The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 9 No 1 - June 1992

The subversion of a nation

by Simon Calburn

This article is the substance of a lecture given to the Military History Society by Mr Calburn on 13th June 1991.

No one who looks properly at the course followed by the German nation between the two great wars of the 20th century, can fail to be struck by an apparent paradox; viz. how was it possible for one of the three most developed European countries to perpetrate - to allow to happen - the campaign of racial persecution that ensued after 1932 and culminated in the Holocaust, ten years later.

Consideration of this conundrum leads almost inevitably to speculation about the converse: had Britain or France suffered the catastrophes of defeat and depression that overtook Germany in 1918 and 1929 respectively, could either country have followed a substantially similar path?

The purpose of this article is to examine these related questions and to suggest the lines of enquiry that may lead to their answer.

The extent of German responsibility

Two fundamental premises, of course, underlie the topic:
- firstly, that the horrors of the period did actually happen; and
- secondly, that the German people were a party to them, sharing responsibility with the leadership of the National Socialists.

If the validity of either premise can be seriously questioned, then clearly the integrity of the topic, as it is phrased, will be vitiated; and so the first step must be to establish the degree of responsibility that may reasonably be attributed to the German people.

Over the decades that have elapsed since the end of the Second World War, German apologia have tended to follow one of three main lines:
- firstly, to deny that the Holocaust and related events really happened, or to maintain that, even if there was persecution, it has been greatly exaggerated;
- alternatively, to disclaim the nation's responsibility by attributing the blame to the National Socialist leadership, which proceeded along its nefarious path by force and in secrecy;
- alternatively, to claim that there was nothing the German people could actually have done to halt the march of events.

None of these attempts to evade liability for the deeds of the National Socialist r&‚acute;gime will stand up to even the most cursory examination.

Any suggestion that the annihilation of the inferior races did not in fact take place founders immediately under the enormous weight of physical evidence that has been accumulated. Unless one is prepared to accept the theory of a Jewish-organized conspiracy to fabricate the proof, there can be no doubt that the Holocaust happened - and on broadly the scale that is claimed. Whether one accepts the figure of 6 million deaths that is generally mentioned, or the more conservative estimate of a commentator such as Gerald Reitlinger, who suggests a figure of 4 500 000 as being closer to the mark, is immaterial.(1)

The argument that Germany should be absolved of guilt because blame really rests with the Nazi Party can only be sustained if it can be shown that Hitler imposed himself on the country, and was thereafter maintained, by force and in defiance of the popular will. Several points tend to make any such attempt problematical, to put it mildly.

In the first place, Hitler did not just seize power in a coup d'etat: he was constitutionally installed, having in 1932 received some 37% of the popular vote; and his party continued to enjoy the support of a substantial proportion of the German people, at least until military defeat began to loom large. To put it in thoroughly unambiguous terms: The magnitude of the evil Hitler could and did inflict on the world was directly proportionate to the measure in which the German people became the instruments of his will.(2)

Secondly, although it is impossible to establish with any degree of certainty just what proportion of the population was aware of the more appalling aspects of their rulers' activities, common sense alone must lead one to the conclusion that a very large number of people had known a great deal more than they wanted anyone to realise. One has to consider the vast bureaucracy that was required for implementation of the racial measures - from the camp personnel and the members of the Einsatzgriippen themselves, through the supply merchants and the employees of the transport services, right down to the officials who had to handle distribution of the effects of those who had perished - and then to remember that all of these had families and friends to whom they would have talked. One has to take into account the vast number of civilian workers in the service of the biggest employers of slave labour - Thyssen, Krupp, A.E.G. and I.G. Farben - all of whom must have known something of the fate of their co-workers. They had families and friends too - as did those members of the Wehrmacht on the Eastern front serving in 6th Army group, who were served on 1 October 1941 with the following order of the day by Feldmarshall Walter von Reichenau:
'The soldier in the Eastern territories is not merely a fighter according to the rules of the art of war, but also the bearer of a ruthless national ideology. . . therefore the soldier must have understanding of the necessity of a severe but just revenge on subhuman Jewry.'(3)

(This infamous army order was copied within a month by von Küchler of 18th Army and von Manstein of 11th Army, though whether they received the same commendation from the Einsatzgruppen command as did von Reichenau is not recorded.)

