Hitler, Paranoia, and “the Jew”

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.”

Strenski on Sacrifice

Excerpts from Professor Strenski’s essay appear below.

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A dilemma sits at the center of sacrificial discourse. Sacrifice means loss, giving up, destruction and death. But, much talk about sacrifice carries on as if this loss, this subtraction, actually achieves addition.

Soldiers sacrifice themselves in battle, but this doesn’t count as diminishment. It actually adds to whatever social body of reference is in play. So, the question is why and how can sacrifice add to the social whole, when, in the fact of destruction and death, it subtracts from the social whole by removing one of its members from the body of the living?

This bizarre and self-conflicted state of public values eventuates in what I call the ‘bad math’ of sacrifice. Sacrifice means loss, giving up or at least giving ‘of:’ destruction and, in many cases, death. But, characteristically, most talk promoting sacrifice acts as if these losses are in reality gains—a paradigm case of ‘addition by subtraction.’ Proponents of civic sacrifice in war, for example, routinely argue how the loss of lives in heroic combat actually counts as gain.

The question is how and why Civic sacrifice is about a kind giving to the community—that in turn produces moral obligation to give further and more broadly. This thesis can be tested empirically in the instances of so-called ‘suicide bombing.’

These deaths are regarded, both by the actors and their communities of reference, as ‘gifts’ to the community, requiring meaningful action in response. They are not meaningless suicides or mere acts of warfare.

Soldiers on the battlefield are seen as being led like ‘lambs to the slaughter’—a clear suggestion of analogies with ritual sacrificial killing. Or, soldiers may be seen as offering their lives on the analogy of Jesus winning salvation for the nation. Similarly, sacrificial death for Israel has as well always been held in high regard and likened to temple ritual.

What I find remarkable is how close to ritual senses of sacrifice the civic ones can become. If the sacrificial ritual ‘syndrome’ involves killing or destruction, giving gifts, cooking/transforming and eating/consuming communally, and finally consecration, do we find their analogies in civic sacrifice? I think so. For example, even when civic sacrifices are only partial —a ‘giving of rather than a total ‘giving up’ of a life, career etc., the ritual model seems to brood over the civic realm.

In terms of the civic sacrifice—a dying for country, or even paying one’s taxes—gift discourse seems prominent. Soldiers give up their lives for/to their country; good citizens give of themselves in paying their taxes or supporting the United Fund, for example. Similarly, in dying for country, the soldier, or at least their memory, becomes ‘sacred.’ A consecration occurs. They become heroes to us all, have their names inscribed in immortal stone, lend their names to public places and institutions, and so on.

As ‘victims,’ they become blameless and without taint. A kind of primal innocence is restored to them, just as the image of the ‘lamb of God’ tells us from the ritual context. But, after these correspondences with ritual sacrifice, the analogy between civic and ritual sacrifice seems to break down. Is there a sense, for example, in which what is sacrificed in warfare (the life of a soldier) is shared and eaten—even figuratively? I don’t know. But, those wanting to see such deaths in warfare as ‘sacrifices’ might want to see how far the analogy with ritual sacrifice can be extended.

Nations Consume Body Parts

Limbless veterans at Roehampton Military Hospital

Limbless veterans at Roehampton Military Hospital

In our Newsletter of July 18, 2014, I suggested that in warfare, loss may be conceived as victory. The “greatness” of one’s nation is demonstrated by virtue of its capacity and willingness to “throw away” human beings & material resources. In our Newsletter of July 19, 2014—responding to Richard Rhodes’ reflections on this mechanism—I hypothesized that loss or sacrifice represents victory because it function to demonstrate the depth of devotion to a sacred object (whether this object is called “Allah” or “Great Britain”). Sacrificial death bears witness to the intensity of belief—and to the reality of the object in the name of which one dies and kills. The proof of the pudding lies in the dying and killing.

In a subsequent email, Rhodes referred to Elaine Scarry’s The Body in Pain (1987) which, he said, explores how wounding and death in warfare represent ways of “anchoring belief in physical reality.” The opening of the body affirms the “intensity and totality of the sacrificer’s witness.”

The photo above (of British soldiers after the First World War) is an excellent example of how loss might equal gain: how the triumph of belief is registered within the bodies of soldiers, who have given their limbs to their nation. Looking at the faces of these men, one sees pride and self-satisfaction. Rather than regrets, we witness an almost arrogant self-assurance.

In Dismembering the Male (1996), Joanna Bourke observes that public rhetoric in Great Britain during and after the Great War judged soldiers’ mutilations to be “badges of their courage,” the hallmark of their glorious service, “proof of patriotism.” The disabled soldier was not less but “more of a man.” A writer in The Times (1920) stated, “Next to the loss of life, the sacrifice of a limb is the greatest sacrifice a man can make for his country.”

Scarry states that in warfare, the human body is “brought to bear upon the process of verification.” The “alteration of the soldier’s body” in warfare gives witness to the power of ideology. The sheer factualness of the human body lends the cultural construct an “aura of realness or certainty.”

The photo shows that the legs of these soldiers were given away to the nation-state. Body parts have been removed—consumed by the nation. The absence of legs proves the reality of Great Britain. Where legs were, there shall nation be.

Into the Furnace of War

The following passage appeared in the July 18, 2014, issue of our Newsletter/Blog (entitled “Warfare: Loss as Victory”):

British political leader David Lloyd George stated (Haste, 1977) that every nation during the First World War conducted its military activities as if there were no limit to the number of young men who could be “thrown into the furnace to feed the flames of war.” The First World War was a perpetual, driving force that “shoveled warm human hearts and bodies by the millions into the furnace” (Gilbert, 2004).

