Post-war Lies, by Malte Herwig, is a challenging book to read and review, because it would be so easy to fall into the trap of sitting in moral judgemPost-war Lies, by Malte Herwig, is a challenging book to read and review, because it would be so easy to fall into the trap of sitting in moral judgement about Germany’s Nazi past. You might also ask, what’s it got to do with us, in Australia in the 21st century, if Germany is still exploring its mea culpa issues?
Well, I would argue that a thoughtful reader makes for a thoughtful citizen, and Germany’s quest for truth is relevant to many societies. While the Holocaust is unique in human history, the acquiescence of ordinary citizens in morally culpable crimes against humanity might be more common than we like to admit. Herwig in his concluding chapter quotes the German author Martin Walser saying that if concepts of ‘state’, ‘people’, ‘nation’ or ‘race’ have any meaning at all, then each individual has a responsibility to enquire into his complicity in political crimes. (Or as I would put it, you can’t belong and then wilfully ignore what is being done in your name). Walser was talking about complicity in the crimes of the Third Reich, but he could IMO just as easily be talking about political crimes against asylum seekers or future generations who will suffer the effects of climate change. He could just as easily be talking about the complicity of non-indigenous Australians in the distortion of its Black history.
Post-war Lies explores the vexed question of the culpability of the generation born in Germany between 1919 and 1927, and specifically whether they were members of the Nazi Party or not. According to Wikipedia there were 8.5 million members of the Nazi Party, (10% of the population) while Herzig says 10.1 million, but whatever the exact numbers were, in the post-war de-Nazification period (1946-1948) it was intended that these people should be the subject of intense scrutiny. The Allies were determined to rid Germany of Nazi ideology entirely, to punish supporters whose complicity was criminal, and to ensure that Nazi Party members were removed from positions of influence. (See Wikipedia). The numbers, of course, made the goal unachievable. Inevitably, people slipped through the net. And by the 1950s, it was realised that it wasn’t possible to create a functioning, economically independent and democratic state without the contribution of these people, and the Constitution was amended so that ‘minor offenders’ who’d been sacked could be re-employed. Herzig’s figures show that some West German government departments were completely dominated by ex-Nazi Party members.
But those were the older generation. A generation defined by the date that they joined the Nazi party. If they were one of the 1.5 million that joined the Party before Hitler came to power in 1933, they were defined as ‘hard-core Nazis’ (See Wikipedia), (differentiating them from those that Herzig calls opportunists, conformists or the ambitious). They were expected to atone for what had been done (if such atonement is ever possible). But Herzig’s interest is in the Flakhelfer generation, the Hitler Youth generation that in some contexts can be described as child soldiers, and in particular those who became the high-profile leaders in positions of influence who helped to rebuild post-war Germany into a genuine democracy. For these people exposure of any Nazi past is a stain on Germany’s contrition and a personal affront. Despite what looks like compelling evidence, the claim that they progressed from the Hitler Youth (which was compulsory for Aryans from 1936, and unavoidable) to becoming members of the Nazi Party, is, apparently, almost universally denied.
Well, I've read it, but I don't claim to understand it properly.
It feels ridiculous to give it a rating of any kind, given that it's one of the mostWell, I've read it, but I don't claim to understand it properly.
It feels ridiculous to give it a rating of any kind, given that it's one of the most important philosophical works of the 20th century. Philosophers (should they condescend to rate any book) would give it 5 stars, but I can't because I don't have the background in philosophy to do that, I don't know whether it's amazing or not.
I read it for a 'Masterclass' course I'm doing at the University of Melbourne, called Great Books. We've read Rousseau's Emile, The Prince by Machiavelli, Utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill, (as well as literary works like the Canterbury Tales and Wuthering Heights - but I skipped that one because I'd already read it so many times).
