Posts Tagged ‘Nazis’

Life and death in Ukraine under Nazi rule

April 26, 2022

HARVEST OF DESPAIR: Life and Death in Ukraine Under Nazi Rule by Karel C. Berkhoff (2004)

Ukraine was the scene of two of the most murderous episodes of 20th century history.

The first was the Holodomor, which was the systematic starvation of Ukrainian and other peasants by Joseph Stalin in 1929-1933 as part of the drive to collectivize agriculture, combined with the suppression of Ukrainian culture.  Nobody knows for sure how many people died as a result, but the consensus is that they numbered more than 3 million.  Robert Conquest’s Harvest of Sorrow documents this event in its full horror.

The second was the Nazi occupation of Ukraine in 1941-1944.  The Nazis’ immediate objective in Ukraine was to use it as a breadbasket to feed the German army and people.  Its long-range objective was to depopulate Ukraine, by means of starvation and killing, so as to open it up for German pioneer settlers, with only a remnant of the Ukrainian people left to serve as slaves of the occupiers.

That story is told in Karel C. Berkhoff’s Harvest of Despair,  a history of Reichskommissariat Ukraine, the short-lived colony the Nazis set up on Ukrainian soil.

Berkhoff’s best estimate is that one million civilians and prisoners of war were deliberately killed or starved to death by the Nazi occupiers of Ukraine.

The dead mainly included (1) Jews and Roma (gypsies), (2) prisoners of war, (3) urban populations the Nazis deemed useless and (4) people killed during the German retreat in 1944 as part of a scorched earth policy.

Of course these killings are a small part of what would have happened if Nazi rule had become permanent.

I had a notion that this book would provide an explanation of present-day Ukrainians’ admiration for the Nazi-like Stepan Bandera.  My idea was that Ukrainians’ hatred for Russians arose during the Holodomor and was the reason for their admiration for Bandera, a nationalist who thought he could use the Nazis to create an independent Ukrainian state.

Berkhoff’s book provides no support whatsoever for my notion.  He said the basic attitudes of Ukrainians, despite their great suffering, were unchanged during the period he wrote about.

Ukrainians were so demoralized by Soviet rule that most of them were incapable of organized resistance.  Stalin’s rule had created a culture of mistrust and denunciation.  Anybody could denounce anybody else for what they allegedly said or did.   You could not trust anyone outside your immediate family or your closest friends.  This universal suspicion continued under Nazi rule.

Ukrainians during this period did not hate Russians, but regarded them as fellow victims of Soviets and Nazis, Berkhoff wrote.  When they spoke of “our people,” they meant both Ukrainians and Russians.


Lessons from Hitler’s rise to power

August 6, 2019

Benjamin Carter Hett’s THE DEATH OF DEMOCRACY: Hitler’s Rise to Power and the Downfall of the Weimar Republic is a month-by-month account of the politics of the years leading up to the Nazi conquest of power in Germany.

Hett described how Hitler went from 2.8 percent of the popular vote in the 1928 elections to 37.6 percent in 1932,  how he leveraged Nazi voting strength to make himself chancellor by legal means in 1933 and how all pretense of legality ended in the “night of the long knives” in 1934.

That was when Hitler destroyed all remnants of legality by simply ordering the execution-style murder of his opponents, including dissidents in the Nazi party.

Adolph Reed Jr. said in an Interview that Hett’s book is not only good in itself, but it throws light on contemporary U.S. politics.  In fact it does have lessons for the present-day United States, although not in a straightforward or obvious way.

A number of European countries, following defeat in World War One and with middle classes threatened by powerful Communist movements, became right-wing dictatorships.  Fascist Italy led the way.

Germany followed a different path.  A Communist revolution was crushed by a government supported by Social Democrats.   Socialists then joined forces with the Catholic Center Party and moderate conservative parties to form a democratic government.

The democratic coalition worked for a number of years.  The economy recovered.  Inflation was curbed.

Germany became a model for democratic socialism.  Labor unions were powerful.  The government provided compulsory wage arbitration and a strong social safety net.  Homosexuality and abortion were legal.

But, like today’s USA, Weimar Germany struggled with the issue of globalization vs. economic nationalism.

One big issue Weimar Germany had in common with the present-day USA was the question of globalization vs. economic nationalism.

