The Game: Who Goes Nazi?

Bookworm passed this on via email and I thought it was pretty fascinating: a Harper’s piece from August of 1941, written by Dorothy Thompson, Who Goes Nazi?

It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. By now, I think I know. I have gone through the experience many times–in Germany, in Austria, and in France. I have come to know the types: the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers. And I also know those who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis.
Sometimes I think there are direct biological factors at work–a type of education, feeding, and physical training which has produced a new kind of human being with an imbalance in his nature. He has been fed vitamins and filled with energies that are beyond the capacity of his intellect to discipline. He has been treated to forms of education which have released him from inhibitions. His body is vigorous. His mind is childish. His soul has been almost completely neglected.

At any rate, let us look round the room.

The gentleman standing beside the fireplace with an almost untouched glass of whiskey beside him on the mantelpiece is Mr. A, a descendant of one of the great American families. There has never been an American Blue Book without several persons of his surname in it. He is poor and earns his living as an editor. He has had a classical education, has a sound and cultivated taste in literature, painting, and music; has not a touch of snobbery in him; is full of humor, courtesy, and wit. He was a lieutenant in the World War, is a Republican in politics, but voted twice for Roosevelt, last time for Willkie. He is modest, not particularly brilliant, a staunch friend, and a man who greatly enjoys the company of pretty and witty women. His wife, whom he adored, is dead, and he will never remarry.

He has never attracted any attention because of outstanding bravery. But I will put my hand in the fire that nothing on earth could ever make him a Nazi. He would greatly dislike fighting them, but they could never convert him…. Why not?

Beside him stands Mr. B, a man of his own class, graduate of the same preparatory school and university, rich, a sportsman, owner of a famous racing stable, vice-president of a bank, married to a well-known society belle. He is a good fellow and extremely popular. But if America were going Nazi he would certainly join up, and early. Why?… Why the one and not the other?

Read the whole thing. I think Thompson got it very right. And people haven’t changed so very much – the types she surveys here are all around us, in our homes, our communities and most certainly within our pundit and political classes; they are before our eyes in every venue, these sorts who will, and will never, go Nazi.

A macabre game, indeed.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • tim maguire

    Every single day I interact with people who I have no doubt that they, if young in 1930′s Germany, would get along just fine. In my opinion, situational NAZIs are quite common. But then I live in a very liberal city.

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  • Mimsy

    The Harper’s article was quite amazing, perhaps not so much then, but certainly in today’s pc contextual mindset. Harper’s would never publish such a thing now. They would not even understand the point of it. Your update is on target, too. The point being that too many of these “power people” are more dedicated to their ivy towers than to the red, white, and blue. A very sad commentary, yes?

  • Bender

    Most people are sheep. If it happened here, most would go along to get along. And they would attack the dissenters more than the true-believers, although the dissenters would be good and the true-believers evil, because they don’t want trouble. That’s what would happen because that is what has happened everywhere there has been oppression — the sheep go along and willingly go off the cliff.

    Would most people fight here? Are you kidding? They would go along. Most Americans can’t even muster up the will to fight against the slaughter of 50 million innocents or even the most monstrous of bioethical horrors (historical point of fact, Nazism grew out of bioethics — as Deputy Party Leader Rudolf Hess noted, “National Socialism is nothing but applied biology”), they can’t muster up the will to fight against even the destruction of the family. There would be NO WAY they would ever even seriously consider one-tenth the resistence of, say, a Sophie Scholl.

  • NanB

    What an interesting article. Thompson does a great job in describing the different personalities. I sort of could see this happening nowadays especially for the fact that so many people are lukewarm and hard to describe. Screwtape Letters comes to mind. Screwtape complains that the souls he was getting were not as good as in the past; “Oh to get one’s teeth again into a Farinata, a Henry the VIII, or even a Hitler! there was real crackling there… something to crunch; a rage, an egotism a cruelty only just less robust than our own… “

  • dry valleys

    That Dorothy Thompson is remarkable stuff indeed. I applaud it.

    I suppose I’m the only person who thinks Mr A’s grandson is probably writing for the New York Times as we speak (or would be if it existed)?

