April Freeman Banner 2014


World in the Grip of an Idea: 11. Germany - The Promise and the Terror


In this series, Dr. Carson examines the connection between ideology and the revolutions of our time and traces the impact on several major countries and the spread of the ideas and practices around the world.

To outward appearances Hitler came to power legally in January of 1933. The Nazi Party had received the largest percentage of the vote in the last two general elections and thus had the largest delegation in the Reichstag. President Hinden­burg had appointed Hitler Chancel­lor, which was the method pre­scribed by law. Indeed, naming him to head the government could have presaged a return to substantial constitutional rule. Undoubtedly, Hindenburg hoped it would. Increas­ingly, for the past two years Ger­many had been governed by presi­dential decree because the Chancel­lors and their cabinets could not command a majority in the Reichs­tag. The naming of Hitler to head the government was supposed to be a step toward restoring parliamen­tary government by placing the head of the largest party at the focus of power.

But Hitler’s rise to power was ac­complished only apparently by legal means. The way is opened to seeing this when we realize that he was granted very little power on January 30, 1933. There were only three Nazis, including Hitler, in the eleven member Cabinet. The allegiance of the armed forces was to President Hindenburg, and he could assume command over them by de­claring martial law. Most police powers were exercised by the states. President Hindenburg further circumscribed Hitler’s powers by re­quiring that he obtain a parliamen­tary majority in order to retain his position. The Reichstag could, in theory, force his resignation at any time by a vote of no confidence. To all but Hitler, and probably a few others, he appeared to be boxed in.

Hitler had no intention of being boxed in or restrained, but it was crucial that he observe the forms of legality. Historians have continued to ponder over the years why the army did not put a stop to Hitler, why the labor unions did not go out on a general strike, and why this or that group (or even the German people) did not rise against him. There are a number of reasons for this, but the primary one is that he had been installed legally in his position. His legal hold on power tended to disarm his enemies and render them irresolute. One scholar has described Hitler’s method of op­eration this way:

… For Hitler’s originality lay in his realization that effective revolutions, in modern conditions, are carried out with, and not against, the power of the State: the correct order of events was first to secure access to that power and then begin his evolution. Hitler never aban­doned the cloak of legality; he recognized the enormous psychological value of hav­ing the law on his side….¹

He wore this cloak much more frequently during the first year and a half than he did thereafter.

To Gain Power

Hitler was faced with political problems as soon as he was in­stalled. The most pressing was to get a working majority in the Reichs­tag. Beyond that, he wanted to have passed an Enabling Act which would permit the cabinet to promul­gate laws without Reichstag ap­proval. This would allow him to bypass not only the Reichstag but also the President. There was a pos­sibility that he could have got his working majority, but there was no possibility of getting an Enabling Act through the Reichstag with its present composition. The Social Democrats and Communists—the Marxist parties—almost certainly would combine to prevent that. As a matter of fact, The Social Democrats determined quickly after Hitler was installed as Chancellor that they would introduce the call for a no confidence vote as soon as the Reichstag met.

The Cabinet considered three dif­ferent approaches toward getting a working majority. Hugenberg, the Nationalist leader, wanted to expel the Communists from the Reichstag. Not only would this be illegal but it might also provoke the dreaded gen­eral strike. Hitler and the others rejected this approach.

Another, and legal, way would be to get the support of the Centre Party and possibly also the Bava­rian People’s Party, probably by bringing them into the government. Hitler did enter into negotiations with the leaders of these parties, but reported to the Cabinet that their demands were too great for any hope of agreement. There is a widely held belief that Hitler did not want to come to terms with these parties. That may well be, for he certainly would have been boxed in if he had accepted dependency on the Centre Party, say. Even a small party holding a balance of power would have great leverage.

In any case, Hitler adopted a third approach, one which he probably had planned from the outset: to ask President Hindenburg to dissolve the Reichstag and call for a new election. The election was set for March of 1933.

Hitler seemed to be taking a con­siderable gamble by holding new elections. This would be the third such election in less than a year, and the Nazi Party vote had been small­er in the second than in the first. If it should decline once again, Hitler’s position would be less secure than it was. Of course, Hitler believed that as head of the government he would be able to employ fair means and foul to consolidate his position. The pretext for resorting to force, if he needed one, was provided by a for­tuitous event: the Reichstag fire. On the night of February 27, 1933 the Reichstag building went up in flames.

