The Legacy

Upon Germany’s surrender in May 1945, Allied occupational forces began the mass arrest, interrogation, and imprisonment of thousands of Germans who had been variously affiliated with the National Socialist government. Among those detained was the renowned authority on international law, Friedrich Grimm. Ten years before, Hitler had solicited his counsel when planning to reinstitute compulsory military service. Now Grimm sat opposite an Allied officer who showed him samples of new leaflets printed by the victors. They were in German language for distribution throughout the conquered country. Describing German war crimes, the flyers were the first step in the re-education program designed for Germany. Grimm suggested that since the war was over, it was time to stop the libel. “Why no, we're just getting started,” the officer replied. “We'll continue this atrocity campaign, we'll increase it till no one will want to hear a good word about the Germans anymore, till whatever sympathy there is for you in other countries is completely destroyed, and until the Germans themselves become so mixed up they won't know what they're doing!"203

The perpetual campaign of negative publicity kept old wounds open for decades. To this day, it precludes objective analysis of a system developed by one of our most advanced, productive, and creative civilizations, which raised it from economic distress and social discord after World War I to prosperity and harmony within a few short years. In the aftermath of the 1939-1945 war, which deeply scarred the countries that fought, decimating the younger generation of some, there is merit in exploring notable elements of the ideologies involved. The lessons learned may contribute to a better understanding among peoples for the future.

With respect to Germany, much can be gained from investigating not just what Hitler did, but why. Condemning the National Socialist state as a criminal abomination was the precursor to the present mindset that non-democratic governments are unenlightened at best, as tyrannies withholding freedom from the population or as “rogue states.” To esteem liberal democracy as humanity’s crowning political achievement leads to complacency, diminishing in its supporters the self-critical eye so useful for correction and improvement.

Reform is a product of restlessness and dissatisfaction. This was the genesis of the Enlightenment, the intellectual challenge to the royal regimen that had barred the common people from opportunity. First to give political expression to new ideas were the American colonists, unaccustomed to immoderate authority, and the French, spirited and self-assured. Their governments shifted focus to advancing the individual, contrary to the monarchial structure maintaining the control of an exclusive, self-serving minority.

In Germany, the enlightened age evolved differently. The Germans' contemplative, methodical approach led to a gradual integration of liberal values with elements of the old order. Flanked by powerful neighboring states, a strong central authority was still necessary to preserve national independence. Together with the unification of the Reich in 1871, liberalism enabled the Germans to mature and prosper. The royal house, unable to keep pace with the progress of the times, failed dismally in foreign policy and at waging war, and ultimately vanished in 1918. The Weimar Republic, shackled by crippling tribute to the Allies, was unable to restore prosperity.

Dissatisfied, the Germans turned to a new ideology. When Hitler came to power, which was by no means an easy and rapid process, he more or less occupied a political vacuum. He reached beyond democracy and the imperial era, reviving ideas of the German intellectual movement of the early 19th Century. The National Socialists promoted individual liberty, but not a laissez faire policy regarding commerce; profit and advancement at the expense of the community they considered detrimental and discordant. “Liberalism indeed paved the way for economic progress, but simultaneously abetted the social fragmentation of nations,” concluded the protocol of the Science of Labor Institute’s conference at Bad Salzbrunn in March 1944. “The starting point for any orderly society is the people’s collective good; it subordinates all individual interests. It insures life and progress of the personality. Social policy can therefore not be limited to serve only the momentary advantage of particular persons or groups."204

Performing one’s “duty to work” was the prerequisite for belonging to the national community and benefiting from citizenship. This complimented the traditional German work ethic, which seeks fulfillment in creative endeavor and industriousness. The National Socialists defined education as “opening the road to social advancement.” Among the academic institutions were leadership schools. These based enrollment more on the sound moral character of the pupil than on scholastic performance. Stressing patriotism and communal service, discouraging egocentric or elitist attitudes, educators trained the young to place the welfare of all before personal gain, to respect group achievement over individual accomplishment. In this way, they hoped to produce future leaders who would not abuse their authority but sincerely regard the public trust as a sacred responsibility. These were values applicable for both political careers and in private enterprise.

No matter how promising a state form may appear on paper, the integrity of the men in charge significantly determines the benefit of its programs. Though he set the standards for the social and political structure of the new Germany, Hitler afforded subordinates considerable latitude to implement fresh ideas and modifications. He allowed competition among government agencies with overlapping jurisdiction. He intervened only after the rivals had demonstrated the strengths and weaknesses of their opposing viewpoints, and then usually in favor of the more revolutionary solution.