    By now it is well known that people, unless they are exceptionally strong in their convictions & can’t remain silent, or are going out of their way to shock others, will moderate their statements according to the company they are in. I have a quote to hand:

    ” The typical Republican appointee shows pretty liberal voting patterns when sitting with two Democratic appointees, and the typical Democratic appointee shows pretty conservative voting patterns when sitting with two Republican appointees. Both sets of appointees show far more moderate voting patterns when they are sitting with at least one judge appointed by a president of the opposing political party.
    The bottom line is that humans are easily nudged by other humans. Why? One reason is that people like to conform.”

    My own comments on this blog are softer than they are on my like-minded blogs because I am a “guest” amongst people whose views are the opposite of mine on most issues.

    This has got me thinking about people in the Britosphere, but I suppose few people here will know or care about that :) So I will be seeing whether I can make some excuse to discuss it with others.

  • dry valleys

    “if it existed”

    If he existed, I mean. Being as he’s a fictional charachter who, presumably, can’t have real-life offspring :)

  • Zachriel

    How would the Nazis answer that question?

    THEY CAME FIRST for the Communists,
    and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

    THEN THEY CAME for the trade unionists,
    and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

    THEN THEY CAME for the Jews,
    and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

    THEN THEY CAME for me
    and by that time no one was left to speak up.

    — Martin Niemöller, 1946

  • Last Sphere

    “We are socialists, we are enemies of today’s capitalistic economic system for the exploitation of the economically weak, with its unfair salaries, with its unseemly evaluation of a human being according to wealth and property instead of responsibility and performance, and we are all determined to destroy this system under all conditions” – Adolph Hitler

  • Jessica

    Amazing. It’s the same feeling I get when I read Chesterton — there is nothing new under the sun, no matter how hard we try to convince ourselves otherwise. Thanks for pointing to this piece!

  • dry valleys

    Hitler said a lot of things, including claiming to be a Christian on several occasions. I wouldn’t give his words any credence just because it suits you.

    Those who actually do want an insight into the Fuhrer’s mind would be well advised to read “Hitler’s Table Talk”, a compilation of things he said in private. In the midst of people wholly subservient to him, without the slightest attempt at pleasing the general public, he expressed himself fully.

    Where do you imagine Mr C’s grandchildren ending up, if they have the same mentality as him in 2010?

  • Last Sphere

    Night of 11th-12th July, 1941:

    “National Socialism and religion cannot exist together…. The heaviest blow that ever struck humanity was the coming of Christianity. Bolshevism is Christianity’s illegitimate child. Both are inventions of the Jew. The deliberate lie in the matter of religion was introduced into the world by Christianity…. Let it not be said that Christianity brought man the life of the soul, for that evolution was in the natural order of things.”

    - Adolph Hitler (Hitler’s Table Talk 1941-1944 p 6 & 7)

  • Last Sphere

    “There once was a man who made tremendous progress in the fight for abortion and women’s rights. Because of his work, abortion was legalized and overseen by a group that determined that the health of the mother—meaning any physical, economic, or psychological effect on the woman’s well being—was the decisive factor for abortions.

    This man’s name was Adolf Hitler. He was appointed head of the German government in January 1933, and legalized abortion in Germany that same year. Under the Third Reich, or Nazi Germany under Hitler, 500,000 abortions were performed annually. Another deciding factor of the health of the mother for abortions in Germany was if she was from an “unhealthy” race—Polish, Czech, or Jewish: then the woman was often forced to have an abortion. Along with race, Hitler also actively promoted the destruction of the crippled, poor, and unemployed classes. From January 30, 1933, the time Hitler became chancellor in Germany, to May 8, 1945 (Victory in Europe Day), 6 million Jews in Europe were murdered.

    Then there was a woman who also actively promoted the destruction of the crippled, poor, and unemployed classes. She was an alcoholic and Demerol addict, a socialist, and a proponent of forced eugenics, segregation, birth control, sexual immorality, and abortion. She considered black people, Jews, Southern European immigrants (especially Italians), and the unintelligent to be “unfit,” “feeble-minded,” and a “menace to the race.”

