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An in-depth examination of the top Nazi leaders.
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Most people know that the Nazi leaders were evil. However, few people realize that many- if not most- of these leaders were superbly educated and hailed from comfortable, priviledged social backgrounds. In fact, the National Socialist party was full of doctors, lawyers, military officers, engineers, architects, scientists, professors, and other highly-educated professionals. Adolf Hitler needed intellectuals. He needed them to consolidate power in Germany and to preserve his status as the Fuhrer.
Why did well-educated professionals help to perpetuate the Holocaust? In Murderous Intellectuals: German Elites and the SS, author Jonathan Maxwell seeks to answer this daunting question.
Jonathan Maxwell’s Murderous Intellectuals is a haunting account of the “real” men and women behind the Holocaust
Editor in chief
BAP Quarterly www.bapq.net
Jonathan Maxwell’s Murderous Intellectuals is a haunting account of the “real” men and women behind the Holocaust, a look into their pasts, and a virtuous attempt at understanding the complex minds and motivations of these Nazi “Desk Murderers,” the doctors, scientists, lawyers, educators, and soldiers. He analyzes theories as to why these men and women did what they did. The question is always, why did this happen? How could so many people be involved in this? Jonathan leads us through a disturbing maze of intellectuals who made the Final Solution happen.
Maxwell explores the power, networking, and sophistication of the Nazi elites where the word “civilized” loses all meaning. Dr. Josef Goebbels, who was a novelist and playwright himself, was the mind behind the propaganda. Artwork, literature, music, film, radio became sick tools for mind control. Doctors and scientists employed by the Reich performed countless human experiments and murders. Maxwell looks into the lives of these professionals to find understanding, but in the end, closure is nowhere in sight. With the many theories that abound about why so many people followed Hitler, helping him to perfect his hatred, it comes down to choice and Maxwell points out that these were rational, intelligent human beings.
Jonathan’s digging into the past brings to light the atrocities that took place during Hitler’s reign of terror and emphasizes that we must not forget what has happened. Forgetting is the most dangerous thing and even with all that we know about the Holocaust, it has yet to stop the genocides that have come after and continue today. As Maxwell points out, most Nazis were not held accountable for their actions and escaped justice. Let Maxwell’s book be a catalyst for action. For there are those we can find today sitting behind desks, sitting quite comfortably.
An "excellent and very well researched book"
German Elites and the Nazi SS
By: Jonathan Maxwell
What drove the Nazis to embark on one of the cruelest mass murder sprees in history, the Holocaust? Also, what caused even the most brilliant of the Germans, some of the country’s most renowned intellects, and many people in it upper classes - the German elite - to go along with Hitler’s mad plans of genocide, and to sometimes fanatically embrace them as their own? These are the questions that author Jonathan Maxwell tries to answer in his excellent and very well researched book, Murderous Intellectuals: German Elites and the Nazi SS.
Though it’s difficult for any one book to fully attempt to explain such a complicated topic, Maxwell’s book does a pretty good job of highlighting many of the reasons that may have been behind why many of Germany’s intellectuals and elites went along with and participated in the Holocaust. It’s a very good book I’d recommend to anyone who likes to read about history and who has always wondered what could have caused an entire nation to seem to have fallen under Hitler’s spell.
I won’t go into great detail about the book - I don’t want to spoil the enjoyment of reading it for others - but I’ll touch on some of the reasons the author mentions which others have come up with over the years as possible explanations for Germany’s elites and intellectuals, by and large, to become Nazis and support Hitler, Nazism, and the Holocaust. The author gives an overview of the various possible reasons in some of the book’s chapters, which have titles like: "Personal Reasons," "Sadism," "Racism and Ethnic Hatred," "The Autocratic Nature of German Society" ("I was only following orders"), and "Human Genetics."
The "Personal Reasons" theory is that, as Jonathan Maxwell writes, "each member joined the organization because it offered something of great value to the individual recruit." These items of "great value" could include "something material, such as good clothes or a job with substantial pay. It could also be something intangible, such as a sense of security or belonging." We can all understand such a reason - sometimes, to improve one’s social and/or economic standing, a person will join an organization that he/she otherwise might not join, like the Nazi party. If everyone around you is a member of the organization, and the only way you won’t be ostracized (or potentially beaten, or wind up in a concentration camp) is to also become a member, personal reasons can be a powerful motivating factor.
"Sadism" and "Racism and Ethnic Hatred" are self-explanatory, though what could have caused people to be, as some were, so filled with a loathing of Jews as to want to kill them on sight is something people have always wondered about. The Jews became the scapegoats of not only Germany, but of France, and many other European nations, who would rather blame their economic and other problems on people other than themselves. Though Germany had always had a segment of its population (like most other countries have, including the United States) who were anti-Semitic, Hitler’s and Himmler’s hatred of the Jews seems to have infected an entire nation, who revered its leaders and thought they could do no wrong.
This leads into the theory that people were coerced or led into doing what they’d ordinarily not consider doing because of "The Autocratic Nature of German Society" ("I was only following orders."). In fact, this theory is discussed and presented in many courses in Psychology even today. Germany, the author points out, was:
...a militaristic nation obsessed with law and order. German leaders expect ‘regular’ citizens to be compliant and submissive. ‘Regular’ Germans essentially do what their government tells them to do. Therefore, when the Nazi regime ordered the Final Solution, average Germans unblinkingly tried to comply with the order.
There are several other theories the author delves into, all of which make for very interesting reading. The "Human Genetics" one asks: "Is violence in our genes? Are human beings ‘wired’ to hate one another?" Also, the book gives backgrounds on historical events that led up to Hitler’s coming into power, and I read a few things that I had either never heard of before, or had forgotten about, such as the fact that gas chambers were first used on Germany’s own citizens - those who were considered to be "undesirables," who were mentally or physically deficient, or who were hopeless alcoholics.
