In his much celebrated poem on the death of William Butler Yeats, Auden wrote â€œIreland has her madness and her weather still / For poetry makes nothing happenâ€. While the ancient Celtic bards had something of a reputation for controlling the wind and rain with their song, not even the most ardent modern poetic visionary would expect the pitter-patter of iambic pentameter to bring the sun out over Galway Bay. Auden provides us with a powerful image of artistic impotence. Auden may well have been recalling Yeatsâ€™ own lines in his refusal to write a War Poem: â€œI think it better that in times like these / a poetâ€™s mouth be silent, for in truth / We have no gift to set a statesman rightâ€. This reminds me of what Auden said about poets making terrible politicians because of being too much in love with disasters and explosions.
The natural order is that events make art happen â€“ or rather makes good art happen (which is more than can be said for our own ignoble little wars and capitalist dramas). The Napoleonic atrocities against the Spanish resulted in some of Goyaâ€™s greatest work. The cynical bombing of Guernica on April 26, 1937 (a date most seem to have forgotten) resulted in a lot of bad poetry and the magnificent Guernica. During a questioning by a German officer, Picasso presented him a postcard of Guernica by way of response. The officer asked, â€œDid you do this?â€ Picasso replied, â€œNo, you didâ€. No doubt this would have gone over the officerâ€™s head, because the Nazis were labouring under the impression that art and poetry of a sickly-sentimental sort (with some help from tanks, bombers and heavy artillery) made everything happen.
When art becomes a screen, but keeps pretending to be a mirror, you run into trouble. The visual arts avoid this by not pretending to be anything other than a mediated narrative. Music hides behind its abstraction, and literature provides countless nuances with its endlessly fluid narratological positions and linguistic games. Cinema cannot do any of these things and is condemned to two-dimensionality like a gaudy butterfly pressed between two sheets of glass, and this is particularly evident in the blunt and inaccurate way the popular media has and continues to depict the ordinary German people during the Nazi period.
Hollywood has been scraping around for â€˜Goodâ€™ Germans from the Nazi period at least since the 1993 Spielberg Schindlerâ€™s List film version of Thomas Keneallyâ€™s 1982 novel Schindlerâ€™s Ark.Â The Good German is the title of a 2006 movie adaption of Joseph Kanonâ€™s novel featuring George Clooney as â€œa good Germanâ€, one who ostensibly without direct blame for allowing Hitlerâ€™s persecution of the Jews. Thematically, that film hinges on guilt, and whether it is possible to survive the atrocities while being unaware of them (though it is debatable as to whether anyone living in Nazi Germany was entirely â€˜unawareâ€™). One might also consider The Pianist (2002), based on a true story, where Adrien Brodyâ€™s nose plays the Polish-Jewish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilmin, who by fluke, while all seem to die around him, survives long enough to find the patronage and protection of army officer Captain Wilm Hosenfeld (played by Thomas Kretschen).
â€˜Badâ€™ history can refer to both historical ugliness and evil, or history inaccurately portrayed. The need for clarity of those distinctions becomes even more urgent lest the naive take something Quentin Tarantinoâ€™s absurdly spelt Inglourious Basterds (2009) as having any kind of historical basis when in fact it is merely a two-dimensional genre pastiche of The Great Escape (1963, in which the Germans are slightly more fleshed out than mere cardboard cut-outs) , The Dirty Dozen (1967), Five Graves to Cairo (1943, pseudo-Casablanca rubbish where Eric von Stronheim plays Rommel), and Tonight We Raid Calais (1943) and Action is Arabia (1944). Iâ€™m surprised he didnâ€™t throw in Where Eagles Dare (1968) as well, in which Richard Burton (with a ridiculous anachronistic bouffant) and gang remain unnoticed even though they are loudly, brazenly discussing their plans in English in a pub full of German officers.
Basterds is framed as a kind of ultraviolent Jewish revenge fantasy, that had to be made by a goyim because no Jewish director would have been that brazen â€“ or indeed turn the historical context of the Shoah into a Springtime for Hitler circus â€“ especially as the implicit role reversal of sadist and victim plays very uncomfortably against the fractious background of current Israeli-Palestinian relations. The pastiche admits no context; certainly not the realities of individual lives snuffed out and nations torn apart. Cinema eats its progeny like the Blatant Beast from Spenserâ€™s Fairy Queen. Tarantino defends his movie thus:
Most people know the difference between real life and the movies. This is a movie. Itâ€™s a fantasy. Itâ€™s not meant to empower the Jews and speak against the Arabs. But on the other hand, to point out that the Jews have some degree of power today but are living in the middle of a sea of people who are basically saying that they shouldnâ€™t be around? I have zero problem with Jewish empowerment. The whole thing is complicated. At the end of the day, the people in that auditorium [at the climax of the movie] are Nazis. You kind of feel bad for them because theyâ€™re burning to death, but youâ€™re not feeling too much sympathy, even for the Nazi who gets a swastika carved in his head.
