Fired Up | Crank Call | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Published August 14, 2002 at 4:00 a.m.

I wonder how many people saw the story in last week’s New York Times about Adolf Hitler’s personal finances. That’s right, Adolf Hitler. It was easy to miss, squeezed between the latest news about American corporate fraud (“Ex-Drug Exec-utive Faces U.S. Charges of Insider Trading,” “Ex-Executives Say Sham Deal Helped Enron,” “WorldCom Finds $3.3 Billion More in Irregularities,” etc.). But it seems the late, unlamented Führer “loved money and died rich,” much to the surprise of Ingo Helm, a documentary filmmaker whose latest work, Hitler’s Money, is about to be shown on German national television.

“Influenced by his propaganda,” Mr. Helm declares, “I thought of Hitler as someone who wasn’t selfish. I knew he was a criminal, but I didn’t know he was rich.”

Isn’t that precious? Hitler also liked dogs and children — “Aryan” children, anyway — and he was photographed dancing a jig, one leg in the air, when he heard that Stalingrad had fallen in 1943. True, after Stalingrad, he declared four days of mourning for the German people and closed all “places of entertainment,” but he could afford it, having already made something like $50 million in royalties on his masterwork, Mein Kampf — a copy of which, by Nazi decree, was sold to every German couple on their wedding day. When you own a country, you never need to worry about your bank balance. According to Mr. Helm:

“Hitler made few distinctions between his own money and that of the Nazi Party and even the state. It was all mixed together.

“Hitler also benefited hugely from contributions made by individual businessmen and the corporations… He wasn’t simply created by big business. Once he was in power, big business was opportunistic, contributing large sums to what was known as ‘the Adolf Hitler Donation of German Industry.’

“From the time he became chancellor until his death in 1945, Hitler received some 700 million reichsmarks in corporate payments — well more than $3 billion. In return, the businessmen made millions more on their investments and their war work.”

Did somebody say “war”? I thought so. It’s the best way to revive a dying economy, and the good news is you can shoot the resisters.

Please understand that in Germany, even now, they haven’t quite come to terms with the whole Hitler thing. This is only natural, given the unique awfulness of the Nazi regime and the fact that Mein Kampf is still banned in Berlin. You can call Hitler evil, un-speakable, a mass murderer, even “a homosexual” (as happened last year in Lothar Machtan’s best-selling book, The Hidden Hitler), but don’t, for God’s sake, let anybody read what he actually said. They might find out that Hitler was their own creation, and that he can turn up anywhere, anytime, as long as most people stand back and say nothing.

He can even turn up here — don’t kid yourself. Indeed, given the current scandals in the Bush administration and the fading pretense of the “war on terror,” I’d say it’s about time for a Reichstag fire, and if you need to look that up, you should.

On February 27, 1933, just weeks after Hitler took power — legally, note, in a democratic election — someone set fire to the parliament building in Berlin. Historians still argue about who it was, whether Nazis or Communists, but not about the consequences. Communists were Hitler’s “terrorists,” and the Reichstag fire was the excuse for the suspension of civil liberties in Ger-many. Only a day later, a Nazi “Decree for the Protection of the People and the State” eliminated the following constitutional guarantees:

1. Free expression of opinion

2. Freedom of the press

3. Right of assembly and association

4. Right to privacy of postal and electronic communications

5. Protection against unlawful searches and seizures

6. Individual property rights

7. States’ right of self-government

You might want to check my figures, but it seems to me that at least two of these liberties — numbers 4 and 5 — have been suspended in our own country since last September. More, if you happen to be suspected of terrorism or its intent and disappear into the modern equivalent of the oubliette, denied due process and held without trial for as long as the goons want to keep you there.

In Germany, after the Reichstag fire, a second decree immediately followed the first, creating the state police apparatus, the S.A. (Sturmabteilung) and the S.S. (Schutzstaffeln), both later made famous on “Hogan’s Heroes.”

“The Decree enabled the Nazis to ruthlessly suppress opposition” by centralizing police power, according to Orville Weyrich, who maintains a Reichstag-fire Web page on the Internet: “The point is not that the far right destroyed civil rights. Rather, the point is that a democracy can be destroyed by creating a law-and-order crisis and offering as a ‘solution’ the abdication of civil liberties and states’ rights to a powerful but unaccountable central authority.”

Sounds like “homeland security,” nicht wahr? So far as I know, the Bush administration has no immediate plans — or, as Dubya says, no “timetable” — for genocide. At least, not against its own citizens. That is, if you don’t count millions of people in poverty — jobless, homeless, without health insurance — and don’t include the ranks of the recently destitute, many of them seniors, who’ve seen their life savings go up in smoke thanks to corporate “irregularities.”

But these are niggling concerns when “freedom” is at stake. After 9/11, Bush remarked that “the only valid reasons” to run budget deficits “would be if the country experienced recession, war or national emergency.

“Lucky me,” he added, “I hit the trifecta.”