The nazis were looking down the road to when the

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needed to be done to people about to be murdered. The Nazis were looking down the road, to when the Reich was victorious. By then all the Jews would be gone, and the Slavic peoples of eastern Europe would be reduced to docile herds of subhuman chattel. Tens of millions of them would be sent to the death camps right away, and the carefully bred, selectively sterilized remnants would be kept alive as slave labor until the Aryan population was sufficiently well established for the herds to be thinned again. The way Hitler saw it, the new moral, hygenic Nazi society would lead to a skyrocketing Aryan birthrate, and waves of pioneers would come streaming into the newly cleared expanses of the Ukraine. He often compared this to the way America had been colonized and even lamented the absence of a German myth of wide-open spaces comparable to that of the American western frontier. He did have his own myth about Germany. He was obsessed with the shadowy folkloric world of the Vikings and the Teutons, the vanished Nordic past that had inspired the medieval sagas of the Volsungs and, through them, Wagner’s Ring. His imagination was filled with the rush and thunder of the ancient warriors who’d beaten back the Roman empire and swept the barbarians back into central Asia. But where Wagner had used these stories for their symbolic value, Hitler responded to them as a primal vision of reality. (The allegorical choice in the Ring between love and absolute power meant nothing to him.) Sometimes he talked as though that world was more real to him than the daylight world around him — as if the whole of modern civilization was an evil mirage obscuring the unceasing flow of mythic struggle. This proved to be his great strength as a military commander. His generals were cautious about taking on the armies of Europe, but Hitler knew they would pose no challenge because he simply couldn’t credit them with being real. They were hollow, he insisted — only a coward would be intimidated by them. One big, decisive blow and they’d collapse. He was right, but this was almost a coincidence. He held exactly the same conviction about the Soviet Union: he thought it was a phantom so infested with malignant Jewish conspiracies that it would crumble into rottenness the moment his armies crossed the border. His generals had, or should have had, some sense of how preposterous this was. But they were too awed by his previous triumphs, and they shared the universal German belief that the Slavic peoples were subhuman. They weren’t even alarmed when Hitler informed them in complete seriousness that they didn’t have to plan for fighting during the Russian winter because the invasion of the Soviet Union would take only a couple of weeks. For a brief while it looked like he was right. The first weeks of the invasion, beginning in June 1941, went astoundingly well. The Red Army was panicked and disorganized, and the Germans captured more territory more quickly than any other army had in history. But
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