Sunday, November 14, 2010

Hitler's melting pot

During his early years in public life, Hitler made no secret of his ultimate intentions should the Nazi party come to power: in Mein Kampf, originally published in 1925, he explained that the Germans must colonize the east in order to gain Lebensraum, or living-space for the country’s burgeoning population.

Somehow, though, most everyone refused to take Hitler seriously, even after he began carrying out the plans he had set in print years before: not only the conquest of eastern Europe, but also the “elimination” of the Jews from his Nazi empire. In the War of the World, Niall Ferguson remarks as to how the ultra-paranoid Stalin trusted no man but one — Hitler, who was in turn the only man who ever had the power to betray “the man of steel.” But the invasion of the USSR in June, 1941 was a surprise to very few but Stalin himself. Mere weeks before the invasion commenced, one of his spies in Germany wrote an urgent message to Soviet intelligence, warning Stalin of what was imminent. Stalin’s response was to condemn the spy as one “who should be sent to his fucking mother.”

The Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939 (which touched off World War II) and of the Soviet Union two years later, did not come without ironies, though. One of these was that, after the Nazis had indeed conquered a great deal of living-space into which the German population could expand, very few Germans were actually interested in moving east. Those few who did were not the simple, sturdy peasant-farmers of Nazi ideals, but opportunists seeking to make easy money off the slave-labour of conquered Jews, Poles and Russians (men such as Oskar Schindler, the famed eventual saviour of several thousand Jews). The Nazi overlords of Poland eventually had to resettle ethnic Germans that had been living for centuries in Russian territory, in occupied Poland; instead of Germans moving east, it was Germans moving west, in closer proximity to the original Fatherland (thus giving the lie to the Nazis’ obsession with Lebensraum).

But, as Ferguson points out, the eastern Germans were often unsuitably Slavonic in culture, language, even in their appearance; but many of the “inferior” Poles were had blonde haired and blue eye. The conclusion drawn from this, was that “Aryans” outside the Reich, had been breeding with the inferior races, and it was up to the Nazis to “rescue” these bloodlines from total corruption. Accordingly, functionaries were organized and sent to the Polish “protectorate” in order to determine the racial fitness of the Slavic population according to a fourfold system of classification: those placed in the “A” category were deemed acceptably Aryan genetic endowment, and thus made eligible for “re-education” as Germans, or if children, deportation back to Germany, where they would be raised among Aryan families; the unfortunate people designated as “D”, were to be immediately shipped off for slave labour or extermination at one of the many camps established by the Nazis throughout their empire.

According to conventional understanding, “fascist” is a synonym for “ultra-nationalist”. This is true, to a great extent, for the original Italian Fascists. But, in spite of their name, the National Socialists were no more nationalists than they were socialists. They were collectivists, but their collective focus was on race, not nation. For this reason, the Nazis found it easy to collaborate with, and find collaborators among, the populations of the countries they conquered, or otherwise became “allied” with. Ferguson writes, “...the more the Germans relied on foreign allies and collaborators the more multiethnic their empire necessarily became. The first symptom of this unintended transformation was the changing complexion of Hitler's armed forces. The army that invaded the Soviet Union included 600,000 Croats, Finns, Romanians, Hungarians, Italians, Slovaks and Spaniards. In addition to fighting alongside troops from allied countries, German soldiers also increasingly saw foreigners wearing German uniforms. Franco had declined to join Hitler's war in the West, but he permitted the formation of a Spanish 'Blue Division' (named after the blue shirts of its Falangist volunteers) to fight against the Soviet Union; it served with distinction ... French volunteers also fought, in the Legion des Volontaires Francais contre le Bolchevisme, as part of a Wehrmacht infantry division. Other foreigners generally wore the uniform of the Waffen-SS, the combat arm of the SS, a reflection of Himmler's enthusiasm for broadening the available pool of 'Nordic' blood, as well as the Wehrmacht's reluctance to surrender large numbers of Germans of military age to the SS.” (Ferguson, The War of the World, London: Allen Unwin, page 457-458).

Heinrich Himmler, the SS leader and chief racial theorist of the Nazi regime, explained why, near to the end of the Second World War, his organization included more non-Germans than Germans in its ranks: “Every SS officer, regardless of nationality. . . must look to the whole living space of the family of German nations [Himmler specified the German, Dutch, Flemish, Anglo-Saxon, Scandinavian and Baltic nations]. To combine all these nations into one big family is the most important task at present. It is natural in this process that the German nation, as the largest and strongest, must assume the leading role. [But] this unification has to take place on the principle of equality... [Later] this family... has to take on the mission to include all Roman nations, and then the Slavic nations, because they, too, are of the white race. It is only through unification of the white race that Western culture can be saved from the danger of the yellow race. At the present time, the Waffen-SS is leading in this respect because its organization is based on equality. The Waffen-SS comprises not only German, Roman and Slavic but even Islamic units ... fighting in close togetherness.” (Quoted in Ferguson, page 459).

Years ago, I proposed that the National Socialist party had to focus on race, as instrument of cohesion, just because “Germans” had a very weak sense of national belonging. In fact, as Ferguson points out, many key Nazis were not of German birth at all: the Austrian Hitler, of course, but also Alfred Rosenberg, the party “philosopher”, and several others.

And, in an entry earlier this year, I wrote as to how modern European empires, uniquely in world history, sought to make separation of races a key part of the ruling strategy. The Nazis were the most thorough about this, but were hardly unique: it was a policy pursued previously by the British, Dutch, Belgian and French empires, as well. What I didn’t mention was that the European empires pursued this policy, just because they understood that race mixing was an inevitable part of imperial conquest.

But, in fact, even the Nazis were unsuccessful in their policies of total racial separatism. Ferguson writes that, “even as Nazi racial experts engaged in the laborious racial classification of Poles and Czechs, the very tendency they wished to eradicate — miscegenation — was continuing. Indeed, the chaos caused by war and forced resettlement positively increased the sexual contact between Germans and non-Germans. On March 8, 1940, new police regulations had to be issued for Polish workers in Germany, the seventh of which specified bluntly that `anyone who has sexual intercourse with a German man or woman, or approaches them in any other improper manner’ would be liable to the death penalty (later specified as death by hanging).” (Ferguson, page 461)

Ferguson also sheds light as to why so many ordinary German soldiers chose duty in helping to slaughtering Jews during the Holocaust. Aside from ethnic hatred, and the inability to ignore direct orders, there was the motive of self-preservation. By the time the extermination of the Jews got going in earnest, by 1942, the Russo-German war had commenced. At the Eastern front, for the first time, Wehrmacht troops were encountering high rates of mortality in combat. It was considered a privilege to be assigned to the duties of executioner to men, women and children, all of them civilians who didn’t have the means to fight back; this became all the more true, as the war continued on, and the German army became bogged down in the hellish snow and wind of three Russian winters. Aside from the inconvenience of having to murder, direct participation in the Holocaust was very profitable, with much opportunity to steal the belongings of those who were being killed.