Читать онлайн "Soldaten: On Fighting, Killing, and Dying" автора Neitzel Sonke - RuLit - Страница 10

 
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While much of daily life remained the same in Nazi Germany and formed the surface upon which society functioned, there were also drastic political and social changes. The split of society the Nazis brought about in the twelve years from 1933 to 1945 between a majority of members and an excluded minority was not only a goal justified by the Nazis’ racist theory and desire for power. It was also a means to realize a particular form of social integration. A number of recent historical works have looked at the history of the Third Reich through the lens of social differentiation. Saul Friedländer has especially focused attention on anti-Jewish practice, repression, and elimination;37 Michael Wildt has stressed the coercive force used in the early days of the Third Reich as a means of collectivization.38 Longerich has shown that the social exclusion and then extermination of Jews was by no means an accidental, strangely senseless element of Nazi politics, but their very core. The “de-Jewification” of Germany and broad stretches of Europe was, in Longerich’s words, “the instrument for gradually penetrating the various realms of individual existence.”39 This penetration allowed moral standards to be reformatted, bringing about an obvious change in what people considered normal and deviant, good and bad, appropriate and outrageous. Nazi society was by no means amoral. Even the many instances of mass murder cannot be reduced to a collective ethical dissipation. On the contrary, they were the result of the astonishingly quick and deep establishment of a “National Socialist morality” that made the biologically defined Volk and the community it entailed the sole criterion for moral behavior and promoted different values and norms than those obtained, for instance, in post–World War II Germany.40 Included in the Nazi moral canon were the ideas that people were fundamentally unequal, that the worth of the Volk outweighed that of the individual, and that what counted was particular and not universal solidarity. To cite just one instance of Nazi morality: it was under Hitler that failure to offer assistance in an emergency became a punishable crime in Germany. Yet that dictate applied only to the Nazi Volk community and could not be extended to people’s refusal to help Jews.41 This sort of particular morality was characteristic of the Nazi project in toto. The new European order and, indeed, global domination of which the Nazis dreamed were conceived as a radically inequitable world, in which members of different races would be treated differently under the law.

Nazi social practice enacted the idea that people were radically and irreconcilably unequal. It made the public aware of the “Jewish question” as something negative and the “Volk community” as something positive. These topics were then made a permanent focus of action in anti-Jewish measures, regulations, and laws, in instances of disappropriation, deportation, and worse. As a formula for how Nazi society was formed, Friedländer came up with the phrase “repression and innovation.” But given that a lot of German society did not change, we need to remember that for most non-Jewish Germans Nazi innovation and repression was but a secondary part of their everyday lives. For them, Nazism was a mix of continuity, repression, and innovation.

As a whole, the Nazi project has to be seen as a highly integrative social process beginning in January 1933 and ending with Germany’s ultimate defeat in May 1945. “Destiny,” as historian Raul Hilberg once dryly remarked, is an “interaction between perpetrators and victims.” Psychologically speaking, it is no great wonder that the practical enactment of theories of the master race was a matter of such consensus. Once the theory was cast in laws and regulations, even the lowest unskilled laborer could feel superior to a Jewish writer, actor, or businessman, especially since the ongoing social transformation entailed Jews’ actual social and material decline. The resulting boost to the self-esteem of members of the Volk was reinforced by a reduced sense of social anxiety. It was a new and unfamiliar feeling to belong, inalienably and by law, to an exclusive racial elite, of which others, equally inalienably, could never become part.

As things got worse and worse for some, the others felt better and better. The National Socialist project did not just promise a gloriously envisioned future. It also offered concrete advantages in the present such as better career opportunities in all areas, including the Wehrmacht. The elites at the head of the Nazi Party were extremely young, and a good many younger members of the Volk saw their own heady personal hopes as connected with the triumph of the “Aryan race.”42 This backdrop helps us understand the enormous individual and collective energy that was released in Nazi society. “The National Socialist German Workers Party was founded on a doctrine of inequality between races, but it also promised Germans greater equality among themselves,” writes historian Götz Aly.

Nazi ideology conceived of racial conflict as an antidote to class conflict. By framing its program in this way, the party was propagating two age-old dreams of the German people: national and class unity. That was key to the Nazis’ popularity, from which they derived the power they needed to pursue their criminal aims…. In one of his central pronouncements, Hitler promised “the creation of a socially just state,” a model society that would “continue to eradicate all [social] barriers.”43

If Hitler’s ideology had been pure propaganda, the Third Reich would never have undergone the extremely rapid social change it did. The central characteristic of the National Socialist project consisted of the immediate practical realization of its ideological postulates. The world indeed changed. Propagandistic newspaper articles notwithstanding, the feeling of better days dawning, of living in a “great age” and “permanently extraordinary situation” established a new frame of reference. Interviews with people who experienced the Third Reich reveal even today how psychologically attractive and emotionally integrative the Nazi initiatives of exclusion and integration were. It is no accident that Germans of that generation tend to describe the Third Reich, up until Germany’s military defeat at Stalingrad, as a “great time.”44 Such people were categorically incapable of experiencing the exclusion, persecution, and dispossession of others for what they were. By definition, the others no longer belonged to the community, and thus their inhumane treatment did not conflict with the ethics and social values of the Volk community.

In terms of social psychology, the reasons behind support for and trust in the Nazi system are no great mystery. The economic upswing commencing in 1934 may have been financed by state debt and larceny, but as interviews with those who lived at the time reveal, it created a mood of optimism and confidence.45 In addition, the period saw a number of social innovations with profound implications for individuals’ happiness. In 1938, for instance, a third of all German workers enjoyed the benefits of the Nazis’ state-subsidized “Strength Through Joy” vacation program—and that at a time when traveling abroad was still considered an exclusive privilege of the wealthy. “It has long been overlooked,” writes Hans-Dieter Schäfer, “that upward social mobility during the Third Reich was by no means solely symbolic…. People were twice as likely to move up in society in the six peace-time years under Hitler as they had been in the final six years of the Weimar Republic. Nazi state organizations and quasi-private associations absorbed one million people from the working classes.”46 By 1938, Germany no longer suffered from the mass unemployment of the Depression. In 1939, 200,000 foreign workers had to be brought in to cover a shortage of labor.47 In other words: things were palpably better for members of the Volk under National Socialism, and the Nazis’ demonstrable success in keeping their social promises engendered a deep faith in the system, especially as it came after the profound economic disappointments of the Weimar Republic.

     

 

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