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    Modernism and the Holocaust Essay example

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    The emergence of the Holocaust and the Nazi party views can largely be determined as a result of modernity, as a reaction against the times.

    Yet, at the same time it can be argued that the National Socialist party can be characterized as a modern development. Modris Eksteins, George Mosse, and Zygmundt Bauman offer an in-depth look into both the anti-modern and modern aspects of the Nazi movement and the resulting Holocaust. Ekstein’s work proves to be the most thorough of the three works in following the growth and progress of the Nazi party and Hitler’s rise to power. Bauman covers more of the political side of the National Socialists, and especially appeals to morality and ethics, or rejection thereof, to portray his very opinionated points.

    Mosse, on the other hand, analyzes the people who fell victim to the ideology of the Nazi party, “In a sense, this study is a historical analysis of people captured to such an extent by an ideology that they lost sight of civilized law and civilized attitudes toward their fellow men,” (Mosse, 9). For all three authors, modernity is the major force for change- the change that results in the rise of the national socialist party.For Ekstein, culture is a social phenomenon in which modernism is the principal urge of the time. He focuses on social change featuring the Great War as a great catalyst for change, “For our preoccupation with speed, newness, transience, and inwardness- with life lived, as the jargon puts it, ?in the fast lane’- to have taken hold, an entire scale of values and beliefs had to yield pride of place, and the Great Wars was, as we shall see, the single most significant event in that development,” (Ekstein, xiv).

    Ekstein uses the example of Germany within the novel to express his points. Before the Great War there had been a sense of morality and decency between warring nations, a code of ethics the British and French armies continued to follow. Germany, however, through the old-fashioned spirit of war out the door and used any means possible to win, means that were characterized by modern technological advancements and what Ekstein refers to as Total War. For Ekstein, the first World War was a gateway into modernity which paved the way for the rise of the National Socialist party to come to power in Germany.

    Ekstein provides a thoroughly modern point of view, concerning the years following World War I, in writing about the culture of an extremely civilized Europe where standards of living had been rising steadily despite strictly enforced class rules and large disparities between the ultra-rich and everyone else. From this, the National Socialist party evolved and rose and became “a headlong plunge into the future, toward a ?brave new world’,” (Ekstein, 303). The people of Germany, for the first time in decades, felt a sense of belongingness and patriotism toward their country. The political and social conflicts that characterized their country in the past had disappeared and they became a unified country under “The Spirit of Aust!”It was the rise of Hitler to power and his implementation of the National Socialism Movement that led to the Holocaust, which constituted a rejection of Judaism, Communists, Jehovah Witnesses, Gypsies, homosexuals, and anyone else not belonging to the Aryan race.

    This rejection resulted in the mass deliberate killing of these people by the Nazis in their exterminatory anti-Semitism. They used this as an excuse to commence a systematic genocide against the European Jews as an answer to the “Jewish Question.” The final solution to rid Germany and all of Europe of the Jewish “vermin” was to send them to concentration camps where they would eventually be gassed if the harsh environment hadn’t taken their life beforehand.In analyzing the morality and ethics of the people involved in the Holocaust movement, Mosse explains that the overall morale of the German people after the first World War allowed a movement like National Socialism to develop and gain the popularity that it did.

    Mosse opens his Crisis of German Ideology by explaining the difference between culture and civilization. He believes that a culture “has a soul, whereas Civilization is ?the most external and artificial state of which humanity is capable,” (Mosse, 6). If a country’s people accept their culture and reject the civilization it means for many the end to alienation from their society. This theory parallels Ekstein’s explanation of ?The Spirit of Aust’ among the German people who felt unified and devoted to their country.

    Mosse explains how these feelings were contrived as a response to the “complacent bourgeois society, which was satisfied with Germany as it was and gave little thought to Germany as it should be,” (Mosse 7). Germany had always yearned for a feeling of national unity, but in 1918 Germany lost the first World War and was forced to sign the Treaty of Versailles, a peace treaty between the warring nations that officially ended the war. The treaty, however, forced Germany to take full responsibility for the war and it’s aftermath and pay reparations to particular countries. This forced Germany to fall into a state of economic instability and despair and they fell into a state of depression.

    This time of political and economic turmoil and grief forced the Germanic people to look for some kind of national unity. They looked to form a system of cultural cohesion among their people instead of some kind of political unity because “it seemed that political unification had not brought with it the national self-awareness which many Germans had always desired,” (Mosse). People, instead, engaged in material pursuits and valued objects such as money and urbanization that ultimately destroyed ancient German traditions. This resulted in the “German Revolution” in which the purpose was to “liquidate the dangerous new development and to guide the nation back to its original purpose as they conceived it,” (Mosse 4).

