Category Archives: Adolf Hitler

Hateful words: Nazi propaganda and the freedom of expression

Nazi poster, from USHMM.org

Nazi poster, from USHMM.org

 

Review by Claudia Moscovici, author of Holocaust Memories: A Survey of Holocaust Memoirs, Histories, Novels and Films (Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, 2019)

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/076187092X/ref=ox_sc_saved_title_3?smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER&psc=1

 

The freedom of expression is a double-edged sword. Without it, probably no other freedom is possible. Yet this freedom can also lead to the consolidation of totalitarian regimes when groups defined by hatred and discrimination use it to further their political goals. This is exactly what happed with the rise of the Nazi regime. The freedom of expression, which was more or less respected by the Weimar Republic, was turned into propaganda: hateful words and grandiose nationalist promises, used to sway public opinion in support of Nazi ideology.

An inherently manipulative man, Adolf Hitler realized from the start the value of propaganda. His autobiographical treatise, Mein Kampf (1926), includes three chapters on the importance of propaganda in shaping public opinion. Hitler states, quite explicitly: “Propaganda must always address itself to the broad masses of the people… The art of propaganda consists precisely in being able to awaken the imagination of the public through an appeal to their feelings…” He continues to argue that these feelings can, and should be, biased as opposed to aiming for the truth: “Propaganda must not investigate the truth objectively and, in so far as it is favorable to the other side, present it to the theoretical rules of justice; yet it must present only that aspect of the truth which is favorable to its own side” (Mein Kampf, translated by Ralph Manheim, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1998).

Once the Nazis rose to power in 1933, Hitler promptly set up a Reich Ministry of Propaganda under the leadership of Joseph Goebbels. The propaganda machine took over all forms of expression: including art, film, literature, journalism, theater and the educational system. The media became saturated with messages of blame and scorn for the Jews, described as the cause of all of Germany’s problems. Not content with controlling the content and means of expression in Germany, the Nazi regime also actively suppressed other points of view. As early as 1933, they sent to prison and concentration camps their perceived political opponents.

Propaganda, or hateful words, became an essential tool that enabled the gruesome reality of the Holocaust. By labeling Jews as “subhuman”, the Nazi media justified their racial discrimination and oppression. Newspapers such as “The People’s Observer”, “The Attack” and “The Reich” depicted Jews as parasites that depleted the resources of Western civilization and corrupted the Aryan gene pool. Sending contradictory messages didn’t weaken the effectiveness of Nazi propaganda. By describing Jews as, simultaneously, the greediest capitalists and the leaders of Bolshevism, the Nazi media could reach an even broader audience and political spectrum. However, nationalism remained the Nazi movement’s most effective means of manipulation of public opinion in Germany. Blaming the Jews for Germany’s defeat in WWI and for its subsequent economic collapse helped Hitler gain the support of the masses. Sometimes propaganda functioned as a cover that hid, rather than generated, information. The Final Solution plan to exterminate the Jewish people was alluded to in code and not reported to the general public.

The means of communication became as important as the message itself. The Nazis realized the importance of technology in disseminating their message to the general public. In his speech “Radio as the Eight Great Power”, Goebbels declares: “It would not have been possible for us to take power or to use it in the ways we have without the radio… “ Each time Hitler invaded a foreign country, he launched a propaganda campaign that turned the facts upside down. For instance, the German media described the invasion of Poland, both in the country and internationally, as an act of self-defense against a belligerent enemy nation. The same distortion of truth took place shortly before and during the war with the Soviet Union, starting with Operation Barbarossa on June 22, 1941. Although Germany and the Soviet Union had signed a Nazi-Soviet pact (on August 23, 1939) that made them allies, once Germany launched a war, the Nazis justified their actions in the press as a defensive move made against Bolshevik Jews, who aimed to take over and destroy the world.