Finally, it is worth pointing out that any blanket denial of German connivance does less than justice to the millions of Germans - 36% of the voters in the 1932 Reichstag election - who resisted the lure of National Socialism and to the nearly three-quarters of a million who subsequently gave up their lives to oppose the evils being perpetrated by their rulers.

This last point alone tends to nullify the third class of defence offered by the apologists - that those who opposed were anyway powerless. It is, of course, true that, by the time the Final Solution was put into effect (after the Wannsee conference in January 1942), Germany was engaged in a two-front war, in the context of which the mounting of any general resistance would have been virtually impossible; but this fact does not weaken the responsibility of all those who subscribed to the pre-war philosophy that had found expression already in such events as the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, substantial deportations and the so-called Night of Broken Glass in late 1938. Everyone knows that politicians in power usually sing a vastly different song from the one they sang in the wilderness: but the NSDAP (the National Socialist Democratic Workers Party) was in power, and there was no good reason, say after 1935, to think that the trend of events would alter in any material way. Approximately a year elapsed between Kristallnacht and the outbreak of war; and there was no more indication in that time - the last possible moment for any coherent movement against Nazism, as it was manifesting itself, to emerge - that the German people wished to curb the monster they had spawned than there had been in the previous six years.

If, therefore, these answers are regarded as sufficient to validate the questions posed at the outset, one can proceed to consideration of where the answers may lie.

Some conventional explanations

Over the years that have passed since the end of the war and the full revelation of the monstrous deeds that occurred between 1932 and 1945, there has been no lack of attempts at explanation of what has increasingly come to be viewed as a phenomenon unique in the annals of human history.

The most simplistic, perhaps, is that contained in Winston Churchill's famous phrase: 'The hun is either at your throat or at your feet'; in other words, the Germans are simply wicked bullies. Such a view may be justifiable in the heat of conflict; but, since the Germans are merely humans, much like any other, this suggestion cannot be said to contribute much to proper understanding of the course of events.

More reasonable are suggestions that one need look no further than the punitive conditions of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, and the effects of the depression of the late 'twenties, to find the causes of National Socialism's accession to unlimited dominance. Both, of course, played a substantial role in the short term, and no doubt contributed largely to the success of the party's pursuit of power - but neither can be shown to explain German acceptance of the way in which that power was ultimately exercised. Even if German reaction to the 'Diktat' of Versailles was wholly justified - which itself is a matter of some doubt - such disenchantment should, in logic, have led only to a resumption of hostilities with the victors of 1918 at some undetermined point in the future. Equally, though the 1929 depression might well have been expected to produce a reaction against the existing government, there is nothing in logic to suggest that National Socialism, once the country had been broadly stabilised, should have proceeded down the barbaric road it chose.

Almost as simplistic - though eminently understandable in the circumstances - is a Jewish view that the Holocaust derived directly from, and as a more or less inevitable consequence of, pathological anti-Semitism. This argument seems doubtful in that it regards anti-Jewish feeling as being self-sustaining at a constant level, rather than as predominantly a symptom of the malaise of others. Anti-Semitism has, for reasons that one can understand, if not approve, been with us for as long as the Jews themselves; but the fact is that the emotion waxes and wanes with changes in the circumstances of those countries that contain Jewish minorities, and, thanks to the sound and fury created by its proponents, can appear much more widespread than it actually is. This point, in the present context, is made with considerable force by Professor Theodore Abel, who, in 1933, conducted a study in Germany to try and expose the root causes of the National Socialist rise: his work revealed, among other things, that less than 40% of the population were in any way affected by the anti-Jewish virus.(4)

It thus seems reasonable to conclude that, if none of the answers suggested so far is in itself sufficient to explain fully the reasons for which National Socialism was enabled by the German people to put its evil clamp on their country, one must delve more deeply into the origins of the German condition. Furthermore, since neither France nor Britain - the two other most highly developed European countries - have ever looked like descending to the same political depths, it follows that a comparison of their development over the centuries with that of Germany may serve to illuminate those factors in the German experience that allowed the thirteen year horror of the Thousand-Year Reich.

