The burden of Hitler’s legacy Essay (Book Review)
Alfons Heck was born around 1927 in Rhineland near the Morsel River Region. He was brought up by his grandmother and a number of uncles and aunts. His parents and twin brother occasionally paid him visits in the farm where he lived. Hitler ascended to power when Alfons Heck was just six years old; that was in the year 1933. His teacher at that time was a full blown follower of the Nazi (Heck 2).
Even at his young age, Alfons somewhat had a sense of admiration for his teacher and the ideals he stood for. Hitler’s regime had successfully turned him into a fanatic who was willing to lay down his life for a cause he believed was both just and achievable. For the following five or so years, Alfons attended school normally like other children and served as an altar boy in his local church.
Germany had remained in turmoil in the years following World War 1 and this offered an ideal setting for the emergence of firebrand political leadership who would establish and enforce extremist ideologies (Heck 6).
At this time in Germany’s history, citizens were under immense pressure to make payments to the victors of war and the country was grappling with a serious economic crisis. This was when Adolf Hitler came to be known since he offered easy explanations to the problems that the people were facing and he went ahead to offer quick fix solutions.
In his opinion, the Jews were to be blamed for Germany’s downfall in World War 1 and the subsequent peace treaty that was a source of embarrassment to the nation. The Nazis cunningly capitalized on the political and economic distrust of the middle class and made up lies about the Jews (Heck 11).The party enjoyed a significant rise in popularity and this saw Hitler ascend to the post of Chancellor in the year 1933. Some people thought he could have been instrumental in dealing with communists proponents.
Hitler began forming structures of the Nazi State that were based on authoritarian principles and racism. Individuals’ rights and freedoms were revoked while rights entrenched in the Weimar Constitution were renounced. Jews suffered persecution and discrimination, and in the year 1933, they were expelled from the civil service.
This year also saw the abolishing of all trade unions. All elements of government were ‘harmonized’ to completely fit into Nazi control while all other political parties were outlawed. Germans were made to believe that their destiny was to grow and enlarge a superior population that would rule the Soviet Union. A policy was put in place to encourage the bearing of racially pure Aryan children (Heck 12). Other groups of people like Gypsies and the Jews were classified as racially inferior and were set to be eliminated.
In that year, Nazi groups started the indiscriminate killing, molesting and maiming of Jews. Their businesses were forcefully shut while others were destroyed. Those that remained open were boycotted by the larger German population. More racist decrees and laws were formulated and enforced.
The Jews were accused by the Nazis of being responsible for socialism, communism and revolutions and their positions both economically and politically placed them strategically for involvement in conspiracy theories. Thousands of Jews were confined in concentration camps while their property and synagogues were torched (Heck 13).
In schools, the Nazi regime ensured that messages against Jews were relayed to children as little as four years old. This was a deliberate step by the Nazi to ensure that from a tender age, the children would be programmed to believe that Jews and other minority groups were a threat to them and that they were criminal and inferior to them(Heck 15).
The teachers were instructed to ensure that their pupils forever remained to be enemies of minority groups. This indoctrination went a long way in molding the thinking and actions of Alfons Heck plus a huge number of boys who were later recruited into Nazi groups. A majority of the teachers were also ardent believers in the cause of the Nazi regime and worked to ensure they influenced their students to identify with the Nazi ideology.
The author was just a young boy at the time the war commenced, but by the time it came to an end, he was an officer who was highly ranked in the group known as the Hitler Youth. The recruitment of Alfons and very many people into this group was done through carefully executed brainwashing of citizens by the flash and power of Adolf Hitler and his numerous promises for a new world order in Germany(Heck 28).
He was an eager participant in a number of youth rallies that took place all over Germany and was chosen to be the leader of a large group of young boys who had been recruited to join in fighting the war.
As the forces in the war began facing depletion, Hitler started depending more and more on this group (the Hitler youth). At the tender age of fifteen, Alfons had risen to become a high ranking glider pilot. When he was sixteen years old, he had already become a Bannfuhrer which is an equivalent to the present day’s rank of a Major General in the United States Army and was put in charge of more than sixty thousand troops.
He stayed in Luftawaffe for some time when a loss of the war started becoming imminent. After his short stint in Luftawaffe, he was transferred back to the war front; specifically to a wall that was along the western border post of Germany (Heck 32).It was there he got to personally meet and talk to Adolf Hitler. Hitler conveyed a sense of interest in Alfons and honored him with the Iron Cross for his exemplary service.
When the war ended, the Allied Troops arrived to his town and since he could not communicate in fluent English and the soldiers were not conversant with German, they used him to capture all the Nazis who had now gone into hiding. When his identity was discovered, he was thrown in jail together with others. By the time the war drew to a close, the author had lost almost all his friends and the town where he was born had been reduced to mere rubble (Heck 48).
While in jail, there were times when he thought that he would be executed. This was because during the war, the death of one German was avenged by killing thirty French soldiers. He was among those who sought the French soldiers that were used for the revenge missions. After spending some time in confinement, quite a number of inmates still defended the cause of the Nazis and saw nothing wrong with what they had done. Until Alfons saw the ruins that had become of Germany, he had not begun to question their fanaticism of the Nazi.