Perhaps besides the racial and ethnic hatred of many Germans towards the Jews, one of the other main reasons people had for callously knowing about and often participating in the killing of their fellow human beings is that they were trying to create a perfect society. In their minds, to their twisted perspectives, this meant that they would have to eliminate anyone who might be, to them, not worthy of being a member of the "utopia" they were trying to establish.
There is no one reason, theory, or explanation why Germany’s intellectual and elites joined the Nazi party, why some of its doctors engaged in gruesome "experiments" and dissections on living people, and why its industries went along with Hitler’s plans (although cheap slave labor was one big motivation). Maxwell doesn’t arrive at one answer, as there isn’t a cut-and-dried one, but his examination of the various theories is very interesting and makes for a great addition to the shelves of anyone who enjoys reading about WWII . Also, if we don’t learn from the past, we’re condemned to repeat it, and sadly, there have been other mass genocides elsewhere in the world since WWII, such as in Czechoslovakia and in Darfur. Any book that causes us to think about what drives man’s inhumanity to man and was behind the Holocaust and genocides since then is well worth reading and considering.
--Douglas R. Cobb--
"A window into 'the human condition'"
By: Jonathan Maxwell
Publisher: Millennial Mind Publishing
Publication Date: 2009
Reviewed by: Tracie Rubeck
Review Date: October 2009
In his book Murderous Intellectuals: German Elites and the Nazis, Jonathan Maxwell sets himself two daunting and urgent tasks—to explain why the Holocaust occurred and to prevent future genocides. In doing so, he takes the reader from the minutest of details about individual Nazis (one, for example, had trouble with his lymph nodes as a child) to grandiose narratives about human nature, psychology and civilization.
The first part of the book provides overviews of various categories of Nazi “intellectuals” or “elites”: bureaucrats, doctors, scientists, educators, lawyers and soldiers—each category filled with individuals who perverted their professions in pursuit of Nazism. Thus, we learn of doctors who perfected methods for killing people, scientists in pursuit of racial purity above reason and evidence, lawyers who dismantled the rule of law in pursuit of state sponsored terrorism, and so on. These chapters are flush with biographical sketches of Nazi leaders, chock-full of dates, titles, job duties, wayward sentences, and ample speculation about said leaders’ psychological shortcomings and split temperaments. Throughout these chapters we are also repeatedly reminded of these leaders’ pedigrees—their education, wealth or social status—as evidence that they should have known better than to stand in opposition to their respective professions’ best values. One wonders why, given the magnitude of Nazi crimes, Maxwell sets out to prove the evil of Nazi leaders by calling them names and emphasizing their character flaws.
A possible explanation for that castigating approach—moral outrage as lens of analysis—is offered in the second half of the book, which evaluates a range of explanations for the Holocaust. Was it simple self-interest? Yes, some Germans became Nazis for power, prestige, opportunities for theft and even, Maxwell claims, for access to alcohol. They were not, however, “simply following orders.” Were all Nazis just sadists? Maxwell argues that while some individuals were sadists, Nazi policy was driven by cold efficiency and ideology, not sadism. Were they all simply psychotic? No, Maxwell argues that their personality flaws or maladjustments were not “psychopathic,” and, thus, Nazi leaders were of “sound mind.” Finally, with an extended (i.e. tangential) overview of Freudian psychoanalytic theory, he also argues that one cannot point to any individual Nazi’s troubled childhood as an excuse for his or her crimes. Thus, the biographical sketches from the first half of the book seem tailored to fit Maxwell’s conclusion: “Ultimately, evil provides the most satisfactory explanation for Nazi behavior” (289). He closes, “These men and women each had a choice. They enjoyed free will, unlike their many victims” (291).
This is a disappointing conclusion, one that is further reflected in Maxwell’s struggle with more “macro” explanations of Nazism and the Holocaust. These macro explanations trap the author in a series of unexplored contradictions. For example, he explores theories of human civilization that emphasize that the degrees of violence and social inequality in a given society are directly proportional to its size and complexity. One wonders, then, why the elites of a society (particularly one that he repeatedly claims is inherently authoritarian) should be expected to behave “morally” when doing so would threaten their status in said society. Further, he argues that the primary mode for preventing future genocides is liberal and moral education—no more, as he puts it, “dry, dull business courses” and standardized tests (299). Yet, he presented ample evidence that Nazis thought that they were returning to a “simpler” mode of life for their children, one they defined in moral terms. He also presents evidence from across Western history of genocides committed in the name of civilization or Christianity, and of democracies under the sway of cult leaders who promised returns to simpler times and triumphs over externalized and dehumanized others. Yet, Maxwell himself doesn’t tackle this question directly: does “barbarism” precede civilization or is it inherent to civilization’s preservation? In other words, the contradiction throughout the book is that Maxwell expects Nazi “elites” to act on a moral code external to Nazism that is premised on a notion of “civilization” that he himself repeatedly provides evidence against. It’s much easier to prove Nazi leaders heinous (after all, who would argue that point?) than to consider that they saw themselves not in opposition to civilization, but as its final arbiters.
However, Maxwell’s book is quite impressive in the ground that it covers. It displays a considerable effort to understand the history of Nazi Germany from multiple disciplines—history, anthropology, sociology and psychology—and it marshals a range of sources and boundless factual information as it does so. This book could prove an interesting primer for a lay reader who was interested in philosophizing about the Holocaust as a window into “the human condition.”
Quill says: Murderous Intellectuals opens the reader to explorations of the concept of “collective responsibility,” the nature of evil, and competing notions of human morality and civilization.
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