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July 21, 2003

Racial identity and cognitive dissonance

I'm currently reading Hitler's Jewish soldiers, an important and disturbing book I've blogged about before but hadn't actually been able to get hold of until now (I bought a copy at Waterstone's, an excellent book store chain here in London). This work fascinates me as much for its study of human psychology and as a work that really fits as much into that misused term 'cultural studies' as it does into military history. The book examines the plight of the 'Mischlinge' ('partial Jews') who served in the German military during Hitler's reign. Why did they do it? [1] Apparently because of one or more of these motives

1) Some were themselves anti-semitic, Nazi supporters and strong German nationalists who were unaware of their Jewish ancestry until the Nuremberg laws brought it to their attention - ironically in some cases this was because the Jewish parent or grandparent was of Orthodox background and had become cut off from their community after marrying Goyim
2) Some were aware of their Jewish ancestry and had some concern for their relatives but were proud patriots, probably mildly culturally anti-semitic, and took the view of 'my country, right or wrong'. Some may even have had Nazi sympathies, and were unaware, at least initially, of the depth of the Nazi agenda, tending to project their own cultural nationalist beliefs into it rather than the essentialist-racist agenda that Nazism really was.
This attitude was in fact also not uncommon among the more conservative, assimilated Jews who thought that the 'Eastern Jews' streaming in from Poland and elsewhere were giving German Jews a bad reputation because of their alien ways. For instance, the book documents that the prominent leader of the right wing nationalist Jews, Dr Max Naumann, wrote to Hitler to urge him to deport the 'Eastern Jews' from Germany.
A more extreme and almost perverse version of this distinction was held by the interesting and contradictory character, Wilhelm Kube, a loyal Nazi governor who had no problem sending Eastern Jews to their death in concentration camps but who, in a strange display of moral courage. started protesting to his superiors when he discovered that German Jews were also being exterminated - he thought that this was wrong because the latter were 'culturally German' and therefore no longer subhuman.
3) Some were aware of their Jewish ancestry and heritage, identified with the heritage and were deeply concerned about their relatives. They thought that the best way to protect their family was to demonstrate their 'deservingness' by serving with distinction in the army and therefore obtaining exemptions for their family.

There are some truly fascinating and in some cases chilling case studies and anecdotes reported in this book. I was particularly interested in the cognitive dissonance that many of these Mischlinge and their relatives had to get used to living in those insane times. These people were in an awkward position, being caught between two worlds (they were rejected by the Jewish community too who thought they had forsaken their heritage by 'sucking up' to the German side and then only turning to them when there was trouble). For instance, the book relates the case of one half-Jewish soldier, Rolf von Sydow, who writes after watching the anti-semitic Nazi propaganda film Jud Suss:

This film doesn't characterise me at all. I'm not a Jew. I don't go to synagogue ... I don't betray other people ... I don't look Jewish. I'm from the aristocracy ... I'm better than the others ... I hate my grandparents because they're guilty. I hate my friends because they're Aryans. I hate the world. I hate myself.

Some Mischlinge were driven to overcompensate because of propaganda about their inferiority:

Young Mischlinge tried hard to excel, particularly in athletics. Hans-Geert Falkenberg taught at school that Mischlinge and Jews were inferior. In response he 'compensated ... I was the best long distance runner, the best boxer, the best swimmer, the best goalie ... Not because I was a natural athlete; only to prove that everything they taught was absolute nonsense'

The family dynamics this situation created was at times unique, to say the least. The book reports the case of Dieter Bergmann, a Mischlinge who had a Nazi aunt. The aunt wrote to him as follows:

My dear boy, I think people like you must be exterminated if our fatherland is to remain pure and victorious against the Marxist-Jewish conspiracy. Sorry, my dear boy. You know I love you.

Another Mischlinge, Hans-Geert Falkenberg, tells his Nazi godmother that his Jewish grandmother got deported to the east. When the Nazi godmother asks him why he didn't tell her this earlier, he simply says it's because she is a Nazi to which she replies:

Geert, naturally I believe that the Jews are Germany's misfortune, but that has nothing to do with Grandma.

