Sunday, July 22, 2018

A Few Useful Notes on Hitler and the Nazis

Hitler and the Nazis

“The reign of beasts has begun.”
Albert Camus (September 7, 1939)

In discussing Hitler and the Nazis, I often started with this quote from S.S. Lt. General Odilo Globonik. Discussing a proposal to liquid six million Jews, to implement the Final Solution, he told gathered officials: “I am of the opinion that bronze plaques should be erected with inscriptions to show that it was we who had the courage to carry out this great and necessary task.”


The notes in the following section may be of use to social studies teachers. If you’ve never read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, first published in 1960, I highly recommend it.

William Shirer, the author, was a journalist who had done reporting from Germany during Hitler’s rise to power.

He quotes Hitler:

The broad masses of the people can be moved only by the power of speech. All great movements are popular movements, volcanic eruptions of human passions and emotional sentiments, stirred either by the cruel Goddess of Distress or by the firebrand of the world hurled among the masses; they are not the lemonade-like outpourings of the literary aesthetes and drawing-room heroes. (p. 25)

By the time I retired from teaching in 2008—seventh and eighth graders—I was running into students who did not recognize Adolf Hitler in pictures. Certainly, even older students today probably don’t realize Hitler was a war hero in his youth. He saw heavy fighting during World War I. After the war, he told a landlord that his regiment had been reduced from 3500 men to 600 in only four days of fighting, in the first Battle of Ypres. Only thirty officers remained and four companies had to be dissolved. He was wounded in the leg on October 7, 1916 and badly gassed on October 13, 1918. Hitler was twice awarded the Iron Cross for bravery, including First Class on the second occasion. One comrade said Hitler captured fifteen enemy soldiers, single-handedly. Shirer says there is no doubt that Hitler won the medals he later claimed. (30)

You might students if they thought God had a plan, or ask was it just Fate, that while more than eight million soldiers died, Hitler survived. One good bullet could have changed history.

Shirer says of Hitler, “What the masses needed, he thought, were not only ideas—a few simple ideas, that is, that he could ceaselessly hammer through their skulls—but symbols that would win their faith, pageantry and color that would arouse them, and acts of violence and terror, which if successful, would attract adherents…and give them a sense of power over the weak.” (42)

It might be interesting to ask students if they think this sounds like politics today.

The Nazi political platform promised: “The National Socialist Movement will in the future ruthlessly prevent—if necessary by force—all meetings or lectures that are likely to distract the minds of our fellow countrymen.” (43)

Shirer quotes Joseph Goebbels, writing to Hitler: “You expressed more than your own pain…You named the need of a whole generation, searching in confused longing for men and task. What you said is the catechism of the new political belief, born out of despair of a collapsing, Godless world.” (127)

Goebbels on Hitler: “He is the instrument of Divine Will that shapes history with fresh, creative passion.” (129)

Shirer describes the situation Germany confronted in the 1920s:

The hard-pressed people were demanding a way out of their sorry predicament. The millions of unemployed wanted jobs. The shopkeepers wanted help. Some four million youths who had come of voting age since the last election wanted some prospect of a future that would at least give them a living.

Hitler promised, if elected, that he would “bring the money barons to heel (especially if they were Jews) and see to it that every German had a job and bread. To hopeless, hungry men seeking not only relief but new faith and new gods, the appeal was not without effect.” (pp. 137-138)

Shirer says the Nazis had two advantages over opponents: “They were led by a man who knew exactly what he wanted and they were ruthless enough, and opportunistic enough, to go to any lengths to help him get it.” (149)

In March 1932, Hitler ran for president. He lost by more than seven million votes to Paul von Hindenburg, the old general. But Hindenburg failed to get the required majority in a four-way race. A second election was required. In April 1932 Hitler lost again to Hindenburg, 19.4 million to 13.4 million votes (53% to 37%); but Hindenburg was 85. Pitched political battles, especially between Nazis and Communists, shocked the nation.  Hundreds were killed or injured. Yet another election in November saw the Nazis lose two million votes. It appeared Hitler’s star might be setting. That election left the Nazis with 199 seats in the Reichstag (down 34), the Communists with 100, the Socialists with 121. The German National Party, often allied with Hitler, had 52 seats. Political maneuvering led to an agreement to set up a cabinet government, ruling by decree. Hindenburg, who was increasingly senile, nevertheless resisted asking Hitler to become Chancellor, rightly warning in a letter to a friend, that “such a cabinet is bound to develop into a party dictatorship….I cannot take the responsibility for this before my oath and my conscience.”

Briefly, General Kurt von Schleicher held the post; but the Depression was worsening, and he quickly lost his grip. Shirer describes the political intrigue wracking Germany at the time: “Soon the web of intrigue became so enmised that by New Year’s, 1933, none of the cabalists was sure who was double-crossing whom. But it would not take long for them to find out.”

Schleicher would later tell the French ambassador, “I stayed in power only fifty-seven days and on each and every one of them I was betrayed fifty-seven times.” (175)

Goebbels rightly predicted: “Once we have the power we will never give it up. They will have to carry our dead bodies out of the ministries.” (167)

Hermann Goering, as Minister of the Interior of Prussia (2/3rd’s of Germany), placed Nazis in key posts, removing hundreds of republicans; he ordered the police “at all costs” to avoid hostility to the S.A. and S.S. As for the Nazis’ political rivals, he urged the police “to make use of firearms.” Officers who failed to shoot protesters could be disciplined. Goering established an auxiliary police force of 50,000, almost all recruited from the S.A. or S.S.

