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February 26, 2007

Hitler's Willing Welfare Queens

Tyler laments the trend in films to feature heroic resisters to the East German stasi, as if the region were a cauldron of dissent and liberalism held in check by nothing more than tyranny and a particularly efficient secret police force. Relatedly, I'm reading Hitler's Beneficiaries by Gotz Aly, which makes the point that the German people were basically supportive of the Nazis because they were showered in goods, gifts, and services taken from or funded by the residents of conquered lands and the hyper-taxed, eventually liquidated Jews. He writes:

To put the level of Nazi coercion into perspective: Communist East Germany would later employ 190,000 official surveillance experts and an equal number of "unofficial collaborators" to watch over a populace of 17 million, while in 1937 the Gestapo had just over 7,000 employees, including bureaucrats and secretarial staff. Together with a far smaller force of security police, they sufficed to keep tabs on more than 60 million people. Most Germans simply did not need to be subjected to surveillance or detention. By the end of 1936, four years after the Nazis had become Germany's largest political party and once their initial period of terror and violence against political opponents was over, only 4,761 people -- some of whom were chronic alcoholics and career criminals -- were incarcerated in the country's concentration camps.

Now, it could be that Communist East Germany, given its economic system, was simply very inefficient at suppressing dissent and both over-hired for the position and used it as an unofficial government jobs program, but it's an interesting contrast nonetheless.

February 26, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

I lived in Germany as a teenager. My landlady told me the German people were tired of carrying their grocery money in a shopping cart and their groceries in a hand bag.

Posted by: merlallen | Feb 26, 2007 9:22:45 AM

i dont mean for this comment to sound naive.

i ponder how people deny the existence of the holocaust when there are people in germany who can attest to it,camps and buidings that still exist, extensive photographic archives and people who are still alive, that were in concentration camps?
....it is hard for me to imagine people revising and denying history when there is still so much living and substantial evidence to verify all that happened.

Posted by: jacqueline | Feb 26, 2007 9:39:51 AM

I wonder if this indicates that the East German communists were more concerned about ideological monoculture than the Nazis?

While Hitler obviously wouldn't tolerate dissent within his ranks, perhaps he was unconcerned about surveillance of the populace because he knew they weren't powerful enough to stop him (and anyone who tried would be crushed). The Communists, on the other hand, bought into their own rhetoric of being a state of and for the proletariat. They wanted a more genuinely totalitarian state in which every citizen is a willing, loyal member, so they subscribed to what Orwell would call "thoughtcrime."

Posted by: Cris | Feb 26, 2007 9:44:47 AM

I'm watching a lot of Czech new wave films from the 60s, where the heavies are Nazis, but we all know they're really talking about the Communists.

Posted by: norbizness | Feb 26, 2007 10:14:27 AM

I'm not buying this. While I find the idea of "steal and give to your supporters" persuasive--hell, it's how Genghis Khan conquered half the known world--I think the numbers might be because the Nazis weren't around as long as the Communists were. They may have been benefiting from a honeymoon effect that the communists weren't getting.

In addition, the German people CHOSE the Nazis and they didn't choose the Communists. There's a much bigger honeymoon effect in a love match than an arranged marriage.

Frankly, that might have been part of WWII's genesis & its expansion of hatred--the honeymoon effect was wearing off, so Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia & Poland, and started more aggressively going after internal "enemies". Stir up a little xenophobic patriotic fervor and bump up them poll numbers, y'know?

Posted by: anonymous | Feb 26, 2007 10:27:38 AM

In 1937 there weren't any conquered lands. The Anschluss and the annexation of the Sudetenland took place only in 1938. Only Czechoslovakia was conquered (in 1939) before the war began in earnest. Although anti-Semitism was official government policy from 1933 on, significant confiscatory measures began only in 1936-37. The Nazis were supported because they used deficit spending - in particular but not only for rearmament - to create full employment, and because their aggressive nationalism was genuinely popular.

Posted by: bloikx | Feb 26, 2007 11:28:58 AM

I guess I have 3 initial thoughts: (1) It probably can't be emphasized enough that the total war and militarization of society was key to the actual holocaust (which began in earnest after the War began); (2) The situation in Germany in 1937 probably looked more like a segregation/apartheid situation than the genocide it would eventually become - so it comes as little shock that that structure could be maintained primarily through social & economic coercion - people would lose their jobs for opposition, etc. - that certainly has worked in other societies; (3) the earlier liquidation of the political left was crucial to the later liquidation of large populations.

still, the numbers are pretty fascinating.

Posted by: MDtoMN | Feb 26, 2007 11:53:54 AM

I think it's also true that in German-occupied France, the number of SS (or whoever enforced Nazi policy) was skeletal, because Vichy was happy to do their work for them.

Posted by: bobbo | Feb 26, 2007 12:53:13 PM


The difference is also that the governing structure in Communist countries that were in the Soviet orbit had a three "branches" of government structure - the Party, the armed forces and the intelligence agency. The three "branches" had to (generally) agree on major policy decisions.

That meant that the intelligence services simply had to be comparatively very large so they wouldn't simply get squeezed out of power by the vastly larger army and the incredibly large Party. 7000 employees would have simply disappeared.

