> Alan Meyer wrote:
>> So why did the people follow him? How did antisemitism and
>> discrimination against Jews turn into mass murder?
> Now you are getting to the question that nags me! (And if my OP wasn't
> quite clear, my apologies.)
Whole libraries have been devoted to answering that question, with plenty of
It was not so much the public anti Semitism and discrimination that enabled
the killing as the amount of resources and people to run the killing system
proved to be small. You do/did not need to find much to kill large numbers
of people if the system decides to go that way.
You do know being Jewish was the reason for about half the killings, Polish
intellectuals, communists, Roma, handicapped, homosexuals, Jehovah's
Witnesses, clergy and so on were the other half. To be Polish and Jewish
was to hit the mark on a strand of German racism to Poles as well as the
official anti Semitic policies. If you follow the logic of rating "races" as
superior or inferior then doing something about the inferiors can be claimed
as a public good. See for example attitudes to the native peoples of the
Americas and Australia, letting them die out in peace was considered by many
as a humane and sensible policy, given how inferior they were declared.
Colonialism justified as bringing good government to the inferiors. Once
you have a program in place mission creep often occurs and others the system
dislikes can be added without too much extra effort.
In the 1930's the Nazis tried to rid Germany of their definition of
undesirables, originally mainly by migration, encouraged by violence,
including killing and theft.
Essentially the large scale killings started in Poland after the war had
begun, a war which gave the average citizen a whole new set of things to
worry about, along with more stringent wartime censorship and a higher risk
of being accused of treason when speaking out. Plenty of people knew there
were large scale killings in the 1939 to 1941 period because they were
mainly (semi) public executions, with the extermination camps in operation
the killings became very hard to know about.
Start with the premise of the Germans. How many Germans actually
participated in the killings, given greater Germany was around 80,000,000
people in August 1939, did 1% kill? In fact it would be closer to 0.1%.
Remember some of the killings were done by non German nationals, plenty were
indirect via neglect and the extermination camps ran on minimal staff. The
Nazis found you needed most of the population indifferent, a small number to
actively discriminate which generally caused the targets to withdraw from
society, thereby overcoming the Nazi complaint that all Germans seemed to
have their good Jew who did not deserve bad treatment, also actively going
after supporters of the targets upped the cost of support and most of us
feel we have something to lose. Once war began and non German territory was
available it was short step from harassment to expulsion, though by that
stage the killing squads were active. The final step was the small number
of people who would kill and keep killing the targets and even then ways had
to be found to minimise the direct killing.
The killing programs were organised by the Nazi government, using those who
could be made to treat the prisoners according to Nazi doctrine, the
tormentors included many non Germans. Also it should be noted the German
government and military were using hostages and killings to suppress
resistance movements, many more people knew about them but many were able to
simply think of these killings in terms of war is hell. And of course the
groups the Nazis labelled as undesirable were much more likely to join the
resistance, they often had little choice.
If you mean people who supported the killings or refused to believe or
looked the other way then the quest of the one reason to rule them all is
absurd. People made their choices for a mixture of reasons and the reasons
changed over time. They also lie to themselves. Also a mass killing
program in Europe was simply unbelievable and even if it was possible surely
only able to kill thousands, not millions.
There is a long tradition of claiming a better society is possible by
getting rid of enough of the right people, like criminals. The different
claims usually disagree on the definitions of getting rid of, enough and
right people but show everyone is different enough to become the other as
needed, all fail because as the Russian writer Solzhenitsyn noted, the
dividing line between good and evil cuts through everyone. History shows us
that the theme is one that can be reused despite the obvious flaws and its
attraction increases in bad times. We use an immense amount of trust every
day just walking around, at the same time there is definite desire to be in
the company of people like us and to help whom we like ahead of those we do
not. People have a tendency to have the good guys and the bad and a
hierarchy of who should be helped and how much help should be provided. The
unsafer we are or the closer we are to losing the basic food, clothing and
shelter the less we usually worry about others and the more we are willing
to take what we decide is needed.
That bad times tends to make for worse overall human behaviour helps to
explain the economic growth mantra. Since perception matters, that is if we
believe a down turn is coming or an upturn has arrived humans as a group
tend to act to reinforce the trend, politicians generally try and avoid
saying bad times are coming, and when they are obviously arriving it is fish
in a barrel questioning to ask a politician about the economy and then
repeat what are usually non or incorrect answers.
Start with the early 1930's German elections, what was the standing of the
non Nazi candidates, realistic ideas about making the depression better?
