By Julie Farthing
I have just recently returned from an extended European holiday, of which two weeks was spent meandering around the German countryside. My husband and I relished the warm greetings we received from the Germans, the lovely food and glorious countryside. Germany appears to be well on its way to a full recovery following the horrendous activities of the twentieth century. Given that the ‘wall’ only came down in 1989 it is quite a stupendous recovery in fact. The Germans are also good friends with the Poles now (as we were told by a lovely lady we met in Krakow, just a few days before we clambered over the border to the new-old city of Dresden).
The Germans are a tough bunch, and they are not a race to shirk their responsibilities or to hide their faults. There is evidence a-plenty to remind Germans and the rest of the world about all the bad things that went on there in times gone by. Current day Germans accept this as part of their past, they don’t like it but they most definitely do not want it to be repeated, ever. (Well, of course there are some renegade groups of neo-Nazis and the like, but they are not too worried about them).
I’ve been to Germany before and seen and heard too much already about the Nazis and the atrocities they levelled at just about everyone. I’ve visited the Eagle’s Nest in Berchtesgaden and Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp outside Berlin. I’ve stood in Bebelplatz where the books were burned, and strolled through the pillars at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. I have heard so many terrible stories that I thought I couldn’t learn much more.
Then we went to Nuremburg. In July this year, seventy years after World War II ended in Europe, we walked in the steps of the Nazi groupies in the field where the Rally Grounds once were, and we visited the museum which is housed in the former Documentation Centre buildings.
It was as I walked through the museum (probably one of the best curated museums I have been to) that I began to feel a real fear of dread. It is all too common for Australians these days to draw parallels, real or imagined, between Abbott and Adolph; between the Liberals and the Nazis; our treatment of Asylum Seekers and Hitler’s Final Solution.
How far is this from the actual truth? We would like to think that what happened in Germany in the 1930s and 40s couldn’t happen here. We might imagine that the German people are a different race, or at least were, back then. We might even laugh at our own overreaction to current events in Australia. After all, we’re still OK aren’t we? Even after two years of Liberal rule, we haven’t suffered that much. We can just wait till the next election, boot them out, and start again. Can’t we?
I am worried. Really worried. As I walked through the exhibits and watched the footage at Nuremberg I wrote down some notes on my iPhone, which outlined a well-thought through and systematic approach.
The Nazis implemented each of the following strategies:
- Curtailing free speech
- Sacking dissenters in the public service, stopping the unions, clubs and associations from meeting (by various means, including criminalising them)
- Creating enemies with apparent foul intentions against the nation
- Infiltrating non-aligned organisations and destroying from within
- Initiating ‘compromises’ to allow moderate people to believe they were being heard
- Passing laws outside the constitutional process, through the Enabling Act
- Imprisoning dissenters
- Stopping publication of books not in line with policy
- Generating a sense of group identity – eliminating others not of the same opinion as impure
- Becoming the only party by infiltrating and absorbing others
- Elevating experiences and feelings to the group level, depersonalising individual feelings
- Making government smaller (and eventually abolishing state governments)
- Preparing the minds of the people for war by staging battles, having people in uniforms more and more present
- Borrowing rituals and activities from pre-existing ones to give a feeling of familiarity, a sense that nothing was really changing.
Promoting the ‘Hitler myth’, the absolute authority of the Fuehrer, meant that:
- Only official photographers were allowed near Hitler and his henchmen
- Small gatherings, where the press could get close to Hitler, were prohibited as the man became less publicly available and more an icon
- Press articles focused on creating the legend of Hitler as saviour, a man with no needs, wearing himself out in the service of his people
- When Hitler spoke, the scene was embued with an air of ceremony (mainly through the addition of more, and larger and larger banners around him), the man himself raised higher and higher, and further and further away, from the people.
The most interesting things I learned, though, were how the Nazis distracted the people so they didn’t notice what was going on. The first way was with the rallies. These were never intended to inform the people, they were all PR. Each rally lasted for days, and had a motto, there was lots of free booze and food (can’t see Abbott doing that, not with the budget emergency and all). The second way was by getting people busy doing things, building things, making things. Often these things weren’t important or even finished, but it kept them from really thinking about what was going on.
Obviously, the necessary and inevitable end to the Nazi era was war and destruction. Maybe our Government is trying to get to that bit without some of the time consuming middle part. They certainly haven’t indicated that they actually care about most Australians. Why not kill off a few in a war not of our making? Why not send a few back where they came from? Just a few of course, not everyone, just the ones we don’t like. Who knows? But as I said before, I am definitely worried.
On a final note, it is clear that Hitler could not have done what he did without the party machine. Was he a puppet, or just pure evil? I will leave those thoughts with you.