Carefree Calumnies: Vaccination Policies Under Nazism and Communism


ACCUSATIONS OF NAZISM are being flung around “in a carefree manner”. That, at least, is the observation of Dr Kate Hannah, Lead Researcher of the Disinformation Project. Established in 2020 under the auspices of Te Pūnaha Matatini at the University of Auckland, the Disinformation Project seeks to separate fact from fiction in the increasingly fetid ideological climate of the Covid-19 Pandemic.

“We’ve really witnessed a downgrading of social discourse”, argues Hannah, “an acceptability of really vulgar, obscene, denigrating, rude, misogynistic, racist terminology just being used.” She reports that terms such as Nazism, Communism and Authoritarianism are being attached almost casually to political opponents.

Certainly, the prospect of New Zealanders having to carry Vaccination Passports, and Government-mandated “No Jab. No Job” regulations coming into force, has raised the ideological temperature considerably. Nor is it the case that strongly expressed reservations about increased levels of state coercion are restricted to the Right. In a widely read Daily Blog post entitled “This Is Wrong”, the veteran leftist John Minto comes out swinging at the idea of dividing New Zealand society into the Vaccinated and the Unvaccinated.

More pronounced upon the Right than the Left, however, is the tendency to compare the Labour Government’s Covid-19 strategies with the behaviour of the totalitarian regimes of the 1930s and 40s. The conservative clergyman, Pastor Peter Mortlock, for example, recently warned the congregation of his evangelical City Impact Church that: “Nazi Germany has arrived in New Zealand”. Adding for good measure that the unvaccinated were at risk of becoming “Yellow Star citizens”. (The reference is to the yellow Star of David all European Jews were required to wear by their Nazi tormenters.)

Perhaps inspired by the Pastor’s words, a group of Anti-Vaxxers last weekend posted a photograph of themselves, all wearing Yellow Stars, on Twitter.

If Pastor Mortlock, and those he has inspired, had “done their research”, however, they might have hesitated to include the Nazis in their propaganda sermons and stunts.

As Branko Marcetic explains in a sharply pointed piece for Jacobin magazine,  the Nazis were far too sensitive to right-wing public opinion to enforce the compulsory vaccination legislation that had been on Germany’s statute books since the Imperial Vaccination Law of 1874.

When the Nazis came to power in 1933, the 1874 law was actually in abeyance. A tragic medical misadventure, in which 70 children had died three years earlier, had mobilised the already large anti-vaccination movement in Germany, and the Government had responded by simply ceasing to enforce the law. Far from re-instating compulsory inoculation, Hitler and his confederates decided to keep the moratorium in place.

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Partly this was in response to the very strong anti-Semitic flavour of the German anti-vaccination movement which, like the anti-vaxxers of today, was prey to all kinds of lurid conspiracy theories. Mostly, however, it was because the Nazis were enthusiastic eugenicists.

For Hitler and his comrades vaccination was regarded as a Darwinian test of evolutionary fitness. Intelligent and conscientious German citizens would not hesitate to get vaccinated. Those who refused were declaring themselves to be either politically or congenitally unfit to remain a part of the German volk. When it came to the conquered peoples of Eastern Europe, the eugenic message was unequivocal. Vaccination was only for the Master Race – among the untermenschen Nature must be left to take its course.

Hitler had no need of Vaccination Certificates, he would have looked upon Pastor Mortlock and his ilk as a self-correcting problem.

Marcetic’s article serves as a timely reminder that there really is nothing new under the sun. Human nature remains a depressingly consistent factor in the way politics unfolds. Equally bracing, however, is the realisation that Hitler’s Darwinian cast of mind is very far from being dead. The briefest scan of Twitter and/or Facebook will produce numerous examples of eugenicist thinking. Indeed, as Auckland’s Level 3 Lockdown threatens the Christmas plans of thousands, the notion that the anti-vaxxers should be treated as a self-correcting problem is only likely to find additional supporters.

But if Hitler (teetotaller, non-smoker and vegetarian that he was) was less than keen to enforce compulsory vaccinations on the civilian population of Germany (the armed forces were a very different story!) what about his Soviet equivalent, Joseph Stalin?

Up until the death of Stalin in 1953, the primary focus of the People’s Commissariat of Public Health was on the education of the masses – mostly by means of unceasing propaganda. Being a healthy Soviet citizen was a revolutionary duty. Campaigns were waged against smoking, drinking and sexual promiscuity (i.e. Venereal Disease). Basic sanitation was drummed into a population that, historically, had known nothing of such matters.

Essentially, the People’s Commissariat made a virtue of necessity. In its early years, the Soviet Union simply had too few doctors, and nothing like enough medicines, to do much more than exhort the population to look after their health.

The extraordinary population losses experienced in the Soviet Union, first as the result of the  Stalin-led Communist Party’s murderous policies, and then under the hammer blows of the Wehrmacht, forced a major re-think of Soviet health policies. Human labour was now too precious for the Communist Party to squander in the manner of Stalin and his homicidal comrades. With Stalin dead, however, and the gulags “downsized”, public health provision became a way of demonstrating the “benevolent” aspects of Soviet rule.

