Through a glass darkly

November 10, 2003 at 8:57 pm | In yulelogStories | 5 Comments

Last night was the 65th anniversary of Kristallnacht. Victoria’s Jewish community had a special commemorative event at the main synagogue (at Blanshard & Pandora). Perhaps I should have made the effort, but I didn’t go because I’m so lazy about evening events. It’s nearly impossible to pry me out of my house after dark, I don’t like gatherings or congregations of whatever variety, and I especially avoid religious ones — going to any place of worship usually distresses me, and I don’t do it unless I have to (for a funeral, say). This aversion undoubtedly has its basis in my total ignorance of religious practice — I have never gone to any church or temple or anything in my life (except for a funeral or two, and maybe one wedding) — and it’s getting worse as I age since I feel increasingly uncharitable toward both the worshippers and their leaders. Therefore, if I can’t feel at home intellectually in a community, how could I possibly subscribe to it as a community? This is my dilemma. No church, no coven, no temple, no groovy nuttin’, not for me, mater. And I’m not even off to play the grand piano… I just don’t join. But enough about me. Even though I didn’t go to Victoria’s little service, I checked Google News. I am virtually keeping on top of things, and some of what I see is ugly indeed. The Jerusalem Post reports on a brawl breaking out in Vienna (Vienna!, ha!, why am I not surprised?) between observers of a Kristallnacht commemoration and pro-Palestinian-rights protesters. There’s mention of Martin Hohmann’s recent benighted — and possibly evil — remarks in Germany about the alleged role of Jews in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. There wasn’t a whole lot in the US press about Hohmann. Too bad, really, because he’s a young guy actively bowdlerising history, and it behooves us to keep track of this kind of stuff and to shine some light on it. Hohmann used language in a particularly German way. His remarks hinged on the word Taetervolk. A Tat is a deed, an act. A Taeter is a person who does a deed, and it usually has pejorative meaning: a murderer, for example, is a Taeter, a culprit, a criminal, a perpetrator. As for Volk, well, everyone knows that one: a people. Hohmann said that Jews could be considered a Taetervolk in the sense that Germans could be considered a Taetervolk, but only because neither one is really a Taetervolk and it’s silly to think of them in those terms. Huh? In other words, let’s get Germans off the “collective guilt” hook by showing how inappropriate it is to ascribe the word Taetervolk to anyone …while at the same time conveniently slurring the allegedly non-Taetervolk with the epithet of the …well, of the Taeter. What’s troubling about Hohmann’s use of the word Taetervolk is that it’s a typical German omnibus word, the kind exploited so well by the Nazis: like Sippenhaft or Endloesung or any number of German words — Schadenfreude, anyone? — it’s the coupling of two or more words to create one, a coupling which produces a short-circuit in thinking. If you have a convenient word like Endloesung (Final solution), you’re tempted not to think about its full implications. You’re not asked to take it apart, to deconstruct it. It is in a sense a perfect “1984”-type language, orwellian in its easyspeak. In that sense, to my mind, Martin Hohmann was showing his deep Nazi roots by using that one little word. At least he was censured, and the German army general who praised his speech was fired outright. And then there are things I find amidst all the downers that cheer me up.
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Meanwhile, googling Kristallnacht, I came across an article describing a petition to Britain’s Homes & Gardens not to withdraw from internet access a 1938 article showcasing Hitler’s private residence. As a shelter-magazine slut, I naturally had to check this out. The entire Homes & Gardens article is posted on The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies website, and it’s a doozy. What’s really horrifying is how little the language has changed — chronicles of the homes of today’s rich & famous still feature the same breathless prose.
The article starts here as follows:

It is over twelve years since Herr Hitler fixed on the site of his one and only home. It had to be close to the Austrian border, barely ten miles from Mozart’s own medieval Salzburg.

English can be so much more “civilised” than German, can’t it? No omnibus words here. But it’s still a load of crap.

More:

A life-long vegetarian at table, Hitler’s kitchen plots are both varied and heavy on produce. Even in his meatless diet, Hitler is something of a gourmet – as Sir John Simon and Mr. Anthony Eden were surprised to note when they dined with him at the Presidial Palace at Berlin. His Bavarian chef, Herr Kannenberg, contrives an imposing array of vegetarian dishes, savoury and rich, pleasing to the eye as well as to the palate, and all conforming to the dietic standards which Hitler exacts. But at Haus Wachenfeld he keeps a generous table for guests of normal tastes. Here bons viceteurs like Field-Marshals G�ring and von Blumberg and Joachim von Ribbentrop will forgather at dinner. Elaborate dishes like …[illegible] and …[trout dish] will then be served with fine wine and liquors of von Ribbentrop’s expert choosing. Cigars and cigarettes are duly lighted at this terrace feast – though Hitler himself never smokes, nor does he take alcohol in any form.
All visitors are shown their host’s model kennels, where he breeds magnificent Alsatians. Some of his pedigree pets are allowed the run of the house, especially on days when Herr Hitler gives a “Fun Fair” to the local children. On such a day, when State affairs are over, the Squire himself, attended by some of his guests, will stroll through the woods into hamlets above and below. There rustics sit at cottage doors, carving trinkets and toys in wood, ivory and bone. It is then the little ones are invited to the house. Coffee, cakes, fruits and sweets are laid out for them on trestle tables in the grassy orchards. The Frauen Goebbels and G�ring, in dainty Bavarian dress, arrange dances and folk-songs while the bolder spirits are given joy-rides in Herr Hitler’s private aeroplane.

No doubt the tables were always laid with fine crystal…

5 Comments

  1. Another article, forgot to link to: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/story/story.php?storyID=13958 — trying for a balance of critique, perspective, scope, critique-without-falling-into-trenches, more critique … yeah, like that.

