Masters of Bigotry


By RAYMOND H. GEIST, Chief of the Division of Commercial Affairs, Department of State

Delivered before the National Conference of Christians and Jews, Washington, D. C., May 22, 1942

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VIII, pp. 546, 548-551.

ON the night of February 27th, 1933 I beheld from the balcony of my home in the Bellevue Park in Berlin the red glow of the flames which were consuming the German Reichstag, the funeral pyre on which the short-lived liberties of the German people were extinguished. For three years I had watched the gathering storm, which, when it broke with incredible swiftness and fury, far surpassed in reality and terror the liveliest forebodings which imagination can conceive. A new monster, like the hungry beasts of the arena, was let loose upon thousands of innocent victims whose cries of anguish have swollen to the convulsive sobs of millions in many countries where the Axis conquerors have fixed their iron heels. For seven long years I worked within the precincts of this monster's domain while he grew to incomparable power, insolent exultation and disdain. He has amassed great weapons of war on land and sea, gigantic armies and vast productive means with which he has embarked upon a career of ruthless conquest,—an attempted conquest of the world and of its civilization! The insidiousness of his early course, before he fell with fire and sword upon his neighbors, reveals the method of his treachery and guile. The great fraud unfolded from day to day within plain view of the whole world; but none was so profoundly deceived as those fellow citizens of his who listened to him in the market place offering freedom from want and national resurrection when he was preparing chains and dungeons for all who put their trust in him.

Hitler took his first step toward political conquest at home at a time when the public mind was agitated about questions of national economy in the midst of serious unemployment. He availed himself of all the weaknesses and of all the strengths in the existing German commonwealth. Under the so-called totalitarian system he has transformed those weaknesses into brutality and callous inhumanity, while the strength and youth of his people have been systematically developed and devoted to the pursuit of war. No indictment can rest heavier on a people than on the Germans of thisgeneration who have failed to hold their place in the forward march of civilization. This apostasy—this total desertion of a great nation from faith, principles, and heritage is a graver event in the annals of the world than the threat of armies and engines of war. The causes of this defection are not to be found in the sequence of historical occurrences in Europe preceding the rise of Hitler's National-Socialist regime. No conceivable combination of hostile foreign powers could have driven the Germans to such frenzy as to wreck their national integrity, self-respect and destroy their humanity.

Situated in the center of Europe the German people have had equal opportunity to develop their civilization contemporaneously with other European states. Through the centuries the enlightenment which has characterized civil and political progress in England and France and other European states was consistently frustrated in the souls of the Germans. They devoted themselves with superhuman skill and energy to the chemistry of matter and to scientific labors in response to their one overwhelming passion—the lust for power! Like Faust, the supreme creation of Germany's greatest thinker, the nation stood ready to ally itself with the prince of darkness to gain the desired end. This motive, subconsciously activating itself in the people's daily life, determined most profoundly the civic and moral status of the nation. No virtue could freely thrive in the German heart which mitigated or nullified the nation's lust for power.

Above all during the pre-Bismarkian era, when other nations in Europe were forging ahead in the vanguard of civilization in response to the great influence of enlightenment, that came with, and after the Renaissance, the princely rival houses in Germany were immersed in the stolidness of their own insularity and retained to a remarkable degree the feudal concepts of the middle ages. Nor did the basic mental structure of the German people change with the advent of a united Reich. The supreme directives came from Prussia which authoritatively infused into minds of all Germans the militaristic cult and the lust of war. Envyingother nations which had forged empires and which had expanded their powers on the seven seas the German nation, once having emerged from its feudal impotence, developed the unappeasable aggressive policy toward other European states that has drenched the world in blood for nearly a century. This grim design, never yielding to the loftier ways of peace and to the enlightenment of civilization, has deeply permeated the German way of life. The guilt of this plot has steadily controlled German mental processes both in public and in private life. It became the habit of the nation to think in terms of war preparing for the inevitable day of days: der Tag. Militaristic show of power and enthronement of the God of War have not concealed, however, that which lies deeper in the heart of the Reich than all else: inescapable, relentless, tormenting fear!

