Sunshine Recorder

Link: A Scanner Darkly

Short of participating in a genocide, how can you know what it’s like to be thoughtless on the level of Adolf Eichmann? Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones makes the attempt by immersing its reader in a dense, intensely readable marsh of information.

There are a lot of shocking things about Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones, a novel about the destruction of the European Jews that is narrated by a matricidal SS officer named Max Aue, whose greatest joy is having anal sex with his twin sister; but the one that shocks deepest, and longest, is how easily the novel draws you in. I read the book in French (Littell was born in America in 1967, but grew up in France; he wrote The Kindly Ones in French) a couple of years ago and again this winter in Charlotte Mandell’s adroit English translation. Both times, I found myself looking forward to the moment when I was done with other business and could get back to reading about Max Aue and his grisly travels.

I am not the only one: the book has sold well over a million copies in Europe, and won the Prix Goncourt, France’s biggest literary prize. As I write this essay, it’s too soon to say if The Kindly Ones will be a big seller in the United States, but some omens are good. When the English translation was published in March of this year, Michael Korda wrote in the Daily Beast, “I guarantee you, if you read this book to the end, and if you have any kind of taste at all, you won’t be able to put it down for a moment—lay in snacks and drinks!” Yes, by all means, if you can keep them down. Reading The Kindly Ones isn’t a comfortable experience, or an ennobling one, but it’s certainly compelling, at least for some readers. The question I want to ask is, why?

Maybe the place to begin is near the end of The Kindly Ones, when Aue finds himself in a marsh:

We made our way through a little meadow covered with tall, thick grass, sodden and bent; beyond stretched out more sheets of water; there was a little padlocked hunter’s cabin, also standing in water. The snow had completely disappeared. There was no use sticking to the trees, our boots sank into the water and the mud, the wet ground was covered with rotten leaves that hid quagmires. Here and there a little island of firm land gave us courage. But farther on it became completely impossible again; the trees grew on isolated clumps or in the water itself, the strips of earth between the puddles were also flooded, wading was difficult, we had to give up and go back to the dyke.

This isn’t by any means the toughest terrain Aue has crossed. In the fall of 1941 he slogged through “black, thick mud” from Kiev to Kharkov, following the Wehrmacht’s advance into the U.S.S.R.; in the winter of 1943 he was skulking in the rubble of Stalingrad; he has seen the death camps at Auschwitz and survived the Allied bombing of Berlin. Max Aue witnesses every phase of the Final Solution; in fact, this witnessing is the reason for his existence. Littell, in an interview withLe Monde des Livres, describes Aue as a “roving X-ray, a scanner.” He exists so Littell can attempt a human answer to the questions that still loom over the history of the Holocaust: why? And how?

I want to set those questions, and Aue’s answers, aside for a moment, to talk about this relatively unimportant moment in which Aue, along with his friend Thomas and their driver, Piontek, are trying to rejoin the German lines. What can we say about it? Well, for one thing, the little cabin is remarkable. By the time Aue gets to the marsh, the book is almost over, and we know, in gross, anyway, how the story will end: the Germans are going to lose. And yet Aue takes the time to see the cabin, to remember it, and to describe it. This is a literary strategy known, I believe, as “realism,” but there’s something hallucinatory about Aue’s refusal to sort important from unimportant information, as though he really were a “scanner” and not a person. (Littell has refused to sell the film rights to The Kindly Ones, on the grounds that it would be impossible to make the book into a film, but the effect is distinctly cinematic.) In this scene, the beneficiary of Aue’s X-ray vision is the landscape, which rolls past as if in real time; Aue is trudging, and you, the reader, have to trudge along with him.

[…] The preternatural quality of Max Aue’s memory has been remarked on before; it’s the basis for one of the most telling and often-cited criticisms of The Kindly Ones.Claude Lanzmann, who directed the film Shoah, wrote that

Littell’s “hero” speaks torrentially for 900 pages, this man who doesn’t know what a memory is remembers absolutely everything. One has the right to ask, is Aue flesh and blood? Is Aue a man? Does Aue exist? He speaks like a book, like all the history books Littell has read. At the moment when the last witnesses of the Shoah are disappearing, and the Jews are anxious because memory is becoming History, Jonathan Littell flips the terms of the opposition, and gives his memoryless SS “hero” History as memory.

The danger of this procedure is that it will undermine the value of witnessing, precisely because it’s more complete than any eyewitness account. No one could have seen as much as Max Aue, but there’s something impossibly seductive about the idea that someone could have seen it all, that we could have both the totality of History and the authority of presence. Lanzmann fears that people will stop watching Shoah, stop reading Raul Hilberg’s The Destruction of the European Jews, and pick up The Kindly Ones instead, that the fiction will in time replace the fact.[2] It’s a possibility worth fearing; but let’s assume for a moment that Jonathan Littell is not an idiot—pace the opinion of at least one German critic[3]—and that he knows what risk he runs by this procedure of turning History into memory. Why would he do it?

Here we come back to the question of how. How could the Final Solution have taken place? As Lanzmann observes, the SS don’t speak; it’s impossible to get them to tell their side of the story. Max Aue does speak, but the answer he gives is as predictable as it is unsatisfying: he is “just like you,” and people like you are capable of carrying out even the most horrific acts when the circumstances demand it. “[I]f you are an American, consider your little Vietnam adventure,” he writes,

which so traumatized your fellow citizens. You lost fifty thousand troops there in ten years: that’s the equivalent of a little less than three days and two hours’ worth of dead on the Eastern Front, or of some thirteen days, twenty-one hours, and twenty-five minutes’ worth of dead Jews. I obviously am not including the Vietnamese dead; since you never speak of them, in your books or TV programs, they must not count for much to you. Yet you killed forty of them for every single one of your own dead, a fine effort even compared to our own, and one that certainly speaks for the value of technical progress.

Never mind that the Vietnam war was conducted under an idea, however absurd, of strategic gains and losses, whereas the Final Solution had the distressing and unfathomable quality of being an end in itself; in a total war there can be no civilians (this is Aue’s reasoning), only the fight of one mass against another. In such a fight every participant is equally guilty: the killers with blood on their hands and the supply officers who fuel the trucks. You might have died rather than shoot, but would you have died rather than pump gasoline?

This is an argument that got tested at Nuremberg without a lot of success; it does not compel belief. That’s what Aue’s prodigious memory is for. In the middle of the novel, and the war, Max Aue is sent to inspect the concentration camps of Poland, to see what he can do about getting the inmates better rations, a quixotic errand. When he gets to the Lublin camp, things turn out to be complicated, not only because Aue’s mission is incompatible with the purpose of the camp, but also, and above all, because it’s hard to figure out who’s in charge. “Out of about four hundred and fifty men, not counting the Hiwis [local recruits],” a deputy explains,

almost a hundred were assigned to us by the Führer’s Chancellery. Almost all our camp commanders are from there. Tactically, they’re under control of the Einsatz, but administratively, they depend on the Chancellery. They supervise everything having to do with salaries, leaves, promotions, and so on. Apparently it’s a special agreement between the Reichsführer and Reichsleiter Bouhler. Some of those men aren’t even members of theAllgemeine-SS or of the Party. But they’re all veterans of the Reich’s euthanasia centers; when most of those centers were closed, some of the personnel, with Wirth at their head, were transferred here so the Einsatz could profit from their experience.

Get it? Not quite? Good. The enormous quantity of information contained in The Kindly Ones (you could call the novel “encyclopedic,” but, given its narrator’s subjective bias, “wikipedic” might be a better way of putting it) serves not only to enchant, but also to distract. With so many administrative structures in play, so many names and ranks and acronyms and badges and bosses to keep track of, how can you think about what KL Lublin[4] was for? The more immediate, and more satisfying because more achievable, task consists in doing what Aue does: sussing hierarchies, admiring or deploring moves made in the game of Nazi power.

It’s thinking like this that got Eichmann in trouble. Hannah Arendt, reporting on the SS officers’ 1961 trial for the New Yorker, observed that “except for an extraordinary diligence in looking out for his personal advancement, [Eichmann] had no motives at all.” Max Aue, who meets Eichmann again and again over the course of The Kindly Ones, puts it more bluntly: “He had a very harsh attitude but at bottom it was the same to him whether or not the Jews were killed, the only thing that counted, for him, was to show what he could do, to prove his worth, and also to use the abilities he had developed, for the rest of it, he didn’t give a fuck, either about industry or about the gas chambers for that matter, the only thing he did give a fuck about was that no one fucked with him.…” Eichmann was guilty of mass murder, but he is infamous for thoughtlessness, for not giving a fuck. As Arendt says, “He merely, to put the matter colloquially, never realized what he was doing.

Call it the danger of Too Much Information: if your mind is occupied with bureaucratic turf wars, how can you make room to think about what’s happening in the crematoriums that smoke just a few hundred meters away, polluting the air with the smell of burning flesh? Especially when the gulf between the one kind of awareness and the other is so vast: the first belongs to the world of information, whereas the second belongs to the order of knowledge. You can have all the information in the world about the camps—Eichmann had much of it—butknowing them is something else entirely.

Now think for a moment about the complicated, perverse thing which The Kindly Ones does to you, the reader. Anyone could tell you that information and knowledge are two different things, that it’s possible to be ignorant even in the thick of the facts. Arendt could tell you that; her remark that Eichmann’s self-important ignorance illustrates the banality of evil has itself become a banality. But how, short of participating in a genocide, can you know what it’s like to be thoughtless? This is the door to which Max Aue holds (or rather is) the key. The book abounds with markers of lived experience: the icy waters of the marsh, the “insomniac dead” who lie scattered by the side of the road to Kiev, the diarrhea and vomiting fits that plague Aue all through the war, and afterward. These signs draw you in; they give you the feeling of knowing, but all you’re getting is information. The effect is weirdly stupefying—which is, perhaps, how Eichmann felt, after a while.

Link: On Heidegger and Nazism

It’s not news that Heidegger had more than a flirtation with Nazism.

The controversy stirred up by the revelations in Evelyn Barish’s new biography of the literary scholar and “deconstructionist” Paul de Man (which Louis Menand recently discussed in the magazine) will, I suspect, seem like a collegial colloquium compared with the uproar attending the publication of the philosopher Martin Heidegger’s “Schwarzen Hefte” (“Black Notebooks”), written between 1931 and the early nineteen-seventies.

The first three volumes (1931-41), have been released in German in the past few months. They’re being published only now because, according to their editor, Peter Trawny, Heidegger requested that they be the final publications in his complete works. The notebooks have been the talk of European op-ed pages, and much of the discussion—at least, in Germany, France, and Great Britain—is centered on their revelations of Heidegger’s deep-rooted and unambiguous anti-Semitism.

It’s not news that Heidegger (1889-1976) had more than a flirtation with Nazism. After becoming a Party member, in 1933, he was named rector of the University of Freiburg, and he praised the Party in his inaugural address. He resigned from the job the following year (though he remained in the Party). Even as a high-school philosophy buff, in the seventies, I knew of Heidegger’s enthusiasm from reading “An Introduction to Metaphysics,” from 1935, which contains a line of praise for National Socialism. When Victor Farias’s book “Heidegger and Nazism,” which amplified the historical record of Heidegger’s activities and public remarks during the time of the Third Reich, appeared, in 1987, it became, as Menand writes, a central topic of debate in the intellectual world for a time. It also gave rise to Jacques Derrida’s book “Of Spirit: Heidegger and the Question,” which defends Heidegger by showing that the underpinnings of his philosophy—his vocabulary and his network of metaphors—were the same as those of the era’s ostensibly liberal thinkers.

