Past Is Prologue

How Nazism Exploited a Basic Truth About Humanity

When you have nothing to live for, you’ll let anyone tell you what to believe

Lauren Reiff
Human Parts
Published in
8 min readJul 11, 2019

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An archival photo of Hitler in the midst of a crowd in Nuremberg.
Adolf Hitler welcomed by supporters at Nuremberg. Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Carl Jung once made the tragically accurate statement that Hitler was akin to the mouthpiece of the German people’s collective unconscious.

It is more common to think — as well as nicer to think — that Hitler was simply a madman run amok on Germany and that his influence alone spoke for all of Nazism’s crazed, manic, and ruthless aspects. “He was evil,” people say, their eyes widened, their heads shaking in disbelief, and they leave it at that.

And while it is certainly true that Hitler was an evil man, this cannot account for the whole of the frenzy that swept Germany at the time. It conveniently goes unmentioned that while he wasn’t elected in a direct national vote, Hitler came to power in a constitutional manner. A sizable portion of the nation had rallied behind him completely by their own accord. Hitler’s Nazi party had long been in the making, first coming into the picture shortly after the first World War, but it wasn’t until the 1930s that membership really started to climb. Hitler’s vision for Germany was different from the looser politics of his predecessors, and it was arresting — undeniably galvanizing. The strength of this vision eventually dampened the will of other political parties as more and more people fell under the spell of Nazism. That said, it is not sufficient to pile all explanations for the rise of Nazism on a single, deceased man and to bemoan such a tragedy as a shameful pocket of history that simply “cannot be comprehended.”

I don’t think that’s true at all; I think most of us don’t want to understand it because in doing so, we might have to face some uncomfortable truths about the dark parts of ourselves and humanity at large. (But more on this later.)

Crippled by the aftermath of WWI, the Germans were weak and apathetic, societally a bit disbanded. They were robbed of the intense fervor of war almost overnight, and what arrived in its place was humiliation; a crushing defeat. They were a proud people, and this sort of merciless crumpling of their honor bred resentment—resentment that festered in the souls of the nation’s…

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Lauren Reiff
Human Parts

Writer of economics, psychology, and lots in between. laurennreiff@gmail.com / I moved! Find me here: laurenreiff.substack.com