How do you recognize a non-comformist?

They all look alike. In 1923 Germany, they looked like Hitler. In 2010 Oregon, they wear tattoos, nose rings, lip rings, eyebrow rings, green hair, and faded jeans with gaping holes in the knees. The Hitler look was more than a fad, of course, while the current buffoonery will soon go the way of crewcuts and bellbottoms, and dermatologists will get even richer removing indecipherable tattoos from wrinkling skin.

I’ve become absorbed in Hitler lately. No, I’m not going to become a neo-Nazi. Passing passions are just how I learn. They’re why I know a little about a lot of things, but not a lot about anything. So it is that my time of late has been devoted to Hitler documentaries, Hitler movies, and Hitler books. I even took a stab at the music of Wagner, but sixty minutes of boredom was enough.

I have a Nazi flag plus the certificate an American soldier had to get signed to bring it home as a war souvenir. I bought the flag at an estate sale in Minneapolis in 1989. $75 seemed like a good price, so I figured I would sell it and pocket the difference. Then it occurred to me that some neo-Nazi group might buy it, so I kept it. Now, I don’t even know where it is, but it’s here, probably tucked away in a box of clothes that I bought on sale but never wore (I’m forever thinking I should dress better, but I never quite work up to doing it). I once got the idea that I should burn the flag as a symbolic refutation of evil, but then I remembered that destroying history was what the Nazis did—and what the Taliban did when they blew up that statue of the Buddha.

Besides, I rather like having that flag because it’s surely the single most powerful symbol the world has ever known (there being many different Christian crosses). Even though I don’t even know where it is, the mere fact that it’s in this house somewhere gives me a connection with the billions of people whose lives it touched. Kind of, anyway. My problem is that the past seldom seems real to me. The future doesn’t either, actually, but it seems more real than the past because the past is gone, and the future hasn’t gotten here yet. The present seems real enough, but everytime I try to grasp it, it has already become the past. This makes me feel as if I’m floating, which is why I plan to re-read Sartre’s Nausea when I’m done with Hitler.

Of all I’ve read and all I’ve watched, the thing that stands out most is the execution of a Nazi war criminal by a firing squad. His was but one of scores of deaths I saw, but the rest run together. The morning on which he was marched into a large pit was cold. He wore his uniform and walked upright. When he reached the place where he was to die, his legs were tied together loosely for no good reason that I could see. Then a hood was placed over his head and his hands were tied behind a wooden post. He was standing tall with his chest out when the twelve soldiers fired. A spray appeared behind him, and, after a moment, he slumped forward. Then a dog howled piteously. I watched this execution…

I stopped writing to answer the phone, and, as I talked, I could see the words I was saying. I could even see the punctuation. It’s scarier to hallucinate when I haven’t taken anything, but it’s also more interesting.

I watched him die repeatedly in slow motion. The spray seemed to be composed of flesh and splinters, which was what I expected. But I also saw what looked like smoke rising, and it took me awhile to realize that it was condensation caused by heat from his body meeting the cold air. A few moments earlier, the heat had come from his nose; now it came from his back. Over and over, I listened to that dog, and his howl seemed to encapsulate all the misery of the war. Fifty-five million people died. Imagining their deaths is like imagining time without end or space without boundaries. Still, I can’t stop reading about the man who started it all, the man who would surely have been stillborn if the universe were benevolent.

Peggy has little tolerance for tragedy (she sees enough of it as a nurse), so last night—after having watched a little of what I had watched and hearing me talk about it for days—she insisted on watching “Charlotte’s Web” to lift her spirits. Until this moment—now—I never shed a tear about all the misery I absorbed through my study of Hitler, yet I cried over the death of a make-believe spider in “Charlotte’s Web.” I guess it was safer that way.

I can’t leave World War II alone (I’ve returned to one aspect of it or another for years) because to do so would be to imply that all that misery didn’t matter. Besides, I am desperate to understand it. I simply have to know why we are as bad as we are when it would seem so easy to be better. I write this as a citizen of a nation that is ever at war. I think it’s what our leaders do to feel important, and that was probably Hitler’s reason too, that and wanting to rule the world.