After the staged fire in the Reichstag, Goering warned: “This is the beginning of the Communist revolution! We must not wait a minute. We will show no mercy. Every Communist official must be shot, where he is found. Every Communist deputy must this very night be strung up.” (192)

On February 28, 1933, the day after the fire, Hitler convinced Hindenburg to sign a decree for the “Protection of the People and the State,” setting aside seven sections of the constitution which guaranteed individual and civil liberties. Supposedly, passed to guard against Communist violence, the decree opened wide the door to dictatorship by Hitler. Shirer quotes the decree. The following actions would now be allowed:

Restriction on personal liberty, on the right of free expression of opinion, including freedom of the press; on the rights of assembly and association; and violations of the privacy of postal, telegraphic and telephonic communications; and warrants for house searchers, orders for confiscations as well as restrictions on property, are also permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed.

As always, it was important to dehumanize the enemy. Nazis described their foes as maggots, vermin, untermenschen; Hitler called French and British leaders “little worms” (300); Goering spoke of “the Jew devil” (383); Hans Frank: “I would not eliminate all lice and Jews in only one year. But in the course of time, and if you help me, this end will be attained.” (663) General Stroop called the Jews of Warsaw “this trash and subhumanity” (976)

In yet another election, on March 5, 1933, the Nazis could only pull in 44% of the vote. And this despite waves of “legalized” violence against their foes

Otto Wells protests: “We German Social Democrats pledge ourselves solemnly in this historic hour to the principals of humanity and justice, of freedom and socialism. No enabling act can give you the power to destroy ideas which are eternal and indestructible.” 

Hitler, furious, responds: “You come late, but yet you come…You are no longer needed… the star of Germany will rise and yours will sink. Your death knell has sounded…I do not want your votes. Germany will be free, but not through you!” 

The Enabling Act, titled “Law for Removing the Distress of People and Reich,” made Hitler a dictator. For a period of four years, power to pass laws, control of the budget and approval of treaties were to reside in the hands of the cabinet and not the Reichstag. Shirer writes, “The Germans had no one to blame but themselves.” (199-200)

New Nazi officials in each state could now dismiss all judges. “On May 2 the trade-union headquarters throughout the country were occupied, union funds confiscated, the unions dissolved and the leaders arrested. Many were beaten and lodged in concentration camps.” (202) A new law ended collective bargaining. Henceforth, government “labor trustees” would maintain “labor peace.” “Judges were intimidated; they were afraid for their lives if they convicted and sentenced a storm trooper even for cold-blooded murder.” (203)

By July, Hitler had managed to destroy all other political parties. A new law went into effect on the 14th:

The National Socialist German Workers’ Party constitutes the only political party in Germany.
     Whosoever undertakes to maintain the organizational structure of another political party or to form a new political party will be punished with penal servitude up to three years or with imprisonment for six months to three years, if the deed is not subject to a greater penalty according to other regulations. (201)

With Hindenburg’s approval, Franz von Papen prepared a speech, warning against the Nazi dictatorship. In part, he said,

Open manly discussions would be of more service to the German people than, for instance, the present state of the German press. The government [must be] mindful of the old maxim, “Only weaklings suffer no criticism”…Great men are not created by propaganda…It is time to join together in fraternal friendship and respect for all our fellow countrymen, to avoid disturbing the labors of serious men and to silence fanatics.

The people, Papen said, when fed a steady diet of propaganda, were being treated like “morons.”

Goebbels forbid the scheduled broadcast of the speech, forbid mention of it in the press, and ordered police to seize copies of the Frankfurter Zeitung which were on the streets with a partial text. In the early days, the Nazi terror “affected the lives of relatively few Germans… On the contrary, they supported it with genuine enthusiasm. Somehow it imbued them with a new hope and a new confidence and an astonishing faith in the future of their country.” (231)

Still, in the summer of 1934, there was a chance to defang the Nazi leader. Hindenburg and his allies in the military threatened to declare martial law and turn over control of the State to the army.

Hitler also put down an internal rival that summer, Ernest Roehm, who had long led the S.A. Roehm was arrested and soon shot dead in his cell. In Berlin, Party leaders loyal to Hitler rounded up 150 S.A. leaders. They were “stood against a wall of the Cadet School at Lichterfeld and shot by firing squads of Himmler’s S.S. and Goering’s special police.” Other S.S. men appeared at the door to Schleicher’s villa not far from Berlin. “When the General opened the door he was shot dead in his tracks, and when his wife, whom he had married but eighteen months before—he had been a bachelor until then—stepped forward, she too was slain on the spot.” (222)

The randomness of the violence is well-illustrated by one story, as Shirer tells it:

One murder deserves mention. At seven-twenty on the evening of June 30, Dr. Willi Schmid, the eminent music critic of the Muenchener Neueste Nachrichten, a leading Munich daily newspaper, was playing the cello in his study while his wife prepared supper and their three children, aged nine, eight and two, played in the living room of their apartment in the Schackstrasse in Munich. The doorbell rang, four S.S. men appeared and without explanation took Dr. Schmid away. Four days later his body was returned in a coffin with orders from the Gestapo not to open it under any circumstances. Dr. Willi Schmid, who had never participated in politics, had been mistaken by the S.S. thugs for Willi Schmidt, a local S.A. leader, who in the meantime had been arrested by another S.S. detachment and shot. (pp. 223-224)

Anti-Semitism was not new to Germany. Shirer quotes Martin Luther on the Jews: that they should be deprived of “all their cash and jewels and silver and gold.” Also, Luther demanded that “their synagogues or schools be set on fire, that their houses be broken up and destroyed…and they be put under a roof or stable, like the gypsies…in misery and captivity as they incessantly lament and complain to God about us.” (236)

