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Hitler’s Nazi regime is considered by many to be one of the most atrocious governments in modern history. The negative view of Hitler’s rule is mostly caused by the manner in which his regime treated European Jews. The Nazi were responsible for the killing of millions of Jews as Hitler sought to exterminate this race from Europe. While the responsibility of Hitler and the Nazi top command in the mass killing of the Jews is unquestionable, there are disputes over the role that ordinary Germans played. Some historians suggest that ordinary Germans did not support Hitler’s racist policies while others argue that ordinary Germans played a role in enabling the realization of the Final Solution by supporting Hitler’s anti-Semitic legislation. By performing a concise yet informative review of Nazi Germany, this paper will demonstrate that Germans to a large extent supported Hitler’s anti-Semitic “Final Solution”.
European Jews: An Overview
By the onset of the First World War in 1914, Jews had been living in Europe for many centuries. Although there was no widespread and systematic persecution of the Jewish community by other European dwellers, the Jews endured some form of discrimination. This situation changed in the nineteenth century, which saw Jews in Europe receive significant political and economic rights. Germany was one of the European countries where the status of the Jews improved considerably in the 19th century.
Browning notes that by 1900, Germany was considered by many East European Jews as “a land of golden opportunity” since Jews were allowed to thrive and integrate with German culture (7). Jews were able to acquire real emancipation and there was a high degree of political equalization. The Jews became integrated into German society and they enjoyed political and social rights equal to those of Gentile Germans.
However, these positive outcomes quickly deteriorated at the start of the twentieth century. By the end of the First World War, anti Jewish sentiments began to grow in the German community. Ordinary Germans blamed the Jews for their humiliating defeat in the War and parties that had an anti-Semitic agenda gained popularity among the masses. Anti-Jewish prejudices grew significantly trough the decade and by the mid 1930s, they had become completely entrenched within German society.
The Final Solution
One party that rose to power, partly due to its nationalistic and anti-Jewish policies, was the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP). The NSDAP (commonly referred to as the Nazi Party), was led by Hitler and it ruled Germany from 1933 to 1945. Hitler implemented a series of anti-Semitic policies that culminated in the Final Solution. The Final solution was Hitler’s elaborate plan to eliminate all the Jews of Europe and this plan was carried out between 1939 and 1945. The decision to implement a Final Solution to the perceived “Jewish Problem” in Germany and the rest of Europe was a state in the evolution of Nazi anti-Jewish policies that had been implemented since 1933.
Germans Support for Hitler’s Plans
Perhaps the strongest indication that the German population supported Hitler’s plans is from the fact that there was a deep hatred for the Jews by the Germans since the end of the First World War. Wegner reveals that there was a familiar anti-Semitic theme of “the Jews are to Blame” all over Germany following the humiliating defeat of the nation in the First World War (300). Anti-Semites in Germany accused the Jews of shirking front-line services and therefore contributing to the county’s loss in the war. There was a widespread belief by many Germans that Jews were the “undoing” of German society. Wegner states that for many Germans, the Jewish question was “alpha and omega” meaning that the Germans felt that addressing this question was crucial for the future prosperity of the German nation (300).
By the late 1920s, the Jewish question was an important political issue and many German political parties exploited it to gain political mileage. There was a general feeling among German citizens that the Jews were responsible for the social and economic difficulties that German faced. German Jews had since the late nineteenth century experienced increasing political and economic rights in Germany. The increased liberties of German Jews were seen as being the cause of the problems that Germany faced during the Weimar Republic. When Hitler began implementing anti-Jewish legislation in 1933, the German community supported the trend. When the final solution was proposed and implement, there was no widespread opposition from German citizens.
Historians suggest that the Nazi anti-Semitic policies were a reflection of the public attitude towards the Jews. As early as the mid 1920s, there were strong anti-Semitic sentiments within the German community. Historians report that well before the Nazi’s advanced in political circles, the relationships between German Jews and other Germans was confrontational (Slavkin 437). There was a widespread rejection of the idea that Jews could be assimilated into German society. Browning confirms that policy makers and citizens rejected the notion that one could be both Jewish and German at the same time (20).
