Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Unavoidable Nazi Talk

The first day I arrived in Germany, it dawned on me that I would be living and working among the people whose grandparents were involved in the most atrocious war ideology ever inflicted on man - Nazism. That very day I asked myself, how much time will have passed before I have a Nazi conversation with a German?

The answer to that is 3 weeks. I just had my first serious Nazi talk last night, with my roommate's girlfriend who incidentally is tall, white and blonde. The Egeria of the Aryan ideals. I jokingly told her she could easily have been on one of Hitler's propaganda posters. She took the joke well but she told me that in her younger years when she first learnt about Nazism, she felt somewhat guilty and self-conscious, so much so that she coloured her hair dark brown.

All the Jews fled Germany during and after the war, so she'd never really met a Jew before. Then she went to New York for some time where she met some Jewish people. She wanted so much to make them like her, it was as if she was being apologetic about what the people three generations before her had done. The fact that the war was not that long a time ago made her feel like she was still carrying the burden of the horrendous crime and it's up to her generation to make up for it.

So I asked her, what is the hardest thing to live with, knowing what had happened during the war. She looked at me and said, "It's knowing that your grandparents were involved in the war and that they might have been Nazis themselves. We don't really talk about it, but growing up as Germans during the war, the propaganda would get to you and you would somehow believe it. How can you not support and cheer the movement that claims your race is the best race?"

It's not really a taboo subject in Germany today. In fact, they talk so much about it in class that people are getting sick of it, and many insist that people stop giving too much focus on it and move on. According to her, they talk about it not only in German and history class, but also in biology. This is due to the fact that many biological experiments were done on the Jews held captive.

However, it's still a somewhat taboo topic in the German homes and it's especially sticky when the grandparents are around. Grandchildren in other countries all around the world grow up with the misfortune of having to hear their grandparents boast about their contributions during the war. Germans kids, however, never get to hear fascinating war anecdotes from their grannies. It's as if the elders wanted to erase that from memory (and even history, if possible) and one of the first steps to do that is by not speaking about it. It's only been 70 years ago, and a lot of German grandparents today were soldiers for the SS. They had all been brainwashed about the Master Race ideology before joining the army, so it wouldn't be shocking if some of them still have remnants of that ideology in them. Hence it's best for the grandchildren not to ask where their grandparents stood during the war, because it could open a nasty can of worms.

My roommate is Swiss, and his grandfather was also in the Army during the war. He had to guard the Swiss border against the Nazis. And he is not one to mince his words, because when my roommate brought his German girlfriend back to his home in Switzerland, his grandpa said, "You're dating a German girl? How do you know that she's not a Nazi?" 

She took it pretty hard, especially because she has absolutely nothing to do with the whole thing, but it's her generation who has to pay the price. The WWII might have ended in 1945, but then there was the Cold War that lasted until 1991. The Berlin Wall had been erected to separate East and West Germany because according to the East, the West still was not clean from Nazism even after the war. To this day, it's still regarded as one of the last bastions of the big war, and it only fell in 1990. So it's not any wonder that it's the German kids of this era who have to clean up the mess.

Germany is a very technologically-advanced nation. It sits among the wealthiest states in the world, and is exemplary in a lot of fields. In the Euro crisis of today, Germany is almost single-handedly carrying the whole zone on its back to prevent its collapse. The German efficiency needs no introduction, and its free education system can put a lot of countries to shame. Despite all this, the Germans opt to remain low-key and walk on eggshells during world summits, maybe because the world still hasn't forgotten about what they did during the war.

I listened to the whole story with a troubled mind. We condemn the Nazis for inflicting the terrible Master Race idea to the whole world, but in a quaint country somewhere in Southeast Asia, there's still a system where a self- appointed Master Race rules a country, and people are still qualified by their origins and creed. During the war, the Jews had official papers that identified them as non-Aryans. In this quaint Asian country, people are identified as 'indigenous' or 'non-indigenous' on official papers, with special treatments for the 'indigenous' people. It's like living in a parallel world where Nazism is dead, but its main ideas are still being upheld.

Germany might have closed their history book regarding racism, but some other countries are still writing theirs.

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