Why did Germans willingly cooperate, support or passively stand
by as six million Jews were exterminated? According to Daniel
Goldhagen author of a new book Hitler's Willing Executioners:
Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, their mindset was virtually
a national psychosis and the product of a long history of anti-Semitism
embedded in German character. This is the crux of Goldhagen's
thesis about the cause of the Halocaust and it has drawn sharp
One big hole in this theory is the history of anti-Semitism throughout
Europe such as the Spanish Inquisitions, the expulsion of Jews
from Britain for almost 300 years, Jews restricted and accused
of ritual murder in Poland and let's not forget the depths of
French anti-Semitism exposed through the trial of Alfred Dreyfus.
Why didn't the Holocaust happen elsewhere in Europe? My grandmother
told me stories about Cossack massacres and Russian pogroms, and
how my family fled Poland at the turn of the century to escape
persecution, those that stayed behind were lost in the Holocaust.
I want to believe Goldhagen's easy answers. That only a sick
society plagued by relatively unique cultural hatreds could commit
such horrific crimes. Such conclusions are comforting, but actually
fail to explain Adolph Hitler's Germany. Hitler was the Holocaust.
Without comprehending the scope of Nazi power, there is no understanding
of the Holocaust. Goldhagen's theory trivializes Nazi influence,
their powers of persuasion and Hitler's ability to mold an environment
that produced a mindset capable of genocide.
Nazi Germany was not the only nation in modern history taken over
by a destructive totalitarian regime. The "killing fields"
of Cambodia, cultural revolutions in both China and Iran, Stalin's
purges and North Korea's "Great Leader" are other examples
of such terror. Likewise, no nation is immune to the parallel
powers of persuasion used by cults. Tokyo's subway gassing by
Aum and the mass suicide in Switzerland of members of the Solar
Temple are proof of that conclusion.
But my deeper interest lies in understanding the mindset produced
by controlling dictatorial groups and movements. For almost fifteen
years I have studied the process used by cults and radical groups
to mold the minds of members. Hundred of individual interventions
have afforded me an opportunity to unravel these programs of control
and provided proof of their power. I have worked with Waco Davidians,
an anti-abortion militia member and racist skinheads. Learning
first-hand how easily messianic leaders can create hatred, unreasonable
fear and make murderers.
My work began when my grandmother was confronted in a Jewish nursing home
by a crusading proselytizer. Subsequently a self-styled "Hebrew-Christian"
told me that the "Holocaust was God's judgment on the Jews for rejecting
Christ." Friederich Heer, an Austrian Catholic religious scholar and author
concluded, that the "problem of anti-Semitism can be successfully solved
only on this condition: that outraged Christians become reconciled with themselves,
that an inclusive Christian religion seeks and finds reconciliation with [people]
of other religions and beliefs." Christians like Heer have given up ethnocentric
dogma, but crusades like "Jews for Jesus," prove that many American
"born-again" Christians have not.
The book Thought Reform and Psychology of Totalism, by
Robert Lifton examines former prisoners of war, once held within
the prison camps of North Korea. Lifton outlines how people can
be changed and control achieved, by a process chillingly reminiscent
of Nazi Germany and not unlike Orwell's 1984. The process
begins with control of an environment, associations, information,
and then demands pure, absolute commitment to a movement and its
leaders. People are told to purge thoughts not consistent with
the program and a pseudo-science develops that rationalizes the
movement placing its claim and validity beyond question. A special
"loaded language" permeates the environment filled with
"thought terminating cliches." These combined elements
lock together programming individuals and producing a mindset
that can control a cult or dominate a nation.
Hitler's Third Reich manipulated the German people through what
Lifton calls the "dispensing of existence." The Nazis
drew a sharp line down "between those whose right to existence
can be recognized," the pure Aryan and "those who possess
no such right" such as the Jew, portrayed by their propaganda
as an infestation of vermin. Thus genocide became fumigation,
or as Camus said a "crime of logic." I have witnessed
the effectiveness of such propaganda myself seeing how cult leaders
like Koresh could convince followers that their families were
"satanic" and therefore easily dispense with future
communication cutting all ties. Or, demonizing the government
as many militias do enabling adherents to murder citizens seemingly
American history includes the killing of "Indians" labeled
as "savages" in the name of something called "manifest
destiny." This racist mindset rationalized by claims about
Christian triumphalism and European cultural superiority is another
example of the "dispensing of existence." How arrogant
it is for Goldhagen to condemn Germans, ignoring our own troubled
history strewn with hate and massacres. I have seen the same
denial when audiences at my lectures insist that only crazy, troubled
people are involved in cults. It could never happen to them or
anyone in their family. Unfortunately the facts indicate cult
members include some of the best and brightest in our society,
often the product of solid loving families.
