Must Read: “They Thought They Were Free”

But Then It Was Too Late.

If you read nothing else this weekend read this excerpt in its entirety. It could easily apply to The Americans, 2001 – 201?. (some bold font added)

An excerpt from

They Thought They Were Free

The Germans, 1933-45

Milton Mayer

But Then It Was Too Late

“What no one seemed to notice,” said a colleague of mine, a philologist, “was the ever widening gap, after 1933, between the government and the people. Just think how very wide this gap was to begin with, here in Germany. And it became always wider. You know, it doesn’t make people close to their government to be told that this is a people’s government, a true democracy, or to be enrolled in civilian defense, or even to vote. All this has little, really nothing, to do with knowing one is governing.

“What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could not understand it, it could not be released because of national security. And their sense of identification with Hitler, their trust in him, made it easier to widen this gap and reassured those who would otherwise have worried about it.

“This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter.

“You will understand me when I say that my Middle High German was my life. It was all I cared about. I was a scholar, a specialist. Then, suddenly, I was plunged into all the new activity, as the university was drawn into the new situation; meetings, conferences, interviews, ceremonies, and, above all, papers to be filled out, reports, bibliographies, lists, questionnaires. And on top of that were the demands in the community, the things in which one had to, was ‘expected to’ participate that had not been there or had not been important before. It was all rigmarole, of course, but it consumed all one’s energies, coming on top of the work one really wanted to do. You can see how easy it was, then, not to think about fundamental things. One had no time.”

“Those,” I said, “are the words of my friend the baker. ‘One had no time to think. There was so much going on.’”

“Your friend the baker was right,” said my colleague. “The dictatorship, and the whole process of its coming into being, was above all diverting. It provided an excuse not to think for people who did not want to think anyway. I do not speak of your ‘little men,’ your baker and so on; I speak of my colleagues and myself, learned men, mind you. Most of us did not want to think about fundamental things and never had. There was no need to. Nazism gave us some dreadful, fundamental things to think about—we were decent people—and kept us so busy with continuous changes and ‘crises’ and so fascinated, yes, fascinated, by the machinations of the ‘national enemies,’ without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us. Unconsciously, I suppose, we were grateful. Who wants to think?

“To live in this process is absolutely not to be able to notice it—please try to believe me—unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us had ever had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’ that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these ‘little measures’ that no ‘patriotic German’ could resent must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.

“How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly educated ordinary men? Frankly, I do not know. I do not see, even now. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice—‘Resist the beginnings’ and ‘Consider the end.’ But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings. One must foresee the end clearly and certainly and how is this to be done, by ordinary men or even by extraordinary men? Things might have. And everyone counts on that might.

“Your ‘little men,’ your Nazi friends, were not against National Socialism in principle. Men like me, who were, are the greater offenders, not because we knew better (that would be too much to say) but because we sensed better. Pastor Niemöller spoke for the thousands and thousands of men like me when he spoke (too modestly of himself) and said that, when the Nazis attacked the Communists, he was a little uneasy, but, after all, he was not a Communist, and so he did nothing; and then they attacked the Socialists, and he was a little uneasier, but, still, he was not a Socialist, and he did nothing; and then the schools, the press, the Jews, and so on, and he was always uneasier, but still he did nothing. And then they attacked the Church, and he was a Churchman, and he did something—but then it was too late.”

“Yes,” I said.

“You see,” my colleague went on, “one doesn’t see exactly where or how to move. Believe me, this is true. Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. You don’t want to act, or even talk, alone; you don’t want to ‘go out of your way to make trouble.’ Why not?—Well, you are not in the habit of doing it. And it is not just fear, fear of standing alone, that restrains you; it is also genuine uncertainty.

