Power & Fear: Controlling the Opposition

May 31, 2010

As is true to the idea of totalitarian movements, the Nazis came to power not through a structure of doctrine or systematically related ideas, but a lack of ideology. Instead, they focused on the world-view of dominance and varying prejudices and appeals to different sectors of society. However, the systematic use of oppressive power imposed to present an idea of legitimacy in the movement was more structured than the movement and the Nazis’ rise to power. In my study of Nazi Germany, this is something that has become a very interesting aspect to the period – Understanding how the Nazis were able to remain in power for so long, and with such little resistance. From the exhibits we visited this week, the understanding became very apparent.

During the raging anti-Semitic sentiment of the 1930’s, the Jewish defense of family and community (an important defense against persecution) was dismantled through Nazi occupation. This destruction of life, culture, and family cohesiveness was important to understanding how the Nazi’s were able to come to power, and remain in that position without the threat of resistance created through unity and community. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe was powerful in creating the symbology and individual understanding. By displaying individual stories, pictures, and memoirs of the Holocaust, as experienced by the people who either survived or perished during this period of terror, a deep personal connection was created in my own understanding. The artistic structures on the top of the memorial were overpowering, and I gained a sense of imprisonment to the period, the power, and an overwhelming understanding of losing yourself and all sensibility when you are deep within the period or the structure symbolizing the period itself.

Visiting the Topographie des Terrors exhibit also helped create a sense of how the Nazis were able to remain in power for such a long period. Through militaristic oppression, power influenced through the force of fear, and the public displays of terror and humiliation were critical aspects to the continuance of Nazi power. The fear of internment and torture for political opposition, homosexuality, religious beliefs, and attempts at resistance were the result of the Nazis’ reign of terror throughout Germany. The lengths that the Nazis went to in order to create a system of oppression were staggering when seen through the camera lens at these exhibits. The public humiliation one would endure was enough for a person to remain complacent in some instances. The fear that another would turn you over to the SS or the Gestapo for any outward defiance of the Nazi party and their genocidal and terrorist ways was another deterrent. Not being able to trust the people around you, as displayed in the Museum Blindenwerkstatt Otto Weidt and the Topographie des Terrors, was yet another restraint in the reactionary resistance movements that could have chipped away at the terrorist regime of the Nazis.

Public Reminder of Power

The entire week of visiting memorials, whether they were museums, dedicated memorials, or the concentration camp, I became completely overwhelmed. Even at times, I was hiding from the rest of you to conceal my outward reaction in the form of salty rain trickling from these eyes. It was through these sites I was able to gain a greater sense of just how resistance to the oppression was so incredibly difficult. To resist meant death and further oppression, however, if such a terrorist regime were allowed to continue further without any resistance, who would be the next group to experience the horror and annihilation?

Without Resistance, Who is Next in the Pile of Bodies?



  1. That is an interesting question that you pose at the end. As you said, if the regime really had no purpose, and its means of power were othering people and in the end murdering them, then would they have had to continue to other groups of people and murder them had they stayed in power?

  2. I think the answer is clearly yes. Nazis would have turned against other groups to stay in power. That is the very idea of a movement. It always has to move and when it is based on terror, it has to find new targets. However, I do not think, as Kim does, that the Nazis came to power and stayed in power for so long simply because Germans feared them. Germans in large parts supported them, as they presented a clear alternative to the chaos of the Weimar Republic.

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