I always edit for days before I post, but this feels right without editing. I’ll probably be mortified tomorrow and spend next week editing the hell out of it, but I’ll take that chance. I’ve heard that shit happens, so I suppose spontaneity does too.

32 comments:

dana said...

The fact that you could admit to crying over the death of a fictional spider is just proof that you DO have very sympathetic emotions....and fear not for exposing your softer side.

The fact that you delve so deeply into the traumas befalling thousands of people without the ability to feel the same emotions, is only proof that you are unable to wrap your brain around the enormous atrocities and feel emotionally connected to each victim: Like most of us.

Which reminds me of the old question: How do you eat an entire elephant? answer: one small piece at a time.

What? You're as human as the rest of us? Aren't you supposed to be the anti-christ?

When I was young (in my 20s,) I studied Hitler as well as King Henry the Eighth, to name but a few. (I threw in the part about King Henry just to prove how eclectic - and strange - my "interests" have always been).

I didn't just want to know the surface facts. I needed to DIG. (just as I needed to DIG deeply into the roots of the bible). I became a "reader of all things, expert of none"

But at that time in my life I had an understanding of sorts, concerning Hitlers attempts at a perfect race.

His breeding hospitals were closely monitored and his approach was unique....until he did what all bigots in power do: He went too far in his quest and slid over the edge, and down the slippery slope into savagery and insanity.

Today, I would be the first one herded into the showers. Bent and broken, of no use to man nor beast, I serve no purpose other than to the ones willing to love me.

Yes. I can see where Hitler's first attempts at perfection took him, but to attribute undesirability and low mentality to an entire race showed the decline of his sanity.

There is such a fine line between a genius and an idiot and the ability to see which side is gaining control usually belongs to the ones suffering from the insanity.

A person cannot grasp the intense atrocities of the world and expect to feel constant grief and pain. Our ability to withstand such honesty is our only self-defense against burnout.

If there had been an entire NEST of spiders, I doubt if you would have felt any angst. It was only due to the fact that you GOT TO "KNOW" the one victim's personality before it was killed that provided your empathy.

Hey, it's midnight! That's the best I could come up with.

The Tusk said...

I've read, and I've read Dana... but I'll hold back comment til I have a touch more time.

nick said...

Interesting idea that one of the reasons Hitler did what he did was simply to feel important. There's probably some truth in it.

I've been fascinated for years by why people are so nasty when they could be the opposite. I'm still just as baffled.

The Blog Fodder said...

Hitler tried to build a perfect Aryan race. The Soviet Union tried to perfect Homo sovieticus. Preachers of all stripes try to instill their version of perfection into their congregants.
We are all non-conformists in that we are all imperfect in some way or another and perfect in some way or another.
(I'd say I was a perfect ass but I have hemorrhoids).

R. J. said...

The great human tragedy of the past is lamentable and those who are educated went through a period of contemplation about it. Of even greater concern today, to me, is that area of the world that is so uneducated they don't read and don't know anything about those tragedies. They want to take the world back to the Middle Ages and have no concept of the value of human life. They only know hate and destruction. The misogyny of today's power hungry groups rival any that have targeted a specific group of the past.

ellen abbott said...

My husband also reads and watches documentaries about WWII. And the Civil War. And other wars. I don't understand the fascination with the details of war.

I read 'The Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich' when I was in high school. It was my first introduction to the depravity of the human being. Those 10 million, a fifth of all war dead, strike me as the worst of the worst. I know plenty of non-combatants were killed, victims of bombs and other casualties, side effects of war but those ten million, 6 million jews and 4 million other 'undesirables'...homosexuals, gypsies, the disabled, blacks, political opponents, vocal christians, artists even. To set out to exterminate, to reduce people to less than human status, the wholesale gassing and burning of the bodies, the torture, the medical experiments, the collection of their hair and the gold from their teeth...well, it is incomprehensible. And worse, that the knowledge of what was going on was known in other parts of the world and produced no outcry for a long time. Oh, jews and gypsies, queers; who cares. What is so horrible is not that one man sunk so low into madness but how easily he brought so many along with him. There were the rare ones who helped those undesirables escape, as many as they could, or those that his families but on the whole, people turned a blind eye.

As awful as Hitler was, and I think he was probably the worst, he is not that rare a breed. Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot to name a few in modern times, the Inquisition and before that the Church murdered millions of people because they refused to convert.

