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Published:December 21st, 2009 15:21 EST
Swiss Nazis and the lessons of "Hitlerism"

Swiss Nazis and the lessons of "Hitlerism"

By Geoff Dean

 I have recently been having the pleasure and discomfort of reading an excellent book on the Holocaust, namely "The War Against the Jews" by Lucy Dawidowicz. She painstakingly delves into the origins of what she calls "Hitlerism" and traces its development from Martin Luther all the way to Nazi fascism. She makes some points that are timeless and have added meaning in the light of the minaret ban in Switzerland.

 First, she points out that Hitler`s opponents consistently underestimated him. One such opponent, Konrad Heiden, called a young Hitler, "one of those men without qualities", his face "without radiance", a posturer, a stutter, and an irrational lunatic. Many others mocked his diminutive stature, his incoherent speeches and writings, and his obvious psychological problems. And yet, he became, horribly, quite likely the man who most greatly impacted the 20th century.

 Many people have similarly ridiculed the SVP as a ludicrous organization of bigots, skinheads, and crypto-fascists that has no chance of serious success. Radical ideas like banning marriages between native Swiss (whatever than means) and Muslims, closing all mosques, forced emigration of certain "classes" of Muslims, and the like, will never catch on in a modern country like Switzerland, goes the argument. I hope they are right but Weimar Germany was a developed country with a high level of education and a democratic system, connected to the modern world in the center of Europe. And they elected Hitler.

 Secondly, Dawidowicz points out in great and shocking detail the all encompassing nature of anti-Semitism in pre-Hitler Germany. Hitler was not an "out of nowhere" extremist but someone who captured and articulated what many Germans believed if they had previously been afraid to say. When he called Jews, "aliens among us" who should never be allowed to "defile our blood", those who agreed greatly outnumbered the few who resisted. When he called for Jewish businesses to be boycotted and later to be looted, ordinary people took up the call and carried out the damage. When he ordered "Aryans" to separate completely from Jews, most were happy to comply and even to rat out "closet" and "baptized Jews", often close friends, who had tried to assimilate into German society, even leaving their religious roots behind.

 Similarly, the minaret ban, while the brainchild of the SVP party, was supported by a big majority in a plebiscite vote. It not just the ravings of a few extremist anti-Islamic bigots but all too frighteningly mainstream in Switzerland, especially apparently in the German speaking cantons.

 Thirdly, Ms. Dawidowicz details the cautiousness of Hitler. He often rejected the more radical proposals of fellow Nazis, saying that they would reach the final solution by "taking small, small steps" so as to never have to "take a step backward." Jews were initially allowed to maintain some synagogues and businesses continue work in some professions, continue sending Jewish kids to public schools, and so on. As the public became accustomed to restrictions on the Jews, new ones were introduced gradually. When some complained, for instance, that World War I veteran German Jews were being persecuted despite fighting for Germany, they were excluded from many of the harshest restrictions. For a time.

 Similarly, the minaret ban is cleverly incremental. We are not banning Islam or even mosque construction, SVP officials may claim. Just minarets. But, as a minaret ban gradually changes from shocking to accepted, can anyone believe that there are no more restrictions on the way? And, if things are handled incrementally, will they not succeed in a country where anti-Muslim sentiment is apparently so widespread?

 She also devotes a lot of time to the Nazi ideal of "Volk", meaning more than just people in the ethnic sense, but an ideal based on racial purity and exclusion, that ultimately saw the existence of Jews among the Germans as a "disease", "syphilis" on the purity of the "Volk". The V of SVP is not surprisingly "Volk", translated to the more dispassionate "People`s" in the English title of the party.

 Most disturbing to me, is the parallel between the inaction of the world towards "Hitlerism" and the apathy to the minaret ban today. As Hitler`s atrocities against the Jews came to light, he was roundly condemned by Jewish organizations abroad. Governments of the world were more circumspect, calling for restraint while mainly seeing it as an internal German issue. Appeasement became the watchword of the day without the bad connotation it carries today.

 Similarly, there have been some protests of the Swiss ban in the Islamic world, albeit surprisingly few. The "Western world" has, while opposing the ban, said little and done less, giving the SVP every reason to believe that they will get away with this and leaving many chomping at the bit for their next little piece of Nazi-style legislation. Some, like the Wall Street Journal, have even provided some cover for the modern-day fascists, saying that a ban on churches in Saudi Arabia means that the Swiss are merely responding in kind.

 Where are the voices crying out for this decision to be overturned? And demanding a boycott of Switzerland if this cannot be achieved? Why is the UN still maintaining offices in Geneva? And why haven`t the Jewish organizations which I respect and support so much, done more to protest this outrage? After all, Swiss bigots are surely no fans of the Jews, either. And, regardless of that, when religious intolerance is tolerated, people of all religions and indeed, of none, suffer.