An Excuse to Suspend Liberties and Use Force

While the building was still smol­dering, Hitler concluded that the fire had been set by Communists or, more broadly, Marxists. It was a signal, he proclaimed, for a Bol­shevik revolution in Germany. So far as has ever been determined, it was actually the work of a lone man, a Dutch ex-Communist who confessed to it and was executed. A great effort was made to prove that there was a Communist conspiracy; several Communists were arrested and tried. However, the court found them not guilty. It was widely held for a long time that the fire must have been set by Nazis, that it prob­ably was directed by Hermann Goer­ing, and some still believe this to have been the case. However, care­ful scholarly investigation since World War II has failed to turn up any solid evidence that the Nazis did it.²

In any case, the Nazis used the occasion to suspend liberties and step up the use of force. On the day after the fire President Hindenburg was induced to sign a decree permit­ting the government to place "Re­strictions on personal liberty, on the right of free expression, including freedom of the press; on the rights of assembly and association….," among other things.3 Just prior to the election, "Some four thousand Communist officials and a great many Social Democrats and liberal leaders were arrested, including members of the Reichstag, who, ac­cording to the law, were immune from arrest."

.. Truckloads of storm troopers roared through the streets all over Ger­many, breaking into homes, rounding up victims and carting them off to S.A. barracks, where they were tortured and beaten. The Communist press and politi­cal meetings were suppressed; the Social Democrat newspapers… were sus­pended…. Only the Nazis and their Nationalist allies were permitted to campaign unmolested.4

The tenor of the campaign is re­vealed in these promises of Goering in a speech at Frankfurt two days before the election: "Certainly, I shall use the power of the State and the police to the utmost, my dear Communists, so don’t draw any false conclusions; but the struggle to the death, in which my fist will grasp your necks, I shall lead with those down there-the Brown Shirts."5

Erasing the Communists

Even with the power of an unre­strained government behind them, the Nazis failed to get the majority they sought; they received approxi­mately 44 per cent of the total vote. However, it already had been de­cided that the Communist Party would not be permitted to seat any delegates in the Reichstag. Without them, the Nazis had their working majority. (It is generally believed that Hitler had only permitted the Communist Party on the ballot to forestall the shift of much of the vote of their followers to the Social Democrats.)

Hitler got his Enabling Act, too, when the Reichstag met. Only the Social Democrats, such of them as were not being held by the Nazis in prisons or concentration camps, voted against it. The scene on the day of the vote was reminiscent of that of the meeting of the Russian Constituent Assembly in January 1918. There were Storm Troopers all about, and the streets were filled with these uniformed forces, chant­ing for the passage of the bill. Only Otto Wels, the Social Democrat leader, got up enough courage to speak against it, and Hitler rose immediately after to denounce him. The final vote was 441 for and 84 against. The Reichstag had, in ef­fect, voted itself into oblivion. Thereafter, "legality" hardly was dis­tinguishable from the will of Hitler.

Overcoming Resistance

Even before the passage of the Enabling Act, Hitler had begun the process of subduing the potential of resistance of independent organiza­tions in Germany. The main ones with such potential were: political parties, the states, labor unions, the churches, industrial and trade or­ganizations, farmer groups, the reg­ular army, professional associations, and, eventually, his own paramili­tary organizations. With the En­abling Act in one hand, he could and did step up the pace of aboli­tion, subversion, and subjection of these organizations.

Before describing this, however, the terroristic setting within which it occurred needs to be made clear. The main instrument of terror dur­ing the first year or so of Hitler’s rule was the SA (Storm Troopers), though it was ably assisted by the SS, the Gestapo, and the regular police. The SA expanded rapidly after Hitler became Chancellor. It had, perhaps 400,000 members at the beginning of 1933; by the end of the year it had from 3 to 4 million members. Many Communists now came into the SA. "Between January and November, 1933…., the numerical strength of the Berlin SA rose from 60,000 to 110,000, and former Communists accounted for about 70 per cent of the increment."6 In and around Berlin, Goering com­bined the SA with the police and loosed them against "anti-State or­ganizations."