But early debate about “Black Notebooks” is focussed on Heidegger’s acknowledgment of the important role of anti-Semitism in his philosophy. Unlike de Man, whose anti-Semitic texts, written when de Man was in his early twenties, seemed mainly a matter of overweening careerism, Heidegger’s “Notebooks” are works of the full flowering of his philosophical maturity, written privately, as a means for him to work out his ideas. Heidegger has long been suspected of anti-Semitism in his private life, as well as of collaboration with an anti-Semitic regime, but, Trawny writes, “nobody would have suspected an anti-Semitism transmuted into philosophy.” (Trawny’s new book is titled “Heidegger and the Myth of the Jewish World Conspiracy.”)

According to Thomas Assheuer, writing in Die Zeit, “The Jew-hatred in ‘Black Notebooks’ is no afterthought; it forms the foundation of the philosophical diagnosis.” In other words, these newly published writings show that, for Heidegger, anti-Semitism was more than just a personal prejudice. In the GuardianPhilip Oltermann offers some choice passages:

“World Judaism,” Heidegger writes in the notebooks, “is ungraspable everywhere and doesn’t need to get involved in military action while continuing to unfurl its influence, whereas we are left to sacrifice the best blood of the best of our people.”

In another passage, the philosopher writes that the Jewish people, with their “talent for calculation,” were so vehemently opposed to the Nazi’s racial theories because “they themselves have lived according to the race principle for longest.”

The French philosopher Emmanuel Faye picks up on one notably insidious term in the new publications:

We know that [Heidegger] speaks in his “Black Notebooks” of the “worldlessness” of Judaism…. Jews aren’t just considered to lack a homeland, they are said definitively to be worldless. It’s worth recalling that worldlessness is an expression that Heidegger doesn’t even use for animals, which, in a 1929 lecture, he calls “world-poor.” In this complete dehumanization of Judaism, the Jews no longer have a place in the world, or, rather, they never had one. We also discover…that the Heideggerian idea of “being-in-the-world” which is central to “Being and Time” can take on the meaning of a discriminatory term with an anti-Semitic intent.

Oltermann adds that Heidegger also “argues that like fascism and ‘world judaism,’ Soviet communism and British parliamentarianism should be seen as part of the imperious dehumanising drive of western modernity.” Yet, in the magazine Prospect, the philosopher Jonathan Rée attempts to defend Heidegger by minimizing the significance of this idea: “One of his arguments is that Judaism, like Bolshevism and Fascism, participates in the corrosive calculative culture of modernity, even though it goes back thousands of years.” This makes me wonder about Rée as well: Isn’t it a priori anti-Semitic to consider Judaism “corrosive”? And wouldn’t that idea, as Oltermann suggests, place anti-Semitism at the core of Heidegger’s philosophical conception of history?

So the discussion has begun. But the underlying question is: Why the ongoing fascination with deconstructionism and with the work of the philosopher whose radical works inspired it? Why does this philosophical strain seem strangely central to the conception of modern criticism, even as it recedes in influence? And why do these thinkers’ personal lives and ideological compromises seem unusually relevant to their work, beyond the usual scandal-sheet Schadenfreude?

It may have something to do with their distinctive views regarding the relevance (or, rather, irrelevance) of character and personality to the objects of their study. Menand offers a crucial insight in his Critic at Large piece on de Man, explaining that deconstructionism offered a sort of nuclear physics of literature:

It generated intellectual power by bracketing off most of what might be called (with due acknowledgment of the constructed nature of the concept) the real-life aspects of literature—that literature is written by people, that it affects people, that it is a report on experience. But it was exciting to get inside the atom.

The crucial difference is that, when a physicist splits atoms, they’re not the atoms of the chair that he’s sitting on or of the equipment that he’s splitting them with. Deconstruction pulls the chair out from under the reader, compels the reader to undermine his own habits of reading. By dissolving the overt categories of reading—plot, story, style, character, moral—deconstruction wrenched literature away from the amateurs and delivered it to the sole care of academics, who alone had the tools with which to approach it. Thus, it transformed the academic study of literature from a marginal scholarly apparatus of footnotes to the only game in town, thereby turning traditional readers into spectators.

Deconstruction is a reflexive philosophy: it makes the very notion of literary analysis a self-revealing, self-questioning, quasi-poetic creation, undoing the traditional hierarchy by which the literary critic is the handmaiden of the creative writer. This philosophy doesn’t merely study the art of writing, it fuses with the art; instead of depersonalizing literary criticism into a quasi-scientific activity, it turns the literary critic into a self-defined peer of the novelist and the poet. (Similarly, Roland Barthes’s famous “death of the author” was actually the birth of a new author; namely, the critic who proclaimed that death.)

Heidegger happens to have been—a blessing and a curse—a brilliant writer, whose serpentine, spellbinding prose was both an argument against the traditional authority of logical reasoning and a performative undermining of that authority. (De Man, by contrast, is a rather dully mechanical writer; when I read his books in college, I found it strange that his influence should have survived his prose.)

But, even without particular regard to Jews and Nazis, Heidegger’s brilliance was intrinsically political. For Heidegger, the project of rescuing language from the ostensible truth of logic and restoring it to iridescent incantation implied kicking out the intellectual struts from under the claims to progress on the part of technological society. By undermining logic and science, Heidegger also undermined the Enlightenment—and the individualism, the freedoms, the claim to rights that are made in the name of reason and progress. Even apart from his specific ideological pronouncements, Heidegger was, philosophically, an anti-humanist rightist.

Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) is another splendid writer whose prose is also a performance of his philosophy. But, for Derrida (who was Jewish), the project of deconstruction, with its undoing of long-sedimented hierarchies and categories, was, in effect, a way of attacking traditional power structures philosophically. If I had to sum up his life’s work in a single sentence, it would be: redefining the Heideggerian project as leftist. Derrida is gone now, but, with the discovery of Heidegger’s “Black Notebooks,” this reconstruction of Heidegger may prove harder, in retrospect, for his acolytes to sustain.

Link: Culture War: How the Nazi Party Recast Nietzsche

"Fitting Nietzsche’s ideas into a single worldview was no simple matter, but this was precisely the mission of the ‘Völkischer Beobachter’’s editors and writers: to make even complex ideas such as Nietzsche’s appear to coordinate with the main tenets of Nazism."

High culture played an important political role in Hitler’s Germany. References to music, history, philosophy, and art formed a key part of the Nazi strategy to reverse the symptoms of decline perceived after World War I. Allusions to great creators and their works were used as propaganda to remind the Volk to love and worship their nation. In the words of the French scholar Eric Michaud, author of The Cult of Art in Nazi Germany, the Nazis used culture “to make the genius of the race visible to that race.” And to cap off these images of a great national culture, the Nazis heralded Adolf Hitler, the Führer, as an artistic leader.

As Michaud put it: “Hitler presented himself not only as a ‘man of the people’ and a soldier with frontline experience (Fronterlebnis), but also and above all as a man whose artistic experience constituted the best guarantee of his ability to mediate the Volksgeist and turn it into the ‘perfect Third Reich.’”

The revival of a culturally rich Germany as the so-called Third Reich, however, would be achieved only once those whom the Nazis considered its enemies were all destroyed. So war and culture went together in the National Socialist agenda. Art, said Hitler’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, “is no mere peacetime amusement, but a sharp spiritual weapon for war.”

To understand how Nazis employed culture to define and promote their broadest ambitions, I looked to German mass media, in particular the main Nazi newspaper, the Völkischer Beobachter, whose cultural pages I examined for the years 1920 to 1945. While the Nazi co-optation of many great figures in the Western intellectual tradition during these eventful years proves revealing, one need look no further than the party’s claim on Friedrich Nietzsche to see how culture became entwined in the discourse of politics and war in the pages of Hitler’s foremost propaganda outlet.

Fitting Nietzsche’s ideas into a single worldview was no simple matter, but this was precisely the mission of theVölkischer Beobachter’s editors and writers: to make even complex ideas such as Nietzsche’s appear to coordinate with the main tenets of Nazism. Looking into the shifting terms with which the daily newspaper presented Nietzsche helps us toward understanding how the Nazi party attempted to place his biography and writings—along with the tradition of Kultur as a whole—at the service of the Nazi outlook.

In addressing the “Germanness” of Nietzsche, however, the cultural politicians of the party faced some difficulties. The newspaper did not try to verify Nietzsche’s racial origins—as it did for many other Western creators, including and especially Wagner and Beethoven—despite the fact that he occasionally claimed to be of Polish heritage. But it did have to confront indications that the philosopher rejected nineteenth-century trends of nationalistic identification.

As one contributor to the Völkischer Beobachter wrote, there is “one important point in Nietzsche’s mental attitude on which even his friends have remained silent, from which they tried to distance themselves as much as possible: this is the matter of Nietzsche’s attitude toward Germanness and the state.” The philosopher, according to the paper, had seen with “sharp eyes” that while the Second Reich had been formed, it still “remained a shell without content” under Otto von Bismarck’s Realpolitik. To him, nationalism was the “illness of the century” because it “attempted to hide its emptiness.” In his words, “Nationalism as it is understood today is a dogma that requires limitation.”

But the point to keep in mind, according to the Völkischer Beobachter, was the qualifying phrase: “as it is understood today.” Nietzsche’s opinions about the German state could be understood only with reference to this phrase—that is, as critiques of his own specific time, not as categorical rejections of German nationalism.

This opened the way for the newspaper to present Nietzsche as a fervent patriot and strong representative of “Germanness.” In fact, the paper reminded, Nietzsche actually said of himself that “I am perhaps more German than the Germans of today.” And he valued the “earnest, manly, stern, and daring German spirit.” He knew that “there was still bravery, particularly German bravery,” that is, “inwardly something different than the élan of our deplorable neighbors.” Compared with the French essence, in particular, he was “consistently, strongly, and happily conscious of the virtues” of the German character. Above all, Nietzsche held that “it is German unity in the highest sense which we are striving for more passionately than for political reunification—the unity of the German spirit and life.”

Very few others “saw things so clearly” in those days, said the Völkischer Beobachter. As if on a mission to confirm the philosopher’s Germanness, another contributor traveled to Sils-Maria, wandered the region, and ruminated on passages Nietzsche had written there. The landscape, Ernst Nickell reflected, is “consecrated by German fate and German tragedy.” Nietzsche “needed this landscape; he had to stand near the highest things and the firmament”—because he was “German despite everything.”

Nietzsche was, however, rather ambivalent about politics, having called himself the “last anti-political German of them all.” But Nazi propaganda rigorously promoted the view that the primary creative impulse was as much political as it was artistic. The picture of Nietzsche thus had to be corrected to bring out his political side.

The Völkischer Beobachter admitted that “we find here at first view a sharp contrast with today’s [National Socialist] thinking”—but only at first glance. According to the paper, what Nietzsche understood by the term “state” was completely different from “our idea of the state today.” For him, politicization meant democratization, i.e., the greatest good for the greatest number. This Nietzsche hated, the paper said, because “general prosperity would make mankind too lazy to invest powerful energy in a great individual— in a genius.” That is why Nietzsche wanted “as little state as possible.” A volkish state, directed according to Nazi ideology, however, would revive the genius of the nation, and therefore earn Nietzsche’s support.

The paper acknowledged that Nietzsche had other views that seemed “the complete opposite of our views today.” For instance, he viewed culture and the state as antagonists. This, perhaps, should have made him the oddest of conscripts to the Nazi campaign to subordinate culture to politics and war, but that was not the party line. Such ideas of Nietzsche’s, the Völkischer Beobachter insisted, were likewise conditioned by his own times:

The German Reich had had the misfortune to achieve its external form when there was no longer any inner content. The classical heights of German education had sunk, the song of German Romanticism sounded only from afar. On the other hand, Realism was on the rise, leading more and more toward materialism. Money and business had become the gods of the age.

