What I learned from a friend who was a former German Nazi member is relevant to the current political situation in our country.
My father served in England and then in France and Belgium during World War II. After the war, he was stationed in Germany. My parents became friends with a German secretary, who worked in my dad’s office, and her husband. Years later, I met them when my dad was again stationed in Germany. Hans had joined the Nazi Party in order to obtain a job as an engineer. He shared with me that he felt that part of the reason that Hitler was elected chancellor of Germany was that the Germans were not able to discern the danger of his rhetoric until it was too late. Hans strongly advocated that kids be given an education encouraging questions and skepticism, taught the lessons, not just the facts of history, and to not ignore negative behavior by assuming that the leader knows best.
Whenever I listen to Donald Trump speak, I cringe at the similarities between him and Hitler. Hitler promised to make Germany great again. Hitler blamed minorities for the plight of their economy. Hitler stoked fear of people of a different religion. Hitler incited violence toward innocents and dissenters. Hitler had no sympathy for people with disabilities. You know where all this hatred led. Hitler did not make Germany great again.
It is understandable that the Germans were resentful, fearful and angry. Their economy was in shambles. Much of their country had been divvied up and ceded to other countries. They feared they could not recover. Hitler told them what they wanted to hear. He received 32 percent of the vote, and won the election.
So, what did I learn from a family friend who was a former Nazi? Hans taught me the importance of applying the lessons learned from history so that we can recognize the signs of a dangerous leader — narcissism, demagoguery, authoritarianism, easy detail-free answers, scapegoating ethnic and religious minorities, promoting violence (offering to pay legal expenses for supporters beating up American protesters, warning about riots if things don’t go his way at the convention), not taking responsibility for making untrue statements, “it wasn’t me” answers to wheedle out of responsibility, a history of playing people with lies and broken promises.
Hitler led his angry followers and his country into a disaster. Living in a free, open, democratic society takes courage. An authoritarian leader can assure people that their need for physical and economic security will be guaranteed, but the price is freedom. We have a choice. In our time, the Russian people have chosen security over freedom by electing Vladimir Putin. The Hitler/Putin/Trump security-over-freedom model is not the right path for our country. And it won’t ultimately lead to security or greatness.
writes from Braddock Heights.