Encouraging initiative, Hitler inspired unconventional thinking and risk-taking from those in authority. Thus he backed Fritz Reinhardt’s novel economic proposals against those of the conformist Schacht. The Führer cast his lot with Robert Ley, after years of his DAF leader’s grappling with the conservative labor ministry over increasing expenditures to improve workers' social welfare. He approved founding the Adolf Hitler Schools, which disregarded the ministry of education’s curriculum and didn't even teach the NSDAP program. Himself a nationalist, Hitler did not interfere as the Waffen SS gradually dismantled nationalism and challenged the racial policy of the National Socialist party.

At times, the German leader actually seemed reluctant to exercise the power he possessed. Even during wartime military conferences with the generals on his staff, some of whom he considered cowards, the Führer seldom dropped the hammer. Adjutant Colonel Below wrote, “Hitler rarely gave a direct order. He confined himself to persuading his listeners so that they would come to the same point of view. . . . After December 1941, when Hitler took command of the army, he only gradually accomplished his purposes through direct orders. He still tried to win conference participants for his intentions in part through lengthy explanations."205

Hitler sometimes displayed a willingness to acquiesce to contradictory viewpoints, demonstrating the latitude he granted party and state functionaries. In 1933, Reinhardt’s “Now Program” offered young women financial incentives to leave their jobs to marry and start families. This enabled out-of-work men to fill the vacated positions, helping relieve unemployment. Once the work force was fully employed, the government continued sponsoring programs to keep women in the home, both to promote traditional family life and to maintain a healthy national birthrate. To be sure, prior to 1933 Hitler had already warned the NSDAP’s male members that he would not tolerate any further perceptions of women as “baby-making machines or playthings."206 As chancellor, he facilitated opportunities for the female gender to pursue vocational careers, though restricting them from politics. Germany still maintained certain previous discrepancies, however, such as reduced salaries for women performing the same job as men.

During World War II, German women filled many positions in the armaments industry, on a lower wage scale, as more males entered military service. In April 1944, Ley, who had campaigned for equal pay for women for years, confronted Hitler on the subject. The Führer explained that Germany’s planned post-war social structure envisions women as the hub of the family, adding that this does not imply a negative opinion of their intelligence or occupational capability. Ley retorted that successful German women have a modern cognizance of their role in society and consider Hitler’s ideas archaic. In the course of the meeting, Ley tenaciously defended his stand against an avalanche of counter-arguments his leader presented. The Führer finally relented by offering a compromise, that women should receive less base pay, but be eligible for incentive awards and bonuses to compensate for the disparity.207 In general, Hitler’s personal view had little influence on developments: In the winter semester of 1943/44 for example, 49.5 percent of students enrolled in German universities were women.208

In most governments, politicians promising reform are the least anxious to implement it. Few of them wish to improve a system through which they attained prominence. Those who succeed in a particular political milieu are the mortal enemies of change. Hitler stood against this custom. A child of the working class, he led the NSDAP to power without compromising with democratic factions in the Weimar Republic. Once chancellor, he owed no loyalty to the political parties entrenched in the government or to special interest groups in industry and commerce. Though consolidating his authority, Hitler did not create a system designed to perpetuate it. Through frequent public speeches, he used his station to inspire the Germans with love of country, appreciation for the nobility of work, and a sense of belonging. He believed that once these values guided his countrymen, it would be possible to gradually relax state controls.

The government’s role was not to secure the continuous supremacy of a dominant party or class, but to discover society’s more creative and trustworthy elements and promote their careers. This was to be an eternal process, guaranteeing that fresh blood and new ideas steadily flow forth from the wellspring of the population. Wrote the philosopher Nietzsche, who endeavored so ardently to kindle the German psyche, “When a nation genuinely leaps forward and grows, each time it bursts the cordon that had till then defined its repute and standing as a people. But when a nation retains much that is fixed, then this is proof that it prefers to stagnate."209

The Enlightenment instructed mankind that governments deserve obedience only insofar as they discharge their responsibility to serve the public. In democracy, Western civilization believes it has achieved the state structure that holds those in power to this obligation. Liberal nations more or less abide by this arrangement, no longer exploring or tolerating alternatives. Somewhere in their development, they stopped short of the comprehension that no single form of government is best for every age or for every culture. To be truly representative, a system must conform to the character and requirements of the people in its charge, and not vice versa.

Hitler also accepted liberalism as important for nurturing the inventive impulse of humanity. He wanted each generation to advance and mature, every individual motivated to realize his or her potential while rising together as a community. He demanded two prerequisites: one, that society become educated in a spirit of civic responsibility, and two, that the state encourage profound reverence for German history, art and ethnic traditions, to keep his countrymen on the evolutionary course that molded them into a proud and unified people. The historically maligned leader of National Socialist Germany interpreted the duty of government as to foster, never restrict, the creative energy of a nation and to expedite its progress, for without progress there is no future and in the future rests the hope for a better life. This was the substance of Hitler’s revolution.

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