Saturday, January 21, 2017

Germany, I Owe You an Apology



I really, really, really never thought I'd say this: I owe the German people an apology.

I was about five years old. I was sitting on the couch in the living room with my brother Greg. We were wearing our matching nightgowns that my mother had sewn. They were bright red, bell-shaped, with bell-shaped sleeves. Mommy had originally made them as the angel costumes for a Christmas pageant. Greg and I were engaged in innocent play. Hard to believe, given how distant we became as adults, that we used to be each others' default playmate.

The small, black-and-white TV was on. And suddenly I was wrenched out of the evening, out of playtime, out of that warm cozy feeling kids experience when they've gotten through the day without being eaten by a dragon. Childhood is not only a time of abundant wonder, it's a time of rich and easy gratitude.

I can see, in my mind's eye, the images on the TV screen. Skeletal corpses, stacked one atop the other. The camera moved quickly. Its speed worsened the violation, the horror. If I saw a pile of corpses like that, I would not move quickly. I would have to stop, and it would be a long time before I could move again, and some part of me would remain in place before that sight forever, I think.

And I wouldn't be dedicated to *seeing* the corpses, and displaying them to others. I would want to try to rescue them, at least by covering their nakedness, and placing them under dignified headstones.

My mother hadn't planned for me to see this on TV, but I had, so she had to explain. She did. "This is what THEY did to US."

And that's how I understood the Holocaust, Nazism, World War II, for the longest time. What THEY did to US.

My mother was born in a country that no one could spell, and both my parents came from countries that were part of the world threatening, in the Cold War, the country in which I was living, we were poor, and there was one language in the house and another outside it. I very much grew up in a world of US and THEM.

Czechoslovakia had come to be only after 1918 and the end of WW I. Before that my people lived under the Austro-Hungarian Empire that burned Slovak schools and aristocrats who lived off, and oppressed, the peasants. Czechoslovakia's birth as a country was a big deal to my mother.

When her homeland was only twenty years old, THEY gave Czechoslovakia to Hitler. My mother thought of her birthplace as Hitler's first victim.

Czechoslovakia may or may not deserve that title. One thing is clear, though. The world should have done something in 1938 when Hitler was clearly a threat, and the world did not.

On September 30, 1938, THEY signed the Munich Agreement handing Czechoslovakia to Hitler, and signaled to him that he could do any vile thing he wanted and meet minimal resistance.

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, "the man with the umbrella" gave a speech in London. "The question of Anglo-German relations is of the first importance for our two countries and for Europe … [I bring] peace with honor. I believe it is peace for our time. Go home and get a nice quiet sleep." I wonder how many of the cheering Londoners would later be trying to get a nice quiet sleep only to die in the Blitz.

They should have taken Hitler on then. They didn't. "Anglo-German relations" superseded consideration for the Czechs and the Slovaks.

THEY – not just Germans, but the Western world, did that to US.

My mother told me about the Slovak man, Jozef Gabcik, who, with his Czech partner, Jan Kubis, assassinated Reinhard Heydrich, the highest ranking Nazi to be killed by the resistance. My mother told me about Lidice, a village in Czechoslovakia, that was erased from the map in retaliation for that killing.

I hated Germans.

It's funny; I live during a time of powerful political correctness, ostensibly all about stopping prejudice, but no one has ever given me a hard time over my most carved-in-stone prejudice.

I've traveled in a dozen or so European countries. Never Germany. If I am listening to classical music on the radio and I can hear recognizably German lyrics, I get up and cross the room to turn the radio off.

Otto's essay "Ripples of Sin" was the first chink in my anti-German armor. Reading that essay, I felt some budge in my anti-German prejudice.

OTOH, I read about WW II regularly, and it's inescapable – the Germans mass murdered people. They. Not us.

Now, I think, my anti-German prejudice is finally dead. Here's why.

I recently posted a review of Richard Weikart's excellent new book, "Hitler's Religion." The book makes clear that neither Nazism nor Hitler was Christian.

The reaction to the book astounded me. Readers of the review insisted the opposite: clearly Hitler was a Christian and Nazism was carrying out Christian values.

I've been working on a blog post that addresses these wacky assertions that both Hitler and Nazism were Christian. In composing this blog post, I've been revisiting the history of the Third Reich. WW I, the Versailles Treaty, the stab-in-the-back, the Reichstag Fire, "we knew nothing": I knew about all this before, but I've been seeing it differently as I compose my piece.

Suddenly I'm getting it, in a way that I never got it before, that atrocity really isn't a German thing. Atrocity isn't a Christian thing. Atrocity is a human thing.

Of course I knew that before. But composing this blog post about Nazism not being Christian brought this awareness to the forefront of my mind. It was like a math problem. You have two. You have another two. You put them together. It's inescapable. You get four.

