on german guilt (2016)

dresden 1944

St.Valentine’s Day massacre: Dresden 1944

Much of the following was written some time ago, and then developed a bit in an exchange with a former partisan of the “anti-deutsch” tendency in Germany, and finalised only yesterday (6/2/16). Whilst most of its generalisations are relevant to today, it doesn’t have much relation to anything precise going on now, but a friend thought it was good, so I decided to put it up.

Some reflections on German guilt

(followed by some notes on the German anti-deutsch tendency)

“That major moral principle ‘guilt’ [Schuld] derived its origin from the very materialistic idea ‘debt’ [Schulden]?… Where did this primitive, deeply rooted, and perhaps by now ineradicable idea derive its power, the idea of an equivalence between punishment and pain? I have already given away the answer: in the contractual relationship between creditor and debtor, which is, in general, as ancient as the idea of ‘legal subject’ and which, for its part, refers back to the basic forms of buying, selling, bartering, trading, and exchanging goods… In order to inspire trust in his promise to pay back, in order to give his promise a guarantee of its seriousness and sanctity, in order to impress on his own conscience the idea of paying back as a duty, an obligation, the debtor, by virtue of a contract, pledges to the creditor, in the event that he does not pay, something else that he still ’owns’, something else over which he still exercises power, for example, his body …or his freedom or even his life…”

On the Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche.

The defeat for the German side of the forces of mass slaughter at the end of the First World Imperialist War was partly due to Germany’s own working class in the social war against the rulers. But Germans paid for this defeat and the defeat of the form its ruling class took at the end of WWI (and the defeat of the half-revolution that the German workers took part in) by being saddled with massive debts as part of their punishment under the Versailles Treaty. As the famous quote from Saint-Just goes – “Those who make half a revolution dig nought but their own graves” (of course, for some it’s become a glib catch-all “explanation” which can often be used to avoid looking at precisely what was insufficiently contested and why). At the end of WWII Germany was punished with collective guilt for its rulers’ war crimes, whilst being massively subsidised under the Marshall Plan. Both debt and guilt were means by which international capitalism, in very different epochs, imposed its will on German capital, and on the German workers. Guilt at the end of WWII was a fundamental aspect of social control, which the Marshall Plan combined with the compensations of massive financial support for re-building Germany into a modern capitalist state, having abandoned the idea of the Morgenthau Plan to bomb the country back to the Middle Ages (which was abandoned partly because it strengthened the German’s resistance to the Allies), a plan which had been floated round about the time of the Dresden bombing. Instead, rather than debt and devastation, massive subsidies (official estimates put the amount given to Germans accumulated over the 50 year period since the end of the war as 140 billion German marks) and the imposition of guilt allowed a servile working class to build a modern welfare state amidst consumerist abundance. This was partly because it had been clear that the brutal impoverishment of the Germans after Versailles had helped, given the repression of the revolution and its socialist/communist vision, to fuel the “socialism of fools” that National Socialism expressed and its form of imperialist German competition that threatened competing imperialisms. And no-one wanted yet another repeat. Another reason was to undermine the appeal of the “communism of conmen” represented by the Communist Parties of the eastern bloc.

Guilt is a masochisticly deformed form of responsibility. Buchenwald concentration camp was in full view of the town of Weimar, and yet the people of the town claimed they knew nothing. Generally speaking, to avoid guilt you pretend ignorance (yet who feels guilty about the massacres today inflicted by capital’s money-terrorism in full view of the whole world? – those who never pretend ignorance of these horrors but justify their passivity in the face of them with a shrug of assumed powerlessness). Often, the more public the brutality, the more resigned and indifferent people are to its inevitability. In previous epochs when proletarians were not inundated with the ability to know about such terrors, they were, generally speaking, far more resistant on a mass scale towards the miseries they knew directly from their own experience: the spectacle of worse miseries in other places in the name of informing people and combating ignorance hardly existed for the vast majority. But nowadays such impotent “knowledge” is broadcast everywhere to the point where proletarian individuals become petrified in the face of the overwhelming insanity of the world and so often compensate themselves for their own uncontested misery with the notion that there’s always someone far more miserable than themselves.

The victory of the allies forced people out of this particular pretence of ignorance by imposing an across-the-board guilt applied to every German regardless of their position in the German WWll hierarchy. Such guilt remained simply a form of self-flagelation for one’s cowardice – ie the failure to stop the horror, which really meant the failure to face almost certain death in striving to stop the horror. Instead of opposing the material base of the causes of any particular horror, recognizing its history and your own relation to it, one’s own weaknesses as well as those of the working class as a whole, such masochistic guilt internalizes submission and creates an individualized form of moralistic “conscience” incapable of any practical class consciousness and  fearful of any form of self-assertion. Guilt is not the same as accepting a part responsibility (say, in the form of your hesitations or cowardice) and then doing something to correct that past. It’s a sick cancerous consciousness that isolates you in a niggling irritation turned magically in your head into a Christian “I suffer therefore I am redeemed” that requires simply lying in the bed you’ve apparently made. It has nothing to do with understanding one’s failures, and those of the proletariat as a whole, in order to actively supercede them, but simply a passive “consciousness” which serves the ruling class by ideologising the sick feeling of unease into a sufficient and cleansing response, beating yourself up as a subjective substitute for any real practical confrontation with your past. In this way the submission to authority which was part of the characterological need which made Nazism fall on fertile soil was not eradicated but merely transferred to the new more diffuse forms of authority needed to develop the new forms of capital in post-war Germany. The sense of “guilt” which doesn’t turn with greater clarity against the ruling society always succumbs to it. It is generally easier to control people by the subjective feeling of guilt than by the very objective, external authority of debt, because the latter can – and did – provoke a collective response, even if it was a horrendously brutal one. But the imposition of mass guilt on the Germans after the war was built on the constant unrelenting scramble for survival amongst the ruins of the cities and the deliberate starvation by US and French forces of 10s of thousands of prisoners of war (something the Germans never did to the POWs from the West during the war). See, for instance, “Other losses” which, although almost certainly greatly exaggerated (exaggerations improve sales), uncovers this hardly known atrocity.

