The Specter of Genocide: Mass Murder in Historical Perspective

By Robert Gellately; Ben Kieman | Go to book overview

11
The Third Reich, the Holocaust, and Visions of
Serial Genocide
ROBERT GELLATELY

In this chapter I want to suggest how Nazi repression and persecution as practiced between 1933 and 1939 escalated during the war into wholesale human rights abuses, mass murder, and genocide. On January 30, 1933, when Hitler was appointed chancellor, the massive killing and the disastrous war could not have been foreseen either by the German people or perhaps evenby the most radical Nazis. Hitler and most others inthe Nazi Party were certainly antisemitic and broadly racist, but what they wanted to do about it and other aspects of their still vaguely defined agenda was not settled. Hitler was determined to become an authoritarian ruler, even a dictator, but at the same time he also wanted to be popular, and so was bound to avoid issues likely to upset the nation as a whole. He insisted time and again that popularity was crucial inthat it provided the foundationfor all political authority, including his own. This point of view helps us understand why the Nazis proceeded initially with much caution on all fronts.

Unlike Stalin and many other twentieth-century dictators, Hitler wanted to establish a consensus on which he could build. Although some members of the Nazi Party, particularly the Storm Troopers, were prepared to bring about a real revolution in 1933, Hitler favored moving forward not against society but with its backing. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Nazis adopted a kind of negative selection process by which they would single out for persecution those who were on their own hate list who also happened to be regarded by many Germans as social outsiders or political enemies.

At any rate, between 1933 and the outbreak of the war, as I have shown elsewhere, Hitler succeeded in creating a hybrid regime we can label a “consensus dictatorship.”1 He legitimated his regime particularly by beating the Great Depression and tearing up the hated Treaty of Versailles. Successes

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1
See ingeneral Robert Gellately, Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany (Oxford, 2001).

-241-

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