But Tractatus is something else - even Bertrand Russell said it was difficult, and I would really have been floundering if I hadn't had my trusty DK Philosophy Book to set me on the right path. And even with that to guide me as to the essential points that Wittgenstein was making, I found that Principles 5 & 6 are very difficult because so much of it is written in the language of logic, that is, using the conceptual notation which was devised (I think by Frege) in order to express logical propositions. Even if I knew what all the symbols meant (or even how to pronounce them), the study of philosophical logic is fiendishly difficult, and Wittgenstein in these sections is having an argument with Bertrand Russell about the validity of it! So I am a bit bemused by the choice of this work for us to read, given that there were no prerequisites for the course, and it was in fact designed for graduates from different faculties. (One of my classmates is an engineer, others are journalists, linguists etc). Well, I shall see when I go to class this week. Presumably the lecturer will elucidate these mysteries.
I shall set off for this class armed only with a basic understanding of what Wittgenstein was on about. Language limits what we can think and talk about, it limits our world. Because language is made up of propositions, which may be true or false. These propositions are composed of facts - things are a certain way. (Russell in the introduction describes the most basic facts as 'atomic facts' and propositions as 'molecular'). Propositions are pictures (not visual pictures) of facts, as maps are pictures of the world, as a musical score is a picture of the sound waves of music. What these pictures 'illustrate' is the relationship between things i.e. the map corresponds to the place it represents; the musical score corresponds to what we hear.
But where Wittgenstein was controversial was what he said about propositions being meaningless if they did not picture facts, i.e. propositions about ethics such as 'killing is bad'. It's meaningless, he says, because you can't determine whether it is true or false. Therefore you can only generate propositions using facts about the world, and anything mystical can't/shouldn't be discussed in philosophy. This was a brave thing to say, given that philosophers since the time of the ancient Greeks had been doing just that, and of course, it also meant that everything he had said in this (mercifully short) book is nonsense too - because his own 7 principles don't say anything about the world.
Russell, a philosopher who wrote many books of popular philosophy (most of which I've read) was very interested in what Wittgenstein had to say, and in the introduction to this edition is open-minded about the areas where Wittgenstein attacked his thinking (not always as politely as he might have done, considering Russell had been his teacher at Oxford).
Alone in Berlin was written under the post-war Soviet Occupation and published posthumously in 1947. In the novel, Otto and Anna Quangel are the fictiAlone in Berlin was written under the post-war Soviet Occupation and published posthumously in 1947. In the novel, Otto and Anna Quangel are the fictional counterparts of Elise and Otto Hampel, a working-class couple who mounted an ineffectual act of resistance against the Nazi regime and were caught by the Gestapo and executed. While the catalyst for resistance is slightly different in the novel, the motivation was not:
…it doesn’t matter if there’s a handful of you against many of them. Once you’ve seen that a cause is right, you’re obliged to fight for it. Whether you ever live to see success, or the person who steps into your shoes does, it doesn’t matter. (p. 313)
Alone in Berlin explores this deceptively simple moral certainty in all its complexity, in 568 pages that held my rapt attention over the three days it took to read.
Otto is a taciturn working man who has risen to the position of factory foreman through the force of his personality. He does not bully anyone, but his conscientious attention to supervision and his own blunt integrity achieves results that satisfy his Nazi overlords. As the war progresses craftsmanship is no longer needed and they mass produce coffins, but Otto plods on in his dull way until shocked out of it when his son is killed in the war. In her distress, his wife Anna accuses him and ‘his’ Führer of blame. This is the catalyst for his covert campaign of civil disobedience, handwriting postcards critical of the regime and over a period of years distributing them all over Berlin. It’s not much, but it could cost them their lives.