During his trial, it was revealed that by December 1939, it had become compulsory for every German child above the age of ten years to join one of the two factions of the Hitler Youth group. He used this as one of his lines of defense. However, this did not aid in clearing his name at the tribunal since it was argued that with the passing of time, he had become an adult and was fully accountable for his words and actions.
Amnesty did not also help acquit him because at the time he stood before the tribunal, he was already an adult. Up to this time, some of his fellow inmates still did not understand why they were being imprisoned while all they had done is serve their country and obey the orders they had received from their superiors. In prison, life was harsh due to the hard labor the inmates were subjected to and starvation (Heck 70).
They were once given a task to dig up mass graves of French prisoners who had succumbed to injuries they got in a fighter bomber assault. After seven months in jail, he was permitted to return to school and go home during the nights. It was after going back to school and seeing his wrecked home that Alfons truly began to brood about his life under Hitler’s reign. The promises that had been made had turned to a nightmare.
This period in time was marked by a serious economic crisis with large numbers of German women turning to prostitution as a means to earn money while most men were in captivity. People had given up their dignity in search for food and basic items; this was a great contradiction to what had been expected to be the ‘new Germany’.
When the author saw the destruction and suffering of the Germans, it dawned on him that he had done his utmost best fighting for the wrong cause (Heck 82). It is worth noting that even though a majority of teachers and civil servants had been quick to embrace the new ideology, there was still a number that resisted the pressure, clung on to their principles and refused to be members of the Nazi.
The Allied troops sometimes acted unjustly as in the case where Alfons’ twin brother came to visit him and his grandmother and was seized by the troops, locked up, sodomized, then released. Within the confines of the school, a new crop of Germans was emerging; one that was fed up with threats from the French. They threw out books that were written in French without fear of the consequences had they been caught.
An intervention by the principal helped quiet the boys and got them to cooperate with the teachers including those who had originated from France. Seven months after Alfons had faced the tribunal, he sought permission from the liaison officer for matters concerning education from the French Military Government to visit Nuremburg. The trial was coming to an end and he wanted to catch a glimpse of the proceedings. He was granted a two week pass and allowed to travel (Heck 102).
Nuremberg was a significant place because it had witnessed many domestic triumphs by Hitler and the Nazi. It was a place that synonymous with the Nazi regime however, to many German Jews and minority groups it was a place of terror and fear. It was from there that the Nazi regime made public the Racial Laws in the year 1935 that automatically revoked the citizenship of Jews.
Due to brainwashing, most Germans had applauded that move and thought it would work towards enhancing the country. The mainstream churches did not do much to oppose this violation of civil rights probably due to fear of reproach from a regime that had dealt ruthlessly with opposition.
At the beginning of the twenty one trials, most Germans viewed the proceedings with complete indifference. They interpreted the trials as their victor’s way of exerting revenge upon them. There was no sign that the nation was prepared to come to terms with the real events or dealing with their feelings of guilt.
Alfons was able to listen to the trials via some loud speakers that had been placed outside the trial chambers and heard the entire evidence of the charges that were leveled against the Nazi leadership. There were confessions by a number of the leaders including the man who was in charge of training the young boys who were members of Hitler Youth.
He was found guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced to a jail term of not less than twenty years. This was a major turning point for Alfons Heck who now fully realized that the men he had adored and served under had betrayed him and other Germans (Heck 108).
That was the moment he discovered the scale of murder, child abuse and the countless atrocities that had been unleashed on innocent people. That was when he started to dissociate himself with the Nazi ideology he had once revered. He began his long journey of ‘rehabilitation’ that took many years. Like Alfons, so many young Germans had been duped into believing that they were doing their country great service by joining these groups.
The way in which the Nuremberg trials were carried out elicited criticism since some argued that it imposed ex post- facto kind of justice which means; that the rules were created after the crimes were committed. Some said that it served as a catharsis for those who ‘won’ the war and needed to put people on trial to quench their hatred.
Despite the limitations of the process, the trials achieved some significant objectives which included; preventing a blood bath which would have been witnessed had the Nazis been tried in courts that would have afforded them very able defenses (Heck 262).
The accused parties were given more justice than they would have given if the tables were to be turned. The concept of individual accountability and personal responsibility was introduced and it helped dispel the notion that orders from superiors were to be followed at all costs (Heck 270).
After the trials, waging aggressive war was criminalized and a declaration of human rights was drafted and adopted. Despite a number of confusing sentences and acquittals, it could be concluded that justice was served. The messages that had been relayed through the media about certain groups of people being inferior to others had been rubbished. In comparison to the heavier sentences of those tried by the tribunal in Nuremberg, Alfons’ sentence looked like a slap on the wrist even though a chunk of his youth had been used negatively.
Heck, Alfons. The burden of Hitler’s legacy.New York: American Travellers Press, 1988.print.
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