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Did the German people consent to Nazi policies during the years 1933 to 1945?

Abstract

The issue of consent regarding the German people towards the National Socialist regime is a

sensitive one, which has provoked much debate among historians. Nonetheless, the question

of this paper - “Did the German people consent to Nazi policies during the years 1933 to

1945?” - is an important one, with vital lessons. The simple fact remains Nazi policies

could not have succeeded without the direct or indirect support of the German populace, and

Nazi historians have perhaps not always readily accepted this fact. This paper seeks to

address this area by looking at the Nazi creation of consensus, the roles of terror and

coercion, consent to Nazi anti-Semitic policies, and the extent of resistance and anti-

conformity among the German people. The overwhelming trend

is one of passivity,

regardless of sentiment. The 'Hitler Myth' had a large role to play in this also, as it separated

Hitler from the everyday realities of life for the ordinary German people, and allowed for

continual and increased support for him from the population. It should be acknowledged that

there were many forms of resistance, however, there is academic disagreement concerning

the nature of resistance. Prior to the 1970s, two schools of thought existed regarding the

nature of consent; one argued that the German people willingly backed Nazi policies en

masse; the alternative view was that the Germans were victims of the Nazi regime. This study

builds on the work that has since been done in challenging these arguements. Primary sources

are of particular importance to this work, especially the diaries of Jewish survivor Victor

Klemperer. Taking into account all these facets, this paper seeks to thoroughly address the

question posed.

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Introduction

The study of German people‟s attitudes towards the Nazi regime was largely unexplored until

the 1970s. 1 In 1984, Richard Bessel stated: “historians of Nazi Germany at last have

discovered the German people.” 2 Prior to the 1970s, especially in the post war years, distinct

generalisations about attitudes of German people towards the Third Reich emerged. One

generalisation that was common outside of Germany, put emphasis upon “enthusiastic mass

backing”. 3 The other generalisation, which was common among Germans themselves, put

emphasis on the people‟s helplessness, most of whom rejected the regime but could do

nothing, especially in regard to the executions amidst the coercion and terror. 4 Since the

1970s, these generalisations have been challenged and rejected as attention has been drawn

to the many unclear facts, contradictions, and “gray areas of dissent and support”, which

existed in Nazi Germany. 5 A question that must be raised is: did the German people consent

to the National Socialists and their policies? The endeavour of this project therefore, will be

to explore this question and locate possible answers to it with reference to major historians‟

works on the subject as well as primary sources.

Popular opinion

Alexander J. Groth argues that “It is obvious that the policies of the Third Reich could not

1 Lisa Pine, Hitler’s ‘National Community’ Society and Culture in Nazi Germany (Hodder Education, Great Britain, 2007), p. 5.

2 Richard Bessel, Living with the Nazis: Some Recent Writing on the Social History of the Third Reich, European History Quarterly, Vol. 14 (1984), p. 211.

3 Ian Kershaw, Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution (Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2008), p. 119.

4 Ibid.

5 Corey Ross, Untitled Review, Reviewed Works: Germans into Nazis, Peter Fritzsche (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge and Massachusetts, 1998), and Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany, Robert Gellately (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2001), The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 75, No. 2 (June, 2003), p. 462.

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have been carried out without the active involvement and cooperation of millions of

Germans.” 6 This section of the project will focus on how the Nazis created this cooperation in

order to enact their policies. But before one looks at how consensus was created, it is

necessary to explain the term „popular‟ or „public opinion‟.