Wolf Among Wolves is the fourth novel that I have read by Hans Fallada. It was his sixth book, published in 1938 just before the outbreak of World WarWolf Among Wolves is the fourth novel that I have read by Hans Fallada. It was his sixth book, published in 1938 just before the outbreak of World War II. It follows on from Fallada’s attempts to deflect unwelcome attention from the Nazis by writing children’s stories and other non-political material, and because it is a critique of the chaotic Weimar Republic, Goebbels was very pleased with it. Unfortunately for Fallada, far from deflecting Nazi attention, the success of this brilliant novel encouraged them to commission anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi works, and before long he capitulated to Nazi intimidation, earning him trenchant criticism from the likes of Thomas Mann who fled Germany rather than submit.
Although he later showed great courage by writing The Drinker while in gaol (see my review) and redeemed his reputation with Alone in Berlin (see my review) Fallada was vulnerable to intimidation because of his mental illness and drug addiction. He made numerous suicide attempts, and his unstable situation was exacerbated by his failed relationships, his ambiguous sexuality and of course by the onset of a brutal war. Yet it was these very vulnerabilities which make his writing so powerful. The authenticity of Wolf Among Wolves derives from Fallada’s own experience of weakness and folly, and of living in a society that was crumbling.
Wolf Among Wolves is completely absorbing. It’s nearly 800 pages long but it’s one of those books that make you want to drop everything else until you’ve finished reading it. Uncompromisingly realistic, it is written in what is called the New Objectivity style:
The New Objectivity … is a term used to characterize the attitude of public life in Weimar Germany as well as the art, literature, music, and architecture created to adapt to it. Rather than some goal of philosophical objectivity, it was meant to imply a turn towards practical engagement with the world—an all-business attitude, understood by Germans as intrinsically American: “The Neue Sachlichkeit is Americanism, cult of the objective, the hard fact, the predilection for functional work, professional conscientiousness, and usefulness.” (Wikipedia)
Not unlike the great classic Russian novels in the way that it depicts domestic concerns on a sprawling canvas, Wolf Among Wolves is a love story, a coming-of-age story and a story of flawed personalities struggling to cope in a society which was in economic and moral chaos. The love story is thwarted by the characters’ ignorance of themselves and each other, by their mutual immaturity and by the society which is crumbling all around them.
Hans Fallada (1893–1947) is one of those tragic literary figures whose life story seems to resonate through every page of his novels. This was true ofHans Fallada (1893–1947) is one of those tragic literary figures whose life story seems to resonate through every page of his novels. This was true of the semi-autobiographical story of Little Man, What Now (see my review) and - in the sense of being one man alone against an all-powerful state which is crushing his spirit – it’s also true of Alone in Berlin. (See my review). But it is The Drinker, the third novel I’ve read by Fallada this year, which really seems to tell his own personal story …
Fallada had substance abuse problems throughout his life, and this novel was actually written while he was in an asylum for the insane. He was supposed to be writing another novel, one to suit the Nazi regime which had alternated between approval and harassment throughout his literary career. What he wrote instead was the story of an undistinguished small businessman who takes up drinking with a vengeance and pays a terrible price. What is on one level a sordid story of self-delusion and degradation is on another level a metaphor for the destruction of an individual by an oppressive state.
It’s odd how ideas from disparate kinds of reading can coalesce in the mind: I have been reading The Censor’s Library, Uncovering the Lost History ofIt’s odd how ideas from disparate kinds of reading can coalesce in the mind: I have been reading The Censor’s Library, Uncovering the Lost History of Australia’s Banned Books by Nicole Moore, and amongst other propositions that she puts is that the enthusiasm with which books were banned in Australia led to the modernism movement passing us by. However it wasn’t just works by authors such as James Joyce which had too many naughty bits for the good people of Australia to read, it was all kinds of other books as well, including during the Great Depression, many realist and socialist books banned on the grounds of sedition. The Grapes of Wrath was referred for censorship in 1939 but scraped in, while Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London was banned in 1933.
Other realist and socialist novels of the 1930s with similar critiques of a degenerating society were also banned as obscene. High cultural literary forms like the novel were compelled to seriously engage with life on the other side of the class divide during the 1930s, as the depression continued and socialist and Communist critique informed aesthetics across the world. Australian censors strongly policed the access of working-class or ordinary readers to publications critical of existing economic and social orders, however.
