Ghost of Hitler blocks search for truth in Germany 75 years after end of World War Two
Germans are being asked to help find the memories of the little people whose lives are the backbone of history. But the haunting spirit of Adolf Hitler and the murder of six million Jews makes that a hard task to fulfil.
By Trevor Grundy
Seventy five years after the end of the Second World War, Germans are being asked to overcome their reluctance to dwell on their nation’s role in two world wars.
The Volksbund, German’s war graves commission, is asking German families to send in personal accounts from the war fronts so historians can one day write about the feelings, emotions, the sufferings and the anguish of men and women whose after-the-war treatment has long since been ignored for a variety of reasons – some so obvious they hardly needed mentioning.
A report in The Times by David Crossland in Berlin (April 25, 2020) said the war biographies project is aimed at stoking the interest of younger generations and deepening the Volksbund’s co-operation with schools.
Crossland writes, “It is a challenging task.”
Although it kicked off three years ago, Volksbund’s archivists believe the time is now right for Germans clearing out old desks, drawers, cupboards and long ignored “rubbish” in attics and other hidden parts of their homes and see what treasures from the past can be found.
The biographies of soldiers from the First and Second World Wars are read out at remembrance ceremonies. But precious unearthed wartime letters, diaries, poems perhaps even novels must exist, say German researchers.
The report quoted Christian Reith, a student working on the project -“Time is running out. The last witnesses and even their next of kin soon won’t be able to tell about it anymore. So it is very important to record these individual perspectives of the war and its consequences for posterity.”
One the 75th anniversary of VE Day on May 8, the British and other Allied nations that fought Germany and Italy will be celebrating and event they believe ended Nazism and Fascism forever.
Sadly, 2020 is witnessing the return of those creeds in different parts of the world, especially in countries that were locked under the control of the Soviet Union between 1945 and the end of the 1980s and early 1990s.
Hitler with teenage fighters in
Berlin on March 20, 1945
As the generation that elected Adolf Hitler to power in January 1933 dies away, Germans until recently have seen their own recent history through the prism of guilt, responsibility and atonement.
Almost all see the Allied victory in May 1945 as a good thing for Germany.
In May 1985 West German President Richard von Weizsaecker called the defeat of Hitler’s Germany as a “day of liberation.”
Another key moment came in 2004 when the then Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder marked the 60th anniversary of the attempt to kill Hitler by describing Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg a “hero.”
May 8 will be a public holiday in Berlin..
Fallen German soldiers are commemorated in humble memorials or village squares across the country listing the name so the dead –often grouping the casulaties of World War Two alongside those who fell during World War One.
Not all Germans see the Nazi era (1933-1945) that way.
Martin Heidegger (author of ‘Being and Time’)
“The Fuhrer himself and he alone is the
German reality and its law, today and in the future.”
Alexander Gauland leader of the –fast rising far-right Alternative for Germany not so long ago played down the Hitler period in German history as “a speck of bird poop.” Another AfD leader leader Bjoern Hoecke suggested that now is the time for Germans to stop atoning for their Nazi past.
But most young Germans have a hunger to know – knowledge open to anyone in Britain, USA and so many other parts of the world but long denied them because of a fear that if they read Mein Kampf or books about the period written by those who built first the Nazi economic miracles in the mid-1930s and then the Nazi war machine, they would be captivated and rush to the nearest shop to buy a brown shirt and an armband.
Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler -the Axis
Laetitia Zinecker, a 28 -year old business student at Berlin’s Free University, told a Canadian journalist researching neo-Nazi infiltration into German educational institutions now – ”Our history shapes who we are still today. It’s important that schools continue to teach about the past so that it will not be forgotten.”
The Volksbund tends the graves of 2.7 million dead in 46 countries.
“Every single biography is a warning,” the organization said in a statement.
Scribbled words in tattered diaries, jotted and semi-literate memoirs, poems written by people living alongside horror – these are the flesh and blood, the bread and the wine. of history.
In his book “On the Natural History of Destruction” (Published by Carl Hanser Verlag in Germany in 1999 and then by Hamish Hamilton in UK) the great German writer Winfried Georg Sebald said that the world knows next to nothing about the way Germans survived the Allied bombing raids on German cities towards the end of the war.
W.G. Sebald born in Germany in 1944 died in England 2011
In the last years, over one million tonnes of bombs were dropped by the Allies on one hundred and thirty one German towns and cities. Six hundred thousand civilians died and three and a half million German homes were destroyed.
Throughout the war, sixty thousand British civilians were killed in German bombing raids.
In March 1945, the Americans bombed and burned to death in a single night over 100,000 men, women and children in Tokyo.
Before the A-bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki the Americans destroyed 67 Japanese cities.
In the documentary The Fog of War, the American defence secretary during trh Vietnam War, Robert McNamara said he had to agree that if the Allies had lost the Second World War the men who ordered those attacks on civilians would rightly have been branded as war criminals. “We were behaving as war criminals,” he said on camera.
So why have historians, journalists, film-makers and politician in Germanys remained so strangely silent up until now?
In the foreword to his book, W.G.Sebald wrote -”The inadequate and inhibited nature of the letters and other writings sent to me showed, in itself, that the sense of unparalleled national humiliation felt by millions in the last years of the war had never really found verbal expression, and those directly affected by the experience shared it with each other nor passed it on to the next generation.”
The writer born in Germany in 1944 but who tragically died after a car accident in Norfolk in 2011, said in his first major non-fiction work: “The plan for an all-out bombing campaign, which had been supported by groups within the Royal Air Forces since 1940, came into effect in February 1942, with the deployment of huge qualities of personnel and war materials. As far as I know, the question of whether and how it could be strategically or morally justified was never the subject of open debate in Germany after 1945, no doubt mainly because a nation which murdered and worked to death millions of people in its camps could hardly call on the victorious powers to explain the military and political logic that dictated the destruction of the German cities.”
But now, 75 years after the war’s end, it seems possible to warm the pipes of truth and open the taps and let long frozen water come out.
We need to know about the lives of ordinary Germans, about the lives, the feelings, the thoughts or ordinary men women and children for the most part were totally innocent of the crimes committed by Hitler and his advisers.
We must know what they experienced and what they felt as those towns and cities were being flattened.
The memories of those who were there are as important as the opinions of historians with axes to grind and publishers to please.
As one of the more aware characters in Louis de Bernieres novel Captain Correlli’s Mandolin remarked:
“. . . the ultimate truth is that history ought to consist only of the anecdotes of the little people who were caught up in it.”