Lest We Forget
By Laurie Manis
In Memory of Wladyslaw Szpilman
Nazism was a form of government that restricted personal freedom but permitted private ownership of property. It called for aggressive nationalism, militarism and expansion of Germany's spheres of control through military conquest. The Nazis glorified Germany and its people, claiming that other nationalities were inferior. It promised to build a harmonious, orderly and prosperous society for the Germans.
Instead it brought terrorism, war and mass murder.
The Nazi agenda was largely based on the premises of Adolph Hitler's book Mein Kampf. In his book, Hitler stated his beliefs and ideas for Germany's future, which included plans to overthrow regimes of countries he perceived to be dangerous to Germany's security or had natural resources needed to fulfill its destiny as the most powerful nation on earth.
Nazism did not gain wide support in Germany until the worldwide business slump of 1929. Discontented Germans then turned to Nazism in increasing numbers because it promised economic help, political power and national glory.
The Nazis' organization, discipline and financial backing from wealthy industrialists, who feared Communism, soon made them a force with which to contend. Many upper-class Germans feared loss of power and property would be a result of the newly formed democratic government, which they suspected might levy taxes in order to redistribute wealth. The farmers, middle and laboring classes were attracted to the promise of social reform, which they believed was badly needed after the excesses and moral lassitude of the Roaring Twenties. Powerless people responded to their ideas of national superiority and strength. The military supported Hitler's ideas of discipline, order and increased funding through rearmament.
Hitler began to assemble some of the people who would help him rise to power. They included:
Joseph Goebbels, the chief Nazi propagandist;
"We do not want a second catastrophe along the lines of (hidden date XXXX). We depend not on the grace of our enemy, rather on military might."
"He knows that we are waging this war for a better peace, that we are fighting for the happiness of people who have so often been oppressed by their governments."
"No power in the world will make us deny our duty, or forget even for a moment our historical task of maintaining the freedom of our people."
Hermann Goering, who became second in command to Hitler;
"Of course the people don't want war. But after all, it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it's a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger."
Heinrich Himmler, the leader of the SS;
"Unconditional and highest freedom of will," Himmler instructed his SS, "comes from obedience, from service to our world view, obedience which is prepared to render each and every sacrifice to pride, to external honor and to all which is dear to us personally, obedience which never falters but unconditionally follows every order which comes from the Führer or legally from superiors..."
and Ernst Rohm, the chief of the SA;
"The people want wholesome dread. They want to fear something. They want someone to frighten them and make them shudderingly submissive."
In the July, 1932 election for the Reichstag (parliament) the Nazis received nearly 38% of the vote, making it the largest political party in Germany but not the majority party. Leaders of the other parties offered Hitler Cabinet posts in exchange for Nazi support but he refused to accept any arrangement that did not make him chancellor (prime minister) of Germany The majority of the people did not want Hitler to become chancellor and had serious misgivings about him. But in June of 1933, President von Hindenburg was persuaded by his friends to name Hitler chancellor. Hitler, in turn, promised to act lawfully. He promised to restore the German economy; assure education and work for all; and lead Germany to greatness.
On February 27, a fire began that destroyed the Reichstag building. Many historians believe that it was planned by the Nazis. Although a full investigation was never conducted, the Nazis quickly blamed the Communists. A pro-Communist Dutch anarchist was found at the site and admitted that he had set it.
President von Hindenburg then signed an emergency decree that gave the government unprecedented power. The Nazis moved to control all police authority in Germany, including the right to arrest and hold people without formal charging on suspicion of treason, which served to erode German civil rights.
Hitler promised to rid Germany of Communists and other "enemies", such as the Jews, on whom he blamed Germany's troubles. "By defending myself against the Jews, I am doing the Lord's work", he wrote.
On March 23, 1933, the Nazi-dominated Reichstag passed a law "for the removal of distress from the people and the state". The law, known as the Enabling Act, in effect suspended basic civil and human rights in Germany. Hitler then began to destroy the Constitution through outwardly legal means.
By mid-July 1933, the Gestapo (secret state police) was hunting down enemies and opponents of the government. People were jailed or shot on suspicion alone.
