5 Myths About The Nazis People Still Believe Today
Propaganda can survive long after the people spreading it are defeated. Some of the most egregious myths told by and about the Nazis are still influencing America today. Let's take a few minutes to clear them up so you can be a better citizen and, more importantly, save a ton of time in your next online argument. You see ...
Myth: Jews Not Having Guns Led To The Holocaust
Whenever gun control is discussed in the United States, someone pops up to talk about how the Holocaust would never have happened if the Jews had been packing heat. Ben Carson, the embodiment of what would happen if Droopy Dog became HUD secretary, said, "I think the likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed." Some versions of this argument further suppose that because Germany had a gun registry, Hitler's goons knew exactly who to round up. This view also comes in convenient meme form.
Guns can help stop a tyrannical dictator, and since every president gets compared to Hitler, it wouldn't be a bad idea to stock up, right?
Truth: Gun Laws Became More Lenient Leading Up To The Holocaust
All German gun ownership was banned after World War I, but in 1928, Germany passed the Law on Firearms and Ammunition. It loosened gun regulations, but permits were needed, and all new gun purchases had to be registered. However, plenty of Germans, including Jewish citizens, just held onto their guns from World War I, so those went unregistered.
It is true that when the Nazis came to power, they sought to strip Jews, communists, union leaders, and other enemies of their guns with the help of the registry, but that registry was so incomplete that many Jews held onto their guns well into the late 1930s. In 1938, Hitler further deregulated guns with the German Weapons Act, which exempted Nazi Party members from most regulations and lowered the legal age to own a gun from 20 to 18. At this point, they were essentially handing out firearms to whoever looked the least "exotic."
The 1938 law did strip Jewish citizens of their guns, but that's an indictment of targeting specific demographics, not gun policy. Even for Jewish citizens who held onto their guns, a couple rifles wouldn't do much good when an entire army came to their doors. Remember, lax gun laws mean that the people who hate you have easy access to guns too. This was explained by Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League:
"It is mind-bending to suggest that personal firearms in the hands of the small number of Germany's Jews (about 214,000 remaining in Germany in 1938) could have stopped the totalitarian onslaught of Nazi Germany when the armies of Poland, France, Belgium and numerous other countries were overwhelmed by the Third Reich."
The French alone had 900,000 soldiers and 5 million reservists, but who'da thunk it, it's tough to stop an entire army bent on ethnic cleansing. Some Jews staged effective resistance efforts, but expecting them to have stopped the Nazis in their tracks would be like expecting a dozen guys at your local shooting range to stand a chance against a marine battalion. Regardless of your stance on guns, saying that Jews could have stopped the Holocaust if only they'd had more firepower is sleazy victim-blaming that historians have dismissed as "preposterous."
Myths: Nazis Were Socialists. After All, They Were Called "National Socialists!"
In America's ongoing game of "I'm not a Nazi, you're the Nazi," many are quick to point to the fact that Hitler's party was called the National Socialist German Workers' Party. "Socialist" is right there in the name, so this must mean that Nazis were socialists. And from there, surely anyone who wants affordable healthcare or lower college tuition is no better than Hitler.
Truth: Hitler Wasn't a Socialist; The Nazis Purged Socialists
Do you consider the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to be either democratic or a republic? Yeah, it turns out that political organizations can call themselves whatever they want. But then, why is "socialist" in the Nazi name? Noted felon and lunatic Dinesh D'Souza wrote in his totally objective book The Big Lie: Exposing The Nazi Roots Of The American Left that Hitler's socialist sympathies became clear when he said "We are socialists. We are the enemies of today's capitalist system of exploitation."
Shockingly, Hitler never said that. Those words were spoken by Gregor Strasser, who was a prominent Nazi official ... right up until he was shot and left to bleed to death in 1934 on the Night of the Long Knives, when Hitler's wing of the party murdered or arrested any rivals they saw as threats (and some prominent anti-Nazis for good measure).
