22. Fascists

Prof: I assume you saw
Triumph of the Will. I think I mentioned the other
day Leni Riefenstahl only died about four years ago,
at age 102. She did interviews,
and just looked back on that regime as, she was a
professional and she did a good job.
Her employers,
in this case Adolf Hitler, were pleased with her work.
What’s interesting about the
film, among the many things,
and some of the themes I’ll touch on and you’re reading
about, is that it’s a combination of
the kind of medieval and the very modern.
Hitler, like Mussolini,
used modern technology. Germans who could barely afford
to eat had radios, and listened to speeches of the
Fuhrer, and it was the same thing in Italy with Mussolini.
While you saw the images of
kind of medieval Nuremburg, which no longer exists,
medieval Nuremburg, or not much of it,
and the kind of modern technology and the whole thing.
Hitler liked airplanes.
He liked to fly around,
and for all of the kind of images of the German warriors,
kind of a medieval person diving in frozen Pomeranian
ponds and things like that, the modern is apparent, too.
If you want,
the most chilling example of the modern would be the assembly
line, the transformation of the assembly line into mass murder.
The assembly line in the death
camps. Has anyone here been to
Auschwitz? I’ve been to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
I’ve been to Dachau,
also, a long, long time ago,
but Auschwitz fairly recently. One of the most chilling things
about Auschwitz, actually, the sheer–it’s just
beyond anything, but it’s the commandant’s
house. The commandant’s house has
little swings out behind it. That’s where the commandant
lived. His wife said this was the
happiest time of their lives. The little children were
playing in the garden on the swings, and there’s a big wall
there, but not a huge wall. The crematoriums are on the
other side in that part, at Auschwitz.
Birkenau s a couple kilometers
away. Life went on in that way as
this sort of assembly line–mass murderers of millions and
millions of people. Hungarian Jews outnumbered
Polish Jews exterminated at Auschwitz just barely.
That’s because at the end of
the war the Hungarians were sending these huge trainloads of
people to be exterminated there. Anyway, I want today to talk
about Adolf Hitler. I will bring into this some of
the themes that you’re reading about.
Just two things at the
beginning. Obviously, National Socialism
was one variant, certainly the most horrible
variant of fascism. You can put Franco into that
mix. There was rightwing
authoritarian rule everywhere. Secondly, like World War I,
there’s no other period of history that has such great
literature, at least in English, about it.
There’s a wonderful trilogy by
Richard Evans on Hitler and the Nazis to 1933,
and the second volume is 1933 to the war, September 1,1939.
The third is 1939 to the end,
to the bunker. There are many biographies of
Hitler. I’ve read about three of them.
But the best by far is Ian
Kershaw’s two volumes. It’s very long,
and I’ll be drawing on that in part.
Let’s get going on that.
There’s a photo that’s not in
the book, but there’s a photo of Hitler reviewing his guys.
That particular photo,
which was taken about 1927, was on a huge field.
You see Hitler reviewing his
guys there. What people don’t realize is
that picture was taken from a huge–;there are lots of other
people out there, little groups like the Nazis.
It might have been a little
earlier. They, too, have their leader,
their Fuhrer. Hitler ends up,
the National Socialists end up winning, but they weren’t the
only group. I’m not a believer in the
“great person” view of history.
Hitler did not make the Nazis.
World War I created the Nazis.
A lot of the racism,
a lot of the idea of hygienics, racial purification,
and all of that was out there, as you know and I’ve tried to
make clear. But if it wouldn’t have been
Hitler, there would have been somebody else.
In 1933, when Hitler becomes
chancellor, when the other rights,
there are many rights, but when Von Papen says,
“We’ve got them boxed in now.
We can use Hitler for our own
goals.” How incredibly naïve that
was. The Nazis must be seen in the
context of World War I. They must be seen in the
context of the poisoning of the political atmosphere between the
wars. In 1876, Alois
Schickelgruber–I didn’t write it on the board;
I sent this stuff around to you today, a lot of it,
but Schicklgruber is not on the list–changed his name to Alois
Hitler. It was a peasant family in
lower Australia–lower Australia?
