Nazis versus Nazis
Hanna Reitsch gives rise to this post, someone who was amazing in her work, and who showed humanity in her life (offering to take the Goebbels kids out of Berlin) but who was a committed Nazi, a believer in National Socialism.
But to me that is also a key to a proper understanding of Germany 1933-1945. People whose jobs did not take them into the dark side, who heard rumours and stories, but chose to overlook them, probably thinking them exaggerations. They wanted to believe in their country, they wanted it to be strong again, to be proud again – and living where and when I do, I can well understand the pull that that idea would have on a sizeable body of the population. It is after all why many people do not vote – because its just a bunch of self-seeking liars out to get you. But if politics gave rise to a party, or movement, you could believe in, who were something new and offered hope for your country, then would you not want to believe?
That is many people’s problem with looking back at National Socialism, they forget that it was new at the time, that Fascism itself was new. They forget that people wanted hope, that they wanted something that was not the same old failure of regular politics and was not the menace of international communism. Fascism seemed to offer that, and National Socialiam especially seemed to be a new beginning, where the good things were infused with the power of light, and the bad things were necessary evils that people could overlook. After all, is that not the law – if you transgress, you suffer, but if you toe the line you will be fine?
War brings its own problems, its own devastating lows, its own fears, nightmares and beliefs. In the midst of this people will pin their hopes on what they believe in. More than that, they will see their only salvation as being in sticking to the cause, backing those who they gave their trust to. Its why people in the MidWest voted for Bush Jnr in 2004 even though they didn’t want to – I recall interviews where such people said they would back their commander in chief in wartime, even though their politics was not aligned in that direction. How much more so would it be if your country was being bombed every night?
We are good at condemning those who bomb us, at calling them murderers and pulling together for the cause of good, but we forget to give similar feelings to our enemies. German cities were being bombed, German families were being slaughtered. Sure, it was war and it may have been strategically necessary, but that does not get inside the heads of those who believed in Hitler. They saw the Allies trying to destroy them, not trying to destroy the state or the Nazi regime, but trying to wipe themselves out. There was not just a firestorm in Hamburg, or in Dresden, massively destructive bombing happened all over the place, and Rostock was in fact one of the first places to have its city centre obliterated. But night after night, for months on end, German city after German city got pounded by the bombers. The people who lived in the midst of this had a stark choice – hate their enemy, and believe in their government, or despair of life and salvation and look into the abyss.
It is an insanity to expect most people to jump to that shadowy third option, to join or create a resistance to the only force that seems to be trying to defend them against the attacks. Instead, in the midst of despair they will cling to the only thing left they have to believe in, however illogical that may seem to an outside observer.
That people committed to the regime, who believed in its ability to deliver a new future, and a new hope, would continue to believe for want of a palatable alternative should be seen as only natural. We are the ones who are committing a sin by refusing to understand this, by demonising people who continued to believe because they had nothing left, who pinned their hope in an evil man because if it was not him, it was nothing.