Well, yes and no â€“ clearly Tarantino has a fairly limited grasp of the definition of â€œempowermentâ€. Of course his â€œBad Germansâ€ are Bad, cartoonishly so. But the â€œBesterdsâ€ are cartoons as well â€“ there is no sense that they are morally superior to the Nazis they hunt â€“ nor that there might be a notional difference between â€˜Germanâ€™ and â€˜Naziâ€™. Tarantino is basically being incredibly arrogant (in a way rather specific to North Americans) in his treatment the European Gethsemane. Tarantinoâ€™s cartoon Weltanschuaang has no space for the gentile wives of Berlin Jews whoseÂ protests delayed (but could not halt) the taking of their husbands, nor the Christian pastors beaten to a pulp and deported to the camps merely for asking their congregations to pray for the Jews. Yet these people existed.
As a Hollywood-generated label, the idea of â€œGood Germansâ€ intrigued me, having long been interested in German history, culture and in trying to understand many German friends over the years. In part I was compelled to write this article because many New Zealanders (either wilfully or out of ignorance) attribute the hair-raising horrors of the Nazi Era â€“ the unbewÃ¤ltige Vergangenheit (â€˜the past that has not been overcomeâ€™) – to some imaginary intrinsic aspect of the German â€œnational characterâ€. Although itâ€™s an understandable impression â€“with expressions like Besser ein Ende emit Schrecken als ein Schrecken ohne Ende (â€˜Better an end with terror that terror without endâ€™) circulating around the Weimar Republic â€“ it is as naive as perpetuating clichÃ©d stereotypes of glassy-eyed legions of storm troopers goose-stepping in robotic synchronisation to orders barked at them by a Hollywood director Eric von Stroheim lookalike.
However, is there anything more ludicrous than Tom Cruise starring in the 2008 film Valkyrie, strutting around in Wehrmacht (German Army) uniform? Perhaps it is less bizarre than the whole alien warlord Xenu and the Thetans narrative saga of his Scientology â€˜faithâ€™, or jumping up and down on Oprahâ€™s couch like a deranged four-year-old. It is sad, because antics like these and other associated Hollywood histrionics serve only to overshadow the stories of the Good Germans, especially when the media industry prefers to sensationalise the horrors of the Nazi regime. Particularly it is distressing that the bombast distracts from less well known rebels who ran heroic risks grossly out of proportion to their minor actions. Staggeringly Cruise was awarded a major German cinematic prize for his portrayal.
Sadly the average Hollywood audience cannot tell the difference between the WehrmachtÂ - the army and its aristocratic officer lass – and the Nazis (hence the endless interviews inaccurately asking Cruise what it was like to wear a Nazi uniform); the Wehrmacht were the only people in Nazi Germany who didnâ€™t take Hitler seriously and still had any kind of power. The Wehrmacht had old traditions, its aristocratic officer class and the national arsenal. They did not derive their authority, or all of their decision-making, directly from the Nazi high command â€“ which is why the National Socialists recruited their own forces in the form of the SS shadow authority (though the boundaries were inclined to overlap ambiguously). Valkyrie, while little more than infotainment with pretentions, does offer us an opportunity to reconsider the historical reality of resistance against the Nazis by the Germans themselves and the general lack of their representation in the English-speaking popular media. But even among the Good Germans, contexts tend to be nuanced and far from straightforward.
Valkyrie is, of course, a glossy Hollywood celebration (more interested in Cruiseâ€™s handsome profile than the meaning of these events for Western Europe) of the tragically doomed bravery of the July 20 plot against Hitlerâ€™s life. The good guys have American accents and the bad guys have British or faux-German accents â€“ Star Wars all over again. The great German historical novelist Ricarda Huch (1864-1947) wrote in FÃ¼r die Martyrer der Freiheit (1946) of the conspirators: â€œTo save Germany was not to be theirs; only to die for it; luck was not with them, it was with Hitler. But they did not die in Vain. Just as we need air to breathe, and light to see, so we need noble people if we are to liveâ€. Luck wasnâ€™t with Hitler; it was good planning, with Himmler holding the keys. Had the conspirators been successful in the assassination, avoided martyrdom, and pulled off a coup dâ€™Ã©tat, history would certainly have been different â€“ but the probability of achieving it was miniscule.