In no age and in no country in the world has fear become so universal, so tragic, and so implacable. The discipline which notoriously characterizes the German people is the most patent manifestation of an ever present intuitive dread. The German obeys because he must and because he fears. He finds his freedom only in a self-imposed austerity which transcends the demands of the master. He is reared in severity; and disciplines his children with a stern mind. Fear is ever present in the German home; it determines the course of public affairs; and fixes the Government's policies. It has been inherited from generation to generation, gnawing at the heart of the nation and slowly killing the soul.

The development of political, civil and social life in the first and second Reichs paved the way for the complete subjugation which followed under Hitler. During the nineteenth century when great advancement toward political freedom was being made in other countries in Europe, where the lively processes of enlightenment and liberal thought were contributing mightily to the advance of civilization, German life moved stolidly along a separate path. Great energy was employed in the development of industry, commerce and technical achievement. Political, civil, social, educational, and religious life, the free exercise of which characterizes the free man, continued steadily under the auspices and discipline of the state. The four freedoms which our President has proclaimed as the incontestable rights of man, and which we have enjoyed from the earliest times, were not permitted the Germans. These four freedoms were not in accordance with the policy and aims of the Government. The common exercise of the four freedoms would not have led to "der Tag." It is not surprising, therefore, that German civilization, during the long period known as modern times, has utterly failed to contribute to the world's uplift in the realm of moral and spiritual advancement. In that nation there have been men of genius whose enlightenment and aspirations to advance the common good of man have been second to none and who have fought for the truth; but these men have not had general following at home, and have left little impression upon their own countrymen. From Heine to Thomas Mann they have been outcasts.

Today, in view of what has happened in the world, in view of the ruthless policy which the German Government has been pursuing at home and abroad for nearly a decade, a closer examination of German institutions may be necessary if we are to appraise properly the responsibility and culpability of those who have used these institutions to further their designs upon the peace of the civilized world.

In the domestic political field, before the Hitlerian advent, none of the major or minor political parties was free to do more than advocate policies of social and civic reform. The party of the Social Democrats and the Catholic Centrum Party, under auspicious circumstances, might have led the German people to a realization of the freedom which weknow; but the bigotry of the nationalists, the militarists and the landed aristocracy kept alive the hate and the aggressive intent which the Germans harbored toward their neighbors.

In the realm of foreign politics the Germans had broken with their neighbors, and in fact with the whole world, generations ago. If the answer to the last war had been German domination in Europe, they would likewise have prepared before this for the world struggle which is now upon us. The Germans have steadily lacked sufficient confidence in their own destiny to believe that they could fulfill their role in modern civilization by peaceful cooperation with other nations. Conscious of their achievement in the spheres of material, scientific, and technological progress, they have become arrogant and conceited, which was not only marked and confirmed in the public utterances of the last Kaiser, but which in the bombasts of Hitler and his associates have amazed and shocked the world.

It has been characteristic of the political thinking in Germany to ignore those traditions which from the days of Aristotle and Plato have been the directives of those nations, including our own, which have sought to attain a reasonable and cultivated civilization. We have availed ourselves of the inspiration of the Greeks, and have built our political institutions in harmony with the world's best practices, incorporating into our political system, the most liberal and enlightened way of life. England had its Magna Charta in the thirteenth century. The short-lived bill of rights vouchsafed to the Germans lasted slightly over a decade, which the majority of the nation by popular vote sacrificed on the altar of Hitler. It was the rancour of separate factions in Germany, their unquenchable partisan thirst for power, which prevented the German people from uniting in the cause of their own salvation and in winning political freedom. The parties themselves split into factions on issues of minor importance to the whole nation, but vital to their own selfish interests. So in the long history of that country a majority in the nation has never been able to lead the rest along paths of peace, enlightenment, and prosperity. No political party has ever had a clear substantial majority in Germany whose espousal of the public welfare was founded on commonly accepted principles.

The struggle for freedom in Germany has yet to be fought. With the victory of Hitler it would be long delayed, probably for generations. To lay the foundations for the advent of freedom among the German people would be a long and arduous task. How much bigotry, prejudice, intolerance, and narrow-mindedness would have to be overcome! What intolerable crimes against humanity would have to be expiated before atonement and reconciliation with the rest of the world would be achieved!

