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February 22, 2009

The newsletter of the


February 22, 2009 – Volume 8, Issue 1


Sugar-Coated Poison

When one thinks of National Socialist propaganda, publications such as Julius Streicher’s Der Stürmer come to mind. Or Alfred Rosenberg’s “scientific” Mythos. Or the ugly posters decrying Jewish and African artists and musicians, especially prevalent in advertising for the ‘Degenerate Art’ exhibit in 1937 Munich.

These propaganda tools were in-your-face, blatantly anti-Semitic and racist. They appealed to the lowest common denominator in German society, empowering brutality and encouraging violence in the name of God and country.

But the National Socialists recognized from the earliest days of the Party that if they were to succeed and govern, they must attract Germany’s intelligentsia. Stürmer readers would do the Party’s bidding when needed to torch synagogues, maim socialists, or herd “useless eaters” onto blue buses for transport to gas chambers. Stürmer readers, however, would not likely be able to plan the coordinated attack on Jewish communities across a nation, devise propaganda campaigns targeting Bolshevists, or design means of mass extermination. For that, the NSDAP would need brains, not brawn.

As early as 1923, National Socialists set about recruiting the best and brightest. A newly-minted professor named Kurt Huber was drawn into the National Socialist orbit by the Party’s cerebral attack on the Dawes Plan, which traded loans from the U.S. and removal of Allied troops from the Ruhr for German agreement to continue reparation payments as set forth in the Treaty of Versailles. Both Kurt Huber and his fiancée Klara Schlickenrieder signed the NSDAP petition opposing the Dawes Plan, and eventually began the arduous application process to become members of the nascent Party.

Their enthusiasm for the National Socialist cause was fueled not by Julius Streicher’s writings or the grotesque, clumsy barbarism of anti-Semitic, racist posters. No, Huber and his good friend Karl Alexander von Müller read Das Reich, the weekly National Socialist newspaper by and for Germany’s elite. Huber’s reading list also included Deutschlands Erneuerung (Germany’s Renewal), which similarly couched bloody ideological concepts in sterile academic language.

Before long, Professor Kurt Huber was fully entrenched in National Socialist life. He wrote for Erzieher im Braunhemd (Educator in the Brown Shirt) and other National Socialist newspapers, primarily articles about folk music. But from a National Socialist point of view.

And he moved in increasingly more powerful circles because of his camaraderie with Karl Alexander von Müller. Kurt Huber counted Generaldirektor Max Dingler and Prince Donnersmarck among his closest friends. Both men were deemed the most influential Nazis in Munich, second only to Karl Alexander von Müller in direct access to the Führer and impact on National Socialist philosophy.

Huber’s political C.V., written for the Gestapo after his arrest, pointed to conversations with this triumvirate, conversations in which they debated the direction German politics should take. Their deliberations were devoid of callous contemplations involving logistics of transport to concentration camps or legislation to exclude Jews, Roma, Sinti, Jehovah’s Witness, and the like. Instead, they focused on highbrow topics like economic strategies, the benefits of an authoritarian regime, and redefinition of “freedom of the press” and “academic freedom”. All cloaked in the utmost patriotism.

Yet Nazi terror could not have existed without the acquiescence and support of men like Karl Alexander von Müller, Max Dingler, Prince Donnersmarck… and Kurt Huber. They lent an air of sophistication to the movement, validating violence in the name of the communal good, justifying genocide on the basis of supposed scientific thought.

These days, we can look at those men and ask, How could they have fallen for the false intellectualism packaged by the Goebbels propaganda machine? It’s incomprehensible to consider brilliant minds manipulated by half-truths and misinformation.

We must, however, be careful before tossing too many bricks while we live in a fragile glass house.

Most of us are aware of the transparent racism that surfaced during our recent presidential campaign. The Anti-Defamation League has documented a sampling of the most horrific speech over the past two years, speech that echoes Streicher’s Stürmer down to the last subhuman reference. The hate speech was not limited to Barack Obama. White supremacy groups targeted John McCain as well, proving that hate knows no bounds and requires little logic.