“Uncertainty is a very important factor, and, instead of decreasing as time goes on, it grows. Outside, in the streets, in the general community, ‘everyone’ is happy. One hears no protest, and certainly sees none. You know, in France or Italy there would be slogans against the government painted on walls and fences; in Germany, outside the great cities, perhaps, there is not even this. In the university community, in your own community, you speak privately to your colleagues, some of whom certainly feel as you do; but what do they say? They say, ‘It’s not so bad’ or ‘You’re seeing things’ or ‘You’re an alarmist.’

“And you are an alarmist. You are saying that this must lead to this, and you can’t prove it. These are the beginnings, yes; but how do you know for sure when you don’t know the end, and how do you know, or even surmise, the end? On the one hand, your enemies, the law, the regime, the Party, intimidate you. On the other, your colleagues pooh-pooh you as pessimistic or even neurotic. You are left with your close friends, who are, naturally, people who have always thought as you have.

“But your friends are fewer now. Some have drifted off somewhere or submerged themselves in their work. You no longer see as many as you did at meetings or gatherings. Informal groups become smaller; attendance drops off in little organizations, and the organizations themselves wither. Now, in small gatherings of your oldest friends, you feel that you are talking to yourselves, that you are isolated from the reality of things. This weakens your confidence still further and serves as a further deterrent to—to what? It is clearer all the time that, if you are going to do anything, you must make an occasion to do it, and then you are obviously a troublemaker. So you wait, and you wait.

But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That’s the difficulty. If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and smallest, thousands, yes, millions would have been sufficiently shocked—if, let us say, the gassing of the Jews in ’43 had come immediately after the ‘German Firm’ stickers on the windows of non-Jewish shops in ’33. But of course this isn’t the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D.

“And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self-deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my case my little boy, hardly more than a baby, saying ‘Jewish swine,’ collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose. The world you live in—your nation, your people—is not the world you were born in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God. The system itself could not have intended this in the beginning, but in order to sustain itself it was compelled to go all the way.

“You have gone almost all the way yourself. Life is a continuing process, a flow, not a succession of acts and events at all. It has flowed to a new level, carrying you with it, without any effort on your part. On this new level you live, you have been living more comfortably every day, with new morals, new principles. You have accepted things you would not have accepted five years ago, a year ago, things that your father, even in Germany, could not have imagined.

“Suddenly it all comes down, all at once. You see what you are, what you have done, or, more accurately, what you haven’t done (for that was all that was required of most of us: that we do nothing). You remember those early meetings of your department in the university when, if one had stood, others would have stood, perhaps, but no one stood. A small matter, a matter of hiring this man or that, and you hired this one rather than that. You remember everything now, and your heart breaks. Too late. You are compromised beyond repair.

“What then? You must then shoot yourself. A few did. Or ‘adjust’ your principles. Many tried, and some, I suppose, succeeded; not I, however. Or learn to live the rest of your life with your shame. This last is the nearest there is, under the circumstances, to heroism: shame. Many Germans became this poor kind of hero, many more, I think, than the world knows or cares to know.”

I said nothing. I thought of nothing to say.

“I can tell you,” my colleague went on, “of a man in Leipzig, a judge. He was not a Nazi, except nominally, but he certainly wasn’t an anti-Nazi. He was just—a judge. In ’42 or ’43, early ’43, I think it was, a Jew was tried before him in a case involving, but only incidentally, relations with an ‘Aryan’ woman. This was ‘race injury,’ something the Party was especially anxious to punish. In the case at bar, however, the judge had the power to convict the man of a ‘nonracial’ offense and send him to an ordinary prison for a very long term, thus saving him from Party ‘processing’ which would have meant concentration camp or, more probably, deportation and death. But the man was innocent of the ‘nonracial’ charge, in the judge’s opinion, and so, as an honorable judge, he acquitted him. Of course, the Party seized the Jew as soon as he left the courtroom.”

“And the judge?”

“Yes, the judge. He could not get the case off his conscience—a case, mind you, in which he had acquitted an innocent man. He thought that he should have convicted him and saved him from the Party, but how could he have convicted an innocent man? The thing preyed on him more and more, and he had to talk about it, first to his family, then to his friends, and then to acquaintances. (That’s how I heard about it.) After the ’44 Putsch they arrested him. After that, I don’t know.”