WWl ended with the devastation of the German working class, through the collaboration of social democracy with the fascist Freikorps, the collective punishment of the Versailles Treaty including the weakening of its industrial power (annexation of the Rheinland, occupation of the Ruhr), and the horrendous devastations of the 20s (hyperinflation, mass unemployment, etc.) based partly on the defeat of the 1918-19 uprisings. This defeat was also brought on by the working class itself in its handing over of its power to social democracy, a social democracy that had already collaborated in the horrors of WW1, horrors which were one of the main reasons for this uprising (an uprising which brought the war to a speedier end than if there hadn’t been one). Whilst the working class of most countries tend to look for an external solution to their misery  one could argue that this hierarchical mentality is more entrenched in the German character than it is in other national characters. For instance, though in Russia at the time this took the form of faith in Lenin and the Bolsheviks, disillusionment also lead to significant uprisings and resistance (the Makhonovites, Kronstadt, etc.), which were far more anti-hierarchical than anything vaguely similar in Germany at that time. Which difference has as effect, the differences in national character. With Germany, this is partly due to a militarism which in Britain and in France, for instance, was able to develop its power outside of Europe, whereas Germany joined this race for colonies too late. So militarism as an internal method of entrenching obedience took a more powerful form of conditioning than in countries where capital developed over a longer period of time, and could practice its most vicious forms of authoritarianism in the far-flung countries of its Empire. Sure, it’s more complicated than this – but it plays a part.

The false reaction to this imposed guilt in Germany generally took the form of fascistic revisionism/Holocaust denial and/or an attempt to make all other horrors of the war equivalent. Horrors on all sides there clearly were: Dresden, Hiroshima, the starvation imposed on the Bengalis by Churchill (at least 3 milllion died), etc.etc. But although starvation, being nuked or being burnt alive are horrible ways to die, the fact that the German concentration camp commanders were so obviously and crudely sadistic, so coldly “scientific”, has been used to imply that the whole of the working class was to blame for this gratuitous pleasure in brutality, which was largely unprecedented in its unrelenting intensity, at least on such an industrial scale.

Today capital starves to death (or kills by easily curable diseases) 8 million children a year, and yet so few people do something to genuinely oppose this, even though such opposition would not – generally speaking – lead to torture and death, which such opposition would certainly have meant if anybody in Nazi Germany had done anything against the Nazis (and, despite this, there was opposition by the working class in Germany under Hitler – see, for example, this). This is certainly not to make an equivalence of all capitalist misery – which makes every misery as interchangeable and exchangeable as a commodity – as, say, “a quarter of wheat…exchanged for X blacking, Y silk, Z gold, etc.” (Marx, Capital). Mass murder is mass murder but  body counts avoid understanding the historical and subjective meaning of the lives and deaths of those involved. But equally making a hierarchy that puts the killing of about 73% of Europe’s Jews at the top, the killing of about 73% of Hutus in Rwanda in the middle and the massacre of between 60% and 80% population of the Congo by Belgian imperialism at the bottom is obviously a euro-centric arrogance.  Any radical hatred of capitalism can neither make a hierarchy of horrors nor impose a simplistic “objectivism”, in the name of some very general critique of the totality, on what are very different experiences of mass murder. Equivalence and hierarchy are two sides of the same ideological thinking inculcated by the commodity form. 

In 1953 the East German working class rose up against the forces of state capitalism, and were brutally suppressed, without any external expressions of solidarity (Brecht, notoriously, refused to support them even when they went directly to him for help).  This was partly because they were guilty Germans, and therefore unworthy of solidarity. Since then, though there have been significant expressions of working class struggle in Germany – mainly from immigrants and “guestworkers”, the German working class has never threatened dominant society except only very marginally: most of the working class has followed the unions or political parties and never asserted itself independently, a superficially secure superficially satisfied cushioned conservative force, so devastated by the truly horrendous defeats and imposed guilt coming from the past,  and yet very much into work work work macht frei, whilst numbed by the stupefying comforts and compensations of consumerism that the vast majority of workers have never got up off their knees.

A resumé of my conclusions from an email dialogue I had with a former participant in the German anti-deutsch movement

This was a discussion with someone who translated this text of mine into German, and who also helped in the production of the original German version of this leaflet and helped in correcting my not very good translation of it into English.

The anti-deutsch tendency is a German phenomena based on guilt about Germany’s Nazi past. It is a tendency that likes to call itself “communist” in the ultra-left, not the traditional state capitalist, sense of the term, though it clearly has very little to do with virtually any other ultra-left tendency. Part of my interest in it stems from the attitudes of various participants in the mixture of ultra-left communists and anarchists who have attended various week-long summercamps mainly in France and Germany. I went to 3 of these summercamps – one for 3 days in the beautiful countryside of the Jura (France) in 2011, one for 3 days in  an equally beautiful forest-area just outside Berlin in 2012, and one again – for the full week –  in  the Jura in 2014. In 2011 I went mainly to see friends in the TPTG Greek group who I’d known since before the TPTG had existed, and this in part to discuss what later became Aufhebengate. The TPTG were one of the significant participants over the years in these summercamps and the next one will be held in Greece and – as far as I understand – hosted by them (though there seems to be some controversy and apparent conflict over various significant critiques which partly arose over my critiques of some participants who, following the Charlie Hebdo killings in January 2015, revealed themselves to be involved in journalistic work for a weekly anti-deutsch rag called Jungle World, one of whom turned out to be one of the 3 chief editors  – see this, in Germanwhich includes a funny Monty Pythonesque video of the editorial staff of this paper singing the Marseillaise). 

Anyway, the following is, as the title of the this subsection clearly states, a resumé of my conclusions from an email dialogue I had with a former participant in the German anti-deutsch movement resulting from my conflicts with this particular tendency at the summercamp, which I decided not to participate in in the summer of 2015.

***

For me the the German anti-German phenomena had some interesting subversive aspects long before it became a disgusting political tendency. For instance, in the First World War it was clearly a radical risk for Johann Herzfeld to change his name to Johnny Heartfield (the Dadaist creator of political photomontage) – it was original and shocking to the German militarist mentality of the time. Clearly there were what could vaguely be called German “anti-German” tendencies amongst, for instance, some of the radical tendencies in pre-Hitler radical culture and anti-militarist politics. But since then….?