Lower Austria!–bordering on
Bohemia. I’ve been to lower Australia.
I’ve been to lower Austria, too.
But anyway, bordering on
Bohemia. Thus, the family’s dislike of
Czechs, and Hitler’s particular dislike of Czechs.
But he disliked everybody
outside of Germans. His father was
“illegitimate,” and ended up with the name of
his mother’s long-deceased wife’s father,
Georg Heidler, which in 1876 became Hitler,
as I said. There was a rumor even during
the 1920s that Hitler’s grandfather was Jewish,
and these rumors circulated in Munich in the 1920s.
Hitler was born in
Braunau-am-Inn on the border of Germany, that is the
Austrian-German border. This was important in his
obsession with uniting the two countries.
His father was a customs
official, comfortable kind of lower-class existence.
But it was not a happy family
at all. His father was strict,
pompous, proud of his minimal status, extremely pedantic,
and had a violent temper. He took care of bees with more
loving attention than he took care of his family.
He managed the family with
efficiency, but without love. Hitler’s mother is described by
Ian Kershaw as a simple, modest, kindly woman,
who went to church and was devoted to her two surviving
children, Adolf and Paula.
She smothered them with
protectiveness. Adolf Hitler feared but did not
love his father, but this does not explain the
murderous results of the whole thing.
Civil servants get moved
around, customs people. The family moved to Linz,
L-I-N-Z, in Austria, which was a hotbed of
anti-Semitism, in 1895.
Hitler began his schooling at
age six. He viewed Linz as his hometown,
and, in not a terribly too happy early life,
looked back almost nostalgically upon living in
Linz. He did not pick up his
anti-Semitism in Linz. He started secretary schooling
in 1900, but he was unsatisfactory in math and in
natural history. He didn’t like his teachers.
He was, in principle,
respectful, but he thought himself above many of them.
He was badly adjusted.
His father wanted him to be a
civil servant. He wanted him to follow and be
the next in line of the Hitler civil servants.
But Adolf, as you know,
resisted. He wanted to be an artist.
His father said,
“You will not be an artist as long as I am living.”
Linz was–besides being a
hotbed of anti-Semitism, it was a hotbed of German
nationalism. Not just Austrian
German-speaking nationalism, but German in general
nationalism. His father died in 1903 and
then Hitler hit the academic skids.
He failed in math.
He moved to another school
fifty-miles-away in a place called Steyr,
but it wasn’t any better. Then he took up this sort of
idle existence. He painted.
He read poetry.
He attended the theater.
That was one of his great loves
in Linz, 1905-1907. He had one friend,
August Kubizek, who was the son of an
upholsterer. Hitler dominated.
He needed somebody to listen to
him. Kubizek was exposed,
and I suppose willingly, to Hitler’s diatribes,
his pontification, his monologues about virtually
everything. He was the classic kind of
know-it-all. He was pale, thin.
He had that little mustache
that would become bigger. He wore a black coat and a dark
hat. He carried a black cane with a
pretentious ivory handle. His great passion was
Wagner–Those of you who know about music know that Wagner was
a raving anti-Semite–as well as art and architecture,
about which he claimed to know a great deal.
He wanted to begin his artistic
career at the academy in Vienna, and his mother had fallen ill
with cancer and soon died. She died in 1907.
This struck him as a “bolt
out of the blue,” he remembered.
He applied for the academy in
Vienna, and, to his horror, he was turned down.
He went to Vienna anyway in
February 1908, hoping to become an architect.
He said later,
“I owe it to that period that I grew hardened.”
He lived in Vienna from
February 1908 until May 1913. He said later, after the war,
during his political ascent, that it was during that period
that “my eyes were opened to the two menaces of which I
had previously scarcely known the names”–Marxism and
Jewry, the Jews. This appears in Mein
Kampf, My Struggle, which he wrote when he was in
Landsberg prison not far from Munich–I even visited the cell
once–after the ill-fated Beer Hall Putsch in Munich in 1923.
This was out of retrospect.
There is really no evidence
that he had become a raging anti-Semite before 1914.