The ribbon of history

If one looks at the history of any particular country over a long enough span, it is inevitable that certain themes will begin to appear. They will not necessarily be equally obvious in all periods; they will surface and submerge - apparently - as circumstances change ; but, in the final analysis, they will appear as threads, each with a beginning and an end. From such a standpoint, it is possible to maintain that there were fundamental differences in the paths of development followed, on the one hand, by France and Britain, and, on the other, by Germany over the 900-odd years that preceded the institution of the Third Reich.

In the case of the first two countries, at least two themes become easily visible under even the most casual scrutiny. These are, firstly, their progressive stabilisation in unitary kingdoms under centralised authorities; and, secondly, the gradual development within each of a code governing the relationship between rule and ruled.

By the end of the 12th century, as a result of the efforts of the Norman kings of England and the Capetian dynasty in France, both countries were relatively stable and relatively centralised monarchies. Each survived the customary medieval jockeying for power among rival potentates and both progressed in due course to a point where even a threat to the actual institution of kingship did not carry within it any suggestion that removal of the monarch might be accompanied by dissolution of the national bond.

That threat was, of course, in both countries the result of a breakdown in the process whereby royal ambitions and popular demands were reconciled in an ever-changing balancing act; and the fact that these breakdowns occurred at different points in the overall chronology of the centuries, reflects only the fact that the two countries did not follow exactly the same course at the same speed. Economic development in England, for example, had, by the beginning of the 17th century, progressed rather farther than it had in France: since progress in commerce and industry tended to produce a transfer of financial power away from hereditary, land-based interests and towards the rising class of merchants and manufacturers - which class, not unnaturally, felt that the material shift should be accompanied by a comparable expansion of their participation in their own governance - it is wholly surprising that the one major breakdown that occurred in England in the evolution of the relationship between ruler and ruled happened 150 years before - and for rather different reasons than - the major disruption that afflicted the process in France in 1789. Thus, while Charles I of England lost his head in 1640 because, like his immediate predecessor, he disregarded the limitations on royal power that had begun to emerge in the changing world of the late Tudors, and overstepped the bounds of what had come to be regarded as permissible for an English monarch, Louis XVI of France lost his for failing to recognize that the social and economic changes which had overtaken his country since the days of the Sun King required a fundamental adjustment in the relationship of crown and subject.

The emergence of a constitutional monarchy in England during the 18th and 19th centuries reflected both a royal awareness of the lessons of the Interregnum, and at least tacit acceptance by the diverse interests of the land of the extent to which their contribution was recognized in the structure of government. It is surely significant that, almost alone among the European countries, England remained virtually untouched by the upheavals of 1848; and if France's progress towards social democracy in the 19th century was more troubled as the result of her slower progress up to the time, at least she too arrived at the end of the century with a not dissimilar system of broadly representative government. The essential similarity of the routes followed by both countries up to this point is well summarised in these words:
'England and France have had their problems of adjustment . . . for there is no finality or stability in the process of history; but. . . (they were) .. . adjustments in a framework of continuity which even the greatest upheavals, such as the revolution of 1789 accentuated and consolidated far more than they disturbed.'(5)


If now one turns to consideration of the course of German development over the same 900-year span, it becomes immediately apparent that although themes do appear, they are vastly different from those that run through the progress of Britain and France. Indeed, they are exact antitheses, for German history is a story of development stifled and retarded. The consolidation of the early monarchy and the establishment of national unity were irremediably checked in the Middle Ages; economic development was frustrated by the ensuing political fragmentation; and the industrial and commercial middle class that had acted as the catalyst of political progress in Britain and France failed to gain sufficient strength to play the same role in Germany until the late 19th century.

Herein, one can see by contrast with what has gone before, must surely lie the answers to the questions posed at the outset - an explanation for the phenomenon whereby one political grouping was able between 1932 and 1945 to subvert the whole German nation and bend it to its own evil will. The remainder of this paper will attempt to highlight the main landmarks on the road that led to this end.

