THEY THOUGHT THEY WERE FREE (re/Nazi era)

2005-06-23

Richard Moore

Friends,

Below is a very timely article about what it's like to be a good citizen 
in a country as it falls into overt fascism.

I hope some of you will take a look at my blog. It could be a useful forum 
for dialog.
    http://harmonization.blogspot.com/

all the best,
rkm

--------------------------------------------------------
Date: Sat, 28 May 2005 03:14:06 -0700 (PDT)
From: MichaelP <>
To: •••@••.•••, •••@••.•••
Subject: How and why "decent men" became Nazis  

RE: Holocaust Survivor Leaving US 

        [How and why "decent men" became Nazis. Written by an American
        journalist of GermanJewish descent. Milton Mayer (1908-86)
        provides a fascinating window into the lives, thoughts and
        emotions of a people caught up in the rush of the Nazi
        movement. It is a book that should make people pause and think
        -- not only about the Germans, but also about themselves.
        Mayer died in 1986 ]

For obvious reasons this writing is once more floating through
cyberspace. There's been some discussion in the last few days
about Thomas Friedman - pro-Iraq war from the start - but
today suggesting that Gitmo should be closed down. What Mayer
wrote in 1955 is a cogent reminder of how "decent" folk ignore
the separation of the government from the governed, fall for
theocratic norms,  .... and then it's too late. Maybe Friedman
has woken up in time  -- what are the odds of that happening ?

Michael

http://www.thirdreich.net/Thought_They_Were_Free.html

THEY THOUGHT THEY WERE FREE
    by  Milton  Mayer  (1955) 


BUT THEN IT WAS TOO LATE
RCD - Web Host

"What no one seemed to notice," said a colleague of mine, a
philologist, "was the ever widening gap, after1933, between the
government and the people. Just think how very wide this gap
was to begin with, here in Germany. And it became always
wider. You know it doesn't make people close to their
government to be told that this is a people's government, a
true democracy, or to be enrolled in civilian defense, or even
to vote.  All this has little, really nothing to do with
knowing one is governing.

What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people,
little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving
decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the
situation was so complicated that the government had to act on
information which the people could not understand, or so
dangerous that, even if he people could understand it, it
could not be released because of national security.  And their
sense of identification with Hitler, their trust in him, made
it easier to widen this gap and reassured those who would
otherwise have worried about it.

"This separation of government from people, this widening of
the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step
disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary
emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance
or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms
(real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not
see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of
government growing remoter and remoter.

"You will understand me when I say that my Middle High German
was my life. It was all I cared about. I was a scholar, a
specialist.  Then, suddenly, I was plunged into all the new
activity, as the universe was drawn into the new situation;
meetings, conferences, interviews, ceremonies, and, above all,
papers to be filled out, reports, bibliographies, lists,
questionnaires.  And on top of that were the demands in the
community, the things in which one had to, was "expected to"
participate that had not been there or had not been important
before.  It was all rigmarole, of course, but it consumed all
one's energies, coming on top of the work one really wanted to
do.  You can see how easy it was, then, not to think about
fundamental things. One had no time."

"Those," I said, "are the words of my friend the baker. "One
had no time to think. There was so much going on." "Your
friend the baker was right," said my colleague. "The
dictatorship, and the whole process of its coming into being,
was above all diverting.  It provided an excuse not to think
for people who did not want to think anyway.  I do not speak
of your "little men", your baker and so on; I speak of my
colleagues and myself, learned men, mind you.  Most of us did
not want to think about fundamental things and never had. 
There was no need to.  Nazism gave us some dreadful,
fundamental things to think about - we were decent people -
and kept us so busy with continuous changes and "crises" and
so fascinated, yes, fascinated, by the machinations of the
"national enemies", without and within, that we had no time to
think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by
little, all around us. Unconsciously, I suppose, we were
grateful.  Who wants to think?

"To live in this process is absolutely not to be able to
notice it - please try to believe me - unless one has a much
greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us
had ever had occasion to develop.  Each step was so small, so
inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion,
"regretted," that, unless one were detached from the whole
process from the beginning, unless one understood what the
whole thing was in principle, what all these "little measures"
that no "patriotic German" could resent must some day lead to,
one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in
his field sees the corn growing.  One day it is over his head.