***

I come from a semi-German background – my father was born in Hamburg and left in 1933 (my mother was Jewish from London). My uncle – Bill Brandt, the photographer, was so anti-German he always claimed, throughout his life, that he was born in Sydenham on the outskirts of London and affected an English accent which required him to speak always in soft almost whispered tones to hide any hint of German. All his publications during his lifetime state that he was “English born”, technically correct since his father – my grandfather – was technically English (his father’s mother having given birth to his father on holiday in London). He always said he couldn’t remember anything of his life up until the age of 16, when he left Germany. When I was 17 I went to Berlin for a few months to try to learn German (though everyone practiced their English on me, so I didn’t learn much – just enough to get me through A-level German afterwards). When my uncle heard I’d gone to Berlin, he asked my father what I had done to be punished like that. Because of the anti-German taboo following WWll, I was brought up without any German being spoken at home, which was a great mistake, given the usefulness of being brought up bilingually. And it should be remembered that the English language is based on that of the Angles and Saxons, both part of Germania.

***

The whole anti-deutsch stuff is utterly stupidly reactive – so many intellectual anti thises and thats and anti anti gymnastics that show how much it’s dominated by the need to oppose other leftisms, devoid of any distanciated take on things, and devoid of any aim other than to reconcile themselves to the false choices of this society. Some anti-deutsch tendencies even hail Bomber Harris, the commander of the RAF that destroyed, along with the USAF, Dresden in 1944, as a hero. As a reactionary reaction to nationalism post-1990 unification it just seems to be symptomatic of the abstraction of ideas possibly more prevalent in Germany than most other places because – at least since the uprising of 1953 in the East – there have been only very marginal instances of class struggle there. So – given the anti-dialectical nature of the spectacle – ideas become unhinged from any concrete practical reality to the point where people define themselves by their ideas in reactive opposition to other ideas, and so lose any sense of humanity and reality. Becoming so reactively anti-Leftist, the anti-deutsch end up supporting the US and Israeli states’ mass murders in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestine. One seriously wonders how the organisers of the “communist” summercamps can justify having such obviously sick paid ideologists amongst those invited to attend (which some knew about but didn’t bother to mention) – but I suppose as long as you call yourself “communist” with a small “c” then what does it matter what vile vomit you actually produce for a living. Long live abstraction!

***

One of the leading theoreticans of the anti-deutsch current is Joachim Bruhn; the interview with him  linked to here is indicative of the stupidity of marxist intellectual contortions and the particularly stupid form of inverted nationalism that the anti-deutsch phenomena is illustrative of. What he says is a load of convoluted rubbish, typical intellectual twisting and turning – full of notions of ideas bouncing off ideas, with a constant need to use Marx as a refrerence point, as if arguing in Marxian language somehow conveys theoretical sophistication. Drop in a few “ontological”s, add some bits of “homogenisation” and a smidgeon of “subsumption”, with lashings of references to Adorno and the whole gut-wrenching stew can appear to be some haute cuisine from a 5-star Marxist restaurant.

These acrobatics are based on a typical middle class cliché – the feeling of having been betrayed by the working class which was meant to save them, the world and their lives from its horrors (apparently this is from Adorno, famous for calling the cops on the students who were occupying the University in ’68). But never seeing their own position within capital, their own complicity with the system, which in the end is certainly as entrenched as that of the “working class” (which Bruhn considers as an abstraction, as something separate – out there; a class-not-for-itself, a set of social relations abstracted from him and his little sect’s own concrete contradictions). Since he cannot see himself as proletarian – mainly because he constantly plays the role of intellectual and considers theory to be a purely intellectual process – he is absolutely blind to the dispossessed’s practical revolt, considering his clique as “subversive” merely for their sickening ideas (and you have to be utterly sick to support the Israeli or the US state). Hence this guy can seriously think “the working class has been – by its own desire – totally integrated in the German mass-murder collective” whilst himself supporting this mass murder collective when it’s committed by the IDF or the USAF. In fact, this is the typical garbage of thinking oneself as superior because one is cultured and modern and sophisticated and all that nonsense maintaining hierarchical separations. I mean how bizarre can you get to come out with “In my opinion the (symbolic) date of this treason seems to be the 20th January 1942, the day of the Wannsee conference – a day when the ultimate necessity of the workers world revolution coincided with the total absence of the working class, indicating its total integration into the system of the ”Volksgemeinschaft”. “ On the one hand this is totally German-centric at best – after all the working class exists internationally and in 1942 class struggle was at an extremely low ebb everywhere (for obvious reasons). But to say that “Since then class struggle has been an ideology” is the kind of deeply ignorant stuff that only someone utterly immersed in the logic of his narrow milieu and its narrow history could think was saying anything remotely connected to reality. It’s a politico-leftist form of the kind of bollocks that cults come out with to sound profound, but which only has some kind of meaning for them and their closed petrified world. With this phrase it’s not merely dismissive of all the concrete risks expressed in such events as Berlin ’53, Hungary ’56, May ’68, Italy ’69- ’78, the UK miners strike etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc (which can be dismissed with all the typical arrogance expressive of intellectuals from middle class backgrounds who never do anything but express political positions) but all the daily examples of class struggle over the past 73 years including those that are happening at this very moment. Clearly this guy considers struggle as something involving working out how to dress up thoroughly conservative support for Israeli and American state policies as somehow “communist” or “Marxian” or whatever “subversive” colours these practically complicitous Dolce Gabbanas feel they can clothe their disgusting inhuman reflections in whilst reinforcing their own intellectual niche in the  division of labour of Germany’s pseudo-opposition.

