I worry that we are forgetting the lessons we learned after Fascism, Nazism and World War II took their unbelievably horrific toll. Those lessons led, in the post-war period, to our hugely successful containment strategy and to our invigorated emphasis upon human rights. Thus, I was glad that, on the 80th anniversary of Hitler being appointed Chancellor of Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Germans to fight for principles of freedom and human dignity, and not to succumb to the complacency and complicity that enabled Hitler's meteoric rise.
Speaking one week ago at the opening of a new exhibit at the Topography of Terror memorial documenting Hitler's election, Merkel noted that German academics, students and industry leaders at the time not only tolerated Hitler, but supported him. She added, "The rise of the Nazis was made possible because the elite of German society worked with them, but also, above all else, because most in Germany at least tolerated this rise."
Once voted in as chancellor, Hitler was able, in the months to follow, to use his position to consolidate absolute power. He used the torching of the Reichstag parliament building and supposed conspiracies against him as the excuse to seize control of government and society. He suspended civil liberties and cracked down on opposition parties, paving the way for a totalitarian police state. By midsummer 1933, he had declared the Nazi Party to be the only political party in Germany.
The fact that Hitler was able to destroy German democracy in only six months serves as a warning today of what can happen if the public is apathetic, Merkel said. "Human rights do not assert themselves on their own; freedom does not emerge on its own; and democracy does not succeed on its own," Merkel said. "No, a dynamic society ... needs people who have regard and respect for one another, who take responsibility for themselves and others, where people take courageous and open decisions and who are prepared to accept criticism and opposition."
As I say in my forthcoming book Outcry:
Remember the refrain “Never again?” It was born out of reaction to Hitler’s concentration camps.It stated the importance of focusing upon the suffering and repression of others, not just ourselves.It warned of complacency, for how many at first thought that what was happening in Germany, Austria, Poland and Czechoslovakia was not our problem? It implied that, had not so many individuals and nations looked the other way, Hitler’s plan for world domination would not have come so close to fruition.
So, let's discuss this. Looking at the Western World today, in what ways are the democracies and the people within them complacent and complicit?