Commentary Magazine


Sources of Nazism

To the Editor:

George L. Mosse’s review [“The Splendid Failure,” Aug. '62] of Walter Laqueur’s work on Young Germany 1900—1960. . . seems to unduly generalize responsibility of the German youth movement for Nazism. There were, indeed, intrinsic connections. . . . When your reviewer subsequently speaks of inherent susceptibility of the German youth movement to Nazism I should agree with him. But that is not the same as the cause and effect relationship initially postulated by him. Also, as Mr. Mosse himself relates, the movement was a multitude of unrelated, often contradictory, groups, activities, and ideologies. . . .

Anti-Semitic tendencies were as frequent, or infrequent, as the local climate would permit. Nor would I want to burden German teachers as a class, as Mr. Mosse does, with “reactionary” tendencies. . . . This modus operandi smacks of nothing short of McCarthyism. Of course, German teachers believed, unquestionably, in God, King, and Fatherland. But they may be termed reactionary on that account only if we concede religiousness to people simply because they send their children to Sunday school and attend (in their finery) Easter (or, for that matter, high holiday) services. All this is all too often a matter of convention rather than conviction. While perfectly willing to concede the road from Hegel to Hitler (and Heidegger), we still have to reckon with Hesse and Hauptmann (and Rilke and so many others). The answer isn’t as simple as Mr. Mosse suggests. Moreover, don’t we exaggerate our importance if we focus on anti-Semitic attitudes and actions as such, however brutal they may have been? Isn’t such action, and such attitude, significant at least for purpose of analysis and evaluation, solely as evidence of a general constitution, moral, intellectual or whatever it may be? If so, it is the latter with which we have to be concerned, even though our action or reaction may rightly and forcefully address itself to the manifestation.

Gerhard Mayer
Highland Park, Illinois

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Mr. Mosse writes:

Nowhere in the review do I postulate a direct cause and effect relationship between the Youth Movement and National Socialism. What I do say is that the Movement’s responsibility for the “German catastrophe” cannot be minimized; then I proceed to point out the intrinsic connections which Mr. Mayer admits existed. The multitude of groups which did exist is beside the point, for all of them shared a basic world view which made their members susceptible to totalitarian ideologies, whatever else they may have quarreled about among themselves.

The charge of McCarthyism seems to be based upon a false distinction: whether teachers held conservative views by convention or conviction. The point is that most of them did hold such ideas for whatever reason. For example, because of their belief in King, God, and Fatherland, teachers formed the majority of members of the super-patriotic All German association; and Germany’s current Jewish periodicals are almost obsessively concerned with the question of why teachers and schools were in the forefront of the anti-Semites. The outlook of most teachers was “reactionary,” for it opposed modernity and praised the romantic and feudal ideal of the Volk. There existed non-nationalist teachers, of course, but they were a minority and are not to be found among the majority leadership of the non-leftist Youth Movement.

Anti-Semitism is indeed evidence for a general attitude toward life, for it is always combined with other conservative and irrational ideas. I not only deplore it personally but also as a symptom of a world view with which it has always been associated. It is as simple as all that, and no argument based on “complexity” must be used as an excuse for the part which anti-Semitism, the teaching profession, and even the Youth Movement played in the fatal course of modern German history.

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