Bob Schwartz

Tag: Germany

With This Magazine Cover Germany Has Made Full Retribution

Der Spiegel

This is the cover from this week’s issue of the German news magazine Der Spiegel. It is accompanied by the story The Pain of the Donald Trump Presidency.

The cover has been controversial. The magazine explains it this way:

The image for this week’s cover was created by the artist Edel Rodriguez. Edel was nine years old when, in 1980, he came to the U.S. with his mother — two refugees, like so many others. “I remember it well, and I remember the feelings and how little kids feel when they are leaving their country,” he told the Washington Post on Friday night. The newspaper wrote: “This DER SPIEGEL Trump cover is stunning.” It wasn’t the first time Edel has drawn Trump. He usually portrays him without eyes — you just see his angry, gaping mouth and, of course, the hair. “I don’t want to live in a dictatorship,” he says. “If I wanted to live in a dictatorship, I’d live in Cuba, where it’s much warmer.”

I am Jewish, descended from Eastern European Jews, with extended family who likely perished there during World War II (they were never heard from after). I was a stamp collector as a kid, and a friend of my parents gave me his entire collection of German stamps from that era, with a note that explained why he could not keep them. For myself, I’ve treated Germany as just another nation, no more or less, depending on what it does and doesn’t do.

No nation in modern history has had to live down what Germany has. People of faith and good will have been visited with the sins of the Fatherland, and have tried hard for generations to establish that they are not those Germans. They have proven themselves, and with this cover, they are doing what some have the courage to do, some not, or at least not yet: Bear witness—graphically, unflinchingly—to what may not quite be an atrocity, but is a devastating and deadly affront to what Americans, Germans, and free people around the world hold dear.

Germany, you have proven your good faith time and time again over the decades. Germany, if there is even anything left to forgive, all is forgiven.



Kurt Vonnegut

A friend in Israel has been corresponding with me about the current mess there. He is a proud and passionate American-Israeli. In the course of the conversation, he mentioned Dresden.

I, along with millions of others, can’t think of Dresden without thinking of Kurt Vonnegut. There is some chance, if you are of a certain age, that you don’t know Dresden or Vonnegut, so here is a summary.

In February 1945, just a few months before World War II ended, the Allies firebombed the city of Dresden, Germany. Much of the city was destroyed and tens of thousands lost their lives. At the same time, Allied prisoners of war were being held by Germany in Dresden.

Kurt Vonnegut was one of the most interesting and original writers of the 20th century, and he influenced the cultural lives of readers throughout the 1960s and beyond. He was also one of those prisoners of war who was an eyewitness to the destruction in Dresden. He tried for more than twenty years to write about it, and finally in 1969 published his novel Slaughterhouse-Five, a title reference to the Dresden slaughterhouse in which he was held. It is a masterpiece, but not what anyone would expect a novel about the horrors of war to be like. It is, though, precisely what you might expect from Vonnegut.

The first chapter is his factual history of how he came to write this book. That chapter alone is worth reading, even if you think you don’t want or wouldn’t like the rest. In it, he recounts this conversation with a friend:

Over the years, people I’ve met have often asked me what I’m working on, and I’ve usually replied that the main thing was a book about Dresden.

I said that to Harrison Starr, the movie-maker, one time, and he raised his eyebrows and inquired, “Is it an anti-war book?”

“Yes,” I said. “I guess.”

“You know what I say to people when I hear they’re writing anti-war books?”

“No. What do you say, Harrison Starr?”

“I say, ‘Why don’t you write an anti-glacier book instead?’”

What he meant, of course, was that there would always be wars, that they were as easy to stop as glaciers. I believe that, too.

And even if wars didn’t keep coming like glaciers, there would still be plain old death.

Please read Slaughterhouse-Five (and more Vonnegut if you are so moved). You will be glad you did.

Anschluss 1938

History doesn’t have to be analogical, though that is often tempting. Instead, it can just be generally informative, not predictive about how particular parties may act and should react, but just as lessons in the variety of global experience.

In March 1938—the anniversary just passed last week—Hitler annexed Austria, an event now known as the Anschluss. Here, for general information, and not necessarily for comparison, are excerpts from the BBC Bitesize site:

Hitler wanted all German-speaking nations in Europe to be a part of Germany. To this end, he had designs on re-uniting Germany with his native homeland, Austria. Under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, however, Germany and Austria were forbidden to be unified.

Hitler also wanted control of the largely German-speaking area within Czechoslovakia, called the Sudetenland. Importantly, Austria shared a border with this area.

In an attempt to realise his goals, Hitler was determined to destabilise Austria and undermine its independence. His ultimate goal was anschluss (union) with Austria…

The new Austrian Chancellor, Schuschnigg tried to preserve the country from German invasion by trying not to give Hitler an excuse for aggression. He tried to co-operate with Hitler as much as possible…

Hitler ordered Austrian Nazis to create as much trouble and destruction as possible in order to put pressure on Schuschnigg. If Hitler could claim that Austrian law and order had broken down he could justify marching German troops into Vienna to restore peace – despite the fact that he was responsible for the chaos in the first place.

Four days in March

Wednesday 9th March 1938

On the 9 March 1938, in a desperate act, Schuschnigg announced a referendum whereby the Austrian people would decide for themselves if they wanted to be a part of Hitler’s Germany. Hitler was furious. If the Austrians voted against joining Germany his excuse for invasion would be ruined.

Thursday 10th March 1938

Hitler told his generals to prepare for the invasion of Austria. He ordered Schuschnigg to call off the referendum. Knowing he would receive no help from Italy, and that France and Britain would not interfere in Hitler’s plans, Schuschnigg conceded. He called off the referendum and resigned.

The Nazi Austrian Interior Minister, Seyss-Inquart, was ordered by Hitler to ask for German help in restoring order in Austria.

Friday 11th March 1938

Hitler reassured Czechoslovakia that they had nothing to fear.

Saturday 12th March 1938

German troops marched into Austria unopposed. Hitler now had control of Austria. A month later, Hitler held a rigged referendum. The results showed that the Austrian people approved of German control of their country.

Note: Czechoslovakia indeed had something to fear. That same year, Germany invaded the German-speaking Czech region, the Sudetenland, and ultimately conquered the entire nation. It was that invasion that prompted the intervention of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who tried to “make peace” with Hitler at the infamous Munich conference.

In 1968, exactly thirty years later, the Prague Spring of political and cultural liberalization led to an invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union. Fortunately, the spirit of that spring was never fully crushed, and inspired a flowering of sometimes secret creativity and rebellion.