Even church leaders who questioned the Nazi regime were not safe. Hundreds of pastors who signed a protest were arrested. Dr. Weissler, one of the signers was murdered in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

The Nazis set up the Reich Chamber of Culture, with seven subchambers,

to guide and control every sphere of cultural life: the Reich chambers of fine arts, music, the theater, literature, the press, radio and the films. All persons engaged in these fields were obliged to join their respective chambers, whose decisions and directives had the validity of law. Among other powers, the chambers could expel—or refuse to accept—members for “political unreliability,” which meant that those who were even lukewarm about National Socialism could be, and usually were, excluded from practicing their profession or art and thus deprived of a livelihood. (243)

Shirer explained the death of the free press:

Every morning the editors of the Berlin daily newspapers and the correspondents of those published elsewhere in the Reich gathered at the Propaganda Ministry to be told by Dr. Goebbels or by one of his aides what news to print and suppress, how to write the news and headline it, what campaigns to call off or institute and what editorials were desired for the day.

Section 14 of the Press Law ordered editors,

to keep out of the newspapers anything which in any manner is misleading to the public, mixes selfish aims with community aims, tends to weaken the strength of the German Reich, outwardly or inwardly, the common will of the German people, the defense of Germany, its culture and economy…or offends the honor and dignity of Germany. (245)

Book burning soon commenced, with thousands of students marching in one torchlight parade. Works by Freud and Margaret Sanger, by Helen Keller and Einstein, and Erich Maria Remarque went up in flames. The view of war in Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, as hopeless and misguided, did not fit well with Adolf Hitler’s ideology.

When movie audiences began hissing the crappy films the Nazis did allow, Wilhelm Frick, the Minister of the Interior, warned against “treasonable behavior on the part of cinema audiences.” (247)

Shirer wrote, “…the facts of life had become what Hitler and Goebbels, with their cynical disregard for the truth, said they were.” (248)

Perhaps even more insidious were moves taken by the Nazis to control the schools. All teachers took an oath to “be loyal and obedient to Adolf Hitler.” Only the politically reliable were issued licenses to teach. Hitler had once explained in a speech, “When an opponent declares, ‘I will not come over to your side,’ I calmly say, ‘Your child belongs to us already…What are you? You will pass on. Your descendants, however, now stand in the new camp. In a short time they will know nothing else but this new community.’” On May 1, 1937, he explained, “This new Reich will give its youth to no one, but will itself take youth and give to youth its own education and its own upbringing.” According to one newspaper, Mein Kampf was to become “our infallible pedagogical guiding star.” (249)

The purpose of the Hitler Youth movement was also clear: “The German youth, besides being reared within the family and schools, shall be educated physically, intellectually and morally in the spirit of National Socialism…through the Hitler Youth.” Children ages 6-18 were organized; parents who tried to dissuade their sons or daughters from joining were subject to heavy prison sentences. At age 10, boys who had progressed satisfactorily in the program, graduated into the “Young Folk,” taking this oath: “In the presence of this blood banner, which represents our Fuhrer, I swear to devote all my energies and my strength to the savior of our country, Adolf Hitler. I am willing and ready to give up my life for him, so help me God.”

At fourteen boys entered the Hitler Youth.

Shirer describes the program for young German “maidens,” ages 10-14:

…they too had a uniform, made up of a white blouse, full blue skirt, socks and heavy—and most unfeminine—marching shoes. Their training was much like that of the boys of the same age and included long marches on weekends with heavy packs and the usual indoctrination in the Nazi philosophy. But emphasis was put on the role of women in the Third Reich—to be, above all, healthy mothers of healthy children.

This was stressed even more when the girls reached age 14 and became members of the League of German Maidens.

In 1939, all children were enrolled in the Hitler Youth under a new law. Parents who refused to let their children take part were warned that their sons or daughters would be taken and put in orphanages or other homes.

Shirer admits the effectiveness of this training program:

No one who traveled up and down Germany in those days and talked with the young in their camps and watched them work and play and sing could fail to see that, however sinister the teaching, here was an incredibly dynamic youth movement.
     The young in the Third Reich were growing up to have strong and healthy bodies, faith in the future of their country and in themselves and a sense of fellowship and camaraderie that shattered all class and economic and social barriers.” (pp. 253-256)

With the government so firmly in control, businessmen soon found that to get anything done, they had to pay graft to Nazi bureaucrats. Workers were reduced, Shirer says, to “industrial serfs.” Plans for a “People’s Car,” the Volkswagen, were put in place. Workers were encouraged to pay into the program by installments. “When 750 marks had been paid in, the buyer received an order number entitling him to a car as soon as it could be turned out. Alas for the worker, not a single car was ever turned out for any customer during the Third Reich.” (267)

Goering could correctly say by July 1934, that “the law and the will of the Fuehrer are one.” (268)

Dr. Hans Frank would say in 1936: “There is in Germany today only one authority, and that is the authority of the Fuehrer.” (276)

Fifty concentration camps were set up during Hitler’s first year in power. They were mainly set up by the S.A., says Shirer, “to give its victims a good beating, and then ransom them to their relatives or friends for as much as the traffic would bear. It was largely a crude form of blackmail.” (271)

The brutality increased. The Security Service, or S.D., allied with the Gestapo, employed 100,000 part-time informers. One job of the S.D. was to find out who voted against Nazi positions during elections.