"How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly
educated ordinary men?  Frankly, I do not know.  I do not see,
even now. Many, many times since it all happened I have
pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem
respice - "Resist the beginnings" and "consider the end."  But
one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the
beginnings.  One must foresee the end clearly and certainly
and how is this to be done, by ordinary men or even by
extraordinary men?  Things might have changed here before they
went as far as they did; they didn't, but they might have. 
And everyone counts on that might.

"Your "little men," your Nazi friends, were not against
National Socialism in principle.  Men like me, who were, are
the greater offenders, not because we knew better (that would
be too much to say) but because we sensed better.  Pastor
Niemoller spoke for the thousands and thousands of men like me
when he spoke (too modestly of himself) and said that, when
the Nazis attacked the Communists, he was a little uneasy,
but, after all, he was not a Communist, and so he did nothing:
and then they attacked the Socialists, and he was a little
uneasier, but, still, he was not a Socialist, and he did
nothing; and then the schools, the press, the Jews, and so on,
and he was always uneasier, but still he did nothing.  And
then they attacked the Church, and he was a Churchman, and he
did something - but then it was too late."

"Yes," I said.

"You see," my colleague went on, "one doesn't see exactly
where or how to move.  Believe me, this is true.  Each act,
each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little
worse.  You wait for the next and the next. You wait for the
one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a
shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow.  You
don't want to act, or even to talk, alone; you don't want to
"go out of your way to make trouble."  Why not? - Well, you
are not in the habit of doing it. And it is not just fear,
fear of standing alone, that restrains you; it is also genuine
uncertainty.

"Uncertainty is a very important factor, and, instead of
decreasing as time goes on, it grows.  Outside, in the
streets, in the general community, "everyone is happy.  One
hears no protest, and certainly sees none.  You know, in
France or Italy there will be slogans against the government
painted on walls and fences; in Germany, outside the great
cities, perhaps, there is not even this.  In the university
community, in your own community, you speak privately to you
colleagues, some of whom certainly feel as you do; but what do
they say?  They say, "It's not so bad" or "You're seeing
things" or "You're an alarmist."

"And you are an alarmist.  You are saying that this must lead
to this, and you can't prove it.  These are the beginnings,
yes; but how do you know for sure when you don't know the end,
and how do you know, or even surmise, the end?  On the one
hand, your enemies, the law, the regime, the Party, intimidate
you. On the other, your colleagues pooh-pooh you as
pessimistic or even neurotic.  You are left with your close
friends, who are, naturally, people who have always thought as
you have.

"But your friends are fewer now.  Some have drifted off
somewhere or submerged themselves in their work.  You no
longer see as many as you did at meetings or gatherings.
Informal groups become smaller; attendance drops off in little
organizations, and the organizations themselves wither.  Now,
in small gatherings of your oldest friends, you feel that you
are talking to yourselves, that you are isolated from the
reality of things.  This weakens your confidence still further
and serves as a further deterrent to to what?  It is clearer
all the time that, if you are going to do anything, you must
make an occasion to do it, and then you are obviously a
troublemaker.  So you wait, and you wait.

"But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or
thousands will join with you, never comes.  That's the
difficulty.  If the last and worst act of the whole regime had
come immediately after the first and the smallest, thousands,
yes, millions would have been sufficiently shocked if, let us
say, the gassing of the Jews in "43" had come immediately
after the "German Firm" stickers on the windows of non-Jewish
shops in "33". But of course this isn't the way it happens. 
In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them
imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by
the next.  Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if
you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? 
And so on to Step D.

"And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever
sensible of them, all rush in upon you.  The burden of self
deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my
case my little boy, hardly more than a baby, saying "Jew
swine," collapses it all at once, and you see that everything,
everything, has changed and changed completely under your
nose. The world you live in your nation, your people is not
the world you were in at all.  The forms are all there, all
untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs,
the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the
holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you
made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is
changed.  Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the
people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when
everyone is transformed, no one is transformed.  Now you live
in a system which rules without responsibility even to God.

The system itself could not have intended this in the
beginning, but in order to sustain itself it was compelled to
go all the way.

"You have gone almost all the way yourself.  Life is a
continuing process, a flow, not a succession of acts and
events at all.  It has flowed to a new level, carrying you
with it, without any effort on your part.  On this new level
you live, you have been living more comfortably every day,
with new morals, new principles.  You have accepted things you
would not have accepted five years ago, a year ago, things
that your father, even in Germany, could not have imagined.

