I have learned many lessons from my studies of genocides perpetrated throughout the ages. Several conditions, when arising simultaneously, present the greatest risks for tyranny, denial of human rights, stereotyping the “other” as the enemy, violence, and often murder to take place on the macro level, and in workplace, schoolyard, and community-wide bullying on the micro level.
Strong leaders whip up sentiments by employing dehumanizing stereotyping and scapegoating of entire groups, while other citizens or entire nations look on, often refusing to intervene. Everyone in every country, not only the direct perpetrators of oppression, plays a vital role in genocides.
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Throughout the ages, good people have stood up and spoken out against evil, those recorded and the many more who remain nameless. Their actions have generated varying outcomes from the possible prevention or at least limitation of evil, to the brutal slaughtering of these courageous upstanders, and all the possible results on the spectrum between.
A Nazi Cabinet Minister Opposed to Nazism as Expressed
German Vice Chancellor, Franz von Papen, at the University of Marburg in Germany on June 17, 1934 gave a public speech against Nazism (referred to as “National Socialism”).
As a member of Hitler’s cabinet, he presented it as an ode to the old nationalist-militarist clique that ruled Germany at the time of the Kaiser as a prelude to their eventual return to power. With Hitler’s ascendency, however, this clique found themselves pushed aside.
The speech was primarily written by one of Papen’s close advisors, Edgar Julius Jung, with additional assistance by Papen’s secretary Herbert von Bose and by Erich Klausener.
Papen, who was encouraged by the more politically moderate German President Paul von Hindenburg, spoke out against the extremism of the Nazi regime who had ascended to power some 17 months earlier when Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany.
Papen called for an end to rule by terror and against an appeal for a “second revolution” by the Sturmabteilung (SA – the National Socialist German Workers Party – NSDAP’s – storm troopers), and the restoration of a measure of civil liberties.
He began the speech with praise for what he viewed as the accomplishments of the regime:
…The events of the past one and one-half years have gripped the whole German people and affected them deeply. It seems almost like a dream that out of the valley of misery, hopelessness, hate, and fragmentation we have found our way back to a German national community.
Papen referred to the tragedies befalling his country since the beginning of the Great War and the disastrous consequences imposed by the Treaty of Versailles from which Germany has recently recovered:
The horrendous tensions in which we have lived since the August days of 1914 have dissolved, and out of this discord, the German soul has emerged once again, before which the glorious and yet so painful history of our people pass in review, from the sagas of the German heroes to the trenches of Verdun, and even to the street fights of our time.
Giving praise to Adolf Hitler, he said:
An unknown soldier of the World War, who conquered the hearts of his countrymen with contagious energy and unshakable faith, has set this soul free. With his Field Marshal [President Paul von Hindenburg] he has placed himself at the head of the nation, in order to turn a new page in the book of German destiny and to restore spiritual unity. We have experienced this unity of spirit in the exhilaration of a thousand rallies, flags, and celebrations of a nation that has rediscovered itself.
He then commenced his critique:
But now, as the enthusiasm has lessened and tough work on this project has become imperative, it has become clear that a reform process of such historical proportions also produces slag, from which it must be cleaned. …
Papen challenged the government’s attack on a free unrestrained press:
The function of the press should be to inform the government where deficiencies have crept in, where corruption has settled, where serious mistakes are being made, where unsuitable men are in the wrong positions, and where transgressions are committed against the spirit of the German revolution. An anonymous or secret news service, no matter how well organized, can never be a substitute for this responsibility of the press.…
He implied here Völkischer Beobachter [National Observer] among the other Nazi propaganda organs.
Papen then provided a brief history of Europe from the liberal revolution of 1789 in France and a call for a conservative counter-revolution “plac[ing] all of life under the natural law of Creation.”
From this there emerge in the field of politics the following clear conclusions: The time of emancipation of the lowest social orders against the higher orders is past. This is not a matter of holding down a social class – that would be reactionary – but of preventing a class from arising, gaining the power of the state, and asserting a claim to totality. Every natural and divine order must thereby be lost; it threatens a permanent revolution …
The goal of the German Revolution, if it is to be a valid model for Europe, must therefore be the foundation of a natural social order that puts an end to the never-ending struggle for dominance. True dominance cannot be derived from one social order or class.
Papen was certainly opposed to democracy and advocated for the “breaking with the principle of popular sovereignty” and returning to divine rule.
He argued, however:
But once a revolution has been completed, the government represents only the people as a whole, and is never the champion of individual groups; otherwise it would have to fail in forming a national community….Great men are not made by propaganda, but rather grow through their deeds and are recognized by history.
Papen warned of the repercussions against a continued crackdown against citizens of the nation, especially against particular segments, and advanced the principle of an impartial court system:
…[T]alk of a second wave that will complete the revolution seems not to want to end. Whoever toys with such ideas should not conceal the fact that the one who threatens with the guillotine is the one who is most likely to come under the executioner’s axe….[A]t some time a stable social structure must emerge, maintained by an impartial judiciary and by an undisputed state authority….If therefore the German revolution should experience a second wave of new life, then not as a social revolution, but as the creative culmination of work already begun….
