Why are we obsessed with the Nazis?Roundup
Why are we still so obsessed with the Nazis? Hardly a day goes by without a television programme or a newspaper article about them. Movies featuring them continue to pour out of the studios, from Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds to Polanski’s The Pianist. The Nazis’ crimes continue to haunt us. One current manifestation is the vast number of artworks they stole or forced out of the possession of their original Jewish owners; thousands of these cultural objects remain in galleries and museums across the world, waiting for the heirs of those who lost them to turn up and claim restitution. There is even still the occasional prosecution of an ex-Nazi for war crimes – only this week, the date was set for the trial of 93-year-old Oskar Groening, the “bookkeeper of Auschwitz”, for being accessory to more than 300,000 murders in the camp.
Across Europe, political protest in some deprived or crisis-ridden areas seems increasingly to be taking on neo-Nazi characteristics, whether it is the Greek Golden Dawn movement, with its swastika-like logo and its penchant for violence; or the antisemitic thugs of the Azov battalion fighting in eastern Ukraine under a banner that looks even more like a swastika than the Greek one; or the Hungarian Jobbik party, with its ultra‑nationalist demands for the return of huge swaths of territory from the surrounding states, taken from Hungary by the Treaty of Trianon in 1920.
The leaders of Golden Dawn are mostly in prison on charges relating to the murder of an antifascist rapper, though the party still polled more than 6% in the recent Greek elections. Jobbik did a lot better, winning 20% of the vote in the last Hungarian election. Nazism’s appeal, it seems, lives on in some sections of the anti-immigrant and antisemitic far right. Such groups may deny they have anything to do with nazism, but that did not stop the founder of the Islamophobic demonstrations of the Pegida movement in eastern Germany, Lutz Bachmann, having himself photographed as Hitler, with a toothbrush moustache and a slick of black hair across his brow.
Bachmann’s gesture, which cost him his leadership, points to a vital factor in the powerful hold of memories of nazism on our culture. Hitler fascinates us not least because he appears in retrospect as the ultimate embodiment of evil. Stalin murdered millions in the name of what he saw as social progress; Pol Pot commanded an “auto-genocide” in Cambodia to eradicate all traces of the modern world; the Hutus in Rwanda beat, shot and stabbed to death a million of their ethnic rivals the Tutsis in the belief that only by doing so could they liberate themselves from oppression; the Young Turks of the late Ottoman empire massacred more than a million Armenians in the cause, as they saw it, of national security, religion and ethnic homogeneity. But only Hitler deliberately exterminated millions of people solely because of their race. Only Hitler used specially constructed gas chambers for this purpose and had the victims’ bodies systematically exploited for economic purposes. Only Hitler deliberately launched a war of European and, ultimately – in intention at least – world conquest, planned from the moment he took power, if not earlier.
Hitler’s murderous policies, like Stalin’s, cannot be labelled “barbarous” or “medieval” like so many others. Theideology that underpinned Stalin’s policies of mass extermination died in 1989 with the fall of communism, but the racism that drove Hitler’s lives on in myriad forms that continue to trouble the world today. The Third Reich represents racism’s most extreme form: in Nazi Germany everything came down to race....
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