Any historian will tell you that the key to foreseeing geopolitical events is comprehending parallel events in history. The series of catalytic moments in Nazi Germany that led to the mass murder of innocent citizens can define modern-day red flags for those who wish to circumvent a similar, horrific circumstance. Perhaps the following essay will remind us what can happen when any culture --Jewish, Muslim, homosexual or otherwise becomes estranged, dehumanized and oppressed in society. This essay may also remind us that the international community enabled this abhorrent experience.
Led by Adolph Hitler, the National Socialist German Workers' Party (the Nazi Party) advocated an ideology of hatred that led to the murder of more than 12 million people during their time in power. The justifications for hatred contained in the rhetoric of the Nazi Party evolved over time and escalated in conjunction with the political capital of the Party. The degree of contempt for and victimization of targeted citizens was magnified by the unstable economic conditions of Germany and the rhetorical adeptness and ingenuity of the Nazi Party leadership. This created an atmosphere of abhorrence for targeted citizens. Exploiting quasi-religious motifs and reasoned arguments, the Nazi Party scientifically manufactured a paradigm where any act designated by the state could be performed without ill conscience.
Isolated and estranged by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, political factions espousing nationalistic ideologies that rejected internationalist political thought gained momentum in Germany following its defeat in WW1. Rebuking the Communist principle of an international worker's revolution and Western notions of international, laissez-faire economics, these grass-roots political entities based their ideology on the necessity of transformation within German society. The crux of this transformation was a strong centralized government, economic socialism and the empowerment of Aryan people within all Germanic communities. The National Socialist German Workers' Party, formed on January 5th, 1919 by Anton Drexler, Gottfried Feder, Dietrich Eckart and Karl Harrer brought together a group of men committed to seeing these ideas implemented.
In 1919, a young German soldier, Adolph Hitler, was brought in to work in the propaganda wing of the German Workers' Party. He was there to help counter Communist encroachment into the political landscape of Germanic culture. Hitler infused the Party's rejection of Communist intent with his own hatred of Jewry. He clarified the Party's stance as an entity that demanded a national condition whereby citizens of Aryan blood needed to control all aspects of German society as a precondition for Germany's resurgence as an international superpower. This call to action reverberated amongst the patrons of the beer halls in Munich where Hitler gave speeches, solidifying an ideology that escalated with the positive reinforcement attained from the reception of his growing audiences.
By 1920, Hitler had left the military to dedicate himself entirely to furthering the German Workers' Party causes that he was beginning to shape. Emboldened by his audience reactions, Hitler escalated his use of anti-Jewish rhetoric in his public speeches, using metaphors to compare Jews to rats, parasites and other malevolent species. Hitler coupled anti-Jewish sentiment with a fear of Communism, equating one with the other. He professed the concept of Jewish Bolshevism, where there was a perception that an international cabal of Jewish elites, "lurked unseen in the anonymous metropolises of the modern industrialized world," working to undermine and manipulate all who opposed their international, Communist agenda. Hitler's audiences welcomed this narrative with enthusiasm and they found multiple sources to reinforce the rhetoric they were engaging.
In 1890, the Russian Czar's chief officer of the Okhrana had fabricated a transcript called the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which was alleged to have been written by a secret group of Jews who had implemented a plan to control the world. A best-seller throughout Europe, this manuscript inspired leaders, media, and ideologues to take up the fight against an imagined, Jewish conspiracy. Winston Churchill, The Times of London, and Thomas Mann were a few among many who extolled the necessity to face off against this perceived threat. The small, initially unassuming soldier who carried this message to the beer halls of Munich seemed only a courier of knowledge already understood by the underbelly of conservative culture across Europe. Hitler, a master orator with supernatural charisma, had tapped in to the ethnocentric zeitgeist of his era, galvanizing the lower classes against the fictitious Jewish Bolshevism that was the supposed root cause of Germany and the rest of the world's economic woes.
