Posts Tagged ‘Nazi’

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

The announcement first came in German, then English: Next stop Dachau.

It was a beautiful sunny day in September. It was unseasonably warm; 80 degrees or so.

I stepped off the train and looked for the bus to take me to the KZ Dachau. I was in a hurry. I had to catch a night train to Rome that evening, and I wanted to get back to Munich to ‘flaneur’ around.  Luckily, there was a bus waiting. It was slowly filling with tourists. I was one of them. We had come to see the first Nazi Concentration Camp.  I hopped on the bus, and sat down.  As the bus pulled out, I  was struck with a sense of discordance. Dachua is not just a camp. It is a surburban enclave. It is….quaint. It is beautiful.

My imagination had not prepared me for what lay outside the bus window. Here was a supermarket, there was a small restaurant. People were walking dogs, enjoying the sun on 14330127_10207732700498004_3000411190714615599_npatios and drinking coffee at the local Starbucks.  The sun and blue sky made the suburb feel alive.  The colorful houses and buildings of green, red, blue seemed incongruous with the black and white photos of the camp stuck indelibly in my mind from countless history books.

As the bus made turn after turn, I wondered how far outside this little German suburb filled with gemütlichkeit we would travel.  Surely, the camp must be far removed in distance from the pleasant scenes I just passed.  There must be woods to cross through; perhaps some empty fields?  But no.  Here a park, there an electronics’ store, and the next stop was the ‘KZ’ (Konzentrationslager).

14322704_10207732700778011_9022260041487163341_nI stepped off the bus, back into the sunny warmth.  There are tourists everywhere, slowly walking through a twisting wooded pass. Before entering there was a sign of notices=.  No dogs, no Neo-Nazi clothing….be serious. This is hallowed ground.  Respect the over 30,000 dead of Dachau. Remember that they faced murder, torture, malnutrition, illness.  Forget about all that world you passed through to get here.  Throw your Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte away.

The camp is large.  People walk around in a daze. Student groups mill around teachers.  Religious pilgrims go to Catholic, Protestant and Jewish memorial chapels. I really don’t 14344681_10207732703258073_5736731126016002469_nwant to take pictures, but I can’t not.  ‘Click’…the barbwire fence.  ‘Click’…. the crematorium.  Glance at the ovens. Walk inside the gas chamber. Don’t worry though, it was never used.  Look, over there!  ‘Click’….a meandering path into the shady woods. Escape 14332926_10207732704018092_5335833254930929323_nthe sun. But  there is no escape from this place. The woods hold a plaque informing the visitor that the dilapidated wall to the left was the pistol execution range. The human nightmare scars nature.  The remnants of a ‘blood-ditch’ used to easily clean up the aftermath of the executions makes that clear.  14292522_10207732704658108_8986492502300581023_n

Need to get out of these woods. Back into that sun.  It is beating down. The sky is perfect. I am sure a couple hundred yards away, some teenagers are sitting in that park enjoying the last chance for a summer tan.

As I walk out, I get a distasteful moment of shock.  A young woman wearing heels and sunglasses asks her father or older boyfriend to take a photo of her leaning against the front gate that says ‘Arbeit Macht Frei‘.  She poses.  It looks as though she is concerned about her best side. All I can do is raise an eyebrow. 14358707_10207732701458028_4311876331519568457_n

I walk back to the bus stop.  I need to get to Munich.  The bus is crowded for the ride back to the bahnhof.  I look out the window again, and life is going on as if all is normal.  I wonder how these people out for walks to enjoy the sun can live in a place like this?  How do you say you live in Dachau? ‘I grew up in Dachau’, ‘I go to school in Dachau’, ‘I work in Dachau’.  The identity of these people is connected to a name that means cruelty and death.  The KZ is central to their town.  When it was built in 1933 it was an economic opportunity.  Hundreds of jobs for the local populace; you need KZ guards after-all.  And who is going to feed all those prisoners and guards?  Bakeries, restaurants, markets saw the opportunity.

No longer do prisoners and guards need nourishment. Now it is I and my fellow tourists. Stop for a bite at a local cafe after seeing the barracks. Grab a coffee, and try to erase your memories.  If you need to, reserve a room at a local inn and find some local Bavarian fare.  A little beer never hurts.