… All the SA’s basest instincts, all its pent-up social discontent, all that inflammatory orators and propagandists had been dinning into it for years, was given free rein—and Prussia turned into a terrorists’ witches’ cauldron. Mobile squads of SA swept through the streets of the towns, the worst thugs being in Ber­lin. Section lc of SA headquarters…. drove so-called enemies of the State in front of it, dragged them into huts, shel­ters, cellars and out-of-the-way places, beat them up and tortured them. This state of affairs was not confined to Ber­lin; terror reigned in the provinces too….7

Rudolph Diels, who was able to use his position to get some of the pris­oners released, described what hap­pened to some of them: "The victims whom we found were half dead from starvation. In order to extort confes­sions from them, they had been kept standing for days in narrow cup­boards. ‘Interrogation’ consisted simply of beating up, a dozen or so thugs being employed in fifteen-minute shifts to belabour their vic­tims with iron bars, rubber trun­cheons and whips. When we en­tered, these living skeletons were lying in rows on filthy straw with festering wounds."

The Nazis had no intention of tol­erating political opposition, nor would they collaborate for long with other political parties which were independent of them. The Communist Party had been, in effect, proscribed since the Reichstag fire. In May, 1933, its assets and property were seized, and the Party ceased to exist. Shortly thereafter the prop­erty of the Social Democratic Party was taken, and it was officially dis­solved in early July. Harassment of the other parties led their leaders to dissolve them. Even the Nationalist Party, which had been most cooperative, was not permitted to survive. "On 21 June the police and S.A. occupied the Party’s offices in a number of German towns, and a week later the leaders, bowing to the inevitable, dissolved the Party." To round it all off, Hitler promul­gated this law on July 14, 1933:

Article I: The National Socialist Ger­man Workers’ Party constitutes the only political Party in Germany.

Article II: Whoever undertakes to maintain the organizational structure of another political Party or to form a new political Party will be punished with penal servitude up to three years or with imprisonment up to three years, if the action is not subject to a greater penalty according to other regulations.9

The "other regulations" were probably the laws against treason. At any rate, there was now only one party in Germany.

The states were reduced to ad­ministrative units of the Reich gov­ernment in a few months. That puts it too tamely: they were made into instruments of the will of Hitler and those immediately under him. Fol­lowing the general elections in March of 1933 and the passage of the Enabling Act, the state legisla­tures were ordered reconstituted in accordance with the national elec­tions. Even before that, however, the subjection of the states had be­gun. Papen, as Chancellor of the Reich, had gained control of the Prussian government in 1932. Under Hitler, Goering was given control over the police in Prussia, including Berlin. The government of Bavaria, the second largest German state, was seized by the Nazis, even before the last general election. Hit­ler eventually became "governor" of Prussia, and Goering its prime minister, thus consolidating the rule of Germany ‘s largest state with that of Germany. A "Law for the Coordi­nation of the States with the Reich" was set forth April 7, 1933:

This revolutionary statute deprives the States of independent authority and largely abolishes the federal system. It provides for the appointment of… Governors appointed by, subject to, and directly representing the Reich govern­ment. They will take charge of the State governments and ensure that the latter observe "the political directions set forth by the Reich Chancellor."… The…Governors appointed during ensuing weeks are… without exception Nazis, as a rule Nazi Gauleiters.¹º

The labor unions were supposed to be the most dangerous threat to the Nazis; a general strike could, in theory, paralyze the country. The Nazis moved stealthily and swiftly against them. The government de­clared May 1, 1933 a national holi­day in celebration of labor. This "May Day" celebration was un­doubtedly intended to quiet any fears the leaders might have that anything ominous was portending for them. Then, on May 2, the Nazis struck. The socialist unions were dissolved. "Early in the morning SA and SS men, aided by the police, occupy their offices, buildings and banks throughout the country. Their leading representatives… are summarily arrested and incar­cerated in prisons or concentration camps."" The Christian Trade Unions and such others as existed then "voluntarily" yielded up their independence to the Nazis. A Ger-, man Labor Front controlled by the Nazis was set up to replace the inde­pendent unions. Workmen con­tinued to pay their dues, but they no longer were able to take any action by way of the unions.

