Why did so many Germans support Hitler?

by on March 30, 2005 at 7:47 am in Political Science | Permalink

A well-respected German historian has a radical new theory to explain a nagging question: Why did average Germans so heartily support the Nazis and Third Reich? Hitler, says Goetz Aly, was a "feel good dictator," a leader who not only made Germans feel important, but also made sure they were well cared-for by the state.

To do so, he gave them huge tax breaks and introduced social benefits that even today anchor the society. He also ensured that even in the last days of the war not a single German went hungry. Despite near-constant warfare, never once during his 12 years in power did Hitler raise taxes for working class people. He also — in great contrast to World War I — particularly pampered soldiers and their families, offering them more than double the salaries and benefits that American and British families received. As such, most Germans saw Nazism as a "warm-hearted" protector, says Aly, author of the new book "Hitler’s People’s State: Robbery, Racial War and National Socialism" [TC: I cannot find it on U.S. Amazon, try this German link] and currently a guest lecturer at the University of Frankfurt. They were only too happy to overlook the Third Reich’s unsavory, murderous side.

Financing such home front "happiness" was not simple and Hitler essentially achieved it by robbing and murdering others, Aly claims. Jews. Slave laborers. Conquered lands. All offered tremendous opportunities for plunder, and the Nazis exploited it fully, he says.

Read more here.  I am a believer in studying the extremes.  Hitler’s Germany (extreme oppression and persecution), modern Haiti (a complete mess), and Yugoslavia in the 1990s (relapse from tolerance into murder) have a special hold on my attention in this regard. 

And might you think that the German soldiers always followed orders?  How about this:

In Auschwitz…there is not one case in the records of an SS man being prosecuted for refusing to take part in the killings, while there is plenty of material showing that the real discipline problem in the camp — from the point of view of the SS leadership — was theft [from arriving Jews and others].  The ordinary members of the SS thus appear to have agreed with the Nazi leadership that it was right to kill the Jews, but disagreed with Himmler’s policy of not letting them individually profit from the crime.  And the penalties for an SS man caught stealing could be draconian — almost certainly worse than for simply refusing to take an active part in the killing.

That is from the new and noteworthy Auschwitz: A New History, by Laurence Rees.

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