The Middle Ages: 1075 - 1250

By the late 11th century, the Holy Roman Emperors of the Salian line were in a fair way to matching the achievements of the Norman kings of England and the Capetian rulers of France in the establishment of a centralised monarchy. However, the fact that the territories in which their interests lay were widely scattered, extending down into Italy, faced German kings with a difficulty that afflicted the rulers of neither England nor France to the same degree.

All early aspirant monarchs faced the same fundamental hurdle: that of establishing their authority over the rival great men of territories they sought to rule. Where the Salian emperors ran up against an impediment that wrecked their efforts was in the emergence of the Papacy, in the shape of Gregory VII, as another secular power in search of aggrandisement. The effects of the resulting conflict was to divert imperial attention to Italy and thus to allow the great men of the northern regions - encouraged by papal meddling - to escape from royal attempts to maintain and enlarge its dominion. The subsequent efforts of the first Hohenstaufen emperor (Frederick Barbarossa - 1134 to 1190) to redress the balance, achieved considerable success; but the renewed concentration of Frederick II (1215 - 1250) on his Italian and Sicilian possessions virtually allowed the imperial case in Germany to go by default.

By the end of this period, royal power had been substantially usurped by the competing warlords, each intent only on establishing his own power base; and authority had thus been splintered among the local territorial units into which the imperial domain was disintegrating.

From the late 12th century on, for the next six hundred years, the story of Germany therefore revolves around two trends. The first of the continuing decline of any royal centralising power capable of suppressing sectional interests for a national end and the accompanying cementation of Germany into a plethora of separate geographic entities. The second, for economic reasons at least in part a concomitant of the first, is the almost complete absence of any movement towards the development of broadly-based representative government - towards the evolution of a stable balance between rulers and ruled.

Stagnation: 1250 - 1789


The fragmentation that had been allowed to establish itself at a geographical level tended towards self-perpetration. In the first place, the extent to which successive Holy Roman Emperors continued to look elsewhere rather than at Germany, thus leaving their titular northern provinces to their own devices, if anything increased over the years. The climax to this process was perhaps reached in the 16th century when the Habsburg Holy Roman Emperor - by now, as has been said, neither Holy, nor Roman nor even an Emperor - found himself king of Catholic Spain as well as ruler of Protestant northern Germany. Not surprisingly, an emperor such as Charles V saw his priorities in the order: Habsburg, Spain and lastly, Germany; and it is thus not to be wondered at that, lacking the imposition of any force working towards unity, the particularism of the provincial princes flourished.

In the second place, it invited the intervention in German affairs of any other continental power that could discern an opportunity for advancement. Chief among these was France, whose major interest in Europe, perhaps, became the maintenance of German disunity and attendant weakness. By the 17th century, it could be said of the princelings of Germany that they existed only as clients of Austria or France; and the dangers implicit in this were made manifest by the consolidation of French power in Alsace, culminating in the annexation, first, of Strasbourg in 1681, and then of Lorraine in 1766.

Only towards the end of the 17th century was there any sign that the disunity of the German hotch-potch might not prove eternal - and that indication appeared in the rise from relative obscurity of Brandenburg Prussia, since the ruin of the Palatinate in the Thirty Years' War one of the two most substantial of the German states. Here, for the first time since the eclipse of the imperial dignity, there appeared a state that seemed capable of aspiring to nationality.

The three great Hohenzollern electors who ruled between 1640 and 1786 - the last of whom was Frederick the Great (1740 - 1786) - achieved in their lands two things: firstly, acceptance of the idea of subordination of all the people, from (and including) the king downwards, to the service of the state; and secondly, creation of a proper standing army to be financed from within the state by implementation of disciplined financial administration. Within the prevailing context, these developments were little short of revolutionary; but it was to be another century and a half before they produced their logical result in the emergence of a German nation. Moreover, the long history of particularism meant that unification, when it eventually arrived, would come rather through the imposition of force from above than as a result of any popular drive from below.


The appearance of any coherent movement in Germany for a broadening of the political base had to wait just as long, since the most devastating result of fragmentation was to seriously inhibit economic development and, in so doing, to hold back the growth of the commercial classes that, in both France and England, were to act as the principal agency in the sprouting of what we are accustomed to call 'democracy'. Lacking the appearance of such new classes, pressing for admission to the ranks of those who wielded power through government, there was no progress towards a widening of the basis of representation.