Using the Churches

The churches, too, were subdued by the Nazis, but the approach to them was more subtle than to many other organizations. Hitler sought to use them as an instrument in forg­ing German unity and to limit their impact when it would not be in that direction. The Roman Catholic

Church posed the potentially greatest problem, since significant control over it was exercised from beyond the bounds of Germany. Hit­ler sent emissaries to the Vatican, and these eventually were able to work out a Concordat with the Pope. The effect of this was to tend to undermine any opposition from the Catholic clergy within Germany. So far as the Lutherans were con­cerned, Hitler managed to get Nazi sympathizers in positions of author­ity over many of them.

There can be little room for doubt, however, that the thrust of Chris­tianity is in the opposite direction from National Socialism, that the unity and militancy of the Nazis ran counter to Christianity. Warfare is hardly a Christian ideal as it was an ideal for the Nazis. Undoubtedly, leading Nazis hoped eventually to replace Christianity with Hitler worship, but in the meanwhile they sought to subvert the churches, and they persecuted those who attempt­ed to maintain the distinct mission and independence of Christianity.

Indeed, the brunt of Nazi terror was focused on carrying out reli­gious persecution. The most dra­matic, sustained, and, eventually, horrible instance of this was the persecution of the Jews. Hitler claimed, of course, that the assault upon the Jews was motivated by racial rather than religious consid­erations. Yet, if Jews were distinguishable from the rest of the popu­lation by anything other than a common religious background, Hit­ler never discovered it, for he re­quired them to display the Star of David—surely a religious emblem—so that they would be recognized. Jews were subjected to discrimina­tory measures, to being hounded out of the professions, to the loss of property, to harassment by the populace, to persecution in concentration camps, and encouraged to go elsewhere to live during the 1930′s.

Jehovah’s Witnesses were invari­ably persecuted because of their pacifist views. Of Catholic persecu­tion, William L. Shirer says: "thousands of Catholic priests, nuns and lay leaders were arrested, many of them on trumped-up charges of `immorality’ or of ‘smuggling foreign currency.’ Erich Kausener, leader of Catholic Action, was… murdered…. Scores of Catholic publications were suppressed and even the sanc­tity of the confessional was violated by Gestapo agents."12 Among Prot­estants, those who identified them­selves as the “Confessional Church“ were the most vigorously perse­cuted.

No Active Opposition

Neither industrialists, shopkeep­ers, nor farmers posed any great threat to the Nazi regime. They are, in any case, fundamentally engaged in peaceful pursuits, and such or­ganizations as they possessed were used by the Nazis to direct and coor­dinate their activities. Much of German industry was already car­telized; it served Hitler’s purposes for it to be even more so, for concen­trated industry was much more readily controlled by the state.

The question often has been raised of why the Nazis did not meet greater opposition in Germany. Why, it has been asked, did the state leaders or political parties or labor unions not mount an effective oppo­sition? Why did the churches not speak out strongly and unequivo­cally against Hitler? Why, even, did the Jews not serve as catalysts for a concerted opposition? Why did busi­ness leaders not resist the Nazi thrust to power? Why did the army not prevent the spread of terror and barbarism in Germany ? Indeed, why was there such apparent widespread support among the German people for Hitler? What happened, it is well to ask, to journalists, writers, judges, lawyers, artists, and what may be thought of in general as the keepers of civility? Why did all these not raise such a storm of opposition that the Nazi tide would have been turned back from the beginning?

There are, of course, particular explanations to be made in answer to each of these questions, explana­tions which would account, in part, for the failure of particular group­ings and organizations. But there is a broader explanation which in­cludes all of them and is, hopefully, more complete than all the separate explanations would be. In the broadest sense, Germany did not rise in opposition to Hitler because it was deeply divided. It was divided into many different political parties, as has been shown, and most of these were locked in ideological con­flict with one another. Many labor­ers were members of unions intent on gaining their own ends and in opposition to much of the rest of the populace. The army was imperiled by the paramilitary organizations. Many, many people were monarch­ist rather than republican in inclination.