Yet, anti-Semitism was so
prevalent in Austria. Karl Lueger,
who was the mayor of Vienna, whom I mentioned before,
was one of the worst in that period.
I’ve given this chilling quote
before, but I’ll say it again. He’s the one who said,
“I decide who is a Jew.”
The liberalism that had been in
Vienna in the earlier period was hardened, like Hitler,
became hardened into just a vast intolerance.
But at the time he said that
these two menaces were known to him, he was struggling.
He wanted to be the man in
leadership of the German Reich. In saying this,
if you believe Kershaw, and I do on this and on much
more, this was a fabrication. The anti-Marxist,
the anti-socialist and subsequent anti-communist after
1917, that was there. His long diatribes in this sort
of shabby rooming house, where they would sit around,
and finally you can imagine one by one people just getting tired
of listening to Adolf, and going up to their miserable
little rooms to get some sleep, were against the socialists.
The Austrian socialists,
like their German SPD counterparts,
had long marches through the streets of Vienna on behalf of
workers’ rights, etc., etc.
Hitler would stand on the porch
of this rooming house and simply hate them as they went by.
Yet, Vienna was a huge melting
pot of this enormous empire. There are all sorts of people
besides German speakers who lived in Vienna.
Many of the German speakers
were Jews, Freud among them. I’ve been to Freud’s almost
bizarrely recreated office there in Vienna.
The Jewish population was about
two percent of the population. In 1910 it was 175,000 people
in Vienna. Then it grew to 8.6 percent of
the population. Later, in Hitler’s thundering
speeches, over-the-top speeches, he saw Jews as capitalist
exploiters of true Germans, etc., etc.
This came later.
Lueger, by the way,
anticipated Hitler and lots of other people by saying in 1890
that “the Jewish problem”
would be solved if all the Jews were placed on a large ship and
sunk at sea. When Adolf Hitler lived with
Kubizek in this rooming house, and went to the theatre with
him, he was not yet thinking of politics.
What he wanted to do was become
this famous artist. It is true that he painted
postcards for tourists, which he sold to kind of keep
himself afloat. Kubizek was a piano player,
so in the room was two beds and a piano and that was about it.
Sometimes you could imagine
Kubizek playing the piano just to try to tune out Adolf.
But he was rather loyal to him.
Hitler began to write a play.
He went to the theatre,
as I said, and he got a little bit of inherited money after his
parents died. He had little interest in women.
Of course, one of the sort of
prevalent rumors is that he was impotent,
though as you all know surely, he would marry Eva Braun in the
bunker, before they took cyanide pills
and killed themselves, as the Russian tanks could
almost be heard rumbling above. We know of no sexual experience
that he had. He described the ideal woman as
a “cute, cuddly, naïve little
thing, tender, sweet, and stupid.”
Of course, like Mussolini,
who was a notorious philanderer and used to brag tirelessly
about his sexual exploits, both Hitler and Mussolini
believed that a woman’s place was in the home turning out baby
boy soldiers and not in the factories.
Of course, one of the ironies
is during the Second World War that women are increasingly
doing jobs that Hitler and Mussolini thought were
inappropriate, simply because the men were
dead. Anyway, he was prudish,
seemingly repelled by sex, although fascinated by it.
One of the points that Kershaw
makes is that Kubizek’s recollections,
along with that of Hitler’s sister, Paula,
give us a sense of some of the things that would remain
characteristic of Hitler until his much-deserved end.
Basically, he was lazy.
He was manic at times.
There would be these bursts of
wild enthusiasm for something. During the war he would demand
that the generals place maps in front of him,
and he would make the decisions as the generals secretly moaned.
He considered himself an expert
in military affairs, as well.
There was a pathological sense
of reality and a sense of proportion,
and a vindictiveness that, as most of you that have
followed this at all would know, kept the Russian invasion,
stalled it as he punished the Yugoslavs,
poured troops into Yugoslavia to slaughter people,
and then delayed the famous invasion of the Soviet Union on
June 22^(nd). I was in Kiev once and the
bells were all ringing. I realized that was the same
time that the German planes had first arrived.