The development of vigorous commercial life, centring on the towns, was, in the early part of the period, to a large extent frustrated by the multiplicity of state boundaries and bureaucracies - a disadvantage explicitly recognized by the 16th century 'Reichsreform' plan, which included proposals for a general customs area - and was ultimately subverted by princely attempts to appropriate, through taxation, the financial fruits for themselves. Rationalisation of these efforts did in fact lead to the formation of rudimentary representative institutions in the form of the Estates General - which soon learned that a vote of funds could, with advantage, be accompanied by a demand for the redress of grievances. Progress from this small beginning was, however, effectively blocked by an accumulation of events in the 16th and 17th centuries, including such disparate phenomena as foreign trade competition and the devastation inflicted on German agriculture by the Thirty Years' War, much of which was fought over German fields.

As a result, by the end of the 18th century, a large commercially-based sector had yet to appear; and the existing 'middle class' comprised mainly the civil servants who proliferated in the hothouse of unnecessary, and very expensive, state establishments.

The Age of Revolution: 1789-1850

Germany therefore entered the age of revolution in more or less as undeveloped a condition as had prevailed for the previous five centuries; and for at least the first half of the 19th century, there was no very marked sign that this position was about to change.

To be sure, the German agglomeration did not remain unaffected by the momentous events of 1789 and the subsequent tyranny of Bonaparte; but the impact of these events seemed, in the short term to be of limited significance. Napoleon's consolidation of the 200-odd territorial entities into a group of some thirty states of medium size, in an attempt to increase Germany's material ability to contribute to his imperial ambitions, did little, in reality, to cure the endemic ills of fragmentation. Germany after 1815 remained industrially and commercially backward; and the most important legacy of these years appears to lie in the fact that absorption of the liberal political ideas of the Great Revolution ran hand in hand with the pronounced rise in 'national consciousness' that flowed from the defeat of Prussia and Austria, respectively at Jena in 1806 and Austerlitz in 1807, and the most gross imposition of French dominance that had yet occurred in German history.

The nationalist movement was characterised by a hysterical nostalgia for a largely mythical past, in which being 'German' had been, for the individual, a source of pride. It looked back to the days when the imperial dignity had meant something in terms of power; and betrayed, in its glorification of the great leaders of the Hohenstaufen and before, and in its celebration of the German Geist or Spirit, the extreme frustration that was starting to emerge with the continued inability of the German world to achieve any kind of national significance among the powerful centralised nation states that dominated European affairs. Thus Fichte's admonition to the German 'nation': 'Among all modern peoples, it is you in whom the seed of perfection most decidedly lies, and you who are charged with progress in human development. If you perish.., then there perishes with you every hope of the whole human race for salvation.'(6) Unsurprisingly, German nationalism came to embrace all those who spoke German, to glorify the leader, and to assert the rights to power of the strongest - all this wrapped up in a murky doctrine of racial purity, seasoned with a liberal pinch of anti-Semitism. An intoxicating brew, indeed.

As a set of concepts, 19th century German nationalism had, therefore, nothing in common with the ideas that were simultaneously coming to the surface on the subject of political participation. The fact that the revolutionaries of the first half of the century tended to espouse the two together indicated only that lack of both national unity and a more broadly based system of political representation were perceived as being the two main shortcomings of the German condition, the two principal sources of dissatisfaction with the existing establishment. The nationalist forces were, in fact, profoundly conservative; and since it was they that, through force of circumstance, came to dominate the German ethos, in the process infecting even staunch liberals with the ideology of power, it was, in the end result, the nationalist drive that encompassed the temporary destruction of the forces acting for political change.

The process by which this occurred - which constituted the first really drastic alteration in the direction of German development for 600 years - is the dominating theme up to the outbreak of the Great War.

Nationhood & Autocracy 1850-1914

In the second half of the 19th century, as a result of the opening up of the Ruhr coalfields and the subsequent development of a vital steel industry, Prussia, with over half the German population, emerged relatively suddenly as a European force to be reckoned with.

