When first the concept of differentness
has taken deep roots,
all the incomprehensible becomes possible.
Slavenka Drakulic, Balkan Express, 1992
This is the history of the complicated process that led to a genocide.
It is about human beings, because it is human beings that kill other human beings - or let them get killed. And it is human beings who can prevent that murder and genocide from happening. The book describes those factors and mental structures that aroused a particular genocide: the annihilation of European Jewry during World War II. Its topic is therefore very concrete, but its scope is universal, because many of the phenomena it uncovers unfortunately are not specific to the process that led to the Holocaust.
Human beings act out of their images of others. Other genocides in our century demonstrate, unsettlingly, how it is possible for cynical men with power to create an image of the enemy that enables human beings to believe that they are doing something good for society by killing other human beings - just because the victims are claimed to be different.
It was Adolf Hitler who decided to kill all European Jews, but he never did it himself. He left it to others who again left it to others to do the killing. The crimes were legitimized through the religion that was created based on the Führer Myth.
The Führer was a psychopath, but he nevertheless succeeded, with the help of others, to stage the world in a way that made reality match his own world-view. A decisive premise for why this could happen was the deep anchoring of anti-Semitism in European cultural thinking, and an equally important premise was the trauma of the lost World War I, which he had in common with the rest of German society.
A third central premise was the character of Adolf Hitler's individual trauma that made him believe that Foresight had chosen him to create a new society on the ruins of the old, which had disintegrated with the fall of the Kaiserreich. A fourth premise was his personal ability to fascinate others with his message, finally making the whole German population believe it - or at least accept it.
The book elucidates how Adolf Hitler succeeded in transferring his own inner images to the images inside others. It underlines the significance of cultural norms and communication in a society as well as elucidating the production of symbols and reality which communication between human beings has always been an expression of.
The relation to the surrounding world of each individual is created out of the person's perception of it and life itself which is constituted through his or her earlier experiences - and each human being seeks to obtain a confirmation of this perception.
This was also the case of Adolf Hitler who built his world view upon strongly emotional - in particular visually connotated - experiences of the surrounding society. His narcissism was the origin of a dreamworld whose structures and ideals derived from the world of visual art, opera and film - a dream world that enabled him to repress the realities of others' reality. The Führer of the Third Reich looked upon himself as an artist, like his idols Richard Wagner and Franz von Stuck, and he took over their ideas of Gesamtkunstwerk.
It was Adolf Hitler's traumatic experience in Pasewalk on November 10th, 1918, that framed these elements together into that unity he put into words in his private bible, Mein Kampf. This book was the script for that Gesamtkunstwerk which he tried to create throughout the rest of his life. It was a myth, but the Führer could see with his own eyes how it was more and more confirmed by the outer world of reality.
The book describes a process where the person Adolf Hitler slowly but clearly disappears, and is replaced with that Führer Myth that was created in the consciousness of those who followed him. And it analyses in particular how Hitler's myth found two acting hands in Joseph Goebbels and Heinrich Himmler.
It were these two men who, together with Reinhard Heydrich, created that Nazi mixture of fascination and terror which aroused the murder of millions of human beings. The Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels produced the film Der ewige Jude, which convinced Adolf Hitler that he had to take a decision - and the Führer transfered the responsability for the task to Heinrich Himmler.
The Holocaust has become a trauma for our civilization, and it is necessary to confront ourselves with this trauma. In order to be able to do so - and to try to prevent it from happening again - it is absolutely necessary to make a precise reconstruction of the process that led to it.
This reconstruction focuses on two very particular dates as the decisive moments in the decision-making process:
Through this notion the book differs fundamentally from most other studies and accounts of the Holocaust. Based on a comprehensive written source material, historians mostly point to 1941 as the decisive year, although they all underline the many problems there are in interpreting the material that is handed down to today - partly because many orders only were given orally and never put in writing. Another problem is the way many written documents were deliberately "blurred," which can make it difficult to reach an interpretation beyond any doubt.
The main argument to put forward the chronology with the summer 1940 as the point of no return is Der ewige Jude, which was put together, and finally approved, in an intimate cooperation between Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels. The film and its whole production story can best be characterized as an X-ray of the decision-making process.
The film's juxtapositioning of ritual Jewish slaughtering and Hitler's notorious prophecy from 1939 that a new war would mean the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe can only be perceived as a deliberate call for - and legitimization of - the Holocaust. Therefore the film must be seen as the very promulgation of the decision to exterminate the Jews of Europe.
Both Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels were strongly emotionally influenced by film. Therefore they were both very much aware of the significance of this mass-medium (as well as others) in a modern mass society. They used them deliberately as political instruments in the Third Reich.
The written sources from the production of Der ewige Jude prove that this film was no different. On the contrary. And the way that they both cynically and emotionally produced their private image of the enemy in the "reality-close" medium of film corresponds, with uncanny precision, to the way the genocide in the former Yugoslavia was staged through television and video.
Thus: the incomprehensible can happen again.