The people of Dachau must just get acclimatized.  They are desensitized to the horror that is right next door. Or, maybe they just turn away and ignore it.  If the Nazi period taught us anything, it is that people are really good at doing that.

 

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By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

It is difficult to decide what Star Wars’ fans like to do more: Watch Star Wars, or identify all the influences and cultural references within the Star Wars film universe? Countless books, articles and blog posts have attempted to decipher the shoulders that George Lucas stood upon in making his space opera. Most people by now have heard that Lucaskuro9 created a tale that fit Joseph Campbell’s meta-myth structure, or that he gave life to characters similar to those in the samurai films of Kurasawa, or that he sometimes blatantly copied old Flash Gordon television serials.

Star Wars’ fans devour this seemingly arcane information, and I am a Star Wars’ fan. As such, I have always been intrigued with the sometimes obvious, sometimes obscure cultural references contained within Lucas’ masterpiece. But, as a student, and now professor of European history, one reference/influence has always struck me above all others. George Lucas obviously created his evil Empire in the guise of the ‘fascist aesthetic’ most infamously formed by the German director Leni Riefenstahl, and her 1935 Nazi propaganda film ‘The Triumph of the Will.’
Leni Riefenstahl was a famous, talented, groundbreaking German filmmaker in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. And like many of her German cohorts of the era, Riefenstahl became a follower of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party. She used her immense talents for the party, directing a number of full length propaganda films. ‘The Triumph of the Will’ is her most influential and troubling work. ‘Triumph’ is a roughly two hour celebration of the 1934 Nazi party rally in the Medieval city of Nuremberg. 120 minutes of Nazis goose-stepping and cheering the ‘Führer’. If you have in your mind’s eye an image of fascist spectacle, it has probably been molded by Riefenstahl’s film.

Riefenstahl’s films were as artistically influential as they were politically abhorrent. Filmmakers could not ignore her innovative cinematography. Her techniques of wide Triumph-of-the-Will-2shots, crane shots and sweeping cameras were co-opted by many after her. When I first saw ‘Triumph’ as a sophomore in college, I realized Lucas was one such director. Riefenstahl made the 1934 Nazi rally look massively popular and powerful by setting a camera high above the whole parade grounds, recording thousands upon thousands of Nazi party members lined in rows. In such shots, the Nazi hordes are a man-made sea, being parted by the all- powerful leader, Adolf Hitler. In the same film, Riefenstahl records Hitler high above the masses, standing upon a giant concrete viewing station and watching stoically as his SA and SS march by on the parade ground. When viewing such scenes, it is impossible not to see Darth Vader 7dafa3515f1704408b38da906ceba044and the Emperor marching through masses of Imperial Stormtroopers. Lucas made such scenes even more powerful by using John Williams’ ‘Imperial March’. In this, he was no different than Riefenstahl, who used music in much the same way. Of course, the music she chose for her celebratory film made the Nazi Stormtroopers seem heroic, whereas Williams’ march makes Vader’s Stormtroopers dreadful. For Lucas, the Empire and its’ leaders become the personification of political evil by being the reincarnation of Riefenstahl’s Nazis. The empire is fascism revived.
With such thoughts in mind, I must say I was excited to see if J.J. Abrams would continue utilizing the ‘fascist aesthetic’ of Riefenstahl for ‘The Force Awakens’. I was not disappointed. With modern computer graphics, Abrams was able to do so even more effectively, and spectacularly than Lucas.


Abrams’ ‘First Order’ feels fascist. The military outfits, the giant image of the supreme STAR-WARS-THE-FORCE-AWAKENS-First-Order-Bilderleader and the symbology that surrounds the movement illustrates that Abrams continued the fascistic look of evil from Lucas’ galaxy. Like Lucas, Abrams used Riefenstahl as the ‘First Order’s’ reference point. Just look at the apocalyptic speech by General Hux, as he prepares his troops for the destruction of the Republic. Wearing military haute couture, Hux stands on a massive concrete platform with red ‘First Order’ banners hanging behind him. He speaks to thousands of ‘First Order’ troops lined in formation. When he is finished, the troops raise their left hands in salute. Hmm, that definitely looks familiar, doesn’t it?

