Saturday, July 24, 2004
The Dutch original of the following article was published yesterday in the Dutch daily De Volkskrant.
One nation undivided
During the ceremony in remembrance of the failed attempt at Hitler’s life on July 20th 1944 the Dutch Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende seemed to take very seriously his country’s presidency of the EU. In his speech he made a direct link between the plot against Hitler’s life and the “establishment and development of the European cooperation and integration”. Also, both he and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder mentioned “the other Germany” in their speeches. History is constantly being rewritten and falsified, but when politicians do that we should pay extra attention.
Although the idea of a united Europe was a subject in the discussions among the members of most resistance groups in Europe regarding the inevitable post-Nazi future of their countries, European integration and cooperation was hardly a motive for those who chose to resist Germany or Hitler’s regime. People resisted for a variety of reasons, among which nationalism, political or religious idealism, and in some cases also compassion for the victims of the Nazi regime played an important role. In Germany there were also rightwing-nationalist and even extreme rightwing groups that resisted Hitler ( the Freiburg circle, the Mylius group ). The resistance among German officers was nurtured particularly by a strong nationalism and the realization that what Hitler and the Nazis did was ruining Germany. Not accidentally the last words ascribed to Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg were “Es lebe das heilige Deutschland”.
Almost all officers who were involved in the plot against Hitler had served their fatherland maybe not enthusiastically but still loyally until July 1944, something which is not surprising given the background of most of them. Many officers had participated in the Wehrmacht campaigns in Poland and the Soviet Union, where already in 1941 Einsatzgruppen – often with the knowledge and occasionally with the participation of the army – carried out mass killings of Jews, communists and others. All this does not turn them into lesser heroes in their intended uprising against Hitler and the SS, on the contrary. More than anybody else they were aware of the ruthlessness of their opponents within the Third Reich. Still, we should not make the mistake of putting political and humanitarian ideas and motives into their heads which most probably were not their – primary – incentives. The resistance of other Germans who were active much earlier in the war – and in some cases even right after Hitler came to power in 1933 – was often more fundamental than that of most July-conspirators. This is true for groups with mainly Jewish members ( such as the Gruppe Herbert Baum ), but also for circles such as Die Weisse Rose and Neu Beginnen and individuals like for example Wilhelm Leuschner.
Just like the direct link between July 20th 1944 and the European Union, the idea of ‘the other Germany’ is also an illusion. We should be aware of the fact that Hermann Goering and Roland Freisler belonged to one and the same Germany as Dietrich Bonnhoeffer, Sophie Scholl and Von Stauffenberg. On the one hand this awareness makes the Holocaust not only more tangible and therefore ‘human’ but also less comprehensible, on the other it allows us – more than any other historical consciousness – to see the German men and women who had the courage to refuse to accept one, more or all aspects of the SS-State as admirable heroes of flesh and blood. Although some among us might prefer to think in European or global terms, for the time being ideas and phenomena such as the nation-state and national history will play an important part in Europe. Within that context it is worthwhile to study the history of each and every country as a whole. This is not relevant only in the case of events and persons in German history. Vichy and the Resistance, Henri Philippe Petain and Jean Monet belonged to one and the same France, just as for instance not only David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Rabin but also Rabin’s murderer Yigal Amir are all an integral part of Israeli history.
By conjuring up a nonexistent historical link and suggesting an unhistorical dichotomy within Germany it seemed for a moment as if Prime Minister Balkenende and Chancellor Schroeder attempted to join – or at least associate themselves with – the resistance sixty years after the end of the war. The crimes that were committed in the years 1933-45 were first of all a matter of individual guilt ( of many thousands or several millions of Germans, French, Poles, Dutch, Americans and others ). The same goes for acts of resistance. Each such act was the consequence of a personal choice, prompted by character and circumstances. Suggesting or determining collective or post-facto guilt ( Daniel Jonah Goldhagen ) or honor ( Schroeder ) is both historically wrong and counterproductive. Together with the ‘normal’ acts of war and all day-to-day events the war crimes and acts of resistance form the history of World War II in each particular country. The histories of France, Germany, the Netherlands, Great Britain, Belgium etc. together form the history of Europe during the war years. It is tempting to read that history through politically colored glasses, but it does history wrong and makes it almost impossible to understand and appreciate it.
Posted by Bert at 6:45 AM