ANTI-SEMITISM AS A TOOL
Germany was now a dictatorship. Germans who opposed the
Nazis were too frightened to resist. What had frightened them so? For one thing,
they thought the Communists were really trying to destroy the government. For
another, they were out of work and desperate. And too, they had lost their
freedom--even the freedom to protest--and the loss of freedom was frightening in
itself. New elections were coming up, but many leaders of the moderate parties
had been arrested, and no party except Hitler’s was allowed to make political
speeches or hold political gatherings.
In spite of all this, most people remained moderate. The
Nazis were able to win only 44 percent of the national vote. Hitler was forced
to include some of the moderates of the Social Democratic party in his new
government. This proved only a minor problem for Hitler. For even while he was
making his party the legal government of Germany, his Brownshirts looted,
wrecked, and burned the offices of the Communist and Socialist parties,
arresting and attacking many of their leaders. The Socialist newspaper was even
banned in many states.
On the day before the newly elected Reichstag met, one
of Hitler's key assistants, Heinrich Himmler, announced that the first
concentration camp had been set up in a place called Dachau not far from Munich.
In this camp, he said, the many arrested Communist and Social Democrat officials
could be "concentrated" and held so that they would no longer be a
threat to the German republic. A few days later a second concentration camp was
set up for the same purpose, and within ten days fifteen thousand persons had
been arrested and sent to these two camps.
On July 8, 1933, Hitler declared, "the Party has
now become the State." Former political parties were outlawed and it became
illegal for any new parties to be formed. By mid-July only the Nazi party
The Nazi "Party"
The Communists and the moderate parties had been unable
to stop Hitler. They had seen the danger coming, but they were political parties--nothing
more. The Nazis were a great deal more:
In speaking of
the Nazi movement as a "party" there is a danger of mistaking its true
character. For the Nazi Party was no more a party, in the normal democratic
sense of that word, than the Communist Party [was in Russia]; it was an
organized conspiracy against the State. The Party's programme was important to
win support. ... But ... the real object was to get their hands on the State ...
the sole object of the Party was to secure power by one means or another. [Alan
Bullock, Adolf Hitler: A Study in Tyranny]
To seize control of the state, Hitler had raised his own
private army, the Sturmabteilung, (SA),
commonly known as the Brownshirts. These, especially at first, were often men
with criminal backgrounds. Added to the SA, Hitler had his own secret police,
the Gestapo, and his own security force, the Schutzstaffel, (SS), called the Blackshirts. The SS began as Hitler's
bodyguards and eventually became an elite corps in charge of security. Hitler's
party was much more than a political force; it was a military presence within
Using the Law
Still, Hitler's party and its militia were not strong
enough to take over Germany by force alone. Hitler had discovered that fact many
years before in the failure of his "beer hall Putsch" in Munich. The Brownshirts could be helpful--as they
were in the case of the Reichstag fire and in rounding up those who opposed
Hitler after the fire. But Hitler calculated that the best route to real power
in Germany was to act within the law. By doing his work legally, Hitler gave the
moderates or leftists no excuse for trying to stop him by force. He knew that
risked losing everything if the nation’s army were called out against him; so
he gave no legal reason for that to happen.
German army leaders were pleased. Many of the young
officers, and some of the older ones, anticipated Hitler's rise to power
eagerly. After all, Hitler had promised to rebuild the army and strengthen it.
But more than that, he had made youth movements an important part of his scheme.
In the movement called Hitler Youth he and his followers taught the young that
Nazism was the hope of the future. Later, when he became the dictator of
Germany, he made sure that the same lesson was taught in the public schools,
even having textbooks rewritten to say that the Jews were the cause of all
Germany's problems, that all Communists were either Jewish or led astray by
Jewish ideas, and that only the Nazis could protect Germany. As young people
graduated from the Hitler Youth, many found places in the army; as time went on,
the army became ever more fervent in its support of Hitler.
Hitler had become a master of propaganda, the spreading
of "official" doctrine--including lies. In his party he even had an
official minister of propaganda, a man named Joseph Paul Goebbels.
Just as he used propaganda in the Hitler Youth movement
and later in the public schools, Hitler used it to help him convince the people
of Germany that he was the answer to their many needs. Once the presidential
decree had been signed in 1933, Hitler controlled what was written in newspapers
and spoken on the radio (there were no television sets as yet). Newspaper
reporters and radio announcers soon learned that they would be fired if they
openly disagreed with the government. The newspapers printed, without criticism,
the "official" propaganda sent out by Goebbels.
Wherever people turned, they heard what Hitler wanted
them to hear and read what Hitler wanted them to read. Together, the press and
the government taught that the Germans were the greatest race on earth--pure
Aryans; this applied especially to large-boned, strong-muscled Germans with
blond hair and blue eyes. (Hitler, however, did not fit this description; he was
short and dark.) In contrast to the "superior" Aryan race, the Jews
were described as "inferior." Last but not least, the Jews, according
to Nazi propaganda, were the great enemy--they controlled the banks, the money,
the power. It was because of the Jews and their allies, the Communists, that
Germans were suffering and out of work.
The Jews as Scapegoats
Jews had lived in the lands now called Germany for over
sixteen hundred years. They originally arrived as traders following the Roman
legions and had stayed and been joined by more Jews. Through the years, they had
grown to a sizable community. About one hundred thousand Jews had served in the
German army during World War I (and some twelve thousand were killed in the
fighting). By the late 1920s more than half a million Jews lived in Germany,
about a third of them in the capital city Berlin.
