The Perverse German Joy in Being Spared Being Jew

Gotz Aly makes the argument in "Why the Germans? Why the Jews?" that the reason Germans engaged in wholesale slaughtering Jews in the late 30s to early 40s, owed to envy. According to Gotz, Germans hated Jews because they were what they wanted to be: successful, intelligent, adaptive to change — thriving. I am hoping this doesn't quite seem right to you because it isn't the case. That is, it is true that Germans envied Jews ... but when they were doing the actual slaughtering they were divorced from this actually somewhat sane mindset  envy at least recognizes that what one should want are things which mean living more happily and freely  and had only the mindset of justified persecutors. That is, by that time they had ceased the mindset that no doubt was prevalent in the Weimar part of the 20s and 30s, and now saw in Jews, not properties to be envied, but vile properties they truly wanted as much distance from as possible.

Aly wants you to understand Germans in this period as massive sinners — the kind of wretches God would plunk a tombstone of ten commandments on in some hopes of keeping in line. But his book does point to evidence which suggests thinking of them instead as damaged. He talks about upbringing, about how harsh and strict German parents and teachers were, beating kids mercilessly every time they weren't obedient and deferent (Jews on the other hand were well-known not only to be exemplary students but unafraid to challenge authorities). He mentions the fact of the high number of child deaths per capita compared with Jews — a fact which suggests a prevalent attitude of negligence, disregard, by Germans towards their children —and someone more attendant to what happens to children who were raised within punitive households would see this evidence as working against Aly's conclusion: these children were, then, traumatized ... and do you talk of the limitations of the broken child  — their inability to permit themselves to live freely, their inclination to envy those who can — therapeutically or crossly?

Germans had in fact the worst childrearing in all of Europe. If you want a catalogue of the sorts of tortures German parents inflicted on their children — including such things as routinely starving them, calling them "useless eaters," dominating them with daily enemas, having them tied to bed posts when "bad," throwing them into cold water for "hardening," "forcing them to kneel for hours every day against a wall while they [i.e. their parents] ate and read, frightening them by dressing up in terrifying ghost costumes and pretending to eat them up and kill them for their transgressions" (DeMause, Origins of War in Child Abuse 115), not just spanking them but whipping them (with whips, canes, and sticks) so hard they were put into comas, explore the work of Lloyd DeMause, who cites some of the same facts Aly does but offers not just a morsel but the whole god-awful enchilada. But it isn't primarily this which made them unable to allow themselves to make use of the considerable societal freedoms opened up to everyone during the 20s anywhere to the extent that Jews could. What stopped them is implicit in these tortures but isn't always — and in fact, routinely isn't — recognized as being so. What stopped them is the fact of their having parents who really did not love them, who could only look at them in a non-punitive fashion when they abandoned their efforts at self-growth and focused entirely on pleasing their parents — serving as means by which unloved parents might gather up some of the love they failed to receive from their own parents. What stopped them is that they were possessed of parents who were much closer to the terrible dark norm for homo sapiens — those born hundreds of thousands of years ago — than the vastly more evolved Jews were. 

The norm for homo sapiens wasn't to love their children. It's hard to imagine this, because even from their start weren't they mammals, hairy, cuddly creatures that lick and nurse and hold their young? ... such is the influence of romanticized images of animals we garner in our childhoods now, when before it was wolves and beasts that snatch children away in the night. For us to get a realistic picture it's best to picture them as almost pre-mammal and part of their predecessors' reptilian world, spun through with slithering things, a "place" where we could imagine them as unloving as the cold world around them and as only interested in their children as evolution could buy their self-interested attentions with. Children gained the attention they needed to survive by functioning as "erotic, tension-reducing" (DeMause, "Emotional Life of Nations" 401) objects. This means that the norm for the child was to be used incestuously. This was what all the attention was that anthropologists noted primitive cultures "lavished" upon their children, and explains why after constant erotic feedings of them while they are on the breast, parents had difficulty understanding their children even needed food while off it. The "heart of darkness" was the lack of love our hearts got — that never-to-be-properly-filled hole. It was also the apocalyptic experience, the horrible, absolutely intolerable aloneness that visited us when we began to focus on our own needs ... for when we did this, began to grow, our parents imagined us as their own brutally cold parents, imagined us as leaving them intentionally ... deliberately, as their own parents actually did them. And suddenly they withdrew any attention to us at all .... became to us "gods" unmistakably informing us that everything we depended on would be removed, leaving us forlorn wastrels in a blasted land, if we didn't immediately abandon what we were doing and go back to functioning as parts of them.

When Germans "evolved" from just envying them to slaughtering Jews, they were making use of one of the "great" inventions absolutely necessarily created from out of our earliest predecessors' minds: projection, emptying out of all our "bad" stuff into someone else. At some point all the freedoms Weimar society enabled — and that was primarily what Weimar Germany was, a "land" that brought down previous societal blockages and offered a new turf affording amazing things for those who weren't freedom-fearing — could no longer be tolerated by the Germans, and they retreated into provincialism and projected all the parts of themselves which threatened their feeling completely abandoned into the most logical vehicle — the Jews. Germans were trying new things; they were, for awhile at least, abandoning old ways, even if in a terribly watered-down form compared with what the Jews managed. And by emptying all of this from themselves and into the Jews, via projection, they felt "objects" that their parents, that their mothers, could "love" — or perhaps more accurately, at least not wholly reject — again.

They looked at Jews and saw in ripened form every single trait that if they possessed, would lead to their parents absolutely despising them. If they were sane, as we understand sanity, they should still be envying them — because these traits are what lead to a truly happy life, rather than one simply relieved of attentions from the passing-by predator. But because they were part of what counts as sane only to our terribly primitive and cruel origins, where love and demon-free vision had barely entered the world, they could not have been more delighted to be spared being Jew. 


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