As Ian Kershaw states, „public opinion‟ is a difficult term to use for Nazi Germany as

any opinion that was publically expressed from 1933 onwards was more or less the opinion

of the Nazis rather than the general public. 7 Thus a historian has to base the German‟s

opinions upon sources from agencies of the Nazi regime like the SD (Security Service)

reports or upon oppositional sources, in this case the Sopade (exiled German Social

Democrats) reports. 8 One also has to remember that many people were intimidated into

hiding their real views or conveyed these views in a disguised form only. 9 There is no way of

reconstructing opinion, therefore a historian must rely on their own interpretation and thus

conclusions are limited and based on assumptions rather than facts. 10

The creation of consensus

The Nazis aimed to create consensus for their regime and conformity for their ideology. 11 It

can be argued that the Nazissupport base was firmly established in the early years of the

regime as the people more than approved of the economic recovery, the restoration of

Germany as an international power, solidaristic gestures and the Nazis‟ tough approach to

law and order. 12 Those who did not initially accept National Socialism would eventually be

affected by processes like Gleichschaltung (co-ordination), attempts of the regime to break

down class barriers, propaganda and the Hitler myth. 13 Richard Evans noted that “almost

6 Alexander J. Groth, „Demonizing the Germans: Goldhagen and Gellately on Nazism‟, The Political Science Reviewer, Vol.32, (2003), p. 118.

7 Kershaw, Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution, p. 120.

8 Ibid., p. 121.

9 Ibid., p. 120.

10 Ibid., p. 121.

11 Pine, Hitler’s ‘National Community’, pp. 17-18.

12 Ross, untitled review, p. 463.

13 Pine, Hitler’s ‘National Community’, p. 18.

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every aspect of political, social and associational life was affected, at every level from the

nation to the village”. 14 Gleichschaltung was designed to bring every aspect of German life

under the Nazis‟ control. For example, the Nazis „co-ordinated‟ the civil service by enacting

the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service on the 7 April 1933. 15

Other public and state institutions were treated along the same lines. It could be argued that

the German people consented to this policy as between the 30 January 1933 and the 1 May

1933, 1.6 million people joined the party. 16 However, this could have been to safeguard their

employment as Lisa Pine argues. 17 Also, it should be acknowledged that decisions people

made were often prompted by intimidation or violence directed by the SA (Stormtroopers) or

the SS men. Many historians believe that fear of these organisations was not the driving

factor for consensus but rather it was the conscious decision of the people to support Nazi

policies; from the late 1960s onwards research emphasized people‟s relative freedom in

choosing to resist or to consent as the apparatus of the Gestapo appeared less coercive than it

had before. 18 The ninety-nine per cent the German electorate gave to Hitler and his policies,

according to Robert Gellately, provided „remarkable‟ evidence of „popular backing‟ for the

Nazis, Hans-Ulrich Wehler supports this view. 19 It is in Ulrich Herbert‟s words “accurate to

note that the Nazis

succeeded in expanding their base of support during the first four or

five years of their rule.” 20

Gleichschaltung or co-ordination was intended to eliminate the threat of opposition

and to inculcate the spirit of Nazism into the population. 21 Yet the process was not entirely

successful as members of the Nazi party or one of its formations did not necessarily accept

Nazi ideology; some that joined secretly remained loyal to the political left, Pine refers to

14 Richard Evans, The Coming of the Third Reich (London, 2004), p. 381.

15 Pine, Hitler’s ‘National Community’, p. 18.

16 Ibid.

17 Ibid. 18 Richard J. Evans, Coercion and Consent in Nazi Germany, Raleigh Lecture on History, The British Academy 151 (2007), p. 53.

19 Ibid., p. 54.

20 Ulrich Herbert, Untitled Review, Reviewed Work: Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany by Robert Gellately, The American Historical Review, Vol. 108, No.1 (February, 2003), p. 276.

21 Pine, Hitler’s ‘National Community’, p. 18.

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them as „beefsteak Nazis‟ – „brown‟ (Nazi) on the outside, and „red‟ (Communist) on the

inside. 22 Nevertheless, Gleichschaltung did remove the possibility of widespread opposition

to the Nazis, and thus it could be argued, that the German people did to an extent consent to

this Nazi policy.