Propaganda remains a risk today in countries that respect the freedom of expression. Given the way in which the mass media has become accessible to everyone, even the most hateful and extremist groups can propagate their message to the general public in democratic societies. For this reason, the U.S. placed a few limitations to the freedom of speech that may diminish the power of hate groups. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution declares the freedom of religion, of speech and of the press. During the twentieth-century, however, this freedom of expression became subject to certain limitations: 1. Speech (or writing) that presents “a clear and present danger” is not protected by the First Amendment. 2. Similarly, “fighting words,” or speech meant to incite immediate violence is also not protected. 3. Libel and slander, or making false statements about an individual or a group of people, likewise don’t qualify as “free speech”. Finally, the First Amendment no longer protects “obscenity.”

Although the freedom of expression isn’t absolute in democratic societies, placing some restrictions upon it may not be enough to prevent hate groups from using propaganda to rise to power. What is said and printed is as important as what is censored. Offering quality information in the media—well-verified facts, with intelligent analyses and commentaries–about events that happen all over the world keeps the public informed, so that we’re better judges of the information we’re presented. Ignorance is far from being bliss. On the contrary, it’s the perfect context for manipulation by dangerous groups hungry for power and blood.

Claudia Moscovici, Literature Salon

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Filed under Adolf Hitler, anti-Semitism, Claudia Moscovici, hate groups, literature salon, Nazi Germany, Nazi propaganda, propaganda, Reich Ministry of Propaganda, the First Ammendment

America First

America First, CharlesLindbergh.com

America First, CharlesLindbergh.com

Review by Claudia Moscovici, author of Holocaust Memories: A Survey of Holocaust Memoirs, Histories, Novels and Films (Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, 2019)

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/076187092X/ref=ox_sc_saved_title_3?smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER&psc=1

If any country could have helped save a significant proportion of the European Jews from the Holocaust it’s the United States. Reliable news about concentration and death camps started trickling into the country, via the World Jewish Congress and the State Department, in 1942. Moreover, the U.S. had a large number of Jews who, unlike European and Soviet Jews, were free from the Nazi threat. American Jews did not face annihilation. As the United States did not have a significant Nazi movement, Jews in the U.S., numbering approximately 4,800,000 million, could hope to influence public policy. In fact, most American Jews supported President Roosevelt. Granted, few Jews in the U.S. were rich and powerful and only one—Henry Morgenthau, U.S. Secretary of Treasury—was a prominent figure in the Roosevelt administration. Nevertheless, as Raul Hilberg documents in Perpetrators, Victims, Bystanders (HarperCollins Publishers, 1992), there were two relatively influential Jewish organizations in the U.S. at the time that could have swayed national policy and made a difference in the fate of the European Jews.

The main Jewish Organizations in the U.S. during WWII

The first organization, the (non-Zionist) American Jewish Committee, was headed by Cyrus Adler. The second organization, the (Zionist) American Jewish Congress (which expanded into the World Jewish Congress) was headed by Rabbi Stephen Wise. Both organizations could have taken a decisive stance on behalf of their fellow Jews in Europe once they found out that the latter were faced with total annihilation. For the most part, however, they offered only belated, and cautious, support.

More significantly, saving the Jewish populations in Europe was never a priority for the Roosevelt administration, whose efforts focused entirely on winning the war. Making the war a priority is perfectly understandable, of course. But saving the Jews in Europe, or at least making a concerted effort to help them, would not have impeded the war effort. The policy of both the American Jewish organizations and particularly that of the Roosevelt administration—America First—became the determining factor in the decision not do to much to help save millions of European Jews from deportation, slave labor, death squads, starvation and disease in ghettos and concentration camps.

