Monday, 15 October 2012

German support for Hitler in the 1930s

Recently watched a fascinating, but rather frightening, episode from the "Nazis - A warning from History" series.

It was the second programme in the series and looked at the ways in which the general population reacted to the Nazis rule in the 1930s.

The programms began by describing how, once they gained power, the Nazis began imprisoning their opponents in concentration camps. There was no significant public outcry against this becasue, as Manfred Von Shroder (Nazi Party Member 1933-45) commented, people knew of the concentration camps and thought that "so what, the communists would have done the same, and this is a revolution...the English had invented them [concentration camps] in South Africa with the Boers"

Lizzie Van Zyl was a child inmate of a British concentration camp
in South Africa during the Second Boer War

The programme also looked at the way the government was run in Nazi Germany, with Prof Ian Kershaw commenting that the country was unusual in being one where there was "No collective governemt yet where the head of state does not spend all his time dictating"

The narrator comments that Hitler was surrounded to acolytes who knew that their future depended on being able to please him. So ambitious Nazis would listen to Hitlers vision and, on their own initiaive think of ways his vision could become reality, making up detailed policy and claiming they were acting "on the will of the Fuhrer"

As far as the general population was concerned, life improved under the Nazis, not least because they printed money to finance large infrastructure projects (such as the autobahns) and a re-armament programme.

The programme also described how Jews were systematically discriminated against and banned from any jobs in the public sphere.

Front Page of the Nuremburg Laws Legislation which
banned Jews from participating in public life.

Johannes Zahn (Economist and Banker since 1931) was asked what it was like to work in a system that was so discriminatory and responded, rather frighteningly, that "Well, the general opinion was that the Jews had gone too far in Germany, that out of 4,800 lawyers in Berlin, 3,600 were Jews" and that "there was hardly a theatre director who wasn't a Jew. And one day it became just too much. The general feeling that the Jews should be driven back was not opposed"

A Nazi anti-Semitic cartoon, circa 1938--showing Churchill as an octopus with a Star of David
over its head and its tentacles encompassing a globe

Nazi propaganda hugely exaggerated the number of Jews who were in professions like the Law or the Theatre and didn't mention that the Jews had been banned from other careers for hundreds of years.

Surprising information about the Gestapo has come to life in the town of Wurtzburg, where US soldiers prevented the destruction of Gestapo files. Recent research on these files has revealed that, far from their being a pervasive Gestapo network, there were only 28 secret police officials for a region of nearly a million people

As Professor Robert Gellately comments "I think the Gestapo could not have operated without the co-operation of the citizens of Germany...there were simply not enough Gestapo officials to go around", adding that around 80-90% of the crimes reported to the Geatapo came from ordinary citizens.He goes on to say that it was previously thought that the German population had been brainwashed from above but that now the view was that the system was manipulted from below by lots of people for all kinds of reasons.

As the narrator points out "the citizens of a town like Wurtzburg didn't have to fear the Gestapo as much as what their neighbours might tell the Gestapo

Jewish refugees from Czechoslovakia being marched away by police at
Croydon airport in March 1939 prior to being deported to Warsaw.(see also here)

Update : 16 Oct 12
Sent a webform to the BBC saying thank you for airing this programme.

Image Sources
Lilly Van Zyl
Jewish refugees at Croydon Airport
Nurenburg Laws