Rand C. Lewis,
A Nazi Legacy: Right-Wing Extremism in Postwar Germany
(New York: Praeger), 172 pages. UCSB: DD262. L48 1991.
Kurt P. Tauber,
Beyond Eagle and Swastika: German Nationalism Since 1945
(Middleton: Wesleyan University Press)
2 vols, 995 pages. UCSB: DD257.2. T3 v.1 1967.
Book Essay written by Lisa J. Rouzer
For Prof. Marcuse’s upper division lecture course Germany since 1945
UC Santa Barbara, Winter 2004
About the author:
The phenomenon known as neo-Nazism developed in post-World War II Germany because, although Hitler along with the Third Reich had both been shaken from power and destroyed, fundamental ideologies and practices permeated the German populace and would prove to be persistent and difficult obstacles. There are many similarities between the political strategies used by the Nazis in the 1920’s and 30’s, and those used by the neo-Nazis in the decades following the war. The focus each placed on the youth, and the roles played by these youth groups, are especially telling of the ominous characteristics that the Nazis and neo-Nazis shared. The failure of postwar generations to recognize and acknowledge to the full extent the horrors of the Nazi era has allowed neo-Nazism to creep through German society and expand. With parents and teachers not adequately educating their children about the errors of the past, can these children ever be expected to guard themselves and their society against a full-fledged Nazi resurgence? Positive change can only come from knowledge and the establishment of a proper ideological mindset.
Neither Hitler’s suicide nor the fall of the Third Reich had successfully curtailed the existence of Nazi ideologies among the German populace. Historian Rand C. Lewis explains that "many of the right-wing extremists, often with Nazi background, carried some of the most potent Nazi ideologies forward over the four decades following the war," and that "these ideologies became mainstays of the neo-Nazi groups of the 1980’s" (Lewis, 1). It is, as historian Kurt P. Tauber points out, the survival of this positive view of Nazism, rather than an acknowledgment and correction of past misdeeds, that has allowed for the continuation of Nazi thought to persist in German society. This "absence of a revolutionary self-purification," Tauber states, "of a profound confrontation, of a fundamental political and spiritual catharsis, was to have serious and adverse effects on the political climate of the postwar years: it provided the preconditions of the rebirth of radical anti-democratic nationalistic attitudes and organizations" (Tauber, 22). This continuance of ideology (as opposed to resistance) by the neo-Nazis combined with methods and strategies of gaining support and power that were previously employed by the Nazis themselves.
An extremely important part of continuing an ideology is to ensure the maintenance of it by future generations. The concept was not lost among neo-Nazis, and certainly not lost among the Nazis. "The training of the German youth," explains Lewis, "was a key element in the methodology employed by Hitler" (Lewis, 53). It was a "total immersion of the young Germans into Nazi ideology," Lewis continues, that "set the stage for a program of leadership that was designed to continue the evolution of the Nazi power" (Lewis, 53). It is true that the "defeat of the National Socialists brought about the dissolution of the Nazi era youth organizations," yet, "although these groups…were organizationally dissolved, the concepts and ideology were more difficult to eliminate" (Lewis, 53). The Nazi philosophy and methods were the only ones these young people knew.
During the 1960’s, nearly 40% of the Federal Republic of Germany’s youth was organized, which means that "approximately 4.5 million young people belonged to some kind of organized club or society. Of this, an estimated 1 percent were organized into nationalist groups, indicating that approximately 45,000 youths were involved in rightist groups" (Lewis, 56). Such groups provided the foundation for the growth of more militant neo-Nazis that expanded and became more openly active in the 1980’s (Lewis, 62).
Tauber explains in detail the reasons why the young people of Germany carried on the Nazi traditions instead of condemning and rejecting such an ideology. "The most obvious explanation," observes Tauber, "points to the natural family solidarity of children" (Tauber, 431). Tauber notes that "if there is any feeling in the home—however inarticulate and masked—that the father had suffered postwar ‘persecution’ for his patriotism and loyalty, the child, incapable of perceiving his father’s Nazi role in terms other than the father himself, may ‘inherit’ the family resentment and may be anxious to prove to himself and to others the virtue of the sentiments for which his father fought and suffered" (Tauber, 431). There was a profound "absence in a great many homes of specific inculcation of antinationalist and egalitarian values," which led to a generation of lost souls. These youths would prove vulnerable to the influences of Nazi-affiliated organizations.
Another, though opposite, role the family might play in leading their youths into neo-Nazi organizations occurs when children rebelling against their parents. Such "rebellion against their fathers and all ‘official’ authority may predispose youngsters toward romantic, ethnocentric, military, and elitist rhetoric and symbolism" (Tauber, 431). In this case, "content of the new faith is less important that the fact," meaning that these adolescents just needed an ideology to attach themselves to as a result of the lack of a firm ground of beliefs. This void can also be traced back to the failure of parents to instill in their children a proper philosophy.