"Suddenly it all comes down, all at once.  You see what you
are, what you have done, or, more accurately, what you haven't
done ( for that was all that was required of most of us: that
we do nothing). You remember those early meetings of your
department in the university when, if one had stood, others
would have stood, perhaps, but no one stood.  A small matter,
a matter of hiring this man or that, and you hired this one
rather than that. You remember everything now, and your heart
breaks.  Too late. You are compromised beyond repair.

"What then?  You must then shoot yourself.  A few did.  Or
"adjust" your principles.  Many tried, and some, I suppose,
succeeded; not I, however. Or learn to live the rest of your
life with your shame.

This last is the nearest there is, under the circumstances, to
heroism: shame.  Many Germans became this poor kind of hero,
many more, I think, than the world knows or cares to know." I
said nothing.  I thought of nothing to say.

"I can tell you," my colleague went on, "of a man in Leipzig,
a judge. He was not a Nazi, except nominally, but he certainly
wasn't an anti-Nazi. He was just a judge.  In "42" or "43",
early "43", I think it was, a Jew was tried before him in a
case involving, but only incidentally, relations with an
"Aryan" woman.  This was "race injury", something the Party
was especially anxious to punish. In the case a bar, however,
the judge had the power to convict the man of a "nonracial"
offense and send him to an ordinary prison for a very long
term, thus saving him from Party "processing" which would have
meant concentration camp or, more probably, deportation and
death. But the man was innocent of the "nonracial" charge, in
the judge's opinion, and so, as an honorable judge, he
acquitted him.

Of course, the Party seized the Jew as soon as he left the
courtroom.

" "And the judge?"

"Yes, the judge.  He could not get the case off his conscience
a case, mind you, in which he had acquitted an innocent man. 
He thought that he should have convicted him and saved him
from the Party, but how could he have convicted an innocent
man?  The thing preyed on him more and more, and he had to
talk about it, first to his family, then to his friends, and
then to acquaintances.  (That's how I heard about it.)  After
the "44" Putsch they arrested him.  After that, I don't know."

I said nothing.

"Once the war began," my colleague continued, "resistance,
protest, criticism, complaint, all carried with them a
multiplied likelihood of the greatest punishment.  Mere lack
of enthusiasm, or failure to show it in public, was
"defeatism."  You assumed that there were lists of those who
would be "dealt with" later, after the victory.  Goebbels was
very clever here, too.  He continually promised a "victory
orgy" to "take care of" those who thought that their
"treasonable attitude" had escaped notice. And he meant it;
that was not just propaganda.

And that was enough to put an end to all uncertainty.

"Once the war began, the government could do anything
"necessary" to win it; so it was with the "final solution" of
the Jewish problem, which the Nazis always talked about but
never dared undertake, not even the Nazis, until war and its
"necessities" gave them the knowledge that they could get away
with it.  The people abroad who thought that war against
Hitler would help the Jews were wrong.  And the people in
Germany who, once the war had begun, still thought of
complaining, protesting, resisting, were betting on Germany's
losing the war.  It was a long bet.  Not many made it."

How and why "decent men" became Nazis. Written by an American
journalist of GermanJewish descent.  Mr. Mayer provides a
fascinating window into the lives, thoughts and emotions of a
people caught up in the rush of the Nazi movement.  It is a
book that should make people pause and think -- not only about
the Germans, but also about themselves.

Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a
little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for
the one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when
such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow.

The discrepancy between the kind of society many Germans
thought they were building and the reality of the horror of
the Third Reich presents one of the most intriguing questions
of our age.  "How could it -- the Holocaust -- have happened
in a modern, industrialized, educated nation ?  The genesis of
my interest in the Third Reich lies in my search for an answer
to that enigmatic question.

The excerpt reproduced below is one of the most insightful I
have yet discovered.  I share it with you - Pass it on - Lest
we forget.  RCD - Web Host


"And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever
sensible of them, all rush in upon you.  The burden of self
deception has grown too heavy.......

***********

You see what you are, what you have done, or, more accurately,
what you haven't done (for that was all that was required of
most of us: that we do nothing).

-- 

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Richard Moore (rkm)
Wexford, Ireland
blog: http://harmonization.blogspot.com/

"Escaping The Matrix - 
Global Transformation: 
WHY WE NEED IT, AND HOW WE CAN ACHIEVE IT ", old draft:
    http://www.ratical.org/co-globalize/rkmGlblTrans.html
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