Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Thomas Riggins

The London Review of Books (8/27/09) has an interesting review of Gotz Aly's HITLER'S BENEFICIARIES: HOW THE NAZIS BOUGHT THE GERMAN PEOPLE by John Connelly ("It Never Occurred to Them"). These remarks are based on the review [my comments in brackets].

Aly, "the most influential popular historian" in Germany has a new answer to an old question. "What was the point of Nazism?" The new answer is that the Nazi's had a sincere desire to "better the lives of ordinary Germans." Aly thinks the National Socialists were just as much socialist as national. [This is an old argument used to discredit socialism. The Nazi's were socialists, look what they did, socialism and fascism are basically the same, etc.]

Here are all the goodies the German's got from the Nazi's [according to Aly]:

Twice as many holidays. [We could do with this.]

Pro tenant laws making it harder to raise rents and evict people. [Rent stabilization]

No tax on overtime pay. [Pro worker]

National health insurance for all retirees.[Medicare]

Low taxes on beer [this is enough to get anyone elected!]

The burden of taxes was placed on the rich not the workers and the poor.

These six things, and many other measures that "transferred wealth from the haves to the have-nots" indicates that Nazi Germany was a VOLKSSTAAT or people's state. [Not quite a state of the whole people since if you were not a Teuton you were not part of the Volk.]

Aly says the Nazi's did not rule by terror but by giving the people what they wanted [true democracy?] This was because they really feared the people and wanted to maintain their popularity at any cost once they had power. The people's "satisfaction" had to be "purchased" daily.

But Connelly says that even in the worst times, even at the end, Goebbels, for example, showed no fear of the people. He wrote in his diaries "that we will never lose this war because of the people. The people will persevere in this war until their last breath." [So it seems "fear of the people" was not a concern at the top].

Nevertheless, Nazi documents report that many of the Volk were alienated from the regime along class lines. The rich got first crack at the dwindling food supplies and things in the shops and this led to resentments.

But was Nazi Germany a "Volksgemeinschaft"-- a ''community of the people"? While many think it was not, that this was a fiction of German propaganda, Connelly thinks there was something real to it. The people never really rose up against the Nazis. Whatever complaints people may have had about their government, Connelly says , "Loyalty to Germany transcended any momentary doubts."

Connelly thinks Aly is an historian repulsed by the crimes of the Nazis and not too sympathetic to the Volk who followed them. Nevertheless he has been very much influenced by historians such as Martin Broszat (1926-1989) who wanted to do, and did, just what he thought to be scientific analysis of the Nazis, what he called "neutrally cool scientific research." Connelly says for many who followed in Broszat's wake "Human actors and their intentions faded from focus...."

Broszat and his followers made much of the fact that no direct order for the Holocaust issued by Hitler can be found. The Holocaust is NOT denied but it seems to have just happened-- sort of an "automatism." It is, Connelly writes, "as if it had been launched by a sadistic deus absconditus."

Trying to get away from moral issues, as it were, Aly sees the killing of the Jews as a by product of the need to win the war. They were killed "in order to take their valuables" for the war effort.

Aly "portrays neither the regime not the citizenry as hating Jews; everything they did was meant to further an end that could be calculated in terms of material reward." Connelly points out that in his book of over 400 pages, Aly treats antisemitism on only ten.

Aly still blames the Volk for the horrors of the Nazi regime. But what big moral crime were they guilty of, Connelly asks. It seems like their actions were the actions of any other people at war. They were "trying to improve their social security arrangements or of buying goods at reduced rates in French and Belgian shops." Aly says to his readers, the younger generation of Germans, yes what was done was not right. But the Jews were not killed qua Jews. They were victims of the war effort.

The consequent of his book, Connelly concludes, "is to shield wartime Germans from more searching historical inquiries."

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