    It was a reaction against modernity and the modern industrial growth within Germany that had been the cause of its political, social, and, economic unrest.The driving force behind this movement was the “Volkish” ideology that “signified the union of a group of people with a transcendental ?essence’?the essential element here is the linking of the human soul with its natural surroundings, with the ?essence’ of nature,” (Mosse 4). The Volk ideals believed in a connection between the soul and the land they come from, and that the Germans who lived in “dark, mist-shrouded forests” were profoundly superior because they strive toward the light. He contrasts this by saying that “the Jews, being a desert people, are viewed as sallow, arid, ?dry’ people, devoid of profundity and totally lacking in creativity,” (Mosse 4).

    This Volkish ideology had penetrated so far into even the German school system that it resulted in an overwhelmingly enthusiasm for national unification from the German youth population. “For many young people such nationalism offered the only proper solution to the many social and economic problems that confronted them. Their disappointment with the results of the long-awaited unity, combined with the effects of the Industrial Revolution, produced a longing for a more genuine unity of the Volk,” (Mosse 4). The youth of the nation felt betrayed by the elder generations that had gotten them into the war and thus were responsible for the reparations brought on by the German loss.

    This rejection of the former ideals held by the previous generations forced the state of the people forward, into a new age.The German revolution had also managed to gain the support of the bourgeois. This middle-class bourgeois, as well as the classes of artisans, were rapidly falling into working class status because of the development of the Industrial Revolution, and found their formerly high status threatened by modernity. “Thus those who advocated a return to Culture, who embraced a ?German revolution’, did not come from the lower classes of the population.

    On the contrary, they were men and women who wanted to maintain their property and their superior status over the working class,” (Mosse 7). The National Socialist revolution wasn’t just a “revolution of the soul,” but instead it was the ideal bourgeois revolution because it threatened none of the vested economic interests of the middle class.The Volkish thought established itself in the belief that the Jews stood for modernity in “all its destructiveness? The Jew, or rather the stereotype which Volkish thought made of him, is therefore central to any analysis and understanding if this German ideology,” (Mosse 7). This forged a direct connection between the German revolution and National Socialism as “Hitler gave focus to his ?German revolution’ by making it into an anti-Jewish revolution,” (Mosse 7).

    This movement triumphed in Germany because it had so deeply penetrated the fabric of the national belief. It is believed by some that Germany was unprepared for the Hitler’s rise to power and to Nazi movement, but according to Mosse, “one trend of German thought could become so strong that millions of people accepted it as the only solution to Germany’s dilemma,” (Mosse 8).Bauman expresses his own views of Nazism and the Holocaust in his Modernity and the Holocaust. He explains how the ideology of the National Socialist movement was a rejection of modernity in which the result was a mass genocide of the Jewish population.

    “They identified modernity as the rule of economic and monetary values, and charged Jewish racial characteristics with responsibility for such a relentless assault on the Volkish mode of life and standards of human worth,” (Bauman 61). A paradox emerges here, however, in that racism is a product of modernization. According to Bauman, racism could not exist without “the advancement of modern science, modern technology and modern forms of state power,” (Bauman 61). He continues to explaining that “the murder of Jews was an exercise in the rational management of society.

    And a systematic attempt to deploy in its service the stance, philosophy and the precepts of applied science,” (Bauman 72). The mass genocide due to anti-Semitism is a modern phenomenon because the possibility of such an event is inconceivable without an advanced state of modernity. Modern exterminatory anti-Semitism could only have been effective if it was connected to modern bureaucracy, which was at the time, the Nazi party, “racism is a policy first, ideology second. Like all policies, it needs organization, managers, and experts,” (Bauman 74).

    The information and beliefs these authors expound portray two phenomenon that are so closely related yet seem so paradoxical. Nazism itself, represents certain characteristics of modernity from which they intended to move away. Yet the National Socialist belief is a deep rooted Volkish ideology, fueled by the German revolution as a revolt and resentment of modernity. Thus, the extermination of the Jewish population, or any not of the Aryan race, represented a negative reaction against the modernity which they resented.

    Yet, at the same time their anti-Semitic beliefs and actions represented modernity itself. The National Socialist movement and the resulting Holocaust represent the dark side of modernity, while at the same time striving to maintain anti-modernist beliefs. It is in this sense that the two events, Nazism and the Holocaust, can be interpreted as a reaction against modernity, which at the same time viewed as modern developments. The work of the three authors serve to uncover this paradoxical relationship and give a in-depth understanding of the role of modernity in the history of Germany through the early 20th century.

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