One consequence of this was the elevation of North Germany, during the ascendancy of Otto von Bismarck, to the dignity of a proper nation state, free of artificial economic restraints such as internal trade and tariff barriers, able to stand up to both France and Austria. In fact, the so-called 'unification' of Germany actually amounted to the formal division of the German peoples into two separate power blocs: Bismarck was less interested in the idea of 'Germany' than he was in furthering the interests of Prussia; a total 'unification' of Germany would, in all likelihood, have amounted to the submerging of Prussia, and this was not an end likely to appeal to a Hohenzollern executive. Accordingly, although the Germany that emerged after the defeats of Austria in 1866 and France in 1871 was a 'Little Germany', with Prussia very much the controlling force, the event marked a major step towards the creation of the fully united 'Greater' Germany eventually achieved by the National Socialists.

A second product of the economic advance was the appearance, for the first time in German history, of a broadly-based movement intent on extending the base of political participation. This movement was, however, to face much greater difficulties. Liberal ideas, despite receiving limited recognition of the kind that had animated the reform programme of Hardenberg and Stein after 1815, were, of course, anathema to the Prussian authoritarian philosophy; although of necessity lip-service had to be paid to the new forces, Bismarck spent much of his career attempting to render them powerless - and with some success. If the anti-Socialist Laws of 1878 were unlikely to provide a long-term solution to the aspirations of the new class of industrial employee, the opening of the door to participation in the power and privilege of the establishment by the rising industrial middle class was a much more effective way of subverting popular pressure; and one, which, given the course subsequently followed by Germany in international affairs, had lasting influence. It ensured that a growing and powerful section of the community, innately resistant to the radical social change that might threaten its own position, remained a force for the maintenance of the conservative establishment, instead of becoming, as in England and France, a force for change.

Nonetheless, by the time that Bismarck was dismissed in 1888, his policy of curtaining at all costs the participation of the masses in the political process faced bankruptcy. This was, indeed, the cause of his eclipse. The social security laws enacted from 1883 onwards were insufficient to stem the rising tide; and, faced with the absolute necessity of accommodating the political aspirations of the rapidly rising working class, Bismarck could see no alternative to repression. The Kaiser, fearing that such steps as the abrogation of the 1871 constitution (no matter how imperfect that instrument) would lead to civil war, so far had the emerging forces progressed, had no alternative but to look in a different direction; and the essential correctness of this view was amply demonstrated by the fact that, after two years of the more liberal administration of Bismarck's successor, Caprivi, the Reichstag elections of 1890 produced a pronounced swing in favour of those advocating constitutional social democracy.

By no means did this imply the complete defeat of the forces of reaction as a foregone conclusion; but it did indicate that the movement towards political liberalism had survived the initial attempts at its suffocation and could be expected to continue dragging the conservative element into the light of modern day.

It was precisely at this point that the First World War, and the devastating defeat suffered by Germany in that conflict, disrupted the logic of the whole process.

The Consequences of Arrested Development: 1914-1932

Social democracy in Germany, as could be expected in view of its very recent appearance, and the considerable residual strength of the conservative establishment, was, as yet, in the political context, a fairly fragile flower; and the forces unleashed by defeat and the subsequent 'Diktat' of Versailles, fatally side-tracked its development along normal lines. As the Frankfurter Zeitung commented, with unusual prescience, in its edition of December 11, 1918: 'Does... (the establishment of a social democrat government) ... dispose of the old faith in authority? For 400 years we have known nothing but obedience to bureaucracy: Frederick the Great declared that he was tired of ruling over slaves. Has the idea of a free people now become a reality?'(7)

Whether or not the Treaty of Versailles was unfair to Germany is beside the point. What matters, as A J P Taylor has pointed out,(8) is that the Germans thought it so, and, encouraged by army attempts to shuffle off the responsibility for their military failure, proceeded to make social democracy the scapegoat for stabbing Germany in the back. Under this emotional pressure, much of the liberal movement tended to abandon its efforts and to align itself with the defeated establishment; the nationalist hysteria that had prevailed in the 19th century as a result of frustration with the lack of progress towards the ending of German impotence, and, after the process of unification had begun, in support of it, now resurfaced in even more exaggerated form, with the Jews to an increasing extent being made into the national scapegoat.