In Oklahoma City people wonder how someone became the willing
executioner of 170 innocent men, women and children. But there
is a mindset behind the madness at Waco and the bombing of the
Murrah building, a subculture bubbling beneath the surface of
our society that often erupts and explodes. Hitler understood
how to exploit old hatreds, fears and national schisms. He rose
to power when Germany was beset by economic hardship and turmoil,
supported by people who wanted a sense of security. Racism, slavery,
the Klan and anti-Semitism are all part of our history.
Today American are haunted by insecurities. Corporate "down-sizing"
and a highly competitive world market have caused hardships, and
led to fear and anxiety about the future. This has provided a
platform for polemicists, demagogues and would-be messiahs. From
LaRouche to Moon, Buchannon to Bo Gritz cults militias and the
politics of hate cater to fear and seemingly offer a sense of
security, thriving on scapegoats and conspiracy theories.
An astonishing number of Americans are now influenced by conspiracy
theories. A recent poll reported that 34% of American white males
believe citizens have the right to buy and stockpile large amounts
of weapons to oppose the Federal Government. Many believe dark
forces now control the FBI, BLM, IRS, FEMA, UN and Great Britain.
Radio Internet bulletin boards, E mail, Web sites and faxes jam
the information highway with paranoia, hate has gone hi-tech.
Government employees have been threatened by groups like the
"Freeman of Jordan, Montana, now locked in a standoff with
the FBI. The Freeman, deeply anti-government and phobic about
the "new world order," have been radically changed by
the influence of their leaders, according to friends, family and
The influence of seemingly disparate, but extreme groups in the
United States has increased through networking. Cults, radical
anti-abortionists, the "Religious right," militias,
old hate groups, the far right and some so-called "conservative
Republicans" often work together. Their common agenda includes
attacks on "big government," "over regulation"
such as gun laws and supposedly returning "power to the people."
These code phrases have become thought terminating cliches, a
facade to mask an attempt to strip power from the only institution
able to hold such groups accountable.
Jerry Falwell attends a seminar sponsored by Moon's Unification
church, which controls the Washington Times, Insight,
and The World and I magazines. Congressman Sonny Bono
helps promote the agenda of the Church of Scientology through
an organization called "Parents Involved in Education which
includes many conservative Christians. The "Citizens Commission
on Human Rights," founded by Scientology, pushes a bill in
Florida which would impede child abuse investigators and abolish
the Baker act, the state's psychiatric commitment law. Scientology
also has its own lawyers, not unlike tobacco companies, to harass
and silence critics. I myself have been subjected to such harassment.
Militia groups can rely upon sympathetic ears in Congress like Representatives
Steven Stockman of Texas and Helen Chenowith of Idaho. Larry Pratt of "Gun
Owners of America," who has been linked to militias and white supremacists,
held a high-ranking position in the Buchanan campaign. Pratt has friends on
the NRA board, ties to House majority leader Richard Armey and has made contributions
to Oliver North and Stockman's campaigns, "Operation Rescue's" Randall
Terry's defense fund, " and Kirk Lyons CAUSE (now defunct). Lyons, a lawyer,
once defended white racists, has ties to the "Aryan Nations" and helped to start
the "Waco Justice Foundation."
The congressional hearing on Waco brought out not only the NRA
but cult apologists like James Tabor, Stuart Wright and Dean Kelley,
all recommend as resources by Scientology. In 1994 Leaders of
the German government called for a ban on Scientology saying it
is "not a church or a religious organization" but "a
machine for manipulating human beings."
According to Goldhagen Germany today is a "remade country."
Germans learned bitter lessons from the Nazi era. It is now
illegal for a German to possess, produce or distribute Nazi materials
and a crime to incite violence. However, the primary source for
hate literature today in Germany is the United States. In 1995
Gary Rex Lauk, of Lincoln, Nebraska, was arrested in Denmark and
extradited by the German government. Once one of the biggest
distributors of neo-Nazi propaganda in both the United States
and Europe, Lauk was the single largest source in Germany. However,
the U.S. refused to cooperate with German officials citing the
Constitution's protection of free speech.
Americans are only just beginning to face the problems posed by
radical groups and cults. Contrary to conspiracy theories promoted
by cults, militias and hate groups, they are not being persecuted
by the government, but seem instead to be rather unfairly exempted
from legal scrutiny. Equal accountability, and enforcement would
be a meaningful step in dealing with such groups. Passing tougher
laws regarding hate crimes and terrorism would help to protect
the public. Education about propaganda, coercive persuasion and
undue influence should be offered at school, along with courses
to develop or improve critical thinking skills.
Hitler changed people into "willing executioners." The Holocaust was not the product of German culture, but the result of a reign of terror brought about by the most heinous cult in human history. That tragic event forced Germans to recognize their vulnerabilities and the dangers of undue influence. Hopefully, Americans can learn from modern Germany and find hope in its solutions.