|Einsatzgruppen killing Jews near Ivanogorod, Ukraine. |
Photo intercepted by Polish Underground and used as documentation of war crimes.
How could Nazis have, in a cold and calculating manner, mass murdered millions of people?
They could do so because doing so was in accord with what they had been trained to think.
Nazism had firm ethical, intellectual, and philosophical foundations.
Those firm ethical, intellectual, and philosophical foundations and inspirations included atheism, neo-Paganism, Romantic Nationalism, scientism, and Darwinism.
Yes, Nazis were human beings just like you and me. Yes, Nazis often felt uncomfortable, hesitant, and guilty before, during and after killings. High profile, very powerful Nazis like SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler and SS-Obersturmbannführer Adolph Eichmann publicly complained about how difficult and troubling it was to mass murder people.
On September 7, 1940, in a speech to the officers of the SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler at Metz, Himmler said,
"In Poland in weather forty degrees below zero, where we had to haul away thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, where we had to have the toughness – you should hear this but also forget it again immediately – to shoot thousands of leading Poles … The proud soldier says, 'My God, why do I have to do that, this ridiculous job here!' – It is much easier to go into combat with a company than to suppress an obstructive population of low cultural level, or to carry out executions, or to haul away people, or to evict crying and hysterical women, or to return our German racial brethren across the border from Russia and to take care of them…
You have to consider the work of the S. D. man or of the man of the Security Police as a vital part of our whole work just like the fact that you can carry arms. You are the men to be envied because … if a unit achieves fame …it can be decorated. It's much more difficult in other positions… in this silent, compulsion work, this silent activity."
Adolf Eichmann also complained about how unpleasant it was to mass murder people.
"But I also remember today driving through Lemberg, on the outskirts, and seeing for the first time something I had never seen before, namely a fountain of blood. I passed a site where Jews had been shot some time before and where - apparently as a result of the pressure of the gasses - the blood was shooting out of the earth like a fountain…These are the four official journeys I was instructed to make, and during which I came into direct contact with the extermination of the Jews. I came into contact against my will - I had to obey, I had to do it. I cannot state anything further on this matter."
Not just famous Nazis complained. Ordinary, average Nazis complained about how onerous it was to mass murder people. At first, Nazis killed their victims by shooting them. The Einsatzgruppen did this work. They complained about it. A more impersonal method had to be found, and it was. Gassing was the new, impersonal method of mass murder. Gassing was invented to spare Germans the psychological roadblocks to mass murder.
When Nazis felt uncomfortable, hesitant, or guilty, they used their Nazi ethics to buck themselves up.
This is all a matter of public record. Nazi ethics are visible in propaganda films like "Olympia," "Triumph of the Will," "Jud Suss," and "The Eternal Jew," in thousands of propaganda posters, in Nazi diaries and speech transcripts.
One foundation of Nazism was romantic nationalism and neo-Paganism. Johann Gottfried von Herder, a philosopher who lived in the eighteenth century, is credited with sparking nationalism in Germany.
Here is an excerpt from Herder:
"The savage who loves himself, his wife, and his child with quiet joy and glows with limited activity for his tribe as for his own life is, it seems to me, a more genuine being than that cultured shade who is enchanted by the shadow of his whole species."
Herder is saying it's better to be a "savage" who loves his own tribe than it is to be an educated person who loves all humanity. It's pretty clear that this statement is a rejection of the Good Samaritan parable.
"In his poor hut, [the savage] finds room for every stranger, receives him as a brother with impartial good humor and never asks whence he came. The inundated heart of the idle cosmopolitan is a home for no one....
No greater injury can be inflicted on a nation than to be robbed of her national character, the peculiarity of her spirit and her language. Reflect on this and you will perceive our irreparable loss. Look about you in Germany for the character of the nation, for their own particular cast of thought, for their own peculiar vein of speech; where are they?
Read Tacitus; there you will find their character: 'The tribes of Germany, who never degrade themselves by mingling with others, form a peculiar, unadulterated, original nation, which is its own archetype. Even their physical development is universally uniform, despite the large numbers of the people,' and so forth.
Now look about you and say: 'The tribes of Germany have been degraded by mingling with others; they have sacrificed their natural disposition in protracted intellectual servitude; and, since they have, in contrast to others, imitated a tyrannical prototype for a long time, they are, among all the nations of Europe, the least true to themselves.'
If Germany were only guided by the forces of the age, by the leading strings of her own culture, our intellectual disposition would doubtless be poor and restricted; but it would be true to our own soil, fashioned upon its own model, and not so misshapen and cast down."