Throughout the Middle Ages the Jews had been victims of
hatred in Germany, as they had in much of Christian Europe. They were often
accused of being "Christ-killers" who had murdered Jesus. They were
believed to practice black magic. They were accused of poisoning wells from
which the Christians drew their water (especially during epidemics such as the
Black Plague). Among the occupations open to Jews were small trades and money
lending (defined as a sinful occupation by the Catholic Church). Jews were
therefore often accused of cheating Christians in business and in banking.
Germany, along with other European countries, had a long history of using the
Jews as scapegoats.
Ironically, the notion of the scapegoat derives from an
ancient Jewish practice. In biblical times, when the sacrifice of animals was
common, the Jews would select a goat from the flocks before the holy day of Yom
Kippur (on which, it was said, God judged the sins of all people). The priests
would announce that all the sins of the past year were placed on the head of
that goat and the animal was turned loose into the wilderness. The people
believed that this would ensure God’s forgiveness, and their lives would be
spared for another year.
In time, choosing a scapegoat gained another meaning. A
scapegoat is any individual or group singled out to bear the blame for others.
In choosing to use anti-Semitism as a tool in his drive for political power,
Hitler singled out the Jews of Germany as scapegoats.
According to Hitler, the Jews were to blame for Germany's
social and economic problems. He counted on the fact that there had been many
long years of religious prejudice against Jews in the minds of the German
people; but he counted even more on a new form of anti-Semitism called racism.
Hitler and his Nazi propagandists told the public that the Jews were a separate
"race," a group with specific inherited qualities. Hitler's
anti-Semitism was further based on the belief that these "inherited"
Jewish qualities were wicked, ignoble, and inferior. These were among the ideas
that he had set forth in his book Mein
Racism is the belief that race determines human
abilities and qualities, making some groups inferior and some superior. This
idea was widespread in Hitler's time. What made racism so convincing in Hitler's
propaganda was the fact that the peoples of the world may indeed be divided into
several races, each with its own physical characteristics.
But Hitler and others added cultural and psychological
values to the characteristics inherited within a race. Hitler claimed that each
race had its own particular blood. He warned of the dangers of allowing these
blood strains to be mixed. Hitler and some of the scientists of his day also
claimed that a person's blood controlled his or her personality; one kind of
blood would make a person criminal, or cruel, or unintelligent. Another kind of
blood made a person noble and pure. And, according to Hitler, the highest type
was the Aryan blood of the German race.
In fact, neither skin color nor race determines these
qualities. There are good and bad people among all races. And blood has little
to do with race. All blood types exist in almost all races. And, most important,
there are very few people whose race is "pure," that is,
of unmixed descent.
becomes clear if we consider the case of the American Negro. Nothing seems
plainer than the fact that he is a member of the black race. Yet one
anthropologist estimates that probably less than one-fourth of the Negroes in
America are of unmixed descent, and that in respect to alleged Negro physical
traits, the average American Negro is as far from the pure Negroid type as he is
from the average Caucasoid [white] type. In short, the average American Negro is
as much a white man as he is a black man....
Similar is the
case of the Jew. It is convenient, but fallacious, to simplify the enormously
complex set of ethnic, religious, historical, and psychological influences that
characterize this group with the label "race."
speaking, all blood types are found in all races. [Gordon W. Allport, The
Nature of Prejudice]
Using "Science" to Promote Racism
Despite the fact that most scientists disagreed about
the concept of "inferior" and "superior" races, Hitler was
able to use this idea as a basic part of Nazi propaganda. He gave the old,
religion-based hatred of the Jews new respect ability through the "science
of racism." In fact, it became dangerous to disagree with the Nazis about
racism. And it became clear that the road to success in Germany was to help
Hitler prove that the Jews were inferior and untrustworthy--in short, the enemy.
Ignorant, prejudiced, and uneducated people were not the
only ones to accept this theory. Many intelligent, educated Germans, too, went
along with Hitler's theories and believed his propaganda, or pretended to, at
least. Indeed, a number actively tried to prove Hitler correct and thus
furthered their own careers in science, medicine, law, business, and the arts.
Textbooks used in schools and colleges were rewritten to
teach what was called "German" mathematics, physics, and chemistry.
Each science was given a racial slant. For example, the following problem was
posed in a basic arithmetic textbook approved by the Nazis:
The Jews are
aliens in Germany. In 1933 there were 66,066,00 inhabitants of the German Reich,
of whom 499,682 were Jews. What is the percentage of aliens?
Even fairy tales were exploited as propaganda. Teachers
were instructed to explain that Sleeping Beauty was really the German nation
after World War I, and the prince who awakened her with a kiss was Adolf Hitler.
Did Hitler Believe What He Preached?
Was Hitler himself convinced of the ideas he spread?
Did he really believe that the Jews were a race, that they were inferior, that
the blood of German Jews was different from the blood of German Aryans, that
their blood would poison that of the Aryans? Or was he being devious? Did he
merely use these ideas and the old church prejudice against Jews to help him in
his rise to power?
Speaking to a close friend, Hitler had once said:
I know perfectly
well that in the scientific sense there is no such thing as race. As a
politician I need an idea which enables the order which has hitherto existed on
a historic basis to be abolished and an entirely new order enforced and given an
intellectual basis. And for this purpose the idea of race serves me well.
[Quoted in John Toland, Adolf Hitler]
In either case, it seems probable that by the end of his
life, Hitler came to believe his own propaganda.
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The Holocaust: An End to Innocence
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