It is often easy to overlook these types of posts on Facebook but this one was so full of vitriolic bile and hate that I had to respond for the sake of history as a discipline and as a lesson on the dangers of chain e-mails and Facebook feeds like this one.
First, the offending Facebook post or chain e-mail should be shared. Here is a link to the actual wording - http://www.snopes.com/politics/guns/werthmann.asp
A brief summation of Werthmann's statement is that she is from Austria and is a "survivor" of Hitler. She is warning that the same thing is happening in America. They eleceted Hitler in 1938 and we have elected a similar person in 2012. Economic depression led to Hitler feeding the people creating public works project and promoting equal rights for women. Then he took away religious freedom, formed Nazi youth, encouraged unwed mothers to have children, and incorporated food stamps. Women took jobs more suitable for men and government established child care centers.
Then Hitler's government also instituted socialized medicine and ruined a perfectly good system. Next the government took over businesses and regulations forced people like her brother in law out of business. Free enterprise was abolished in favor of central planning. Werthman talks about euthanasia and finally gun registration and restrictions that left them with nothing to fight with but broom handles. She concludes that this full dictatorship did not "happen over night, my countrymen would have fought to the last breath. Instead, we had creeping gradualism."
Werthmann's not so subtly implicates Obama as being just like Hitler and the same is happening in America. The errors are so glaring that the authenicity is in seriouse doubt and snopes is still investigating.
After a cursory search on the internet, I found that a lot of people had rightfully dismissed this but no one had attacked it head on for it's inaccuracies, distortions, lies and revealed its dangers in American political discourse. So I decided to spend several hours to do just that.
First, I would like to point out how easy it is to confuse Werthmann with a holocaust survivor which she is NOT. I believe this distortion is deliberate and misleading. It is not stated whether her family had supported Hitler but I can presume that if "99%" voted for him (as Werthmann states), then they were probably among those that supported him though she never makes this admission. But the real danger in this statement is the implication that Obama is Hitler.
This type of villification is exactly what is destroying our political system. The people who read and forward this propaganda begin to really believe that Obama is like Hitler. Werthmann's readers will believe that like Hitler, Obama has been freely elected but is taking over. What are they to do then? If elections did not stop Hitler or Obama, then isn't it logical to assume that some people who read this are deranged enough to think there must be other ways to stop him? Not to mention that now the people who believe this propaganda will look at me as a Hitler, I mean Obama supporter. They will begin to hate and despise me.
So to combat this ignorance, this statement must be taken apart word by word and line by line so as to present the history accurately and impartially. This is why I teach history and this is why the study of history is so important because otherwise people are susceptible to such distortions.
Werthmann's historical distortions begin immediately by stating that Austria was annexed peacefully. She states that 'we elected him by a landslide - 98 percent of the vote'. Right off the bat this is your first historical inaccuracy. If ever you see an election that is 98 or 99 percent, it was not an election. You could have someone run against Daffy Duck and win 25% of the vote.
If you are assessing the validity of an author's statement and there is immediately a glaring distortion, you can bet that there will be more to come. So what really happened with Austria? The annexation of Austria is known as the Anschluss and the facts are very different from what Werthmann has purported. Here is a quote from my Modern Western Civilization textbook that I teach regarding the annexation of Austria:
"The fall of central Europe that ultimately led to WWII began with Hitler's annexation of Austria in 1938. Many Austrians had actually wished for such a merger after the Paris peace settlement stripped them of their empire. In March 1938, Austrian Chancellor Kurt von Schusnchnigg, hoping to maintain independence called on Austrians to vote for or against Anschluss, or merging with the Third Reich. Fearing negative results, Hitler ordered an invasion." -The Making of the West, Lynn Hunt, Bedford St. Martin's Press, 2001, p 1048.
So while it is true that many in Austria did welcome Hitler, it was most certainly not 98% and there was significant opposition.
Werthmann is right that the Great Depression was a significant factor in Hitler's rise to power. This i what makes Werthmanns statement so dangerous is that there are kernals of truths that are then used to support false information. The very definition of the propaganda ironically used by Hitler. For example, Werthmann goes on to state that "Nothing was ever said about persecution of any group - Jewish or otherwise. We were led to believe that everyone in Germany was happy. We wanted the same way of life in Austria." THIS IS FALSE! Hitler never hid his contempt of Jews. He was clear in his hatred and believe in the inferiority of slavic peoples. He never hid his disgust of homosexuals or other undesireables. His book 'Mein Kempf' laid it out clearly.
In fact, the Anschluss was done under the justification that Hitler needed to unify the Ayran peoples (Hunt 2). I realize that Werthmann was only 11 years old but this part of Hitler's plan is hard to miss. While she may not have known of Hitler's contempt for 'non-Aryan' people, I can assure you that her parents did.
This distortion is very dangerous because it attempts to dismiss blame for the holocaust by implying that Werthmann and other supporters did not know of Hitler's anti-semitism.
Werthman makes two references to the treatment of women under Nazi Germany. These references should be read carefully because they are factually wrong and they imply that the women's liberation movement is leading to fascism! She first states that "Hitler decided we should have equal rights for women. Before this, it was cistom that married Austrian women did not work outside the home. An able-bodied husband would be looked down on if he couldn't support his family. Many women in the teaching profession were elated that they could retain the jobs they previously had been required to give up for marriage."
Think about this implication. Hitler allowed women to work independently and you see what that led to. Werthmann is implicitly arguing that women should not be able to work outside the home once married. She will go on to state that 'unwed mothers were glorified for having a baby for Hitler' and 'Women who stayed home to raise their families didn't have any marketable skills and often had to take jobs more suited for men'.
