Germany's anti-war mood has been reinforced by a bestseller about German suffering in allied bombing raids. But that's nothing newby Reiner Luyken / March 20, 2003 / Leave a comment
Book: Der Brand Author: J?rg Friedrich Price: Propyl?en, 25 euros
The German language differentiates between Zeitgeschichte and Geschichte?modern history and history proper- although nobody quite knows when the one slips into the other. When I went to school in Munich in the 1960s, history teaching stopped in 1933. By this calculation the second world war should by now be safely in the past, but it keeps popping up as Zeitgeschichte.
Last November, the mass-market tabloid ‘Bild’ serialised a book by the historian J?rg Friedrich, ‘Der Brand’, probably best translated as ‘The Blaze’, that gives “powerful and spectacular expression to the last untold atrocity of the 20th century,” the air attacks on German cities from 1940 to 1945 by the RAF and US air force. The book topped the bestseller lists for weeks. Germans were?so Friedrich’s admirers claim?for the first time able to speak as openly as any other people about their own suffering: a “final taboo” had been broken.
Historically, Friedrich does not appear to have broken new ground. One reviewer even accused him of insufficient knowledge of more recent research. Friedrich assembled previously published material into a comprehensive narrative. That had not been done before. But if there was such a rich seam of earlier publications, wondered Volker Ullrich in ‘Die Zeit’, how could one declare he had shattered a taboo?
I was born in 1951. I still recall the giant gashes in the cityscape of my hometown, Munich, and the huge heaps of debris that were later turned into the Olympic Park. At my school, the Holocaust and other Nazi crimes were still taboo. The school was not far from Dachau. The concentration camp was never mentioned, let alone visited. German suffering, on the other hand, was engraved into my mind by a teacher who seemed endlessly to pore over Wolfgang Borchert’s play Drau?en vor der T?r, a lament for the “betrayed” war generation.
In my strongly anti-Nazi family the Holocaust was frequently mentioned. The German suffering was not ignored, either. There was an attitude, though, that what had befallen the German people was of their own doing, a dreadful punishment perhaps, but nothing one should complain about. Those who did complain were the Ewiggestrigen, or reactionaries, who refused to learn their lesson. Perhaps this was a not entirely humane attitude towards the victims of the bombing nights and the mass expulsions from the east. It touches…