What I find puzzling is the appeal of the story of the conspirators to Hollywood, with the US film industryâ€™s particular preferences for pro-American happy endings (consider movies like Saving Private Ryan (1998) which gives the impression that the USA accomplished victory single-handed despite coming to the war two years late, or U-571, (2000) which transformed the British heroes who captured the Enigma code machine into Americans â€“ the latter caused a minor scandal in the British Parliament). The Wehrmacht conspirators were not democrats. It isnâ€™t as though Henning von Tresckow (1901-1945) and his co-conspirators were secret friends of the Allies per se; they were reacting as the aristocratÂ reacts to a vulgar little parvenu upstart and were duly canonised by the post-Nazi conservative Right wing of modern German politics. Perhaps the attraction for Cruise, Hollywood et al, is the almost Wagnerian fantasy of the pure hero attempting (in glorious tragic failure) to destroy the ultimate evil. The conspirators, however, were not exactly Siegfrieds and Tristans waiting in the wings, as we shall see.
Although the application of Campbellian heroic mythos to these events seems forced, the true story still managed to combine a certain amount or ritual psychodrama with political pragmatism. Operation WalkÃ¼re (â€˜Valkyrieâ€™) was almost certainly named for Richard Wagnerâ€™s WalkÃ¼re â€“ one of the components of the Ring Cycle. This is suggestive â€“ the Valkyries were beautiful warrior women who bore warriors slain in battle to Valhalla to feast with the gods. The conspirators did not expect to come out alive.
In the early days, many of the conspirators saw the sociopath Hitler as the new Bismarck â€“ a saviour to rejuvenate Germanyâ€™s imperial power. Aristocratic youths flocked to Himmlerâ€™s SS for the tight black uniforms and the horse riding. As Hannah Arendt, the philosopher and journalist who covered the Eichmann trial (the archetypal soulless bureaucrat making sure the trains got to hell on time) and coined the phrase â€œthe banality of evilâ€, explained, no sane person could have seen what was coming. Actually, the sane could see what was coming; they just chose to avert their eyes. There is something seductive and compelling about fascism, â€œfascinating fascismâ€ as Susan Sontag called it; the youthful â€“ almost sexual – energy, the absolute certainty of purpose, the magnificence of the Lichtdom at Nuremburg. The frisson of that moment in the 1972 movie Cabaret (based on the Berlin Diaries and other works of Christopher Isherwood) where the exquisitely Aryan boy stands up to sing â€œTomorrow Belongs to Meâ€: â€˜The branch of the Linden is leafy and green / The Rhine gives its gold to the seaâ€™ and you get an inkling of just one of the reasons so many otherwise good people were drawn into Nazism â€“politics aestheticised. The FÃ¼hrer was a VerfÃ¼hrer (â€˜seducerâ€™). While Hitler may have cultivated the appearance of a successor to Prussian King Friedrich the Great, he was far closer in spirit to the Wagner-obsessed builder of air castles Ludwig II of Bavaria.
The conspirators in real life were not much like Huch, a cantankerous grand old lady, who in a letter to the composer Max von Schelling, wrote that the Deutschtum (â€˜Germannessâ€™) the Nazis persisted in emphasising in their propaganda was â€œnicht mein Deutschtumâ€. The Wehrmacht and Hitler, on the other hand, were largely on the same page regarding German ambitions, although the July plotters, most from families in the Almanach de Gotha (the German equivalent of Burkeâ€™s Peerage) or satisfaktionsfÃ¤hig (of the class able to give â€˜satisfactionâ€™ â€“ that is, able to duel) were not merely the right-wing romantic aristocrats who wanted to continue the war against the Soviets under better leadership. That is part of the discrediting mythology of modern Left-wing German politics. Neither would Hitler have risen so easily to power had not the aristocrats smoothed the way by creating vast social divisions in the Weimar republic and initially treating Hitler as SalonfÃ¤hig (worthy of a fashionable salon). Simultaneously the Communistsâ€™ denunciation of any resistance to Nazi imperialism between the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact (1939) and Operation Barbarossa (1941), when Russia and Germany were allies, helped equally as much. The reader is encouraged to read Norbert Eliasâ€™ 1989 Studien Ã¼ber die Deutschen, available in the 1996 English translation as The Germans for a broader view of the development of German national and cultural identity.
A Hollywood movie is a blunt instrument with which to make a point, especially about something as emotionally-charged as Nazi Germany. Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda (a title which sounds suspiciously like it belongs in Aldous Huxleyâ€™s Brave New World) and his master Hitler were both obsessed with the possibility of cinema to control and manipulate the masses. Goebbels was adroit and unsubtle in his use of filmmaker/photographer Leni Riefenstahl. According to eminent German historian Joachim Fest, Hitler was fond of comedies with happy endings and disaster melodramas, frequently subjecting his circle to marathon viewings of Heinz RÃ¼hmannâ€™s Quax, the Daring Pilot, comic actors Hans Moser and Willy Forst, and King Kong. Sometimes he watched these films up to ten times.
Hitler was delighted with Walt Disneyâ€™s interpretation of German folktale in Snow White, and out of admiration for the great Peter Lorre as the child-killer in the 1939 movie M, personally invited the actor to work in the German film industry. Lorre replied: â€œThank you, but I think Germany has room for only one mass murderer of my ability and yoursâ€. The irony of the Cruise artistic version of history would not have been lost on the Nazi high command. The attempt to unite art and life was central to the Nazi cultus.