The Promise of Unity and the Crushing of Resistance

What enabled Hitler to consoli­date his power and subject the Ger­man people to his will was the Prom­ise and the Terror. What Hitler promised was to end the divisions within Germany, to forge a national unity, to concert the energies of the people behind the building and ex­pansion of a specifically German state. Hitler offered himself as the visible symbol, the Leader, of such a unity. He would lead Germany to the realization of its national great­ness. Opposition to Hitler, in this context, became opposition to Ger­man unity, opposition to German greatness, opposition to the melding of the Germanic people into an or­ganic whole.

Those who have contemplated Nazi Germany from a safe remove in time and place have imagined op­tions which were not apparent to the German people. The alternative, if it could be called that, which Hitler offered was either to blend with and become a part of the organic unity or to be isolated and alone. In theory, no organization could exist which did not contribute toward the achievement of this unity and was not subordinate to it. Bishop Marahrens of Hanover had grasped the point when he made this public declaration in 1937: "The National Socialist conception of life is the national and political teaching which determines and characterizes German manhood. As such, it is obligatory upon German Christians also."13 The Promise, to those who would so yield, was that they would realize their own potential by iden­tification with the greatness of the nation.

Those who would not, or could not as in the case of the Jews and Gyp­sies, would be crushed. Underlying the Promise was the Terror. There was no real option of being left alone in Nazi Germany. Any who were not for Hitler were against him; all who were not of the collective were a menace to it. Just as a farmer insists on having all the pigs in the pen, so Hitler would have all broken to the mentality of his collective or de­stroyed. A stubborn pig will some­times resist being penned, running hither and yon to escape his fate. He will, of course, be pursued, hounded, beaten about his tender nose, and otherwise tormented until he goes in or dies of exhaustion. There were object lessons aplenty in Nazi Ger­many for any who gave thought to resisting. Two examples may suf­fice.

Purging the SA

The first usually is described as "The Night of the Long Knives." Most of the events associated with it took place June 30-July 1, 1934. During that time and in the succeed­ing days, the leaders of the SA were put to death, along with a goodly number of other people whom Hitler feared or hated. "Put to death" may be too gentle a phrase; they were murdered, murdered in a manner that is usually associated with gang­land massacres. Hitler personally went to Munich to oversee the round­up of victims there; the chief of these was Ernst Röhm, the com­mander of the SA. Himmler’s SS carried out this purge, and it was the signal of the triumph of that organization over the SA. It is gen­erally believed that several hundred were killed, but the exact number never has been determined.

The background, so far as it is known, is this. As already noted, the SA had expanded rapidly in the course of 1933 until it was far and away the largest organization in Germany with the potential of being a military force. The SA had been Hitler’s main instrument of terror during his thrust to power in the early months of 1933. However, by the middle of the year Hitler was ready to declare, and did, that the political revolution had been ac­complished and that henceforth change would be made gradually and by evolutionary means.

There were rumblings within the SA of the desirability of completing the "social revolution." But Hitler had no intention of allowing Ger­man industry to be destroyed by turning it over to the heavy handed and inept SA. Relations between Hit­ler and Röhm ranged from cool to cordial thereafter, but the impres­sion prevailed that the SA leaders were champing at the bit to play some more vital role in the Reich. Röhm focused increasingly on one goal, to train and equip the SA as an army and have it become the bul­wark of Germany ‘s expanded and revitalized armed force.

The idea may have appealed to Hitler. His goal, of course, was a vastly expanded army following the repudiation of the Treaty of Ver­sailles. In the SA he might have the potential for such an army already enlisted. But there clearly were drawbacks to such an approach. The Storm Troopers were street fighters, more like a mob than an army, and their loyalty—whether to Hitler or Ram—was uncertain. More, the regular army leaders unalterably were opposed to being undercut by Röhm’s amateurs. This was one area where President Hindenburg, a pro­fessional soldier himself, was adamant; the SA must be put in their place. Caught between these pres­sures, Hitler dallied, apparently re­luctant to strike down an old com­rade. But when he struck, he struck in his usual underhanded, master­ful, and monstrous fashion. Röhm was sent on sick leave, and the SA was given a month’s vacation in July with the promise that they would be reassembled at the end of that time. On the eve of their vaca­tion, Hitler made his move.

