From Nazism To Anti-Fascism To Pro-Hamas, Reflections Of A Post-War German
The post-War generation in Germany was shaped politically by one question: Why didn’t our parents prevent the Holocaust? Nowadays, as baby boomers are retiring, the inner political wrestling seems to have fallen out of time, because anti-fascism has long changed sides.
Updated Nov. 14, 2023 at 6 p.m.
BERLIN — These days, one experience keeps coming to mind which apparently has nothing to do with the Hamas massacre on October 7 and its terrible consequences. At the same time, it does — albeit via the winding paths of my biography, which was largely that of an entire generation: the so-called baby boomers, born roughly between 1950 and 1965.
We were the strongest cohort of the post-War period, until the "baby bust."
Soon we will all be retired — we, the eternal young professionals, forever young. We were the ones who repeatedly confronted their parents with probing questions: What did you do? What did you know? Why didn’t you prevent it? How could this even happen? Aren't you ashamed of yourself?
No matter what the answers were — at that time we made an almost sacred commitment, indeed an inner vow, to fight all forms of anti-Semitism and hatred of Jews in the future, even if all the past could no longer be undone.
The moral law
It was the end of September 1982, when we wanted to enjoy the sun of the South of France once again. So we drove to the river Gard, made famous by the Roman Pont du Gard. The way down into the lonely gorge led along a steep, winding gravel track, where parts of the famous feature film Wages of Fear (1953) with Yves Montand were filmed.
During the day, I lay by the river and read Eugen Kogon's 1946 book The SS State, the first systematic study of the terror and extermination system of the National Socialist dictatorship. Kogon himself, a historian and a convinced Christian, had been sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp because of his opposition to the Hitler regime.
From today's perspective, it seems almost frivolous that I immersed myself once again in the horrors of the concentration camp system in this dreamlike landscape.
How could the heirs of Goethe and Schiller, Kant, Hegel and Heine, surrender to Hitler's madness?
I was 27 years old, the book had been on my shelf for some time, but I don't remember why I took it with me to the Mediterranean shores of Occitania as a holiday reading. In the end, my motive probably had to do with Kant's categorical imperative, with the "moral law within me": "Never again!" also meant "Remember! Learn! Understand!"
Of course, I had been reading about National Socialism since high school — it was increasingly being called "fascism". And the question of all questions haunted me, like most of us, for the rest of my life: How could the nation of poets and thinkers, the heirs of Goethe and Schiller, Kant, Hegel and Heine, surrender to Hitler's madness in such a way, participate in his crimes, whether knowingly or unknowingly, and above all offer no real resistance to the persecution of the Jews, apart from exceptions?
The cover of Eugen Kogon's 1946 book The SS State.
The first left-wing teachers to join the teaching profession after the revolt of 1968 — our economic and social studies trainee teacher was a Maoist — had a very simple explanation: it was "big business", heavy industry and banks that hoisted Hitler into power in order to secure their reactionary profit interests. But this would not explain the enthusiasm with which hundreds of thousands of Germans from all social classes hung on Hitler's every word long before 1933.
That capitalist profit interests required the murder of six million European Jews didn’t seem logical either, to say the least. After all, whatever our fathers and mothers had done during the war, it had very little to do with Deutsche Bank's interest profits.
So, we had to keep researching.
Critics of the revolt of 1968 have rightly pointed out that the rebels around student activist Rudi Dutschke had only a moderate interest in historical enlightenment. Perhaps this was no wonder, because they saw themselves as revolutionaries with their eyes set on a bright socialist future.
But it certainly helped that their parents' generation was condemned as Nazis. It was, in modern German terms, a very successful "narrative" that placed one's own position in the sphere of moral unassailability without the need for historical meticulousness.
Nevertheless, the generational conflict offered a powerful momentum, because of course there had been many Nazis and followers in the parents' generation, who were often reluctant to face up to their crimes, especially the Shoah, the Holocaust against the Jews. The younger baby boomers also fought their battles here, which sometimes led to a break with their parents.