The governing coalition accepted the need to pay reparations for Germany’s supposed guilt for starting World War One and to back their currency with gold.  Both were seen as the price of participating in the world economy.

The right-wing nationalists, including the Nazis, objected to these policies because they denied Germany the means to pay for rearmament and a large army.  They also objected to globalization on principle.  The Nazis wanted to end reparations, abrogate international trade treaties, limit foreign trade and make Germany as self-sufficient as possible.

The refugee crisis was another big issue.  An estimated 1.5 million refugees entered Germany between 1918 and 1922.  Most of them were Germans from former German territory in France and Poland, and many were refugees from Bolshevik Russia, but a lot of them were Jews.

Many Germans worried about their country’s inability to secure its borders. The Nazi position was to expel all refugees and also all Jews, refugees or not.

Weimar Germany had its own version of identity politics, which however was based on social class and religion rather than race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation.  By identity politics, I mean politics based on an affirmation that your own group is good and other groups are bad, rather than politics based on getting what you and your group want.

The identity group to which the Nazis and other right-wing nationalists appealed were the rural and middle-class German Protestants.  The American and British image of Weimar Germany is based on Berlin, but more than a third of Germans lived in villages of fewer than 2,000 people.  Rural Protestants tended to be highly religious, respectful of authority and nostalgic for the Germany of Kaiser Wilhelm.


Jordan Peterson on the totalitarian temptation

June 25, 2018

One of Jordan Peterson’s core ideas is the human capacity for evil, and his great examples are the crimes of Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia and Communist China.

What’s notable about all three, he wrote, is not just the atrocities committed by the ruling party, but that the regimes were sustained by the consent of ordinary people.

Under certain circumstances, Peterson believes, almost all of us are potential secret police informers and concentration camp guards.

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn

His heroes are people such as Viktor Frankl, the Viennese psychiatrist who found a meaning in life to sustain him in a Nazi death camp; Vaclav Havel, who lived in truth despite his frequent imprisonments in Communist Czechoslovakia; and, above all, the great Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, who survived Soviet forced-labor camps and found a way to tell the world about them.

Havel condemned those who went along with the regime, such as the greengrocer who put up a sign saying “workers of the world, unite” because doing so is a path of least resistance.  Solzhenitsyn went so far as to blame himself for helping make the Gulag possible by failing to contract the Soviet regime’s lying propaganda.

So the choice is stark.  Either be willing to say “no,” no matter what the cost, or be a potential cog in a killing machine.

What is it today to which we need to say “no”?

It is whether to go along with unprovoked military aggression, assassinations, preventive detention, torture of suspects, warrantless surveillance and all the other practices of police states—all of which have come to be accepted as normal.

Ordinary Americans let themselves be led, step-by-step, to committing atrocities such as the My Lai massacre or the Abu Ghraib tortures.  Until more of us learn to say “no”, we will be just like ordinary Germans in the book Peterson discusses in the video above.


Tyranny, Trump and Timothy Snyder

June 26, 2017

Timothy Snyder, a historian of the Hitler-Stalin era, has written an eloquent and heartfelt little book—On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Centurywarning that democracy could perish in the United States of today just as it did in Europe in the 1930s.

Just as no couple making love for the last time ever realize it is the last time, he wrote, so no person voting in a free election for the last time realizes it is the last time.

On Tyranny contains 20 timeless principles for defenders of democracy.    The principles are illustrated by ominous stories of how the mass of people failed to resist Nazi and Communist tyranny and inspirational stories of how a few did.

Then come claims that Vladimir Putin is like Hitler and Stalin and that Donald Trump is like all three, and a call to be ready to resist.

Snyder has done well to remind Americans of the fundamental principles of democracy and the need to defend them.

But the need for the reminder didn’t originate with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.  As Glenn Greenwald, Conor Friedersdorf and others have warned, these dangers have existed since enactment of the USA Patriot Act in 2001, and before.

During the Bush and Obama administrations, the government has claimed the power to engage in acts of war, order assassinations, spy on citizens, and bypass due process of law and also to imprison anyone who reveals what is going on.  Until this changes, every President is a potential tyrant, not just Donald Trump.


The Jewish scene: November 6, 2015

November 6, 2015

These links are from my expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack and his friend Marty.

