The presidency of Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Fuhrer, is terrorizing many across the globe but perhaps nowhere more than Germany which knows from history the dangers of people like Trump and the price of that complacency and failure to act early to prevent the advance of evil. Donald Trump has been in office a mere 14 days yet it already seems like an eternity in some ways. With each day we have seen more autocratic and bizarre behavior coming from the current occupant of the White House. First the Muslim ban - which excludes, of course Muslim nations where Trump has investments - and now a likely license to discriminate law that will give special rights and preferences to Christian extremists. Then there is the threat to send American troops into Mexico, the threat to take military action against Iran, the threatening and rude telephone conversation with the Prime Minister of Australia, a steadfast American ally for over 100 years. Oh, and let's not forget the threat to take away federal funds from the University of California at Berkley and the appointment of Christian Right extremists Jerry Falwell Jr. to head an education reform task force. A piece in the German publication Zeit looks at the mistakes made by 1930's Germans. The same mistakes are now being made on 2017 America. Here are article excerpts:
Is there reason to worry? No, thought Nikolaus Sieveking, an employee at Hamburg’s World Economy Archive. "I find the act of viewing Hitler’s chancellorship as a sensational event to be childish enough that I will leave that to his loyal followers," he wrote in his diary on Jan. 30, 1933.
Like Sieveking, many Germans didn’t initially recognize this date as a dramatic turning point. Few sensed what Hitler’s appointment as chancellor actually meant, and many reacted to the event with shocking indifference.
The chancellor of the presidential cabinet had changed twice in 1932 -- Heinrich Brüning was replaced in early June by Franz von Papen, who was replaced in early December by Kurt von Schleicher. People had almost gotten used to this tempo. Why should the Hitler government be anything more than just an episode? In the Wochenschau news programs shown in cinemas, the swearing-in of the new cabinet came last, after the major sporting events.
This, despite the fact that Hitler had plainly explained in "Mein Kampf" and countless speeches before 1933 what he wanted to do once in power: to abolish the democratic "system" of Weimar Germany, to "eradicate" Marxism (by which he meant both social democracy and communism) and to "remove" the Jews from Germany. As for foreign policy, he made no secret of the fact that he wanted to revise the Versailles Treaty and that his long-term goal was the conquering of "Lebensraum in the East."
German President Paul von Hindenburg’s camarilla, which had hoisted him to power through a series of intrigues, agreed with Hitler’s goals of preventing a return to parliamentary democracy, of cutting the chains of the Versailles Treaty, massively arming the military and once again making Germany the dominant power in Europe. As for the rest of Hitler’s stated intentions, his conservative coalition partners were inclined to dismiss them as mere rhetoric. Once he was in power, they argued, he would become more reasonable.
Hitler’s thirst for power couldn’t have been more grossly underestimated. . . . . Big-business representatives shared the same illusion. In an editorial in the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, which had close ties to heavy industry, editor-in-chief Fritz Klein wrote that working together with the Nazis would be "difficult and exhausting," but that people had to dare to take "the leap into darkness" because the Hitler movement had become the strongest political actor in Germany. The head of the Nazi party would now have to prove "whether he really had what is needed in order to become a statesman." The stock market didn’t seem spooked either -- people were waiting to see what would happen.
The conservatives who helped Hitler rise to power, and his opponents in the republican camp, were wrong in their assessment of the true division of power.
The big liberal newspapers also argued that nothing truly terrible would happen. Theodor Wolff, the editor-in-chief of the Berliner Tageblatt saw the cabinet as the embodiment of what the united right-wing political groups had wanted since their meeting in Bad Harzburg in 1931. He opened his editorial on Jan. 31 by writing: "It has been achieved. Hitler is the Reich Chancellor, Hugenberg is the economics dictator and the positions have been distributed as the men of the ‘Harzburger Front’ had wanted." The new government, he argued, would try anything to "intimidate and silence opponents." A ban on the Communist Party was on the agenda, he thought, as well as a curtailing of the freedom of the press. But even the imagination of this otherwise so clear-sighted journalist didn’t go far enough to conceive the power of a totalitarian dictatorship. He argued there was a "border that violence would not cross." The German people, who were always proud of the "freedom of thought and of speech," would create a "soulful and intellectual resistance" and stifle all attempts to establish a dictatorship.
With their strict insistence on the legalities of the constitution, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) leadership overlooked the fact that the previous presidential governments had already hollowed the constitution and that Hitler would not hesitate to destroy its last vestiges.
The dangers emanating from Hitler could not have been more grotesquely misread. Most of the leading Social Democrats and unionists had grown up in the German Kaiserreich. They could imagine repression similar to Bismarck’s anti-socialist law, but not that someone would seriously try to destroy the workers’ movement in its entirety.
The fact that Hitler’s appointment meant that a fanatical anti-Semite had come to power should have made Germany’s Jews, above all, nervous. But that was not the case at all. In a statement given on Jan. 30, the chair of the Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith said, "In general, today more than ever we must follow the directive: wait calmly." He said that although one watches the new government "of course with deep suspicion," President Hindenburg represents the "calming influence." He said there was no reason to doubt his "sense of justice" and "loyalty to the constitution." As a result, he said, one should be convinced that "nobody would dare" to "touch our constitutional rights."
Foreign diplomats also made false assumptions about the nature of the change of power. The American consul general in Berlin, George S. Messersmith, believed that it was difficult to make a clear prediction about the future of the Hitler government and spoke of his assumption that it represented a transitional phenomenon on the road to a more stable political situation. To British Ambassador Horace Rumbold, it seemed like the conservatives had managed to successfully fence in the Nazis. But he also predicted that there would soon be conflicts between the unequal coalition partners because Papen’s and Hugenberg’s goal of restoring the monarchy could not be reconciled with Hitler’s plans. He recommended that the Foreign Office should take a wait-and-see attitude toward the new government.
Rarely has a political project so rapidly been revealed to be a chimera as the idea that the conservatives would "tame" the Nazis. In terms of tactical cunning, Hitler towered high above his cabinet allies and opponents. In a short time, he had upstaged them and driven them against the wall, dislodging Papen from of his preferential position with Hindenburg and forcing Hugenberg to resign.
Hitler needed only five months to establish his power. By the summer of 1933, fundamental rights and the constitution had been suspended, the states had been forced into conformity, the unions crushed, the political parties banned or dissolved, press and radio brought into line and the Jews stripped of their equality under the law. Everything that existed in Germany outside of the National Socialist Party had been "destroyed, dispersed, dissolved, annexed or absorbed," François-Poncet concluded in early July. Hitler, he claimed, had "won the game with little effort." "He only had to puff -- and the edifice of German politics collapsed like a house of cards."I shudder to think where things will be in five months if Americans do not quickly wake up.