Tuesday, 3 September 2013


The silly season is never complete without a few Nazi stories and this Summer has been no different. Apart from the revelatory sort of stories carried by the redtops - that the Archbishop of Canterbury's uncle was an SS Colonel for example, or that Kate Middleton's great aunt was Himmler's mistress* - are those more serious stories that continue to pose moral questions. 

The first is what Germany should do about the crumbling Nuremberg stadium, background to Leni Riefenstahl's 1934 'Triumph of the Will', a film still banned in Germany, by the way, though presumably Germans may watch it as freely as we can on Youtube. Stripped of its swastikas after the war, the stadium continues to serve as a useful large public space, but no-one has been brave enough to maintain the Nazi-era stonework. Now they're agonising over whether government money should be spent to preserve it.

Secondly is the row around a German pulp magazine entitled Der Landser, or roughly 'The Squaddie'. Published since 1957, the mag carries stories of Wehrmacht battles, fights and general soldiering from the ranks, showing the rough humour, kameraderie and essential humanity of members of the Heer, Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine as members of the international brotherhood of coarse soldiery, but without overtly glorifying Nazism or risking a breach of Germany's draconian anti-Nazi laws. The mag's owner, the Bauer Media Group, which also publishes Kerrang!, Bella and Take a Break, is in the process of taking over Absolute radio - formerly Virgin radio - but an appeal has been made to Ofcom from Bruce Fireman (and unidentified backers?) to halt the takeover whilst Der Landser is published.  

Thirdly is a row about this September's 'Homecoming' remembrance ceremony held by Austrian former Wehrmacht members in a ruined church on the Ulrichsberg in K√§rnten. The site is isolated, the roads are poor and the old boys aren't quite as quick on their feet as they were in '39 - '45, and so in years past the Austrian Army has laid on transport and assistance, provided a band and some uniformed senior officers, whilst the local Councils have provided grant funding to the organisers, the Ulrichsberggemeinschaft. In 2012 the organisers invited a former Waffen-SS member to speak, the first time the ceremony had been opened to this organisation banned as 'criminal' by the Nuremberg court. As a result, this year the funding has been withdrawn and the Bundesheer instructed not to assist. The blow falls hardest on those old Landser, much diminished in number, who don't have that many more remembrance days left. From 1957 Germany allowed the wearing of '39 - '45 military gallantry and bravery awards as long as the swastikas were removed, and these old chaps wear their iron crosses, combat infantry clasps and wound badges with pride.   

Not easy, is it?
* Neither true, as far as I know


Ian Hills said...

Although the Jesuits have finally made it to the papacy, this hasn't provoked much controversy among the faithful.

Does this mean catholics don't feel bad enough yet about all that stretching and burning? Perhaps they should all be sent to Germany for some guilt lessons.

After all, they might bring back the inquisition.

Weekend Yachtsman said...

It's not easy, but it's not that hard either.

The Nazi regime was evil, but many of the ordinary German military were, as you say, "members of the international brotherhood of coarse soldiery". Many fought bravely, like the members of any other military.

These old guys are surely entitled to a few remembrance days?

As for the monuments, I seem to have seen the fascist insignia on the Stazione Milano Centrale quite recently, all nicely cleaned and maintained, and nobody seemed to care much. Why would you not maintain the Nuremberg stadium too? It's a historical artefact like any other, we can't pretend these things never happened.

Not that hard; it might even remind some people that the concomitant evil of anti-Semitism has already reared its ugly head again, despite everything, and in some surprising places too - British academe's fanatical anti-Israel vapourings spring to mind.

Anonymous said...

The kamararderie you speak of does exist; or at least it did in the lifetimes of the great fighting airmen of the Allies and Axis powers. The likes of Adolf Galland (you should read his story!) was much revered by such fighter aces as AVM "Johnnie" Johnson and Douglas (old tin legs) Bader. Very soon after the war these old air combatants were like old friends.

Well distanced from the obvious war crimes, there were acts of decency and gallantry on both sides and yes, these old guys should be allowed to remember their comrades; and that there is a duty of care by todays organisers to keep the right-wing trouble makers well away.

Coney Island

Elby the Beserk said...


Bert Trautmann's (RIP) autobiography (Trautmann's Journey) is well worth reading for insight into this quandary. He joined the Hitler Youth and was well taken with it, as were many of his contemporaries. It's a fine read, especially if you are a lover of the beautiful game. It was indeed he who was perhaps the main reason that I am a Manchester City supporter; so exotic did he seem to me.

My father, who fought in North Africa always insisted that Rommel was a fine soldier and should not be associated with what went on elsewhere in Europe.

SimonF said...

Of course those old men should have the opportunity to remember and commemorate. They too lost close friends and family. Politicians start wars, soldiers only fight them and shouldn't be held responsible for the actions of the criminals.

A few people I know were surprised when I said that one of the first things I did last year when I went to work in Buenos Aires was to pay my respects at their Falklands War Memorial. They had some brave soldiers and airman who fought and died honourably, in a wrong cause, but as you say they were "members of the international brotherhood of coarse soldiery" and most of them deserved our respect.

Jeff Wood said...

All good comments above. I say, let them get on with their remembrances.

There will be some guilty ones among the honest soldiery, and a few will have erased their acts from memory and will be, in their own minds, innocent.

They are dying out - my own father, who fought in the War, is not as young as he was, and insists on telling me where everything is each time I see him.

The good ones we will miss. In fact, we miss them already whether we know it or not, and that applies to the warriors on both sides.

G. Tingey said...

I think, even at this late date, admitting an ex-SS member was a serious mistake.
BUT, I remember, back in 1969, after a week or two in my new job, asking about the old buffer ( obviously over 65 - in fact he must have been at least 74, even then ) who turned up 3 days a week ... Later on it was twice a week, then once & then very occasionally ...
His position was explained to me, & I was deeply touched.
In fact that establishment was almost a European refugee home for the talented, given there was also someone who'd been in both the K-laager AND the Gulag.
However, Dr R. H. Herz had made it out of Germany in early 1933, hotly pursued by men in long black-leather overcoats, because he was an active Social Democrat.
Just once, I saw him in full official/formal fig: claw-tail-coat & medals. Kaiser's was medals - he'd been on the receiving end of the British summer offensive in 1916.
He was greatly honoured & respected.

Sceptical Steve said...

I was reading the Rommel Papers a few years ago and came across the section where Manfred, Rommel's son was old enough to join the armed forces.

His instinct had been to join the SS, based purely on their portrayal in the Nazi media as an elite, and also (more practically) because they were issued with the most powerful and up to date weapons. (Tiger tanks for instance, were mainly operated by SS units.)

His father successfully convinced him that he'd be better off joining a Luftwaffe anti-aircraft unit, and he survived the war.

This example shows that the SS was not universally staffed by racist psycopaths. However, after the war, it suited the army, the mainstream political establishment, and the occupying powers to create the myth that the SS had been responsible for all evil acts, whilst the Wehrmacht were "just ordinary soldiers".

That the current generation should demonise old men purely on the basis of their membership of the SS is shameful.