As Stephen L Hoch writes in his 1997 paper The Social Consequences Of Soviet Immunization Policies, 1945-1980:

“Soviet society used coercive immunization campaigns to demonstrate the superiority of an administrative order over a legal one . The state mandated compliance with a public good and in the process demonstrated the benefits of vigorous state control in the public realm . The public was to be passive in this process. Vaccination campaigns were used to show that if a good was truly important the state would do it, indeed, the state must do it. And, it must be recognized that in spite of all the abuses of Soviet power, the political leadership in the former Soviet Union repeatedly pointed to immunization campaigns to illustrate the success of its administrative order.”

That enforced public passivity was to come back and bite the Russian people when the Soviet system finally fell in 1991. In the “new” Russia, the human and material resources required to continue the massive state-run immunisation campaigns of the Soviet era were no longer available. Until Russian parents learned to take the immunisation of both themselves and their children into their own hands, many of the diseases conquered in the post-war years were bound to reappear – which they duly did.

History is seldom a clear-cut thing. Hitler declined to enforce vaccination out of a combination of political and eugenicist considerations. Similarly, while Stalin reigned over the Soviet Union, public health campaigns were largely exhortative, propaganda-driven affairs. Following Stalin’s death, however, coercive vaccination was presented as evidence of the Soviet system’s paternal benevolence. No longer a regime that killed millions without compunction or remorse, the Soviet Union presented its post-war compulsory mass vaccinations as proof that it was now committed to saving millions of lives.

As the Delta variant of Covid-19 sweeps through the largely unvaccinated Russian population with renewed energy and alarming lethality, there will be many older Russian citizens who recall with some nostalgia the regime that lined them up and jabbed them whether they liked it or not. To avoid the evils of the Soviet Era, however, a great many younger Russians will happily run the risk of contracting Covid. After all, as diseases go, it is considerably less deadly than Stalinism.

A proposition with which – “carefree” Anti-Vaxxer accusations of Nazism, Communism and Authoritarianism, notwithstanding – New Zealanders from both the Right and the Left will likely find themselves in rare agreement.


  1. The rush to almost full population vaccination is not because Jacinda and her governments have gone all fascist or communist. It’s much more simple.

    They did nothing, less than nothing to prepare for Delta, did nothing to even improve things after alpha. Knowing just how bad our health system is, that it couldn’t even deal with an outbreak of the common cold, they knew the death toll would be horrific. Without world record setting vaccination, it was game over Labour! And for quite a few New Zealanders.

    That’s it really in a nutshell. Nothing more sinister than arse covering ones incompetence.

    • Xray, it takes years to fix a 30 year problem of deliberate underfunding. Just what could have been done overnight to prepare for Delta ?

      • Most probably, doing what the rest of us have been doing. Counting what’s left of our 36 cents of Neoliberalism?

    • What? Who did nothing? They? The Labour govt? The ministry of health? You must be joking Xray!

      Elimination was a useful strategy. It bought time. Somewhat fortuitous as the early variants were late getting to these distant shores. Had it not been for ‘go early go fast’ it would have been a very different story given the state of the public health system. Even now it’s a stretch. MIQ for all its faults kept Covid 19 – and the Delta variant – from small town NZ. I suspect Westport, Gore, Reefton, Kaikohe and Stratford don’t have any grumbles. Arguably the vaccination rollout could have gone better – but hindsight’s a wonderful thing.

      “Simplicity is not a simple thing”. So said Charlie Chaplin. Maybe you need to see the big picture Xray.

      • The picture I see Bozo, as does most Aucklanders, is zero prep.

        Elimination was fantastic with Covid A, useless without nailing Auckland with Covid D.

        Yes the muddled MIQ system was better than nothing but it was always having issues and Aucklanders were always the victims of it’s many shortcomings.

        Show me evidence our ICU’s are better placed by August 2021 than March 2020. It was revealed yesterday there were actually less beds with staffing. We’ve now had 3 Covid positive/sick people die in the community!

        In fact where has this government demonstrated they were ready for Delta? All they had was lasts years go to.

        By August in Auckland there was a waiting list as long as your arm to get vaccinated and two places operating, business hours, to get the jab. Hopeless! And they just wiped peoples bookings when this outbreak began!

        The damage done in Auckland is down to their incompetence. As Andrea Vance quite rightly stated, saving lives was the bare minimum we should have expected especially with vaccinations and advances in treatment. What we’ve got is a 3 ringed circus!

      • I don’t know who “you lot” are but:

        I would have recruited overseas staff for ICU, making their immigration a tick the box exercise to enter NZ as well as boosting pay for current staff to international levels plus begin an internal recruiting drive to at least get the ball rolling for future ICU staffing.

        I would have strategised multiple scenarios of Delta entering with contingencies to deal with each one including the likely failure of elimination.

