The Right Time To Bring Up Nazis
If you read Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich, the striking thing is how slow it was. The Nazi Party won elections in 1932. The gas chambers were not established until 10 years later. Through each atrocity, each invasion people were just watching, reluctant to even call Nazis bad.
In modern times we are asked to not bring up Nazis because that’s ‘too far’. But when? Are we doing some great service to the memories of the murdered by not evoking Nazism until people are being gassed? Wouldn’t they have preferred that it not got to that point? The point is not to stop the Nazis in 1942, but in 1932. Which is where we are today.
Fascist parties and leaders have been elected across the globe. They are dehumanizing people — especially migrants and Muslims. Concentration camps are already operating, in China, America, Australia, and Europe. They are being built in India. Anti-migrant and anti-Muslim laws are being drawn up, laws to use citizenship and ultimately human rights from masses of people. Children are being arrested, detained, tortured and killed.
Now, I think, is a good time to evoke Nazism. This is how it began, and we know how it ends. Now is the time to look at history, look at where we are, and to say never again.
Looking At History
National Socialism wasn’t a coup. They had popular support and won elections. They would make it better, and it was the Jews' fault. This was a simple, potent message. A hero and a villain. A classic story really, of us vs. them. It needn’t even be true. That’s not how stories work.
Nazism was appealing enough that they won the greatest share of votes in two elections in 1932. With plenty of support from the powerful and business-people, Hitler was appointed Chancellor. This wasn’t some anomaly. The German state wasn’t captured. It was nibbled away by little accommodations.
While the Nazis had always demonized, assaulted and marginalized Jews, they did not immediately begin the slaughter. That took time. Each moment of which was an injustice in itself. In 1933 they passed the Citizenship and Denaturalization Law, which enabled the Reich to take away the citizenship of ‘undesirables’. It’s notable that Hitler himself was a stateless immigrant until sneaking into German citizenship in 1932.
The Nazis passed this legislation by (likely) burning down the Reichstag, blaming it on communists and seizing all power. This was the end of further elections. The Nazis took over state governments, trade unions, the military, the Presidency, and the flag. By 1935 had completely taken over Germany.
In 1935 they passed the Nuremberg Laws, which completely removed citizenship from Jews, and offered citizenship to German people even if they were not in Germany. This laid the foundation for the Holocaust, and the annexation of various territories like Austria and Poland, with the excuse of defending ‘Germans’ living there.
As German lebensraum expanded, the space for Jews contracted. They were herded into ghettos and sent into concentration camps, attacked in organized pogroms like Kristallnacht. By 1942 the Wannsee Conference, while it didn’t produce legislation, nonetheless produced a final solution. Organized murder, primarily by shooting but also by gassing, abuse, starvation, and disease.
It is important to remember that fascism was never defeated by democracy. The elections that brought them to power were not what removed them. They closed that space and in the end, it took war. Fascism was actually defeated by communism. It was the Soviets that took Berlin.
It is also important to note that saving the Jews and other minorities was never the point. Other countries let them be abused and then murdered for years. Jews seeking refuge were turned back, including from America. Germany’s great violation was not of human rights, it was of other sovereign borders. If they had kept the genocide contained, it likely could have continued.
Where We Are
Today there are many places you can justly refer to Nazis, but I will focus on just one here. India. This is the most direct case today, and in many ways the most pressing.
In India calling someone a Nazi is less of an epithet than elsewhere. The British Empire was, on the whole, as bad or worse than the Nazis. But let us agree that Nazism is bad and that India can do better.
Today India under Narendra Modi is most clearly following the Nazi path, from the demonization of a minority to legislation and violence against them. Modi comes from the RSS, a paramilitary organization like the Nazi party. It is also one founded on a racial identity with a clear enemy — the Muslims. As Chief Minister of Gujarat, he presided over months of anti-Muslim rioting and the BJP has historically benefitted from hate speech and violence towards Muslims.
Today, having taken national power, they are creating a National Registry Of Citizens and are attempting to classify people into ‘Indians’ and infiltrators, also referred to by their Home Minister Amit Shah as ‘termites’. And so the dehumanization begins. The NRC process requires people in a widely illiterate society to provide documents showing family residency before 1971, an onerous to impossible task.
The system was already rolled out in Assam, rendering 2 million stateless, and concentration camps are currently being constructed to detain them.
This process, however, can catch many non-Muslims. To address this, the BJP has passed a Citizenship Amendment Bill, which offers citizenship to any non-Muslim from certain countries as a ‘refugee’. This accomplishes two things. Like the German era Reich-laws, it creates a larger Hindutva identity, of people surrounded by scary Muslims who need refuge. It also offers a way to discriminate against Muslims without explicitly calling it that. India can piggy-back on the western idea of illegal immigration.
One major difference is that India people have protested, from Assam to universities and cities across the country. In places that are BJP controlled, however, the police have been deployed as stormtroopers. Smashing Muslim homes and property, beating arresting and killing protesters, detaining and torturing children.
These are still very early days, but the signs are all there. The only heartening sign is resistance from Indians themselves, but they face an uphill battle. The mainstream media parrots much of the government line and Modi still carries a recent electoral mandate.
This is a good time to use the Nazi reference, because it applies, and it is productive. The lesson from the Nazi era was not to stop people from gassing human beings, it was to stop the process much earlier. Right now is earlier, and the process is happening. Most notably in India, but in other ways across the world.
So now, I think, is the right time to bring up Nazis. While it is happening, not after it is done.