Letter from Munich – 022
Letter from Munich – the Joseph Affair – 22
EINE DEUTSCHE FASSUNG STEHT WEITER UNTEN.
8 June 2001
Dear Mr. Graf, dear friends,
“A human being is a human being,” said Alexandra quietly, “and not a symbol.”
After a short pause, during which she seemed to look deep into the eyes of everyone present, she went on in her lightly accented English, “And yet I have to admit that the death of the child Joseph does represent something larger, at least in my eyes. The death of a little boy is always tragic, because it is the death of promise, of possibility, even of hope, at least for a time, but can anyone really deny that a similar kind of death has been taking place in much of eastern Germany – perhaps in some respects even to the whole of Germany itself?”
I know nothing about “larger” issues. I guess I just can’t think in those terms, so even now I have only a very dim idea of what Alexandra was talking about. The others who were present, though, seemed to understand, so I sat back and listened to what she had to say.
“Many people would agree that Germany is stagnating,” Alexandra continued, “but no one can really agree on the cause, or even suggest a really plausible cause. And so the politicians and the journalists waste their time discussing peripheral issues.”
“And, if you wouldn’t mind enlightening us, just what is a ‘really plausible cause’?” asked Gottfried with his cold smile.
Alexandra spoke softly, but her voice was filled with a sort of passionate urgency. “Germany, more than any other country in the world, perhaps more than any other country in history, has broken with its past, and Germany deserves enormous respect for that. And yet for all the country’s honesty and straightforwardness, the break has not been clean enough. There is still, in every aspect of German life, in every aspect of the German mentality, the same paralyzing kind of small-mindedness that has always prevented Germany from achieving the greatness that the Anglo-Saxon nations have attained, no matter how questionable some elements of that greatness may be. But beyond that, Germany still has not – or at least many Germans still have not – broken with the darker aspects of the past.
Gottfried gave a kind of snort or laugh or something. Whatever it was, it clearly expressed contempt and ridicule.
Alexandra gave a barely audible sigh. “In Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung this week, a journalist and historian whom I much admire, Dorothee Heintze, reviewed a book (‘Stille Hilfe fuer braune Kameraden’ by Oliver Schroem and Andrea Roepke) about a German organization called ‘Stille Hilfe’ – Quiet Help – that has for years been providing – and still provides – assistance of various kinds to Nazis of various kinds. Heintze quotes the names of very prominent Germans who are ‘sympathizers’ of Stille Hilfe, men well-known in Germany, some deceased, but some still active in the areas of politics and law enforcement: politicians like Manfred Dregger, Prinz Casimir zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, Otto von Habsburg and Franz-Josef Strauss, attorneys and even district attorneys, men like Klaus Goebel of Munich or Juergen Rieger of Hamburg. ‘The book evokes a sense of rage and powerlessness,’ writes Heintze. ‘Rage over a man like Dortmund district attorney Klaus Schacht, who for decades delayed the investigation of Anton Malloth (recently convicted in Munich of war crimes). Schacht is now quietly enjoying his (extremely generous) pension, at the same time that many victims of the Nazis are still waiting for compensation. The sense of powerlessness that the book evokes arises from the fact that not only old Nazis, but young ones as well, go unpunished in this country and even join forces with one another. It is this sense of powerlessness that moved even the authors to exclaim, in the book’s final sentence: What more has to happen before the authorities finally act in a broad front against such organizations?’ – and that means, of course, organizations like Stille Hilfe and neo-Nazi groups.”
Gottfried made no comment this time, and Alexandra concluded: “And until the death of the child Joseph is really explained, and all of the questions surrounding it are answered, not only questions relating to the child’s death but also to the botched investigation that followed – until that happens, the real questions about Germany’s future will never be answered either. Joseph’s death was the death of a single, vulnerable human being, but whether we want it to or not, his death represented something much greater as well.”
Well, yes. Maybe. As I said, I really understand very little about such things. People say I’m just an average person. Many say I’m not even that.
Robert John Bennett