You hate that four. You rage against that four. You want to blame that four on German national character or Christianity or the man with the umbrella. That provides an escape. This isn't about you. It's about them. The Germans, the Christians, whoever.

You can't. It's math. Two plus two equals four. And human nature is human nature.

Humiliate people. Kill a lot of them in a pointless war. Burn the Reichstag. The kind of thugs who you only registered before as the weirdos on the edges of your high school memories suddenly attain a prominence that they never would achieve in normal times. Suddenly they are at the foot of your bed in the middle of the night causing you terror and pain. And you agree to close your eyes to anything they ask you to.

I fortuitously tuned into "Playing God," a Radio Lab broadcast I had heard before. The previous time I heard it, it didn't really register. This time, it did. It addressed journalist and doctor Sheri Fink's Pulitzer Prize winning reportage of what happened at New Orleans' Memorial Medical Center during Hurricane Katrina. The hospital lost power and sewage. Over the course of the next five days, hospital staff decided to euthanize patients. It took just five days without electricity for them to reach the conclusion that killing the unfit was their only course of action.

And something else happened while I was working on this piece addressing the "Nazism = Christianity" canard. Donald J. Trump was sworn in as president of the United States.

First, only Hitler was Hitler. No serious person says that Trump is another Hitler.

That fact doesn't excuse us from blinding ourselves to the parallels.

For me the parallels played out on Facebook, and they demoralized me and I may never see humanity in the same way again.

People I liked. People I trusted. People I thought of as intelligent, as decent, as Christian. Some Jews. Voiced their support for a personality disordered conman who disseminated anti-Semitic memes and Mussolini quotes, a man who cozied up to the KKK, a man who acknowledged that he was a serial sexual assailant, a man who mocked women for menstruating and lactating, a man who called for death for the Central Park Five *after* they had been exonerated by DNA evidence, a man who praised a dictator who murders journalists and may have poisoned with dioxin the head of a neighboring country.

Surely my nice, decent, intelligent, Christian, Jewish, Facebook friends would never support Trump.

But they did.

Because they felt humiliated and threatened by political correctness and ripped off by "socialism" – aka Obamacare.

The day Trump was sworn in, three different Team Trump Facebook friends called for death to Clinton voters. We have more guns than they do, they bragged. I want a "body count" of anti-Trump protesters, one Trump supporter said. Follow up posts repeated the call for body counts. And of course Team Trump is calling for an abrupt end to Obamacare, without any replacement. That will, of course, result in some deaths.

And these are people who have never seen war fought over their own soil, who are well-fed and have roofs over their heads and live in the undisputed richest and most powerful country on earth.

Germany, I owe you an apology.

10 comments:

  1. My first childhood experience with knowledge of WWWII German crimes ("They did this to us") was not very different from yours. I was a Polish Cub Scout (ZUCHY), and, while we were sitting in a circle, the scoutmaster told us how the Germans gassed people and burned their bodies in giant ovens. I still remember the hatred of Germans that came over my 9 year-old self, and that was over 50 years ago!

    On another subject, I am not surprised to read that your review of Weikart's HITLER'S RELIGION has garnered many responses bullheadedly insisting that Hitler was a Christian and that his actions had been an extension of Christianity. For some decades now, there has been a sustained effort, by the Holocaust establishment, to shift the blame for the Holocaust away from the Germans (where it belongs), and unto Christianity. In addition, the fact that many of those in academia and media are leftists makes it unsurprising to hear slanderous accusations against Christianity.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Chris Helinsky I saw your post, but I did not post it.

    You make an allegation that is false, and I prefer to post true material on the blog.

    Admittedly I don't always filter posts so carefully. That's strictly a question of how much time i have.

    I saw that your post consisted mostly of links.

    Please compose a post of your own thoughts that contains no false allegations. I'll post that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. False allegation? Reading your post I got the impression that anti-Trump people have committed no violence. You did not have to make the claim in order to imply it. Maybe I am reading too much into what you have written.

      The links that I posted were done so in order to demonstrate that anti-Trump people have indeed committed violence. These are what I knew of off the top of my head. Did you look at any of the material that I posted?

      Chris Helinsky

      Delete
    2. Chris I strongly recommend that you read blog posts before responding to them, and stick to what the blog post says, and not imply that people are saying things that they are not. I really don't want to spend time swatting down false allegations.

      It appears to me that this blog post caused you to become emotional and to "hear" things that were never said.

      Why not post about your own feelings? I'm guessing you are a Trump supporter. If this post upset you for that reason, why not post something honest about how you feel rather than putting words in my mouth that I never spoke? Why not take responsibility for your own feelings?

      Delete
    3. Chris: " anti-Trump people have committed no violence"

      I have never said this in any setting. Please don't attribute to me things I haven't said.