As it was in the 1920s and 1930s, this kind of hate speech is easily recognizable and therefore easier to guard against.

But what do we do when it comes packaged in luminous prose, homing in on thinking people, especially thinking people who love their country? Do we in the 21st century recognize and guard against sugar-coated poison?

Because it’s here, and it’s now. Check out any online forum, bulletin board, or message center, and you will encounter it, sooner rather than later. Usually the screen names suggest nationalism masquerading as love-of-country. These individuals post links to articles by the “New American” Web site on topics ranging from the stimulus package to alternative energy. Or they will write messages about states rights and immigration “reform” – mostly careful to sidestep racially inflamed arguments.

At first glance, it all sounds and looks good, like a natural part of the political process. One assumes they represent loyal opposition, something every democracy, every republic, needs to survive.

It’s only when you dig a little deeper that you realize these people promote a so-called racial holy war as well. They’re merely employing tactics perfected by the editors of Das Reich and Deutschlands Erneuerung.

Because the “New American” Web site is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the John Birch Society. I well remember growing up in Houston when Birchers exulted over Kennedy’s assassination (and their ecstasy over the murder of Martin Luther King was even more tumultuous). Only now, Birchers are trying to broaden their appeal with “reasoned” articles about the economy and mortgage fraud and other items of interest to many of us. Their base has not changed; they are only casting a wider net.

Similarly, out-and-out neo-Nazi, white supremacists like Hal Turner are softening their rhetoric. Oh, they still believe their old message, the one that called for bloodshed in our streets and the execution of federal judges who opposed them. That speechifying has not been removed from their Web sites. It’s just that more current entries wrap words in the flag and the Constitution, trying to legitimize hardcore racist ideology.

This lead article for our newsletter is much longer than usual because of the gravity of the situation. Recently, several dozen of these would-be “patriots” have converged on Comcast’s news and current event forums. They start threads based on New American articles, linking directly to them. They cut-and-paste from Hal Turner’s Web site, and from others like his. They are attempting to suck in young and old thinkers who would not be positively swayed by a lynching in Louisiana or by the torching of a synagogue.

I tried to get the Comcast moderators to lock or delete these threads, pointing out that the sources violated Comcast’s policies of zero tolerance for racially charged content. I gave them links to the ADL’s write-ups on the sources. Their response? As long as the post itself is not racially charged, it does not matter where the link takes a reader. They are not liable (the moderators declared) if a reader falls into a neo-Nazi organization because they followed a link in the forum.

Further (according to the moderators), they could not forbid linking to Bircher or Aryan sites, because if they did so, they would have to stop people from Googling or linking to Google to search.

When otherwise well-intentioned, good people like Comcast’s forum moderators cannot distinguish between the effects of linking to a search engine and directing readers to neo-Nazi or racist Web sites, we who care must be all the more vigilant.

This year, as you remember the students of the White Rose on February 22 or April 19, or as you think about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising (also April 19), or as you commemorate the horrors of the Holocaust in any fashion within your community, please carve out time to talk about this. Yes, remember those who were murdered in a genocide that still leaves us shaken and bruised. And yes, honor the memories of courageous women and men who died for the courage of their convictions, who said the ultimate No in a dangerous era.

But take that extra step. Address the Why, the How. And in so doing, talk out loud about those who would sugar-coat their poison in our day, in our country. How can we identify them? What is the difference between informed dissent and civil disobedience that calls for righting wrongs, and fringe politicians’ appeals for “revolution” based on misinformation and racial prejudice?

Make the memories count.

Ruth Hanna Sachs.


Teach It!

To turn the notion of “sugar-coated poison” into a more substantial part of a classroom curriculum, conference, or lecture series, we highly recommend Randall Bytwerk’s excellent work at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His German Propaganda Web site provides ready access to a large amount of original Nazi propaganda – both the in-your-face variety, and the more subtle texts that appealed to the elite or the apolitical.

