What makes a Nazi a Nazi

worth talking about

“You Nazi! Nazis out. The Nazis ... “The term Nazi is often used today to defend against right-wing extremist and right-wing extremist currents and to delimit them. It is on banners, on house walls around the world and is used many times a day on Facebook and other social media. Just as often people resist this ascription. “I'm not a Nazi,” they say, and people feel wrongly placed in the right-wing extremist corner. But: Where does the word actually come from and what meaning, or better, what meanings has it got over time? That is what this text is about.

The origin: Nazi as a nickname with devaluation

Ignatz was a common first name in southern Germany and Austria. Nazi was the pet form of Ignatz and at the same time had a derogatory meaning in the sense of stupid, embarrassing or clumsy. I imagine it to be like the first name Horst today, which is not only a first name, but is also used as an insult and swear word (a Vollhorst, you Horst, what a Horst). During the First World War, the Germans called the soldiers from Austria-Hungary Nazis.

Nazi as a political assignment

The Sprachauskunft Vechta quotes Küpper (Stuttgart 1984) and Spalding (Oxford 1984), both of which referred to the term Nazi in 1903 to the National Socialists under Friedrich Naumann. Today the FDP-affiliated Friedrich Naumann Foundation is named after Naumann. Cornelia Berning records the oldest use of the term National Socialist in 1887 in the Deutsches Adelsblatt, where Otto von Bismarck is referred to as such.

In 1922 Kurt Tucholsky published an article in the weekly newspaper “Die Weltbühne” with the headline “The Nazis”. In it he criticizes a certain type of Austrian. Whether he is already referring to Hitler and the NSDAP or means something else, different statements can be found on the internet.

At any rate, the change in meaning took place sometime in the 1920s. It is said to have been a journalist who spoke of Nazi instead of the originally used abbreviation Naso for National Socialist, knowing full well the derogatory meaning of this variant. The term caught on.

An opponent's term

Above all, the political opponents made the term popular. While the term Nazi was initially used as a self-designation, the National Socialists later avoided it because of its negative connotation. With the refugees of the Nazi regime, the word wandered all over the world. It was the German exiles who used terms like Nazi Germany and Nazi regime. And just like words that have emigrated into foreign languages, the term Nazi also began to develop a life of its own abroad.

The Nazi term international

Socialists and communists in the Eastern Bloc countries avoided the term National Socialist and Nazi or even banned it because they did not want the word socialist to be defiled. Elsewhere, however, especially in the United States, the word became popular, but also changed its meaning. Nazi in English-speaking countries not only refers to the ideology and politics under Hitler, but is also used as a general term for a fanatic and extremist who has no tolerance for anything other than his own point of view. So there are anti-smoking Nazis, jazz Nazis and grammar Nazis.

Intolerance, violence and mass murder are hallmarks of the Nazis of that time

The Nazi ideology became famous for its intolerance towards the other, that was Jews, homosexuals, political opponents, disabled people and everything that was not defined as German and Aryan. The National Socialists pursued a breeding idea of ​​the perfect person, who of course had to be of German descent through and through, classified people in 1st, 2nd or less quality up to the idea that certain people were not worth living and therefore great experimental material or had to be killed. A unique feature of the Nazi regime was the industrial organization of the murder of millions of people. That hadn't happened before.

A small digression on economic policy

Some right-wing supporters claim that Nazis are actually leftists. They refer to the fact that a National Socialist is, after all, a Socialist. A popular diversionary maneuver and not sustainable in terms of content.

On the one hand: one word does not make a state. After all, the German Democratic Republic, or GDR for short, was not democratic either.

On the other hand, the argument is otherwise incorrect. In the meantime, there is even controversy among experts as to whether Hitler's economic policy was Keynesian at all. It was never socialist in the narrower sense. Private property was normal and taken for granted under Hitler. Large owners were not expropriated in order to give the property to the state or the people. Jews and enemies of the system, whose property was passed on to private hands, were expropriated to companies and private individuals who were close to the NSDAP or who were useful. Nepotism and corruption would be more appropriate terms. Quite a few companies and family clans in Germany, which are very wealthy today, made their fortune in the 30s of the last century.

What does Nazi mean today?

The meaning in which the term Nazi is used today cannot be clearly defined. Wiktionary suggests two meanings: On the one hand, the word still means the supporters of National Socialism. On the other hand, it is listed as a swear word and an insult to xenophobic, right-wing extremist or extremely authoritarian, undemocratic behavior. The digital dictionary of the German language and Openthesaurus both suggest the same synonyms for Nazi, namely: fascist, national socialist, right-wing extremist, right-wing radical, Brauner (coll.), Braunhemd (coll.), Fascho (coll.), Right (coll.).

Sometimes the word is used undifferentiated as a swear word, mostly to accuse someone of a racist attitude and a lack of tolerance, sometimes maybe just as an insult. This undifferentiated use offends - in my opinion - not only the counterpart, but above all the victims of the Nazi regime under Adolf Hitler. Because if it is used arbitrarily and inflationarily, it belittles the crimes of the Nazis.

The frequently expressed rejection by xenophobes, Völkisch-Nationale, right-wing populists, right-wing radicals, right-wing extremists, Reich citizens or identitarians that they are not Nazis is just as unworthy. The dividing line between the barely tolerable views on the right-wing democratic spectrum and positions outside it is certainly difficult to draw. But when people adhere to race theories and show themselves to be violent-tolerant or willing to use violence towards those who look and think differently, the overlap with the ideology of that time is quite high. And then I think the attribution is justified. Of course, I don't know who would go how far if he or she had the power to do so. There may be some among them who then shrink back. Others don't. And to be honest, I don't want to take the chance to find out. In the 1920s, the supporters of the NSDAP certainly never dreamed of the possibilities of annihilation they would have and implement a decade later.

We still have to differentiate

Still, it is not okay to label anyone who criticizes Angela Merkel's refugee policy as a Nazi. Because criticism is part of a democracy. And a democracy has to endure criticism. It is part of freedom of expression. Even if the opinion of others hurts sometimes. So we have to differentiate. And we have to argue. Stick to facts. Prove claims or name sources. Differentiate between fact and evaluation of the fact. And stay calm. Do not respond to provocations. Uncover false positives. Stay with the topic. I read somewhere: Every Nazi is a racist. But not every racist is a Nazi. That's true. But it also applies: Everyone has the right to their own opinion, but not to their own facts. There's a lot to do here. Usually it works better if you don't use a language that tears up the rifts and prevents listening.

I used these sources for the text:

  • http://www.sprachauskunft-vechta.de/woerter/nazi.htm
  • https://www.etymonline.com/word/nazi
  • https://de.wiktionary.org/wiki/Nazi
  • https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazi
  • https://www.dwds.de/wb/Nazi
  • www.openthesaurus.de
  • www.sudelblog.de
  • https://www.was-war-wann.de/1900/1920/1922.html
  • https://www.handelsblatt.com/politik/konjendung/oekonomie/nachrichten/wirtschaftshistoriker-bewerten-hitlers-wirtschaftspektiven-neu-kanonen-statt-butter/2826738-all.html

Image source: The photo was provided by Sabine Klement (photographer). Thank you very much for that.