The Brothers Grimm took up Herder's call and published wildly successful books on folklore, claiming that their folklore was a key to the German nation, soil, and soul. The Grimms interwove neo-Paganism and nature worship with their German nationalism. Jacob Grimm wrote that myth "is properest to that nation with whose gods it closely coalesces." Get in touch with Germany's folklore; get in touch with German nature and earth, and get in touch with old, Germanic Gods.
The Grimms insisted that their folklore had no foreign impurities. Although "combinations" caused by "peaceful intercourse or war" might produce "gain," "language" did best when pure of foreign interference. The Grimms wanted to be able to present "purely German fare"; "nothing is as edifying or as likely to bring more joy than the products of the Fatherland". "Long lines of Teutonic peoples" were required for the production of the best "poesie"; "blendings with foreign peoples" "disintegrated" poesie and drove it to "extinction".
"Nations hold fast by prescription: we shall never understand their tradition, their superstition, unless we spread under it a bed on still heathen soil". The German characteristic of "thoughtful earnestness," for example, helped the German language shed the undesirable traits which came from Slavs, whose mythology was "several degrees wilder and grosser than German".
"Nature itself is our best witness, for she has let these flowers and leaves grow in these colors and shapes; whoever fails to find them right for certain needs, unknown to nature, can pass right by them, but ought not to demand that they therefore be colored and cut in a different fashion....Everything that is natural can also be healthy...".
...we do not intend to praise these tales or even to defend them against opposing views: their very existence suffices to protect them. Whatever has succeeded in bringing so much pleasure so often, and has at the same time moved and instructed, has its own inner justification and must have flowed from the eternal wellspring that bedews all life."
Because they were natural and German, the Grimms' folklore was a proper guide to behavior: "we wanted...that the book serve as a manual of manners".
The occupying Allied forces in Germany after World War II confiscated the Grimms' books as part of de-Nazification.
Another proponent of nationalism in Germany was Richard Wagner, the great musician. Wagner was an anti-Semite. But Jews were not the only hated other for nationalistic Germans in the nineteenth century. Kulturkampf and Hakata, also known as the German Eastern Marches Society, targeted Poles.
|The massive, c. 1880-1924 immigration of Eastern and Southern and East Asian peasants to the US had an impact on the development of Nazism. Source|
Trends in the United States would also come to provide ethical and intellectual foundations for Nazism.
Between, roughly, 1880 and 1929, a massive influx of peasant immigrants overwhelmed American consciousness. Note the word "consciousness" – I'm not talking about what happened in the streets or in the mines or in the tenements – I'm talking about what happened in human minds.
Americans had electricity, indoor plumbing, democracy, literacy. These new peasant immigrants from East Asia and Eastern and Southern Europe included recent serfs who had little to no experience of money, writing, shoes, self-government, or bathing.
The numbers were overwhelming. Here's a vivid description from H. G. Wells. A visitor to Ellis Island
"is taken through vast barracks littered with people of every European race, every type of low-class European costume, and every degree of dirtiness, to a central hall in which the gist of the examining goes on …
day after day, incessantly, the immigrants go, wild-eyed Gipsies, Armenians, Greeks, Italians, Ruthenians, Cossacks, German peasants, Scandinavians, a few Irish still, impoverished English, occasional Dutch; they halt for a moment at little desks to exhibit papers, at other little desks to show their money and prove they are not paupers, to have their eyes scanned by this doctor and their general bearing by that. Their thumb-marks are taken, their names and heights and weights and so forth are recorded for the card index; and so, slowly, they pass along towards America, and at last reach a little wicket, the gate of the New World.
Through this metal wicket drips the immigration stream – all day long, every two or three seconds, an immigrant with a valise or a bundle, passes the little desk and goes on past the well-managed money-changing place, past the carefully organised separating ways that go to this railway or that, past the guiding, protecting officials – into a new world.
They stand in a long string, waiting to go through that wicket, with bundles, with little tin boxes, with cheap portmanteaus with odd packages, in pairs, in families, alone, women with children, men with strings of dependents, young couples. All day that string of human beads waits there, jerks forward, waits again; all day and every day, constantly replenished, constantly dropping the end beads through the wicket, till the units mount to hundreds and the hundreds to thousands."
The differences between peasant immigrants and Americans were overwhelming. Here, from a House Executive Document, is a horrified description of Slovak peasants
"Their homes are often nothing but scanty huts, of one room, wherein the whole family lives and sleeps promiscuously. The furniture and outfit is very primitive, mostly homemade, and has to last for generations ...
