February 19, 2004

Sex sells!

Wibke Bruhns, then one of the first female news presenters of German network television and a well-known journalist, has written a book about her family, specifically her father, Hans Georg Klamroth, who was sentenced to death by the Nazis in 1944. In "Meines Vaters Land" (My Father's Country) Bruhns tells us against the backdrop of German history of the time the story of her family, how her father grew up, about her parents' marriage, how he got to know about the unsuccessful assassination attempt of Hitler on July 20, 1944 and how, after it failed, he, too, was arrested, sentenced to death and executed.

She tells about the military acid tests her father underwent during his childhood, the war games, and how the 17-year-old boy enthusiastically took up arms at the outbreak of WWI.

1918 the "puffed-up little lieutenant" takes part in the persecution of Russian soldiers in the Baltic countries. "Each one of the Jew rascals of the Red Guards who has the good fortune to fall in our hands will be stringed up", the father writes in a letter. Later he expresses his pride and relief at the fact that his family is of "pure race" and becomes an ardent follower of Hitler until the Germans are starting to lose the war.

Different from the enthusiastic reception in the media, I am not all that thrilled by that book. Nothing Bruhns tell us is exactly unusual. Every German boy, specifically but not exclusively, of that class and of that generation was brought up in a chauvinistic and military spirit, as were, so I suspect, boys of other nationalities as well. So that doesn't explain much, the more as our contemporary pacifist do-gooders are in no way more agreeable or less dangerous.

The book is full of truisms, starting with his martial upbringing via the oh-so-extraordinary observation that her father was a womanizer and ending with the discovery that people who opposed Hitler to the degree of being murdered for it were anti-Semites as well.

Do I, of all people, really have to tell Ms. Bruhns that the people who actively opposed Hitler did it all for their own and very different reasons, among which the Nazi's treatment of the Jews was certainly not a major issue, if an issue at all? So why should they NOT be anti-Semites? And why should that throw a new light on the resistance against Hitler, as Die Zeit implies? They were brave, they gave their live for their political convictions, they were heroes. And they were Germans and thus anti-Semites. Very simple, very sad.

It is part of the typically naïve and dangerous German concept of idealism that men of the resistance against Hitler, that "heroes", must be fault- and blameless in every respect AND -- much more important -- that the treatment of the Jews played a major role for the opposition against Hitler. Yes, it is a sad fact that -- otherwise -- decent people can be anti-Semites as well.

Does anybody remember the appaling statement of Klaus von Dohnanyi re Jews and what they would have done hadn't they been persecuted? And as far as I know does the Dohnanyi family still own their "Aryanized" villa in Berlin (I may be wrong) YET the father bravely paid for his conviction with his life.

A reckoning with the past like Bruhns' reminds me of the Holocaust memorial gaffe. What did the initiators of that megalomaniac project EXPECT? OF COURSE there are no major companies in Germany WITHOUT a tainted past! Similarly, what did Ms. Bruhns EXPECT? OF COURSE her father was an anti-Semite. He was GERMAN.

I am convinced that almost every child of almost every political opponent against Hitler, be they aristocratic, middle- or working class with the affiliated political convictions, would sadly have to tell a similar story.

You don't get it? Okay, I'll repeat: Yes, the labour movement and leftist ones as well!

The lie that anti-Semitism was just a matter of the Nazis and has died out with them poisons and pollutes our political culture since WWII and it will go on to do so until we stop thinking of books like Wibke Bruhns' as amazing revelations.

But then, the enthusiastic reviews are probably nothing but the usual German self-congratulatory and -admiring auto-erotic backslapping because "we like nobody else know how to deal with our past". Hold on while I rummage for my sick-bag!

One last remark: Were I ever to get knowledge of any extramarital rompings of my own father and had I any reason to believe that this might be of any interest for anybody but my mother, I would still not tell it. But I suppose sex sells.