Resistance usually proved futile. The Gestapo threatened the life of one witness, insisting he implicate a German general in a case of “prostitution.”  The witness broke down in court and “confessed that the Gestapo had threatened his life unless he implicated General von Fritsch—a threat, incidentally, which was carried out anyway a few days later…” (354)

Shirer paints a scene of “humorous” anti-Semitism, in the wake of Kristillnacht, during which 119 synagogues were destroyed:

Goering was upset with all the destruction: “I wish you had killed two hundred Jews, instead of destroying so many valuables.”
     “Thirty five were killed,” Heydrich answered in self-defense.
     Not all the conversation, of which the partial stenographic record runs to ten thousand words, was so deadly serious. Goering and Goebbels had a lot of fun arguing about subjecting the Jews to further indignities. The Propaganda Minister said the Jews would be made to clean up and level off the debris of the synagogues; the sites would then be turned into parking lots. He insisted that the Jews be excluded from everything: schools, theaters, movies, resorts, public beaches, parks, even from the German forests. He proposed that there be special railway coaches and compartments for Jews, but that they be made available only after all Aryans were seated.
     “Well, if the train is overcrowded,” Goering laughed, “we’ll kick the Jew out and make him sit all alone all the way in the toilet.”
     When Goebbels, in all seriousness, demanded that the Jews be forbidden to enter the forests, Goering replied, “We shall give the Jews a certain part of the forests and see to it that various animals that look damned much like Jews—the elk has a crooked nose like theirs—get there also and become acclimated.” (432)

Hitler called reports he intended to attack Poland “mere inventions of the international press.”

In response to criticism by FDR, Hitler said:

I have conquered chaos in Germany, re-established order and enormously increased production…developed rail traffic, caused mighty roads to be built and canals to be dug, called into being gigantic new factories and at the same time endeavored to further the education and culture of our people.
     I have succeeded in finding useful work once more for the whole of seven million unemployed…Not only have I united the German people politically, but I have also rearmed them. (474)

Like many megalomaniacs, Adolf Hitler loved to talk, particularly about himself. Frau Goebbels privately complained that Hitler kept guests up all night: “It is always Hitler who talks! He repeats himself and bores his guests.” (483)

 “How completely isolated a world the German people live in,” Shirer noted in his diary on August 10.

Shirer explained:

In Berlin too a foreign observer could watch the way the press, under Goebbels’ expert direction, was swindling the gullible German people. For six years, since the Nazi ‘co-ordination’ of the daily newspapers, which had meant the destruction of a free press, the citizens had been cut off from the truth of what was going on in the world. (563)

 “I shall shrink at nothing and shall annihilate everyone who is opposed to me.” (Hitler quoted; 658)

The Nazi plan for conquered Poland takes shape. “Polish intelligentsia must be prevented from establishing itself as a governing class. Low standard of living must be conserved. Cheap slaves…” (a Nazi official in his diary; 660)

The plan to destroy Polish intelligentsia was code named “Extraordinary Pacification Action.” Dr. Hans Frank: “The men capable of leadership in Poland must be liquidated.” (662)

Shirer cites at least one American lawmaker who was willing to work with the Germans. On June 12, 1940, Hans Thomsen, the German charge d’affaires cabled in top secret, news that a “well-known Republican Congressman” was offering,

…for $3,000, to invite fifty isolationist Republican Congressmen to the Republican convention “so that they may work on the delegates in favor of an isolationist foreign policy.” That same individual, Thomsen reported, wanted $30,000 to help pay for full-page advertisements in the American newspapers, to be headed “Keep America Out of War!”

On June 25 such an advertisement did appear in The New York Times. In July, Thomsen wired Berlin, asking permission to destroy any records of this matter, receipts, and all. (748)

Hitler’s early success in war led to overconfidence. “Egomania, that fatal disease of all conquerors, was taking hold,” Shirer noted. (812)

In Russia: “Persons suspected of criminal action will be brought at once before an officer. This officer will decide whether they are to be shot. (831)

General Heinz Guderian, a top tank commander, meets with Hitler about the push on Moscow in 1941. He warns that German forces are badly extended. “I here saw for the first time a spectacle with which I was later to become very familiar: all those present—Keitel, Jodl [top military aides to the Fuehrer] and others—nodded in agreement with every sentence that Hitler uttered, while I was left alone with my point of view…” (858)

As the Nazi army was driven back from Moscow that winter, new powers were granted to the dictator: “the Fuehrer must be in a position to force with all means at his disposal every German, if necessary, whether he be common soldier or officer, low or high official or judge, leading or subordinate official of the party, worker or employer—to fulfill his duties.” (867)

When the war began to go badly, Hitler became more and more likely to explode when presented with bad news. When the Russian threatened to cut off the entire German Sixth Army at Stalingrad, Hitler refused to allow a retreat. One eyewitness watched as bad news was reported to the Fuehrer. It was said the Russians could put more than a million fresh troops into line around Stalingrad, that they were building 1,200 new tanks per month. “Hitler flew at the man who was reading [the report] with clenched fists and foam in the corners of his mouth and forbade him to read any more of such idiotic twaddle.” (917)

One German officer described Hitler around this time: “There is something weird and batty…” “A change in the man, a corrosion, a deterioration has set in…” (922)

Hitler on Polish priests: “they will preach what we want them to preach. If any priest acts differently, we shall make short work of him. The task of the priest is to keep the Poles quiet, stupid and dull-witted.”