I said nothing.

“Once the war began,” my colleague continued, “resistance, protest, criticism, complaint, all carried with them a multiplied likelihood of the greatest punishment. Mere lack of enthusiasm, or failure to show it in public, was ‘defeatism.’ You assumed that there were lists of those who would be ‘dealt with’ later, after the victory. Goebbels was very clever here, too. He continually promised a ‘victory orgy’ to ‘take care of’ those who thought that their ‘treasonable attitude’ had escaped notice. And he meant it; that was not just propaganda. And that was enough to put an end to all uncertainty.

“Once the war began, the government could do anything ‘necessary’ to win it; so it was with the ‘final solution of the Jewish problem,’ which the Nazis always talked about but never dared undertake, not even the Nazis, until war and its ‘necessities’ gave them the knowledge that they could get away with it. The people abroad who thought that war against Hitler would help the Jews were wrong. And the people in Germany who, once the war had begun, still thought of complaining, protesting, resisting, were betting on Germany’s losing the war. It was a long bet. Not many made it.”

Copyright notice: Excerpt from pages 166-73 of They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45 by Milton Mayer, published by the University of Chicago Press. ©1955, 1966 by the University of Chicago. All rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that this entire notice, including copyright information, is carried and provided that the University of Chicago Press is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the University of Chicago Press. (Footnotes and other references included in the book may have been removed from this online version of the text.)

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31 thoughts on “Must Read: “They Thought They Were Free”

  1. It is chilling to observe the same trends in the United States. Social pressure to refrain from even criticising ISLAMISM. I knew a woman who was a teenager in Germany at that time. She told me her dad had to be a Nazi to keep his job on the railroad.
    One small indication of how far we’ve come; Armed Forces Press released an article today commemorating the U.S. victory over the pirates based in Tripoli. The facts in the case, and I use Bill J Bennett’s America The Last Best Hope, as a basis, are that the pirates were MOSLEMITES who took Christians prisoner to sell back to their countries or sell as slaves. Jefferson, among other Americans of the Patriot generation, rad the koran and dialogued with Moslem delegates in Europe. After hearing from the diplomat that his god commanded they do this, Jefferson decided to fight instead of pay tribute as was the custom at the time. The Marines and sailors kicked Moslem ass and won that war against islam.
    Ordered Mayer’s book from amazon.

  2. Brilliant article!! This bit – “He was just—a judge. In ’42 or ’43, early ’43, I think it was, a Jew was tried before him in a case involving, but only incidentally, relations with an ‘Aryan’ woman. This was ‘race injury,’ something the Party was especially anxious to punish” – makes me think of obama and Jeremiah Wright and his race politics. What is sick about this nazi Wright is that, although he is almost white looking, Wright accuses Herman Cain of being a token black for the Republicans, an Uncle Tom!! so he is a racist against Blacks!! He is so f#cked up and so are the Obannas. thsi divide and rule thing is just so diabolical!

  3. Will America remain silent while Muslim Obama continues to push his evil outreach to Muslims? Will Americans remain silent while Obama weakens our defenses by eliminating any mention of Muslim extremism? Lets hope more Americans are waking up before its too late. Obama is a lot like Hitler. He has the media on his side, he speaks with a smile on his face, always sounding like he is right and the rest of us are wrong.

    Obama remains silent while Christians are being persecuted and killed in many parts of the muslim world. Once again, our meda continues to bash Israel our allie against Islam. If Islam wins over Israel, then who will they come for next?

      • The Socialists in the Democratic Party are not reaching out to the Muslims that is a lie to cover up that they are conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood terrorist organization and their affiliate terrorist organizations against Jews, the state of Israel and Christians.

  4. The Enemy within us:

    there is no difference in being a nazi or a muslim. In fact there are pictures of Hitler and the Islamic Mufti standing together against the Jew, and the west. Still the same today.