Organized widespread opposition among the working class was not evident in Nazi

Germany, perhaps because the Nazis destroyed the German trade union movement and their

social working environment which eventually depoliticised them. 23 However, as Dick Geary

stated, “the experience of mass and long-term unemployment in the Weimar Republic had

already done a great deal to fracture, demobilise and demoralise large sections of the German

working class before the Nazi seizure of power”. 24 The German Labour Front that replaced

the trade union, had the aim of maintaining industrial peace and promoting social welfare

schemes to enhance worker productivity. 25 As mentioned earlier, the economic recovery in

1935-1936 attracted people to Nazism as many people secured jobs again and some stability,

but little changed in terms of wages and living standards. The Nazis‟ reports from Bavaria

noted a “growing discontent with regime and party” in the working class. 26 However benefits

such as six days minimum annual holiday raised support among the workers for the regime or

at least resulted in a disinterest in the arena of politics. 27 Here it could be argued that the

Nazis manipulated the working class people into supporting their regime and policies. Ulrich

Herbert argued that the workers‟ attitude was “one of distance”, but that they approved of

some Nazi policies due to economic recovery and foreign policy successes. 28

The middle classes were among the most ardent supporters of National Socialism due

to „material self-interest‟, as the Nazis had promised economic advancement to them. 29

However, they became increasingly critical of the regime when these promises were not

22 Ibid., p. 19.

23 Ibid.

24 Ibid.

25 Ibid.

26 Kershaw, Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution, p. 126. 27 Pine, Hitler’s ‘National Community’, p. 20.

28 Ibid., p. 21.

29 Kershaw, Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution, p.124.

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fulfilled. Small traders complained about the Nazi economic policies lack of credit,

compulsory donations, taxation, the exploitation of the middle classes in favour of big

businesses. 30 Even though the middle classes were critical of the Nazis‟ policies, they never

publicly expressed this nor did they organise mass resistance, therefore this criticism was

harmless to the regime. The Sopade reports stated that passivity and grumbling were the

main traits of popular opinion, “but beyond that, to oppose the regime – it doesn‟t go that

far”. 31 Another reason, it could be argued, for no open hostility from the middle classes was

the possible fact that they hoped to benefit from the exclusion of the Jews from the economy.

Jewish department stores were shut down and this reduction in competition pleased small

businesses. 32 Propaganda also played a role in maintaining the consensus of the middle

classes. For example, the annual Buckeburg festival and the idealisation of pastoral life were

meant to compensate for the failure of Nazi policies to live up to people‟s expectations. 33

Bernd Weisbrod stated that Hitler got rid of the “last defences” of the middle class by

breaking the “conventional morals of bourgeois society”. 34

The upper classes, it could be argued, were indifferent to Nazi policies and the regime

as a whole; Jeremy Noakes argues that most of the German aristocracy was “more or less

totally detached from the regime and regarded it with a mixture of contempt and disgust”. 35

Nevertheless, many in the upper classes joined the party to protect their positions or because

they were motivated by opportunism. 36 One can argue that the aristocrats who did join the

Nazi party were in a way giving their consent to Nazi policies.

30 Ibid.

31 Ibid., p. 125

32 Pine, Hitler’s ‘National Community’, p. 22.

33 Ibid.

34 Ibid.

35 Ibid., p. 22.

36 Ibid., p. 23.

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The role of propaganda and the Hitler myth in the creation of consensus

Propaganda played a significant role in the creation of consensus for the Nazi regime and its

policies. Reich Minister of Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda Josef Goebbels stated

on 15 March 1933: “It is not enough for people to be more or less reconciled to our

regime, to be persuaded to adopt a neutral attitude towards us, rather we want to work on

people until they have capitulated to us.” 37 Propaganda was most effective when it appealed

to pre-existing beliefs of the people as historian David Welch has shown. 38 Consistent

propaganda themes were: „national community‟, racial purity, hatred of enemies, leadership

cult and domestic and foreign policy successes. 39 Detlev Peukert has shown that Nazi

propaganda was not entirely successful as there was anti-conformist behaviour, mainly in

informal activities. 40 Anti-conformist behaviour ranged from refusal to donate to Winter Aid

to helping Jews. Jokes and rumours were another sign of discontent among the people. This

was documented in reports on popular opinion and morale compiled by the SD. 41 These

reports in Peukert‟s words allow historians “to form a very precise picture of everyday

popular feeling and opinion”. 42 Criticisms and „grumbling‟ existed alongside a “passive

acceptance” of the regime and its policies. 43 But because there was no unity of opinion,

organised political resistance was never established and thus the Nazis and their policies

remained. The greatest result of Nazi propaganda, it could be argued was the Hitler myth,

which was especially important when it came to sustaining consensus for the regime.

