has it really been eighty years?

Die Neue Synagoge
Die Neue Synagoge

There’s been a lot in the German media this week about the 80th anniversary of the Nazis taking power in Berlin. Actually, there was much more written about a ridiculous story involving a politician allegedly making sexist remarks to a relatively young journalist more than a year ago, but that’s gotten more than enough coverage. I’m certainly not going to add to it.

The anniversary wasn’t exactly forgotten, but was arguably overshadowed by what seemed to me to be a non-story. Overshadowed maybe but certainly not forgotten.

I took the above photo of Die Neue Synagoge when I was in Berlin last year, and going to that city often makes me think of the plight of the German Jews. Not a pretty story, but important to remember what happened there. Also read something in the Guardian this week that I found compelling. Take a look at Hitler came to power 80 years ago. I remember it like yesterday by Fritz Lustig.

It sounds so cliché to say that we should stay aware of the past to avoid its repetition, but it’s times like these that we need to remember. This generation of people who were actually there are slowly disappearing.

Maybe because I enjoy living in Germany so much, I find myself particularly vigilant about keeping these topics fresh. That’s not to say that I think this country should be forever shunned and cowed by its past.

Nevertheless, most Germans I know have been raised in a particularly pacifistic society that, as a rule, goes out of its way to distance itself from the National Socialists. It’s a difficult balancing act that I think the modern German state does a decent job of walking.

If the German media this week is any indication, this society’s not in danger of forgetting anything. Not remotely.

when words lose their meaning

the Feldherrnhalle where the Bavarian State Police and the Nazis confronted one another

Was going through the papers this morning, and I knew I’d feel it necessary to finally write this today. It’s been festering in my brain for the last few days, and to be honest it’s something I knew I’d eventually be getting round to talking about.

Let’s start with the news today. The German government is threatening not to agree to the next instalment of the Greek bailout if the Greek government doesn’t show that they’ve instituted reforms. The Germans got specific about figures, and even went so far as to demand that so many government workers had to be laid off.

The Greek politician interviewed was incensed, and made noises about sovereignty, which under the circumstances are to be expected. His argument was essentially, ‘Hey, you can’t send EU officials in here that’ll be able to make decisions about the running of the Greek economy.’ It makes a lot of sense what the politician is saying, and the idea of a European bureaucrat running his country is exactly what makes the normal Greek citizen so uncomfortable.

Just the possibility of citizens losing their national sovereignty is one of the things that drives citizens in every EU countryto be a bit nervous if not aggressive. The pictures they see on their television are of German and French leaders getting together and making deals, and the news is always of tighter and tighter austerity.

And the easiest, least creative thing to call the Germans in this situations is a bunch of Nazis. When Germans travel, and people want to ridicule them, the most common curse they hear is ‘You bloody Nazi’. It’s mindless. It’s a sort of knee-jerk reaction to think German=Nazi.

Here’s the sad thing. There are, in fact, some Nazis left. Not the Neo-Nazis that march each February to memorialise the Bombing of Dresden. That’s not who I’m talking about. No, there are living Nazis, and they’re actually rather sad. They’re very old men who either served short prison sentences or avoided doing so by either convincingly arguing they were only following orders or simply blending back into society.

When I think about them, I have to believe that even they know they were on the wrong side of history. They must look around at the swirl of modern life, where people of all colours and creeds live in relative peace, and it must be self-evident that their suppositions and certainties were wrong. Even if it’s not the case, they’re old and brittle and they’ll be gone soon enough.

You could definitely argue the injustice of them being able to live to a ripe old age. I won’t argue with you there, but it’s not at all my point. My point is that the people who today are so casually accused of being Nazis are actually the least deserving of that moniker. They were raised in a society that was shamed and demoralised by the atrocities of the war.

The irony of me even writing about any of this is that I don’t know that much about the National Socialists. Oh, I’m sure I know more than the average person just from living here and visiting the historical sights, but I’m no expert. I’m fascinated with the economical miracle that occurred after the war. I’ve always been drawn to the music and art of the German people.

But the Nazis? Not so much. I understand why it’s important to know about what happened. I do believe that humans continue to be capable of some horrendous things. The thing is when you call a politician who’s trying to save the European currency a Nazi or when you compare the American President to a Nazi…when you do those things, then the meaning of Nazi no longer means anything. It’s just a brainless form of demonisation.

You’re saying more about yourself than you could ever begin to say about those terrible Nazis.