TWO VIEWS OF GERMANY
How long will we continue blaming today’s Germans for the crimes of another generation? The author visited Germany this summer and returned with this message: unless we stop hating Germans, they might start hating us again
On a recent trip to the land of his birth, Maclean’s photography director Horst Ehricht found a Germany that has changed astonishingly — yet somehow remained the same. In the sensitive photographs on these pages, Ehricht tried to sum up his mixed feelings about a country he both loves and
fears. “I saw The Wall as an obscene symbol,” he says, “and the soldiers I met were different from the ones I’d known as a boy.” Has Germany changed? “I don’t know. As a German who’s become a Canadian it’s hard for me to be objective. It’s still a very complex country. Germany is hard for an outsider to understand.”
THERE ARK MANY Jews who have sworn never to set foot on German soil, in whom the fires of hatred lit by Hitler and his murdering gangs still burn with an unforgiving brightness. Not only Jews. The other day, a former McGill professor of economics told me he couldn’t stand German being spoken in his presence. When I asked him whether he'd ever been to West Germany, he said gruffly, ‘‘Not on your life.” For him also, there was to be no forgiveness for the German people. Not now, not ever. Germany must remain an eternal pariah among nations.
It is precisely my Jewishness that makes me disavow such hatred and revenge. I do not believe children should be made to pay for the sins of their fathers. I do not believe Germans are forever doomed to say ¡a to dictators and go goose-stepping into war. 1 reject every formulation of biological determinism. When 1 was a boy I heard a French Canadian call me and my mother “Christ-killers.” I’ve thought a great deal about that episode ever since, and I have wondered — in light of how most of us have regarded Germany since the war — how many Germans must feel the same way today.
1 got my answer this summer when, at the invitation of the Bonn government. I toured Germany for three weeks. All my travel expenses were assumed by an organization called Inter Nationes, a hands-across-thesea group formed a few years ago by former Chancellor Konrad Adenauer. Each year. Inter Nationes brings about 4.000 people from around the world to Germany, arranges for them a program reflecting their interests, and provides them with guides fluent ¡n the visitors' languages. It is, of course, a massive exercise in international public relations. But because of the residue of hatred left by the war. Germany still has a massive image-building job to do.
More pictures: pages 20 & 21
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The Germans are eager for praise they feel they deserve
these old images came flooding in on me as soon as my plane landed at Bonn airport. Here I was at last in a land Ed never seen — and I was surprised to find myself queerly disconcerted. Where were the swastikas? The scowling stormtroopers? The Nuremberg posters? Of course I knew all that had been swept away more than 20 years ago: yet some part of me was
still expecting a Germany that matched the vivid images time and history had stamped somewhere in the back of my head.
But as we drove from the airport ( Inter Nationes had laid on a chaufleured Mercedes - Ben/ and a guide named Hans who spoke Cambridge-accented English) this feeling lessened. At first, I felt strangely irritated with the normality ol everything.
What right. I asked myself, did my guide have to look so pleased with himself. so clean and wellscrubbed. when he was seated beside a Jew and driving through towns and villages where my fellow Jews had been murdered, in these very cobbled streets? And yet the towns and villages looked so peaceful, so lovely and so w'ell arranged in the early-morning sunshine. And gradually the ghosts of Nazism faded and finally disappeared into the ordinary homes, and the faces of ordinary people who sometimes waved as we sped by.
The impression of “ordinariness,” of “life going on.” deepened as the days went by and I saw the material and artistic wealth of Hamburg. Cologne, Munich. Stuttgart, West Berlin and the smiling prosperity of the German countryside. Economically.
West Germany has made a fantastic recovery. The stores and supermarkets are bursting with commodities and customers pressing to buy them: the city streets and autobahns are crowded with Volkswagens and Opels.
These outward manifestations of Germany’s Wirtschaftswunder are no illu-
sion. Unemployment is virtually unknown. Last year, in fact. Germany imported 500.000 laborers from other Common Market countries. Although this influx has created a serious housing shortage, wages are good by European standards.
But I didn't go to Germany to document her affluence. As a poet by trade and an academic by profession. 1 was more interested in learning what Germans thought and felt than in what they earned. Accordingly, most of my contacts were with intellectuals, stu-
dents, journalists and artists. If such people can be considered spokesmen for their country — and I think they should be — then Germany's message is plain: she wants to be credited for her postwar achievements, not blamed in perpetuity for the crimes of her past.
In Munich I spoke to one such intellectual, Dr. Alfred Jiittner. who
heads the Hochschule für Politische Wissenschaften. There arc more than 700 students in the Hochschule, drawn mainly from military personnel, highschool teachers and journalists. They come here to study the tenets of liberalism and democracy. Along with the Institute of Contemporary History, which publishes books, pamphlets and monthly journals on the origins and career of National Socialism, it is a significant intellectual bastion for the developing democracy of the Federal Republic.
Dr. Jüttner’s remarks on Germany’s Nazi past were not very illuminating. It was not only a reluctance to talk about an unsavory part of German history that made them perfunctory. It was something else I sensed: a what’s-the-use, we-can-never-explainwhat - it - was-like-to-those-who-didn’tlive-through-it attitude, one which I encountered many times in my talks with
other distinguished Germans.
