“But Your Friends are Fewer Now” Milton Meyer’s “They Thought They Were Free” and 2020 America

More than a few times I have wondered how the Germans in 1933 did not see what was coming. Surely the signs were all there, surely at least some were intellectuals who should have been able to foresee and act to stop the madness. Padre Steve’s post from a few days quotes a chapter from Milton Mayer’s book, “They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933-1945” that sheds a bit of light on how the Germans failed to see what was coming in the early days. It is a bit lengthy, but well worth the time to read. Thank you, Padre!

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This article is basically a rerun because I thought it was pertinent and instead of doing much online I was catching up on correspondence with a number of people including friends in Germany and and trying my best to write in the best German that I could. Today was a remarkable day at our shipyard as our commander dealt directly with the dual disasters, COVID19 and the murder of George Floyd. It was inspiring. I had a part to play, but it was behind the scenes, and that is totally okay with me.

The article tonight is a chapter from Milton Mayer’s “They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933-1945.” Mayer was a visiting professor at the University of Frankfurt in the 1950s and lived in a small Hessian town near the city. The book is about the relationships that he built with…

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4 thoughts on ““But Your Friends are Fewer Now” Milton Meyer’s “They Thought They Were Free” and 2020 America

    • No, I don’t think the UK is in as dire straits as we are, but … it bothers me to see Boris trying to emulate Trump. You guys need to put a stop to that! Please don’t let the UK lower itself to our standards, for the path we are on may well be one of self-destruction. Even if Trump is ousted in November, there is still the element that put him into office to begin with, and that will be the next major problem. I cannot help but feeling it will get worse before it gets better, and that it won’t get better in my lifetime. Still, I will keep fighting!


  1. Jill, thanks for sharing Padre Steve’s post. His featured “Chapter 13: But Then It Was Too Late” from Milton Mayer’s book, They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933-1945, has disturbing echoes of what we’re now experiencing here in the USA. I found the following excerpts very pertinent to our times. These observations were made by a German citizen in the academic community at the time.

    “Those,” I said, “are the words of my friend the baker. ‘One had no time to think. There was so much going on.’”
    “But your friends are fewer now. Some have drifted off somewhere or submerged themselves in their work. You no longer see as many as you did at meetings or gatherings. Informal groups become smaller; attendance drops off in little organizations, and the organizations themselves wither. Now, in small gatherings of your oldest friends, you feel that you are talking to yourselves, that you are isolated from the reality of things. This weakens your confidence still further and serves as a further deterrent to—to what?”
    “Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God. The system itself could not have intended this in the beginning, but in order to sustain itself it was compelled to go all the way.”

    The change to dictatorship under Hitler did not happen overnight but was a people’s gradual accommodation to several critical changes over time. In the case of the USA, I would recommend Nancy Maclean’s book, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America (USA, 2017). It was an eye-opener for me to discover that the African-American struggle for civil rights is deeply interwoven into this historical narrative.

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    • Yes, it definitely has echoes of our situation today, which was why I thought it important to share, despite the length. And, I seized on the same passages you did as being particularly relevant. That first, “One had no time to think. There was so much going on,” hit me like a bat upside the head … that is exactly how I feel today! And yes, we are living in a world of hate and fear, hate and fear enhanced by the person at the top, who follows the “divide and conquer” strategy. There are lessons to be learned from history, if only we read history, then stop and think. That ‘thinking’ part is sorely lacking in our world today, I fear. A friend told me the other day not to bother him with politics, for it interfered with his ability to be happy! When I first began making comparisons to our situation and Nazi Germany, people said I was being overly-dramatic. Those same people are now looking about and saying much the same as I began saying in 2015.

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