A state as the “guardian and defender of culture; a state as the means of achieving the true goal of existence, not as a goal in itself; a state that is built on the Volk—that, Nietzsche would have accepted,” the newspaper claimed. Therefore, the philosopher “would have agreed with today’s [National Socialist] German idea of the state with all of his heart.”

Under the Weimar Republic, the Völkischer Beobachter complained, Nietzsche had been invoked far too frequently by “international-democratic literati” as a “star-witness” for their worldview. But, the paper countered, Nietzsche “hated and fought every form of democracy, both political and spiritual,” and he said so in the sharpest possible terms. The notions that “all are the same” and that at base we are all just selfish brutes and riffraff—were symbolic of the democratic age that believed in the equality of men and that established “the weak, fat, and cowardly as standards for this equality.”

In Nietzsche’s opinion, said the Völkischer Beobachter, this rule of the humble amounted to a blow against life itself. Against the democratic and supposedly feeble outlook of the Weimar era, the newspaper argued, Nietzsche set forth a way of thinking that sets laws for the future—an outlook which “handled contemporary things harshly and tyrannically” in the interest of the future.

Thus did the cultural-historical material that appeared in the Völkischer Beobachter resound with the Führer/Artist–Artist/Führer theme that typified Nazi cultural politics. Hitler was the primary manifestation of this creative leadership, but he came, according to this view, after a long line of notable predecessors, including Luther, Beethoven, Wagner, and, yes, Nietzsche.

Cultural renewal in accordance with such perceptions of intellectual history was a central premise of the larger project of the Third Reich, fundamental to Hitler’s aims. But this agenda also contributed to the most destructive impulses of the movement. Indeed, German cultural identity as shaped by the Nazi regime did not merely justify anti-Semitism or policies of extermination, it led to them. Hitler’s racist standards of judgment were grounded in cultural terms, as he stated in Mein Kampf: “If we were to divide mankind into three groups, the founders of culture, the bearers of culture, the destroyers of culture, only the Aryan could be considered as the representative of the first group.” According to the Völkischer Beobachter, Jewish creators such as Heine, Meyerbeer, Mendelssohn, Mahler, and Schoenberg—among many others—supposedly belonged in the latter, so they and their kind had to be eradicated.

Demonstrating that great cultural figures of the past would have agreed with these premises was a priority in the Nazi newspaper. One contributor put it in these stark terms: “to win over to our movement spiritual leaders who think they see something distasteful in anti-Semitism, it is extremely important to present more and more evidence that great, recognized spirits shared our hatred of Jewry.”

In the case of Nietzsche, however, this process required a little more “spin” than the “selective scavenging” for biographical and textual evidence that scholar Steven Aschheim identified as the usual mode of such politicization. Some Völkischer Beobachter contributors recognized that Nietzsche had not been a committed anti-Semite, and had even criticized the anti-Semitic views of Richard Wagner, his own sister, Elisabeth, and her husband, Bernhard Förster. One editor, for instance, said about Nietzsche: “His work contains other crass contradictions and obscurities, especially in his treatment of the Jewish Question, where he sometimes confesses himself as an Anti-Semite, and then as a philo-Semite. Equally obscure is what he understood as race and nation. This may be a result of the eruptive nature of his creativity and the shortness of his life, which didn’t allow him enough time to go into these issues deeply.”

Link: The Nazi Anatomists

Link: Jan Mieszkowski on "Believe and Destroy : Intellectuals in the SS War Machine"

"Believe and Destroy : Intellectuals in the SS War Machine" by Christian Ingrao. Polity. 2013. 432 pp.

Intellectuals cannot be good revolutionaries; they are just good enough to be assassins. — Jean-Paul Sartre, Dirty Hands

Who’s afraid of the intellectuals? Perhaps it’s the same people who can’t get enough of them. Brad Pitt may have been the leading man in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (2009), but it was Christoph Waltz as SS Colonel Hans Landa, “The Jew Hunter,” who stole the show. From the film’s opening scene, Landa is an ambiguous figure, an urbane dandy possessed of great cunning and a remarkable facility with languages yet prone to the exaggerated showmanship of a buffoon. While the pleasurably unnerving spectacle of the evil genius/jester is a venerable trope, Landa complements his campy behavior with the sober declaration that he is far too intelligent to be a true believer in the National Socialist cause and should simply be regarded as a careerist trying to excel at his job. “I’m a detective. A damn good detective,” he tells his American adversaries when they taunt him with his ominous nickname. “Finding people is my specialty. So naturally, I worked for the Nazis finding people. And yes, some of them were Jews.”

Landa is a comic figure, of course, but it is not clear whether he is meant to lampoon the incoherence of our ideas about the Nazis or the vanity of intellect itself. The instability of his persona is a reminder that the study of Hitler’s Germany and the Holocaust is still haunted by questions about what kind of people could perpetrate such unspeakable crimes. One might presume Nazism and intellectualism to be incompatible. In Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963), Hannah Arendt notoriously declared that Adolf Eichmann, one of the chief organizational engineers of the Holocaust, was an obedient functionary rather than an evil monster and had “no insane hatred of Jews.” “Neither perverted nor sadistic,” Eichmann was rather, Arendt argued, “terribly terrifyingly normal.” For Arendt, the key to understanding Eichmann’s behavior lies in his “quite authentic inability to think.” Unable to grasp what anyone else’s viewpoint might be — having read, Arendt muses, no more than one or two serious books in his life — Eichmann was condemned to the oblivion of obtuseness. This supercilious judgment is often held up as proof of Arendt’s intellectual elitism. Would she, one wonders, have taken a cosmopolitan Nazi like Landa more seriously?

In fact, Arendt was well aware that there was a place for the thinking man in the Third Reich. In Eichmann in Jerusalem, she goes out of her way to observe that the heads of the Einsatzgruppen, the paramilitary death squads of the SS that conducted mass killings on the Eastern front, were members of an intellectual elite. How did these men, who did not, unlike Eichmann, suffer from a “lack of imagination,” become an integral part of a sustained genocidal operation of unparalleled scale? The Belgian historian Christian Ingrao’s Believe and Destroy: Intellectuals in the SS War Machine attempts to answer this question.

In the 1990s, a high-profile debate took place between historians Christopher R. Browning and Daniel J. Goldhagen about the participation of “ordinary” Germans, people with no party affiliation and little or no ideological indoctrination, in the Holocaust. In Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland (1992), Browning looked at a unit of middle-aged working-class men and concluded that their willingness to carry out orders to execute Jews was proof of their respect for authority and the power of peer pressure, and not evidence of deep-seated anti-Semitism. Four years later, in Hitler’s Willing Executioners (1996), Goldhagen vehemently contested this conclusion, arguing that an “eliminationist anti-Semitism” was a cornerstone of German culture and crucial for understanding the readiness of individuals such as Browning’s policemen to slaughter civilians. Interest in this dispute was heightened by an exhibition organized by the Hamburg Institute for Social Research entitled “War of Annihilation: Crimes of the Wehrmacht, 1941–1944,” which toured German and Austria from 1995 to 1999. It made a strong case that the German army was actively involved in the planning and implementation of genocide and was not, as many had presumed, a passive bystander to the crimes of the SS.

The past 15 years have seen efforts to complement this research with studies of elite groups at the center of the Nazi world. Ingrao and others have concentrated on the intelligence arm of the SS, the Sicherheitsdienst (“Security Service” — hereafter SD), painting a picture of an extremely professional organization that attracted ambitious, highly educated young men and became a real academic force before serving as the vanguard of genocide. Believe and Destroy focuses on “a group of eighty university graduates: economists, lawyers, linguists, philosophers, historians and geographers.” Drawing on a range of archival sources, Ingrao follows their careers from school and university through their participation in the SD and subsequent efforts to defend themselves in postwar trials. (A dozen members of the group were hanged; most of the others received prison sentences.) He is particularly concerned with the transition from the 1930s, when the SD evolved into an immense surveillance and social science research organization operating inside Germany, to the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, when these men took the first steps toward putting their theories about the Germanification of foreign lands into practice.

The historian Raul Hilberg, who defended Arendt’s account of Eichmann against its many detractors, famously declared that “the German perpetrator was not a special kind of German” but inhabited “a remarkable cross-section of the German population.” Given the breadth and diversity of the Nazi phenomenon, Ingrao’s focus on 80 men of similar backgrounds and careers might seem to offer too narrow a perspective from which to draw conclusions about their distinctive qualities. Moreover, his decision to term his objects of study “intellectuals,” while effective as a provocation to the likely audience for his book, confers a monolithic identity on a collection of individuals who may not have conceived of themselves as a homogenous unit, much less as part of an intelligentsia.

Ingrao is well aware of such concerns. While at times he appears to come close to romanticizing his subjects — the opening line of the book is: “They were handsome, brilliant, clever, and cultivated” — these are controlled, ironic gestures, designed to foreground the ways in which myth-making can permeate even the most rigorously positivistic historiography. As much as a piece of empirical research, Believe and Destroy is a book about the methodological challenges confronting the study of Nazism, and the narrow path the historian must navigate through a minefield of potential errors. Ingrao argues that existing scholarship on the Nazi elite has been overly reliant on poorly defined concepts of “ambition,” “careerism,” and “obedience,” and the resulting explanations have been either too abstract or too dependent on a “degraded Freudianism.” Not only have scholars ignored the larger cultural dynamics in which Nazi-era Germans lived and worked, Ingrao claims, they have “artificially bridged [the] gap between statistical reality and psychological life.” As a consequence, analyses of the behavior and motives of the perpetrators of the Holocaust have too often devolved into an unproductive series of oppositional diagnoses, as if the people responsible for the genocide must have been either fanatics or opportunists, free agents or pawns, calculating monsters or functionaries unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Link: "I Was A Nazi, And Here's Why"

Few perpetrators seek out their victims, let alone write books about them. Melita Maschmann, a former Nazi, published just such a book…

In recent years, many victims of violence have written memoirs in which they seek out and confront the perpetrators who harmed them. The opposite is rare. Few perpetrators seek out their victims, let alone write books about them. But fifty years ago this month, Melita Maschmann, a former Nazi, published just such a book.

“Fazit,” which was translated as “Account Rendered” in 1964, is the memoir of a woman who, as a fifteen-year-old and against her family’s wishes, joined the Hitler Youth. Before and during the Second World War, Maschmann worked in the high echelons of press and propaganda of the Bund Deutscher Mädel, the girls’ section of the Nazi youth organization, and, later, she supervised the eviction of Polish farmers and the resettlement of ethnic Germans on their farms. Arrested in 1945 at the age of thirty-three, she completed a mandatory de-Nazification course and became a freelance journalist.

Soon after her release from internment in 1948, Maschmann wrote a letter to a Jewish former classmate with whom she had the kind of passionate friendship common among adolescent girls. She didn’t know if her friend had made it out of Berlin before the war, or if her mother (whose address she had obtained) would pass the letter on. “I don’t know if it reached you,” the author writes. “Since then I have often continued my conversation with you, awake and in dreams, but I have never tried to write any of it down. Now, today, I feel impelled to do so. I was prompted to this by a trivial incident. A woman spoke to me in the street and the way she held her head suddenly reminded me quite strikingly of you. But what is the real reason which made me sit down and write to you as soon as I came in? Perhaps in the intervening years I have, without being aware of it, prepared an account within me which must be presented.”

“Account Rendered” is written in the form of a second book-length letter. “With you as a witness,” the author writes, in a painful, exhaustive, seemingly scrupulous portrait of her younger self, “I should like to try once more to go over the result of my reflections on the past. You will compel me to be much more precise than I could be if left to myself.”