His intolerance,
his flashes of anger, his tediousness,
his sense of predestined greatness,
it was all there in the shabby little rooming house,
the sense of frustration that his genius wasn’t recognized.
But there is no evidence of
tirades against Jews. That would come later.
Another friend of his,
a guy called Hanisch, about whom I know nothing,
said after Kubizek had disappeared from Vienna,
“In those days Hitler was by no means a Jew hater.
He became one afterwards.”
In the words of Kershaw,
the First World War made Hitler possible.
In 1920 he said,
for the first time in print, “Jews are to be
exterminated.” This is after the foundation of
the German Workers’ Party, early in 1919.
Of course, it’s that party that
would become the Nazis. There is a picture that may be
doctored–and that apparently is no longer in the second edition.
It should be.
It was in the first edition–of
the war starting in Munich. I think I have mentioned this
before. It’s a crowd scene.
The war has been announced.
The war is not in Munich,
but all these people are around the town hall,
and they are just exuberant. You can see the smiling Hitler
beaming, happy, fulfilled.
He’s going to fight for German
nationalism. He did fight in the war.
He was one of the guys.
He was a comrade.
He was wounded twice.
He was a runner in the war.
He carried messages from
officers to the trenches, and then he–not literally ran
but carried them. They called them runners.
After the war he emerges,
as do troops demobilized in every country,
facing the challenges of an uncertain future.
Nowhere was that future
arguably more uncertain than in Germany.
Not all veterans of the fight
of the German war cause in World War I turned to far-right
politics. The SPD, the Socialist Veterans
Organization, was the largest of them all.
Yet, there are just enormous
continuities between those German soldiers who returned
from the war with their weapons in their houses joining the Free
Corps, the Freikorps.
They kept on marching.
They kept on training in their
basements. They would come back and
therefore be exposed to all of these currents,
the sense of betrayal again, as I’ve said before.
This is the third time.
How do you explain to the folks
back home that you’ve lost the war when your troops are way
inside of France? They’re not perched on the
frontier. They’re way inside.
So, it’s got to be somebody’s
fault. Whose fault is it?
It’s the Jews.
It’s the socialists.
And it’s the Weimar Republic.
These themes come together.
That’s a constant theme.
Hitler believed if you told
people the same lies over, and over, and over again that
they would believe them. This happens in our country,
too. In Hitler’s case the lies were
even more pernicious. The revisionism becomes an
official policy of all of these rightwing groups,
of all of them. The thing that’s really just
incredible is that the people had memories of Hitler–when you
see pictures of him, this kind of pauvre type,
you would say in French, this kind of sad sack wearing
ill-fitting clothes, did not have friends.
Kubizek had disappeared.
I have no idea what happened to
him. He had big hopes for himself
that could never possibly be fulfilled.
The idea of this–those of you
who have partied in Munich on the tour, or something like
that. I partied in Munich when I was
twenty-years-old. We went to these places.
But when you go into these big
places like the Hofbräuhaus,
which was one of the worst, and these other places,
it is hard to imagine. This is where the rightwing
groups met. All of a sudden,
this kind of sad sack guy, who’d jump or be lifted on a
table. He wasn’t terribly athletic.
Suddenly, he has people
listening to every word that he said for hours,
for hours. Those speeches,
if you ever heard speeches, if your German is really
good–mine is terrible. It barely exists.
People would listen on the
radio. He would build up with this
crescendo announcing the will to power, my struggle,
our struggle, the German people’s struggle,
those who have destroyed us, those who signed on the dotted
line of the war guilt clause that said that Germany started
it all. “We will get them
back,” he says in 1925, when Mein Kampf was
published. Isn’t it 1925?
I think it’s 1925.
He says, “We will kill the
Jews.” He says “We will expand
elbow room, living space.” We will expand to the east.
He says this.
You could buy copies of Mein
Kampf in Manhattan. You could buy copies of it in
Melbourne. You could buy copies of it
anywhere. It was translated into a
variety of languages. It was all there from the
beginning. The consistency in what Hitler
was telling was there all the way through.
