Tuesday, July 04, 2017

19. The Reichstag Fire

Once Hitler became Chancellor, it begins to unravel. Democracy is dead in the name of the people and the nation.This week is chapter 22 of Konrad Heiden's 1944 book, Der Fuehrer.  See the bottom for previous posts.

1. I post this on July 4, making today's post a stern warning of the unraveling of democracy in the supposed name of the good of the people and the nation. There are some significant differences of course. Hitler had stormtroopers, the SA, scattered throughout Germany. They were at hand to immediately "supplement" the legitimate police. The democracy in Germany at that time was much shorter lived and very fragile.

The decisive moment was the setting of the Reichstag on fire. Looking back, it seems to have been part of Hitler's plan to take control. Although Hitler and his men talked of communist conspiracies and discovering documents (which they never produced), they established their alibis well enough on the night of the fire, seeming to be completely uninterested in the event until it was definitively over and a stooge arrested to blame.

Now Hitler has the pretext. The Communists must be stopped because they are plotting against us. This is the tactic. Accuse some fall-guy of heinous crimes and then use it as an excuse to exert oppression on your enemies. Use it as an excuse to gain emergency powers.

Did most Germans believe him? Probably not. But Hitler had a dedicated minority. Some 44% voted for him in the election he had set. "The majority did not want Hitler, but it wanted nothing else" (564).

2. Of course by this point the SA had arrested, beat, and killed a mass of the Nazi's enemies. "Crime was openly ruling Germany; none of these men [leaders in the Reichstag] believed that the Communists had set the fire" (562).

The SA begin a reign of terror. Göring is not even the head of the police in Germany, but he had already armed them prior to the fire. "This was the decisive revolutionary act of the National Socialists" (549). The SA arrested whoever they wanted for whatever reason they wanted. "From now on the police was almost uncontested master over the German people" (561).

3. Ironically, the Communists had thought Hitler was the path to a classless society. They thought the forces of history would bring about their ideal stateless state. They were essential to Hitler's rise to power, and then Hitler immediately disposed of them. When the Communists did not rise up on their own, Hitler framed them.

They clung to a preposterous ideology to its demoralizing end. From Hindenburg, Hitler received the power to curb free speech and a free press. Meanwhile, the publications of the crazy were given free reign. The intelligent, free press became the fake news, and the stupids were given free rein to propagandize. Because of the SA and SS, most who were not put in concentration camps (the beginning of such) became really careful about what they said.

"This was the beginning of an artificial intellectual tornado" (572).

The power was still within the hands of the Center (catholic) and the Social Democrats to stop Hitler from getting dictator powers. No longer were they talking of a year but of four years. Hitler promised the Center assurances, said they were written down. "Oh I forgot them, but they are signed." Lie, lie, lie and everyone knows it deep down, but still they vote for him to have dictatorial power.

Hitler renounces his salary. Then when it is clear he needs to take it, he donates it. What a generous fellow.

"To destroy Communism, the Nazis had to smash democracy" (561), but of course this is all just a game. Most know it is. His supporters know it is but do not care. "When the Communist danger is eliminated, the normal order of things will return" (562). Right.

"The will of an imprisoned mass must first be broken by the most loathsome cruelty" (565). In these concentration camps for communists and opponents to Hitler, "many who may have been good-natured human beings when they began their service in the concentration camps were gradually turned into torturers and murderers by the routine" (565).

Many were "shot while trying to escape." Others "committed suicide" by jumping out of windows. An English newspaper wrote, "The habit of jumping out of the window in an unguarded moment has cost many political prisoners in Germany their lives in the past weeks" (565).

4. Meanwhile, "it is strange how little the old routine politicians on both sides understood the hour" (567). "Men who had hitherto regarded themselves as powerful began to fear the new masters" (571). The constitution was forgotten.

Hitler spoke of the importance of Christianity in Germany. "It was the compliment of an atheist who admits the usefulness of Christianity" (577).

And here was equality before the law for Hitler: "Theoretical equality before the law cannot lead us to tolerate those who despise the law as a matter of principle... Equality before the law will be granted to all those who stand behind the nation and do not deny the government their support. But those who deny the government their support have... no rights whatsoever" (578).

Take Aways
  • Those seeking to suspend the rule of law may create a fake crisis, blame it on their enemies, and then try to take emergency autocratic powers on that pretext. Autocrats try to gain power in the name of protection and nationalism.
  • Don't ever think you will get power back from a dictator. Once he has it, he will burn everything to the ground before he gives it up. Autocrats cannot be controlled once their power is secured.
  • Autocrats require a police or military force to hold control, which is why presidents and their cabinets are not supposed to be recently active in the military.
  • Freedom of speech and the press are essential to democracy. Expect an autocrat to try to suppress them. Rounding up enemies, keeping them from voting, these are all the tactics of a dictator want-to-be.
Previously on Hitler:

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