Maschmann is acutely aware that her friend might view her project as self-justifying, but writes, “Even the element of fate in a person’s life does not dispose of individual guilt, I know that. What I hope, dare to hope, is that you might be able to understand—not excuse—the wrong and even evil steps which I took and which I must report, and that such an understanding might form the basis for a lasting dialogue.”

Maschmann elaborated on her purpose to Hannah Arendt in 1963, in a letter that expressed her desire to help former Nazi colleagues reflect on their actions, and to help others “better understand” why people like her had been drawn to Hitler. (Their brief correspondence can be read online.)

A deft writer and practiced propagandist who understood the power of a vivid quote, detail, or anecdote, Maschmann portrayed herself as a girl who came of age in a culture imbued with the shame of Germany’s defeat in the First World War. “Before I understood the meaning of the word ‘Germany,’ I loved it as something mysteriously overshadowed with grief…,” she writes. Her wealthy parents, avid newspaper readers and members of the conservative German National Party, complained about “the chaotic squabbling of Parliament” and the millions of people out of work, but had a sign affixed to their door that read “No Hawkers or Beggars.” Melita sympathized with them, and with the maid, chauffeur, and house seamstress. The latter wore an embossed metal swastika under the lapel of her coat, spoke movingly of Hitler, and was instrumental in Melita’s resolve “to follow a different road from the conservative one prescribed for me by family tradition.” The book documents twelve years of following that road.

“Account Rendered” appeared at a time when Arendt’s phrase “the banality of evil” was making its way into public conversation, and while the West German parliament was debating the statute of limitations on crimes committed by Nazis. Some critics found the text candid and forthright; others considered it defensive, prevaricating, and melodramatic. Some of Maschmann’s former colleagues, Nazis who were issued kerosene with which to burn their documents at the end of the war, viewed it as a betrayal, and never forgave her for writing it.

In Germany, the book went through eight editions (the last in 1987) and was added to high-school reading lists in some school districts. It became part of Germany’s private, public, and scholarly debates over its own history. Historians of the Nazi period—Daniel Goldhagen and Claudia Koonz, among others—used “Account Rendered” as a primary source. Women’s studies researchers tried to discover in it the mentality of a female perpetrator. Students of memoir used the text to showcase the vagaries of personal narrative; sociologists looked for a relation between the literary work and the cultural setting from which it arose. Some readers questioned Maschmann’s reliability as a narrator, her motivation, and whether or not she was representative of ordinary Germans. They theorized about the Jewish friend to whom the memoir is addressed: Was she a construct, a composite, or a reality?

No one could answer those questions, because soon after the book’s publication, its author effectively disappeared from public view. She had found a guru, Sri Anandamayi Ma, a woman venerated as a “living saint,” in India. Maschmann took a Hindu name, lived in Indian ashrams, and returned to Germany only on brief family visits every two or three years.

I had never heard of Melita Maschmann until a friend, the former editor Arthur Samuelson, described “Account Rendered” as one of the most interesting memoirs he had ever read. My husband and I republish classic non-fiction as e-books at Plunkett Lake Press, and we were intrigued. “I found in the memoir someone who had been overtaken by history,” Samuelson told me. “Someone who was struggling to make sense of what no longer made sense, and to understand why it had once done so. And someone whose best self had been attracted to Nazism.”

We read the book and began to research its history.

First, we located Maschmann’s remaining family in Germany and France. According to her sister-in-law, now in her nineties, Maschmann had trouble finding friends and establishing a postwar life. She travelled, took some university courses, and freelanced for newspapers. In 1962, she toured Afghanistan and India and, after publishing her memoir, decided to leave Germany.

Among the scholars who continue to be intrigued by Maschmann is Dagmar Reese, the author of “Growing Up Female in Nazi Germany.” She recalled that she had come across a footnote in an essay by the late Irmgard Klönne suggesting that Maschmann’s Jewish friend was not a literary construct but an actual person: Marianne Schweitzer, the daughter of the physician Ernst Schweitzer and Franziska Körte Schweitzer of Berlin. We located her at her home in La Jolla, California, and she almost hung up when we called, thinking we were telemarketers.


Stumbling over the Past
In Berlin, more and more victims of the Nazis are being remembered with Stolpersteine—brass plates, embedded in concrete, in the streets where they lived. Andreas Kluth traces the stories behind the stones.
On a hot July evening in 2012, Menasheh Fogel, his wife and three children were returning from a favourite haunt, the sandy beach at Wannsee, one of the lakes on the western outskirts of Berlin. Fogel, still in his beach clothes, parked near their home on Bamberger Strasse, a charming street of old buildings with high ceilings. As he unloaded their beach toys, his wife started chatting with an older man on the other side of the street. “He was just talking in English to anybody walking by,” Fogel recalls. “He came off as a bit loony, but he was just emotional.” So Fogel, still in his flip flops, walked over and started to listen. The half-hour chat that followed changed the way he relates to his street and city, its past and his present.
The man outside Bamberger Strasse 3 turned out to be Howard Shattner, from Santa Rosa, California, about an hour from Berkeley, where the Fogel family had lived until a year earlier. Like Fogel, Shattner is American and Jewish. And this address was where his family had lived before the war. In 1938, Shattner’s father and two uncles fled Germany. But his grandfather Chaim and aunt Jente stayed. In September 1942, the Nazis came to this building and took them away.
Twelve days before he met Fogel, Shattner had commemorated his grandfather and aunt by embedding two Stolpersteine—”stumbling stones”—in the pavement at Bamberger Strasse 3. He had come back on this day to talk to residents and passers-by about them. They are brass plates sitting on concrete cubes of ten centimetres on each side. Printed into each plate are the details of one victim of National Socialism—Jewish, gypsy, homosexual or other—who had his or her last address at this spot. The information is deliberately kept terse. The stone for Shattner’s grandfather reads:
HERE LIVED CHAIM SHATTNERBORN 1867DEPORTED 22.9.1942THERESIENTSTADTMURDERED 20.12.1943
There are now almost 40,000 such Stolpersteine in several European countries, most in Germany, thousands in Berlin alone. Some streets that used to be centres of Jewish life teem with them. My own street, in elegant Charlottenburg, is one. In front of my own front door are five Stolpersteine, and they were among the first things that my kids and I noticed when we first came to look at the place. We bowed down and I read the inscriptions out loud. My seven-year-old daughter wondered what this might be about. Since she asked, I began to tell them, for the first time, about the Holocaust. As I did so, some of our neighbours-to-be paused and joined us and an ad hoc conversation arose—all before we had even moved in.
In the same way, Fogel had also noticed Stolpersteine in the streets almost immediately after moving to Berlin. There were already several in his own neighbourhood, Bayerische Viertel (Bavarian Quarter) in Schöneberg, not far from Charlottenburg. Built by and for the bourgeoisie in the years just before the first world war, this was and still is a well-to-do area. Most of the streets are named after Bavarian cities, hence the name of the quarter. But so many Jews once lived there, Albert Einstein among them, that its other nickname was “the Jewish Switzerland”.
Berlin, and all Germany, has many memorials and monuments to the Holocaust. But for Fogel these small blocks in the sidewalk made remembrance concrete and therefore more touching, immediate, even eerie. “You can go to the Holocaust Museum in Washington or to the Holocaust Memorial here in Berlin and it’s kind of impersonal and abstract. But this is one person, in one place, and you can imagine what his daily life was like.”
At first I assumed that the Stolpersteine were a government project, organised by the city. Fogel had thought so too. Then, during one of his German lessons, his language teacher told him that they were a private initiative run by an artist, Gunter Demnig, who was born in Berlin and now lives in Cologne. “When I learned that the Stolperstein project was actually a private art project and not something done by a public agency,” Fogel says, “I actually got a little upset. I realised that while there are quite a few Stolpersteine throughout Berlin, the streets would be literally covered in them if all of the victims were memorialised. It really made me realise how many people could easily be forgotten.”
And so the Stolpersteine dredged up every conflicted feeling that Fogel, as a Jew, had about living in Germany. Nobody in his own family died in the Holocaust. On his father’s side, he is fourth-generation American; on his mother’s side, he is fifth-generation. But he is still Jewish. And not only does he now live in Germany, but he works there – in information technology—for Bayer. Today, Bayer is known predominantly for Aspirin, which it invented. But during the Holocaust, Bayer was part of IG Farben, a chemical conglomerate that made, among other things, Zyklon b, the gas used in the death chambers.
Fogel had made a sort of peace with his mixed feelings about his career move. As a tech guy, he is the linear and logical type. “My left brain overrides my right brain,” he says. “I have nuanced feelings because Germany has dealt with the Holocaust so openly and modern Germany has some of the most progressive politics in the world—environment, governance, companies and all that.”
And yet, the past is always there, sedimented into every place. Take that sandy beach at the Wannsee, where the Fogel family had been swimming just before they met Shattner. On a warm day, there are kids splashing in the shallow safe area, bigger kids tumbling from the water slide farther out, and off to the right the nudists are enjoying themselves. But looking diagonally left from the beach, one can see, just across the water, a grey mansion. This is the Villa Wannsee, where 15 leading Nazis met on January 20th 1942—nine months before Chaim Shattner was deported—to decide the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”.

Stumbling over the Past

In Berlin, more and more victims of the Nazis are being remembered with Stolpersteine—brass plates, embedded in concrete, in the streets where they lived. Andreas Kluth traces the stories behind the stones.

On a hot July evening in 2012, Menasheh Fogel, his wife and three children were returning from a favourite haunt, the sandy beach at Wannsee, one of the lakes on the western outskirts of Berlin. Fogel, still in his beach clothes, parked near their home on Bamberger Strasse, a charming street of old buildings with high ceilings. As he unloaded their beach toys, his wife started chatting with an older man on the other side of the street. “He was just talking in English to anybody walking by,” Fogel recalls. “He came off as a bit loony, but he was just emotional.” So Fogel, still in his flip flops, walked over and started to listen. The half-hour chat that followed changed the way he relates to his street and city, its past and his present.

The man outside Bamberger Strasse 3 turned out to be Howard Shattner, from Santa Rosa, California, about an hour from Berkeley, where the Fogel family had lived until a year earlier. Like Fogel, Shattner is American and Jewish. And this address was where his family had lived before the war. In 1938, Shattner’s father and two uncles fled Germany. But his grandfather Chaim and aunt Jente stayed. In September 1942, the Nazis came to this building and took them away.

Twelve days before he met Fogel, Shattner had commemorated his grandfather and aunt by embedding two Stolpersteine—”stumbling stones”in the pavement at Bamberger Strasse 3. He had come back on this day to talk to residents and passers-by about them. They are brass plates sitting on concrete cubes of ten centimetres on each side. Printed into each plate are the details of one victim of National SocialismJewish, gypsy, homosexual or otherwho had his or her last address at this spot. The information is deliberately kept terse. The stone for Shattner’s grandfather reads:

HERE LIVED CHAIM SHATTNER
BORN 1867
DEPORTED 22.9.1942
THERESIENTSTADT
MURDERED 20.12.1943

There are now almost 40,000 such Stolpersteine in several European countries, most in Germany, thousands in Berlin alone. Some streets that used to be centres of Jewish life teem with them. My own street, in elegant Charlottenburg, is one. In front of my own front door are five Stolpersteine, and they were among the first things that my kids and I noticed when we first came to look at the place. We bowed down and I read the inscriptions out loud. My seven-year-old daughter wondered what this might be about. Since she asked, I began to tell them, for the first time, about the Holocaust. As I did so, some of our neighbours-to-be paused and joined us and an ad hoc conversation aroseall before we had even moved in.

