Excerpts from Professor Cocks’s essay appear below.
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Nazi propaganda linking Jews, Bolsheviks, and Capitalists intensified. Deportation of the European Jews to the East was organized at the Wannsee Conference on January 20, 1942. There, Reinhard Heydrich spoke in Nazi terms that were both deeply irrational—and discursively modern and medical—of the necessity of eliminating the “germ cell of a new Jewish revival” among those surviving slave labor in Poland. In March, Joseph Goebbels wrote in his diary of the “struggle for life and death between the Aryan race and the Jewish bacillus.” Then, Hitler bellowed on the “healthy nature” of National Socialism—and its war against the “diseases” spread by the “international poison” of Jewry.
This was not the first time—nor would it be the last—that Hitler held forth in obscene, bloody, “clinical” fashion about the Jews. In Mein Kampf (1925), he had claimed that his political vision was formed in 1918 when he confronted the Jewish threat while undergoing treatment in a military hospital for injuries suffered in a gas attack. As Richard Koenigsberg has long argued, Hitler and the Nazis were indulging in a body fantasy that posited the German nation as the rock against which the destructive forces of Jewish decomposition of the “body politic” would dash themselves.
Nancy Chodorow theorized that the infant boy has particular difficulty in differentiating and forming a sovereign self because he desires (re)union with the woman who has dominated his early life. But it is from her that he must divorce his self in order to shape and retain a male identity. The result is the compensatory male need to dominate and abuse women—based on of conflicts over their endangered masculine identity. This insight us particularly valuable for understanding the ways in which Hitler’s paranoia intertwined with that of his fraught time and place. The most striking and significant of these connections was with fellow veterans of the First World War—radicalized along the same extreme, brutal nationalist lines as Hitler himself. Nazis such as Hermann Göring, Martin Bormann, Reinhard Heydrich, and Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss came from the ranks of the Freikorps, militias composed of unemployed war veterans that b attled Communists and other foes between 1918 and 1923.
The autobiographical literature of the Freikorps is marked by violent politicized fantasies about women and women’s bodies. This discourse betrays hypersexualized gender anxiety over the desired but smothering and annihilating interiority of the female body. This anxiety, which reinforces and is reinforced by hatred for Jews (“effeminate”), Communists (“the Red flood”), and other “un-German” entities, represents the deep dread that arises in the pre-Oedipal struggle of the fledgling self. It is a dread, ultimately, of dissolution—of being swallowed and engulfed, which is why Freikorps texts overflow with terrifying images of floods of female bodily fluids. These fantasies are an extreme instance of the argument that males have a more difficult task than females in reconciling the desire for a sovereign self—separate from the mother—with the ongoing infantile wish for union with her. Such dynamic s inform male violence toward women, who embody the deepest wish—as well as the greatest threat.
Defensiveness regarding a hypermasculine identity, common at this time in the West but especially strong in Prussian military and German national culture, had been heightened by an industrial and commercial society that vitiated gender as a reassuring marker of inferiority and superiority. Male feelings of superiority were also eroded by industrial warfare between 1914 and 1918. War, supposedly the prime arena of manly decisiveness and control, was revealed as an indeterminate, chaotic morass of helplessness and slaughter that bred among men the hysteria believed the exclusive weakness of women. Thus, the paranoia of Hitler and the Nazis regarding the Jews was born of an exaggerated and often pathological form of allied fantasies and fears stemming from common human experience with self and others from the earliest years onward.
The monolithic Nazi fantasy of “the Jew” as morbid enemy carried with it the disturbingly intimate quality of an internal process of unmanageable weakening and eventual destruction. This morbid imagery spoke to Germans’ modern anxiety about body and self—beset by mortal peril from within and without. Such “dis-ease” was projected onto Jews as “disease” in the context of Nazi culture dominated by fantasies of wholeness and purity.
These fantasies were in turn rooted in a psychological dynamic that divided the world into comfortable but fragile bipolar images of difference [such as] health vs. disease, good vs. evil, white vs. black.” The desires and dangers inhabiting and surrounding individual Germans’ bodies, minds, and selves contributed variously and decisively to Hitlers now murderously activated paranoid fantasy of “the Jew.”