12 December 2015

For Those Who Would Play With Fear, Intolerance, and Anger

In 1990 I was at an international communications conference in Berlin hosted by Deutsche Bundespost Telekom.

On the weekend I took a long autumn walk from my hotel down the Tiergartenstrasse past the park, and up to the Unter Den Linden, and from there to the Brandenburg Gate.  The famous 'Checkpoint Charlie' was no longer standing, but you could see where it had been.

I had wanted to see the Pergamon Museum in what had been East Berlin on 'Museum Island' in the Spree River, to see the famous Pergamon Altar, and the Ishtar Gate and Processional Way.  I also visited the Alte Nationalgalarie.

Some of the other buildings were old and in a state of disrepair.  I remember how many still carried bullet holes and signs of the war, even after so many years.

But on the way there, between the Brandenburg Tor and the Staatsoper Haus, I happened to spot a memorial at Bebelplatz. And in the middle of the square was a metal plaque.
"In Der Mitte dieses Platzes verbrannten am 10. Mai 1933 Nationalsozialistische Studenten die Werke Hunderter freier Schriftsteller, Publizisten, Philosophen und Wissenschaftler."

In the middle of this square on 10 May 1933 National Socialist students burned the works of hundreds of freelance writers, publicists, philosophers and scientists.

In the federal elections of 1928, the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei or NSDAP received only 2.6% of the national vote.  They were widely considered to be an oddity and a joke.

Even though the German economy had stabilized by that time in the aftermath of the Weimar hyperinflation of 1918 to 1924, the Crash of 1929 drove unemployment rose from 8.5% to 30% by 1932.

In the federal elections of  July 1932, the NSDAP received 37% of the national vote, but 230 seats in Parliament, it had become the largest single party.

In the federal elections of November 1932, the last free election in that nation for some time, the NSDAP received 33% of the national vote, and 196 of the seats.

In a January 1933 compromise promoted heavily by industrialists who feared socialism and communism, the NSDAP party leader was named chancellor of a coalition government.

In February 1933 there was a fire that destroyed part of the Reichstag building that was blamed on the communists.  In response, the government passed the Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of People and State , Reichstagsbrandverordnung, which suspended civil liberties and outlawed all other political parties.   This is also known as the Machtergreifung.

In March 1933, in an election marked by violent repression and the silencing of most political opponents, starting with the left but moving quickly to include the Social Democrats and the Zentrum, or Center Party, the NSDAP received 43% of the national vote, and 288 seats out of 647.

The Enabling Act, Gesetz zur Behebung der Not von Volk und Reich, was passed, and plenary power was granted to the Chancellor to enact laws without the involvement of the Reichstag.

By July 1933 there were about 27,000 key political leaders and journalists, in opposition to the NSDAP, housed in newly established concentration camps in Oranienburgm Esterwegen, Dachau, and Lichtenburg.

There were no more meaningful elections until 1949.

In their fear and anger some of the German people reached for a strong and decisive leader who promised them a return to normalcy and freedom from their confusion, and sought to preserve themselves as they wished to be with the heady fumes of power.   The will to power serves none but itself.

The great majority of the people looked on, and did nothing.

And the rest, as they say, is history.
"Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort
wo man Bücher verbrennt,
verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen."

Heinrich Heine, Almansor: A Tragedy