Marion said...

Well, I have a Rebel flag and cry at all movies, funny, sad or adventure. LOL!

I did my Sr. research paper in high school on the persecurtion of the Jews throughout history and it changed me forever. It blew my mind then, and still does today how one evil man can destroy so many people.

My husband's read several books by or about Hitler. Know your enemy. I don't care to read about him myself, but that's just my opinion. Knowledge is power. Blessings, Snow!!

Mim said...

First off - thanks for your comment on my artwork - much appreciated.

This topic is very interesting to me - I think alot about Hitler and how he got that way. Was he totally sick/evil to begin with (if evil does exist - but let's not go there)? Did he get completely crazed with power and just go mad? What made this man the most powerful man of the century - how did he get there. I've read the books. I've looked that the timeline from the Sino-Russian war, thru WW I and leading up to WWII. I "understand" it - as much as anyone can. But the insanity, the horror - that part I can only put down to the animal in us that comes out if we don't guard against it.

Have you been to the Holocaust museum in Washington DC? Do go sometime if you can. It's an astounding experience of the horror of following orders, hate, power and yes...religious fanaticism. Not an "approved" religion, but one nonetheless.

Being brought up Jewish in a city of Jews - so many of whom were survivors of the Holocaust - I grew up terrified of Germany. I have yet to visit that beautiful country - I fear have skipped business trips there. As a child, I was in Switzerland during the Cuban Missile crisis - and was convinced that I would never get home, which was terrifying to me.

We watch all of the WWII movies and documentaries that we can - I think in an effort to gain information that maybe will answer that question of HOW, - not so much WHY....but how.

Good post Snow, good one.

Snowbrush said...

Mim said: "I think alot about Hitler and how he got that way."

Some think he was a sociopath, others an idealist. Opinions about his brilliance as a leader also vary, with some thinking he was terrifically talented, and others thinking that he was a mediocrity who was simply lucky enough to appear at the right time to be carried along by events that occurred within a country that was ready for change.

No, I haven't been to the Holocaust Museum. I used to travel regularly, but I've hardly been out of Oregon for years. Maybe when the dogs die, we will travel again.

Marion said: "...how one evil man can destroy so many people."

He exploited prejudices that already existed. Jews were hated because of long-standing bigotry, but also because many were prominent Communists, and most Germans hated Communists. They therefore extrapolated that all Jews were Communists. Many Germans also believed that their country was sold out when WWI ended. Germany still occupied a great deal of enemy territory (in other words, they weren't on the run), so in looking for an explanation for a surrender that seemed inconceivable to many, who might they blame but people whom they didn't trust anyway.

Snowbrush said...

Ellen said: "the knowledge of what was going on was known in other parts of the world and produced no outcry for a long time."

And remember the Jews who were neglected after being liberated or that were refused entry into other countries, some even being sent back to Germany.

R.J. said: "The misogyny of today's power hungry groups rival any that have targeted a specific group of the past."

Thanks to Germany (a culturally and scientifically advanced nation with a formerly popular liberal government) being the country that was hardest hit in all the world by the Great Depression, It only took Hitler and the Nazis four years to go from being ignored and laughed at to ruling Germany. To me, that means that something similar could happen here. I don't think that any nation should feel immune to such evil, and we already have groups that are working toward such a system.

Blog Fodder said: "Preachers of all stripes try to instill their version of perfection into their congregants."

YES! As soon as any religious or political group starts talking about achieving a state of purity, get ready for atrocities.

Snowbrush said...

Nick said: "Interesting idea that one of the reasons Hitler did what he did was simply to feel important."

Which isn't to say that he suffered from low self-esteem. Bullies usually have a very high opinion of themselves. Hitler was an optimist who always trusted his own judgement over that of any expert in any field. As a consequence, he ignored sound advice and took awful chances. For a long time, they paid off. Yet, he was never satisfied with what he had achieved. He believed he deserved ever more power and adoration.

Dana said: "you DO have very sympathetic emotions..."

I'm both Jekyl and Hyde. I think we all are, but most of us don't know it because we haven't been in situations that brought it out. I've probably seen more of my dark side than most people.