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Riefenstahl and fascism are living on in this new Star Wars galaxy. Happily, Rey, Fin, Chewy, Leia and Luke will be fighting it in Episodes VIII and IX. We must do the same in our own galaxy.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

Saturday mornings in my house mean listening to Weekend Edition on National Public Radio.  This Saturday, my wife and I were preparing breakfast, having our coffee, when the host of the show, Scott Simon, had a quick one minute aside about the French trying to control the English language’s dominance of social media terms.  Evidently, many of the French don’t enjoy all this English terminology within their lexicon and the term ‘hashtag’ is the latest concern.  This seemed like a light little story, until Simon reported a darker twist: One group called  Avenir de la langue française (Future of the French language) ratcheted the discourse up a couple notches by recently proclaiming that this ‘English invasion’ threatens the “French language more than the Nazis did.”  I was in awe of this hyperbole.  This crap makes me really angry.

In one sense, this story makes me feel better about American culture since I was under the delusion that this type of rhetoric was exclusively a province of American politics.  On the other hand, it frustrates me to no end when anyone plays the compare-this or that-to-Nazism game, and unfortunately, it seems this practice is becoming close to the norm in the Imagepublic arena.  The most noticeable example is in the realm of political rallies. The Tea Party has taken this to an extreme in their gatherings, especially when it comes to their disdain for President Obama.  Google ‘Tea Party Rally Obama Hitler sign’ and you will see some quite radical examples of this rhetoric.  However, this attack method is not the exclusive province of the right-wing Tea Party.  On the left, anti-war protestors had a field day making Imagesigns and posters that equated President George W. Bush to Hitler.  Hitler is an equal opportunity bogey-man in America.

If this was just the work of a couple crazies that take to the streets, that would be one thing; but, of course, it’s not. The shout of “Nazi” has also been used by our politicians in Washington on the floor of the House of Representatives.  On the satirical Daily Show, John Stewart has attacked such tactics.  Stewart has also humorously illustrated that smearing the other side with the ‘Nazi’ moniker is an everyday occurrence in the world of the 24 hour news cycle programs and talk radio.  Perhaps the most disturbingly absurd media example came in 2009, when Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor and President Obama were lambasted for Imagearguing that empathy was an important trait for a Supreme Court Justice. Glenn Beck, the most infamous ‘boy who cried Nazi’, somehow found a connection between Sotomayor’s and Obama’s belief in judicial empathy and Adolf Hitler’s supposed use of empathy to justify ‘putting down’ the sick and mentally challenged using the T4 euthanasia program.  Yikes!

It seems the rise of such name-calling goes hand-in-hand with the growing power of the internet.  Cyberspace is a sanctuary for all sorts of wackos to have their ideas heard, and not surprisingly, many Neo-Nazis find the internet as an indispensible tool for spewing their race hatred or strange conspiracy phobias.  Of course, such people are self-proclaimed Nazis, and hence, the term is not used as one of abuse in such forums. The obnoxious use of Nazi as an attack method is more common within purportedly rational discussion boards, blog posts, and social media. The description of others as Nazis, Gestapo, and/or modern day Hitlers is such a frequent occurrence in internet locales that twenty years ago a man named Mike Godwin formulated it into a ‘scientific law’. ‘Godwin’s Law’ states “as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving  Nazis or Hitler approaches… In other words…given enough time, in any online discussion—regardless of topic or scope—someone inevitably makes a comparison to Hitler or the Nazis.

So, are internet users simply using logical fallacies?  Has Avenir de la langue française overstated their case?  Is Glenn Beck drawing historical corollaries to simply smear his political opponents?  Well, yes, and that is disturbing enough. But, using the Nazi affront has even more treacherous consequences. Those who equate their political, social or cultural enemies with Nazis believe that they can clearly see the present, because they have an understanding of the past.  Beck and his ilk feel their vigilance of Nazism reborn is based upon the old cliché that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.  They repeatedly proclaim that their stark grasp of history repeating itself must be appreciated.  Those who follow ‘Godwin’s Law’ are the prophets; the solitary voices in the wilderness.

