In his introduction, Gellately sets the premise that Hitler was well received in 1933 by most Germans who applauded his goals of “restoring the grandeur of the Reich” and “cleaning out undesirable aliens.” He argues that this widespread support for Hitler did not waver substantially until more than a decade later when it was obvious that the war Hitler had sought was clearly lost.
He states that the Nazi regime, while selectively brutal with its chosen enemies, did not create a universal terror for most Germans, and that most Germans supported brutality against people for whom they had little sympathy. He further asserts that a vast array of material regarding the concentration camps was published in the media of the day, and that the German people knew very well what was going on. He does not, at least in the introduction, deal with what the German people knew about the death camps of the 1940s and the mass murder of the Jews.
The most shocking quote so far is from a well-spoken middle class German woman who, looking back, says, “We had wonderful years.” The footnote sources this quote to a book by Alison Owings called Frauen: German Women Recall the Third Reich.
Now we’ll see what proofs Gellately assembles regarding these premises, which have enormous potential significance to my novel-in-progress.
Lew’s comments on Gellately’s Chapter 1 … “Turning Away From Weimar.”
Gellately’s conclusion is that a huge majority of Germans supported Hitler’s policies and thought Hitler was good for Germany. This is especially damning in light of the evidence Gellately presents. Consider the following, all of which took place during 1933, all of which Germans knew, and despite which they supported Hitler …
… “In less than six months (after Hitler became Chancellor in January 1933) the Nazis undermined the parliamentary system and had begun the destruction of justice by suspending civil and legal rights.”
… the Nazis won more than 80-90% of the vote, after eliminating all opposition parties.
… German police were increasingly empowered to act without restraint, but those who were “good Germans” knew they had nothing to fear.
… the Nazis trashed their opponents without restraint.
… “dead bodies were found in the surrounding forests, and no one dared to know anything about them.”
… “news published about the stream of people sent to concentration camps provided an obvious lesson to any potential opponents”
… “inequality before the law was an essential feature of justice under Hitler’s dictatorship.”
… new laws expanding the meaning of treason and setting up a People’s Court to mete out justice to offenders.”
… Germans accepted that their country would have a secret police.
… “the paramilitary SA, millions-strong, indulged in vigilante acts of violence that totally ignored the law.”
… Jews were systematically turned into outsiders with their legal emancipation reversed.
… Jews were driven from the professions, and “it appears beyond doubt that their expulsion was popular,” at least in part because it created employment opportunities for Christian Germans.
… doctors’ organizations were brought under Nazi control and Jews barred … “there was virtually no opposition to what happened.”
To me, there seems to be a huge disconnect between what the German people knew about Hitler’s approach and their wholehearted support of their new Fuhrer.
What kind of people, understanding what Hitler and his thugs did to those they classified enemies, and how easily and without appeal it was possible to become one of those enemies, and how Hitler had totally co-opted the police, the courts, the press, and the Catholic Church, would still support such a brutal leader?
I guess we must conclude (a) they didn’t care about the people Hitler was persecuting and (b) they didn’t think it would happen to them.
Also, to be fair, 1933 was also almost a decade before the mechanized mass murder of the Jews at Auschwitz and elsewhere, so support of Hitler in 1933, awful as his policies were even then, does not yet mean support for the death camps of the 1940s. Gellately’s views on whether the German people also supported the Holocaust are, I expect, dealt with in subsequent chapters.
Lew’s comments on Gellately’s Chapter 2 – Police Justice
It is getting harder for me to reconcile the horrors of the totalitarian state graphically described by Gellately with his contention that “a huge majority of Germans supported Hitler’s policies and thought Hitler was good for Germany.” For one thing, as the net of repressive and arbitrary police procedures grew ever tighter, how is it possible to know if the German people continued to support Hitler or were terrified not to support him?
A review of “Backing Hitler” by Professor Conan Fischer, cites a prior book by Gellately, “The Gestapo and German Society: Enforcing Racial Policy 1933-1945” as demonstrating conclusively “that the much feared and allegedly omnipresent Gestapo in fact relied on widespread public support to function effectively. Denunciations of fellow citizens and relatives by members of the public initiated many Gestapo investigations, even though the whistleblowers understood that those denounced could suffer torture, be consigned to an uncertain fate in a concentration camp, or be executed without due legal process.”
To me this statement, and Gellately’s identical contention in “Backing Hitler,” flies in the face of common sense. In a world where the police can detain anyone in “protective custody” for “public criticism of the government or the Nazi Party, even if the remarks were made in private,” how could any denunciation of one citizen by another be construed as an expression of support for the regime, when it is far more likely to be a desperate effort to prevent one’s own denunciation for failing to denounce a fellow-citizen’s “crime?”
In a chapter where Nazi police are described as adopting a “preventive role, by which they meant arbitrarily arresting people who the police thought might commit a crime,” how is it possible to believe that any German citizen felt secure? How could any German be thought to support such a regime, no matter how much they publicly insisted they did?
These questions lead to other questions …
… Are those Germans who quite appropriately feared for their lives excused from culpability for the actions of a nightmarish government they outwardly professed to support?
… Who had the power and moral authority to combat such a regime from within or from without?
… Who could have acted but didn’t?
… And why does Gellately continue to insist that “a huge majority of Germans supported Hitler’s policies and thought Hitler was good for Germany?”
I’ll keep reading and looking for evidence that has not yet been provided … all the while trying to figure out how I will present these questions and choices in my new novel.
****** MORE TO COME ******