Thursday, 10 April 2014

National psychology

Historical footnotes are often more fascinating than the well-travelled events they amplify. One such formed a running theme of Alan Moorehead's pen pictures of our near European neighbours shortly after their liberation from the Reich. The theme was the extent of residual hatred of the occupiers; Moorehead found that the more compliant a conquered nation had been, the better fed, least deprived its people, the more they hated the Germans. The Belgians in particular had an easy war under occupation; resistance was minimal, voluntary co-operation with the occupiers substantial, the people fatter and better fed than the French, with fewer retributive shootings. As a consequence, they hated the Germans viscerally, to an extent far greater than the French. Moorehead visited Brussels zoo to find the animal cages packed with alleged collaborators. He enquired what was to become of them. "They will be given a fair trial" he was told "then they will be shot."

I was reminded of this whilst reading a further piece in Der Spiegel attempting to understand German sympathy for Russia, particularly over Ukraine. Christiane Hoffmann writes:
The question of guilt has created a link between Germans and Russians, but the issue evaporated fairly quickly for the Russians after the war. Unlike the French, Scandinavians and Dutch, the Russians don't tend to name and shame the Germans for crimes committed during the German occupation. "Those who suffered the most had the least hate for the Germans," says Baberowski, as if the issue of German guilt evaporated in the first frenzy of revenge at the end of the war. He believes it dissipated, at the very latest, after the return of the last prisoners of war to Germany. "The Russians told stories that would make your blood freeze in your veins, but they were never accusatory towards us," says Schulze, who spent several months in St. Petersburg during the 1990s.
Psychologists will no doubt have an explanation. Der Spiegel also remarks the shared sores of anti-Americanism in both Russia and Germany, which the actions of the NSA (ably supported by GCHQ and the UK's hub position for international data routing) have rubbed raw. The French also resent American influence, still blaming the US for having to liberate them in 1944 and not quite daring to make a film depicting Europe being invaded by the 134 French soldiers who accompanied the Anglo-US forces on D-Day. Gregorio Marañón, writing of Tiberius, termed this 'the painful slavery of gratitude'.

The tectonic plates are certainly shifting in Europe.  


Anonymous said...

And here was me thinking that Gen. Charles Andre Joseph Marie De Gaulle liberated Paris all on his lonesome?!

I had a mate who lived on Guernsey, his parents could remember the occupation - they couldn't say much good about the Krauts.
I like the Germans but I am very wary of the group-think of the Fatherland, its still extant and unhealthily so and it's very overbearing to put it politely.
The French supplicants prefer the Germans to the English, Vichy has not gone away.
German hegemony and Mitteleuropa is a playground, all of the south of the Med are indebted to the German Bundesbank and they hate it - as the French economy dives, the € creates a split...actually an economic abyss is widening and by too much.
Obama, craves a federal Europe, so does Dave and the UN but the cracks are showing.

It will all go tits up and soon.

Span Ows said...

Good post and 'the painful slavery of gratitude' is one to remember, had.t heard/read it before.

Agree entirely with anon (above)

cuffleyburgers said...

I suspect the Russians' own treatment of other Russians as well as German POWs was a factor in their post war attitudes.

We all know the Germans were monumentally beastly in France, Belgium (wherever that is) Poland and the rest, but their most extreme brutality would have been in Russia, but the arbitrary murder imprisonment and torture they meted out would have been no worse than that administered by Stalin.

Bill Quango MP said...

The UK's post war hatred was actually directed at the Japanese.
The soldiers and civilians coming back from the far eat had terrible stories to tell.

But the children of these same veterans embraced Japanese watches, cameras, motorbikes and cars without a second thought.

AndrewZ said...

"the more compliant a conquered nation had been...the more they hated the Germans"

The explanation for that is shame. The greater the extent to which the people and government submitted meekly to German demands the greater the shame they would feel about it afterwards, even if it was rational self-interest at the time. So they would hate the Germans for making them feel so bad about themselves, and try to wipe away their own sense of shame by treating the most prominent collaborators with the utmost brutality.