It was there all the way
through. The concrete plans for the
extermination of the Jews, as well as the gypsies,
and of gay people as well, these concrete plans will come
later. Dachau in 1933 was built with
Himmler in charge, primarily to put communists in
Dachau, and many Jews were communists, and later other
people. I went to Dachau when I was
your age. I remember seeing an old guy
working in the fields right outside the wall.
He was old enough that that guy
owned that farm back during the war.
People knew.
I’ll come back to that in a
minute. They knew.
You try to think,
“What did he think when he saw the people come in?
What did he think when the
smoke rose? What did he think?”
They knew.
They knew and they didn’t care,
point. If Hitler’s themes barely
changed, it raises some very important questions.
Who first supported Hitler?
Hitler’s support–and I do
write about this a little bit–the role of the economic
crisis cannot be underestimated. The inflation statistics you
will not want to commit to memory, but those are
unbelievable. The only case that I know that
is vaguely like that is Zimbabwe in the Mugabe period.
This is even worse,
if that is possible. Middle-class people who had to
pawn armoires, chests, drawers,
silver that had been in their family for years,
in order to have enough to eat. They wouldn’t forget,
and they blamed, and they hated.
“It’s the fault of the
allies. It’s the fault of the Jews.
It’s the fault of the
Socialists. It’s the fault of the
Communists. It’s the fault of Weimar.”
They first flock to Hitler,
the middle classes do. If this sounds like an orthodox
Marxist interpretation, that’s what the orthodox
Marxists say and they’re right. Big business did not flock to
Hitler. Big business wanted the
destruction of Weimar. They helped make Hitler
possible. Only one big businessman gave
Hitler a lot of money. He got a lot of small donations.
But pretty soon he gets
introduced to the right people, the right cocktail parties.
They thought he was vulgar.
Quick story.
I had a colleague who died
decades ago. He was very nice to me when I
came here. He was a German diplomatic
historian called Hans Gatzke. He wasn’t Jewish and he wasn’t
a communist, that’s for sure. He left Germany in the
mid-1930s because he didn’t like what was going on.
He didn’t like what was going
on. He got a job translating for
the Canadian Olympic team. I said to him once,
“Did you ever see Hitler?”
He said, “Yes.”
He was under a stadium in
Berlin. Like any big stadium,
you’ve got space underneath. A lot of places have batting
cages. Sometimes there’s a baseball
stadium or something like that. He was down there.
He was supposed to meet the
Canadian Olympic team. All of a sudden he heard this
enormous roar of machinery, as machine gun carrying
vehicles are coming in. By incredible coincidence,
he had a couple pillars here, and just about where Leslie is,
there was Adolf Hitler. He was scared,
because there were machine guns.
He stood there frozen.
Would they gun him down? No.
He just was standing there.
I said, “What did you
think? You are fifteen yards away from
Adolf Hitler, less than that.”
He said, “I had a weird
reaction. He was vulgar.
He was an Austrian corporal.
He sneezed and he blew his nose
on his sleeve.” That’s what Gatzke remembered.
Big business–Gatzke was a
moderate political. He believed in the Weimar
Republic. He was a very good guy,
a very kind of aristocratic guy.
He was a Rhinelander.
His reaction was the same as
big business, except that big business wanted
to destroy Weimar. The reaction was that Hitler
was a commoner. He’s vulgar.
“We’ve got him locked
in,” they said in 1933. “We’ve got him boxed in.
We can use him to our advantage
and then have a military dictatorship.”
When von Stauffenberg tries to
kill Hitler, and puts a bomb under the table
that blows up but doesn’t kill Hitler because a big,
old, German wooden barrier the table
stood on, he wasn’t trying to bring
parliamentary regime back to Germany.
He wanted a military
dictatorship. Hitler was supported by the
middle classes disproportionately at the
beginning. But in all classes people
supported him, workers less so.
But they break in 1933.
They destroy the unions.
They destroy the Communist
Party. They use the Reichstag fire,
which is actually set by the guy probably now we think,
the Dutch guy, whom I write about in there.
They destroy the unions.
They destroy the possibility of
resistance. But lots of workers were there,
sieg heil, too, but less so than the other
classes. What about religion?
Hitler was a southerner.
He never liked Berlin at all.