Dana said: "Aren't you supposed to be the anti-christ? "

I think that it's easier to believe in much of what the Bible and certain other "holy books" teach if a person isn't too terribly sensitive. Those who can't stop thinking about the injustices inflicted by a deity find it harder to believe in his claims to perfection and, ultimately, in his existence.

Dana said: "If there had been an entire NEST of spiders, I doubt if you would have felt any angst."

Of course, which is why a nation's enemies HAVE TO BE depersonalized before our soldiers can kill and keep killing. This is easier to accomplish if they are racially and culturally different from us anyway, as were the Japanese in WWII. Since the Germans were perceived as a lot like us, German POWs were given liberties in America that our own black citizens (including the ones in our military) lacked.

kylie said...

snow,
despite promising you a comment, i dont know what to say.
i havent done a whole lot of study on ww2 but enough to know i'll never fathom the holocaust.

as for your spontaneous post, it's great, no need to edit

xox

The Bipolar Diva said...

I thanked and linked to you in my post "Thoughts, Thanks and Terrors." FYI

Mim said...

Snow - interesting comment about how this could happen here. Recently there was that big kerfuffle about Arizona illegal immigrants and the idea was that everyone had to carry "papers" to prove that they were legal or a citizen. I'm not going to start on illegal immigration - I'm sure you'll do a great post on that some day - but the thought of getting stopped and asked for "papers" immediately reminded me of Nazi Germany. And to leave it to the cops to only ask with "reasonable suspicion" means that they were going to ask for papers based on your looks. Did you look hispanic? Did you look indigent? and it would go on and on.

I hated the very idea and it scared me - I saw this as the thin tip of a big wedge.

Christine Robinson said...

Hi Snow,

I wonder if it's a typical quality of writers to "know a little about a lot of things..." I always feel a sense of belonging when I read those words from someone else.

I read and enjoyed your post. I went through a spell myself when I was fascinated by the enormous societal manipulation by Hilter's regime. It all started for me when someone made a remark along the lines of, "How could neighbor turn on neighbor that way? I'd never let that happen!" It made me curious as to what sort of tools were employed to induce humans to act against the basic instincts of community and survival. When you turn those two into opposing forces... well...

It's a historical phenomenon that one man's mental poison could have such far-reaching impact. In considering that, I've guessed that Hilter attracted many fellow sociopaths (or whatever you want to call them) into his inner realm. Evil attracts and begets evil, and spreads like toxic fumes.

It's mind boggling. And it's a wonder that the living casualties of such an event could carry on after the liberation. But maybe it was that so-called post traumatic stress that propelled the drive to reestablish Israel.

It's a fascinating, tragic, enormous topic to ponder. No wonder so many books have been written about it. So many angles for study. And it's always rewarding to read your thoughts about something so deeply perplexing.

Christine

lakeviewer said...

Wars are atrocious things. It changes us fundamentally. Pain does the same thing. To stay sane and focused, we need to tell ourselves constantly that we can make a diffirence, no matter how small that is. Discussing these concepts right here, right now, brings us to the table to act out our deep convictions. At the table, at least for a few moments, we hear others speak, and we might learn something.

Thanks for the visit, Snow.

All Consuming said...

I watched 'The World at War' a documentary series about world war two and the events shortly before and after it occurred and found it harrowing, heartbraking, and wouldn't have missed one episode of which there were 26. I was sobbing through parts and think that all schools should show it to their pupils because it's so vitally important that we as a society don't either forget or never become aware of what happened. Sadly I think that's exactly the case.

Diana said...

I understand your interest in Hitler as of late. As a young girl I absolutely despised history of any kind. Now that I am a big girl, I find it all fascinating! I have some original photos taken at some Nazi death camps. They came in handy for certain school projects as my kids grew up. I'd keep the flag. Love Di ♥

tony said...

Spontaneity cant be seen from a distance.We lump it with the Planned & The Designed.
Those facists, they thought what they did was part of "The Plan".They were only making real the nightmares of others.
Oh Lord, your right such things echo down History & are being done today.
Hey, nice to read your blog.I will read your backpages.
It's 7am in the morning & i type with sleep in my eyes but I shall return! Regards Tony.