The Neue Kino of modern German cinema has occasionally produced some interesting analyses of how cinematic, projected and specularised German society had become under Hitler, frozen into repeating film-like loops of Panoptical looked-at-ness. As Thomas Elsaesser notes in his study of Fassbinderâ€™s movies:
What, Fassbinder seems to ask, was fascism for the German middle and working-class which supported Hitler? We know what it was for Jews, for those actively persecuted by the regime, for the exiles. But for the apolitical Germans who stayed behind? Might not the pleasure of fascism, its fascination have been less the sadism and brutality of SS officers than the pleasure of being seen, of placing oneself in view of the all-seeing eye of the State? Fascism in its Imaginary encouraged a moral exhibitionism, as it encouraged denunciation and mutual surveillance. Hitler appealed to the Volk but always by picturing the German nation, standing there, observed by â€œthe eye of the world.â€ The massive specularization of public and private life … might it not have helped to institutionalize the structure of â€œto be is to be perceivedâ€ that Fassbinderâ€™s cinema problematizes.
This echoes what Alice Yaeger Kaplan writes of French Fascism in Reproductions of Banality,
The crowd comes to know itself as film. Subjects knowing themselves as film â€“ that is, internalizing the aesthetic criteria offered in film â€“ have a radically different experience, than if they knew themselves through film. In the film experience the spectators do not merely control a model that remains exterior to their untouched subjectivity; rather, their subjectivity is altered and enlarged by the film…
Fundamental to that world-view is Nietzscheâ€™s distinction between Kultur and Zivilisation In English the word â€˜cultureâ€™ does not necessarily discriminate between the artistic, spiritual, practical and technological aspects of life; â€˜cultureâ€™ and â€˜civilisationâ€™ are regarded as complementary, and often as synonyms. In German, however, Kultur came to refer exclusively to the spiritual, philosophical, psychological and artistic aspects of life, while in contrast Zivilisation denoted the social, political and technical realm, and deemed of a lower order. This demarcation would only change after the Second World War. Hollywood, it might be argued, exists is a similar kind of limbo, manufacturing a kitsch pabulum under the mistaken impression that it is making art.
This separation â€“ really an opposition – of Kultur and Zivilisation was reflected in a second division, even greater than the one between the arts and sciences; that of Geist (spiritual and intellectual endeavour) and Macht (power and political control). This conflict â€“ British novelist and physicist C.P. Snowâ€™s â€œtwo culturesâ€ of science versus art, with extreme prejudice â€“ greatly afflicted bourgeois Weimar society. Although philosophy and the arts tried to find ways around the stalemate by exploring primitive cultures, or in the case of the Bauhaus school of design which tried to fuse good design with technocratic mass-production, reuniting Kultur and Zivilisation, the German bourgeoisie failed to achieve the socio-political concessions with the ancient regime found in England and the Netherlands. Neither did they undergo revolution, per se, as did France or Russia. It was this environment that allowed for the rise of the Nazis â€“ a populist binding of kitsch to authority that appealed to the disenfranchised proletariat.
Fest in Speer: The Final Verdict (2001, the English translation of his 1999 biography of Albert Speer) makes a case that along with totalitarian opacity, this division of public and private, of art and politics, was the reason that Speer â€“ Hitlerâ€™s architect and the highest-ranking civilian in the Reich â€“ was so naive about what the regime was doing in the Konzentrationslager. Although Speerâ€™s heroic rebellions at the end of the war saved much industrial infrastructure in Germany and the occupied countries, I personally feel Fest was too gentle with Speer: it is inconceivable that the Reichâ€™s Minister of Armaments and a personal friend of Hitler, who had read Mein Kampf, who had visited the Mauthausen concentration camp in 1943, could only â€˜senseâ€™ and not know of the Endlosung (â€˜Final Solutionâ€™). He knew enough to know he didnâ€™t want to know any more, and the same is largely true of ordinary Germans at the time. I would, however,Â be very surprised at anyone honest enough to put themselves in their shoes, who would not understand what is a very human, if ignoble act of compartmentalisation and mental survival. I know from much self-examination that I would have been unlikely to have acted differently, though I would have been ashamed of my inaction.
While it was Tresckow who famously masterminded the affair, Cruise plays Clais von Stauffenberg, the one who delivered the suitcase bomb to Hitlerâ€™s forward headquarters; the scriptwriters borrowing heavily from Bodo Scheurigâ€™s book Henning von Tresckow: Ein Preusse gegen Hitler (1987) giving some of Tresckowâ€™s best lines to Cruise. The identification between Von Stauffenberg and Cruise at one point became so ridiculous that Hollywood photoshopped a photograph of Von Stauffenberg to look a little like the actor. Theodor Adorno said that after the Holocaust (and by extension, the whole era of Hitlerian Germany), to write poetry is barbaric. I submit that for the film industry to play vapid and cynical PR games with the most shameful phase of Western twentieth century history in a dictatorship largely brought about by vapid and cynical PR games, is just as barbaric.
