By Magari Mandebvu
A VERY strange thing happened when the Nazi German army occupied Austria in 1936. Special instructions were given that one particular border village s
hould be completely destroyed. It wasn’t on the border with Germany and could not have offered any military obstacle to the invaders, so why this strange order?
It seems that this was the home village of Adolf Hitler. Austria was the first country Germany took over under his rule, on the excuse that the Austrians were really Germans, part of the Greater German Reich (Empire). Well they do speak German, or they think they do: the Germans may have a different opinion.
Hitler presented himself as the leader of that Greater Germany, in which pure Aryan Germans, whom he portrayed as tall, athletic and blond, asserted their suppressed identity. They asserted themselves first of all against the Jews. Many poor people in eastern Europe believed the Jews were exploiting them and could always find some Jews to beat up when they wanted to riot against oppression.
But, to come back to that village, there seems to have been a secret there that Hitler wanted to hide. Birth records show that the father of one of Hitler’s parents was not named on the child’s birth certificate. The mother was not married but this can’t be the whole story. That happens sometimes in the best families.
One further bit of evidence is significant. The mother was at the time a servant of a Jewish family. The suspect likeliest to be father of the child would seem to be a member of her employer’s family.
If this is true, then Hitler had some Jewish blood in him. He certainly wasn’t tall, athletic or blond.
Maybe he wasn’t “pure Aryan”.
History has other examples of such a leader, desperately trying to present to the world an identity that he himself wasn’t sure of. The results have often been violent, but rarely on the scale Hitler perpetrated.
The nearest example is Josef Stalin, an ethnic Georgian whose original surname was Dzhugashvili. Many leaders of the Russian revolution are known to us by their “Chimurenga” names, but in Stalin’s case, the name conceals the fact that the greatest and most genocidal proponent of ethnic Russian domination over the multiracial and multinational Soviet Union was himself a member of an ethnic minority.
Back to Hitler. He used racial rhetoric to establish total control of his Nazi party over every aspect of German life, using the party “security” body, the SS, the Gestapo (State Secret Police) and the Hitler Youth.
Having done this, he set out to isolate and eventually exterminate the six million Jews in all the territories he controlled and launched a war of conquest designed to provide more living space for the German race, especially in the lands of “inferior” races such as the Slavs to the East.
He aimed to produce a German nation indoctrinated to accept his racial doctrines and policies and to redress the grievances of a nation that, he taught, had been oppressed for centuries.
True, Germany came late to unity as a single state and to the rush to grab overseas colonies, especially in Africa. From the sixteenth century, Europe’s religious and dynastic wars had been fought in Germany.
True, Jews, the main “foreigners” most German peasants met, were often moneylenders and moneylenders are never popular. He conveniently forgot that, in largely agricultural medieval Europe, Jews were not allowed to own land, but they could become moneylenders because Christians, like Muslims to this day, were forbidden to lend money for interest. He wasn’t one to let facts stand in the way of his prejudices.
But isn’t it strange that he was so prejudiced against people he was actually related to?
It would be as strange if one of the heroes of the Third Chimurenga, shouting most loudly that all farm labourers should all be forced to go back to Malawi because they were tools of Tony Blair and of all the other villains from George W Bush to Satan himself, should prove to have had a Malawian grandmother. Or if any of the architects of Gukurahundi were part-Ndebele. Strange to imagine? Are you so sure it never happened?
Personally, I always suspect that the guy who shouts loudest is trying to hide something. If we are halfway intelligent, we won’t let him.
One of the most important documents for racist indoctrination in Germany was the Hitler Youth Songbook. This was a curious collection including songs to promote traditional local patriotism (which is often a good thing) and pride in their own race (which isn’t necessarily bad) but using these to lead to other songs inculcating hatred against foreigners, especially Jews. That is evil.
This was designed to produce a generation of Germans ready to sacrifice their lives for anything the Leader ordered in his internal struggles and wars of conquest to glorify the Aryan German nation. It was a way of teaching German youth his propaganda while pretending it was history.
In fact, Hitler seems to have believed quite early that conquering the world was not possible and, if it wasn’t, the German nation would deserve to be destroyed for their failure.
One popular marching song said “we will march, march, march until everything is destroyed” and his favourite operatic composer, Richard Wagner, reminded his audiences that the warlike pagan German gods to whom Hitler appealed were eventually destroyed.
If the German people did not serve their purpose of making their Leader the most powerful and feared man on earth, then they should die trying. They were ultimately dispensable. The main aim was really the glorification of the image this uncertain little man created for himself.
They did die for him. We can understand they would face death fighting a winning campaign in the East.
When the Russians began to fight back effectively, the soldiers had little choice but to fight on or die in the terribly cold Russian winter, but men continued enlisting to fight even when the cause was clearly lost. There is a military cemetery on a hill overlooking the Mosel river, the western Allies’ chief route into Germany at the end of the war, where none of the soldiers buried was between the age of 17 and 45. All were boys and old men.
The war was already lost, but they still fought the invading Americans and died in large numbers.
That is a terrible lesson in how one insecure little dictator eventually destroyed all he claimed to fight for.
* Magari Mandebvu is a Harare-based writer.