Monday, November 10, 2014

Berlin Wall : Kristallnacht : Remembrance Day

25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall is also 76 years since Kristallnacht, the "night of broken glass", when the Nazi pogrom against the Jews entered a new phase.

Both events buffer periods of German history that pretended they were the antithesis of each other, when in fact they were different aromas from the same poison.  The poisonous belief that human beings exist not for their own ends, but for some "greater good" that they may readily be sacrificed for.


Kristallnacht was a milestone in the goosesteps of National Socialism, from the monopoly on political power, the monopoly control of the economy, to the effective nationalisation of property and lives.  Jewish property could now be destroyed at will, with full encouragement from the state, and Jews themselves arrested, without charge and thrown in prison, at best.   Over 7000 shops destroyed, in some cases their owners brought out to watch their life's work, that which they created from their own minds and efforts, by trading peacefully with others - destroyed by state gangs.   

Over 30,000 Jews were arrested, many taken to concentration camps where they would later perish in the Holocaust.  Many others were beaten up in the street, some to death. Woe betide anyone who got in the way of the state goons attacking defenceless people, whose only crime was their ancestry,   Buildings burnt, smashed, books, artworks and possessions destroyed by whatever means the gang could find.  During much of this some "average" Germans watched for amusement, as Hugh Carlton Greene of the Daily Telegraph witnessed:

I have seen several anti-Jewish outbreaks in Germany during the last five years, but never anything as nauseating as this. Racial hatred and hysteria seemed to have taken complete hold of otherwise decent people. I saw fashionably dressed women clapping their hands and screaming with glee, while respectable middle-class mothers held up their babies to see the "fun".

The "unpersons" of Nazi Germany, declared so by the state and party, and all too many Germans cheering on the degradation, the violence and murder of them. 

What gave the excuse to provoke this?  It was the murder of German diplomat Ernst vom Rath by 17-year-old Herschel Grynszpan, who entered the Germany embassy in Paris with a revolver after hearing of the news of his parents having been deported from Germany to Poland.  After Kristallnacht, Jews were collectively fined 1 billion Marks for the murder of vom Rath, taken from the insurance payments for their properties, and confiscation of 20% of all Jewish property.   It is widely seen as the start of the translation of official anti-semitism from state discrimination to widespread systematic state violence against the Jews.

The Jew, portrayed as self-centred, as a trader, who loans and exchanges, not producing, was deemed to be parasitical.  The Eternal Jew being the archetypal propaganda film about them.  Consider today how much of that rhetoric you hear echoed today from some.

Today, it is worth remembering given how anti-semitism is on the rise, seen in the ugly ultranationalism in parts of eastern Europe, including Russia's own official appeasement of such rhetoric.  It is seen in some Muslim "scholars" and politicians feeding this rhetoric, of course openly embraced by most Islamists, whose own denial of the Holocaust is because of their own ingrained wish that it had only been completed.

Of course after Germany had been defeated and liberated, the latter term did not really apply to a third of the country.  For it had been conquered by the USSR, brutally, and would shift from Nazi totalitarianism to Marxist-Leninist totalitarianism.  The SS and Gestapo would have a rival in the German Democratic Republic's Stasi.  

The USSR plundered conquered Germany for that which it had been unable to produce itself. Technology, machinery, science, taken lock stock and barrel, and moved to the USSR.  After all, Stalin's brutal genocidal police state didn't reward intelligence, creativity or success, it didn't like free thinking, it worshipped the peasant, the illiterate, the compliant cheerful simple minded follower. The Nazis enormous efforts into military technology and science, taking advantage of a country that had until the mid 1930s, been up with the rest of Europe in the forefront of modern science and invention, offered much Stalin couldn't get otherwise.

Meanwhile, as east Germany's productive capacity was plundered (and the United State paid to rebuild west Germany), there were many young German women who had had their bodies plundered, by Red Army soldiers.  They, brutalised by an army that punished failure with death, raped their way through east German women and girls, in some cases jealous of the well appointed homes that the Germans had compared with the USSR.


Subsequently, the USSR engaged in its own closure of history and rewrote it to support the myth that the new leaders of the Socialist Unity Party and founders of the German Democratic Republic (DDR), were dissident liberators against the Nazis, and that Germans in the DDR were victims of the war, and nothing more was to be said of it.

East German accommodation for those who tried to leave - a Stasi cell
The great DDR myth was that west Germany was run by "fascists" who had been Nazis, but the DDR was run by socialists, who wanted a new Germany.  The new Germany would be a paradise, with everyone having a guaranteed home, job, universal free education including university, universal free health care.  What wouldn't be free is your will and your mind.  For it took over all broadcasting, all newspapers, all publishing, and much employment.  Virtually all heavy industry was nationalised, and remaining small scale businesses that were state owned were subject to such intensive state control over prices, production and distribution (and could not be sold) that they were private in name only.  By 1961, only 9% of manufacturing production and around the same proportion of agricultural production was in the private sector.  

Of course, whilst all that was happening, east Germans were being told about how awful life was in the West, except for much of the country, and certainly all of Berlin it wasn't difficult (if not legal) to watch West German television, and see the truth.  Few in other Soviet bloc countries had this luxury, primarily because they did not share highly populated borders with Western countries that broadcast in the same language, although millions did listen illicitly to Western radio stations in their own languages such as Radio Free Europe, the BBC World Services and Voice of America,  

What epitomised the regime has always been the Berlin Wall - or the "anti-fascist rampart".

