Hey! Randy

They Are Still Not Free

Posted by heyrandy on November 11, 2011

They Thought They Were Free, Milton Meyer, University of Chicago Press, 1955

A butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker, not quite. Actually it is a tailor, an unemployed tailor’s apprentice, a cabinetmaker, an unemployed salesman, a high-school student, a baker (one out of three), a bill-collector, an unemployed bank clerk, a teacher, and a policeman. These are the people the author interviews to find out how the National Socialist German Workers Party (the Nazis) came to power.

All of the interviewees describe themselves as “little men.” In America we would call them “nobodies.” That is what they were, and that is why the Nazis came to power. The nobody became somebody–a little somebody. The ten men reveal how easy it was for the Nazis to take over. Each of the ten expresses some weakness to which the Nazis were able to pander.

The Nazis came to power during a time of great uncertainty. The Nazis promised certainty. The Nazis explained how the Germans lost the Great War: the nation was betrayed. The Nazis provided enemies: the “Jews.” The Nazis provided the answers: blood and soil. The people bought it.

Membership in the Nazi Party was never mandatory. Party membership had an elite aura. To be a party member meant that you were someone important. It also made it easier to keep or get a job. Many of the non-members did not join because they could not afford the dues.

The ten men were asked why they did not oppose the atrocities. Their answers are scary. The horrors of the extermination of the Jews (and of others) were dismissed as enemy propaganda. Some of the ten men did not know of the atrocities until after the war. Some denied that they were true.  All ten did not know anyone involved in or anyone who knew anyone involved in the “final solution.” In wartime enemy propaganda and rumors are everywhere. One of the ten was told of the American roundup and incarceration of the ethnic Japanese living on the west coast. The man asked the author what he did about it. The man pointed out that the author knew about it because it was reported in the American newspapers. The German press never reported anything about the concentration camps. “It would not have done any good to protest. The Supreme Court ruled that it was legal,” said the author. The man replied, “It was legal under German law, and it would have done no good. You would have been arrested.”

The author did not reveal to the men that he was Jewish. None of the men guessed. One of the ten said that he could tell if a German was a Jew. All ten denied believing in the Aryan race doctrine. One of the men  related a joke going around. “How do you know a man is an Aryan? An Aryan is tall like Hitler, blonde like Goebbels, and lithe like Goring.” “Only university students believe that race science nonsense.”

The book is instructive as to how the Nazis were able to take over. If you were to bring totalitarianism here, the book gives ten testimonies on how to do it.


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