By JOYCE APSEL
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 9, 2000
To learn about the world, we need to understand individuals' stories within the historic context and conditions of their time.
Otto Treumann is one of the individuals featured in the exhibit, "Anne Frank: A History for Today" at the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg.
He was a young Jewish boy, Anne Frank's age, living in Germany when the National Socialist Party (the Nazis) came to power in 1933.
"Even as a Jewish boy of 14, I was somewhat fascinated by everything that was going on," Otto Treumann wrote. "The media were completely in thrall to the Nazi party. It took hold of you whether you liked it or not. It was so nationalistic . . . feeling "German' and identifying with the fatherland were extremely appealing, now that the country was scrambling to its feet after the defeat of 1918. Scary? Absolutely! Especially when you knew that all the problems were being blamed on you. It was an inescapable, inevitable and deadly threat!"
As Treumann points out, the appeal of Nazism was powerful through use of propaganda and mass media. The exhibit features photos of mass Nazi rallies and young people dancing in the Nazi youth movement. Only people of German background could join these groups, and through the passage of the Nuremberg Laws in Germany in 1935, only those of pure German blood (the Aryans) could be citizens of the state.
Why do you think people voted for Hitler and the Nazis? There are a lot of reasons, among them that the Nazis promised bread, jobs and a return of lands and power lost in the defeat of World War I. "Rank-and-file Germans who voted for the Nazi party in 1932 were voting for a regeneration of the German people, for a new and decisive leadership, and for an economic revival to be initiated by a new national sense of purpose," wrote Yehuda Bauer in his book, History of the Holocaust. Many of those who voted for the Nazi party expected the extremism would fade once they were in power.
However, Nazi policy eliminated rights, including the right to dissent, and persecuted and discriminated against non-Aryans.
One definition describes a group of people who share a history, territory, country and language and who are bound by cultural traditions
Nationalism can be a way for people to identify and try to create a better world for themselves and others. Also, people want to preserve their heritage as part of a national group.
On the other hand, nationalism is often an excuse to exclude and be intolerant of others who have a different background, as well as to justify war and other kinds of violence to destroy other national groups.
How can we balance loyalty to a group or nation with accepting the rights and differences of other people? Think about "Us vs. Them." Do we ourselves divide into groups, and is nationality part of how we define or label people? Is patriotism part of nationalism? What is the implication of voting for a party that raises up one group of people as superior to another?
In the United States, we have people from many different countries and backgrounds. How do we treat different groups? How have we treated and how do we treat minorities? What does it mean to be American? Do you feel proud of being part of the United States and how do you feel toward people who live in different nation states?
There is a lot of talk today about a global society. Do you think people will always want to identify with a smaller group or nation state, or be able to identify primarily as citizens of the world?
Dr. Joyce Apsel lectures nationally on Anne Frank, genocide and human rights. She teaches at New York University. Please address questions or comments about this series to: Floridian, Anne Frank and Human Rights, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731 or e-mail Floridian@sptimes.com.
"Anne Frank: A History for Today," an international touring exhibit at the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg, 55 Fifth St. S. The exhibit, which traces Anne Frank's life and times through family photographs and diary passages as well as examines prejudice and violence today, is made available through the Anne Frank Center USA. Exhibit sponsors include the Eckerd Family Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. Paul W. Martin Jr., the Sembler family and the state of Florida.