The Nazis used the press, radio and films to flood Germany with propaganda praising the 'New Order', Hitler's term for his reordering of German society and for his plans to reorder the rest of Europe. Germans citizens were kept in a constant state of fear that their country might be attacked by its enemies. Complete faith in the judgment of the Nazi leaders was the measuring stick of devotion to one's country and national pride was the noblest of virtues.
Initially, the rest of the world and the German intelligentia regarded Hitler alternately as a bully or a buffoon. However, Hitler had the common touch. His popularity within Germany grew, despite the flagging economy, especially after the Reichstag fire. More and more, the German people trusted in him implicitly to protect Germany and lead it to greatness.
The citizens of Germany were encouraged to turn to God and prayer for comfort and strength during these troubling times.
"... a general moral instruction without a religious foundation is built on air; consequently, all character training and religion must be derived from faith. From our point of view as representatives of the state, we need believing people. A dark cloud threatens from Poland. We have need of soldiers, believing solders. Believing solders are the most valuable ones. They give their all."
- Adolf Hitler, The German Churches Under Hitler: Background, Struggle, and Epilogue by Ernst Helmreich, page 121.
Hitler also felt he had a personal relationship with God and saw God as his aid in ruling the German Reich:
"Except the Lord built the house they labour in vain.... The truth of that text was proved if one looks at the house of which the foundations were laid in 1918 and which since then has been in building.... The world will not help, the people must help itself. Its own strength is the source of life. That strength the Almighty has given us to use; that in it and through it we may wage the battle of our life.... The others in the past years have not had the blessing of the Almighty -- of Him Who in the last resort, whatever man may do, holds in His hands the final decision. Lord God, let us never hesitate or play the coward, let us never forget the duty which we have taken upon us.... We are all proud that through God's powerful aid we have become once more true Germans."
-Adolf Hitler,March, 1933
The Nazis used racial profiling to target the Jews. Thousands were sent to prison camps along with other political suspects. A network of spies kept watch on the German people and maintained an atmosphere of terror. Judges and courts continued to function but most of the judges either had been appointed by Nazis or were subservient to them.
The regime applauded military training and armament. The German military forces were to be supported without question as the defenders of Germany's safety and greatness. Those who protested were accused of a lack of patriotism. In 1933, Germany withdrew from the League of Nations because the League would not change the arms limitations imposed upon Germany at the end of World War I.
After 1933, Hitler prepared Germany for war with little or no opposition from the members of the Reichstag. The Nazis' goal was to establish Germany as the world's leading power. No nation acted to stop him so his plans became ever bolder. First he invaded Austria, then in 1939, he invaded the German-speaking areas of Czechoslovakia in disregard of the protestations of other European countries. After each success, he planned a new take-over.
On September 1, 1939, Hitler stated that, "The Polish State has refused the peaceful settlement of relations which I desired, and has appealed to arms. Germans in Poland are persecuted with bloody terror and driven from their houses. A series of violations of the frontier, intolerable to a great Power, prove that Poland is no longer willing to respect the frontier of the Reich. In order to put an end to this lunacy, I have no other choice than to meet force with force from now on. The German Army will fight the battle for the honour and the vital rights of reborn Germany with hard determination. I expect that every soldier, mindful of the great traditions of eternal German soldiery, will ever remain conscious that he is a representative of the National-Socialist Greater Germany. Long live our people and our Reich!"
Without provocation, Germany then invaded Poland, a sovereign country that could not defend itself and was no threat whatsoever to German national security, overrunning it just a few weeks. Thousands upon thousands of Polish soldiers were killed in the defense of their homeland. Millions of Polish civilians also met their deaths as a result of the German invasion.
"It also gives us a very special, secret pleasure to see how unaware the people around us are of what is really happening to them." -- Adolf Hitler
Laurie Manis is a member of Military Families
Speak Out and was a plaintiff in the anti-law suit against
President Bush that was dismissed last month by the
Massachusetts Supreme Court. She is the widow of a Viet Nam
veteran and the mother of a Navy Reservist.