This 1932 campaign poster for German President von Hindenburg presciently warns against the unsavory alternatives. Communists are shown on the phone receiving instructions from Moscow, amid scarcity and breadlines. Hitler and Nazis are shown drawing up death lists with aspirations of many severed heads. Hindenburg won as president. But the Nazis won a plurality in parliamentary elections, and he reluctantly acceded to Hitler’s appointment as chancellor.
The consequences were commemorated yesterday on the 70th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s surrender to the Allies. There was a wonderful fly-over of WWII aircraft in Washington, D.C., observed by a few old veterans and many others. Victory in Europe Day celebrates the end of a war and a regime that killed millions, left much of Europe flattened, impoverished, on the verge of mass starvation, spiritually eviscerated and susceptible to another totalitarian tyranny.
Hindenburg’s campaign poster showcased the two great murderous ideologies that plagued the last century, together killing more innocents than any other human force in history. It also reminds that even in 1932, before the Holocaust, and Stalin’s purges and orchestrated famines, it was well known what both Naziism and Communism were. Yet millions willingly gave their souls and lives to perpetuate their systemic inhumanity.
Naziism spectacularly imploded in 12 years, leaving Germany occupied, destitute and partly hostage to the Soviets, who much stole much of their defeated foe’s industry, waged mass rape, and erected a new police state that would survive another 44 years. Soviet Communism would last 74 years, mercifully collapsing relatively peacefully, but leaving behind an unparalleled legacy of destruction, slavery, and mass murder.
That so many, including many hyper educated intellectuals, gave themselves to these demonic ideologies, despite the transparency of their wicked goals and means, is tragic, horrific, and confirming that humanity, when rejecting or forgetting God, is capable of anything.
Yet God never steps aside, and there is always both divine judgment and mercy. Yesterday I attended a Christian Solidarity event at the Israel Embassy. Hitler, like many absolutist dictators, tried to destroy the Jews, but with even more organized, mechanized fury. Yet his empire ended in ruins, and the shattered remnant of Jewish survivors reclaimed their ancient homeland and made of it a great nation again.
Hitler dementedly called Bolshevism an instrument of Judaism, but Communism also tormented Jews, many of whom escaped the Soviet Union, sometimes with American help, for Israel. The ruin that befell the great totalitarian empires everlastingly warns of ultimate divine judgment against all presumptuous human projects that claim ultimate authority for themselves against God.
Fewer and fewer have firsthand memories of events 70 years ago. And a new generation of young adults has no memory of the Soviet Union and Cold War. But we should never forget the last century’s horrific display of monstrous human folly, nor should we forget, by God’s grace, the great victories of survival and progress towards an incrementally better world. The current century, if we are seek godly wisdom, need not repeat the calamities of the last. The Hindenburg campaign poster is a useful tool for remembrance and warning.