    Muslim brotherhood is in Homeland security, placed there by the left, and the politically correct, and is betraying us as required by Islam, approved by Obama, and its partner Cair is every bit the same as the 3rd Reich.

    We did not learn from history, and religion is to Islam as a beard is to a man. It is a political system.

    In America we are individuals and do not stand together. Well, these people do stand together against you. See them on school grounds, in Sharia zones, in Dearborne, and NYC. See them beat up other school kids, molest women on the streets as is their right to take conquered women under Sharia, force women into a level of being below a farm animal, block streets with cabs and ass lifting, defying us to take action. They have the left passing hate crime legislation to be used if we dare do anything.

    This is the change Obama promised us. We are no longer a Christian nation, how could we be under Islam, and Obama is now saying we have more Muslims than many Muslim countries. It seems the UN decides what refugees come here, and of course, exclude Christians.

    We waste a billion dollars at the state dept every year bringing our enemy here as well as refugees. Call your congressman. Get this stopped. The senate is a hostile zone to America, so vote Gingrich in 2012 and clean that place out as well. The rest of the presidential candidates stand with Islam and all are politically correct. They cannot see Islam as anything less than a superior culture. However 95% of America does not agree as we see in the polls with Gingrich.

    How could they be so stupid and tow the politically correct line?

  5. This puts it perfectly–absolutely brilliant! Should be required reading for ALL Western people, because it’s happening right now, in North America, Europe and Down Under; and our leaders, from communities to Presidents are LETTING IT HAPPEN!! Aiding and abetting it, even. I sincerely believe that here in Canada we have perhaps the best, most moral government in the Western world. (for the time being) Yet even here, it’s happening. But what to do–we are muzzled.

    • Do like Russia and a few others and deport the Muslims. They don’t appreciate what we’ve sacrificed for and our ancestors spilled blood for then they don’t need to be in America.
      Its obvious they didn’t come for “opportunity” they came to complete their cult rule of jihad…that means to kill a Christian to gain their ticket to heaven and to destroy the whole of Christian and Jews in America.
      Their cult of Islam is a murderous sneaky cult and it must keep killing to satisfy their thirst for blood. However, there are only about a million of these Muslims in America and we do have enough FEMA camps to detain all of them before deporting them. There’s actually enough room for some illegals from Mexiico too in the camps.

      • Sadly, I think the FEMA camps will be used to detail US – the American Patriots! Those of us who detest pisslam and the Ovomit Regime – we’ll be first candidates for Big SIs’s Camp Wobegone….

  6. How striking the parallels of pre-war Germany, and modern day America. Food for thought. We absolutely must effect regime change in 2012 to be followed by a grassroots purge of all leftist and islamist elements in government and academia.

    I never once thought I would have uttered such words, especially the word purge. It sounds absolutely Stalinist and abhorant to me, but it just goes to show how far things have been allowed to deteriorate. God help us all.

  7. But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes…………………

    and sadly we did get this “gift” of one great shocking moment- when planes flew into twin towers and Pentagon- and still the “citizens” stifled themselves, censored themselves, refused to acknowledge what force motivated those attacks, refused to look at what had pre-ceded from those same sources (Dead marines, crippled man pushed out an airplane, hateful rhetoric, child reciting DEATH TO JEWS, Death to America) and eaxctly as described above- those who dared say the truth were vilified and the rest bent over backwards to “be nice” to their enemies compatriots within our own nation. We have an admin eager tomakeit a crime to do so- we are and have been on a very slippery slope for a long, long while.

  8. Obama 9/11!!Obama was a lawyer for ACORN pushing the housing bubble and bust..and forming the CCX with Gore and Ayers and Maurice Strong..and 9/11 killed off 44%,,,1152 in DIRECT competition with the CCX!! DIRECT HIT!! and they stole Carlton Bartels CO2 Carbon calculator and gave it to Franklin Raines of FM/FM..9/11 was to pass their cap & trade GREEN agenda and make TRILLIONS on the carbon trading scam.