Information about death camps 

In 1942, the Allies received reliable information about Hitler’s plans to annihilate the Jews in Nazi-controlled Europe. This information came from three main sources:  Nazi leaders uncomfortable with Hitler’s plans to destroy the Jews; Polish officers opposed to the Nazi regime occupying their country; and Jewish escapees or other eyewitnesses. Hilberg notes in Perpetrators, Victims, Bystanders: “During July 1942… several Germans crossed into Switzerland with fundamental revelations. One of them was Ernst Lemmer, a founder of the German Democratic party in 1918 and Minister in West Germany during the 1950’s and 1960’s. Lemmer… met with several Swiss public figures in Zurich that July and told them about ‘gas chambers, stationary and mobile, in which Jews were killed’” (236). Lemmer was not alone. Other trustworthy sources corroborated this information. Gerhart M. Riegner, the leader of the World Jewish Congress in Geneva (the sister organization of Wise’s American Jewish Congress), began collecting this data. He then met with the British and American consuls to warn them about Hitler’s plans for the annihilation of the European Jews. Gerhart asked the Allied governments to investigate these claims and to inform Rabbi Wise in the United States about them. The government officials didn’t deliver this information immediately.  When Rabbi Wise finally received the news, he and other Jewish leaders set up a meeting with President Roosevelt.

The meeting between U.S. Jewish leaders and Franklin D. Roosevelt

This meeting took place on December 8, 1942. The Jewish delegates were conservative in their estimates. They stated that 2 million Jews had been killed by death squads and in concentration camps, whereas the actual figure was double. But they were sufficiently alarmed to ask the President to respond.   They proposed that the U.S. offer Germany and its allies a warning.  They also suggested that the government collect more information about Hitler’s plans to kill the Jewish population in Europe by mass shootings, gassing and other means. By any standard, these were modest requests. Even if implemented they might not have accomplished much. Roosevelt, Hilberg informs us, “assented to the warning proposal and asked whether the delegates had other recommendations. When the Jewish leaders could not think of anything, Roosevelt switched to other topics” (Perpetrators, Victims, Bystanders, 245). Following this meeting, however, the President didn’t keep his word. The U.S., for the most part, did not offer safe haven for Jewish refugees; it did not bomb the Auschwitz gas chambers (despite doing recognizance flights around Auschwitz and bombing its factory); it did not do anything to prevent the deportations and killings of approximately 400,000 Hungarian Jews as late as 1944, after Germany occupied the country.

The Roosevelt administration, like the American Jewish organizations themselves, did not want to give the impression that the United States was fighting a “mercenary” war on behalf of the Jews. The noninterventionist efforts of Charles Lindbergh, under the motto “Defend America First,” did not succeed in keeping America out of the war after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The next day the United States Congress declared war on Japan. But such nationalist pressures did succeed in generating a noninterventionist policy when it came to the tragic fate of the European Jews, many of whom could have been saved were it not for the policy of “America first”.

Claudia Moscovici, Holocaust Memory

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Filed under Adolf Hitler, contemporary fiction

Evil Leaders: Book Review of Alan Bullock’s Hitler and Stalin, Parallel Lives

Hitler and Stalin by Alan Bullock

Hitler and Stalin by Alan Bullock

Review by Claudia Moscovici, author of Holocaust Memories: A Survey of Holocaust Memoirs, Histories, Novels and Films (Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, 2019)

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/076187092X/ref=ox_sc_saved_title_3?smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER&psc=1

Alan Bullock’s Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives (Vintage Books, NY, 1993) offers a monumental social and psychological biography of two of the most evil dictators in human history as well as an epic sketch of an era. Although the author specializes in Hitler, his grasp of Stalin is equally impressive. It rivals, in fact, Robert Conquest’s The Great Terror: A Reassessment (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2007) in its thoroughness and depth.

As the title suggests, Bullock alternates chapters on Hitler with those on Stalin.  He reveals how each dictator relied on his powers of manipulation, deception and opportunism to rise to power. They spread totalitarian regimes meant to wipe out the human spirit and large parts of humanity itself across the world.  The book also explains how Hitler and Stalin initially operated within the systems which they later (mis)used for their own selfish and nefarious goals. Whatever their rhetoric and ideology, both psychopathic tyrants ultimately craved power for its own sake, at the expense of everyone else, even the causes (and allies) they initially claimed to support.

