An excerpt from ‘They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45’ by Milton Mayer

960002_267614923363550_993352090_nEchoes from the past to consider in the present.

via University of Chicago

But Then It Was Too Late

“What no one seemed to notice,” said a colleague of mine, a philologist, “was the ever widening gap, after 1933, between the government and the people. Just think how very wide this gap was to begin with, here in Germany. And it became always wider. You know, it doesn’t make people close to their government to be told that this is a people’s government, a true democracy, or to be enrolled in civilian defense, or even to vote. All this has little, really nothing, to do with knowing one is governing.

“What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could not understand it, it could not be released because of national security. And their sense of identification with Hitler, their trust in him, made it easier to widen this gap and reassured those who would otherwise have worried about it.

“This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter.

“You will understand me when I say that my Middle High German was my life. It was all I cared about. I was a scholar, a specialist. Then, suddenly, I was plunged into all the new activity, as the university was drawn into the new situation; meetings, conferences, interviews, ceremonies, and, above all, papers to be filled out, reports, bibliographies, lists, questionnaires. And on top of that were the demands in the community, the things in which one had to, was ‘expected to’ participate that had not been there or had not been important before. It was all rigmarole, of course, but it consumed all one’s energies, coming on top of the work one really wanted to do. You can see how easy it was, then, not to think about fundamental things. One had no time.”

“Those,” I said, “are the words of my friend the baker. ‘One had no time to think. There was so much going on.’”

“Your friend the baker was right,” said my colleague. “The dictatorship, and the whole process of its coming into being, was above all diverting. It provided an excuse not to think for people who did not want to think anyway. I do not speak of your ‘little men,’ your baker and so on; I speak of my colleagues and myself, learned men, mind you. Most of us did not want to think about fundamental things and never had. There was no need to. Nazism gave us some dreadful, fundamental things to think about—we were decent people—and kept us so busy with continuous changes and ‘crises’ and so fascinated, yes, fascinated, by the machinations of the ‘national enemies,’ without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us. Unconsciously, I suppose, we were grateful. Who wants to think?

“To live in this process is absolutely not to be able to notice it—please try to believe me—unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us had ever had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’ that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these ‘little measures’ that no ‘patriotic German’ could resent must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.

“How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly educated ordinary men? Frankly, I do not know. I do not see, even now. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice—‘Resist the beginnings’ and ‘Consider the end.’ But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings. One must foresee the end clearly and certainly and how is this to be done, by ordinary men or even by extraordinary men? Things might have. And everyone counts on that might.

“Your ‘little men,’ your Nazi friends, were not against National Socialism in principle. Men like me, who were, are the greater offenders, not because we knew better (that would be too much to say) but because we sensed better. Pastor Niemöller spoke for the thousands and thousands of men like me when he spoke (too modestly of himself) and said that, when the Nazis attacked the Communists, he was a little uneasy, but, after all, he was not a Communist, and so he did nothing; and then they attacked the Socialists, and he was a little uneasier, but, still, he was not a Socialist, and he did nothing; and then the schools, the press, the Jews, and so on, and he was always uneasier, but still he did nothing. And then they attacked the Church, and he was a Churchman, and he did something—but then it was too late.”



  • BuzzCoastin

    Der Homeland Federal Reich is led by 537 “elected” representatives
    there are about 350 million Homelanders
    0.0000015% rules the 99.9999985%
    so the real gap is 99.9999985% between the 99% & They

  • Simon Valentine

    career – ad hoc virtue giving and teaching

    philosophy – tabula rasa examination of virtue and lesson

    niche heuristic – role playing

    the basis (or basics gone to) has never cared for such things, or anything, really; and often it seems the basis, in addition to not being spoken of or about, is avoided, shunned, shunted, off-loaded, used, propelled from, ‘resourced’, … , etc. … other than as a semi-ridiculous metaphor for ‘reality’ or ‘truth’, continuing from the previous we see anthropological trends within the physical sciences that deserve the same kind of attention which heeds this article. make no mistake – as distant as “such and such council decides [random assertion concerning {quantum} physics]” seems, it is that which affects life more than “the Nazi party”. it is the stupid insignificant decisions of persons that all together create a beast of an ocean, and the fact is, persons are no nearer to discovering a comprehension of the problem than they ever were whilest they continue to idiotically berate and castigate using infantile solutions to existential failures; further away still is any solution to the problem that calls itself life, yet set-us-up-the-bomb seems more natural than even the death of the sun. THIS SOLAR SYSTEM WILL DIE. THIS EARTH WILL DIE. WHAT WILL YOU HAVE DONE TO CONTINUE?

    whether it has begun in earnest or shall not see a day in light for another thousand years from now, those who seek as has been questioned will not forever hold their very human temperament, and so if any question is to be answered why not let it be that it is those who seek to continue at the most extreme whom we are to become?

    stop leaving the future as a pile of confusion. that’s what laundry’s for.

    • HCE

      Okay, enough of the fancy wordplay. Strip it down and tell me what you’re trying to say in three sentences or less.

      • Simon Valentine

        you’re trying it wrong.
        you’re not ready for the future.
        your reply is at least as absurd as could be expected.
        go drink.

  • DeepCough

    We’re all lost souls swimming in a great, big fishbowl.

    • NancyBixby

      What have we found..the same old fears

      • InfvoCuernos

        year after year

  • Ted Heistman

    I guess people see many parallels but I see too many differences, for it to happen again.

    • DeepCough

      You’re right: this time, totalitarianism will be sold to us and everyone will buy into it. (*cough*iPhone!*cough*)

      • Ted Heistman

        I am not saying totalitarianism is implausible, just that I don’t see it playing out like Nazi Germany

        • DeepCough

          “Not all fascism looks like Hitler.”

        • Kieran O’Hagan

          Just curious how you came up with this, Ted. Local police are being militarized by the Federal government. The politicians pay little or no attention to what the people want. So, where are the differences?

          • La Vonne Robinson Carroll

            I agree…it’s O’bamaCaust

        • echar

          Yeah, I doubt concentration/death camps can happen again. That’s a fool me once kind of deal. Besides the internet didn’t exist back then.

  • La Vonne Robinson Carroll

    We are under O’bamaCaust