Wednesday, May 20, 2009

History 112: The Rise of Nazi Germany (Q&A and Quiz)

1. In the reading it briefly mentions how the Nazis did not identify with mainstream religions. I watched a documentary on the Discovery Channel a while ago about the Nazi's "occult conspiracy," which talked about Hitler's dependence on astrological predictions, even leading him to have a person astrologer. How much truth is there in this? What's your opinion?

The interest by Hitler and many of the leading Nazis in the occult is quite real. For example it is believed that Hitler held back from counterattacking after the Normandy invasion on the advice of his astrologer who told him that the real allied attack would come at Calais. In what is probably the most bizarre incident of the war, Rudolph Hess grabbed a plane and crashed-landed in Scotland because his astrologer told him that he was destined to bring about a peace treaty between Germany and England. Himmler set up his own neo-pagan religion for the SS. This issue of Nazi beliefs has gained public interest, at least within the realms of internet polemics, in recent years because of the rise of the new atheism of Richard Dawkins, which argues that organized religion leads to mass murder. Opponents of Dawkins have been very quick to point to Hitler and Stalin and argue that the two most blood soaked regimes in history were militantly secular.

2. In the Davies text it mentions that Mussolini prided himself on being separate from Hitler until 1939, did the two men get along, or did they have plans to conquer each other?

The fact that Mussolini eventually joined with Hitler was never inevitable and in fact the two were quite hostile to each other into the late 1930s. It is important to keep in mind that Fascism is not a movement. It is simply a convenient label that we use in order to group certain movements together.

3. From what I gathered from the Davies reading, it seems that Hitler had the SS blackshirts and brownshirts as his "stormtroopers" or militia. What exactly were these entities and how were they different?

A major part of the early Nazi rise to power, from when they began until shortly after they took power, was their ability to use street gangs in order to beat up opponents, particularly Communists and Jews. Keep in mind that up until that later part of the 1930s there is still a meaningful distinction between Germany and the Nazi party. The Nazi party at this early stage did not have direct access to the police and military arms of the state so they needed some form of military power of their own to enforce their totalitarian agenda. One can see this with the use of the SA and SS. The SA was the armed force of the early Nazi period. These were common street thugs, not that different from our modern Crypts and Bloods. The SA are eliminated in 1934 in the “Night of the Long Knives.” The group that comes to replace the SA is the SS led by Himmler. The SS operates with the full power of the state. They are a lot more sophisticated and a whole lot more ruthless.

4. If Hitler would have died in WWI do you think there still would have been a second world war? Secondly, since I haven't asked questions for all the classes, why is it do you think that the Nazis were able to scare everyone into their party. What i have gathered about the situation was that most people were forced to be a part of the Nazi German Army.

This question is a classic example of the great man issue in history; to what extent do “great” individuals affect the course of history? Popular history tends to focus heavily on individuals because it makes a better narrative. Professional historians tend to be more weary of such a claim. Hitler was certainly a talented speaker and a forceful personality, but he was not the only person capable of doing the sorts of things that he did. It is perfectly reasonable to assume that Nazi history could have proceeded without Hitler, but with someone else at the helm. Earlier this year I had a discussion with Dr. Stephen Kern about this issue. He actually came out quite strongly on the side of no Hitler no Holocaust.

Personally I think this whole notion of saying that the German people were scared lets ordinary Germans off the hook. Hitler could not have waged World War II and the Holocaust without active willing cooperation of the vast majority of Germans. You want to know who to blame for World War II and the Holocaust? Forget about Hitler, he was just a man standing in front of a microphone. The real culprits were the millions of German citizens who went along with it. I would recommend Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem. It has often been criticized for humanizing Adolph Eichmann, one of the central figures behind the Holocaust, who was kidnapped by the State of Israel, put on trial and executed. For me humanizing Eichmann turns him into every ordinary German who went along with the flow and by extension turns every ordinary German into Eichmann. On share moral grounds I would have had no moral objection to, in 1945, lining up every German man and woman over the age of eighteen who could not prove that they actively worked against the Nazi regime and shooting them. On practical grounds this could never be carried through, but there is no doubt in my mind that every one of them deserved to die.

5. How does Hitler get enough political coverage to get 96% of the German vote? Did class differences play into the voter turnout, as I am sure that it would be common people who supported him, as he was, in some limited sense, a collectivist?

When a leader is a getting 90% of the vote you know that this is not a fair election. Think how difficult it is to get 60% of Americans to agree on something. In real societies people have dissenting opinions. If you are not seeing large amounts of dissent than what you are seeing is a mirage.

6. Was Hitler only racist against Jews? Or did he just dislike everyone else other than his own people?

Nazi ideology held numerous groups to be subhuman, Slavs, gypsies, blacks, homosexuals and Jehovah Witnesses are some of the groups that come to mind. In addition to the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust, the Nazis killed another four to six million people from other undesirable groups. Anti Semitism, though, clearly had a special place in Nazi ideology. For the Nazis, Jews were not just a group of undesirables; they were the undesirable group par excellence. Jews were the great enemy behind both Capitalism and Communism, which Germany would have to defeat.

For the quiz I asked the following questions:

1. What were the “Three Estates” in Old Regime France and how did their existence contribute to the breakout of the French Revolution? (2 pts)

2. What did “Liberalism” and “Conservatism” mean in the nineteenth century? How are these terms different from how we use them today? (3 pts)

3. According Karl Marx: “All hitherto history is the history of … (1 pt)

4. How did the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand lead to the start of World War I? (2 pts)

5. What were the two Russian revolutions of 1917? (2pts.)

Bonus: What peace treaty did Hitler blame Germany’s woes on? (1 pts)

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