Content warning: This series contains descriptions of abusive and neglectful parenting
Mid 1800s German doctor Daniel Gottlieb Moritz Schreber published books on child rearing that were so popular, some went through forty printings. These advised parents on the importance of stopping newborns from crying, by scaring them. He said that by mastering the infant’s crying a parent could “be master of the child forever. From then on, a word, a glance, a single threatening gesture will be sufficient to control the child.”
These were the prevailing parenting attitudes in central Europe in the years preceding Hitler, and psychohistorians generally agree that a generation of children who were terrorized into compliance were ill equipped to fight against an authoritarian leader who promised to cleanse them of their sins. In Germany and Austria in particular, childcare advice was so neglectful that it was common for children to remain in their own soiled diapers and clothing for hours. Children were dirty, and so they were despised, and because they were despised, they were not cleaned and cared for.
In a speech on the Childhood Origins of the Holocaust, Lloyd deMause noted that there was nothing German Naziism accused the Jewish people all that they had not first been accused of themselves by their own parents. Dirty, lice riddled, smelly. DeMause argues that the traumatized German people needed a scapegoat to bear the sins they could not endure. He does not suggest their trauma justifies or absolve them of responsibility for their actions in the Holocaust but that widespread child abuse is a necessary precursor for genocide.
Germany was unique in giving such precise details on how to raise children through fear to encourage compliance. Yelling, striking children, and even dressing up in elaborate demon costumes while threatening to cart children off to hell were all accepted practices. This control through fear was paired with physical and emotional detachment. One or two entire generations were raised without the emotional security of parental physical affection.This made them more susceptible to Hitler’s promises of, essentially, salvation and love of (from) the Motherland.
Children raised in authoritarian homes are more likely to become authoritarian themselves, in their parenting and in their politics. That is to say, they are more likely to crave the safety of order, to fear an angry authority figure, and to obey orders. Authoritarian children tend to grow up to be fine soldiers and terrible peace activists. They also tend to adhere to more rigid gender roles than children raised in more permissive or authoritative (balanced) homes. Girls with authoritarian parents are more likely to retreat, submit, and keep their heads down, while boys with such parents are more likely to be physically and sexually aggressive.