Repost from the old site.
I am proud to present a book review by a new guest author, Robert John. His biography is at the end of the piece. In this piece, he reviews a book by Peter Fritzsche, Germans into Nazis. This book takes on, in part, a thesis by a best-selling book by Daniel Goldhagen, Hitler’s Willing Executioners.
Goldhagen’s book was wildly controversial, to say the least. His thesis was that Nazism was a normal evolution of the virulent anti-Semitism inherent in German society for decades, if not centuries. An anti-Semitism spanning all of society, from top to bottom, urban to rural.
Goldhagen gives examples of how ordinary Germans knew full well the nature of the Nazi Holocaust against Jews, but either did nothing about it, or cheered it on. He cites postcards sent back by German soldiers to family at home, telling gleefully about how the soldiers were massacring Jews on the Front.
The reaction to Goldhagen’s book was ferocious, much of it coming from conservative Catholics, anti-Semites and German nationalists but also from serious scholars.
To this day, Goldhagen is a favorite whipping boy of anti-Semites and Holocaust revisionists and deniers, except that their own behavior seems to prove Goldhagen correct. So those who hate Jews take exception to Goldhagen saying that Germany was a nation of Jew-haters. One would think they would cheer this assertion on?
Regarding this review, here are some facts for those lacking background in this matter:
After World War 1, Germany was hobbled at the Treaty of Versailles with horrible reparations that were essentially unpayable and ruined the economy. John points out correctly that Versailles led logically to the rise of Nazism.
Immediately afterwards, in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution, German Communists attempted to overthrow the state. They were defeated. German anti-Communists, including most of the middle class, noted that many of the leaders of the Communist revolutions in Russia and Germany were Jewish.
History is not kind to losers. For better or worse, German Jews were blamed for a few of them having led the failed German revolution.
In the 1920’s, Germany had a series of very unstable governments known as the Weimar Republic. At the same time, there was widespread political violence in the streets, often between Communists and socialists on one side and nationalists and proto-fascists on the other. The economy was devastated and it took a wheelbarrow full of worthless money to buy a loaf of bread.
At the same time, a wealthy and decadent class lived it up in the nightclubs of Berlin. Many of this decadent artist class were Jewish and many were also homosexuals and bisexuals. The movie, Cabaret, starring Liza Minnelli, about the life of gay author Christopher Isherwood, was set in Weimar Berlin.
Comedians and artists, many of whom were Jewish, ridiculed German nationalism and the things that patriotic Germans held dear to their hearts. This nationalism, along with traditional German culture, was held by these artists as having led to the war and the disastrous defeat. Enraged German nationalists saw only decadent urbanites, many of them Jewish, attacking German culture and values.
Further, the decadent lifestyle in Berlin enraged traditional elements in Germany. The wild life of the rich in the cities aroused rage amongst the immiserated poor, workers and middle classes.
While German Gentiles were being economically ruined, many German Jews had avoided economic destruction by stashing their money outside the country early in the crisis. No doubt this led to charges that the Jews were failing to invest in Germany.
In the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, as German property values plummeted, German Jews were able to return bring their money back and buy up much of the country for 10 cents on the dollar. By 1932, German Jews, 1% of the country, owned 32% of the wealth of Germany.
After quotas on Jews in government jobs, the professions and universities were lifted in the 1920’s, the ranks of attorneys, doctors, judges and law professors were quickly filled by high-IQ Jews. 1/2 of German law professors and Berlin attorneys were Jewish. 1/3 to 1/2 of Berlin doctors were Jewish. 20% of German judges were Jewish. Berlin gained a Jewish police chief, the first in the history of the city.
Many Germans were outraged at the overnight Jewish success and implied humiliation of German Gentiles and insisted that the Jews must have cheated to get these positions.
Just before they seized power, Nazi propagandists made much use of these figures. They also claimed that most politicians and civil servants were Jews, which was not true. Only a few high-ranking civil servants were Jewish. There were few Jewish politicians – during the entire Weimar Period, there were only 8 Jewish members of the Reichstag from Berlin. After 1922, there were almost no Jewish Cabinet ministers.
Similar claims that most pickpockets were Jewish and that German prisoners were filled with Jews were also false. Looking at figures from 1925, only 1.05% of Prussian prisoners were Jewish. Likewise with claims that the German Communist Party leadership was mostly Jewish. In 1932, there were 100 Communist deputies in the Reichstag and not a single one was Jewish.
As you can see, the Nazis were engaging in some scapegoating and out and out lying about German Jews.
The Weimar Regimes (republican democracy) seemed to be powerless to remedy any of these problems. Democracy came to be seen as symbolic with ineffectual government that fiddled while the nation burned, with decadent intellectuals and artists who attacked beloved German culture and values, with an outrageous gap between rich and poor, and with a disastrous economy.