He wanted to raze it and then
this sort of art deco monument of his own planning.
He was a southern guy.
One of the places where he
first does very well is Schleswig-Holstein,
part of it used to be Danish, and it is totally Protestant.
The Catholic Church rings the
bell and reads what Hitler wants read from the sermons.
They were happy to have Hitler
there, as are the Protestants. There’s no doubt about that.
Fascism is in the air all over
the place. The main elements of fascism
that I list in that book, if you think about them,
they all apply to Hitler and to the people who followed him:
anti-communist, anti-socialist,
anti-Weimar, the role of the economic crisis
with long, long memories,
and hating the allies, and hating the Jews,
and hating the Socialists. The Nazis and other fascist
groups are better at saying whom they were against than what they
wanted. What they want is
ultra-nationalism. What they want is a
totalitarian state and the destruction of parliamentary
rule. What they want is a dictator.
They want a caudillo,
as Franco was. They want a duce,
as Mussolini called himself. They want a führer.
They want a leader who
incarnates in that mystical body, as they would view it,
the aspirations of the German people.
Part of who you were is who you
were excluding. You have a völkisch
community, in the perverse biological
racism of these people, and other people who aren’t in
it, too bad for them.
If they are “work
shy,” Germans who don’t want to work,
then they’re not really part of the völkisch
community. “I decide who’s a Jew and
who isn’t.” That’s what Lueger said.
Hitler says,
and this is the horror of it all, “We decide who will
live and who will die.” They’re using euthanasia as a
tool to kill people who are mentally handicapped,
and even some people who are physically handicapped.
Pretty soon,
in the late 1930s, the Germans say,
“Wait, these are Germans.”
If they’re Jews who may be
Germans, we don’t consider them German.
That’s okay.
Get rid of them.
They pull back on that.
But that’s there from the
beginning, ultra nationalistic, ultra antiparliamentarianism.
You want the guy.
He’s going to represent you and
he’s going to tell you what to do.
The terror is there.
The violence is there.
The Gestapo.
There are hundreds of thousands
of denunciations. If you denounce somebody,
you could be sending them to torture and their death.
There’s no question about that.
There are denunciations all the
time. “Hey, my neighbor,
I think he’s Jewish. I know my neighbor down the
hall. I know he was a big guy in the
German Socialist Party, the SPD.
I know that the butcher around
the street, I might want his store, because I’m a butcher,
too. I know he was a communist
activist until 1933.” You see denunciations.
they’ve got them all the time.
They’ve got them all the time.
Here’s a quote,
somebody describing one of the Gestapo offices and the
bureaucratization of terror: “Grimy corridors,
offices furnished with Spartan simplicity, threats,
kicks, troops chasing chained men up
and down the reaches of the building, shouting,
rows of girls and women standing with their noses and
toes against the wall, overflowing ashtrays,
portraits of Hitler and his aids,
the smell of coffee, smartly-dressed girls working
at a high speed behind typewriters,
girls seemingly indifferent to the squalor and agony about
them, stacks of confiscated
publications, printing machines,
books and pictures, and Gestapo agents asleep on
the tables.” Nobody had any illusion about
what was going on. They didn’t just rule through
terror. The SS, by the way,
everybody knows about the SS. They destroy the SA.
Ernst Röhm challenges
Hitler, and in the Night of the Long Knives, they wipe them all
out. The SS was a form of sort of
social mobility for people. These young guys come back
after the war. There was no work.
Pretty soon in the 1920s–the
SS, you’ve got a uniform. You can go beat the hell out of
communists, Jews, or anyone else and there’s
no–the judges are all Nazi sympathizers or rightwing
sympathizers. They were all trained in the
Empire. You can kill somebody and
you’ll be out of jail in a very short matter of time.
You’re working with impunity,
especially in Prussia where Göring is the minister of
the interior. It is all routinized.
It is all there.
They don’t rule just through
terror. That’s what I did not emphasize
enough in what you’ve read. It’s going to be in the next
edition. Hitler promises order.
Order is zero tolerance on
petty crime, for example. They have police who are called
the Kripo (appropriately enough, in the English
translation–;pronounced creap-o).