    This woman was Margaret Sanger. She was the founder of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, which has over ninety national affiliates. The Planned Parenthood Federation of America is one of these affiliates, and is the largest provider of abortions in America to teenagers without parental knowledge or consent. From 1977 through 2002, Planned Parenthood performed 3,246,934 abortions. Margaret Sanger once said that “The most merciful thing that a family does to one of its infant members is to kill it.”

    - By Theresa Moss | May 9, 2008 (Abortion: the United States’ Holocaust?)

  • dry valleys

    I am perfectly aware that Hitler was anti-Christian, but he claimed to be a Christian in public. Is it so strange that he could have vaguely talked about being a socialist to get working-clas support while in fact subjecting socialists & liberals to vicious persecution, as he in fact did?

    As for how feminists fared in the Third Reich. I’d have said not very well. As I recall they had a fixation with encouraging/coercing those women they deemed acceptable to breed. I know of no latter-day liberal counterpart to that.

    PS- There is also a book by Timothy Ryback about Hitler’s library. He avidly read the work of many anti-immigration Americans, who voiced what seems to have been a common concern about racial decline in the postwar years (& before 1914 too). You are invited to speculate on who their heirs & successors today are.

  • Last Sphere

    Hitler didn’t just talk about getting working-class support, he got it. And he got it by state controlled wealth redistribution just like he stated.

    And who cares how “feminists” fared in the Third Reich. The unborn obviously fared much worse. And the American feminist Margaret Sanger, was pleased as punch by that fact.

    And as far as “acceptable breeding” by the Nazi’s?

    Yeah? So what?

    Once the State plays God and denies the most basic rights of the most innocent of human beings (the right to life for the unborn) the State can pretty much do anything.

    And as far as immigration- the majority of those who want our immigration laws enforced in this country are concerned about our national security and the traditional values of individual liberty and freedom that made this country great.

    The Left wants illegal’s to come here because they know the more the Democrats grow the government and provide a bigger government teat for all illegals to suckle on, the more guaranteed it will be that those illegals will become natural voting Democrats.

  • Ken in Kansas

    To follow up on Dry Valley #14 above, the Atlantic published an article by Rybeck entitled “Hitler’s Hidden Library” which gives an article length treatment to the subject. Here is the link:


    Very eye opening.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Actually, Valleys, the anti-immigration movement in America, as well as some of the racist attitudes that sadly appeared here in the 19th, 20th Centuries, which saw minorities not just as inferiors, but as deadly “human trash”, who would degrade mankind by outbreeding “superior” people, was the result of the eugenics movement—a movement that was supported by all, right-thinking, progressive, well-educated folk, Margaret Sanger (well described by Last Sphere, above), and H.G. Wells (hardly a conservative).

    I would speculate that their heirs, and successors, today would be those who support abortion, “Womens’ right to choose”, Planned Parenthood, and search-and-destroy abortions for children deemed “unfit” (such as those who test positive for Downs).

  • James

    I got around (finally!) to watching The Sorrow and the Pity a two part (four hours plus) documentary of life in occupied France. Thank you, Netflix.

    It covered the range of brave resistors, go-along people and a French volunteer for the SS. The latter was a French aristocrat who fought on the Russian front and showed no remorse. (According to Antony Beevor’s book on the fall of Berlin foreign SS troops including the French were the bravest … possibly because they had nothing to lose).

    Maurice Chevalier was shown to be a fraud. At the end of the film he explains … in English .. that he only entertained French prisoners of the
    Germans. Earlier he is shown performing for the Nazis.

    Worth seeing!

  • Zachriel

    Last Sphere: Hitler didn’t just talk about getting working-class support, he got it.

    Though Hitler promised everything to everybody, his primary support was the upper and middle classes who were worried about political instability. The German Communist Party garnered most of the working class vote, and actually increased their share during the period. Hitler exploited this to create a fear of a Bolshevism takeover, impelling leading corporatists to lobby for making Hitler chancellor.

  • dry valleys

    I just wrote a response to my critics at massive length but my computer had a random temper tantrum so it will never be expressed now.

    One thing I will observe is that I share Zachriel’s views. You could just about call the Strasserites socialist, but they were all wiped out. As for liberals, they were surely more stalwart in their support for the Weimar Republic than conservatives.