The July plotters were dubious heroes for democracy.Â But in their favour, under Gestapo â€˜interrogationâ€™ twenty of them insisted they had been motivated by revulsion at the treatment of the Jews These are listed in the 1986 book Der Widerstand Gegen den Nationalsozialismus (â€˜The Resistance Against National Socialismâ€˜). In Joachim Festâ€™s 1994 book Staatsstreich (â€˜coup dâ€™Ã©tatâ€™), we read that the twenty-four-year-old Axel von dem Bussche-Streithoss and other conspirators were turned against Hitler after seeing thousands of Jews shot en mass at the Dubno airfield in Ukraine. Ulrich-Wilhelm Graf Schwerin von Schwanenfeld was disgusted into resistance by what the SS Einsatzgruppen were doing in Poland. The ceremony of innocence had drowned. Perusing the Lexicon des Widerstandes 1933-1945 (1994, â€˜Lexicon of those who resistedâ€™, literally â€˜stood againstâ€™) we find Julius Leber, Dietrich BonhÃ¶ffer, Adolf Reichwein and Carl Goerdeler, who had been angling against rival Hitler even in the early days. Then there were the aristocratic sons of the Hochadel â€“ Alexander and Berthold Graf Schenk von Stauffenberg, Hans von Dohnanyi, Heinrich Graf von Lehndorff, Helmuth James Graf von Moltke. Many of them came from the snobbish and exclusive Prussian Ninth Infantry regiment.
Even Hans Frank, savagely brutal Reichsminister, Governor-General of occupied Poland, and a reservist of the Ninth Infantry regiment, claimed before his hanging at Nuremberg that the Ninthâ€™s officers had not understood â€œAntisemitismus der spezifisches Nazi-Artâ€ (â€˜anti-Semitism of the specific Nazi typeâ€™ â€“ the army was well aware of what the death squads were up to). Anti-Semitism, though of a largely abstract sort born of snobbery, was endemic in the west prior to the war â€“ not an excuse, but an acknowledgment -Â but even Fascist Italy was relatively benign to the Jews compared with the Nazi pathology. Mussolini even had a Jewish mistress. The Nazis were rare in their envisioning of a mechanism of psychological/physical torture and extermination in the twentieth century, though certainly not alone. The Russians had their pogroms (visions of Cossacks riding terrified Jews down on long streets, and clearing out the Shettels â€“ the latter of which, for the musically minded, is alluded to in Fiddler on the Roof) and even the Nazis were surprised at the lengths gone to in Eastern Europe and Vichy France to meet and surpass the orders of their German overlords.
New Zealanders, like most English speakers, have always tended to absorb from Winston Churchill, Hollywood and comic books set during the Second World War, that the stereotype of Bosche bestiality was born and bred in the traditional brutal discipline of military Prussia. It comes as a shock to find that a significant number of the Prussian aristocracy did not tow the party line on the Jewish Question. Had not Tresckow committed suicide by blowing himself up with a grenade in the woods (a Wagnerian heldentodt or â€˜hero deathâ€™), he probably would have confirmed that he had recruited them for this very reason. The grenade was intended to give the Gestapo the impression that Tresckow had died in battle and was not a conspirator, in the hope that they would leave his family alone. Hitler had a penchant for Sippenhaftung, punishing the innocent family along with the guilty individual.
Yes, Von Tresckow despised the Nazis, but he was equally passionate about Grossdeutschland, humiliated and emasculated by the Treaty of Versailles, and wanted it to grow strong again. It is also highly likely that had the conspirators been successful, Germany under new management may well have teamed up with the Allies to fight the Soviet threat from the East. Von Tresckow was certainly a unique figure, but as a Hollywood hero there is an enormous blot on his copybook that seems to have passed over the head of the couch-jumping Scientologist and his sycophantic minions. The evidence is incontrovertibly presented in Der Krieg der Generale by Carl Dirks and Karl-Heinz Janssen (1999).
The Russian campaign was grossly flawed. Hitler was too clever: he studied Napoleonâ€™s campaign of the previous century far too closely. Napoleon was a fool to attack Moscow first, because Imperial Russia was vast and spread out; Hitler was a fool not to have done because under Stalin Moscow had become the centralised heart and brain of Soviet Russia. In the first winter it rapidly became obvious that without a quick victory the German troops would freeze to death on the front without any warm clothing. In defiance of the Geneva Convention, and even German military law, the German troops stripped thousands of Russian prisoners of their overcoats and felt boots. Tresckow was one of those endorsing the plan. It might have seemed pragmatic at the time to a Prussian officer, but it rather tarnishes the gloss that Cruise and his ilk are trying to achieve in a film like Valkyrie.
