Nazism and Stalinism: An Examination
Compare the two most cruel and inhuman dictatorships of the 20th century, Nazism and Stalinism
Like any regime which engages in the use of terror and violence, one can trace the roots of both Nazism and Stalinism as originating intensely in deep amounts of fear. Fear of modernism, fear of poverty and fear of the unknown were at the root causes of these regimes filled with hate. For many scholars, the success and rise to power of Adolf Hitler can be seen as particularly baffling. Hitler, when it comes to dictators motivated by evil, is one of the most dominant figures of our era, outshining, Mussolini and even Stalin as a villain, politician and strategist (Seligmann). The consequences of everything that Hitler did continue to impact the thoughts and emotions of all members of humanity, particularly the Germans.
The repercussions of the Nazi regime have been intense and long-lasting. As one scholar explains, when the Nazis came to power in 1933 it was a tremendous defeat to the working class and to the world at large. "The world's oldest social democratic party and its second biggest Communist party, with 13 million votes between them, capitulated without a fight as Hitler took power. He was able to destroy in a matter of weeks basic forms of economic and political organization that had taken more than 60 years to build" (Merson, 2010). This is not to mention the sheer amounts of tremendous devastation that occurred as the result of the Nazi party coming to power -- the six million Jews which perished in camps during the Holocaust. Given the fact that Hitler has had such a chilling and unfathomably destructive impact on society and all members of society, it's still worth asking why were the Germans so receptive to this particular dictator. Why was Hitler so readily able to win over the minds and hearts of so many Germans with such a willingness on the part of the Germans? "Why did the Germans elect Adolf Hitler, thereby unconditionally linking their fate to his person? Why did they go to war for him? Why did some even become murderers?... Hitler could only win power, because he had made himself the spokesman of German fears and longings. He led a war against modernism (Seligmann, 2006). This is really an astute reason which really does explain so much of why Nazism was successful and the why Hitler was able to gain German cooperation.
Fear, not only of modernity, but of the unknown, was a major reason that Hitler came to power, as Hitler was able to prey upon and exploit the German fear of the uncanny, exploiting the fear of the "uncanny Jew." The terrifying experience of the uncanny is that it is both recognizable and unrecognizable: "Similarly the uncanny Jew is recognizable and unrecognizable. His nondescript appearance stands for recognizable Germanism. But his deformed caricature appearance stands for the not-to-be-recognized older and more primitive German core" (Gonen, 59). Thus, Hitler created a methodology of othering the Jewish individual by presenting them as disguised, racially inferior, as sub-humans, and as the carriers of infection (Gonen, 59). By presenting the Jewish individual in such a destructive manner, Hitler was creating an intense legion of fear and a marked lack of comfort and stability among organized society: "This time the major hurdle is not the disguisability of degenerate humans, but the invisibility of germlike or viruslike creatures. This is an altogether different psychological factor. We are still dealing with fear, but in this case the fear is an outcome not of paranoia but of phobia" (Gonen, 59). This demonstrates how Hitler was able to gain such an invasive hold on the minds of the German people: it was a particular type of fear that he cultivated within society. In such a case, it's worth discussing the difference between a fear and a phobia: a fear is an innate emotional response to a perceived threat, something that is common within the population and often normal, or at least innocuous, when it comes to real or perceived threats (Covin): fears come up with the dangers of walking down a dark street late at night,...
Fears are founded in something immediate and situational which create the emotional response. "A phobia is similar to a fear with one key difference: the anxiety they experience is so strong that it interferes with their quality of life and/or their ability to function" (Covin). This is a remarkable distinction because it demonstrates how Hitler was able to exploit and exacerbate the German phobia of differentness. By othering the Jews, Hitler preyed upon the phobias of the German people, creating a scenario where they felt that the Jewish person was a threat to their safety, such a threat that prevented them from functioning properly.
Fear is something that is prevalent in the films of World War Two, and is definitely one of the overwhelming motifs that the 1964 Czech film, Diamonds in the Night, explores fully. The film plays clearly and decisively with the notion of reality, and the appearance of objective reality, weaving a tapestry of fear and denial as the viewer watches the boy's desperate flight and attempt to survive. The foundation set forth is objective, but the portrayal for the boys' fight to stay alive is presented in a subjective manner. The film plays with a certain sense of repetition, along with jumps and retreats in time, creating an ominous undercurrent and strong sense of doom.
The distancing technique that N-mec uses allows the viewer to gain his or her bearings for a while at least, but the distance set forth is still evocative of the sense of otherness that Hitler created between the German public and the Jews. Just as the Germans watched the Jews be demoralized and subjugated, the viewer is forced to watch from afar as the boys push for every last shred of life and their futures. As this incredible push and pull is going on, the spectator is forced to watch as the boys consider their fate, while feeling a sense of closeness with them, along with a sense of separation.
On the other hand, the film Europa (1990) takes an unflinching look at the consequences of this process of otherness. Directed by Agnieszka Holland, Europa is a masterpiece of darkness and irony. It follows the protagonist Solly, as he is able to masquerade, to a certain extent as a German (when he is actually a Jew). This film is perhaps the most crushing ballad of the realities of the Jewish experience during Nazism and of the unavoidable experience of being made into monsters: it creates a state where one desires to be someone else, a tragedy in and of itself. The film adequately demonstrates Solly's ambivalence in regards to his own Jewishness: the viewer sees him burying and then retrieving his Jewish ID papers. Other times the film shows him completely immersed in the charade -- singing German anthems with fellow Hitler Youth. The viewer watches as his desire for his girlfriend is intense, and how he tries to hide his circumcision by pulling down the remaining skin and tying it in place with a string. This issue forces the viewer to watch an attempt at Jewish assimilation, and one which is no doubt doomed to failure. The viewer sees how his body will not allow him to pass or to pretend. This movie is able to give a voice and a story to the sense of the tragic experience of Jews during World War Two, by lending a strong level of specificity to what is was liked to be othered in such a dreadful and painful manner. The details that this film provides is able to paint a clear picture of all that is lost in such a struggle and of the individual lives which really end up suffering as a result of such evil and intolerant totalitarianism.
Imagined enemies and a strong dialogue of fear is what largely motivated the Stalinism and the motivations behind the Great Terror: Stalin had an overwhelming fear of an approaching war and a perceived that Germany was an international threat to the Soviet Union: "The military aggression of Hitler's Germany, signaled by its occupation of the Rhineland in 1936, and the occupation of Manchuria by the Japanese, convinced Stalin that the U.S.S.R. was endangered by the Axis powers on two fronts. Stalin's fears were reinforced in November 1936, when Berlin and Tokyo united in a pact (later joined by Fascist Italy) against the Comintern" (Figes, 234). While Stalin did have a sense of "collective security" there was not much faith in western powers and support, particularly as Western states did not intervene in Spain. This created a sense of isolationism and alone-ness: the Soviet Union viewed themselves as vulnerable and on the brink of war with the Fascist…
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