The image of Hitler was in Lisa Pine‟s words the “principal rallying point” for the

German people. 44 The „Hitler‟ or „Fuhrer myth‟ was not only the result of propaganda but

also to a large extent the result of “naive popular expectations of national salvation to be

37 Ibid.

38 Ibid.

39 Ibid., p. 23.

40 Detlev Peukert, Inside Nazi Germany: Conformity, Opposition and Racism in Everyday Life (London, 1987), p. 52. 41 Pine, Hitler’s ‘National Community’, p. 24.

42 Peukert, Inside Nazi Germany, p. 52. 43 Pine, Hitler’s ‘National Community’, p. 25.

44 Ibid., p. 25.

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brought about by the coming of a „great leader‟.” 45 Hitler‟s popularity from the start was

based upon „his‟ suppression of the Communists and his „great achievements‟. After The

Night of the Long Knives in 1934, Hitler became more popular as he was viewed as defender

of the people from the SA, and “upholder of public morality” as Ernst Rohm was

homosexual. 46 The recovery of the economy in 1935-1936, huge public works schemes and

the elimination of mass unemployment were regarded as personal achievements of Hitler. 47

Hitler stood above daily realities for people so they disassociated him from unpopular

policies, for example, the regimes anti-Semitic policies. 48 It can be argued therefore, that the

people were able to voice their discontent and consent for the Nazi regime and its policies at

the same time.

Foreign policy successes were largely the reasons for Hitler‟s continued popularity

and for consensus among the people. The majority of Germans were thrilled with Hitler‟s

revocation of the Treaty of Versailles‟ terms. The „bringing home‟ of the Saarland in 1935,

and the Anschluss with Austria in 1938 brought with them huge popular approval as they

were massive triumphs for Germany under Hitler. 49 On 5 April 1938,

following the Anschluss, Victor Klemperer, a Jewish professor and survivor of the Nazi

regime, writes: “How deeply Hitler‟s attitudes are rooted in the German people”. 50 The

German people were hesitant to go to war in September 1939, but they still accepted Hitler‟s

decision. Popular support peaked after the Nazi occupation of Paris in 1940. Kershaw argues

that on “the eve of the invasion of the Soviet Union

Hitler‟s popular standing was

undiminished and confidence in his leadership among the great majority of the population

unbroken.” 51 It was only after the Battle of Stalingrad in January 1943, that both the Hitler

myth and the strength of the German army began to be questioned. Yet still there was no

45 Kershaw, Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution, pp. 130-131. 46 Pine, Hitler’s ‘National Community’, p. 25.

47 Ibid.

48 Ibid.

49 Ibid., pp. 25-26.

50 Victor Klemperer, translated by Martin Chalmers, I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years 1933-1941 (Random House Inc., New York, 1998) p. 253.

51 Ibid., p. 26.

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organised opposition. It should be remembered that the Nazi apparatus of terror had a lot to

do with this as well as the strains of war on people, which led to “resignation rather than

rebellion” in Pine‟s opinion. 52 In the last phase of the war the Hitler myth completely

collapsed, but this does not explain for the continued support of the regime. Following the

demise of the Hitler myth, the Nazis resorted to an increase in their use of coercion.