Under the shadow of authoritarian rule a vast administration of officials and of civil servants had learned obedience and discipline in the performance of their duties. They were not free to question the policies of the imperial Government, nor to work within the scope of their office for the political amelioration of the country. During the brief life of the Republic enlightened Germans like Gustave Streseman struggled heroically to bring their fellow countrymen to support the liberal form of constitutional Government which had been adopted at Weimar and to cooperate in strengthening international solidarity, friendship, and peace. The reactionary elements supported by the militarists, powerful industrialists, and big landowners swiftly undermined the structure of the republic and opened the gates which admitted the Hitlerian hordes. The men who led Germany during these fateful years of the Republic undertook an unrealistic task. They were asking their fellow citizens, who only know how to obey, to choose their own free destiny and to assumeand maintain by the exercise of their votes responsibility for themselves. This has utterly failed in Germany and under similar circumstances would fail again. This tragic example of political incompetency bears witness to the necessity of pursuing without stint the proper education among the people of enlightened and liberal political thought. It is not enough that men should be law abiding, disciplined, faithful, and efficient in their work. They must realize that theirs is the obligation to preserve freedom and to march themselves, as the citizens of a whole nation, in the vanguard of civilization.

Previous to his accession to power Hitler avoided giving warning of the fate which he had in store for the religious life of the country. In order to introduce paganism the destruction of the church and established religion was forecast in the teachings of those in the Party whose duty it was to develop a new "view of life." In spite of the incessant attacks made on the Catholic and Protestant Churches, and in defiance of the intolerable pressure and persecution which has had to be borne by those who have remained faithful to their beliefs, the back of Christianity has not yet been broken in Hitler's Reich. From the beginning the inability of the church in Germany to play a decisive role in shaping the destiny of the country, its failure to lead the German people more positively to acquire political concepts and principles equal to those cherished in other civilized countries contributed more than any other factor to the moral collapse which the German nation has endured under Hitler. This was due not to the ineffectualness of the teachings of the Church but to the sustained pressure over a long period of time of the German State which demanded obedience even in spiritual things. When State and Church are in conflict on the highest moral issues which concern the fate of the people, when the one is aiming at aggression and the other at peace, when the one seeks to enthrone the power of might and the other good will among men, a struggle ensues which destroys the State and paralyzes the religious life of the nation. But the question remains: why was not the Christian Church in Germany a greater force in animating the national conscience to a higher degree of political and moral responsibility. It is because the supreme mentor of the people in all questions relating to national policy was the State. In our country the Church constitutes an integral part of public opinion; and it is heard on all occasions. Enlightened citizens from every walk of life, including the leaders of the Church, guide our thinking; and thus public opinion is openly formed.

While religious leaders in Germany sought through the years to mold public opinion on momentous questions affecting the destiny of the people, and during the last decade in the struggle with Hitler, Pastor Niemoller and others have won the sympathy and admiration of the whole world, in general the Church in Germany has limited its activities to religious and pastoral functions and the maintenance of parochial schools. In contemplating this situation it will be apparent how mightily the religious institutions of a country can cooperate in defending freedom and in fostering democratic principles of Government. In the great struggle for liberty which mankind has been carrying on from the dawn of civilization the inspiration of religion has been a potent aid in creating an enlightened public conscience. Neither the Catholic nor the Protestant Church in Germany wielded sufficient influence in national affairs to turn the German people away from embarking on the catastrophic adventure with Hitler. Before the National Socialists came to power, and while Hitler and his accomplices were violently campaigning throughout the length and breadth of the land, disturbing the peace and committing violence against theJews and their political opponents, the mass of public opinion was neither fortified in the strength of religious conviction or in unity of common thought to withstand the outrages everywhere committed. The absence of any organized opposition to the common menace of Hitler was as complete in Germany as it was without. The Church, maintaining the even tenor of its way was powerless in the teeth of the gathering storm to arouse public opinion until the first blow was struck. What it was able to do then through the opposition of a few courageous souls was too little and too late.

What powerful blows might have been levelled at the demagogue if the German people during the previous generation had been able to find some common basis of understanding in their religious life, and had been able to allay the prejudice which kept them from establishing a basis of united public action. Had there been effective cooperation in the pursuit of common aims among Protestants, Catholics and Jews in pre-Hitlerian Germany, it is doubtful that the National Socialists could ever have come to power.