They are sort of your basic
police. They are not the Gestapo.
They go out,
and people who are lounging about,
who are “work shy,” that’s a dangerous thing to be,
“work shy.” Petty criminals,
people who are hungry, who are stealing apples off of
fruit stands and things like that, they go out and make war
on them. The German population nods
enthusiastically, overall, as a whole.
The war on crimes is something
they like. Also, there’s the economy.
Hitler got credit from many
German people for having revived the German economy.
How does he do that?
He does it by violating the
statutes of the Treaty of Versailles.
They’re preparing for war.
He’s preparing for war all the
way through. If the Rhineland occupation,
the French and the Belgians had put up a fuss,
it’s possible that the whole thing could have been stopped
there. It’s possible.
The generals are saying,
“Mein Fuhrer, we’re not really ready yet for
war,” while he is freezing his opponents,
and they capitulate at one time after another,
and the famous story of Neville Chamberlain,
who’d returned bringing peace in his time after having sold
out Czechoslovakia. But the German economy does
revive. There are still huge gaps
between the wealthy and people who aren’t wealthy,
enormous gaps. But the German economy does
revive because of the same thing that happens in the United
States in World War II–you’re turning out,
transforming the war economy. That’s exactly what happens.
He takes credit for this.
There are a lot of flashy
gestures. The VW–I went around Europe in
a VW with a couple of my friends, sleeping on beaches,
the little VW, the Volkswagen.
But only one of them was ever
produced. He promises the German people a
Volkswagen, but only one model ever comes off,
for the press and all that. The Autobahn.
They’re going to have routes,
autobahns all over. Now there are in Germany and
people driving 500 miles an hour with impunity.
There are only 500 or miles of
autobahn done by the time he’s finished.
Strength through joy.
He announces a program that the
Germans who have never been on vacation, ordinary working-class
Germans can go on vacation. Some people did go on vacation.
They all get drunk on cruise
boats all over the place, but hardly anyone gets to go.
But he gets credit for it.
He seemed to be producing.
He seemed to be producing.
And, in a country in which
anti-Semitism, despite the fact that Jews were
terribly assimilated, was endemic,
they liked the fact the Jews are disappearing.
They like it and they know it.
It’s sheer nonsense to think
that people didn’t know what was going on.
These trials are put in the
papers all the time. “So-and-so has been
condemned, being sent away to Dachau
because of anti-state behavior, anti-German behavior,”
you name it. People know.
They have no doubts about it.
Where do they think the trains
are going? They can kind of imagine.
Where are these people coming
from? When all the Polish workers are
coming in, being brought in as sort of
slave labor, the ones who haven’t been
destroyed, when they’re coming to work in
the factories, where do these people think
their families were? They’re all dead.
That’s why Ordinary Men
is such a chilling book. How these people,
this police officer brigade in Hamburg,
how these people can put bullets in the backs of heads of
old ladies and little children in the killing fields around
Lodz, or anywhere else in Poland,
is just an extraordinary story. People knew.
Not everybody knew,
but they knew. They knew.
For people who wanted order,
this was their idea. This was the racial idea of
order. The universities.
What happens to the
universities? Certain fields do real well.
Racial hygiene.
They establish chairs in racial
hygiene. German folklore.
They establish chairs in German
folklore. Physics does very well,
for obvious reasons. Physics equals rockets.
Military history,
chairs in military history, chairs in German history,
chairs particularly in German medieval history.
But anything else,
your basic history, German literature,
for example, doesn’t do very well.
There was a famous headline
that is in the book saluting the fact that there were fewer
visits to libraries, and people were checking out
books in far fewer numbers than they did before.
How do they pull this off?
They pull it off through the
atomization of society. There’s a really wonderful book
called The Nazi Seizure of Power, written by William
Sheridan Allen about a town near Hanover.
He changes the name of the town.
People were so proud of that
book in the 1960s. In the 1970s they put stacks of
them and said, “That’s us.
That’s us who were beating up
the Jews. That’s us who were beating up
the communists. We are so proud.”
It’s a very good book.
