This reading is available in two formats: standard and modified. The modified version has been edited to support use in the unit Teaching Holocaust and Human Behavior.

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Soldiers were not the only ones required to take the new oath that pledged allegiance to Hitler. One German recalled the day he was asked to pledge loyalty to the regime:

I was employed in a defense plant (a war plant, of course, but they were always called defense plants). That was the year of the National Defense Law, the law of “total conscription.” Under the law I was required to take the oath of fidelity. I said I would not; I opposed it in conscience. I was given twenty-four hours to “think it over.” In those twenty-four hours I lost the world . . . .

You see, refusal would have meant the loss of my job, of course, not prison or anything like that. (Later on, the penalty was worse, but this was only 1935.) But losing my job would have meant that I could not get another. Wherever I went I should be asked why I left the job I had, and when I said why, I should certainly have been refused employment. Nobody would hire a “Bolshevik.” Of course, I was not a Bolshevik, but you understand what I mean.

I tried not to think of myself or my family. We might have got out of the country in any case, and I could have got a job in industry or education somewhere else.

What I tried to think of was the people to whom I might be of some help later on, if things got worse (as I believed they would). I had a wide friendship in scientific and academic circles, including many Jews, and “Aryans,” too, who might be in trouble. If I took the oath and held my job, I might be of help, somehow, as things went on. If I refused to take the oath, I would certainly be useless to my friends, even if I remained in the country. I myself would be in their situation.

The next day, after “thinking it over,” I said I would take the oath with the mental reservation, that, by the words with which the oath began, “Ich schwöre bei Gott,” “I swear by God,” I understood that no human being and no government had the right to override my conscience. My mental reservations did not interest the official who administered the oath. He said, “Do you take the oath?” and I took it. That day the world was lost, and it was I who lost it.

First of all, there is the problem of the lesser evil. Taking the oath was not so evil as being unable to help my friends later on would have been. But the evil of the oath was certain and immediate, and the helping of my friends was in the future and therefore uncertain. I had to commit a positive evil there and then, in the hope of a possible good later on. The good outweighed the evil; but the good was only a hope, the evil a fact . . . . The hope might not have been realized—either for reasons beyond my control or because I became afraid later on or even because I was afraid all the time and was simply fooling myself when I took the oath in the first place . . .

There I was in 1935, a perfect example of the kind of person who, with all his advantages in birth, in education, and in position, rules (or might easily rule) in any country . . . . My education did not help me, and I had a broader and better education than most have had or ever will have. All it did, in the end, was to enable me to rationalize my failure of faith more easily than I might have done if I had been ignorant. And so it was, I think, among educated men generally, in that time in Germany. Their resistance was no greater than other men’s.1

Citations

  • 1 : From Milton Mayer, They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933–45 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955), 177–81. Reproduced by permission from University of Chicago Press.

¿Presta usted Juramento?

Los soldados no eran los únicos obligados a prestar el nuevo juramento de lealtad a Hitler. Un alemán recordó el día en que le pidieron jurar lealtad al régimen:

Trabajaba en una planta de defensa (evidentemente, una planta de guerra, pero siempre fueron llamadas plantas de defensa). Ese fue el año de la Ley de Defensa Nacional, la ley de “reclutamiento total”. Conforme a la ley, me exigían que prestara el juramento de lealtad. Dije que no lo haría; me opuse sin ningún remordimiento. Me dieron veinticuatro horas para “reconsiderarlo”. En esas veinticuatro horas se me vino el mundo encima…

Es decir, rehusarme hubiera significado la pérdida de mi trabajo, por supuesto, no ir a prisión o algo parecido. (Más adelante, la sanción fue peor, y eso que hasta ahora era 1935). Pero, perder mi trabajo hubiera significado que no podría conseguir otro. Adonde quiera que fuera me hubieran preguntado por qué perdí el trabajo que tenía y, cuando dijera el motivo, con seguridad me hubieran negado el empleo. Nadie hubiera contratado a un “bolchevique”. Evidentemente, yo no era un bolchevique, pero comprenderán lo que quiero decir.

Traté de no pensar en mí ni en mi familia. Podríamos haber salido del país si fuera el caso, y yo podría haber conseguido un trabajo en el campo de la industria o la educación en algún otro lugar.

En lo que trataba de pensar era en las personas a las que podría ayudar más adelante, si las cosas empeoraban (considerando que yo creía que eso pasaría). Tenía bastantes amistades en círculos científicos y académicos, incluidos muchos judíos, y también “arios”, que podrían estar en problemas. Si prestaba el juramento y conservaba mi trabajo, de alguna manera, podría ser de ayuda conforme iban saliendo las cosas. Si me rehusaba a prestar el juramento, con seguridad no podría ayudar a mis amigos, ni siquiera si permanecía en el país. Yo mismo estaría en su situación.

Al día siguiente, después de “reconsiderarlo”, dije que prestaría el juramento con la reserva mental, de que, por las palabras con las que este empezaba, “Ich schwöre bei Gott” (“Juro por Dios”), entendía que ningún ser humano ni gobierno tenía el derecho de invalidar mi conciencia. Mis reservas mentales no le interesaban al oficial que me tomó el juramento. Preguntó: “¿Presta usted juramento?”, y eso hice. Ese día se me vino el mundo encima, y yo lo provoqué.

En primer lugar, está el problema del menor de los males. Prestar juramento no fue tan malo como el no poder ayudar a mis amigos más adelante. Pero el mal de prestar juramento era incuestionable e inmediato, y ayudar a mis amigos estaba en el futuro y, por lo tanto, era incierto. Tenía que cometer un mal positivo en ese momento y lugar, con la esperanza de un posible bien más adelante. El bien pesaba más que el mal, pero el bien era solo una esperanza y el mal era un hecho… La esperanza podría no llegar a cumplirse, por razones ajenas a mi control o porque me asustara más adelante o, incluso, porque estuviera asustado todo el tiempo y simplemente me estuviera engañando a mí mismo cuando presté juramento en primer lugar…

Allí estaba yo en 1935, un ejemplo perfecto de la clase de persona que, por todas sus ventajas de nacimiento, educación y empleo, gobierna (o podría gobernar) en cualquier país… Mi educación no me ayudó, y tenía una educación mejor y más amplia que la mayoría tenía o, incluso, tendría. Lo único que hice, finalmente, fue permitirme racionalizar mi falta de fe de manera mucho más fácil de lo que podría haber hecho si hubiera sido ignorante. Y allí estaba yo, creo, entre los hombres cultos en general, en ese momento en Alemania. Su resistencia no fue mayor a la de los otros hombres.1

Citations

  • 1 : From Milton Mayer, They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933–45 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955), 177–81. Reproducido con autorización de University of Chicago Press.

Audio Version

After German President Paul von Hindenburg died on August 2, 1934, Adolf Hitler combined the offices of president and chancellor to become Führer, Reich Chancellor and Chief of the Armed Forces. Until this time all German soldiers were required to take an oath of allegiance to the German state and president; from this point soldiers took a new oath swearing allegiance to the Führer alone. But soldiers were not the only ones required to take this new oath. This reading recounts one German worker's decision to take or ignore the oath of allegiance to the Führer and the dilemmas he faced in this decision.

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