Nor can much more be said for the educational systems which have flourished for ages in the German Reich. Again the body of that system has demonstrated its strength; but the spiritual content of German learning has failed to reach the mark. In no country has research been pursued with more persistent energy, skill, and success. The roots of science have penetrated deeply into the soil of knowledge; and the fruits of such labors have been brilliant and epoch-making discoveries. One might suppose that this excellent and painstaking work, this indefatigable labor in the laboratories of science would have redounded to the blessing of humanity, and would have conduced to the emancipation of the German people. On the contrary all that has been done in the realm of science through generations of diligent and laborious study has been finally converged into the hideous process of total war. German scientific efforts have always been preeminently connected with chemistry, that alchemy of transmuting something common into powerful and deadly substances, which have made the laboratories of Germany the terror of the civilized world.

Likewise in the German universities intellectual standards have been reached and scholarship has risen to renowned heights. But in those halls the teuton has held sway, where the clash of sword and the bloody duel was the highest academic honor. Here flourished the raging and arrogant nationalism of the Prussian youth and the mysterious cult of Germanism, which revived the medievalism of the race and the latent paganistic longing. That academic freedom was wiped out in Germany the world may well regret; but in appraising those influences which contributed to downfall of free learning, no little blame is due to the universities themselves which absurdly fostered vainglorious and exaggerated patriotism. More than any others, the intellectuals of Germany were chilled and intimidated by the imperial frown.

The universities have been the properties of the state; and those that taught and they who learned were obliged to conform to the established order and to carry on the militant traditions to which the nation was dedicated. Unlike our public-spirited college presidents, the rectors of the German universities are disciplinarians and stern governors. They make no appeals to the nation at large on outstanding questions of the day; nor, in their long history have they had any part in formulating and proclaiming those ideals of freedom and enlightenment which great seats of learning are expected to foster and make known. Thus, in German universities, only the students have been vociferous; but not in the cause of freedom, tolerance, universal understanding, the golden rule, and good will among men; but in the causeof reactionary nationalism, intolerant Germanism, and teutonic supremacy. In the German universities the professors had to teach what the students wished to hear; otherwise the benches were empty and the perquisites lacking. In such an atmosphere and under such a system only those scholarly lecturers could rise to favor and prominence whose talents were renowned in curricula inoffensive to the state and in harmony with German processes of thought.

The advent of the totalitarian Hitler brought on the world's stage a group of political leaders whose bigotry and intolerance have surpassed anything the world has ever known. The cult of Hitler had no background logically connected with political events which transpired during the years of the Republic The plan of establishing a national-socialist state was conceived by Hitler and in part explained to his followers. The full scope of the undertaking with its vast application of totalitarian oppression and annihilation, was not defined and elaborated until power was seized and the bloody whip was firmly grasped. Then millions who had applauded the violent harangues of the Dictator and responded to his passionate vehement rant, were aghast when the first repressive blow was struck against the thousands who were hurried off to torture and to death.

Throughout the land there arose, as from the teeth of the dragon which Cadmus slew, innumerable satellites and functionaries, masters of bigotry, who carried the Hitlerian scourge into every village and hamlet of the German Reich. Never was so much hate unleashed in the world as on the sixth of March in 1933 when the totalitarian state of Hitler came to power. The flood of oppression and bigotry engulfed the whole existing order. All that had been made by human skill, genius, and labor, the fruits of a thousand years of national endeavor were seized as instruments of power and rightful booty. The creators were marked men.

Against no special group was the fury more relentlessly directed than against the Jews of Germany. The claims of Hitler that these people had offended against the social order and the so-called German way of life were without the slightest foundation. On the contrary no group had contributed more since the days of Frederick the Great to the renown, progress, and greatness of the Reich. For many generations while imperial power in that country was in the making, the German noble families were too proud to send their sons into the professions and sought careers in public service, in the army, in diplomacy, and at court where there was the vain and senseless hope of appearing in the entourage of the Kaiser. It was the lot of the Jews to perform the services that were lacking and for many generations they successively distinguished themselves in all the sciences, professions, arts, industry, commerce, and public services. They of all the Germans were the most cultivated and observed with peculiar skill the amenities and decorum of a true civilization. When Hitler came to power the Jews of Germany constituted closely one percentum of the total population, but the record of their achievement and contribution to the glory and greatness of the German Reich was vastly in excess of their numerical strength.