The body clothes of the men are made of coarse linen, their summer clothing of the same material, only coarser, and in winter their clothing consists of suits made from a coarse and thick woolen felting, in the natural color of the wool; an everlasting cap of the sheepskin and a pair of sandals about complete an outfit which has been in vogue with them for generations and which may be an heirloom, since the style hardly ever changes. An important part of their outfit is the roomy and long mantle without sleeves, made up from half a dozen sheepskins which are tanned, the wool being left on ... when the men are away from home these mantles form their complete bed. What these patriarchal cloaks may lack in style is generally made up for by some gaudy embroidery or even painting on the leather side of it…In all, it will be seen that the tastes of these people are anything but refined, are low, in fact."
Americans didn't know how to understand these peasants who were invading their "new and clean country," as Labor Secretary James J Davis, in an anti-immigrant article, put it.
Science stepped in. Science would explain the peasant immigrants to America. In an address before the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Albert Edward Jenks announced, "The greatest problem before America today is the immigration problem ... This great problem is at base anthropological ... as out of these different physical characteristics of the different breeds of people come the psychic characteristics of the different breeds of people"
Science, at that time, was informed by Darwin, who had published "Origin of Species" in 1859.
Myth is the foundational narrative of a culture. The great folklore scholar Bronislaw Malinowski described myth as a people's charter for belief. A people's myth can be compared to the US Constitution. It prescribes what people can do and can't do, what they should and should not do.
Before Darwin, the dominant myth in the West was the Judeo-Christian myth. In this myth, one omnipotent, unique, creator God, in an act of love, created the universe, one time.
I tell my students over and over, "A fish doesn't know it is in water." A Westerner who has never lived under any other myths probably doesn't realize the uniqueness of the Judeo-Christian myth. Many of my students just assume that every religion is about a unique, omnipotent God who creates one universe one time in an act of love, and that everybody believes that "all men are created equal."
That's just not so, of course. Just one example, of many possible examples: Hinduism's Rig Veda describes the creation of the world as the sacrifice of the primal man, Parusha. Parusha's mouth becomes the Brahmans, high caste people. His arms become the princes, or kshatriya, those ranked second in caste hierarchy. The rest of Parusha's body is similarly allotted to various castes. This myth justifies the caste system. In Hindu myth, people are very much NOT created equal. This myth is thousands of years old. With it as justification, as charter, low caste and untouchable Hindus are condemned to hellish lives. They are not equal. They are inferior. Their inferiority is sealed by myth.
Compare this Vedic myth to Talmudic commentary on Genesis, as retold by Nathan Ausubel:
"Why did God create only one Adam and not many at a time? He did this to demonstrate that one man in himself is an entire universe. Also He wished to teach mankind that he who kills one human being is as guilty as if he had destroyed the entire world. Similarly, he who saves the life of one single human being is as worthy as if he had saved all of humanity.
God created only one man so that people should not try to feel superior to one another and boast of their lineage in this wise: 'I am descended from a more distinguished Adam than you.'
He also did this so that the heathen should not be able to say that since many men had been created at the same time, it was conclusive proof that there was more than one God. Lastly, He did this in order to establish His own power and glory. When a maker of coins does his work he uses only one mould and all the coins emerge alike. But the Kings of Kings, blessed be His name, has created all mankind in the mould of Adam, and even so no man is identical to another. For this reason each person must respect himself and say with dignity, 'God created the world on my account. Therefore let me not lose eternal life because of some vain passion!'"
This myth encountered challenges, for example after Columbus discovered America. Were the Indians human? Yes, insisted heroes like Father Bartolome de las Casas. De las Casas said that in the Indians persecuted by conquistadors he saw "Jesus Christ, our God, scourged and afflicted and beaten and crucified, not once, but thousands of times." That is a remarkable statement. No Greek follower of Zeus saw Zeus in the barbarians or helots he conquered. It would be anathema for a Muslim to see Allah in an infidel he decapitated. This myth is, simply, different from other myths. With Sublimus Dei, the Vatican agreed: Indians are human beings. Just like us.
Nazism was a challenge. Catholicism insistently, stubbornly, stuck to the idea that we are all equal children of God, as in this 1943 quote from Vatican Radio: "Every man bears the stamp of God." Some Catholics did buy into Scientific Racism. But, compared to other institutions, the Catholic Church was more significant as a resistor of Scientific Racism than as an adopter. As one SS critic put it, "The Pope has repudiated the National Socialist New European Order. His speech is one long attack on everything we stand for. God, he says, regards all peoples and races as worthy of the same consideration. Here he is clearly speaking in behalf of the Jews and makes himself the mouthpiece of the Jewish war criminals." Similar statements can be found here.
