Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The American Louise Solmitz-es

When I teach my class on the history of Nazi Germany my students are always taken aback by one primary source I use to evoke the reactions to Hitlers ascension to power. It's an excerpt from a diary by a woman name Louise Solmitz, a Hamburg teacher married to a converted Jew. 

She was not a Nazi. However, as a right wing supporter of the allied German National People's Party she wrote with enthusiasm about the torch-lit parade by nationalists, brown shirts and Nazi students through the streets of Hamburg after Hindenburg named Hitler chancellor: 

"We were drunk with enthusiasm, blinded by the light of the torches right in our faces, and always enveloped in their vapor as in a cloud of sweet incense. And in front of us men, men, men, brightly colored, grey, brown, a torrent lasting an hour and 20 minutes. In the wavering light of the torches one seemed to see only a few types recurring again and again, but there were between twenty-two and twenty-five thousand different faces!"

She also noted the violent anti-Semitic slogans chanted by the marchers, apparently willing to overlook them despite the fact that her ethnically Jewish husband (and half-Jewish child) might potentially be threatened. (It reminds one of stories of Trumpers married to undocumented immigrants who are shocked by the deportation of their spouses.) 

In the moment Solmitz didn't care about that. Instead she relished how "the Reds will inevitably have to give in now." Hitler was not her first choice, but she was happy with anyone who would smite the people she disliked on the Left. 

I am thinking about the document because the last four years revealed many Louise Solmitzes in America. They were Republicans who did not vote for Trump in the primaries but were more than happy to pull the lever for him in the general election twice. They used abortion or their stock portfolio or taxes and a cover. When people took to the streets after George Floyd's murder they shook their heads at a torched Starbucks and shed not a tear for Floyd or the countless other victims of police violence. When Trump spouted his racist hatred of "shithole countries" and "build the wall" they overlooked it as much as Solmitz overlooked the brown shirts yelling "death to the Jews." Like Solmitz they themselves would never repeat such slogans, but were more than happy to stand by and cheer when others did. 

When their political allies tried to overturn an election by assaulting the Capitol they showed about as much outrage as the Solmitzes in Germany did when Hitler used the Reichstag fire to strangle democracy, which is to say none. Instead they just made excuses. Like Solmitz they enthusiastically went along with the regime even when it directly threatened their own family members. Commitment to their side and seeing the opposing factions punished mattered more than their concern for their own flesh and blood. 

With Trump leaving office, an account must be given. The militia members need to be called to account. The Ted Cruzes and Josh Hawleys need to be called to account. Fox New needs to be called to account. But especially the Louise Solmitzes are called to account. 

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