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  14. The writer was very honest and did an incredible job of explaining things as he saw them. I wonder if the same kind of writings can be found in Russia that describe what it was like as their Greek Orthodox society was subverted by the same Enlightenment people in Europe that became the Nazis. After these Enlightenment folks destroyed Europe and Asia they fled Europe to live in the more stable Christian land of America and began destroying it with the same decadent
    Atheist beliefs that they used to destroy Europe. The Enlightenment people came out of the Holy Roman Empire as it declined because they became more free to express their Atheist beliefs, which they were forced to set aside with out conviction in order to live successfully with in the Holy Roman Empire. The Enlightenment people of that time, happily participated in killing Christians in the inquisitions, under the disguise of Catholicism, because they did not believe that there is a God, which they arrived at through the encounters of their predecessors with fellow citizens who participated in all kinds of Greek cults that held many false beliefs that they learned were not signs from God but rather were the result of the natural workings of the universe. The pattern that I see is that they prove that there is a devil and that some how through our awareness of good and evil Satan and his minion of demons is able enter our thoughts and cause mankind to believe the most ridiculous lies and commit the most heinous crimes against Christians and Jews. The church was persecuted by the devil through the Romans who transformed the Roman Empire into the Catholics who persecuted the Christians. As they destroyed their Holy Roman Empire Satan switched over to the Atheist Enlightenment sect among them and began persecuting Christians through Communism, Socialism and Fascism.

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  19. Where are the men who will stand up and command this nation to rise from their sleep? Where are the patriots of our time? There must be one or a dozen, who think these thoughts. Who sense this danger. We can not be alone in this thinking. Surely not. But where are they? As you can see from these comments, it’s been a full year. A year in which we’ve talked about this subject. A whole year of observing and in our hearts knowing the truth. What are they waiting for, these Senators, these congressmen. The proof is all around us. Evidence of deceit. Corruption is rotting our most sacred halls in Washington. But the silence is deafening, except for citizens who are waiting like sheep outside the slaughterhouse.

    • one year? try since 2001, I have been sounding the alarm bells- and like me, any others who try publicly have been shamed, called racist, extremists and vilified by the LSM the ministry of propaganda, our families, our “friends” who are Dem no matter what – these same who refuse to call Muslim killers JIHADISTS – who kiss the ring of our very leftist white hating jewhating prez.
      After 2001 that my fellow Americans & even JEWS would even elect this Muslim sympathizer proves our society is rotted to the core – uneducated or over educated in multi culti PC, biased towards immorality- we will get the future they voted for- and we the minority will bear the very bad karma of their choices.
      They have not asked for justice but revenge. We saw them BOO 3x Israel and G-d himself- the wages of SIN is death, and the USA we knew is slowly dying before our eyes- Brave New World welcome to Orwell’s 1984, backwards world.

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  22. About 13% of swedish understand whats happening in our country and Europe about islam geting into organisation, politica parties, papers, our Public Service TV and radio.
    Small steps. We are called rasist by media and the other parties.
    Sverigedemokratern become the 3th largest elected partie the 19 of september, 2014.
    The other 7 elected parties in our parlament don´t speak with this partie.
    Make undemokrated agrements by letting socialist rule Sweden without follow there own parties principels.
    In the goverment is islamic decieded about infrastruktures, real estate.
    Halal is accepted in scools.
    Moskés are built by money from Saudiarabia.
    Black market hidding money in relatives account in other countrys.
    Malmo which is the 3d lagest town in Sweden, have a population of 300 000 inhibites. 75000 of them are registrated muslims.
    The plan is from muslims to make Malmo to the first califat city in Europe.
    Small steps.

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  24. The “Sons of Liberty” shall rise again and shall push back against incremental Islamic domination. They, we, have already done so. We at least are given the opportunity, at this date, to communicate with each other. If that ability is ever taken away, we shall be left to our own local chapters of the Sons of Liberty. Never give up. Stay alert. Be prepared.

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