After a meeting with the Nazi Party in 1923, a man from Germany's Rhineland attained membership the following year: Joseph Goebbels. Goebbels brought an innate rhetorical ability to the Party. He could transform the ideology of culture through the methodical manipulation of its perceptions. Having been rejected for military service because of a deformed right leg, Goebbels spent the early part of his life excelling at school and honing his ability to subjugate men with his wit. By adulthood, Goebbels knew how to make men do what he told them by utilizing an array of psychological methods for behaviour modification gleaned from years of experience. Without the ability to stand up for himself using physical strength, Goebbels had learned to do so with his words. Moreover, Goebbels had been inspired by the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche, Oswald Spengler, and Houston Stewart Chamberlain. A warped synthesis of these writer's ideologies had enthused Goebbels with a zealous hatred of Communism and Jews that matched Hitler's. The Nazis quickly elevated this prodigy to the position of Gauleiter of Kampfzeit, Berlin, where he worked the front lines of the Nazi Party's campaign. From 1924 to the Nazi Party's military defeat in 1944, Goebbels and Hitler maximized each other's aptitude to propagate and then implement a strategy of expansionism and purification for the Germanic race.
Although the idea of a Jewish conspiracy was not new to, or monopolized by, German culture from 1920 to 1944, the Nazi propaganda machine transformed the political behaviour of Jewish Bolshevism into a biological phenomenon that necessitated a reasoned, societal response. Hitler, using the terminology of parasitology, characterized Jews as infestations that required eradication. In Mein Kampf, Hitler had already referred to Jews as a "worm in a rotting body, a pestilence worse than the black death of the past, a carrier of bacilli of the worst kind, the eternal schizomycete of humanity, the spider that slowly sucks out a people's life-blood through its pores, a band of rats that fight each other to the death, the parasite within the bodies of other peoples, the very epitome of a parasite, a scrounger that proliferates more and more, like a harmful bacillus, the eternal leach, the vampire of all peoples." For Hitler, the Jewish people were not just a culture that needed to be subjugated; they were a malignant, deviance from the natural order and needed to be exterminated. In his orations throughout Germany, Hitler reiterated this ideology with vehement repetition. It would become a mantra he would carry forward till the end of his life.
Preceding the Nazi Party's acquisition of power, they were one of many extremist groups looking for the attention of German voters. The Party did have a strong following before the stock market crash of 1929, but it was the economic fallout of this event that brought them into the limelight of the German, political landscape. Public confidence shifted away from the mainstream parties as unemployment numbers skyrocketed, along with taxes and tariffs. In 1930, Dr. Heinrich Bruning argued that the country was in a state of emergency and the situation required an extraordinary response. Bruning successfully convinced the President, Paul von Hindenburg, to invoke Article 48 of the German constitution. This act left all political control in the hands of Germany's chancellor, a dynamic that would prove to be fundamental to the success of the Nazi Party's agenda once Hitler attained this position.
After a series of failed attempts by the Nazis to gain power in the Reichstag, and with their number of seats waning in the last of these elections, a former chancellor and conservative nationalist, Franz von Papen, convinced Hindenburg to hand the position of chancellor to Hitler and his Nazi Party on January 30, 1933. The motivation for this was to avert any Communist control of the Reichstag, something Papen was convinced he could assist Hitler with from the position of vice chancellor. Unfortunately, controlling Hitler and his Party's agenda would prove impossible in the political structure that was "handed to him." With absolute control of the Reichstag, and Goebbels at the helm of the propaganda wing of his party, Hitler began to execute an agenda that would make the German people co-conspirators in the most well coordinated genocide in human history.
The Reichstag fire that occurred four weeks after Hitler had taken power left him without any standing democratic institution that he would need to answer to for his behaviour. Compounding this event, Hitler enacted the Enabling Law on March 23, 1933. This allowed him to pursue any course of action without recourse. The original role of the Reichstag and any other system of checks and balances in the German parliamentary system were now defunct.
