So much for not knowing... then and now.
Reviewing two new books on the Third Reich @ The Spectator, Dominic Green argues that, by transferring ‘collective will’ to Hitler, the German volk were entirely complicit in Nazi atrocities
|Jews ready to be gassed.|
A nation of war criminals buried the enormity in ‘collusive semi-secrecy’, and a ‘spiral of silence’ about the ‘half-articulated, often discomforting awareness of how imperial and genocidal their war had become’. But collective guilt resurrected the image of the crime in paranoid fantasies of ‘Jewish retaliation’. Even before America had entered the war, many Germans believed a rumour about ‘all Germans in America having to wear a swastika on their left breast’ as a punishment ‘because the Jews have been treated so badly in Germany’. The RAF’s campaign of demolition was widely seen as ‘Jewish terror bombing’. In 1944, when Bomber Command had trouble dropping bombs within the prescribed three-mile radius of its targets, many Berliners succumbed to Stephen Spender’s fear, and believed that the British were targeting particular streets and neighbourhoods for their crimes against the Jews.
The worse the war went, the greater the intensification of Nazi ideology and methods, and the deeper the existential complicity of the people. Before the war, Hitler had suspected that the Germans would not be up to their historic destiny, but they embraced his sub-Wagnerian apocalypse of ‘victory or annihilation’, and went down with him to the end. In early April 1945, Victor Klemperer and his non-Jewish wife, masquerading as the Aryan ‘Kleinpeters’, listened as train passengers blamed ‘Bolshevism and international Jewry’, and averred their trust in the Führer. Defeat suited the Nazi world view: as the ‘Asiatic’ horde of Bolsheviks rampaged westwards, ‘Jewish’ capitalism filled the skies with American and British bombers.
The ‘dissonant dualism of German guilt’ began its long chorus. At first, ‘guilt’ meant identifying ‘the agents of Germany’s greatest disaster’. The arrival of the Americans and Russians reminded Germans of another guilt, genocide. Like Spender under the bombs, most Germans experienced their diminishment as diminished responsibility. Not everyone felt guilty, even after the American re-education campaigns of 1945 and 1946. In August 1947, when openly endorsing National Socialism was a capital crime, American investigators reported that 55 per cent of Germans considered National Socialism ‘a good idea that had been carried out badly’. Among respondents who were under 30, or had completed a high-school education, or were Protestants or West Berliners, this figure reached 60–68 per cent. ‘What a disgrace and what a humiliation to have been born amongst the Germans,’ the writer and publisher Hermann Kasack admitted.
Disgrace, humiliation, envy, resentment: power is a word whose meaning and motives we know too well. Superbly researched and clearly written, The German War is an important and significant book. The unholy hieroglyph at the heart of the 20th-century catastrophe has always been in plain sight. Read more.
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