I think that when we talk about the Nazis, we tend to paint them as monstrous villains-and they were, but that’s not the whole story and not the story from the point of view of the German people. The Nazis then were not the Neo-Nazis of today. Neo-Nazis of today basically just hate people. The original Nazis were much closer to amoral utopian pragmatists. They did what it took to make things ‘better’- and what we don’t want to say is that they largely succeeded. If you were a German middle-class person, your lot in life improved remarkably under Nazi rule. Nazis improved the economy, they improved national prestige, they advocated for equality (of people who they defined as German) under the law, they created the underpinnings of the modern welfare state (including things that we might even wish for today like free daycare and free places to vacation for mothers.) The ‘desirable’ German people weren’t unhappy with how things were going(though they might not say so post-war.) They were getting paid to have children. Unemployment was down, wages were up. Pots had chickens and even if people lost their jobs, the state was caring for them. The world was watching them and if not admiring, at least fearing Germany again.
To achieve their idea of utopia, among other things, the Nazis basically clamped whole hog onto the idea of eugenics-and we have to note it was not seen at the time as an irrational or racist idea. At the time, tons and tons of the Academic classes were eugenicists (people like Theodore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and even Helen Keller expressed support for eugenics.) The Darwin bug had bitten everyone and it was seen as the way to pave a future of prosperity. They were asking themselves, “Why is there poverty?” “Why is there crime?” “Why is there social unrest?” and philosophers and even social activists of the time (to us embarrassingly) came to the conclusion that it was due to failed Darwinian pressures leading to the survival of ‘unfit’ people. Nazis took it upon themselves to figure out who these unfit people were and then with ruthless efficiency decided to remove them from the gene pool. Hans on the street might not have been 100% on board with it, but he sure did like that he was one of the ‘fit’ ones and he couldn’t deny that things were way better after Nazis took power. The propaganda machine was blaring night and day to convince him of how awesome he was and how these policies were leading to a brighter future for him and his children. So when Hans becomes a guard at a concentration camp, he’s seeing it through the eyes of someone who thinks he’s doing a job for the good of humanity. He’s the same as a guy at a slaughterhouse whose job might be distasteful, but it’s just making sausages so that the world will become a better place. And maybe it’s a shame that some people (but are they really people, Hans might ask himself) have to die, but in the end it’s what’s best for the world. People die all the time, it’s better to get rid of the ‘bad ones’ and let the ‘good ones’ prosper. We still do it today, the US still has the death penalty and there are still people who are killing other people that they deem ‘bad.’ We still march people to death chambers that are crying and begging not to die and we still manage to kill them.