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Lj Idol Week 21: Hyperbole is Literally Hitler
cap, captain miss america

In 1953, Leo Strauss, a German-Jewish scholar who had emigrated to America before the Holocaust, coined the term Reductio ad Hitlerum to refer to the fallacy of irrelevance in discussions where someone likens things or people to Hitler or the Nazi party, specifically when the two are not comparable1.

Leo Strauss

It is usually used in political dialogue when likening a policy or action to Nazism, but it has its application in everyday life, as well. For example, a teenager comparing his parents to Nazis for not allowing him out of the house, a worker comparing her boss to Hitler, or a customer comparing a postal worker or a coffee barista to the Nazi Party would all be examples of Reductio ad Hitlerum.

In reality, Hitler led Nazi Germany to invade and conquer most of continental Europe and parts of Africa. They killed a probable 20 million people through various forms of democide, including approximately 6 million Jews and 10 million Slavs, a quarter of a million Gypsies, another quarter of a million homosexuals, and close to 200,000 handicapped Germans. A person living in Europe during the Holocaust was twice as likely to be murdered by Nazis as a modern American is to die from all of our top nine deadliest diseases combined, on a per capita scale.2

Those are the lessons we learn about the Nazis in school. But in the Germany of the 1930s, Nazi propaganda of extreme nationalism, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, social Darwinism, and militarism invaded even the most innocent of school lessons.

In 1933, when Hitler took power, most German texbooks were destroyed.

Bernhard Rust, the newly-appointed Minister of Science, Education and National Culture under the Reich, said that “The whole function of education is to create Nazis.” He ordered that all textbooks be completely rewritten toward the purpose of “the ideological education of young German people, so as to develop them into fit members of the national community.”

Bernhard Rust

Felix Klein

Rust ordered that all universities cease education in “Jewish Physics” – that is, anything Albert Einstein put forward to the scientific community. When the University of Göttingen refused to stop teaching sound scientific theories, Rust had the school shut down. He cited former Göttingen Mathematics Chair Felix Klein as part of the problem—Klein, he said, was under suspicion of having had a Jewish ancestor somewhere in his lineage, and clearly had perverted the school’s mathematics course to suit a “Jewish agenda.” Klein had died nearly eleven years earlier.

Children’s reading primers were replaced with books like “Trust No Fox,” a book of short poems on the evil ways of Jews.

Even math, which seems like a wholly unadulterable subject, was tainted under the Nazi Regime. Here are some examples of real mathematical problems given to German schoolchildren in the 1930s and 40s:

1) The descent of a bomb dropped from a plane flying level at the speed of 100 m per second can be approximated using an X = equation that takes wind resistance into consideration. In this case x represents the horizontal and y the vertical distance of the bomb from the position of the plane at the start of the projectile’s flight after t seconds. Draw the trajectory from a plane flying at an altitude of 1,000 m. How long will it take for the bomb to reach the ground? Calculate the distance of the bomb’s flight. At what angle is the bomb traveling when it strikes the ground? At the moment of impact, what is the bomb’s speed? What is its force if it has a weight of 1 kg? Compare this trajectory with (an identical) bomb released in a vacuum.

2) Various calculations place the cost to the state of a mentally ill patient at 1500 Reich Marks per year. (To educate) a remedial student costs 300 Reich marks, an elementary school student 100 Reich marks and middle and high school students about 250 Reich Marks each. Restate this problem by calculating other possible alternatives. Careful estimates place the number of mentally ill patients, epileptics and others in (German) institutions at 300,000 persons. What is the total yearly cost of this at four Reich marks per person per day? Disregarding repayment how many new Marriage Grant loans at 1000 marks each could this sum provide?