The attacks upon the Jews by the vast Hitler machine, their disenfranchisement, their humiliation, their despoliation, the torture and murder, and finally their mass expulsion from the Reich were motivated by no popular movement among the German people. This unholy outrage was conceived in the abnormal brain of Hitler; and the machine of the Party ruthlessly and systematically put the plan into execution. The great mechanism of the state with its unlimited power and its vast organization of officials and police was set in motion to hunt out and destroy one person in every hundred, young and old; man, woman and child, notbecause he professed another religion, but because Hitler had placed the mark of destruction on every Jew. The cause was not only religious but political bigotry. The broad-mindedness of the German Jews, their sympathy with and natural devotion to a liberal and tolerant view of life, their fearless work in the cause of freedom, disqualified them from having any part in the Hitlerian scheme of things. They were condemned because politically they were unassimilable in the Third Reich and the plunder of their property worth billions of marks was eagerly coveted by the National-Socialist hordes. This is the true cause of the persecution of the Jews in Germany; all pretense that it was due to race or religion was pure fraud. Since Hitler was unable to confess to the world that his purpose in despoiling the Jews was to seize their wealth, he invented the ridiculous theory of racial supremacy which he knew the mass of his untutored followers, who were the only ones who counted in his scheme of things, would naively accept.

At the great Catholic Church, which has mothered civilization throughout Christendom for nearly two thousand years, the Master of political bigotry was unable to strike the mortal blow which destroyed the German Jews. But his hatred and jealousy of the universal Catholic Church is even deeper and more deadly. The Catholic Church is doomed in Hitler's Reich. The National-Socialist view of life is in strict opposition to the fundamental beliefs of the Christian Church, just as violence and war are opposed to mercy and peace. The Concordat which Hitler made with the Holy See was purely a gesture of convenience. It was a part of his policy of choosing one victim at a time. The grand strategy which Hitler is employing in dealing with the Catholic Church is to postpone the final blow, until, in a supine Europe, with all opposition crushed, he would be able to destroy utterly the papal supremacy over the universal Catholic Church, confiscate all Catholic property, and establish the pagan church of the New Order in Europe, where only Hitler and his creed of force would be worshipped. In preparation of this scheme, which, if it should ever be accomplished, would shake the foundations of the religious world, the National Socialist masters of bigotry have delivered three major blows at the Catholic Church. The first has been the relentless and cruel order by which the Catholic parents have been compelled to withdraw their children from Catholic schools. The second was the false indictment of the Catholic sisters as violators of the German currency laws; and the third was the public arraignment of innumerable priests on absolutely false and perjured evidence comprising their morality and integrity of character.

The National-Socialists in their blind and insolent bigotry are seeking to possess themselves of the magnificent structure of civilization itself in order to tear down stone by stone its lofty temples of religion, liberty, science and culture. In its stead they are rearing gigantic arsenals of war, far-flung camps of soldiery, and prisons for those devoted to liberty, and to the practice of their faith. Since through the intolerance of Hitler, the Protestant and Catholic Churches are doomed to destruction in the countries which he rules, in which faiths his own followers have been reared, what possible hope of survival could there be for the practice of the Mohammedan or the Buddhist religions, if once the legions of the Germans possessed the lands of those faiths?

In one sense alone has Hitler achieved an absolute totalitarianism: He and his followers have become the world's masters of total bigotry.

All that civilized man has found beneficial to his happiness and progress has been destroyed or attacked. It is not the bloody march of warlike conquests, nor the enslavement of men's bodies in the service of the aggressor which has aroused the whole of mankind in this universal war, but the ghastly truth that this grim, relentless design is to overwhelm the human soul in a chaos of darkness and tyranny.

Those who have been engulfed by the totalitarian hordes have been thrown into physical bondage and misery; but they have not lost the determination to remain steadfast in the cause of freedom, knowing in their hearts that the march of tyranny will be halted and the aggressors destroyed.

The United Nations, which have taken up the challenge to civilization, will never turn back; but will carry this struggle to the ultimate day of victory. It will then be realized that this mighty conflict has been unleashed by those who have attempted to arrest the march of mankind toward progress, and committed treason against the human race itself.

Our nation has become the hope of the world! We shall not fail!