I first met Hilmar von Campe last October – as one does in the Internet.
Different from all other online-encounters was, however, the fact that he was graceful enough to write me an email to thank me for my brief appreciative remarks about him and his work. (I have still no idea how he found them.) We have become friends, are talking on the phone occasionally and I intend to meet him and his wife should circumstances permit it.
This is about my experience with his latest book "How Was it Possible?".
"How Was it Possible?" is introduced as an autobiography. That it is, but it is much more. A passionate polemic pamphlet, a compelling and demanding ethical codex, an authoritative source on the German past with lots of historical information from a contemporary witness, and a declaration of appreciation and gratitude for the country that has become his home, America.
Born in the German province of Westphalia in 1925 to an aristocratic family (the father was a high-ranking civil servant), von Campe offers a, to me, unique Christian perspective on the rise and fall of Nazi Germany. His account as both, witness and participant of the horrible outcome of self deception and godlessness in Germany is invaluable. As a Hitler Youth, then as a soldier, he saw the world plunged into war and his country and family destroyed. One of his brothers fell in the war, his father was murdered in a Russian concentration camp. When it was all over, he knew he had nothing to blame but himself and all the many Germans who had looked the other way.
After the war Hilmar von Campe had to come to terms with the fact of the Holocaust but, different from other Germans, he met his moral responsibility head-on, went through a profound ethical change and embarked on a travel of restitution for the crimes of his nation and of reconciliation with the victims. He was received twice by the then executive director of the Holocaust Memorial Center in Washington, Dr. David Weinstein, and apologized to him for the suffering Germany had inflicted on the Jewish people. He told him, "that the crimes of the Nazis were only possible because of the moral cowardice of so many of us non-Nazis."
An honest, remarkable, and remarkably brave, statement indeed!
The most painful part of defining National Socialism was recognizing my own moral responsibility for the Nazi disaster and their crimes against humanity, which boiled down to the accepting the truth that "as I am so is my nation" – in other words, if every German had been like me, it was no wonder that the nation became the tool of gangsters.Like here, Hilmar von Campe reminds his readers in no uncertain terms throughout his book that the still undecided battle between good and evil is fought with the weapons of truth and lie. He talks about the godless cult of relativism, which is part of the latter, and that every human being will have to decide on which side he or she wants to stand at this historical point in time. There is no cowardly opting out. In his book he sends a warning to every American – to every human – not to look the other way and follow the road of appeasement to evil as millions of Germans did, but stand up for God's truth. One cannot be a bystander and a Christian at the same time, he says.
Von Campe is in an almost unique position to point out the links between Nazi ideology and Islamic hatred, and he tells us clearly and precisely how things are, how Islam follows in the steps of the "Third Reich", how the "Grand Mufti of Jerusalem" and rabid Jew-hater was sponsored by the Nazis, how his relative and ideological foster child Yasser Arafat was recruited and trained by Russia and how the Nazi's persecution of Jews has been taken to new levels by radical Islam and thus become a threat not just to the Jewish people but of the entire free world.
Hilmar von Campe, who had left Germany in the Fifties, spent a long time in various Latin America countries. His experiences have been far outside the "standard", like his kidnapping in Bolivia by mine workers, his living in an Argentine factory in Avellaneda dominated by Peronist workers, his interactions with the leaders of the Communist Dockworkers Union in Rio de Janeiro or his chairmanship of the Mexican-American Chamber of Commerce Subcommittee on Foreign Investments. He owned a factory in Mexico and is now president of an Ex- and Import business in the United States. He is married to Dina from Peru. They have two children, Stefan and Sabrina and it is a delight to read how the von Campe family didn't end up as a "multikulti" hotchpotch, but as four tri-lingual individuals who learned to evaluate and respect different cultures. As Hilmar von Campe puts it: "Other nations and what makes them tick has been part of our family as long as our family has existed, and we have been better off for having friends in many parts of the world."
Hilmar von Campe's biography and thinking bears witness to the fact that secular ideologies are no answer to totalitarian and inhuman threats now, as they haven't been an answer seventy years ago, but to me, personally, it doesn't end here.
"How Was it Possible?" is, among the many other things it is, an priceless source for Americans who are interested in truly authentic insight of the German soul beyond "panzer ace" admiration and German self-hatred at two different sides of the same scale. Hilmar von Campe's ethical and political analysis is simple (but far from simplistic), revealing, astounding and thought-provoking at the same time. At a time when a phoney pacifism has all of Germany in its grip and more and more people are surrendering unconditionally to the forces that threaten our culture under the bigoted pretense that our Nazi past means a special "responsibility" not to fight anymore and not even, or rather specifically not, against evil ("Who are we Germans to judge others… we, with OUR past...") I, as a German, appreciate in particular that he has the rare courage to draw the inevitable parallels between Nazi Germany and the recent Muslim threat, a parallel hardly any German is willing to draw. It is, so I think, no mere chance that so many ex-Nazi followers (like Nobel-laureated former SS-man Günther Grass, to mention just one notable example), their children and grandchildren, are falling over their own feet in anticipating obedience, relativist reasoning and dhimmitude* and that their interpretation of the German past and what it should imply is leading to the opposite position of that of a Hilmar von Campe, who is a staunch ally of Israel. Which is, to me, the hallmark of honest German "Vergangenheitsbewältigung".
If that it simplistic, so be it, but Hilmar von Campe's sincere, truthful and straightforward reckoning with the past is a previously unknown comfort to this German's heart.
Hilmar von Campe shows us Germans a way out of that endless spiral of hypocrisy and self-hatred. Will we take it? I doubt it.
*On an additional note, to what extent there is the conscious ot subconscious desire behind the inflated understanding, even support, of Islamic atrocities that the Arabs may as well finish what the Germans had to be forced to cease – and it needed a world war to do that – namely the Holocaust of the Jews, is maybe not a different question right here, but beyond the scope of this review.
I would like to mention two minor items (page numbers will be added), where I happen not to agree with Hilmar von Campe respectively where I would like to see some additional information:
The hatred of Jews did not start with the infamous "Mufti". It had been, and still is, an integral part of Islam since times immemorial, although it didn't have the genocidal quality of Nazi-antisemitism then.
The other thing is the fact that, when Friedrich von Bodelschwingh and his resistance against the Nazi "euthanasia" (i.e. the killing of "useless" human life) scheme is mentioned, Bishop Clemens August Count Galen ought to be mentioned as well.
May 10, 2007
I first met Hilmar von Campe last October – as one does in the Internet.