The story of why it was erected has been told many times, but it is worth remembering the Orwellian doublespeak that surrounded it.

It was built to keep people in, and the people the DDR wanted to keep were the best and brightest, for these are the people who flee places that don't enable them to realise their potential.  

The willing idiots the regime encouraged in the West accepted this truth, even though east Germans were told the wall was to keep the fascists out of their "people's democratic republic", almost everyone knew it was to keep the people in, which fed JFK's famous quip "Democracy may not be perfect, but at least we don't have to build a wall to keep our people in".  

Nothing is quite so damning of any political system that not only uses force within the country, but murders those who dare leave the paradise.  Over 130 were killed trying, although many more languished in Stasi 

Indeed, Wolfgang Rosenberg, a now deceased Canterbury University "economist", wrote approvingly in the 1970s, about the Berlin Wall.  In essence he said "how else" could the DDR keep the doctors, scientists and other professionals it needed to create a successful socialist state when the West could lure them with higher salaries. As late as 1987 he said “The Wall contributes to peace in Europe and to successful economic and social development in the GDR.”.

The eulogy this apologist for the totalitarian regime (and the one in North Korea) got from Jim Anderton was telling, as was his membership of the "Council for Civil Liberties", rather like an apologist for rape supporting a "Rape Crisis" centre.   Far leftwing activist Murray Horton also wrote extensively about him and about the "socialist countries", for after all more than a few socialists, especially those who broke away from Labour to form the New Labour Party, later the Alliance (and of course most recently "Internet Mana") were warm towards regimes like east Germany.  One Nicky Hager was once aligned with such people as well, and his politics today are not far removed from that era.

Yet what single idea dominated the DDR, indeed every country behind the Iron Curtain across the USSR and still today in the DPRK and Cuba, is that individuals do not exist to pursue their own ends. They exist to play a role in "the greater good", or "the public good".

If you achieve academically you don't do so for the pursuit of your own intellectual curiosity, achievement and creativity, but to serve others.  You don't exist to enjoy life, to share it with others you love, to raise a family and make the most of the limited time you have, but you exist to submit to socialism, to the state, to the party, your mind, your labour, your time is to be subservient to what politicians, officials and the entire apparatus of ultimately violent control deem it to be for,

If you dare try to escape, you will be shot, and whoever shoots you is rewarded for doing so.

Meanwhile, to make sure you don't deviate, you'll be observed, listened into, and have your life monitored to make sure you're not talking or acting incorrectly or with incorrect people.

This is the philosophy behind socialism, and was also behind national socialism, and is also behind Islamism, and behind every theocracy.  

The Berlin Wall was the natural result of a system that was antithetical to people pursuing their own lives peacefully as they saw fit, but rather for them to be slaves to what other people deemed was in the "greater good".  Slaves?  Yes.  For the DDR was a prison, as north Korea is one today.  It punished thoughtcrime, it only rewarded subservience to the state, to socialism, and it lied to its population on such a scale and to such an extent, it was laughable.  It stunted one-third of Germany, and the remaining two-thirds have been paying since 1989 to close the gap.

I've been to Berlin three times, it is an astonishing place, to see places where the Cold War frictions were at some of their hottest, but also where the militarist, eliminationist terror of Nazism thrived. It's a city of grand history, which is so dominated and overshadowed by 55 years of totalitarian horror, separated only by war.

The Checkpoint Charlie Museum shows some of the ways east Berliners tried to escape, such as this one of a compartment built to be concealed in a car.  While comfortably off Westerners like Rosenberg travelled freely to and from the prison states he lauded, the citizens of those prison states risked their lives to lead.  You'd think Rosenberg would have learned from Nazism.

It is important to remember the Berlin Wall, partially because after 25 years, a whole generation now has little conception of life across half of Europe, because they haven't grown up in an age when the differences between a relatively free predominantly capitalist country and a totalitarian socialist country were so stark.  Yet today, the philosophy of surrender of individual freedom and autonomy to the state remains so prevalent, whether it be in weaker forms with the Greens or the medieval terror of Islamists.

In the UK, the 11th of November is Remembrance Day, when the country commemorates the millions who died, from the UK, the Commonwealth, and most recently also Ireland, in all of the wars the UK has fought.  Not a time of glorification, but a time of sadness and remembrance particularly given the century since World War 1, but also those who did fight for the good in World War 2, and most recently against various tyrannies.

The scourge of eliminationist nationalism is far from eradicated, for it is fed by petty tyrants, whereas socialist authoritarianism remains strong in those who blithely seek to take private property, to muzzle free speech on grounds of "offence" or "public health" or "public good", and Islamists peddle their own brutal eliminationist dark ages.

The philosophical battle against them all is to embrace the primacy of the human individual's right to exist for his or her own purposes.  To live one's life in peace.

Remembrance Day, the Berlin Wall and Kristallnacht may all remind us of what happens when human being, not just the tyrants, but their footsoldiers and the millions of ordinary people, believe other people's lives are theirs to meddle with, to control and to eliminate.

Let's remember the victims of them all by proclaiming that the right of the individual, to live one's own life in peace, is the path towards happiness and prosperity, without bloodshed, with the greatest potential to lift themselves and future generations upon the achievements of each other's lives.  

and that the person who owns your life, is you. 

1 comment:

Max said...

So true. Sadly very few New Zealanders understand this reality.