The Nazi Party's history is complicated, but in its early days it was like many political parties, trying to offer a broad appeal to as many people as possible, which led to different wings with different views. (Hitler considered the name "Social Revolutionary Party," before being convinced it wasn't catchy enough.) The Strasserites agreed with Hitler that Jews were responsible for Germany's woes, because people of all political stripes can be antisemitic shitheads. But Strasser's strain of craziness was also aggressively anti-capitalist, and he felt that Hitler had betrayed the socialist goals the Nazi Party had initially promoted at its creation. There was even a derisive term for Strasserites: Beefsteak Nazis, because they were brown(shirts) on the outside but red on the inside. Man, we've been going to that "Oreo" insult forever.
When labeling Nazis, it's far more productive to focus on the "national" part of the party's name, because Hitler held predominantly nationalist views that sought to advance the Aryan race at the cost of everyone else. The Nazis' hatred of actual socialists can readily be seen in the fact that communists, socialists, social democrats, and trade union leaders were among the first demographics targeted in the Holocaust. Dachau was initially built to imprison members of these groups. Have whatever opinion of socialism you want, but saying that Hitler was a socialist is like saying that Thanos is a birth control advocate; maybe some of the words are right, but you've really got to twist the facts to make the argument.
Myth: The Nazis Were Trying To Use The Occult And Dark Magic
Nazis wanted the Ark of the Covenant in Indiana Jones, they were trying to summon an ancient evil in Hellboy, and there are hundreds of "documentaries" floating around Netflix (and once-respectable TV channels) about everyone's favorite bad guys gathering materials on the occult. So ... they had to be up to something, right?
Fact: The Nazis Were Using The Occult To Research Potential Enemies And Justify Their Doctrine
The Nazis were undeniably in the business of cataloging and researching any and all "occult" materials they could get their hands on, but it wasn't because they thought they could use some magic Bulgarian flute to snag victory. Most of the documentation was for determining whether various groups should be considered a threat. It was racist anthropological homework. Even Masonic Lodge members could be considered enemies. Yeah, that place your grandpa goes once a month to drink and throw darts was considered a security threat when the Nazis rolled into town.
A lot of this misconception springs from Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS and one of the principal architects of the Holocaust, who did have an interest in witchcraft, the occult, etc. But it was pretty much a hobby that he shared with a few other prominent Nazis (Hitler himself thought it was silly). Thinking that it had any major influence on Nazi policy is like thinking that every manager at your job is basing policy on their book club discussions.
Himmler also oversaw the Ahnenerbe think tank (they're the ones who inspired the trope of Nazis hunting the world for artifacts in Indiana Jones). The Ahnenerbe's been sensationalized quite a bit -- doing crazy research into making Hitler immortal, harnessing ancient power to create super weapons. But while they did indeed travel the world doing archaeological work, their job was to "discover" evidence of Aryan superiority while dismissing other cultures as subhuman bozos. They would, for example, claim they discovered proof that ancient Aryans lived in territories which, in a staggering coincidence, Hitler was demanding be handed over to the Reich. They also did some real science, like botany, but once the war started, they mostly looted foreign museums and helped out with concentration camp experiments. They were basically a college grant program run by crazy racists.
Myth: The Nazis Were Popular Because They Saved The Economy
The Nazis get a bad rap that they more than earned. But hey, at least they did good work reviving the terrible German economy. It's part of how we make sense of the Nazi regime. Sure, they'll beat your friends and kill your neighbors, but a guy's got to eat, right?
Fact: The Nazi Economy Was Built On Lies And Disastrous Short-Term Planning
The Nazi economy was less a powerhouse than it was a shell game. A 0.9 percent unemployment rate in 1939 sounds impressive, especially since it was at a staggering 34 percent when the party took power. But they neglected to count a few groups, including the 1.4 million men conscripted into the military, the giant list of undesirables (Jews, socialists, pacifists, etc.) whose jobs and businesses were given to "pure" Germans, and the women they "enticed" (read: threw out) of the workforce so they could become baby farms for the Reich.