The Bruhn interview shows how – behind the “profound” sleights-of-hand that somehow magically make such politics sound anything other than politics – anti-deutsch is just typical anti-life politics – ie a justification for aspects of the world of domination and submission, of mass murder and their ideological supports. Though the path to the end of alienation follows the straight and narrow path of alienation itself, having wandered along the path of this intellectual anti-deutsch labyrinth it’s impossible to escape from it through intellectual means. You cannot prove it’s bullshit to its adherents. Those who are outside it see it far clearer than those who are stuck inside it going round and round trying to make sense of it. Either one re-discovers an emotional hatred for the system that such deformed thinking supports and explodes in anger against it, or one constantly tries to find something worthwhile in it which is so obviously a way of lying to oneself.

If one has to have an ideological career, at least one should have an element of modesty that enables one to produce some concrete down-to-earth research that could be of use to those who really struggle against the colonisation of life by the economy and its roles. For example, I find Hannah Arendt’s analysis of anti-semitism and in particular of German anti-semitism and of the class relations amongst Jews in the first section of “The origins of Totalitarianism” of genuine use for those who want to struggle against all forms of religious, racial or national identities, or their “anti” forms of identity, even if – inevitably, given the time it was written (1951) –  it’s partly dated….and limited – not inevitably, but due to the fence-sitting role academia encourages, especially the avoidance of an explicit attack on class society.(added 29/2/16:) Although in the case of this specific book, published as it was during the MacCarthyite period in the USA, it’s understandable why her class critique was only suggested rather than overt. Apparently (I haven’t read it yet) her Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil is far more explicit about the class nature of rich Jews and their collaboration with the Nazi hierarchy. And far more accessible.

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5 Responses to on german guilt (2016)
  1. Alfred says:

    Your reflections on guilt are interesting on a psychological level, but I doubt that they explain much of German post war history. You provide very little empirical evidence for your claim that „guilt at the end of WWII was a fundamental aspect of social control“.

    It is true that immediately after the war, for a brief period of time, the Western allies tried to impose the idea of „collective guilt“ of the German people for the atrocities of the Nazi time on the Germans. The „Psychological Warfare Division“ of the HQ of the allied forces led a propaganda campaign and forced the German population to visit the concentration camps and to watch the piles of corpses there or made them watch films like „Die Todesmühlen“ (the death mills). But this campaign was quickly cancelled and the concept of „collective guilt“ was dropped altogether after the Western allies realised that they needed the support of the population of Western Germany which they wanted to turn into a strong front state against the Eastern Bloc in the incipient Cold War.

    In the eastern part of Germany, the new rulers declared, according to Dimitroff’s theory of fascism, that the ordinary people was free of guilt, as the whole responsibility for the Nazi crimes were located at the ruling elites in business, military and politics.

    There is no evidence that the short propaganda campain of the Western allies implemented the idea of „collective guilt“ deeply into the minds of the Germans. Quite to the contrary: The general attitude of the majority of the Germans after the war was that they had nothing to do with the Nazi crimes and that the accusations of the allies against them were not justified. They felt no guilt. In fact, it became an important aspect of right wing ideology in post war Germany that the whole world would impose the feeling of „collective guilt“ on the Germans to keep them on their knees – long after the allied forces or anybody else had given up to actually make such accusations!

    Your observation that class struggle and subversion in general has been on a remarkably low level in Germany after the Second World War is certainly true. But I wouldn’t blame „German guilt“ for that, but rather explain this sad fact with the results of the Nazi period itself: The brutal repression of any revolutionary current in Germany, the specific form of class compromise of the German „Volksgemeinschaft“ which prevailed in the form of the post war welfare state and the reinforcement of an authoritarian mentaliy among the population.

    What I find interesting in your text are the reflections on the fact that the showing of the horrors of the modern world via the media seems to reinforce general passivity rather than any practical oppostion against specific crimes or miseries. But this is a general phenomen which has nothing to do with „German guilt“.

    • Firstly, the fact that collective guilt was a relatively short-lived state-directed policy in the West does not mean that it didn’t outlast this period. Racism is not an explicit state policy in most countries in the world – and in many countries there are laws outlawing racist decision-making in housing, work etc. Which of course, doesn’t mean it doesn’t persist. Very obviously capitalism uses racism, and the state encourages it indirectly (through immigration policy, for instance). But not explicitly.

      It’s true, I should have talked about the use of guilt in WEST Germany – in the East the fact that class struggle erupted in 1953 might to a certain extent be indicative of the absence of any guilt (but an attidude of still blaming the Germans meant that the East Germans had virtual zilch international support, whereas 3 years later the, admittedly more profound, uprising in Hungary had enormous repercussions, partciularly amongst those who until then had considered themselves “communist”).

      Guilt about Germany’s past has persisted long after the official start of Cold War hostilities made it a partly unviable policy for West Germany, at least in any overt manner. This persistence still existed 60 years after the end of the war – for example, in 2005 the German state turned five acres of potentially lucratively commodifiable land in the centre of Berlin into a vast, grim memorial to the Jews murdered 60 years previously (see: ttp://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/4531669.stm ). And besides, even over 70 years after the end of the war almost everyone who mentions Germany and the Germans will refer to their collective guilt during this war. In fact, the whole of the anti-deutsch phenomenon is based on the idea of German guilt (I’m not sure if you see it this way, but anyone familiar with the anti-deutsch thing but who’s never been involved in it see it that way).

      You’re completely wrong to say that accusations of collective guilt had been given up – even if it’s true of “the allied forces” it’s certainly not true of “anybody else” . German guilt for the war is such an obviously commonly expressed aspect of dominant political-historical culture, constantly talked about, to the extent that I don’t feel the need to provide well-researched empirical evidence (see, for instance, this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yfl6Lu3xQW0 ). Having a German father and having a German surname, I was the butt of anti-German remarks at school, including remarks made by the history teacher whenever he didn’t like anything I said. This despite the fact that my father had risked his life getting Jews and Communists out of Nazi-occupied Prague in March 1939. If you were apparently German you were almost automatically personally responsible for the war, even if you were born after it. The fact that the war criminal Churchill had had great admiration for Hitler’s patriotism in the 1930s had been censored from our history books. The fact that the USA supplied Germany with iron and steel throughout the war was too eradicated by official history.