So the Nazis ran on a platform of “the Hell with democracy”.
At the same time, similar fascist movements were spreading across Europe, especially Central and Eastern Europe, where most nations had fascist governments during this period. Even Finland and the Baltics had fascist governments.
Fritzsche’s book points out that the Nazis succeeded due to good old politics, Karl Rove style. They appealed to workers, women and liberals, though their program was secretly hostile to all three. They attacked social conservatism and the rich while hiding the fact that support for these elements was an essential nature of their project.
Even the name “National Socialists” was chosen along the same lines, to co-opt the rising Socialist and Communist movements in Germany.
By playing such dishonest political games, they gained support of socialists, Communists, liberals and even some Jews. While the socialists and Communists seemed boring or dangerous, the Nazis were all about getting Germans to feel good about themselves and have fun at the same time. Instead of Reagan’s “Morning in America”, it was “Morning in Germany”.
After they seized power, no German socialist or Communist was fooled by the Nazi lies about being a socialist party. In fact, at its core, Nazism was hostile first and foremost to liberals, union members, socialists and Communists. Communists, socialists and union members were the first to go the concentration camps, Dachau being the most famous. The Jews were number four on the list, after these three!
After they seized power, at the Night of the Long Knives, the Left Nazis were all killed or driven out of the party. Through the 1930’s, most of the German Left went to ground, fled the country or took up arms against the government. The German Communist Party declared war on the Nazi regime during this period.
The name “National Socialists” has confused many people, including rightwing ideologues. There is much more to the refutation of the disgusting rightwing lie, “Nazis were a leftwing, socialist movement” but I will save it for another post.
I realize that a quick, ignorant, emotional read of this piece could lead one to the conclusion that it is some defense of Nazism. If you read it closely, intelligently and soberly, you should notice that it is nothing of the kind.
I hope you enjoy John’s piece.
Germans into Nazis
Harvard University Press, 1998
269 pages. ISBN 0-674-35091-X
The history of this century has been dominated by the horrors that came from the inferno of World War I. The rise of Nazism in Germany is only comprehensible by taking into account the national hardships and frustration provoked by defeat and the harsh and punitive treaty of Versailles, in which President Wilson played the leading role.
Peter Fritzsche, professor of history, University of Illinois, and the author of Reading Berlin 1900 (Harvard), gives an account of what gave the German National Socialists their electoral victories in 1932 and why.
Why were 37.4 percent of German votes cast for the Nazis in the July 1932 legislative elections, when for the first time they became the largest party; the SPD was second with 21.6 percent?
Half a century after their destruction, new accounts of German National Socialism, and its leader, still contend for space on bookstore shelves.
Many seek to explain German support for a leader portrayed as the most dangerous archfiend of recorded history, or to analyze the dynamics of that leader himself. Daniel Goldhagen, in his best-selling book Hitler’s Willing Executioners, suggested that Hitler was little more than a midwife in a German war against the Jews.
Goldhagen blamed successful appeal to widespread German anti-Jewish prejudice for the Nazi victories. He alleged that by the time Hitler came to power in 1933, racial anti-Semitism had already made Germany “pregnant with murder.”
Fritzsche gives an account of some of the confusion of patriotism and social turbulence from 1918 to 1933. He quotes the Berliner Tageblatt of 10 November 1918:
Yesterday morning . . .everything was still there – the Kaiser, the chancellor, the police chief – yesterday afternoon nothing of all that existed any longer.
The March 1917 Menshevik Revolution in Russia was being re-enacted in Germany, with Friedrich Ebert playing the role that Kerensky had played in Russia the year before. With knowledge of the red terror the Bolsheviks were waging in Russia, and some awareness that the majority of their leaders were Jewish, gave grounds for the development of a counterrevolution with anti-Semitic elements.
Like most other historians of the Allied Powers, Fritzsche omits significant reference to Allied failure to honor President Wilson’s Fourteen Points for peace which were announced by him on 8th January 1918.
It was on their basis, and Wilson’s declaration a month later: that there were to be no annexations, no contributions, and no punitive damages, that General Ludendorff had recommended to Field-Marshall Hindenburg that Germany ask for an Armistice.
Diplomatic exchanges followed until 23rd of October. On that day, Wilson informed the German government that, were he compelled to negotiate with the military rulers and monarchist autocrats, he would demand not peace negotiations but a general surrender. The Kaiser abdicated.