Depending on the maturity level of your audience or your students, take his collection of materials and compare with contemporary white supremacists’ texts. For younger students or in a sensitive environment, you may wish to limit “contemporary texts” to excerpts found on the Web site of the Anti-Defamation League.

For more in-depth study, Google for RAHOWA (racial holy war) or other catch phrases peculiar to that ideology. If you are unfamiliar with this dark underbelly of American life, your initial reaction may be one of disbelief and outrage.

Warning: Before undertaking such research online, please first ensure that the virus protection and firewall software on your computer is up-to-date and operative. Some of these sites are infamous for downloading worms, spyware, or other malicious “bugs”. If you and your students (or you and your professors) will be researching on a network, please get your IT people involved first.

And please, don’t stop with a comparison of racist worldviews then and now. Talk about strategies to fight creeping prejudice. Come up with a game plan for the what-ifs the comparisons will inevitably yield. Resolve to nip hate speech in the bud, before it further inflames.

    TECHNICAL NOTE: These Web sites will rarely blast on their home page the fact that they are connected to dangerous groups. Googling for RAHOWA? Sure, you will know up front and without a doubt who is behind the hate speech. 

But Web sites like the “New American” do not inform you that they are a wholly-owned subsidiary of John Birch Society. You must click on the “About Us” link, or legal disclaimers, privacy statements, “terms of service”, or even research the individuals listed as the site’s Webmaster or editor. [In the case of the New American site, it’s on the “About Us” page.]

This may also be a good lesson to teach and to learn: Always know your source. Don’t be satisfied with the words on a page. Look for their body of work. Is there a trend? What organizations do the editors or writers belong to? Who links to them?


New Publications and Other News

Leaflets of Our Resistance, Volume I (click on link to order)

The last time we were this excited about a new publication? When White Rose History Volumes I and II were completed.

In many ways, release of this anthology represents another milestone in our work. We’ve long wished for this effort to include many more of our readers and friends. The world of Holocaust education can be lonely and tiring. Too many frauds push their way onstage, while too many heroes remain unsung.

Additionally, we’ve wanted our words to inspire others to think, to force others to consider the relevance of the dreadfulness of an era some would rather forget. We want to see “leaflets of OUR resistance” – declarations every bit as brave and wise as those penned by the very flawed but thoughtful students (and the adults who learned from them) of the White Rose.

And now the first in this series is in the final stages, getting ready to ship on April 19.

Linda Bliesner and Michael DeGroote interviewed two Holocaust survivors whose stories will move you, make you grateful to be alive, and stand in awe of the power of the human spirit to overcome. Annie Laura Smith, Dr. Gerhard Strasser, and Dr. Armin Mruck point us to others who resisted, to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, to courageous citizens of Ergoldsbach, and to a wider circle of heroes. Drew Vernon and Alma Thieme round out the collection with “leaflets” of their own.

Our target audience, as usual, focuses on high school and college students who have little or no knowledge of the events of the Third Reich. While we point our readers to additional reading materials, and fact-checked the historical essays, there are no footnotes or annotations. We’ve kept the style “easy to read”, with content that should challenge students and teachers alike.


Note: If you or your students are interested in submitting essays for subsequent volumes, please have them contact me.


Other News

We intend to have all of our publications uploaded to Amazon’s Kindle by August 2009. Watch our Web site for announcements of successful completion of this project.

If you are a Kindle user, or have experience with Amazon’s program, please let us know. We’re just now wrapping up the Google Books project (everything should be online by mid-March) and would appreciate input from anyone who is familiar with Amazon’s E-Book application.

This should enable purchase of our books at a reduced price for you, as our “inventory expense” and administrative costs will be minimal.

One more question: Do you use the Kindle E-Book for textbooks in high school or college courses? If so, does it work well? If not, why not?