But when I asked Dr. Jiittner to list the main achievements of the Federal Republic, he smiled and became more at ease. “Foremost,” he said. “I would put the integration of 15 million refugees from Eastern Europe into our national life. Failure to integrate them would have meant continual friction between East and West and there are enough dangerous issues between them without that. Next, there's our recovery after the war, the ‘economic miracle' as some call it. After these
come the payment of reparations, the integration of the Federal Republic
into the Atlantic alliance, and the laying of foundations for a free democracy.”
Most thinking Germans would
agree with this summing-up. They are eager for the praise they feel they deserve for having pulled their country out of the enormous havoc and misery the war wrought and from the evil inheritance of Nazism. Humanly, understandably, they would rather talk about the present and future than
about the past and its grim memories.
But are the Germans trying to sweep the past under a carpet? Are they pretending the nightmare never happened, that there were no extermination squads, no gas chambers, or ovens for burning human corpses? That it's a baseless fabrication to say that more than five million Jews were rounded up in Europe and killed in the most atrocious ways human ingenuity could devise?
1 asked my guide in Hamburg about this. He was studying Russian literature and was doing his doctorate on Dostoievski. Even for a German, he was unusually grave and serious. We were at a small bar. It was filled with a Saturday - night crowd good-naturedly ordering drinks, the insistent hum frequently punctured by laughter and singing. A more unsatisfactory setting for my probing questions can scarcely be imagined. What possible connection was there between what my eyes saw. my ears heard—the shouting, singing, laughing — and the ache I felt inside me? I grew more and more despondent as I reflected on a world that had indifferently allowed the mass killing of millions of innocent people. My guide sensed my mood: even shared it. 1 thought. Perhaps because he wished to cheer me up, he said. "A cartoon I saw in yesterday's paper shows a young man sardonically asking his friend, ‘Has your father discussed the facts of life with you yet?’ With us, the phrase doesn't
mean birds and bees; it means the Nazi past. The cartoon reflects the abyss that exists between the two generations, between parents and children. The older generation is unwilling to speak about its responsibility for Hitlerism. For answers to their impatient questions the young must turn elsewhere.”
No, Germans are not trying to hide the evidence of the shameful Nazi period. At the Bergen-Belsen memorial. at the Dachau memorial, the vileness of National Socialism is starkly
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Democracy appears to have taken root in the new Germany
presented by means of captions, figures and blown-up photographs. Even the most unimaginative person would feel clutched by a quiet horror, a nameless dread, as he gazed at those unforgettable records of human viciousness — at the crematoria, whipping blocks, and gas chambers that prejudice and hate had called out from
the savage or diseased depths of human consciousness.
It is not only tourists who make these grisly pilgrimages. Hundreds of thousands of Germans visit them every year. And for those who don’t, there are portable reminders of the Nazi past. When I was in Hamburg, I saw an exhibition, sponsored by former in-
mates of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, which was touring every city and town in the two Germanies. An entire building in downtown Hamburg had been converted into a temporary museum to house the artifacts of torture and death, and two “graduates” of the camp are present to offer chilling descriptions of their ordeal.
But Germans have seen even more powerful reminders in their own living rooms. Dr. Helmut Krausnick, who heads Munich’s Institute of Contemporary History, told me that he and his colleagues had helped in the production of a TV series called The Hitler Years. Nothing was held back. The series was a stark, unrelenting documentary. Night after night, millions of Germans sat in front of their TV sets reliving the rise and fall of Hitler and his gutter elite. These were the men to whom they had given their allegiance, whom they had followed blindly into the catastrophe of w'ar, mass murders, and defeat. For many Germans, the brutal honesty of The Hitler Years was hard to take and there were yelps of protest. But the overwhelming majority demanded that the series be shown a second time. The furor only ensured that additional millions of Germans saw it.
Nevertheless, there is still much concern, in Canada and elsewhere, that Nazism is still a potent force in modern Germany. I continually asked Germans 1 met about the swastika daubings, the anti-Semitic newspapers, and the resurgence of the neo-fascist NPD party, which recently attracted up to 10 percent of the vote in two provincial elections. Invariably they denied that such portents were significant. In last year’s federal election, they pointed out, the NPD failed to win a seat in the Bundestag, and most of the votes for the party — two percent of the total — came from the 45-to-60 age group. Moreover, many of these were protest votes, not in favor of fascism, but against the policies of the main parties, which, like Canada’s, offer little choice in foreign or domestic affairs.
Besides, the Germans kept pointing out, the 1960s aren’t the 1930s. In place of a punitive Versailles Treaty. Marshall Plan aid helped the defeated Germans to reconstruct their nation. Instead of ruinous inflation and massive unemployment. West Germany enjoys a mounting prosperity that has benefited all classes. Moreover, democracy appears to have taken firm root and the authoritarian habits and outlook of the Germans are slowly but surely being eroded. In the present Bundestag, 10 percent of its members are between the ages of 30 and 40. and their number will certainly increase in the coming years.
