Category Archives: Germany

Naval Build Up to WWI



Rise and fall in the Third Reich: Nazi party members and social advancement



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Alan de Bromhead, Queen’s University Belfast

When people look to the past to try and make sense of the economic and political upheaval of the years since the 2008 financial crisis, they are regularly drawn to the events in the two decades running up to World War II. On the surface, the parallels are striking. The aftermath of a global economic crisis – the Great Depression – witnessed the rise of extreme political groups and a rejection of the previous liberal economic order in favour of nationalist and authoritarian policies.

We know the consequences of the economic and political events of the 1930s. The full consequences of current events are obviously still unknown.

Of course, history is not destiny and we should always be cautious about going too far in drawing comparisons with the past. The past is, as L.P. Hartley put it, a foreign country. But can we learn anything from the extremism of the 1930s? More specifically, can we understand how extremist groups emerged and developed and what kind of people became members?

Understanding what motivated millions of ordinary Germans to support the Nazi party (NSDAP) has been the goal of historians and political scientists for decades. Studies that highlight their popularity among certain social classes are probably the most venerable and persistent. And the sociologist Seymour Lipset was among the first to describe the typical Nazi voter in 1932 as:

A middle-class self-employed Protestant who lived either on a farm or in a small community, and who had previously voted for a centrist or regionalist political party strongly opposed to the power and influence of big business and big labour.

Others, such as American historian William Brustein, have tried to rationalise support for the Nazi party by highlighting economic self-interest. Individuals whose material interests were aligned with the party’s platform would be more likely to become members.

But other studies argue that the Nazis drew support from the marginalised in society or had a mass appeal across the political spectrum. Perhaps the only group for which there is a near consensus regarding support for the Nazis is Catholics: consistently, Catholics appear to have been less likely to vote for the NSDAP or to become members of the party. So, who exactly were the Nazis?

Climbing the ladder

In our research we revisited this old question with new and more detailed data. We examined a unique dataset of about 10,000 World War II German soldiers from the 1930s and 1940s, which contains detailed information on social background such as occupation and education, as well as other characteristics such as religion, criminal record and military service.

We looked at membership of different Nazi organisations among these individuals, not just the political party, the NSDAP, but also the paramilitary SA (Sturmabteilung) and SS (Schutzstaffel) as well as the Hitler Youth.

Members of the SS marching in formation on Nazi Party Day, Nuremberg. Germany, September 1937.
Everett Historical via Shutterstock

We found that members of Nazi organisations – whether they were early joiners who signed up in the 1920s or those who joined the party in the 1940s – were more likely to come from high-status backgrounds and had higher levels of education, with people from a higher-status background almost twice as likely to join the Nazi party as someone from a lower-status background. We also confirmed that Catholics were less likely to be members of all Nazi organisations.

Such detailed data allowed us to dig deeper into the backgrounds of Nazi members. As we knew the social background of a person’s father from the records we were able to look at how far up the social ladder Nazi members climbed relative to those that did not join.

As expected, Nazi members appeared to have advanced further than non-members, for example moving up from occupations categorised as “skilled”, such as a tailor to a semi-professional job, such as teacher. What is most surprising, however, is that this advancement does not appear to have been driven by the party rewarding its members with higher-status positions.

By looking at the roles that these individuals were trained for early on in their careers, and not just their stated occupations, we find that social climbing was driven by early movements up the social ladder – Nazi organisations seem to have attracted upwardly mobile individuals.

Indeed this seems to have been the case not just for the Nazi party itself, but also the SS, SA and Hitler Youth. These were people who were already making their way in life. Although we cannot say from the data whether members benefited in other ways, such as through direct financial rewards or non-monetary benefits, the greater social advancement of Nazi members that we do observe does not appear to have been driven directly by membership.

What does this all mean for our understanding of the type of people that joined Nazi organisations? While it is impossible to uncover exactly what motivated people to join the Nazis, our findings suggest that many educated and ambitious people from the higher end of the social scale were attracted to the movement.

The study not only helps us to understand how the Nazi party emerged and came to power in the years before WWII but also gives us an insight into how extremist organisations can form and attract members more generally. It reminds us that we need to think beyond pure ideology when it comes to motivations for joining extremist groups and look at economic and social factors too.The Conversation

Alan de Bromhead, Senior Lecturer in Economics, Queen’s University Belfast

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Russia and Kaliningrad/Konigsberg



Who won the war? We did, says everyone



Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin and Franklin D Roosevelt at the Yalta Conference, 1945.
Wikipedia

Nick Chater, Warwick Business School, University of Warwick

Ask any of the few remaining World War II veterans what they did during the war and you’re likely to get a humble answer. But ask the person on the street how important their country’s contribution to the war effort was and you’ll probably hear something far less modest. A new study suggests people from Germany, Russia, the UK and the US on average all think their own country shouldered more than half the burden of fighting World War II.