Primo Levi â€“ one of the â€˜literary witnessâ€™ survivors of Auschwitz â€“ came to the conclusion (a magnanimous triumph of moral superiority given the circumstances) that there were degrees of guilt in German society among those not doing the suffering. Those who decided â€˜not to knowâ€™ were less guilty than his persecutors, but were still guilty. The camp survivors, who felt shame (or more likely, Post-Traumatic Stress) because they had survived, were not responsible because they had been driven to it (that extra bite of bread or mouthful of water that means the difference between life and death). Even if they had done immoral things in what Levi calls the Grey Zone, it is hardly likely they would have done so normally â€“ a state from which they (through no fault of their own) had been displaced. One must be very careful about the concept of Billigung or â€˜tacit acceptanceâ€™.
Of course, there were monsters. Right up until the final gasp – the Zusammenbruch (â€˜collapseâ€™) or Jahr Null (â€˜Year Zeroâ€™) – of the Third Reich, the sadists at the camps continued torturing in inexhaustibly creative ways, even after some of their masters (those who wanted to get out of the meltdown alive) ordered them to stop. But these perverted creatures were not a typical selection of the German people; these were psychopaths who (as they do in every totalitarian regime) rose to their position because they had few scruples to overcome in the first place. Many European Jews never made it to the camps and were despatched by local mobs of anti-Semitic thugs. These mobs frequently included beat cops, the Ordnungspolizei, many of them not even in the Nazi party, whose killings rivalled the mass shootings of the SS Einsatzgruppen, who themselves were a mixed bag. The mob has no compassion, no reason, but positions of authority within totalitarian regimes tend to attract a societyâ€™s monsters. In astonishing contrast, among the Einsatzgruppen, nervous breakdowns and alcoholism were endemic and those that couldnâ€™t stomach the brutality were granted a dispensation without penalty.
I have spent a long time trying to understand how the grandparents of my friends could have allowed such terrible things to happen. Yes, it is true anti-Semitism was rife and not much love was lost on the Jews in Germany before the Holocaust, but to paint an entire people as evil for all too human fear and complacency is grossly irresponsible in a historian. A cursory glance through a book like Wolfgang Benz and Walter H. Pehleâ€™s Encyclopaedia of German Resistance to the Nazi Movement (English translation, 1996), reveals literally hundreds of individuals and youth, socialist, communist and religious groups who, for a variety of reasons, actively stood against the terror as best as they could â€“ a small, but significant minority. It should also be remembered that the Nazis were well in control by the time the trains started moving to the camps.
Neither was Germany struck by a sudden wave of mass insanity – the real tragedy of the Nazi seizure of power (Machtergreifung) is that it was completely unexceptional and could have happened (and could still happen) in any industrial western nation under similarly unusual circumstances â€“ in this case the perfect storm of a society demoralised by war losses, humiliated by the Treaty of Versailles, fractured between political and social cliques, economically damaged, and with the threat of Soviet Russia looming to the east. Consider the events leading up to the Balkan War, for example, or current conditions in the Middle East.
It is a shame that Hollywood continues to overlook the White Rose group, and the martyrdom of Sophie Scholl (1921-1943) and her brother Hans. In Munich, 1942, they really were the â€˜Good Germansâ€™. The White Rose group was a small bunch of incredibly courageous non-Jewish German kids who resisted the Nazification of Germany in the only way available to them, by distributing protest pamphlets. The penalty, if caught, was death, and in all likelihood Sippenhaft or deportation to a camp â€“ which is one of the main reasons that ordinary Germans did so little to resist what was happening in their country – something blithely ignored in Daniel Jonah Goldhagenâ€™s flawed Hitlerâ€™s Willing Executioners (1996), which tends to paint Germans of the period as being universally and equally complicit in the horrors of the Holocaust. If that was the case, the Gestapo would hardly have been necessary.
One of the most moving stories of German resistance was that of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose group. There are numerous good books on the subject, although unfortunately few in English. Sophieâ€™s sister Inge wrote the book Die WeiÃŸe Rose, â€˜The White Roseâ€™ which contains transcripts of the pamphlets and the Nazi court records. Perhaps more accessible is the 2005 German film Sophie Scholl: Die Letzen Tage (â€œThe Final Daysâ€). These young people â€“ civilians with none of the protections of rank and privilege – showed such tremendous courage when speaking out meant death. They are completely at the opposite end of the resistance spectrum to Tresckow. It wasnâ€™t about defending social hierarchies for them, rather it was something visceral and heartfelt. Any effective protest that might have been mounted by the German people themselves was largely thwarted by infighting between various ideological groups. To drive the point home the Nazis made the crime of active dissent punishable by death â€“ and for extra medieval dreadfulness they specified decapitation by guillotine or axe. Probably nothing more clearly illustrates the Nazi mentality and its schizophrenic relationship with the German people in the endgame of the Second World War.
