Tag Archives: Hitler

Chills from Prague Winter: a Story of Nazi and Soviet Takeovers

Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948, is a memoir by Madeleine Albright. She chronicles the atrocities of Hitler’s rise to power in Europe, followed later by the Soviet takeover of her birth country. She reminds readers of the need for constant vigilance against demagogues.

Albright is the daughter of a former Czechoslovak diplomat, serving his country before, during, and after World War II. Albright’s family immigrated to the United States following the takeover of Czechoslovakia by Soviet communists. Albright later was U.S. Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton.

She tells of Hitler’s ascent in Germany and his unexpected rise to power. Hitler “transformed his country from a tottering democracy into a tightly organized dictatorship with a skyrocketing military budget and an aggressive international agenda.”

Konrad Henlein, a Czechoslovakian of German ethnicity, was used by Hitler in his conquest of the country. Henlein, Albright tells us, “was motivated less by Nazi ideology than by the lure of power and fame. His skill as a politician stemmed from his gift for lying with apparent sincerity.”

In paving the way to World War II, Albright quotes Winston Churchill’s assessment of Hitler, explaining why Europe was so desperately duped by him: “ . . . the world lives on hopes that the worst is over, and that we may yet live to see Hitler a gentler figure in a happier age.”

I could not help but be reminded of expressed hope in the early months of Trump’s presidency that he would become “presidential.”

Czechoslovakians of German ethnicity had valid reasons for contention with the Czech government, but their complaints were grossly exaggerated by Hitler to justify his occupation of their region. Similar to today’s “fake news,” Hitler spun the story his way.

I am reminded of Americans with valid complaints about their status—workers who have lost jobs and wages while digital newbies barely out of school become wealthy, or evangelical Christians who are sneered at. Unfortunately, they too often allow themselves to be used by politicians interested only in the advancement of their own fortunes or political agendas.

Yes, Albright’s memoir chilled me. We are never home safe. Democracies have fallen. Constant, sober vigilance is always needed.

Dictatorship: Such an Efficient Form of Government

From the standpoint of efficiency, dictatorship is attractive. No lengthy election campaigns. No disagreement among the dictator’s supporters. No troubling scrutiny from a questioning press.

After a period of wars and uncertainty, some populations welcome a strong man (usually a man) like Hitler, who will end strife and allow citizens more certainty to go about their lives.

The problem is that even the most patriotic strongman is often corrupted by the power he possesses. He will begin to believe that he has all knowledge and that everything he does is ordained by a higher reality. He often attempts to pass power to family members and close friends, founding, in reality, a family fief.

No legislature or judiciary holds a dictator in check. The progress he might make when first taking office dissipates into cronyism and nepotism, a selfish dividing of a country’s resources among a few top contenders.

Representative government, by contrast, can be messy and time consuming, but over the long run has the potential to better serve the citizens.

However, the disadvantage of representative government is that, if it is to work, competent people must be elected. For that to happen, the electorate must be informed about issues.

In other words, effective government is more about us, not the leaders. It has to do with the responsibility we take or don’t take as citizens to learn and vote intelligently.

Simple Solutions Can Be Deadly

 ” . . .when a man is driven to despair he is ready to smash everything in the vague hope that a better world may arise out of the ruins.” So wrote a former German official, Erich Koch-Weser, in 1931, as the spellbinding Hitler hovered on the periphery of power. A beaten down people saw in Hitler a chance to rise again. Their misery was real, but their choices in dealing with it caused tragedy for themselves and most of the world.

While the misery in this country has not reached the level suffered by the German people during that time, we can still note the tendency to grasp at simple solutions. They range from “down with government” to “down with Wall Street” to “down with religion.” Atheism would answer the problem of religious intolerance, for example, by simply ridding the world of religion. That solution gets rid of religious intolerance but offers no help for our intolerance of differing political views or ethnicity. Could it be that the underlying issue is not religion (or government, or Wall Street), but our sinful tendencies?

Solutions, most likely, will require difficult choices and the overcoming of our inclination to fight only for our tribe or group instead of the common good, not a magical waving of some political wand.