Hitler on controlling the conquered people of Poland: “There should be one master only for the Poles, the Germans. Therefore, all representatives of the Polish intelligentsia are to be exterminated. This sounds cruel, but such is the law of life.” (938)

Martin Bormann: “Every educated person is a future enemy.” (939)

The Germans often took hostages in an effort to force conquered peoples to accept Nazi rule; if they refused, hostages were shot: 29,600 French hostages were executed during the war, 8,000 in Poland, 2,000 in Holland. Said one German commander, “the better known the hostages to be shot the greater will be the deterrent effect on the perpetrators [those who resisted].” The “Night and Fog Decree” of December 1941 was intended to spread terror—to have foes of the regime “vanish without a trace into the night and fog of the unknown in Germany.” No information was given to the families—not even victims’ places of burial. (957)

I. A. Topf and Sons, manufacturers of heating equipment, won out in a bid to build the crematoria at Auschwitz. In correspondence found after the war, company representatives wrote to government officials: “We acknowledge receipt of your order for five triple furnaces, including two electric elevators for raising the corpses and one emergency elevator. A practical installation for stoking coal was also ordered and one for transporting ashes.”

A second company sent designs to an S.S. camp near Belgrade. Their proposal read:

“For putting the bodies into the furnace, we suggest simply a metal fork moving on cylinders.
     “Each furnace will have an oven measuring only 24 by 18 inches, as coffins will not be used. For transporting the corpses from the storage points to the furnaces we suggest using light carts on wheels, and we enclose diagrams of these drawn to scale.” C. H. Kori, another firm, sought the same business, touting company experience, noting it had already constructed furnaces at Dachau and Lublin, which had given “full satisfaction in practice…We guarantee the effectiveness of the cremation ovens as well as their durability, the use of the best material and our faultless workmanship.” (972)

A Danzig company posited a soap-making operation to make money, involving a recipe of “12 pounds of human fat, 10 quarts of water, and 8 ounces to a pound of caustic soda…all boiled for two or three hours and then cooled.” (971)

Shirer discussed at length the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, who he describes as, “this long-nosed, icy-eyed thirty-eight-year-old policeman of diabolical cast, the genius of the ‘final solution,’ Hangman Heydrich, as he became known.” Heydrich was wounded in ambush on May 29 and died on June 4, 1942. His killers were two Czech partisans, Jan Kubis and Josef Gabiek.

The Nazi response was savage: 1,331 Czechs, including 201 women were immediately executed. The two assassins and 120 other resistance fighters were surrounded in a church and wiped out; but the Gestapo did not realize the two assassins were already among the dead. Goebbels had 500 of the last Jews in Berlin arrested on the day of the assassination attempt; when Heydrich died, 152 were executed. Another 3,000 Jews in Theresienstadt, a privileged ghetto, were shipped off to death camps to be exterminated.

In the way of retribution for Heydrich’s death, the village of Lidice, not far from where the attack occurred, was chosen for destruction. Shirer says Lidice was selected as an example. The town was surrounded on June 9; a 12-year-old boy who tried to flee was shot. A peasant woman took off and was also shot and killed. The entire male population was locked up in the barns and buildings of the mayor. The next morning, they were led out in batches of ten and executed, 172 men and boys, 16 and older. Nineteen others, working in nearby mines, were soon picked up and executed.

Seven women were shot. All the others, 195, were transported to concentration camps, where seven were gassed, three “disappeared,” and 42 died of ill treatment. Four who were pregnant had their babies forcibly abortied. Ninety young children were sent to a separate concentration camp. Seven, considered racially valuable, were sent to Germany for adoption. The rest were eliminated. The town was burned, the ruins dynamited, the site leveled.

Since the story of the death camps is already well known, I kept my notes to a minimum on that topic. I had not heard of the example below before. So I mention it:

Two years later, S.S. troops surrounded Oradour-sur-Glane, a French town near Limoges. Their commandant ordered inhabitants to gather in the central square and notified them that explosives were reportedly hidden in the village. The entire population was locked in barns and the local church. The entire village was set on fire. S.S. forces machine-gunned many of the people who tried to escape. A French court in 1953 found that 245 women, 207 children and 190 men had been massacred. Ten survivors, badly burned, feigned death and survived.  Oradour was never rebuilt. (993)

I thought it was odd to find that Hitler refused to visit the bombed out German cities during the last years of the war. It was too hard to face the reality.

Several assassination attempts against Hitler failed. In one, an officer agreed to put grenades in his coat—a new style that Hitler had wanted to see. At their meeting, he would pull the pins in his pockets, hug the Fuehrer, and blow himself and his leader to bits. Hitler canceled the meeting.

In another plot, a bomb inside a package was smuggled aboard Hitler’s plane, purportedly a gift of champagne to one of his top officers. A rap of the device beforehand released acid from a glass vial, which was supposed to eat slowly through a trip wire, and 30 minutes later, the bomb would explode. For some reason the device failed. The man who had given the officer the “present” had to meet him after the plane touched down in perfect safety, and reclaim the present on the grounds that he had mixed it up with a present meant for another officer. He did substitute the first present, however, with another for the lucky officer who had not been blown to bits with everyone aboard the plane.

After the July 20, 1944 assassination plot failed, but only barely, Hitler was a raging maniac. Of those arrested, he shouted, “We’ll hail them before the People’s Court. No long speeches from them. The court will act with lightning speed. And two hours after the sentence it will be carried out. By hanging—without mercy.” (1070)

Eight ringleaders were quickly brought to the place of execution:

One by one, after being stripped to the waist, they were strung up, a noose of piano wire being placed around their necks and attached to the meathooks. A movie camera whirled as the men dangled and strangled, their beltless trousers finally dropping off as they struggled, leaving them naked in their death agony. The developed film, as ordered, was rushed to Hitler so that he could view it…

As a result of this one failed plot, as many as 4,980 people were executed, including the families of many suspected plotters. (1071)

General Henning von Tresckow, one of the leaders sentenced to death, told an aide, “The worth of a man is certain only if he is prepared to sacrifice his life for his convictions.” (1074)

By the fall of 1944, the German military was clearly beginning to buckle. Heinrich Himmler decreed: “Every deserter…will find his just punishment. Furthermore, his ignominious behavior will entail the most severe consequences for his family…They will be summarily shot.” (1088)


The following notes are from the book, The Nazis, a volume in a Time-Life series on World War II. I can tell you, several series of books by Time-Life, for example, on settling the West, and individual volumes on the Wright Brothers, in a series on aviation, are filled with interesting stories to use in class.

