Archive for the ‘Staying in Power’ Category

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The Stasi are watching you

July 14, 2010

As we kept exploring Berlin, we came to a point in history that would make Berlin unique. It has right after World War 2, when the German Democratic Republic (GDR) came to power. The MfS better known as the Stasi was an important instrument to enforce communism in East Germany. About 91, 000 Stasi members were surveillance, creating camps, prisons to mistreats the prisoners who were considered ‘terrorist’.

 In May 1945, “Special Camp No.3” was created, holding about 20,000 prisons, form this camp many were sent to Sachenhausen, the Nazi concentration camp.

According to soviets statistics about 886 people died, but it is estimated that 3,000 or more prisoners died. The living conditions in the camps and prisons were horrific, famous people such as the famous actor Heinrich George,

 democratic commander of the Berlin police, Karl Heinrich, and many others died in these camps. In October of 1946 the camps were closed, but the Stasi kept imprisons people. A famous cellar, “U-boot or Submarine” was created to imprison prisoners.

 Living conditions here were disgusting. A small room with many people, one wooden bend, and a bucket used as a toilet.

 

 You could imagine the smell. These people could not sit or lady down, they had to be standing up the whole day and were given permission to sleep form certain hours, with nothing of light, but light bulb lighting 24 hours. The Stasi prison and underground prison came under jurisdiction in March 1951. Over 200 prison cells and interrogations cells was a secret area. Many things had changed in these prisons, psychological violence was cruelty. Prisoner was to feel helpless. In 1989 the SED dictatorship was overthrown and the Stasi also ended and closed all prisons. As we walked in the Stasi museum and prison, and looking at all the files of millions of people, I came to realized this was all true. Before we left Berlin, we watch movie about the Stasi, it seemed so hard to believe, and you couldn’t even trust your own family, because they could have been spies. This was truly amazing, because I had never seen something so fascinating as the millions of files that contained people’s lives.

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Punishment, Acceptance & Denial

June 24, 2010

After the Nazis were defeated, what would be next for Germany?  How were the German people going to deal with everything that the Nazis had done?  Throughout the trip I managed to piece together some sort of picture of how the German people did deal with it.  During the 1950’s, Germany was reconstructing their entire livelihood from their government to their cities and more intimately to their homes.  Germany was in shambles and instead of focusing on what had actually happened, most notably the extermination of millions of people, I think they simply chose to ignore it.  Focusing attention on rebuilding Germany is a good distraction and enabled an entire generation that lived through the Nazi regime to simply forget and ignore the previous fifteen years.  Looking at this result initially, I couldn’t believe that this could actually happen after such a catastrophe—and then I tried to put myself in their shoes.  From a German perspective, losing the war was embarrassing; not just that, but many German citizens looked the other way when the Nazi atrocities were happening in their own country—maybe they didn’t know how to cope with it?

It wasn’t until 1968 that this coping mechanism was questioned.  More importantly, it was the next generation, the children of the people who lived in the Nazi regime, that were asking their parents questions.  What was your part in WWII?  Were you a Nazi?  Did you resist?  Did you know about the concentration camps?  Did you know that millions of people were being exterminated just miles from our home?  Why didn’t you tell me about this before?  Still today, I’ve noticed that it is hard for descendants to discuss about their relatives if indeed they were a Nazi.  Of course people want to say that their relatives were resisters and tried to help the Jews, but in fact resisters were few and far between.

It’s amazing to me that in the following years after the Nazis fell, many people closely involved with the Nazis who carried out their orders were never punished.  In fact, many went on living life to the fullest and continued on with their careers.  I wonder how a doctors, after killing and experimenting on prisoners in concentration and extermination camps can simply forget what they had done.  While we toured the concentration camp, the guide told us that many of the doctors that worked in the camp simply went back home and continued to practice medicine.  Below are two pictures that portray the normality that went on the years following the war.  The first picture is that of a former Nazi that worked in a concentration camp that got convicted in court, went to prison for three years and then simply went back to his normal life; you can see his ease in watering his plants.  The next picture is of three men who were not directly involved with the Nazis, but were clear supporters, who 5 years after the war obviously still supported them (look at their neck piece).

 

I think that the process of investigation and punishment towards those involved with the Nazi regime was poorly set.  Many people went free from punishment.  This is definitely a situation where we as a society can learn how to better handle a situation if it were to happen again.  But in a sense we haven’t learned at all.  Who has been punished for what happened in Rwanda or in former Yugoslavia?  What has been done to improve this process?  As a society, are we simply ignoring the situation or worse yet, denying that genocide is still happening as justification of inaction?

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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?