Good ideas for the given voter? Not corrupt, proven competent, able to
deliver? And so on. Remember the groups in charge when bad times arrive
tend to be discredited.
Authority has various meanings, including being an expert. If a government
is serious about an issue there is a lot of work involved figuring out the
best answer. The amount of material you need to not only read but absorb is
high and most of us only have time for the summary. The public tends to
believe authority figures, the ones who are doing the work, reinforced by
the idea people become leaders because they are competent, and of course
they would say that, along with how they care.
The Nazis had their true believers, then those that decided on balance the
ideas would work best for them and once you invest your support in something
you tend to stick with it, rather than accept you made a mistake. Then
those who decided the Nazis were the best of the offers being made.
By deficit spending and the imprisonment of Nazi opponents the average mid
1930's German had a physically safer environment, less political violence
and better economic prospects, but at a very real cost in terms of what
ideas and views were permitted. With the Nazis controlling the news more
Germans found themselves being convinced of Nazi ideas, like a lot of the
improvement was removal of undesirables.
Public language defines the allowable problems and solutions, these days a
government enforced rule that is liked is called a law, as law and order is
good, a government enforced rule that is disliked is called a regulation, as
deregulation is good. You will generally not hear the expression "marriage
law or marriage deregulation?" because law and deregulation are reserved
words in public speech, for specific purposes, and so must be kept "good",
free from being associated with the wrong view. Similarly Politically
Correct is meant as a label for some public speech, not all the words
politicians and other public figures decree are correct when discussing the
issues. For business costs there is the return on investment for the time
and effort the staff make and the wages paid to the money employed. Both
are costs, with differences of opinion over which is the more acceptable.
So the Nazis went with the final solution as the terminology.
All news organisations have their culture (by the way if your mind saw
culture and shoved bias into your thoughts, congratulations on being a well
trained news consumer) in terms of what they consider important and news,
given how much information is generated each day. The culture selects the
stories presented and how prominent they appear, then comes things like the
adjectives and images, with the latter being a wonderful editorial tool.
The mediums also have their demands, good pictures will increase TV
exposure, providing the story all laid out, only needing an introduction,
helps as well. Good stories will be rapidly copied by many outlets thanks
to the news culture of being first is more important than being accurate,
along with the reality fact checking is expensive, opinions are free. Also
those who write the narrative can omit their mistakes.
As audience help the news tends to add labels, left, right, big or little
endian and so forth to enable the consumer to quickly decide whether/what to
absorb or ignore. In the reporting of the different mass killings today is
the killer's religion/ethnicity always mentioned and then added to the word
terror(ist) as the description?
Then comes things like the relevance tests, one local death is worth several
non local deaths is worth large numbers of deaths on another continent, more
for the usual suspects, less if they are doing something the audience does,
like fly. I assume plenty of non coverage over 2 current issues, the large
number of deaths and maybe proto genocide of the Rohingya in Myanmar/Burma,
and the major costs of the drought on Africa.
Seen a lot of news in the Nazi press about the plight of Jews and other
undesirables? Seen the Nazi press labels of the issues and people involved?
Seen the Nazi views building on Eugenics that people with physical and
mental handicaps were better off dead which would also improve society?
Admittedly kept quiet but still the official conclusion.
Democracy requires an informed electorate, which leads to evidence on how
few of the people involved in public life, those making the announcements
and those involved in disseminating them, believe in democracy, since so
much of their output is misleading, exaggeration, selective or simply lies.
So the announcement by that group or person is more how they are against
democracy, while all the little lies and tricks make it much easier for the
big lies to flourish. Language matters, truth matters.
It should be pointed plenty of truths are unacceptable to enough of the
electorate to cause politicians to lose elections. It is at least partly a
two way street.
So we now have covered the power of authority, true believers, the more good
than bad, the best on offer and the only alternative being offered or the
official truth reasons. And the people ordering and providing resources to
the Nazi killing program were mostly true believers but do not discount
other reasons. And the killings were done outside of Germany. The physical
resources necessary to kill large numbers of people proved to be small, the
knowledge of poison gasses providing a cheap killing mechanism.
The Nazi program was a series of steps, salami or creeping actions, starting
with boycotts and exclusions, then new laws, the first concentration camps
were marketed as the do crime do hard time answer and deliberately released
many prisoners to ensure people understood what punishments were possible.
