In German there are two words for knowing: “wissen,” which is associated with wisdom and learning, and “kennen,” which is like being acquainted.
Acquaintance is, by definition, a surface understanding, susceptible to manipulation. When you are “acquainted with” something it’s much easier to see only part of the whole. Especially if the other half of what you hear and see is appealing. Hitler brought back jobs and opportunity, restored national pride and told seductive, simplifying lies; in the beginning, my grandmother, like many Germans, believed, for instance, that Germany’s war against Poland was begun in self-defense. (In 1939, Nazi operatives donned Polish Army uniforms and staged a takeover of a German radio station at Gleiwitz that Hitler then held up as an act of provocation by the Poles.)
“But what did you think when you started hearing the rumors about concentration camps?” I would press her. “Didn’t you ever listen to the foreign news reports?”
“Allied propaganda” was my grandmother’s answer. That’s what Hitler said it was. And she, like many Germans, trusted him. Her trust, apparently, relieved her of the need to understand.