Germany became divided and occupied because of its self-boosting racially defined nationalist enthusiasm that wanted to rule over all others. Sadly it did not loose the war because of its singling out of people of the Jewish faith, using them as slaves and mass murdering them (this hatred had its first public culmination on the 9th of November 1938. The hatred had echoes in some of the countries it occupied or part-occupied too).
No, Hitler’s Germany was only defeated because of its expansion policy that ultimately was intolerable to the Allied Forces. In 1989 on the same day the wall that divided the East and the West of Germany fell, people shouted euphoric and demandingly “Wir sind das Volk (we are the people)!” Volk; herein lay and lies a self-defining error that is as large as the inscription “Dem Deutschen Volke” on the building of the German parliament in Berlin, the Reichstag. It was reinstated and renovated too after the wall fell. “Volk”, German for a people, was for a long time ethnically and racially defined.
It were the “German people” going to war with the world in 1939, it were the Jews who were slaughtered, because they were then not part of the “German Volk”, in fact they were said to threaten the racial purity thereof. “Völkisch” remains to be a word associated with Nazi ideology. There is no mistake as to why “Volkswagen” (the people’s car, originally intended only of the one and above all people, Germans) was called so, beside the name for a Radio set during the Nazi era – Volksapparat”.
Watch Leni Riefenstahl and you get an even better idea on what was meant by Volk.
These days when we hear PEGIDA members, that nasty far right movement that claims Germany is defined by European Christianity alone, especially those from East Germany, where the movement began, shouting “Wir sind das Volk!”, I remember my father’s lack of enthusiasm for the Wiedervereinigung, the reunification. Taking a simple definition of the separation, as a “punishment for what they had done,” my father a holocaust survivor, felt that Germans, in his mind, had not yet deserved this, as long as the original murderers were still alive. I think he pictured elderly SS servants opening the Sekt bottles (German sparkling wine). Of course this is increasingly not the case (the former murderes being alive). But the unification has brought about a frightful mass movement of young racist far-right German activists amongst whom some continue to murder (like those who were part of the NSA – the violent extremist far-right National Socialist Underground) human beings they regard non German foreigners. The German Democratic Republic always understood itself as not a part of Hitler’s Third Reich, on the grounds, that its leaders defined themselves as Communists. But this was a white-wash of course, most of the German people and regions occupied by Russia were ordinary Germans, the same that shouted for Hitler years before. There is evidence that even amongst some of the high office holding administrators and military men of the Communist East there were literal miraculous transformation from NS functionary to Communist ideologist. As long as you can wave fanatically one or the other flag, I suppose, absolutist ideologies are all the same.
Whilst in the West many Germans attempted serious soul searching, in the East there was no such attempt because there was no problem. And so my conclusion regrading the day of remembering the devastation German “Volkists” have caused back on the 9th of November 1938 can not be united with the happiness for the unification, until the torching down of refugee and asylum seeker homes in Germany ends, German Neonazis are totally silenced, and all those shouting for PEGIDA are forced to take in the bitter lessons and truths of the history of the country and its German nationalist racism.
The enthusiasm of taking in Syrian refugees was in part a very positive development in this regard, but it was not able to silence the far-right still. Volk, and I hear the German Chancellor Angela Merkel understands that, must never again be defined racially, religiously or ethnically in Germany. In spite of millions of Germans opposing PEGIDA and the far right, German conservative self-definitions are still widely spread. I am bothered by that because they are the weed bed on which Nazism can re-grow, and some in Germany take it further into the far-right realm in deed, a few violently so. And with these words I shall finish, though I like to be clear that I only mention the German dimension of it all. One must not exclude to consider worrying developments in other European countries in this regard too. We must remember that all of Austria was part of Germany then, half of France was Vichy-let, that a good part of Dutch and Danes, Ukrainians, Croatians, Lithuanians, went along with the National Socialist Germans and that Italy had adopted the race laws of Germany. Humble yourself Germany and Europe in the awe of history’s warnings.
All Rights Reserved. (C) Daniel Zylbersztajn 2015