In the same way, Fogel had also noticed Stolpersteine in the streets almost immediately after moving to Berlin. There were already several in his own neighbourhood, Bayerische Viertel (Bavarian Quarter) in Schöneberg, not far from Charlottenburg. Built by and for the bourgeoisie in the years just before the first world war, this was and still is a well-to-do area. Most of the streets are named after Bavarian cities, hence the name of the quarter. But so many Jews once lived there, Albert Einstein among them, that its other nickname was “the Jewish Switzerland”.

Berlin, and all Germany, has many memorials and monuments to the Holocaust. But for Fogel these small blocks in the sidewalk made remembrance concrete and therefore more touching, immediate, even eerie. “You can go to the Holocaust Museum in Washington or to the Holocaust Memorial here in Berlin and it’s kind of impersonal and abstract. But this is one person, in one place, and you can imagine what his daily life was like.”

At first I assumed that the Stolpersteine were a government project, organised by the city. Fogel had thought so too. Then, during one of his German lessons, his language teacher told him that they were a private initiative run by an artist, Gunter Demnig, who was born in Berlin and now lives in Cologne. “When I learned that the Stolperstein project was actually a private art project and not something done by a public agency,” Fogel says, “I actually got a little upset. I realised that while there are quite a few Stolpersteine throughout Berlin, the streets would be literally covered in them if all of the victims were memorialised. It really made me realise how many people could easily be forgotten.”

And so the Stolpersteine dredged up every conflicted feeling that Fogel, as a Jew, had about living in Germany. Nobody in his own family died in the Holocaust. On his father’s side, he is fourth-generation American; on his mother’s side, he is fifth-generation. But he is still Jewish. And not only does he now live in Germany, but he works there – in information technologyfor Bayer. Today, Bayer is known predominantly for Aspirin, which it invented. But during the Holocaust, Bayer was part of IG Farben, a chemical conglomerate that made, among other things, Zyklon b, the gas used in the death chambers.

Fogel had made a sort of peace with his mixed feelings about his career move. As a tech guy, he is the linear and logical type. “My left brain overrides my right brain,” he says. “I have nuanced feelings because Germany has dealt with the Holocaust so openly and modern Germany has some of the most progressive politics in the worldenvironment, governance, companies and all that.”

And yet, the past is always there, sedimented into every place. Take that sandy beach at the Wannsee, where the Fogel family had been swimming just before they met Shattner. On a warm day, there are kids splashing in the shallow safe area, bigger kids tumbling from the water slide farther out, and off to the right the nudists are enjoying themselves. But looking diagonally left from the beach, one can see, just across the water, a grey mansion. This is the Villa Wannsee, where 15 leading Nazis met on January 20th 1942nine months before Chaim Shattner was deportedto decide the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”.

Link: George Orwell Reviews Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf"

It is a sign of the speed at which events are moving that Hurst and Blackett’s unexpurgated edition of Mein Kampf, published only a year ago, is edited from a pro-Hitler angle. The obvious intention of the translator’s preface and notes is to tone down the book’s ferocity and present Hitler in as kindly a light as possible. For at that date Hitler was still respectable. He had crushed the German labour movement, and for that the property-owning classes were willing to forgive him almost anything. Both Left and Right concurred in the very shallow notion that National Socialism was merely a version of Conservatism.

Then suddenly it turned out that Hitler was not respectable after all. As one result of this, Hurst and Blackett’s edition was reissued in a new jacket explaining that all profits would be devoted to the Red Cross. Nevertheless, simply on the internal evidence of Mein Kampf, it is difficult to believe that any real change has taken place in Hitler’s aims and opinions. When one compares his utterances of a year or so ago with those made fifteen years earlier, a thing that strikes one is the rigidity of his mind, the way in which his world-view doesn’t develop. It is the fixed vision of a monomaniac and not likely to be much affected by the temporary manoeuvres of power politics. Probably, in Hitler’s own mind, the Russo-German Pact represents no more than an alteration of time-table. The plan laid down in Mein Kampf was to smash Russia first, with the implied intention of smashing England afterwards. Now, as it has turned out, England has got to be dealt with first, because Russia was the more easily bribed of the two. But Russia’s turn will come when England is out of the picture—that, no doubt, is how Hitler sees it. Whether it will turn out that way is of course a different question.

Suppose that Hitler’s programme could be put into effect. What he envisages, a hundred years hence, is a continuous state of 250 million Germans with plenty of “living room” (i.e. stretching to Afghanistan or thereabouts), a horrible brainless empire in which, essentially, nothing ever happens except the training of young men for war and the endless breeding of fresh cannon-fodder. How was it that he was able to put this monstrous vision across? It is easy to say that at one stage of his career he was financed by the heavy industrialists, who saw in him the man who would smash the Socialists and Communists. They would not have backed him, however, if he had not talked a great movement into existence already. Again, the situation in Germany, with its seven million unemployed, was obviously favourable for demagogues. But Hitler could not have succeeded against his many rivals if it had not been for the attraction of his own personality, which one can feel even in the clumsy writing of Mein Kampf, and which is no doubt overwhelming when one hears his speeches …. The fact is that there is something deeply appealing about him. One feels it again when one sees his photographs—and I recommend especially the photograph at the beginning of Hurst and Blackett’s edition, which shows Hitler in his early Brownshirt days. It is a pathetic, dog-like face, the face of a man suffering under intolerable wrongs. In a rather more manly way it reproduces the expression of innumerable pictures of Christ crucified, and there is little doubt that that is how Hitler sees himself. The initial, personal cause of his grievance against the universe can only be guessed at; but at any rate the grievance is here. He is the martyr, the victim, Prometheus chained to the rock, the self-sacrificing hero who fights single-handed against impossible odds. If he were killing a mouse he would know how to make it seem like a dragon. One feels, as with Napoleon, that he is fighting against destiny, that he can’t win, and yet that he somehow deserves to. The attraction of such a pose is of course enormous; half the films that one sees turn upon some such theme.

Also he has grasped the falsity of the hedonistic attitude to life. Nearly all western thought since the last war, certainly all “progressive” thought, has assumed tacitly that human beings desire nothing beyond ease, security and avoidance of pain. In such a view of life there is no room, for instance, for patriotism and the military virtues. The Socialist who finds his children playing with soldiers is usually upset, but he is never able to think of a substitute for the tin soldiers; tin pacifists somehow won’t do. Hitler, because in his own joyless mind he feels it with exceptional strength, knows that human beings don’t only want comfort, safety, short working-hours, hygiene, birth-control and, in general, common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice, not to mention drums, flags and loyalty-parades. However they may be as economic theories, Fascism and Nazism are psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life. The same is probably true of Stalin’s militarised version of Socialism. All three of the great dictators have enhanced their power by imposing intolerable burdens on their peoples. Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people “I offer you a good time,” Hitler has said to them “I offer you struggle, danger and death,” and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet. Perhaps later on they will get sick of it and change their minds, as at the end of the last war. After a few years of slaughter and starvation “Greatest happiness of the greatest number” is a good slogan, but at this moment “Better an end with horror than a horror without end” is a winner. Now that we are fighting against the man who coined it, we ought not to underrate its emotional appeal.


Our Mothers, Our Fathers

A miniseries that aired in Germany this month has enthralled viewers with its emotional portrayal of the role that average people played in WWII. Stripped of moral pretension, it also establishes a new, multigenerational milestone in the country’s culture of remembrance. // Photo: In a radical, inquisitorial manner, the student movement of 1968 demanded accountability from its parents. At the same time, it unwittingly resembled the older generation in its willingness to unquestioningly devote itself to a greater cause and its ideals. But “Our Mothers, Our Fathers” attempts nothing less than directing undisguised attention to the inconsistency of the war generation.

At the end, the famous zero hour, when the survivors meet again in the now-abandoned Berlin pub they used to frequent, tight-lipped, with empty faces and a dull look in their eyes, everything comes down to a single sentence. None of them can say it out loud. It would sound far too weighty in light of the historic nothingness they face in their reunion.
Instead, a voice-over delivers what is, in a sense, the moral of the story following the demise of Nazi Germany in May 1945, establishing both an end and a beginning: “Soon there will only be Germans, and not a single Nazi.”
At this point, the SS major has burned his brown uniform and already sits in a neatly pressed suit at a desk for the occupying power, announcing matter-of-factly that his experience is needed. The others, the war-wounded, look as lost as strangers as they stand in the wreckage, without the slightest idea of what comes next.
But the viewers, with their knowledge of the historical facts, do know what comes next. They already knew what would happen when the five friends said their farewells in the summer of 1941 with the promise: “We’ll see each other at Christmas.” They are familiar with the deceptive nature of the euphoria that followed the first battles of encirclement and drove the German army, now sure of victory, into the broad expanses of Russian territory. They have learned that the SS paramilitary death squads known as Einsatzgruppen were raging behind the front, murdering large numbers of people, women and children included. They also know that the regular German army, the Wehrmacht, was also culpable, if only because it made these crimes against humanity possible in the first place.
Most of all, they know how quickly things went uphill for West Germany after Nazi capitulation. They are familiar with the German economic miracle as a form of compensation, with democracy and Western European unification under the protective cloak of the Allies. And then German partition, the Cold War and the war generation’s long silence and efforts to repress the past, a generation that girded itself with the West German success story. And they know about the recurring shock waves of enlightenment, remembrance, shame, mourning and coming to terms with the past that have rolled across German society at regular intervals since the 1960s.
So why was it necessary to film this ZDF epic, which spends four-and-a-half hours negotiating terrain already surveyed many times before? What accounts for the emotional force of a TV film that attracted 7.63 million viewers for its final episode, a rating of more than 24 percent? If the three-part series hadn’t been such a hit, it would have signaled “that there is no longer a willingness to grapple with this material from the past,” says Nico Hofmann, the producer of “Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter" or "Our Mothers, Our Fathers."
The contemporary witnesses, the war generation of perpetrators and victims, the collaborators, followers and members of the resistance, are dying. As they pass away, they take their actual experiences from Germany and Europe with them. But the past refuses to disappear. Like the undead, demons from the darkness of abstract history are constantly coming to life again. And even if they no longer torment grandparents and parents, because soon there will no longer be any contemporary witnesses left to tell their stories, they will continue to haunt the imaginations of their children and grandchildren.
World War II ended 68 years ago. It has certainly taken time to grapple with the history of that period, but by now virtually everything has been studied, examined and said. For future generations, enlightenment no longer occurs through knowledge and confrontation with the hard facts of real barbarism, but through emotions. It’s as if the Germans, even the very young, to whom tales of the Nazis must feel as if extraterrestrials were at work, still shudder when they think about what their grandmothers and grandfathers were capable of. As if they were afraid that certain patterns of character and behavior could be passed on to future generations.
The concept of the soul of the people or national character is extremely unscientific. But then why do Germans constantly invoke the vow that it should “never happen again?” Why are Germans constantly reinforcing the need to promote democracy, freedom and human rights, as if this were a lesson of history specially created for them?
There is an inescapable suspicion, as irrational as it may seem, and one that it also voiced abroad at every possible opportunity: The German people are a special case, a people who, considering the singularity of their crimes in the 20th century, were historically misdirected. They are an insecure people in constant need of reassurance. Germany apparently remains eternally wounded, dependent upon the healing power of remembrance. Germans must live with their trauma and occasionally reopen the wound to prevent it from festering.
The reactions of 15-year-old schoolchildren who have seen the ZDF series show how important it is to bring the whole of history into the individual’s world of perceptible experience. The culture of remembrance, in its ritualized repetition, creates distance and with it sometimes tedium, just like the repetitious knowledge derived from schoolbooks. The SS thugs and the clamor of Hitler and Goebbels are taken out of time and space, and sterile instruction points to a different world, one that has become unreal. Nazism then turns into a grotesque theater, an impression that filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino can successfully exploit.
By contrast, a series like “Our Mothers, Our Fathers” offers the antidote — an experience of emotional awakening. It attempts to provide an answer to the incredulous question asked by young people today: Grandpa and grandma were there when that happened? Unimaginable! What might appear to non-Germans as just another war drama with moving stories like those portrayed in “Saving Private Ryan,” gains a veracity that is more than just documentary. Producer Hofmann, who has already produced many historical films (“Dresden,” “March of Millions”), believes that he achieves “a transfer between generations” by touching personal feelings, reconstructing family connections and allowing his protagonists to act in the gray zone of the anti-heroic.

