In a fluid translation, a German historian soundly explores the numerous attractions of the Nazi agenda to a deeply insecure, unsettled people.
Aly (Hitler's Beneficiaries: Plunder, Racial War, and the Nazi Welfare State, 2007, etc.) rehearses many of the standard understandings of why the Germans chose the Jews as the scapegoats for all their economic and political woes of the 1920s and ’30s—the “question of questions”—adding some interesting new glimmers of Holocaust research. The author reaches back to the emancipation of the Jews after the Napoleonic Wars, which freed them to join guilds and even the armed forces, helping to unleash an entrepreneurial spirit and encourage competition. While the Jews greatly benefited from these modern currents of individualism and liberalism, German Christians, weighted under static “old certainties,” looking toward the government for economic protection rather than liberation, “experienced legal and material progress as personal loss.” While Germany was just coalescing into a united nation, the Jews were long committed to education, learning and bettering themselves. The German senses of inferiority, political immaturity and national anxiety, combined with the resentment over the Versailles Treaty, made them receptive to the siren song of Hitler’s National Socialist Party, which emphasized entitlements for the “ethnic Germans” at the expense of the interlopers, the Jews. Aly asserts that even if most Germans did not initially agree with the Nazis’ virulent anti-Semitic views, they were reassured by the Nazi visions of economic progress, self-sufficiency, and upward mobility and signed up for what increasingly became clear as a “criminal collaboration” between the people and their political leadership. Aly mostly wraps things up at 1933 yet hints chillingly at how the dawning sense of transgression played in the minds of average Germans.
An elegant, erudite historical survey employing deep research and excellent examples, even from the author’s own family.