In March I had a bout of non-fiction madness. Every time I visited the library, I came out without any novel, but only with history books, philosophy books, how-to books. Some of them have been returned unread or just skimmed through (I’m thinking about a collection of essays on contemporary Chinese philosophy- out of my league!), but this one was rather a success.
I chose it in relation to Anne Wiazemsky’s pseudo-memoir, Mon enfant de Berlin, about the immediate post-war in Berlin and the efforts of the French committee to return war prisoners and Jews to their families at home. This got me thinking about Germany’s Hour Zero, and how the Allied forces have tried to change the organizations, the social structures and mentalities of nazified Germany into a wholly-new country.
This book is a collection of essays, so it’s not very organized and some essays seem rather peripheric to the theme (movies shown at the large war trials in Nuremberg? Denazification seen through post stamps?), but the long introduction by Marie-Benedicte Vincent gives a precious outline of what was done then. Apparently, the Denazification measures varied a lot depending on the Allied forces who controlled each zone. Because the US, the USSR, UK and France had different views of what had caused the rise of Nazism in the first place, they decided separate measures and their intensity was also quite different. It seems that the US zone’s measures were less rigorous than the others, perhaps because British, French and Soviet troops wanted a revenge.
I particularly enjoyed the last essay of the book, on Gunther Grass’ late confession that he had been in the Waffen SS as a young teenager in 9145. This confession, made in passing in his book Peeling the Onion, has caused an uproar, especially as Grass has presented himself for decades as a moral authority in post-war Germany. I had loved the book and the analysis by Thomas Serrier was fascinating (his article can be bought online here) : he puts the revelation in the context of the new world born after the fall of the Iron Curtain and the USSR and after the reunification. He argues that such a revelation would have been impossible before 1989, because Grass would have been reduced to his nazi past and his message would have been lost. The other interest of Serrier analysis is psychological, about Grass’ repression of his past and, on the other hand, his inability to forget and move on, so that the repressed past turns into an obsession that still pervades the present: “it shows how heavily the trauma of shame lies on the shoulders of this generation and it also provides the occasion for a balanced re-interpretation of the way in which Germany has managed the memory of Nazism since 1945.”