The Nazis were aware of the danger of the possible impact these young Germans on trial might have on a broader public. The trial was presided over by fanatical Nazi and probable psychopath Roland Freisler, and even he was lost for words when Sophie, Jean dâ€™Arc-like, bore witness at the trial: â€œFinally,â€ she said, â€œsomeone has to make a start. We only said and wrote what many people think. They just donâ€™t dare to express it.â€ Plans by the Munich party office to have the White Rose members hanged publically in the courtyard of their university, were scuppered by Berlin for fear that such a courageous showing might encourage more resistance. These were the sort of youthful Tutonic types the Nazis had idealised in their own propaganda; perfect material for martyrs. Sophie Scholl was guillotined at five oâ€™clock in the afternoon, February 22, 1943 in Munichâ€™s Stadelheim prison. In German the word for guillotine blade is Fallbeil.Â Without wanting to be grisly, the word sounds almost onomatopoeic. The fall sounds like the falling steel whistling through the air, and the beil is it hitting home. Sophie was twenty-one. Offered her life if she would recant, she refused. As a mercy, she was executed before her brother so she would not have to watch. Her story is just as poignant, perhaps more-so than that of Anne Frank (without wanting to diminish the importance of Jewish experience as the victim of the Holocaust) for her heroic, risky, but insignificant actions. Yet another example of the German obsession with the heroic failure.
Many streets and squares near German universities are today named Platz der WeiÃŸen Rose or Geschwister (â€˜siblingsâ€™)-Scholl-StraÃŸe in their memory, particularly in Bavaria. I have visited the latter in Munich and wondered at this act. This association of place and name is intriguing. It allows both â€˜townâ€™ and â€˜gownâ€™ to acknowledge the event and remind us and future generations of the great sacrifices made by these students, perhaps because they epitomise the humanist ideals of the university system â€“ something badly shaken by the Nazis. In 1929 the National Socialists had called for an â€œassault on the universitiesâ€ and in 1931 they managed to close down the University of Berlin. The universities were badly undermined academically under the Nazis when expert Jewish academics were forced from their positions. The naming association also helps alleviate some of the tarnish of the duelling-mad Far Right Student Associations (including the National Socialist Studentsâ€™ League) that, in collaboration with the Freikorps (the thuggish private armies that emerged from the First World War) were responsible for the murders of prominent German communists like Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht.
Both the would-be assassins of Hitler and White Rose fall within the Grey Area of Good Germans. Although Tresckow and Stauffenberg are justly to be remembered for their attempt to excise the cancer of Hitler from Germany, to my mind their motivations may have been far less noble than Hollywood and Bad History would have us believe. Their relationship to Nationalist Socialism simply remains too ambiguous. Hollywood Bad History has reduced these complex, driven men to mere dramatic ciphers. I am far more moved by the much smaller, but far more significant in terms of the attached risks, of the students of the White Rose. Fortunately Sophie and her compatriots have remained relatively untouched by the reductive homogenisation of the popular media industry, although media critic Clive James has suggested Natalie Portman play Sophie. She and her fellows are, for me, the epitome of the Good Germans, and I fear what Hollywood and Bad History might do to their memory.
The Holocaust stands alone as one of the most disgusting crime ever perpetrated by a Western nation, but it sits like the largest, bloodiest Borgia jewel in the setting of a broader crime: the turning of Germanyâ€™s state against its people. Before they started invading neighbouring countries in search of resources and lebensraum, the main victim of the Nazis were the citizens of the German state, themselves â€“ which includes the assimilated German Jews (who might more accurately be called Jewish Germans, many whom the Nuremburg Race Laws made â€˜Jewishâ€™ and who would not have been recognised as such by Orthodox Judaism â€“ those with paternal Jewish ancestry, atheists, converted families), homosexuals, and dissidents. There is no greater evil than when a state turns on its people. Even the itinerant Gypsies, while within the boundaries of Germany were interacting at the margin of the culture and laws as they had for centuries, and should have expected to have been dealt with within civilised tropes. This, combined with the extraordinary level of cultivation in pre-1933 Germany, lies at the root of the greatest tragedy of the twentieth century: the collapse, perversion and Gethsemane of a truly rich culture.
Postscript: dubious historical perspectives in movies are not the sole province of Hollywood. The 1955 British film The Dam Busters (being remade by New Zealandâ€™s own Peter Jackson) gives the impression that the 1943 nocturnal deployment of the bouncing bomb against Ruhr dams by a small formation of Lancasters was a huge tactical success. In fact the loss of only three dams was relatively inconsequential (the Eder dam wasnâ€™t even part of the Ruhr system), nor was there an attack on the nearby vulnerable barrages. Nor was there any follow-up incendiary attack on the then waterless Ruhr Valley â€“ which would have been the logical move, having cut off the local water supply.
