The lure and dangers of fascism
Klaus Stern came to Northwest Montana 20 years ago to remind my students of the lure and dangers of fascism.
Klaus was a dear friend and a Holocaust survivor. He reinforced in me the importance of history and my responsibility to teach its lessons. In my classroom, in my community, in the towns of Lincoln and Flathead counties his message haunts me to this day.
His camp number 1-1-7-0-3-3 on his forearm brought deathly silence and tears to those present. A stark reminder of fascism. He talked about cruelty and how neighbors became enemies of each other. About how a fascist cult leader promised to restore the nation to its former greatness by preventing immigrants, liberals, minorities, homosexuals and women from taking over cultural institutions.
His country, Germany, was enamored with a macho leader that promised to solve the country’s problems. Klaus emphasized how Hitler was legally elected. History tells us that fascist governments start out democratic, but over time become ultra nationalistic.
Hitler constantly reminded people of the country’s mythic past when a dominant group ruled over women and minorities. Klaus explained his plan for Germany to return to greatness. His Brown Shirts flooded the body politic with propaganda by capturing newspapers and holding extravagant mass rallies organized by Josef Geobbels to convince people of the oppressive threat.
Anti-intellectualism was important because science can ONLY help the leader, not disagree with him. Truth becomes a threat, as Goebbels states, ‘the enemy of the state.’
Fascist governments - like Hitler’s - constantly perpetuate the idea that there is one religion (Christian), one gender (male) and one race (white) superior to others. It becomes easy to convince people.
In Germany, “Brown Shirts” propagandize the campaign Ein Reich, ein volk, ein fuhrer. One nation, one people, one leader. Once people are convinced they are superior, it’s easy to convince them they are victims of equality.
For example, German Christians were victims of Jews, white Americans are victims of black equality, men are victims of feminism, children are victims of homosexuals. The prominent groups are law abiding, while minority groups are not.
Since the leader is supreme, he can’t violate the constitution because he IS the constitution. Order doesn’t mean justice. It means maintaining the social order defined by the leader and the dominant group.
Sexual anxiety is prevalent because women and children are perceived to be under threat and only a strong male leader can protect them. This anxiety creates a fear of homosexuality and transgender who are perceived to be a threat trying to destroy lives while coming for your children.
Often fascist systems create a divide between urban and rural areas. City dwellers are perceived to be lawless, corrupt and decadent, full of minorities and migrants. The real hardworking people live in rural areas.
As Klaus entered the gates of Auschwitz he read a sign, “arbeit macht frei”, or work makes you free. Since liberals and minorities are “lazy” and labor unions are controlled by communists, Klaus learned firsthand that detainees were forced to work to death because they have no value.
Taken individually, each characteristic does not define fascism, but put together, when honest conservatives are lured into fascism, they are convinced that their families are under threat without the ruling party.
Unfortunately for Klaus and his wife Paula (also a survivor), they endured horrific treatment in Auschwitz because they were not Christian. I wonder what he would say about today's Republican party? Are they part of a personality cult? Are they loyal to the party over country? Do they advocate policies that disproportionately affect women, poor or people of color?
Has the Republican party supported banning books or criticized science-recommended masking or vaccinations?
Do they attack homosexuals, transgender youth or migrants? Do Republicans believe they are victims of sinister liberal attacks? And finally does the Republican party support democracy or the peaceful transition of power? I’m confident what Klaus would say.
David R. James, MA, PhD History
40 years teaching
Eureka, Montana, and Melbourne, Australia