Sunday, October 31, 2010

The misuse of history

The 880 page report on the German Foreign Office and its collaboration with National Socialism, which will be published as a book this week, does not seem to offer anything new. The Berfusdiplomaten in the 'Wilhelmstrasse' defended themselves at Nürnberg by saying that they remained in office "um Schlimmeres zu Verhüten" (in order to prevent worse happening). "Das Schlimmste" epitomised by the death camps and the sytematic murdering of European Jewry, gypsies, homosexuals and "Andersdenkenden" was not prevented. Moreover, many of those diplomats followed the path of State Secretary, Ernst von Weizsäcker, and not only didn't prevent worse happening but indeed signed documents which incriminate them of actively participating in war crimes.

This is not news and to be honest it is hardly unexpected for while, twelve Berufsdiplomaten were executed for their resistance to the Nazis, to the best of my knowledge Karl Maximilian Friedrich-Wilhelm von Prittwitz und Gaffron, the German ambassador to Washington was the only ambassador to resign when Hitler came to power. After the 30th January 1933, it was more or less business as usual at the 'Wilhelmstrasse'. Moreover, this is not some sort of a revelation. Therefore, the question that has to be asked is why this report and why do we have the likes of  Guido Westerwelle hailing it as "an important work"?

Guido and the rest of the Berlin political establishment are not Historians. Or, if they have that appendage somewhere in their curriculum vitae, they have certainly never done any serious research in that field.  Nevertheless, it is not ignorance that is being demonstrated here but rather Berlin showing its allies how it is capable of an ongoing "Vergangenheitsbewältigung" while being a modern, tolerant and reliable friend. It is a case of the German political establishment patting itself on the back at no particular cost to itself. That is why, we would do well to look further afield at who benefits from this piece of no news.

When we do this we soon realise that we are, once again, confronted with a piece of "news", which is in fact common knowledge not only among Historians, but indeed, to large sections of the general public and that this latest "revelation" informs us once again of the need for a Jewish State where all Jews can be safe in a hostile world. Nevertheless, the more sensible among us realise that  that völkisch state was an ultimate expression, no perversion, of a nation state based on ethnicity and that, while a safe haven for European Jewry, and for many others, was necessary so long as it existed, it should not be copied. Or is Nazi Germany a model for a modern state.

Under the guise of history, history is being repeated and the real news is not the fact that so few German diplomats resigned after Hitler's Machtergreifung or even that many of them subsequently committed war crimes. Rather it is the fact that the civil servants sitting in government offices in occupied Jerusalem and soldiers in the occupied territories continue to do their jobs and, indeed, many are actively involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity. Moreover, while there are the "refuseniks" and many others in Israeli society who have to be admired, one can only  suppose that come the day of reckoning it will be those civil servants and soldiers who have at least abeted an illegal occupation who will be rushing to tell all and sundry that they only stayed in office to prevent worse happening.

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