Too often when we look across the chasm to that other side, we see the snarling faces of Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck or perhaps Pat Robertson. We quickly decide whether something is from the "Great Right Wing Conspiracy" and if so to be rejected out of hand without serious consideration.
It's a bit different when the voice is from an 84 year old woman, Kitty Werthmann whose antipathy towards the left is based on her own experiences as a child when Hitler took over her native Austria. I have a good friend, Bill S., a bright man of generous spirit, who at my request keeps me up to date on the viral email that he gets as a bonafide Christian Conservative.
I read most of them, and when I point out those that are fraudulent he sends my "correction" back down the email chain, hopefully having some effect on the most extreme accusations. Recently I recieved one that is the basis of this diary:
The email that was sent to me is long, so I made it available here. After I responded, implying that the whole essay was fiction, Bill sent me this web address, which showed the actual woman giving a long speech, 45 minutes, that the original letter accurately condensed.
I watched it carefully, taking notes, did some research; and I want to share my response, not only with my liberal friends here on Dailykos, but to Bill, whose fairness and good will continues to provide hope that our political divide can be productively bridged.
I'll intersperse my comments in italics to her excerpted letter:
America Truly is the Greatest Country in the World. Don't Let Freedom Slip Away
By: Kitty Werthmann
What I am about to tell you is something you've probably never heard or will ever read in history books.
I believe that I am an eyewitness to history. I cannot tell you that Hitler took Austria by tanks and guns; it would distort history. We elected him by a landslide - 98% of the vote. I've never read that in any American publications. Everyone thinks that Hitler just rolled in with his tanks and took Austria by force. In 1938, Austria was in deep Depression. Nearly one-third of our workforce was unemployed. We had 25% inflation and 25% bank loan interest rates.
-she then describes her home life, her mother helping those in need.
The Communist Party and the National Socialist Party were fighting each other. Blocks and blocks of cities like Vienna, Linz, and Graz were destroyed. The people became desperate and petitioned the government to let them decide what kind of government they wanted.
-she then described how much better things were in Hitlers Germany adding:
Nothing was ever said about persecution of any group -- Jewish or otherwise. We were led to believe that everyone was happy.
-Here was my first gotcha, so I thought. Surely Kristalnacht would have been widely publicized. So, I did some research and while the statement was too broad, since the Nuremberg Laws that restricted Jewish participation in German Society had been promulgated in 1935. But in almost all of Eastern Europe such restrictions were not uncommon. And Kristalnach, the beginning of Nazi homicidal antisemitism, was still eight months in the future.
I happen to have a rare yellowing copy of Liberty Magazine, one of the most popular magazines in the U.S., of May 21,1938, probably written almost exactly at the time of the Anschluss Here's the conclusion of an article by Edward P. Bell, that is mostly laudatory of Heir Hitler:
I left convinced of his sincerity, his rectitude of intention, his high purpose according to his light. The international danger, such as it is, arises from suspicion and fear and misapprehension and their ugly, formidable children, hated and swelling armaments.
This was the conclusion of an American mainstream publication, that it was not Hitler who was the danger to world peace, but those who overreacted to this "sincere" man. The writer, and supposedly the American people were satisfied with Hitler's answer to the question of the "Jewish Problem" which was, "we are not against Jews, we are for the Germans as Germans"
Around this same time, people such as Winston Churchill and John Maynard Keynes among many others spoke kindly of Hitler, especially when he was seen as the bulwark against Stalin, who was considered the far greater evil. So, Ms Werthmann's memory of Hitler not persecuting his people was plausible.
I can see that this process of critiquing all of Ms. Werthmann's essay here, and her video would make this much too long, so I invite readers to go to the links above if interested.
Every reader here looks back at Nazi Germany with knowledge of the horror it would inflict on the world, and finds it difficult, if not impossible, to go much beyond that. To illustrate this problem, I will reference this article: Nazi Medicine and Public Health Policy By Robert N. Proctor
The Nazis...supported many kinds of science, left politics (as we often think of it) out of most, and did not abandon ethics. There was an ethics of Nazi medical practice -- sometimes explicit, sometimes not.
The story of science under German fascism is not, as conventional wisdom would have it, only a narrative of suppression and survival; a truthful account will explain how and why Nazi ideology promoted certain areas of inquiry, and how projects and policies were championed or disappeared because of political considerations.
This article was not from Stormfront.com or even National Review, rather it is from the website of the Anti-Defamation League, an organization dedicated to fighting antisemitism.
While Ms. Werthmann does make some errors of fact, after some careful analysis, acknowledging that I am not highly versed in this specific history, I believe that her writing and speaking for the Republican party, now going on for some two decades, is based on her actual memories of events.
In a certain slice of the left-right economic spectrum both Adolph Hitler and Barack Obama were believers in a left oriented mixed economy. This means that both of them favored more government participation, even control, of some areas of life than those of the right. In this narrow spectrum Adolph Hitler was a progressive.