The Sinister Purpose

It is doubtful that Hitler would have had several hundred people killed, and that illegally by all civilized standards, in order simply to downgrade the SA. Besides, a goodly number of those killed had no association with the SA. His sinister purpose may be revealed more clearly in the murder of two profes­sional soldiers. "On the morning of June 30, a squad of S.S. men in mufti rang the doorbell at General von Schleicher’s villa on the out­skirts of Berlin. When the General opened the door he was shot dead inhis tracks, and when his wife, whom he had married but eighteen months before… stepped forward, she too was slain on the spot. General Kurt von Bredow, a close friend of Schleicher, met a similar fate the same evening."14 The lesson hardly would be lost on military men. Their rank and status—Schleicher had been a Chancellor, too—would not protect them if they opposed Hitler. A man, even a professional soldier, is ever exposed and potentially alone, when he is subject to being shot down in his home on orders from the highest government offi­cials. Hitler drove the point home in his speech to the Reichstag later that month: "And everyone must know for all future time that if he raises his hand to strike the State, then certain death is his lot."15 And Hitler was the State.

The second example of the Terror shows also, but in a different way, the lot of the opponent, real or im­agined, of the regime. It takes us into the concentration camps where the ultimate nature of revolutionary socialism is revealed. The concen­tration camp is as essential to revo­lutionary socialism as the garbage dump is to cleaning the modern city. Indeed, the functions of each are so similar that Solzhenitsyn has re­ferred to the camps in Russia as a garbage disposal system. The idea that has the world in its grip is that all human effort will be concerted toward achieving felicity. But there are those who will not be concerted or for one reason or another cannot be concerted. (Indeed, there may be no upper limit to the number who might be put in this category.) Something must be done with them, and the concentration camp is their most plausible destiny. They are, so to speak, the refuse of collectivism.

The Recycling Process

Nowadays, considerable effort is put into reclaiming for use the ref­use of the cities: waste materials are recycled; sewage water goes through a purification process; even garbage might be reused in some way. In like manner, concentration camps have been used, to some ex­tent, for "recycling" or "purifying" human beings and bringing them into accord with the collective. This "recycling process" entails separat­ing them from society, isolating them from one another, cutting away every shred of their indepen­dence, and developing in them a longing to be identified with the collective, even with the most visi­ble of the collective, their own jail­ers. Even if they cannot be finally repatriated, so to speak, collectivism finds its vindication and justifica­tion in their longing for it.

Bruno Bettelheim makes a par­ticularly good witness about this as­pect of the Terror and of concentra­tion camps. An Austrian Jew, trained in psychology, Professor Bettelheim was confined in the Nazi concentration camps at Dachau and Buchenwald in the late 1930′s, prior to the time when they became ex­termination camps. In contrast to many who have written about the camps, he concluded that the tor­ments to which the prisoners were subjected ordinarily were not aimed at satisfying the sadistic whims of the SS guards. On the contrary, they were designed to bend and break the will of the prisoner in order not only to make him pliable but also to align him with the aims of the regime, or, at the least, make him useful in some way.


The first stage in this attempted transformation took place during the initial transportation to a camp. The prisoners were kicked, slapped, knifed, or wounded in other ways. They also were put in uncomfortable and unusual positions for long periods to produce extreme exhaus­tion. "The guards also forced prison­ers to hit one another and to defile what the SS considered the prison­ers’ most cherished values. They were forced to curse their God, to accuse themselves and one another of vile actions and their wives of adultery and prostitution…. Until it was over, any failure to obey an order, such as slapping another prisoner, or any help given a tortured prisoner was viewed as mutiny and swiftly punished by death." "The purpose of this massive initial abuse," says Bettelheim, "was to traumatize the prisoners and break their resistance…."16 The purpose, too, was to cut the individual loose from the protection he usually received and confidence he had from being civil, moral, and decent. It began the process of sever­ing him emotionally from society and isolating him from the protec­tion of his fellows.