Not everyone I spoke to is optimistic. Many intellectuals are concerned by the blatant materialism which they claim has infected every aspect of national life, and they blame the
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“What must we do to prove to the world the past is dead?”
United States for the condition. Hans Ulrich Kempski, an extremely able and alert journalist who writes for the Süddeutsche Zeitung put it this way: “In West Germany there is an oligarchy of parties. New' ideas, new forces, new political personalities are obstructed from coming to the front. Our politicians in Bonn remain frozen
in old attitudes. We must normalize our relations with Moscow and the other East European countries. We must abandon our ostrich-like policy of pretending East Germany is not a reality. We must fight Communism in more flexible, imaginative ways; not by adopting a stiff, bourgeois stance, but by fearlessly pressing for more
But the most troubled intellectuals are the students. Meeting them in the lecture rooms, restaurants and bars. I fount! them most engaging in their open-mindedness, candor, and freedom from ideological cant. More than anyone, they are articulating the cur-
rent feelings and moods that are most relevant to assessing Germany’s present and probable future.
Once, chatting with four students at the Free University of West Berlin, I asked them how' they’d like it if the Ulbricht regime were in charge of a reunited Germany. Although all were in favor of recognizing his government. all reacted with a jolt of genuine astonishment to my question. They’d known fellow students who’d crossed to the other side of the wall and disappeared, and they had no illusions about the East German dictatorship. They too had seen the Communist guards standing poised with their automatic rifles, ready to cut down anyone mad enough to make a dash for freedom. It was a regime that repressed every thought or feeling which it believed hostile to its existence. Censorship, indoctrination, a drab uniformity of thought and behavior enforced by constant spying, and the stupefying incessant blah blah of a dictator and his servile henchmen. Nein, danke schön. No more totalitarianism for them, whatever the chromatic fancy-dressing, black or red.
One of the four students, a pipesmoking economics major, came closer than anyone I met to expressing the frustrations of a country which, 21 years after the overthrow of Nazism, is still being judged by the rest of the world.
He burst out. “It’s uncomfortable to have the feeling that you're always being watched. It’s like living under a suspended knife. The Americans can shoot Negroes and the English can have race riots, but nobody points a finger of scorn at them. But let some juvenile or lunatic ex-Nazi deface a synagogue or Jewish cemetery and the whole world, from Montreal to Mozambique, is alerted. Everyone shakes his head and says. Those barbarians, those sadistic Germans.’ What must we do to prove to the world that the past is dead, over and done with?
“You’ve seen our bookstores, newspapers, theatres, and talked with students and professors. Isn’t it clear that new forces have come into being, that a new spirit is abroad? How long is the world going to keep us quarantined? How long will it persist in treating us as unreliable children
fatally infected with evil?”
There’s little doubt in my mind that he spoke for a considerable section of the German public. Resentment against Germany’s allies is beginning to appear among Germans in all walks of life, but especially among the young. Should it continue to grow, the consequences could be far-reaching indeed.
Certainly, beneath the surface of affluence and overall satisfaction with the way things have turned out. it is easy to detect signs of frustration and restlessness. An editorial writer of the Frankfurter Rundschau summed it up like this: “The Federal Republic is still confronted by two serious problems. First, how long will Germans go on sucking the teats of the American shegoat and put off the day when they must grow' up and begin making decisions for themselves? Second, though we have the formal institutions of democracy and they appear to be working well enough, have we really rid ourselves of our authoritarian temper and outlook?
"The real test,” he said, “w'ill come when the generation that was born in 1945 reaches adulthood. They will have neither the hideous memories of destruction nor the feelings of guilt their elders have. Will they submit as readily as their parents did to the limitations placed on their independence and freedom of movement? Or at being pointed to constantly as objects of scorn and mistrust?”
He lit a cigarette and puffed thoughtfully for a few seconds. “I wonder whether our friends and allies in the West are giving the matter any thought. It could turn out to be the most important single issue confronting the world.”
THOUGH MANY compatriots, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, were upset by my trip to West Germany. I’m glad I went. I was thereby able to see for myself the truth of Job’s words: “The triumph of the wicked is short, and the joy of the godless but for a moment.” Nazism, which not so long ago appeared invincible, is dead and little or nothing remains of its evil dream. There are many who would like to keep Germans in the sinner’s dock forever, w'ho preach continued vengeance and hatred. Such a policy I regard as both wicked and foolish.
In West Berlin I was in a playground and watched some German children, no less fair and helpless than my own two-year-old son. toddling toward the sandbox. It was the greatest Jew of all who said. “Suffer little children to come unto me.” He meant, don’t infect them with your lousy hatreds and prejudices. Give them a break, don’t cripple them, don’t stunt them with the cruel nonsense, the racial and political ticks you’ve picked up along the way. If you can’t delouse yourselves, at least let the children grow' up free of them. Yes. that’s what I think Jesus meant.
Well, when I saw the blond, blueeyed toddlers in the sandbox and afterward held one of them on my knee, I mentally said. “No one. but no one. is ever going to hurt those kids.” Not while I’m alive, by God. ★