The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, Digital Edition > My Day
My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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NEW YORK, Tuesday—Many of us in this country are disturbed by the persistent reports that Nazis were being placed in many important positions in Germany. And I think it is a good time to examine the whole situation.

Those of us who have known Germany and the Germans for a long time—and my knowledge of that country goes back 60 years, as I went there as a little girl—have a rather long perspective on the character of the German people. They like authority. They have been accustomed to direction and to being told what to do in every phase of their existence. I have never been in a country where the signs are more completely explicit. They do not say, "Please do not do thus and so"; they say, "Verboten," pure and simple.

As a result of all this, there has grown up in Germany a system of class. Any little government functionary had certain little responsibilities and certain authority. He was looked up to by all his neighbors and as you went higher up he was shown even greater respect by the people.

You do not change the character of a people overnight. They may not have liked the Nazi regime. But they accepted it because it represented authority. Now, as they get control of their own affairs, they are going to put back into places of authority the people whom they are accustomed to have manage their affairs, whether in the economic, the governmental, the educational or the religious field.

The people in Germany who stood out by themselves in opposition to authority are rare indeed. We must realize, therefore, that as we give more authority to the Germans we are going to find back in positions of trust more people who were in those positions during the Nazi regime. Some of these leaders may have become convinced of the evils of the Nazi government. We may, through our efforts at education, help to educate some of the younger people in democratic ways, and if there is enough exchange on the student level some young people may become convinced of the value of a democratic and free country.

The Germans are more lenient to Nazis whom they feel were just party members in order to remain unmolested and who did not actually work for the Nazi party. That seems natural enough, for a good many of us know that to stay out of trouble we will often remain silent. It takes a superior kind of courage to speak up on the unpopular side of an argument when the popular side is backed by strong-arm methods.

It is quite probable that in the police departments in Germany an undue number of ex-army officers will turn up in the personnel. The reason will be that at the head there is usually some German who has a loyalty to caste and appointments are in his hands. Thus, he makes them with due interest in his former friends and associates. When Nazis get back into business they are apt to have ability, and former friends and associates are likely to overlook their former Nazi affiliations because of that ability.

The United States is fighting a real battle for democracy in Germany against tremendous odds. The best argument we have to offer is example. We can only hope that our own behavior here and that of our representatives in Germany will be convincing proof that the democratic way of life is desirable.

E. R.


Names and Terms Mentioned or Referenced

  • New York (N.Y., United States) [ index ]

About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, December 14, 1949

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007

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Transcription created from a photocopy of a UFS wire copy of a My Day column instance archived at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.