The role of terror and coercion in creating and sustaining consensus

Coercion, terror and surveillance were extremely important to the Third Reich as they made

the regime‟s aim to create and sustain the consensus of the German population, possible. 53 It

has been argued, especially prior to the 1970s, that the German people were forced to accept

Nazi rule due to the latter‟s use of violence and terror. 54 Neil Gregor has argued that coercion

and violence were “absolutely central to the seizure and consolidation of power”. 55 Robert

Gellately‟s work on the Gestapo in 1990 proceeded from the assumption that “fear was

indeed prevalent among the German people”. 56 Was it fear that made people consent to the

Nazis and their policies? Recent research has contradicted this opinion. In the 1990s, Eric

Johnson and Karl-Heinz Reuband conducted an opinion survey of elderly Germans, which

claimed that only a small number of Germans feared being arrested by the Gestapo. 57

Johnson and Reuband have advanced the theory that Hitler and the Nazis “were so

immensely popular among most Germans that intimidation and terror were rarely needed to

enforce loyalty.” 58 Klaus-Michael Mallman and Gerhard Paul have shown that the Gestapo

did not have the resources or numbers to be “omniscient and omnipotent”. 59 However, it

must be noted that fear did play some role in the formation of consensus. In June 1933 a

52 Ibid.

53 Ibid., p. 39.

54 Evans, Coercion and Consent in Nazi Germany, p. 53.

55 Pine, Hitler’s ‘National Community’, p. 31.

56 Robert Gellately, The Gestapo and German Society, Enforcing Racial Policy 1933-1945 (Oxford University Press, New York, 1990), p. 129.

57 Evans, Coercion and Consent in Nazi Germany, p. 54. 58 Ibid. 59 Pine, Hitler’s ‘National Community’, p. 34.

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young Social Democrat resisted the SA during a raid near Berlin killing three SA men, the

SA responded by killing ninety-one people in „Kopenick blood-week‟. 60 Such violence was

intended to scare family, friends and neighbours of the victims as well as the rest of the

population. This it could be argued was one of the reasons for consent or collaboration with

the regime and its policies. During the Nazis‟ reign, police could hold people for indefinite

periods of time without trial. Perhaps this had little relevance for the general population, as

Robert Gellately claims that Nazi terror was highly selective and did not affect the majority

of German people until the last phases of the war when “German-on-German terror became

the order of the day”. 61

For most of the 1930s, the Nazis terror apparatus was mainly used against Communists,

Social Democrats, Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, „asocials‟ and criminals. The detention of

these people in concentration camps was widely publicized in the press as Gellately has

shown in Backing Hitler. 62 The majority of people found this to be a positive side of Nazism,

and thus accepted a “surveillance society” in return for a crime free Germany. 63 Gellately

claims that “On balance, the coercive practices, the repression, and persecution won far more

support for the dictatorship than they lost”. 64

Not only did some Germans support the Nazis‟ policy of terror but some actively

collaborated by denouncing others. Pine argues that denunciations were the result of “citizen

collaboration”, but that they were not always the result of racism or adherence to Nazism. 65

Corey Ross states that denunciations “often did not reflect active support for the regime and

its policies.” 66 Many people denounced others to settle a score with them. For example, a girl

made a complaint against her brother to prove “he‟s not always right”. 67 This, it could be

60 Ibid., p. 31.

61 Robert Gellately, Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany (Oxford University Press Inc., New York, 2001), p. 3.

62 Ibid., p. 51.

63 Pine, Hitler’s ‘National Community’, p. 33.

64 Gellately, Backing Hitler, p. 259.

65 Pine, Hitler’s ‘National Community’, p. 33.

66 Ross, Untitled Review, p. 463.

67 Ibid., p. 35.

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argued, shows a growing consensus among the German people in regard to Nazi surveillance

and repression.

Consent to anti-Semitic policies?