Here, of course, is where the similarity ends. Ms. Werthmann then makes assumptions that such similarity means that those of the left have the same intention, are of the same mentality of Hitler. She is very careful, never to say these exact words, but the allusions are obvious, as I will show in this example from her video:
In her essay she wrote
Hitler decided we should have equal rights for women. Before this, it was a custom that married Austrian women did not work outside the home. An able-bodied husband would be looked down on if he couldn't support his family
In the video she referred to Hitler's new rights for women as "The equal rights amendment" which, of course, was a provision that would have amended the United States constitution. It is highly unlikely that Hitler, who at the time was ruling by edict, needed an amendment of anything to do this.
This is just one clear example that Ms. Werthmann has managed to seamlessly merge in her own mind the most heinous man of the twentieth century with any Democratic Leader, specifically at this time, President Barach Obama. According to her story the actual fact that Hitler removed the crucifixes from the public schools, means that being opposed to Catholicism is the necessarily and sufficient condition for brutal dictatorship. The counter example of Spanish Dictator Francisco Franco, who as a defender of Catholicism ruled as an absolute dictator for over thirty five years does not interfere in this belief, since she benefits from the simplicity of her thinking.
Medical Care after Anschluss
Werthmann, in the video, says that Hitler nationalized medical care, and that "doctors had long waits of people after this occurred." After considerable research I have not been able to find a single source, other than she, to confirm or refute her statements. The closest I could come to finding a carefully researched work on this era was this piece from the Annals of Internal Medicine. It is a concise essay focusing on the medical profession, which in Austria had been overwhelmingly Jewish. In the age of contagion before antibiotics, it was one of the few professions allowed to this group.
Of the 4900 physicians practicing in Vienna in 1938, 3200 were of Jewish origin. Thus, the proportion of Jews in medicine was greater in Vienna than in Germany, where it was about 20%. The relationship between Viennese Jews and non-Jews had been relatively unproblematic until the late 19th century, when the ideas associated with social Darwinism began to spread and combine with overt anti-Semitism .
Academic promotion in general became more and more difficult for Jews to obtain. The "Society of German Doctors in Austria," a professional organization in favor of German (and Nazi) influences, grew and published lists of non-Aryan colleagues, lists that later provided some of the reference material for the events to follow. Because of this insidious change in climate, many Jewish colleagues emigrated well before 1938, and the seed of Nazism fell on fertile ground. The events that ensued must therefore not be seen as an "accident of history."
While Werthmann has explained the shortage of medical care on Hitler's socialized medicine, here's another explanation, that happens to be authentic.
Medical care in general showed similar deficits. Before the Anschluss, more than 5000 physicians were practicing in Vienna; by 1942, the figure had decreased to 519 general practitioners and 211 specialists. The first anniversary of the above events was celebrated in a newspaper article by Professor Hans Eppinger: "Now that all disease has been eradicated, the Viennese School of Medicine can in future dedicate itself to its great task without inhibition"
What is important is not so much this one individual, Kitty Werthmann, but that what she says resonates with many in this country. They know how one political leader promised his people everything, eliminated all organized opposition, and then destroyed their country, not to mention a good part of the rest of the world.
I have learned something from this process. While many here on Dailykos, myself included, can't understand why Obama would not make health care a national program with the simplicity of single payer, or why he did not nationalize the banks that were no longer viable economic entities....the answer lies in Ms. Wertmann's speeches, and the reaction of them to a fairly large following----currently under the banner of teabaggers.
Hitler did (to the best of my knowledge) actually nationalize the banks, and in Austria replaced private health insurance companies with British Style universal care. And this was a surprise to me--he believed in an activist government that in other ways would protect the people (well, not all people) in promoting epidemiological studies and preventing use of tobacco (See ADL article)
The ADL article linked above actually describes the positive aspects of Nazi governance and refutes the illusion that since the regime was the apotheosis of evil, that nothing about it could have been positive. I doubt that such an article could have been written much before now, after those who lived through the Nazi horrors are mostly gone.
What I can tell my friend Bill, and Kitty, were she ever to read this, is that she misses the essential quality of Hitler, that his quest for power was built on hatred--- of Jews, victors of WWI, Slavs, and all of those whom he saw as inferior. He happened to have emerged at a moment of great distress of the Germanic people. He was enough of an intuitive master of the art of politics to marshal this suffering to his own ends.
Hitler's job was made easier by the degree of hatred, the vicious murderous state of the Kulturkamph, a permutation of our own culture war that currently is on low simmer. Ms. Werthmann equating Obama to Hitler, does a disservice the her adopted country, and threatens this country that I believe she loves. She makes the possibility of her fears someday coming true that much more probable.
The constant drumbeat that lawful exercise of Presidential power is tantamount to tyranny creates a dire risk that healthy political dialog will be transformed into rabid mutual hatred, resulting in the very chaos that will produce an actual tyrant, someone with a Final Solution to all of our vexing social problems.
Nazism has not become the epitome of evil because Hitler promoted equality of women, universal health care or secular public education. He will forever be equated with evil because of a remorseless hatred that was divorced from reality. Our country has been immune to such excesses because with all of our disagreements about policy, we have preserved a common set of values, along with mutual respect for those whom we disagree with.
It's sad that Kitty Werthmann who lived through the efflorescence of hatred that destroyed her country along with much of the world has learned the wrong lessen, and has made a career of fostering the very distortions that contributed to such a calamity.