In his haste to present the circumstances and appeal of National Socialist policies to the German people at the beginning of the 1930’s, Fritzsche also skips reference to the continued Allied food blockade of Germany for nearly six months after the war had ended. Even the German Baltic fishing fleet, which had augmented German food supplies during the war, was prevented from putting to sea.
(See The Politics of Hunger: The Allied blockade of Germany, 1915-1919, Vincent, C. Paul, Ohio Univ. Press, 1985, and the Kathë Kollwitz lithograph Deutschlands Kinder hungern – Germany’s Children are Starving.)
In the spring of 1919, both the putting down of Communist insurrections in Berlin, Bremen, and Munich and breaking of general strikes in Halle, Magdeberg and Braunschweig by a Freikorps of nationalist volunteers, temporarily suspended the threat of a repetition of the Bolsheviks’ October revolution in Russia.
When the Freikorps finally disbanded, they left behind a loose confederacy of secret organizations, veterans’ groups, and rifle clubs.
Organization by both the Left and the Right seems to have satisfied a popular need for feelings of solidarity and renewal. By 1924 there were signs that this social activity was taking a more coherent political form.
New organizations were also distinctive for being more open to women, who established their own auxiliaries, and attended patriotic celebrations. Activities for women, common in international socialist organizations, were included in nationalist events in community life. Brass bands and choral societies joined in what looked more like a family celebration than a wartime field service.
The wife of an engineer described a new look in her city streets: groups of young people passing by, singing patriotic songs. In midsummer her daughter Irmgard, living in Nordheim, looked forward to Sunday’s flag consecration and dance.
Everywhere there is great excitement . . . all the regimental associations are coming, even the riflery clubs. (p. 134)
Fritzsche chooses such illustrations of entertainment and excitement, rather than negative appeals, that drew many of the young and others away from the blandness of the Social Democrats, and the preaching of international revolution, “Workers of the world: Unite,” of the Communists. ‘For good reasons or bad, Germans turned indifferent to the Weimar Republic, but they did not remain inactive or apathetic.
The real consequence of the revolution was not so much the parliamentary government it secured as the organization and activism of thousands of constituents it made possible. The new Germany can best be found in the humdrum mobilization of interest groups, veterans’ associations, and party branches and in the self-authorization of a hundred voices, libelous, illiberal, and chauvinistic as they may have been.
It is a sad but compelling paradox that the hostile defamations of the president of the republic were as indicative of democratization as the presidency of good-willed Fritz Ebert himself’ (p.136).
In the hard economic times of 1930,when the social welfare programs of the state were being cut back, the Nazis erected a “rudimentary shadow welfare state” for their supporters, responding to the crisis in a concrete way.
They never made the mistake of Hugenberg’s German Nationalists of holding political meetings in the best hotel in town. During a metalworkers strike, striking party members were fed three times daily in Nazi pubs.
Womens’ groups associated with the party were particularly active. National Socialist speeches and propaganda repudiated the narrow politics on the “reactionary” bourgeois parliamentarians and the proliferating interest groups and splinter parties.
In speech after speech at mass rallies, Hitler and his followers tended to address voters as citizens, rather than as blocs or constituents, and repeated again and again the need to solve local problems by liberating the entire nation from republican misrule. (In Britain a National Government was set up in 1931 with slogans of unification, patriotism, insulation, planning, etc.)
The National Socialist message brought to the people in town after town was not the class consciousness of Hindenberg’s upper class, nor its representation in the primacy of ‘the class struggle’ of the Communists and Socialists; instead, national solidarity was the answer to Germany’s vexing problems: social reform, economic productivity, the shameful peace.
There was a deliberate attempt to enroll Germans in a collective destiny and to present Hitler as a national savior rather than a solicitous politician (Fritzsche, p. 195).
Nazi propaganda very effectively portrayed political choices in Utopian terms: here was a party that opposed the present “system” and, once in power, would rebuild the nation. It was not just the modern methods of political campaigning that the Nazis used that brought them success; it was their message.
With Hitler as Chancellor, workers who had watched the Social Democrats fight long and hard and always unsuccessfully to persuade the Reichstag to recognize 1 May as an official holiday, looked or listened to the Leader’s May Day speech to a disciplined mass at Tempelhof in 1933. All day the radio played the songs of “miners, farmers, and soldiers.”
A “symphony of work” composed by Hans-Jurgen Nierentz and Herbert Windt, featured interviews with a dock worker from Hamburg, an agricultural laborer from East Prussia, a steel worker from the Saar, a miner from the Ruhr, and a vintner from the Mosel Valley. The crowd drank beer, ate sausages, and, in the evening, marveled at the fireworks.
Should one wonder why many former Communist and international Socialists who joined the Nazis, came to be called “underdone beef:” —brown on the outside, still red on the inside?