Tauber also explains how the school system in Germany also failed to provide the German youths with truth about their history, as well as failed to provide an alternative ideology. Rather, many (even most) teachers actually perpetuated the Nazi ideology. Not wanting to go head to head with parents, "school authorities are naturally reluctant to cause ‘political tensions’ in the preponderance of homes where a clear, unambiguous, and forthright confrontation with the political past has been carefully avoided" (Tauber, 430). In addition to this, "if the schools have reason to feel that political enlightenment might upset the parents, it is clear that these very same parents cannot be relied on to instill in the younger generation the kind of visceral abhorrence of Right radicalism on which a healthy liberal-democratic regime must be able to count" (Tauber, 431). In other words, since schools did not condemn Nazism in order to avoid conflict with parents, it is obvious that these parents were doing anything but condemning Nazism themselves.
Yet teachers were hardly innocent victims of oppressive parents. "The problem of the teachers is one of generations," states Tauber; nearly "50% of the current teaching staff had taught or been taught during the Third Reich" (Tauber, 432). These educators would not touch upon "the degradation and moral corruption of authoritarianism, let alone the political responsibility of their generation for its establishment and maintenance" (Tauber, 432). This generation of teachers, "not having rid themselves of secret nostalgia for the vanished glories of a leader and of a united, racially conscious people,…will use every opportunity to evade the crucial problems of political education in their classrooms." For example, "recent history is reserved for the ninth year—that is, the last year of formal schooling for 85 per cent of youngsters" (Tauber, 433). This means that teachers draft lesson plans covering a span of 100 to 150 years, and place little focus and minimal discussion on the "final solution" of the Jewish question and other aspects of the Third Reich.
Although Tauber paints a bleak description of the educational system of postwar Germany, his outlook on the future is optimistic. It is "the dedication of the people who see education for citizenship in the public schools as democracy’s first and best line of defense" that will eventually "be able to raise the political consciousness of the German youngster and at the same time protect him from—or immune him against—the siren call of romantic and utopian radicalism" (Tauber, 433).
Where parents and teachers have fallen short of educating German children about the horrors of their past, as well as the dangers that come with allowing neo-Nazism to continue, the promoters of neo-Nazi ideology and organizations have been able to make inroads. A vulnerable youth without a firm knowledge base is easily manipulated and controlled. This sort of populace, when coupled with right-wing extremist leaders, spells a resurgence of Nazi ideology and actions. Hitler provides the neo-Nazis with a model of how to successfully shape and rule an entire population. Thus, similar political strategies and tactics have been adopted by the neo-Nazis. With so many strikingly similar characteristics between the neo-Nazis and the original Nazis, it is a legitimate fear that parallel outbreak of Hitler’s regime will embark upon the world once again. The sole solution is for the German people to fully acknowledge the errors of not only the original Nazis, but also of themselves for allowing this ominous neo-Nazi movement to have come into existence and to have lasted for so long.
Although these similarities between the neo-Nazis and the original Nazis exist, the two are not identical. Neither do the mere existence of the resurgence, nor the successful rise to power of the first group, automatically mean that of the second wave of Nazism will thrive. One major fact to be remembered is that these last few generations have lacked a leader such as Hitler. Such a rallying factor is lacking in today’s Nazi arena. In addition, while many Germans have attempted to evade the past, the information on the atrocities of the Third Reich are nonetheless out there and available.
If German schools do not adequately educate about the perils of Nazism, foreign colleges may provide an eye-opening information base. The world in general also possesses a more critical eye, and (after the lesson of the Versailles Treaty of World War I) is now less likely to give into the temptations of appeasement. Germany has not retreated into isolationism, and is therefore affected by the opinions and criticisms of other nations.
While it is true that neo-Nazis have focused much on their attention of the youth, the recent generations of Germans have lived through circumstances that will help them combat neo-Nazi temptations. For instance, the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall were great victories for freedom and have been mostly celebrated by the younger people. Google marcuse 133c to find where this essay is published on the web. In the German film The Promise, during the scene where the Berlin Wall is being torn down, the youths are obviously the most excited about the new freedom (dir. by Margarete von Trotta, Lausanne, 1994). When an older woman is asked by a reporter how she feels about this new development, she replies that it will not have a huge impact on her life, explaining that she has been like a caged bird her whole like and cannot learn to fly freely now. On the other hand, the son of Sophie cannot wait to cross the border easily and legally. This demonstrates the propensity of the German youth to favor freedom over a highly controlling, fascist ideology.
All these factors combine to nurture the smothering of neo-Nazism rather than fostering it. Therefore, the acceptance of responsibility by the German people, proper education, the lack of a Hitler-like leader, and a world possessing a cautious, critical eye, will (if all achieved successfully) effectively thwart and conquer the resurgence of Nazism. In the end, however, it is the German youths hold the future in their hands. Although the neo-Nazis have channeled much of their energies on the younger generations (much like the original Nazis), these youths ultimately have failed to supply them with mass support, and have, contrarily, championed freedom. Therefore, the efforts of the neo-Nazis, while effective in certain cases, has not developed into a viable oppositional group, nor does the movement appear to have any significant hopes for future generations.
Review #1: Stern, Fritz; "A Nazi Legacy: Right-Wing Extremism in Postwar Germany (book review); Foreign Affairs; v70. n5. pg.196 (1); Winter, 1991
Review #2: Abenheim, Donald; "A Nazi Legacy: Right-Wing Extremism in Postwar Germany (book review); The Historian