 1936-45: Nemesis (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2000), p. xvii.] And the more that was explained, the more there was that needed to be explained. Historical research, Jane Caplan wrote, “modulated the popular images of Nazi Germany as a nation of either disciplined fanatics or powerless and terrorized victims.” [Jane Caplan, Nazi Germany.] In Peter Fritzsche’s sardonic words, “National Socialism did not succeed through seduction or paralysis or hypnosis.“[Peter Fritzsche,Life and Death in the Third Reich.] The Nazis succeeded because most Germans wanted them to succeed.
THE SATANIC BARGAIN
Why? Most historian trace the proximate roots of the rise of Naziism to the humiliating defeat of Germany in World War I, and the even more humiliating Treaty of Versailles that followed. The toxic idea of redemption by “taking our country back” arose among the German right wing parties. The goal was “restoration” of a mythically romantic national Aryan community, the Volksgemeinschaft, based on race. The Nazi distillation of who was in and was out of this community is embodied in what became the national slogan, “Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Führer” (One People, One Reich, One Führer).
The Nazis did not invent the idea of the Volksgemeinschaft. “On the contrary, the Nazis were credited with finally putting into place the national solidarity that Germans had long yearned for.” [Peter Fritzsche, Life and Death in the Third Reich.] However, the Nazis taught the most aggressive form of “self love” and “other hate” known to history. People stood in relation to the Volksgemeinschaft in only one of two ways—“people’s comrades” inside the community, and “people’s enemies” outside the community. It was either/or. There was no middle ground. Race, which the Nazis regarded as a matter of modern science, was the most important determinant of where one stood in the community. Where one stood determined one’s fate.
Hitler was installed in office in January 1933. Skillfully blending brute force with formulaic actions designed to project the appearance of legality and rule of law, Hitler and the Nazi party set about eliminating political opposition and implementing the dream of the Volksgemeinschaft. By 1936, Hitler’s power was solidly established. Political opposition from Communists and Social Democrats had been crushed, many opponents murdered or imprisoned. Ordinary Germans, along with their social and religious institutions and all but a few of the leaders of these institutions, willingly bought into a satanic bargain—the Nazi’s savage repression of Jews, other non-Aryan minorities, and “social misfits” was a small price to pay for the rebirth of national pride and social order.
”Internal opposition had been crushed. The doubters had been largely won over by the scale of an internal rebuilding and external reassertion of strength which, almost beyond imagination, had restored much of the lost national pride and sense of humiliation left behind after the First World War. Authoritarianism was seen by most as a blessing; repression of those politically out of step, disliked ethnic minorities, or social misfits approved of as a small price for what appeared to be a national rebirth. While the adulation of Hitler among the masses had grown ever stronger, and opposition had been crushed and rendered inconsequential, powerful forces in the army, the landed aristocracy, industry, and high ranks of civil service had thrown their weight behind the regime. Whatever its negative aspects, it was seen to offer them much in advancing their own interests.” Ian Kershaw, Hitler 1936-45: Nemesis (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2000), p. xv.
In the next part: What if only? What if the murdered Jews of Europe had only had guns?