Lawrence Besserman, Professor at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and author of Sacred and Secular in Medieval and Early Modern Cultures responded with the following email:

“Thrown into the furnace”—horrific quotes, and I thought only the Muslims believed in death as victory. But the metaphor of men thrown into the furnace implies something we might be overlooking: bodies/lives as fuel to drive the engine of the state. An Industrial Age perversion that mirrors the ancient conception that the gods need human sacrifice to be satisfied? That’s what the metaphor of “thrown into the furnace” evokes for me.

John Horne (in Coetzee and Shevin-Coetzee, 1995) analyzed the published letters of French soldiers who fought in the war. The theme of many of these letters was the idea of sacrifice as a source of redemption and renewal for the French nation. Contemplating the warriors who had fallen around him, French soldier J. Saleilles wondered whether their “gift of blood” was not the “supernatural source of the renewal of life which must be given to our country.”

What does it mean to say that the renewal of a nation’s life depends upon a “gift of blood”? This phrase links the soldier’s death to the more abundant life of one’s nation. When injury or death occurs on the battlefield, the blood contained within the body of the soldier flows out of him—and into the body politic. The body and blood of the soldier fuels or regenerates the nation.

Writing in 1916, P. H. Pearse (in Kamenka, 1973)—founder of the Irish Revolutionary movement—observed with pleasure the carnage of the First World War:

The last sixteen months have been the most glorious in the history of Europe. Heroism has come back to the earth. It is good for the world to be warmed with the red wine of the battlefield. Such august homage was never before offered to God as this—the homage of millions of lives given gladly for love of country.

The world, according to Pearse, needed to be warmed with the “red wine of the battlefield.” The outflowing of blood—millions of lives “given gladly for love of country”—constituted a form of nourishment for the nation-state.


It is often said that “the individual must die so that the nation might live.” During the First World War, the bodies of soldiers were fed into the jaws of battle under the assumption that the “life” of the nation was more significant than the lives of individuals: the body politic consumed human bodies. In war, the bodies and blood of soldiers give rise to the reality of the nation.

When the British asked their soldiers to get out of a trench to run into opposing machine gun fire (for example, at the Battle of the Somme), we say that Germans killed the British soldiers. We might just as well say that the British killed British soldiers. One can say it either way. It’s six of one, a half-dozen of the other.

I’ve studied the First World War for 25 years. Scholars may spend a lifetime analyzing the political machinations and conflicts and blunders that led to the outbreak and perpetuation of the war. They may scrutinize every battle, and the strategies that governed them. However, after all is said and done, the best—most parsimonious—conclusion one can draw about the First World War is: “Nations killed a lot of people.”

During the Aztec period, each Mexican city-state fought other Mexican city-states in order to capture sacrificial victims and feed them to the gods. Upon returning from one typical battle, Aztec warriors reported to the emperor Moctezuma (1502-1520), telling him that they had taken a goodly number of captives, but that 370 of their own warriors had died, or been lost through capture. Moctezuma replied:

“Behold, brothers, how true was the word of the ancestors who taught us that the sun…feeds alike from both sides” (in Brundage, 1986).

Why is Loss Perceived as Victory?

In a recent Library of Social Science Newsletter/blog post, Richard Koenigsberg wrote that:

Waging war constitutes a vehicle for “giving away” men and resources. Waging war is a gift to the god—one’s society or nation. One throws away men and material objects—wealth—in order to prove the greatness of one’s nation, which is measured in terms of its capacity and willingness to tolerate loss.

Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Rhodes, author of The Twilight of the Bombs (2011), responded with the following question:

You tell me everything but what I most want to know: Why is loss perceived as victory? How does that infernal mechanism work? Surely something more is involved than simply “bigness of soul,” whatever that is. What’s the gain? What’s the secondary gain?

Gods arise out of sacrifice: if there were no dying, how would we know that a god existed? How would we know that a nation existed?

When a suicide bomber blows himself up in the name of Allah, we kind of understand what is going on, don’t we? We can imagine that someone might sacrifice himself for his god. The Christian world has its own martyrs as well. But if don’t believe in Allah, we feel that the suicide bomber has died for nothing.

When the Japanese soldier or kamikaze pilot died for the Emperor, we can understand this as well. We can imagine that a human being is capable of giving his life for the sake of an Emperor or a King, or maybe even a President, even if we don’t believe that the Emperor is god.

What is the mechanism involved? The sacrificial act—giving one’s life—functions as a testimony to the truth or reality of the entity in whose name the individual dies.

The term “martyr” derives from the Greek word meaning “to bear witness.” When the suicide bomber dies for Allah, he is bearing witness to the intensity of his belief. Death constitutes “proof,” for both himself and his fellow believers.

His fellow jihadists might think to themselves, “Look, he’s giving his life for Allah. Allah must be real, otherwise it’s not possible that he would kill himself.” It’s difficult to imagine that someone is dying for no-thing.

Of course, we are still not convinced. Just because the suicide bomber blows himself up, we are not therefore persuaded in the reality of Allah.

Japanese who died for the Emperor similarly did so as a testimony to their belief in the Emperor’s reality. We may not be convinced of the reality of the Emperor’s divinity simply because so many soldiers died for him. On the other hand, the mechanism is no great mystery because we too have some sacred ideal—an absolute—in the name of which we believe dying is worthwhile.

To return to Richard Rhodes’ question: Why is the loss of life and material resources perceived or conceived as victory? Because for those who make the sacrifice—whether they are dying for Allah or Japan or Great Britain—victory is the triumph of belief. The more people who die in the name of the ideal, the more are we persuaded that the ideal must be real. We are willing to sustain loss in order to demonstrate the absolute validity of the ideal in whose name loss is generated.

It takes a radical act of consciousness to imagine that—when we human beings give our lives for some-thing—we are dying in the name of no-thing.