There’s another good book by
Rudy Koshar, a friend of mine at Wisconsin on the town of
Marburg. What they do is they get Nazis
into every voluntary association, basically,
and they take them over. What you have is the
atomization of society, what Ian Kershaw calls
“going to the Fuhrer.” The only thing left is the
family. You protect yourself and the
family, or you thrive in the family, but you’re in the
family. Your children are in Hitler
youth. There is no possible organized
way of opposition. Soccer clubs,
football clubs, everything is part of the
atomization because it’s been taken over by the Nazis.
There is almost no resistance
in Germany. I’ll talk a little bit about
this next time. This was a regime that is
capable, as they did in Dusseldorf,
of hanging sixteen-year-old boys because they listened to
Benny Goodman, or were considered to be
slackers, or “work shy.”
There’s that phrase again.
This atomization of German
society makes all of this possible.
When Stauffenberg places his
bomb, and the thing blows up and it
doesn’t kill Hitler, Hitler amused himself and his
friends by–all of the people and all of the families of
people involved, they filmed them being slowly
strangled with wire. They laughed as they watched
the film. The most chilling thing,
even more than that, is that Germans pour into the
street in thirty or forty different cities,
as bombs have been raining down all the time.
They thank God.
Mein Gott,
you saved our Fuhrer! That’s extraordinarily
difficult to explain. By 1944, the armies are full of
old men and boys, because basically everybody
else is dead. They keep fighting.
They fight with astonishing,
foolish courage, until the bitter end.
They believed,
not everybody believed, there will be a revival.
Even the German Federal
Republic was just replete with very proud former Nazis who take
hugely important positions in power after that.
Of course, the good old
Americans help a lot of these Nazi war criminals escape to
Paraguay and places like that, in exchange for information
about communist movements and that sort of thing.
They believed.
They believed.
Not everybody believed,
but that’s one of the scariest things about the whole thing,
that it was sieg heil until the end.
Again, not for everybody,
not for everybody, but for some social classes and
others. You find this in other
countries, and I’ll talk a little bit about that when–I
guess I’ll talk mostly about France next time.
Hitler gives the German people
what they want. His prestige,
every time he stands down the British and the French,
every time that he pulls this off–the occupation of the
Rhineland, the absorption of the Sudeten
part of Bohemia, and then they just take over
the whole country, the Anschluss–where he’s
greeted enthusiastically by the crowds.
You can see these photos of the
adoring Viennese crowds. Where was the Vienna of calm
concerts? It became the Vienna of Wagner.
It became the Vienna of
saluting Hitler and then going out and beating up and killing
Jews. Something like 100 Jews are
murdered in Vienna when Hitler arrives, to celebrate.
They, too, believed.
One of the dark secrets was the
Nazi past of the former Secretary General of the United
Nations, Kurt Waldheim. All this came out before most
of you were reading newspapers. Some of you were reading them
back then. It was about fifteen years ago,
or something like that. The people knew.
Those are really the big points
that I wanted to make. When you were reading,
German women or German men waiting to get their hair done,
when you read a popular newspaper or popular magazine,
all of which had articles about Hitler,
and this sort of entourage and all that,
and you read a cheery headline, such as “Gas Masks for
Children Now Readied.” You sort of nodded and said,
“We’ll be ready for the struggle.”
What happened was Hitler’s
book, Mein Kampf, became perceived of and adopted by the
majority of people in Germany. Tragically enough,
they remain with Adolf Hitler and the Nazis until the very,
very bitter end. Of course, it’s important to
see the context is that in all of these places,
whether you’re talking about Brussels,
whether you’re talking about Amsterdam,
whether you’re talking about Prague,
anyplace you’re talking about in Europe,
or Oswald Mosley strutting through Hyde Park with his
little Naziling followers. Hitler was just the most
violent, the most egregious,
the most horrible, the most tragic example of what
was a general phenomenon throughout the entire period,
at different degrees of success during the 1920s and 1930s.
The war that began in 1914
basically does not end, at least in Europe,
until the defeat finally of Germany,
and the death of Adolf Hitler, still at a relatively young
age, in the bunker in Berlin.

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