      Having said that, however, I realise that it’s more complex than the way I’ve put it in this somewhat over-general text. Guilt as much as the attempts to reject it have, regardless of any clear social intention (in this specific case, on the part of the victors of the war), a debilitating effect on consciousness and action that make people go round and round in circles in their head and in discussions focussed not on their misery, its history and a resolve to challenge and change it but on a constant interchange between masochism and rejection of the accusations of responsiblity, which can only lead to doing nothing, beaten down by a kind of psychological warfare. The fact that right-wing ideology took up one side in this submissive vicious circle merely indicates, in negative form, the persistence of the accusations of guilt on the other side.

      In the late 60s many of the youth of Germany blamed their parents for letting Hitler happen. But then I too blamed my parents for not opposing the miserable capitalist world enough, for not making a revolution (and for having joined the Communist Party, although they’d left in the 50s), for their complacency. I suspect that almost everywhere, at least until the current horrendous epoch, blaming one’s parents is an almost invariable reflex, which is partly right. In Germany this took the form of blaming one’s parents for their passivity in the face of the Nazis, which, regardless of the extent of their collaboration was in itself sufficient to be considered collaboration. Which, in a sense it is – but then it is globally vis-a-vis the global system, and certainly not just confined to Germans during the Hitler period. Those who do nothing against it all in fact support it.

  2. Just seen this passionate leaflet produced in the war by a German anti-war group : http://libcom.org/library/white-rose-leaflet-1

    There are 6 more leaflets produced by the White Rose group on libcom. Edit (2/3/16): they are passionate but – given their limited ideological perspective, their time and their place, they have relevance today mostly only as examples of some element of courage and resistance to Nazism within Germany itself.

  3. I thought the following from Hannah Arendt’s “Eichmann In Jerusalem” was interesting, showing how pro-Zionist Adolf Eichmann was in the run-up to WWII. It’s taken from Chapter 4: The First Solution: Expulsion and refers to “Eichmann’s muddled general outlook and ideology with respect to “the
    Jewish question.” :

    During cross-examination, he told the presiding judge that in Vienna he
    “regarded the Jews as opponents with respect to whom a mutually acceptable, a mutually fair
    solution had to be found.

    . . . That solution I envisaged as putting firm soil under their feet so that they would have a place
    of their own, soil of their own. And I was working in the direction of that solution joyfully. I
    cooperated in reaching such a solution, gladly and joyfully, because it was also the kind of
    solution that was approved by movements among the Jewish people themselves, and I regarded
    this as the most appropriate solution to this matter.”

    This was the true reason they had all “pulled together,” the reason their work had been “based
    upon mutuality.” It was in the interest of the Jews, though perhaps not all Jews understood this, to
    get out of the country; “one had to help them, one had to help these functionaries to act, and
    that’s what I did.” If the Jewish functionaries were “idealists,” that is, Zionists, he respected them,
    “treated them as equals,” listened to all their “requests and complaints and applications for
    support,” kept his “promises” as far as he could – “People are inclined to forget that now.” Who
    but he, Eichmann, had saved hundreds of thousands of Jews? What but his great zeal and gifts
    of organization had enabled them to escape in time? True, he could not foresee at the time the
    coming Final Solution, but he had saved them, that was a “fact.” (In an interview given in this
    country during the trial, Eichmann’s son told the same story to American reporters. It must have
    been a family legend.)

    In a sense, one can understand why counsel for the defense did nothing to back up Eichmann’s
    version of his relations with the Zionists. Eichmann admitted, as he had in the Sassen interview,
    that he “did not greet his assignment with the apathy of an ox being led to his stall,” that he had
    been very different from those colleagues “who had never read a basic book [i.e., Herzl’s
    Judenstaat], worked through it, absorbed it, absorbed it with interest,” and who therefore lacked
    “inner rapport with their work.” They were “nothing but office drudges,” for whom everything was
    decided “by paragraphs, by orders, who were interested in nothing else,” who were, in short,
    precisely such “small cogs” as, according to the defense, Eichmann himself had been. If this
    meant no more than giving unquestioning obedience to the Führer’s orders, then they had all
    been small cogs – even Himmler, we are told by his masseur, Felix Kersten, had not greeted the
    Final Solution with great enthusiasm, and Eichmann assured the police examiner that his own
    boss, Heinrich Müller, would never have proposed anything so “crude” as “physical
    extermination.” Obviously, in Eichmann’s eyes the small-cog theory was quite beside the point.
    Certainly he had not been as big as Mr. Hausner tried to make him; after all, he was not Hitler,
    nor, for that matter, could he compare himself in importance, as far as the “solution” of the Jewish
    question was concerned, with Müller, or Heydrich, or Himmler; he was no megalomaniac. But
    neither was he as small as the defense wished him to be.

    Eichmann’s distortions of reality were horrible because of the horrors they dealt with, but in
    principle they were not very different from things current in post-Hitler Germany. There is, for
    instance, Franz-Josef Strauss, former Minister of Defense, who recently conducted an election
    campaign against Willy Brandt, now mayor of West Berlin, but a refugee in Norway during the
    Hitler period. Strauss asked a widely publicized and apparently very successful question of Mr.
    Brandt “What were you doing those twelve years outside Germany? We know what we were
    doing here in Germany” – with complete impunity, without anybody’s batting an eye, let alone
    reminding the member of the Bonn government that what Germans in Germany were doing
    during those years has become notorious indeed. The same “innocence” is to be found in a
    recent casual remark by a respected and respectable German literary critic, who was probably
    never a Party member; reviewing a study of literature in the Third Reich, he said that its author
    belonged with “those intellectuals who at the outbreak of barbarism deserted us without
    exception.” This author was of course a Jew, and he was expelled by the Nazis and himself
    deserted by Gentiles, people like Mr. Heinz Beckmann of the Rheinischer Merkur. Incidentally,
    the very word “barbarism,” today frequently applied by Germans to the Hitler period, is a
    distortion of reality; it is as though Jewish and non-Jewish intellectuals had fled a country that was
    no longer “refined” enough for them.

