Wednesday, May 21, 2008 5/21/08-Revolutionary Leadership

In today's excerpt--the leadership ranks of large-scale social and revolutionary movements--whether noble or tyrannic--are almost always highly populated with the young, along with the manichean self-assuredness and invincibility of these young. In this case, the movement is that of the Nazis (National Socialists) who rose to power in the economic rubble of the global depression, the humiliation of Versailles, and the accelerating upheavals of the Industrial Revolution itself:

"Like all other revolutionaries, the predominately youthful members of the Nazi movement had an urgent, now-or-never aura about them. When Hitler came to power in 1933, Joseph Goebbels was thirty-five years old; Reinhard Heydeich was twenty-eight; Albert Speer, twenty-seven; Adolf Eichmann, twenty-six; Josef Mengele, twenty-one; and Heinrich Himmler and Hans Frank, both thirty-two. Hermann Goring, one of the eldest among the party leadership, had just celebrated his fortieth birthday. And a decade later, in the midst of World War II, Goebbels could still conclude from a statistical survey: 'According to the data, the average age of midlevel party leaders is 34, and within government, it's 44. One can indeed say that Germany today is being led by its youth.' At the same time, Goebbels nonetheless called for a continuing 'freshening of the ranks.'

"For most young Germans, National Socialism did not mean dictatorship, censorship, and repression; it meant freedom and adventure. They saw Nazism as a natural extension of the youth movement, as an antiaging regimen for body and man. By 1935, the twenty- to thirty-year-olds who set the tone for the party rank and file viewed with open contempt those who advocated caution. They considered themselves men of action with no time for petty, individual concerns. 'The philistines may fret,' they mocked, 'but tomorrow belongs to us.' In January 1940, one ambitious young Nazi wrote of Germany's standing on the threshold of 'a great battle' and declared that, 'no matter who should fall, our country is heading toward a great and glorious future.' Even as late as March 1944, despite the terrible costs Germany had incurred, the faithful were still cheerfully gearing up for 'the final sprint to the finish in this war.'

"In a diary entry from 1939, a thirty-three-year-old described his decision to apply for a position helping resettle ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe in the expanding German empire: 'I didn't need to think about it for a second. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I hope they'll be able to use me and will accept my application. It would get me out of the confines of my office, which has grown very stale.' Two weeks later he noted: 'I'm awed by the size of the task. I've never been given such great responsibility before.' Female university students spent semester breaks in occupied Poland, staffing the provisional day care centers that freed German settlers to bring in the harvest. One student later wrote enthusiastically: 'It made no difference which school we were from. They were united in one great mission: to apply ourselves during our break in Poland with all our strength and whatever knowledge we had. It was truly an honor to be among the first students allowed to do such pioneering work.' "

Götz Aly, Hitler's Beneficiaries: Plunder, Racial War and the Nazi Welfare State, Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 2005, pp. 13-14.

With thanks to Thomas E. (Pete) Jordon


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