So far it appears that the majority of German people largely consented to Nazi policies, albeit

for many different reasons, but they consented nonetheless. Now the German‟s attitudes

towards the Nazis‟ anti-Semitic policies shall be investigated. It should be remembered that

it is hard to generalise the German‟s reactions which were often mixed, and whose real

opinions if anti-conformist could not be publically expressed. 68

Daniel Goldhagen claims that German anti-Semitism was rabid, and that the people

happily agreed to Nazi anti-Semitic policies. 69 However, the majority of historians rebuke

these claims; Alexander J. Groth refers to Goldhagen‟s “stereotypical assumptions” as

“unrealistic and unjust”. 70 Both Robert Gellately and Peter Fritzche reject Goldhagen‟s thesis

on German popular opinion by stating that anti-Semitism was not the most significant base

for consensus. 71 For Gellately, repression was not as popular in relation to the Jews as it had

been for the Communists. 72

Anti-Semitic policies were enacted from the beginning of the Third Reich, but they

were enacted gradually as the Nazis feared that foreign opinion, national opinion and trade

might be affected by harsh persecution. David Bankier furthered the thesis that the population

consented to anti-Semitic policies as long as these policies did not harm non-Jews, or the

interests of Germany. 73 It could be argued that German people were indifferent to anti-

Semitic policies once these policies did not affect their lives. There is evidence from Gestapo

files and oppositional sources that industrial workers did not give much attention to Nazi

68 Gellately, Backing Hitler, pp. 128-129.

69 Daniel Goldhagen, Hitler’s Willing Executioners Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (Abacus, London, 1997), p. 9.

70 Groth, Demonizing the Germans: Goldhagen and Gellately on Nazism, p. 119.

71 Ross, Untitled Review, p. 464.

72 Ibid., p. 463.

73 Gellately, Backing Hitler, p. 123.

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anti-Semitic policies. 74 Alf Ludtke states that in the first few years of Nazi rule “direct

support of Nazi policies” was rare among the workers and their families, and that acceptance

and “active passivity” was more common. 75

Historians have different conclusions on whether the Germans agreed or disagreed

with the Nuremberg Laws of September 1935. Otto Dov Kulka suggests that most Germans

were probably pleased with the Nuremberg Laws as they thought they would put an end to

crime and violence. 76 Whereas Peter Longerich maintains that some people disagreed with

the laws but they did not dare object in public due to fear. 77 Victor Klemperer asked non-

Jews what they thought about the laws and he concluded that all had contradicting opinions. 78

As the consequences of war became felt by people Klemperer noticed two distinct reactions

of „Aryans‟ in relation to the Jews. The first reaction being one of sympathy, which he

received from shopkeepers, the second was one of open hatred and attacks, for example, on

November 1, 1941, Hitler Youths chased him and shouted “A Yid, a Yid!” 79 Such

contradicting experiences made it impossible for Klemperer to know whether the German

people consented or not to Nazi policies.

It could be argued that Nazi anti-Semitic policies were inconsistent as Klemperer had

witnessed little experiences of outright anti-Semitism from people in Dresden. Whereas in

areas like Gunzenhausen, there was a notorious pogrom in March 1934. 80 In Osnabruck in

August 1935, twenty-five thousand people gathered to hear a local Nazi party leader on the

theme „Osnabruck and the Jewish Question‟, which police noted as the „high point of

struggle against the Jews‟. 81 Klemperer writes on December 17, 1941, that Hitler “has

literally created the „Jewish nation,‟ „world Jewry,‟ the Jew.” 82 He believes that the „Jewish

74 Alf Ludtke, German Work and German Workers: The Impact of Symbols on the Exclusion of Jews in Nazi Germany, in David Bankier (ed.), Probing the Depths of German Antisemitism, German Society and the Persecution of the Jews, 1933-1941 (Yad Vashem and the Leo Baeck Institute, Jerusalem, 2000), p. 304.

75 Ibid., p. 305.

76 Gellately, Backing Hitler, p. 123.

77 Ibid.

78 Klemperer, I Will Bear Witness, pp. 133-145.

79 Ibid., p. 442.

80 Kershaw, Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution, p. 159.

81 Gellately, Backing Hitler, p. 121.

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Question‟ was not really a question or even an issue for most people before Hitler, but rather

Hitler and the Nazis invented the concept to justify the persecution of the Jews. Klemperer

often acknowledges with amazement that even „Aryans‟ who sympathized

with the Jews did not really know or were ignorant of the severity of the Jew‟s situation.