    I do think we have got a bit waylaid though. It’s actually quite hard to tell which US party Dorothy Thompson supported & I suspect she liked having it that way.

  • Last Sphere

    (Zachriel – “The German Communist Party garnered most of the working class vote, and actually increased their share during the period. Hitler exploited this to create a fear of a Bolshevism takeover, impelling leading corporatists to lobby for making Hitler chancellor.”)

    Gee- that reminds me of Obama’s march towards nationalization of the banks, the auto-motive industry, the student loan program, the far-reaching control of the health-care industry, and what else?

    The energy sector?

    The media?


    And of course, the Democrats “working-class” support in this country comes primarily from the bought-and-paid for Union thugs who are rapidly becoming the well-compensated privileged class mafioso of the Democrat Party.

    So in practical terms the Democrats have managed to bastardize their party with the worst attributes of both the Nazi’s AND the Communists.

    Well played Zach.

    I stand corrected.

  • pst314

    “This has got me thinking about people in the Britosphere, but I suppose few people here will know or care about that”

    I think you’ll find lots of people here who care very much about the well-being of Britain and the rest of the Anglosphere.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Good points, Last Sphere.

    It also bears mentioning that, Once the Nazis were in power, however they got the votes, they joined up with the formerly despised Bolsheviks in making war on the rest of Europe. Russia, and Nazi Germany, were allies during the first part of WWII, a fact which tends to get forgotten by the former’s apologists; so much for the working class! Let’s go conquer Poland, and get rid of the Jews!

  • dry valleys

    I shouldn’t have thought the Nazi-Soviet Pact had much to do with anything. Apart from the fact that it didn’t take long for Hitler to violate it, it could only be used as an “argument” against Stalin’s apologists, of whom I should imagine there are few.

    German liberals such as Thomas Mann (an ex-conservative btw) found themselves driven into exile, while their less fortunate brethren were killed because they couldn’t get out in time.

    #22, I was referring to British blogs. I myself am a Briton who has never been out of Europe. So I have arcane knowledge of this country but not America.

  • dry valleys

    My own grandfather, a miner, fled Nazi-occupied Poland & fought alongside the British Army in the war, then lived here permanently as he would have been unable to live under communist rule. Yet he was also, like the vast majority of workers at that time, a lifelong Labour voter. (This being before the days when they became as neoliberal as their opponents & even more authoritarian).

  • CompassRose

    LONG article that further illustrates the concept mentioned in the Halberstam article.

    America’s Ruling Class and the Perils of Revolution

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Actually, I’d say the Hitler/Stalin pact had a lot to do with a lot of things—WWII, for instance. It showed there really wasn’t all that much difference between the supposedly working class championing Bolsheviks, and the Nazis. (And we all know just how much Stalin really loved workers—sarc.)

    (Also, not to mention the real world fate of the Eastern European block countries, who found themselves first conquered by the Nazis, then the Russians, the attack on England, the conquest of Holland, the fall of France—and so on.)

    The lesson being that, in the end, all tyrannies are alike, whether they claim to champion the “master race”, or the “working class”, and that the supposedly noble ideals they spout shouldn’t be used to excuse what their actual actions, or those who blindly supported them.

    In short—stop falling for the hype.

  • Zachriel

    Rhinestone Suderman: Russia, and Nazi Germany, were allies during the first part of WWII …

    While Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin were allies during the rest of WWII. Churchill was in league with the Communists! The Americans were shipping Studebakers and Spam to Stalin!

  • dry valleys

    Where has all this come from?

    As far as I know there are no tyrants or would-be tyrants on this thread. By “has nothing to do with anything” I (obviously?) didn’t mean to do with history in general, I mean to do with anything I’m likely to come across.

    I’m not aware of having fallen for anyone’s hype, in fact I carry no torch for Stalin… Ahmadi, the House of Saud, or any other regime. As well as outright dictators I criticise the unpleasant actions by governments & actors in countries like Cameroon, Malawi, Sudan, Uganda, etc. that often go unnoticed.

    For that matter, I was never taken in by the nothingtohidenothingtofear language used as a figleaf for authoritarian policies by Blair/Brown in Britain. I didn’t think they were fascists, just self-regarding & dangerously unaware of the trouble that may result from wielding such power over individuals.

