But the fact is that European peoples who had experienced the murderous demographic politics of Germany during the war were seized with horror, even more than with wrath, at the very idea of having to live together with Germans in the same territory. The sight of Germany’s destroyed cities and the knowledge of German concentration and extermination camps have covered Europe with a cloud of melancholy. Together, they have made the memory of the last war more poignant and more persistent, the fear of future wars more actual.
Not the “German problem,” insofar as it is a national one within the comity of European nations, but HANNAH ARENDT is author of a just completed IN LESS than six years Germany laid the nightmare of Germany in its physical, moral, and political ruin has become almost as decisive an element in the general atmosphere of European life as the Communist movements. But nowhere is this nightmare of destruction and horror less felt and less talked about than in Germany itself.
A lack of response is evident everywhere, and it is difficult to say whether this signifies a half-conscious refusal to yield to grief or a genuine inability to feel. Amid the ruins, Germans mail each other picture postcards still showing the cathedrals and market places, the public buildings and bridges that no longer exist. And the indifference with which they walk through the rubble has its exact counterpart in the absence of mourning for the dead, or in the apathy with which they react, or rather fail to react, to the fate of the refugees in their midst.
This general lack of emotion, at any rate this apparent heartlessness, sometimes covered over with cheap sentimentality, is only the most conspicuous outward symptom of a deep-rooted, stubborn, and at times vicious refusal to face and come to terms with what really happened. INDIvERENE, and the irritation that comes when indifference is challenged, can be tested on many intellectual levels. The most obvious experiment is to state expressis verbis what the other fellow has noticed from the beginning of the conversation, namely, that you are a Jew.
This is usually followed by a little embarrassed pause; and then comesnot a personal question, such as ‘Where did you go after you left Germany? “; no sign of sympathy, such as ‘What happened to your family? “-but a deluge of stories about how Germans have suffered (true enough, of course, but beside the point); and if the object of this little experiment happens to be educated and intelligent, he will proceed to draw up a balance between German suffering and the suffering of others, the implication being that one side cancels the other and ork on totalitarianism, The Origins of Totalitarianism, soon to be published by Harcourt, Brace. Her writings on history, philosophy, and political theory in and other periodicals have won her a wide reputation. This report on Germany was written after a recent stay of several months in that country. Dr. Arendt was born in Germany, studied under Karl Jaspers in Heidelberg, and earned her doctorate at that university. She came to this country in 1941. 342e may as well proceed to a more promising topic of conversation. Similarly evasive is the standard reaction to the ruins.
When there is any overt reaction at all, it consists of a sigh followed by the half-rhetorical, halfwistful question, “Why must mankind always wage wars? ” The average German looks for the causes of the last war not in the acts of the Nazi regime, but in the events that led to the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise. 343 BUT, whether faced or evaded, the realities f Nazi crimes, of war and defeat, still visibly dominate the whole fabric of German life, and the Germans have developed various devices for dodging their shocking impact. The reality of the death-factories is transformed into a mere potentiality: Germans did only what others are capable of doing (with many illustrative examples, of course) or what others will do in the near future; therefore, anybody who brings up this topic is ipso facto suspected of self-righteousness.
In this context, Allied policy in Germany is frequently explained as a campaign of successful revenge, even though it later turns out that the German who offers this interpretation is quite aware that most of the things he complains of were either the immediate consequence of the lost war or happened outside the will and control of the Western powers. But the insistence that there must be a careful scheme of revenge serves as a consoling argument, demonstrating the equal sinfulness of all men.
The reality of the destruction that surrounds every German is dissolved into a reflective but not very deep-rooted self-pity, easily dissipated when ugly little one-story structures that might have been imported from some Main Street in America spring up on some of the great avenues to conceal fragmentarily the grimness of the landscape, and to offer an abundance of provincial elegance in super-modern display windows. In France and Great Britain, people feel a greater sadness about the relatively few landmarks destroyed in the war than the Germans do for all their lost treasures together.
The boastful hope is expressed in Germany that the country will become the “most modern” in Europe; yet it is mere talk, and some person who has just voiced that hope will insist a few minutes later, at another turn in the conversation, that the next war will do to all European cities what this one did to Germany’s-which of course is possible, but signifies again only the transformation of reality into potentiality. The undertone of satisfaction that one often detects in the Germans’ talk about the next war expresses no sinister renewal of German lans of conquest, as sq many observers have maintained, but is only another device for escaping reality: in an eventual equality of destruction, the German situation would lose its acuteness. S course, an escape fromalone; all the peoresponsibility. In this the Germans are not ples of Western Europe have developed the habit of blaming their misfortunes on some force out of their reach: it may be America and the Atlantic Pact today, the legacy of Nazi occupation tomorrow, and history in general every day of the week.
