Reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

I’m slowly working through The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, and outside of that just happened upon a quote:

We know now that a man can read Goethe or Rilke in the evening, that he can play Bach and Schubert, and go to his day’s work at Auschwitz in the morning. -George Steiner, professor and writer (b. 1929)

While true, I think the quote is somewhat incomplete. The Nazi beliefs and values that lead to such horrible actions did not just occur in spite of a cultured life. While it was incorrect to do so, Nazi leaders read into the works of prior authors, musicians and artists a historical cultural backdrop–one that effectively condoned dictatorship, war and mass violence as a means to control and destroy “lesser” people. It’s a little complex to explain, but the mere fact that one listens to Bach or Wagner does not indicate what one hears in it. In the end, mass murder does not seem to be an animalistic tendency–when a wolf looks at a flock of sheep, it does not think “delete all.” It looks for the weak and easy to kill, for its own survival. Animal turf wars end when one side gives in and–usually–is allowed to leave. Auschwitz is a cultural phenomenon–a ruthless domination based on feelings of inherent superiority coupled with a philosophical tendency toward war over peace as the propagator of nations. Those idiotic beliefs came from a twisted reading of civilized culture, not in spite of it. 

Anyway, enough of that. 


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