Even so, the forces of social change might have survived - as they had weathered the efforts of Bismarck - to lead Germany into a democratic 20th century; but a second massive set-back occurred with the catastrophic Depression of 1929, made to seem worse, of course, by contrast with the previous four years of relative prosperity that had followed massive injections of American aid. Thus, both Versailles and the Depression of the early 1930s, though they cannot be thought, of themselves, to have 'caused' the rise of the NSDAP, combined to subsume the new idea of free, representative government in an anarchic flood of resurgent nationalism, under the auspices of which an autocracy of unparalleled severity took over the destiny of the German nation for the ensuing twelve years.

The secret of the success of the National Socialist Democratic Workers Party is contained in the name itself. Its promoters, having correctly identified the twin weaknesses of Germany's development, showed real genius in combining the resurgent nationalism that had been born of affront, and its romantic preoccupation with strong leaders, with an apparent commitment to radical social and political change. Thus apparently satisfying both conservative and liberal in a political conjuring trick of unsurpassable effrontery, the NSDAP was able to present itself to the widest possible constituency as a force for the redemption of the country as a whole and to replace the idea of popular representation with the Führerprinzip - government by one man and his chosen elite, whose word was to be the law. Acceptance of this, and its accompanying elevation of the Jewish scapegoat to the top of the list of national evils requiring remedial action, amounted to complete abdication by a large section of the population of political responsibility

In the words of psychologist Dr Erich Fromm: '... Nazism... offered the atomised individual a new refuge and security. . . The individual (was) made to feel powerless and insignificant, but taught to project all his human powers on to the figure of the Leader, the State, the "Fatherland", to whom he has to submit and whom he has to worship. He escapes from freedom into a new idolatry. All the achievements of individuality and reason, from the late Middle Ages to the 19th century, are sacrificed on the altars of new idols.'(9)

The way was thus opened for the total subversion by the NSDAP of the power of the country into whatever channels it chose. 'Hitler was the fate of Germany', said Feldmarschall von Brauchitsch, 'and that fate would not be stayed.'(10) It does not, of course, follow that the National Socialist creed, in all its infamy, is the only possible fate for a country whose development has seen the frustration alike of nationalist aspirations and progress towards the sharing of power; but it seems quite clear that, in the German case, the rise of National Socialism as a dictatorship is logically explicable in terms of those frustrations. By converse, it appears equally probable that the progress of both Britain and France to democratic nationhood had, by the end of the 19th century, effectively removed the possibility that the populations of either, in the face of adversity such as that suffered by Germany after 1918, would have collapsed into a state of comparable submission.

Consider the admonition delivered by Prof Max Wundt in 1932 to student body in Berlin: 'From now on... no more Jewish-Bolshevik Marxism, no levelling down liberalism, no abstract conceptual rationalism... At stake from now on is the primary experience of the German that is sacred to us all, our recognition of the rebirth of Germany, the unshakeable faith in the liberating mission of the Führer. The politically conscious National Socialist will free himself from paralysing parliamentarianism by his total emotional commitment to the will of the Führer, of blood, of race ... '(11)

Can one really imagine these words being uttered in all solemnity in a comparable English context?



Abel, Theodore, Why Hitler came into power (Prentice Hall, New York, 1938)
Barraclough, Geoffrey, The Origins of Modern Germany (Blackwells, Oxford, 1966)
Bauer, Yehuda, ed. The Holocaust as Historical Experience (Holmes & Meier, New York, 1981)
Davidowicz, Lucy, S. The War against the Jews (Holt, Rhinehart & Winston, New York, 1975)
Fromm, Erich. The Sane Society (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1956, 2nd edition, 1979)
Laquer, W. The Terrible Secret (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, 1980)
Reitlinger, Gerald. The Final Solution (Valentine Mitchell, London, 1953)
Seaman, L C B, From Vienna to Versailles (Harper & Row 1963)
Taylor, A J P, Europe: Grandeur & Decline (Pelican, 1967)
Taylor, A J P, The Habsburg Monarchy (Peregrine, 1964)
Taylor, A J P The Origins of the Second World War (Penguin, 1964)
Wheaton, E B, Prelude to Calamity (Gollancz, London, 1969)

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