Brazen Evil (Part 2 of 2)
Honest evil is a rare thing and that is because rarely do perpetrators of evil acts have the confidence to be so brazen. Those that do may be deluded as to how powerful they are. The lone sociopathic killer is likely such a person. However there are others who might have a reasonably accurate sense of the power they have. They are truly scary and with that in mind I turn to the Posen Speeches of Heinrich Himmler.
Once you get past cartoonish caricatures of Nazism it becomes a difficult thing to stomach so feel free to stop reading. I should offer a trigger warning because I discuss persecution and mass murder.
Himmler was leader of the Schutzstaffel (SS) political security force of the Nazi regime and in charge of exterminating millions of Jews, Roma and other victims of the Third Reich (some of whom I have discussed here). In 1943 he gave a number of speeches to a select audience of close to a hundred SS and Nazi Party personnel in the Posen Town Hall (then situated within greater German territory). The speeches were recorded and exist to this day. They were used as evidence in the Nuremburg Trials. They are interesting to me in terms of showing a confident admission of harmful acts by the speech-giver. But that may depend on just how public one considers the speeches to be.
Is giving a speech to an elite audience private? If it is recorded and a text of the speech distributed to others of that elite is that still private? Himmler himself in the speeches says that some of its content must “never be discussed publicly”. Nonetheless I think it is significant because most other perpetrators of harm will only say these things in much smaller groups with a much more intimate tone or they will even think these things only to themselves.
The motive for supposed discretion is also worth considering. Part of it may have been a sense that the Germans were starting to lose World War II and that they had better be more careful in the face of Allied propaganda. In part however it may also have arisen from a perverse sense of gentility exhibited in other parts of the speeches. Consider the following:
“Most of you here know what it means when 100 corpses lie next to each other, when there are 500 or when there are 1,000. To have endured this and at the same time to have remained a decent person — with exceptions due to human weaknesses — has made us tough, and is a glorious chapter that has not and will not be spoken of.”
What audacious twisting of reason! Be a mass-murderer while at work and then go home to your loved ones and still be a “decent” person rather than some sort of brutish monster. Kill but never discuss it over dinner with your family. To Himmler this shows that you are cultivated in manners and strong of will and that makes you a better person.
Notice how he says that they have “endured” this. There is some sense here that brutal acts have a detrimental effect on a person. In other parts of the speeches he says that the Holocaust is the most difficult thing they have done. This seems at odds with the Nazi notion that those they were exterminating were more animal than human. A comparison is even drawn with the killing of Nazi comrades…
“…we did not hesitate on June 30 to carry out our duty, as ordered, and stand comrades who had failed against the wall and shoot them.”
This was a reference to the Night Of The Long Knives in 1934. During that event the Sturmabteilung (SA) or Stormtroopers were forcibly removed from the Nazi regime they had helped establish. The SS had till then been one small part of the SA paramilitary organization and on that date SS officers murdered SA colleagues. How did those SS officers feel? Well they had too much “tact” to say anything but Himmler expresses the opinion that…
“...everyone shuddered, and everyone was clear that the next time, he would do the same thing again, if it were commanded and necessary.”
Himmler is saying they had human responses of revulsion to what is a revolting act but also evokes loyalty and necessity in saying that they did it once, so they can do it again. In this speech his purpose is to steel them for more evil acts – more and more corpses lying next to each other. But why do it?
“We have carried out this most difficult task for the love of our people. And we have taken on no defect within us, in our soul, or in our character.”
That particular statement is taken from a part of the Posen Speeches relating to what to do with any possessions confiscated from the victims of the Holocaust. SS officers are barred from personally profiting from any such booty and must hand it all over to the regime. Here we see them clinging to some twisted sense of integrity. And it is all done in service to a people under threat.
The threat the SS were acting on was a manufactured one – a fiction that some ‘races’ had to be destroyed so that the German ‘master race’ as exemplified by the SS could flourish. Race ideology was a delusion the Nazis harboured but elevating necessity over matters of good and evil is different from pretending that evil acts are good acts.
I think the Posen Speeches show a powerful regime that is aware of the difference between good and evil and accepts on some level that it has done evil things. And that is truly terrifying. They have power that allows them to be brazen. They cannot be exposed because within a given jurisdiction there is nothing more powerful than they are. In the rare instances that this happens arguments of reason cease to matter because ‘might is right’.
The Nazis took the ‘will to power’ too far and discovered that the world was still bigger than them. Eventually there were consequences for what they did but by then it was too late for the many millions of victims of their hate and fear. I prefer a politician who is scared that his sins will be discovered rather than one that thinks he can do anything with impunity.