Jorgen Johansen
Article published on 12 August 2017
Rubrik : Die Flamme nähren, nicht die Asche bewahren / Feed the flame instead of conserving the ashes

What was done to counter the ’rise and rise’ of Adolf Hitler, fascist German leader, in the 1930’s? What could have been done?

”What effect could nonviolence have had against Hitler?” This is one of the most frequent questions I get when I lecture on nonviolence. And it is a good one. To answer we need to look at different phases of the conflict and recognise the complexity of a world war. I see no good arguments why the answer should focus solely on the early phase of WWII, when the Nazi army was at its strongest. Neither will I avoid what could have been done, and was done, during those years.

I have often wondered what Europe would have looked like in the first half of the twentieth century if Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Vienna had admitted the young Adolf, who twice tried to be accepted as a student! We will never know. More seriously we need to study some of the reasons for (...)

Explore AFSC’s history and share stories
Anti-nuclear campaigns
Article published on 5 August 2017
zuletzt geändert am 11 August 2016
Rubrik : Widerstand gegen Atomwaffen - Resistance against nuclear weapons

Within days of the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, AFSC (American Friends Service Committee) and other religious organizations called on President Truman to ban nuclear weapons completely. Since then, tens of thousands of people have worked with AFSC to halt weapons testing, arms acceleration, and the spread of nuclear technology.

Large-scale campaigns to prevent nuclear annihilation began in the 1950s—when the Committee for SANE Nuclear Policy (co-founded by AFSC) focused popular energy on a test ban treaty. Anti-nuclear efforts peaked with the No Nukes and Nuclear Freeze movements of the 1970s and 80s. During the (...)

Ralph Hutchison
blockade main gate; meet with Base Commander
Article published on 18 July 2017
zuletzt geändert am 2 August 2017
Rubrik : Widerstand gegen Atomwaffen - Resistance against nuclear weapons

A delegation of eleven U.S. citizens joined with activists from China, Russia, Germany, Mexico, The Netherlands, Belgium and Britain at a peace encampment at the German airbase in Büchel, Germany, where U.S. B61 bombs are deployed.

On Sunday, July 16, following the celebration of a Christian liturgy, Dutch and U.S. citizens removed the fence blocking the main entrance to the airbase and proceeded on site, the Dutch delegation carrying bread for a “Bread Not Bombs” action and the U.S. delegation carrying the text of the (...)

David Abel
Article published on 29 April 2017
Rubrik : Apprendre par des exemples pratiques - Aus praktischen Beispielen lernen

Forty years ago, Renny Cushing led hundreds of protesters through the front gates of perhaps the nation’s most controversial construction site, sprawled across a stretch of marshland along the New Hampshire coast.

In all, about 2,000 demonstrators converged on what would become the Seabrook (...)

Ter García
Article published on 25 April 2017
Section : Abolish wars - Contre toutes les guerres - Gegen alle Kriege !

The three years and two months that Pepe Beunza spent in prison were the starting point of one of the most successful campaigns of civil disobedience in Spain: conscientious objection and insumption to compulsory military service. It was 1971. Thirty years later, the Spanish Government finally gave its arm to twist eliminating the milli. We talked to Pepe Beunza.

How did you become interested in nonviolence and conscientious objection?

I lived in Valencia and studied agricultural engineering. I had always liked nature, had been a Boy Scout and had gone a long way up the mountain. She was also a person who was worried about social problems. I had a (...)

John LaForge
Article published on 19 March 2017
Rubrik : Widerstand gegen Atomwaffen - Resistance against nuclear weapons

On March 26, nuclear disarmament activists in Germany will launch a 20-week-long series of nonviolent protests at the Luftwaffe’s Büchel Air Base, Germany, demanding the withdrawal of 20 U.S. nuclear weapons still deployed there. The actions will continue through August 9, the anniversary of the US atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan in 1945.

For the first time in the 20-year-long campaign to rid Büchel of the U.S. bombs, a delegation of U.S. peace activists will take part. During the campaign’s “international week” July 12 to 18, disarmament workers from Wisconsin, California, Washington, DC, Virginia, Minnesota, New Mexico and (...)

Birth of a Freedom Anthem
Article published on 16 March 2017
Rubrik : Die Flamme nähren, nicht die Asche bewahren / Feed the flame instead of conserving the ashes

FRESNO, Calif. — FIFTYtwo years ago today, on March 15, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced plans to submit a new voting rights bill before a joint session of Congress. His speech came after several weeks of violence in and around Selma, Ala., that had taken the lives of two civil rights (...)

Invitation to the
in Döbeln/Germany, July 17-23, 2017
Article published on 16 January 2017
zuletzt geändert am 17 January 2017
Section : No to nuclear power

In the middle between the Saxon cities of Leipzig, Dresden and Chemnitz an international anti-nuclear summer camp will take place to gather anti-nuclear activists, organizers and interested people. Due to our impression that in the last few years we lacked such a kind of inter- national (...)

