April 18, 2007

It Stinks Where 'It' Thinks

Places we wished we had never visited...
...like, say, the German soul


Hans Filbinger, a German Christian Democrat politician of middling importance in the Sixties and Seventies, who was forced out of office in 1978 by a scandal surrounding his role as a military judge during the "Third Reich", died on April 1st at age 93.

Filbinger had been premier of the state of Baden-Württemberg in South West Germany from 1966 to 1978 until he quit, following revelations by the newspaper Die Zeit about his part as a naval judge in the execution of a sailor and death sentences he issued in absentia for two others, virtually days before the end of World War Two, in occupied Norway.

Filbinger, who was a member of the SA from 1934 until 1937 and between 1933 and 1936 of the Nationalsozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund (NSDStB), the Nazi student organisation already and who had published 1935 an essay in a Catholic student magazine, which was based on parts of the National Socialist ideology of people's community and race (Volksgemeinschafts- und Rassenideologie), thus became a symbol of post-war West Germany's failure to deal honestly with the legacy of the "Third Reich".

Filbinger denied any wrongdoing, but negative publicity and increasing pressure from within his own Christian Democrats finally made him resign.

His reputation suffered even more when the newsmagazine Der Spiegel stated that he had defended his actions during the war by saying: "What was lawful then cannot be unlawful now", though he remained always adamant that the remark had been taken out of context.

After his resignation, Filbinger continued to defend himself against critics, saying that he had saved others from execution and had only served as prosecutor in one case when a death sentence was carried out on orders from above.

The two death sentences Filbinger ordered as a judge in March and April 1945 for murder and desertion had never been carried out, as the sailors had already escaped to Sweden at the time of the trial.

The trial against Walter Gröger, the 23-year old sailor sentenced to death, was hold on January 16, 1945 and Gröger was executed on March 16, 1945.

What had happened? Was Filbinger really "just carrying out orders"?

He certainly was. However, there had been similar cases where court and prosecutor had had the decency to procrastinate the trial until after the foreseeable Endsieg on May 8, 1954.

What about the argument that desertion is similarly punished in other armies as well in wartime? This, too, is a matter of practice, rather than of the written law. For example, the Americans executed during WWII only one deserter. The German military executed 48 soldiers during WWI. In WWII, there had been administered 24,559 death sentences as of January 31, 1945, and in the last months a further 5,000 or 6,000. Until the end of November 1945, 9,500 death sentences had been carried out.

Filbinger, not too surprisingly, remained a controversial figure and was the cause for another political brouhaha in 2004, when the Christian Democrats appointed him to an assembly, the Bundesversammlung, which comes together for the election of the German head of state, the Bundespräsident. At that time, Chancellor Angela Merkel had defended Filbinger's inclusion in the assembly.

Following his death, the leader of the Social Democrats in Baden-Württemberg, Ute Vogt, said it was now time to draw a line under the past and "The enmity ends with (his) death."

Which showed a remarkable lack of foresight and knowledge of human nature for somebody in such a position.

Last Wednedsay, Günther Oettinger, born 1953, the current premier of Baden-Württemberg, instead of bidding the old man when he was borne to his final resting place a friendly "About time", stated (I guess he wasn't able to escape the pressure of his German mind any more than millions of others) that:
Different from what some obituaries are saying, Hans Filbinger was not a National Socialist. He was an opponent of the NS-regime. However, he wasn't able to escape the pressure of the regime any more than millions of others.
Of course, there had been efforts to whitewash Filbinger during his lifetime as well. A notable one is that of Günther Gillessen (born 1928), a renowned German journalist, historian, former university professor for the sciences of journalism, and what is considered a "conservative" in this country, on the occasion of Filbinger's 90th birthday in 2003.
We, as a nation, are far removed from the necessary amount of detailed knowledge and a general overview, which a good historian will need to understand a different time.
Notabene: This remarkable bit of patience and compassion was published, equally remarkably, at the website of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, a foundation that is related to the Christian Democratic party, and which offers, among other things, political education, conducts scientific fact-finding research for political projects, grants scholarships to gifted individuals and research on the history of Christian Democracy. Their budget, which is largely sponsored by tax money (as are the budgets of similar foundations of different political hues), amounts to around 100 million Euro.

The money on Gillessen was certainly well-spent. Here we have the same Günther Gillessen about whom the International Herald Tribune reported in 1994 under the headline "Shaping a New Identity, and Trying to Come to Terms With the Past":
Last month in Jerusalem, Günther Gillessen, a leading editor at the Frankfurter Allgemeine daily, Germany's most important establishment voice, addressed a gathering of Germans, Israelis and American Jews with a plea for the creation of "a new taboo" against photographic or film representations of the Holocaust. "Memory should be permitted to sink in the sediment of time," he said. "The Shoah is a closed event. The second and third generations should be spared."

Criticizing institutional efforts to keep the past alive - meaning Washington's new Holocaust Memorial Museum and Steven Spielberg's "Schindler's List" - Mr. Gillessen said "awful crimes should not be permitted to become the pivot of our lives." He rejected the notion that the Holocaust was a unique event in history, saying that "Relativization is the historian's business."
Well, what can I say but: Any idea anybody why Israel granted the old goat an entry permit?

What I don't get is why a man like Oettinger, born several years after WWII and whom nobody has ever blamed for ANYTHING, just can't keep his silly trap shut. So he informed us that he had said it for the Filbinger family, not the public. Then why didn't he tell the audience how nice Filbinger was to his grandchildren or about the old man's admirable oenophile knowledge? Why the hell did he HAVE to bring up this chapter in Filbinger's life? That said, does a former politician of middling importance who had to resign from his office decades ago under less than straightforward circumstances HAVE to have a funeral with all the trimmings? Hadn't a much more low-key affair, where all the Filbingers could have happily told each other what a great guy grandfather was without further remorse, served just as well?

The answer is that, yes, Oettinger HAD to. "It" – the German Pavlovian reflex – spoke in him.

And of course, all this is, again, the Jews' fault and anyway they are just seeking attention again by protesting Oettinger's speech. Georg Brunnhuber, another Christian Democrat and member of the federal parliament, the Bundestag, supported Oettinger:
Exaggerated criticism by the Council of Jews only tends to make a lot of people say Oettinger was right.
Now what does that mean? Does the fact that the Jews dared to have an unfavourable take on Oettinger's views prove that Filbinger was a resistance fighter? Surely that can't be. He was what he was, whatever some Jew said about it and not even Brunnhuber can be quite that dumb. Then does it mean that the Jews oughtn't to be amazed that nobody likes them because they, uppity as they are, are responding to attempts to re-tell history? Will we one day, when the embarrassing Jews are finally shut up, be able, as Liza put it, to award the Nobel Prize belatedly to Josef Mengele, based on his merits in the field of twin research, a perennial achievement of German science, which has remained sadly unacknowledged for much too long?

Or does it simply mean that the "neverending history" people of Oettinger's and Brunnhuber's ilk are so noisily bemoaning is a product of their own stupidity, lack of common sense, lack of honesty and honour, plus some deeper urges I don't really WANT to follow any further? And NOT due to the machinations of a Jewish lobby?

It stinks where "it" thinks.




General Information:

SPIEGEL ONLINE

Monsters and Critics

Wikipedia German

Wikipedia English (Interestingly, the English Wiki article doesn't include the details about Filbinger's membership in SA/NSDStB and the controversial article in the Catholic student magazine.)

DIE ZEIT with a balanced account of Filbinger's past as a naval judge and the circumstances.

Hat tip: Liza