I love it when a book brings up historical questions, especially when they are questions I think a lot of people avoid. I read The Book Thief not too long ago and really enjoyed it. It was amazingly written, the perspective was great and something I had never seen before, and the topic it examined is something I think a lot of people still glance over: The role of the German people in Nazi Germany.
A lot of people refer to WWII Germany, and all of it’s citizens with the blanket term of “Nazi’s,” honestly, I used to be one of them. Then I got a couple of history degrees, and I read a lot on the topic, and finally decided that you can’t call them all Nazi’s, even if they were in the Nazi party. It’s really only a term that I think should describe the true believers and zealots in the Third Reich (Every Man Dies Alone is a great book about all this). I think because of the horrendous things that happened under the Third Reich many people want to push all of the blame onto one group of people and try and move on. In doing so though, we are vilifying an entire nation of people many of who were just trying to survive like the rest of the Europeans. Now, in reality, not many people I think can honestly say they were not members of the Nazi party, but as The Book Thief points out, many only joined the party to be able to maintain employment, keep their businesses open, and receive rations and whatnot. We would all like to say that we would never have joined the party on principle, but I am sure many of us would have because the instinct to survive is a powerful one.
What I am getting at though, is just how difficult a situation it was, and what do you all know or think about it?
I can look at it from several different angles and come up with several different reactions.
1 – How anyone could endorse, believe in, or participate in the acts of the Nazi party and military baffles me, on so many levels. Beyond the obvious moral issues of the Holocaust, the whole idea behind Hitler’s German Empire is just crazy to me.
2 – Those who joined the party purely for survival. They get two reactions from me. On one hand I can understand doing what you think it necessary for the survival of your family, and certainly living under the threat of the Nazi’s wold make people sacrifice certain levels of moral obligations. However, I also cannot understand how people can allow such atrocities to take place around them and not stand against it – this is the conundrum though, and the proof of how effective and terrorizing Hitler’s regime was.
I feel like I rambled a bit, but it’s such a broad and in depth questions it’s hard to focus in such a short post – I could easily write a 40 page paper on it! Anyway, questions of morally have always interested me, and fueled my study in topics of American Slavery and Jim Crow – how people can convince themselves to ignore basic moral principles for survival, be it literal or economic or political.