this is in reply to several questions that HBC has posed. First is the question about the German and Austrian image on the the HBC German movie page. The question is really a challenge for me to recall all what I have heard and seen and felt in connection with the NAZI-regime and the war. I have also noted questions about the Hitler Youth and Scouting in both Germant and Austria.
One of your questions of last week was on how German/Austrian boys made the transition from Hitler Youth (HJ) to Scouts. By the time I went camping there anyone having been a HJ-member would have been too old to join scouting. I suppose I could have sollicited information on this subject but I didn’t. We were guests of the local scout troop and I felt that ‘one does not discuss death in the house of the deceased’ as Indonesians woud put it. Moreover, if encountered, opinions of the
past would have been awkward and could have wrecked our camp.
I find it very difficult even today to give my opinion and relate my experiences with German/Austrian attitudes after World War II because I have mixed and often conflicting feelings about the matter. Throughout my school years and much of my adult life I shunned discussions on this subject as I felt that most people were unable to see the nuances and I did’t want to be pressed into statements that were politically correct
but counter to my experience. Also, after reading the fascinating account of a German reader posted this week I feel there isn’t much I can add to it.
I must tell you some family history first. My great-grandfather left Austria after he had embroiled himself with his family over his wife-to-be. She was a commoner, which was bad enough, and on top
of that she was probably Jewish. When he insisted he was given all the property the family owned west of the Rhine on condition that he would not return to Austria. This left him with estates and forest reserves in Belgium, the Netherlands and West-Germany that enabled him to sustain his family. He settled in the Dutch province of Limburg and soon became a citizen.
In the next generation relations with some of the Austrians were re-established but other relatives stuck to their rejection, as I experienced when I took a German summer course in Vienna in the 1960s. In spite of that I like Austria and its people, I am aware of my ancestry and though I don’t speak the language well, it is an important part of my ‘self-image’.
I find it impossible to completely disavow Austria for any reason. Yet this is what people want you to do if you discuss Worls War II and related subjects. Even if (in Holland) one mentions Austria without referring to the war, NAZIism is often brought up by someone or another. One is expected to first confess to NAZIism and anti-semitism being born and bred and ingrained into Austrian society before anything else can be discussed. And any further subject is automatically viewed in the light of this confession. This is perhaps laying it on a bit thick but perhaps now my mixed feelings become understandable to you.
When I see a film like Schindler’s List or Hilerjunge Salomon (Europa/Europa), the atrocities fill me with horror and I am acutely aware of the fact that my grandfather, had he been in occupied territory, could have shared the same lot. On the other hand many Austrians had no first-hand information on what was happening in concentration camps, or didn’t believe it when they heard rumours. And I know for sure that many disagreed with theory and practice of national-socialism even
before knowing of its atrocities to the full extent. Yet this is what people often want you to do first, acknowledge that all Austrians knew about, were partisan to and complied with nazi crimes. However
wholeheartedly I will disavow National Ssocialism, I shall not acknowledge this nor shall I disavow ‘my’
There is another thing as well. Much of the bias during the 1970s and 80s was fostered by the political left (Communist satellite regimes in Eastern Europ), who should have known better. As has become abundantly clear, the regimes they were backing were no better than the NAZIs. I cannot help realizing that under communism my family would have been no better of for being ‘enemies of the people’ and probably even for being partly Jewish. I traveled in Eastern Europe in the 1960s and 70s and recall many examples of this.
An elderly Czech couple who had to make do with the stables of their estate for shelter, the roof leaking and devoid of heating, bullied by the ‘workers’ that were holidaying in the main building, thereby reducing it to a complete mess. Their son and his wife imprisoned, their grandson being denied higher education yet forced to disavow his family as enemies of the people.
Similar stories abound in Hungary and East-Germany. A congregation in East-Berlin who, under strict limitation of what could be read and preached, were allowed to worship in the stinking crypt of their church while above them an exhibition was held about te wrongdoings of religion, with speakers that were turned on loud when services were being held down below. When I attended the Dutch Reformed Church in
West-Berlin the next Sunday I encountered a community that had done away with regular worship and were having a coffee morning instead. When I told the minister about my concern for the congregation in
East-Berlin she publicly ridiculed me, calling out to the other guests: "Listen, listen! This gentleman isn’t satisfied with the Communist Party’s treatment of the Churches!"
This is by no means saying that the wrongdoings of Socialism are an excuse for those of National Socialism. They are in my opinion fruit of
the same tree and should both be rejected. But I shall not give to the Farisees of the Left the pleasure of my unconditonal rejection of either Austria or Germany.
This being said, my experiences with the matter while camping and traveling in Germany have been a mixed lot too. During one of our camps I made friends with a German boy who visited us with his troop.
He came back the next day and was allowed to join in with our games. For 3 days we were inseparable. When the flags were lowered at dusk
I lined up in his uniform and he wore mine. The next morning he appeared very early and bade me farewell. His father had forbidden him any further contact with us ‘because it’s you people who won the war’ .
Yet when we attended their meeting with Sunday prayers a few days later, their chaplain prayed for ‘those that have been taken away from us on the battlefields and in the concentration camps’
As pointed out before, I have not had comprehensive discussions on these subjects while in Germany, I can only judge from a distance. Again, mixed impressions. One cannot help being apalled at the aggression against Turkish migrant workers in Northern and Eastern Germany during the past few years. However, democracy in Germany has worked extremely well during the past 40 years and I think that’s no small feat for a country that has had little of it before 1945.
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