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A policy of selective enforcement to realign social norms with the Nazi vision of people’s community took form in 1935. As the Gestapo dismantled the underground communist party, pursuing the remnants into society at large demanded a different approach. Nazism asserted the right to control conversation under new legal theories that treated the private as political. But blanket enforcement risked undermining popular support. To compensate, offences became forgivable momentary weakness or punishable subversion depending on motive. The Gestapo developed profiles of ideological enemies and criterion identifying upstanding “racial comrades” in response. The keystone was “political reliability” extrapolated from the suspect’s partisan associations and personal reputation. The ideals of people’s community set the parameters of respectable citizenship. Certain behaviours and associations were evidence of political reliability or inherently subversive attitudes threatening this community. Selective enforcement educated or punished based on the effect of an action upon, the standing of socio-political identities within, and the contributions of an offender toward the people’s community.
The Gestapo balanced the scales of justice with the weights of people’s community from 1939 to 1942. Political police resolved twice as many cases while state prosecutors’ workload, but not conviction rates, dropped by a third. The Gestapo evaluated “political reliability” based on a range of socio-political behaviours distinguishing upstanding “racial comrades,” who embodied the values of people’s community, from subversive opponents who either rejected Nazism or embraced alien ideologies. Supporters might complain, but they sincerely apologized, cooperated, and usually conformed. Subversives advocated alternatives. At best, repeat offenders were simply chronic complainers. Private exchanges might be overlooked, but repeated public criticism was intolerable. Hinting toward a change of government was utterly unforgivable. Supporters who acted in “momentary weakness” received “psychological understanding” and educational warnings. Subversives who called for regime change, swayed other against Nazism, or were connected to targeted minorities faced the courts. Himmler’s mandate “to create and uphold the desired order” of a people’s community was finally being realized.
This chapter establishes the core principles of this study and defines its key terms. It problematises and deconstructs the relationship between the German ‘people’s community’, the Volksgemeinschaft, and the concept and practice of Total War in East Prussia. By establishing the mentality of the native population towards the war, this chapter assigns agency to those who would eventually become the main victims of late-war intra-ethnic violence. Subsequently, the chapter addresses the impact of the Party and the Wehrmacht on the behaviour of civilians, using as case-studies the construction of the Ostwall and the establishment of the Volkssturm in the second half of 1944. Finally, it examines how East Prussians viewed their roles within the late-war community of Germany and how they established the potential to break with the ‘traditional’ values of the National Socialist state.
This chapter assesses the emergent mindset and the city’s insular nature by providing an analysis of the propaganda created in Königsberg during its siege. As the idea of Volksgemeinschaft steadily lost its appeal, propagandists struggled to convey their message to the fortress’s population. By drawing attention to the efforts of local propagandists, this chapter examines the impact of the Wehrmacht ‘on the ground’, and discusses the need to forge a Kampfgemeinschaft, based on Königsberg’s ‘battle’ rather than on Germany’s ‘struggle’. Rather than encouraging the population to leave the city, the fortress command instead propagated a false sense of safety. An assessment of the themes portrayed in local media reveals how, in a fractured Germany, local authorities presented their message and how they sought to link it to the larger regional picture of events. A martial narrative came to dominate Königsberg’s propaganda while the unfolding events were consistently explained by drawing parallels to the city’s Prussian past, offering an alternative to the National Socialist rhetoric. The population’s reluctance to leave the city until the very end is a sombre testament to the propagandists’ success in downplaying the dangers to which all were exposed.
Chapter 6 shows how the Fernheim Colony’s collective narrative reached a point of crisis in 1944 as colonists transitioned from thinking that they should remain in Paraguay, as per the wishes of the MCC, to thinking that they should relocate to Nazi–controlled Eastern Europe. The latter, of course, was not to happen. Yet the stress, rupture, and violence caused by the quick reversal of the colony’s collective narrative – from an anticipated comic outcome to a tragic one – was quickly forgotten as Fernheimers devised a new narrative of continuity after the war. Aiding the creation of a new, centripetal Fernheim narrative, the MCC redoubled its efforts to draw the colonists into its narrative of global Mennonite unity. It dispatched volunteers to improve the colony’s healthcare and infrastructure and monitor colonists – attitudes about Nazism on behalf of the US government, which the MCC fully cooperated with during the war years. Meanwhile, the Menno Colony carried on as it had before the war. It remained free of ideological strife and had zero interest in relocating to Europe. Combined with Chapter 5, Chapter 6 indicates that Latin America ’ German–speaking communities exhibited a wide range of attitudes toward the Nazi state, from political indifference to overwrought anticipation.
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