There are several films dealing with this ungodly fascination with a subject that is both taboo and a part of the way things seem to be going. The above clip is from The Boys from Brazil starring Gregory Peck as the notorious “angel of death” of Auschwitz Dr Joseph Mengele and Laurence Olivier as Esra Liebermann, a fictitious character based on Simon Weisenthal. In this clip, Mengele confronts his former victim and gives his diatribe about having created clones of Hitler and how the Nazi ideology would rise again with a new Führer.
Another film is The Odessa File from 1974, based on the novel written two years before by Frederick Forsyth. A journalist happens upon the suicide of an elderly Jewish man and is given his diary by the local police. The story turns to the hunt for a former SS captain who commanded a concentration camp during WWII and murdered the journalist’s father. A more recent film is Der Staat gegen Fritz Bauer (The People vs. Fritz Bauer in English), which I recently saw at the cinema with my wife reflects a similar theme: de-nazification in Germany after 1945 was not complete (nor could it be). Many SS men escaped justice for their crimes against humanity and settled in the police force or civil service of the Bundesrepublik among other respectable posts in post-war German society.
Faithful to my family on my father’s side, I have always admired the Romantic soul of Germany, its philosophy and music, the inspiring sound of the language (I only learned a little German when I was in Switzerland). At the same time, when Germans become fanatical, it for me reflects some of what I have been seeing in the news about England these last few days. Hitler once claimed that England was a natural ally, until Churchill was elected and fought him to the death. How could such a great country sink to the depths of the concentration camps and the mass killing (don’t anyone tell me it didn’t happen, because I believe the blood curdling photos and films). The Germans have lived with their shame ever since.
I refuse to go to the extremes of some conspiracy theorists who claim that Hitler survived and died in his 90’s in South America. However, it is true that many Nazis went to Argentina, Paraguay and other South American countries where the local dictator welcomed them, especially when they brought a lot of gold and money with them. In the end, it makes little difference. The present resurgence of nationalism in Europe is frightening. The recent election in Austria that narrowly elected a Green has been declared illegal, and there is to be a new election. The far-right candidate Norbert Hofer might win the election this time.
We cannot exaggerate the situation in England. There have been some revolting examples of racial hatred since the referendum. Some have been claimed by a group calling itself Combat 18. The first and eighth letters of the alphabet are A and H, the initials of Adolf Hitler. Other such unsavoury groups are less “obvious” but the ideology bears similarities, mainly against immigration, non-white races and Jewish and Islamic people. Here is a balanced description of Neo-Nazism. This movement is fortunately very marginal, but is something to be watched carefully by security services, police forces and governments.
Some of us have expressed concern that the ideology might be brewing within the institutions of the EU, but such allegations call upon evidence. There are many conspiracy theories about how Nazism was so successful in the 1930’s and how the “beast” metamorphoses in our times. An Austrian corporal with a loud voice and Charlie Chaplin moustache ranting in German might frighten too many people off these days. But the same ideology in a different package…
One of the best books on original Nazism is William Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich – A history of Nazi Germany. This adventurous American journalist survived in Germany during the period and lived to write his book. I have been fascinated with this subject since getting a very good course of history lessons at school, from World War I and the Treaty of Versailles to the fall of the Weimar Republic and Hitler’s campaign that brought him to absolute power. Some think that the condemnation of Nazism has been exaggerated, but I stick to the mainstream view formed by the photos and films of piles of rotting corpses at Auschwitz, Belsen, Treblinka and elsewhere. For me, the judgement of Nuremburg and civilisation is firm and final.
Was the lesson of Nuremburg really learned. The slogan runs Never Again! My tears flowed as I visited Oradour sur Glâne and the Normandy beaches – as if I had lived through the horror of that time when my parents were teenagers. I have seen the films of the tragedy of war, and the scars are still here in Normandy with the hurriedly rebuilt towns of the 1950’s. The concrete blockhouses still watch over the seas of Normandy and the Mur de l’Atlantique. The submarine pens of St Nazaire are indestructible and will still be there in a hundred years time. It is almost a testimony of the persistence of the Beast that lurks within each of us.
In 1945, Germany lay in ruins. One out of four houses was destroyed. A whole population was rendered homeless and destitute. Germany, already humiliated by Clemenceau in 1919, was destined never to wage war ever again. Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill vowed in February 1945 that Germany would be utterly demilitarised and Nazism extirpated. Others were proclaiming that Germany would rise again. Mainstream historical studies admit that Nazism survived through the Odessa and other organisations. Fritz Bauer was threatened and obstructed by the old Nazis working peacefully in the German civil service, intelligence services and the police.The three films mentioned above illustrate just how clever those men were in going underground. Many were caught and brought to justice, but actually very few.
The recovery of Germany after World War II was incredible. It was a true miracle in the 1950’s. Help came from the USA, as both the USA and the Soviet Union made use of Nazi technicians and scientists. The denazification programme imposed by the Americans only lasted for two years, and was handed back to the Germans as early as 1947. From then on, nearly half of the civil service were former Nazis. Eleven thousand dismissed teachers were quietly reinstated. Sixty percent of the finance ministry employees were Nazis, and a greater percentage ran the Ministry of Justice, hence Fritz Bauer’s difficulties when he decided to go for Bormann. As early as 1951, the German government officially declared that denazification was complete. It was not! In those years, racism and anti-Semitism lingered on. A majority of Germans still thought that Nazism was a good thing even though Hitler had made such a mess of it.