A photographe taken during the 1968 student revolt in West Berlin.
Pro-Israeli stance of the left turned inside-out
Some Christmas parties were cancelled for years, while anti-fascism increasingly took on the profile of a catch-up movement. Precisely because the parents had failed so painfully and all too often did not even want to admit their guilt or responsibility, the youths now had to fight any hint of fascist sentiment all the more relentlessly.
Journalist Johannes Groß's prophetic remark, "The longer the Third Reich is dead, the stronger the resistance to Hitler and his ilk will be," hit the nail on the head and still applies today, as we seem to be virtually surrounded by Nazis.
In the meantime, Willy Brandt, the social democrat who had fled Hitler's Germany, had become Chancellor. But not even he was exempt from accusations of being a representative of a "new fascism", which the militant left in the circle of the "Red Army Faction" (RAF) loudly raised.
The pro-Israeli stance of the German left that prevailed after the Six-Day War of 1967 had turned into its opposite.
People wore Palestinian scarves and exposed Israel as a colonialist "outpost of U.S. imperialism". Many of us still didn't see it that way, but suddenly the Palestinians appeared as victims and potential revolutionaries, while the Jews slipped into the role of perpetrators, precisely because Israel, as the only and still successful democracy in the Middle East, was ultimately part of the Western capitalist world, which the global revolutionary movement had declared war on. A political axis shift that still has repercussions today.
As early as September 1969, a left-wing extremist group called "Tupamaros West Berlin" led by former communist Dieter Kunzelmann, travelled to a training camp of the Palestinian terror group al-Fatah in Jordan, where they were greeted by Yasser Arafat personally with a handshake.
Shortly afterwards, on 9 November 1969, an explosives attack on the Jewish community in Berlin's Fasanenstrasse failed only because of a technical failure. The instigator of the "action", Kunzelmann, wanted to use a bomb against Jews to overcome the German "Jew hang-up" he had diagnosed.
To this day, this first anti-Semitic attack by the German left is a barely recognized footnote in history — similar to the outrageous reaction of RAF icon Ulrike Meinhof to the 1972 Olympic bombing in Munich by the Palestinian terrorist group "Black September", in which all eleven Israeli hostages were murdered.
Anti-Semitism has become downright chic, in the form of "criticism of Israel"
On September 13, 1972, she wrote jubilantly from prison to her lawyer Heinrich Hannover that this had been "a profoundly proletarian action" in which "all moments of the revolutionary struggle were united" — "simultaneously anti-imperialist, anti-fascist, internationalist", borne by a "class consciousness" that was "absolutely aware of its historical mission to be avant-garde" and a "humanity" that courageously stood up to "fascist imperialism".
The style of Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich, the language of those monstrous Nazi criminals who were also concerned with transforming multiple mass murders into heroic deeds, eerily resonates here.
Solidarity with murderers
In this tradition, the fact that the post-colonial queer-feminist LGBTQ+ activists and the international climate fanatics from Fridays for Future are now openly articulating their solidarity with the Hamas murderers, and that left-wing demonstrators in front of the German Foreign Ministry are putting the alleged "Jew hang-up" into an English-language slogan — "Free Palestine from German guilt!" — is shocking.
Anti-fascism has changed sides and is now shouting "Yallah Yallah!" instead of "Never again!", despite all the appeals and Sunday speeches.
Meanwhile, anti-Semitism has become downright chic in the form of "criticism of Israel", quite literally with perfectly plucked eyebrows and painted fingernails, wearing Prada shoes and carrying a Gucci handbag. You can wait for someone to paraphrase UN Secretary-General António Guterres with the remark that Auschwitz did not happen "in a vacuum" either.
And we baby boomers? We’re standing helplessly in front of the ruins of our anti-fascist struggle, which suddenly seems terribly anachronistic, as if from another, perishing world.
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