We’ve seen that the Nazi’s antisemitism was not a deal-breaker for the German people, although the voters themselves were largely not antisemitic. They were interested in “the Nazi’s promise of a radically new order under Hitler’s control.”
If we take Trump voters at their word, they’re not anti-Muslim bigots. They’re not misogynists or racists. They just want change. Okay: if that’s so, they need to be aware of how easily they can be persuaded to cross the line. If bigotry is not something that bothers you enough to reject the people spouting it, you are perilously close to being caught up in their hate.
The Nazis, after coming to power, expended quite a bit of effort to bring people around to their views on “unwanted” people. Anti-Jewish bigotry was the big one, but they also included Romani, gays, disabled people, and prisoners of war in their campaign to eradicate impurities from their volk. And they convinced alarming numbers of their fellow citizens, whether those citizens had voted for the Nazis or not, to go along.
And the folks who went along weren’t just the blatant bigots.
Seen against the enormity of Nazi savagery, it is easy to imagine that German collaborators in persecution shared the seething paranoia of Adolf Hitler and his closest comrades. Extreme outcomes, it would seem, must result from extreme beliefs. But careful investigations of public opinion in Nazi Germany reveal that, while most Germans shared the “polite” or “cultured” antisemitism common in Western Europe and North America, they disapproved of diehard Nazi’s coarse racist diatribes and pogram-style tactics.
And yet, they did little to nothing to stop it.
Sound familiar? This is Trump’s America.
When a minority is persecuted by a fanatical few, it’s the silence of the majority that isolates them and lets them come to harm. The smaller acts of bigotry add up. Jews in Nazi Germany suffered endless microaggressions, even from their Gentile friends.
Jews sadly noted their mundane lapses: the silence of a store clerk who refused to answer an inquiry, the politely worded requests to drop their memberships in leisure and civic associations, or the embarrassed silence that greeted them as they walked into a favorite cafe. When well-meaning non-Jews tried to console their Jewish friends by suggesting they would be happier in Palestine, their Jewish friends despaired. Professionals were incredulous when they overheard talk about “the Jew,” perhaps spiked with adjectives like industrial, wily, mobile, or uncreative.
Microaggressions add up. They matter. They form the fertile soil in which more dangerous acts of bigotry can take root and grow.
We can’t retreat into saying German citizens were forced to comply with the Nazi program. The Gestapo was weak enough for them to safely circumvent if they chose – and the few who did so choose usually avoided any meaningful consequences. The “soldiers at the front could avoid obeying orders that disturbed them.” People who joined the Nazis in their vicious acts weren’t obeying so much as complying. They chose to do these things.
Until 1939, the Nazis weren’t overt in their propaganda against Jews. They knew overt hate could backfire on them. They reached for subtler means to influence public opinion. they enlisted “objective sources” to somberly spread their hate.
And, because bigotry hadn’t been a deal-breaker, these ordinary citizens listened.
Nazi Germany wasn’t a monolithic entity. The “genocidal consensus” wasn’t a top-down imposition. It was shaped by vigorous debate in public, civil, and academic forums. It took only six years for these methods to create a culture in which the Final Solution – mass murder on a horrific scale – could be implemented.
The rest of this book will show us how it happened. We are looking in a mirror. We need to pay strict attention to the parallels between our countries, because we are alarmingly close to reenacting events that should never again be allowed to happen.