      Delete
    4. I am not a Trump supporter and never have been. Why would you assume that I support that orange complected braggart?

      Take responsibility for my feelings? What does that mean? I have never heard anyone say this.

      Chris Helinsky

      Delete
    5. Okay. Let's move on. We're getting nowhere.

      Delete
  3. I am concerned that your "Atrocity is a human thing" statement relativizes German conduct. It is perhaps like juxtaposing a bunch of pickpockets, and stop-sign roller-throughs, with a mass murderer, and saying that, after all, "They are all lawbreakers".

    The issues involved belong in different moral universes.

    The dilution of German guilt goes hand-in-hand with the elevation of the Holocaust over the genocides of all other peoples. Note, in the quoted statement below, that the policies of the European Union do both, as they transform an unambiguously German crime, and that against one specific peoples (the Jews) into an all-European responsibility:

    “In recent years, commemoration of the Holocaust has become a major political, cultural, and educational issue for the European Union…There is no other historical event to which European institutions have demonstrated any comparable deep commitment. It is manifest in such initiatives as the European Parliament’s ‘Resolution on Remembrance of the Holocaust, Antisemitism, and Racism’ approved on January 27, 2005, the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, and in the adoption of legislation criminalizing denial of the Holocaust at the level of the European Union under the German presidency in April 2007. The European Union has also played a key role in setting up the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, launched on the occasion of the International Forum on the Holocaust, which took place in Stockholm in 2000.”

    To see the source of the foregoing quote, please click on my name in this specific posting.

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  4. This article makes the Czechoslovaks out to be some great martyrs and heroic resisters of Nazism. The truth is that when Hitler annexed Czechoslovakia in 1938, the Czechoslovaks didn't fight. One could say that they knew that they were outnumbered and didn't stand a chance, but wasn't the same true of the insurgents in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943? They simply wanted to die with honor, bearing arms. Even the Dutch fought for four days and the Danes for two hours, two hours longer than the Czechs. The people who asssassinated Heydrich may have been brave (although they were trained by the British), but most Czechs didn't seem to mind that their country was overrun. The Czech resistance barely existed. Meanwhile, Czechoslovakia's wartime losses were small, and while the country's Jews and Gypsies suffered, very few others did. After hearing that a flyer was posted in Prague announcing that a couple of Czech resisters were shot, Hans Frank, the psychopath German governor of the GG, said that if such posters were printed everytime a Pole was shot, not enough trees in the whole of Poland would suffice. Meanwhile, two pro-Nazi fascist puppet governments were formed in Czechoslovakia, those of Emil Hacha in Bohemia and Moravia and of Josef Tiso (a priest; the Vatican begged him to stop murdering Jews and Gypsies, but he didn't care) in Slovakia. The latter was especially diabolical; Tiso deported tens of thousands of Jews and Gypsies to concentration camps (more than the Germans had wanted), while in September 1939 the Slovaks sent three Slovak divisions of 50,000 soldiers to help in the dismemberment of Poland; thus technically September 1939 was the German-Soviet-Slovak invasion of Poland (by contrast, the Hungarians, who were allied with the Axis powers during WWII, actually accepted 100,000 Polish refugees and Hungarians deployed to Poland by the Germans refused to terrorize the local population; this is one of many examples of Poland and Hungary's 1,000-year friendship - whenever I have met Hungarians both in Hungary and abroad and told them I was of Polish background, I was without exception treated with great love). The Slovaks were braver than the Czechs (who, to their credit, did contribute some troops to the Western Front, and Czech pilots were the third-largest group after the English and the Poles who fought in the Battle of Britain in 1940), launching a brave uprising in 1944 (but Tiso's name will live in infamy forever; I find it interesting that Norway's Quisling has become the synonym for Nazi collaboration, but Quisling looks like an Eagle Scout compared to Tiso's horrific record). Czechoslovakia's wartime record is in stark contrast to Poland, which lost 5-6 million citizens under German-Soviet occupation, 3 million Jews and 2-3 million Gentiles. Although the punishments for doing so were much greater than in Czechoslovakia, the Poles created the largest resistance movement in occupied Europe, and Polish armed forces fighting on both fronts made up the fourth largest Allied army (larger than that of de Gaulle's Free French). Other Europeans who suffered greatly under German occupation but formed impressive anti-fascist resistance movements were the Greeks and the Yugoslavs (especially the Serbs; the Croats' Ustase government were fascist scum who collaborated in the mass genocide of Jews, Gypsies, and Serbs). However unpleasant this may be to one's national ego, the fact is that compared with the Poles, Greeks, and Serbs Czechoslovakia's overall wartime record is one of cowardice and collaboration.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Next time please insert hard returns at the end of paragraphs. Big blocks of text are hard to read.

      Delete

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