3) Among the three most important of racial groups in Europe, the following population growth was detected in the time between 1900 and1930. Teutonic people: 124 million to 149 million; Latin people: 103 million to 121 million; Slavic people:166 million to 226 million. Assuming a constant level of increase, calculate the growth rate and the total increase of the three groups for a 10-year period. What will be the population percentage of the three groups in the year 1960 if these trends continue? Calculate, for the three points in time, the percentage of the European population represented by each group. What great danger do you perceive for the future of the German people if no basic change in this reality occurs? Fortunately there is justifiable hope that a reversal of these population growth rates is at hand.

And yes, if you noticed that the second question asks children to propose the democide of the mentally ill as a way to improve the rate of Marriage Grant loans, or that the third question assures children than people who are not of German descent will be systematically annihilated, you are reading them correctly.

Before Hitler’s rise to power, Germany was arguably the most high-achieving country in the world when it came to math education. By the end of the Holocaust, thanks to the flight of many of the world’s most renowned scientists, mathematicians, and educators, math education in Germany was a shambles.

So before you practice Reductio ad Hitlerum in your daily life, ask yourself: “does the person I’m calling a Nazi try to use simple algebra equations to teach children to be cold-hearted killers?”

1Ironically, Strauss is often claimed as the predecessor of the modern Neoconservative movement in America, which often likes to compare its political enemies to Hitler.
2All casualty statistics from the political science department at the University of Hawaii, which I am told is somewhere in Kenya

Next Sunday, April 11 (27 Nisan) is Yom HaShoah, the Jewish Holocaust Remembrance Day. Please take a moment in your day to think about those killed during this horrific era in history.

This entry was written for therealljidol Week 21: Hyperbole is Literally Hitler

I've seen some of the propaganda produced by all sides during the War. It's quite scary stuff, especially the material geared towards children. It's amazing that the world has been able to recover as much as it has, even though there's still a long way to go.

Yeah, I have a lot of criticism for things the Allies were doing as well, and how it directly fed into the propaganda machine that started the Cold War. I thought about including some of that, too, but I felt like it was getting too nebulous as a subject for the post. And I don't know if it's something that's hit your radar in NZ but the Texas state ed just passed rulings that require religious and nationalist propaganda in Texan schools-- which has an effect on the rest of the US as the size of Texas dictates than many textbook publishers model their curricula on the Texan standards. I understand that things like history are mutable and there can be many perspectives on a single event, but the idea that math and science are corruptible really creeps me out.

Those questions are incredibly creepy! Although I'm pretty sure I answered a question not too dissimilar to number one for my physics class in high school.

Yeah, #1 on its own isn't really that disturbing a question, but paired with #2 and #3, you realize why it's being asked, and it's like ..."oh."

*applauds* This is brilliant. Really. Hell, not even I knew all those things! The school problems are creepy, and they even make the texas school board look rather amateurish.

The reason the Texan thing is such a big issue is that Texas has a stranglehold on many of the American textbook publishers-- the vast majority of American textbooks follow the required curriculum for one of two states: Texas or California. This is because they are not only very populous states, but they have very strict standards as far as textbook adoption-- any textbook used in schools has to be on a state-approved shortlist. So what happens is that when Texas changes their education guidelines, the textbook companies will include the things Texas wants to teach their children in their textbooks, and those will be the textbooks shipped to many other schools all over the country. Smaller, poorer states don't have as much sway to demand textbook companies cater to them, and it is cheaper to print the same textbooks for everyone-- most states can't afford to demand a different textbook from the Texan or California standard, so they simply look at both and choose between the two. Thankfully the California textbook does not have these requirements but many schools in districts that would secretly like to indoctrinate kids into creationism can now excuse themselves by saying they had a choice between Texas and California, and the Texan textbook was better.

You know a group is crazy when they manage to screw with a math curriculum. I know we've talked about that before in another context.

And agreeing about the use of "Nazi" in a casual way, though what's even more boggling is when a group of people identifies with "Nazi" as a term of pride. See "Boob Nazi" for instance. :(

Yeah, because set theory disproves God!

