In the book The Nazi Conscience, Claudia Koonz drew historical traces back to Germany’s glory (and condemnation) days in the form of Nazism. Despite its losses in the World War I, Germany was strong industrially and still had the capacity to be a great military power. The new Germany, known as the Weimar Republic, was led by members of the Social Democratic Party. They were eager for democracy to succeed. Some considered democracy a weak form of government unsuited to the German nation. Koonz says that one of the most vigorous critics of the Weimar Republic was Adolf Hitler (Koonz, 2003).
In the 1930’s, recalls Koonz, the leaders of Nazi Germany preached that Germans belonged to the superior Aryan race and that Jews and all other non-Aryan peoples were inferior. Claims of racial superiority have supported dehumanization in the forms of discrimination, segregation, colonialism, slavery, and even mass murder. Six million European Jews were slain. Victims of the Holocaust went through dehumanization simply to make the killing of others psychologically easy for the Nazis. As Koonz graphically described it, many victims of the Holocaust suffered from various experiments which eventually led to the death. Some of the experiments were things such as: sun lamp, internal irrigation, hot bath, warming by body heat, hypothermia, among others (Koonz, 2003).
Koonz summarized that during the years in Vienna, Hitler adopted the extreme nationalistic and racist ideas that were widespread in the late nineteenth century. After the war, he joined a small nationalist political party in Munich. Its name was the Nationalist Socialist German Workers Party, but it was commonly called the Nazi Party (Koonz, 2003). True to Koonz’s observation that Hitler demonstrated extraordinary talent as a public speaker and organizer, Hitler became quickly became the party’s leader (Koonz, 2003). With Hitler as its leader, the Nazi Party began to grow. Parades and mass rallies drew excited crowds who cheered Hitler’s speeches attacking the Versailles Treaty and the Weimar government (Twiss, 2002).
How the United States influenced Germany in the war eras was likewise made clear by Claudia Koonz. Actually, Germany’s anger over the United States’ Versailles Treaty gave Adolf Hitler the opportunity to gain power for the National Socialist or Nazi Party (Koonz, 2003). Using violence and terror, the Nazis established a totalitarian dictatorship in Germany. Fascist ideas also spread elsewhere in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s. New democracies established after the war collapsed, and authoritarian rulers returned to power (Milosz, 2001).
Indeed, Koonz’s argument is correct when she pointed out that German polity also gave Hitler the ethnocentric grounds to institute Nazism. Hitler stood more for Nazis in place of Stalin’s egocentric leadership. To win popular support, Hitler issued propaganda that gave simple explanations for Germany’s misfortunes. Hitler however was also egocentric to some extent because of Nazi’s ethnocentric ideologies (Koonz, 2003).
Hitler made racist thinking a basic doctrine of the Nazi ideology. Like earlier racist thinkers, he claimed that the Germans were a “master race.” He considered Jews, Slavs, and other peoples to be “inferior races” who weakened the nation. Propaganda movements like Nazism often succeeded when times were hard and people were unemployed, hungry, insecure, and restless (Twiss, 2002).
Recalls Koonz, throughout history there have been persecutions and atrocities that can be described as cases of genocide. Victims of the Holocaust went through dehumanization simply to make the killing of others psychologically easy for the Nazis. Many victims of the Holocaust suffered from various experiments which eventually led to the death. Some of the experiments were things such as: sun lamp, internal irrigation, hot bath, warming by body heat, hypothermia, among others. This was what was The Nazi Conscience like as history book. While the first few chapters are speaking for the Jews and other concentration camp victims in general, the latter dives deeper into a more personal level of the literature (Koonz, 2003).
But as a literary tome, it really grabs a reader’s attention and makes him want to read more. The reader would smell, feel, and experience the concentration camp as it actually was as dreadful sixty or seventy years ago. He or she would feel how the Jews were rounded up, loaded into sealed cattle cars, and shipped to death camps. And how they were herded into gas chambers devised for mass murder. And how others were beaten, starved, and tortured to death by their guards. And how some prisoners were the victims of medical experiments (Koonz, 2003).
Although clearly written with, on one hand, somewhat an abolitionist cause in mind, this book is not merely a political tract. Koonz saw reclamation of such life’s fundamentals, as faith, family, education, the capacity for bold action, a sense of community, and personal identity, as the key to the Jews’ survival, redemption, and salvation (Koonz, 2003).
After the Nazism era, Koonz emphasized that the question of a united Germany remained critical during the 1950s, as both East and West Germany were recognized as independent nations (Koonz, 2003). West Germany was admitted to NATO in 1955 and allowed to rearm. As a countermeasure to the NATO Alliance, the Soviet Union immediately signed a mutual defense pact with seven of the Eastern European countries including Germany (Milosz, 2001).
Claudia Koonz proves in her book The Nazi Conscience that Hitler used the principle of self-determination to seize power, considering the millions of lives relinquished and insecure, self-centered intentions to almost naming the whole Europe as Hitler. Hitler maybe as hardhearted but he stood for a propagandistic empire that believed in homogeneous movement, getting rid only of the “inferior races” and not necessarily any challengers of his creed (Koonz, 2003).
In the 1990s, Jewish groups pressured those who had profited from the Holocaust to compensate Holocaust victims or their descendants. Groups that paid reparations included the German government, certain Swiss banks, and some German companies (Koonz, 2003). As I notice Germany’s parallelistic history with that of America, in the same way Americans have been ethnocentric and discriminatory against the Black people, Germany, as epitomized by Hitler, had practiced superiority complex for the longest time in world history (Hohn, 2002).
On a personal note, I would recommend that every one, no matter what their position may be in the context of Nazism or Communism, should read this book by Claudia Koonz. I found this book to be eye-opening and heart-wrenching. Koonz may not have had entirely come to terms with the idealistic ideologies thrashed out by the Nazism and was prone to be directed in his thoughts by a distinct discernment of validity (Koonz, 2003). She may have had dealings with a diversity of sentiments and impressions in his mind and heart, and their articulation has subsumed writing about it and at the end of the day, self-deleterious actions as a way of dealing with his retaliation, fury, and despondency. The Nazi Conscience has totally changed my perspective on the relationship of scholastic bravery and masked guilt.
Hohn, Maria. GIs and Frauleins: The German-American Encounter in 1950s West Germany. University of North Carolina Press, 2002.
Milosz, Czeslaw. The Captive Mind. Penguin Classic, June 2001.
Koonz, Claudia. The Nazi Conscience. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003.
Twiss, M. The Most Evil Men & Woman in History. Barnes & Noble, 2002.