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7 The Night Side of Speech ... in this Lager ... the rubber truncheon was called der Dolmetcher, the interpreter: the one who made himself understood to everybody.... -Primo Levi, The Drowned and the Saved Of all the weapons in the Nazi arsenal, the most deadly by far was the spoken word. In view ofthe brutalities ofthe Third Reich, this bald formulation may well strike one as a perverse overstatement. Yet the obsession of Nazi leadership with public speeches and radio broadcasts, with slogans and chants, with word coinage and euphemism, prevents our dismissing it as mere intellectual construct. While the survivors of l'univers concentrationnaire despair of ever finding vocabulary adequate to their experience of horror, the Nazis did, in fact, develop the lexicon to set this night world into motion and perpetuate it for over a decade. It is not merely a question oforders given, ofpolicies stated, of brutal purpose put into words. The Sprachregelung-the language rules-{)f the Third Reich interposed a linguistic barrier before the reality of atrocity; Nazi jargon galvanized a nation, often overriding personal conscience. Filtered through the screen of catchphrases and abstractions, the most heinous acts acquired an aura ofheroism. Unlike Hemingway who deplored the use of empty abstractions to mask what he perceived as the meaninglessness of wartime carnage and suffering, the Nazis deliberately encoded morally reprehensible acts in a vague idiom. The "simulated innocence ofthe Nazi language," as one linguist terms it (Esh 134), masked the structures of mass anni157 158 The Night Side ofSpeech hilation with a veneer of respectability. For example, a seemingly innocuous word for departure, Abwanderung, became the code word for deportation to an extermination camp (Esh 156). Cliches and slogans increasingly permeated ordinary discourse, effectively blocking critical thinking and inner accountability. A Hitler Youth leader, explaining to a German film director the meaning of the Third Reich, answered "Marching together."! In 1933, Hitler proclaimed the "whole educational system, theatre, film, literature, the press, and broadcasting ... harnessed to preserve the eternal values which are part of the essential nature of our people" (34). The Nazi party controlled every medium of communication, staged massive public rallies as well as smaller, local meetings. The encoding, abstractions, and circumlocutions that characterized Nazi Deutsch marked the discourse at all levels of society. In her analysis of the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt notes Eichmann's proclivity for stock phrases (36--55); Erwin Leiser points to the "accumulation ofcliches" in "non-political" films issued in Germany between 1933 and 1945 (19). The Nazis infused the German language with banalities and pat formulae designed sometimes to conceal but more often and more importantly to interpret their actions. The Nazi leadership developed a system ofexpressions and symbols that imposed a pre-text upon actual atrocity, an already articulated rationale that removed from a compliant populace the burden of making moral choices. The purpose of the Nazi language system, according to Arendt's incisive analysis, "was not to keep these people ignorant ofwhat they were doing, but to prevent them from equating it with their own 'normal' knowledge ofmurder and lies" (Eichmann 86). Consequently, she explains, ''What stuck in the minds ofthese men who had become murderers was simply the notion of being involved in something historic, grandiose, unique ... which must therefore be difficult to bear" (Eichmann 105). In his study ofthe elements ofpropaganda in Nazi cinema, Leiser reaches the same conclusion: "Behind a statement like 'Wake up, Germany!' was concealed its opposite. The object was to put to sleep conscience, independent thought, belief in freedom and human dignity.... Moral values were annulled in the name of a new morality...." (9). Thus Nazi-Deutsch evolved a discourse whose utterances displaced actuality, a speech whose intention was muteness. Nazi rhetoric discouraged clear, incisive analysis. During his trial, Eichmann reverently recalls Himmler's "winged words"-words Eichmann 's Israeli judges term "empty talk" (Arendt, Eichmann 105)which placed the Nazi war against the Jews in fuzzy heroic perspective. Eichmann's own syntax was notably incoherent. The German-born Israeli policeman responsible for conducting the interrogation remarks The Night Side ofSpeech 159 that Eichmann's "German was hideous. At first I had a very difficult time understanding him at all-the jargon of the Nazi bureaucracy pronounced in a mixture of Berlin and Austrian accents and further garbled by his liking for endlessly complicated sentences which he himself would occasionally get lost in" (Eichmann Interrogated vi). For Eichmann, Nazi-Deutsch had effectively displaced other forms...


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