"My God, the Nazis knew how to put themselves in the limelight and present themselves. Leni Riefenstahl's movies and Albert Speer's buildings and the mass parades and the flags - just amazing. Really beautiful."Ferry got into all sorts of trouble for this. These words were described as dangerous, although in fairness most of the coverage I saw about it was humorous in nature, mocking the aging popstar for his supposed Nazi Sympathies, Bryan Führerry etc.. In any case, this somehow came up in conversation and [...] said, “That’s why we’ve still learnt nothing from the Nazism. If we have to pretend that everything about the Nazis was abhorrent and they had no appeal to anyone with an ounce of goodness or sanity, then the Holocaust remains a random tragedy as opposed to something that ordinarily people were involved in, something we actually need to learn something from.”
And I had to agree with him.
I remember getting decidedly fed up with the Holocaust in high school. The thing I was most fed up with was the videos. We saw lots of videos. This was the spring of 1994 and we weren’t allowed to see Schindler’s List, which had just been released, it was 15 certificate and we were only twelve or thirteen. But Schindler’s List is a film, a play performed by actors, supported by all many of special effects and make-up artists. Schindler’s List is a walk in the park compared to the footage and photographs and witness accounts that we saw and heard. And it made me angry. Not because it was giving us nightmares, but because it was gradually getting easier, less real and therefore less horrific. It was getting almost boring.
But worse than this, we weren’t learning much. We could all write an essay on why the Holocaust was a Bad Thing, but you only need to know what the word refers to in order to make that argument. We didn’t understand why or how it had happened. Hitler and the Nazis were presented as so unhinged and their grip on the people so strong that they might as well have been aliens from outerspace with magic powers of mind-control. We were led to believe that Hitler had a personal grudge against Jews, that’s why they were killed. And as such, the Holocaust might as well have been a natural disaster, something from which we have nothing to learn except that shit happens.
And tragically, that’s the story we kept being told throughout that spring and summer, as the news came through from Rwanda and it became clear that any angry mob with machetes or cruder improvised weapons can kill much faster than the efficient Nazis with their train network and gas chambers. But then this was a tribal conflict, wasn’t it? All very primitive, wasn't it? Shit happens. American and European leaders struggled to use the word genocide until over half a million people had been hacked to death.
Madness. Evil. Chaos. We use words that seperate these events from ourselves.
Not that we're complacent; we keep talking about various genocides and how horrible they were. The suffering. The victims. All very horrible. Horrible borrible. But we do get upset if anyone touches on how people get around to doing such things. Kind of distasteful. Facts often are.
The Nazis were extraordinarily successful as a political party, at first. They changed an impoverished, deeply demoralised country into a prosperous superpower within a very short space of time. They also changed one of the most democratic countries in the world (all German women had the vote at this time) into a totalitarian state, almost overnight, without provoking civil war. So of course they knew what they were doing with aesthetics; check out the Crime & Thrillers section at the library; the spines are all black, red and white; it's exciting! They successfully monopolised the swastika, a symbol of ancient significance; it can be made quite pretty but to most Europeans it means one thing. And there's still a predominance of blue-eyed blonde-haired beauty on the covers of our magazines. This stuff works within a culture not entirely unlike our own.
Beautiful? Eye of the beholder. The associations are too strong for me, but I can see it.
Despite Hitler's heresy that "Anyone who sees and paints a sky green and fields blue ought to be sterilized", the Nazis even applied aesthetics to the persecution. I have written before about the great temptation to scapegoat those who are different from ourselves; the Nazis went a step further and colour-coded them. Yellow stars for the Jews, who were not the victims of a personal grudge but a historically disadvantaged minority; I don't know about Germany, but one of the chief reasons Vienna was such a hotbed of artistic and intellectual activity was that well educated Jews, unable to get very far in academia, held all their deep and meaningful discussions in the cafés. Institutionalised discrimination already existed; this was merely a progression.
There were black triangles for the Roma; they'd always had a hard time too (and still do in much of Europe). Then pink triangles for homosexual men (that was already a crime, just not a capital offence), purple triangles for the Jehovah's Witnesses (really) and red ones for anyone else who disagreed with what was going on. There were also special symbols for odd offences like if an "Aryan" who had sex with a Jew, breaching racial law. Disabled people didn't get a geometric shape or a colour that I know of; we went first, but thankfully, they were done with us sooner.
Pigeon-holing on this level has a tremendous appeal to people. Thankfully, the hated groups, the oft-mentioned scapegoats within our culture are currently rather vague, not specific, easily identifiable groups. But let's not pretend it's not out there. Let's not pretend it's not in here.
It took me ages to write this far as I'm currently short of a crucial finger, which got hideously burnt. I had a blister the same thickness of my finger and now... it's really the most gruesome thing I have ever seen on my own body - and that's saying something! It is also rather painful on account of the fact that there's a serious chunk of skin missing, but it is only my finger. The real loss is my life of crime; my fingerprint will be quite distinctive after this.
Anyhow, it is one of those posts where I think What am I going on about?, where I've failed to reach any conclusion and would be inclined to ditch, only it took too much effort.