Saturday, October 16, 2010

A wish fulfilled for Erica Jong

In Fear of Flying (1973), Erica Jong's all-but-autobiographical narrator recounts the rage she felt encountering the smooth surface of postwar German life in Heidelberg, 1966:

What infuriated me most, I think, was the way the Germans had changed their protective coloration, the way they talked peace and humanitarianism, the way they all claimed to have fought on the Russian Front. It was their hypocrisy I abhorred. At least if they’d come out openly and said: We loved Hitler, one might have weighed their humanity with their honesty and perhaps forgiven them.

She recounts her search for the shallow-buried Nazi past, culminating in a sleuthing foray at the local library:

I went to the Heidelberg main library and began looking through guidebooks. Most of them were routine, with glossy photos of the Schloss and old engravings of the pasty-faced Electors of the Palatinate. Finally I came across a library-bound one, English and German on facing pages, with cheap, yellowing paper, black and white photographs and old Gothic type. The publication date was 1937, and every ten pages or so a paragraph or a photo or a small block of type was covered over with a square of oak-tag. These little squares were firmly glued down so that you couldn’t lift the corners, but the minute I saw them I knew I wouldn’t rest until I had unglued them all and discovered what was underneath.

I checked out the book (along with four others so the librarian wouldn’t be suspicious) and raced home where I carefully steamed the offending pages over a tea-kettle spout.

 It was interesting to see what the censor had thought to censor:

A photograph of the amphitheater in all its glory: flags rippling in the wind, hands flying upward in a Nazi salute, hundreds of little pinpoints of light-representing Aryan heads-or perhaps, Aryan brains.

A passage describing the amphitheater as “One of the monumental buildings of the Third Reich, a Giantic [sic] Openairtheatre which aims at uniting thousands of Fellow-Germans for Festive and Solemn-Hours in a common Experience of Loyalty to the Fatherland and Inspirations of the Nature.

A paragraph describing the (now rutted and bumpy) Heidelberg-Frankfurt Autobahn as the “Giantic [sic] and Monumental Creation of the New Age which is so much Promising.”

A paragraph describing Germany as “This Nation favored to the Gods and placed in the First Ranks of the Great and Powerful Nations…”

A photograph of the main assembly hall of the university with swastikas hanging from every Gothic arch…
A photograph of the mensa with swastikas hanging from every Roman arch…
Today, the Times reports on a new exhibit at the German Historical Museum in Berlin in which the curators appear to have steamed off the oak tag:
The museum placed the display downstairs, below street level, so it was dark and silent. Three images of Hitler projected on a mesh screen opened the show; behind them were pictures of cheering crowds, marching soldiers and other demonstrations of popular support. Around the corner were details of how Hitler was embraced early on, by the elite in Munich. “The wives of entrepreneurs, such as Elsa Bruckhmann, vied to be the first to drag Hitler” to a social event, one display said.

“Our teachers in the past, were integrated in that system, and I can remember they wanted to tell us that the German people became the first victim of Hitler, that they were practically mugged,” said Klaus Peter Triebel from Seefeld, near Munich.

The exhibit explains the early appeal of the Nazis, who demonstrated a keen appreciation for the politics of populism’s creating a sense of unity and purpose: “Attending popular sports events, film premiers, they dedicated autobahns and new industrial builds,” read a display.
A curator worries that a Hitler figure could find a vigorous response in Germany today. Sullivan warns that it could happen here. As I watch demagogues Palin and Gingrich drop their rhetorical bombs, amplified by Fox and friends and taken up by a covey of kooks poised to take over Congress, I worry too.

1 comment:

  1. Am I the only person who finds this kind of thinking utterly illogical? It's like saying that 0 is greater than 1.

    If people aren't going to face up to their ugly past they might as well disown it, not embrace it. Think how different the South would be if people said "the Confederates had nothing do to with me" instead of waving the rebel flag.