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Was Nazi Germany built on consent or coercion of the population?
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The rule of the Nazis would not have been possible without the consent of its citizens

Instances of consent are deeply ingrained within the structure of Nazi German society, so much so that without it, the infrastructure of this community would crumble.

The Argument

Using both anecdotal testimonies as well as archival evidence, historians like Robert Gellately— a leading academic regarding the history of modern Europe— demonstrated that Nazi society was largely built on the consent of its citizens. In focusing on a particular example, the much-feared and allegedly omnipresent Gestapo were not alone in the havoc they wreaked. Instead, according to the evidence presented by these scholars, the Gestapo fully relied on widespread public support to function effectively. More specifically, denunciations of fellow citizens and relatives by members of the public initiated almost all Gestapo investigations. Those whistleblowers had a clear understanding that those they denounced could suffer torture, be consigned to a concentration camp, or be executed without due legal process: the events of the Holocaust were widely understood as they occurred. Yet, they pressed on.[1] In this way, the public succeeded remarkably in helping shape the ideal National Socialist state. These citizens policied even the most intimate aspects of personal behavior through Gestapo denunciations. It stifled social or sexual relations between Jews and Christians or Germans and foreign forced laborers, rooted out male homosexuality, and punished unguarded criticism of the regime, even when uttered in the apparent privacy of the home. The motives behind these public denunciations varied widely, sometimes reflecting positive support for Nazism, but more frequently revealing an apolitical sense of public duty or a range of more personal motives such as material gain, sexual jealousy, or revenge. Regardless of their motives, their participatory consent remains the common factor.[2] The Nazi regime sought to build a social consensus around itself— and it succeeded in its aim. Yet, this would not have been possible without the active consent of citizens. Moreover, claiming that Nazi Germany only came to fruition due to the coercion and brainwashing of its citizens is blatantly false and does not address accountability. German citizens knew about the inhumane treatment of Jews, Romani, homosexuals, and other marginalized groups and chose— of their own volition— to ignore it. Furthermore, they actively participated in it. Whether that be in prominent forms of discrimination or denunciations, little difference is visible.[3]

Counter arguments

Elements of consent were definitely present within Nazi German society, however, it is belligerent to ignore instances of coercion. For example, Hitler's vision of Germany proudly touted the way in which all of its citizens were indoctrinated into National Socialism. That is to say, from the moment a child was born until the moment they died, they could theoretically pass on from one Nazi group to another. So, from the Deutsches Jungvolk (for boys and girls ages 6-8), a child would move onto the Hitler-Jugend (for boys and young men) and so on and so forth until their death.[4] Thus, it is clear that such a society full of those who at least outwardly reflect a love of National Socialism creates an intense public pressure— one that coerced many to do the unthinkable.[5] Similar instances are again witnessed in the cases of German soldiers who actively participated in the mass killings of Eastern European Jews. In other words, although these soldiers were not punished for refusing to implement these orders, peer pressure among these groups was so strong that it prevented them from doing so. Thus, they consented but only through a form of coercion.[2]



[P1] Historians actively support the idea that citizens actively exercised participatory consent. [P2] Gestapo denunciations are a clear example of the way in which consent was utilized in Nazi Germany. [P3] German citizens knew about the atrocities that were occurring, yet consented to immobility— even actively participating.

Rejecting the premises

[P1] Instances of Coercion are evident, thus dispelling the idea that only consent is seen within Nazi Germany. [P2] Another example is demonstrated in the soldier squad killings of Eastern European Jews.


This page was last edited on Thursday, 13 Aug 2020 at 03:31 UTC