The Nazis distanced themselves from liberal state administrators, social conservatives, and traditional authoritarians. They were as dismissive of the Kaiserreich as they were of the Weimar Republic. ‘In short, the Nazis were ideological innovators.’
They met popular demands for political sovereignty and social recognition and insisted that these could only be achieved through national union, which would provide Germans with an embracing sense of collective identity and a strong role in international politics.
It was this far-reaching program of renovation that made the Nazis stand out and made them attractive to a plurality of voters.
If Hitler and his followers had simply recirculated the anti-Semitism of Anton Drexler’s German Workers’ Party or blustered on about the shameless Treaty of Versailles or devoted all their energies to combating the Social Democrats and other treasonous “November criminals,” the movement would have stalled completely.
This is exactly what happened to Wolfgang Kappa and the Freikorpsmen of 1919-1920 and also explains the demise of Alfred Hugenberg and the German Nationalists in 1924-1930. Instead, attacks on conservatives as well as Marxists, denunciations of local power arrangements as well as the national parliament, and an affirmative vision of a prosperous, technologically advanced nation gave the Nazis a sharp ideological edge.
At a time when so much civic strife is defined in terms of cultural affinities it is all the more important, if sometimes difficult, to recall the force of ideology.
Long-standing ethnic hatreds, religious fundamentalisms, and transnational “civilizations” dominate contemporary discussions about instability and unrest, which are frequently understood in terms of the friction between basically essential cultural qualities that have come into contact with one another.
However, the Nazi phenomenon was not a hyperventilated expression of German values, even as it pronounced the allegedly superior quality of the German people.
Nor was it the pathological result of economic hard times, instead National Socialism comprised a program of cultural and social regeneration premised on the superordination of the nation and the Volk and modeled very much on the public spirit and collective militancy of the nation at war.
even as the Nazis upheld an integral, almost redemptive nationalism, they created new categories of outsiders, enemies, and victims. That system was neither accidental nor unanimous’ (p.235).
Some Jewish historians have noted almost marginally that National Socialist election material did not directly appeal to anti-Jewish sentiment (for example, Avraham Barkai’s From Boycott to Annihilation, Brandeis Univ. Press, 1987, 11, Saul Friedländer’s Nazi Germany and the Jews, Harper-Collins, 1997, 4), or Finkelstein and Birns’ A Nation On Trial: The Goldhagen Thesis, Henry Holt 1998).
So why is the Goldhagen account and conclusion so different from that of Fritzsche? The parsimonious explanation is the ‘Zoom syndrome.’ This is a tendency to magnify items supporting the prejudices of the observer. Goldhagen focuses on German critics of Jews or practices associated with them, and projects these as anti-Semitism leading to a program of Jewish extermination.
His premise is—unchecked criticism of Jews leads to a ‘Holocaust.’ With this ‘tunnel vision,’ he is deprived of depth and width of perspective. Leading Jewish academics are stressing the importance of incorporating the Jewish ‘experience of the Holocaust’ into the perspective of Jewish studies programs. This would help Jewish scholars to regain or maintain historical perspective.
In his review of A Nation On Trial in the New York Times Book Review, Max Frankel, a former executive editor of the paper, recorded his mother’s experience in wartime Berlin in 1940 as an enemy alien Polish Jew. A commissioner of police gave her the name and location of the Gestapo chief who would give the family an exit permit.
As she thanked him and turned to leave, the commissioner suddenly asked,
“Where did you say you want to go?”
“If you get there, will you tell them we’ re not all bad?”
To her last day, she did.
The facts cited by both Fritzsche and Goldhagen, and other previous writers, are explained as never before, using evolutionary and social identity theory, by Professor Kevin MacDonald’s analyses of anti-Semitism published in the Praeger Human Evolution, Behavior, and Intelligence series, in 1998 “Separation and Its Discontents: Towards an Evolutionary Theory of Anti-Semitism and The Culture of Critique, and in his previously published A People That Shall Dwell Alone: Judaism as a Group Strategy, 1994.
*Dr. John is a diplomatic historian, policy analyst, and a former professor of psychiatric education. He is the author of The Palestine Diary: British, American and United Nations Intervention 1914-1948, 3rd. ed. 2006, 2 volumes, with a foreword by Arnold Toynbee, and Behind the Balfour Declaration: The Hidden Origins of Today’s Mideast Crisis, 1988.
He has been a U.S. correspondent for the monthly Middle East International and adviser on international affairs to the Council on American Affairs. He was presented with the 1997 Freedom Award by the International Institute for Advanced Studies in Systems Analysis in Baden-Baden “for his outstanding work and contributions towards the fight for human rights, justice and liberty.”