I am thinking here not of the various ebbing and flowing subcultures in Europe and elsewhere who enjoy swastika waving and shave their heads and stuff, but of the first lot, who met in Wannsee in 1942 to discuss ‘the wiping out of the Jewish race’. Perhaps which group first springs to mind depends on where you live, but I find myself wondering whether the Third Reich are still causing more damage.
Like the more or less shocking realisation that all males have early in life that their sudden death could come about by their government suddenly going to war, suddenly running out of soldiers and suddenly drafting them, so all of us share that early experience of first discovering the horror of the holocaust. I can’t remember now when I first heard of it, but I have a pretty good recollection of the feeling that came along with that. This knowledge has a permanent impact on our minds; we never forget, and we see the world differently. Maybe for a time, while it sinks in, we can no longer understand ‘people’ or make sense of history.
Something similar happens in relation to the necessary thought that someone somewhere will have sprung on you, maybe many times, if you happen to live in a country that wasn’t occupied by the Nazis: imagine if we were ruled by the Nazis. Imagine if they had won the war.
This thought keeps us feeling lucky, scared and grateful. However badly our politicians treat us, and however hopelessly outdated the system which they work in might become in relation to our growing capacity to participate as citizens, we do have this thought to fall back on, don’t we?
Should we hate the Nazis for what they succeeded in doing and for the worse things they wanted to do? Should we forgive in order to secure some ‘good karma’ for ourselves, hoping to cut loose the past, or pity them for their derangement? And yes okay, we have the option to take no position at all, if we are not implicated or affected in our own lives, we may not owe anyone an opinion.
But it’s hard to explain why we put up with so much abuse from the people we supposedly elect to serve us. The German people spent decades struggling to understand how the Nazis gained the complicity and even adulation they did – half-knowing and half-dazed. Do we know why we accept relentless attacks on our basic privacy, our civil liberties, the institutions meant to protect our most vulnerable fellows; the haemorrhaging of public money into bottomless private pockets followed by the shameless demolition of our collective property on the grounds of a shortage of funds? I don’t think we do know why, but maybe it has something to do with the idea that it could have been worse.