Letter from Munich – 012
Letter from Munich – the Joseph Affair – 12
EINE DEUTSCHE FASSUNG STEHT WEITER UNTEN.
30 March 2001
Dear Mr. Graf, dear friends,
“The members of the opposition parties in the Bundestag – the German parliament –seem to be living in a parallel universe,” said Erica. “There are serious problems in Germany, in Europe, and in the world – not the least of which is the kind of right-wing extremism that led to the death of the boy Joseph and the subsequent reluctance of the authorities to investigate the affair with any real objectivity – but you would never know that these problems exist if you spoke with the German opposition.”
She had an uncharacteristically cynical expression on her face. “First mad cow and then hoof and mouth disease threaten the European food supply; the German education system is in many respects a disaster; the pension system in this country could be heading for collapse; the euro is starting to disappear again; and the general economic outlook is quite bleak – but, ah, does that concern the opposition? What does our loyal opposition busy itself with?”
“They too are concerned with the things you just mentioned, aren’t they?” I asked.
Erica laughed. “And just where, my friend, have YOU been the past couple of weeks?” She leaned toward us all and said with a kind of passionate intensity, “The German opposition is practically beside itself with indignation because it has been criticized for repeating, ad infinitum, the phrase, ‘I’m proud to be German’.”
“For repeating WHAT?” I said, feeling the kind of mild panic I always feel, when people start talking about things I know nothing about. I don’t listen to the news much, and I had no idea what she meant.
The phrase, “I’m proud to be German,” is a rallying cry of the extreme right wing in this country. The main opposition parties in the Bundestag, the CDU/CSU, have not only taken up this formula – something that is dangerous enough in itself – but they also have accused everyone on the left – including even the German President, Johannes Rau – of practically committing high treason because they are understandably reluctant to parrot the phrase.”
“But what can the government parties do?” I said to her, feeling totally confused now.
Erica smiled. “What they can do is make the phrase their own, by simply adding to it.” She paused and looked at us all. “They could, for example, say, “Yes, of course I’m proud to be German – intensely proud to be German, in the way Dietrich Bonhoeffer was German, in the way Thomas Mann was German, and Edith Stein. I’m proud to be German in the way Hans and Sophie Scholl were German – and Claus von Stauffenberg, Wilhelm Canaris, Hans von Dohnanyi, and all the other heroic Germans who resisted the Nazis. I’m proud to be German the way those who turned their back on Nazi Germany were German, those like Marlene Dietrich, for example, who could have stayed, but did not, and who even today are vilified by many people as “traitors.”
Her eyes shone with a startlingly intense brightness as she added, “I am proud to be a German in the way ALL those who ,betrayed’ Nazi Germany were German.”
I think many of us were almost holding our breath as she leaned back and added quite calmly, “And one of the things that makes me most proud to be a German today is that there are ordinary Germans in Saxony who just once were not afraid to stand up and say to the all-powerful – in their eyes – German authorities, ‘Yes, the boy Joseph was murdered by Neonazis.’ Of course those people were beaten down by those same authorities, until they changed their story – that still happens even in the less primitive parts of this country. After all, not everyone can be a hero. But I believe those people spoke the truth. And truth has a voice of its own. I sometimes think truth has a woman’s voice, because it is a voice that will not be silenced.” She looked at each of us in turn. “Ever.”
Then she added something that I honestly don’t understand. I’m just an ordinary person, and ideas like these have always been beyond me.
Erica said, “Truth cannot be silenced, but there is a paradox there that we are always struggling against. And I think it was the English poet, T.S. Eliot, who defined the problem best. ‘Humankind,’ he said, ‘cannot bear very much reality.’ “
Well, yes. I’m not completely stupid. I’d heard that before. But I didn’t understand it then. And, I’m sorry, but I really don’t understand it now either.
Robert John Bennett