Thursday 18 November 2010

Exorcising the past

I saw from a report in the press on Saturday that the exhibition on Hitler and the Nazis, currently on show in the Berlin Historical Museum, is drawing the crowds, hardly surprising, considering that it’s the first time ever such an event has been staged. It’s part of a ‘coming to terms’ process long delayed in Germany, which suffered for so many years from a self-induced historical amnesia.

Now comes Das Amt und die Vergangenheit (The Ministry and the Past), an official publication by the Foreign Ministry detailing the department’s activities during the Nazi era. Das Amt has caused a minor stir; it even featured in the main evening news broadcast here not so long ago. The issue is this: the official line long taken by the Foreign Ministry is that it was not complicit in the crimes of the Nazi regime; that it was manned by ‘gentlemen’ in every way different from the downmarket fanatics in other branches of government. This is far from being the case, as Das Amt has confirmed. The Foreign Office was complicit in the very worst crimes, including the Holocaust.

I have to say that I was more than a little surprised at this ‘revelation.’ The historical record is absolutely clear. Though there were certainly diplomats who took an active part in resisting and undermining the regime, most were complicit even in the basest actions. Joachim von Ribbentrop, the Foreign Minister himself, was convicted and hanged on a charge of crimes against humanity, amongst other things. During the War, when normal diplomatic activity all but ceased, one of the remaining functions of the Ministry was to ensure the co-operation of Germany’s allies and satellites in the deportation of their Jewish populations to the death camps.

Das Amt, from what I have read, really only provides additional empirical support without breaking any new ground. It seems to be of greater use as an exercise in myth-breaking, in destroying a cosy and rather snobbish departmental consensus. The way it came about is rather interesting in itself. Joschka Fisher, the first foreign minister from the Green Party, a man with particular sensitivity over Holocaust issues, was disturbed by the self-congratulating complacency of the department, which even saw diplomats eulogising former Nazis in obituaries. The details have destroyed all remaining illusions. Eckart Conze, one of the four authors of the 880-page Das Amt, has gone so far to describe the Ministry under the Nazis as a “criminal organisation” in an interview with Der Spiegel.

The past is a ghost only ever put to rest by understanding, not denial.


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  3. The Holocaust has been grossly exaggerated for zionist propaganda purposes.THe same bunch that has the western world believing them to be " God's chosen people" get it ? Most died beacuse of Allied bombing of supply trains and they starved . History is written by the victors to demonize the vanquished. What mention of Bolshevik and Allied attrocities ?

  4. @ Adam, it seems that a good dose of sunshine would do you good, leave dreary old England for someplace warm. Also in warmer climates you get the added benefit of scantly clad women. Just a thought.

  5. Let's also apportion responsibility for the mass murders of communism worldwide while we are at it, and the appalling consequences of de-colonization in Africa. And will Japan never face cross-examination over its actions in Asia and the Indo-Pacific?

  6. Adam, I really don't think there is much comparison here between those events. I'm wary at any form of moral relativism, the sort of thing favoured by certain schools of historical revisionism.

  7. Anthony, I'm familiar with that argument, one I absolutely reject, as does every serious historian, every historian who wants to be taken seriously. If you want to read about 'Bolshevik atrocities' then I suggest that you browse carefully through my back catalogue. There is plenty to keep you going.

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  10. Calvin, in part I offer you the same response that I did to Anthony. You will find plenty here on the mass murders committed by communism, most recently in my review of Mao's Great Famine. Make no mistake: I think communism as hideous as nazism. As far as the Japanese are concerned I have reviews of John Raabe and City of Life and Death, both of which deal with the Nanking Massacre of 1936. This blog was not about communism or decolonialisation; it was about the Geman Foreign Office under Hitler.

  11. I disagree with Anthony that the mass murders of the Nazis were overstated, and I am more than happy to see every organ of the Nazi state exposed so that the true nature of its evil is clearly understood. My comment was simply a general call for honesty about the consequences of authoritarianism and totalitarianism. History cannot guide us if we do not face facts.

  12. Anthony,
    My mother's entire family was murdered in the Holocaust, and she found it impossible to exaggerate that fact.

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  14. Ana, 48 years ago I had read just about every book ever written on the Nazis up to that time.

    I thought, this can never happen again, then along came the killing fields in SE Asia and that was so much for that theory. The world has been ignoring mass murder ever since.

    I wonder, if the Nazis had managed to survive until today, would they still see Islam as an allies or would they have outlived their usefulness
    and been ground up by the Nazi war machine.

    Most of the people who were young and involved at the time of Hitler's rise to power and on through to the end of WWII are dead or getting close to it, so it's probably safe to start talking about the past.

    In 1963 I had an Army Sgt. who was married to a German woman. They would return to Germany quite often to visit her family. He often remarked how many old Germans were still pissed that they lost the war and how they missed the good old days.

  15. Hello Ana, I'm going to try this one more time.

    Back in the early 60s when I was in the US Army, I read just about every bood written about the Nazis. I was so shocked by some of the details I thought to myself, this will never be allowed to happen again.

    Then not so long afterwards, Pol Pot got busy with his work in the killing fields in Cambodia and the world has continued ignoring mass murder up to this day.

    While in the Army I had a Sgt. who was married to a German woman. They traveled back to visit her relatives on a regular basis.

    Several times I heard him say that many of the old Germans were still pissed about losing the war and yearned for the "Good old days".

    I believe average Germans were much more involved with supporting the Third Reich than we are lead to believe today.

    Now that all those old timers are gone It's safe to start "Letting the sun shine on Germany's past".

    I believe if it were not for Albert Speer's talents, the Nazi war machine would have ground to a halt much sooner.

  16. Cheech, thanks. As far as your point about the 'good old days' is concerned, yes, it's perfectly true, at least before the war began to bite. Most people, people who were not Jewish or opponents of the regime, could lead a perfectly happy, sub-political life. The problem was this involved all sorts of moral compromises.

    I've been to the Killing Fields and to the genocide museum in Kigali, Rwanda. Both, particularly the latter, really cut me up. It's as well to remember that horror, and the capacity for horror, is not that far removed from each and every one of us.

  17. The Germans should be ashamed of having lost.