Our Mothers, Our Fathers

A miniseries that aired in Germany this month has enthralled viewers with its emotional portrayal of the role that average people played in WWII. Stripped of moral pretension, it also establishes a new, multigenerational milestone in the country’s culture of remembrance. // Photo: In a radical, inquisitorial manner, the student movement of 1968 demanded accountability from its parents. At the same time, it unwittingly resembled the older generation in its willingness to unquestioningly devote itself to a greater cause and its ideals. But “Our Mothers, Our Fathers” attempts nothing less than directing undisguised attention to the inconsistency of the war generation.

At the end, the famous zero hour, when the survivors meet again in the now-abandoned Berlin pub they used to frequent, tight-lipped, with empty faces and a dull look in their eyes, everything comes down to a single sentence. None of them can say it out loud. It would sound far too weighty in light of the historic nothingness they face in their reunion.

Instead, a voice-over delivers what is, in a sense, the moral of the story following the demise of Nazi Germany in May 1945, establishing both an end and a beginning: “Soon there will only be Germans, and not a single Nazi.”

At this point, the SS major has burned his brown uniform and already sits in a neatly pressed suit at a desk for the occupying power, announcing matter-of-factly that his experience is needed. The others, the war-wounded, look as lost as strangers as they stand in the wreckage, without the slightest idea of what comes next.

But the viewers, with their knowledge of the historical facts, do know what comes next. They already knew what would happen when the five friends said their farewells in the summer of 1941 with the promise: “We’ll see each other at Christmas.” They are familiar with the deceptive nature of the euphoria that followed the first battles of encirclement and drove the German army, now sure of victory, into the broad expanses of Russian territory. They have learned that the SS paramilitary death squads known as Einsatzgruppen were raging behind the front, murdering large numbers of people, women and children included. They also know that the regular German army, the Wehrmacht, was also culpable, if only because it made these crimes against humanity possible in the first place.

Most of all, they know how quickly things went uphill for West Germany after Nazi capitulation. They are familiar with the German economic miracle as a form of compensation, with democracy and Western European unification under the protective cloak of the Allies. And then German partition, the Cold War and the war generation’s long silence and efforts to repress the past, a generation that girded itself with the West German success story. And they know about the recurring shock waves of enlightenment, remembrance, shame, mourning and coming to terms with the past that have rolled across German society at regular intervals since the 1960s.

So why was it necessary to film this ZDF epic, which spends four-and-a-half hours negotiating terrain already surveyed many times before? What accounts for the emotional force of a TV film that attracted 7.63 million viewers for its final episode, a rating of more than 24 percent? If the three-part series hadn’t been such a hit, it would have signaled “that there is no longer a willingness to grapple with this material from the past,” says Nico Hofmann, the producer of “Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter" or "Our Mothers, Our Fathers."

The contemporary witnesses, the war generation of perpetrators and victims, the collaborators, followers and members of the resistance, are dying. As they pass away, they take their actual experiences from Germany and Europe with them. But the past refuses to disappear. Like the undead, demons from the darkness of abstract history are constantly coming to life again. And even if they no longer torment grandparents and parents, because soon there will no longer be any contemporary witnesses left to tell their stories, they will continue to haunt the imaginations of their children and grandchildren.

World War II ended 68 years ago. It has certainly taken time to grapple with the history of that period, but by now virtually everything has been studied, examined and said. For future generations, enlightenment no longer occurs through knowledge and confrontation with the hard facts of real barbarism, but through emotions. It’s as if the Germans, even the very young, to whom tales of the Nazis must feel as if extraterrestrials were at work, still shudder when they think about what their grandmothers and grandfathers were capable of. As if they were afraid that certain patterns of character and behavior could be passed on to future generations.

The concept of the soul of the people or national character is extremely unscientific. But then why do Germans constantly invoke the vow that it should “never happen again?” Why are Germans constantly reinforcing the need to promote democracy, freedom and human rights, as if this were a lesson of history specially created for them?

There is an inescapable suspicion, as irrational as it may seem, and one that it also voiced abroad at every possible opportunity: The German people are a special case, a people who, considering the singularity of their crimes in the 20th century, were historically misdirected. They are an insecure people in constant need of reassurance. Germany apparently remains eternally wounded, dependent upon the healing power of remembrance. Germans must live with their trauma and occasionally reopen the wound to prevent it from festering.

The reactions of 15-year-old schoolchildren who have seen the ZDF series show how important it is to bring the whole of history into the individual’s world of perceptible experience. The culture of remembrance, in its ritualized repetition, creates distance and with it sometimes tedium, just like the repetitious knowledge derived from schoolbooks. The SS thugs and the clamor of Hitler and Goebbels are taken out of time and space, and sterile instruction points to a different world, one that has become unreal. Nazism then turns into a grotesque theater, an impression that filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino can successfully exploit.

By contrast, a series like “Our Mothers, Our Fathers” offers the antidote — an experience of emotional awakening. It attempts to provide an answer to the incredulous question asked by young people today: Grandpa and grandma were there when that happened? Unimaginable! What might appear to non-Germans as just another war drama with moving stories like those portrayed in “Saving Private Ryan,” gains a veracity that is more than just documentary. Producer Hofmann, who has already produced many historical films (“Dresden,” “March of Millions”), believes that he achieves “a transfer between generations” by touching personal feelings, reconstructing family connections and allowing his protagonists to act in the gray zone of the anti-heroic.

Link: Excerpt from They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45” by Milton Mayer

“What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could not understand it, it could not be released because of national security. And their sense of identification with Hitler, their trust in him, made it easier to widen this gap and reassured those who would otherwise have worried about it. This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter. […] To live in this process is absolutely not to be able to notice it—please try to believe me—unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us had ever had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’ that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these ‘little measures’ that no ‘patriotic German’ could resent must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.

(Source: sunrec, via sunrec)


Love or Nothing: The Real Greek Parallel with Weimar
Of all the operas written during Germany’s Weimar Republic (1919-33), probably the most haunting is the last.
Kurt Weill’s The Silver Lake, written with playwright Georg Kaiser, tells the story of two losers—a good-hearted provincial cop and the thief he has shot and wounded—as they make their way through a society ruined by unemployment, corruption and vice.
After spending a week again in Greece - amid riots, hunger and far right violence - I finally understood it.
The opera was meant to be Weill’s path back into the mainstream. It was his first break from collaborating with Bertolt Brecht, and was scheduled to open simultaneously in three German cities on 18 February 1933.
But on 30 January Adolf Hitler was appointed Germany’s chancellor.
The first performances of The Silver Lake were disrupted by Nazi activists in the audience and on 4 March 1933 it was banned. The score was torched, together with its set designs, in the infamous book-burning ceremony outside the opera house in Berlin.
It is easy to see why the Nazis didn’t like The Silver Lake. Weill was Jewish; the Nazi theatre critics found the music “ugly and sick”. Moreover the plot contains an allegory of the political situation on the eve of the Nazis’ rise to power.
But there has always been something else about The Silver Lake that goes beyond politics. Something hard to fathom.
Spending time in Greece, as the far right Golden Dawn party breaks up theatre performances with impunity, and street violence is common, I finally know what that something is.
The Silver Lake is ultimately about how people feel when they switch from resistance to hopelessness. And about how strangely liberating hopelessness can be.
Greece right now is a place with a lot of hopelessness. Its own prime minister, Antonis Samaras, has compared its atmosphere to that of the Weimar Republic.
"Greek democracy stands before what is perhaps its greatest challenge," Mr Samaras told the German newspaper Handelsblatt. He said social cohesion is "endangered by rising unemployment, just as it was toward the end of the Weimar Republic in Germany".
The comparison seems plausible: there are far right gangs meting out violence on the streets - a report last week identified more than half of all officially recorded racial attacks as perpetrated by people in paramilitary uniforms. Every demonstration ends with tear gas and baton charges.
There is mass unemployment. There is the collapse of mainstream parties. The press and broadcast media are struggling to remain independent, indeed solvent.
Yet the comparison with the “end of Weimar” only holds if you know nothing about the Weimar Republic itself.
Sadly this condition is common. School students are rightly taught lots about Nazi Germany - but not very much about the detail of how it came into being.
Here’s a short summary. In the elections of 1928 the Nazis, who had - like Golden Dawn in Greece - been reduced to a splinter group in the years of economic recovery, got just 2.7%.
But in March 1930, as the Wall Street Crash cratered the German economy, a cross-party coalition government of the centre left and right collapsed. It was replaced by the first of three “appointed” governments - designed to avoid either the communists or the now-growing Nazis gaining power.
It was led by Heinrich Bruning. Faced with a recession, Bruning followed a policy of austerity, while keeping Germany’s currency pegged to the Gold Standard (much as Greece as follows a policy of austerity dictated by euro membership). This made the recession worse.
As unemployment rocketed, so did the Nazi vote: in a shock breakthrough they came second in the elections of September 1930, with 18%. But Bruning was determined to crack down on both the right and left: he banned the Nazi paramilitary organisation, the sturmabteilung, along with the rival communist uniformed militia.
As recession worsened, the Nazis grew massively: they won the election in 1932, gaining 14 million votes (37%). The socialists and communists combined polled higher. And the parties of the centre collapsed. Yet the presidential system of appointing governments now allowed these very centrist parties to go on ruling Germany - now under a new Chancellor, the aristocrat Franz Von Papen.
Von Papen unbanned the Nazi stormtroopers in June 1932 and, as historian Ian Kershaw puts it in his definitive biography of Hitler: “The latent civil war… was threatening to become an actual civil war.”
By the end of 1932, with the communists now also growing rapidly, the political establishment made one last final attempt to keep Hitler out of power. Right wing general Kurt Von Schleicher was appointed chancellor, and tried to form a government with everybody from the left wing of the Nazis to the socialist trade unions. But this too fell, opening the door to Hitler.
Kershaw wrote: “Only crass errors by the country’s rulers could open up a path [for Hitler]. And only a blatant disregard by Germany’s power elites for safeguarding democracy - in fact, the hope that economic crisis could be used as a vehicle to bring about democracy’s demise and replace it by a form of authoritarianism - could induce such errors. Precisely this is what happened.” (Hitler: Hubris)
These names - Bruning, von Papen, Schleicher - troublesome though they are to remember, should be as famous as the words Stalingrad, Arnhem and Dunkirk.
These were the men who tried and failed to use a mixture of austerity, tough policing and what we might now call “technocratic” rule to save German democracy. They failed.
And herein lies the parallel with Greece: a country committed to austerity, whose centrist parties are clustered into a coalition which represents the forces of conservatism and social democracy. The coalition sees itself as the last bulwark against a government of the far left and is trying to crack down on extremism using a police force which has itself been criticised for extremist leanings.

Love or Nothing: The Real Greek Parallel with Weimar

Of all the operas written during Germany’s Weimar Republic (1919-33), probably the most haunting is the last.

