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Saturday, August 05, 2006

History Channel Series: "Gestapo" -- Parallels to Today?

Insomniac watching late night (actually, early morning) TV, encountering the first repeat of the History Channel's new "Gestapo" series (2006) and in particular being drawn to reminders of the early development of Germany's slide into fascism and Hitler's vision of the 1,000 year Reich -- couldn't help but be struck more strongly than ever by the parallels to now of those events occurring in the 1930s. My stomach became knotted and nauseated while viewing this amazing new and valuable History Channel series.

It documents Germany (and Europe's) easy slide into murderous fascism all under the guise of National Security and National Unity. And remember, much of this is before the terrible Final Solution actually began to be enacted -- the mass murder of 12 million innocents -- including 6 million human beings who were gay men and lesbians, handicapped/developmentally delayed, artists, alien foreigners, gypsies, communists, union activists and other dissenting voices along with 6 million Jews.

There are other similarities and other non-similarites of course -- as well as parallels to the lessons not learned in Vietnam -- and many people rightly resist shrillly calling those with differing viewpoints 'Hitlerian, fasicst, or Nazi-like'.

However, this list of historical events and patterns jumped out immediately as obvious similarities began to emerge:
  • Hyping the threat posed by other countries and internal undesirables -- with willing participation of news media.
  • Dispensing military and police to protect its borders (and to await orders for war).
  • Invasion of other countries (Poland, Austria, France...) preceded by the initial public statements of the pending threat and often 'caused' by staging a false incursion or attack attributed to the 'threat' country, and then responding with invasion and deadly militaristic force.
  • Active identification, expulsion, arrest of unwelcome 'aliens' in Germany and annexed countries -- those who did not sign on to the patriotic German notion as promulgated by the propaganda machine.
  • Massive spying on its own citizens as well as on enemies, outsiders and other 'threats' to national security.
  • Massive numbers of citizens informing on neighbors, family members, 'undesirables.'
  • Intolerance of public or private criticism of the leadership.
  • Intolerance of difference; active denigration of 'others' who were 'different'; decimation of undesirables and those who were branded as puttting state/national security in danger.
  • Widespread interrogation and torture of enemies and 'enemy combatants.'
  • Scapegoating, jailing and massive deportation of 'undesirable' others within and without Germany and the occupied territories, nations.
  • Legalized/legislated discrimination against undesirable groups including banning/barring/prohibiting marriage by some undesirables to others.
This is from the description of the first episode in the 3-part series, "Gestapo: The Sword is Forged":
The Nazis converted their country from a flawed democracy to a fascist dictatorship in which the rights of the individual were trampled in the interests of the state. Institutions and organizations were warped to serve this purpose, none more than the police. At first, it was the Storm Troopers of the SA, who beat, intimidated, and killed those who opposed the regime. But something more was needed than simple thuggery and the police were co-opted. The Gestapo, the Secret State Police, was the organization set up to perform this function. By reputation its network of black-clad officers spread everywhere; yet it was a small organization--at its height in 1941 there were only 8,000 officers.
From episode number two, "Gestapo: The Sword Unsheated":
The Gestapo's role changed from merely "protecting" the state from dissent to enabling its expansionist policies. As the Reich took over new territories, the Gestapo expanded its policies of seeking out enemies--dissenters, spies working for the Allies, and organized resistance. When security chief Heydrich was assassinated in Prague, the Gestapo carried out the brutal revenge. But it viewed its ultimate enemy as the Jew and death-squads, the Einsatzgruppen spent much time tracking them down and deporting them
From the third and final episode, "Gestapo: The Sword is Shattered":
Even within the dwindling resources of a doomed regime, the Gestapo was determined to keep its grip on the people. They persecuted resistance members, the merely indifferent, "decadent" jazz musicians, and couples of mixed race. As with any corrupt system, they lost touch with reality, and its violence spiraled out of control even while in its own death throes.
In the 1940s the White Rose group of mainly college-age youth arose to actively and publicly dissent from Hitler's Nazi ideology and the bungling of the War -- they were swiftly destroyed, disbanded, imprisoned and murdered. But the unease of German citizens with Hitler and the war debacles (and lies) finally began to grow as Goebbels (the Defense Minister) continued to call for 'total war.' One SS officer wrote that the leaders were obstinate, intractable and unwilling to acknowledge or admit to the realities and facts of the war.


Exactly how does history repeat itself? With the willing participation of its citizens who value conformity and loyalty over dissent, difference and open transparency, sameness over diversity.

The series is a stark reminder that this never could have happened without both the willing active participation and passive acquiesence of Germany's and the world's citizenry. The worst prejucies and racist, bigoted inclinations of German citizens were stoked and inflamed, used as a tool to ensure and hasten the country's dissent into and participation in mass psycopathy and sociopathy, mass murder of 12 million human beings.

Sadly this series reminds us that many of the pariticpants and architects of this holocaust escaped punishment. Many were in fact rewarded handsomely for their actions.

And of course, it brings to mind the famous writing by Pastor Martin Niemöller, imprisoned at Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps during WWII:
First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out --
because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out --
because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out --
because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out --
because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me --
and there was no one left to speak out for me.
I've discussed the 'obedience to authority', 'just following orders' form of morality in this blog previously, and likely will again. This series however, mainly explores national and group, not merely individual, patterns and actions. History Channel here.

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