    Eichmann, though much less refined than statesmen and literary critics, could, on the other hand,
    have cited certain indisputable facts to back up his story if his memory had not been so bad, or if
    the defense had helped him. For “it is indisputable that during the first stages of their Jewish
    policy the National Socialists thought it proper to adopt a pro-Zionist attitude” (Hans Lamm), and
    it was during these first stages that Eichmann learned his lessons about Jews. He was by no
    means alone in taking this “pro-Zionism” seriously; the German Jews themselves thought it would
    be sufficient to undo “assimilation” through a new process of “dissimilation,” and flocked into the
    ranks of the Zionist movement. (There are no reliable statistics on this development, but it is
    estimated that the circulation of the Zionist weekly Die Jüdische Rundschau increased in the first
    months of the Hitler regime from approximately five to seven thousand to nearly forty thousand,
    and it is known that the Zionist fund-raising organizations received in 1935-36, from a greatly
    diminished and impoverished population, three times as much as in 1931-32.) This did not
    necessarily mean that the Jews wished to emigrate to Palestine; it was more a matter of pride:
    “Wear it with Pride, the Yellow Star!,” the most popular slogan of these years, coined by Robert
    Weltsch, editor-in-chief of the Jüdische Rundschau, expressed the general emotional
    atmosphere. The polemical point of the slogan, formulated as a response to Boycott Day, April 1,
    1933 – more than six years before the Nazis actually forced the Jews to wear a badge, a sixpointed yellow star on a white ground – was directed against the “assimilationists” and all those
    people who refused to be reconciled to the new “revolutionary development,” those who “were
    always behind the times” (die ewig Gestrigen). The slogan was recalled at the trial, with a good
    deal of emotion, by witnesses from Germany. They forgot to mention that Robert Weltsch himself,
    a highly distinguished journalist, had said in recent years that he would never have issued his
    slogan if he had been able to foresee developments.

    But quite apart from all slogans and ideological quarrels, it was in those years a fact of everyday
    life that only Zionists had any chance of negotiating with the German authorities, for the simple
    reason that their chief Jewish adversary, the Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish
    Faith, to which ninety-five per cent of organized Jews in Germany then belonged, specified in its
    bylaws that its chief task was the “fight against anti-Semitism”; it had suddenly become by
    definition an organization “hostile to the State,” and would indeed have been persecuted – which it
    was not – if it had ever dared to do what it was supposed to do. During its first few years, Hitler’s
    rise to power appeared to the Zionists chiefly as “the decisive defeat of assimilationism.” Hence,
    the Zionists could, for a time, at least, engage in a certain amount of non-criminal cooperation
    with the Nazi authorities; the Zionists too believed that “dissimilation,” combined with the
    emigration to Palestine of Jewish youngsters and, they hoped, Jewish capitalists, could be a
    “mutually fair solution.” At the time, many German officials held this opinion, and this kind of talk
    seems to have been quite common up to the end. A letter from a survivor of Theresienstadt, a
    German Jew, relates that all leading positions in the Nazi-appointed Reichsvereinigung were held
    by Zionists (whereas the authentically Jewish Reichsvertretung had been composed of both
    Zionists and non-Zionists), because Zionists, according to the Nazis, were “the `decent’ Jews
    since they too thought in `national’ terms.” To be sure, no prominent Nazi ever spoke publicly in
    this vein; from beginning to end, Nazi propaganda was fiercely, unequivocally, uncompromisingly
    anti-Semitic, and eventually nothing counted but what people who were still without experience in
    the mysteries of totalitarian government dismissed as “mere propaganda.” There existed in those
    first years a mutually highly satisfactory agreement between the Nazi authorities and the Jewish
    Agency for Palestine – a Ha’avarah, or Transfer Agreement, which provided that an emigrant to
    Palestine could transfer his money there in German goods and exchange them for pounds upon
    arrival. It was soon the only legal way for a Jew to take his money with him (the alternative then
    being the establishment of a blocked account, which could be liquidated abroad only at a loss of
    between fifty and ninety-five per cent). The result was that in the thirties, when American Jewry
    took great pains to organize a boycott of German merchandise, Palestine, of all places, was
    swamped with all kinds of goods “made in Germany.”

    Of greater importance for Eichmann were the emissaries from Palestine, who would approach the
    Gestapo and the S.S. on their own initiative, without taking orders from either the German
    Zionists or the Jewish Agency for Palestine. They came in order to enlist help for the illegal
    immigration of Jews into British-ruled Palestine, and both the Gestapo and the S.S. were helpful.
    They negotiated with Eichmann in Vienna, and they reported that he was “polite,” “not the
    shouting type,” and that he even provided them with farms and facilities for setting up vocational
    training camps for prospective immigrants. (“On one occasion, he expelled a group of nuns from
    a convent to provide a training farm for young Jews,” and on another “a special train [was made
    available] and Nazi officials accompanied” a group of emigrants, ostensibly headed for Zionist
    training farms in Yugoslavia, to see them safely across the border.) According to the story told by
    Jon and David Kimche, with “the full and generous cooperation of all the chief actors” (The Secret
    Roads: The “Illegal” Migration of a People, 1938-1948, London, 1954), these Jews from Palestine
    spoke a language not totally different from that of Eichmann. They had been sent to Europe by
    the communal settlements in Palestine, and they were not interested in rescue operations: “That
    was not their job.” They wanted to select “suitable material,” and their chief enemy, prior to the
    extermination program, was not those who made life impossible for Jews in the old countries,
    Germany or Austria, but those who barred access to the new homeland; that enemy was
    definitely Britain, not Germany. Indeed, they were in a position to deal with the Nazi authorities on
    a footing amounting to equality, which native Jews were not, since they enjoyed the protection of
    the mandatory power; they were probably among the first Jews to talk openly about mutual
    interests and were certainly the first to be given permission “to pick young Jewish pioneers” from
    among the Jews in the concentration camps. Of course, they were unaware of the sinister
    implications of this deal, which still lay in the future; but they too somehow believed that if it was a
    question of selecting Jews for survival, the Jews should do the selecting themselves. It was this
    fundamental error in judgment that eventually led to a situation in which the non-selected majority
    of Jews inevitably found themselves confronted with two enemies – the Nazi authorities and the
    Jewish authorities. As far as the Viennese episode is concerned, Eichmann’s preposterous claim
    to have saved hundreds of thousands of Jewish lives, which was laughed out of court, finds
    strange support in the considered judgment of the Jewish historians, the Kimches: “Thus what
    must have been one of the most paradoxical episodes of the entire period of the Nazi regime
    began: the man who was to go down in history as one of the arch-murderers of the Jewish people
    entered the lists as an active worker in the rescue of Jews from Europe.”

