The Nazi conscience is not an oxymoron. In fact, the perpetrators of genocide had a powerful sense of right and wrong, based on civic values that exalted the moral righteousness of the ethnic community and denounced outsiders.
Claudia Koonz's latest work reveals how racial popularizers developed the infrastructure and rationale for genocide during the so-called normal years before World War II. Her careful reading of the voluminous Nazi writings on race traces the transformation of longtime Nazis' vulgar anti-Semitism into a racial ideology that seemed credible to the vast majority of ordinary Germans who never joined the Nazi Party. Challenging conventional assumptions about Hitler, Koonz locates the source of his charisma not in his summons to hate, but in his appeal to the collective virtue of his people, the Volk.
From 1933 to 1939, Nazi public culture was saturated with a blend of racial fear and ethnic pride that Koonz calls ethnic fundamentalism. Ordinary Germans were prepared for wartime atrocities by racial concepts widely disseminated in media not perceived as political: Academic research, documentary films, mass-market magazines, racial hygiene and art exhibits, slide lectures, textbooks, and humor. By showing how Germans learned to countenance the everyday persecution of fellow citizens labeled as alien, Koonz makes a major contribution to our understanding of the Holocaust.
The Nazi Conscience chronicles the chilling saga of a modern state so powerful that it extinguished neighborliness, respect, and, ultimately, compassion for all those banished from the ethnic majority.
©2003 Clauida Koonz (P)2013 Audible, Inc.
College English professor who loves classic literature, psychology, neurology and hates pop trash like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey.
in terms, but Koonz is very careful to define "conscience" not as reflection and action based upon a universal sense of morality and ethos, but rather, as it was with the Nazis: a relativistic Weltanschauung, a monolithic Zeitgeist that guides an insular society to see their way of doing things, no matter how evil or perverted, as right...and even as the morally correct way of thinking and living life. This book is an excellent addition to anyone's library of WWII and Holocaust literature, in that Koonz does what not many dare to: she looks at things the way the Nazis did; takes their historical and cultural point of view--without, of course, abandoning the broader view that, in the final analysis, shows the Nazi regime for what it truly was: a despicable and reprehensible machine of murder and mayhem. I am reading this book after three excellent volumes on the Nazi's: The Nazi and the Psychiatrist, Hanns & Rudolph, and Hitler's Furies. I recommend they be taken together, because all four of these books go beyond the bare history to search out the human factor, and to puzzle once more over what compels otherwise normal people to take part in such loathsome and nefarious acts as those that played out during the terrible reign of the Third Reich.
Koonz offers an insightful and convincing overview of the subversion/perversion of values in the years of Nazi ascendancy. The reader, unfortunately, has a rough time with the German words here and there.
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