Mni Wiconi
Article published on 30 November 2016
Rubrik : Schluss mit der Nutzung fossiler Energien

Given what we’re seeing in the election’s aftermath, photographer-filmmaker Lucian Read clearly picked a prescient title for his recent mini-doc series on inequality in the United States: America Divided, which aired on EPIX in October and November, took us to corners of a nation still hurting (...)

Greenham Common
by Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi
Article published on 17 October 2016
Rubrik : Die Flamme nähren, nicht die Asche bewahren / Feed the flame instead of conserving the ashes

On an unusually balmy autumn day in 2013, a small group of women gathered outside the nuclear base at Aldermaston and began to sing. All of them had wide smiles and the words came easily.

She goes on and on and on,

You can’t kill the Spirit

She is like a mountain

Old and strong

She goes on (...)

David Barsamian
The Yes! Magazine Interview with Vandana Shiva
Article published on 3 October 2016
Rubrik : Die Flamme nähren, nicht die Asche bewahren / Feed the flame instead of conserving the ashes

Interviewer’s Preface:
Vandana Shiva is an internationally renowned voice for sustainable development and social justice. She spoke in New Delhi with David Barsamian, founder of Alternative Radio, during his December 2008 trip to India and Pakistan. Some say terrorism makes Gandhi irrelevant. Vandana Shiva, farmer, seed saver, and global justice activist, says we need him more than ever. Gandhi’s three pillars of freedom are now the keys to our survival. Here then are her thoughts on why Gandhi’s philosophy is still relevant—even in a world where terrorism is on the rise.

David Barsamian:

In the wake of the attacks on Mumbai in late November 2008, there was a piece in the (London) Sunday Express, “The Irony Gandhism Presents in Today’s Terror-Infested India.” The writer said, “It is time the government became doubly stern about its steps to combat terrorism. India (...)

I have often wondered what Europe would have looked like in the first half of the twentieth century if Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Vienna had admitted the young Adolf, who twice tried to be accepted as a student! We will never know. More seriously we need to study some of the reasons for his popularity in the ’30s. There is no doubt that the enforced ”Surrender Diktat” from Versailles - not a peace agreement by any decent standards - had a terrible impact on the German people. To humiliate the losers and dictate their future policy from abroad invited backfire and revenge. None of my students in Peace Studies would have passed if they had delivered such a proposal for an agreement after a world war!

Paving the way for war
But it was not only that humiliation that made it possible for the Nazi regime to come to power. Three other important factors were the economic crises in the ’20s and ’30s, the racist ideology, and the culture of ”Prussian Obedience” that flourished in the same period.
For Hitler, arms production was a way to reduce unemployment and poverty. Everyone saw what was going on, but no steps were taken to change that policy. What if, twenty years earlier than 1948, the US and other countries had delivered a package of economic support similar to the European Recovery Program (named the Marshall Plan after the then US Secretary of State, George Marshall)? What would the impact have been if that scale of economic stimulus and not armaments had been an option? But the willingness to help was not present. It took another twenty years until the help arrived.

The racist ideology that certain peoples are worth more than others cannot be defeated by military means. That must be done by education, public debate, and bringing up new generations in a spirit of enlightenment. Anti-semitism, of course, was by no means confined to Germany. And German fascism successfully targeted many others as outcasts from society, including leftists, Roma, the disabled, and homosexuals. One has to wonder whether Hitler’s rise would have been possible if such discrimination had been strongly contested in the international community. Yet as we know, Establishment sentiment in the rest of Europe and other parts of the world acquiesced in or even sympathised with much of this targeting, some turning a blind eye to the methods ultimately used. Why didn’t ordinary people object to these lethal prejudices? One reason is that they had far less information than we do now. But another was the lack of pluralism and independent thinking in society: people were led, like sheep.

It is clear that without overwhelming military and civil obedience Hitler would never have been able to mobilise the masses and lead many of them to commit one atrocity after another. Any school system and authoritarian culture that encourages blind obedience and punishes the questioning of authority will lead to fascism and dictatorship. Too few voices within Germany opposed this, and little or no help and support came from abroad.
When the actual war started and the ”German War Machine” rolled across Europe, neither the armies in neighbouring countries nor any other means of opposition was adequately prepared. Those few who argued against military means had no convincing alternatives for how to defend their countries. And even the relatively low budgets for military defence were gigantic compared to the microscopic initiatives for nonviolent options. There is no reason to believe that nonviolent defence any more than armed defence could stand against a well-prepared military force without serious preparation.

When the first shocks and military defeats were over, we saw the first attempts of resistance in occupied countries. Sabotage, underground newspapers, and use of oppositional symbols were early examples of resistance movements. Resistance took place in most countries under German rule as well as inside Germany itself. All of that was unprepared and badly organised. Later in the war we saw a wider spectrum of actions of nonviolent resistance and the movements improved their organising and co-ordination.