I understand it a little more, actually, because I feel like some people are trying to own a phrase so it doesn't hurt when other people call them that, but I also would really prefer it not become a colloquialism in any form. I feel like it trivializes the gravity of what Nazism did to the world.

I hate even the word Nazi - I hate when people toss it around casually not just because it's so inappropriate but also because I hate hearing it.

Which I think is a perfectly reasonable way to feel.

When you mentioned you were taking this spin on the topic, I was interested to see how you would incorporate your comics - I think this came out fantastically (well, your stuff always does - you're one of my many favorites to win). I love the different style you used for the historic individuals.

It's serious and powerful, and I like the included details of Nazi propaganda - I always find those terrify and fascinating. But it's something I feel like I could show to my Oldest son to give him a bit of an understanding of the topic, too... and that's pretty awesome.

Thank you so much! One thing I joke about is that I am actually a fairly skilled artist but I get too lazy and just draw people who look like lumps of play-doh, so it was nice to draw more realistically for a change. I can't do it for a comic, of course, because it would take much too long, but when I decided to go the essay direction with this it seemed much easier.

I hadn't even been thinking about making this kid-friendly but now that I think about it, it may be! That is pretty cool, thank you.

It's still mind boggling that these things happened, and were so wide-spread, and not that long ago.

Yeah, it really is. Like theafaye said above, it's not like the US was innocent of this. But I do feel that there is really no comparison to the complete insidiousness of Nazism during its time.

I would be interested in knowing where you found all of this information-- this was very interesting, and I'd like to read more.

One of the creepiest pieces of WWII-era propaganda I've found is a women's magazine published by the Nazis, which has been digitized by the University of Heidelberg here-- the creepiness comes from the juxtaposition of smiling children and cookie recipes with the Nazi world view. It's in German, and in the Fraktur script to boot, but if you can't read either, the pictures and illustrations are also very interesting.

Various sources. The most basic stuff is from Wikipedia, double checked against at least one other citation.

The casualty numbers are from RJ Rummel of the University of Hawaii, The Holocaust in Comparative and Historical Perspective, who has some politics I don't like but whose casualty calculations are exceptional in that he includes systemic killing that was not genocide, plus talks about the Nazi organization against the Slavs, when people normally focus on just the Jews and the Gypsies. He gets some criticism for trivializing genocide because of it but I feel like it's also important to remind people that minority groups weren't the only targets of the Nazi regime.

The stuff about Göttingen is mostly from an article called ""Jewish Mathematics" at Gottingen in the Era of Felix Klein" by David Rowe which is on JSTOR.

The Nazi math problems come from the www.ethicsineducation.com website.

I think that is everything!

And yeah, I can't read that stuff, but just the cute babies with the swastikas were creepy enough for me. I didn't include any swastikas in my artwork and very deliberately cropped my portrait of Rust so it wouldn't show an armband, because I didn't want to sensationalize my writing with those kinds of symbols.

Great post. I'm impressed that people got to Godwining (and recognizing it) so early in time.

I know! It is sort of crazy to think that people were already comparing things to Hitler less than a decade after World War II. It's like...you were alive for that! I understand it more when it's teenagers today.

I like that it came down to math for this. Lovely stats and math problems. I do love history lessons!

I originally wanted to write something about hyperbolas to do a play on hyperbole, but after doing my research, I couldn't find a Nazi math problem that included hyperbolas-- most of the ones available are more basic math. But I went with it anyway because I felt like the corruption of mathematics was a really good way to show how very hyperbolic things were.

I agree w/ what beautyofgrey said that when I was reading this, I was thinking that this could be a really good educational tool.

Tea - I really, really enjoyed reading this. Great job!

Thank you! I would like to say this one was fun to make, but it wasn't so much fun, but I did learn a lot.

Remember that time you did a Hitler H_E app?

Yes. And I still miss my other testicle.

(Deleted comment)
Stellar entry and scary subject.

I really liked the format of this as an illustrated text. It was a good combination of words and pictures and incredibly informative.