    I don’t know who these people are that you’re attacking or why this thread has been taken over by arguments. Is it inevitable on such pages or what?

  • dry valleys

    My response to Rhinestone Suderman has vanished. I’m not minded to write it again, is it in the spam filter or what? So this second version will not be as good.

    Mainly I was expressing bemusement at what all this is for. As though there were commentors on this thread who were apologists for Stalin or other tyrants?

    As for what I said about the Nazi-Soviet Pact, obviously it affected history, I mean that it doesn’t affect anything I’m likely to come across.

    Perhaps you don’t know what I make of authoritarianism because perhaps you don’t know about the stances I’ve taken in opposition to authoritarian “laws” rammed through recently, nothingtohidenothingtofear rhetoric used by the presvious British government to justify extensions of state power, & the rest of it.

    But if you want to find someone saying dictatorships are fine by him, you’d better talk to someone else.

    [I do not understand why you slip so frequently into the spam filter...all I can think is that your UK address befuddles it somehow. Sorry -admin]

  • Last Sphere

    Why has this thread been taken over by arguments, dry valleys?

    You tell me.

    I posted a quote from Hitler. Then you felt obliged to respond. Then Zachriel felt obliged to assist you.

    And I am an American of German and Irish descent whose ancestors immigrated to America in the 1870′s. I have family members who have fought in WWI, WWII (both the European and the Pacific theaters), and Korea, and Vietnam.

    I am a former liberal, and a former atheist.

    I understand the mindset of the American-Leftists even better than they do because I have the experience and the honest clarity of 20-20 hindsight.

    And if I may be so bold as to borrow your point- “I have arcane knowledge of this country” AND the American Left, and with all due respect dry valleys- you do not.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Go back and read my #23, Valleys; I’m responding to a post by Last Sphere, who was responding to an earlier post by Zachriel.

    Not you in particular, but some, seem to want to make excuses for one side or the other, in these conflicts: Hitler was worse than Stalin, Stalin was worse than Hitler, Roosevelt and Churchill were evil for working with Stalin (see Zachriel’s post #28); it was the conservatives who supported Hitler, no, it was the working class, no, the working class were conned into supporting Hitler through fear of the Bolsheviks! Or it was the corporatists! (Whatever a “corporatist”) is. and—-and—and—-

    Too much historical revisionsim. However, I really began by responding to Zachriel/Last Sphere; sorry, I assumed you’d been following along on that.

  • Bender

    Yes, yes, yes.

    But back to the main point — could it happen here, in the U.S., today? How many Americans today would embrace whatever totalitarian regime/ideology that might come along? Or were the German people somehow uniquely drawn to evil?

  • Mary

    Though Hitler promised everything to everybody, his primary support was the upper and middle classes who were worried about political instability.

    His support was considerably more working class than that.

    (Which is very un-PC because it inspires people to look at Nazi in its unshorted form but none the less true.)

  • Zachriel

    Mary: His support was considerably more working class than that.

    If you look at the demographics, Nazi support was higher in Protestant and rural areas. They were weak among industrial workers, somewhat higher if you include agricultural workers and craftmen. The powerful elite wanted to preclude the turmoil of a socialist victory, but would probably have preferred someone beside Hitler. Nevertheless, when it came down to it, they sided with Hitler because he would put down the communists and the unions.

    Childers, The Nazi Voter, University of North Carolina Press, 1983.

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  • gus3

    Interesting that the only “born Nazi” in the article bears a strong resemblance to what we now call “Trustafarians”, the spoiled brats who use their freedom of speech to rally against bringing that same freedom to the truly oppressed.

  • Gapeseed

    Re: Bender #32: I think people miss that in a Democratic tradition, Hitler could not have been Hitler without a war to fight. War justifies a State’s curtailment of liberties and the frenzied attack against the Other. Without wars to fight, there is no overwhelming need to root out the Other. The German people would have been markedly less paranoid, and no doubt, more critical of the Nazi platform on the economy and the Final Solution.

