Saturday, 20 November 2010

Germany Reborn, Hermann Goering

This is an odd little book that appears to have been written to persuade the British people, and perhaps also the Americans, of the virtues of the Third Reich.  Its author was "General Hermann Goering, Prime Minister of Prussia", and it was first published in London in 1934.  It was reissued in 2003, and I believe that a neo-Nazi publishing house produced its own edition in 2009.

Goering says that he wants to set out "a few of my ideas about the struggle of the German people for freedom and honour".  The propaganda purpose of the book is clear.  It is no secret that Hitler considered Britain to be a natural ally of Germany, and in 1934 it was still possible for a British observer to look on the Nazi regime with some degree of respect or even admiration.  People knew about the repression of Jews and socialists, the concentration camps, and the crushing of free speech and democracy.  A case could be made, however, for seeing Hitler as a popular leader who had brought Germany political stability and economic recovery.  If nothing else, he appeared to be the lesser evil compared with Joseph Stalin, who had just carried out the mass murder of 6 million people.  In 1936, David Lloyd George, the former Liberal leader and one of the greatest British statesmen of the century, wrote a famous article in which he praised the genocidal tyrant's "dynamic personality" and "dauntless heart".  Only a few, like Winston Churchill, fully understood the nihilistic barbarism that lay behind the newly built autobahns, or foresaw the winters of Stalingrad and the furnaces of Treblinka.

The book begins with a brief historical sketch, which leads into Goering's observations on the Great War.  He is diplomatic about Britain's role in the conflict, which he describes as "a sea of blood and misery".  He embraces the "stab in the back" legend, according to which Germany's defeat was brought about not by failure on the battlefield but by left-wing traitors back home.  The result was the monstrosity of the Treaty of Versailles (which, Goering omits to mention, was relatively generous compared to the terms which Germany would have imposed had she won the war).  Goering talks of how the Weimar years brought with them the collapse of Germany, not merely as a military power but also economically, culturally and morally.  He talks about the final Weimar governments of the 1930s, led by the ineffectual conservative Catholics Heinrich Brüning and Franz von Papen and the devious soldier General Kurt von Schleicher.

On Nazi ideology, Goering is not quite candid.  The anti-semitism is there, but it is not as prominent as one might expect.  Goering is prepared to accept that "decent Jews" exist.  In general terms, he presents Nazi doctrine as nationalist rather than racist.  He writes as a good old-fashioned German patriot who wants to restore his country's honour.  There is no mention of the pseudoscientific racial doctrines that formed the bedrock of Nazism, whether in order not to frighten the readers, in order not to frighten Goering's fellow Germans (old-style nationalists were still a power in the land and President von Hindenburg had not yet died), or because Goering really was a traditional German nationalist rather than an aficionado of Nazi racial theories.

On the other hand, Goering makes no bones about his authoritarian, anti-democratic convictions, writing that "the laws of Nature demand that authority should be exercised from above downwards and responsibility from below upwards".  He is also not shy about flagging up the socialist side of National Socialism.  There is some rather tedious red-baiting, but he speaks with contempt of the German middle classes and their "snobbery and self-conceit".  He has little time for the old aristocracy, the middle classes and the army officer corps.  He also recounts how the nominally Marxist leaders of the Social Democrats became smugly bourgeois.

Goering was the creator of the Gestapo and was proud of his baby.  Its achievements were "one of the glories of the first year of German recovery".  He talks openly about the concentration camps, though he describes the brutality to which inmates were subjected as inevitable "excesses" carried out in the first flush of the Nazis' victory.

I first read this book a few years ago as a postgraduate student researching the subject of divine kingship, and Goering did not disappoint me:

"Just as the Roman Catholic considers the Pope infallible in all matters concerning religion and morals, so do we National Socialists believe with the same inner conviction that for us the Leader is in all political and other matters concerning the national and social interests of the people simply infallible."

Hitler, Goering tells us, was "a plain, simple man, but one who had overwhelming genius and greatness of character".  His appeal was attributable to "something mystical, inexpressible, almost incomprehensible which this unique man possesses".  What was more, the Fuhrer was the gift that kept on giving: "every day I spend with him is a new and wonderful experience".  One has to wonder how much of this guff Goering actually believed, how much was cynical sycophancy, and how much was put in by his ghost-writers.

All in all, this is not a bad work of propaganda - not a bad example of how to put lipstick on a pig.  One wonders how many people it convinced.