Again, the implication is that this is what is happening in America as more women have children outside of marriage and women in America continue to take over men's professions. Could Werthmann actually be arguing that unwed mothers and women who are lawyers or doctors are leading America down the road to fascism?
Once again, Werthmann is wrong. Here is the relevant quote from the previously cited book, The Making of the West.
"In June 1933, a bill took effect that encouraged Aryans (those people defined as racially German)
to marry and have children. The bill provided for loans to Aryan couples in which the wife left
the workforce. The loans were forgiven on the birth of the pair's fourth child. Nazi marriage programs
enforced a hnineteenth century ideal of femininity; females were supposed to be subordinate so men
would feel tough and industrious despite military defeat and economic depression."
This is exactly the opposite of what Werthmann has stated. Is Werthmann deliberately lying or did she just make this stuff up because she obviously had done no research.
Not surprising that the next subject of Werthmann is Hitler's attack on religious freedom. She states that after Hitler was elected, ". . .I walked into my schoolroom to find the crucifix replaced by hitler's picture hanging next to a Nazi flag. Our teacher, a very devout woman, stood up and told the clas we wouldn't pray or have religion anymore." Wethmann then states that her mother put her in a private religious school which was much better. The implication here is that Hitler removed prayer from school and religion from public life, liberals and Obama are doing the same and so the holocaust is just around the corner.
The facts are much more complex because people used religion to both oppose and support Hitler. For more, read The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity by Richard Steigmann-Gall. Hitler attempted to work within the religious structure and there was no widespread attempt to remove religion from public life as was the case for example in the Soviet Union. There was actually a battle between Nazi paganists and 'positive Christians' that used Christianity to justify the Nazi regime. Hitler's anti-semitism was easily tied to Christian contempt for Jewish people and existing anti-semitism.
Werthmann next tries to connect Hitler's health care program to the Affordable Health Care Act. "Before Hitler, we had very good medical care. . .After Hitler, health care was socialized, free for everyone" and everything went to hell in a handbasket after that. Long waits, 80% tax rates etc.
Hitler's economic approach was actually opposite of what Werthmann asserts and shows a complete lack of understanding of the difference between fascism and communism which is why the claim that Obama is a fascist is so ludicrous. While Communists argue for complete control of private business and industry, fascism works through and in alliance with corporations and private sectors to promote their authoritarian regime.
Werthmann insists that 'free enterprise was essentially abolished' and that consumer protection regulations like round tables instead of square tables led to economic collapse. First, it should be noted that during the two World Wars all governments took much greater control of the economy including ours. It became a necessity in total war in an effort to keep the armaments supplied. So it would be easy to find examples of Nazi regulations in the economy just as there were in the United States. However, fascism definitely lands on the side of laissez-faire economics when concerning corporations and production. Corporations were allied with the government and not opposed by the government.
And then of course, Werthmann like all good right wing paranoid propagandists equates Hitler's gun control with that of Obama Everyone had to register their firearms so the government knew who had them and then they had to turn them in. So then no one could resist and freedom of speech was gone and they started arresting those who spoke up, not only Jews, but also priests and ministers who spoke up.
Let me get this straight. Werthmann is asserting that the chain of events went as follows; Hitler comes to power, registers guns, takes guns, then begins arresting Jews and others who speak out against it and then the holocaust begins.
Again this is ludicrous. Here is a good article that uses citations and addresses accurately gun control in Nazi Germany - http://www.guncite.com/gun_control_gcnazimyth.html The fact is that Hitler's regime like all good fascists regimes was militaristic and ultra nationalist which would certainly be closer to Werthmann's political philosphy than Obama's. Werthmann implies that if only they had their guns, they could have brought Hitler down. As the author noted in the article, most people supported Hitler and if Werthmann or her family were to take up arms, they likely would have done it to support Hitler. I'd be interested to know what her family did during the war and whether they served in the Nazi army. She is notably absent on this information.
Finally, having dismissed most of the unsubstantiated and undocumented propaganda asserted by Werthmann, it should be reiterated the danger of this type of propaganda. It villifies political disagreements to the point of hatred.
From a historical perspective, this statement is most disturbing because it bends, distorts and outright lies about history to serve a political purpose. What's worse, is that it dishonors the millions killed by Hitler. Here is a great article from Menachem Rosensaft http://www.huffingtonpost.com/menachem-rosensaft/nazi-analogies_b_1853737.html whose grandparents and brother was killed in the holocaust.
His article warns of the dangers of using Nazi comparisons much more eloquently than I can here. As Rosensaft states, "Let's be clear. Nazi Germany visited the greatest human carnage in history on humankind. There can be no excuse whatsoever for using Nazi analogies in an effort to score political points, and comparing anyone other than a mass murderer to Hitler or Goebbels is simply unacceptable behavior."
Finally, to those that will read an forward this type of e-mail or Facebook posts, my suggestions are that you really need to study history. I say that with all sincerity and without condescension. If you read and believe this then your history education was lacking in the most egregious way and it is having a huge impact on your ability to digest and understand information. This ignorance makes you vulenerable to the very type of propaganda that Hitler employed to control the masses.
But what can you do if you do not know the history? Obviously history is far too large and complex and no one is going to know for sure obscure information about Hitler's health care policies for example. But you can check for citations. Check for accuracy. Check for bias. If you see something on Facebook, the internet or e-mail, never take it as fact. And DO NOT pass it on without checking it first.
If you pass it on and repost it without checking it, you are further promoting the inaccuracies contained therein. Your name is now on that document as being something that you support and believe in. At best, when the facts are revealed, it makes you look like a fool. At worse, the truth is never revealed, lies are propagated and history has been hijacked for political purposes.