Saturday, January 12, 2013

Anniversaries, 2003, 1933 and 2013

Anniversaries are strange things, the only ones worth remembering as children are birthdays and Christmas. As adults, they matter less and are mostly a preoccupation of the old.

The old have little to look forward to and as the sands of time pass, school reunions and obituary notices take on an importance that is little understood by the young.

Looking back is not only an exercise in nostalgia, it also an opportunity to reflect on events past. Distance brings detachment and perspective.

I just realised that it was ten years ago this year that the UNF government was sacked (that took place on the 4th of November), but in January 2003 we were not to know how fast we were approaching the cliff face. Those were heady days of boundless optimism and seen from the perspective of today, from an altogether different era, closer to 1953 than 2013.

This month, another anniversary has crept up, nearly unnoticed. It was in the January of 1933 that Hitler became chancellor of Germany, and by August 1934, he had declared himself F├╝hrer - the leader of Germany. In a few short months he dismembered Germany's democracy.

A mysterious fire in the Reichstag in January 1933, provided the excuse to crack down on the communists who were said to be behind the attack. Hitler urged President Paul von Hindenburg to pass an emergency decree to counter the "ruthless confrontation of the Communist Party of Germany". (Wikipedia)

The Reichstag Fire Decree was used as the legal basis of imprisonment of anyone considered to be opponents of the Nazis, and to suppress publications not considered “friendly” to the Nazi cause. The government instituted mass arrests of Communists, including all of the Communist parliamentary delegates. With them gone and their seats empty, the Nazis went from being a plurality party to the majority (Wikipedia).

In March 1933, the Nazi's passed the Enabling act. The formal name of the Enabling Act was Gesetz zur Behebung der Not von Volk und Reich (English: "Law to Remedy the Distress of People and Reich"). (Wikipedia)

An innocuous act for the uplifting of lives. Now why does that ring a bell?

It was passed with the assistance of the SA (Sturm Abteilung also known as stormtroopers or brownshirts) who intimidated the opposition.

Before the vote, Hitler made a speech in which he pledged to use restraint.
"The government will make use of these powers only insofar as they are essential for carrying out vitally necessary measures...The number of cases in which an internal necessity exists for having recourse to such a law is in itself a limited one," Hitler told the Reichstag. (Link to source)

Under the Act, the government had acquired the authority to pass laws without either parliamentary consent or control. Unprecedentedly, these laws could (with certain exceptions) even deviate from the Constitution. The Act effectively eliminated the Reichstag as active players in German politics, though the existence of the body, alongside that of the Reichsrat and of the office of President were protected under the Act (nonetheless, the two latter were abolished in April and August 1934, respectively). (Wikipedia)

In April 1933, the system of local government was reorganised with the country being administered by 42 local Gaus which are run by a Gauleiter. These Gaus are separated into areas, localities and blocks of flats run by a Blockleiter.

With effective control of local government the Nazi's replaced anti-Nazi teachers and university professors and encouraged German's to report on opponents and "grumblers".

On the 2nd of May Trade Unions were banned, on 14 July political parties were banned. In April 1934 People's Courts were set up.

The "People's Court" was set up outside the operations of the constitutional frame of law. The court had jurisdiction over a rather broad array of "political offenses," which included crimes like black marketeering, work slowdowns, defeatism and treason against the Third Reich. These crimes were viewed by the court as Wehrkraftzersetzung ("disintegration of defensive capability") and were accordingly punished severely. The death penalty was meted out in numerous cases in this court. (Wikipedia)

In a few short months, while the world looked on in wonder and bemusement, Germany was set on the path that would lead to the destruction of Europe.

When the fighting stopped lessons were thought to have been learned. In great hope the United Nations was formed to prevent the outbreak of wars. A global policeman to step in when things looked like they were getting out of hand.

As Sri Lanka looks set to clash once again with the UN in March 2013, is it time to stop and reflect?

A good summary of Hitler's rise to power is here. The key structure through which the Nazi's exercised power is here. Some further reading here.

Update: Berlin commemorates Hitler's rise to power.

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