Kurt Weill’s The Silver Lake, written with playwright Georg Kaiser, tells the story of two losers—a good-hearted provincial cop and the thief he has shot and wounded—as they make their way through a society ruined by unemployment, corruption and vice.

After spending a week again in Greece - amid riots, hunger and far right violence - I finally understood it.

The opera was meant to be Weill’s path back into the mainstream. It was his first break from collaborating with Bertolt Brecht, and was scheduled to open simultaneously in three German cities on 18 February 1933.

But on 30 January Adolf Hitler was appointed Germany’s chancellor.

The first performances of The Silver Lake were disrupted by Nazi activists in the audience and on 4 March 1933 it was banned. The score was torched, together with its set designs, in the infamous book-burning ceremony outside the opera house in Berlin.

It is easy to see why the Nazis didn’t like The Silver Lake. Weill was Jewish; the Nazi theatre critics found the music “ugly and sick”. Moreover the plot contains an allegory of the political situation on the eve of the Nazis’ rise to power.

But there has always been something else about The Silver Lake that goes beyond politics. Something hard to fathom.

Spending time in Greece, as the far right Golden Dawn party breaks up theatre performances with impunity, and street violence is common, I finally know what that something is.

The Silver Lake is ultimately about how people feel when they switch from resistance to hopelessness. And about how strangely liberating hopelessness can be.

Greece right now is a place with a lot of hopelessness. Its own prime minister, Antonis Samaras, has compared its atmosphere to that of the Weimar Republic.

"Greek democracy stands before what is perhaps its greatest challenge," Mr Samaras told the German newspaper Handelsblatt. He said social cohesion is "endangered by rising unemployment, just as it was toward the end of the Weimar Republic in Germany".

The comparison seems plausible: there are far right gangs meting out violence on the streets - a report last week identified more than half of all officially recorded racial attacks as perpetrated by people in paramilitary uniforms. Every demonstration ends with tear gas and baton charges.

There is mass unemployment. There is the collapse of mainstream parties. The press and broadcast media are struggling to remain independent, indeed solvent.

Yet the comparison with the “end of Weimar” only holds if you know nothing about the Weimar Republic itself.

Sadly this condition is common. School students are rightly taught lots about Nazi Germany - but not very much about the detail of how it came into being.

Here’s a short summary. In the elections of 1928 the Nazis, who had - like Golden Dawn in Greece - been reduced to a splinter group in the years of economic recovery, got just 2.7%.

But in March 1930, as the Wall Street Crash cratered the German economy, a cross-party coalition government of the centre left and right collapsed. It was replaced by the first of three “appointed” governments - designed to avoid either the communists or the now-growing Nazis gaining power.

It was led by Heinrich Bruning. Faced with a recession, Bruning followed a policy of austerity, while keeping Germany’s currency pegged to the Gold Standard (much as Greece as follows a policy of austerity dictated by euro membership). This made the recession worse.

As unemployment rocketed, so did the Nazi vote: in a shock breakthrough they came second in the elections of September 1930, with 18%. But Bruning was determined to crack down on both the right and left: he banned the Nazi paramilitary organisation, the sturmabteilung, along with the rival communist uniformed militia.

As recession worsened, the Nazis grew massively: they won the election in 1932, gaining 14 million votes (37%). The socialists and communists combined polled higher. And the parties of the centre collapsed. Yet the presidential system of appointing governments now allowed these very centrist parties to go on ruling Germany - now under a new Chancellor, the aristocrat Franz Von Papen.

Von Papen unbanned the Nazi stormtroopers in June 1932 and, as historian Ian Kershaw puts it in his definitive biography of Hitler: “The latent civil war… was threatening to become an actual civil war.”

By the end of 1932, with the communists now also growing rapidly, the political establishment made one last final attempt to keep Hitler out of power. Right wing general Kurt Von Schleicher was appointed chancellor, and tried to form a government with everybody from the left wing of the Nazis to the socialist trade unions. But this too fell, opening the door to Hitler.

Kershaw wrote: “Only crass errors by the country’s rulers could open up a path [for Hitler]. And only a blatant disregard by Germany’s power elites for safeguarding democracy - in fact, the hope that economic crisis could be used as a vehicle to bring about democracy’s demise and replace it by a form of authoritarianism - could induce such errors. Precisely this is what happened.” (Hitler: Hubris)

These names - Bruning, von Papen, Schleicher - troublesome though they are to remember, should be as famous as the words Stalingrad, Arnhem and Dunkirk.

These were the men who tried and failed to use a mixture of austerity, tough policing and what we might now call “technocratic” rule to save German democracy. They failed.

And herein lies the parallel with Greece: a country committed to austerity, whose centrist parties are clustered into a coalition which represents the forces of conservatism and social democracy. The coalition sees itself as the last bulwark against a government of the far left and is trying to crack down on extremism using a police force which has itself been criticised for extremist leanings.


The Architecture of Evil
"For the commission to do a great building, I would have sold my soul like Faust. Now I had found my Mephistopheles. He seemed no less engaging than Goethe’s." —Albert Speer
Someone designed the furnaces of the Nazi death camps. Someone measured the size and weight of a human corpse to determine how many could be stacked and efficiently incinerated within a crematorium. Someone sketched out on a drafting table the decontamination showers, complete with the fake hot-water spigots used to lull and deceive doomed prisoners. Someone, very well educated, designed the rooftop openings and considered their optimum placement for the cyanide pellets to be dropped among the naked, helpless men, women, and children below. This person was an engineer, an architect, or a technician. This person went home at night, perhaps laughed and played with his children, went to church on Sunday, and kissed his wife goodbye each morning.
The technical professions occupy a unique place in modern society. Engineers and architects possess skills most others lack — skills that allow them to transform dreams of design into reality. Engineers can convert a dry, infertile valley into farmland by constructing a dam to provide irrigation; they have made man fly; and architects have constructed buildings that reach thousands of feet into the sky. But these same technical gifts alone, in the absence of a sense of morality and a capacity for critical thought and judgment, can also make reality of nightmares. Ferdinand Porsche, the engineer who designed the Volkswagen — an automobile that revolutionized personal travel for the common man — also designed a terrifying battle tank that helped kill millions of Russians on the Eastern Front. Wernher von Braun, who would later design the Saturn V rocket that brought American astronauts to the Moon, designed the V-2 rockets with which the Nazis terrorized Antwerp and London in the waning months of the Second World War.
Few men better exemplify this danger than Albert Speer, Adolf Hitler’s chief architect. From bold, looming edifices, to giant swastika banners, to the intimidating searchlights of the “cathedral of light” piercing the night sky around one of the Nazi Party rallies at Nuremberg, Speer’s designs became icons of Nazi megalomania. He shared with the dictator a vision of a redesigned Berlin that, when the Third Reich conquered the world, would be a lasting monument to its power for ages to come. “Your husband is going to erect buildings for me such as have not been created for four thousand years,” Hitler told Speer’s wife, reflecting both the scale of their shared ambition and the shared admiration and peculiar friendship that developed between the two men over the course of the war.
Hitler was so enthralled with Speer’s creativity and ability to carry out orders with efficiency and speed that he appointed Speer Minister of Armaments and War Production for the Third Reich during the height of World War II. In this powerful office, Speer was for the final three years of the war in charge of supplying the German military. He oversaw the management of a substantial portion of the German economy; he kept the factories running, and the troops supplied with tanks, bombs, planes, and ammunition, continuing to increase production even during the height of Allied bombing. These accomplishments earned him recognition, from both within the Third Reich and outside it.
Among Speer’s major responsibilities was procuring manpower to keep the factories in operation — and he thus played a major role in instituting the Nazi forced-labor programs. On trial at Nuremberg after the war, Speer claimed full moral responsibility for the whole of the actions of the Nazi Party, and yet professed that he had no knowledge of the extermination of the Jews or the atrocities taking place in concentration camps. Whether or not he was telling the truth about his ignorance of these atrocities has been hotly debated ever since. What is indisputable is that the court did not sentence him to death, as it did many of his peers. Instead he spent twenty years in prison, time he spent reflecting on his memories, coming to terms with his actions, and writing about his life and the inner workings of the Nazi Party — writings he later published as Inside the Third Reich (1970) and Spandau: The Secret Diaries (1976).
Albert Speer did not, as far as any historians know, personally design any death chambers, nor did he personally kill another human being. But Speer did use his brilliant technical expertise and talents to enable the war efforts of the most evil regime in history, allowing it to murder millions of human beings. But even as we condemn him, we must ask — especially we engineers and technicians — is Speer so different from us? How many of us would be willing to compartmentalize our emotions, suppress our consciences, almost to sell our souls, for the opportunity to work on the grand projects that Speer was involved in? How many of us are so focused on solving a technical problem that we fail to contemplate where that solution might lead?

The Architecture of Evil

"For the commission to do a great building, I would have sold my soul like Faust. Now I had found my Mephistopheles. He seemed no less engaging than Goethe’s." —Albert Speer

Someone designed the furnaces of the Nazi death camps. Someone measured the size and weight of a human corpse to determine how many could be stacked and efficiently incinerated within a crematorium. Someone sketched out on a drafting table the decontamination showers, complete with the fake hot-water spigots used to lull and deceive doomed prisoners. Someone, very well educated, designed the rooftop openings and considered their optimum placement for the cyanide pellets to be dropped among the naked, helpless men, women, and children below. This person was an engineer, an architect, or a technician. This person went home at night, perhaps laughed and played with his children, went to church on Sunday, and kissed his wife goodbye each morning.

The technical professions occupy a unique place in modern society. Engineers and architects possess skills most others lack — skills that allow them to transform dreams of design into reality. Engineers can convert a dry, infertile valley into farmland by constructing a dam to provide irrigation; they have made man fly; and architects have constructed buildings that reach thousands of feet into the sky. But these same technical gifts alone, in the absence of a sense of morality and a capacity for critical thought and judgment, can also make reality of nightmares. Ferdinand Porsche, the engineer who designed the Volkswagen — an automobile that revolutionized personal travel for the common man — also designed a terrifying battle tank that helped kill millions of Russians on the Eastern Front. Wernher von Braun, who would later design the Saturn V rocket that brought American astronauts to the Moon, designed the V-2 rockets with which the Nazis terrorized Antwerp and London in the waning months of the Second World War.

Few men better exemplify this danger than Albert Speer, Adolf Hitler’s chief architect. From bold, looming edifices, to giant swastika banners, to the intimidating searchlights of the “cathedral of light” piercing the night sky around one of the Nazi Party rallies at Nuremberg, Speer’s designs became icons of Nazi megalomania. He shared with the dictator a vision of a redesigned Berlin that, when the Third Reich conquered the world, would be a lasting monument to its power for ages to come. “Your husband is going to erect buildings for me such as have not been created for four thousand years,” Hitler told Speer’s wife, reflecting both the scale of their shared ambition and the shared admiration and peculiar friendship that developed between the two men over the course of the war.

Hitler was so enthralled with Speer’s creativity and ability to carry out orders with efficiency and speed that he appointed Speer Minister of Armaments and War Production for the Third Reich during the height of World War II. In this powerful office, Speer was for the final three years of the war in charge of supplying the German military. He oversaw the management of a substantial portion of the German economy; he kept the factories running, and the troops supplied with tanks, bombs, planes, and ammunition, continuing to increase production even during the height of Allied bombing. These accomplishments earned him recognition, from both within the Third Reich and outside it.