Although the attack on the per­sonality was not so severe once they were in camp, it was much more prolonged. The way they were treated appeared to be designed to make them regress to a childlike condition. They were not permitted to address one another by their titles nor to use the formal modes of ad­dress. They were whipped for mis­behavior, even as children some­times are. Their attention was fo­cused on bodily elimination, even as small children are, by allowing them insufficient time to take care of it and obsequiously gain permis­sion from the guards to seek relief. They were made to do meaningless work, sometimes were hitched to wagons like horses, and made to sing rollicking songs when they marched. They were being robbed of their status as adult human be­ings.17

Bettelheim experienced the next stage at Buchenwald; it was the merging of the individual into a mass, the group. This is how it was done:

Whenever possible the prisoners were punished as a group so that the whole group suffered for and with the person who brought about the punishment…. It was in the group’s interest to prevent anyone from endangering the group. As already noted, the fear of punishment was more frequent than the reality, which meant that the group asserted its power over the individual more often and more effectively than the SS. In many respects group pressure was practically permanent. Moreover, each prisoner was unusually dependent for survival on group cooperation. This added further to a situation where the group was con­stantly controlling the individual."

Protective Coloration

The final stage occurred when the prisoners had come to identify themselves with their captors, the SS, to imitate their behavior, and to treat other prisoners, and think of them, as did the SS. This was a stage reached only by "old prisoners," those who had been in the camps for years. How far this identification went is suggested by Bettelheim:

Old prisoners tended to identify with the SS not only in their goals and values, but even in appearance. They tried to arrogate to themselves old pieces of SS uniforms, and when that was not possi­ble they tried to sew and mend their prison garb until it resembled the uniforms…. When asked why they did it, they said it was because they wanted to look smart. To them looking smart meant to look like their enemies."

But, of course, the SS was no longer to them the enemy; the enemy had become anyone and everyone who by thought or deed resisted the rule by the SS. By extension, the enemy had become all who were not in accord with the collective will. The transformation of personality had taken place.

It might be supposed that once such a transformation had taken place the prisoner then would be released. The present writer has en­countered no evidence that this happened generally. True, prisoners were released from concentration camps from time to time, but their release did not depend upon any stage of personality transformation, so far as we know. If one of the purposes of the camps was to terrify the general populace, and that must have been the case, the purpose probably would have been poorly served by sending back those who had so thoroughly adjusted to them. The camps are best understood as diabolical experiments in people control, not experiments whose re­sults would be inmates reclaimed for society but experiments whose re­sults could be used for controlling people more generally.

Legality is only an appearance when the idea that has the world in its grip has behind it the mechanisms of the state. It is an empty form whose substance has been drained away to be replaced by arbitrary power, force, and terror in the service, supposedly, of the collec­tive will. The concentration camp is the "law school" of socialism.      

Next: 12. Nazi-Soviet Parallels.



1Alan Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (New York: Harper & Row, 1962, rev. ed.), p. 257.

2See Eliot B. Wheaton, Prelude to Calam­ity: The Nazi Revolution, 1933-35 (New York: Doubleday, 1968), pp. 230-43.

3William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960), p. 194.


5Bullock, op. cit., p. 264.

6Wheaton, op. cit., p. 436.

7Heinz Höhne, The Order of the Death’s Head, Richard Barry, trans. (New York: Coward-McCann, 1969), p. 85.

8Ibid., p. 86.

9Bullock, op. cit., pp. 274-75.

10 Wheaton, op. cit., p. 288.

11Ibid., p. 303.

12Shirer, op. cit., p. 235.

13p. 239.

14p. 222.

15Bullock, op. cit., p. 308.

16Bruno Bettelheim, The Informed Heart: Autonomy in a Mass Age (Glencoe, Illinois: The Free Press, 1960), p. 124.

17See Ibid., pp. 133-34.

18p. 136.

19Ibid., p. 171.


November 1977

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April 2014

Around the world, people are struggling to throw off authoritarianism, with deeply mixed results. From Egypt to Venezuela, determined people build networks to overthrow their regimes, but as yet we have not learned to live without Leviathan. In this issue, Michael Malice and Gary Dudney discuss their glimpses inside totalitarian regimes, while Sarah Skwire and Michael Nolan look at how totalitarian regimes grind down the individual--and how individuals fight back. Plus, Jeffrey Tucker identifies a strain in libertarianism that, left unchecked, could reduce even our vibrant movement to something that is analogous to the grim aesthetic of architectural brutalism. The struggle for our lives and freedom is a struggle for beauty; it begins inside each of us.
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