Jamal is a graduate of Northeastern Seminary and writes on a broad range of topics. His writings are based on other points of view.
Inglorious Bastards is in my opinion Quentin Tarintino’s greatest movie. Though its history-twisting ending was quite surprising to me and took time to adjust to, Bastards was authentically acted to such a profound level and deep nuance that it blows other more historically accurate movies about the same period out of the water. And no other aspect portrays this more so than its deeply disturbing portrayal of OG Nazis in the form of Hanz Landa and Major Dieter Hellström.
"I love rumors! Facts can be so misleading, where rumors, whether true or false can be Often revealing."
— - Hans Landa, Inglorious Bastards
A Long-Lived Legacy
My reason for this admittedly odd praise is because today the term ‘Nazis' is thrown around casually by anyone suspecting another of trying to oppress them. Or used as a label to define a racist and/or corrupt politician. The true weight of the term has become lost in terms of the extreme fear, horror, and hatred it caused when it was spoken aloud: ‘they that shall not be named’ indeed.
And that's really owed to the 1945 victory of Nazi Germany 76 years ago. During the war and especially pre-war, despite what you saw in propaganda reels, Nazis created at the very least, great anxiety because of how unstoppable they seemed for most of the war, even after the tide had turned, as they say, in 1942. Nazi was such an extreme that everyone who fought them felt it deserved an equally extreme response: que the city-bombing, invasions, and raping of German women. All of this is what the Nazis themselves had done since 1933, and that's not including the domestic terrorism and gang wars they fought with communist gangs prior to that.
Inglorious Bastards did a great job of reminding us just why the term “Nazis“ was not only such an extreme thing to call someone, but why they were truly and properly feared in the first place. As well as an appreciation for those who risked their lives and families to obstruct or stop them, many not making it out alive, at best.
Portals to a Bygone Era
The beginning of the movie which starts out with Landa and his guard coming to the Frenchman’s house out of the blue: passive and yet intimidating. Landa’s polite and gentle presentation made it even more disturbing because you couldn't read him. Every little thing he says and does is smooth, technical, and efficient. And when he makes the oh-so-subtle threat to the daughters, ratchets silent terror up even more so, along with the calm and cool delivery of Landa's logic for being racist against Jews. He’s not screaming like Hitler, or rolling in with a Panzer tank or Stuka dive bomber.
Then in a moment all this changes when Landa drops the act, letting the farmer know that he knows the Jews he’s hiding are underneath the floors. Props to the acting again, because the shift of intention in the eyes alone clearly communicates to the farmer that the Frenchman is dealing with just as brutal of a monster as a less cunning soldier. Landa is racist, but he’s an extremely intelligent and perceptive one. He looks before he shoots, unearths before threatening, and is passive aggressive before all-out aggressive.
Likewise Dieter Hellström encounters the bastards by chance in a dive bar in Paris when unbeknownst to the allied agents, the officer detects the discrepancies in one of their accents. The group is already disrupted by some German soldiers reveling in a birthday party. Hellstrom begins by interrogating the German-speaking Irish agent, over his birth place. At first it seems to go over well as the agent was trained precisely for this type of interrogation, responding properly with the fake location and even throwing in a reference from one Reinfenstahl’s films.
While the officer seems convinced, he does not leave, politely joining them at the table and jesting with them. However as time goes on, the group gets more and more agitated, causing the agent to make a small but noticeable cultural slip when he asks for three drinks. Hellstrom picks up immediately on this and in an immediate, short and quiet scene, this is indicated in his non-verbal reaction with his eyes to the wrong gesture. Not long after that, he makes a fatal mistake himself by threatening him and his party underneath the table while surrounded by the agent’s compatriots
"I hated the brutality, the sadism, and the insanity of Nazism. I just couldn't stand by and see people destroyed. I did what I could, what I had to do, what my conscience told me I must do. That's all there is to it. Really nothing more."
— - Oskar Schindler
Glimpses of True Evil
Comparing Landa with Hellstrom is pretty straight forward. While both Nazis are intelligent and descriptively observant, Landa was smart enough to know when to play his cards, defeating his prey mentally without having to use naked brute force. Hellstrom however went in, discovered the spy, but decided to put him at gunpoint when he himself was outgunned and surrounded. It may be that he was relying on the bar keep and the other drunken soldiers to back him up, but otherwise, it was a sloppy end to a well-started bust.
What both characters share though is the depiction of the Nazi as being naked racist oppressors, but well-behaved and ‘civilized’ ones. What terrified millions of people about the Nazis wasn't just their extreme brutality, but their first-world demeanor of how they carried themselves otherwise.
Yes, if you were familiar enough with that culture at the time, you could detect little things here and there of what they actually were. But otherwise if it wasn't for the uniform, you could easily mistake him as that nice neighbor or person walking you across the street. There’s a major reason why after over three quarters of a century they are still considered the greatest manifestation of evil from the human race, and that's with a lot of peers who have done nearly as much evil to be in the running.
A Prayer Against True Successors
I think that today, while we are correctly horrified at clear cut racist acts and attitudes, we also do an injustice when referring to someone as a Nazi, unless they were old school Nazi. And if that was the case, we wouldn’t be as flamboyant about it or about using it, because an old school Nazi will have it in for you and you wouldn't even know it. They wouldn't bother with a racist rant or anything bombastic and just shoot you, interrogate your family, shoot them, and leave.
And if you ‘punched a Nazi’, the Nazi will not only hit back, but would probably try to legit kill you as well, for even having the gall to lay your ‘dirty hands’ on them to begin with.
Landa and Hellstrom are microcosms of why the Nazis were feared for so long, as well as why they have a legacy that unfortunately outlasts them. Though most who partake in the phrase while being violent, are also pretenders. I genuinely hope that we don’t come across another group of people that truly live up to the title.
© 2021 Jamal Smith
CHRIS57 from Northern Germany on July 12, 2021:
Fictional Landa and Hellström are anecdotal figures representing "Nazi" attitude. I don´t think that explains the true horror of the regime, neither to the inside nor to the outside.
My comprehension is that it was the high efficiency, the brutal excellence of management skills that made the regime so powerful in all aspects, and not the anecdotal "heroes".
What was the Gestapo? What was a "Blockwart"? Nothing else but a surveillance system that observed the rights or wrongs of individuals in doing and in attitude. Actually was a real blueprint for distopian stories from Huxley or Orwell.
And what applied to surveillance also applied to industry and its interconnections to the military and political leadership. (long before the Haliburtonomics of the Bush administration :-)) Highly efficient management was necessary even before any Nazi ruling to keep the decentralized industry on track.
Almost like the preamble of a global player of today the Nazi´s had a "Mission", had a narrative like "people without territory" to justify expansion goals and wars.
When special forces on the eastern front had to commit atrocities, kill people, they immediately reported to Berlin that it was way too inefficient to waste bullets and dig graves. So some "back office" people came up with more efficient ideas like gas chambers and furnaces.
The collective thrive for efficiency opened gates for euthanasia. People were divided into those who were efficient and valuable and those who were not.
Combine evil missions and narratives with good management and you get a 3rd Reich, especially when the "workforce", the people were seemingly treated "unjust" after WW1.
A last word: Even today in G. we have the fetish of efficiency. Pregnant women and parents get generous parental leave, because it is more efficient to take them out of work than have them deluded by their part time job of raising kids. This gives it a social touch and what was the abbreviation of Nazi"? National Socialist..