The Germans viewed the Jewish people as their enemies and they were therefore willing to endorse Hitler’s policies. The Nazi party was initially driven by populism and policies were guided by the public opinion in the country. The Nazi exploited the gulf that existed between the Jewish minority and the general population. Slavkin notes that during the early years of the Nazi rule, Hitler was keen not to take radical actions that might alienate the people (435). He therefore endorsed measures that were already popular with the German population. One such measure was anti-Semitic policies. The Nazi party rationalized its mistreatment of the Jewish population by asserting that the Jews were the natural enemy of the community of the German people. In the initial stage, Hitler sort to pressure Jews out of Europe. This endeavor had the support of the German population.
A look at the educational systems within the greater German community suggests that Germans were complicit in Hitler’s anti-Semitic “Final Solution”. Slavkin declares that the successful introduction of formalized anti-Judaic policies in the education system in the mid 1930s paved the way for the acceptance of the Final Solution (432). The Nazi party changed the state’s curriculum for elementary schools to include anti-Semitic opinions.
While the teachers were aware of this perversion of the curriculum to teach hatred of the Jews, they did not take any action against it. Instead, they embraced the new curriculum and taught the children that the Jews were sub-humans. This created an environment where Germans could mistreat the Jews without feeling guilty since they did not consider them to be human beings deserving of humane treatment. Slavkin explicitly states that The Nazi Party would not have been as successful in its implementation of racist ideology were it not for the influence of educators in the Republic” (437).
The Germans endorsed the racist policies implemented by the Nazi since they benefited them. Historians agree that for many business people and professionals in the Weimar Republic, the Jews were great economic rivals. Nazi anti-Semitic policies promised to remove these economic rivals and therefore improve the economic position of German traders and professionals. The German community was therefore supportive of Nazi policies that led to the dismissal of professionals who were Jewish or “not Aryan” enough from their positions. For example, an anti-Jewish legislation enacted in 1933 called for the banishment of Jewish teachers from public schools.
Non-Jewish teachers supported such a policy since it led to better opportunities for them. In the medical schools, proposals were made to restrict Jewish interns with the intention of reducing the number of Jewish Doctors. This measure was economically motivated since the German doctors wanted to remove their Jewish colleagues from the profession, therefore reducing the competition in the field.
The German society was responsible for the alienation of the Jewish population by boycotting their businesses. By the 1930s, the Jews in Germany had had a long history of commercial involvement in the society. They owned successful businesses and contributed to the economic development of the country. When the Nazi regime implemented anti-Jewish legislation in 1933-1937, it did not exclude Jews from owning of running businesses. However, ordinary Germans engaged in the widespread boycotting of Jewish businesses. The Jews, who had until then been a part of the German culture and society, began to see themselves as distinct and different. The Germans refused to engage in commercial relationships with them and in some cases, Jewish shops were destroyed or ransacked by Germans (441).
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The enthusiasm with which certain segments of the German population attacked the Jewish community once the Nazi emphasized its anti-Semitic policies indicates that Germans supported Hitler. The Hitler Youth, which was made up of German youths who were loyal to the Nazi party, engaged in widespread acts of violence against the Jews. These acts of aggression were perpetrated without any direct order from the Nazi command.
The rampant discrimination of the Jews by Germans in the private sphere points to a great support for Hitler’s anti-Semitic policies by the German population. Between 1933 and 1939, German citizens engaged in acts of random terror against the Jewish community. Wegner states that these actions were illegal and they were not sanctioned by either the administration or the party agencies (300). The Germans engaged in violence against the Jews out of their own prejudices in a spontaneous manner. The apathy of the Nazi regime towards the plight of the Jews helped to fuel the ill treatment of Jews in the private sphere. The atmosphere created by Hitler enabled people to engage in the progressive mistreatment of the Jews since their civil rights were non-existent.
Opposition by Germans to the Final Solution
Arguments have been made that the German people did not willfully support Hitler’s policies against the Jews. Some historians demonstrate that the Nazi regime forcefully made the German society to endorse the racial policies. A key characteristic of Hitler’s Germany was the loss of individual rights and freedoms. As the Nazi converted Germany into an authoritarian country, individuals lost most of the rights they had enjoyed under the previous democratic regime. By using the secret police (known as the Gestapo), ordinary individuals were kept under constant surveillance. Disobeying the Nazi policies could lead to imprisonment or even torture. In such an environment of fear and intimidation, Germans followed the wishes of the Nazi since speaking out could lead to dire repercussions.