The authors explain Hitler’s rise to power:

To a desperate Germany, Hitler offered crude solutions: He would unilaterally end reparations and refuse to repay the debts incurred by Schacht; he would crush the Jew, whose greed was the cause of all economic evil; he would provide every German with food and a job. He promised nonpartisan politics, a Germany where people worked together, a Germany to be proud of. (p. 24)

Joseph Goebbels said Hitler gave him a chance to “unleash volcanic passions, outbreaks of rage, to set masses of people on the march, to organize hatred and despair with ice-cold calculation.” Goebbels was a great propagandist because he was “utterly uninhibited by considerations of truth. The truly great man, he said ‘contents himself with saying: It is so. And it is so.’” (27)

Martin Bormann convinced the head of the postal service that Hitler deserved rights to a royalty on every stamp that bore his likeness. In this manner, the Nazi dictator made millions of reichsmarks. (52)

Hitler’s guests at the Berghof often ate with solid gold utensils. (80)

In February 1933 Hitler decreed that “in the interests of public security and order” anyone could be taken into “protective custody” and detained indefinitely, on mere “suspicion of activities inimical to the state.”  (88)

Faced with a growing French resistance, German commanders began killing fifty hostages for every German soldier partisans killed. “The horror overwhelms us,” remembered one Frenchman. Night and Fog: persons “endangering German security” were to be dragged off in the dark, never to be seen again. One German general complained, “I can no longer commit mass shootings with a clear conscience nor can I justify them to posterity.” Hitler called for his forces to “spread such terror as to crush every will among the population.” (pp. 114-115)

The destruction of Lidice is described again: 84,000 square yards of rubble removed; area planted in grain. (115)

One family had helped the two assassins in their plans. The family was arrested; the mother committed suicide lest she talk. “The Son, who knew the whereabouts of the two assassins, was tortured unmercifully but did not break down—until he was presented with the severed head of his mother. He revealed the hideout of the Czech agents.”

Goebbels was blunt in describing Hitler’s most loyal followers: “The rank and file are usually much more primitive than we imagine. Propaganda must therefore be essentially simple and repetitious.” (124)

Again, this might make for a good discussion topic for your classes.
It’s not as if the campaign commercials we see are usually meant to be thought-provoking.

I always tried to explain to my students that Hitler was a true hater. That is, he was able to dehumanize enemies and believe his own rhetoric. “If you cut even cautiously into such an abscess [that is: some social ill],” he said in Mein Kampf, “you found, like a maggot in a rotting body, often dazzled by the sudden light—a kike!” (30)

The Slav “is only a rough copy of a human being, displaying human-liked facial traits but nonetheless ranking lower in morality and mentality than any animal.” (German propaganda pamphlet, p.110)

Campaign of hate: less than 1% of Germans were Jews; but they were painted as the root of all of Germany’s problems. They were said to be “obscenely oversexed.” Jewish men were said to have every intention of seducing poor German maidens. The state-run broadcasting network engineered “a fantastic wave of political manipulation, agitation and propaganda in every form,” admitted one Nazi official. (131) The Jews were described as rats, “they carry disease.”

As for the Jews being described as rats, in 1942, the Governor of Idaho said of Japanese-Americans, “The Japs live like rats, breed like rats, and act like rats.”

In the same way, General John Chivington justified wiping out an entire Native-American village at Sand Creek in 1864, including women and children. “Nits make lice,” he said.

In the cause of “race purity,” sterilization was recommended for those who had one Jewish parent or grandparent.

In England, Houston Stewart Chamberlain agreed that the Jews were an evil race. Henry Ford, here in America, concurred.

The Nuremberg Laws banned Jews from schools, libraries, theaters and public transportation. (138)

Racism against African Americans in our country was much the same as anti-Semitism in Germany. Students often note the similarity.

Handicapped people and the mentally ill, 90,000 Germans in 1941 alone, labeled “useless eaters,” were gassed.

Soon the mass killings began, with children sometimes shot first. “Not before these mothers had been exposed to this worst of all tortures did they receive the bullet that released them from this sight.” (142) At Babi Yar, by actual count, 33,771 Jews were put to death. “The air resounded with the cries of children and the tortured,” one German remembered. Even the S.S. men had a hard time dealing with human slaughter on such a massive scale. When one commander complained, saying his men were “finished for the rest of their lives,” Himmler agreed.

Perhaps, Nazi officials decided, death camps would be a more efficient method of disposing of all the inferior populations. (142) Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi bureaucrat, would later explain why he helped implement such crimes. The “Popes of the Third Reich” had spoken, he explained at his trial, long after the war. “Who am I to have my own thoughts in this matter?” (143)

Himmler himself was squeamish, fainting once after watching a mass execution.

(S.S. Lt. General Odilo Globonik, quoted at the start, is mentioned on page 147, of The Nazis)

At camps like Auschwitz and Belzec, so many bodies were burned that periodically up to a foot of human fat had to be scraped from the chimneys.