    So could it happen in America? I think it did – in World War I. In his wonderful book Liberal Fascism, Jonah Goldberg details how Woodrow Wilson used war mobilization to severely curtail civil liberties. America today does not have total war mobilization, but watch North Korea and Iran carefully in the run-up to election. If our military is anything less than 100% successful in preventing mass casualties to either itself or to American civilians, we could well see a ratcheting up of rhetoric, a battening down the hatches, and a severe curtailment of our civil liberties.

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  • Sgt. Mom

    I actually remember reading this very article, when I was in college, and going through the stacks of vintage publications in the library at U of C Northridge. I had a research project going, which involved reading all sorts of WW II-era contemporary publications. It stuck in my mind – the cold analysis of it – looking around a room, and trying to figure out who would be a collaborator and who would be a resistant. Of course, in the cold and cruel world of Nazi occupied countries, it very often wasn’t the people whom you would have expected to have been the real resistants, and sometimes the people that you might have expected to be collaborators … weren’t.
    But a very riveting and thought-provoking essay… good to have it rediscovered, so many decades later.

  • Texan99

    Two high spots from this really excellent Harper’s piece by Dorothy Thompson:

    One social-climbing guest at the party is “bitterly anti-Semitic because the social insecurity of the Jews reminds him of his own psychological insecurity.”

    Ms. Thompson concludes: “Those who haven’t anything in them to tell them what they like and what they don’t — whether it is breeding, or happiness, or wisdom, or a code, however old-fashioned or however modern, go Nazi.”

    That last sentence is especially interesting, since it’s not the kind of thing that’s written in the polite media any more. It’s a dangerous thing to have forgotten.

  • Charlie

    I had a number of friends, jews from the former USSR, who would play this game here, in the workplace, pointing out just how ardent a Nazi various co-workers would have been. It was defensive second nature for them, easy to catch on for me.

  • Thomas Casey

    Not exactly great literature, but Sinclair Lewis’ 1936 (?) novel, “It Can’t Happen Here” is a great insight into how America could turn fascist. It’s obviously dated, but Lewis understood the culture very well. I first found it by accident in grad school in 1970 or so, and every few years I pull it off the shelf and reread it.

    Things don’t change all that much.

  • Bender

    Another thing to remember is that the National Socialists did not create their own regime from the bottom up. Rather, they rose to power in a pre-existing government and they took over that government. That is, there was already a vast bureaucracy in place for them. For those government workers in the bureaucracy, resisting the Nazis would have meant quitting their jobs, losing their paychecks. For pensioners, speaking out against the regime would have meant the loss of their pension. A fair number of otherwise “good” people kept their mouths shut and went along with and participated in the Nazi regime in this way.

    Open resistance, on the other hand, calling attention to yourself, makes you a target. It is all well and good to resist the Nazis from the comfort of the continental United States, an ocean away. It is another thing entirely to oppose them in the heart of Germany or occupied Europe. Those that did mostly ended up dead.

  • c taylor

    I read about ‘H’ and couldn’t help thinking it stood for Hanson, Victor David.

    [I thought of him also -admin]

  • J. Smith

    There are 3 types who will go Nazi,or Commie, or whatever the prevailing popular evil is – The gullible, who are easily fooled by words because they are too lazy to look behind them and see any new rhetoric spoken loudly enough as brilliance, the opportunistic, who care not about the philosophy itself, but see it either an opportunity to gain power or to express their vicious nature with impunity, or both, and that largest group, the weak of will, who will look to their left and their right to see what everyone else is doing and will see the gullible on one side and the opportunistic on the other, and for fear of being left out will follow them into the abyss. Those are the three groups – further analysis is unnecessary – and they are acting right here right now in this country.

  • Sarah Kuvasz

    This is something I know about Zachriel. I lived in Germany for some years, I’ve still got friends there I visit periodically. The Nazi party center was Catholic Bavaria. That was where it arose and grew. It was never really accepted in Protestant Prussia. Hitler was never really socially accepted in Berlin.

    To say Nazi support was primarily Protestant is to betray your ignorance. Germany is primarily Protestant, to the extent there was any religious component to any German politics. More correct, today, is to say Germany is nothing but secular.

    Now, having said that, I don’t think there was any more religious orientation to Nazism than there is to Democraticism in the modern USA.