The 12 years of Nazism (1933-1945) inculcated young Germans with anti-Jewish ideas that continued after the defeat of Hitler, according to a new study on anti-Semitism.
The study, which American and Swiss researchers released Monday, found that Germans who grew up during the 1930s were far more likely than their younger countrymen to have negative attitudes about Jews. It reported that anti-Semitic views were particularly strong among Germans raised in regions of the country that were known for anti-Semitism even before Hitler came to power.
According to the researchers, who analyzed surveys conducted in 1996 and 2006, the findings indicated that Nazi propaganda was highly effective, especially when it confirmed existing beliefs.
“It’s not just that Nazi schooling worked, that if you subject people to a totalitarian regime during their formative years, it will influence the way their mind works,” Hans-Joachim Voth of the University of Zurich, one of the study’s authors, told AP. “The striking thing is that it doesn’t go away afterward.”
The study asked seven questions about attitudes toward Jews. Of those questioned, 17% said they believed Jews were to blame for their fate, 25% felt uncomfortable about members of their family marrying Jews, and 21% wanted to deny Jews equal rights.
Voth – who co-authored the report with Nico Voigtländer from the University of California, Los Angeles – said the propaganda was particularly effective when “the overall environment where children grew up was already a bit anti-Semitic. It tells you that indoctrination can work, it can last to a surprising extent, but the way it works has to be compatible to something people already believe.”
Dr. Elvira U. Grözinger, a member of the Germany branch of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that “knowing some of the Nazi children, I am convinced that Nazi ideology deeply influenced the education of the postwar generation.
We could see how those who called themselves Leftists rebelled against their parents in the 1968s, but as they so-to-speak drank this ideology with their mothers’ milk, they were anti-Semitic to the core.”
She added that this attitude “perpetuates from generation to generation, just like the Jewish survivors’ children and grandchildren inherited the sensitiveness and alertness.”
Dr. Efraim Zuroff, the chief Nazi hunter for the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the head of its Jerusalem office, called the study’s findings “disheartening news,” telling the Post that it “only makes the importance of effective education on the Holocaust even more important in Germany than we previously assumed.”
However, Sacha Stawski – the head of Frankfurt-based media watchdog organization Honestly Concerned, which tracks anti-Semitism – said the study results were “anything but surprising.”
“People are generally vulnerable to propaganda, especially children,” he told the Post. “Repeat the same lie over and over sufficiently often, and eventually something will stick. The Nazis were masters at doing that.
Every second page of school notebooks were filled with Nazi imagery, teachers and preachers were indoctrinated, and a multitude of other all-round propaganda efforts were instilled, to brainwash the public from [an] early age.”
All of this had the desired effect, he continued: “A lot of the propaganda lies stuck deep in these young minds.”
These tactics are still in evidence among those espousing anti-Semitism today, he added.
“Sadly the haters of Israel have very much picked up on this very same idea and are using the same kind of propaganda tools against Israel and Jews in general,” he said. “The pictures coming out of Hamas kindergartens and schools resemble much of this hatred, reinforced through caricatures, films, speeches, etc., accompanied by the hate preaching of certain imams. And the hate does not stop there.
Especially through the new media channels, the very same violent anti-Semitic hate finds its way into the minds of Muslims all over the world – one explanation for the outbursts of hate we saw during the last summer.”
Nathan Gelbart, a prominent Berlin lawyer and chairman of the German branch of Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal, told the Post that “without significant Jew-hatred within the population, the Holocaust would neither have been planned nor executed the way it was.”
Gelbart, who is currently in Israel, added that “the Nazi doctrine was not a subject of dispute, but rather a kind of redemption for a lot of Germans – like calls for boycotts against Israel today are not about disputes, but significant hatred for Israel.”
JTA contributed to this report.
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