Germany’s quest to unify and organize Europe, coupled with establishing its rule across the continent, took a tragic turn as Nazis started the Second World War in 1939. The majority of European countries supported Germany’s efforts of a unified region. After World War I, the United States, Britain, and France created a liberal and democratic order across the region. However, towards the end of the 1930s, most Europeans were ready to abandon this form of governance and embrace authoritarianism.
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Germany fronted itself as the ideal candidate to steer Europe into this new phase of governance. However, the supporters of this cause did not anticipate the brutal reality that Germany, through Nazi imperialism, would reintroduce slavery into Europe. This paper explores Mark Mazower’s sentiments that making Europeans barbarians and slaves were Nazi’s greatest discourtesy against the civility of the continent.
Besides, the paper will discuss the claim that when it was its time to suffer, Europe could not bear the very atrocities that had been committed in other countries in its name. Besides, the extent to which Nazis temporarily succeeded in turning imperialism on its head by treating Europeans as they had treated Africans will be highlighted.
Nazi’s Imperial Barbarianism and Slavery in Europe
Hitler’s idea of a unified Europe was based on a hierarchical organization of the continent with Germany at the top guided by imperial theories. Therefore, Germany slowly reintroduced barbarism and slavery into Europe, and by the time its supporters realized what was happening, it was too late, as imperial Nazism was already ruling the continent. Germany’s occupation of Europe was based on the idea of Lebensraum, which was being used as a geopolitical goal of imperialism to expand its territories.
Besides, as mentioned earlier, most Europeans wanted a change of governance from the liberalism and democracy associated with the US, Britain, and France to authoritarianism (Mazower, 140). This agitation for a change of governance and Germany’s Lebensraum policies converged to create an enabling environment for the Nazis to reintroduce barbarism and slavery into the continent. Hitler noted, “When National Socialism has ruled long enough, it will no longer be possible to conceive of a form of life different from ours” (Mazower, 143).
As such, Germany extended its territory across Europe and captured other countries before establishing its rule. For instance, in the Netherlands, German generals thought that the country would be allowed to operate independently. However, Hitler maintained that the country must be put under civilian rule. In extreme cases, “certain countries were dismembered, their national identity entirely suppressed. Poland, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia endured this approach; their very names were to be erased from the map” (Mazower, 145). Consequently, countries lost their sovereignty and independence as German military and civil commanders took charge. Ultimately, barbarism and slavery revisited Europe as Germany’s agenda of a hierarchical organization continued to take shape.
Ironically, Europe was astonished by Germany’s actions, yet what was happening across the continent had occurred elsewhere in Africa and Asia. European countries colonized their African and Asian countries, but Europeans did not complain when atrocities were being executed abroad in their name. The British ruled India, Kenya, Ghana, the Gambia, and Zimbabwe, among other countries autocratically, by subduing local tribes and promoting slavery to achieve its goals.
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Germany had used the same colonial tactics in Tanganyika, Burundi, Rwanda, and Cameroon. On its part, France colonized and brutalized Ivory Coast, Chad, Madagascar, Algeria, and Comoros, among many other African countries. Similarly, Portugal, Italy, Denmark, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Belgium all scrambled for Africa and perpetuated the very atrocities that Germany was carrying out in Europe. In fact, “Hitler’s imagination was captured by the example of the British in India. Their model of imperial rule, such as he conceived it, struck him as admirable” (Mazower, 146). Ukraine was to Germany what India was to the British.
Europeans were not impressed with Germany’s advancements. However, Germany was only turning imperialism on its head by treating Europeans the same way they had treated Africans, and it succeeded to a certain extent. The following sections explore three cases from Lebensraum to the Holocaust where Germany succeeded in turning Europe into its colony together with the extent of such accomplishments.
The first attempt by Germany to reintroduce barbarism and slavery into Europe was through its needless occupation in different countries across the continent. By the end of World War II, Germany had expanded its territory and occupied a dozen countries, starting with Poland on September 1, 1939. According to Nazi’s political plans, “Europe was to become economically self-sufficient under German leadership” (Mazower, 151).
Besides, the occupied countries were not allowed to maintain any form of local political autonomy. In other words, Germany was effectively colonizing Europe, which underscores the reintroduction of barbarism and slavery. The occupation efforts were successful given the large number of countries that the Nazis managed to capture and include in Germany’s expanding territory. The conquered countries were placed under Germany’s own Grossraum because arguably Nazis had “won the right to rule Europe” (Mazower, 147).
To assert its power, Germany declared that it was not an equal, and thus its superiority was supposed to be safeguarded covetously. For instance, when the country’s national hockey team lost to its Czech counterparts 5-1 in Prague, Herr Gutterrer was supposed to ensure that such incidences are not allowed to reoccur (Mazower, 148). This example underscores the extent to which Germany sought to guard its authority in Europe, and thus it suffices to say that it was successful at establishing imperialism in the continent.
The second attempt at imperialism was the propagation of slavery in Europe. From the winter of 1941, Germany shifted its campaigns from economics to total war. The original plans to establish a new order and a New Europe had failed, and thus Germany started exploiting its satellite territories for workers. Germany was in a labor shortage crisis, especially after killing over 3 million Russian prisoners of war in 1941 (Mazower, 154). Therefore, to address the workforce shortage, “from 1942 Sauckel’s labor drives across the continent resulted in the forced conscription of millions of workers” (Mazower, 154).
Prisoners facing execution were given an opportunity to live by working for the government to cover the human resources deficits instead of being killed (Levi, 9). In other words, Germany effectively reintroduced slavery in Europe. People were violently conscripted from different parts of the continent to work for the Nazis. By 1944, “there were eight million, mostly civilian workers, in the Reich, and another two million working directly under German command in third countries” (Mazower, 154). Therefore, it can be said that Germany was highly successful at reintroducing slavery in Europe. The majority of the workers tilled farms and offered cheap labor as domestic workers, which is the basic definition of slavery.
The final attempt to spread imperialism and reintroduce barbarism in Europe was through cultural “Germanization” characterized by biological racism. In August 1941, Hitler said, “Europe is not a geographical entity…It is a racial entity” (Mazower, 158). Therefore, as opposed to the League of Nations’ approach to keeping minorities where they belonged, Hitler decided to rearrange nations and resettle people in different regions where he wanted them to belong.
Consequently, the government-sponsored mass murder and cultural extermination of individuals that were deemed outsiders, especially “Jews, gypsies, Poles Ukrainians, and other Untermenschen” (Mazower, 159). Ultimately, the industrialized mass-murder of “outsiders” was commissioned under the concentration or death camps. Millions were butchered in these camps. Therefore, in this aspect, Germany succeeded in achieving its objectives of ridding Europe of outsiders.
Hitler and his Nazi supporters tried and failed to unify Europe in events that culminated in the Second World War that started in 1939 after Germany invaded Poland. After failing in his quest to reshape Europe into a hierarchical organization with Germany at the top, Hitler resorted to imperialism and racism. The Nazis reintroduced barbarism and slavery into Europe as an offense against the continent’s sensibility.
Hitler succeeded in different areas, such as expanding Germany’s territory across Europe, propagating slavery around the continent, and promoting racism against minority groups. Interestingly, Europeans had remained silent when atrocities were carried out abroad in Africa and Asia. However, when Germany turned to imperialism and treated Europeans the way they had treated Africans, they could not tolerate it.
Levi, Primo. Survival in Auschwitz. Translated by Giulio Einaudi, Touchstone, 1996.
Mazower, Mark. Dark Continent: Europe’s Twentieth Century. Vintage Books, 2000.