And finally, he then spoke directly and pointedly:
The Government is well informed on all the self-interest, lack of character, want of truth, unchivalrous conduct, and arrogance trying to rear its head under cover of the German Revolution….If one wishes a close proximity to and a close connection with the people, one must not underestimate the good sense of the people; one must return their confidence and not constantly want to tell them what to do.
The German people know that their situation is serious; they feel the economic distress; they are perfectly aware of the defects of many laws conditioned by the emergency; they have a discerning feeling for violence and injustice; they smile at clumsy attempts to deceive them with false optimism.
He believed the people would perceive the violence “against helpless segments” for what it was:
…Confidence and readiness to cooperate cannot be won by incitement, especially of youth, nor by threats against helpless segments of the people, but only by discussion with the people with trust on both sides.
The people know that great sacrifices are expected from them. They will bear them and follow the Führer with unwavering loyalty, if they are allowed to have their part in the planning and in the work, if every word of criticism is not taken for ill will, and if despairing patriots are not branded as enemies of the state.
As might be expected, Hitler was infuriated by Papen’s speech once he was made aware of it. He ordered his Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels, to suppress it. Goebbels attempted to retrieve copies, ordered newspapers not to publish it, and warned radio stations against reading it for broadcast.
The newspaper Frankfurter Zeitung was able to print parts of the speech, after which Nazi officials did everything in their power to retrieve and destroy all copies. They even grabbed the newspaper from the hands of German café patrons as they read it over coffee.
A few copies of Papen’s speech, though, had been leaked to other countries whose media printed excerpts and reported on Germany’s censorship practices.
When Papen heard about Goebbels’ censorship terror tactics, he insisted that he had spoken as a “trustee” on behalf of President Hindenburg. He submitted his resignation from Hitler’s cabinet and immediately notified Hindenburg.
Hindenburg was so incensed that he issued Hitler an ultimatum: unless the Hitler regime acted with haste to restore order and end the terror tactics throughout Germany, he would replace Hitler with officials from the army.
Two weeks later, however, Hitler pulled a “wag the dog” action of sorts to divert attention and solidify his power base. In what has come to be known as the Night of the Long Knives, the SS and Gestapo murdered Hitler’s enemies within the National Socialist German Workers Party, plus some former friends and associates whose relationships might be seen as compromising, as well as several other opponents of the regime.
During the purge, Nazi military officers under the control of Heinrich Himmler ransacked Papen’s office and placed him under house arrest. Eventually, they spared his life since he was viewed as relatively popular by the German people.
Hitler accepted Papen’s resignation as Germany’s Vice Chancellor and sent him to serve as ambassador to Austria and later during the War as ambassador to Turkey.
Hitler terminated any remaining political influence and power Papen had within Germany.
During the Nuremberg Trials, Papen sat as one of the main defendants. He cited the Marburg speech as evidence of his distance from the excesses of the Nazi government at the time. The speech was later mentioned in the judgements of the Nuremberg trials, at which Papen was acquitted.
Papen came to understand the risks over speaking out. In his case, he lost most of his political power, prestige, and eventual employment opportunities. He could have also lost his life. Eventually, though, he did not lose his freedom, nor did he lose his dignity and sense of integrity.
Enabling, a Profile in Cowardice
The Nazi party had its Völkischer Beobachter. The Republican Party has its Sinclair & Fox News among others.
Except for the very few current Republican legislators who have decided to retire, and one or two who remain in office, where are those having the courage to stand up and speak out against the lies, the corruption, the abuses of power moderate and extreme, the corrosion of our democratic institutions, and the attacks on our free press under the current occupant of the White House, this would-be autocrat?
“Enabler” is the term given to those who fail to act to help abusers. “Passive bystander” or “bad Samaritan” is the name for people who are conscious of bad actions developing around them but fail to intervene.
Kayleigh McEnany Goebbels, Trump’s Minister of Propaganda and Disinformation frequently verbally attacks members of the press at her White House press bashings for asking questions that may challenge the president’s “reasoning” or “truthfulness” as did her numerous predecessors.
How can Trump’s enablers and passive bystanders sleep at night and get back up in the morning still willing to degrade and prostrate themselves? Each time anyone enables an abusive action, they keep perpetrators and themselves further from the truth and from help, and they diminish themselves and their integrity more than just a bit.
These enablers spin the facts by turning themselves into virtual pretzels in defense of Trump’s attempts, to paraphrase Voltaire, make us believe his absurdities intended to give him permission to commit possible atrocities.
His sustained and vicious attacks on what he refers to as the “dishonest and corrupt” media imperils our freedom of the press as guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Fortunately, the Fourth Estate, while making some mistakes, fact-checks itself and our politicians, including Trump, and by so doing, exposes his lies for what they are.
“How long will it take for Trump’s supporters to finally realize they have been duped by this con-artist who sold them his snake-oil-of-a-campaign-and-presidency of little value, which can have disastrous consequences?
How much longer can Trump’s enablers, and passive and active supporters understand that they are hurting the country for the mere promise of a few shiny coins of glittering gold and the hot glow of fleeting power, and of avoiding Trump’s burning Twitter thumbs?
Each day we all are called to make small and larger choices and to take actions. So which side are we on? In the spectrum from occasional microaggressions to full-blown genocide, there is no such thing as an “innocent bystander.”