The Nazi Conscience
Contributor: Thomas Houlihan
Review Date: 9 Mar 2007
Koonz has done a great deal of research, determining how Nazi ideologues, supporters, and enthusiasts across the spectrum of German culture managed to change crude prejudice into ideology that was acceptable to the German people.
The book begins with explanations of "conscience," "race," and "people," in order to provide a framework for understanding the rest of the book.
As this is not a history book, per se, the chapter breakdown is not as definable as a chronological study would be. Instead, the chapters break down into different approaches to ideological indoctrination, instruction, propaganda, and how the Party was able to make their ideology palatable to the German people.
Hitler is discussed as a "prophet of virtue," and though it sounds strange, it is explained in a way that helps the reader to understand how this man was able to sway the minds of so many Germans as he came to power. His technique as an orator is analyzed, and one learns how he manipulated his speeches based on his audience, and where the Party was in its struggle.
One of the most effective weapons in the effort to sway popular attitude was the academic community. When respected scholars were able to present the public with articles that legitimized Party propaganda, people began to accept it. It is important to understand how such learned men came to believe in this ideology, and Koonz is able to present information about them explaining their backgrounds, and their approaches to this.
One of the most important concepts to the Nazis was the Volk. Although this term is often confused with "race," is actually goes well beyond that. In this context, "Volk" refers more to a "community" rather than a "people." Much of the book investigates this concept and how it was manipulated to marginalize groups such as the Jews, gypsies, and other "undesirables." A chapter is spent discussing how racism was worked into the law, legalizing the treatment of non-members of the Volk.
While many Germans agreed with at least parts of the Party's ideological stance, there were still difficulties. While many would support it in the abstract, we found that quite a surprising number tried not to let these policies interfere with their own lives. Many Party leaders were frustrated that while they were working to remove Jews from the community, their neighbors and comrades still dealt with these people as though nothing had changed.
The last chapters deal with the racial warriors and the racial war they fought at home. Between the SA and the SS, there were two radical approaches to the racial conflict. Here, the reader is shown how these two approaches were developed. The similarities and differences between the SA and SS are discussed, and how they came about. This section helps to gain somewhat of an understanding of the men in these organizations, and what drove them.
This book is more of a sociology book than a history book. However, for the historian, it a good resource to help understand some of the events of the Third Reich era. It probably isn't for the casual reader, but one should expect to be educated from it.
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General Douglas MacArthur at Leyte, 17 Oct 1944