Among Speer’s major responsibilities was procuring manpower to keep the factories in operation — and he thus played a major role in instituting the Nazi forced-labor programs. On trial at Nuremberg after the war, Speer claimed full moral responsibility for the whole of the actions of the Nazi Party, and yet professed that he had no knowledge of the extermination of the Jews or the atrocities taking place in concentration camps. Whether or not he was telling the truth about his ignorance of these atrocities has been hotly debated ever since. What is indisputable is that the court did not sentence him to death, as it did many of his peers. Instead he spent twenty years in prison, time he spent reflecting on his memories, coming to terms with his actions, and writing about his life and the inner workings of the Nazi Party — writings he later published as Inside the Third Reich (1970) and Spandau: The Secret Diaries (1976).

Albert Speer did not, as far as any historians know, personally design any death chambers, nor did he personally kill another human being. But Speer did use his brilliant technical expertise and talents to enable the war efforts of the most evil regime in history, allowing it to murder millions of human beings. But even as we condemn him, we must ask — especially we engineers and technicians — is Speer so different from us? How many of us would be willing to compartmentalize our emotions, suppress our consciences, almost to sell our souls, for the opportunity to work on the grand projects that Speer was involved in? How many of us are so focused on solving a technical problem that we fail to contemplate where that solution might lead?


Bebelplatz Memorial, Berlin
The Bebelplatz is known as the site of the infamous Nazi book burning ceremony held in the evening of May 10, 1933 by members of the SA (“brownshirts”), SS, Nazi students and Hitler Youth groups, on the instigation of Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. The Nazis under the leadership of Adolf Hitler burned around 20,000 books, including works by Thomas Mann, Erich Maria Remarque, Heinrich Heine, Karl Marx and many other authors. Some days earlier, on May 6, the students had also dragged the contents library of the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft into the square, burning them on May 10. Today a memorial by Micha Ullman consisting of a glass plate set into the cobbles, giving a view of empty bookcases, commemorates the book burning. Furthermore, a line of Heinrich Heine is engraved, stating “Das war ein vorspiel nur wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen” (in English: “Where they burn books, they ultimately burn people”). Students at Humboldt University hold a book sale in the square every year to mark the anniversary.

Bebelplatz Memorial, Berlin

The Bebelplatz is known as the site of the infamous Nazi book burning ceremony held in the evening of May 10, 1933 by members of the SA (“brownshirts”), SS, Nazi students and Hitler Youth groups, on the instigation of Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. The Nazis under the leadership of Adolf Hitler burned around 20,000 books, including works by Thomas Mann, Erich Maria Remarque, Heinrich Heine, Karl Marx and many other authors. Some days earlier, on May 6, the students had also dragged the contents library of the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft into the square, burning them on May 10. Today a memorial by Micha Ullman consisting of a glass plate set into the cobbles, giving a view of empty bookcases, commemorates the book burning. Furthermore, a line of Heinrich Heine is engraved, stating “Das war ein vorspiel nur wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen” (in English: “Where they burn books, they ultimately burn people”). Students at Humboldt University hold a book sale in the square every year to mark the anniversary.


The Eichmann Polemics: Hannah Arendt and Her Critics
Hannah Arendt, the German Jewish political philosopher who had escaped from a Nazi internment camp, had obtained international fame and recognition in 1951 with her book The Origins of Totalitarianism. Feeling compelled to witness the trial of Adolf Eichmann (‘an obligation I owe my past’), she proposed to the editor of The New Yorker that she report on the prominent Nazi’s trial in Jerusalem. The editor gladly accepted the offer, placing no restrictions on what she wrote. Arendt’s eagerly awaited ‘report’ finally appeared in The New Yorker in five successive issues from 16 February – 16 March 1963. In May 1963 the articles were compiled into a book published by Viking Press, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil.
During the Second World War, Adolf Eichmann had been the head of Section IV- B-4 in the Nazi SS, overseeing the deportation of the Jews to their deaths. After the war Eichmann escaped to Argentina where he lived under an assumed name. In May 1960, the Israeli Security Service, Mossad, kidnapped Eichmann in Argentina and smuggled him to Jerusalem to stand trial for wartime activities that included ‘causing the killing of millions of Jews’ and ‘crimes against humanity.’ The trial commenced on 11 April 1961 and Eichmann was convicted and hanged on 31 May 1962. 
Enormous controversy centered on what Arendt had written about the conduct of the trial, her depiction of Eichmann and her discussion of the role of the Jewish Councils. Eichmann, she claimed, was not a ‘monster’; instead, she suspected, he was a ‘clown.’ He had no ‘insane hatred of Jews’ and did not suffer from any kind of ‘fanatical anti-Semitism.’ She reported Eichmann’s claim that ‘he had never harbored any ill feelings against his victims’ and accepted it as fact. As far as Arendt was concerned, Eichmann simply had ‘an inability to think.’ She concluded: ‘The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal.’ In a postscript to later editions of the book she added that Eichmann simply ‘never realized what he was doing’ and that his criminal actions were due to ‘sheer thoughtlessness.’



Still more shocking to Arendt’s critics was her discussion of the Jewish Councils (Judenrat). These Councils were administrative bodies that the Nazis forced the Jews to establish in many occupied countries. The leaders had to follow Nazi orders under threat of immediate execution for disobedience. These orders included providing Jews for slave labour and organising the deportation of Jews to death camps. 
Although Arendt’s discussion of these Councils took up no more than a few pages, it provoked outrage. ‘To a Jew,’ asserted Arendt, ‘this role of the Jewish leaders in the destruction of their own people is undoubtedly the darkest chapter of the whole dark story.’ The next two sentences proved to be the most controversial: 
Wherever Jews lived, there were recognized Jewish leaders, and this leadership, almost without exception, cooperated in one way or another, for one reason or another, with the Nazis. The whole truth was that if the Jewish people had been really unorganized and leaderless, there would have been chaos and plenty of misery but the total number of victims would hardly have been between four and half and six million people. 
Anson Rabinbach has argued, no doubt correctly, that the controversy surrounding Eichmann in Jerusalem ‘was certainly the most bitter public dispute among intellectuals and scholars concerning the Holocaust that has ever taken place.’ The controversy was so intense that Irving Howe, editor of the democratic socialist magazine Dissent, described it as ‘violent.’ Arendt’s friend Mary McCarthy wrote to her in September 1963 stating that the ferocity of the attacks was ‘assuming the proportions of a pogrom.’ Almost twenty years after the book appeared, Howe was able to write: ‘within the New York intellectual world Arendt’s book provoked divisions that would never be entirely healed.’ The Eichmann in Jerusalem controversy was ‘a civil war that broke out among New York intellectuals.’

The Eichmann Polemics: Hannah Arendt and Her Critics

Hannah Arendt, the German Jewish political philosopher who had escaped from a Nazi internment camp, had obtained international fame and recognition in 1951 with her book The Origins of Totalitarianism. Feeling compelled to witness the trial of Adolf Eichmann (‘an obligation I owe my past’), she proposed to the editor of The New Yorker that she report on the prominent Nazi’s trial in Jerusalem. The editor gladly accepted the offer, placing no restrictions on what she wrote. Arendt’s eagerly awaited ‘report’ finally appeared in The New Yorker in five successive issues from 16 February – 16 March 1963. In May 1963 the articles were compiled into a book published by Viking Press, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil.

During the Second World War, Adolf Eichmann had been the head of Section IV- B-4 in the Nazi SS, overseeing the deportation of the Jews to their deaths. After the war Eichmann escaped to Argentina where he lived under an assumed name. In May 1960, the Israeli Security Service, Mossad, kidnapped Eichmann in Argentina and smuggled him to Jerusalem to stand trial for wartime activities that included ‘causing the killing of millions of Jews’ and ‘crimes against humanity.’ The trial commenced on 11 April 1961 and Eichmann was convicted and hanged on 31 May 1962.

Enormous controversy centered on what Arendt had written about the conduct of the trial, her depiction of Eichmann and her discussion of the role of the Jewish Councils. Eichmann, she claimed, was not a ‘monster’; instead, she suspected, he was a ‘clown.’ He had no ‘insane hatred of Jews’ and did not suffer from any kind of ‘fanatical anti-Semitism.’ She reported Eichmann’s claim that ‘he had never harbored any ill feelings against his victims’ and accepted it as fact. As far as Arendt was concerned, Eichmann simply had ‘an inability to think.’ She concluded: ‘The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal.’ In a postscript to later editions of the book she added that Eichmann simply ‘never realized what he was doing’ and that his criminal actions were due to ‘sheer thoughtlessness.’

Still more shocking to Arendt’s critics was her discussion of the Jewish Councils (Judenrat). These Councils were administrative bodies that the Nazis forced the Jews to establish in many occupied countries. The leaders had to follow Nazi orders under threat of immediate execution for disobedience. These orders included providing Jews for slave labour and organising the deportation of Jews to death camps.

Although Arendt’s discussion of these Councils took up no more than a few pages, it provoked outrage. ‘To a Jew,’ asserted Arendt, ‘this role of the Jewish leaders in the destruction of their own people is undoubtedly the darkest chapter of the whole dark story.’ The next two sentences proved to be the most controversial:

Wherever Jews lived, there were recognized Jewish leaders, and this leadership, almost without exception, cooperated in one way or another, for one reason or another, with the Nazis. The whole truth was that if the Jewish people had been really unorganized and leaderless, there would have been chaos and plenty of misery but the total number of victims would hardly have been between four and half and six million people.

Anson Rabinbach has argued, no doubt correctly, that the controversy surrounding Eichmann in Jerusalem ‘was certainly the most bitter public dispute among intellectuals and scholars concerning the Holocaust that has ever taken place.’ The controversy was so intense that Irving Howe, editor of the democratic socialist magazine Dissent, described it as ‘violent.’ Arendt’s friend Mary McCarthy wrote to her in September 1963 stating that the ferocity of the attacks was ‘assuming the proportions of a pogrom.’ Almost twenty years after the book appeared, Howe was able to write: ‘within the New York intellectual world Arendt’s book provoked divisions that would never be entirely healed.’ The Eichmann in Jerusalem controversy was ‘a civil war that broke out among New York intellectuals.’

Link: I Escaped From Auschwitz

Kazimierz Piechowski is one of just 144 prisoners to have broken out of the notorious Nazi camp and survive. Today aged 91, he tells his extraordinary story.

On 20 June 1942, the SS guard stationed at the exit to Auschwitz was frightened. In front of him was the car of Rudolph Höss, the commandant of the infamous concentration camp. Inside were four armed SS men, one of whom – an Untersturmführer, or second lieutenant, was shouting and swearing at him.

"Wake up, you buggers!" the officer screamed in German. "Open up or I’ll open you up!" Terrified, the guard scrambled to raise the barrier, allowing the powerful motor to pass through and drive away.

Yet had he looked closer, the guard would have noticed something strange: the men were sweating and ashen-faced with fear. For far from being Nazis, the men were Polish prisoners in stolen uniforms and a misappropriated car, who had just made one of the most audacious escapes in the history of Auschwitz. And the architect of the plot, the second lieutenant, was a boy scout, to whom the association’s motto “Be prepared” had become a lifeline.

Almost 70 years later, prisoner 918 is holding forth in the home of the scouting association, Baden Powell House in London. At 91, he is impeccably dressed, with a face as wrinkle-free as his well-ironed shirt. As he accepts the ceremonial neckerchief from a shy girl scout from Lancashire, he is as straight-backed as any of the teenagers on parade. In the UK as the guest of a British singer, Katy Carr, who has written a song about his experiences, he is thrilled when the scouts and guides join her to sing for him. Yet in between the traditional trappings of a jamboree, Kazimierz Piechowski, or Kazik as he likes to be called, will tell them a story few in the UK have heard – how, during Nazi occupation, scouts their age were murdered in the streets, while others like him were sent to concentration camps to witness the horror of Hitler’s Final Solution.