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Justice Sotomayor

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Reinhard Heydrich

Ironically though, the hyperbolic commentators are doing the opposite. They do more than simply FORGET history; they expunge it.  If a radio talk-show host equates Sonya Sotomayor’s or Barack Obama’s ideals of empathy with Reinhard Heydrich’s ideals, this is more than a horrible insult to Justice Sotomayor or Obama (which, of course, it is).  This is an insult to the millions who died in the Operation Reinhard camps (Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzec); the hundreds of thousands who were worked as slave laborers by Heydrich’s SS; the millions whose homes and lives were destroyed by the Nazi war machine.  These millions of people erased from history truly experienced Nazi ‘empathy’. Beck’s particular equation of Sotomayor’s empathy to this type of ‘empathy’ should make us take serious pause in regards to his ethics, if not his sanity.

As with all clichés, there is a good bit of truth in the statement that if we forget our past, we are doomed to repeat it.  The problem is the ridiculous usage of Nazi as an attack term makes us forget what really happened in the past.  And so, a reminder: President Obama is not Hitler; President Bush is not Himmler; and the use of ‘hashtag’ in France is not the same as the creation of the Vichy puppet government.  To make such a hyperbolic analogy is a slap in the face to us all.  

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

Adolf.  What an evocative name. The name itself is almost a taboo.  I feel dirty writing it. It is not used in polite company. At a time when ‘old-fashioned’ names are making a comeback, Adolf is an antiquated name that doesn’t have much hope.   It is marred by darkness, hatred and murder.  Of course, the surname we associate with it is Hitler; our next thought is Nazism; lastly, the Holocaust.

A boy named Adolf.

Why has Adolf retained such a negative aura 70 years after the end of the war that he began?  Other members of the Nazi party who were just as guilty don’t have first names that live in infamy.  If you wanted to name your child Heinrich, not many people would instantly think of Himmler. What about Hermann? Our minds don’t automatically race to Goering.  Well, you may say, Hitler was the face of the Nazi party, and, hence, the face of murder. But, what about Josef (Joseph) or Vladimir?  If you met little boys by those names, most wouldn’t think of Stalin (who killed more people than Hitler) or Lenin.   So, why is Adolf so different? Why can there only be one Adolf?

First of all, the name is still ‘owned’ by white supremacists, and has never been ‘appropriated’ by rational folks. This was shown tragically in 2007, when two white supremacist parents living in New Jersey named their child Adolf Hitler Campbell.  I write ‘tragically’ because it is easy to foresee that child being brainwashed into a world of hatred and violence.  The government of New Jersey agreed with this assessment, and took the young boy away from his parents in 2011.  Though the state’s reasoning was based upon more than simply the name he was given, the moniker was obviously a frightening omen.

Second, the period and ideology we associate with Adolf is still fresh in our historical memory.  This is a good thing. The fact that Adolf is a name off-limits illustrates that people appreciate the evil of genocide and the Holocaust.  Americans are notorious for forgetting things that happened 7 years ago, much less 70, but the horror that Adolf represents is understood as being something that we can never allow again.

This seems all well and good, but perhaps there is a danger here.  Adolf as the symbol for the evil of Nazi Germany distorts and simplifies our understanding of history.  Adolf was not a one man wrecking crew who made some nasty speeches, barked orders, and physically forced Europeans to kill 10-12 million innocents.  His were not the only hands covered with blood.  The attempt to make him into the devil incarnate has actually been utilized by Europeans for decades to separate themselves from what happened in Nazi Germany.  The reason: Making Hitler the lone evil exculpates millions who were also guilty, and hence, buries the most important lesson to be learned from the Holocaust. The moral horror of the Holocaust was not simply Hitler’s ideas; it was that millions of ‘good’ Germans, and ‘ordinary’ Europeans saw little reason to fight against them.  Depressingly large numbers of people idly stood by, pulled levers, pushed buttons, and signed papers that fired the engines of mass death. When apathy and acceptance was the response to Nazi ideas and policies, Adolf had won a significant victory.  By avoiding his name for 70 years, people have tried to make sure Adolf didn’t win the war.