Sunday, July 10, 2011

Nazi Thesis- Part VIII

Here is part eight in the ongoing series based on my undergraduate thesis on the Nazi personality.

The deception that was such a cornerstone of the Nazi personality served to allow them to carry out their worst atrocities. Without being able to project a good side to the public while engaging in such terrible deeds, the Holocaust might not have been executed as smoothly as it was. That is why Reinhard Heydrich is such an interesting Nazi personality. It was easy to see the evil in SS head Heinrich Himmler, or in the seedy Joseph Goebbels, but this was not true of Heydrich. Despite his genteel outward appearance, it was Heydrich that designed much of the process of the Holocaust at the Wannsee Conference in January 1942. At that historic conference, which on its face looked like a simple policy making meeting, was in actuality the starting point of mass genocide. 
The villa where the Wannsee Conference was held.

The Wannsee Conference was just another in a series of great Nazi deceptions. While having coffee and pastries, the Nazis at the conference, led by Heydrich, calmly discussed how best to kill an entire race of people. To keep the genocide a secret Heydrich and the others decided to engage in yet another lie. In order to deceive others about the fate of Nazi prisoners the camps would be placed in desolate areas in occupied territory, far from the German population. While Heydrich was present at the meeting, the execution of the Final Solution should not be completely credited to Heydrich. Himmler and the other SS heads also masterminded perhaps the greatest and most terrible of all Nazi deceptions.

It is this ability to be so at ease with such evil acts that makes the Nazi personality so compelling and enigmatic. In many ways the Nazis even deceive themselves into thinking that such acts are justifiable. In films of Himmler visiting the death camps, he smiles, as if a part of a lush travelogue of Eastern Europe. The Nazis, and the SS in particular were so blatant in their acts of immorality that it is difficult to understand how a person is capable of such evil. Such is the entire Nazi party, an entity which through opportunity, was able to convince its own members to carry out genocide in the name of the cause. 

Not all Nazis maintained this ability to participate in such dark deeds, but those who did not actively participate could rarely achieve greatness within the party. Those at the top were so committed to becoming the heads of the Nazi movement that nothing would stand in their way, not even deception and murder. The head Nazis were able to make all of the horrors seem alright to their low-level functionaries, and in turn their compliance would gain them great face with Hitler.

All Nazis’ main focus was the good of the German “volk” or people. Obviously, the people were only those that Hitler deemed acceptable. For this group of men to categorize people into desirable and undesirable illustrates another key Nazi trait. The dehumanization of Jews was made possible due to a complete lack of empathy. Without being able to put themselves in the shoes of their adversary, the Nazis could do the unthinkable to them, and not feel any remorse. Originally, the plan had been to deport Jews to the French controlled island of Madagascar, off the coast of Africa, but that fell through. A lack of success in the Battle of Britain made it impossible to carry out a mass deportation of Jews, and so it was necessary to find another way, a deadlier way. 

By the time the Final Solution had been put into place in the 1940’s, the Nazis had been marginalizing the Jews for such a long time that it was easy to sign their death warrant without even a second thought. This talent for desensitizing themselves makes the Nazis a unique group. No one at the the top could see their actions as wrong, and more importantly they could turn their backs on horrific human suffering. Even those who did feel uneasy about the killing of Jews were given new methods to further distance themselves. The development of poison gas at the death camps was in response to many SS camp guards who could no longer stand to shoot Jews to death. Once again, Hitler and his men found a way to eliminate contact with their victims and keep the process moving forward.

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