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.


those witches aren’t easy to get to go to rehab

Watch out! She's a witch!

You’ll be very pleased to know that:

Germany Rehabilitates Its Persecuted ‘Witches’

If I know any of you, and to be upfront I don’t think I’ve met many of you, I think you’ll be pleased to learn that Germany is on the road to making things right with the witches.

Now, if you couldn’t be bothered to actually click on the above link, then you might still believe that there are living, breathing witches swarming round the Fatherland either avoiding or willingly taking part in some form of rehabilitation. That’s not exactly the story, but maybe I should’ve left out the link and told that story instead.

No, that’s not what you want. The real story is actually even more surreal.

Here’s how the article describes what’s the buzz, tell me what’s a happenin’:

Tortured and burned at the stake by the tens of thousands, Germany’s alleged witches have been largely forgotten. But thanks to efforts by a small group of activists, a number of German cities have begun absolving women, men and children who were wrongly accused of causing plagues, storms and bad harvests.

Doesn’t that sound delightful? Tens of thousands, really? You’re asking, ‘Well, there were more people back then, weren’t there?’ Well, actually…no. There weren’t. Fewer people. More witches. ‘This was Germany. You know Germany!-there must’ve been more witches,’ you say? Well, that’s mighty xenophobic of you.

At some point, I should actually get around to mentioning here that one can’t see everything German through the lens of the National Socialists. It’s really easy to forget that there was a lot going on over here long before the little Austrian with the weird hair and funny moustache seized power.

Long before all that stuff that the History Channel makes its noise about, there was a very agrarian culture here in Germany. When crops failed or things generally went poorly, somebody had to be blamed. Enter stage right: the witches.

I was raised with the picture of the Salem Witch Trials, so it’d be rather easy for me to believe that this was a peculiarly American phenomenon. Nothing could be further from the truth. The old country didn’t let go of all of its fanatical religious bigots (actually, from what I understand German emigrants didn’t leave because of religious persecution-that was more of an English thing. You know? The Pilgrims and all).

It’s really quite convenient to have such an implausible scapegoat. The anti-social little girl who doesn’t play well with others? Must be a witch. What other explanation might there be. The woman in your village who has that weird cock-eyed smile. The only possibility? Witch, of course. Actually, come to think of it…I think I know a few witches that still live round here.

In comes our heroine Hartmut Hegeler (it’s a name that practically rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?), who as a witch-trial expert has become active in returning the good names of those long ago persecuted. She states clearly what we see today as the blatantly obvious:

“Of course there were no witches, these were all invented crimes,” says Hegeler, who has written 17 books on Germany’s witch trials. “But in hard times it was a good tool for local authorities to place the blame on others for famines and other problems. The witches were a wonderful scapegoat for whenever things went wrong.”

And although I could point out the funny aspects of the story, such as the fact that some of the witches were stitched up for spoiling the production of beer (this is Germany, after all. Beer is important), but instead I’d like to pose a more uncomfortable question.

Who are our witches today? Who are we stringing up and ignoring? The people who watched their neighbours led away to be tried and killed for witch-like tendencies likely breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn’t them. ‘Whew, we dodged that bullet,’ you can almost hear them say.

I guess a better blogger would have a pat answer for you at this point, but I’m just not able.

I do know that we’re likely just as eager to cast somebody out of our realm of acceptability. It’s ok for you to have some relatively outlandish ideas as long as I deem you an acceptable member of my tribe. As soon as I can mentally cross you off my list, then as far as I’m concerned you can be led to the scaffolding just as quickly as they can take you. Good luck with that witch accusation.

I’m not accusing you personally. I’m actually wondering about myself.