The German army was well prepared to meet armed resistance, but less able to cope with strikes, civil disobedience, boycotts and other forms of nonviolent action. A famous example is when the Norwegian teachers were told to join the Nazi party and teach Nazism in schools or face the consequences. When 12,000 teachers signed a declaration against the new law, 1000 were arrested and sent to prison camps. But the strike continued and after some months the order was cancelled and they were allowed to continue their work. In a speech, Quisling summarised: ”You teachers have destroyed everything for me!” We can just imagine what would have been the consequences if many professions had followed in the footsteps of these teachers. Or if they had prepared such actions well in advance and even had exercises prior to the invasion.

Independent news is crucial for any opposition movement. That is why censorship is enforced when a regime wants to control the masses. Despite threats of brutal punishment, illegal newspapers were published by many clandestine groups in occupied territories during WWII. In France the first leaflet was published as early as September 1940. In Munich, the ”White Rose” students initiated a leaflet campaign from June 1942 to February the following year calling for active opposition to Hitler’s regime. The original group was arrested and executed but later their manifesto was distributed in Scandinavia and the UK and even dropped over Germany from Allied planes. What would have been the result of such actions if they had been well planned and executed in most cities suffering under German atrocities?

Extermination and war
The most horrific atrocities committed by the Nazi regime were the industrial murder of millions of Jews, homosexuals, people with disabilities, Roma, and other religious, ethnic, and political groups. The idea of a pure ”master race ” of Aryan-Nordic people was central to the policy of exterminating others. Like a gigantic machine the Nazi regime organised the arrests and killing of millions.

Despite massive propaganda and brutal punishment for those who refused to take part, many opposed this genocide. In Denmark almost all Jews survived because they were helped by the resistance movement to escape to Sweden and avoid the gas chambers.
In Bulgaria most of the country’s 48,000 Jews were saved when leaders of the Orthodox Church and farmers in the northern stretches of the country threatened to lie across railroad tracks to prevent Jews from being deported. This pressure encouraged the Bulgarian parliament to resist the Nazis, who eventually rescinded the deportation order, saving almost all of the country’s 48,000 Jews.

Even in Germany itself people opposed the arrests. In one famous example 6000 ”Aryan” German women took part in a nonviolent protest in February and March 1943, outside the prison in Rosenstrasse in Berlin, to get their Jewish husbands and friends released. Thanks to these brave women 1700 prisoners were indeed released. These examples illustrate that some groups have more impact than others. It was difficult for the Nazis to attack German women.

While the Allies were busy bombing civilians in Hamburg and Dresden, the nonviolent resistance movement saved thousands of people from concentration-camps. Although military strategists were aware of the existence of gas chambers, they destroyed neither the camps nor the infrastructure for transporting prisoners.

The German occupation differed from country to country and the resistance movements varied as well. Nonviolent resistance in WWII was based on two strategies: non-cooperation and building alternatives.

Both of these forms of struggle focus on the fabric of social life rather than the territory of a society. Refusal to take part in sporting events if Germans or collaborators participated was a typical form of non-cooperation. The strike among Norwegian teachers and deliberate go-slows in industry are other examples. Behind such action was an understanding that all political power is dependent on support from below. Those in power could punish but consistent refusal to follow orders created serious problems.

The illegal distribution of reliable news, organisation of clandestine sporting events, celebration of independence days, carrying symbols of resistance and organisation of secret trade unions are typical examples of building alternatives. By replacing parts of the society run by the occupation forces with alternative activities, the nonviolent resistance kept their spirits up and proved that they could function without the German troops. It was both a part of the struggle and important preparation for the day when the Germans left.
But what more could have been expected from strategies that had no recognition prior to the war, no training or preparation whatsoever, and absolutely no budget? Ask yourself, what would military means have been able to achieve under such conditions? For nonviolent resistance to be really effective, it needs the same level of preparation and training as a military army. Is it ever too early to begin?
26 March 2010

About the author

Jørgen Johansen is a freelance lecturer in conflict studies, a nonviolent trainer, and activist with experiences of 100+ countries in the last 40 years. He has published six books and contributed to ten more, also hundreds of articles on nonviolence, democracy, international politics, and social movements.
Contact: johansen(dot)jorgen(at)gmail(dot)com

Read On
Lennart Bergfeldt (1993) Experiences of Civilian Resistance: The Case of Denmark 1940-45, PhD Dissertation Uppsala University
Frank McDonough (2001) Opposition and Resistance in Nazi Germany, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
Annette Dumbach & Jud Newborn (1986) Sophie Scholl and the White Rose, One World, Oxford
Peter Hoffman (1996) The History of the German Resistance 1933-1945 (3rd Edition), McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal
Barbara Koehn (2003) Der deutche Wiederstand gegen Hitler, Eine Würdigung, Duncker & Humboldt, Berlin
Marion Schreiber (2000) Stille Rebellen - Der Überfall auf den 20. Deportationszug nach Auschwitz, Verlag GmbH, Berlin
Jacques Semelin (1993) Unarmed Against Hitler, Civilian Resistance in Europe , 1939-43, Praeger, Westport
Nathan Stoltzfus (1996) Resistance of the Heart, Intermarriage and the Rosenstrasse Protest in Nazi Germany, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick

The Nazis and nonviolence

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