Said one Auschwitz guard to prisoners: “You are only numbers. A shot, and the number is gone.” (151)

Students rarely know how widespread anti-Semitism once was, including in the United States. (Many U.S. country clubs banned Jewish members; and Harvard had a “gentlemen’s agreement to limit the number of Jews enrolled.) Often, local populations helped the Germans destroy their own Jewish neighbors. In occupied Ukraine a mob tied a Jewish woman’s hair to the tail of a horse and whipped the animal away. The woman was dragged until, said one Jew, “her whole face was completely disfigured….Most of the crowd was hysterical with laughter.” (160)

Like Shirer, authors of The Nazis focus on the punishment of those involved in the July 20 assassination plot. As for the officer who had planted the bomb, in a briefcase which he place beneath a table during a meeting with Hitler, Himmler promised: “The family of Count Stauffenberg will be wiped out root and branch.”

The authors write:

Throughout Germany, everyone bearing the name of Stauffenberg—men, women, and children—was arrested. Some died in prison. The children were taken from their parents, given false names and put into concentration camps. Executions numbered 5,000, including many who had no part in the plot.  (193; 198)

Feel free to use anything that you can. 

You might also find my notes from Mein Kampf, posted as “I Read Mein Kampf So You Don’t Have Too,” of value.

Comparing Hitler’s beliefs with the core beliefs in the Declaration of Independence always worked well in my classes.


I did prepare a fairly lengthy reading (a little more than 4,200 words) on the Holocaust for my classes.

The only problem was that, at times, it made students weep. You can purchase it from my store at TpT.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

A Few Good Ideas (I Think) for American History; Part II

I THOUGHT A FEW TEACHERS might be able to use these pictures, all from my personal collection. I’m retired, myself. Copy them if you like.

I pedaled a bicycle across the USA in 2007 and again in 2011. Imagine trying to cross this kind of terrain in a wagon.

Above: a view of Tioga Pass, leading into Yosemite National Park. For perspective, there is a large RV (a white speck) above the handle bars of my bicycle on the road you see.

A view a Mountain Man might see; lake near the top of Tioga Pass.

Another view a Mountain Man might see. Morning near Deadville, Colorado, elevation just over 10,000 feet above sea level. (This is my view from my tent, camping near a mountain stream.)

I never thought of this when I was teaching, it might be fun to ask students what last words people spoke when their loved ones drove away, heading west in 1844 or 1849.

I liked to start a discussion of the gold rush by noting a story of the Brazilian gold rush of the 1980's. The big strike began when a tree was uprooted in a storm. Gold nuggets were revealed in the roots.

The rush was on; eventually one miner found a gold nugget the size of a briefcase. (I always went to my desk and pulled my briefcase out and plunked it down. Gold, being dense, is quite heavy, of course. A gold bar the size of a house brick would weigh about fifty pounds. I liked to note that gold was selling for X dollars per ounce. A pound of gold is 12 troy ounces. When I checked today, gold was $1,255.70 per ounce, making a pound of gold worth $15,068.40. Or: a gold brick would be worth $753,420.

If you are not familiar with the story of the S.S. Central America, which sank in 1857, after picking up a load of gold in California, my students were fascinated by that tale. Tommy Thompson, an Ohioan interested in underwater recovery technology, heard about the wreck (off the Atlantic Coast of the United States, located it, and brought up hundreds of millions in gold, gold coins, gold bars, even gold dust.

Fifty million dollars went on display earlier this year. I dont own the picture below; but it might capture student attention.

Many a miner (and there were a few women) headed west to make their fortunes but came home busted or broke.

Miners had a limited menu, one man joked, pretty much bacon and flapjacks, with coffee to wash a meal down. It was said that one miner got so good at flipping his pancakes he could flip one up the chimney of his cabin, run outside, and catch it on the way down.

We used to do a skit on miners in my class. It was always fun to have a few pancakes or frozen waffles and ask one of the students in the skit to demonstrate his flipping skill, behind the back, etc.

Bouncing a frozen waffle off the classroom ceiling was always kind of fun.

You may know Crockett’s story. Running for re-election to Congress, he told the voters, if they didn’t vote for him, they could go to hell and he’d go to Texas.

They didn’t and he went to his doom at the Alamo. I always tried to make it clear to students that they should remember the Alamo, themselves. It stands as an example of a total wipe out, if nothing else.

In the movie, Black Hawk Down, for example, a young soldier, surrounded with his buddies, says, “I feel like we’re at the Alamo.”

Custers Last Stand and Thermopylae also work.

Few of my Ohio students had ever driven across the United States. They had no idea how flat Kansas was. I found on a bicycle that I could see grain towers in towns twelve miles away. Met these two young riders heading east, as I was pedaling west.

The sunflower represents Kansas, of course. And that reminds me of poor Alf Landon, absolutely creamed in the 1936 election, with the electoral vote going 523-8 in favor of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Only Vermont and Maine went for the Republican.

Roosevelt ran with John Nance Garner as his vice presidential candidate; I always liked to tell students Garner’s response when offered the second spot on the ticket. The position, he said, “was not worth bucket of warm spit.”

Some say other bodily fluids were mentioned. 

A good question to start a discussion in class was always to ask students to name the three greatest American presidents (according to a survey of American historians). My students usually got Washington and Lincoln right; but FDR usually escaped them. Kennedy was often a response, or Reagan, or Teddy Roosevelt.

I usually explained that historians rated Teddy Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson and Harry Truman as near greats.

Too soon to tell about Trump, although this blogger has his own opinion. According to a recent survey of 170 historians, the current occupant of the Oval Office has some room to go up in the polls.