(The Censor’s Library, Uncovering the Lost History of Australia’s Banned Books by Nicole Moore, UQP, 2012, p. 90)
Well, I haven’t finished reading Moore’s book yet, so I don’t know if Hans Fallada’s Little Man, What Now? was banned, but if it wasn’t, it must have been an oversight on the part of our otherwise zealous authorities because it depicts the cruel downfall of a white-collar worker during the Great Depression in Germany. Published in 1932 on the verge of Hitler’s ascendancy, and making allusions to both scapegoating the Jews and to Communism as a political alternative, the novel depicts the grinding poverty and the absence of a social safety net for ordinary Germans at the time.
Johannes ‘Sonny’ Pinneberg is a salesman who marries prematurely because his girlfriend Emma ‘Lämmchen’ Mörschel is pregnant, and is promptly sacked because he’s now not free to marry the boss’s unappealing daughter. The newlyweds are both naïve and Lämmchen in particular thinks that love will conquer all, but life has some rude shocks in store for them… Neither of them has much in the way of savings and apart from a few bits and pieces in Lämmchen’s ‘glory box’, they start out with nothing much but dreams, and the gold wedding rings never eventuate.
This is another novella longlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, and it’s a masterly example of the form. The theme is the disintegrationThis is another novella longlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, and it’s a masterly example of the form. The theme is the disintegration of a marriage, but the plot and structure make it quite different to anything I’ve read before.
Next World Novella by Matthias Politycki is a clever title: it plays on Doro the wife’s preoccupation with the afterworld and Hinrich the husband’s alternate world, the one he plays around in when he’s not at home. There is also a fictional world of male fantasy, because although Hinrich is a mediocre Sinologist who writes academic stuff, he’s also ventured into the world of fiction.
His little novel is so forgettable that he forgets about it himself. It stays unfinished and untouched in an obscure drawer somewhere in the house. Or so he thinks, until the morning he wakes up to find that Doro has died – quite some time ago, it would seem – and was editing this little novel just before she died. And Doro is not the placid, complacent handmaiden to his ‘genius’ that he thought she was…
When Herta Müller won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2009, there was the usual outcry from the powerful claiming to be oppressed by the European biWhen Herta Müller won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2009, there was the usual outcry from the powerful claiming to be oppressed by the European bias of the judges. Why is our literature being ignored? howled those who dominate the book industry throughout the English-speaking world, and of course they denigrated the winner as if to prove their point.
Tibor Fischer at the Guardian on behalf of the UK was so unimpressed that he misrepresented the plot with a reductive summary:
The Passport is a 90-page novel about a miller, Windisch, a Swab, or ethnic German, who applies for a passport to leave Romania. That’s all in the way of plot or narrative impetus.
Well no, it’s not just about that, Mr Fischer. Not even at literal level. Even the dopiest reader will soon figure out that there’s more to the plot than that.