The book makes the surprising discovery that most of the Mischlinge studied had the sympathies of both their comrades and superiors when their ancestry came to light [2]. Some of these comrades and superiors even went as far as to cover up the ancestry of valued Mischlinge soldiers. These military men were by no means racial liberals [3] and were mostly culturally anti-semitic but apparently did not care less in the case of Mischlinge who were as German as the average guy. Most of them probably would have agreed with the conservative Hindenburg's more 'middle of the road' antisemitism which recommended treating all Jews except those who served in the army as second-class citizens. Hitler apparently held back on his radicalism in this area until he felt he no longer needed the support of Hindenburg conservatives which was why the Mischlinge policy waxed and waned over time.

[1] Military policy with regard to the Mischlinge waxed and waned according to Hitler's moods. Initially at the start of the war, the Mischlinge were drafted into the army on condition that they would never attain higher rank regardless of their achievement. Later Hitler ordered all Mischlinge to be discharged subject to an exemptions policy that was based on personal references. Later still when the 'final solution' was being discussed, the absurd position was formulated that quarter Jews and half Jews who served the army would, after the end of the war, be 'Aryanised' but that the half Jew veterans, in common with other half Jews would be sterilised. In light of these circumstances which meant that at least for some period of time the Mischinge had no choice but to serve, my question is addressed to the cases of those Mischlinge who were keen to serve from the very beginning and who subsequently did all they could to avoid being discharged.
[2] There were a few notable exceptions like the extreme case of one whose Officer pulled out a gun and shot him the moment he filled out his ancestry form and ticked the 'wrong' box, but this was outnumbered by the number of cases of sympathy, even in one case of a superior who broke into tears when he saw the Mischlinge ticking the 'wrong' box.
[3] As evidenced by the fact that these same comrades had no qualms bullying 'ghetto Jews' found in areas of conquest, destroying their synagogues and cutting off their beards. However, it was apparent that many of these military men themselves, like most cognitive elites, had Jewish relations whether by business or marriage. Indeed many of the Junker aristocracy had Jewish blood in their veins because of classic 'Establishment-New Money' marriage alliances (e.g. many of these Mischlinge had 'Vons' in their names). They would probably have found it galling that the real Untermenschen, Hitler, a failed artist and ex-flophouse resident with a history of mental retardation and insanity in his family, would impose such indignities on their valued comrades in arms, and in some cases, relatives.

Posted by jason_s at 01:38 AM

"Hitler, a failed artist and ex-flophouse resident with a history of mental retardation and insanity in his family.."

Was Hitler the product of an uncle-niece marriage? I thought I read somewhere that Hitler's father was Hitler's mother's uncle.

I also recall in an A&E special from about 11 years ago stated that Hitler finished "at the top of his class" in school.

Posted by: the alpha male at July 21, 2003 04:05 PM

I'vce read Kershaw's bio and didn't come across the fact abouthis being top of the class. Given that Wittgenstein finished at near the bottom I don't think that means much - schools then were probably all about parroting facts which admittedly Hitler was very good at. According to Kershaw he would harangue his travelling companions about the state of architecture he passed through - their history, what style they were, what was wrong with them, bla, bla. So Hitler definitely had a good memory, was a good orator, etc - the sort of skills you find in an actor. I wouldn't give most actors an IQ above 120.

Posted by: Jason Soon at July 21, 2003 11:34 PM

Well he was skilled enough in the IQ department to command the imaginations and personalities of these people.
120 is a bit low I think..


Posted by: Stephen at July 22, 2003 12:13 AM

I've seen that list but stand by what I said. An actor/orator doesn't need to have a very high IQ to impress high IQ people, just enough to, at least from a distance, appear to be intellectual - usually this requires a big vocabulary and reading a lot. There was a long article on Hitler's library a while back - Hitler did apparently read a lot in areas like history and theology, mythology and art criticism (i.e. mostly bullshit). A lot of high IQ people can get taken in by pseudo-intellectuals - why do you think some French philosophers get celebrated for mouthing off inanities about patriachy in maths, etc? Germany was a relatively high IQ country and it got taken in big time. Also high IQ people aren't necessarily immune to emotional appeal.
I guess I'm not terribly impressed by a man whose main achievement was really his skills of oratory and loads of emotional intelligence but not much else.

Posted by: Jason Soon at July 22, 2003 02:04 AM

PS JFK's recorded IQ was only 119 - quite low considering his privileged background- yet he managed to earn the esteem of a veritable brains trust.

Posted by: Jason Soon at July 22, 2003 10:18 AM