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

Wondering if you've seen the movie "Max?" It's about an art dealer who tried to sway Hitler into art. I believe the person is fictional but the story is mostly true.

Snowbrush said...

Many of your comments make me want to do a whole other post about Hitler. CreekHiker, I'll just say in response to the movie you suggested that Hitler was passionately interested in art. He tried twice to enroll in a prestigious art school but was rejected. When he became fuhrer, he sponsored large art shows every year. Of course, like most of the good things he did, this too had an enormous dark side, which I will get into if I do another post. An excellent documentary about his interest in art is "The Architecture of Doom."

Myrna R. said...

I just stumbled upon your blog. I find it fascinating. You're a great writer, especially if you didn't edit. Wow!

Anyway, I visited a concentration camp in Germany. Still can't fathom how/why man's inhumanity can come to the surface like that.

I'll be following your blog. Glad I found you.

Haupi said...

A great read as always. WWII and Hitler had been written about and analyzed ad naseum and still I don't think anyone has a real grip on the "why" of it - and it certainly hasn't ended man's inhumanity to man. On a public television show I've heard some "out there" scientists believed that time is actually an illusion which makes me suspect this world and the reality on it as just a dream of the gods - wanting to experience the good, bad and ulgy. Who knows - but you blog has given me something to think about and for that I'm grateful. Too much fluff around here not to appreciate your flavor. Thanks.

Haupi

Angela said...

Me being a German, born after the war, but not much, I have grown up with all of these questions very directly. How much were my parents involved, my teachers, our neighbors? How would I have behaved if I had been brought up in the Hitler Youth (dictatorships always try to pull the young people on their side), believing in a good, strong leader who will make good the injustice of the Treaty of Versailles after WW I?
How would I have felt if I were told I belonged to the "better" Germans, and "the others" were not really human? I would like to advise you to read the book "Destined to Witness" by the colored boy (he grew up in Nazi Germany as the son of a Hamburg nurse and a Liberian diplomat) Hans-J├╝rgen Massaquoi. He later became editor of the Magazine Ebony and has lead a life in America, but says that as a boy he wanted nothing more than "belong". He said I would have given my right arm to have been allowed into the Hitler Youth.
How can we tell, today, with all our knowledge? But Mim, I assure you you can visit Germany now without any fear. I think Germany is the country which has tried most to learn from the past, and all our now living generations are as horrified as you by what happened then. In every town there are now "stumbling stones" in front of houses where Jews have been deported and killed, their old property has been given back to their heirs, all students at school learn about the past and are advised to think instead of simply obeying... It is a perpetual task, but it has borne fruit.
The one good thing that came out of these two terrible wars in Europe in the last century is the unification of Europe. We can now visit our "inherited enemy" France without having to cross a border, we send our children as exchange students to all countries around us, and we get their children back. Just last week an English girl was happily sitting in my beach basket, giggling with her German friend - isn`t that good?

Strayer said...

I see our species as incredibly viscious. Hitler let the beast out of the bag visibibly. But if think like an alien, viewing us from afar...think of the cows marched to slaughter, bodies still shaking and trembling as they are hung to be stripped of their flesh, of the constant wars, bombs dropped on kids, ripping their guts out and limbs off, well anyhow......we are fang dripping bloody evil, if looked upon from the outside. We don't have to be. Or do we?

JOE TODD said...

Interesting Fact: Hitler had a terrible time with flatulence. His physician prescribed a drug that contained Atropine. My personal opinion is he overdosed on the stuff.

C Woods said...

Interesting post ---as usual. My first husband was also very interested in Hitler ---and the European front, in general during WWII. As a result, we saw lots of Hitler & WWII movies. When he read WWII books, I also read them, or at least parts of them. He was an artist and often created works with Hitler images ---obviously not flattering.

It seems to me that the fascination with Hitler is like the fascination with an accident on the road. You don't want to look, but you can't help yourself.

We are fascinated by someone who was able to get an entire nation behind him, first with animated speeches when the country was suffering inflation so high that it took a wheel barrow full of money to buy a loaf of bread. Then with fear and intimidation.

I know there were those who hid Jews and those in the underground movement, so not EVERYONE supported him, but they had to do it surreptitiously ---or be imprisoned or killed. It makes one appreciate our own country's tolerance of those who oppose our leaders, wars or government policies, because we know we won't be killed for an opposing point of view.