But this attitude is more pronounced in Germany, where the temptation to blame everything under the sun on the occupying powers is difficult to resist: in the British zone everything is blamed on British fear of German competition; in the French zone on French nationalism; and in the American zone, where things are better in every respect, on American ignorance of the European mentality. The complaints are only natural, and they all contain a kernel of truth; but behind them is a stubborn unwillingness to make use of the many possibilities left to German initiative.
This is perhaps most clearly revealed in the German newspapers, which express all their convictions in a carefully cultivated style of Schadenfreude, malicious joy in ruination. It is as though the Germans, denied the power to rule the world, had fallen in love with impotence as such, and now find a positive pleasure in contemplating international tensions and the unavoidable mistakes that occur in the business of governing, regardless of the possible consequences for themselves.
Fear of Russian aggression does not necessarily result in an unequivocal pro-American attitude, but often leads to a determined neutrality, as though it were as absurd to take sides in the conflict as it would be to take sides in an earthquake. The awareness that neutrality will not change one’s fate makes it in turn impossible to translate this mood into a rational policy, and the mood itself, by its very irrationality, becomes even more bitter. CUCH an escape from reality is also, of 344 BUT COMMENTARY count of what actually happened, and to eliminate the teachers who have become incapable of doing so.
The danger to German academic life is not only from those who hold that freedom of speech should be exchanged for a dictatorship in which a single unfounded, irresponsible opinion would acquire a monopoly over all others, but equally from those who ignore facts and reality and establish their private opinions, not necessarily as the only right ones, but as opinions that are as justified as others. The unreality and irrelevance of most of these opinions, as compared with the grim relevance of the experience of those who hold them, is sharply underlined by their having been formed before 1933.
There is an almost instinctive urge to take refuge in the thoughts and ideas one held before anything compromising had happened. The result is that while Germany has changed beyond recognition-physically and psychologically-people talk and behave superficially as though absolutely nothing had happened since 1932. The authors of the few really important books written in Germany since 1933 or published since 1945 were already famous twenty and twenty-five years ago. The younger generation seems to be petrified, inarticulate, incapable of consistent thought.
A young German art historian, guiding his audience among the masterpieces of the Berlin Museum, which had been sent on tour through several American cities, pointed to the Ancient Egyptian statue of Nefertiti as the sculpture “for which the whole world envies us,” and then proceeded to say (a) that even the Americans had not “dared” to carry this “symbol of the Berlin collections” to the United States, and (b) that because of the “intervention of the Americans,” the British did not “dare” to carry the Nefretete to the British Museum.
The two contradictory attitudes to the Americans were separated by only a single sentence: the speaker, devoid of convictions, was merely groping automatically among the cliches with which his mind was furnished to find the one that might fit the occasion. The cliches have more often an old-fashioned nationalistic than an outspoken Nazi tone, but in any case one seeks in vain to discover behind them a consistent point of view, be it even a bad one. With the downfall of Nazism, the Germans found themselves again exposed to he B perhapshabit most striking andasfrightening aspect of the German flight from of treating facts though reality is the they were mere opinions. For example, the question of who started the last war, by no means a hotly debated issue, is answered by a surprising variety of opinions. An otherwise quite normally intelligent woman in Southern Germany told me that the Russians had begun the war with an attack on Danzig; this is only the crudest of many examples.
Nor is this transformation of facts into opinions restricted to the war question; in all fields there is a kind of gentlemen’s agreement by which everyone has a right to his ignorance under the pretext that everyone has a right to his opinion-and behind this is the tacit assumption that opinions really do riot matter. This is a very serious thing, not only because it often makes discussion so hopeless (one does not ordinarily carry a reference library along everywhere), but primarily because the average German honestly believes this free-for-all, this nihilistic relativity about facts, to be the essence of democracy.
In fact, of course, it is a legacy of the Nazi regime. The lies of totalitarian propaganda are distinguished from the normal lying of nontotalitarian regimes in times of emergency by their consistent denial of the importance of facts in general: all facts can be changed and all lies can be made true. The Nazi impress on the German mind consists primarily in a conditioning whereby reality has ceased to be the sum total of hard inescapable facts and has become a conglomeration of everchanging events and slogans in which a thing can be true today and false tomorrow.
This conditioning may be precisely one of the reasons for the surprisingly few traces of any lasting Nazi indoctrination, as well as for an equally surprising lack of interest in the refuting of Nazi doctrines. What one is up against is not indoctrination but the incapacity or unwillingness to distinguish altogether between fact and opinion. A discussion about the events of the Spanish Civil War will be conducted on the same level as a discussion of the theoretical merits and shortcomings of democracy.