If you are ever talking about trade, I found it ironic that even at Mt. Rushmore, almost everything for sale in the gift shop was made in China or other foreign lands. It was the same with Christmas ornaments in the gift shop at Yosemite National Park, and with the Bobblehead Presidents at Andrew Jacksons home, The Hermitage.

Yes, indeed. Made in China!

If a modern American tried to argue that he or she practiced the same religion as the Aztecs, would that be covered under the First Amendment?

Okay, stupid joke.

By comparison the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that Native Americans can use peyote in their religious ceremonies.

Animal sacrifice? Yes, for some groups thats also allowed.

Freedom of religion cases can be tricky. In the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision earlier this year, a Colorado baker won his legal battle after claiming his religion taught him gay marriage was sinful. So he shouldnt have to bake a cake for two gays who wanted to marry. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, following the teachings of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, practiced polygamy for almost fifty years; but lost the right in 1890. On what grounds? 

If a Muslim-American claimed his religion gave him the right to have four wives, and the Quran does, how would courts rule? The Quran predates the U.S. Constitution by more than 1,100 years.

Id bring these examples up, but I wouldnt give my opinions at all. Id only want to get students thinking about how the courts work.

One great rule of thumb, in deciding cases involving the Bill of Rights, was set down by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. He explained, basically: “Your right ends where the other fellow’s nose begins.”

One Native American compared the hunting done by pioneers on lands his people had long claimed to what Boone would think if the Native Americans came to his farm and shot all his cows.

In later years, Boone was often accompanied on hunting trips by his slave, Derry Coburn, both men going armed. That’s an image of slavery that doesn’t quite fit. On one occasion, Boone caught his hand in a big bear trap and couldn’t get loose himself. He staggered back to camp, Coburn helped free his hand, and then went back to cooking dinner, as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred.

On the other hand, an escaped slave named Pompey took part in the attack on Boonseboro 

I don’t own this picture; but Caleb Bingham’s paintings from the 1840s capture a great deal of American life.

What might students notice about this election day in Missouri, c. 1844?

My students (I taught in Loveland, Ohio, a suburb near Cincinnati) were interested in the story of the first professional sports team in U.S. history, the 1869 Red Stockings. These ladies could have watched a game.

That year, the Red Stockings finished the season 65-0. They started strong again in 1870, winning another nineteen games to start the season. In one eight-game stretch the Cincinnati club scored 58, 66, 54, 76, 65, 56, 51 and 63 runs. One unlucky opposing squad was buried 103-8.

Finally, their streak of 84 wins ended with an 11-inning, 8-7 defeat to the Brooklyn Atlantics. That defeat came in part after a fan jumped on the back of a Red’s outfielder as he tried to pick up a ground ball. (Fans in the outfield were often standing just back of the playing field.

I thought this story worked well to force students to think and examine different points of view. John Brown (above) once led a raid on a farm in Missouri, where eleven slaves were held. In the dark of night, the farmer heard commotion and came out on his porch, armed. Browns men shot and killed him, loaded the slaves into a wagon and escaped.

Was this murder? What would the farmers wife say? What would the slaves say? What might John Brown himself say?

My students never seemed to know what “artillery,” “cavalry” and “infantry” were. I tried to help them figure it out.

(I was a “heroic” desk jockey during my stint in the Marines.)

My students never seemed to know what “artillery,” “cavalry” and “infantry” were. I tried to help them figure it out.

(I was a “heroic” desk jockey during my stint in the Marines.)

A draft wheel used during the Civil War to select the names of men bound for service. My students rarely knew how the draft worked.

A good question for discussion: Should all young Americans, at age 18, have to serve two years in the military?

Certainly, the Civil War rule, allowing a rich man to pay for a substitute struck most students as wrong.

I don’t own this painting by Winslow Homer, but loved to use it to humanize the people who fought in the Civil War. Titled “Playing Old Soldier,” I asked students what they thought the man seated was doing.

Faking sick, I believe. Not that any of our students ever fake it to get out of coming to our class.

Compare the technological advance—ironclad warships in 1862—to advances in modern times: drone warfare, robots to enter buildings, night-vision goggles and many more. I used to explain that the United States had battleships that could fire 16-inch shells weighing more than a ton from the Ohio River (assuming you could get a battleship up the river, of course) and hit Loveland.

The range of 24 miles was just about right.

This barn, just off I-71, north of Cincinnati, reflects the owner’s sentiments. Even many of my African Americans students did not know what this symbol could mean.

Immigrants have always rallied to the U.S. flag in time of war. Recruiting Germans after the firing on Ft. Sumter.

Crossing the barren stretches of Nevada by wagon had to be hard. Ask the Donner Party about that. Even today, the main road across the middle of the state is known as “The Loneliest Highway in America.”

From the spot where I took this picture you could turn in all directions and see the same basic scene. Sagebrush and…more sagebrush.

Scenes from Salt Lake City: Monument to the Mormon handcart pioneers, who traveled thousands of miles, pulling all their own possessions.

Model of the main temple (middle), the main temple (above).

Students rarely know there were multiple gold and silver rushes in the West. A gold strike in 1859 led to the founding of a town called Bodie, California (below). Eventually, Bodie could boast of a population of 10,000.

Bodie sits at 8,379 feet above sea level. In winter the snows fall heavily and weather can be brutally cold.

Once the gold ran out, the town slowly lost population. Today it’s a ghost town.

While the town thrived, it is said there was an average of one murder per day. The school teacher was said to carry several pistols and knives to work. The school appears in the picture directly above.

I had good success, after covering the gold rush asking students to write stories about some miner or some other participant, now a ghost.