This is the first I've read by Gunther Grass, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Grass is struggling with the collective guilt of the German peopThis is the first I've read by Gunther Grass, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Grass is struggling with the collective guilt of the German people. The narrator of the story is a hack journalist who is reluctantly drawn into researching the unusual circumstances of his birth, In a lifeboat, after the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff by a Russian sub in 1945. It's cunningly written. Paul Pokriefke, the journalist, doesn't want to know about the past, and is almost vitriolic about his mother, who is always going on about it. These two symbolise Germany's dilemma - Ursula/Tilla has had a traumatic experience and needs to talk about it, but is denied any therapeutic release because of the German culture of silence about their wartime suffering. Paul just doesn't want to know. He's the next generation, with no memory of the event, and he just wants to get on with his life, even if what he's doing isn't particularly worthwhile. He fails to see that some of his lack of direction is due to the circumstances of his birth, but he is able to blame his mother for being so promiscuous that he can't know who is father was, whereas if he were less judgemental he would admit that he could just as easily have been fatherless if his father died in the war. What forces Paul to confront his, and Germany's history is his own son's neo-Nazi proclivities......more
This is a litany of complaints from a narcissistic writer who seems not to have grown wiser with the years. He volunteers for the German army becauseThis is a litany of complaints from a narcissistic writer who seems not to have grown wiser with the years. He volunteers for the German army because his mother is horrible and father (dead) perpetrated the idea of a war hero. So that's their fault. He believes anything he's told about the Third Reich, so that's Hitler's fault. He can't cope with war and doesn't want to kill anyone until revenge overcomes him, and that's the Russians' fault. He gets his girlfriend pregnant and she gets kicked out of the Nazi Girls Club and school and then disappears, and that's society's fault. And all these terrible things happen and he can't cope because he's too young. Well, hello there, half the world involved in fighting this war of conquest started by Germany was too young, not just him. It was his sort that unquestioningly supported Hitler and made it happen. There's no sign whatsoever that he feels remorse for the suffering of others - he even uses the label 'zebra-man' to identify a concentration camp inmate - and picks on him as looking better-fed than he is. When he finally learns the truth, the focus is on *him* weeping, not on the enormity of the war crime. He writes with indignation about the bombing of Cologne as if the Blitz had never happened, and tries to evoke sympathy for his ill-treatment by American troops. And on top of that, he's self-righteous about the killing of an SS by an American soldier. Unbelievable that there are actually people writing stuff like this and getting it published......more
The Lost Honour, unlike many Nobel prize winning books, is famous because (a) it was promptly made into a successful film in 1975 (Die verlorene EhreThe Lost Honour, unlike many Nobel prize winning books, is famous because (a) it was promptly made into a successful film in 1975 (Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum oder) and then a tele movie in English for people who can’t cope with viewing foreign film; and (b) it’s about a woman who’s life is ruined by the tabloid press, in this story called The News but apparently modelled on the actual German Bild-Zeitung. It amuses me that people love to vilify the tabloid press, because its enduring success is a simple matter of the market: the tabloid press does what it does because lots of people buy their product, scurrilous as it is. If the mass indignation about tabloid press excesses were genuine, there would be no market for the loathsome product. If Diana’s death didn’t kill the tabloids, nothing will…
Anyway, as soon as I started reading The Lost Honour, I recognised it as an influence on Richard Flanagan’s The Unknown Terrorist. It has the same themes of panic about terrorism resulting in suspicion that turns out to be absurd; unreasonable and unethical police behaviour; and an intrusive press that causes grave trouble for an innocent person. But Böll’s style is more detached: events are reported and analysed calmly and logically as if no one should be surprised that things turned out this way. It’s also the antithesis of the crime genre because Böll tells us who did what right at the very beginning, deconstructing events from every angle to make his point. The free press can in some circumstances be just as dangerous for the individual as a censored one.
The story is set during Carnival, a tradition in many European countries where restraint is thrown to the winds for a short period of time and people go about in costumes or masks to hide their identity. Katharina, a prudent, perhaps prudish young woman of little education but exemplary habits, uncharacteristically goes to a dance, and is rushed off her feet by one Ludwig Götten. They go home to her place, where in the morning the police turn up because they have had Götten under surveillance because he’s a gangster. But he’s shot through overnight, and Katharina is taken off for gruelling interviews that pry into her private life because the police don’t believe that this is a sudden, innocent liaison. And before long The News has labelled her a gangster’s moll and all kinds of misery is set in train. The lawyer for whom she works as a housemaid comes under suspicion, and his wife is labelled a Communist. All kinds of foul accusations are made, and Katharina is under siege in the apartment she has slaved for years to buy. A home now irreparably ‘stained and soiled’ by events.