No one argues that all Jews and Christians, all the time, have perfectly adhered to the implications of this myth. Atrocity happens: slavery, conquest, war. The point is, rather, that this was the guiding myth, the narrative that a culture's heroes, famous and obscure, strove to live their lives by, the North Star they struggled to follow, the ideal they hoped to live up to, the still small voice that kept them awake at night, the legacy they worked to pass on.
As Richard Dawkins put it, "Although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist"
Jettisoning the Judeo-Christian myth, and putting Darwinism in its place, was followed by self-identified Darwinists who deduced that, since there is no loving, creator God who made people of other races your brother, since there was no eternal consequence for harming another, since there was no real equality, well, you could put human beings in zoos and put human beings in ovens. And so you did. And you very much did cite your understanding of Darwinism as your guiding myth. And you very much did cite the Judeo-Christian myth as an outdated superstition, that weakened you and that you needed to erase ASAP.
The Judeo-Christian myth of human equality relied on faith. It relied on believing what you could plainly see was not true. People aren't equal. Some are better looking. Some are smarter. Some are healthier. Some are more useful. Science relies on evidence, not faith. Evidence. The evidence is right there in front of your eyes. And so Karl Pearson, who gave us statistics, and Carl Brigham, who gave us the SAT, and Margaret Sanger, who gave us Planned Parenthood, all went to work on proving that peasant immigrants were as inferior as they seemed, and worthy of restriction, or outright elimination.
Everyone was on board. All American presidents during this era. The Ivy League schools. Right wingers. Left wingers. (Pearson changed his name from Carl to Karl to honor Marx.) The mainstream press, the New York Times, the Atlantic Monthly, the Museum of Natural History. The Bronx Zoo. Everyone could plainly see that these peasant immigrants were specimens of an inferior race.
Lothrop Stoddard, Harvard PhD, a terrifically influential scientific racist, wrote "The Revolt Against Civilization: The Menace of the Under Man." Stoddard cited Darwin as the "epoch maker" who inspired scientific racism.
"Let us now consider the rise of the new biology, which has already exerted so powerful an influence upon our philosophy of life and which promises to affect profoundly the destinies of mankind. Modern biology can be said to date from the publication of Darwin's work on The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection in the year 1859. This epoch-making book … marked nothing short of a revolution in the realm of ideas…"
Madison Grant was a great American. Good friend of Teddy Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover. Concerned scientist. Contributed to preservation of the redwood and the bison. Cofounded the Bronx Zoo. His "Passing of the Great Race" contains echoes of Darwin, and foreshadows Hitler, who would write to Grant to tell him that "Passing" was his "bible." Grant specifically identified Christianity, and its idea of the worth of each, individual human life, as the enemy of the scientific racist, an enemy whom scientific racism would need to, and would, defeat in the battleground of ideas.
"The laws of nature require the obliteration of the unfit, and human life is valuable only when it is of use to the community or race. It is highly unjust that a minute minority should be called upon to supply brains for the unthinking mass.
The church assumes a serious responsibility toward the future of the race whenever it steps in and preserves a defective strain ... A great injury is done to the community by the perpetuation of worthless types. These strains are apt to be meek and lowly, and as such make a strong appeal to the sympathies of the successful. Before eugenics were understood much could be said from a Christian … view-point in favor of indiscriminate charity … [now we know charity does] more injury to the race than black death or smallpox.
A rigid system of selection through the elimination of those who are weak or unfit – in other words, social failures – would solve the whole question in one hundred years, as well as enable us to get rid of the undesirables who crowd our jails, hospitals, and insane asylums."
Scientific racist Madison Grant's comparison of Christianity to smallpox would be echoed later by twenty-first century scientific atheist Richard Dawkins, who would compare religion to smallpox.
And there you have it. Christianity is the enemy because Christianity insists on seeing a worthy humanity where there is no scientific evidence of any worthy humanity. It insists on faith, on seeing what is unseen, on seeing invisible value in apparently worthless human specimens.
Grant did put a human being in the Bronx Zoo: Ota Benga.
Christians vociferously protested the placing of a human being in the Bronx Zoo.
