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.
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.
| 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.” |
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