Over the 1930's the plan was to largely get rid of undesirables by migration
after stripping them of assets. Each step made the next one easier. So in
1933 non Aryans were removed from government and legal service, in 1935 came
the official definition of Jewishness and the restrictions on marriage,
extended that year to other Nazi defined inferior groups. In 1936 a
remission for the Olympics, in 1937 and 1938 came the confiscation or forced
sale of property, the major violence of Kristallnacht and subsequent
increase in repression, at the same time reporting of anti Jewish measure
was banned as it was clear the majority of Germans did not like the pogrom.
The need for secrecy was clear when using violence.
Most people have dealt with someone who makes it very clear it is their way
or lots of pain with the result you disengage or let them do things you
dislike because the cost of fighting is not worth it. More so if they are
powerful, which means a trivial amount of effort on their part can cause you
a lot of trouble. Governments have lots of power which is often used in
internal fights and rarely totally focused on an individual but it really
does not need to, labelling someone a trouble maker often seems to be
enough, then comes things like taking advantage of the wide range of
discretionary powers that can be applied after say an anonymous complaint.
Much modern politics carries the subtext the electorate is there as an
audience. You can turn up at the pro or anti rally, carry or mouth the
approved slogans and generally leave without anything happening. If you in
fact make an effective contribution then things change, say for example
making it obvious in a very public way the gap between a public figure and
reality. Then you can expect change, an investigation into you with full
public focus on your failures and embarrassments seems to be standard along
with lots of negative comments from individuals, including threats.
Democracy requires participation, but there is plenty of encouragement for
the electorate to stay as a passive audience. The bonus of individuals
issuing insults and threats to those identified as opponents is it tends to
bind the individuals closer to the cause, after all to be fooled is bad
enough but to be fooled into helping make the world a more ugly place is
worse. Better to believe the opponents deserve it, and the sooner they are
driven out the sooner the ugliness will stop, so the ends justify the means.
Of course the encourage the supporters has its limit as Japan found in the
1930s, the military leaders encouraged their idea of radicals then
discovered the radicals judging and then acting on whether the leaders were
So encourage your supporters to be active, that increases their enthusiasm,
but add encourage them to attack opponents to lock the supporters in more
tightly and increase the (potential) pain for anyone who is not a supporter.
Simple enough to do even without government powers.
Authoritarian governments make it more official, using things like police or
the law to encourage correct thinking and hinder incorrect. And after all
the law, the police and courts are there to enforce correct behaviour,
thinking is simply taking it a step further.
So we have covered the creeping changes and the cost of dissent, and think
about how many people have physical courage versus moral courage, or for
that matter how whistle blowers tend to be treated.
Next on the list of reasons is we all have things we need to do like making
a living and want to do (Wheee!) and these absorb lots of our time and
effort, meaning we delegate off to the system lots of tasks, like keeping
government clean and sane. Or put it another way given food poisoning is a
regular enough occurrence and can be fatal do you test all your food or do
you delegate testing and quality off to the system? Do you have at least
the definitions of junk and good food? After all both groups have the three
essential food groups, salt, sugar and fat, one just has excess amounts.
Anybody you know delegating off to the medical system the responsibility of
compensating for a poor diet?
People have their life to live and many want to be largely left alone.
So at different times various combinations of the leader was believed, the
doctrine was believed, the doctrine was more good than harm, the
alternatives were worse, the cost of dissent too high and time and effort
People today, with all the information available now follow the Nazi ideas
and the hatreds.
As a final point governing is the activity politicians tend to do between
coping with unexpected events, things like natural and man made disasters.
Putting a government in place has an element of predicting the future, what
actions will be taken and what will not, what promises will be quickly kept,
what will be delayed and what will be broken and then comes judging why the
changes were made. Even running for President requires putting together a
program that appeals to enough voters and usually contains policies not
really liked by the candidate, as can be seen by the way they are treated
post election. At the same time opposition or circumstances force changes
and most absolute dictatorships still worry about public opinion.
So there is a final reason, they really would not/could not do the bad
things in their policy program, the system will moderate them and probably
the bad bits are the usual political exaggerations anyway, besides we can
remove them from power at the next election.
Add this, would anyone believe you in say late 1942 if you stood up and
announced the Nazis had industrialised mass murder and were killing
millions? How would you tell the Germans and what could they actually do
about it then? The very size of the program (small) and the numbers it
could kill (large) worked to keep it undiscovered and unbelieved. The
allies knew something about the program but ran into this problem and in any
case the people doing the killings were unlikely to worry about allied
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