    Eichmann’s trouble was that he remembered none of the facts that might have supported,
    however faintly, his incredible story, while the learned counsel for the defense probably did not
    even know that there was anything to remember. (Dr. Servatius could have called as witnesses
    for the defense the former agents of Aliyah Beth, as the organization for illegal immigration into
    Palestine was called; they certainly still remembered Eichmann, and they were now living in
    Israel.) Eichmann’s memory functioned only in respect to things that had had a direct bearing
    upon his career. Thus, he remembered a visit he had received in Berlin from a Palestinian
    functionary who told him about life in the collective settlements, and whom he had twice taken out
    to dinner, because this visit ended with a formal invitation to Palestine, where the Jews would
    show him the country. He was delighted; no other Nazi official had been able to go “to a distant
    foreign land,” and he received permission to make the trip. The judgment concluded that he had
    been sent “on an espionage mission,” which no doubt was true, but this did not contradict the
    story Eichmann had told the police. (Practically nothing came of the enterprise. Eichmann,
    together with a journalist from his office, a certain Herbert Hagen, had just enough time to climb
    Mount Carmel in Haifa before the British authorities deported both of them to Egypt and denied
    them entry permits for Palestine; according to Eichmann, “the man from the Haganah” – the
    Jewish military organization which became the nucleus of the Israeli Army – came to see them in
    Cairo, and what he told them there became the subject of a “thoroughly negative report”
    Eichmann and Hagen were ordered by their superiors to write for propaganda purposes; this was
    duly published.)

    Apart from such minor triumphs, Eichmann remembered only moods and the catch phrases he
    made up to go with them; the trip to Egypt had been in 1937, prior to his activity in Vienna, and
    from Vienna he remembered no more than the general atmosphere and how “elated” he had felt.
    In view of his astounding virtuosity in never discarding a mood and its catch phrase once and for
    all when they became incompatible with a new era, which required different moods and different
    “elating” phrases – a virtuosity that he demonstrated over and over during the police examination –
    one is tempted to believe in his sincerity when he spoke of the time in Vienna as an idyll.
    Because of the complete lack of consistency in his thoughts and sentiments, this sincerity is not
    even undermined by the fact that his year in Vienna, from the spring of 1938 to March, 1939,
    came at a time when the Nazi regime had abandoned its pro-Zionist attitude. It was in the nature
    of the Nazi movement that it kept moving, became more radical with each passing month, but one
    of the outstanding characteristics of its members was that psychologically they tended to be
    always one step behind the movement – that they had the greatest difficulty in keeping up with it,
    or, as Hitler used to phrase it, that they could not “jump over their own shadow.”

    More damning, however, than any objective fact was Eichmann’s own faulty memory. There were
    certain Jews in Vienna whom he recalled very vividly – Dr. Löwenherz and Kommerzialrat Storfer
    – but they were not those Palestinian emissaries, who might have backed up his story. Josef
    Löwenherz, who after the war wrote a very interesting memorandum about his negotiations with
    Eichmann (one of the few new documents produced by the trial, it was shown in part to
    Eichmann, who found himself in complete agreement with its main statements), was the first
    Jewish functionary actually to organize a whole Jewish community into an institution at the
    service of the Nazi authorities. And he was one of the very, very few such functionaries to reap a
    reward for his services – he was permitted to stay in Vienna until the end of the war, when he
    emigrated to England and the United States; he died shortly after Eichmann’s capture, in 1960.
    Storfer’s fate, as we have seen, was less fortunate, but this certainly was not Eichmann’s fault.
    Storfer had replaced the Palestinian emissaries, who had become too independent, and his task,
    assigned to him by Eichmann, was to organize some illegal transports of Jews into Palestine
    without the help of the Zionists. Storfer was no Zionist and had shown no interest in Jewish
    matters prior to the arrival of the Nazis in Austria. Still, with the help of Eichmann he succeeded in
    getting some thirty-five hundred Jews out of Europe, in 1940, when half of Europe was occupied
    by the Nazis, and it seems that he did his best to clear things with the Palestinians. (That is
    probably what Eichmann had in mind when he added to his story about Storfer in Auschwitz the
    cryptic remark: “Storfer never betrayed Judaism, not with a single word, not Storfer.”) A third Jew,
    finally, whom Eichmann never failed to recall in connection with his prewar activities was Dr. Paul
    Eppstein, in charge of emigration in Berlin during the last years of the Reichsvereinigung – a Nazi-appointed Jewish central organization, not to be confused with the authentically Jewish
    Reichsvertretung, which was dissolved in July, 1939. Dr. Eppstein was appointed by Eichmann to
    serve as Judenältester (Jewish Elder) in Theresienstadt, where he was shot in 1944.
    In other words, the only Jews Eichmann remembered were those who had been completely in his
    power. He had forgotten not only the Palestinian emissaries but also his earlier Berlin
    acquaintances, whom he had known well when he was still engaged in intelligence work and had
    no executive powers. He never mentioned, for instance, Dr. Franz Meyer, a former member of the
    Executive of the Zionist Organization in Germany, who came to testify for the prosecution about
    his contacts with the accused from 1936 to 1939. To some extent, Dr. Meyer confirmed
    Eichmann’s own story: in Berlin, the Jewish functionaries could “put forward complaints and
    requests,” there was a kind of cooperation. Sometimes, Meyer said, “we came to ask for
    something, and there were times when he demanded something from us”; Eichmann at that time
    “was genuinely listening to us and was sincerely trying to understand the situation”; his behavior
    was “quite correct” – “he used to address me as `Mister’ and to offer me a seat.” But in February,
    1939, all this had changed. Eichmann had summoned the leaders of German Jewry to Vienna to
    explain to them his new methods of “forced emigration.” And there he was, sitting in a large room
    on the ground floor of the Rothschild Palais, recognizable, of course, but completely changed: “I
    immediately told my friends that I did not know whether I was meeting the same man. So terrible
    was the change. . . . Here I met a man who comported himself as a master of life and death. He
    received us with insolence and rudeness. He did not let us come near his desk. We had to remain
    standing.” Prosecution and judges were in agreement that Eichmann underwent a genuine and
    lasting personality change when he was promoted to a post with executive powers. But the trial
    showed that here, too, he had “relapses,” and that the matter could never have been as simple as
    that. There was the witness who testified to an interview with him at Theresienstadt in March,
    1945, when Eichmann again showed himself to be very interested in Zionist matters – the witness
    was a member of a Zionist youth organization and held a certificate of entry for Palestine. The
    interview was “conducted in very pleasant language and the attitude was kind and respectful.”
    (Strangely, counsel for the defense never mentioned this witness’s testimony in his plaidoyer. )
    Whatever doubts there may be about Eichmann’s personality change in Vienna, there is no doubt
    that this appointment marked the real beginning of his career. Between 1937 and 1941, he won
    four promotions; within fourteen months he advanced from Untersturmführer to Hauptsturmführer
    (that is, from second lieutenant to captain); and in another year and a half he was made
    Obersturmbannführer, or lieutenant colonel. That happened in October, 1941, shortly after he
    was assigned the role in the Final Solution that was to land him in the District Court of Jerusalem.
    And there, to his great grief, he “got stuck”; as he saw it, there was no higher grade obtainable in
    the section in which he worked. But this he could not know during the four years in which he
    climbed quicker and higher than he had ever anticipated. In Vienna, he had shown his mettle, and
    now he was recognized not merely as an expert on “the Jewish question,” the intricacies of
    Jewish organizations and Zionist parties, but as an “authority” on emigration and evacuation, as
    the “master” who knew how to make people move. His greatest triumph came shortly after the
    Kristallnacht, in November, 1938, when German Jews had become frantic in their desire to
    escape. Göring, probably on the initiative of Heydrich, decided to establish in Berlin a Reich
    Center for Jewish Emigration, and in the letter containing his directives Eichmann’s Viennese
    office was specifically mentioned as the model to be used in the setting up of a central authority.
    The head of the Berlin office was not to be Eichmann, however, but his later greatly admired boss
    Heinrich Müller, another of Heydrich’s discoveries. Heydrich had just taken Müller away from his
    job as a regular Bavarian police officer (he was not even a member of the Party and had been an
    opponent until 1933), and called him to the Gestapo in Berlin, because he was known to be an
    authority on the Soviet Russian police system. For Müller, too, this was the beginning of his
    career, though he had to start with a comparatively small assignment. (Müller, incidentally, not
    prone to boasting like Eichmann and known for his “sphinxlike conduct,” succeeded in
    disappearing altogether; nobody knows his whereabouts, though there are rumors that first East
    Germany and now Albania have engaged the services of the Russian-police expert.)