Our national collective memories seem to be deceiving us, and this is part of a far more general pattern. Aside from those veterans who have no desire to revel in the horrors of war, we may have a general psychological tendency to believe our contributions are more significant than they really are.

You can see this in even the most mundane of tasks. Unloading the dishwasher can be a perennial source of family irritation. I suspect that I’m doing more than my fair share. The trouble is that so does everybody else. Each of us can think: “The sheer injustice! I’m overworked and under-appreciated.”

But we can’t all be right. This strange magnification of our own efforts seems to be ubiquitous. In business, sport or entertainment, it’s all too easy for each participant to think that their own special stardust is the real reason their company, team or show was a hit.

It works for nations, too. A study last year, led by US memory researcher Henry Roediger III, asked people from 35 countries for the percentage contribution their own nation has made to world history. A dispassionate judge would, of course, assign percentages that add up to no more than 100% (and, indeed, considerably less, given the 160 or so countries left out). In fact, the self-rating percentages add up to over 1,000%, with citizens of India, Russia and the UK each suspecting on average that their own nations had more than half the responsibility for world progress.

A sceptic might note that “contributing to world history” is a rather nebulous idea, which each nation can interpret to its advantage. (The Italians, at 40%, might focus on the Romans and the Renaissance, for example.) But what about our responsibility for specific world events? The latest study from Roediger’s lab addresses the question of national contributions to World War II.

The researchers surveyed people from eight former Allied countries (Australia, Canada, China, France, New Zealand, Russia/USSR, the UK and the US) and three former Axis powers (Germany, Italy and Japan). As might be expected, people from the winning Allied side ranked their own countries highly, and the average percentage responses added up to 309%. Citizens of the UK, US and Russia all believed their countries had contributed more than 50% of the war effort and were more than 50% responsible for victory.

World War II deaths by country. How would you work out which country contributed the most?
Dna-Dennis/Wikimedia Commons

You might suspect that the losing Axis powers, whose historical record is inextricably tied to the immeasurable human suffering of the war, might not be so proud. As former US president John F Kennedy said (echoing the Roman historian Tacitus): “Victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan.” Perhaps the results for the Allied countries just reflect a general human tendency to claim credit for positive achievements. Yet citizens of the three Axis powers also over-claim shares of the war effort (totalling 140%). Rather than minimising their own contribution, even defeated nations seem to overstate their role.

Why? The simplest explanation is that we piece together answers to questions, of whatever kind, by weaving together whatever relevant snippets of information we can bring to mind. And the snippets of information that come to mind will depend on the information we’ve been exposed to through our education and cultural environment. Citizens of each nation learn a lot more about their country’s own war effort than those of other countries. These “home nation” memories spring to mind, and a biased evaluation is the inevitable result.

So there may not be inherent “psychological nationalism” in play here. And nothing special about collective, rather than individual, memory either. We simply improvise answers, perhaps as honestly as possible, based on what our memory provides – and our memory, inevitably, magnifies our own (or our nation’s) efforts.

How do you calculate real responsibility?

A note of caution is in order. Assigning responsibilities for past events baffles not just everyday citizens, but academic philosophers. Imagine a whodunit in which two hopeful murderers put lethal doses of cyanide into Lady Fotherington’s coffee. Each might say: “It’s not my fault – she would have died anyway.” Is each only “half” to blame, and hence due a reduced sentence? Or are they both 100% culpable? This poisoning is a simple matter compared with the tangled causes of military victory and defeat. So it is not entirely clear what even counts as over- or under-estimating our responsibilities because responsibilities are so difficult to assess.

Still, the tendency to overplay our own and our nation’s role in just about anything seems all too plausible. We see history through a magnifying glass that is pointing directly at ourselves. We learn the most about the story of our own nation. So our home nation’s efforts and contributions inevitably spring readily to mind (military and civilian deaths, key battles, advances in technology and so on). The efforts and contributions of other nations are sensed more dimly, and often not at all.

And the magnifying glass over our efforts is pervasive in daily life. I can find myself thinking irritably, as I unload the dishwasher, “Well, I don’t even remember the last time you did this!” But of course not. Not because you didn’t do it, but because I wasn’t there.The Conversation

Nick Chater, Professor of Behavioural Science, Warwick Business School, University of Warwick

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


The Free City of Danzig



WWII: Appeasement



Austria: The Anschluss



The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact



WWII: Germany Invades Denmark



When science is put in the service of evil



File 20190307 82665 1o7jut6.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Nazi leadership saw medical and pharmaceutical research as a front-line tool to contribute to the war effort.
Akanbatt / Pixabay

Francisco López-Muñoz, Universidad Camilo José Cela

The Holocaust is one of the worst collective crimes in the history of humanity – and medical science was complicit in the horrors.