Aside from the Communists and Jews that were the foremost targets of Nazi propaganda, homosexuals had a long-standing history of persecution that the Nazis began to exploit after taking power. Since 1871, sexual relations between men had been outlawed in Germany under Paragraph 175 of their criminal code. Hitler expanded on the reasoning for this law, arguing that homosexuality decelerated the growth of the Aryan race. Moreover, he asserted that homosexuals in any positions of power were vulnerable to blackmail. The Dachau Concentration Camp that was set up on March 22, 1933 was initially used to hold Communists and homosexuals, the components of society that Hitler had succeeded in convincing the public needed "protective custody." This marked the beginning of the segregation of those labelled as deviants by the Nazi Party.
The metamorphosis from the justification to hold social deviants to killing them was a methodical, scientific affair (although Goebbels denied any scientific method) that encompassed all aspects of German society. Goebbels, after attaining the position of Reichspropagandaleiter (leader of the propaganda wing of the Nazi Party) in January, 1929, organized the propaganda apparatus by genres. First in importance (for Goebbels) was the active propaganda section, which dealt with public speeches, transportation and the manipulation of crowds. Another section (of particular interest to Hitler), was dedicated to culture. This included all media, and the relationship between citizen and state. After the Nazi Party came to power, these two sections were expanded into multiple subsections which all followed orders from Goebbels and Hitler directly. By 1934, the Nazi propaganda apparatus employed some 14 000 people and encompassed every aspect of German life, from theatre, films, press, art and creative writing to how and when Germans took public holidays. Goebbels' propaganda machine even articulated how a National Socialist should decorate their home.
As the Nazi Party embedded themselves into the lives of the German people, the rhetoric of the propaganda surrounding Hitler began to resonate a messianic context. The German calendar was ordered to begin on January 30th, the day Hitler took office. Hitler's birthday, April 20th, was celebrated with the enthusiasm of a religious holiday as were any other auspicious occasions from Hitler's life. Christmas was celebrated in Germany without a religious perspective and thousands of poetic hymns were even constructed that contained language defining Hitler as a spiritual persona. These replaced the Christian hymns previously popular during religious holidays. In short, the Nazi Party took on an omniscient, omnipresent aura that demanded the same obedience as religious doctrine. To defy the values of National Socialism was as immoral as sinning was to Christians. When those values demanded violence, it was a righteous struggle against evil.
If any one event can be singled out as the catalyst for public justification of mass violence against Jews, it would be Herschel Grynszpan's shooting of a German official at the German embassy in Paris in 1938. Grynszpan, a Jew, had been seeking vengeance for the ill treatment of his parents who had been thrown out of Germany the same year. For Goebbels, "this incident provided the perfect excuse for a violent assault against Jews within Germany." The night of November 9th, 1938 was selected as the evening for retribution by Goebbels because this was considered a holy date on the Nazi calendar: it was the date of Hitler's attempted military coup in 1923. This evening in 1938 would come to be known as Kristallnacht and would start a long campaign of tyranny that would eventually lead to the gas chambers at Auschwitz, where murder would become mechanized and mundane. For many of the German people, this was a spiritually-ordained procedure, necessary for the good of all Germans. They were simply fighting a societal disease.
As in the context of most religious orders, Nazism preached the struggle between good and evil. The establishment of a pure Aryan race, propagating its own puritanical values in German culture, was mandated as the moral and necessary course of action for German society by a leader viewed as that society's spiritual saviour. Following years of government-mandated indoctrination, combined with tyrannical retribution for failing to comply, the public was manipulated into condoning any course of action that furthered their Fuhrer's agenda; even the attempted genocide of the Jews and the murder of homosexuals and countless others. Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jew and international lawyer had warned the West of the pending holocaust in 1930, only to be ridiculed in Western press. Lemkin did, however, go on to coin the term genocide which would outlive him and the 6 million of his ethnic kin that died because of Nazi rhetoric.