THE Most Amazing Falafel Assembly OF ALL TIME    🙂

The Soldier Who Voluntarily Became A Prisoner in Auschwitz

[Not about Jews, but an interesting story nevertheless -M]

Hitler & the Muslims

[2 books reviewed from ‘The NY Review of Books’ -M]

She gives me partridges – Domineering, drunk, anti-Semitic: The composer Alma Mahler sought relationships with Jewish men.  She wanted to “improve” them

Preaching to the converted: how Kabbalah keeps on growing

This Day in History: October 30, 1944 – Margo and Anne

[The last days of the Frank sisters -M]


Why Hitler is the benchmark for evil

September 14, 2015

Comparisons with Hitler and the Nazis are thrown about freely these days.  Compulsory vaccination, the Tea Party movement, President Obama, Planned Parenthood and Donald Trump have all been compared to Hitler and the Nazis.

People who talk like that have forgotten, or maybe never knew, just what Hitler and the Nazis stood for and what they attempted to do.

Over the weekend, I read an article about Hitler by the historian Timothy Snyder and an interview with Snyder about his new book, Black Earth, which made clear just how distinctively evil Hitler was.

adolf-hitlerHitler was a racist who believed, literally, that Germans had no more in common with inferior races such as the Slavs than they did with animals.

He thought Germans had a right and duty to kill off members of inferior races to reduce their population and make room for Germans, and to treat the survivors as work animals.

The slaughter of World War Two and the death camps were only a foretaste of what would have happened if the Nazis had won.

As Snyder wrote, Hitler thought that, literally, nothing mattered but the biological struggle for survival between different races.   There are racists, like Harper Lee’s fictional Atticus Finch, who believe that some races are inherently superior, but that the superior race should treat inferiors with justice and kindness provided they “know their place”.

Hitler would have none of this.  He thought kindness toward the weak was a fatal weakness in the struggle for existence.  He saw the world as overpopulated, and believed Germans could create living space for themselves only by slaughtering the inhabitants of eastern Europe and taking their land..

Nations and governments were of little importance in Hitler’s mind.   Ultimate reality for him was the racial struggle for existence.


How could Ukrainians embrace Naziism?

February 3, 2015
Azov battalion of the Ukrainian army. Click to enlarge

Azov battalion of the Ukrainian army. Click to enlarge.

Source: Cannonfire.

I cannot understand how a Ukrainian could be a Nazi.

Given the purges and starvation imposed on Ukraine by Stalin, it is not surprising that many Ukrainians welcomed the invading Germans as liberators in 1941.  But they soon learned better.

Wikipedia says the Nazis killed 17 million people, including 6 million Jews and 11 million others, mostly Slavs.

Between 1941 and 1945, approximately 3 million Ukrainian and other gentile victims were killed as part of Nazi extermination policies in the territory of modern Ukraine. 

More Ukrainians were killed fighting the Wehrmacht than American, British, and French soldiers combined.

Original plans of genocide called for the extermination of 65 percent of the nation’s 23.2 million Ukrainians, with the remainder of inhabitants to be treated as slaves.  Over 2 million Ukrainians were deported to Germany for slave labor. 

In ten years’ time, the plan effectively called for the extermination, expulsion, Germanization or enslavement of most or all Ukrainians.

via Holocaust victims – Wikipedia.

The picture above shows members of the Azov battalion of the Ukrainian army.  Notice whose portrait is being held up.  Andriy Biletsky, the commander of the Azov battalion, has been quoted as follows.

From the mass of individuals must arise the Nation; and from weak modern man, Superman… The historic mission of our Nation in this watershed century is to lead the White Races of the world in the final crusade for their survival: a crusade against semite-led sub-humanity… The task of the present generation is to create a Third Empire — Great Ukraine… If we are strong, we take what is ours by right and even more; we will build a Superpower-Empire…

via Azov Battalion – Wikipedia.

I hope and believe Azov is unrepresentative of a majority of Ukrainians, not to mention the Russians, Tatars, Jews, Poles and other ethnic groups in Ukraine.

Azov+neo+naziBut the present Ukrainian government accepts Azov’s display of Nazi symbols.   The Ukraine, along with the USA and Canada, were the only countries to vote against a United Nations resolution condemning the glorification of Naziism.

There are neo-Nazis in the Russian Federation who’ve murdered Central Asian immigrants.  There have even been neo-Nazi skinheads in Israel some years back, among Russian immigrants whose Jewish identity evidently wasn’t strong.  There are neo-Nazis in other countries, too.   But there are no neo-Nazis in countries other than Ukraine, that I know of, with official acceptance.