        I would have risk forecast for Auckland to ensure if it broke out, and of course Auckland was always going to be the front line, that Auckland was not cut off from the rest of the country a moment longer than needed and businesses were not destroyed.

        Replacement for the level system that is not fit for purpose under suppression.

        Proper alternatives to school attendance.

        Government departments being adapted to deal with Covid as normal in terms of infrastructure.

        Who needed to be mandatory vaccinated and who didn’t.

        Contingency planning for the Facebook believers antivax squads and those who genuinely want a right to choose. And those who cant.

        Sadly, none of the above occurred to our government. Hence it’s make it up bumbling as you go clusterfuck we’re seeing now!

        • Labour stopped the virus at the border. Have pretty much acheived 90% vaccination rate. Kept deaths below triple digits. Thats not bumbling thats well and truly acheiving great KPI. An almost best in the world successful response? Mate count yourself lucky you live with this government and not Trump or Boris or Bolsanaro or live in Italy or France.

          • And now look at the Netherlands…
            ‘However, the Netherlands ditched most restrictions on September 15 when it had only achieved a 77 per cent vaccination rate among eligible adults. It dumped social distancing and functioned as normal, albeit with vaccine certificates required for entry into most places. The Netherlands have gone into partial lockdown after stating they were a thing of the past” 16,000 cases a day.

    • sounds more than plausible to me..

      never look for conspiracy when stupidity will suffice.

      it’s kinda axiomatic that the people who casually throw around ‘nazi’ and ‘stalinist’ are those with the least knowledge of the regimes in question….

      again ‘not all readings are equal’ some are simply wrong, that’s all, just wrong, incorrect, wrong.

  2. TBF terms like “nazi” have lost all meaning, You can be called a nazi now for merely being against abortion or for saying you believe there are only 2 genders

    • Worth mentioning too that comparisons of vax mandates to nazis are more about demands for “papiere, bitte “ to go about your normal business than the mechanics of actually vaccinating the people.

  3. The Russians, given their long history of state lies and propaganda, have an understandable tendency to not just doubt the official line but to believe the complete opposite. You can build a tower of lies, start believing them yourself even, but reality is much bigger, infinitely bigger, than your bullshit.
    I agree with X above, the Nazi etc. epithet has been overused to the point of meaninglessness. I wouldn’t worry about it Chris. Racist and genocide are other examples – I’m looking at you Rawiri.

  4. A very good observation Chris, and one I have known for yonks.

    As usual, this insane right-wing bullshit doesn’t stack up against facts.

    Maybe this is what is behind the inability to discuss things rationally these days.

    The opinion matters more than the truth (oh Lord, does it ever!).

    When simple facts shatter an opinion, the only (supposed) recourse is to bunker down and repel boarders.

    End of discussion.

    Let them eat covid…

  5. Interesting article Chris. If the Germans saw themselves as the master race and so made sure they were vaccinated to preserve it, surely their thinking was flawed. If they were genetically superior they may have gambled that they didn’t require protecting because of their superior physical make up. (tongue in cheek comment) Of course they saw withholding vaccine from those they didn’t like as another form of cleansing. Whether it be Russia Germany or NewZealand, then or now, what decisions a government makes will be politically expedient. As Xray has stated the thought of bodies pilling up and a health system that barely functions at the best of times gave this Government no option. Getting maximum numbers vaccinated using stick and carrot and hope the collateral damage isn’t to high.

  6. The debate is much, much older. It goes back to ancient philosophies: why should society become organised and have government? What kinds of rights and freedoms do organised societies bestow on their members, and what would happen if such organising principles were withdrawn and we all became equal in our (non) power over others.
    Those who conduct such debates almost universally agree that organised societies inevitably limit but also enhance freedoms for some or all of their citizens. More importantly, without such organising principles, life is nasty, brutish and short (to paraphrase ole’ Hobbes).
    But the detail of whose rights and powers, and when, and how, are constantly struggled over. As you say, there is nothing new under teh sun.

  7. Is it possible to simultaneously follow the Soviet and Nazi policies on vaccination?
    Well yes, it is.
    Have a more or less compulsory vaccination system which proclaims “The state is in charge, it cares about you and is taking strong action to protect the public in the face of a pandemic”.
    The proponents of a strong and ostensibly benevolent state are well satisfied.
    Then, administer a vaccine whose efficacy declines sharply to near zero over a relatively short space of time.
    The eugenicists approve. So do those economists who in private bemoan the inefficient utilization of capital tied up in the service of the old and the chronically ill.
    There, in a stroke of social democratic genius, you have happily married the virtues of bolshevism and fascism.

    • With a new vaccine surely it is wise to be careful and go on the light side and do a top up than go in to high . When the pill was first invented it was 6 times more powerful than now and some had side effects. Due to the urgency of the situation around the world we were lucky this drug was in the pipe line. 3.5 billion doses have ben given wold wide so it is now well researched.
      I am gobsmacked that so many eductors are refusing the protection perhaps this shows the low moral fibre that these teachers are installing in our young minds.

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