    Comment by Yule Heibel — November 11, 2003 #

  2. That article is scarey, Yule, in both ways.

    I’ve written a reply coming from the perspective of someone who feels that the Palestinian cause is just, but the methods used to promote it unjust.

    Comment by Joel — November 13, 2003 #

  3. Oh, tricky subject Joel, here in this post, and as followed up by your own blog — I’m not at all sure I even want to go further. However, if we agree that terrorism is a deliberate extension of war to civilian populations, targeting non-combatants, women, children, and so on, then to my mind several things sadly present themselves: that the US for decades has been exporting terrorism to other countries; that Israelis and Palestinians are victims of terror; and that too many of both sides’ leaders have pursued a politics of terror against the other side. I cannot even begin to figure out how Israelis and Palestinians have been fighting for the upper hand, but I feel very sorry for the civilians — especially the children — growing up, and dying, under these circumstances. And I do feel that — let me speak as an American citizen here, even though I’m happy to be Canadian living in Canada, but I have US citizenship, too — I do feel that US governments haven’t done their part to lead by example in abstaining from terrorism, and this two-facedness has exacerbated the situation more than any rhetoric about the Holocaust could or couldn’t. We probably agree that this administration’s current so-called War on Terror is a self-serving power grab by people who have only too willingly engaged in terrorism themselves. I think Chomsky’s analysis on this point is flawless. And it worries me more that American governments speak about ending terrorism in a region riddled by it, given that these same governments are only too willing to engage in it if it serves their purposes, than it worries me that moderate Israelis and Palestinians can’t come to terms. I’m too ignorant to be in a position to tell the Israelis or the Palestinians what to do, and I am baffled by the extremism on both sides that threatens to push the region into a two-state solution, since demographics and population growth will guarantee Israeli decline if this happens. But I feel strongly that America isn’t doing either side any favours because it, too, lives by terror. **

    Among other things, the Holocaust was terrorism against civilians, and while it was ideologically driven, it also had a practical economic goal of enriching the “Aryans” who stole Jewish property, capital, means of production, and businesses. Since terror against civilians is still alive and well globally, perhaps we really need a conversation about how supposedly civilised nations are pursuing economic goals under cover of “lofty” (or perfidious) ideologies, and whether it’s “ok” that we civilians keep getting screwed over by bullshit rhetoric about ideology (“ideals”). Follow the money, I say.

    ** A day later: it should read “one-state” not “two.”

    Comment by Yule Heibel — November 14, 2003 #

  4. +++

    Dear Yule:
    Didn’t the State of Israel get founded by a concerted campaign of ethnic
    cleansing and violent terrorism undertaken by Zionists against the
    indigenous population, primarily Muslim and Christian Palestinians? Ben
    Gurion got the Jewish state recognized only after having killed many
    thousands of these people, most of whom had been living there for
    centuries. The Jews had to be rallied back from the Diaspora, and so they
    came form Poland, Germany, Russia, New York, Montreal, etc. with the
    express purpose of establishing the new Zionist state.
    The violent origins of this secular democratic state, founded on shaky
    racist foundations, should not discredit the right of the present Israelis
    (of whatever race or denomination) to enjoy a peaceful existence there.
    Arafat deserves Sharon, and vice versa. Both are dinausaurs impeding the
    fragile peace process.
    As long as the Palestinians tolerate Arafat’s apparently undeniable use
    of Hamas and Hezbollah for his own nefarious purposes, they have a grave
    credibility problem with Israelis who may be disposed to a saner peaceful
    co-existence. Similarly, the battered peace movement in Israel seems
    unable to produce a charismatic leader even remotely able to address the
    mutual security concerns of both peoples.
    Certainly the wall is a very troubling development. Bush is obviously
    compromised in his favouring of the nuclear-armed, and dying Jewish state.
    Israeli demographic projections are not healthy, as you point out. That
    does not surprise me, as secularism brings its own death wish with it.
    Best writing I can find anywhere on these subjects is Rabbi Michael
    Lerner’s Tikkun magazine. Trouble is, Lerner lieves in Berkeley, I think,
    and is not so courageous of a peacemaker as to actually move over there
    to lead Shalom Israel to reconcile with her neighbours.
    First step would have to be the dismantling of the Israeli nuclear
    capability, I would think, then break down the wall, and let people
    move freely across the borders to go to work. Jewish ‘settlements’
    would have to be abandoned, terrorist armaments decommissioned, Palestinians
    would have to start arresting their own known terrrorists for a change
    …and the Israelis, to show that they weren’t so paranoid and anxious,
    would be best advised to have a whole bunch of babies…with Palestinians!
    By the way, I haven’t visited your blog for a long time, but hope you got
    the vegetable thing sorted out.
    Any news from The Oak Bay Police on the Zundelist file? I got a call
    recently from Ian Craib, who assured me that he is still working on my file.
    He is still trying doggedly to pin the death threat I recieved from ‘Peter
    Wasmuth’ to whoever…he really wants a conviction, and so do I, for both
    of our sakes. Hope you haven’t recieved any more of same at your end.
    I get it from both sides. Recently I got one from a socialist who calls himself
    or herself a ‘fascist killing machine.’ When I received that in the context of a
    discussion at Vic IMC on abortion and fetal rights, I interpreted it as another
    death threat against my person. Craib will be looking into the provenance of
    that one too, I think.
    Peace to your family,
    Gregory Hartnell

    +++

    Comment by Goyo — November 15, 2003 #

  5. Someone responded to you on my blog.

    Comment by Joel — November 16, 2003 #

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