Hannes Heer wrote that Klemperer misinterpreted the ignorance of the Germans, arguing

that Klemperer overlooked the fact that the majority made a conscious decision not to know

more than necessary rather than facts being hidden from them by the Nazis. 83 On 2 October

1941, Klemperer writes “Who among the „Aryan‟ Germans is really untouched by National

Socialism? The contagion rages in all of them, perhaps it is not contagion, but basic German

nature.” 84

Thus it could be argued that the German people supported anti-Semitic policies.

Propaganda had an effect on people‟s reactions to anti-Semitic policies. One Socialist

from Berlin noted, that “as a result of the long antisemitic campaign many people had

themselves become antisemitic”. 85 In the press Jews were linked to the national enemy

Bolshevism, in addition to this, films like Jew Suss had an effect on the German‟s ideology

toward Jews. 86 Anti-Semitic propaganda increased when war broke out, a war the Jews were

blamed for. 87 The press even said it was the Jews who were to blame for Hitler‟s

assassination attempt in November 1939, at a meeting in Munich. 88 For Heide Gerstenberger,

it was not only Nazi propaganda that furthered “acquiescence with Nazi anti-Jewish policy”

but rather it was the “secondary public sphere” that furthered consensus. 89

David Bankier suggests that Kristallnacht (Crystal Night) in 1938, led to disapproval

82 Klemperer, I Will Bear Witness, p. 450. 83 Suzanne Heim, The German-Jewish Relationship in the Diaries of Victor Klemperer, in David Bankier (Ed.), Probing the Depths of German Antisemitism, German Society and the Persecution of the Jews, 1933-1941 (Yad Vashem and The Leo Baeck Institute, Jerusalem, 2000), p. 319.

84 Klemperer, I Will Bear Witness, p. 441.

85 Gellately, Backing Hitler, p. 125.

86 Ibid.

87 Ibid., p. 129.

88 Ibid.

89 Heide Gerstenberger, Acquiescence, in David Bankier (Ed.), Probing the Depths of German Antisemitism, German Society and the Persecution of the Jews, 1933-1941 (Yad Vashem and the Leo Baeck Institute, Jerusalem, 2000), pp. 25-26.

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among many Germans who had previously consented to anti-Semitic policies. Following

Kristallnacht Bankier concludes that many people were wary of the Nazis now as they

feared they themselves could be the next victims – “for the first time, non-Jews sensed a real

danger of being the next victim of Nazi terror.” 90 Another way of interpreting the peoples‟

reaction to Kristallnacht is that they welcomed the attacks on Jews. Kershaw argues that

Kristallnacht showed that in “extreme circumstances a wider public could be whipped up into

a hysterical mood against local resident Jews. 91 In some areas, for example Hesse, the

German people took serious actions against the Jews on the night of Kristallnacht, including

the burning down of synagogues. 92 It could be argued that such participation in

discriminatory measures surely reflects that the Germans consented to Nazi policies.

Whether the German people did or did not consent to the exterminations of Jews and

other groups is a near impossible question to answer. There was a notion that the German

people had not known about what was happening to the Jews, this notion has since been

rejected. 93 There were “denials, evasions, repressions, deflections and rationalizations”. 94 It is

impossible to know how many people knew about the exterminations and if they knew, how

much knowledge they had of it. 95 In Ian Kershaw‟s words: “Many doubtless became skilled

at knowing how not to know.” 96 Surviving SD reports confirm that there were rumours of

mass shootings of Jews in autumn 1941, and that Germans who wanted to find out, could

have. 97 Information about mass executions spread as soldiers left the front and this

information was “widely known by 1942”. 98 The Germans may not have consented to the

extermination of Jews but their “humanitarian and moral values” declined as they did not

90 Ibid.

91 Kershaw, Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution, p. 159.

92 Ibid., p. 126.

93 Ibid., p. 141.

94 Klaus P. Fischer, The History of an Obsession, German Judeophobia and the Holocaust (The Continuum Publishing Company, New York, 1998), p. 398.