An excerpt from the anthology is available only to paid subscribers of our newsletter.


In Closing

If you’ve followed our work for very long, or if you yourself work in Holocaust education, you know it’s not an easy field. So much time is spent delving into the dark recesses of the human psyche… Those twelve years of history revealed the unambiguous fact that the most civilized, rational society is capable of the most uncivilized, irrational crimes against humanity.

We’ve tried to document the few bright souls that sought to shine a light on those crimes and change their world. And we wish to expand the scope of our work beyond the White Rose and efforts immediately connected to it, to draw attention to lesser-known but equally important individuals who sacrificed everything for the sake of justice.

We do this not because it’s fun, or because we believe it will make us rich (so far we’ve put over $400,000 into this work, with no monetary return on that investment), or because it’s the kewl thing to do. We have done this while ill, while working one or two other jobs to make ends meet, and while dealing with crises that have nearly done us in.

But we’ve done it, are doing it, and will keep on doing it because our times demand it. Genocide has not disappeared off the face of the earth just because “we” won World War II. If anything, one people or tribe murdering another people or tribe merely on the basis of religion or ethnicity has exploded across the globe. Reporters can hardly keep track of the numbers or the faces.

And our own country must tackle dangers from those who would love to see history repeat itself, who would revel in a second civil war within our own borders. Gone are the days when the greatest threat to our national security is found overseas. Our homegrown terrorists are far more lethal.

This work of documenting what happened “back then” and the heroes who attempted to stop the crimes often feels useless. There’s no sense that we’re making a dent against the hate speech that’s in the air.

In January, we got an unexpected boost from an unexpected source. This year’s Sundance-Fulbright screening was the film The Reporter, about the work of New York Time’s columnist Nicholas Kristof. Kristof’s columns about the genocides in Darfur and Eastern Congo, about injustices perpetrated worldwide, focus on crimes every bit as terrible as what transpired under Hitler 60 – 70 years ago.

An older member of our local Fulbright board, a man who is not exactly a flaming liberal, expressed his frustration after watching the movie. “The scenes were so appalling, and I feel so helpless. I want to DO something, but I don’t know what.”

One of the most chilling scenes involved an interview that Kristof was granted with a Congolese warlord, a “Pentecostal” General Laurent Nkunda. As gut-wrenching as the rest of the film was, that confrontation embodied what a similar interview with Hitler would have been like: That combination of sugar-coated poison and flagrant inhumanity that defies rational thought.

Less than a week after the Sundance-Fulbright event, the New York Times announced that Nkunda had been captured in Rwanda, with the Congo seeking his extradition for prosecution (and the International Court in The Hague similarly interested in trying him for war crimes). Follow-up reports indicate that against all odds, with the caveat that ‘this is Rwanda and the Congo we’re talking about’, it appears that one small measure of justice may finally be meted out.

Yet it took years of unflagging reportage from Kristof and his fellow journalists before the rest of the world would even acknowledge the genocides of Darfur, Rwanda, and Eastern Congo. The tiny “measure of justice” that we are now seeing unfold in the specific case of General Nkunda can only be a first step.

But it is a first step. Their work – and the diseases they contracted along the way, the conditions they’ve endured, the deaf ears to their words – will not be in vain.

And for me personally, for us in general, and for each and every person who toils in dusty archives or who daily stands before a classroom of young adults who cannot see the importance of this history – for all of us together, this should be a moment to savor.

We have no guarantee that we will taste the fruits of our labor during our lifetime. Those who squared off against Hitler and his minions surely did not. But we should be encouraged by the example of General Nkunda.

Maybe, just maybe, some of us can be as lucky as Nicholas Kristof and live to see a small measure of justice enacted because of what we do. There would be no sweeter reward.


All the best,

Ruth Hanna Sachs

Center for White Rose Studies

(c) 2009 Exclamation! Publishers. All rights reserved. Please contact us for permission to quote. 

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