    In March, 1939, Hitler moved into Czechoslovakia and erected a German protectorate over
    Bohemia and Moravia. Eichmann was immediately appointed to set up another emigration center
    for Jews in Prague. “In the beginning I was not too happy to leave Vienna, for if you have
    installed such an office and if you see everything running smoothly and in goody order, you don’t
    like to give it up.” And indeed, Prague was somewhat disappointing, although the system was the
    same as in Vienna, for “The functionaries of the Czech Jewish organizations went to Vienna and
    the Viennese people came to Prague, so that I did not have to intervene at all. The model in
    Vienna was simply copied and carried to Prague. Thus the whole thing got started automatically.”
    But the Prague center was much smaller, and “I regret to say there were no people of the caliber
    and the energy of a Dr. Löwenherz.” But these, as it were, personal reasons for discontent were
    minor compared to mounting difficulties of another, entirely objective nature. Hundreds of
    thousands of Jews had left their homelands in a matter of a few years, and millions waited behind
    them, for the Polish and Rumanian governments left no doubt in their official proclamations that
    they, too, wished to be rid of their Jews. They could not understand why the world should get
    indignant if they followed in the footsteps of a “great and cultured nation.” (This enormous arsenal
    of potential refugees had been revealed during the Evian Conference, called in the summer of
    1938 to solve the problem of German Jewry through intergovernmental action. It was a
    resounding fiasco and did great harm to German Jews.) The avenues for emigration overseas
    now became clogged up, just as the escape possibilities within Europe had been exhausted
    earlier, and even under the best of circumstances, if war had not interfered with his program,
    Eichmann would hardly have been able to repeat the Viennese “miracle” in Prague.

    He knew this very well, he really had become an expert on matters of emigration, and he could
    not have been expected to greet his next appointment with any great enthusiasm. War had
    broken out in September, 1939, and one month later Eichmann was called back to Berlin to
    succeed Müller as head of the Reich Center for Jewish Emigration. A year before, this would
    have been a real promotion, but now was the wrong moment. No one in his senses could
    possibly think any longer of a solution of the Jewish question in terms of forced emigration; quite
    apart from the difficulties of getting people from one country to another in wartime, the Reich had
    acquired, through the conquest of Polish territories, two or two and a half million more Jews. It is
    true that the Hitler government was still willing to let its Jews go (the order that stopped all Jewish
    emigration came only two years later, in the fall of 1941), and if any “final solution” had been
    decided upon, nobody had as yet given orders to that effect, although Jews were already
    concentrated in ghettos in the East and were also being liquidated by the Einsatzgruppen. It was
    only natural that emigration, however smartly organized in Berlin in accordance with the
    “assembly line principle,” should peter out by itself – a process Eichmann described as being “like
    pulling teeth . . . listless, I would say, on both sides. On the Jewish side because it was really
    difficult to obtain any emigration possibilities to speak of, and on our side because there was no
    bustle and no rush, no coming and going of people. There we were, sitting in a great and mighty
    building, amid a yawning emptiness.” Evidently, if Jewish matters, his specialty, remained a
    matter of emigration, he would soon be out of a job.

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