The Third Reich of Dreams, by Charlotte Beradt

I discovered this book via an article in the New Yorker, and knew I had to read it. I quickly discovered it was out of print (1000$ for a tattered paperback on Amazon) but I was luckily able to find a PDF online. That was Wednesday night (today is Friday). Needless to say, I couldn’t put it down.

Between 1933 and 1939 Beradt gathered hundreds of dreams from the German people, and found obvious influences from the totalitarian government. About 75 dreams are described in the book.

This book is not a scientific study or analysis, and though it does go into some psychological terms, this reads more like a dream journal than anything else. And the collective effect of these dreams (which are told in a provocative order) is unnerving to say the least.

What is most striking is that the author purposefully left out any dreams about violence, torture, being chased, etc. These kinds of dreams I’m sure were had by the millions, but their meaning is so surface level that it is pointless to examine them. Even after limiting herself in this way, the patterns that emerge from the dreams the author does describe- dreams experienced by people separated by time, class, race, and any other number of differences-have so many factors in common that the similarities hardly need to be pointed out at all.

The dream that stuck with me the most was one of the first described in the book. A factory owner tells of a recurring dream he has, where Goebbels comes to visit his factory. The factory owner is physically unable to give the Nazi salute, and struggles to raise his arm. He struggles ‘for half an hour’ to raise his arm, inch by inch, while his employees stand around him watching, and Goebbels watches with ‘neither approval nor disapproval, as if it were a play.’ When the factory owner finally gets his arm up, Goebbels only says ‘I don’t wan’t your salute’ and leaves. The factory owner is unable to lower his arm, and stands there frozen until he wakes. This dream recurs over and over, with more details added. In one version of the dream, his efforts to raise his arm cause sweat to pour down his face like tears. In one, he looks to his employees for support but their faces show only complete emptiness ‘not even contempt or scorn.’ In another version, he struggles so hard to raise his arm that his back breaks.

The Nazi’s managed to control people so well that they were, for the most part, not able to resist even in their dreams. The insidious power, this kind of mind control through fear so great that people control themselves in order to escape that fear, is important to understand and recognize, so we can prevent it happening in the future.

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