Germans were the victim of the Nazi propaganda, which played a part in causing the Germans to allow Hitler’s anti-Semitic policies to go on. The Nazi had an elaborate propaganda machine that played a significant part in inciting anti-Semitic feelings among Germans. The Nazis fabricated hate propaganda that was designed to incite Germans against the Jews. This case is especially true for children who were taught to hate and discriminate against the Jews by their teachers. Slavkin confirms that immediately after they got into power, the Nazi did not lose any time in indoctrinating the young with the message that the German Aryan nation was strong while the Jewish people were feeble and dirty (441).
Students were taught about racial hygiene with the aim of creating in them an anxiety about sharing space with European Jews. However, it should be noted that this indoctrination of the young did not happen without the knowledge and complicity of the adult population. The educators were enthusiastic about inculcating the Nazi doctrine of the racial superiority of the German ancestry in their students. Parents also emphasized this racial superiority at home therefore creating a generation of German children who had anti-Semitic views.
A strong argument offered to show that Germans did not support Hitler’s anti-Semitic policies is that many Germans protected Jews by hiding them in their houses or aiding in their escape to other countries. Even as Hitler imposed anti-Semitic legislation, some Jewish communities continued to exist peacefully with their German neighbors. Wegner notes that even as Nazi propaganda compelled Germans to engage in discrimination, many Germans continued to treat Jews humanely (310).
When the Nazi ordered the removal of Jews from Germany into ghettos and concentration camps, some Germans risked their own freedom by harboring Jews. While it is true that Germans acted to save thousands of condemned Jewish families, only a minority of the German population did these actions. The majority were simply apathetic to the fate of the Jews or too intimidated to go against the wishes of the Nazi. Browning reveals that most Germans were open to the idea of limiting or even ending the role of Jews in Germany (10).
Many Germans supported the Nazi movement because it promised to bring about positive changes to the society. The Nazi movement promised positive changes at a time when many people were experiencing economic downturns and massive layoffs. Many professionals and business owners supported the Nazi movement due to the significant changes in society that it promised. When Hitler took power, the professionals who had supported the party were given good positions in society.
These members of the public became active in the Socialist Party and supported the policies of the Nazi. Slavkin states that while some did not agree with the anti-Semitic policies, they followed them due to fear of losing their positions (432). Following the policies of the state was a “necessary and unavoidable situation”. While it might be true that most professionals did not endorse Hitler’s policies, their apathy enabled Hitler to implement the final solution. The German people did not offer any resistance to the anti-Semitic policies adopted by the Nazi from the mid 1930s. This complicity strengthened Hitler’s position and enabled the implementation of the Final Solution.
This paper set out to show that to a large extent, Germans supported Hitler’s anti-Semitic policies and by extension the “final solution. The paper began by highlighting the history of the Jews in Europe. It noted that in the nineteenth century, Germany was a favorite destination country for Jews since they enjoyed significant freedoms there. However, this favorable climate changed in the twentieth century when strong anti-Semitic sentiments became prevalent. From the evidence provided in this paper, it is clear that the Nazi party did not introduce anti-Semitism in Germany. While the Nazi regime made use of propaganda to arouse deeper hatred of the Jews among German citizens, there was pre-existing notions of anti-Semitism among the Germans. Unquestionably, Hitler played the decisive role in providing the direction that the “final solution” took.
However, this paper has shown that the Nazi leader mostly ruled through public consent and the public endorsed his anti-Semitic policies. The paper has shown how ordinary Germans were willing executioners of Hitler’s anti-Semitic policies. By considering the popular reactions of ordinary Germans to anti-Semitism and Nazi policies towards the Jews, the paper has shown that Germans, to a large extent, support Hitler anti-Semitic “Final Solution”. As such, some blame for the Holocaust and other atrocities against the Jews primarily placed on Hitler and the Nazi should be placed on ordinary Germans.
Browning, Christopher. The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, September 1939-March 1942. Nebraska: U of Nebraska Press, 2007. Print.
Kitson, Alison. Germany 1858-1990: Hope, Terror and Revival. Cambridge: Oxford University Press, 2001. Print.
Slavkin, Michael. “The Holocaust and Education: What Impact did Educators have on the Implementation of Anti-Judaic Policies in 1930s Germany?” Paedagogica Historica 48.3 (2012): 431-449. Web.
Wegner, Gregory. “A Propagandist of Extermination: Johann von Leers and the Anti-Semitic Formation of Children in Nazi Germany.” Paedagogica Historica 43.3 (2007): 299-325. Web.