Friday, September 11, 2009

Fabricated Luther/ Fabricated German/ Shirer

More than anything else, Shirer’s most vivid first impressions of the citizens of the New Germany had to do with the unquestioning loyalty with which many of them supported the Nazis as Hitler rebuilt a formerly defeated, chaotic country. Shirer realized that while in the recesses of their minds lived the fear of the Gestapo and of the possibility of being sent to a concentration camp if they resisted the regime, it seemed that the Nazi terror affected the lives of relatively few Germans. After 1918 the Socialists and Communists had enjoyed considerable support, yet within a year of Nazi rule most of their followers happily kept their political sympathies to themselves—even as Hitler broke the once-strong unions and replaced them with a mock Labor Front. At first the nation’s churches heralded the rise of Hitler as the bringer of a restored moral order. By the time the Catholic archbishop of Munich and the Protestant Martin Niemoeller caught on to Nazi plans to replace Christianity with Teutonic paganism, however, it was too late. And, few Germans protested the savage disenfranchisement and killing of Jews.

Shirer concluded that most Germans did not sense that they were being duped or oppressed by a tyrannical leader. Hitler embodied their deepest hopes for regained national pride and prosperity. While they had known political turmoil for a decade and a half under the idealistic Weimarer democrats, under the Nazis they found an unshakeable stability. After fifteen years of recurrent, unbelievable inflation and unemployment, the Germans seemed willing to pay almost any price for a solid Reichsmark and the promise of full employment. Perhaps most importantly, Hitler offered the masses a break from an unwanted past. In exchange for hard work and the loss of personal freedom, the Nazis guided the nation toward a surrealistic dream of German cultural—if not political—dominance over what many saw as a mediocre world. Under Hitler, the German eagle soared once again.


Perhaps--in the beginning many did not catch on. Still--how can he say something like this:

"Shirer realized that while in the recesses of their minds lived the fear of the Gestapo and of the possibility of being sent to a concentration camp if they resisted the regime, it seemed that the Nazi terror affected the lives of relatively few Germans."

Is he joking? Shirer, it seems to me had too privileged a position, attended too many Hitler rallies, mixed too much with the brass, watched too many women swoon (as he describes in other places).

I have always felt that the average North American and even the British have no idea what is was like to live under a totalitarian regime. They have been blessed and they are blissfully ignorant, not speaking the languages of oppressed people. I also think our new atheists have no clue what it is to live under atheist dictatorships. No clue. When I was a child we saw documentaries every week covering human rights abuses behind the iron curtain, dissidents sent to psychiatric hospitals, learned about people getting shot trying to cross the border... In fact, go to any website chronicling persecutions and human rights abuses in different countries. See what can be learned.

The "fear of the Gestapo and the possibility of being sent to a concentration camp" lives in the "recesses" of one's mind? Do you really think that is possible?-- Such fear becomes the dominant thing in one's mind, it does not exist in the recesses.

I spent one weekend in Communist East Germany. The feeling of oppression was continuously with us, beginning with the hassles and machine guns at the border, to making sure the neighbors did not see things or you might get reported, to never-ending bureaucracy of having everything checked and stamped and checked and stamped again. It was nightmarish. It affected our traveling group physically. When we were back across the border, we felt an incredible sense of relief. Oppression and terror do not live in the recesses of your mind.

If someone is going to shoot you or put you in concentration camp are you going to resist them? Let me see that threat live in the "recess" of your mind. Let me see you go forward boldly. Did we see Shirer do something for the all different groups that were getting harassed and hauled off? No, when he learned that the Gestapo was building a case against him, he left the country. Ah. Was there fear only in the recesses of his mind? I don't mean to blame him. But perhaps he could have understood different parts of the population better.

The ethical dilemmas presented to average people were horribly profound. You will not understand them from Hitler rallies. And you will not get a complete picture from living in Berlin.

I can see what Siemon-Netto means by cliche thinking.


Steve Martin said...

It does make one wonder at how so few can tighten the screws on so many.

It happens in governments all over the world.

This is what is frightening to me, as I watch how easily people are willing to give up their rights as individuals to the power of the State here (the U.S.) in a country that has always idealized freedom.

That people would fall for the empty promises of utopians just boggles my mind.

Those that advocate 'big government' are unwittingly advocating for 'small people'.

Maybe there really are two kinds of people, and Shirer was not so much aware of the other kind. One would think there would have been a momemt of awareness when at once he realized his life was on the line.

Bror Erickson said...

I too went to east Germany, well East Berlin, when I was five. To this day, I remember well the tension in the air. I cheered, and teared when the wall came down. And you are right, most Americans have no idea, not one of what it is like. In someways I consider myself very fortunate to have the naivete slapped from my head at such an early age, as my sister was being questioned for having switched cars in Berlin, and riding with the other family that was with us. All the while a machine gun nest pointed at our family. Even a five year old picks up on that oppression.

Brigitte said...

Thanks for commenting, guys. It is important not to gloss over abuses.

I would add to Steve, though, that social market economy, for example, as presently implemented in Germany, is not the same thing as totalitarianism. I think the fear over the Obama health care plan is going too far.

I think Americans can stand to go a little way the other direction. I know you disagree. That's ok. You won't send me to the camp or Gulag for that.

Bror Erickson said...

Having seen first hand the horrors you are talking about, I too am a little squeamish in comparing the Obama plan and Communism. That and having lived in western Europe for two years as a young adult, the idea of socialized medicine, though a bit repugnant, is not scary to me. I didn't like the socialized medicine, the care was not anything close to what I have enjoyed for most of my life as an insured citizen of the USA. But i also noticed that people were still living quite enjoyable lives.
The problem as I see it, is Obama is changing a way of life, I really don't care to give up. in fact the liberals are trying to get rid of the middle class all together. He is as arrogant as they come with his approach, and he puts the American people down quite a bit, especially the middle class people like me who cling to God and Guns. And I wonder how long the country holds together under this pressure. And I hate to see what would happen if it tore apart. Montana voted to repeal all federal gun legislation in it's state. That says something. Things are getting a bit dangerous.

Brigitte said...

I'm not going to say anything else on it, Bror, because I'm not up on US politics. I just think the health care stuff sounds hysterical. There are different kinds of models with different kinds out outcomes.

It was a great relief when the province of Alberta extended some dental coverage to pensioners again. Some people did not have money for new dentures. It was pathetic.