95 Kershaw, Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution, p. 141.

96 Ibid., p. 142.

97 Ibid.

98 Fischer, The History of an Obsession, p. 399.

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oppose the regime even after hearing rumours about the exterminations in the East. 99 For

Klaus P. Fischer this was due to the “German habit of always deferring authority and obeying

instinctively without questioning.” 100 Thus it can be argued, that in a way the people

consented to the Nazi regime and its policies by not speaking out.

Anti-conformist behaviour and resistance

As it has been shown, there was a general consensus with Nazi policies; however, it should

be acknowledged that there were people who resisted the Nazis and their policies. The

“resistance debate” deals with the issue of what should be classified as resistance. 101 For

Jacobsen resistance was anything that showed that “The German people wanted to

disassociate itself from the crimes”, but for Martin Brozat resistance was “what was done and

accomplished, not just desired or intended”. 102 There were many forms of resistance but

never organised mass resistance that could have overthrown the Nazis. Martyn Housden asks

“was it terror alone that rendered it [resistance] so ineffective?” 103 Willy Brandt has said that

too few made the conscious decision to oppose the Nazis and that it became normal to

conform to abnormal expectations. 104 One could view shopping in a Jewish shop following

the boycott of April 1933 as an act of resistance. However cheaper goods may have been the

motive behind this „resistance‟, evidence from southern lower Saxony indicates this,

according to Alf Ludtke. 105 An example of resistance that openly opposed the regime was

The White Rose student movement during the early 1940s, who at one stage painted the

words “Down with Hitler!” on to twenty-nine buildings in Munich. 106 Simon Henderson

questions whether the White Rose movement reached the same level of resistance as the

99 Kershaw, Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution, p. 148.

100 Fischer, The History of an Obsession, p. 53.

101 Simon Henderson, „The White Rose and the Definition of „Resistance‟‟, The History Review, (December, 2005), p. 45.

102 Martyn Housden, Resistance and conformity in the Third Reich (Routledge, London, 1997), p. 161.

103 Housden, Resistance and conformity in the Third Reich), p. 2.

104 Ibid., p. 160.

105 Ludtke, German Work and German Workers, p. 305.

106 Henderson, The White Rose and the Definition of „Resistance‟‟, p. 45.

16

Stauffenberg bomb plot of 20 July 1944. 107 Theodore S. Hamerow argues that had the

resistors beat Hitler it is not “by no means clear that they would have succeeded”, or rallied

the people into overthrowing the Nazis. 108 Nevertheless, resistance towards the Nazis and

Nazi policies did exist.

Conclusion

What conclusions can we draw then from this project? Throughout the course of the project

both German consensus and dissent with Nazi policies has been demonstrated. In conclusion,

it can be argued that a large number of German people consented to Nazi policies during the

years 1933 to 1945. However, it has also been shown that both partial approval and partial

rejection of Nazism co-existed. As we have seen the entire German population did not

consent as there was a minority of people who tried to resist or oppose the Nazis and their

policies. What must also be borne in mind is that there are other factors for consensus and

resistance that are unknown to the historian and thus outside the scope of this project. The

following quote from Robert Gellately on Victor Klemperer‟s diaries reflects how the

Germans agreed to Nazi policies, he stated: “A sense of how Germans responded positively

to various waves of persecution and even to the spirit of Nazi „justice‟ is conveyed on almost

every page of Professor Klemperer‟s diary.” 109

107 Ibid., p. 45.

108 Theodore S. Hamerow, On the Road to the Wolf’s Lair (Harvard University Press, United States, 1999), p.

352.

109 Gellately, Backing Hitler, p. 8.

17

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