After World War II, evidence was given at the Nuremberg Trials of reprehensible research carried out on humans. This includes subjects being frozen, infected with tuberculosis, or having limbs amputated.

There was also specific research into pharmacology that is less well-known, as can be seen from the articles we have published over the past 15 years.




Read more:
Is it ethical to use data from Nazi medical experiments?


The prestige of German medicine

German pharmacology and chemistry enjoyed great international prestige from the second half of the 19th century.

This golden age ended with the Nazi Party’s rise to power in 1933 and was replaced with institutionalised criminal behaviour in public health and human research.

At the beginning of World War II, Nazi leadership saw medical and pharmaceutical research as a front-line tool to contribute to the war effort and reduce the impact of injury, disease and epidemics on troops.

Nazi leaders believed concentration camps were a source of “inferior beings” and “degenerates” who could (and should) be used as research subjects.

German pharmacology and medicine lost all dignity. As Louis Falstein pointed out:

the Nazis prostituted law, perverted education and corrupted the civil service, but they made killers out of physicians.

The rise of eugenics in central Europe at the beginning of the 20th century paved the way for the Nazi government to implement a disastrous policy of “racial hygiene”.

The Aktion T4 Programme

The Nazi ideology promoted the persecution of those who were considered “abnormal”, as part of the Aktion T4 program.

September 1, 1939 – the date of the start of World War II – marked the beginning of the mass extermination of patients with “deficiencies” or mental conditions, who were deemed to be “empty human shells”.

Aktion 4 patients getting on a bus, 1941.
Wikimedia Commons

At first, the crimes were carried out via carbon monoxide poisoning.

In 1941, a second phase was launched: so-called “discrete euthanasia” via a lethal injection of drugs such as opiates and scopolamine (anti-neausea medication), or the use of low-doses of barbiturates to cause terminal pneumonia.

These techniques were combined with food rations and turning off the hospital heating during winter.

These euthanasia programmes led to what amounted to psychiatric genocide, with the murder of more than 250,000 patients. This is possibly the most heinous criminal act in the history of medicine.

Experimenting with healthy subjects

Medical experimentation became another tool of political power and social control, over both sick people from the T4 Program, as well as healthy people.

Those in good health were recruited in the concentration camps of ostracised ethnic or social groups such as Jews, Gypsies, Slavs and homosexuals.

A number of experiments were undertaken, including the study of:

  • the effect of sulfonamides (antibiotics) on induced gas gangrene (Ravensbrück)
  • the use of the toxic chemical formalin for female sterilisation (Auschwitz-Birkenau)
  • the use of vaccines and other drugs to prevent or treat people intentionally infected with malaria (Dachau)
  • the effects of methamphetamine in extreme exercise (Sachsenhausen)
  • the anaesthetic properties of hexobarbital (a barbiturate derivative) and chloral hydrate (a sedative) in amputations (Buchenwald)
  • the use of barbiturates and high doses of mescaline (a hallucinogenic drug) in “brainwashing” studies (Auschwitz and Dachau).
Block 10 of the Auschwitz concentration camp, where medical experiments with prisoners were carried out.
Francisco López Muñoz

Faced with all this evidence, how it is possible that up to 45% of German doctors joined the Nazi party? No other profession reached these figures of political affiliation.

What were the reasons and circumstances that led to these perverse abuses?

The banality of evil in medicine

The answer is difficult. Many doctors argued that regulations were designed for the benefit of the nation and not the patient. They invoked such misleading concepts as “force majeure” or “sacred mission”.




Read more:
Two steps forward, one step back: how World War II changed how we do human research


Some believed everything was justified by science, even the inhumane experiments carried out in the camps, while others considered themselves patriots and their actions were justified by the needs of wartime.

Some were followers of the perverse Nazi ethos and others, the more ambitious, became involved in these activities as a means of promoting their professional and academic careers.

Lastly, avoiding association with the Nazi apparatus may have been difficult in a health sector where fear had become a system of social pressure and control.

A monument by Richard Serra in Berlin honouring of the victims of the Aktion 4 programme.
Wikimedia Commons

Arturo Pérez-Reverte, in his book Purity of Blood, defines this type of motivation very well:

… although all men are capable of good and evil, the worst are always those who, when they administer evil, do so on the authority of others or on the pretext of carrying out orders.

However, as has happened in many moments of history, sometimes tragedies bring positive posthumous effects.

After the trial of the Nazi doctors, the first international code of ethics for research with human beings was enacted, the Nuremberg Code, under the Hippocratic precept “primun non nocere”. This code has had immense influence on human rights and bioethics.




Read more:
Two steps forward, one step back: how World War II changed how we do human research


The Conversation


Francisco López-Muñoz, Profesor Titular de Farmacología y Director de la Escuela Internacional de Doctorado, Universidad Camilo José Cela

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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