Maybe one reason why Naziism is acceptable among a segment of Ukrainians is that the old Soviet Union treated Naziism as a kind of benchmark of evil, and Ukrainians understandably felt that whatever the Communists said must be the opposite of the truth.

Many people around the world have embraced fascism because they think it is the opposite of Communism, and vice versa.


The Nazis were good for business (until the end)

April 25, 2014

Nazi is an abbreviation for “National Socialist” which is a short form of “National Socialist German Workers Party,” but they were not, in fact, a left-wing or socialist party under any reasonable definition.

The Nazis were opponents of free enterprise.  They did not believe in the unregulated free market.  But they were not opponents of capitalism.   The capitalists did very well under the Nazi regime.

Source: The Wages of Destruction, by Adam Tooz.  Click to enlarge

Source: The Wages of Destruction, by Adam Tooze.   Click to enlarge

I have read The Wages of Destruction, and it refutes the notion that Hitler was a madman — evil, yes, but not without reasons for what he did.  Hitler’s idea was that Germany could be a great nation only if it had access to resources equal to the great continental nations, the United States and Soviet Russia, or the great overseas empires, Britain and France.

To accomplish this, after coming to power in 1933, he planned to conquer and depopulate Poland, Belarus, Ukraine and Russia in order to create “living space” for the Germans.  Ukrainians and Poles were starved so that the German population could be fed.  Even Hitler’s anti-Semitism, even though it didn’t have an economic motive, served an economic purpose.  Confiscation of Jewish property helped to finance the Nazi regime.

Click to enlarge,

Source: Thomas Piketty, Capital in the 21st Century.   Click to enlarge,

This chart shows that, in Germany under Hitler, holders of financial assets received about a third of the national income, while in the United States under the New Deal, they received less than one-fourth.   Piketty’s statistics only go through 1938, but the German capitalists did very well in the early days of the war, when they were able to buy up property and companies in conquered countries at bargain rates.

Of course in the end the Hitler regime ended disastrously for everybody, including the Nazis themselves.   Germany later achieved prosperity and a dominant position in Europe in the way it always could have done — but developing its industry and its human resources.

The Hitler and Stalin regimes were both one-party dictatorships exercising absolute power, and both were among history’s greatest mass killers.  But instead of being regarded as two examples of the same thing, they have been regarded as opposite extremes, both in their time and the present.

The explanation is in the charts.   Under Lenin and Stalin, capitalist wealth was confiscated.  Under Mussolini and Hitler, the capitalists lost their power, but continued to enjoy their incomes and affluent ways of life.  That is the difference.


I took the charts from this post and this post on Corey Robin’s web log.

What fascism is, and isn’t

March 4, 2014

Fascism and the Future, Part One: Up From Newspeak

Fascism and the Future, Part Two: The Totalitarian Center

Fascism and the Future, Part Three: Weimar America

Since the word “fascism” is being bandied about fairly loosely, I recommend these articles by John Michael Greer of Cumberland, Md., for anyone who is interested in the historic definitions of fascism and national socialism.

I read somewhere — I can’t verify the fact, but I believe it – that Stalin banned the use of the word “Nazi.”  The Communists instead referred to “fascists” and “Hitlerites” because the term “national socialism” might invite comparisons with the Soviet regime.

I have a couple of minor quibbles with Greer.  He is correct in saying that the Nazis were not conservatives, and that German conservatives were not comfortable with them.  But it also is true that the German business owners were allowed to continue enjoying their profits while German labor leaders went to concentration camps.

The reason that most of the internal opposition to the Nazis came from conservatives was that the socialists and Communists were in concentration camps.  That is not because the Nazis were in fact conservative, but they needed a functioning army and functioning industry and needed (temporarily) the existing Army officers and industrialists.

His last article is a scenario in which a Hitler could arise in the United States, as a populist reaction to the failure of the U.S. government instead of (as happened in Spain, Chile and Argentina) a counter-revolution imposed from above.

I don’t think his scenario is impossible.  I don’t think the United States can continue as it is, but change is not necessarily for the better.

I think Greer neglects the degree in which the existing U.S. national security apparatus is made to order for a Hitler.   But, as I said, these are minor quibbles.  His articles are a good review of the historical background and meanings of the words “fascist” and “national socialist”.