This was largely due to the failures and headstrong impulsiveness of Air Chief Marshal Arthur Harris, chief of British Bomber Command. Harrisâ€™ expansion of bombing raids to include civilian targets (resulting in the burning of LÃ¼beck, Dresden and Hamburg), inviting the inevitable retaliation of the Blitz, makes him the only modern de facto war criminal (and surprising incompetent) to have a heroâ€™s monument on London’s StrandÂ (outside the church of St Clement Danes – a Christopher Wren church), erected in 1992. Jackson â€“ who also remade one of Hitlerâ€™s favourites, King Kong – might better invest his energies in the story of ANZAC troops in North Africa, whose distraction of Rommel and the German forces allowed sufficient time for the Russians to prepare attack from the Eastern front (not helped by Stalinâ€™s previous pig-headed long-standing obliviousness to the threat of German attack) and thus cementing Allied victory.
 Schindler has come to overshadow slightly more deserving figures like the engineer Herman Friedrich GrÃ¤bewho employed Jewish labourers whenever possible to save them from execution commandos, and helped many to escape. It is estimated he saved approximately 300 people. Horst Sassin, Hermann Friedrich GrÃ¤be. Ein Solinger â€˜Schindlerâ€™, Solingen, 1997.
 The director Roman Polanski, being a Polish Jew with childhood memories of the horror, infuses the movie with a suitable bleakness. By contrast to Szpilman, we should recall the talented Polish-Jewish painter Bruno Schulz, who was protected by SS officers in the Drohobycz ghetto only up until one of them shot him in the head out of pique to spite one of his rival colleagues.
 Perhaps we are to assume the tacit Hollywood convention that they are in fact speaking German â€“ but then that would be even more obvious to the German officers, I would have thought.
 Cited by Jeffrey Goldberg, â€œHollywoodâ€™s Jewish Avengerâ€, The Atlantic, September 2009, p77.
 Although as Jewish-Americans, George Lucas and Steven Spielbergâ€™s spectacular melting of hundreds of ranked Nazis at the end of Raiders of The Lost Ark is an entirely justifiable youthful and spirited catharsis and revenge within the fantasy context. The difference between what they and what Tarantino did, is that in Raiders it is a combination of Nazis hubris and The Power of God responsible that bring about the mayhem â€“ aesthetically this karmically satisfying and the Good Guys remain unsullied.
 Thomas Elsaesser, â€œPrimary Identification and the Historical Subject: Fassbinder and Germanyâ€, in Narrative, Apparatus, Ideology: A Film Theory Reader, (ed) Philip Rosen, Columbia University Press, 1986, p545.
 Alice Yaeger Kaplan, Reproductions of Banality, University of Minnesota Press, 1986, p6.
 The reader is endorsed to consult Horst MÃ¶llerâ€™s â€œBÃ¼rgertum und bÃ¼rgerlichliberale Bewegnung nach 1918â€ in Historische Zeitschrift, special issue 17, 1997, pp293ff, and David Blackbourn and Geoff Eleyâ€™s The Peculiarities of German History: Bourgeois Politics in Nineteenth-Century Germany, Oxford, 1984.
 The New Zealand reader is invited to consider Prime Minister Robert Muldoon and othersâ€™ comments regarding the separation of politics and sport during the divisive Springbok Tour of 1981.
 Although it is illegal to import into or possess a copy of Mein Kampf in Germany outside of special academic permissions, through a rather complex irony its worldwide publication rights provide significant revenue to the state government of Bavaria.
 It is somewhat troubling that Fest makes reference to â€œBritish historian David Irvingâ€ without qualifying Irvingâ€™s status as a notorious Holocaust denier.
 Fest passim; and Cf. Erich Goldhagen, â€œAlbert Speer, Himmler and the Secrecy of the Final Solutionâ€ in Midstream, 1971, pp43ff.
 Over the centuries, attempted invasions of Russia have largely fallen foul of the winter. Hitler had access to the Napoleonic account and invaded on the same date 129 years later; Napoleon read the history of Charles XII of Sweden, but still made similar tactical mistakes; Charles XII read of the campaign of the Teutonic Knights. All were defeated by the winter.
 Because theoretical physics was seen as a less prestigious field than other areas, it was one field of science where German Jews were driven and congregated. When the Jews were forced from the universities, Germany lost much of its talent in that area. While this reality more than most did much to accelerate the Allied development of the atomic bomb, the remaining German scientists like Heisenberg were more than capable, and may well have succeeded. Jews discouraged from entering the humanities departments of the universities frequently went on to enrich the fields of observational and social journalism.
 This creates an interesting paradox in Holocaust literature yet to be explored â€“ that unquestioned â€˜Jewishnessâ€™ of a large number of the nine million murdered in the Holocaust, is in fact the product of a Nazi, not a Jewish definition.