The Uncomfortable Logic of Nazi Germany

How exactly Hitler “tapped into collective unconscious of 78 million Germans”

Alan Trapulionis


“Hitler as a young man.” Wikimedia Commons image

When I was a kid, I used to think that the Holocaust was a movie. My sadistic grandfather felt the need to show me The Pianist at least once a year, so when I later discovered gems like The Schindler’s List, they fell perfectly into my understanding of what the Holocaust was: an absurd, unnecessary evil stored in a VCR tape. A brand of madness that was too suitable for filmmaking to survive in a real world.

The school had a different opinion. The school told me that the Holocaust did, in fact, happen. But the school also saw Nazi Germany as a sequence of events, rather than a complex phenomenon that is as relevant today as it was 80 years ago.

We were taught about the major turning points and some surface-level motivations behind those events. As in, the Germans needed this strategic base, so they launched an offensive against that heavily guarded town. In any way, the underlying message was that Nazi Germany is a far away land; one not to be forgotten, but one you shouldn’t lose any sleep over. What’s done is done. It’s just the old history that’s written in blood. New history is written in ink and imagination.

“All too often, the events in history, once they’ve happened, are accepted as kind of inevitable. The tendency is to say, they had to happen that way.” — Christopher Browning, historian.

It took me many years to realize that the school was wrong. Nazi Germany isn’t a far away land — it happened here, where I live. Nazi Germany isn’t an ancient myth — it happened in the modern age, in a world that is very similar to the one we live in today. Some of the people I consider friends probably have grand-grand-parents who joined the Nazi cause. Grandparents, who might have sent my grand-grand-parents to concentration camps.

It took me even more years to realize that the movies were wrong, too. They focus on the cinematic cruelty of the concentration camps and the ghettoes and the terror of the people who went through them. They focus on the relentless evil of the select few who…