Under the Nazis, the Gestapo was merely one intelligence service out of multiple ones. More importantly, the Gestapo was initially part of the Goring empire and then given to the Himmler/Heydrich faction. The Nazi regime functioned under competing factions each under the leading figures - the primary ones being Goring vs. Himmler/Heydrich. Since both those factions controlled massive amounts of other resources, they had little reason to expand the Gestapo massively beyond what was actually "necessary". Goring's main interest was in controlling heavy industrial resources and building the airforce; and Himmler/Heydrich's main interest was in building a private army. Neither had a major interest in having a huge Gestapo. The Gestapo chief Muller was never an independent political actor - in fact, Muller was originally an SS man working for Heydrich and was always a figure very much dependant on either Heydrich or Himmler.

Meanwhile, the intelligence services in USSR and USSR-modeled countries were very much an independent political force - Beria and Andropov became either General Secretary or defacto GenSec outright (and Putin, of course, later). Mielke in East Germany (head of the Stasi from 1957 to 1989) was very much a powerful figure in his own right.

Posted by: burritoboy | Feb 26, 2007 2:01:33 PM

One striking thing is the total lack of domestic resistance to Hitler and his policies within Germany, even during the writing-on-the-wall final collapse of 1944-5. The closest thing was the White Rose resistance, which was just a small circle of students and professors who held a few meetings and circulated some pamphlets. They were caught out, rounded up, and liquidated. Post-war German governments have tried to make a big deal out of the White Rose, as a signal of "see, we didn't all support Hitler"; their desire to elevate such a small and inconsequential group to national hero status shows just how barren the landscape was for anti-Nazi resisters.

The truth is that the Nazi regime and its politics of hyper-nationalism, racial annihilation, and state control, were very popular with the German people, even up to the very end. All of which proves lie to the common German complaint, famously echoed by Ronald Reagan, that the German people were victims of the Nazis, too.

Posted by: FMguru | Feb 26, 2007 3:26:55 PM

As bloikx notes above, in the early years of the Nazi regime their economic policies were quite successful at pulling Germany out of depression. I believe this is sometimes noted by left economists like Galbraith.

Posted by: James B. Shearer | Feb 26, 2007 3:29:56 PM

ian Kershaw's "The Hitler Myth: Image and Reality in the Third Reich"and Robert Gellately's "Backing Hitler:Consent and Coercion in Nazi germany" cover this subject very well also.

Posted by: BillCross | Feb 26, 2007 8:16:38 PM

To put the level of Nazi coercion into perspective: Communist East Germany would later employ 190,000 official surveillance experts and an equal number of "unofficial collaborators" to watch over a populace of 17 million, while in 1937 the Gestapo had just over 7,000 employees, including bureaucrats and secretarial staff. Together with a far smaller force of security police, they sufficed to keep tabs on more than 60 million people.

Hmmm - the US has 300 million people, and the FBI has 30,762 employees - about the same proportions...

Just saying.

Posted by: Phoenician in a time of Romans | Feb 26, 2007 9:10:54 PM

"The truth is that the Nazi regime and its politics of hyper-nationalism, racial annihilation, and state control, were very popular with the German people, even up to the very end."

FMGuru, that's misleading. A lack of organized dissent does not indicate popularity. There is plenty of evidence that the Nazis were not always "very popular" - letters, jokes, diaries - even though people tolerated him as long as things were going well, and by the time things went bad they were so bad that Germans basically had their backs to the wall. The old aristocracy never trusted Hitler, he was widely disliked in Berlin, many Catholic Germans were dismayed by his antagonism toward the Church, most of the military officers thought he was a clown, etc. Aly's book does a very good job of showing how the Nazi state was essentially forced to buy the support of large segments of the population. The Nazis were also very effective at using targeted violence and reprisals to suppress dissent. I'd like to see how brave you would have been to organize resistance under those circumstances. You should read Victor Klemperer's diaries of his experiences as a Jew in Dresden in the Nazi period for a very good eyewitness account of life under Hitler. The amount of supressed antipathy toward the Nazis he describes would probably surprise many people. The problems was that the people's gripes were inchoate, there was no possibility of organizing or disseminating information, and the propaganda was soul crushing. Every Nazi hater felt alone, even though their numbers were far greater than you would think. Hitler the man was undeniably popular among much of the population - the policies of racial annihalation and total warfare arguably not so much. If you had taken a free poll in 1939 and asked Germans - should we fight a two front war against the US and Russia? Should we round up all the Jews and kill then in camps? the answer would have been a resounding no. Most people turned a blind eye to those policies as long as they were not directly effected - which is clearly morally reprehensible but not the same as enthusiastic support.

Posted by: vanya_6724 | Feb 27, 2007 7:09:20 AM

190,000 surveillance experts for a population of 17 million--inefficiency is right! And of course no way to get rid of the incompetent ones, with that damn Stasi union...

Posted by: anonymous | Feb 27, 2007 3:14:20 PM

One thing to keep in mind about the Gestapo though, it wasn't that they were all pervasive, it's that they maintained the illusion of being all pervasive. This caused scared Germans to panic and inform their neighbors, which caused their neighbors to be arrested, which helped feed the illusion that the Gestapo was everywhere.

I remember one case I read about in my History of the Third Reich course in college where a woman's son was missing in action when fighting the British in Normandy. Some of her neighbors discovered, through listening to BBC radio, that her son was captured by the British but alive. The woman panicked and informed the Gestapo.

Posted by: Raznor | Feb 27, 2007 5:21:31 PM

Why did the German people turn to Adolf Hitler in 1932?

Posted by: reece | Mar 6, 2007 6:17:31 PM

well i dont know much about hitler or the communist but i was reading this article to find out more about why ppl chose hitler over the communist.. if u have information which you would like to share with me plz e-mail it to me @ s-a-33-d@hotmail.com
thanks :)

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Posted by: judy | Sep 26, 2007 11:38:00 AM

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