Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Good German

[posted by Callimachus]

One has to wonder how we've managed to decide Günter Grass, whatever his virtues, was the moral voice of authority in the Germany of his generation when there also was the available model set by Joachim Fest

Fest’s views were moulded profoundly by his family life during the Third Reich. He was born in Berlin in 1926 into middle-class and highly cultured family headed by his father, Johannes, a schoolteacher, who was and remained Fest’s role model. Johannes Fest was dismissed after the Nazis took power in 1933, and the family with five children lost much of its status and material comfort. However, he refused utterly any compromise with the regime.

In a memoir of his early years, which is about to be published in Germany, Joachim Fest recalls his mother’s suggestion, as she contemplated the family’s increasing poverty, that her husband should compromise and join the Nazi Party, “as it wouldn’t change anything."

“On the contrary,” he replied, “it would change everything.”

Joachim Fest was expelled from his Berlin school for caricaturing Hitler and sent with his brothers to a Catholic boarding school in Freiburg. From there, as he approached the age for military service, he decided to volunteer for the armed forces rather than risk being conscripted into the SS. His father disagreed, writing that: “One doesn’t volunteer to take part in Hitler’s criminal war, not even to avoid the SS.” But in the end Fest went ahead, and was taken prisoner by the Americans in France. His father, meanwhile, suffered a much worse fate, taken by the Russians as they entered Berlin and kept for years in the Soviet Union until he was sent back, a broken man.

There were good Germans. They did not sit silent when the fascists came. But it wasn't enough. And they suffered along with the rest.

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