Pope Pius XII has been accused of running ratlines to help former SS men get to South America in exchange for large sums of money for the Istituto delle Opere della Religione and that blasphemously named Banco di Spiritu Santo. David Yallop’s In God’s Name was sensationalist, but it made fascinating reading when it came out in the early 1980’s. The involvement of the Church in this festering evil is one of the most damning indictments of the twentieth century. I prefer not to know too much about Argentinian Jesuits!
When the Nazis saw that they were losing the war, we can be sure that they would not take it lying down and commit suicide with cyanide pills. They approached the top industrial elite. One would think that they are all dead by now, so the question remains – did they pass down the ideology to younger people who were convinced by it? The economic miracle from a defeated ruin to the richest country of Europe makes the mind boggle.
What happened after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989? Some of the old Nazi goons were still alive then even if they were getting ancient. Within two years, the number of far right-wing activists increased by at least a quarter. There were thousands of violent racialist incidents. It is alleged that more than half of the police force in Germany sympathised with the ideology. By 1991, many immigrants began to leave Germany for safer countries.
In 1991, the Bundestag moved from Bonn back to Berlin and restored the Reichstag. Was this symbolic? Germany recognised Slovenia and Croatia, which evoked many memories of Nazi atrocities. Finally, the EU recognised these two countries. Only two years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Germany was rising fast. Today, Germany is the third richest arms producer and is the leading country of the EU.
Lessons do not seem to have been learned from the period between the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923 to Hitler becoming Chancellor and Führer in 1933. Mrs Thatcher was very concerned in 1995 that Europe was following Germany, not the other way round. Was the whole show being run by Nazis? That is a very difficult one to answer or even guess.
Is Germany still Nazi? That would be an extremely serious accusation. It is clear that the government and high-profile politicians are not Nazis or far-right wing in their ideas. I have had many German friends at university and they repudiated their country’s Nazi past. The father of one of my German friends was a Werhmacht soldier. He did his job and obeyed orders, but did not commit atrocities. He was deeply ashamed of those who commanded his superior officers. Multiply that elderly man living in Arnsberg by millions and you have a national spirit seeking forgiveness and desiring a new future. In spite of this horrible scar, I admire Germany and find inspiration in its culture and the Romantic philosophy of Schelling, Hegel and Schliermacher among others. The music of Bach, Beethoven, Schumann and so many others is inimitable.
The Beast is not Germany but is latent within each of us. I have seen the example of this in my native country whose heart is very black if you go back to the days of Empire and the worst abuses of the nineteenth century in India and Australia. The same black heart is also found in France, in each of us and all of us. It is our capacity for evil and our lack of empathy.
We now lie at a watershed. The EU is a vast anonymous and self-serving bureaucracy, yet the same evil can influence those who want to leave it and re-establish other bases of wealth and power. England looks like bringing in the right-wing of the Conservative Party. Austria is redoing its election. France has had enough of Champagne Socialism and sleazy Sarkozy and Madame Le Pen waits in the wings having moderated some of the questionable sayings of her feisty father. It really seems that nationalism is the only way, perhaps inevitable like I described yesterday about determinism. Greece and Italy have very right-wing parties clamouring for power. What are we going to get if these right-wing parties all over Europe get in and rule? Like with Hitler, we will get new motorways and technology, housing and jobs for all and plenty of freebies. Then it will all have to be paid for…
The temptation is there for us all. We have had enough of the establishment, just like the Weimar Republic in the 1930 which “did nothing in particular but did it very well” as Gilbert and Sullivan satirised the British government during the Napoleonic wars. We move to a new class war of the have-nots who have been left on the beach as the establishment destroyed industry and manufacturing, and the intellectuals and service-providers. We are divided between the historically aware and humanly sensitive – and raw bigotry and hatred of “the other”. What is now the alternative to the nationalist demagogues? Not very much.
They will kill us or ignore us. There is not a lot anyone can do except not vote for them. Many have given up voting, and therefore any notion of democracy. But, who do we vote for? I consider also the USA with the rising billionaire Donald Trump, but the alternative is Hillary Clinton or another term of Obama. I don’t relate to American politics. It’s bad enough here in Europe. I didn’t vote in the British referendum because I have lost the vote by being an expatriate for more than fifteen years. How would I have voted? I have sympathies both ways, as long as we push through the overgrowth and seek to address the real moral and social issues. The EU is a mess and seems to want to bring us all to a totalitarian dystopia. Would a band of brawling thugs like Hitler’s henchmen be any better? Let us remember that the virus does not affect only Germany, but all our countries we love and revere as our mothers and fathers.
We need to find our spiritual and Christian roots, the true spiritual humanism and basis for a future. We pray God, not to punish our enemies and other bad people – but for guidance and light for ourselves to see the way in the darkness. At the end of Charlie Chaplin’s Dictator film, we hear another message which seems as relevant for us today as it was in 1940.