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Adolph Hitler

'The Hangman and his Wife'

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Driving along a residential street in what seemed from doorbell videos to be a white Prius, a man tossed a plastic bag on each lawn as he moved along. It might have been a newspaper delivery, but it wasn’t. It was a package of hateful flyers whose words were directed against Jews. The bags contained rice or pebbles to weigh them down and keep them from blowing away in the wind.

Police have been investigating the hate messages delivered to homes in Rockville Centre, Oceanside and Long Beach in Nassau County and have blamed an anti-Jewish group for the activity, which has also occurred in other cities in the country. Whether these groups are aligned through the internet has yet to be determined. But we do know that the internet has carried hateful messages throughout the world, a far cry from the original idea that digital connectivity could be only a positive platform for revealing despots’ brutality in far corners of the globe.

We now know the internet can be a powerful tool to radicalize otherwise ordinary people who might be susceptible to the hateful messages. But how do ordinary people become radicalized?

A book was just published that attempts to deal historically with that subject by focusing on Reinhard Heydrich, who became the head of the SD (the intelligence service) and the Gestapo as well as an architect of the Final Solution for the Third Reich. “The Hangman and His Wife,” by Nancy Dougherty, tells of a man without ideological roots, who was not a fervent believer and only joined the Nazi Party in 1931, two years after his future wife, Lina. Yet he began what the senior New York Times book reviewer, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, who wrote the forward to the book, described this way.

“One searches in vain for a rational explanation of Heydrich’s descent into evil. No single biological fragment satisfies.”

According to the book’s author, Heydrich evolved from a musically gifted, intelligent and lonely little boy into a monstrous, hyper-rational technocrat with a photographic memory and unmatched organizational abilities. How he was perceived may have been a starting point. He had “striking Aryan looks,” and for Heinrich Himmler, who first interviewed him, and who “was weak-chinned and squinted from behind thick glasses … a physically unimposing” figure, Heydrich fit the Nazi ideal. “For all their focus on Nordic physical perfection, the Nazi leaders were a bunch of misfits … Goering was fat and jowly; Goebbels was clubfooted.” Hitler himself did not match the paragon. Here was this tall, blond candidate for head of the SS, who would be a poster child of Aryan perfection in his new uniform. He must have loved that.

Further, a close relative had a Semitic-sounding last name, and “he was shadowed by rumors that there was Jewish blood in his family and mocked during his nine years in the navy; one former roommate attested that ‘everyone more or less took Heinrich for a Jew,’” according to author Dougherty.

And this from another bunkmate: “there is no doubt that ambition was his characteristic peculiarity … On all occasions, he wanted to be outstanding — in the service, in front of his superiors, with the comrades, in sportsmanship and in bars.” Put that together with “his Luciferian coldness, amorality and insatiable greed for power,” according to Dougherty, and he became head of the Gestapo until he died in his Mercedes convertible from an assassin’s grenade on May 27, 1942. He received a full-dress state funeral from Hitler.

So do those personal qualities plus opportunity explain the emergence of a hate monger? Could any of these bag-tossers today become deeply evil and potentially homicidal? Or are they merely practicing freedom of speech? Do they just wish to stand out and be seen? Is capacity for malignant behavior what Freud called the “death instinct?” Or, as the book reviewer, Daphne Merkin, suggests, is there an inherent perverse glamour in evil?

Pixabay photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

The idea that wars would cease if countries were economically tied tightly together seemed to make sense to the world’s leaders immediately following World War II. It sounded like a reasonable premise. After all, why would any nation attack its neighbor if its economy depended on trading with that neighbor, right? In past centuries, wars were started to gain land and the riches they yielded.

Before the Industrial Age, economies were agrarian and depended on land ownership. But by the middle of the 20th century, a huge variety of goods could be exchanged across borders cheaply, especially with advances in transportation. Countries could be locked together by mutual profit rather than by expensive and bloody wars.

For more than 70 years, this theory actually worked in practice. Europe was a prime example. The British had already stopped fighting the French, who stopped fighting the Germans, who stopped attacking Slavic countries, and so on. Instead, they did business together, more or less peacefully, vacationed in each others’ mountains and on each others’ beaches and even formed what they called a European Union. It is not like the United States in that its 27 members must act unanimously or be expelled, but despite infighting, countries want to be in it. Once in, nations can enjoy more cheaply the fruits of economic transactions and a certain amount of financial support. 

The Russians were the world’s third largest producer of oil. They got some $123 billion of their export revenue from supplying crude oil to the rest of the globe, plus refined petroleum-like petrol and diesel at $66.2 billion, gas at $26 billion and coal at $18 billion (2019 figures), especially to neighboring European countries, including Ukraine. Russia was the largest exporter of wheat, plus iron and nickel, nitrogen-based fertilizers and a wide variety of raw materials.

If at war, Ukraine would halt its trade with Russia, which could affect Russia’s economy. So why would Russia start a war with its Ukrainian neighbor? It doesn’t make economic sense. There goes the theory that countries who trade together play nicely together. In fact, it is as if a bully in the schoolyard has begun beating up a smaller child who is supplying him with candy.

President Putin says he fears the encroachment of NATO and must have a buffer between Russia and the other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that was organized expressly to defend against a possibly aggressive Russia. Churchill always considered Russia the biggest threat. Ukraine is not a member of NATO, nor of the European Union. Putin further says more that makes no sense about denazifying Ukraine.

One thing seems to be obvious. Putin is not trying to grab Ukraine for its GDP. His army is pursuing a scorched earth attack, destroying apartment buildings, hospitals, industrial plants and whole cities, as it tries to establish a land bridge between the Donbas in eastern Ukraine and Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014. This would afford Russia uninterrupted access to the Black Sea, a goal of landlocked czars for centuries. But what he is really after is power.

Perhaps, Putin thought that his trade ties with other countries would keep them from interfering in his “special military operation” in Ukraine. No military riposte materialized after he grabbed Crimea. Perhaps he hoped his actions would serve to divide NATO members in their response to him. In fact, only Viktor Orban, the Prime Minister of Hungary, has refused to condemn Putin, straining what has been a Warsaw-Budapest alliance within NATO. On the opposite side of the spectrum, German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, said that no one could assume Russia would not attack other countries given its violation of international law in Ukraine, and that he would support Finland and Sweden if they decided to join NATO. Scholz made his comments despite Germany’s dependence on Russia for most of its import of gas.

So much for the hope that economic ties peacefully bind.