OK, but life was good if you were considered desirable, right? Take farmers. Their wages rose, and thanks to the 1933 Hereditary Farm Law, farms could no longer be repoed like a new Dodge Challenger (unless, of course, it belonged to a Jewish guy). But the law also made selling your farm illegal. If you were born on a farm, the Nazis wanted you to die on that farm. Oh, and in spite of Nazi attempts at price control, food prices rose right alongside wages, causing a full-blown nutritional crisis.
But if you were stuck on a farm, you could at least take heart that there wasn't much good stuff to buy in the city anyway. The economy's apparent boost wasn't leading to modern household goods; the focus was on rearmament. Consumer spending dropped from 71 percent of the economy in 1929 to 59 percent in 1938. The standard of living in 1939 Germany was half of that of the U.S. and a third lower than in the UK.
Output for the state was always the priority. Unions were forced into the German Labor Front, which saw a 15 percent increase in working hours, falling wages for front-line workers, increased industrial accidents, and blacklisting if you questioned these conditions. And it wasn't just the working class getting the short shrift, as a big part of the supposed economic miracle was made possible by that fun old Nazi concept of forced labor. Work camps existed well before the war began, papered over with some talk about how they were offering prisoners the "dignity of work."
All of this plus massive levels of debt and the takeover of an economically challenged Austria meant that the Nazi economy was already falling apart by 1939. By 1941, when they couldn't pillage enough steel and oil from Russia, they were doomed. America could "solve" unemployment tomorrow if we stuck everyone in the army and started making nothing but tanks and ammo, but it's the economic equivalent of setting your house on fire because you're cold.
Myth: The Unduly Harsh Treaty Of Versailles Made Germans Run Into Hitler's Open Arms
When World War I ended, the Allies forced Germany to sign the Treaty of Versailles, a punishment so harsh that it led to a depression which made the rise of Hitler inevitable. The Allies thought they were crushing their enemy, but like a bad horror movie, they were only making it stronger in the long run. People will listen to some crazy ideas when hyperinflation means that you need a wheelbarrow full of money to buy a loaf of bread, right?
Truth: The Treaty Was Rather Typical, And Germany Mostly Ignored It Anyway
The idea that Versailles was unusually cruel was Nazi propaganda that survived because it's a neat and simple origin story. In reality, the treaty was less punitive than other contemporary treaties. To demonstrate this, have a look at a map of Europe. You'll notice that neither Austria-Hungary nor the Ottoman Empire are on it, because the postwar treaties those countries signed made them cease to exist.
Even more damning are the treaties imposed by Germany in the wars they won. When Germany knocked Russia out of World War I, they demanded the majority of Russia's agricultural land, 80 percent of their coal, and half of all their other industries. And when the 1871 Treaty of Frankfurt was signed to end the Franco-Prussian War, the Germans received more money from France than France would later receive from Germany. But the French paid off the burden in a few years instead of getting all Reichy about it.
Weimar Germany, however, found the "dictated peace" of Versailles intolerable, so the reparations the Germans did have to pay were taken about as seriously as a "subscribe to continue reading this article" pop-up. Germany would frequently ask for moratoriums (or just not pay), and when Hitler came to power, he canceled the payments entirely. For a while, America was actually propping up the German economy by paying for them, because they were afraid that a crippled Germany would cause unrest on the continent. Uh, hindsight is 20/20.
Mike Bedard has written a lot about Nazis, including this sketch about Indiana Jones punching Nazis. Follow Mike on Twitter if you're so inclined. Michael Battaglino is a contributor to Cracked.com. Be sure to check out some of his other work if you enjoyed this article. Steven Assarian is a librarian; he writes stuff here and published a short story here.
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For more, check out 5 Reasons You're Picturing Nazis Wrong and 4 Insane Theories People Still Believe About The Nazis.
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