Primo Levi famously advances the same thesis as Hannah Arendt expressed in Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (Penguin Classics, New York, 2006): “Monsters exist, but they are too few in numbers to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are…the functionaries ready to believe and act without asking questions.” There is no doubt that the Holocaust throughout Europe or the terror in the Soviet Union weren’t brought about by Hitler and Stalin alone. Without coopting tens of thousands of soldiers, functionaries and “regular people” throughout the world, these two evil leaders wouldn’t have succeeded in their genocidal goals, nor could they have implemented totalitarian regimes. Yet the obverse clause is equally true. Without the leadership of psychopathic, power-driven and malicious individuals like Hitler and Stalin the genocides wouldn’t have happened either. The Holocaust wouldn’t have existed without someone like Hitler: namely a highly influential and charismatic psychopathic leader rising to power at a ripe moment in history.

Although Stalin claimed to have an allegiance to the communist party and Hitler to the Aryan race, history proved that their true allegiance was to their own empowerment. As Bullock demonstrates, Stalin only appeared to have a solid allegiance to the Bolshevik movement and to Lenin’s political legacy. In reality, however, he used communist rhetoric to gain control over Russia, then over the countries and territories that became the Soviet Union and eventually over the entire Eastern Europe. To him, the means—shifty allegiances, mass indoctrination, staged show trials, forced confessions as well as torture and murder of unprecedented proportions–always justified the ends, which was absolute control. This goal was only instrumentally related to communist ideology, as Stalin’s temporary alliance with Hitler, his former archenemy, would reveal.

Nor did Stalin exhibit any loyalty towards his supposed friends and allies. He switched political and personal alliances, turning first against the left wing of the communist party (Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev), then against the right (Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky). In his insatiable quest for power, Stalin forged alliances and later broke them. He imprisoned, tortured and murdered former allies. He shrewdly reversed his position and retreated when necessary, only to charge forward again at a more optimal moment. He took everyone by surprise with the extent of his duplicity and ruthlessness.

The human cost of psychopathic dictators, especially during the Hitler-Stalin era, is one of staggering proportions and unimaginable suffering. Bullock documents, “Not counting the millions who were wounded or permanently maimed, the estimated number of premature deaths between 1930 and 1953 reached a figure in the order of forty to fifty million men, women and children. Suffering on such a scale is beyond the imagination’s power to comprehend or respond to.” (Hitler and Stalin, 969)

What makes such human suffering particularly reprehensible, at least from a moral perspective, is that unlike natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes and epidemics, the harm was deliberately inflicted, unnecessary and man-made. Granted, the mass murder of tens of millions of innocent civilians can’t be attributed solely to the leaders in charge. The collusion and indifference of many individuals made it possible. As Hannah Arendt demonstrates in The Origins of Totalitarianism, totalitarian dictators are a necessary, but not sufficient, explanation of complex historical, economic and social phenomena. Yet without a Hitler, a Stalin, a Mao or a Ceausescu–which is to say, without evil leaders who attain total control of a country–this suffering would not have occurred, at least not on such a massive scale.

Bullock’s Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives gives us a detailed, compelling and extremely informative historical and psychological portrait of two of the most powerful faces of evil in human history. He describes in great detail their rise to power and deadly influence. Hitler and Stalin is an indispensable book for all those who want to understand how totalitarian regimes function and the role psychopathic dictators play in changing the course of history.

Claudia Moscovici, Literaturesalon

http://www.amazon.com/Velvet-Totalitarianism-Post-Stalinist-Claudia-Moscovici/dp/076184693X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1323439558&sr=1-1

 

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Filed under Adolf Hitler, Alan Bullock, book review, Book Review of Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives, book reviews, Claudia Moscovici, communism, history, Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives, Joseph Stalin, literature salon, literaturesalon, totalitarianism, Winston Churchill