Speaking of crying ---I recently read "The Book Thief" which is a novel about a young girl living in Nazi Germany ---and I couldn't stop crying at the end. It had been a long time since I actually sobbed outloud at anything. That was weeks ago, and just writing this makes me think about it ---I have to fight back the tears so I can type.

Thanks for stopping by my blog. Yes, I've been on a leave of absence from blogging for awhile. After taking care of my elderly mother for many years before she died several months ago, I decide to take care of ME for a while ---so I've been going to the gym and counting calories ---it's almost a full-time job to get back into shape. I've also been taking classes and my husband got me involved in a big project that will take about year to complete. So I will be blogging again, but once I stepped away for a while, it's been hard to get back in the groove.

Crazed Nitwit said...

I have been fascinated, not by Hitler, but by how he got 80 million people to go avidly along with him. I started my quest for this knowledge in high school, long before the internet or Amazon.com. In my first venture into college I took several history classes, on eras The history of Germany from 1800~1960. I also took a history of France in the same time period. I've continued this obsession off and on for the next 30 years. I began to understand simply by being born in a "free" country I could not truly understand why Germany allowed Hitler to lead them to such an evil place. There is a book written by a shrink who counseled the prisoners at Nuremberg. That book helped me put together the history of German leadership, the harsh price Germany was forced to pay for WW1, the 1000 year long persecution of Jews in Europe, and I began to have a simple understanding.

It does not make the events any less terrible but it gives me a point of reference.

Rob-bear said...

While Hitler lost the Second World War, he has apparently won the battle for peoples' minds. All over the western world, governments are adopting his philosophy of government and business, hand in hand. Probably the leader in this regard is the United States, but it is far from alone.

nollyposh said...

i watched a B& W movie late at night once and it was the story of a young, very poor couple and their tragic story of trying to conceive a child... The movie went on and on, miscarriage after miscarriage, until it had you on the edge of your seat holding your breath hoping for success... In the very last scene the screen went black and you heard the cry of a new born and as you started to weep tears of joy for the finally successful couple you hear the parents deciding upon the name of their so long awaited child... Adolf Hitler X:-/

Jessie said...

I've had a Hitler obsession of my own for some time now - I took a "Nazi Germany and Hitler's Europe" class last semester, and I ended up going to Berlin because of it. I know what you mean when you say that the past and the future don't seem real to you - they didn't to me, either, until I went to Berlin. Being a History major, that's hard to admit. I know how important history is, that's why I'm studying it - but seeing a concentration camp, seeing my family's name on a list of those killed in the camp, seeing walls still riddled with bullet holes all over the city, even now...it was SO REAL, on a level I've never experienced. You can learn and know everything about the past and never have it feel real - I'm thankful that I got the opportunity.

If you haven't already, may I recommend watching the documentary "World at War." It was made in the 70s, and it has something obscene like 11 parts to it, but it is so, so, SO excellent. My boyfriend and I are making our way through the series now.

Snowbrush said...

Thanks, Jessie. I've seen "The World At War" a few times over the years. Have you seen "Architecture of Doom"? That's a really good one.

Nollyposh: "...you hear the parents deciding upon the name of their so long awaited child... Adolf Hitler X:-/"

How do you view his birth, Nollyposh, from your spiritual perspective? I can wish he had died young or been killed, but I don't know how you see it. As a tragedy? As an opportunity for growth? As one of god's many faces?

Rob-bear, I agree that we're moving in a fascistic direction, but there are degrees of everything, and I'll also point out that fascism is not inherently racist.

Crazed Nitwit, a price that Germany paid that I hadn't thought about was the loss of thousands of synagogues (1,400 or more on Kristallnacht alone), some of them very old and very beautiful. There is now a virtual tour of many of them, both inside and out.

C Woods, I'm number 15 in line at the library for "The Book Thief." Thanks for the recommendation. Be sure and read my next comment.

Angela, I have "Destined to witness: growing up black in Nazi Germany" on hold at the library. I've actually read (in an anthology) the section where he begs his mother to take him down to the Hitler Youth headquarters so he can join. Please see my previous comment for another book recommendation.