"The Rev. James H. Gordon, superintendent of the Howard Colored Orphan Asylum in Brooklyn…said. 'We think we are worthy of being considered human beings, with souls.'" Source: NYT
Learned scientists laughed at their silly Christian ideas of humans and souls. "Mayor George McClellan, for example, refused to meet with the clergymen or to support their cause. For this he was congratulated by the zoo’s director, William Temple Hornaday, a major figure not only in the zoo’s history but also in the history of American conservation, who wrote to him, 'When the history of the Zoological Park is written, this incident will form its most amusing passage.'" Source: NYT
The New York Times approved. Ota Benga "belongs to a race that 'scientists do not rate high in the human scale…The idea that men are all much alike … is now far out of date.'"
|Lidice massacre, occupied Czechoslovakia. Source: Wikipedia|
Let's jump, without any attempt at a segue, without any attempt at creating comfortable distance, from immigrant-overrun, scientific America to the funeral of Reinhard Heydrich, Nazi "protector" – that really was what the Nazis called him – of what is now the Czech Republic. Jan Kubis and Jozef Gabcik, a Czech and a Slovak, assassinated Heydrich; the Nazis, in retaliation, wiped out the village of Lidice.
SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler, coordinator of the Holocaust, eulogized Heydrich:
"We will have to deal with Christianity in a tougher way than hitherto. We must settle accounts with this Christianity, this greatest of plagues that could have happened to us in our history, which has weakened us in every conflict. If our generation does not do it then it would I think drag on for a long time. We must overcome it within ourselves … We shall once again have to find a new scale of values for our people: the scale of the macrocosm and the microcosm, the starry sky above us and the world in us, the world that we see in the microscope.
Man is nothing special at all…He has no idea how a fly is constructed—however unpleasant, it is a miracle—or how a blossom is constructed. He must once again look with deep reverence into this world. Then he will acquire the right sense of proportion about what is above us, about how we are woven into this cycle.
Then, on a different plane, something else must happen: we must once again be rooted in our ancestors and grandchildren, in this eternal chain and eternal sequence … By rooting our people in a deep ideological awareness of ancestors and grandchildren we must once more persuade them that they must have sons … everything that we do must be justifiable vis-à-vis the clan, our ancestors. If we do not secure this moral foundation which is the deepest and best because the most natural, we will not be able to overcome Christianity on this plane and create the Germanic Reich which will be a blessing for the earth. That is our mission as a nation on this earth. For thousands of years it has been the mission of this blond race to rule the earth and again and again to bring it happiness and culture."
In another speech, delivered a year later, Himmler spoke to his fellow SS officers.
"One basic principle must be the absolute rule for the S.S. men. We must be honest, decent, loyal, and comradely to members of our own blood and nobody else. What happens to a Russian and a Czech does not interest me in the least. What the nations can offer in the way of good blood of our type we will take, if necessary by kidnapping their children and raising them here with us.
Whether nations live in prosperity or starve to death interests me only in so far as we need them as slaves for our culture: otherwise it is of no interest to me. Whether ten thousand Russian females fall down from exhaustion while digging an anti-tank ditch interests me only in so far as the anti-tank ditch for Germany is finished. We shall never be tough and heartless where it is not necessary, that is clear.
We, Germans, who are the only people in the world who have a decent attitude towards animals, will also assume a decent attitude towards these human animals. But it is a crime against our blood to worry about them and give them ideals, thus causing our sons and grandsons to have a more difficult time with them. When somebody comes up to me and says: 'I cannot dig the anti-tank ditch with women and children, it is inhuman, for it would kill them,' then I have to say: 'You are the murderer of your own blood, because if the anti-tank ditch is not dug German soldiers will die, and they are the sons of German mothers. They are our own blood....' Our concern, our duty, is our people and our blood. We can be indifferent to everything else. I wish the S.S. to adopt this attitude towards the problem of all foreign, non-Germanic peoples, especially Russians....
Most of you will know what it means when 100 bodies lie together, when there are 500, or when there are 1000. And to have seen this through, and to have remained decent, has made us hard and is a page of glory.
We have the moral right, we had the duty to our people to do it, to kill … we exterminated the bacillus, we don't want to become sick and die from the same bacillus.
I will never see it happen, that even one bit of putrefaction comes in contact with us, or takes root in us. On the contrary, where it might try to take root, we will burn it out together. But altogether we can say: We have carried out this most difficult task for the love of our people. And we have taken on no defect within us, in our soul, or in our character."
It frightens and saddens me that something as big and as utterly public as Nazism could be the object of so much politically-motivated obfuscation. No, Nazism was not an expression of Christianity.
Nazism's roots could not be more obvious. Nazis themselves announced publicly and often their thought processes.
The Big Lie never dies. Good people must always resist it. And we must invite our friends to learn the truth.